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Elgin’s Books


  • Christianity and Secularism

  • Evidence for the Bible


  • Hitchens – God Is Not Great IX

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    This week I continue my extended review of Christopher Hitchens, “God Is Not Great.” In Chapter Three, Hitchens addresses the question of why Jews and Muslims will not eat pork.  This question does not directly concern Christianity, but the overall discussion deserves some comment.

     

    In this short chapter Hitchens quickly disposes of the normal justification for this law, which concerns health, a justification he calls, absurd. Hitchens is correct that the dietary dangers of eating pork, even in ancient times, are at best marginal.  In fact for some of the other prohibited foods, the dangers are non-existent, or at least no different than the dangers of acceptable kosher foods.  So while pointing to health reasons can provide some explanation in some cases, it is not a complete answer, and marginal at best for pork. 

     

    Yet Hitchens explanations is hardly any better.  Hitchens believes that the prohibition grew out of a “simultaneous attraction and repulsion” for the pig; that the pig had very human qualities, including taste, that set it apart from other animals.  Hitchens believes that the prohibition followed a night of human sacrifice and cannibalism in which the participants clearly saw the similarities.  As Hitchens puts it, “Nothing optional – from homosexuality to adultery – is ever made punishable unless those who do the prohibiting…have a repressed desire to participate.” (pg 40)

     

    This statement is one of those generalized indictments that leaves me with more question than answers.  The claim that there must be a repressed desire to want to make something punishable is hardly any better than the health explanations, i.e. it might explain a few cases but hardly explains them all. Hitchens examples, homosexuality, adultery and then later prostitution, all involve sex, where his explanation is at least possible even if still questionable as this would not even be a good explanation for all sexual prohibitions. Does one really have to have a repressed sexual desire for children to want a child molestation prohibited? 

     

    When you move beyond the realm of sexuality, his explanation is even less satisfying. Must one have a repressed desire for theft or murder to want them prohibited?  My guess is that Hitchens would claim that these do not match is initial qualification of “Nothing optional” but this qualification is so vague as to be meaningless.

     

    In the end, natural justifications such as those pointing to health benefits or that given by Hitchens miss the point, though I believe that Hitchens unknowingly touches on a much more likely explanation. Hitchens defended the lack of a health hazard in pork, by pointing to those living around the ancient Jews who did eat it, for “ancient Jewish settlements in the land of Canaan can easily be distinguished by archaeologists by the absence of pig bones in their rubbish.”(p. 39) 

     

    The Deuteronomy 14, which specifics some of these laws, begin with “You are the children of the LORD…you are a people Holy to the LORD your God.” The ancient Jews were God’s people Holy or set apart from those around them. This was the primary reason for the dietary laws, which included the prohibition on eating pork.  Of course there is the secondary question as to why individual items such as pork were on the list or while beef was not. But we should keep clear that this is a secondary question. Sometimes we can see possible reasons why particular items were or were not prohibited in either health, or the religious practices of other groups. But we must be careful not to focus on these secondary reasons to the point that we neglect the primary reason. 

     

    There is a tendency when defending the Bible to fall into trap of accepting the assumptions of the critics, and thereby seeking natural explanation for things that are inherently spiritual, as if without a natural justification, a commandment must be nothing more than an irrational superstition. The dietary laws are then explained as health oriented for a time before modern medicine and refrigerators. As health oriented we can ignore them, since the need has passed.

     

    Such reasoning is very convenient for Christians, since because of the teaching of the New Testament, we don’t have to follow the dietary laws in any event. But again this is to focus only on the secondary reason, not the primary, which is to be set apart for God.

     

    Non-Jews may look at the distinctive aspects of Judaism, such as the dietary laws and say that they are old legalisms, or even superstitions, but they have performed a very important function: they have kept the Jewish people set apart for over 3000 years, which just happen to be exactly what God said they were for.

     

    As Christians we are children of God. While we do not need to follow the dietary laws, we are still called to be holy, to be set apart for God (1 Pet 1:15).  Today the church seems more aimed at fitting in and keeping up with the culture, and to some extent this is a good thing, for we have a living faith and worships a living God.  If we are Holy, that is set apart, for God, what is it that sets us apart? It cannot just be our eternal destination, for we are called to live Holy lives now. So what is it that sets you apart?

     

    Christianity and Secularism

    Evidence for the Bible

     

    2 comments on “Hitchens – God Is Not Great IX

    1. Pingback: Running Toward the Goal » Blog Archive » Hitchens - God is Not Great IX

    2. I found your site on technorati and read a few of your other posts. Keep up the good work. I just added your RSS feed to my Google News Reader. Looking forward to reading more from you down the road!

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