Sunday, December 11, 2016

Honest Advent: "Disobedient" is an Odd Word to Use Here

A teenage girl not listening to her father. Image source.
Today's Honest Advent reading is Ephesians 5:6-14:
Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them.

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. This is why it is said:
“Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”
First of all, the stuff about light and exposing evil is great. Don't cover up evil. Expose it. Just like Jesus said, there is nothing hidden which will not be disclosed. Yes. The truth will always come out eventually.

But I have a concern about the word "disobedient." It appears twice in this passage: "Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient" and "It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret."

What does "disobedient" mean? It means someone who breaks the rules. As in, there are clearly-defined rules we are supposed to follow, and a "disobedient" person does not follow them.

That was the system of morality I used to believe in: God gives rules, and we have to follow them. Most of them- "do not steal", "do not kill"- make sense. We can see obvious reasons why it's good to follow those rules. But that's not the point. In this view, it doesn't matter if we can understand the reasons behind the rules. God commanded it, and that's that. That's why we also get rules that seem arbitrary/unimportant/baseless/anti-human, like "don't say 'oh my god'" or "same-sex romantic relationships are bad" or "women can't be leaders in church." Christians who subscribe to the "God made these rules" view of morality then have to scramble to come up with some kind of reason why God would command those things. But let's get this clear: This scramble to come up with reasons isn't about actually honestly evaluating whether the rule is worth following. Nope. It's an attempt to reassure yourself and others that this thing you're doing, basing your system of morality on blind obedience to "God's" commands, isn't a terrible idea. You already know you have to follow the rules, even if you can't find a single shred of anything that seems like a good reason- even if they actually seem like a really bad idea.

Fortunately, I no longer subscribe to that view of morality, where "disobedient" is the worst thing you can be. No, I believe "by their fruit you will know them," as Jesus said. People are able to understand morality and judge whether certain actions are right or wrong. We don't need a huge list of rules. If the bible commands something, but we can see that it's obviously a terrible idea, then nope, we're not following it. We are fully capable of making those kinds of decisions. We're not "too sinful" to know right from wrong, so sinful that we need to follow "God's rules" even if they seem completely terrible to us, because we can't trust our own sinful minds. (That's what I used to believe.)

In the view of morality I now follow, the term "disobedient" doesn't really make sense. It's not like we're children who don't know any better, and someone needs to make rules for us, which we could either obey or disobey. No, if I want to say someone did a bad thing, I would use a word like "immoral" or "evil." It's bad because it's cruel to people, not because it breaks some "rule."

And sometimes the most moral thing you can do is disobey "God's commands."

So getting back to Ephesians 5:6 and its use of the word "disobedient." Yeah, seems like all the bible translations use that word here. So. Okay, then I disagree with the bible.

And one more thing: the bit about "It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret" totally contradicts everything these verses say about exposing evil. Like, is there something I'm missing here? How can you expose "the fruitless deeds of darkness" if it's "shameful" to talk about them?

All right, that's all I have to say about this passage. I really like the stuff about exposing evil, bringing everything into the light. But the writer's use of the term "disobedient" indicates that I have some ideological differences with the writer.

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