“Let no man deceive you by any means…”

or, the Protection Racket Behind “America’s Moral Decline,” Part the First

You might remember my previous two posts regarding a seminar about Biblical prophecy and the End Times. “Incredible Prophecies”—their emphasis on Prophecies, mine on Incredible—continues, and I went back to learn about America’s “moral decline.” It wasn’t as bizarre as I expected (no talk of “demonic principalities” puppeteering American elites, nor of the loss of the “Seven Mountains of Culture” out of true Christian control), but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t nuts.

The lecture got off to a rollicking start with the assertion that America was founded on Biblical principles, including the Ten Commandments. I got a bit excited, and thought maybe this would be an extended fever-dream of Christian historical revisionism. It was more of a David Barton Lite treatment. Dan Bentzinger (the presenter, for those who didn’t click through to my previous posts) cycled through (cherry-picked) quotes from a few Founding Fathers—the most devout, arguably, and certainly Jefferson and Madison were right out—and their personal writings, to boot. The cheapest rebuttal to this mess of quote-mining is simply “Where are the references?” If the Ten Commandments really are the foundation of American democracy and law, why aren’t they (or God, or Jesus, or the Christian religion) ever mentioned in the Constitution? The Constitution is very carefully, very explicitly a secular document. Some of the Founders were quite devout; some weren’t. And the document they created transcends the muck and mire of their religion-soaked contemporary culture. That’s its strength.

Bentzinger also drew a couple quotes from later politicians like President Truman, to show that America used to be guided on Christian principles. Well, so what? That’s just Christian hegemony at work. Move on.

But this was only a brief stop. From there we listened to a litany of moral woes, not all of them laughable in the absence of Iron Age sheep-herder morality (or really, vast improvements thereon). Bentzinger mentioned again a “great falling away” from Christianity that’s supposed to prefigure the End Times. This time he didn’t invoke the laughably intangible specter of “Chrislam” (a 1,500-adherent syncretistic religion mostly confined to Nigeria: no, it won’t destroy Christendom). Rather, he brought up something I had heard of, a philosophy called “situation ethics.” From what he said, and from my own cursory wiki-research, this is basically consquentialism/relativism/utilitarianism for Christians, and naturally the bogeyman of every “true” Christian who cleaves to the eight-point Biblical world-view.

Bentzinger asserted that one of the main proponents of situation ethics, an Episcopal priest named Joseph Fletcher, claimed that anything—including murder and rape—could be ethical in the right situation. I found that abhorrent, but Google has nothing on Fletcher saying that at all. I’m not sure why Bentzinger engaged in that sort of smear-job, since situation ethics were pretty obviously not going to fly with the assembled crowd, even without rape-justification.

The absolute howler of this section, though, was Bentzinger’s assertion that every moral ill arises when men’s lives diverge from Biblical law—every moral ill including slavery! In case you haven’t yet banged your head against the nearest hard surface, here’s what the Bible has to say about slavery. Go ahead, this blog post will still be here when you get back.

Then it was time for theology, which, while not what I expected, was still interesting. I enjoy learning about one of the thousands of Christian interpretations of their own religion, every so often. The main body of this exegesis concerned Biblical law as it related to the character of God/Jesus. The audience largely took this as amazing and, yes, incredible prophecy, but I found it merely a mildly interesting look at parallel constructions in the Bible. Because, you know, the New Testament authors definitely had the Hebrew Bible at hand to crib off of in a very post hoc way.

Bentzinger drove home the point that the New Covenant between God and His chosen people does not abolish the Old. Specifically, the Ten Commandments still hold for Christians as much as they did and still do for Jews. He drew a thick line of demarcation between the Commandments and the so-called “law of ordinances,” or Mosaic law, as presented in Leviticus and Deuteronomy—these concern sacrifices and rituals, which were “fulfilled” by Jesus’ life and death on earth. This all makes internal sense, even more so when you read one of Paul’s letters (I don’t recall which) where he maintains that (ethnically) Jewish converts should still keep to the various traditions, but Gentile converts didn’t have to. The law was fulfilled for other people, you see.

It’s a point that a lot of liberal-minded Christians get wrong, and one that I’m actually willing and enthusiastic to stand with Bentzinger on. In his own (paraphrased) words, anyone who claims that Jesus came to abolish the Ten Commandments is ignorant of their own Scripture. (And I might add, this ignorance allows Christianity, indeed any religion, to continue asserting itself uncomfortably into modern culture.)

If this had been a more Q&A-friendly space, I would’ve made sure to query Bentzinger about the fulfillment of Mosaic law as it relates to homosexuality. As most people are aware of by now, a certain line in Leviticus is the one most often cited as evidence that “God Hates Fags.” By certain translation quirks, separate meanings can become confused under one word: abomination. Some things, like “thou shalt not eat shrimp” (paraphrased), are merely taboo. Other things are in fact described as sinful, against God’s law. Homosexuality (specifically, and tellingly, male-male homosexuality) is one of these.

Now, this is still part of Mosaic law. Why then, two millennia after Jesus supposedly fulfilled that law as part of His sacrificial death by crucifixion, do social conservatives still harp on it? I’d wager they’d even use the same "fulfillment” explanation to wave away irksome questions about shellfish and mixed fibers.

Quite mysterious, indeed.