Contra Mozilla

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Misleading Misreading of the Day--Matthew 5:41

I've finally encountered an actually interesting attempt to argue that people of faith should bake the cake. It hinges on the teachings in Matthew 5 about how to respond to those who wrong you:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if any one would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you.
The argument of the article hinges in particular on Matthew 5:41 t argue that if someone forces you to bake a cake for a "gay wedding" then your response should be to bake two. The author of the post also leaves the disclosure that she does in fact support "gay marriage," and this is one of the few arguments I have found which cannot simply be reduced to "Do this because we told you too, bigot," and so I commend her for making it. In these polarized times it is far too rare to see any attempt at making a good-faith argument as to why people should be forced to violate their consciences as the price for doing business (read: making a living for themselves).

Many of the problems of this interpretations of Matthew 5 have been addressed elsewhere. One which stands out in particular to me are the fact that there is a difference between going along with somebody you don't like, even doing something for them which you don't want to do (or permitting them to wrong you in some way); and willingly helping them to do something which you know (or at least believe) to be wrong. Another is that there is a difference between being extra kind to others, including those who want to wrong us (which is what the teaching in Matthew suggests), and helping these people to wrong us.

Christ tells us to turn the other cheek, even to become servants; but a servant is not a doormat. As one commentator notes, turning the other cheek was a very edgy teaching precisely because the expected reaction was to grovel in the dirt, quite literal to fall down at the other's feet (doormat, much?). The teaching is to not resist evil with more evil--which in turn means not participating in the other's evil and helping him to commit it. Refusing service is not in and of itself evil, and if there ever was a good reason to refuse service it is because the service is known to be for an evil end.

To go back to the (imaginative, I'll grant) misreading, the lady who wrote the post which inspired this response attempts to set the stage (with [my comments]):
To the Israelites, the Romans were evil and ungodly. They had no place ruling over God’s chosen people in God’s chosen nation. That land had been promised to Moses and his descendants when God brought them out of Egypt. Their very presence in the land was blasphemous. [There's a problem with this statement as it is. That problem is that the Temple in Jerusalem was built with an outer court for the Gentiles, which would presumably include Romans. At worst, it was an outrage that the Romans were present as conquerors--but their very presence could hardly be a blasphemy in and of itself].

One of the Roman laws stated that any man could be required to drop what he was doing and carry a Roman soldier’s equipment for him for up to a mile. In the Sermon on the Mount, with his followers gathered around him, Jesus referenced that law and told his followers what they should do in that case:

“If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.” ~Matthew 5:41

Go with them two miles. That was not the advice that most of the people in the crowd that day had been hoping for. That was not the conclusion that they would have come to on their own, following this man that they hoped would lead them to victory over the Romans. That was certainly not respecting their religious beliefs [Jesus was God. He is the source of religious truth, and so He need not respect a false "religious belief." But the state is not God. The state is more akin to Caesar. Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's...] — go with them two! What if their neighbors saw! What if seeing them carrying the Roman’s equipment caused other Jews to think the Roman oppression was okay? [This is a false equivalency. Part of the objection to providing services to sinful events is the possibility that doing so will lead to scandal, but at this point in time (and cultural decay) it is a very minor part indeed. The bigger problem is that this is participating in those events, and thus to some extent in the sins which they represent] What if there was other work that needed to be done — good work, charity work even, but they spent all that time carrying equipment for the evil oppressor? [Is this even an argument which has actually been made? If so, I am not aware of it. It can't be a really serious argument, since it presupposes that the subjugated person in question would otherwise be spending all of his time doing good works and acts of charity, or at the least otherwise providing for his and his family's needs. The argument in religious liberty cases is precisely that we should be allowed to turn down opportunities for doing this, not because we have something better to be doing with the time, but because it is better to do nothing at all with the time then to do something which violates our consciences.]
Ah, but therein lies the rub. There is nothing actually wrong with marching with the soldier for a mile, or two, or ten. That Christ is telling us to do this rather explicitly means that there is nothing sinful about providing aide to the soldier, even if that soldier was part of an army occupying Israel. The law in question was not particularly set up to oppress the Israelites (or any other conquered people), and there weren't in all probability soldiers going door-to-door to ask after Israelites who might object to carrying their load for a mile. Finally, the Israelite would not (or would not necessarily) know whether the soldier in question was taking his gear off to some evil purpose. Might the soldier be planning to participate in an unprovoked campaign of terror or Genocide? That seems out of character for the Romans (the phrase pax Romana is not for nothing). They would seem to be more interested in putting down uprisings (keep order) or perhaps expanding their territory than ridding their empire of their own subjects, however troublesome.

Even supposing that the Roman soldier was planning to do such a thing, merely carrying his equipment does not make the Israelite in question a willing participant in the campaign. This is true for the simple reason that the Israelite pressed into service does not know that this is what the soldier is planning to do, or that this is the purpose for which he is being pressed into service. Odds are rather against it, in any case. So at worst, the Israelite Disciple of Christ in question becomes a material participant in evil, and not a formal one (to make use a of a significant distinction delineated here). But to bake a cake for an event whose sole purpose is to give witness to an untruth, and whose major result will be the celebration of a grave sin? That seems to me to be a bit closer to providing support for that event, and thus for that sin. Such support is itself a sin, and thus must be resisted. Nor should the laws of a really free nation compel men to violate their consciences in this way. Such laws do not promote "equality" or "charity" or "tolerance/acceptance", but rather tyranny.

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