Tuesday, June 26, 2007

"Evan Almighty" and Our Moral Categories

One of the blogs I look at periodically belongs to Dr. Ron Ethridge, the pastor of Woodward Avenue Baptist Church in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. This week Ron posted a blog entry about whether it would be wrong for his flock members to go see the new movie "Evan Almighty." I enjoyed his opinion on the matter, particularly the Bible quote he used. Ron said:

“Everything is permissible for me, but not everything is profitable!” (1 Corinthians 6:12) I think that applies here…

I commented on Ron's site and told him that the quote reminded me of a conclusion I drew during my time overseas. As Christians from a Western European cultural background, we tend to want to reduce all moral choices to good vs. bad, right vs. wrong. We love morality, but we limit our way of thinking about it. Those limits are cultural, and not really Biblical (as this passage shows). And the desire to divide things up into binary “yes or no” categories comes from our pre-Christian philosophical roots, from Aristotle (not Paul or Moses). That desire for "yes or no" answers also tends to lead to extreme conclusions (followed by extreme actions, with Prohibition being a classic example).

I’ve lived in places where Muslims made up the largest portion of the population and I’ve worked with Muslim college students in an ESL setting. It struck me some years ago that for all the problems that a legalistic religion like Islam presents, their moral categories seem more Biblical to me than those of my own culture.

meIn Islam there are four main moral categories:

  • Some things are commanded, or required in their moral framework. You simply must pray, for example.

  • Some things are encouraged, like charity.

  • Some things are allowed, or permissible. The Arabic word is halal and it means much the same think as “kosher.” You don’t have to do it, but you can it you want to.

  • Some things are forbidden, or impermissible. The Arabic word is haram.

So in Islam, you must pray, you should give to the poor, you can eat beef (or be a vegetarian if you’d prefer), and you cannot eat pork (because the Qur’an teaches that it is unclean).

I think American Christians would do well to reconsider what moral categories they use and examine whether the Bible or the Ancient Greeks have more influence on their thinking…

My thoughts, at least...

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