American Civil Religion and the Dangers of Removing Scripture’s Moral Teachings from Their Context

James R. Rogers investigates the different meanings of biblical law for Jews and Christians, and the mistake both make when they try to isolate the Torah’s moral teachings from their context. The result of this “reductionist inclination” can be found in American discourse about “Judeo-Christian morality,” a phrase that Rogers takes to refer primarily to the Ten Commandments:

[W]resting the Ten Commandments out of the book of Exodus (and Deuteronomy) and treating them as stand-alone moral requirements . . . misses the point of Exodus. . . . The popular view of Exodus [is neatly summed up] in the classic film, The Ten Commandments. . . . The film skips thirteen chapters in Exodus relating to the design and construction of the tabernacle, as well as all of Leviticus and Numbers, [much of which] relates to the sacramental environment around Israel given the presence of the tabernacle in Israel’s midst, all the way to the end of Deuteronomy.

And [then there’s] all the rigmarole about food, and sacrifices, and cleansing oneself from this and that. The problem is that all that stuff isn’t just so much rigmarole. . . . As reported in Exodus, the purpose of the exodus is that God would dwell in the midst of Israel in the tabernacle. . . . The exodus [thus] represents a signal turn toward the restoration of the fellowship that humanity had with God in Eden.

[T]his is not to dismiss the Ten Commandments as somehow unimportant. Indeed, the tablets go in the inner house of the tabernacle, in the ark of the covenant in the holiest of holies. The point rather is that, in the narrative of Exodus, the giving of the Ten Commandments is necessarily interwoven with the tapestry of God’s presence. As with the sacrificial laws, the food laws, the cleanliness laws, and other laws in Leviticus and Numbers, they’re not [just] rigmarole. . . .

But popular American culture pulls out and isolates the Ten Commandments, then skips over the last half of the book of Exodus [along with] Leviticus and Numbers, all of which connect the Ten Commandments with the grand pivot in God’s relationship with humanity. [Both] Moses and Jesus, and religion in general, are thus identified [in the popular view] with deracinated moral law. This civil religion—Christian ethics without the person of Christ; Judaic ethics without the person of God—has distorted the religions it purports to express. In doing so, it has hindered, rather than helped, both religion and religious engagement with the public square.

Read more at Law and Liberty

More about: American Religion, Civil religion, Hebrew Bible, Religion & Holidays, Ten Commandments


Hamas Wants a Renewed Ceasefire, but Doesn’t Understand Israel’s Changed Attitude

Yohanan Tzoreff, writing yesterday, believes that Hamas still wishes to return to the truce that it ended Friday morning with renewed rocket attacks on Israel, but hopes it can do so on better terms—raising the price, so to speak, of each hostage released. Examining recent statements from the terrorist group’s leaders, he tries to make sense of what it is thinking:

These [Hamas] senior officials do not reflect any awareness of the changed attitude in Israel toward Hamas following the October 7 massacre carried out by the organization in the western Negev communities. They continue to estimate that as before, Israel will be willing to pay high prices for its people and that time is working in their favor. In their opinion, Israel’s interest in the release of its people, the pressure of the hostages’ families, and the public’s broad support for these families will ultimately be decisive in favor of a deal that will meet the new conditions set by Hamas.

In other words, the culture of summud (steadfastness), still guides Hamas. Its [rhetoric] does not show at all that it has internalized or recognized the change in the attitude of the Israeli public toward it—which makes it clear that Israel still has a lot of work to do.

Read more at Institute for National Security Studies

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, Israeli Security