Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Sunday Sermonette: Moral Philosophy

Okay, here's the rest of Genesis 9. In case you thought it couldn't get any weirder . . .

18 The sons of Noah who came out of the ark were Shem, Ham and Japheth. (Ham was the father of Canaan.) 19 These were the three sons of Noah, and from them came the people who were scattered over the whole earth.
We will once again ignore the implied incest, which was previously required of the children of Cain and Seth. 
20 Noah, a man of the soil, proceeded to plant a vineyard. 21 When he drank some of its wine, he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent. 22 Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father naked and told his two brothers outside. 23 But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it across their shoulders; then they walked in backward and covered their father’s naked body. Their faces were turned the other way so that they would not see their father naked.
24 When Noah awoke from his wine and found out what his youngest son had done to him, 25 he said,
“Cursed be Canaan!
    The lowest of slaves
    will he be to his brothers.”
26 He also said,
“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Shem!
    May Canaan be the slave of Shem.
27 May God extend Japheth’s territory;
    may Japheth live in the tents of Shem,
    and may Canaan be the slave of Japheth.”
28 After the flood Noah lived 350 years. 29 Noah lived a total of 950 years, and then he died.
I need hardly point out how bizarre this is. In the first place, what did Ham do to Noah except look at him, by accident? And how did Noah know this had happened when he awoke? And why was Noah's response to curse Canaan, how had nothing to do with the whole thing? (As we'll see in the next chapter, it turns out that Ham actually had four sons so this is even weirder.)

Many conservative Christian commentators have presumed that Ham must have done more than just see his father naked, that this actually means to imply that Ham raped him or fondled his genitals or something, and that the punishment is actually for homosexual activity. Again, how would Noah have known that? But even if we assume this is the case, again, why does Canaan get the curse and not Ham or his other three sons?

This passage was used in the antebellum south to justify slavery. Africans were said to be the sons of Ham, and their enslaved status thereby biblically justified. Not that it matters, but of course Canaan is the region of the Levant which today corresponds more or less to Israel, Palestine and Jordan. It is not in Africa and its inhabitants have never been anything but Semitic people. Later in the bible the Canaanites are the non-Hebrew inhabitants of this area who the Jews are called upon to exterminate, not enslave.

This passage is one of the innumerable examples of moral depravity in the Bible. The most preposterous claim that Christian apologists make is that we need religion to know right from wrong. I know that this is wrong, thanks to my freedom from religion.


Justin Cohen said...

The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass is one of the simplest and most elegant refutations of religion's inherent morality. Douglass concisely shows how slave masters were able to justify cruelty with passages from the Bible, and remarkds that in fact masters frequently became more cruel once they'd found religion through conversion to Christianity.

Cervantes said...

He actually wrote a couple of autobiographies but yes, well worth your time.

Justin Cohen said...

I think he wrote three! But "The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass" is his first.