Saturday, 20 February 2010

So that's where it comes from!

Right there in the middle of Leviticus, among all the complicated rules about sacrifices and priests and the extreme punishments to be meted out to sabbath breakers, not to mention adulterers and homosexuals, we suddenly find those immortal words that have always been regarded as the foundation of the Christian way of life: 'you shall love your neighbour as yourself' (Lev.19:18).
Coming a little later, not quite as well known and even less observed, is the command 'you shall love the alien as yourself' (v.34).
This chapter does say quite a lot about ordinary social justice, honesty, concern for the poor, and so on - something more relevant to life as we know it. But even here we have some peculiar and apparently arbitrary commandments. Immediately after 'love your neighbour as yourself' comes that odd command about not letting your animals breed with a different kind (no mules then!), sowing your field with two kinds of seed (does this apply to herbaceous borders too?), or wearing a garment made of two different materials (so it's out with most things we wear today!).
Leviticus is one of the clearest illustrations of the complex nature of Scripture, and indeed of religion in general - sublime truths and ideals mixed up with irrational and sometimes barbaric taboos. There is no alternative to being selective, and letting our conscience and common sense tell us what to choose and what to reject - Jesus himself did it.

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