After returning from my weekly trip to my writer’s group, several thoughts occurred to me as I started to drift towards sleep. I jotted them down. Here they are fleshed out, though somewhat disjointed:
When is a door not a door?
Many a third grade child knows the answer to this riddle. It hinges on the playdough used to form the kernel of most jokes at that age – puns. But it also plays to the human mind’s tendency to categorize. When first asked the question, it is difficult to come up with a point in time when something so concrete as a door could not be a door. All doors are doors 100% of the time.
It is not this way with abstract thoughts, which the human mind learns to deal with as we grow older. Ask someone at college age or above “When is murder not murder?” and you’re likely to get some instant responses:
- “When you’re the state”
- “When you’re a famous athlete”
- “When the weapon is words, and the victim a reputation”
Abstract concepts are much more flexible by nature, and can spur hours long discussions into the wee hours of the morning.
However, some of these concepts have a tendency to form into the concrete in our minds. We start to believe that there can only be one definition of the word, and it is the correct definition.
When is incest not incest? There is no obvious answer to this question. Sure, we can argue over the nearness of relation required. (First cousins? Certainly not in Arkansas.) But despite the jokes, a relationship between brother and sister is always classified as incest, regardless of what state you live in. And we’re told such a relationship is wrong, according to nature, and to the Bible.
I don’t think I can argue about nature. Science has shown the potential results. But the Bible is another matter. It lists several relationships God holds abominable. Some of these we classify under the group heading of incest. But these are among the commandments that one follows because God said so. The Bible gives no explanation why.
God does sometimes explain his commandments. For example, shortly after being told we’re not to eat flesh with blood, we’re told the blood of an animal contains the soul. So even though we’re not directly told we can’t drink blood alone, it is very easy to arrive at that conclusion.
But if no reason is given, it is more difficult to expand the prohibitions. And the biblical list of relationships are not exhausted. While the US legal code would indict a half-brother and a half-sister, the Bible wouldn’t. In fact, there is a well-documented instance in the Bible where the relationship wasn’t considered abominable in itself. King David’s son Amnon rapes King David’s daughter Tamar. They had different mothers, and Tamar begs Amnon to first ask their father for her hand in marriage. The reader assumes David would have complied, and there would have been no issue in the marriage. The crime Amnon committed, which later Absalom avenges, was rape, not incest.
Many a religious person may tell you that the US legal code is based on the Bible. But in truth, there are many times where something is immoral under the eyes of the Abrahamic God, but still legal. As there are times when something is moral under the same eyes, but illegal. For example: the nation’s laws tell us that truth is always a defense when it comes to our speech. We’re permitted to say or print anything we wish, as long as we can prove its truth. But God makes it clear truth is not a defense against spreading malicious gossip.