I did break down and buy The Rational Bible: Exodus by Dennis Prager. This promises to be a mind-numbingly boring topic for most so I’ll keep it as light as I can. I can remember how oppressively bleak compulsory church attendance was when I was a child. It was not “the fear of God” instilled in me but “fear of boredom.”
Luckily Dennis Prager is a bit of a sprightly writer. We’re starting off (and staying with) Moses, of course. Prager notes that he is a rare moral character. First (as a prince of Egypt) he defends a Hebrew from her Egyptian taskmaster. Then he intervenes between two Hebrews with a dispute. Later he helps some Midian women from some Midian men at the well. His moral reach is not confined to just one tribe, which is how morality is normally conceived.
Prager also notes how the Torah does a strange thing and shows women (even Egyptian women, the midwives who refuse to kill the Hebrew male babies) in a good light, including naming some of these good women (Shifra, Puah) whilst leaving out the name of the oppressive pharaoh. Prager notes it is highly unusual for any text not to fixate on the big names. In this one, they are sometimes ignored completely.
A friend of mine over at another site dismissed the Torah as just a bunch of anthropomorphized baloney regarding God. You have to wonder if people actually have read this thing. What is startling is that the God that Moses meets gives his name not as “Chester” or “Joey” but “I am that I am” or “I will be what I will be.” That is, he is saying that he is Being itself. That’s hardly a God who looks like us, a mere flattering self image with wings, golden throne, scepter and perhaps a slurry of tattoos.
This book (so far) is a bit more than just parsing the words of Exodus. Prager inserts some of his (to me) familiar commentary on the broad subjects that Exodus brings up. When talking about the Egyptian midwives who disobeyed Pharaoh, he wrote:
I am convinced courage is the rarest of all good traits. There are far more kind and honest people than there are courageous people. Unfortunately, however, in the battle against evil, all the good traits in the world amount to little when not accompanied by courage.
You can see how this applies wonderfully to the Republican Party. They are “nice” but not good where it counts. He also takes some good and needed swipes at the dishonest atheists (which may be redundant):
I readily admit I wish there is a good God, ultimate justice, an afterlife, and meaning to my life. Every normal person wishes the same. But that does not make belief in God solely a product of wishful thinking. I believe in God for a host of rational reasons one of which is the unique greatness of the Torah and the Bible. Moreover, all those atheists who believe there is (or, more precisely, who manufacture) some ultimate purpose to their lives should recognize their entire philosophy of a meaningful life really is based on wishful thinking—precisely what they accuse believers of.
One of the great values of a Prager commentary is that he directly rebuts the comic-book conceptions of the Bible as spread by dishonest atheists. This spreading can be so pernicious and constant that I think many Christians and Jews simply acquiesce. They may no longer understand their own Bibles, let alone how to defend its content.
For instance, what kind of loving god would want you to fear him? Prager expertly handles this issue. Speaking in the context of the Egyptian midwives who helped the Hebrews (by not murdering their children):
Remember, it was not love of God that prompted the midwives’ moral heroism. In our time, many people invoke the commandment to love God but ignore or even disparage the commandment to fear God. While many God-believers will engage in heroic self-sacrifice out of love of God, most God-believers are moral on a day-to-day basis because they believe they will be judged by God. That’s why for example, in traditional Western societies, the finest people were routinely described as “God-fearing,” not “God-loving.”
It was the midwives’ fear of God that liberated them from fear of the Egyptian tyrant. This point is often overlooked: Fear of God is a liberating emotion, freeing one from a disabling fear of evil, powerful people. This needs to be emphasized because many people see fear of God as onerous rather than liberating.
. . . Those words [regarding a Soviet Jewish dissident] were all the more remarkable in that the vast majority of Soviet Jewish dissidents were not religious. But they understood the simple moral and logical fact that if one “fears no one except God,” one can muster the courage not to fear a totalitarian state. And these simple words also explain why totalitarian states like the Soviet Union [or the state of California] so feared and fought against belief in God Because belief in God posits there is something higher than the Party [or Pelosi], it constitutes a fatal threat to secular totalitarian societies (that’s why North Koreans have been horribly punished for owning a Bible).
This is a key point for me. Anti-religious bigotry is part and parcel of the “Progressive” mindset (except regarding Islam). If there is nothing higher than the state then there is no way in principle to oppose whatever morality the state is imposing. You just have to go along. And people do. Like sheep. But they have learned the reflexive snarl against Christians and Jews like good lapdogs.