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God Squad: In some instances, there are tiers to the Bible's truths

Some things permitted in the Bible are low-level virtues, and the Bible also shows us how to live on a higher level of compassion and moral virtue.

Q: I look forward to your column and read it faithfully. However, recently I'm afraid you missed the mark on the meat-eating issue. 

True, Adam and Eve ate only the fruit of the trees (I've always assumed that included nuts) in the Garden of Eden, and that was perfection. When God cast them out because they sinned, they then had to work for a living, and vegetables ("herbs of the field") were added to their diet. There was no fear of man among the animals, for how else could Noah have gathered them all into the Ark? They were not yet eating each other, as Noah was able to maintain them for a year onboard without killing some to feed others!

However, Genesis tells us that after the flood, God declared that the fear of man will fall on the beasts, birds, fish, etc. And that "everything that lives and moves will be food for you . . . as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything. But you must not eat the meat with the lifeblood still in it." Not that they were not to eat the meat, but that the blood must be drained out first. It's the preparation, not the product! And isn't that what makes it kosher? Keep on writing. — From E

A: As Oscar Wilde once said to a woman who disagreed with him, "My dear I am so sorry that you did not have the pleasure of understanding me."

You are exactly correct in your summary of the Bible's teaching about eating meat. I presented in my column what you presented in your question: People were only given permission to eat fruits and grains (nothing was said about nuts, but I agree with you that they must have been thrown in there). The permission to eat meat does not come until the covenant with Noah after the flood in Genesis 9.

You are also correct that the permission comes with a caveat. Any meat to be eaten must first be drained of blood; this remains a requirement for kosher meat. Immediately after the permission to eat blood-drained meat, the Bible includes a strange "blood reckoning" for the blood of all the animals we do eat. Then, in another strange connection, the Bible requires a blood reckoning for every person we murder.

This blood reckoning includes capital punishment for murder, but it is also stated in reference to blood, "Whoever sheds the blood of man by man shall his blood be shed." (Genesis 9:6) I think the idea behind this connection of verses is that once we see blood flowing from a slaughtered animal we become less disturbed by the sight of blood flowing from a slaughtered person.

In any event, the point of all these biblical laws is clearly to indicate that eating meat, though permitted, is nevertheless clearly a concession to human weakness. Let me say this another way. Some things permitted in the Bible are low-level virtues, and the Bible also shows us how to live on a higher level of compassion and moral virtue. It is as if God is saying to us, "You can do this, but you can also do better." This teaches us that the Bible offers us a multilevel truth. Some things are OK, and some things are better than OK. It is far too simplistic to say that something is permitted or forbidden.

We see this multilevel biblical ethical system in other areas. Waging war against an enemy, for example, is a low-level permission. One must be allowed to defend one's country and family and person, but when waging war the Bible does not allow cutting down an enemy's fruit trees (Deuteronomy 20:19-20). Fruit and olive trees take years to bear fruit; cutting them down was considered a type of war crime. So waging war is permitted, but that does not mean that any act is permitted in wartime.

I am deeply moved by this biblical ethical attitude. It parallels the way we raise children, teaching them low-level truths when that is all their young minds can comprehend, then teaching them higher-level truths as they grow. For example, we first teach children to do the right thing just to avoid punishment in the hopes that someday they will learn to do the right thing because it is the right thing. Perhaps God gave us a two-tier ethics in the Bible because we are like God's children. Doing the right thing is more like a ladder than a bull's-eye.

So eating meat is permitted, but not causing the suffering and death of a living thing is clearly a higher way in the two-tiered ethics of the Bible.

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