The Old Testament Law According to the West Wing

In my last post, I pointed out that the Old Testament law is “bigoted, misogynistic, and cruel”. I actually had a plan in mind to go through several more iterations of this theme: Pointing out the areas of the Old Testament law which violate (often violently) our current moral standards. However, I have been watching a lot of The West Wing lately (which portrays Christianity rather positively in most respects). I have become quite fond of Jed Bartlet, and like his character immensely. I just saw Season 2, Episode 3, called “The Midterms” in which Jed Bartlet (played by Martin Sheen) comments on the Old Testament law far more succinctly and eloquently than I possibly could. In this scene, President Barlet is responding to a radio journalist who has just pointed out that homosexuality is an abomination, according to Leviticus 18:22. Here’s an excerpt from the show containing President Bartlet’s response:

I wanted to ask you a couple of questions while I have you here. I’m interested in selling my youngest daughter into slavery as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. She’s a Georgetown sophomore, speaks fluent Italian, always cleared the table when it was her turn. What would a good price for her be? While thinking about that, can I ask another? My Chief of Staff Leo McGarry insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly says he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself or is it okay to call the police? Here’s one that’s really important because we’ve got a lot of sports fans in this town: touching the skin of a dead pig makes one unclean. Leviticus 11:7. If they promise to wear gloves, can the Washington Redskins still play football? Can Notre Dame? Can West Point? Does the whole town really have to be together to stone my brother John for planting different crops side by side? Can I burn my mother in a small family gathering for wearing garments made from two different threads? Think about those questions, would you?

Which just about says it on the Old Testament law. So here’s where I am: I cannot conceive of a God who would condemn me to a terrible death, by declaring me permanently unclean, because I have psoriasis, a skin disease which in the ancient times was commonly confused with leprosy. My NIV study bible contains a footnote for every single word in the Old Testament which is translated as “leprosy” which reads:

The Hebrew word translated as “leprosy” refers to a large variety of skin diseases, not merely leprosy.

That’s because an ancient Hebrew priest could not distinguish between a person who has leprosy and one who has psoriasis. Or eczema for that matter.

I know that the argument against this particular law is not as strong as the one against slavery, stoning a woman on her wedding night because she is not a virgin, forcing a girl to marry a man who raped her, stoning people because they violated the sabbath, or any of the other ridiculous, rascist, misogynistic and cruel things in that law. That’s because this one had to do with protecting people from a terrible disease, misguided and wrong though they might have been. But this one law happens to be personal. It affects me. So I will stick with that one.

More later.

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