11 June 2015

Poor Moses just can’t catch a break

The problem with being the political leader of the Hebrews is that you inevitably catch flak from every direction, and a lot of it particularly from America.

For one thing, you have the Republicans who would not hesitate to lambaste Moses as a worthless vagrant demagogue with a criminal past. Why are you going after the Egyptians? they ask. Why do you want to punish the Egyptians who have built such a prosperous society by their own know-how, initiative and hard work? Don’t you have any grasp of the sound principles of economics at all? Don’t you realise that the Hebrews are the envy of the world for being able to live here, in the most advanced culture and civilisation of the ancient world? And yet here you are, a no-good thug who murdered an Egyptian in cold blood, who pals around with Midianites and illegal immigrants, stirring up the envy of the Hebrews against the decent, upstanding, hardworking Egyptian job creators! What are you going to do, feed them with unearned handouts of manna from on high? Begone, in the name of Isis, Osiris, Ra and the Invisible Hand!

Yet, on the other side, you have a certain segment of the Democrats hectoring Moses for reasons which might look entirely different, but which amount to very similar things. Shame on you, you bigoted homophobic patriarchal sleazeball! they cry. How dare you force your antiquated, backwards and superstitious laws on the Hebrew people when they have nowhere else to turn! You just want to enslave all women with your self-serving strictures! How dare you limit the Hebrews’ personal freedom like that? They were better off in Egypt! If you were going to ‘liberate’ them, why didn’t you just take them all into this land of milk and honey by yourself?

But both the Democrats and the Republicans definitely agree on one thing. And that, along with certain Romanists who fancy themselves independent from both sides, and therefore really ought to know better. They all hate, utterly detest, the fact that Moses never disowned his brother Aaron. They all demand that the high priest Aaron never so much as speak to or for the lawgiver Moses, let alone as a brother. And they all love to blame Moses for the faithlessness and grumbling of the Hebrews. If only Moses and Aaron had simply let the Hebrews who wanted to worship the golden calf be free to do so, then all would be well, and the Hebrew nation would magically become spiritually healthy! The sensible position of Exodus is that it was Moses’s job, the job of the state and the political apparatus, to guide the people out from their slavery both physical and spiritual, but not to deliver them to the Promised Land. Or, as Solovyov put it, the state issues ‘a compulsory demand for the realization of a definite minimum of good, or for a social order which excludes certain manifestations of evil’, but it does not in itself constitute the final, highest good.

In the economic, social and spiritual realms all three, the state has a positive duty to assure a basic minimum of ethical comportment among the people. Moses was far from a perfect man, as we are made too well aware by his present-day detractors. And his own example of rule was not perfect, either. But at the very least, as God guided him, he did set forward this idea that the state has a positive role to play in the public life.

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