Kosher Swine

25 06 2009

When I first dared to read straight through the Bible, I was but a pre-adolescent kid who thought he already knew everything there was to know about the Bible.  I figured, I had read the children’s picture Bible several times, and the adult version was basically the same thing, right?  At first, everything was going smoothly with the Garden of Eden, and the flood, but then came the animal sacrifices and the dietary laws, and my first thought was, “What kind of pagan religion is this?!”  Naturally, I took the matter up with my mother, who adequately explained that the animal sacrifices were an atonement for sin, primarily foreshadowing the crucifixion of Christ.  What she really dropped the ball on was the reasoning behind the dietary laws and the reason we don’t follow them today.

Now, most Christians do not follow the dietary laws.  In fact, most of the Jews I’ve known personally do not follow the dietary laws.  I, myself, have never followed them, but I’ve always wondered if I should.  The reasoning in Christian ideology for not worrying about it mostly stems back to Peter’s dream, in which he’s presented with unclean animals, which he is told to eat.  Some have said that this is mere symbolism, that the laws were not nullified.  Others say that these laws were for the Old Covenant.  In attempting to form my own opinion on the matter, I first had to understand the basis for the dietary laws.  Most laws, religious or otherwise, have a fairly clear reasoning to them, by which we can improve our lives through a more civil and orderly way of living.  Some laws, primarily religious, exist solely for symbolic reasons.  Obeying a symbolic law without grasping the symbolism is like reading a foreign language aloud without having the slightest idea what you’re saying.  You may be going through the motions, but it does you no good.  The purpose is in the meaning.  When the meaning is forgotten, the law loses its intended effect.  Therefore, in order to understand the dietary laws, one must first determine whether those laws are for symbolic reasons or practical ones.  I’ve read and heard of physiological reasons for not eating pork.  I grew up with these notions in my head, mainly because my father told me that pigs tended to be parasite ridden.  When I got to my current job, I learned that beef is also parasite ridden.  Once the local beef industry became concerned about the possibility of this news leaking out, our source of laboratory control parasites was lost.  They would not send us the worms anymore.  I got to talking to my wife about the subject, and she dug a book out from somewhere, and it described other physiological reasons for preferring bovine meat over porcine meat.  My reaction to that explanation was negative, too.  It did not fit with what I learned in school.

I cannot condemn those who eat pork, nor will I rebuke those who do not.  The reason behind the dietary laws is entirely unclear to me.  By all appearances, it seems to be unclear even to many Biblical experts.  One thing that I wish to mention, though, is that the most notable question that hit me all those years ago, which I have not seen anyone else address, is the question, “Is man an unclean animal?”  My father might make the ruminant category of animal, with his abominable bouts of acid reflux, but he lacks the cloven hoof.  The fact is that if we apply those rules to ourselves, then we are all as kosher as swine.  In fact, the swine actually come a little closer to being kosher, with their cloven hooves.  Imagine, then, bathing a pig and dressing it nice.  We’ll say you train it to go potty outside like a good little pig.  We can teach it all kinds of manners and give it a touch of perfume.  All of this is to no avail.  It’s still an unclean animal by ceremonial standards.  In a sense, humans following the dietary laws are like a pig refusing to eat pork.  I highly recommend not feeding pork to a pig, but that pig will never be kosher.  It can be taught kosher behavior, perhaps, but it will always retain its species.

Was God hinting at something that people could not openly swallow?

The inherent problem with rules that have no obvious underlying principle is that such rules are almost always misapplied.  Either the law will be followed to a uselessly obsessive extreme, or it will be largely ignored in time.  Truth be told, though, no one really knows why certain meats were forbidden.  The uncleanness of a pig, in a way that cannot be solved with soap and water, is something that simply does not obviate itself.  So, when Christ came and declared us clean, many people seemed to think, “What do you mean?  I was already clean.”  The intrinsic uncleanness was as invisible for us as it was for the pig.  In truth, accepting the absolution of Christ’s death and resurrection first requires acknowledging one’s own unclean state.  But people don’t see their uncleanness any more than a pig sees its own uncleanness.  We were told what an unclean animal looked like.  We could have seen ourselves in that description, but we did not.  The pig was unclean, and we were superior, or so we thought.  Or, did we?

But, if we do not understand what makes a pig unclean, then we do not understand what makes us unclean.  Then we do not understand what makes us redeemed by the blood of Christ.  Sin is so much a part of our nature that we cannot see it.  The washed and perfumed pig takes a dump on your living room floor and thinks nothing of it.  It does not know how putrid it is, nor how inappropriate its residence in your home.

But for the grace of God so are we in Heaven.





One response

26 06 2009

Fascinating article. I am pleasantly surprised how this very subject is getting increasing attention among the body.

As a funny thought, ever wonder why so many people want to “be like Jesus”, yet want nothing to do with his Jewishness? Instead of asking WWJD, maybe the question should be What DID Jesus Do?

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