03 Apr 2011

The Benefits of “Arbitrary” Rules

Religious 23 Comments

Just a short post tonight, intended mostly for people who already believe in these things. I think the apparently arbitrary religious rules set forth in the Bible actually serve a useful purpose. For example, if you tithe (i.e. donate 10% of your income to the church), then it forces you to keep up with your finances and actually you have “more money” every month than if you tell yourself, “We can’t do it right now, we’ll get caught up later when our cashflow is improved.”

For another example, I try not to work on Sundays. But when things are really busy I often would do it. Yet the same pattern holds: I think I probably get more total work done in a 7-day period, if I take a break on Sunday and rejuvenate. You really can’t go non-stop full blast for 7 days straight; you end up taking little breaks during the week anyway. And so I think if you just take a full day off and focus on the bigger things (by going to church etc.), then you are off to the races once you go back to work Monday morning.

23 Responses to “The Benefits of “Arbitrary” Rules”

  1. David S. says:

    It’s amazing that as an atheist, I understand your religion better than you do. If you contribute money to a church housed in a building, you’re ignoring the spirit of the christian movement. It’s a total waste of money. Instead of the body of Christ, you’ve perverted your own religion. Can’t the money be better spent helping others and spreading the word?

    Did Jesus have a church? Doesn’t the Bible say he traveled rather extensively, often depending on the kindness of others for his lodging?

    Congratulations on missing the entire point.

    • crossofcrimson says:

      “Congratulations on missing the entire point.”

      Congratulations on being the most insipid and arrogant commenter to jump into the fray here in quite some time. Making large strides in evaluating someone’s beliefs (of which you seem to know little) is a good way of finding yourself waist-deep in something you’ll have a hard time getting out of. If you want to reach people you could try doing so without being so belligerent.

      • David S. says:

        Sorry, but this is all obvious, even to a hellion like myself.

    • Blackadder says:

      It’s amazing that as an atheist, I understand your religion better than you do.

      That would be amazing, if true. As it stands the only amazing thing here is your own arrogance.

    • bobmurphy says:

      David, I think you need a hug. Let me know when you visit Nashville.

      • David S. says:

        Look, I mean no offense, but it isn’t surprising that someone of the Austrian faith would succumb to an actual spiritual religion. The same lack of features of critical thinking apply. You seem to consistently miss the obvious, whether economics, religion, etc..

  2. Eli says:


    Do you believe the apparently arbitrary rules were put in the bible specifically for the reasons you list, or are those just coincidental benefits?

  3. Rory says:

    @David–no, you don’t understand Christianity better than Bob, and you assume too much. You falsely specify what Bob didn’t, that giving to a church means the money will only go to paying building bills, the pastor’s Cadillac, etc. Churches often support missionaries, and are missions to their local communities. However, thank you for reminding Christians that it is imperative that believers share their faith, and not keep it to themselves.

    @Eli–interesting query. I believe God’s wisdom is infinitely greater than man’s, even collectively, and His rules serve a dual purpose of giving the believer a way to distinguish his/herself from nonbelievers and keeping him/her out of avoidable trouble. However, nobody can follow the Law perfectly, we live in a world corrupted by sin, and bad things happen to “good” people for reasons we don’t understand.

    • David S. says:

      So, if people go away on a missionary trip, they need a building back home that took resources to build? lol No, if people just met in each others’ homes, they could spend more on missionary work.

  4. Nathan says:

    @David S. Apparently, in all your knowledge about Christianity you forgot the part of it descending from Judaism, where they had a temple and synagogues that were supported by the tithes. Jesus claimed to fulfill the law not overthrow it, as such it is entirely appropriate for a portion of the money that people tithe to go toward supporting the physical plant of church ministries. Also, I can tell you that at my church, we do in fact use the money that pays for our rent to help spread the word, since we regularly receive non-believers at our services. We are able to do this in today’s modern world because people know where they can find us if they are interested in our message. And so, the money that we waste on buildings has come back to us in the form of additional brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus our lord, even if they never pay a single cent in tithes we have made one of the best possible investments of our money under our belief system, since we saved the immortal soul of even one person.

    • David S. says:

      I guess you have little faith then. Should I forget that part about faith moving mountains?

      It’s real simple. The moment you build a structure for an organization it becomes an albatross. Along with a formal hierarchy, It’s another incentive for corruption and financial distraction. Keep the body of Christ in the body and you don’t have to worry about hearts of stone.

  5. David R. Henderson says:

    This atheist agrees with you re Sunday. When I “cheat” and work on Sunday, I regret it. So I try at most to do just household chores so that my brain gets a rest. I think Steven Covey calls it “sharpening the saw.”

    • bobmurphy says:

      David, I do the same things. I.e. I do stuff around the house that I’ve let sit all week. Not sure if that is in the spirit of resting on the Sabbath, but on the other hand, I also take long naps.

  6. R says:

    Or, instead of donating it to the church, we can do the same thing with the state. “donate” 10 percent of your income to the state. this forces you to keep up with your finances and actually you have “more money” every month.

    c’mon now.

  7. Rory says:

    If the church, or a church, created a CRS (Church Revenue Service) and mandated all members to pay a tithe “or else”, using late penalties and the threat of imprisonment, then I would say don’t donate to the church. But donations are voluntary, and the only way to keep missions going. Church building are missions, as Nathan stated. A missionary can walk through the neighborhood to spread God’s Word. Some African pastors come to the U.S. to be missionaries to Americans! David, God loves you, but you’re being stubbornly defiant and not recognizing the Christians’ point of view. The Good News is, you’re a prime candidate for conversion!

  8. yahya says:

    you make some good points, but regarding this statement you made:

    “I think the apparently arbitrary religious rules set forth in the Bible actually serve a useful purpose.”

    but maybe giving money to the church is a useful purpose in itself. the reason i say that is because we could just go one step further and ask ‘why is keeping our finances in order a useful purpose?’ And when you give an answer for that, we could just ask the same question again for the reason you give ad infinitum..

  9. GSL says:

    I’m not a believer, but if I were I would guess that God is not a consequentialist, and He probably wouldn’t care for us to be consequentialists also. As such, it’s not a question of saying “I didn’t understand why I was doing this, but I did and it worked out okay for me”. In commanding people to do things that seem arbitrary or counterintuitive, it’s more likely that God is asking us to try to understand something about Him, and the point is in the act, not in the consequences. Which is really the goal for any Christian: building a lifelong relationship with God.

  10. Anonymous says:

    These types of “rules” are not arbitrary in the common sense that is implied by the word. Tradition and traditional institutions often purvey more knowledge and significance than the practicioner of a traditional art can himself know.

    One of the problems I’m having with many of the radical individualist types, especially a particular type that seems to disproportionately hang out around here, is that they too often fail to understand that liberty in the positive implies a degree of restraint on liberty in the negative. This seems like a clear contradiction to a hyper rationalist, but the point is that often, it is only after an individual submits to a traditional authoritative rule or institution that he experiences a fuller measure of liberty. It is only upon submission, that deepter learning and knowledge begins, and one acquires the skill to live free.

  11. K Sralla says:

    The above comment was mine.

    • Tel says:

      … it is only after an individual submits to a traditional authoritative rule or institution that he experiences a fuller measure of liberty.

      Surely that’s up to the individual to decide. If it’s a good deal, then presumably rational individuals would voluntarily agree to this, and thus there has been no incursion of liberty at all — only a trade exchange has occurred.

      On the other hand, if all individuals are forced to submit to this “fuller measure of liberty” then we must presume it is actually a bum deal, because why bother forcing people to take up an exchange that any rational person would do voluntarily?

      I suspect we are rediscovering the Anabaptist heresy once again.

  12. Jim Object says:

    It is the nature of arbitrariness that one can make a case for either (or more than two) positions on any given issue.

    A thing is either true or it isn’t. I have to think that Gods rules (above all else) aren’t subject to arbitrary judgement. If that’s not the case, then are there any rules that aren’t breakable? All sins save for blasphemy are the same in the face of God. Err, depending on your denomination. I’ll go with Matthew 12:25-30-ish and Mark 3-25-30 ish.

    Even if forgiveness is available, the rules can’t be arbitrary. Principle – turns into pragmatism – turns into whim.

  13. K Sralla says:

    No Tel.

    Just because humans are by and large rational creatures, this fact alone should not cause us to presume that their choices always carry with them a full measure of knowledge about reality. The point of traditional institutions, rules, and laws (the kinds that some very presumptuous human being did not consciously design) is that they almost always contain within them more rationality than a person is able to discern or explicitly describe. Much of the knowledge imbedded in these sorts of institutions is tacit. It is often hard to put it into words that make rational sense, but underlying our inability to tell is a hidden treasure of advantages for an individual.

    During the French Revolution, the revolutionaries could rationalize none of traditional French social order, so they tossed all of it out. In doing so, they threw out the baby with the bathwater. What did it get them?

    Before some of the most zealous libertarians fervently evangelize against the classic order of western society, they better hope that their revolution of radical rationalism does not usher in a new wave of tyranny. This was precisely F.A. Hayek’s point in Individualism and Economic Order. Though hard for some to understand, this is why he makes a careful distinction between a true and false individualism. I’m afraid many of you are practicing a false individualism.

    Now I happen to be a Christian, but even if one is not, yet cherishes liberty, they should take great pause and consider carefully what I have written above.

    Finally, and this will be controversial here, but some of you need to ween yourself off of Rothbard and learn some classical liberalism. Your stuck eating baby food and need to move on to some meat.

  14. K Sralla says:

    One more point. Hopefully I’ll make someone mad enough to engage this point.

    But have you ever noticed that Rothbard is always the only one (or one of a small group) rational enough to see the light. This was the same tendency that sadly brought down Ayn Rand’s little cult. In the end, their circle closes, and they end up with a little state where nobody is morally justified except themselves.

    This is a form of tyranny and can happen in larger social orders if we are not careful.