Recently there have been several good posts related to the hypocrisy of judging prophets from an ivory tower. These judgments seem to be quite disconnected from the... color of the old testament. While it is easy to take a look at our current social practices and judge the past from this angle, I wonder if this doesn't just provide us with a view of what we consider righteous rather than what may ultimately be correct.
Obviously our cultural values should be included in our definition of righteousness. Becoming a law unto one's self usually leads to problems. Becoming a strong moral relativist may also lead to unforeseen slides. It seems to me, that intent really does go a long way. After all, it is one of the few ways around some of the more unusual events of the past. Being unable to assess intent makes reformulation of dissociative events problematic. Are some of these practices actually okay? Were they only okay within societal contexts of the time? When our world view starts to make sense of them, is it because we are discovering the righteous intents that were in the background, or is it because we have come to accept the unsavory aspects as not being overly bad? Obviously there is no answer for this, only the caution we have to remain true to the inspirations we have felt. However, I think there is more.
Most established religions are quite internally consistent. As much as people like to think religion B is full of holes, usually open minded people admit that most critiques are based on straw men. While this is not to say every idea is equally as logical and simple, most well thought out religions have a paradigm from which things make sense. Discovering this paradigm and being in harmony with it, is to many, the ultimate goal. So why pick one religion over another? I wonder if much inter religion debate isn't about how correct a perspective is, but rather how correct it stays from various perspectives. Basically what people may be arguing for is a type of perturbation approach to their selected interpretation. (ie wiggle the initial conditions and see how much the answer changes. My answer is better because it is so much more stable than yours.)
Most people would probably argue that theology that approaches absolute truth is what is sought. Truths should be condition independent. Indeed I think this is usually the approach we take when studying the scriptures. Look at all the weird events, determine a perspective that makes sense of them and can handle the inevitable wackiness of the past. The larger number of things that can make sense from this perspective, the better the perspective is. However, this will never get us beyond a mere reinterpretation of the past from our current cultural perspective. It requires social evolution to minimize perspective errors. But social evolution, is to my mind, a myth. It assumes a catholic like view where the spirit of god in a community ensures that the direction taken is what God intends.
Some faiths seem to tackle this problem differently. Instead of relying on God's influence on social progression, they take the idea that a paradigm shift is inevitable. What should be sought is the simplest paradigm shift that makes the most number of ideas condition independent. I think the saved by faith religions fit this model. But again there is the underlying assumption that universalism determines correctness. What works and makes sense for everyone is obviously what is correct. To me, this may be fallacious thinking. It assumes that God would choose a solution that is workable by anyone. Thus our reliance on perturbation theology to solve our questions. What works for any initial condition must be correct. However, I am not sure I am convinced by this.
Already 1/3 of the host of heaven is lost. Relatively few people will make it to the highest glory of the celestial kingdom. We assume any one can be saved through the atonement, but like war in heaven proved, not everyone is capable of accepting this. This is especially true as our mortal existence clouds over our previous intents. Now sure we could argue over what is really meant by "capable", but if someone was to repeat an event 1000 times and pass only once, from a statistical perspective, they are still pretty much incapable, especially if they only get one shot at things. So if most people won't gain exaltation, does it really make sense to problem shoot theology based on a model where what is correct is determined by what works for everyone?