that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, but he that believeth
not shall be damned”
– Luke 16:16 supposedly quoting Jesus of Nazareth
THE ETHICS OF JESUS
The ethics attributed to Jesus of Nazareth are a mixed bag. Some of it is inspired – spiritually, ethically and morally right on the money.
The Parable of the Good Samaritan is a remarkably astute lesson in spirituality. It shows a keen mind and a true appreciation of how humans might avoid and even resolve conflict. Likewise, admonitions to turn the other cheek, to be willing to accept blame in the face of anger and enmity provide a revolutionary template for social interaction heretofore unseen but sometimes practiced in the next three centuries until the Council of Nicea and the adoption of a harsh and exclusive creed.
This same spiritually inclusive behavior occurred again in the Twentieth Century and led to a number of revolutionary social advances. Women earned the right to vote, equal pay for equal work, and actual equality under the law – rights denied them by the religions which lauded Jesus but ignored most of his teachings. Blacks received the rights supposedly granted them a century earlier and, even more importantly, received the dignity and respect denied them. An end to the rigid class structure of India was started because of the spiritual leadership of a few men. And a peaceful resolution to the racist government in the Republic of South Africa occurred because a good man had the willingness to forgive and the foresight to include would-be enemies.
The Golden Rule is almost the only rule needed in a sane and well-informed society. You put yourself in the other guy’s shoes and walk around a bit to see how it feels. Of course, this requires a certain amount of enlightenment to avoid just validating ones own fantasies, but the Golden Rule is a remarkable tool to test whether something is ethical or not.
The words quoted in Luke 16:16, however, fail ethically, spiritually, and logically. Using credulity about something unseen and unknown as the sole criterion for accepting or rejecting a soul; ostracizing the great bulk of humanity because of their inability to wholly accept an unknown and implausible piece of history is divisive, abusive, and destructive. It fractures families, communities, and nations. It is not only spiritually disruptive, it is anathema to anyone who thinks for himself or herself. I consider it far worse than absurd. It is a complete reversal of all the spiritual teachings in the Sermon on the Mount and a life led in humility and kindness. According to this proclamation, only the credulous and obedient will attain salvation.
Once I understood how the human spirit longs for inclusion and completeness and saw the unifying nature of remorse and forgiveness, the arbitrary and capricious rule requiring blind acceptance of an improbable and unknowable historical fact was glaringly incongruous. The exclusion of those without blind faith is spiritually destructive, as the long history of religious wars abundantly demonstrates.
WHO WROTE THE OLD TESTAMENT?
At the time the Old Testament was written, a vast number of people were illiterate. When a letter was needed, the sender hired a scribe to write down the words exactly as said. Another scribe would later read the sender’s words as if the sender was right there. The two scribes involved were as invisible and unobtrusive as possible in the communication process.
The Old Testament, however, is often letters from one person to another or to a group of people. If it had been letters dictated by God, the normal and natural process of the scribe would be to attribute the letter to God and not to himself.
Thus, the ethics of the Old Testament are the ethics of ancient Jews, not the ethics of God.
THE ETHICS OF ANCIENT JEWS
I can understand why Moses attributed the Ten Commandments to God. Had he called for a referendum, the various religious sects worshiping idols or practicing unusual rituals would not have fallen in line. Moses had already lost much of his control of the group. When you realize the cultural divide between Moses, fostered in the Pharaoh’s family, and the former slaves and their children who were sick and tired of following him as he wandered in the desert, you start to get a glimpse into the magnitude of Moses’ dilemma. Tablets of stone “written by God” is an inspired solution. Given that Moses’ foster father was considered to be a “god,” this interpretation isn’t all that unreasonable.
Because Moses’ first concern was the diverging religious practices developing in his tribe, the first four commandments addressed the issues of formal observance of Jewish rituals. The next was an ancient tradition: honor thy mother and thy father. The remaining five are a flawed but credible attempt at a code of ethics.
One problem not addressed was the problem of rape. If coveting got a rule of its own (oh how I wish Moses’ successors had followed it!), rape and statutory rape should each have gotten a commandment, but they didn’t. Rape is a crime with deep and lasting spiritual repercussions. Today, we have strong tabus against sex which isn’t mutually consensual and this includes sex between people of unequal status or authority (teacher/student, adult/child, doctor/patient, therapist/client). One might even consider sex within a traditional male-dominated marriage where the wife was purchased from her father and considered property of the husband to be a form of statutory rape. Even if the wife consents, it’s still statutory rape. Traditional conservative Christians are still tied to this archaic anomaly, this loophole in ancient ethics and morality.
There is no rule against slavery, which is surprising given the group’s recent history. It’s also the source of many problems still to come.
Given the covenants:
To Noah: Giving his family the entire world and drowning everyone else (except it never happened).
To Abraham: Giving his family the region bounded by the Nile River and the Euphrates River in perpetuity. In particular, giving Jews the “promised land” of Israel, which Christians made good on by stealing it from their Arab allies after World War I and creating a racist land, Palestine, with unlimited Jewish immigration. Giving Abraham and Sarah riches for having lied to and seduced their amorous hosts and punishing wives and children for the rulers’ enticed indiscretions. Getting Abraham to agree to murder his infant son, Issac.
To Joshua: Giving him license to murder and steal.
To modern man: Ritual forgiveness isn’t very effective in correcting bad behavior. Belief is not the apex of virtuosity. The exclusion of women and homosexuals was a direct result of inappropriate Biblical views taken as Gospel Truth. And God really isn’t racist or sexist or dogmatic except that He (or She) seems to consistently side with scientific inquiry. The more we inquire, the more we seem to understand. The more we read our Bibles, the more we are set at odds with reality.
I find Biblical ethics absurd. This book is NOT a valid moral or ethical compass!
THE ETHICS OF MODERN ZIONISTS
My mother was a “Friend of Israel,” supporting this movement by modern Christians to support a Jewish homeland rather than welcoming Jews into their own countries and neighborhoods. The racist country of Israel is a direct result of Christian beliefs and a longstanding Christian prejudice against Jews.
Yes, my mother, a fundamental Christian, was a fervent Zionist. They managed to convert quite a few Jews to their cause.
Twentieth Century Zionism had several added bonuses for the British government, which concocted this scheme at the end of World War I: it apparently canceled a good portion of the debt they owed to Baron Walter Rothschild, who helped finance the war for them; it fit beautifully into their colonial policy of divide and conquer, setting the stage for perpetual conflict akin to the 600 years of unrest in Northern Ireland and the continuing bickering between the Muslims of Pakistan and the Hindus of India; and it found a home for the refugees from the recent pogroms in Russia and, later, refugees of the Holocaust. It must be stressed that unlimited Jewish immigration into Palestine was an established part of British “diplomacy” long before Hitler concocted his “final solution” and was protested by Arabs as early as 1920.
Christians like to pat themselves on the back. They seem to consider themselves paragons of virtue. I don’t.
When Christians met the “savages” of Africa and America, they set about abusing them. On June 7, 1494, Pope Alexander VI divided the Americas between the Spanish and Portuguese monarchs. The “Treaty of Tordesillas” was later confirmed and ratified by Pope Julius II in 1506. No thought or concern was given to the real owners of these lands. These “Christian” monarchs then gave huge territories to people in their favor who had enough wealth to hire their own armies to subjugate the locals within their designated “land grants.”
Almost all the European “explorers” abused the hospitality and good nature of local Americans, repaying friendship and generosity with murder, mayhem, and excessive greed. Even Englishmen and their descendants made and broke countless treaties and alliances with local tribes. This was the rule, not the exception.
Today, we’re a bit sneakier, but no less violent or unjust.
When a Buddhist committed suicide by lighting himself on fire to protest our championing a repressive dictatorship in South Vietnam, we scratched our heads, but we didn’t pry. Instead, we killed 3,000,000 Vietnamese in their own homeland to prop up a neo-colonial government that couldn’t stand by itself. We dropped more bombs than in all of World War II. However, as soon as we left, they fought the Communists north and west of them.
As long as Christians can find a way to provoke or cajole or just make up an injustice, they can rally their people to violence and murder. We first invited Iraq into Kuwait by slant-drilling about 500 oil wells from this principality stolen from Iraq, stealing oil in massive quantities, and telling Saddam Hussein that we were neutral in this conflict. Then we kicked their asses and embargoed them for 10 years for having fallen for our ploy. And, finally, we trumped up charges of terrorism and WMDs and unilaterally invaded.
Of course, we continue to sponsor the incursion of people with European and American ancestry into Arab territories near the “promised land” with permanent war and injustice as a reliable consequence.
None of this was or is ethical. Yet most of us don’t see it. We don’t know about it and we don’t want to know about it.
This blind, unconscious nationalism and racism has been going on all along. It isn’t new and it hasn’t changed.
©David N. Dodson, June, 2016, Phoenix, AZ