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Jesus The ImmoralistAuthor of this text: Bernard Katz
Jefferson thought that Jesus was the greatest moralist who ever walked on water.
President Bush declared that Jesus is his guide and philosopher par excellence.
And so did-and do-millions of others throughout the ages.
But was he? On balance, was he really an immoralist?
An objective examination of the Gospels gives us contradictions,
koan-type sayings, mysteries within mysteries, false prophecies, and scare
tactics worthy of terrorists. Just as there are sins of commission, so there are
sins of omission-for which Jesus is most guilty. Jesus says nothing about
ending war, stopping capital punishment, protecting the environment, eliminating
gambling, banishing slavery, staunching racial hatreds, administering justice,
abolishing gender discrimination, promoting the pleasures of sex, encouraging
freedom and democracy, treating the sick with anything but magic, holding
together families, easing the pains of anxiety, comments about the ideal beauty,
knowledge and truth.
He explains by way of parables: „To you [Jesus' disciples] it has been
given to you to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has
not been given" (Mt.13.11). So instead of straightforward talk, these parables
allow whatever spin anyone wishes to put on them. His ethics resembles a collage-a bit of incomplete advice here and there, pasted together by
theologians who believe they know the mind of Jesus better than he did himself.
What kind of precepts does this immoralist advance?
Jesus does insist that the Father be worshiped with „all your heart, and
with all your soul, and with all your mind" — Matthew 22.37 — yet
in John 10.30, Jesus declares that "I and the Father are one."
teaching has elements of being too narrow and too harsh. Just consider the
Jesus sent his twelve disciples on missionary work, admonishing them:
„Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but
rather go to the lost sheep of Israel" (Mt. 10.5-6).
„If any town does not receive you or listen to your words, shake
off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. Truly, I say to you,
it shall be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and
Gomorrah than for that town" (Mt. 10.14-15; 11.20-24).
„Whoever denies me before men, I will deny before my Father who is
in heaven" (Mt. 10.33).
He castigates scribes and Pharisees: „But woe to you, scribes and
Pharisees, hypocrites!" (Mt. 28.13)
He excoriates Jews who had been arguing with him: „You are of your
father the devil … He was a murderer from the beginning … he is a liar ...and
the father of lies." (John 8.44)
He denies the burial of the father of one of his disciples, this being
one of the most ancient and important of family duties: „Follow me [said
Jesus], and leave the dead bury their own dead." (Mt. 8.22)
He encourages self-mutilation: „Not all men can receive this
precept, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been
so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and
there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom
of heaven.. He who is able to receive this, let him receive it." (Mt.
He preaches improvidence: „Do not lay up for yourselves treasures
on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal."
He advocates hatred of family: „If anyone comes to me [Jesus] and
does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and
sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple." (Luke
In a string of unrealistic admonitions, Jesus reverses true morality:
„But I say to you, do not resist one who is evil. But if anyone strikes you
on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if anyone would sue you and
take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if anyone forced you to go
one mile, go with him two miles. Give to him who begs from you, and do not
refuse him who would borrow from you." (Mt. 5.38-42) And „Judge not,
that you be not judged." (Mt. 7.1)
And lastly, this from the last verse of one of Jesus' morality lessons,
the parable of the pounds: „But as for these enemies of mine, who did not
want me to reign over them, bring them here and slay them before me" (Luke
As you have seen, Jesus does not prescribe moral standards that
contribute to our happiness. He issues commands, not supported by rational
persuasion but by threats of heaven and hell.
If these are the words of the greatest moralist the world has ever
produced, then the world as seen through the eyes of Jesus would be in worse
shape than it already is.
published in the American Rationalist ©)
« The New Testament (Published: 18-05-2003 Last change: 21-09-2003)
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