The Curmudgeon


Sunday, May 13, 2018

Bad Theology

Text for today: Matthew 7 xii; Luke 6 xxxi

Jesus proclaims that we should do to others as we would wish them to do to us. According to Matthew He ascribes this injunction to the law and the prophets; according to Luke He enunciates the rule moments after telling the wealthy, the well-fed and the mirthful of the sufferings which their loving Father has in store for them.

As to the law and the prophets, the law commands that those who act on certain wishes be stoned to death; while at least one of the prophets says that the human heart is deceitful, desperately wicked and unknowable except to God (Jeremiah 17 ix). Since we cannot know our own hearts, let alone those of other people, it is difficult to see how we can estimate anyone's wishes with sufficient accuracy to oblige them; particularly if their tastes and ours do not happen to coincide. As often with the teaching of Jesus, it is tempting to see this commandment as deliberately setting an impossible task, in order to ensure a steady supply of penitent dupes for His nascent blood cult.

What, according to Jesus, is the nature of our wishes? People are evil (Matthew 7 xi); the things of men are Satanic and opposed to the wishes of God (Matthew 16 xxiii); people deserve worse than the massacred Canaanites and the Cities of the Plain (Matthew 11 xx-xxiv). It is even conceivable that there are some people so unworthy as to prefer ploughshares to swords, who would rather not have their families set against them (Matthew 10 xxxiv-xxxvii). There seems little reason for Jesus to require us to tailor our actions to such depraved preferences, unless perhaps He wishes to spare Himself the bother of looking after too many sheep.

But let us not be uncharitable. Of course it must be admitted from the outset that the commandment is meaningless. Taken in itself, it is neither sane nor benign; taken in the context of the Saviour's consistently punitive and fundamentalist doctrine, it looks like the purest hypocrisy. Nevertheless, this in itself may provide a paradoxical clue to His real intentions. Jesus openly admitted His policy of deliberately confusing and misleading the chaff (Mark 4 xi-xii), and since on this occasion He was speaking in front of a large crowd rather than to His chosen disciples, the most charitable interpretation may be that His statement is a harmless political anodyne, much along the lines of a modern demagogue proclaiming a new and radical preference for prosperity, fair play and the survival of the species.


  • At 1:26 am , Anonymous Brian M said...

    You should have hundreds of thousand of readers, P!

  • At 1:15 pm , Blogger Philip said...

    The fact that I don't is of course yet another indication of how thoroughly God got the universe wrong.


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