It is often the case that the Biblical version of Jesus is portrayed as the peaceful replacement for the out of date and largely anti-social and antiquated Leviticus or Kings. Countless nonbelievers are of the opinion that Jesus was a sort of hippy of his time. A preacher of non-violence, of loving thy neighbour, of blessed are the meek. This is the picture we have of the Christian Jesus, and yet when we read the teachings of Jesus, a slightly different picture emerges.
It is true, that in comparison to the Biblical heroes that enjoyed God’s grace before him – King Saul’s brutal God-ordained genocide of Amalekite children comes to mind – Jesus was a little less maniacal according to scripture. But he isn’t completely without a tendency to cruel reaction, contradiction and wholly immoral sentiment.
It is prudent to point out that Jesus himself insists that the Mosaic laws of the Old Testament are not defunct by his arrival. The cruelties of those laws and commands, and the irrational and heartless judgements from the God of the Old Testament, Jesus insists he has come to confirm. For Jesus, the moral teachings of the Old Testaments are perfectly reasonable. In Matthew 5:17 Jesus says:
“Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.”
– This alone, is enough for fundamentalists to use for the sake of anchoring what they see as the legitimacy of heterosexual-supremacy and Old Testament ordained Patriarchy, regardless of any scientific and social advancement and a more informed understanding of historical processes. The same-sex marriage debate was laden with references to Leviticus. It appears to be the only Leviticus verse that the Christian-right have decided to take seriously.
The New Testament gives the impression that Jesus has two different personalities, as if two different characters. The Gospel accounts present a more peaceful – to a degree – version than the Jesus of, for example, Revelation. In the Gospels, Jesus’s message at times is no less harmful, just less violent. In Luke, we find a teaching of Jesus directly reflected in the policies of the horrendous church of Jehovah’s Witnesses. In Luke 14:26 Jesus says:
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple.”
– Control is the key to this verse, much like control is the key to countless verses from all religious texts. For Christ, you must be willing to break off natural family bonds – an evolved social structure that is hardwired into the fabric of humanity on so many levels – for the sake of the ‘faith’. This is control at its most repugnant. If you’re willing to place faith above your natural family ties, if you’re willing to ‘hate’ everything you are naturally disposed to love, the faith has you in the palm of its hand.
Jesus continues his anti-family demands through the Gospels, including Matthew 19:29:
“And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.”
– Here, Jesus provides an incentive to leave your family. It is beneficial for you to leave your family. Again, this is control. I noted in a previous article the destructive anti-family policies of the cult of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The horrific way those who choose to leave the cult are treated, and shunned, and whose family members are encouraged to disown them. In January 2013, The Watchtower said this on family members no longer wishing to be a part of the cult:
“Really, what your beloved family member needs to see is your resolute stance to put Jehovah above everything else – including the family bond. … Do not look for excuses to associate with a disfellowshipped family member, for example, through e-mail.”
– Given the profitability of Kingdom Hall, it strikes me as a business model. The ability to scare people into staying within a faith because they fear losing their family, is extremely profitable for the governing body of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The lack of compassion or recognition of the importance of family ties completely eludes those in charge of Jehovah’s Witnesses because it is profitable that way. But its justification can absolutely be pointed directly to in the New Testament, through the words of Jesus. The ability to play nature – that which has endowed us with reason – against itself, is key to the perpetuation of faith.
The immoral teachings continue. One of which is immortalised in the painting at the top of this article. It is a work by Caravaggio. Caravaggio was an astonishingly wonderful artist. His training and his tutor in Milan did not seem to have any recognisable effect on the genius of the artist that he would flourish into. His works always seemed to me to be a sort of lightning bolt lighting up the scene for a split second, captured on canvas. One of my favourite Caravaggio works is ‘The Incredulity of Saint Thomas’. It is the moment when Jesus seems to acknowledge that perhaps extraordinary evidence is required for extraordinary claims. John 20:24-29 relates the story of Thomas doubting that the other disciples had seen a risen Jesus. Thomas demands to see evidence. Jesus appears to Thomas and shows him his hand and side wounds. The side wound is the subject of Caravaggio’s work. Upon seeing the evidence, Thomas is convinced. Jesus says:
“Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.”
– This seems to me to be a condemnation of doubt. As if Jesus is forgiving Thomas for doubting that a dead man was now walking around town as if seemingly alive and well, rather than accepting that it’s understandable that Thomas may doubt such a claim. This is another prime example – the first being the focus on slowly unravelling family ties – of religions fundamentally abusing the natural condition of humanity, for its own purposes. As human beings, we are creatures of doubt and of curiosity. It is natural to our condition, and entertaining our doubt and curiosity is how we progress.
A worthwhile teacher does not teach children to believe exactly as they’re told without evidence. A worthwhile teacher inspires curiosity and a yearning for knowledge, to engage their natural desire to understand without bias or dogma. On this basis, Jesus was not a worthwhile teacher.
Thomas was right to question such an extraordinary claim offered with no evidence. Thomas was essentially told by the disciples that the laws of the known universe had been dismissed by the coming back to life of a dead human being. For Thomas to have accepted without evidence, a claim that so wildly undermines nature, would be to suspend all human reasoning and logical faculties. Observation, experiment and measuring reality has been the route to all understanding of the World we inhabit. Jesus appears to suggest this form – the only form – of gaining and applying knowledge, is less respectable than belief without evidence. This is a wholly dangerous teaching. Those who believe without evidence, sit in the House of Lords as permanent members. They rule countries and devise laws. They demand blasphemy laws to prevent natural curiosity from reaching into the realm of belief. And it would seem that Jesus would fully approve of that vast and dangerous ignorance.
Moving from the Gospels to Revelation, Jesus drops the subtle cruelty that he uses in the Gospels, and goes straight for the violence. In Revelation 2:22-23, for a woman whose crime it was to have eaten food that was meant as a sacrifice, and to believe in something other than Jesus, Christ says:
“22 Indeed I will cast her (Jezebel) into a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of their deeds.
23 I will kill her children with death, and all the churches shall know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts. And I will give to each one of you according to your works.”
– Here Jesus seems to have channelled the violent God of the Old Testament. A quick read up on Theological interpretations of these verses tells us that Theologians believe that Jezebel represents ‘false Prophets’ and that ‘committing adultery with her’ is ‘idol worship’, much like those destroyed by God in the Old Testament. This is simply Jesus confirming that if you follow someone who isn’t him, you will be slaughtered. Like a jealous partner resorting to violence to keep you in check. It seems a disproportionate punishment, for the apparent ‘crime’. It gives further ammo to those ‘shunning’ family members who leave their cult, for they are now considered evil.
I would further argue that it is the mark of an evil God to bestow upon mankind the ability to think freely and to evaluate evidence, but to punish those who do not accept that which has no evidence. Not only does Jesus mistreat Thomas for the ‘crime’ of doubt, but now it is punishable. It seems the only evidence Jesus is willing to offer for the truth of his word, is a threat that if you don’t accept his word, you’ll be physically abused for eternity. This is violent punishment for thoughts alone. This cannot be construed as anything but a wholly immoral sentiment.
It is important to recognise that the teachings of Jesus – whilst certainly a step up from the cruelty of the Old Testament – are not entirely without fault in the 21st Century. The peaceful message of Christ and the focus on the most vulnerable – Luke 6:20 for example; a message that should trouble the conscience of the wealthiest of Christians – is a message that eludes or is woefully manipulated by many on the Christian right. But it is also true that one is to accept the peaceful and loving passages as the infallible words of the son of God, there must also be no reason to deny the more immoral passages as being the infallible words of the son of God also, and recognise the problems they may cause today. Anchoring morality and knowledge to one period of time, is a dangerous idea. It is hard to get away from the fact that the Bible tells us that Jesus taught to believe without evidence, to abandon family for the sake of his church, and that if you believe otherwise, you are destined for eternal and violent punishment. We must not be led to believe that the Biblical Jesus and Christianity itself represent the epitome of a peaceful, and loving religious system of belief to be adhered to at a political level. This is when faith becomes dangerous.