THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT AND OTHER TEACHINGS OF JESUS
BY JON NELSON
For many Christians, the Sermon on the Mount, allegedly given by Jesus Christ to his followers, represents the essence of his teachings. Even many who are not Christian seem to think that this one sermon represents Christianity at its best. This is despite the fact that few have actually read it and fewer still have attempted to practice what it preaches. This, as we shall see, is a fortunate thing.
It should first be pointed out that most Christians today distance themselves from the bloodthirsty god of the Old Testament, forever smiting people and who seems forever angry at the humans he created. They insist that their god is much nicer, a kind father figure who loves all his children. However, this is certainly not how he is depicted in the Old Testament, nor is it how Jesus portrays him. In fact, Jesus not only upholds the traditional notion of an angry deity, he “improves” on it by insisting that this deity will not hesitate to consign anyone to eternal flames for daring to show any kind of independent thought.
At the beginning of the Sermon, Jesus warns: “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets. I am not come to destroy, bot to fulfill. For verily I say unto you Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled (Matt. 5: 18).” Clearly, Jesus was insisting that every word of Old Testament law should be literally followed. This would include the death penalty for such grievous moral offenses as picking up sticks on the Sabbath and stoning to death a son who talks back to his parents.
The New Testament points out that it is virtually impossible to actually enter heaven and that the overwhelming majority of humankind will be consigned to the flames of hell. This exclusionary fact is pointed out in Matt: 5: 20 in which Jesus says: “For I say unto you, that except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter the kingdom of heaven.” With such impossible standards, the deck is stacked against us from the onset. So much for Christianity being a religion of love.
In light of the fact that evangelism is such a lucrative business financially (if not ethically), it is ironic that those ministers pulling in six and seven digit salaries every year either seem to be unaware or, more likely, choose to ignore altogether what their imaginary savior had to say about wealth. Luke 16: 19-31 tells the story of the rich man and the poor man and of the fate that befalls them: the poor man gains eternal happiness while the rich man is sentenced to eternal torments in which he seeks a drop of water for all eternity.
Expanding on this theme, Matt: 6: 24 tells us how to deal with our earthly possessions: “Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink: Nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?” In other words, don’t work, don’t make any plans for the future, don’t concern yourself with money or any material things. Instead, just believe and god will somehow take care of you. This was written in anticipation of Jesus’ imminent return to earth; two thousand years later it has still not happened. The point is that if one were to follow this injunction literally, one would have to live the life of a beggar, surviving from handout to handout. For some reason slovenliness is more pleasing to the biblical god than hard work, intelligence, creativity, thriftiness, planning ahead and other “worldly” virtues.
Note also the contradictions in this anti-rational and anti-moral mode of thought: if people obeyed this nonsense, not only would the world soon be populated with worthless beggars, anyone who lends them a helping hand would be in danger of hellfire, for even though they sought to help their fellow humans, the mere fact that they had the means to do so indicates that they possess some measure of wealth, and thus cannot hope to enter heaven. And, if every last person followed this biblical injunction, there would soon be no one to sponge off of, and the human race would soon perish. One can only wonder if believers still think that Jesus will return at that point.
Here is the lesson the Bible is teaching: the truly moral people in god’s eyes are those that possess nothing, do nothing, and accomplish nothing; their sole moral verity lies in the fact that, by making their own existence as miserable as possible, they hope to please their heavenly father. This is in contradistinction to earthly fathers and mothers who take pride in their offspring’s intelligence and success. Clearly, god’s morality is the direct opposite of human morality. Given that, how can god be called all-good?
It should be obvious who the real beneficiaries are from this mode of thinking; there are plenty of would-be dictators waiting in the wings for just such a societal transformation which will enable them to take over such a religiously corrupted, brain-dead population, who would soon wind up as willing slaves to the new totalitarian regime.
Jesus often failed to practice his own teachings one of the most often cited passages from the Sermon on the Mount can be found in Matt 5: 39 which has Jesus saying: “But I say unto you That ye resist not evil, but whoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.” Yet Jesus himself repeatedly resists evil. His driving of the money lenders from the temple in Matt. 21: 12-13 is but one example. John 2: 15 elaborates on this by showing how he failed to “turn the other cheek” and lashed his money-lending enemies with a whip. So, if we are supposed to emulate Jesus, which is it? Ignore evil or fight it? This is a clear example of a Bible contradiction, which makes it useless as a moral guide.
Much more important than Jesus’ moral inconsistency is the fact that the notion that we should not resist evil is innately evil in itself. Nowhere in the Bible does it say otherwise, and nowhere are the poor and oppressed urged to rise up against their oppressors and stand up for their rights. But unless we resist evil, the word morality has no meaning whatsoever. Put into practice, Jesus’ proclamation would mean that those who fought against Hitler, Stalin, and other dictators were “sinning” against the biblical god. This one passage, as much as any other, illustrates the depravity of Christianity and its utter failure as a moral guide. Nowadays, those who actually desire to be cheated, tortured, starved, robbed, or killed, the moral ideals as illustrated in the Bible, are locked up for their own and society’s protection. Who among us will “turn the other cheek” when struck in the face? Why is it moral to allow people to take advantage of you, and to injure you while you make no effort to resist or fight back? Again, ask yourself who really benefits from such a system. The dictators are waiting in the wings.
How do women make out in the Sermon on the Mount? Matt: 5:31-32 tells us in no uncertain terms: “It hath been said Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing on divorcement. But I say unto you, that whosoever shall put away his wife saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.” In other words, no matter how incompatible marriage partners may be, it is only the wife’s infidelity that is cause for a divorce, and divorce is the sole prerogative of the man. Yet there are those today who insist that the Bible actually elevates women.
Another interesting injunction concerns the lending, giving, and stealing of property. Matt: 5:42 has Jesus saying: “Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.” And Luke 6: 29-30 says: “And him that taketh away thy cloak forbid not to take thy coat also. Give to every man that asketh of thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again.” Imagine the consequences if this were literally followed: Everything you own would soon be gone, and you would be reduced to the status of a beggar which, as we have already noted, is apparently the biblical god’s ideal goal for us in this life. Remember also the consequences for those who would assist these multitudes of religiously saturated fanatics; even though they show their humanity by helping these losers wallowing in their own incompetence, they will not be allowed into heaven. The gullible sheep however, who have done nothing either for themselves or for humanity, will be allowed to enter heaven where they can stoke the uneasy ego of their god for all eternity. Again we see the moral dead end of biblical morality and see how it serves the interests of society’s exploiters.
Finally, let us briefly examine the so-called “Golden Rule” as contained in Matt: 7: 12, which says: “therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.” First of all, the “Golden Rule” was a very common moral homily throughout the ancient world; in no way can the Bible lay exclusive claim to it. Secondly, this is a human, not a religious injunction; there is no deity mentioned or involved. Finally, it is worded in such a way as to make its moral value highly questionable: it only works if everybody has exactly the same tastes and interests. What happens if someone has extremely bad moral tastes? Let’s say that someone enjoys being whipped. Should he therefore “do it unto others” so that they can reciprocate? Earlier cultures worded the Rule in a better way than the Bible. Confucius, for example, phrased it in the negative, saying “don’t do unto others that which you don’t want done to yourself.” By comparison, the Bible’s Golden Rule looks more like copper.
All of this proves the danger of removing logic and reason from morality and replacing it with unthinking obedience. This is true of all texts, but particularly of ancient ones; no matter how revered and hoary with age they may be, they contain nothing of moral value for us today. Indeed, history and current events clearly demonstrate how dangerous they actually are. When religious zealots demand that we blindly follow the dictates of a two thousand year old cult what they are really seeking is control of the human mind; you surrender it to them at your peril, for history is replete with examples of society’s that have unthinkingly followed despots and religious fanatics. Thinking and reasoning are our only safeguards against such people which is why thinking has always been viewed with great suspicion by the devout. This remains the case today. The Radical Religious right in this country are actively involved in establishing the Bible’s anti-rational and anti-human morals as the law of the land. They have untold amounts of money and resources at their disposal, and should they succeed, anyone daring to disagree with them on any platform issues will become an implacable enemy and dealt with accordingly. The various successes of the Right in recent years should waken every American to the dangers of biblical morality and, more generally, of any religiously-inspired fanaticism.