Friday, March 8, 2013

What would a Christian society actually look like?

Evangelical Christians won't admit there's anything wrong with the Bible at all. From beginning to end, they regard it as the literal word of God. Liberal Christians, like I used to be, will usually admit that the Old Testament was written by a bunch of relatively primitive nomads who didn't know anything about how the world was put together, and so it's not to be taken literally. But the New Testament, particularly Jesus' words, is different. It's the heart of the Bible, what Christianity is based on, and thus his words have to be taken seriously. Even people who aren't Christian will sometimes praise Jesus for his wonderful philosophy.

So let's look at a few of the things Jesus is alleged to have said, and consider what a truly Christian society would actually look like. To be fair, I will admit that Jesus obviously thought he was living in the end times, and that he was addressing the last generation. He didn't think his rules really had to apply to a long-term society, and so it's not surprising that they don't. But Christians won't admit that (because it would mean admitting that Jesus really didn't know what the hell he was talking about when he said he'd be coming back soon), and so it seems fair to examine the rules Jesus laid out, and see if a society could actually be feasibly based on Jesus' precepts. Specifically, let's see what would happen to American society (since conservatives love to claim our laws are based on the Bible). Let's start with just a few today (quotes from the Revised Standard Edition, which was the first Bible that came to hand from my bookshelf):

Matthew 19:21- "If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me."

Well, that's rather a large demand, isn't it? Notice that Jesus doesn't say give the church ten percent of your income, which is the figure fundamentalists usually use. He says to give all of your money-- all of it-- every last bit of it-- directly to the poor. He's not talking about just helping out the poor a bit while you live in your nice middle-class house and watch television in air-conditioned comfort. He's not talking about giving your kids' outgrown clothes to Goodwill,or dropping a twenty into the collection plate on Sunday. He's talking about a complete and total surrender of your assets, leaving you and your family impoverished and homeless (but don't worry, it says in another verse that God provides for his disciples-- though apparently not for the poor).

Imagine what the United States would look like if Christians actually followed this teaching. There would probably be packs of Christians roaming around, preaching their gospel and begging for food and shelter in exchange. If everyone who calls him- or herself a Christian (around 75% of the US population) actually did this, who'd be left to grow food or do any work? Society would collapse into poverty. This doesn't appear to me to be a sustainable societal model, nor do I think Jesus intended it as one. He was speaking to a small group of people and expected the world to end in their lifetimes. If you extend it to a long-term society of hundreds of millions of people, you easily see that it just doesn't work as a model.

Matthew 19:9- "And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another, commits adultery."

Way to go with the sexism there, Jesus. What, only guys get to make decisions about divorce? But even if we assume women also can have a voice in the matter (a pretty iffy assumption, if we're really trying to live based on Jesus' words), he's still saying we can't get a divorce for any reason at all unless our spouse is sleeping around. So if your spouse is beating you-- tough luck. God joined you together, and he obviously had a good reason for it, so quit your whining and suck it up.

Obviously, a society that took Jesus' words literally wouldn't allow divorce for any reason other than adultery. (Fundamentalists actually do want to get rid of no-fault divorce, though I suspect even most of them would agree physical abuse justifies divorce.)  So if you're not getting along with your spouse, or s/he drinks to excess and won't seek treatment, or s/he tortures kittens for fun-- that's too damn bad. God put you together, and you're stuck. If you divorce the twerp, you're committing adultery.

Matthew 5:39- "Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if any one would see you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well..."

Seriously? So if a stranger comes up and knocks me to the ground, for no reason or for any reason, I'm supposed to get up and meekly say, "Do that again, please." If someone steals my iPhone, I should chase after him and offer him my Kindle as well. What about someone who hurts my kids? Should I encourage that behavior, too? "Thanks for bullying my kid. Here's my second kid-- please, beat him up, too!"

I think it's clear that this particular teaching would lead to chaos, and the strong preying on the weak, quite rapidly. A system of punishment for criminal behavior is a necessity for a stable society (though I agree with Jesus that the old "eye for an eye" thing may have been a bit harsh). I don't regard this as a sensible rule to base a society on. I think if Christians were honest with themselves, they wouldn't either.

So, just three quotes from the Bible, and already we have a society where everyone (well, 75% of the population) has given their money and possessions away and are roaming around homeless, no one can divorce for any reason except adultery, and we have to meekly accept any bad thing anyone does to us. Doesn't sound like the greatest place to live, does it? More tomorrow...

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