I find a lot of so-called Christians who claim to know a lot about God. They tell me what God wants all the time. They tell me that the bible is “his word”, not quite in his own handwriting, but near enough.
All the while, I find that they don’t seem to have read it very carefully, although they are certainly masters of the quote. You know what I mean. You say something, and they say: “The bible says. . . . ” a quote that appears to prove their point.
So maybe if you are a real Christian, one of those born-again types, maybe on the way out of your born again experience, they give you the code book, you know, the one entitled “1001 Sayings of God: All you need to get by in a Secular world.”
I came to that conclusion because as they say, when you have eliminated all the impossibilities, what remains, no matter how improbable, must be true. And I have eliminated all the other possibilities. It is the only way you can claim to “know the bible” yet be so ignorant of so much in it. At least the Jesus parts.
That’s what I find so bizarre. It’s true you know. Among the great mass of basically unchurched or poorly churched, “I can read for myself, thank you”, you find an inordinate reliance on what Paul said, and very little about what Jesus said. Even when what Jesus said is attested sometimes by three Gospel writers, while Paul never met the living man.
It’s very true that the Gospels are not history and aren’t meant to be so. They were evangelizing documents, meant to state the case of the believing community of which they were from. They were “this is what we believe and why”. Paul is an entirely different genre. First, many of his letters were not written by him, but the writer wishes to claim Paul’s authority. So read agenda into that. Second, Paul is often writing to address problems within a local church, problems we are mostly unaware of, so therefore it’s very hard to judge the breadth of his statements.
The point is not to discuss Paul, but rather to remind folks of something Jesus talked about as regards “doing good”.
Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly. (Matthew 6:1-4)
See I gave it to you in the KJV version!
If you read Jesus, you find that a good deal of his anger is directed at Pharisees, those who would be similar to the born-agains in our time. They talked God and rules of Torah all day and night. They made sure everyone saw how pious they were. They demanded strict adherence to the rules of Judaism, so much so in fact that they regularly turned their back on God’s people as being sinful and untouchable. Certainly the undesirables were denied much as being “unclean”.
Our born-agains are similar. They are always talking God, always praising God, always talking about what God hates and that if you aren’t like them you are condemned. They hate the sin, but “love the sinner” which amounts to shunning the sinner and making the sinner’s life miserable all the while lovin’ him to death in their hearts. Which feeds exactly no one, nor shelters them, nor cures them.
But the Pharisaic failing that I find worse, and maybe Jesus did too, was the degree to which they strutted about showing off how pious they were by comparison. They would have called it “setting a good example” no doubt, but Jesus just seemed to find it prideful.
I know that atheists and agnostics are as committed to good causes as the believer. I know they give of their money and their time. They care about the earth and the poor. The see it as a human thing to do–help their neighbor. Unfortunately the right-wing evangelical often does it for less honorable reasons–it’s the way to salvation. So it gets personal with them. They do it not because they are human but because they are told that there ain’t no heaven without it.
And that’s not terrible. It still serves the cause. The rich, often from a sense of guilt, throw money around philanthropically speaking. They build wings on hospitals and show up at “events” to lend their celebrity. That too still serves the cause.
But what about that Matthew thing?
About not letting the left hand know what the right hand is doing? See that’s the part about NOT TALKING ABOUT WHAT A GENEROUS PERSON YOU ARE. Who needs to know that? God already does, I’m sure you would agree. And making me feel small by comparison is certainly no way to encourage me.
See Jesus said that that makes you no different from a Pharisee, or a criminal among other criminals. And your reward is the pats on the back you receive from each other, not what you are ostensibly working toward: salvation.
And you want to know what? If I think of the instances when somebody has told me “chapter and verse” about all the things they have done for the unfortunate, you know what? EVERY time, it was a “born again” type, a “the bible is the WORD of God” type, a “holy roller” who tells me that they read the bible every single day and praise God all day and night. And it was always in response to their saying something racist, or at least selfish in that they didn’t want to pay taxes to help some “other” group. It was their “defense”.
And how un-Christ like is that? I guess they missed Matthew 6: 1-4.
You tell me.
As Gandhi said,
“I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
I have to agree.
By the by, there is a book about losing sight of the purpose of giving called, The Spiritual Danger of Doing Good, by Peter Greer. Some may like to take a look.