One or my grandfathers was considered to be the leading Biblical theologian in this country — with a double doctorate from Yale in philosophy and Semitic languages and where he became Woolsey Professor of Biblical Literature.  I never met him personally — he died relatively young in 1925 — but I was mentored by a number of his students. Thus, I wanted after graduation from college to examine our religious traditions which I did with 3 years of studies at Union Theological Seminary (with an exchange year at Mansfield College, Oxford).

I was surprised to discover from my studies that there seemed to be two conflicting versions Christianity — that initiated by Jesus of Nazareth which was overlaid by the writings of St. Paul (which actually were published before the four Gospels).  What was startling about Paul was his enemies list — young widows and women generally, unconverted Jews,  gays — the last of whom he wished G-d to destroy per his introductory comments in his Letter to the Romans.  And Paul was the author of the charge that rang down the ages to its culmination in the Holocaust — “The Jews killed Jesus!” — whereas the contemporary evidence was that Jesus was in fact executed by a brutal Roman governor as a suspect terrorist (“zealot” in translation).

So the bottom line here is that Christians have long had a choice to make — will they go with the Beatitudes of Jesus:

which can be more or less simplified as calling for love and support for one’s neighbors — particularly the poor — and distrust of the rich (who will have less luck getting into heaven than a camel passing through the eye of a needle — that may have been an historical reference to a narrow gateway into Jerusalem of that name where people had to unload the burdens of their camels to gain entrance).

Paul was greatly proud of his Roman citizenship and, while praising Jesus, also insisted that Christians be totally obedient to Roman authority regardless — or face the wrath of G-d for disobedience to it.  One does not need much imagination to figure which version of Christianity has appealed to authoritarian rulers. Killing became a game played all too often by Christian institutions — the Inquisition, religious wars, crusades, wars of imperial conquest which we may see operating now in Iraq?

For myself I became disenchanted with what I saw institutionalized Christianity headed towards.  Good things happened with the civil rights movement, but the Billy Graham ‘feel good’ types were beginning to emerge with their lists of hatreds — against women (abortion rights), against gays, against Muslims, against government support of those in need — the only way to reach our poor, disabled, and ill is with universal programs funded justly out of proportionally assigned taxes.

“It’s mine!” seems to be the Schlockwort of these types — the only thing that has united the right wing evangelicals with the greedy libertarians who provide the support for our neocon warriors.

Yes, this is an angry post.  But I would remind Christians of the one time Jesus seemed to have blown his cool — when he tossed the money lenders out of the Temple.  Perhaps this is a parable that our corporate greedies should take to heart?

For the information of fundamentalists, incidentally, the Biblical texts that they claim as their absolute authority are both culturally primitive and may have been selected out from a wider variety of ones –  some suppressed.  See the recently rediscovered Gospel of Judas, for instance:

Our remnants of the past religious texts were scarcely divinely dictated — as Spinoza pointed out in the seventeenth century.  They were authored in their own times by humans like ourselves — and they have been reinterpreted by each generation to suit its own interests. If one is going to be a Christian, one has a number of serious choices to make — make peace or make war being one of the most haunting current ones.

“A war is just if there is no alternative, and the resort to arms is legitimate if they represent your last hope.” (Livy cited by Machiavelli)

Ed Kent  718-951-5324 (voice mail only) [blind copies]

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