Now That’s Ironic!

Back in the day when I was teaching a course in the Humanities I was discussing The Book of Job with my class. I suggested that the God of the Old Testament was quite different from the God of the New Testament. After all, He made a wager with the devil that Job would not lose his faith no matter what might happen to him. During the test that the devil contrived Job’s “comforters” insisted that the must have done something wrong because God would not allow him to suffer for no reason. But the lesson, apparently, was that humans suffer for no good reason all the time and they ought to maintain their faith in God despite all.

Further, the God of the Old Testament asked Abraham to take his infant son to a mountain top and slit his throat, testing Abraham’s faith. The Old Testament is full of examples of a God who tests His believers, who seems to all outward appearances to be vindictive and all-powerful, not given to forgive and forget, much less to love. In fact some of the true believers are able to find in the Old Testament the seeds of their own racial prejudice.  I suggested that the New Testament God was a God of love and He was clearly quite different.

One of the students in my class, whom I knew to proudly consider herself among the spiritually certain, insisted that “it is the same God.” And, indeed, to those who claim to know their Bible this may be the case. But I suggested that from a theological, a philosophical, or even a literary point of view the two Gods were quite different.

After all, the New Testament is supposed to be the NEW Testament, to supplant the Old Testament; the God depicted in the New Testament (whether one believes in Him or not) is a God of love, not a God who plays favorites, inspires fear, and is given to testing his followers. In fact, in the New Testament God sacrificed his son in order to save humankind — whether or not one believes that humankind is worth saving (and at times I do wonder). He admonishes His followers to eschew wealth, reminding them that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into Heaven. He demands that they turn the other cheek, forgive one another, never judge another lest they also be judged by the same high standards. In a word, the two Gods are different in practically every respect.

The irony, however, is that so many of those who pride themselves to be among the spiritually certain seem to have failed to read the New Testament carefully and seem to be filled with hatred toward their fellow humans, not love. So many of them feel themselves to be superior to those who do not believe and are therefore not among the elect. They are quick to judge others, despite the admonition not to do so. And the love they are supposed to feel for one another is often very selective and the majority of their neighbors, whom they are asked to love like themselves,  are targets of their ire — especially if they look different, happen to have a different life-style, or practice a different religion. Many of the true believers pursue mammon with astonishing determination, seeing no problem with their love of wealth and personal possessions (even including private planes among some of their leaders), despite the admonitions in the New Testament not to do so.

In fact, it is difficult to say if the great majority of those who claim to Have The Truth and to be among the spiritually certain have any idea what is contained in the New Testament. The gospel of love, for so many of them, is simply a license to feel superior to others and to pursue their personal pleasures rather than to seek ways to become better human beings. Now that’s ironic, is it not?

26 thoughts on “Now That’s Ironic!

  1. Hugh, good post. I recall my World Literature professor covering this as well to the same reaction by a few. As a Christian, the bible is a compilation of books written by different people. There was a group of spiritual leaders who setved as editors, so some books did not make the final cut as they repeated an earlier story.

    The exception is the gospels which were written in different languages at different times. Hence, there are a few inconsistencies. My point is the bible should not be viewed as word-for-word accurate. Even if divinely inspired, it was written, edited, translated, intepreted and retranslated/ reinterpreted by imperfect men.

    The Old Testament tends to portray a forceful God as you define it. The New Testament is told through Jesus’ lens, so it is a more forgiving God.

    It is akin to listening to “fire and brimstone” preachers versus “outreach ministers” versus the new “wealth ministers.” Same God, different focuses. Keith

      • Hugh, there is a saying, that if you want to create an atheist, have them read the bible. I have witnessed this saying first hand. When I spoke with a minister about this, he said he advises people to read the New Testament first because of the points you made earlier. As a Christian, I believe the bible has good lessons from which to learn, but I join the 45% of Christians who do not believe the bible is word for word accurate.

        As you know, I focus on the larger messages of treating others like you want to be treated and treating neighbors well when they are in need. The are more good lessons therein and many lessons can be gleaned from the Old Testament as well. Psalms is a good example.

        Keith

  2. Prof. Curtler,

    The New Testament command, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” is a direct quote of an Old Testament command in Leviticus 19:18. At the very least, the command to love is the same in both Testaments.

    I happen to be one of those people who think that the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testaments are the same, and would be more than happy do discuss the subject from theological, philosophical and literary perspectives. For I’d like to understand your point of view better. But I suspect that’s not the main point of your article.

    If I may, I’d like to offer a point for your consideration: I think you would agree that people can have very different, even contrary, opinions on the same subject. Is it not possible that other people’s ideas of “love” may be very different from our own? If so, when people act in a way that is consistent with their idea of love, should we judge them as being “filled with hatred”, because their behaviour does not meet our definition of love? How can we be so certain that our idea of what constitutes “love” is superior to theirs?

    Nemo

    • Good comment. I bow to your superior knowledge of the Old Testament, though I would still insist that there is a thread running through the New Testament that is clearly missing in the Old Testament. Christians are admonished to love one another and to eschew wealth — both of which are pretty much ignored by a great many (certainly not all) who call themselves Christian. That was, as you suspect, my main point.

      • Prof. Curtler,

        You haven’t addressed my question: Is it not possible that Christians and non-Christians have very different understanding of “love”, and therefore, Christians may seem to be “filled with hatred” to non-Christians, when they are acting out of love, from their point of view at least?

        I’m asking this as an honest, albeit perhaps naive, attempt to carry on a constructive dialogue. It seems almost impossible to have one these days.

        Nobody wants to be labelled as hateful, not even Christians. If you confront people with such criticisms, they will either immediately apologize and repent, or insist that they are acting out of love, in which case, the burden of proof is on you, to show that their action is hateful according to a commonly accepted standard, even their own standard. I think this is what civilized people would do.

        Nemo

      • I refuse to reduce the discussion to the nominal level. Love cannot be defined in terms of hatred and still be love. They are contrary notions. Thus, while one group may call their hatred “love,” they are quite simply mistaken. Love requires (in all cases) that one wants the other to be happy.

      • Prof. Curtler,

        Thank you for giving a definition of love, and helping me to understand your point of view better.

        Love requires (in all cases) that one wants the other to be happy

        I have some difficulties with this definition.

        First, it is not possible that one can act in a a way that causes another person pain and unhappiness in the short term, in the hope that s/he will be happy in the long term?

        Second, one’s desire for another person to be happy doesn’t necessary lead to the latter’s happiness. It could very likely have the opposite effect. A case in point: I can say in all honesty that I want you to be happy (or at least not unhappy), but I sense annoyance in your last reply which suggests to me that my question might have made you a little unhappy. Does it automatically make my behaviour hateful? (If so, I’ll stop here and won’t make any more comments at your blog.)

        Nemo

      • I would say it’s about motive: the desire to make another happy. The consequences of loving someone else too much or too little are infamous. But love, nonetheless, is about the desire to make another person happy.

      • Prof. Curtler,

        I would agree that motive is important. But then, how can one rightly discern the motive of another, if he often can’t even discern his own? Suppose you were accused of malice, how would you go about clearing your name? Come to think of it, when Plutarch accused Herodotus of malice, he made some convincing arguments… But back to the point, how can you be so certain that a great many Christians have bad motives?

        Nemo

      • You are right, of course. Motives are notoriously difficult to make out — even our own! But one can infer from another’s behavior and his or her own thoughts about why they did a particular act what the motive might have been. And when people who claim to love their neighbors like themselves go around fostering hatred and prejudice against those who act, dress, or think differently one can infer that they confuse love with hate. No?

      • Prof. Curtler,

        I agree that one can infer others’ motives from their behaviour. But, if I may say so, you are begging the question: I asked how you can be certain that a great many Christians do not act out of love, but out of hatred, since hatred and love are contrary notions. You replied by asserting that they foster hatred, without making the necessary inference to support your assertion.

        I would think that the act of judging another person in and of itself doesn’t necessarily mean that the one who judges is acting out of hatred. For, after all, you’re judging a great Christians to be hateful and prejudicial.

        Nemo

      • I expect what we have here a linguistic problem. I don’t talk about “a great many Christians.” I have limited experience with the type. I simply draw on that limited experience, my reading and the things I have heard at the keyhole and note that Christianity is a term that appears to be misunderstood by “a great many” (how many? I don’t know) who call themselves “Christian. I dare to say that many of those who call themselves “Christians” make the attempt to love their neighbor from time to time, but, as Dostoevsky noted in “The Idiot,” Christ may have asked too much of us mere humans.

      • Prof. Curtler,

        I think it is acceptable to refer to those who call themselves Christian as Christians. That’s not in question, neither is the number of them. What I’m asking is why you think they are “filled with hatred”.

        I assumed that a professional philosopher like yourself wouldn’t make groundless criticisms and would be ready to defend and explain his position when questioned. That’s why I’ve posed these questions to you, as an honest attempt to see things through your eyes, so to speak.

        However, it seems to me you’re not interested in engaging in a candid dialogue with the other side. If that is the case, I’m a little disappointed but I’ll bow to your will and leave.

        Thank you for the interesting conversation.

        Nemo

      • Really? I thought I have made every effort to respond to your questions. I take it that a great many people who call themselves “Christians” are “filled with hatred” because this is the way they behave — including their support for a president who has demonstrated that he is also filled with hatred. I’m sorry you feel the way you do. I simply do not know how to respond as you would have me do.

      • Prof. Curtler,

        I understand that politics and religion are inseparably linked in the US, for better or worse. I’m not interested in politics at all, and, to me, it is a tragedy that so many people have nothing better to focus their time and energy on than Mr. Trump.

        I’m simply trying to understand, from a communal and interpersonal point of view, why Christians are regarded as hateful by other groups.

        Perhaps it would help if I rephrase my question: Which specific behaviours of Christians do you see as hateful? You wrote that Christians are “quick to judge’, but, as I responded in my previous comment, the behaviour of making judgement is not necessarily driven by hatred. Don’t you agree?

        Nemo

    • Let me try to be clear about this: I do not contend that all who call themselves “Christians” are hateful. I simply contend that a great many of those who claim to be following to gospel of love seem to lack any consideration, much less concern, for their fellow men and women. There are exceptions, to be sure, but by and large many of those who claim to follow Christ fail to acknowledge that his major admonitions were to eschew wealth and love their neighbors (and God) as they do themselves. I simply see very few who seem determined to carry out that admonition. Sacrifice is not a common desire in this culture.

      • Prof. Curtler,

        In a book titled “Who Really Cares?”, sociologist Arthur Brooks studies the giving behaviour of different groups in America, and finds, to his surprise, that the group of people who give the most, of their time and money etc., are the religious conservatives, in contrast, secular liberals give the least.

        I cannot speak (and perhaps should not) speak for others, but I think if you ask any self-professed Christian directly, they would agree that they fall far short of the command to love their neighbour as themselves, and that they can do more and should do more, to reach out and help those who are hurting around them.

        From a communal point of view, however, I don’t think it is fair to hold Christians to a standard of self-sacrifice that nobody can measure up against (although perhaps they should be flattered).

        The question I’m asking is whether a great many Christians are “filled with hatred”, “lacking consideration” for others, and, more importantly, what is the evidence. If I may say so, you keep making the same assertion again and again, without providing any concrete evidence or drawing any inference to support you assertion.

        Nemo

  3. An excellent post, my friend! In recent years, it has struck me that the people who are the most arrogant, greedy and filled with hatred of “other”, where “other” includes those whose skin colour, religion, education level, sexual orientation, or level of wealth do not match their own, are the ones who claim to be the most ‘Christian’. Once, many moons ago, a used car salesman was trying to sell me a car that was obviously a piece of junk, and when I began asking questions, he patted me on the shoulder and said, “Now honey, I’m a preacher, a man of God, so you know I wouldn’t steer you wrong.” I got out of that place as quick as I could … without buying a car!

    While I am not, and do not claim to be, a Christian, I always thought the religion was supposed to be all about love for all, but … all my life I have questioned that, today more than ever.

    • Christianity is all about love. It is. But so many of those who call themselves “Christians” have no idea what that involves. I suppose that’s the point of my post.

  4. When I was younger, raising a family, I often smiled and stated, ‘I need to read again the book of Job.’ It was as if the devil was waiting around every corner and saying, ‘Ha! You think she’s a nice person? Let me mess with her for a while…’
    When things would happen – especially in front of my boys – I’d say, “you have to do better than that, Satan – it won’t work…’ It helped me keep my sense of humor instead of getting frustrated. Recently one son wrote to say that they were studying Job in Sunday School and he thought of me…

    Yes, I join you with my concern about what’s happening round the globe – so little compassion for the fellow man (which you addressed in another post thankyouverymuch)

    I am struggling right now with a tiny personal conflict – a 20-dollar parking fee which I pay every two weeks (for one week and the one in advance) and the attendant told me that I’d missed the last payment — and I know that I paid it but |I also know that he will forever think that I did not and we don’t exchange receipts — so it’s best just to drop the subject, pay it and get past it. Right?

    Actually I think it’s the devil trying to get the best of me and I’m not going to let him…
    The attendant is a really nice guy but he’s mentally slow and probably forgot to jot the info down — and then forgot….

    If I’d dug in and refused to pay again, the owner, the employee and I would all have tension between us for-ever… Hopefully Satan will pick on someone else…

    Happy December, Hugh!

    • I would pay the fee and try to forget it — especially if the attendant is simply slow and not mendacious. You also. Happy Christmas and a better New Year (let us hope).

  5. Dr. Curtler,

    Another provocative and timely post. Thank you.

    As a young boy who read a lot, I enjoyed going to my United Methodist Church’s Summer Church School. I was not only allowed to read the Bible I was encouraged to do so. I did so with alacrity — King James version, of course.

    I would ask questions of my teacher similar to the question you posed about the difference between the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. To her everlasting credit, Ms. Swan appreciated the question and encouraged me to read more and ask more. She had me memorize passages from the Bible and recite them before the congregation. She was so proud that she even asked me if I wanted to be a minister when I grew up. Oh, if she only knew…

    Today, however, when I point out to some Christians that the basis of Christianity is in the New Testament rather than the Old Testament, which is the core of Judaism, they get more than a little miffed. They do want Revelations, it seems, but refuse to give up their Leviticus!

    The idea that they should actually read and follow the Gospels is totally beyond them.

    I refer to these “evangelicals” as Christians without Christ, for that is how they think and act. They read the Bible selectively through the lens of their politics; they do not approach politics through the lens of the Gospels. That much is clear.

    There are, indeed, many who do view the world through the lens of the Christian Gospels. More and more, one finds that they call themselves “Evangelicals” less and less.

    For good reason.

    Respects and regards,

    Jerry Stark

    • Christians without Christ. Precisely! Christ makes demands that many folks simply do not want to allow. This is why so many of the mega-churcheshave turned into social clubs.

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