Real information and actual facts

This is how newspapers are supposed to work when they’re doing their job.

First, a reporter does his job, taking a look at the economic reality facing the paper’s readers and the actual effects that proposed government policies will have on that reality. Michael Symons’ article “As poverty rises in NJ, cuts target aid” did exactly that.

Poverty is rising, demand for food stamps has rocketed and the job market remains tepid at best, more than three years after the economy began to crater.

Against that backdrop of need is a harsh reality anti-poverty groups say they struggle to overcome: Much of the public doesn’t want to hear about it. Driven by Gov. Chris Christie here and tea partiers in Washington, the conversation is all about cutting government services — the faster the better.

Then the richest man in town does his job, writing a letter to the editor praising the reporter for telling the truth and — because this particular rich man isn’t like the millionaires that Gov. Christie and the tea partiers think should be the primary beneficiaries of government action — criticizing the governor for trying to balance the state budget by cutting vitally necessary aid to the poor while giving bigger tax breaks to people like him.

Here’s that letter:

Thank you for your March 27 front-page story by Michael Symons, “As poverty rises, cuts target aid.” The article is one of the few that highlights the contradictions between a policy of large tax cuts, on the one hand, and cuts in services to those in the most dire conditions, on the other.

Also, you’ve shone some light on anti-poverty workers and analysts such as Adele LaTourette, Meara Nigro, Cecilia Zalkind and Raymond Castro, among others, all of whom have something important to add to the discussion: real information and actual facts about what is happening below the poverty line.

These are voices that in our current climate are having a hard time being heard, not just in New Jersey, but nationally. Finally, your article shows that the cuts are eating away at the lower edges of the middle class, not just those already classified as in poverty, and are likely to continue to get worse over the next few years. I’m always glad to see my hometown newspaper covering these issues.

Bruce Springsteen, Colts Neck

And then, finally, the editorial board of the paper gets off the fence and sides with its reporter and with the “real information and actual facts” of the matter, publishing an editorial with the appropriately imperative headline “Help those who are falling behind.”

The famous line from the gospels, “The poor you will always have with you,” is as true today as it was thousands of years ago. Our front-page story in last Sunday’s Asbury Park Press, “As poverty rises, cuts target aid,” certainly confirmed that.

What also is true these days is that New Jersey is not doing nearly enough to aid the increasing number of those in poverty or those living on the margins, which now includes many who once considered themselves part of the middle class.

… State budget cuts, past and present, have contributed to the problem. In Gov. Chris Christie’s proposed budget now being debated in Trenton, there are actions the state can, and should take, to mitigate the pain for those least able to absorb more of it.

… There is no legitimate fiscal reason for the so-called “shared sacrifice” required to fix the state’s still faltering economy to fall so disproportionately on our most vulnerable citizens.

Bravo and well done, Asbury Park Press.

I do want to quibble, however, with that editorial’s misattribution and misapplication of that “famous line from the Gospels.”

“The poor you will always have with you,” isn’t from the Gospels. It’s quoted there, by Jesus, but that’s not where it’s from. It’s from Deuteronomy.

“The poor shall never cease out of the land,” Deuteronomy 15 reads in the King James Version. “There will always be poor people in the land,” is how the New International Version renders the phrase.

Jesus was quoting from Deuteronomy for an audience that he knew would recognize those words as coming from the books of Moses. He knew that they knew the phrase was from Deuteronomy, so he knew they would know the context of the passage he was quoting. That audience, knowing that context, could be trusted to understand what was being said in a way that we American readers have demonstrated we cannot.

Because we love to quote this phrase — “The poor you will always have with you” or “There will never cease to be some in need” — and we almost always do so in a way that suggests that this is inevitable, that this is just the way things will always be and nothing can be done to change it. We almost never quote this passage in its original context — which suggests exactly the opposite. In its original context, “There will always be poor people in the land” is a bitter rebuke — a condemnation of an inexcusable, epic moral failure.

That rebuke was the essence of what Jesus was saying when he repeated this passage as a rebuke to Judas Iscariot. And it’s a rebuke that American Christians desperately need to learn to hear, because it’s also directed at us.

Go back and read the entire chapter of Deuteronomy 15 and you’ll find that this fragment of it quoted famously by Jesus is part of a kind of syllogism, a conditional statement. The full idea, the full statement in Deuteronomy 15 says this:

There will be no one in need among you … if only you will obey the Lord your God by observing this entire commandment. … There will never cease to be some in need on the earth. (NRSV)

There shall be no poor among you … if thou carefully hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to observe to do all these commandments. … The poor shall never cease out of the land. (KJV)

There need be no poor people among you … if only you fully obey. … There will always be poor people in the land. (NIV)

If you obey, then there will be no poor among you. But you do not obey, so therefore there will always be poor among you.

“This entire commandment” described in Deuteronomy included the Jubilee and Sabbath laws governing the forgiveness of debts, plus a whole host of other laws that made up the Levitical safety net. Taken as a whole, those laws really would have ensured that there would be no poor in the land. But those laws were never put in place, never enforced, never obeyed, never followed — not even during the reigns of the good kings.

The only time during which anything like those laws was in place was in the wilderness, when God was in charge of supplying an alternate currency. Manna, unlike gold, couldn’t be hoarded — only shared.

“The poor you will always have with you,” Jesus said 2,000 years ago, quoting a scripture written many centuries before that. And for all those many hundreds of years this has been descriptively accurate. For all of that time, the poor have, indeed, always been with us — the living proof of our perpetual, perennial moral failure.

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  • Lori

    Just to get it out of the way—Bruuuuuce!

    Moving on. The thing that has always gotten on my last good nerve about the way some people misuse “the poor you will have with you always” is that you don’t need to know/remember the original context to know that the quote doesn’t mean that poverty is inevitable and therefore needn’t be a priority for Christians. All you have to do is read all of what Jesus was saying when he threw in the quote. There’s nothing deep or mysterious going on. He’s calling Judas on his crap, not making a political or economic statement.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Chaltab Benjamin Andy English

    I don’t see how even the most cynical reader could take the passage, even in the Gospels, as speaking out in support of poverty. “The poor you will always have with you.” That means there will ALWAYS be people who need our help, who we are morally obligated to help. Trying to twist that into an excuse NOT to help the poor is just mind boggling.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1390930332 Orion Moony

    It’s part of an illusory world that the very rich have always wanted to create: one in which the wealthy are wealthy because their discipline and moral superiority led to riches, and the poor are poor because of their own sloth and gluttony.

    The mental gymnastics of painting one’s selfishness as a virtue have existed forever, but never have they been perfected into such an ART as by the American right.

  • Art

    They will eat their young. What will happen (and is already happening) is that “very rich” is being defined annually and those that don’t keep up, __. The fallacy which we have all known since seventh grade, is that there can only be 1 at the top, and the winner gets to make the rules for the rest. Tell me again how the commonwealth works.
    As an artist I would take offense at the last sentence but I don’t know what else to call it that is printable or civil.

  • http://lightningbug.blogspot.com lightning

    The question is “who is charity *for*?” To the right wingers, charity is about the *giver*. (This goes along with their “it’s all about *me*” worldview.) “Helping” the needy is irrelevant. “The poor you have always with you” is taken to mean that, no matter what you do, there will still be poor people, so nothing you can do will really help.

    The political version is “Government can never really *solve* problems. It just spends a lot of money and makes things worse.”. So they have to work very hard to make sure that Government *can’t* help anybody. Programs like Medicaid and Social Security rather obviously do help people, so They’ve Got To Go.

    A politician who says “Government can’t solve problems; Government is automatically corrupt; the best thing that Government could do is go away” is guaranteed to be useless, and probably a crook as well.

  • PJ Evans

    A politician who says “Government can’t solve problems; Government is automatically corrupt; the best thing that Government could do is go away” is guaranteed to be useless, and probably a crook as well.

    And said politician should be asked, publicly, loudly, and frequently, why the heck hse wants to be in government if government is so useless. (Also, they should give up half their salary and their health and pension benefits, because taking those makes hir a welfare queen, living of the taxpayers’ dimes. To use their own arguments against them)

  • http://www.facebook.com/Chaltab Benjamin Andy English

    I don’t see how even the most cynical reader could take the passage, even in the Gospels, as speaking out in support of poverty. “The poor you will always have with you.” That means there will ALWAYS be people who need our help, who we are morally obligated to help. Trying to twist that into an excuse NOT to help the poor is just mind boggling.

  • LL

    To be fair to the “American right,” I don’t think they’ve perfected anything. We give them all sorts of credit for having “fooled” or “brainwashed” or whatever, “making” people believe stuff that isn’t true, encouraging people to believe that Republicans are geniuses or tremendously skilled at manipulation, way out of proportion (I think) to their actual, demonstrated skill.

    But people today (as always) are more than happy to believe all kinds of bullshit if it suits their purposes or benefits themselves. Republicans just use catchy slogans to sell the bullshit. “Trickle down,” “death tax,” etc. The Republicans are just giving the old bullshit new names. I actually don’t think they’re particularly skilled. And I work in marketing. The Republicans are just telling their followers what they want to hear. Which doesn’t really require skill, just a willingness to lie. This doesn’t absolve Republicans of their responsibility for their misinformation, just sayin’, if there weren’t many, many people happy to believe it, it wouldn’t go anywhere. Republican voters are not helpless little children. They live in an extremely affluent country and have access to information people just a few generations ago could only dream of. So if they don’t know facts (as opposed to bullshit) they really have only themselves to blame. Same goes for Democrats, for that matter.

  • Anonymous

    While I’m inclined to agree that the information is out there, and anyone who gets suckered by misinformation has only themselves to blame, the problem is that it’s others who get saddled with the consequences of this ignorance. We’re facing fairly considerable support for policies that are going to cause a great deal of avoidable pain and harm to an extremely nontrivial fraction of this country’s population, and I stress avoidable.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1390930332 Orion Moony

    I’m not saying they’ve brainwashed anyone. Certainly, the media is very compliant and spineless, but that’s to be expected, the media operates for-profit.

    I’m saying there’s a lot of self-delusion about the supposed virtues of selfishness. A lot of it can be traced to the Ayn Rand/Objectivism stuff, Atlas Shrugged still seems to be a defining point in the philosophy of many Republicans. And I do think it’s been turned into a kind of… disturbing art form in recent years. If you’re poor, it’s because you’re a lazy welfare queen looking for a handout. If you just work hard and pull yourself up by the bootstraps, someday you’ll be wealthy, and when you are, you sure won’t want those lazy poor folks taking a slice of your pie!

  • Loki100

    To be fair to the “American right,” I don’t think they’ve perfected anything. We give them all sorts of credit for having “fooled” or “brainwashed” or whatever, “making” people believe stuff that isn’t true, encouraging people to believe that Republicans are geniuses or tremendously skilled at manipulation, way out of proportion (I think) to their actual, demonstrated skill.

    I’m not sure that I would call them geniuses. But the fact is that the Koch Brothers, Rupert Murdock, and Richard Mellon Scaife have pretty much single handedly crafted the largest, most profitable, and most successful propaganda network the world has ever seen. The primary key to their success is that they want to win. Every single moment of every single day there are think tanks and media outlets going over every single event trying to figure out how to spin it to their advantage. Nothing like that exists for the left, in fact, funding such operations would be impossible as while there is profit in fighting universal healthcare, there is no profit in fighting for homeless people. As a byproduct of their “win at any ‘costs'” attitude, they just don’t care. They lie twenty times a day, they will contradict themselves, they just don’t care. That puts the left always on the defensive. We have to painstakingly spend every day attempting to correct lies, present facts, but we can never catch up, because they don’t care.

    They might not be geniuses, but they know what they are doing.

  • Anonymous

    “The primary key to their success is that they want to win.”

    Well, that and the mind-boggling enormity of their inherited wealth.

  • Loki100

    Well, that and the mind-boggling enormity of their inherited wealth.

    True. No one ever made billions being a union organizer.

  • Anonymous

    “So if they don’t know facts (as opposed to bullshit) they really have only themselves to blame.”

    …says somebody who lies for a living. Nice self-exoneration there, but I don’t buy it. Sorry.

  • Daughter

    LL lies for living? And you know this how? Is LL someone whose name we should all know, or does s/he work in some profession that involves lying?

  • Anonymous

    The latter.

  • Daughter

    Please clue me in; I don’t visit Slacktivist much these days. What profession is that?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=752002772 Andrew Glasgow

    Excuse me, if you have something to criticize about LL’s post, please do so WITHOUT an ad hominem attack, poisoning the well, or any other fallacious, rude, and offensive argument techniques. This is a place for respectful engagement. Unless you are seriously presenting an argument that NO ONE who works in the field of marketing can be trusted to make an honest statement, then address the words, not the speaker.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Fred, I can never read you make this point too much. I was thinking of exactly this just the other day. Thanks for saying it, and repeating it, and may you go on repeating it, and may those of us who hear it be so struck that we can’t stop saying it ourselves.

  • Anonymous

    This doesn’t absolve Republicans of their responsibility for their misinformation, just sayin’, if there weren’t many, many people happy to believe it, it wouldn’t go anywhere.

    That’s the thing that irks me about people. If one applies five minutes of thought to these policies, they would come to realize that they’re awful. But they don’t. Well, they don’t until it happens to them – and most people are but a medical emergency or car accident from living in poverty. But they don’t want to think of that. No one really plans on using the social safety net, but it should be there for those that need it, regardless of worthiness.

  • Art

    “No one really plans on using the social safety net, but it should be there for those that need it, regardless of worthiness.”
    Absolutely! And what constitutes worthiness? Simple- being a member of the commonwealth. The same commonwealth that creates the conditions for someone’s prosperity also creates the conditions for someone’s poverty. It seems, as you indicated, a fluid and dynamic set of conditions. Someone’s prosperity comes with added responsibility. Someone’s poverty comes with added need.
    I think about this a lot, and am trying to make it sensible. There’s just too much prosperity for a few and too much poverty for many.

  • Citizen Alan

    I really want to thank you for this, Fred! I have lived 42 years in the heart of the Bible Belt, and am intimately familiar with “The poor are always with us,” perhaps the most cherished of all Bible verses by the Religious Right. And while I always instinctively knew that there was some context in which it could be read other than a commandment to callously ignore the poor, I never knew what it was. I wonder if any of the umpteen Baptist preachers I’ve heard quote this verse in defense of Republican social policies have any clue either.

  • Josh

    Kurt Vonnegut in his essay collection Palm Sunday challenges the selfishness interpretation from a different angle—recommended.

  • Rikalous

    Care to be a bit more explicit about what that angle is for those of us who don’t want to buy the book?

  • Josh

    Sure: it’s not unlike what a number of the other commenters here have suggested: it’s based on the premise that Judas is a thief and an “envious hypocrite,” whose resentment is aroused by seeing Jesus enjoy the way Mary and Martha are ministering to him, and that Jesus’s response is to dismiss his obviously insincere complaint with, “Dude, don’t worry about it . . . ” The key passage in the Vonnegut is “This is about what Mark Twain or Abraham Lincoln would have said under similar circumstances. If Jesus did in fact say that, it is a divine black joke, well suited to the occasion. It says everything about hypocrisy and nothing about the poor. It is a Christian joke, which allows Jesus to remain civil to Judas, but to chide him about his hypocrisy all the same.”

    People who don’t want to buy the book and don’t have libraries can easily look at the whole chapter using Amazon’s Search Inside feature. Search for the word “hypocrisy” and you’ll get there.

  • Rikalous

    Thank you kindly.

  • CP

    I don’t disagree with most of what you’re saying, but the “syllogism” as you present it is invalid. A better way to put it would be: “If you obeyed, there would be no poor people among you. But there are always poor people among you. Thus, you didn’t/don’t/won’t obey.” I suppose it is a small difference, but logically important. It also fits better with the spirit of the passage, in that here one is really *concluding* that people are disobedient, it is not a premise from which you are arguing.

  • Anonymous

    I think we fall for philosophies with side effects we’re not aware of. For example, Alain de Botton critiqued meritocracy – the idea that anyone can achieve anything with enough hard work or merit. On the surface, that sounds right. Yet thinking through the consequences…

    …when you succeed in a meritocracy, it’s all due to your hard work
    …when you fail in a meritocracy, it’s all due to your failings.

    Add in the fact that Western countries are very individualistic. It’s all about you as a person and *your* failings. Conditions for depression, anyone?

    Failure is more like an exponential curve, not a normal distribution – that is to say, it’s incredibly rare that someone will be a Richard Branson (who failed 400 odd times first anyway).

    So taking the idea of meritocracy too seriously can amplify the fundamental attribution error. Good things happen to good people. Bad things happen to bad people. How this affects attitudes towards the poor is concerning…

  • Matri

    …when you succeed in a meritocracy, it’s all due to your hard work
    …when you fail in a meritocracy, it’s all due to your failings.

    To paraphrase Dilbert: So when you make a profit it is due to excellent Marketing, but when it is a loss it is due to a poor market?

  • Anonymous

    I am having SO MUCH TROUBLE coming up with anything other than a string of really, really, profane invective directed toward the math-challenged GOP.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Marshall-Pease/1324310862 Marshall Pease

    Had to think about this. So Jesus is saying, if the community took care of the neighborhood, the question wouldn’t arise.

    John is picking on Judas again, but Mark and Matthew say it was a murmur in the crowd, and it would actually be the crowd’s responsibility to eliminate poverty. It wouldn’t be Judas’ fault for not having enough money to pass out.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ouri-Maler/1017109188 Ouri Maler

    Loved this article, but I’ll admit, the passage in the Gospels confuses me a bit. Granted, it’s been a while since I read it, but I remember is this woman using a lot of expensive perfume on Jesus (without really asking first), Judas basically saying “what a waste! Think of all the poor people we could have helped with this!”, and Jesus going “there’ll always be poor to help. I’M only here NOW.”
    Even if he was calling Judas on his crap, I dunno, it doesn’t sound like a call for helping the poor (even if Jesus did that on a lot of other occasions)…Granted, I’m no Bible scholar.

  • Anonymous

    @Ouri Maler: I think you’re forgetting the third person in the scenario – the woman. She turned up, deeply moved by something to do with Jesus, determined to honour him in a madly extravagant way. She’d just spent massive amounts of money on this perfume, and made a loud and public display of affection and respect in front of an astonished crowd. She made herself incredibly vulnerable by doing something so public, and Judas (or the anonymous voice in the crowd) turns around at once and publically condemns her. That’s cruel, and heartless, and suggests more a desire to put the woman in her place than to help the poor. Is it any wonder that Jesus, who always tends to jump in to defend people, instantly sticks up for her?

    I’ve shared your confusion about exactly why ‘The poor you will always have with you’ was the right take-down at that moment, but on the whole I think Jesus is calling out the weak point in the criticism: it’s not based on a real concern for the poor (otherwise it would be made more quietly, not said out loud to the woman in front of a crowd) – it’s designed to hurt and belittle her. So Jesus is pointing out that there’s a time and a place and that what the woman has done is a valuable thing in itself. Perhaps he’s also implying that the attitude of the crowd/Judas to the vulnerable, e.g. this woman right in front of them, is a good indication that the poor always will be with them. Because as long as the first response is holier-than-thou criticism rather than care for the individual, the speaker clearly doesn’t have the best interests of other people at heart.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ouri-Maler/1017109188 Ouri Maler

    Maybe. Possibly. I could easily buy Jesus jumping to her defense, though it still seems an odd way for him to phrase it.
    Then again, if one doesn’t assume Jesus was infallible (which I don’t, since, well, atheist), then it becomes entirely possible that he just had difficulty improvising a line that would counter Judas and spare the woman the embarrassment…

  • Anonymous

    Oh, I definitely agree that the phrasing still seems odd.

    As a believer, I’m inclined to think that Jesus was making a tremendously witty comeback that we just don’t have the cultural context, or perhaps the key bit of information, to understand. There has to be some reason why the comeback was remembered and thought worth recording in the first place. Granted, that could have been because it was so exceptionally pathetic.*

    It’s useful to me to keep asking why it might have been appropriate, considered in the light of the rest of the Bible etc etc, but I’m not going to pretend I completely understand it. I’m no Bible scholar either. Is there anyone in the house who can throw some light on this from the original Greek?

    *The back of my mind is now running along other comebacks that Jesus might have tried to use instead:
    “Yeah, Judas, but, uh, you stink!”
    “Twinkle, twinkle little star, what you say is what you are! (andnoreturns!)”

  • http://theosuch.blogspot.com/ Theo

    I think you hit the nail on the head: it sounds like a witty comeback, especially now that I know (and the people then would have known) that the line comes from Deuteronomy; i.e., Jesus was purposefully quoting the line out of context from Deuteronomy, almost in a sarcastic way, to rebuke whomever was complaining.

    Back in the 1970’s, I read a (thin) paperback book about humor in the New Testament. My favorite bit was where Jesus tells the foreign woman that He had come for the Jews, not the Gentiles. She one-ups Him by responding that even the dogs get to eat the scraps that fall from the table. (My memory is a little hazy right now, so my apologies if some of the details are wrong.) I imagine Jesus getting a good laugh out of the exchange.

    —–

    For those of you who don’t have a Bible handy, here is the passage from Deuteronomy (looked up on the Internet):

    10 Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. 11 There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.

    The chapter up to that point is a little exclusive in that it commands the Israelites (i) to cancel debts owed by *Israelites* after 7 years, but not debts owned by non-Israelites, and (ii) to care for poor *Israelites*.

  • Art

    Thank you for taking time and space to set this out. I have been trying lately to take to heart the exchange Jesus had with the rich young ruler who wished to justify himself by asking “Who is my neighbor?”. That is a frightening prospect. The wisdom of the chapter of Deuteronomy underlaying this exchange with Jesus is a hard truth on human nature. And we have a choice.

  • Anonymous

    I’m confused. Judas asks/says”Why did you waste that valuable item on yourself? It could have been sold to raise money to give to charity.” Jesus replies (in the context of Deut.) “There will always be poor people because you/we don’t keep God’s commandments.” It still sounds as if Jesus is providing an excuse to not help those in need.

  • Gela

    The context of the quote actually makes the passage make a lot more sense to me. I always found that phrase “the poor you will always have with you” to be kind of selfish, especially since Jesus was all about the giving of yourself to others: if you’re asked for your cloak, give your coat as well; if you’re asked to carry for a mile, carry for two. Why is He suddenly, seemingly, reversing that attitude?
    But now, knowing that the phrase is from an older passage that one could expect Judas was already quite familiar with, it changes everything from “Take care of me now, because those other needy people will be there later” to “Wait, you hypocrite, you guys were told Way Back When exactly what you needed to do to take care of this problem. Are you just trying to look good now? Why wasn’t this important to you last year, or the year before?”

  • Dea Syria

    It makes no sense to read it that way, because Judas is helping to take care of the poor, by following Jesus, and by wanting to divert resources to them that Jesus doesn’t. That thievery thing is the reddest of herring made up by John to change the original meaning.

  • Lori

    So your position is that merely following Jesus indicates that Judas had a sincere concern for the poor? Kind of like all people who follow Jesus today are sincerely concerned about the poor?

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    > So your position is that merely following Jesus indicates that Judas had a sincere concern for the poor? Kind of like all people who follow Jesus today are sincerely concerned about the poor?

    I’m not Dea Syria, but…

    Who would you say follows Jesus, today?

    If you mean all Christians, then no, I would not equate one of a dozen committed acolytes of an itinerant Gallilean rabbi to one of several million more-or-less-casual members of an organization that uses his name, two millenia later.

  • Dea Syria

    I believe that that was the position advanced by the Gospel of Mark, in distinction to Jn.

  • Lori

    I’m confused. Judas asks/says”Why did you waste that valuable item on yourself? It could have been sold to raise money to give to charity.” Jesus replies (in the context of Deut.) “There will always be poor people because you/we don’t keep God’s commandments.” It still sounds as if Jesus is providing an excuse to not help those in need.

    Look again, especially in John’s account. (John 12:4-9). Judas’ objection is not made out of a true concern for the poor. He handles the money for the group and steals from the purse. The perfume was very expensive and if it had been sold to “help the poor” Judas would have had access to a great deal of money to skim. Jesus is chiding him for cloaking his selfishness in fake charity.

    Even without the theft aspect (which is not included in other accounts of the incident) Jesus is not advocating ignoring the poor. He’s pointing out that he (Jesus) is about to die so the window is closing on doing anything with/for him (he says that the woman’s gesture amounts to anointing him for burial), while the poor will still need help after he’s gone. Referencing back to the original passage—the poor will still need help because the Jews never did follow the law WRT financial matters.

    Jesus was not offering an excuse not to help the poor. Those who push that reading are pushing a personal agenda & ideology (and aligning themselves with a thief who betrayed the person they claim to worship), not reading the text as written.

    Jesus was also not issuing a call for helping the poor. That’s because this story is not about the poor. They really have nothing to do with the situation being described. They were only brought up at all at that moment because people, Judas apparently chief among them, were being asshats. The fact that the poor are mentioned doesn’t make Jesus’ words a teaching about dealing with the poor. If we assume that it does then we’re simply falling for the misdirection of Judas and the other complainers. At that point in the story Jesus was focused on talking to his disciples about the fact that he was about to be executed and how they should handle that. They weren’t getting it at all, Jesus knew that was going to be a problem and was dealing with it in his usual less-than-clear fashion.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    > Those who push that reading are pushing a personal agenda & ideology (and aligning themselves with a thief who betrayed the person they claim to worship), not reading the text as written.

    Actually, some of us are just reading the text and then asking ourselves how we would judge a person we knew responding that way to such a challenge.

    If my friend George were spending thousands of dollars on his funeral arrangements, and our mutual acquaintance Bill chided him for it by pointing out how many starving people that money could feed, and George pointed out that, first, Bill was being a self-serving asshat because he really just wanted the money for himself, and second, that there would still be starving people whether George spends the money on himself or not, and third, that if the blamed politicians had just implemented George’s ideas for a sustainable safety net there wouldn’t be any starving people anyway, and I were watching this whole exchange, I would conclude that George was feeling defensive.

    Of course, if I had the additional information that George was the living avatar of the Creator God sent to mankind to show us the Light and the Truth and the Way, and thus not like other people, I’d probably interpret that scene differently. Which is entirely fair.

    But I don’t think it would be fair, just because I don’t have that additional information, to accuse me of distorting my understanding of the scene to push a pre-existing personal agenda and ideology, or of aligning myself with a thief.

  • Dea Syria

    No its not entirely fair, because if you thought your friend was the avatar of the living god, you;d be locked up in an asylum, wouldn’t you?

    The story about Judas thievery is obviously a secondary (well, tertiary), invention to change the meaning of the text of Mk. Its not like a serious consideration of historical fact.

    Besides, the motive of the person making the statement doesn’t make the statement true or untrue–its an ad hominem attack. If Judas’ concern for the poor wasn’t genuine, Jesus’ ought to have been.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    > if you thought your friend was the avatar of the living god, you;d be locked up in an asylum, wouldn’t you?

    Not at all. If I wasn’t being a danger to myself or others, and I was able to cope productively with my life (e.g., hold down a job), it wouldn’t occur to anyone to lock me up, nor can I think of any reason why they should. They may consider it a delusional belief, but lots of people have delusional beliefs without being locked up.

    And if, as a consequence of believing such a thing of my friend, I was inclined to see everything they did in the best possible light, I would probably not conclude that they were merely being defensive, but rather that they were trying to make a subtle but important point.

    And, hey, that sort of thing happens. I don’t know anyone I think is the avatar of the living god, but there are people I give enough credit for being wise that when they say or do something that I could interpret as stupid, or venal, or ill-considered, I am inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt.

  • http://redwoodr.tumblr.com Redwood Rhiadra

    No its not entirely fair, because if you thought your friend was the avatar of the living god, you’d be locked up in an asylum, wouldn’t you?

    Not in California – Reagan closed all of ours.

  • Lori

    If my friend George were spending thousands of dollars on his funeral arrangements, and our mutual acquaintance Bill chided him for it by pointing out how many starving people that money could feed, and George pointed out that, first, Bill was being a self-serving asshat because he really just wanted the money for himself, and second, that there would still be starving people whether George spends the money on himself or not, and third, that if the blamed politicians had just implemented George’s ideas for a sustainable safety net there wouldn’t be any starving people anyway, and I were watching this whole exchange, I would conclude that George was feeling defensive.

    Let’s say George is spending thousands of dollars to take his friend on vacation before the friend dies. His account Bill starts talking about the how George should have given the money to a charity. You know that Bill is using his status as George’s accountant to embezzle from him. Do you think Bill’s concern about charity is sincere? If I tell Bill to can it and allow George to do what he wants to do for his dying friend do you really think that means that I don’t value charitable giving?

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    No, I wouldn’t think Bill was being sincere.

    And I wouldn’t presume to judge your motives in that situation, having never met you. (A consideration, incidentally, that I encourage you to extend to others in turn.)

    What I said, and stand by, is that in that situation I would conclude George was feeling defensive.

  • Daughter

    But… if you had spent 3 years with George, and had seen him live “with no place to lay his head,” and feed thousands of people, and heal dozens, and teach about giving to the poor, and so forth, then a little extravagence on his part wouldn’t make him a hypocrite. And as someone noted above, he was accepting the woman’s gift to him, while Judas was publicly shaming her.

    But even if he had been defensive, would it have been completely without merit? Personal story here, hardly comparable but perhaps somewhat relevant: a church I used to belong to was planning a community service day, which happened to fall two weeks before my wedding. I had a dress fitting and some other wedding prep activities planned for that day, so I wasn’t going to participate.

    A woman at my church decided to challenge me on “not having a heart for the poor,” because I wasn’t going. This, despite the fact that I worked in employment and gang prevention programs for low-income youth, and volunteered as a tutor and mentor in my free time, while her service to the poor consisted of participating in our church’s annual service day. Yeah, I was a little ticked about that.

  • Lori

    A woman at my church decided to challenge me on “not having a heart for the poor,” because I wasn’t going. This, despite the fact that I worked in employment and gang prevention programs for low-income youth, and volunteered as a tutor and mentor in my free time, while her service to the poor consisted of participating in our church’s annual service day. Yeah, I was a little ticked about that.

    Argh! There’s one in every church (and every other group of any size). What is wrong with those people?

  • Dea Syria

    The fact that John inserts that line is pretty clear evidence that it is his own invention. he knows Mark makes Jesus looks bad in the passage and is trying to deflect attention away from it by this invention.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=659001961 Brad Ellison

    The traditional embellishment of the tale has it that the perfume’s value was 300 pieces of silver, and Judas’ habit was to skim 10% off the top. So he felt he was owed 30…

  • Jameech47130

    I am prtty sure that some where else in the Gospels is a small bit about Judas being a thief before he was a betrayer. He was also the group’s treasurerer. So I think this dialogue has something to do with that. Perhaps on the line of “You have had control of the distribution of our money all this time, why haven’t you already given alms in our name if you are so concerned about the poor? Judas, your sin is showing–you have never cared about the poor, you just want to pad your own pocket.”
    This scenario is played out over and over, today. The rich steals from the nation and then tries to turn around and blame others for wasting money that would better serve the needy, except they have no intention of ever helping the poor in the first place.

  • Dea Syria

    First of all, that line was quoted out the Hebrew Bible by the author of Mark–there is no reason whatsoever to attribute it to Jesus.

    Secondly, the context of the passage is this (Mk 14):

    A woman (not MM) pours very expensive oil on Jesus’ hair. Judas says. “What a waste! That oil costs money. We could have used it to help the poor.” Jesus says: “There are always more poor people; you should be thinking about helping me while you’re lucky enough to have me here.”

    Judas finally figures out Jesus is a hypocrite and goes to denounce him to the High Priest.

    You can see why this passage is unlikely to go back to the original Jesus movement, but is a secondary and rather clumsy narrative embellishment.

  • Bificommander

    Ehm, I’m not sure it’s a good idea to remind current day evangelicals of those verses Fred. I’m willing to bet a sizable amount that showing it to them will result in them reading it like this:
    “There will be no one in need among you … if only you will obey the Lord your God by observing this entire commandment.”
    “There need be no poor people among you … if only you fully obey. … There will always be poor people in the land. ”
    “if only you fully obey”
    “fully obey”
    “obey the Lord your God”
    “obey”
    “OBEY!”

    In short, I think they’ll either respond that poverty is just an inevitable result of the sinfull nature of America, and more specifically YOU Fred, if you stand in front of them to show them this; or they’ll add it to their mental list of reasons that poverty is the poor’s own fault. If only he obeyed the Lord more, he’d be prosperous, like they are.

    Frankly I find the lines pretty creepy. I guess Fred is thinking of all the things you should do to help the poor when he sees “obey the will of the Lord your God”. But as an atheist, I read them and find them rather accusing. It kind of sounds like it’s blaming all non-Christians for the problems in this world. I suppose this is quite similar to our discussion last week about how those atheist slogans like “You don’t need God to be good” sound much nastier to Christians than atheists may think they do. So, since I don’t object to those slogans either, don’t let my 2 cents here stop anyone from reading these passages and taking any good lessons out of them. But please don’t try to hand them to tea-party Christians, cause these lines have a very large potential to be used as clobber-scriptures.

  • Anonymous

    “if only you fully obey”
    “fully obey”
    “obey the Lord your God”
    “obey”
    “OBEY!”

    DALEKS!!

    ::dives behind sofa::

  • Daughter

    @Bifi, if this were a passage that was just talking about an undefined “obey God or else” type of thing I’d agree with you.

    But if you read the whole context (Deuteronomy 14:22 through Deuteronomy 15:18), the word “obey” is mentioned only once in those 25 verses. And the context of what God is asking the Israelites to obey is very relevant: storing up their tithes every three years for the poor, widows and aliens among them, cancelling debts and freeing servants every 7 years so no one becomes too impoverished, and being open-handed and generous to anyone in need. So yes, if the Israelites obeyed those laws, there wouldn’t be any poor among them.

  • Bificommander

    @ Daughter: Ah, that context does make the whole thing much better. (Much like some context for those slogans might. Assuming the ones who wrote them indeed weren’t thinking of insulting Christians of course. I can’t be sure of that.)

    My point on the risk of reminding the tea partiers of it still stands though. As we see during LB monday-ish-s, context is not something that will stop most of them from homing in on the quote like I did. Only with glee, rather than dread.

  • Lori

    This conversation seems to me to have gotten rather odd. If one assumes that the story is not an accurate reflection of what happened or that John’s version was intended to defame Judas than why would one assume that it’s an accurate reflection of what Jesus said?

    If we’re going to take “the poor you have with you allows” as a true statement and try to work out some view of morality based on it how does that fit with assuming that the context is false?

    I don’t believe any of this it is actually true, but I think that if I’m going to talk about it I have to take it on it’s own terms.

  • Dea Syria

    Look at my original post. It is unlikely to be an accurate reflection of anything Jesus said. But that doesn’t change the fact that meaning of Mark and Jn are quite different, and that Jn purposefully changed his Markan source.

  • Lori

    Look at my original post. It is unlikely to be an accurate reflection of anything Jesus said. But that doesn’t change the fact that meaning of Mark and Jn are quite different, and that Jn purposefully changed his Markan source.

    I’ll repeat the same thing I said the first time—if one assumes that the story is not an accurate reflection of what Jesus said then I fail to see the point of the entire discussion. Even if John’s additions about Judas aren’t accurate that seems to pale in comparison to the idea that Jesus didn’t say what the Gospel’s say that he said.

  • mfin

    Two things:
    Why shouldn’t the verse be read in the context of Jesus’ other words when he says “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” IOW the temporal is not always the most important thing.

    I’m puzzled by the morality that decries cuts in aid, but eagerly accepts/encourages taking others money at the point of a gun to provide that aid.

  • Anonymous

    I’m puzzled by the belief that the temporal is unimportant, myself, and I’m puzzled by the belief that somebody with umpteen million dollars has more need of the money than people just north of the poverty line, and I’m puzzled by the belief that the somebody with umpteen million dollars is gaining nothing by paying taxes and is paying same only because it is not humanly possible to bribe the person with the gun to point it somewhere else.

  • Lori

    Whose beliefs are we talking about? The idea that temporal things are not automatically the most important consideration in every situation =/= the temporal is unimportant.

  • Anonymous

    I’m puzzled by the morality that decries cuts in aid, but eagerly accepts/encourages taking others money at the point of a gun to provide that aid.

    How come they never stop to consider that the people who benefit from their tax dollars may well be themselves?

    Our social systems aim to keep our elderly from having to live on cat food. If you detest that idea, consider that perhaps one day you may be only a government check away from having to eat cat food yourself.

    Voluntary charitable donations don’t work.

    There is no contradiction between trying to care for our elderly and enforcing the tax laws through threat of incarceration and fines. Nobody in the U.S. Government is taking peoples’ taxes at the point of a gun — that’s a strawperson.

  • Daughter

    I would amend that (as someone who now works in charitable fundraising):

    Voluntary charitable donations don’t work in sufficient amounts to address all the needs in our society.

  • mfin

    And how are incarceration and/or fines enforced but if not at the point of a gun?

    You can try to parse it all you like but taxation, (especially income taxation), is theft. At least be honest about what you are advocating, i.e. taking more from one group, (at the point of a gun), to give to another group.

  • Anonymous

    How, then, do you propose we fund road repair, keeping in mind that not everyone who needs to use the roads can afford to pay a toll? How do you propose we fund the schools, keeping in mind that not everyone who needs an education has parents who can pay for same? Yes, progressive income tax is spreading the wealth, and that’s a good thing from my perspective, but what it is not is anything at the point of any guns. It’s about getting the people who can afford to fund the damn roads and schools to fund the damn roads and schools that they benefit from rather more than the rest of us, as evidenced by the fact that their products get from place to place efficiently and their customers have money that came from jobs that said customers wouldn’t have if they were less well educated. Social contract, folks. Learn it, love it.

  • Anonymous

    When I hear the sort of thing mfin is saying, it’s generally accompanied by words to the effect of saving souls is important, saving bodies not so much.

  • Lori

    I’ve certainly heard it used that way, mostly by the sort of folks who tell you that this one particular statement by Jesus means that he was saying that fighting poverty is pointless and unimportant.

    That’s not the way I’ve heard it used most often though. I usually hear it used in the context of a person’s focus for themselves—that the state of my soul should be more important to me than accumulating wealth. When it comes to the poor most Christians I’ve know figure that it’s difficult for a person to focus on the hereafter when they’re starving in the here & now.

  • Anonymous

    I’m puzzled by the morality that decries cuts in aid, but eagerly accepts/encourages taking others money at the point of a gun to provide that aid.

    I’m puzzled by the weird assertion that anybody’s money is being taken at gunpoint.
    Social contract, we haz it.

    Even taken as written (which I don’t) I don’t see a contradiction between a) not wanting aid cut and b) wanting more people to help out providing aid.

  • Anonymous

    Also frequently seen in the company of “nobody ever gave me anything,” which is patent bull if someone has actually made it to adulthood.

    Or even been weaned. Do these folks get invoiced by their parents for services, or something?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=752002772 Andrew Glasgow

    I wouldn’t be surprised if Ron Paul gave his son Rand Paul an itemized bill upon his 18th birthday…

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=752002772 Andrew Glasgow

    I wouldn’t be surprised if Ron Paul gave his son Rand Paul an itemized bill upon his 18th birthday…

  • hf

    Pretty sure you’re all wrong about the story of the oil (except Fred, interestingly).

    The woman in the story anoints Jesus with fragrant oil. Does that sound familiar? She’s not doing him a favor, she’s declaring him King (or treating him like a living Ark of the Covenant).

    I think John, by making Judas a thief, actually makes sense of what otherwise seems like a simple lie by the Gospel writers. Obviously if this scene really happened, any onlookers who objected would do so for reasons unrelated to the cost of the oil. (‘Are you trying to kill us all?’) But if we treat it as a story and say the character who stole money from charity betrayed Jesus for that reason, we get a different message. Stop me if you know otherwise, but it seems like the Messiah by definition would bring about a world with no poor people. So here we have a cartoonishly obtuse character who doesn’t notice the promise of plenty because he only thinks of stealing money from the poor. This character prevents or delays the messianic age that should otherwise follow the anointing.

    Without John’s change it looks like obedience would get more of the story’s focus.

  • Lori

    Pretty sure you’re all wrong about the story of the oil (except Fred, interestingly).

    Considering that a number of posters have been agreeing with Fred I don’t see how it would be possible for everyone except Fred to be wrong.

    The woman in the story anoints Jesus with fragrant oil. Does that sound familiar? She’s not doing him a favor, she’s declaring him King (or treating him like a living Ark of the Covenant).

    Not according to Jesus. Jesus said that she was preparing him for burial.

    Stop me if you know otherwise, but it seems like the Messiah by definition would bring about a world with no poor people.

    Again, not according to Jesus, so I don’t think I’m following your point here.

  • Dea Syria

    Your theory is undercut by the fact that everyone (who could afford it), anointed themselves with oil every day as a hygiene measure. there was no soap. One rubbed on oil, then scrapped it off and some of the sweat and dirt with it later. While anointing was part of the ceremony of crowingn a Hebrew king, that isn’t the only time anointing was done.

    Though what you say is possible.

  • Jenny Islander

    I heard a sermon once in which the story was interpreted as Jesus saying, in essence, “You still don’t frickin’ get it, do you?” The preacher pointed out that actually, Jesus said that a lot to a lot of people in response to a lot of different questions. In this case, the answer was: “I’m going to die soon. As in die. As in dead. As in bundled into a hole in the ground without even the dignity of preparation for burial. This woman is doing what she can for me. And you’re pissing and moaning about what you want do to with the money instead. This is the moment. It’s passing now. I am on my way to death. WAKE. UP.”

    The same preacher invited us to keep in mind that many of Jesus’ disciples were commercial fishermen and play the familiar Bible stories in our heads as if they starred commercial fishermen we knew IRL. The boats featured in Deadliest Catch dock here regularly.

  • http://horriblefoodogre.blogspot.com Samantha C

    I think I like that interpretation – but as an unbeliever, I find it vastly more satisfying to have stories in which a god-character behaves in an understandable, human way. (I was introduced to the Infancy Gospels last semester in a course and I found them absolutely fascinating, trying to watch a young boy grapple with the fact that he’s a god.) It’s both absolutely selfish, and entirely understandable, even sympathetic, for Jesus to have a moment of “Damnit you guys, I’m about to die, I deserve this one little fricking thing for once in my life.” I understand that. I’ve felt that way. It doesn’t put the character in the world’s best light, but it makes more sense and more pathos to me.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=752002772 Andrew Glasgow

    This was Isaac Asimov’s interpretation of this scene as well, as I recall from a collection of his essays I read several years ago. Whatever else Jesus was, he was certainly a man, a human being, who from all accounts worked tremendously hard at trying to get people to listen to his message. Having a woman rub his feet with oil or whatever was happening then probably simply felt good and Jesus felt like he deserved to have a bit of relaxation and pleasure.

  • hf

    @ Lori: Not according to Jesus. Jesus said that she was preparing him for burial.

    Really, you see a contradiction between anointing someone “King of the Jews” in Roman Israel and preparing them for burial? Why don’t you ask Bar-Kokhba about that.

    Again, not according to Jesus,

    You mean the story? What has Fred been saying this whole time about the Book of Revelation?

  • Lori

    Really, you see a contradiction between anointing someone “King of the Jews” in Roman Israel and preparing them for burial? Why don’t you ask Bar-Kokhba about that.

    My point was that if Jesus thought the important issue WRT the anointing was his kingship you think he’d mentioned that at the time.

    You mean the story? What has Fred been saying this whole time about the Book of Revelation?

    I’ve been reading Fred for quite a while now. If he’s ever said anything that indicates that we’re supposed to read the Gospels the same way that we read Revelation I must have missed it. His point about Revelation is that it’s not supposed to be read the same way as the Gospels and that contention cuts both ways.

  • hf

    …What do you believe the word “Messiah” means? What does it mean literally, and what necessary connotations does it have for Jewish people?

    In connection with the second part of that, what do you see as the message of Revelation?

  • Lori

    What do you believe the word “Messiah” means? What does it mean literally, and what necessary connotations does it have for Jewish people?

    Considering that Jesus said more than once that he didn’t come to be what people expected I don’t think I see the relevance of those expectations WRT to Jesus’ comments in this story.

    Personally I think the message of Revelation is that John got a little too much sun.

    Setting that aside, the Gospels are supposedly the story of what happened when the Son of God was on earth. Revelation is prediction about what would happen to Christians in the years after it was written. Because of the opposition Christians were experiencing at the time those predictions were given in a less than straightforward way.

    Writings done at different times, for different audiences, in different styles, for different purposes are generally not meant to be read in the same way.

  • Mau de Katt

    “This entire commandment” described in Deuteronomy included the Jubilee and Sabbath laws governing the forgiveness of debts, plus a whole host of other laws that made up the Levitical safety net.

    Next time the public representatives of the Religious Reich start thumping for “instituting Biblical Law” and “bringing back Levitical Law,” I want to hold those laws up to them and say “yay, this means all those monetary debts are forgiven, then?” and watch them backpedal madly as they try to defend their whole anti-Biblical system of Predatory Capitalism.

    (p.s. I said Predatory Capitalism….)

  • hf

    that seems to pale in comparison to the idea that Jesus didn’t say what the Gospel’s say that he said.

    I give you The Story of the Fig Tree as a Transparent Allegory for the Temple. It immediately follows the triumphal entry of the prophesied Messiah. Note the allusion to necessary conditions for a Messianic age (“not the season for figs.”)

    But hey, maybe God just hates figs. Or maybe he felt his disciples needed to understand the power of faith, because the part about walking on water didn’t get that point across.

  • Lori

    What is your point? If Gospels is allegory then what is the point of trying to get a moral message out of a reference Jesus probably didn’t even make?

    Keep in mind that I’m an atheist so I don’t believe any of it. I also don’t use any part of the Bible, let alone “the poor you will have with you always” as the basis for my personal morality.

  • arghous

    It’s still Thursday here…

    We were in Leadership Class, studying along with some book whose major premise was that we should look to Jesus as the perfect example of a leader. How he made use of his time. How he used humor (yeah, I never figured that one out). How he carefully chose his disciples for their various roles, and how he discipled them to reach their potential.

    Yes, the topic of Judas came up, and that tradition said he was a thief (or in our way of looking at things, not so much that he was a thief per se, but that the temptations of money affected him more). I was always very uncomfortable with that — why would Jesus, the bestest rootintootinest manager/leader evar, place someone like that anywhere near money??? This, along with similar inconsistencies, would eat away at me over the years, until I was able to throw off the Jesus Myth once and for all.

    There is a simpler explanation. This part of the Jesus Story is not about a “rebuke” of Judas, nor about standing up for some woman’s sensibilities, nor about kingship or servanthood, but rather about manipulating the Judas character into betraying the Jesus character, as Prophesy Says that must happen. Just as Ellinjay has a Prophesy Checklist that the LB world must be shoehorned into, the Biblical writers had their own Prophesy baggage to deal with.

    It’s a testament to the honor, character, and talent of the writers/compilers/editors of the Bible that they could construct a world orders of magnitude more complete than Ellinjay, but sometimes there isn’t enough spackle to hide the cracks. I’m impressed that people like Fred can still be kind, gentle, just, and honorable under the weight of Christianity, but sometimes I wonder what would happen if he applied to his own holy book the same thoughtfulness and reason he uses to eviscerate LB.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Ding ding ding! We were overdue for another serving of “I can’t believe Fred is part of such an evil religion, because he seems to be a decent guy. Guess he doesn’t *really* believe all that crap”.

    Who wants to speculate on the paradox of Fred’s apparent high intelligence alongside his clear stupidity in believing in God? Anyone? There’s a nice serving of smugness in it for you.

    Truly, it never grows old.

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

    I’m impressed that people like Fred can still be kind, gentle, just, and honorable under the weight of Christianity, but sometimes I wonder what would happen if he applied to his own holy book the same thoughtfulness and reason he uses to eviscerate LB.

    Because the only way he could possibly be a Christian is if he never ever thinks about it very hard?

    Rather patronising, aren’t you?

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Come now, Deird, you know that the statement “membership of Group X is incompatible with [decency/intelligence/insert positive attribute of your own here]” is only bigoted when Group X is something I belong to or otherwise respect.

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

    Oh, gosh, you’re right. *facepalm* How could I have forgotten?

  • arghous

    Because the only way he could possibly be a Christian is if he never ever thinks about it very hard?

    Fred recently asked the question, “Is God a Monster?” I think that someone who takes his Christianity seriously has to take that question seriously, and Fred’s series of posts over the last several months indicates to me that he is indeed taking it seriously — that he is thinking hard about it. And that as one who takes his Christianity seriously, the answer to that question had better be ‘No’. I won’t speak for Fred, but when I was a Christian, trying to take my Christianity seriously, questions such as this had better not have a ‘Yes’ answer, as that would have had a devastating effect on my faith. The preservation of the image of a non-monstrous God was central to the whole concept of my well-being as a Christian. It is my impression that Fred needs to keep a similar image of God for a similar reason.

    Is God a Monster? I’m sorry, but after reading the text that is commonly agreed to describe and speak for this God, the answer seems rather clearly, All Signs Point to ‘Yes’ (well, Many). The Bible seems replete with stories of a God who is capricious, vindictive, demanding, jealous, ineffectual, and even frightened of his creation. It is an unenviable task to try to turn that apparent ‘Yes’ into a ‘No’. Fred has been trying for the past few months to make a dent where thousands of years of apologetics has been unsatisfying. The amount of thinking shown, the mental gymnastics displayed has been indeed impressive.

    Rather patronising, aren’t you?

    Hey, just trying to keep alive that old Thursday spirit.

    But am I the only one being patronizing? Is not Fred being patronizing to Team Hell, in assigning them ignorance or worse to their interpretation of the Bible? To actually represent some of them as experiencing joy at the hope of eternal torture for others? Are not many of Team Hell instead honest and honorable people, who after studying the same suspect texts have reached in good faith a different opinion than Fred?

    When Fred tries to bend over backwards six different ways to explain away the uncomfortable usages of Hades/Sheol/Gahenna/whatever, is he not patronizing the writers of those Books? I commented in an earlier post that Jude, for example, would feel very comfortable in today’s Team Hell. Is it not patronizing to discount his, IMO, rather clear and straightforward statements? Whom should I believe? A contortionist Fred, or Jesus’ own brother? (I’d want to believe Fred, because I’m a liberal and a humanist, but if we’re going to argue from authority, Fred loses.)

    In Fred’s latest splits-attempting post, the word ‘eternal’ gets a makeover. Its meaning lies beyond our imagination, and we better keep that in mind when we read the Bible. Really? Does Fred really think the writers of the Bible were using the term in that manner? Could most of the modern translators be so wrong to use the term in the modern vernacular if they didn’t have reason to think it best applied to the ancient vernacular? I think I’m the one in danger of the groin pull to work that out.

    Despite all this, I condescend to be impressed by and congratulate Fred. If it takes this amount of effort for him to convince himself that his God is Not a Monster, and if that then helps him to continue to be a Good Person, I’m all for it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=752002772 Andrew Glasgow

    Condescending, insulting, and smug. The ladies (or gentlemen, or both, as per your preference) must really find you irresistible.

  • ohiolibrarian

    I doubt Fred really needs your knee-jerk defense against arghous’ comments. It is also noted that you are unable to defend the substance of the complaint that Fred often has to parse Biblical stories and injunctions rather finely to maintain his idea of a God that is good and just. Sometimes this effort does lead to strained arguments. Noting that is neither condescending nor insulting nor smug.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    It isn’t actually clear to me that Andrew was defending Fred there, so much as objecting to arghous in his own voice.

    Either way, I agree with you that no defense is needed.

    I also agree that noting that tension exists between an “unfine” (coarse?) reading of the text on the one hand, and a belief in divine goodness and justice on the other, is not necessarily condescending or insulting or smug.

    But I would agree with Andrew that the way arghous did so was in fact all those things.

    As was Andrew’s reply.

  • KevinC

    Is “Arghous, you’re a meanypoopypants!” really the best counter-argument that can be mustered? How exactly does a “fine” reading of a passage like Numbers 31 or, say, the extermination of all the firstborn children in Egypt to punish an autocratic king over whom their parents had no control* transform genocide into something consistent with “God is Love?” If you can do that, reconciling Jesus’ teachings on money with Republican economics is easy.

    *How many Egyptians would even know about any of the dramatic confrontations between Moses and Pharaoh in the royal palace? Villagers in Aswan would have their land laid waste and be burying their firstborn before any messengers came up river with tales of a conflict between their king and an angry Hebrew magician.

  • PJ Evans

    Adding to that, that it might have affected only the part of Egypt around Luxor or wherever Pharaoh was living: local by our standards, widespread by the standard then.


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