(The “Last Judgement” by Michelangelo, Courtesy the Vatican archive)
If there were no “holy books” how much easier it would be to believe in God! An oral tradition and a rich liturgical expression of divinity lovingly shared in a faith community are much more convincing than words on a page. The images I see from the Hubble telescope do more to suggest a loving creative God besotted by beauty than most Bible passages. One hug from my grandchildren Amanda, Ben, Lucy, Jack and Nora teaches me more about the mystery of unconditional love being the animating spirit of the universe than most Bible passages ever could.
Consider the gospel of Luke. There are timeless passages in Luke chapter 6 offering a reason to hope that Jesus is the best path to a better future. Sadly, those enlightened passages are the exception. Most of the Bible is so time-bound and culturally limited that it defeats faith rather than building it. Yet Luke 6 is the foundation of just about every good thing that has come from Jesus to us.
Try to read this passage as it might have been heard in a world where torture was legal, women taken in adultery were stoned to death, an eye-for-an-eye was the norm, and religion was so rigid and codified that people spent lifetimes ritually purifying themselves over normal bodily functions. Hear the words as if you never read them.
Blessed be you poor: for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you that hunger now: for you shall be filled.
Blessed are you that weep now: for you shall laugh…
Give to every man that asks of you; and of him that takes away your goods ask them not again.
And as you would that men should do to you, do you also to them likewise.
For if you love them which love you, what thank have you for sinners also love those that love them.
And if you do well to them which do good to you, what thank have you for sinners also do even the same.
And if you lend to them of whom you hope to receive, what thank have you for sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again.
But love you your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and you shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind to the unthankful and to the evil.
Be you therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.
Judge not, and you shall not be judged: condemn not, and you shall not be condemned: forgive, and you shall be forgiven: Give, and it shall be given to you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom.
For with the same measure that you mete withal it shall be measured to you again.
If only the rest of the gospels were consistent with this passage. If only all the vengeful contradictory ranting about hell fire and judgment (that could not have been spoken by the same person we discover in Luke 6) hadn’t been added. I say “added” because the hellfire passages represent the absolute contradiction of what you just read. Forget theology. I’m writing here as a working author making a best guess. As a writer I know when the voice of a character shifts. That’s one reason I quit the movie business and decided to write novels.
The scripts I was hired to direct kept getting messed up by too many writers. I know an interloping paragraph when I run into it! Was the material added by writers and editors of the New Testament, threatening hell and so forth, put there when trying to scare people into their new church? Were the writers trying to win fights with the Jews who hadn’t joined their new Jewish/Christian sect?Jesus either said God “is kind to the unthankful and to the evil” or he said that God will burn his, her or its enemies in hell. You can’t have it both ways.
So is this Jesus?
“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades…”
…or is this Jesus?
“Be you therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful. Judge not, and you shall not be judged: condemn not, and you shall not be condemned: forgive, and you shall be forgiven.” …. You’ve just read an excerpt from my book from Chapter 20 to read MORE please buy the book WHY I AM AN ATHEIST WHO BELIEVES IN GOD: How to give love, create beauty and find peace please buy a copy and keep reading…
Frank Schaeffer is a writer. His latest book —WHY I AM AN ATHEIST WHO BELIEVES IN GOD: How to give love, create beauty and find peace