The Sermon on the American Mount

The Sermon on the American Mount January 29, 2013

Another gem from Jeff Carter. This time he gives what most Americans seem to think Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount:

You have heard it said, “Do not resist an evil person,” but I tell you “shoot first,” it’s your second amendment duty to shoot bad guys.    If anyone slaps you on the right cheek don’t wait for the police, take charge of the situation yourself and put a bullet in them.  And if anyone wants to take away your firearms, sue them.  Never give away your rights.

You have heard, “Love your neighbor as well as your enemy,” but I tell you that that is a totally ridiculous idea.  When has praying for your enemy ever worked?    If you love your enemies, what reward will you get?  Shot in your own home, most likely because it’s not like the police are going to get there in time.

You have head that it was said to the people long ago, “You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment,” but I tell you that it’s not murder if it’s done in self defense.
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Constitution or the Bill of Rights; I have not come to abolish them, but to protect their original intent.  Anyone who sets aside one of the least of these amendments will be called least in the kingdom.
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  • Straw Man

    Funny. And somewhat apropos; there are no doubt people whose hypocrisy it captures.

    It raises interesting questions, however. The New Testament reads fairly pacifistic. I see no clear way to justify self-defense in the pages of the New Testament. The Old Testament is clearly not pacifistic, and permits deadly force in defense of self or property, and warfare. One could simply argue that the OT God is an “angry God,” superseded by the NT God who is a “loving God,” and who suddenly realized that non-violence was the answer. One could, alternately, attempt to harmonize them by concluding that self-defense is legitimate, per Deut. 22, but that Christ commands his followers to *waive* that right by *choosing* to turn the other cheek.

    There are indeed those who would suggest that self-defense is not always inconsistent with the New Testament, though. “Resist not evil” certainly sounds categorical to me. “Turning the other cheek,” on the other hand, can be interpreted away as being about shrugging off insults: a slap on the cheek is an insult; it’s a very different animal than, say, attempted forcible sodomy. The New Testament is silent about what the Christian’s duty is when he sees a child being raped, though. Is the appropriate response to drop to one’s knees and pray? Or hand the rapist a tract? Christ said to turn one’s own cheek, but did he authorize us to turn the victim’s cheek for him, by refusing to render aid? Scripture is even more silent on this subject than it is on gay marriage, since it says nothing even arguably applicable like Paul’s comments in Romans 1.

    Our satirist mockingly writes, “It’s not murder if it’s done in self-defense,” but this raises multiple questions as well. He correctly quotes the commandment as, “Thou shalt not murder,” as opposed to, “Thou shalt not kill.” If all killing is murder, then the latter is the clearest way to express it, so the satirist seems to believe that not all killing is murder. But in that case, what killing isn’t murder, if self-defense doesn’t qualify? The only exceptions made by Jewish thinkers have been warfare and defense of self or others. Of the two, warfare is even more dodgy. And as I alluded, scripture specifically authorizes self-defense, at least for Israelites. There seems to be something incoherent in the humorist’s thinking here.

    That’s the dark side of this attempt at humor: it glosses over most of this ethical complexity. It lampoons certain aspects of American culture, successfully, but in this case at least, satire is a blunt instrument. The humorist’s counterparts on the right would draw a similar cartoon, except that it would portray liberal Christians in Birkenstocks, watching a child being molested in a park, while wringing their hands and praying. Or something. And there would be perhaps a kernel of truth in there, but it would also be a blunt instrument. And so the left and right continue to bludgeon each other to no real purpose.

    Another question that occurs to me is whether your protest of rednecks using force in self-defense, is not accompanied by a hypocritical silence about the right-wing Bush and even farther-right Obama administrations dealing death from the skies with killer robot airplanes? Do you protest all violence equally, or do you protest violence by the little people while condoning (or even adoring) state violence on a much more massive scale?

    • I am opposed to all violence on principle, although I am not judgmental when it is used in self defense. The world is not always ideal, nor a place where we do not have to choose between two less than ideal options. Sometimes our ideals (eschewing violence vs. caring for family) conflict with one another.

  • Jeff Carter

    Speaking as the satirist in question – I try to not be hypocritical in my criticism / silence.  I have challenged and criticized the use of violence by the Obama administration as well.

  • Beachsound1

    If the OT is clearly not pacifistic and is by and angry God and the NT is pacifistic and by a Loving God, is that 2 Gods?  Do the OT and NT contradict each other and then which do I pick to follow?  And if it is left up to arguing and which one to follow, then could they both be wrong?  Should I give up Christianity because nothing can be decided and nothing is true?

    • Gary

      That’s why I like the three bears analogy in Karen King’s books, “Gospel of Mary” and “What is Gnosticism?”. You have Jewish Christianity, Gnosticism(which mostly rejects the OT), and Orthodoxy (just right balance, assuming you are part of the Christian establishment that eventually won the horse race).
      Violence in the OT wasn’t just for self defense or war, but war to take away the other sides possessions, that you happen to covet, with God’s advice/consent.

    • Neither the Old Testament as a whole or the New Testament as a whole depicts God as entirely pacifistic or angry. Ancient people thought of disasters affecting them as signs of divine wrath, and so the assumption that God was angry at times and liable to punish was all but universal in many parts of the world. 

      Most Christians think in terms of progressive revelation, and so the teaching of Jesus, for them, trumps earlier things that seem to run counter to those teachings. But the contrast is often exaggerated. In the so-called “antitheses” in the sermon on the mount, Jesus makes his requirements more stringent than the earlier ones. He doesn’t contradict them.

      People always pick and choose. The question is whether they pick and choose guided by anger or love or something else.

      • Straw Man

        “Most Christians think in terms of progressive revelation, and so the teaching of Jesus, for them, trumps earlier things that seem to run counter to those teachings. But the contrast is often exaggerated. In the so-called “antitheses” in the sermon on the mount, Jesus makes his requirements more stringent than the earlier ones. He doesn’t contradict them.”

        VERY well said! Also note that there’s trumps and there’s trumps. A command by Jesus would “trump” a commandment in Moses’ law in that he has the authority to override earlier orders–but some Christians would say that the earlier orders were objectionable, and other Christians would merely say, “We have new orders.”

        Some “progressive” Christians would, for example, deem the death penalty evil, and would applaud the general non-endorsement of capital punishment in the New Testament as righting a wrong. Others would say rather that capital punishment is in principle fair and just, at least in certain cases, but that Christians are not authorized to carry it out, perhaps because we, unlike the Israelites, have no nation and are instead salted throughout the earth, or perhaps because God was openly accessible to the Israelites but isn’t to us.

        Not to be coy, I’ll come out and say that I agree in principle with the death penalty, despite opposing its use in practice. Death is a fitting punishment for murder–however, Christians are not authorized to deal out death in vengeance, and without God giving us infallible judgement, the possibility of executing the innocent is unacceptably high. Thus I not only don’t execute people, but oppose the State doing so either.

    • With your conundrum, you don’t have to give up Christianity – just become a Marcionist!

      • Gary

        I think I’d lean toward being a Valentinian, per the Gospel of Truth.

        • Claude

          At least then you wouldn’t have to commit to celibacy; dealbreaker.

  • Claude

    That’s the dark side of this attempt at humor…

    I thought this Jeff Carter thing was hilarious (in a depressing kind of way). It’s satire, not a treatise.

    One way to look at “turn the other cheek” is “don’t escalate a fight,” which is very good advice. Even atheist gun-nut Sam Harris will tell you that the best form of self-defense is to avoid a fight in the first place. However, protection of the the weak and vulnerable from harm is implicit in Jesus’s concern for the “least of these.” (Though apparently the Vatican is confused on this point.) The self-defense issue is whether being armed to the teeth is ultimately going to improve your chances of surviving a violent confrontation. From what I recall most gunshot victims are casualties of domestic disputes or conflicts between people who know each other. Chances are good your gun will be turned on you. 

  • Ehj1919

    The problematic of the writings of the New Testament which
    produces the many Jesuses, even  the Mythicist’s
    no Jesus, can all be psychologically understood by the maxim which defines the   methodologies
    and their related conclusions in New Testament studies: If you begin with Paul,
    you will misunderstand Jesus. If you begin with Jesus, you will understand Paul

    To begin with Paul is to begin with the writings of the NT,
    the letters of Paul, the Gospels, as well as the later writings of the NT, all
    of which certain of our top NT Studies now know are not apostolic witness to
    Jesus, thus not reliable sources for knowledge of Jesus. “The sufficient
    evidence for this point is that all of them have been shown to depend on
    sources earlier than themselves and thus not to be the original and originating
    sources that the early church mistook them to be in judging them to be
    apostolic”. (Schubert Ogden).  Without a
    readily identifiable alternative source which might have claim to apostolicity,
    there effectively has been no evident way to “begin with Jesus”. Thus the
    writings of the NT are widely taken to be our primary if not our sole NT source
    for knowledge of Jesus. Scholars both within the Guild of NT Studies and
    outside secular critics seem bound each to his/her own particular bias: the NT
    scholar, with convictions that conflates the NT Christ of faith myth with the
    HJ or that a credible Jesus yet lurks somewhere behind these texts; while the secular
    critic , with the convictions of the Mythicist argument or at most a Jesus of
    no or little historical significance.  

    Only since the 80s have certain of our top NT Studies
    scholars, under the force of present historical methods and knowledge, become
    confirmed in their recognition that indeed we do have an alternative NT source
    containing the original and originating faith and witness of the apostles in
    the texts of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:3 – 7:27, the SM). Although the
    SM is positioned as a front-piece in the Gospel of Matthew, its identity and
    significance has been seriously obscured, even to credible NT scholars, by a widely
    held redaction-historical claim   that the evangelist Matthew composed the SM
    out of Q traditions and his own composition, to fix the SM to its secondary
    context the Gospel of Matthew. Betz dispels this claim with his developed
    hypothesis that the SM is a source that has been transmitted intact.   

    James Robinson’s history of this development: “For over the
    last two centuries there gradually emerged a new access to Jesus, made
    available through objective historical research. To be sure the Evangelist
    themselves have already tailored their narrations of Jesus’ sayings to focus on
    the (Pauline) kerygma, making the gospel of cross and resurrection the
    quintessence of the whole ministry of Jesus. Yet for modern people, a person
    who remains historically inaccessible is somehow unreal, – – indeed a myth.  The result was in the Nineteenth Century, the
    quest for the historical Jesus. It was no coincidence that a century and a half
    ago, as the rediscovery of Jesus was just getting under way, there came to
    light a collection of Jesus’ saying used by Matthew and Luke in composing their
    Gospels.  Matthew and Luke updated the
    sayings so that they made clear what Jesus must have meant, namely what Matthew
    and Luke meant, and embedded the sayings in their copies of the Gospel of Mark,
    making of Matthew and Luke hybrid gospels, partly Mark and partly the sayings
    collection. Then, after Matthew and Luke used it in their enlarged and improved
    Gospels, that primitive collection of Jesus’ sayings (which grew within the
    Jesus Movement to become the SM) was no longer copied and transmitted by
    (Gentile) Christian scribes, since the church of course – unfortunately  — 
    preferred those more up-to-date and complete  Gospels (from birth to death, written in the
    context of Pauline Christ kerygma in the Gentile world some 40 years after the
    crucifixion, effectively severing Jesus from his sayings and his Jewish roots).
    This more primitive text was itself lost completely from sight. In fact it
    ceased to exist, no copies of Q survived. It was never heard of again, after
    the end of the first century, until, in 1838, a scholar in Leipzig, Germany,
    detected it lurking just under the surface of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.
    – – scholars came to call it simply the “source”, in German “Quelle”, abbreviated
     ”Q”, we have come of late to call it the
    Sayings Gospel Q. This old Sayings Gospel was not like the canonical Gospels.
    So colored over with the kerygma of cross and resurrection that the historical
    Jesus, though embedded therein, was actually lost from sight by the heavy
    overlay of golden patina. Rather this document was just primitive enough to
    contain many sayings of Jesus without kerygma overlay. Here the real Jesus who
    actually lived in history has his say. ” (The Real Jesus of the Sayings Gospel
    Q, by James M. Robinson, an article online). For what the real Jesus did have
    to say see Essays on the Sermon on the Mount by Hans Dieter Betz.                   


    • Any chance you meant to post this comment on a different thread?

      • Straw Man

         Was that a reply to me? If not, it’s clear that I quote your post in this thread, and therefore must intend to post this comment in this thread. The death penalty is a different subject than self-defense, but it should be obvious why the two, and war, are interchangeable for the purposes of the point I’m making. Was the point unclear in some way?

        • No, the comment was in reply to sbh’s comment about mythicism.

          I hope they fix Disqus 2012 soon, so that the replies and threads can be clearer. I will try switching it on again soon and see what happens..l

        • Straw Man

           Apologies; I see now that you were replying to Ehj1919. This comment system has weird threading, so your reply appeared immediately after my post, and I got confused.

  • Dr. John D Rich, Jr.

    The use of Christianity to bless the troops and our warmongering is a devastating tragedy. Our glamorization of guns, and acceptance of violence for defense, have been lent divine patina by our “religious” leaders.

    • Straw Man

       Note that self-defense does not necessarily entail glamorization of guns NOR endorsement of warfare. Folks in older times wandered around with swords buckled to their swashes, but they didn’t “glamorize” or worship their sword; it was simply a tool. It is POSSIBLE, at least in principle, to take the position that one will not endure a violent attack, but will instead defend oneself against it, and will equip oneself with a suitable tool for that purpose, without all of the additional baggage you describe here.

      It may not be COMMON, of course. Many people who make that choice will also identify positively with others who are similarly equipped, such as police or soldiers. They will tend to then endorse the actions, or excuse the crimes, of police or soldiers, just as they would for themselves or a family member. This has the ironic result that gun owners, who tend to run conservative, will also tend to support police-state measures at home and invasions abroad–both of which are the antithesis of the “freedom” that they generally claim to stand for.

      A great but anonymous sage once commented, “When the police state comes to fruition in America, they won’t disarm the gun owners. They’ll issue them armbands and jackboots.” There is a kernel of truth in this. It’s a cultural artifact, though, and not an inherent quality of being prepared to defend oneself from attack.