Is the Morality of Jesus Sound?
by: M.M. Mangasarian (1914)
Originally published in the July 15, 1914 edition of The Rationalist
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Very recently, at the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, which met in Chicago, it was confidently claimed by the newly elected moderator, Dr. Alexander Maitland, that “The morality of the Christian religion is incontrovertible,” and that “its ideals are the highest in the world.” “Even those who question the deity of Jesus, or the inspiration of the Bible, are compelled to admit,” say other clergymen, “that the moral teaching of Jesus is the most perfect the world has ever received.” It is also claimed that agnostics and infidels join with believers to give unstinted praise to the immaculate and incomparable precepts of the founder of Christianity. In short, the thesis is that whether or not we believe in the creeds, we must admit that the morality of Jesus was, and is, the highest the world has known, or will ever know. With your consent I propose to examine that statement critically.
“Is the moral teaching of Jesus sound?” The question brings us at once to the inner and most closely guarded stronghold of Christianity. If that can be captured, the overthrow of the creeds will be complete; but as long as it stands, Christianity can afford to lose every other of its many defenses, and still be the victor. Reason may drive supernaturalism out of the Catholic position into the Protestant, and out of that into the Unitarian, and out of that again into Liberalism, but reason does not become master of the field until it has stormed and razed to the ground this last and greatest of all the fortifications of Christian theology - the morality of Jesus.
If Jesus was the author of perfect, or at least, of the highest ideals the world has ever known, he must forever remain, par excellence, the exclusive saviour of the world. Whether he was man or God, which question the new theology discusses, is a trifling matter. If his ethical teaching is practically without a flaw, I would gladly call him God and more, if such a thing were possible. His walking on the water, or his raising the dead, or his flying through the air, would not in the least embarrass me. I could accept them all-if he rose morally head and shoulders above every other mortal or immortal our world has ever produced. It is claimed that he did. What is the evidence?
To facilitate this discussion, and to concentrate all our attention on the subject of this discourse, we will waive the question of the historicity of Jesus. For the sake of argument, we will accept the gospels as historical - accept the authenticity of the documents, the trustworthiness of the witnesses, and the inspiration of the texts which we are to quote. We will grant every point, concede every claim, allow every contention of the defendants. We will then ask them: Does the evidence which you have presented and we have accepted without raising a single objection, prove that the moral teaching of Jesus is perfect, or even the highest the world has ever possessed?
A system of thought, or a code of morals, is much like a building. A serious crack in one of the walls, or a post that is not secure in its socket, is enough to make the whole building unsafe. When a building is condemned, it is not condemned for the parts that are sound, but for the part or the parts that are unsound. To change my illustration, the strength of a chain is in its weakest link. The strength of a religion is in its most vulnerable parts. By overlooking the weaknesses and dwelling solely upon the strong points, we could make any religion appear as the best in the world; even as a similar bias would prove the most rickety building perfectly safe. For obvious reasons, a special pleader may conceal, or cover up the cracks in the walls of a building, or the defects of an institution. But why should we? Our object is not to save the building, but the people who are in it. We are not interested in saving the creed or the religion, but in saving the people who stake their lives on it And why,-why should any religion beg for charity? To a cashier of a bank, to a treasurer of a corporation, to an official of the municipality or the state, who should beg the examiners not to look into all his dealings, but report only what good they can of him, we say: “You are guilty.” Not only that, but he is also trying to make us his accomplices. Preachers, for example, often tell their hearers to see only the good in the Bible. “When you are eating fish,” they say, “ you eat the meat and you throw away the bones. Do the same with the Bible.” This is practically a plea of guilty. Why should anything in the Bible have been given only to be thrown away? Pardon me if I use a stronger expression; “Why should any part of the Word of God be ordered to the scrap-heap?
It is a pleasure to know, and it confirms us in our optimism to admit that, in all the religions of the world, even in the crudest, there is much that is good, as in every edifice there are rooms and walls and posts that are perfectly sound. Religions survive, as also buildings endure, - by the soundness there is in them. It is not the cracked wall or the damaged pillar which supports the building; it is the sound parts that keep it together. The same is true of religions. It is the truths they contain that preserve them. Mohammedanism for instance, has survived for nearly fifteen centuries, and its survival is due to the virtues, not to the vices, of the Mohammedan faith. This is equally true of Judaism and Christianity. But just because there is some good in all religions, shall we shut our eyes to the fatal fallacies they also teach ?
In the sayings attributed to Jesus, there is much that we are in cordial sympathy with. If any one were to point out to us passages of beauty in the four evangels, passages which have perfumed the centuries, I for one would gladly agree to all that may be said in their praise. But if I were asked to infer from these isolated passages that the ethical teaching of Jesus is not only the most perfect within human reach, but also sufficient to the needs of man for all time, I would deem it a stern duty to combat the proposition with all the earnestness at my command. It is the duty of every one to denounce as cowardly the attempt to hold the world bound to the thought of one man. In the interest of morality itself, it must be shown that Jesus is not the highest product of the past, nor is he the best that the future can promise. There is room beyond Jesus. Not only was Jesus not the perfect teacher his worshippers claim him to have been, but there are flaws in his teachings - cracks and rents in the walls of his “Spiritual” temple - so serious and menacing that not to call attention to them would be to betray the cause of human progress.
My first general criticism of the morality of Jesus is that, it lacks universality. It is the morality of a sect, a coterie, a clique. It is not meant for all peoples. Class morality was all that Jesus had in mind. Jesus was not a cosmopolite. He was a Hebrew before he was a man. It was not he who said, “The world is my country!” I object to the provincialism of Jesus. Find Jerusalem on the map of the world and draw a circle around it; then cover the rest of the map with your hands, and you will have before you all the world that Jesus knew anything about, - or cared for. The rest of the world had no place in his thought. The continents of Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe, and the yet undiscovered America, did not appeal to his sympathy. The yellow hosts of China and Japan, the dusky millions of Hindustan, the blacks of Africa with their galling chains, the white races outside of his own, - burdened with the most pressing problems which ever taxed the brain of man, do not seem to have drawn even a passing notice from Jesus. It is quite evident that such a country as our America, for instance, with its nearly one hundred millions of people of all races and religions, dwelling under the same flag, and governing themselves without a King or a Caesar, never crossed the orbit of his dreams. Neither his thought nor his affection, nor even his imagination contained a world bigger than the Ghetto he lived in. Shall we go to a provincial of this description for universal ideals?
What Jesus had in mind was not humanity, but a particular race. Israel was the nation that monopolized his attention, and in that nation his interest was limited to those that believed in him as the Messiah, The idea of a world salvation on terms of a free faith, was painfully foreign to his sympathies. His disciples were all of one race, and he emphatically warned them against going into the cities of the Gentiles to preach the gospel. He tells them that he was sent expressly and exclusively for the lost sheep of the House of Israel. Of course, we are familiar with the “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature,” But Jesus is supposed to have given that commandment after his death. In his life time, he said “Go not into the cities and towns of the Gentiles.” If he said, “Go not to the Gentiles!” when he was living, the “Go to the Gentiles!” after his death, has all the ear marks of an interpolation. The two statements squarely contradict each other. Granting that Jesus knew what he had come to do, he could not have given both commandments. Moreover, from the conduct of the apostles who refused to go to the Gentiles until Paul came into the movement, it may be concluded that Jesus did not change his mind on the matter of his being sent “only for the lost children of the House of Israel.” Besides, it has to be proven first that Jesus rose from the dead, before we will consider the evidence that after his resurrection he changed his mind about preaching also to the Gentiles.
The thought of Jesus is as Hebraic as are his sympathies. His God is invariably the “God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” Suppose he had also said, “The God of Abraham, Confucius and Socrates!” Ah, if Jesus had only said that! To Jesus David was the only man who looked big in history. Of Alexander, for example, who conquered the world and made the Greek language universal - the language in which his own story, the story of Jesus, is written, and which story, in all probability, would never have come down to us but for the Greek language and Alexander; of Socrates, whose daily life was the beauty of Athens; of Aristotle, whom Goethe calls “The intellect of the world,” and of the Caesars, who converted a pirate station on the Tiber into an Eternal City, - Jesus does not seem to have heard at all. The classical world, rich and fair, the world that created “The glory that was Athens, and the grandeur that was Rome” meant no more to Jesus than it does to “Gypsy” Smith, or “Billy” Sunday.
The heaven of Jesus is also quite Semetic. His twelve apostles are to sit upon twelve thrones to judge the twelve tribes of Israel. There is no mention of anybody else sitting on a throne, or of anybody else in heaven except Jews. People will come from the east and the west, from the north and the south to meet their father, Abraham, in heaven. The cosmography or topography of the world to come is also Palestinian. It has as many gates as there are sons of Jacob; all its inhabitants have Hebraic names; and just as on earth, outside of Judea, the whole world was heathen, in the next world, heaven is where Abraham and his children dwell; the rest of the universe is one vast hell. Indeed, to Jesus heaven meant “Abraham’s bosom.” And we repeatedly come across the phrase, “The Heavenly Jerusalem,” in the New Testament, as the name of the abode of the blessed. Is it likely that a man so racial, so sectarian, so circumscribed in his thought and sympathies, - so local and tribal, - could assume and fulfill the role of a universal teacher?
But not only was the world of Jesus a mere speck on the map, but it was also a world without a future. Jesus expected the world to come to an end in a very short time. And what was the use of trying to get acquainted with, or interested in, a world soon to be abandoned? The evidence is very conclusive that Jesus believed the end of the world to be imminent. He says: “Verily I say unto you, ye shall not have gone through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man come.” As Palestine, was a very small country, and its few cities could easily be visited in a short time, it follows that Jesus expected the almost immediate end of the world. This belief in the approaching collapse of the world was shared by his apostles. The earliest Christian Society was communistic, because all that they needed was just enough to subsist upon before Jesus reappeared. It would have been foolish from their point of view to “lay up treasures on earth,” when the earth was soon to be burnt up. Moreover, they were not commanded to labor, but to “watch and pray.” The fruits of labor require time to ripen in, and there was no time. The cry was, “Behold the bridegroom is at the door!” Hence, to “watch and pray” was the only sensible occupation for a Christian.
We can see for ourselves how a belief in the near end of the world would create a kind of morality altogether unsuitable to a world that lasts. Jesus never dreamt that the world was to continue for at least another two thousand years. If anyone had whispered such a thing in his ears, he would have gasped for breath. Could the curtain of the future have been lifted high enough for Jesus to have seen in advance some of the changes that have come upon the world during the past twenty centuries,- the fall of the Roman Empire, the rise of Mohammedanism,- carrying two continents and throwing the third into a state of panic, - wresting the very Jerusalem of Jesus from the Christians and holding it for over a thousand years; had Jesus been able to forsee the Italian Renaissance, the German Reformation, the French Revolution, the American Revolution, with its Declaration of Independence, and later on, its Emancipation Proclamation,-and finally, had Jesus caught even the most distant gleam of that magnificent and ever victorious empire,-the empire of Science, - with its peaceful reign and its bloodless conquests, slowly and serenely climbing above the horizon, bringing to man such a hope as had never before entered his breast, and giving him the stars for eyes, and the wind for wings, - had but a glimpse of all this crossed the vision of this Jerusalem youth, his conception of a world soon to go to “smash” would have appeared to him as the infantile fancy of a - well, what shall I say? I shall not say, of a fanatic, I shall not say, of an illiterate, let me say, - of an enthusiast! The morality of Jesus not only lacked universality, but it was also framed to fit a decaying, not a growing world.
Jesus’ doctrine of a passing world was born of his, pessimism. The old, whether in years or in spirit, as Shakespeare says, are always wishing “that the estate of the Sun were now undone.” Weariness of life is a sign of exhaustion. The strong and the healthy love life. The young are not pessimists. Jesus had the malady of aged and effete Asia. He contemplated a world crashing and tumbling into ruins all about him with Oriental resignation. Indeed, the groan of a dying world was like music in his ears. He enjoyed the anticipation of calamity. The end of the world would put an end to struggle and labor, both of which the Asiatic dislikes. But to tell people that the world is coming to an end soon, is not to kindle, but to extinguish, hope ; and without hope our world would be darker even than if the sun were blotted out of the sky.
The objection to another world, far, far away, is that it diverts the attention of man from the work in hand. to something in the clouds.
“What are you doing, my men?” asks the preacher.
“We are laboring for our daily bread,” they answer.
“Indeed! Have you not heard that Jesus said: ‘Labor not for the meat that perisheth?”
That text created the Mendicant orders. Yet somebody has got to work before even the Mendicants can have bread to eat.
“And what are you doing?”
“We are building a city.”
“What! Do you not know that it is written in the word of God that, ‘Here we have no abiding City?’ exclaims the other worldly preacher.
“And you -?
“We have loved and married.”
“And have you not read in St. Paul’s Epistles,” says again the preacher, “that they who are married neglect the things of the Lord?”
“We are laboring to improve the world we live in to make it a little cleaner and sweeter.”
“But do you not know,” asks the man in black, “that the world will soon pass away, - that, as Jesus has foretold, the sun will turn black, the stars will fall, and the elements will be consumed in a general conflagration?”
The effect of such teaching is to incapacitate man for earnest work here and now. And what does Jesus offer in place of the home, the love, the world, which he takes away from us? A home in the Somewhere! What evidence is there that such a home awaits us? We have to take the priest’s word for it. ,,And, unfortunately, many of us do. And upon what terms will the priest condescend to pilot us to our invisible and aerial mansions? We must turn over to him now, our all, - mind, body and lands!
The doctrine of a world hastening to destruction, has demoralized the people and enriched the churches. During the middle ages and earlier, and also in more recent times, more than once the credulous public has been scared out of its possessions by the preachers of calamity. Jesus can not very well clear himself of responsibility for this, because it was he who tried to hurry the people out of a world soon to be set on fire. When a young man asked Jesus’ permission to go to bury his father, he was told to “Let the dead bury their dead.” This was extraordinary advice to a son who wished to do his father a last service. But Jesus was consistent. The world was catching fire, and there was no time to lose. The morality of Jesus was the morality of panic. He would not give people the time to think of anything else but their own salvation from the impending doom. This was Bunyan’s interpretation of the spirit of Christianity, for he made Christian, the hero of his story, flee at once from the city of destruction, leaving his wife and children, his neighbors and his country behind. Panic and selfishness!
An examination of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount will show how this idea that the world was about to collapse influenced his whole teaching. In the third Gospel, Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor.” Matthew gives it as, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Jesus recommends poverty of the spirit as well as of the purse. The intent of the Sermon on the Mount is to wean men from this world by promising them one in the - where?
“Blessed be ye poor; for yours is the kingdom of God.” “Blessed are ye that hunger now, for ye shall be filled.” “Blessed are ye that weep now, for ye shall laugh -“Woe unto you that are full; for ye shall hunger.” “Woe unto you that laugh now; for ye shall mourn and weep.”
The next world according to Jesus was not really a better world, but the reverse of this. Some are hungry now, some are full. In heaven those who are full now will be hungry, and those who are hungry now will be full. Here Lazarus is suffering, and Dives is in comfort; there, they will change places. Is that a world worth looking forward to? It is not even a new world, but the old world turned about and actually made much worse. The suffering, the misery, the pain, in the world now, are at least temporary, but there, these evils will be eternal. Here, the rich man, at least gives of the crumbs of his table to Lazarus, but in heaven Lazarus refuses even a drop of water to moisten the lips of Dives in hell. No healthy and optimistic soul could have dreamed so desperate a dream. The future is a place of revenge according to Jesus. Such a future as he describes, with thrones for his friends, and hell everlasting for the stranger, would, if really accepted, smite humanity with the worst kind of pessimism. We could pardon Jesus for wishing the destruction of this world, if he only offered a better one in its place.
It is in the light of this belief in a vanishing world that the teachings of Jesus should be interpreted. “If any one,” says Jesus, “take away thy coat, let him take thy cloak also.” Of course. Of what use is property in a world soon to be set on fire? Besides, according to the Sermon on the Mount, the way to have property in heaven is by not having any here. To Jesus, the world was like a tavern - good only for a night’s lodging; or to change the simile, the world was like a sinking ship from which, to save ourselves, everything else had to be thrown overboard. Who would care to accumulate wealth - who would care to marry, or to rear children, on a sinking ship ? Could such an alarmist be a sane moral teacher? Yet, Jesus must have been sane enough to realize that the command not to resist evil, - to give to everyone that would borrow, to turn also the other cheek to the aggressor, and to let the oppressor bully people out of their rights, would upset the very foundations of human society, and create a chaos unspeakably disastrous to law and order. But what difference does it make if we are on a sinking ship! Jesus also advised his disciples to let the tares grow up with the wheat . It is not worth while trying to separate them now; the time is so short. And when he says further that we must “hate father, mother, and children for his sake,” he means that to escape this terrible doom or curse, soon to overtake the world, would be better for us than to cultivate the affections and the friendships that can not last long.
The position of Jesus on the important question of marriage, or the relation of the sexes is also to be studied in the light of this belief that the world is not going to last very long. It certainly would be absurd to have weddings, as it would be cruel to have children, or to accumulate property, or to acquire knowledge, in such a world. Tolstoi, in his Kreutzer Sonata, which is a frightful story, expresses the real Christian attitude toward marriage. He shows conclusively that it is inconsistent for a follower of Jesus to marry. Even as he must give up all property, he must also give up the family. If he is single, he must not marry; if he is married, he must live as though he was not married. Tolstoi proves his contention by quoting among other texts, the following from Jesus : “And everyone that hath forsaken wife or children or lands for my name’s sake”-which words are a direct recommendation to forsake kith and kin, wife and husband, in fact, everything. To be a Christian, according to Count Tolstoi, is to follow the example of Jesus who abstained from marriage. What is the use of talking about divorce when marriage is forbidden? Why in the name of common sense should any religion expect us to forsake wife, child or husband? Why forsake? Suppose Jesus had said “If any one will come with - not without - wife, child or husband he shall be twice blessed!” But the Christian ideal is monasticism. The celibate is the saint. You will not blame me if I quote Jesus’ own words, just as I find them in the New Testament: “And there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the Kingdom of heaven’s sake.” This is an invitation to all who can to emasculate themselves. It is the gospel of sterility! A man could not teach such a doctrine in America today without laying himself open to the penalties of the law; but when preached by Jesus, hypocrisy and cowardice combine to extol it as divine wisdom. Fortunately, such teaching is praised, not obeyed. Even hypocrisy hesitates at times. It is owing to the healthy manhood of the occidental nations that this Asiatic superstition has not altogether bankrupted civilization. In the early centuries many of the followers of Jesus mutilated their bodies “for the kingdom of heaven’s sake.” There is in Russia a sect called Skopskis, with a membership of six thousand, which follows the practice recommended by the founder of Christianity.
The vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, lead practically to self-destruction. Poverty is dependence, or helplessness; chastity or celibacy, is self-mortification; obedience by which is meant absolute surrender of the will to another, is the stamping out of the mind. Goodness! It is not only the physical world that Christianity would destroy, but also man. This is annihilation, the Buddhist Nirvana! How to make of man a mere zero - poor, emasculated, and a mental slave, seems to be the ideal of this Asiatic cult. After two thousand years of modern education, such is the hold of Jesus upon the Christian world, that in our churches is still sung the hymn:
0, to be nothing, nothing!
With this doctrine of celibacy in view, the indifference of Jesus to the rights of women as human beings is not a surprise. It has been well said that, “Those who trample upon manhood can have no real respect for woman.” Jesus never spoke of God except as a father. If the highest principle or being in the universe is a “he,” of course woman can never hope to be on an equality with man. Motherhood will always occupy a secondary place as long as God is a father. If God is a father, what mother can be on an equality with man? He must rule ; she must obey. Women do not stop to think that religion -Christianity, Judaism, Mohammedanism - is the most stubborn obstacle in the path of their advancement. Jesus ignored women in all the essentials of life. He did not love any one of them sufficiently to share his life with her. He had no place for the love of woman in his heart. He kept twelve men as his constant companions. Suppose Jesus had invited some gentle and devoted woman to the honor of apostleship, - what an example that would have been! The cause of woman would have had today two thousand years of encouragement behind it. But Jesus shared the prejudices of his age against woman. Surely, there were women in his circle of acquaintance better than Judas Iscariot who sold him for a paltry sum of money. Women may wait upon Jesus at the table, they may nurse him, they may fall at his feet to bathe them with their tears and wipe them with their tresses, a woman may give birth to him-but for a woman to be an apostle! Not that. Had Jesus been a really progressive teacher, he would have understood that in the work of saving people, the cooperation of woman is indispensable. There are no better saviors than women. How many a husband has been saved from drunkenness-from the gutter even, by his wife! How many sons have been shielded from a prodigal’s fate by a mother’s all-conquering devotion ! Yet for this splendid force or agency of reform, Jesus had no appreciation whatever.
“If I were hanged on the highest hill,
Mother o’ mine;
I know whose love would follow me still,
Mother o’ mine.”
Is there a word about mother-love in the New Testament that can compare with that ? Jesus failed to see in woman that which inspires the poet, the painter, and the hero, to do their best. He took the Asiatic view of woman. “Can man be free,” sang Shelley, “if woman be a slave?” Suppose Jesus had said that!
The Bible is on the whole very unfair to woman. This is a sign of its inferior morality. It is the bully who takes advantage of the physically weak. When, in the Garden of Eden, God is about to punish the first couple for their disobedience, he is much less considerate of the woman than he is of the man. “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread,” is. the curse for Adam. That was not a curse at all. Labor is not only honorable, it is also pleasurable. Many work who do not have to-they work, not from pressure but from pleasure. Many who retire from business do so with regret. It is indolence that is a curse. The divine curse against the serpent is quite mild. He is told to walk upon his belly for the rest of his life. A change of locomotion was his punishment. But when Jehovah curses the woman, he shows, - I was going to say, - the effect of his Asiatic training. “Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow shalt thou bring forth children ; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.”
“I will greatly multiply thy sorrow.” And why? Is it because she is stronger and can therefore endure more suffering than the man ? Why should she be struck a heavier and more crushing blow ? And observe that she is cursed in the act which constitutes the greatest and most heroic service a woman renders to the human race, - the giving birth to children. The pain of child-bearing is to be henceforth, says the deity, very much more painful. Well may we blush for Jehovah. If there is a tender moment in human life, it is when a woman becomes a mother. As it has been well said, all the love, the gentleness, the devotion, the sweetness, and the compassion of which we are capable, will not be enough to outweigh the suffering a woman endures to give life and light to a new being. And think of choosing this delicate and helpless moment to strike at her! And this is the being who has sent his son to save us! But who shall save Him?
“And thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.” At the threshold of life she is sold into slavery. She is not given to Adam, to share with him the dignity of humanity, or the privileges of life, but to be his creature. Suppose Jehovah had said: “A woman is as much a human being as a man, and because of her physical weakness, I shall charge myself to be her special protector and friend until man shall have advanced sufficiently in culture and civilization to do full justice to her.” Ah, if Jehovah had only said that! In the Episcopal and Catholic marriage services to this day, the wife is asked to obey her husband. And this is the religion that pretends to be just and impartial to woman! From the silence of Jesus on this subject, in a country and at a time when woman’s condition was deplorable, and where the curse with which she had been cursed had really taken effect, - as well as from the few words he said about marriage, - Jesus shows his utter incapacity to tear himself from his Asiatic environment, or to rise to the nobler ideals of an advancing civilization.
Again, in the light of his belief in a world soon to disappear, it becomes clear why Jesus ignored such subjects, for instance, as education, art, science, labor and politics. There is not a word in all the sayings and sermons of Jesus about schools, or the acquisition of knowledge of nature and its laws. He does not devote a single thought to the education of children. Not once does he denounce ignorance, which is the mother of all abominations. In the age in which he lived, ignorance was the most abundant as well as the worst crop his own country raised. And yet, Jesus had absolutely nothing to say against it. It would take time to conquer knowledge, and the time was too short. Moreover, in the world to come, such knowledge would be superfluous. What wisdom the believers needed would be given to them miraculously, even as God rained down manna in the desert for the children of Israel. This idea that everything, even our daily bread, is given to us, not acquired by us, explains why Jesus ignored the subject of labor the great transformer that transforms the world’s waste places into gardens and its swamps into flourishing cities “Consider the lilies of the field,” argues Jesus, with a suggestion of poetry in his usually severe and solemn speech, - “they toil not, neither do they spin,“-from which it is to be inferred that, if the lilies can be so fair and flourishing without toil or labor, so can man, If he will only put his trust in God.
The kingdom of heaven, which is to take the place of this world when the latter has been burned down to ashes, is not an evolution, or a growth out of present conditions, but a totally different order, according to Jesus, and is to be introduced suddenly, - and by a miracle. What use is there then for human labor? Hence, the advice of Paul to the slave not to seek his freedom, and that of Jesus to let the tares grow up with the wheat. It is not by any effort on our part; it is not by science or labor, but by magic, - that is to say, by some unknown, mysterious and sudden manner, that the kingdom of God is to come.
Little things as well as great issues, Jesus would have us leave to providence. Therefore his warning: “Take no thought for the morrow.” In other words, labor is necessary for those people who have no Father in heaven who takes notice of even the falling sparrow. But the believer has only to cast his net into the sea, and fishes with pearls in their mouths will help pay for his wants. His faith will not only move mountains, but he believes that it will also make a single loaf of bread satisfy the hunger of thousands. In fact, a miracle-worker like Jesus could not consistently recommend labor, which means application of means to ends. Jesus was a magician. Morality is a science.
But let us now consider Jesus’ solution of special problems : You know the story of the rich young man who came to Jesus to ask him the way to eternal life. “Keep the ten commandments,” Jesus answered. But when the youth intimated that he was already doing that, Jesus said, “If thou wilt be perfect, sell all that thou hast and give it to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven.” I am not surprised that the young man went away disappointed. What is there in poverty to entitle a man to eternal life? Is it not a perverse doctrine that associates beggary with moral perfection ? Why should the mendicant be the pet of heaven? If you give all that you have to the poor, you will have to depend upon charity for your living, - or starve. And where will the charity come from, except from those who labor and save? It was only for this world, however, that Jesus believed in poverty. In the next, his followers will receive a hundred fold for every sacrifice made here. He promised them thrones, crowns, jeweled streets to walk in - and mansions of pure gold in the skies. The believer who turned his wealth over to the church was to receive ten thousand per cent in the world to come. The most frenzied financier even is not so extravagant as that. Be very poor here and you will be fabulously rich there. Is there any logic in that. ? Is such a thought in tune?
You are also familiar with the story of the man who came to Jesus to ask him whether they should pay tribute to Caesar. Instead of giving to this honest question a direct answer, Jesus resorts to quibbling. He asks for a coin, and when one is presented, “Whose is the superscription,” he asks. “Caesar’s,” is the answer. “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s,” commands Jesus. But one moment: Does a coin belong to Caesar because his superscription is upon it? Is it not rather the property of the man who has earned it by his labor? Shall Caesar claim everything that he can put his stamp upon? Was not Jesus recommending the blind worship of force when he told them to respect Caesar’s stamp ? Suppose, instead of evading the question, or attempting a smart answer to it, Jesus had calmly and clearly explained to them that no government, be it human or divine, is just, which is not based upon the consent of the governed. Ah, if Jesus had only said that!
But he also tells us to “Give unto God the things that belong to God.” God and Caesar! Behold the two masters, from neither of which did Jesus deliver man. And how do we give unto God the things that belong to God? If we give it to the priests, will it reach God - and how much of it will reach him? Moreover, if we are to tell the things that belong to Caesar by his stamp upon them, how are we to tell what things belong to God? And how did the deity come to let Caesar in as a partner? And what will there be left for us after God and Caesar have had each his share? It is difficult to understand how the robust occidental can find any moral uplift or guidance in so whimsical a piece of advice. Jesus was asked a great question, the question of political autonomy and international law,-the question of self-government, - but he gave to it a trifling answer.
Let us take another example: I have more than once called your attention to the story of the thief on the cross. There were really two of them. Both men were malefactors, but one of them believed in Jesus at the last hour and became a saint, so to speak. Could any thing be a greater encouragement to bad morals than that? No wonder so many criminals leave it to the prison chaplain to prepare them for a crown of glory after a life of shame. If we wished to show that it made no difference how people lived, and that the only thing that saves is faith, which is as effective at the eleventh hour as at the first - we could not have invented a better argument than is furnished by this story in the gospels.
Observe now that this magically saved malefactor became meaner and more selfish after he was converted than he was before. He forgets all about his past misdeeds, as well as the sufferings of his many victims. “Remember me,” he prays, me. He had no favors to ask for his victims. They can all go to perdition. What is that to a converted rascal ? “Remember me!” “Do not let me be damned.” “Me, me, save me.” The morality of a thief!
Suppose the thief on the cross had said to Jesus when the latter invited him to paradise: “But what about my victims, Lord? The men and women and children I have ruined and sent to their doom! How can I be happy in heaven with my victims in hell - to whom I gave no chance in the last hour to believe and be saved? Hanging on the same cross with you, Lord, has made my heart a little more tender, and awakened my conscience. I have become a better man since I met you. Let me then go where I can atone in some real way for my crimes! Let my heaven consist in serving the people I have wronged, until we can all be saved together !” If Jesus had only provoked that from the converted thief!
Compare with the puffed-up vanity and meanness of the malefactor converted by miracle, the glorious behavior of Othello in his last hour. Jesus’ company made the thief on the cross callous, Shakespeare’s touch made Othello sublime. As he is about to leap into the darkness of death, Othello is not thinking of his soul, or of his future; on the contrary, his one and only thought is of his beautiful victim. He does not whine in the ears of heaven, nor does he beg to be saved from the punishment he deserves. He is no coward trying to sneak into paradise while his Desdemona lies in her blood at his feet. Listen to the words the great poet speaks by his mouth:
Whip me, ye devils,
From the possession of this heavenly sight
Blow me about in winds! Roast me in sulphur!
Wash me in steep-down gulfs of liquid fire.
No vision of heaven, no thought of glory can tempt Othello to forget his crime. He prefers hell for himself as the only thing with which his awakened conscience can be calmed. That is the way to be converted!
The Christian doctrine of forgiveness is the doctrine of license. Jesus commands us to forgive “seventy times seven.” He does not seem to realize that the more accommodating we are to the criminal, the more seriously we sap the foundations of good conduct. “Judge not,” says Jesus, “that ye be not judged.” That is very queer advice. We are not to see wrong or crime in others lest they should find the same in us. It is the religion of a guilty conscience which abstains from criticising lest its own faults be exposed. “Say nothing detrimental of my character and I’ll agree to say nothing about you.” That is a conspiracy to defeat justice. “For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged,” continues Jesus. Not at all. If a man has slandered you, must you slander him? If you have been robbed, must you rob in return? Do you have to judge another with the same prejudice, bigotry and malice with which he judges you ? And must you refrain from passing any righteous judgments from fear of being misjudged or misunderstood by the world? Were we to follow this false teaching, we would be giving crime a free field, with every tongue tied against it. That would be the paradise of the undesirables.
But did not Jesus also say, “Love one another,” and is not that enough ? If it were enough, the past twenty centuries would have been centuries of peace and brotherhood. Instead, they have been centuries of sectarian persecution. The world is in need of a Jesus who can make people lovable. And where is the love that Jesus is supposed to have brought ? Why is Europe still armed to the teeth? I do not deny the good intentions of Jesus. I question his power. Has Jesus succeeded in making Irish Ulster love Irish Dublin? Has he taken the sting out of the temper of Christian Ireland? Christianity has had a good long chance to show results. A religion which is split up into an ever-increasing number of sects is not going to bring unity and brotherhood. “He that believeth not shall be damned,” and “Depart from me, ye cursed,” take from the rose of love both petals and perfume, and leave only the thorns.
But Jesus also said, “Love your enemies.” The advice of Confucius to love our benefactors and to be just to our enemies, was more sensible. It is neither practical nor desirable to love one’s enemies. Can we love the slanderer, the oppressor, the murderer? If our “enemy” is not all this, he is not an enemy. But we can be just to the people who are mean, deceitful, spiteful or pitiless toward us. Did Jesus love his enemies? Why then was not Judas saved? And why did he say to his disciples that for the people who rejected them there awaited the awful fate of Sodom and Gomorrah? Why does the deity say that he will visit the “iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me?” Is that loving one’s enemies?
But did not Jesus pray for his murderers on the cross? And was his prayer answered? If there is any truth in history, the Jews have suffered for their supposed participation in the tragedy of Calvary more than words can describe. I have always thought that the prayer, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” was put in Jesus’ mouth at the last moment, for dramatic effect. If the atonement was one of the divine decrees, the people who put Jesus to death were only obeying God. If, however, knowing that Jesus was a God, the Jews nevertheless wanted to kill him, they must have been imbeciles, and therefore not responsible. But if they did not know the truth and committed the crime ignorantly, and were therefore irresponsible, they were not forgiven for it, and the Bible describes the fearful punishment in reserve for them.
Another much commended saying of Jesus is the following : “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these, ye have done it unto me.” This has been interpreted as a command to help and succor even the poorest of the poor. I admire the thought. I applaud the generosity. But, would it not have been grander if Jesus, instead of saying, “ye have done it unto me,” had said, “ye have done it unto Humanity ?” “For my sake” is .not so large and noble as “for Humanity’s sake.” One of my neighbors, a preacher, said the other day that he loved the poor and the lost, “because Jesus loved them.” Then it was Jesus he loved, not his fellows. Evidently he would not love them if Jesus did not. What would become of this preacher’s interest in his fellowmen, should he ever lose his faith in Christ? That explains why people often say that without Christianity there can be no morality. Of course not - for Christians.
“If you take Jesus Christ out of the world, the world’s a carcass, and man’s a disaster,” cries another preacher at the top of his voice. To be sure. If everything is to be done for Jesus’ sake, what will become of morality, with Jesus dropped out ? We need no better excuse for summoning all our energies to combat a religion that commits the destinies of our world to the keeping of one man, - and he, in all probability, - a myth.
Let us recapitulate: Jesus taught a magical, not a scientific morality. It was by being born of “water and the Holy Ghost,” whatever that might mean, and not by intellectual and moral effort, that people were to be saved. He placed the creed, faith in Himself, above righteousness. His “Believe in me, do good for my sake,” gave to morality a sectarian taint. Morality is born of liberty. Christianity, on the other hand, is the religion of absolutism, in which Jesus or God is everything, and man a mere worm, Christianity denies to man the right to reason. He must only obey. There is no morality where there is no liberty, and there can be no liberty where there is a revelation from God. By his doctrine of a future hell, and by his promises of fabulous wealth and glory beyond, Jesus helped to disturb and distort the judgment of the weak and the timid, preventing thereby the cultivation of sane and sound views of life.
And what do we offer in place of supernaturalism, whether it be Christianity, Judaism, Mohammedanism, Brahmanism, or any other “ism?” In place of magic or miracle, we offer science; in place of “belief,” we offer knowledge; in place of “for God’s sake,” we offer the unhampered interchange of human love and labor. Bigger than any Christ, Virgin-born and sired by the Holy Ghost - all powerful, and infallible is our erring, suffering, inquiring, growing, Humanity! Thy Kingdom come, Man! Thy enlightened will be done!
- See the author’s Truth about Jesus - Is He a Myth?
- Luke vi, Chap.
- See the author’s The Bible Unveiled
- Matthew xix:12
- Genesis iii:16