We’re all familiar with the argument that religion is a source of morals and conveys a moral compass on adherents. I’ve often taken umbrage with that, since the sort of distorted morals that religion conveys are specious at best.
The main thrust of this argument will be the infamous Sermon on the Mount, which is the largest collection of moral teachings of Jesus. Even Dawkins points to this as a good thing. I beg to differ.
The SoM sounds good on its face. It’s like “free.” Who doesn’t like free? So anything with the word free in it appeals to everyone. But there’s no free beer, and that’s a point that should be kept in mind with every statement that Jesus supposedly made.
When you take off the religion-colored glasses and read the sermon, you see that it’s really nothing but feel-good homilies that have no meaning at all. Let’s take a look:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.”
Warm fuzzies, right? What, exactly are the poor in spirit? I’m interpreting this as people who are having daily problems that are becoming overwhelming. So, when you’re overwhelmed, you can hope for pie in the sky. How wonderful is that? This is an obvious empty promise. Fear being a main component of religion, and whether you’re poor in spirit or not, you are always kept in the dark as to whether you actually qualify for the kingdom of Heaven or the Lake of Fire. Somehow, this beatitude becomes a bit less of an encouragement if you think about it in that framework.
“Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
This one’s really empty. It doesn’t say that the person for whom they mourn will be returned to them. It just says that someone (another follower?) will pat them on the shoulder to help them get through their loss. Since that’s normal hominid behavior, there’s no explicit promise here except that other humans will have empathy and they already do have empathy.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”
Well, when the non-meek finish with the earth, the meek may not want it. This is another empty promise since there is no sign that in Jesus’ day or in modern times any meek will inherit anything and may actually be left out of their parents’ wills because nobody likes a mouse. Show some character, people!
“Blessed are they that hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be fulfilled.”
Not happening. Sorry, but there are a great many people who hunger for such things, and occasionally they organize and actually receive righteousness to some small degree, only to have it snatched away again later.
I wonder if in this passage the righteousness in question is the coming of the kingdom of God on earth, in which the Romans will be overthrown and the Jews will be ascendant? Because yes, the Romans eventually perished at the hands of Christianity, but the Jews are still not doing very well. Remember, the Holocaust came after Jesus’ pronouncement. It’s difficult to find a time in history when the benighted tribe of Moses wasn’t under someone’s thumb. I can see why the Jewish Jesus might think that things were about to be changed for the better, but that was the expectation for centuries.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.”
How does this work, exactly? Someone owes you money, for example, and you tell them, “Look, I know you’re having a hard time, so I’ll just forgive the debt.” So then you lose your home because you couldn’t pay your mortgage. The only way that this makes sense is to assume that the brutal Yahweh will notice your small contribution to the general welfare of the world and somehow reward you for it. Maybe move your heavenly chair a few inches closer to him, though you’re still out in the wings somewhere.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
Nice promise. But I can make an equally valid promise. Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see Daffy Duck. There. Mine’s just as worthy. Trade one mythical character for another and it’s just as good. You can get a pretty feeling in your bosom if you’re a believer, but from the outside looking in, this statement is just vapid.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”
This one is particularly odd because it seems to me that those who would be sons of God are the warmongers. Jesus seems to have forgotten that the penalties for breaking the ten and the 603 commandments is death. What peace, in a brutal world where the slightest infraction leads to torture or death? Jesus may have meant well, but the actions of God’s earthly princes have been deplorable.
The peacemakers of history are poorly remembered and they are usually trying to make peace after a war!
“Blessed are ye when men shall reproach you, and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.”
Selfish, isn’t it? Go ahead and put yourself in danger and you’ll be better off for it. If only you’ll be a steadfast follower of mine, it will make you a better person. Sounds like the rantings of Charles Manson.
The remaining statements are just mystical blatherings about how nifty we followers of me are. Salt that lost its savor? Where can I find some of that? Any group’s leaders will insist that they stand out and be counted, so the light on a stand rather than a bushel or the city on the hill are tactical in nature. And Jesus’ final statement that he comes not to destroy the law seems to have been completely ignored by the Pauline tradition. The Jewish law and its consequences were stricken from the Christian lexicon. This is particularly odd because Matthew, where the Beatitudes are found, was of the Petrine school of thought that Jewish traditions should be preserved, unlike Mark, who followed the Pauline line of thought.
If the Beatitudes are the best Jesus has to offer, he isn’t giving much. There is nothing here that can’t be found among the first-century Jewish thinkers or other philosophers or the Kingdom Movements of the day. My opinion is that the Jesus movements were mere extensions of these movements anyway – a sort of offshoot of them who believed that the time was not only at hand but that it had already come.
The religion-colored glasses work equally well on any part of the Bible. Ancient biblical heroes were those to whom genocide and murder were the order of the day, but to the believer they are placed upon pedestals because they were furthering the cause of God. Abraham was a hero because he was willing to kill his son if God so commanded. Contrast this with modern-day men and women who kill their family members because God told them to. We think they’re insane. But for those heroes of old, well, take off the glasses and see them for the mythical avatars they are: scriptural decrees that break the rules of morality in favor of obedience and submission.