Monday, April 12, 2010

Jesus's Morality v Church's Doctrine

By Gary Novak
April 13, 2010

Reverend Bess described the historical perspective on the difference between Paul's theology and that of the four Gospels of Jesus. As Bess noted, the moral message is quite different between Paul and the Gospels. Paul focused on sacrifice, while the Gospels focused on solving human problems as the basis for morality.

Read on.


Fred Taylor said...

Novak's article is very poor from the standpoint of any serious Biblical scholarship. The presumed split between Paul and Jesus dates back to 19th century rationalism and has been thoroughly discredited. Here we have the old tactic - create a strawman and shoot him down. This is not up to Consortium News standards. Fred Taylor

Dean Taylor said...

"Many Christian evangelicals and fundamentalists promote a highly conservative social agenda opposing social programs for the needy. And they promote Paul's theology to the total exclusion of Jesus's teaching based on solving social problems."

Right--but what you're referring to is hick theology, i.e., the "theology" of, e.g., the Jimmy Swaggarts, Pat Robertsons, the Bakkers, and Jerry Falwells of this world.

For example, mainstream Catholic theology acknowledges a prior philosophy as necessary foundation for any theology to build upon. Aquinas, therefore, built his Summa upon the ideas of Aristotle, in the same way that Augustine built his theology upon Platonic thought.

Fundamentalists, however, having dispensed with that falderol, proceed to construct a "theology" seemingly out of wholecloth. Alternatively--and, as the German sociologist Max Weber has demonstrated in his The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism--the fallout of the Reformation included the unnerving, anxiety inducing Calvinist notion of predestination, which construct then encountered (what luck!) the newly emerging ethic of capitalism in Europe. The Weberian idea of berufen, or "calling" as spiritual anchor to offset the impossibility of fore-ordained damnation was shored up by the business of, well, business.

It was then just a short hop, skip, and a jump to the idea that someone who had amassed--or was on the way to amassing--a financial windfall (the American Dream, anybody?) was, surely, "favored"--and, by extension, "saved"--by the Good Lordy Lordy.

And, the converse is then believed to hold true as well: those who are seen as a "burden" on society are, in fact, stripped of their very humanity, becoming "other"-ized as "unfortunates"--versus human beings utterly screwed by a System constructed to, well, screw them. This would include women, people of color (blacks, native Americans), those outside of the investor class "circle"--i.e., holding no property or land to speak of, etc.--in our inglorious, 233-year-old narrative as Empire.

Dean Taylor said...


All of this is utterly anathema to mainstream Catholic thought, which teaches a doctrine of faith plus good works as means to salvation--in addition to Church intercession in the administering of the Sacraments (e.g., Communion, Reconciliation, etc.). The new route being promoted of sola fide, i.e., faith alone as the path to salvation, was able to obviate the "good works" part by Weberian rationalization, or calculation in effecting personal salvation, i.e., directly with the Divine--versus intercession by the Church of Rome. The Weberian rationalization exists in contradistinction to tradition, custom, affect, etc. From Wiki:

"In sociology, rationalization (or rationalisation) is the process whereby an increasing number of social actions and interactions become based on considerations of teleological efficiency or calculation rather than on motivations derived from morality, emotion, custom, or tradition. It is regarded as a central aspect of modernity, manifested especially in Western society; as a behaviour of the capitalist market; of rational administration in the state and bureaucracy; of the extension of modern science; and of the expansion of modern technology."

To put this into context, the Christian-grounded Bob Jones University (Greenville, South Carolina) teaches a Christ as champion, not of the poor, or disenfranchised, or victims of any System of governance organized by the investor class, but, rather, a Christ as champion of that very investor class wreaking havoc globally today via the depredations of late capital.

Again--this is 180 degrees, diametrically opposed to essential Catholic Church teaching stressing the need to come to the aid of the poor--indeed, to radically identify with the poor.

The Church has, of course, in two-thousand years of history, often demonstrated its own brand of lunacy--in addition to the good work of teaching a means to a better, more fulfilling life here and now and salvation to come.

But, the lunacy of conjoining self-serving, greed-informed capitalism to one's personal salvation is the effect of said rationalization and a careful, ad hoc re-reading of the Gospels to correlate "success" here and now in the capitalist-informed West with the Beatific Vision as Divine promise in a life yet to be realized.

Dean Taylor said...


And, finally, to put to bed the idea that Paul was antagonistic of Christ's preferential option for the poor, the following is Paul's first letter to the people of Corinth (c. 53-57 AD), a city situated about 48 miles SW of Athens. The "love" that Paul refers to throughout the text is, in fact, caritas, a term from which we derive the word "charity."

“If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.

“And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing.

“If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, (love) is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.

“It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

“Love never fails. If there are prophecies, they will be brought to nothing; if tongues, they will cease; if knowledge, it will be brought to nothing.

“For we know partially and we prophesy partially, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.

“When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things.

“At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.

“So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

I Corinthians 13: 1-13

strefanash said...

the question is not helped by positing false dichotomies like this. I suggest the author read both the gospels and paul and not cherry pick them.

As for the fundamentalists who promote politically conservative oppressive agenda, they also cherry pick scripture, reading it out of context, ignoring passages like the sermon on the mount.

I hold that fundamentalism is a misnomer, for they do NOT believe the fundamentals of the Bible, only a few selected passages, the rest of which they ignore.

To posit the false dichotomy done here is to tacitly assume that fundamentalists have in fact correctly read the Bible therefore the error is in the Bible

Dean Taylor said...


I suggest that you ought to examine the glib use of terms like "cherry-pick" and "false-dichotomy."

The Biblical passage in question is a signal feature of the Christian message that I was arguing to--versus, e.g., some vague, one-off momentary lapse proffered buy Paul. The idea of Christianity as love praxis is the essential fact of life for the Christian--e.g., the observation of Romans to the first Christians' behavior: "see how they care for one another!"

This is not "cherry-picking," despite your protestations to the contrary--I hesitate to call your comment an "argument" as it clearly lacks the vigor of that type of dialogue.

Also, strefanesh, you may--or, possibly not--have noticed that this is, in fact, a "commentaries" page, i.e., with severely limited scope for text, citations, etc., and not--despite our fondest wishes--an academic forum. You did notice that, did you not? Good!

Rather, let me "suggest" that YOU go and read the Bible, and then when you feel confident enough to actually posit an argument--that would be an argument substantiated by, e.g., Biblical passages--then, by all means, return and submit it.

We all await your learned disquisition and considered ideas on the topic.

Anonymous said...

In the end what we have gotten is 'an eye for an eye' Christianity, I remember just a few weeks before the US launched its war in Iraq, Cheney was interviewed by a fundamentalist preacher, and he made a comment, accompanied by a snicker, that 'we would not simply turn the other cheek'. His interviewer nodded and snickered with him, as if to say 'What peacenik fool could possibly have come up with such a cockeyed theory as 'turn the other cheek!'. Hey, wait a minute, I thought, that cockeyed fool was none other than Jesus Himself. You can't laugh that off! But of course they did and still do. And if Christianity was meant to be a step above the vengeance doctrine of primitive Judaism, it didn't take long for it to revert to the same old 'change we can believe in' which is no change at all. Actually historically Jews have been consistently more 'christian' than the Christians themselves, often being in the vanguard in calling for more humanism and kindness towards all people, until the advent of Israelism that is, which is perhaps Hitler's greatest and perhaps only triumph because Jews who consistently defended human and civil rights are now turning against those very principles, which I believe was the real reason that Hitler hated Jews. I don't see that he could have had much sympathy for the 'man on the cross', as that kind of cruelty only gratified him.

Strefanash said...

And how does one get the love that it takes to actually live the sermon on the mount?

All Mr Bess offers is pious rhetoric. When the rubber hits the road it, the sermon on the mount, is simply in utter opposition to human nature. If Jesus is not God who paid the sacrifice that both He and St Paul said (bang goes the Paul/Jesus dichotomy right there) then there is no power or means for proper praxis to ever appear.

The propblem is not that evangelicals have favoured Paul over Jesus, it is that they have disbeleved both but instead of admitting this to repent of it, legalistically commit to the doctrine thus distort it.

Strefanash said...

Then there is the practical issue of the thing. Evangelicals are every bit as notorious as Mr Bess points out. But his attempt to address them is futile. They will simply NOT pay attention to him. They are the ones who will think him a heretic and being confronted with this false dichotomy of Paul/Jesus will only encourage them in their arrogance and idolatry.

Is that really Mr Bess' intention