” In All the Scriptures”
by Robert Hamerton-Kelly
April 30, 2006
Scriptures: Romans 1:16-17; 3; 22B-28; Matthew 7: 21-29
“And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets Jesus interpreted for them in all the Scriptures the Things concerning himself.” –Luke 24:27
I want to talk today about the interpretation of the Bible. I take as my cue a recent meeting I had with the author of a best seller advocating atheism for the salvation of the world, and the verse just quoted from the account of the Walk to Emmaus as a starting point. There can be no doubt that religious faith is currently dangerous and unhealthy for the world, and Sam Harris (“The End Of Faith”), the author in question, has put his finger on virtually all the mind-cracking absurdities and heart breaking cruelties of faith. From the sacrificing of living human beings to fantastical dead dogmas, to moral atrocities on behalf of divine torturers, the faithful today are wading through blood to glory. The matter is urgent because the Christians, the Muslims and the Jews seem significantly to be seized by a fit of inspired carelessness of the human race and a ferocious disdain of the human world, and this carelessness spreads from the White House in the US to the Settlements in Palestine to the souks in Damascus and Teheran.
All three of these so-called Abrahamic religions have messianic, utopian visions of the end of the human world, visions in which the believers are rewarded and the non-believers horribly punished. If you wish to sample a Christian version of this sadism I recommend a few pages of Tim La Haye’s final volume in the “Left Behind” series of apocalyptic novels (It’s title is something like, “The Final Glory” – I cannot remember it precisely because I cannot think of the book without vomiting. It is, in my opinion, written by sadists for suckers, the sick poisoning the simple; it would be something to ignore and use only in the house’s smallest room, but alas, it is about Jesus and I cannot ignore that; and so I suffer.) The grotesquerie of this Protestantism is almost enough to make one a Catholic, but then one hears that the sages of Rome are only now getting around to considering whether condom use might be permitted to couples one of whom has AIDS, and whether infants who die unbaptized, might not have to languish in limbo, betwixt and between, forever.
Perhaps you now understand why I found myself on the atheist side at an intellectual dinner in the city, unwilling and unable to defend religion, and why Sam Harris asked me to read the ms of his next book, a rant called “A Letter to Christian America’ and comment. I believe Harris is doing the work of Hercules, who once found himself, you remember, cleansing the Augean stables, and I was happy to help such a doughty digger. God knows, we clergy should be doing our bit to move this mountain of manure, to tell people what they may not believe in the name of Jesus, but, alas, we are too busy building the ecclesial institutions and padding our own pathetic presence (like teenage girls at a dance), to speak the truth, and we have found that lies that divide and threats that scare are more profitable. So they have thousands of suicidal fanatics and we have millions of reckless liars; I wonder what the Prophet of Islam would say – I fear he might approve – but I know what Jesus would say, “Cut it out!” (cf. Mark 9:43-48).
I think that the Bible is a major cause of this widespread moral and mental illness, and therefore I am pleased to bring to your attention that according to St Luke, on the very day that he arose from the dead, Jesus spent almost the whole day explaining and interpreting the Bible to two of his disciples who did not recognize him. There are lovely details in the story – we know that one of them was named Cleopas, that they knew something special was going on because their hearts burned as they listened, that they pressed the stranger to stay with them overnight and share their food and shelter, and that because of that risk of hospitality they were blessed with the meeting again in the sharing of bread. So much to reflect on, to interpret and to enjoy! What a story! Out of all these riches I choose the fact that Jesus taught them that is, us, how to read the Bible, that is Moses and the Prophets, in terms of himself.
“In terms of himself,” means reading through the memory of Jesus as if it were a kind of eyeglasses. I know this is metaphor and therefore imprecise and confusing. We might, for instance, imagine the image of the eyeglasses and ourselves wearing Jesus on our eyes – stranger things have been imagined in religious experience -and assume that that helps us understand, when all it does is blind us with sentimentality. No, reading through the memory of Jesus means carrying the story of Jesus in our minds as we read and judging everything we read in the light of that story; and even that is not enough. We have to judge the story of Jesus itself in the light of the story of Jesus. For instance, Tim La Haye, claims to receive his sick, sadistic fantasy from the story of Jesus. He emphasizes the end of world, final judgment themes, putting them before others, when we should put the murder and rising of Jesus, Cross and Resurrection, at the center. The God of the Cross is not the crude wonder-worker of Sam Harris’ denial and Tim La Haye’s affirmation, never the destroyer of his own creatures, not the one who puts dogma before compassion and law before love. The God of Jesus loves a single suffering child more than all the world’s religion and all the virtuosi of ritual and all the experts of holy law.
Of all the jackassed, boneheaded stupidity that has ever plagued the human world, religious fundamentalism is up there with Republican politics, Muslim barbarity, and Jewish settlers, as a common cause of all three. Let me give you one example, which is all time permits, but it is telling. Christian fundamentalists read the various OT promises of a land to the people of Israel by their God, Yahweh as if they are valid today. These promises were recorded by Israelite and Jewish writers to justify their claims to other people’s land back then. The Christian boobs read these promises quite apart from their historical context and for that reason support the extreme claims of Israeli settlers to Palestinian land. That of course is nonsense, dangerous, poisonous nonsense. Its forlorn foolishness can be seen more clearly when we recall that anti-Semites read the condemnations of erstwhile Israel by its prophets 2800 years ago, as if they were valid today. Jeremiah said Jerusalem would be destroyed because of the peoples’ sin, some boobs are waiting for God to destroy current Jerusalem just as far more boobs are waiting for the Divine to expel all Palestinians and give all their land to the beloved Jews. The first great Zionist propaganda piece is the history section of the OT. At the court of David scribes compiled a history of how and therefore why David became king in Zion and why therefore God still has a special love for Zion and present Israel is entitled to all the land that was once in David’s domain, however briefly. The Muslims have an even more fantastic account of why Jerusalem is special, having to do with the Prophet mounting to heaven from that take-off point.
Jesus told us what the Bible is about; it is all about him; about his death at the hands of human self-glorification. He dies showing how we all are in fury against each other for the sake of our own dignity. We make ourselves every kind of exalted monster, religiously chosen, divinely blessed, pure, beautiful, elegant and wise, maximally desirable, and above all, not like those others. How pathetic, how ignominious, how dangerous! Jesus came to put an end to religion; in him there is no Jew or Greek, no bond or free, no male or female – all differences of status sanctioned and defended by religion (Galatians 3:26-29). Jesus is not only the overturner of the money tables and the freer of the sacrificial victims, but also the destroyer of the Temple (Mark 14:57-58).
The Bible is about Jesus’ death, a typical occurrence in our daily lives – the murder of a young man, but in his case revelatory and special. More significantly, the Bible is about his Resurrection, about life. In that book we see the veil drawn aside and the light of life stream forth, and we know that the Bible is about the Risen Man not the dead and dying religious types in their gory trade of sacrifice and solemnity. Properly read the Bible is all about Jesus and all about life, because Jesus is the point of it all, and Jesus is Humanity Alive ( Also known as “the Son of Man”)