So much of what is preached and publicized in the name of Jesus today consists of encouraging and sustaining nothing much more than opinionated moralizing as the basis of Christian belief.
In fact, one might hear the proposal that morality is theology.
Morality is not theology- because it consists, as Alan Watts wrote, “of telling people how to behave.”
Does not focusing on morality – telling people how to behave – impact public or private thinking only as it relates to control of behavior? So long as the emphasis is on morality is not the emphasis is on control?
Preaching morality rather than the virtues of goodness – particularly the common good we all ought to be seeking – seems merely to give us mostly sermons and exhortations that limit themselves to issues defined entirely by judgmental thinking.
Humans also have repeatedly demonstrated how judgmental thinking drags the positive and negative aspects of human behavior into morally gray areas where actions seem more governed out of a concern for reward or punishment.
Judgmental thinking have at its core the idea of worthiness. In fact we often reinforce so-called acceptable moral behavior based on reward and punishment. Worse, judgmental thinking drives a comparative that pretends to justify one person’s superiority over another. Reward/punishment involve the use of fear, shame and guilt which – if ever used successfully – almost always results in the “right” things being done but for the wrong reasons. There is value in reward and punishment if the only goal is that of deterrence, intimidating those who would commit acts that would harm another person. Such is a concept within a code of civil justice.
In that regard then what is the relationship between a use of deterrence to coerce obedience and someone’s genuine un-forced willingness to do good because it is the right thing or the compassionate action upon which Jesus preached?
Could we not say that this sort of spiritual construct only works in a religious sense if God is likewise viewed as judgmental and punitive; a divine being who responds to human behavior in a manner that creates deterrence and control?
Whether spiritual or civic, such control is nothing more than legalistic in thought and assumption – it is both spiritual and civic governance by the letter of the law. Does that not cause sin – in a context of an offended God – to become greatly exaggerated, even elevated into the realm of criminal activity?
Subjugation to the letter of religious law is precisely the deadly environment into which Jesus was born and ministered. To deal with a fixation on controlled behavior, Jesus demonstrated a Christ Path as a divine alternative for a society totally immersed in literal and letter-of-the-law thinking.
In that society and in our own today, many literalist spiritual leaders have done something terrible to scripture, turning it into a device of menace focused on control and deterrence. Sacred writings that inform humanity of its relationship to God lose most of their capacity to spiritualize individual lives if they are reduced to a canon of inflexible statutes born out of rigidity and possessed of a very narrow range of interpretation?
Because a canon is essentially a document intended to preserve a status quo with as little change as possible, can we not assume that a writing that has been canonized is a document of censorship? Canonization of spiritual writings lets the controllers retain control. A document of censorship preserves the benefits of those already in authority at the expense of the culture itself?
In the 21st Century it seems that scripture – as many view it – is not much more than an instrument of control; a tool and a means by which conservative manipulation of the status quo is now more important than the spread of the philosophy of the Sermon on the Mount, The Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan.
The more influential among religious authorities now seem concerned with subjugating the simple philosophies of Jesus’ parables. We seem to be caught in the 19th century with a monarchical vision of God that capitalizes on a wrathful Cyrus or Nebuchadneezer.
Many of our influential Christian celebrities have blended that God-of-wrath image with that of imperial power and the legalistic imagery of the Caesars and Roman civil administration. Has not the kingdom of today’s literalist scriptoral authorities come to resemble almost entirely the negative aspects of Judaism into which Jesus was born 2000 years ago?
To many it feels like when a Bible is waved from a pulpit, it resembles more a cudgel than an olive branch. Jesus did not describe his Father in the punitive monarchical sense that pervades Christian fundamentalism today. Theological writings existed in the medieval church, but what filtered to the masses was moralistic manipulation – a device for sustaining ecclesiastical and civil authority. Such was possibly the most powerful factor that allowed a church to persecute, torture and kill heretics – all the while pretending that Jesus in Heaven was applauding their actions.
Do we need for theology to include a “disobey and you’ll go to hell” in order to describe humanity’s relationship to God?
Is there a fear that morality in and of itself will fail without that kind of deterrence?
Can one not be moral out of nothing more than a concern for the highest good of all concerned?
Can we not consider it important to understand that so long as scripture is viewed as inerrant and written exclusively by God with the assumption that God’s eye is single to obedience first and punishment as the otherwise consequence?
The Bible as Jesus utilized scripture for himself is an instrument for search, ponder and pray – for spiritual growth through choice. It should never be an instrument of spiritual, emotional nor civic coercion.
Should we not elevate our thinking toward doing good for the sake of goodness with a genuinely sincere desire and no expectation of reward or public recognition?
Is not faith something more than timid trusting of what orthodoxy insists we practice as we remain dominated by literalist interpretations set forth and canonized centuries ago?
Is there so much orthodox peer pressure in our congregations that the esteem of the self-righteous crowd is worth more than a sense of personal esteem with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ?
When the Father of the Prodigal Son responded to the judgmental and resentful score-keeping older brother, he applauded neither the older son’s literal thinking nor the son’s blind obedience. Had he done so he would have agreed that the younger son didn’t deserve the treatment the Father was about to give.
He would have been The Judgmental Father of a Judgmental Older Son and justified centuries of later Christian moralizing. It does not take fundamental literalism to realize this. It does not take conformity to a group think of orthodoxy to realize this.
These concepts and the internal spiritual reactions they generate are and have always been in Scripture. Are they not what Scripture is really about – facilitating growth toward making the right choices for the right reasons and toward a common desire for the highest good of all concerned?
Aren’t we supposed to work out salvation in fear and courageous trembling?
Or are we to be therefore commanded in all things and limited to what comes out of a “cannon”?