Disarming Scripture: Reader Questions, part 4

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Jump back to Reader Questions, part 3

in this installment of reader questions, we'll take a look at this one,

Why doesn't the NT set the record straight on what to embrace and what to reject from the OT? Wouldn't it be good to state for instance that slavery and genocide are not God's will? To have these things in our Bibles, attributed to God's will, is misleading to say the least.

The simple answer to this is: It does.

The New Testament makes a major shift away from the view that God’s kingdom is brought about by people killing in God’s name. This is a narrative that we find all throughout the OT, and that we find in the inter-testamental writings such as the story of the Maccabees. That’s why the expectation was that the messiah would be a warrior like David who would kill the enemy oppressors (the Gentiles) to bring about justice.

The New Testament instead makes it very clear that this is not the way of Jesus the messiah, and that we as followers of Jesus are not to engage in violent retaliation. This point is extremely clear and really central. The question is: Why do we ignore such a central and obvious point? Why do we find a million reasons to side-step loving our enemies?

I’ll come back to that question in a second.

First, let me point out that when Jesus says really reasonable things like “God wants to show love to everyone, not just to us” they literally want to throw him off a cliff for it (Luke 4). So this is a pretty volatile environment. Say too much and you get killed. So one reason that the NT does not make these huge sweeping statements is because they were not able to make these huge steps as a powerless persecuted minority group.

Still, Jesus is constantly pushing the envelope, making statements that outraged the religious authorities, pointing us away from one way (the way of bringing about good by killing in God’s name) and towards another way (the way of bringing about good by radical forgiveness and enemy love). This involves a major critique of the OT narrative of human acts of violence for God, and more importantly it involves proposing a new and better way.

The problem is, most Christians don’t really get that better way, and here I don’t think the problem is with the Bible so much as it is with us. I understand that it would be desirable to have an authoritative statement that “this is totally wrong.” I think we need to begin by clearly saying, for instance, that genocide is and always has been categorically wrong. Period.

But that alone is not enough. We need to learn how to think morally ourselves. We cannot be dependent on a book or a pastor to dictate to us what is right and wrong. We need to be moral adults who can discern and question and grow. That is ultimately what Jesus models, and what having the “mind of Christ” as his disciples entails.

The Old Testament teaches that it is good for people to kill. This was the assumption of the Jewish audience of Jesus, it was the assumption of his Gentile audience living in the Roman empire, and it is the majority assumption most of us today hold living in the U.S.A.

The New Testament is a protest against all of that. It rejects that narrative.  To miss that is to miss the central point of the NT. We do have a book that rather clearly DOES say that the OT is wrong in it's view that people should kill in God's name.

But that alone is not enough. Consider this: in the past – whether this was the crusades or the slaughter of Native Americans – Christians used the Old Testament to justify their violence.  However, the problem of using the Bible to justify our human violence would not go away if we just chucked the OT and only read the NT.

The fact is, today, when Christians seek to justify state violence, (including torture, assassinations, civilian bombings, etc) the texts they reach for are in the New Testament, a common example being Romans 13 where Paul writes,

"Rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer." (Ro 13:4-5)

The logic here is that this entails God's endorsement of state violence as the means of bringing about justice and good. Now, in Disarming Scripture I spend quite a bit of time discussing why this is a misreading of what Paul’s point is here in Romans.

What I want to point out here in this humble blog post, however, is a simpler point. I want to ask why we elevate this tiny sentance in the NT to defining importance, while ignoring reams of stuff in the NT that makes the opposite point. If we were simply looking at everything the NT had to say on the matter it would be rather clear that the big point is about a better way shown by Jesus that works by radical forgiveness and enemy love.

But the reason so many Christians elevate Romans 13, while finding a million reasons to ignore the Sermon on the Mount (not to mention Romans 12), has very little to do with honest exegesis, and everything to do with the simple fact that we don’t get enemy love, we don’t believe in it, we don't trust it, we don't like it, and so we ignore it.

What we do get, and deeply trust in, is the idea that the way to stop evil is for the “good guys” to kill the “bad guys,” and so we pick out the verses that support that.
What this practically means is that instead of letting the higher morality of the NT shape and change how we see... instead of letting Jesus teach us his way... we instead come to the Bible with our way and find texts to support it. That way we can remain in our worldly view, but feel we have God’s blessing in doing so.

So even when we have a book like the NT really obviously telling us what is right and wrong, we still can find a way to completely ignore its huge point, and find proof-texts to justify ourselves. So we are back to this point I keep making:

We need to learn to think morally. Jesus wants to show us how to be moral adults.

We don't need a better book with better rules as if that would alleviate us from the need to think morally. Rather, we need to really seek to understand Jesus’ radical way of enemy love, and that ultimately means that we need to do the hard work of understanding why Jesus says what he does.

Let me be the first to say that this can be really challenging because it goes against not only our cultural assumptions, but against some really primary defense instincts in our brains. So even when we "get it" it's hard to do it. But this is all about going from primitive morality and primitive brain reactions (the amygdala) to using our higher morality and engaging our social brain (the prefrontal cortex).

What has really helped me in this is understanding that the way of enemy love is not about ignoring the problem or neglecting to act, but a superior and more effective and powerful way to resolve conflict and make things right.

The way to "get that" is not so much an intellectual thing as it is a lived thing. That is, we will only really be able to "get" the way of grace, forgiveness, and enemy love when we experience it. That usually begins with our receiving God's grace, forgiveness, and enemy love, but it needs to lead into a life of our showing that same grace, forgiveness, and enemy love to others too. We can begin to practice this in the our every day conflicts of our daily lives  -- in how we deal with our colleagues, our spouses, with our kids. Truth, to be understood, must be lived. The only true faith is a lived faith.

Next time,

If the Bible's purpose is to bring us through competing views of God and morality along a trajectory that leads us to love, and if that trajectory is to continue past the New Testament, then why continue to use the Bible after God's Spirit of love has given us this new heart?

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Disarming Scripture: Reader Questions, part3

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Jump back to Reader Questions, part 2

This time we'll take a look at this reader question,

What is Scripture? What is that which is referred to as "God's word" (though I now understand that Jesus is the total expression of God, not the Bible)? Why did the OT writers record the things they did as if it were commanded by God's very spoken word if they were in fact wrong and what they were doing was something which could only have been inspired by a voice or force of darkness?

We heard a similar question posed last time by "friendly atheist" contributor Rachel Ford,

What is God’s role in the Bible? If it is really His book, or its formation governed by His will, how does it further the Divine Plan to accumulate a number of really horrendous things, that (He must know) people will use as the inspiration for further atrocities, and pass it on to humankind without at least some word of caution?"

As we can see here, this is question asked both by those on the outside of the faith and by those in it. In a nutshell the question boils down to this: If there are things endorsed in the Bible like genocide or slavery which we can and must clearly recognize as wrong, then in what sense can we say that the Bible, and in particular the Old Testament, is inspired, let alone infallible or inerrant?

The conservative take is to read the Bible unquestioningly. So for them the answer is simple: If the Bible endorses genocide and slavery, then they must be good. The problem of course is that this results in people bending over backwards to find ways to call things "good" that they would clearly recognize as moral atrocities in any other context. It makes good people less moral as they find themselves doing things that are deeply hurtful (like beating their children) and that destroy relationships (like kicking their gay kids out of the house) because their pastor tells them the Bible commands them to. It makes smart people into fools as they use their intelligence to justify moral atrocity in a misplaced desire to "defend" the Bible. This is a morally bankrupt way of reading Scripture that leads people to justify and perpetuate harm and violence.

Those of us who recognize this need to find a better way to read the Bible, but often we don't know what that would look like. The way we have learned to approach Scripture is to trust what the text says, despite what we may think, and let it define our morality.

Let me caveat this by saying that in some cases we can do exactly that. For example when the Bible says things like "forgive people when you don't want to, love your enemies, give to the undeserving" and so on -- that is, when it says stuff that stretches and challenges us morally -- then we can and should let that shape us morally. It is certainly true that Jesus stretches us to grow our love and change our perspective. We still need to work through what a healthy application those teachings looks like of course, but this is a matter of finding the correct interpretation.

With the troubling texts in the Old Testament such as genocide and slavery however we are dealing with something different. This is not a matter of finding the right interpretation. Genocide and slavery are simply morally wrong and never God's will. Such texts present us with a picture of God's will that we must declare as wrong.

The Hebrew Bible itself says this in its multi-vocality. We find one place where the Bible says that God did something (2 Samuel says God told David take a census), and another place in that same Bible that says this was not God but the devil (1 Chronicles). Elsewhere, we find one prophet declaring "God says..." and then in another place we find another prophet contradicting them and declaring "I, the Lord, declare, I never said such a horrible thing!"

That's what the Old Testament is like, and because of this reality it makes no sense at all to have a "I accept as truth whatever it says" approach because it says conflicting things. It does not contain a single view, but rather is a record of opposing views.

So then how do we regard the Old Testament? In what sense can we regard a book like that as inspired Scripture? Certainly if we think inspired means "whatever this says is from God" then we need to re-assess our definition of inspiration. So if that's not what inspiration means, how do we define it?

As Christians, the obvious place to begin here is to look at how Jesus and the authors of the New Testament approached the Old Testament as their sacred Scripture. What we will find is that they simultaneously regarded it as inspired, yet did so in a way that allowed for faithful questioning. Let's take a quick look:

The book of Hebrews speaks of the Torah and the Mosaic covenant as being "obsolete" and "fading away" (Heb 8:13), and Paul describes Torah as a temporary measure, never intended or capable of making us holy, "for if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law" (Gal 3:21). Paul differentiates between the promise to Abraham, which he says is fulfilled in Christ, and the law given later to Moses, which he describes as a temporary measure, a stop-gap until the real thing came in Jesus.

That's how the New Testament authors viewed the Old Testament. Even verses like 2 Timothy 3:16 "All Scripture is God-breathed..." need to be read in that context. We can see this by looking at the verse right before this one which states that the purpose of Scripture is "to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus" (2 Tim 3:15). The purpose of the Old Testament is to lead us to Jesus. That is what the New Testament repeatedly tells us.

Put differently, the Apostles encounter with the living Word of God in Jesus caused them to completely re-assess everything they had understood in Scripture in that light, and so it should with us. We need to learn to read the Old Testament in the light of Christ and to ask "Does this reflect Jesus and his way?"

Further, as we've seen, the New Testament does not view the OT as perfect and eternal, but as limited and obsolete, stressing that we are "not under Torah, but under grace" (Rom 6:15). That in itself is a rather huge NT revision since Moses says the law is eternal. The fact that we refer to the Hebrew Bible as the "Old Testament" reflects this view. We are under the new covenant, not the old. "For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another" (Heb 8:7).

Now, let me say here that Paul stresses over and over that "the law is holy and good" (obviously anticipating the objections of his religious audience to the view of Scripture he is proposing). So we should not misunderstand this as the NT authors just chucking the OT out with the bathwater. It is however a nuanced view that recognizes limitations, and has a clear focus of seeing the aim of the law as pointing us towards Jesus. In other words, the Bible is not our Lord and savior, Jesus is. The Bible is not central, Jesus is, and the purpose of the Bible is to serve a servant function leading us to Christ. We may learn of Jesus through the Bible, but it cannot replace that vital living connection. In that sense, Jesus alone is the very living eternal Word of God (Jn 1). "I am the truth" Jesus says. Truth is not a book or a law or a set of propositions, truth is a Someone.

What this ultimately gets down to us how we interpret the text. You can read the Old Testament and use it to justify slaughtering and enslaving people (as people have done throughout history), or you can read it like Jesus and have it lead you to loving your enemies and caring for the poor. It is therefore not simply a matter of what the text says, but of how we read it. Judaism, and the Old Testament itself, shows a developing record of the changed ways that people interpreted and applied the law. This development, which often took the form of conflict between opposing positions, continued within the Jewish faith during the time of Jesus, as we saw last time with the conflict been the schools of Shammai and Hillel.

Continuing in this Jewish tradition of interpretation characterized by faithful questioning, Jesus read Scripture as having the purpose of leading us to love. As a consequence he felt free to break laws when love called for it. He healed people on the Sabbath. He could've waited one day. No one's life was in danger. But he thought it was absurd to wait. He thought it missed the purpose of the law of Sabbath rest, which was intended to be a gift not a burden. So he broke it in the name of love. He did that constantly. That is certainly not an unquestioning way to read. Jesus did not see himself as breaking the law when he did this, but as fulfilling it. The Pharisees saw it as breaking it. The take away here is that Jesus saw that faithfulness to Scripture, fulfilling the law, involved at times breaking it, and taking it further, for example by overturning an eye for an eye with the way of enemy love.

So what I am proposing is that we take a clue from how Jesus and the NT writers viewed and applied (and didn't apply) the Old Testament. They all regard Scripture as Scripture, and yet did so in a way that allowed them to question, to reject, to revise, to add, to grow. That's awesome because it allows us to read Scripture with our minds and consciences intact in a way that lets us grow morally, rather than in a way that "enslaves us," as Paul puts it.

next time we'll look at this question,

Why doesn't the NT set the record straight on what to embrace and what to reject from the OT? Wouldn't it be good to state for instance that slavery and genocide are not God's will? To have these things in our Bibles, attributed to God's will, is misleading to say the least.
jump to reader questions part 4


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A Friendly Progressive Response to a Friendly Atheist

Sunday, January 11, 2015

So it appears that Friendly Atheist over on Patheos, via contributor Rachel Ford, has an article about me and my work on violence and the Bible.  The article is based on a piece I wrote for the Huffington Post recently called Questioning Genocide and Slavery in the Bible

It's worth noting that her article, while it speaks of me "tackling an issue" is not referring to my book Disarming Scripture where I actually have the space to really tackle the issue, but to a single article I wrote, where I can really only skim the surface of such a huge topic at best.

Rachel begins with what she appreciates, which is always nice,

"Unlike many apologists, [Flood] doesn’t try to sugarcoat the slavery, genocide, etc. ... It’s more honest than many in that it does not attempt to whitewash horrors, and more compassionate in that it does not attempt to make them seem just."
She also notes that she is "not criticizing [Flood's] rejection of hateful and brutal elements of scripture or an outlook 'motivated by love and compassion'" which she shares with me. So there's more things we agree on. 

From that point of agreement, she then explains where she disagrees,

"If the purpose of the Bible is not to provide actual moral guidance, but to mix a lot of terrible things that humans have done with good things humans have done in order to teach us how to sort the horrible from the good… well, frankly, we don’t need it.
 Furthermore, what is God’s role in the Bible? If it is really His book, or its formation governed by His will, how does it further the Divine Plan to accumulate a number of really horrendous things, that (He must know) people will use as the inspiration for further atrocities, and pass it on to humankind without at least some word of caution?"
Now, if I was actually proposing this, then her critique would be spot on. But I am not. The key factor here is the idea of a "purpose" for the Bible, as if the good parts, along with some really morally disturbing parts, were all intentionally put there by God as a kind of divine multiple-choice test for us to learn morality. That's what she says I am proposing.
So let me clarify: I am not proposing that God purposely wrote a book with right and wrong answers so we could figure it out. Rachel and I both agree that that would be pretty silly. Rather, I am observing (as many biblical scholars have) that the Bible -- and in particular the collection of books that we Christians call the "Old Testament" was written by multiple authors with differing views, each presenting their view as the right one. As a result it contains both things that are morally good and bad because it is a record of conflicting moral visions. That's just what happens when you have people in a moral debate, you get opposing views.

What is remarkable about the Hebrew Bible (and this is something that you do not have to have any sort of faith to appreciate) is that it contains not only the majority view, but also contains the voices of protest against that majority view. As Rene Girard has pointed out, that makes the Old Testament unique in world literature of the time. The writings of the Old Testament were the first in world history to allow for the voice from the margins to be heard, crying out against oppression, calling out for compassion.

For example the majority voice claims in Ezra/Nehemiah that foreigners were bad and corrupting and thus commands Israelite men to send their foreign wives and children away into the night, never to see them again --  possibly sending them to their deaths, considering the harsh realities of the time. They do this, the text claims, in order to be faithful to the Torah, and to avoid God's wrath at their impurity for having mixed their seed.

In contrast, the book of Ruth -- which scholars date as being written at the same time as Ezra/Nehemiah -- instead tells a story from the perspective of one of those despised foreign women. The story is set in an earlier time before the birth of king David. This story of protest from the margins tells of Ruth, a noble and kind woman who encounters mercy from an Israelite man who marries her and who finds "shelter under the wing of Yahweh." Ruth becomes the great grand mother of King David. So that foreign "seed," as the book of Ruth argues, is what their hopes all hang on as they looked for a Messiah to arise from the line of David in the time of Ezra/Nehemiah.

Let me stress once again, that I am not proposing that God decided to put both stories side-by-side so we could choose the better one. Rather we have two opposing human voices, both claiming to speak for God. In this case, two opposing moral visions from the same time. One can be seen as a xenophobic treatise against inter-racial marriage, and the other as the opposite -- focusing instead on having compassion for the "other" and the vulnerable among us. 

Our headlines today present us with that same choice. We hear some voices (Fox News anyone?)  drumming up fear towards those who are the "despised foreigners" of our time, Muslims. They do the same with the vulnerable among us, painting for example the poor as "lazy freeloaders." Their position is presented as the true patriotic American view, and as the Christian and godly view. Those same voices also seek to justify violence, whether in the form of drone strikes or torture, appealing to those same claims to be doing so in the name of God and country.

Now, if we hear that voice the way it wishes to be heard, as the voice of authority, then we will swallow that moral vision unquestioningly. That's why I say we need to reject the way of unquestioning obedience to anything, and instead learn the way of faithful questioning. We need to learn to join the voices of those from the margins like Ruth or the Psalmists or Job who cry out saying "Wait a minute! That's not right!"

I fully acknowledge that atheists like Rachel are doing this, and I applaud that. What I want to point out however is that this kind of moral protest has a long history which begins with the Hebrew prophets, and which was continued by Jesus. So I very much disagree with her assertion that the Bible has "[no] relevance or usefulness to the pursuit of a more reasoned and moral approach to life."

Perhaps that is true if we read the Bible through a fundamentalist lens as Rachel appears to be doing (which is understandable since, as her bio states, that is the background she was raised in before becoming an atheist). However, as I argue in my book, we can learn a great deal from the Bible if we can get a hold of the radical way that Jesus read it, as well as getting hold of Jesus' message and way of enemy love. Our current culture is very far away from that way of enemy love today. We do not know the way of enemy love, and we desperately need to.

One of the arguments I make in my recent book Disarming Scripture is that we should evaluate things on their merit, and I maintain that Jesus' way of enemy love stands on its own merit as a powerful and much needed way to deal with the many conflicts in our lives and world. That's true for atheists, just as much as it is true for Christians like me, because it's just true, period.

That brings me to a second way that Rachel is misunderstanding me, which is that she assumes I am an "apologist" and that consequently my goal is to present an "attempt to explain away the less-than-savory aspects of the Bible."

That is most certainly not my goal.

My goal is to promote love which I see as the teleological aim of Scripture, and specifically my aim is therefore to work to end religious violence. That is precisely why I do not, as Rachel notes, "attempt to whitewash horrors" or "attempt to make them seem just."

That's what fundamentalists do, and I am most definitely not a fundamentalist, nor am I an apologist for that matter. Apologists, as I see it, are a lot like marketing people who want to make things look nice.

That's not how I roll. If I answer a question, it is not to do PR for God (which strikes me as a rather arrogant thing for a mortal like me to do). Rather, it's simply because it is a question I really struggle with myself that I have worked through and want to share to help others who are struggling with the same questions. I don't think that being a Christian means I have all the answers, or that questions are things we need to all have answered so we an stop asking them. Rather I insist that learning to question is essential to a healthy faith and moral life. Questioning is the mark of moral character which we need to cultivate.

Let me conclude by saying that Rachel does raise an important question: How do we understand God's role in Scripture?

She (perhaps based on the assumptions of her former fundamentalist background) asks that question with a lot of assumptions that go along with a fundamentalist perspective -- assuming that God is the author of the Bible and that it's all there -- even the parts we find deeply morally problematic -- on purpose.

If we wish to move away from a fundamentalist view which maintains that everything in the Bible, no matter how profoundly immoral it seems to us, is all written by God and God's will... If we want to get away from the very morally dubious position of needing to justify the slavery, genocide, xenophobia we find in the pages of the Old Testament as God's will, then this begs the question:

In what way is God involved in the Bible? In what way is the Bible "inspired"?

As progressive Christians we need to have an answer for that question. I'll have to leave that for a future blog post. Or if you just cant wait, you can go buy my book  :).

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The World's Best Pharisee

Saturday, January 10, 2015

When the Gospels speak negatively of the "Pharisees" and in John's Gospel more generally of "the Jews" one can easily get the mistaken idea that all Jews were legalistic, angry, and opposed to Jesus and his ministry of caring for people.

That's simply not true. 
 
What makes this misunderstanding especially tragic is that the general impression of Jews being "legalistic" and "hypocritical" that we can get from (a misreading of) the Gospels has led to Christian persecution of Jews over the centuries. That means this is not only a wrong way to read the Gospels, but one that has led to real harm.

So let me set the record straight: Jesus was a Jew, and the conflict we see in the Gospels between Jesus and those identified as "the Pharisees" is more properly understood as an intra-religious debate within Judaism between two competing ways of understanding faithfulness to Torah.
More specifically, what we see in that conflict is best understood as a conflict between Jesus and the fundamentalism of his day. That conflict was real, and the Gospels record that conflict.

What's important to understand here is that fundamentalism -- then and now -- is not so much about what particular doctrines one holds to (indeed, doctrinally Jesus and the Pharisees had a lot in common), and much more about one's character and maturity -- about how we act and treat others.

There is a famous story about two of the key leaders of the Pharisees at the time of Jesus, i.e. the Second Temple Period -- Hillel and Shammai. Both were given a challenge by a Gentile who said,
 
"I'll convert on the condition that you can teach me the whole Torah while I stand here on one foot." 
 
Shammai's reaction was to try to beat the person with a stick for his insolence. Hillel in contrast responded,
"That which is hateful to you, do not do to others. That is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary. Go and learn."    (Talmud, Shabbat 31a)
Note, first of all, how in-line Hillel is with Jesus (or rather I should say how much Jesus was influenced by Hillel, since Hillel pre-dates Jesus). It's easy to see why many scholars believe Jesus got his "golden rule" directly from Hillel, and one can certainly also observe that Jesus' approach to Scripture mirrors Hillel's focus on it leading to love. For Hillel the law is there to serve people, not to burden them down. To paraphrase Jesus, the law was made for people, not people for the law. 
 
If all of the Pharisees had been like Hillel there would have been no conflict. But with Hillel’s death (10 CE) the Shammaites (followers of Rabbi Shammai) took control of the Sanhedrin and remained in control until the destruction of the Temple. The Pharisees we encounter in the Gospels appear to be ‘Shammaites’ rather than followers of Hillel (as Jesus arguably was). 
 
It did not stay this way however within Judaism. Just as the Gospels record constant disputes between Jesus and the Pharisees, within Rabbinic literature there are over 350 disputes recorded between the School of Hillel and the School of Shammai, and just as in the Gospels, in the Rabbinic literature the focus is always on Hillel's way of love over and against Shammai's harshness. As the Zohar puts it (Ra'aya Meheimna 3:245a), Shammai's way was based on severity and power (guvurah), while Hillel's was based on grace and mercy (hesed). Sound familiar?
 
Let's notice a second thing about Hillel's response to the Gentile standing on one foot. Hillel's answer is not only focused on love and grace, but he does so with a sense of humor. That's so important. Our political and religious debates are desperately in need of that. Humor is a crucial element of Jewish theology, and we can see a lot of that humor in the teaching of Jesus and Paul if you have your eyes open for it.
 
In contrast to this response of wisdom, compassion, and good-willed humor exemplified by Hillel, Shammai instead gets really angry and wants to hit people.
That's fundamentalism. 
 
Again, fundamentalism at its core is not about particular beliefs so much as it is about a way of dealing with people that is characterized by anger, judgmentalism, and close-mindedness. We constantly read stories in the Gospel where we are told that the religious leaders "tried to throw Jesus off a cliff" or "tried to kill Jesus, but he escaped into the crowds." That was what the fundamentalism of Jesus' day looked like. 
 
I hope the irony is not lost on you that rabbinic Judaism, in siding with Hillel over Shammai, has a lot in common with Jesus and his way, while many conservative Christians seem to have adopted an approach that looks a lot more like that of the Pharisees we encounter in the New Testament.
As the example of Hillel shows, not all Pharisees were fundamentalists, just as not all Evangelical Christians are today. Being a fundamentalist is not connected to one particular group or belief. We see fundamentalist atheists, too. (Bill Maher seems to be moving more and more in the direction of fundamentalism lately). Of course, let me hasten to say, not all atheists are like that either!
The question then is, are we focused on love like Hillel and Jesus? Or are we judgmental, close-minded, and angry? Do we feel it is more important to treat people right, or to be "right"? Are we trolling the internet, looking to put someone in their place, looking for someone to beat with our metaphorical sticks?
I know it's really easy to read that above paragraph and think of someone else who fits that description, someone over there who does this. But remember Hillel's words, don't become what you hate. Instead of pointing fingers and shifting blame we need to instead put the searchlight on ourselves, to remove the plank from our own eye, as Jesus said. 
 
Properly understood, the conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees as it is presented in the Gospels is not at all about a clash between two religions, rather it shows how all of us can easily get our priorities wrong, get focused on the wrong thing, and as a result we can be total jerks and think we are in the right, that we are fighting the good fight.

This applies to how we have treated our LGBT brothers and sisters. It applies to how we treat our Muslim neighbors. It's about a way of being, and that way should be one focused on love, on seeing the one we regard as "other" and even as "enemy" as a human being beloved by God. We need to stop otherizing people, and start humanizing them. That's at the heart of Jesus' way, and if we read the Gospels and instead end up otherizing and blaming some other group like the Pharisees, then we've missed the whole point of the gospel.
 
In Jesus' version of the Golden Rule he alters the focus from Hillel's. Instead of not doing what we hate having done to us (which is already a huge moral advance), Jesus says to treat others the way we want to be treated. This is preemptive love. It's not just refraining from evil, but actively sewing good. It's a way to break the cycle of blame and hurt. Being the first to forgive, the first to say "I'm sorry."

Okay, I'm done. You can stop standing on one foot now.

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