I have noticed a trend from many liberal and moderate Christians, a handful of conservative Christians and some non-believers. They say that the Trump administration, many in the GOP, and hordes of conservative Christians, are giving Christianity a bad name. They will often reference the Sermon on the Mount to validate their claim. Here’s a comment that came across my Facebook feed this week after the publishing of a recent New York Times opinion piece stating that Pence had “sold his soul” for power:
“I have absolutely no sympathy for Pence. I believe him to be at the highest level of moral compromise. To invoke the name of God to protect his corrupt integrity gives Christianity a horrible name.
And this goes for every other so called “Christian” who supports Trump. As the Bible says,
“No one can serve two masters: Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” Matthew 6:24
Yesterday I read a reply at Ark’s place from an ex-Christian, addressing a pro-Trump comment from an evangelical blogger:
“He is hardly the epitome of the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount.”
Peter was right in his assertion but I found a bit of irony in that reply. Are these biblical teachings deserving of the praise they often receive? Are they really indicative of a wise and all-knowing deity, or do they impose a certain set of behavioral tenets that encouraged apathy, a persecution complex, and discouraged people from thinking for themselves and questioning authority?
Let’s take a closer look at these scriptures purportedly spoken by Jesus. Matt Dillahunty has done an insightful analysis of the Sermon on the Mount. For those who are not familiar with Matt, he was raised Southern Baptist, and had plans to become a minister. However, his religious studies ultimately led to his deconversion from Christianity. Most ex-Christians can identify with that last sentence.
Let’s start with Matthew 5:1-6
- 1And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him: 2And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying,
- 3Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
- 4Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
- 5Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
- 6Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
The first four beatitudes are found in both Matthew and Luke with the possible exception of verse 3 where the author of Matthew says “poor in spirit”, while Luke simply says “poor”. Luke includes two additional verses that are noticeably absent from Matthew – Luke 6:24-25:
- 24But woe unto you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation.
- 25Woe unto you that are full! for ye shall hunger. Woe unto you that laugh now! for ye shall mourn and weep.
These verses put a decidedly different spin on the beatitudes. When considered alongside other verses, they stress poverty as a virtue and wealth (and not simply the seeking of wealth) as a vice.
Regardless of which version (if any) is correct, the first four beatitudes address traits and conditions that are generally undesirable or, in the case of meekness, taken advantage of.
The speaker (who, for expediency will simply be referred to as Jesus, as orthodoxy attributes these words to him) is essentially saying, ‘Don’t despair, no matter how bad this life is, the next one will be better.’ These statements may provide comfort to believers, but they are, in fact, simply assertions without justification. In addition to comfort for believers who feel oppressed by the outside world, these verses serve to pacify those, like women and slaves, who are oppressed by fellow believers.
These verses set the tone for a common theme that runs through the sermon, and it is a theme that betrays the very mundane nature of the speaker. Instead of offering useful advice on how best to live this life, the one life we’re certain about, the speaker shrugs this life off as meaningless, focusing instead on the life to come. Even if we were to assume that an afterlife exists, there’s no reason not to live this life to the fullest as well.
Any being which possessed the wisdom and compassion that would qualify as divine and benevolent should realize this. Instead of pithy dismissals of this life, we should expect deep insight into the human condition and guidance on how to improve our time here in addition to promises of an afterlife.
What’s worse is that these verses essentially instruct people to accept their plight rather than seek to address the injustice and imbalance present in their given culture. Such a message would have almost certainly worked to the advantage of those currently in power who may have sought to keep the downtrodden docile. If taken seriously by the masses, correcting the issues that lead to one’s position of meekness and hunger would ultimately be deemed unnecessary and potentially harmful to one’s status in Jesus’ future kingdom.”
Continue reading (starting with Matthew 5:7)