Genesis Chapter 3
Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from [a]any tree of the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.’” The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings.
This is the ancient Hebrew story of how sin entered into the world. To be sure it is an allegory meant to be told orally as it had been for several thousand years before there was a written Hebrew language. Think of the stories in Genesis like the stained glass windows in medieval churches made to tell the story of Jesus in pictures so that the simple illiterate peasants could understand. The stories of Adam, Noah and Abraham were meant to distill the truths of Hebrew identity into something the bronze age Hebrews could understand. But it is the truths, not the stories themselves that are important to us as Christians.
The truth here is about the original temptation. It is so very tempting to people to want to make up for themselves a list of things they want to do and not do to be morally upright.
So where do we get such a list?
Some “Christian” leaders today act like the Apostle Barnabas and want to turn Christians into quazi-orthodox Jews by cherry picking the parts of the Mosaic law that they like; then they tell others they must follow those specific rules. They have no problem preaching that Christians “must obey God” when what they actually mean is “obey me.” When Barnabas tried that, the heresy was shot down by the other apostles at the Council of Jerusalem in about 50AD. As a group the apostles agreed that the “yoke” of the Jewish law was not for non-Jewish converts to Christianity. Yet the heresy has proven to be all but impossible to kill. The only parts of The Law of Moses that they did agree to pass on to the new Greek churches was for the men to avoid having sex with temple prostitutes and not to serve meat that had been consecrated to the Greek gods. Paul later explained to the Church of Corinth that even these strictures were not based on a need to follow Moses, but out of concern for the feelings of the Hebrew Christians and that the symbolism of a man physically entering a servant of a false god was degrading.
Then how do we know right from wrong?
For someone who takes the name Christian, that seems on its face to be a really silly question.
Like Buddhists are followers of the Buddha, and Confucianist are followers of Confucius, those of us who call ourselves Christians are followers of Jesus.
So for those of us who claim to follow Jesus our guide for right and wrong comes from the words of Jesus himself with support & clarification from the surviving writings from the apostles. Why is that so complicated?
Even more why is following the teachings of Jesus so very unpopular with “Christian” leaders?
Well let’s go back to Eve and the serpent. The first temptation ever recorded in the scriptures was that one can become as God determining what is good and what is bad. You alone, with no guardrails, can claim the power to decree what is ethical and what is not: what is moral and what is immoral.
To claim that power is to make yourself answerable to no one, and by extension, you can claim the power over others to tell them what is right and wrong. And that power over others is why religious leaders, so called “Christian” leaders since the late 2nd century have been claiming the right to be God and deciding what is right and wrong for others.
The words of Jesus are very open ended. The very fact he said that the whole of the Hebrew law & prophets can be boiled down to loving God and showing that love by showing compassionate care for those around you leaves no room for religious leaders to impose their will on others. Jesus did not set up a hierarchy. He did not dictate reams of rules. No, he just talked about care for the poor and comfort for the dispossessed.
The only time Jesus whole heartedly condemned people was when he was criticizing the religious leaders of his time who were intent on making up their own rules. He called them white painted tombs who were trying to hide the fact they were spiritually dead with a coat of shiny white rules for others to obey.
Yet, the whole history of “official” Christianity is filled with rules made up by men often with the temporal authority to force others to comply. This is not what Jesus taught at all.
For the last few years I have tried over and over again to get my Trump loving friends to see that the ideology Trump preaches is 100% at odds with what Jesus taught. And I simply could not understand why they couldn’t see that and embrace the teachings of Jesus.
Then I had an epiphany. Rejecting the teachings of Jesus in favor of a set of rules agreed upon by leaders of the political/religious right isn’t a breakdown of the “Christian” establishment. It IS the evangelical “Christian” establishment. The unwritten “rule book” this cabal of media savvy leaders have created regarding what it takes to be a good “Christian” doesn’t even give a superficial nod to the actual teachings of Jesus. Just like the Pope and the Roman Church, the evangelical leaders have appointed themselves as God to determine good and evil.
Why is the opposition to abortion and the efforts to deprive homosexuals of civil rights virtually the sum total of Christian public morality? Why doesn’t it seem to matter that Jesus never once preached either of those things? Because as a whole, the evangelical community has bought into the serpent’s lie that one can be God and make up your own rules for morality. They don’t care how much Jesus or the apostles or the Jewish prophets talked about care for the poor because, despite their public claims, they don’t follow the Bible. They only use the Bible selectively to give themselves cover as they make up their rule book.
It is not an accident that the “sins” that the “Christian” right seek to eradicate are wholly made up of things that those leaders don’t want to do even if they could. You would think people would catch on to that. It seems so obvious. The leaders of the “Christian” right only …ONLY… seek to use force to punish things they have no desire to do.
The political evangelicals never seek to use force to make people less selfish or to compel everyone to contribute to help the poor. Quite the opposite. They vociferously oppose collective community actions (through taxation) to help the poor. They use the excuse that such gifts should be voluntary, yet they give nothing from the words of Jesus to support that claim either. Once again, right and wrong are not about what Jesus taught, but about what they like.
The political evangelicals openly embrace the “Greed is Good” ideologies of Milton Freedman and Ayn Rand. Does it matter to them that Ayn Rand openly called Jesus a fool. Of course not. They, by their actions, are saying the same thing. Do they care that Freedman said his ideology meant that it was wrong to make better off white people pay for the education of poor black kids when he came out against school desegregation? No, they still preach that same belief but they just quietly have dropped the implication of “white only” schools. Now they call it “school choice,” but the ideology and intent is the same. They reject the notion that we have the same obligation to the poor and needy as we do to ourselves.
It is abundantly clear that the whole of the political/media/ecumenical conservative Christian movement has bought in to the “you can be as God” determine good and evil lie. They have fully jettisoned any semblance of credibility as followers of the teachings of Jesus. They have bought into their own power to divine right and wrong and they demand others, all others, should have to live by what they decree. Yield to their claim to be the voice of God on earth or suffer the consequences via the power of government. Not just those who have been deceived into thinking they really do speak for God, but to everyone. That is what they mean when they call for America to be a Christian Nation.
It is time we stop trying to remind those who are fully in the Trump cult that his values are out of step with the values of Jesus. They don’t care. Trump’s values are inline with the people who determine right and wrong for them. They are not followers of Jesus thus we will never succeed in citing the words of Jesus to them. They must first make the decision to follow the teachings of Jesus. That must come first. Their hearts are the stony ground of which Jesus spoke in Matthew 13. Your words will die until their heart changes to fertile ground.
What we should do though, is to warn those who are flirting with the Trump cult and have only partially rejected following Jesus. They need to see the lie of the serpent for what it is and the death to themselves and to the world should they try to be as God and choose for themselves what is good and evil.
It is not an easy task, but right is never easy.