BEYOND BELIEF: Was Jesus Christ a moral teacher?

In an effort to find common ground, I have often concluded arguments about the divinity of Jesus Christ with the concession that he was a good teacher of morality, regardless of whether he was the son of God.

But after rereading the gospels, I am not so sure. Would a good teacher of morals endorse slavery, the subjugation of women and the murder of homosexuals? Jesus did.

Anyone with a cursory understanding of the Bible might argue that the biblical barbarisms listed above exist only in the Old Testament and that Jesus repudiated them in the New Testament. But Jesus never did renounce the brutality of his predecessors. In fact, he expressly reinforced it.

In the Christian view, the Sermon on the Mount is Jesus’ definitive lecture on morality, but this is precisely where his immorality is most glaring. The sermon contains an inspired message (perhaps inspired by those who conceived of it long before Jesus was born, i.e. Buddha, Lao Tse, Confucius, and Plato) about what it is to be a good person.

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I am inclined to agree that, plagiarism aside, the Sermon on the Mount does include some excellent edicts on human behavior. But it also contains at least one glaring contradiction.

When Jesus says that he did not come to change or abolish the word of the prophets who preceded him (Matthew 5:17) – the very same prophets who made it clear that slavery is a perfectly respectable institution (Leviticus 25:44), that women are inferior to men (1 Corinthians 11:3, 14:34-35), and homosexuals are to be put to death (Leviticus 20:13) along with impure brides (Deuteronomy 22:20-21), cross-dressers (Deuteronomy 22:5) and insolent children (Exodus 21:17) – he effectively negates the peaceful message of the sermon.

The prophet Moses made it very clear that homosexuals ought to be put to death. But Jesus makes it clear that we are to love our enemies and treat others with respect. If Jesus had left it at that, it would be easy to understand that since Jesus is the more recent prophet, his is the final word of God, (provided we ignore Islam) and we ought to disregard Moses’ proclamations where they conflict with those of Jesus. In other words, we would have to assume that god had simply changed his mind (which raises separate questions about his supposed infallibility).

But Jesus also tells us, in precise terms, not to ignore the word of Moses in the least. So we are to murder our homosexual neighbors while at the same time loving them and treating them with respect? This is not only morally dubious, but downright schizophrenic.

One could imagine that Jesus was merely being political; prolonging his life in order to complete his mission on earth. But if so, why did he not rescind his contradictory statements before his ascension? Could God-incarnate have forgotten such an important clarification?

Morality does not come from Jesus, or the Bible. In fact, it is hard to find a shred of morality on one page of the Bible that is not contradicted on the next. If we were to truly follow the teachings of Jesus Christ, we would be living in a much more brutal society.

In the words of the humanist author Ruth Hurmence Green, “There was a time when religion ruled the world. It is known as the Dark Ages.”

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BEYOND BELIEF: Was Jesus Christ a moral teacher?