God Wants You to Be a Jerk

I’m generally in favor of religious freedom. After all, if I don’t respect people’s right to believe what they want or think is true, why would they respect mine? What I don’t favor is when people use religious tradition as a reason to hold prejudicial views. What’s interesting is how much fundamentalist Christians, Jews, and Muslims hate each other when they seem to be in agreement about many things, mainly that women and gay people are icky.

Not that they’re always that keen on straight men either. I mean, if someone seriously thinks that a heterosexual man seeing a woman’s body or shaking her hand is going to lead to uncontrolled lust, that basically reduces them to troglodytes. I think we’re coming to realize as a society that people who claim rape victims were asking for it are assholes, but we still have some groups who apparently believe God thinks that.

I wonder if Zeus ever used that excuse. Yes, you can find some justification in the Bible or the Quran for these attitudes, but when your holy book goes against treating your fellow humans halfway decently, shouldn’t the latter take precedent?

Wasn’t that more or less the spirit of what a lot of religious leaders were trying to say? The fact that they also carried some of the prejudices of their times doesn’t mean we still have to hold on to them now. Sure, Paul expressed some views about homosexuality being ungodly, but he also thought you shouldn’t have to become circumcised or eat a special diet to become a Christian, so why do the possibly bigoted passages carry so much more weight than his general idea that Jesus welcomes everybody?

I live in Brooklyn now, but I’m originally from Pennsylvania, so it’s kind of weird getting used to the bearded men in black coats and hats being Jewish instead of Amish. There are certainly similarities, though, as they’re both groups that want to keep separate from the rest of society. In some ways I respect that, as assimilation isn’t always good. A lot of old ethnic neighborhoods are being taken over by generic white people, which I’m sure removes a lot of local flavor. It can be fascinating to observe other cultures simply by walking down the street. That said, when I hear about how someone left a hot plate on during the Sabbath and their house caught on fire, or how the Hasidim didn’t want bike lanes in their neighborhood because scantily clad women ride down them, it doesn’t sound like they’re being very good neighbors. Even if women in your culture dress conservatively, you can’t extend that to anyone else who wants to ride a bicycle on a public street. You can have your religious beliefs, but don’t force them on other people. And no, the hot plate thing isn’t DIRECTLY forcing your culture on others, but it is maintaining an age-old tradition even when it’s dangerous to people other than you. Mind you, I don’t know Hebrew, but I doubt the Torah says anything about hot plates. Apparently some orthodox rabbis have interpreted turning on a hot plate or flipping a lightswitch to be akin to lighting a fire, even though there’s no actual fire involved. I’m not sure what’s wrong with just eating cold food on Saturdays, but I just came across this article about another such proposed Shabbos loophole. Maybe these workarounds aren’t so bizarre to people raised in that religion, but for me they just seem to be more ways to obey the letter of the law while ignoring the actual rationale for it. Not that anybody nowadays really knows the original rationale for the Sabbath, but if it’s supposed to be a time of pious reflection, you’d think having to worry about the electrical appliances would go against this idea.

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10 Responses to God Wants You to Be a Jerk

  1. Joe says:


    Paul is commonly misunderstood, no doubt thanks to those who commonly misappropriate what he said. He specifically said you DON’T have to be circumcised or eat a special diet. In 1 Corinthians 7, he repeats and clarifies this position: “Was a man already circumcised when he was called (to become a Christian)? He should not become uncircumcised. Was a man uncircumcised when he was called? He should not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s commands is what counts.”

    Much of the focus of Paul’s writings, particularly in Romans and Hebrews was to say that those Christians (usually former Jewish Christians) who were still attached to the Mosaic Law were off-base. He counsels that those Christians who recognize their freedom (from the Law, from religion, from a priesthood, from condemnation) shouldn’t do anything to put a stumbling block before their “weak” brothers and sisters: “Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean. but by the same token they were still free and shouldn’t re-shackle themselves to something that was made dead by Christ. (Romans 14)

    Paul spends many chapters on the fact that the Law Code that applied to Israel at a specific time for a specific purpose was: a) no longer binding on Christians, b) unable to bring salvation because it could never be filled, and c) was never meant to be the be-all-end-all. It was a but temporary stop-gap leading to the Messiah, who would fulfill and cancel it, replacing religion with something better. Relationship.

    Thus, the essence of the Law, which was love, remained the only law for Christians. Paul says in Romans 13:8: “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” (Romans 13, Also Galatians)

    As to the matter of Paul and homosexuality, in brief, of the 13 words for same-sex unions used in the ancient Greek language, no New Testament writer ever used one. Instead in 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy, Paul condemns “arsenokoites,” which though erroneously translated as homosexuality, scholars now recognize as meaning rape and sexual exploitation. Paul’s discussion in Romans 1 of men and women “exchanging” their sexual desires for lustful same sex unions is placed clearly in the context of pagan worship, specifically, the then popular Dionysian and Bacchic cultic mystery rites, which featured drugs, intoxication and worshipers having sex with male and female temple prostitutes to purportedly commune with the divine.

    • Nathan says:

      There are certainly many contradictions in what we know of Paul’s writings. He said women should keep quiet in church, but wrote to several churches with female leaders, for instance. I’ve seen some suggestions that Paul didn’t actually write the anti-woman verses, but I guess we don’t know for sure. In general, though, he argued in favor of loving your neighbor and against the laws that kept believers in God separate from the rest of society. So, regardless of what their personal feelings were, I think we can easily interpret the views of anti-gay Christians as being against the spirit of both Paul AND Jesus.

      • Joe says:

        This is a fascinating subject of which much has been written. If any of you have the interest in a little exegesis, read on. If not, that’s fine too. I won’t be offended. :)

        My understanding of it is that those verses in 1 Corinthians 14 have to harmonize with what Paul said a few chapters earlier in 1 Corinthians 11 about the manner in which women WOULD pray and prophesy, which would be a contradiction if the reading in 14 is as a declaratory statement. The point in Chapter 11 is to remind everyone that headship is a biblical principle (children have their mothers as head; wives their husbands; husbands Christ; Christ God) designed to avoid contentions and disorder, and be applied lovingly (as Christ does), and before anyone can start to think he’s upholding a patriarchal view of the world, he then concludes with a rather progressive statement of male and female interdependence: “However, in the Lord, neither is woman independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as the woman originates from the man, so also the man has his birth through the woman; and all things originate from God.” That harmonizes with the revolutionary statement he made to the Galatian congregation that “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:28)

        With this in mind, and looking at the larger context of 1 Cor. 14, some have come to the conclusion that Paul was not making a declarative statement about women keeping silent, but was rather quoting the words used by some in the Corinthian congregation to prevent women from doing the very thing he says they should.

        Paul starts off chapter 14 saying that everyone should pursue love and can desire spiritual gifts (which at the time including speaking in tongues and prophesying) and emphasizes (verse 5) that he wishes ALL of them would utilize these gifts, especially prophesying. He then (verse 34) goes on to quote their own sayings and practices about how it’s improper for women to speak in the congregation: “The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says.”

        There are two issues with interpreting this as a declarative statement: 1) Paul never defers to the Law anywhere else in his writings; so much of what he writes is to remind Jewish Christians that they’re not under Law, having been set free from the Law to Grace; 2) there is no law in the Hebrew scriptures where such a statement is found.

        Thus, in the very next verse (36), Paul rebukes them for such thinking: “Was it from you that the word of God first went forth? Or has it come to you only?”

        Then he goes on say that (37): “If ANYONE thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize that the things which I write to you are the Lord’s commandment. But if anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized. Therefore, my brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and DO NOT FORBID to speak in tongues. But all things must be done properly and in an orderly manner.”

        That last verse is a callback to chapter 11, in which he described what that orderly manner of utilizing spiritual gifts is.

        Now, some try to link this with what Paul says in 1 Timothy 2, where he says “I don’t permit a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet,” which would seem to support a kind of misogyny on Paul’s part, except for the fact that just four verses earlier he emphasizes the fact that “just as there’s one God, there’s only one mediator between God and man, Jesus Christ.” This blows the idea of both patriarchy and hierarchical religion out the window. Some scholars have determined that Paul was addressing a specific time-and-place issue of women spreading Gnostic ideas in the churches. Others have stated that this was Paul addressing once again marital strife, with him a few verses earlier stating that he doesn’t want men to be angry and causing dissension, he likewise doesn’t want women dominating men.

        Anyway, for a more thorough examination of the issues in 1 Corinthians, please see: http://godswordtowomen.org/Preato2.htm

  2. Melody Grandy says:

    The God of the Bible punished the whole human race for the sin of two people. Isn’t that what bigots do to minority groups?

    • Nathan says:

      Also, I thought sons weren’t supposed to answer for the sins of their fathers.

      • Joe says:

        True, children aren’t punished (by God) for the sins of their fathers, but they oftentimes suffer the natural consequences of their father’s bad choices. I think it’s the same thing with us as the children of Adam and Eve. We suffer the consequences of their bad decisions, but that isn’t a punishment from God. Rather he went to great pains to rescue us from those consequences.

      • Nathan says:

        But if these children don’t deserve these consequences, shouldn’t God do something about it?

      • Joe says:

        Nathan wrote: “But if these children don’t deserve these consequences, shouldn’t God do something about it?”

        A good question and one that goes to the issue of why God allows mankind to suffer. But the short answer — from my own understanding of the Christian worldview– is that God did do something about it (and is still doing something about it), which is redeem mankind, opening a path for them to inherit eternal life (the original plan) and something far greater than what the world can offer. This act of salvation was put into place through the willing sacrifice of a perfect man (God’s own son). As death is the consequence and payment for sin (or imperfection), which we inherit from our forefathers, the death of one who is sinless (or perfect) and who shouldn’t have ever died, can pay the price for all who would choose to benefit by that gift.

        Now that often leads to some Christians proclaiming that because of this, one “HAS to accept Jesus in their life,” otherwise they’re left out, and while I don’t deny that Christ is the path for those who understand and believe, in no way do I think God has turned his back on the millions who could never know or have the opportunity to understand the whole Judeo-Christian dynamic that was set up. Why would they be left out because they were born in a different religion in a different country? No loving Father would abandon his children like that, and it’s clear to me that the God who “wants all to be saved” (1 Tim 2:4) isn’t arbitrary and elitist, and in fact, scripture indicates that there is a single factor that determines salvation for those of mankind who are in spiritual ignorance, and that is LOVE. Those who choose the darkness (violence, greed, selfishness), regardless of their religion, will have darkness; but those who strive for the light (compassion, forgiveness, selflessness), even if they’ve made bad choices in the past will gain the light. (Philosophically, this view is a syncretization of Christian Reconciliation with Christian Mortalism and Annihilationism)

        To those on the far right, such a view is a kind of blasphemy. But I don’t concern myself with the rigid, hyper-moral, judgmental, narrow-minded views of those who display ignorance and hate, which betrays what the whole Christ thing is about. As far as can discern from my many years of study and research, the Beatles had it right: Love is all you need.

  3. marbpl2 says:

    The prohibition against lighting fires on the Sabbath is in Exodus 35:5. Opening a circuit is considered like lighting a fire. Use of hot plates is a recent thing and oftern used with a timer.

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