Becoming a Christlike A***ole

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The other day someone explained the parable of the Good Samaritan in a way that made me see both the tale and Jesus Christ in a new way. This person asked me if I knew what that story really meant, and I said, "Of course," ever so mildly miffed that he'd think I didn't. And by the end of his telling, I realized that I'd always missed a good portion of what that story was all about.

Here's how he told it (with a little extra color from me):

A general authority sees an injured man lying naked, bloody and half dead by the side of the road, and moves his car into the far lane, getting as much distance as possible between himself and the unconscious, immobile wretch. Then a temple worker sees the same injured man, and likewise leaves the poor guy there to die. They don't even get out their cell phones and call an ambulance.

Then along comes someone that the general authority and temple worker would consider the dregs of society--an anarchist lesbian who works in a vegan restaurant, maybe--who sees the poor filthy, bloody man, stops, gets out the first aid kit she carries in her car, and does her best to clean and staunch his wounds. She doesn't have a cell phone, so she can't call 911; instead, she puts they guy in the back of her Subaru station wagon and drives him to an emergency room, where she agrees to pay all his expenses even if it turns out he doesn't have insurance, and she also promises to come back and visit the guy.

"Now, you have to remember: this guy was almost dead," my friend said. "And corpses were ritually unclean--touching one was one of the most defiling things you could do; it would mean you were unworthy to participate in a great many ceremonies until you had done some sort of ritual cleansing. So what really happened is that these two men, considered the pinnacle of righteousness within their church, chose to behave in a way that let them keep their temple recommends but did not adhere to the basic religious requirement that they show compassion to other human beings, particularly those who are suffering. And Jesus was saying that to inherit eternal life, you have to be willing to sacrifice your temple recommend if that's what's needed to help someone else."

Well.

It has been a long time since I have liked Jesus. There are many reasons for this. One is the fact that despite the church's name, I never really had the sense that Jesus Christ was all that important to Mormons. OK, they believe he's the savior of the world, but he's not the one in charge. The one you pray to, the one who will judge you, the one who set up the whole system, the one you have to placate and please--that's God the Father, and he's who matters; he's who Mormons obsess about most. And as I mentioned back in March, Mormons don't really seem so big on Easter, despite the fact that it is supposedly the anniversary of the event that makes resurrection available to everyone.

Another is that I have long felt that Jesus is used primarily as a weapon. He's something I've been bludgeoned with, by people ranging from bishops to my six-year-old nephew, who screamed at me in fury and outrage when he found out I didn't go to church. If you've never had a first grader yell "Obey Jesus!" at you with so much venom he sprays saliva all over you, well, you're lucky. (And the fact that I didn't say a single thing in response is one more reason I think I've shown some forbearance in my relationship with my family.)

OK, I respected Jesus for his historical importance, the same way I respected Napoleon and Teddy Roosevelt. But I also felt that his reputation was a little inflated.

Now I'm starting to think that maybe I have more to learn from Jesus. This telling of the tale of the Good Samaritan made me interested in Jesus, primarily because I realized just how offensive his story would have been to his audience. It made me realize that Jesus would have been considered an asshole by a lot of the people who heard him speak. "What is this guy's problem?" people would have said. "Why is he criticizing our leaders, whom we're supposed to revere and follow? Why is he acting like all the commandments aren't important? Who the hell does he think he is, the son of god or something?"

I sort of always knew that--I mean, that's the narrative--but it's always told in such limited terms: Jesus offended the Jews, who had lost sight of what is godly. It's another to realize how much Jesus would likely offend Mormons if he were to speak to them today. He preached against a rigid system of behavioral codes that impeded true compassion, which is what I feel Mormonism has become. I do wonder what he'd have to say to the members of the church on topics like gay marriage, universal health care, a higher minimum wage. Would he tell them that the divine doesn't really give a shit about whether or not they drink coffee? It seems possible.

13 Comments

So many so-called Christians live so far from what little we know about what Jesus taught regarding social justice, it's more sad than it is laughable.

Frankly, I think Jesus would tell us that he doesn't give a shit if we drink coffee and he doesn't give a shit if we're card-carrying members and he doesn't give a shit if we have our butts parked in a pew every Sunday, but he does give a shit about how we treat each other. Frankly, if stopping to help someone in need means I don't get to go to heaven, fine. I'd rather not be there.

I'm so tired of being beaten over the head with Jesus, I could hurl. (There! How's that for articulate and forceful? Yeah. That's about all I've got today.)

I like to think that Jesus' opinions and basic teachings have much in them that would deeply offend many religious conservatives... if they ever really read them. My husband says that they don't pay attention to the "words in red," which is how Jesus' words appear in some versions of the Bible favored by some groups.

The Mormon de-emphasis of Jesus is one of the reasons that some Christian sects don't consider Mormoms as Christians -- they fit in a similar category as Jehovah's Witnesses.

Awesome. When I was at BYU there was a nice girl who lived in the apartment across from mine. One night I bumped into her at a play. There was a little time before curtain, so we started talking - just making conversation. I don't remember how it came up, but somehow we started talking religion (I know - CRAZY! And at BYU, of all places!), and she said that she heard at church that if Jesus came back today he'd be shocked at how many people claim to be Christians but don't follow what he taught at all. I pointed out the obvious - that Jesus' shock would include a whole lot of Mormons as well. She got really quiet in that way that lets you know someone thinks you've said something embarrassingly inappropriate.

On the other hand, I met lots of really laid-back Mormons at BYU, who are totally fine with coffee, alcohol, sex, and everything else that has nothing to do with whether or not you're a truly moral person.

Hi All--

Frankly, if stopping to help someone in need means I don't get to go to heaven, fine. I'd rather not be there.

I've long felt the same way, Janet. Truth be told, it doesn't seem like it will be a happy place. Self-righteous, maybe, but that's not the same as happy.

I like to think that Jesus' opinions and basic teachings have much in them that would deeply offend many religious conservatives... if they ever really read them.

I had one of those red word bibles when I was little.... and you've touched on another of my gripes with Mormons, Juti: they tend to read the Book of Mormon not in addition to the Bible, but in exclusion of the Bible. I used to asked people who'd been on missions if they'd read either the Old or New Testament by the time they FINISHED their missions. So many hadn't.

And yet, the Book of Mormon makes it clear how the Bible should be read: 1 Ne 19:24 states, "hear ye the words of the prophet, which were written unto all the house of Israel, and liken them unto yourselves."

So any Mormon who reads the Bible should read the tale of the Good Samaritan as my friend presented it to me.

she said that she heard at church that if Jesus came back today he'd be shocked at how many people claim to be Christians but don't follow what he taught at all.

I love that this girl you were talking to heard that at CHURCH, Rebecca. She didn't think of it on her own, and she didn't analyze it. Classic.

I think Mormons use a lot of inappropriate things as weapons - Jesus, the Celestial Kingdom (Heaven), obedience - and I don't understand it. I've believed for years now that if I don't get to "heaven" it's okay, because at least I'll be among compassionate friends.

From all the stuff I've read about Jesus' life, he seemed the type of guy to buck the system, go his own way, do what he thought was right no matter what the consequence (per your interpretation of the Good Samaritan). So does modern-day Mormonism teach its followers to follow his example, or fit into the mold the religious organization has created?

And sidebar, I'd rather have a vegan, anarchist lesbian help me any day than some stiff in a suit. :)

I'd rather have a vegan, anarchist lesbian help me any day than some stiff in a suit. :)

Me too!

Then along comes someone that the general authority and temple worker would consider the dregs of society--an anarchist lesbian who works in a vegan restaurant, maybe--who sees the poor filthy, bloody man, stops, gets out the first aid kit she carries in her car, and does her best to clean and staunch his wounds. She doesn't have a cell phone, so she can't call 911; instead, she puts they guy in the back of her Subaru station wagon and drives him to an emergency room, where she agrees to pay all his expenses even if it turns out he doesn't have insurance, and she also promises to come back and visit the guy.

Fan-freakin'-tastic!

Mormons within the limited world-view of Mormonism have a hard time with gays and lesbians because we don't fit into their paint-by-numbers world. What really messes with their blessed Crayola heads is that we can use the same "colors" and create beauty and meaning and family... all outside of their carefully drawn "lines."

Be well.

Hi Sideon-- I'm glad you liked my version of the parable, and I completely agree with you about the beauty of queer families!

you dont NOT get into heaven if you help someone, Jesus (the FATHER 'God', Son AND Holy Spirit) encourage helping others, unless its for something unholy. Actually read the Bible before you critize it, and my God please and thank you

Jack--

I have read the Bible, every single word of it. I've read the Old Testament once, and I've read the New Testament at least half a dozen times.

Please master the English language and read not only my entries but your own comments before you post them. Irate bullshit from someone illiterate doesn't enrich my blog, so if you can't learn to write and to think, don't come back.

Don't ever let Christianism get in the way of the powerful message of the gospels. Jesus was as radical as it gets. His faith tradition was dominated by taboo, but his ministry broke every barrier imaginable, including some that have held on 2000 years.
Letting Church hierarchy solely inform your experience of the gospels would be like only letting the Bush administration explain the U.S. Constitution.
Don't let the idiots be the only ones who get to use the cross or the flag or any symbol that gives you meaning.

Good points that were well argued. Love, tolerance, compassion and acceptance just make a better world. I like your idea that Jesus would be seen as a shit disturber for hitting these points home. In the way that I lead my life I am often seen as a shit distuber so maybe I am on the right track. Btw, I liked the anarchist lesbian too.

Carmen and Will--thanks for stopping by. Carmen, glad you found the post interesting. Will, your analogy between a certain kind of christians trying to own Christianity and the Bush administration claiming the constitution is a good one--thanks for sharing it.

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This page contains a single entry by Holly published on September 9, 2008 11:28 AM.

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