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John Simkin

Was Jesus a Revolutionary or a Conservative?

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Jesus did not condemn money in and of itself.  He did say, however, that the "love of money" is the root of all evil....But Jesus meant that placing an inordinate emphasis on money and material success was wrong.

It is my belief that Jesus Christ was a revolutionary philosopher. This is best expressed in his teachings on power and violence.

Jesus said, "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” As it is impossible for a camel to go through the eye of a needle I think he is suggesting that rich individuals will find it very difficult to get to heaven. After all, Jesus made it clear that he wanted people to share their wealth with the poor. If they did not decide to do that then they didn’t deserve to go to heaven. Anyone who has spent anytime at all studying the life and words of Jesus knows that he was probably the world’s first socialist.

However, it was the pacifism of Jesus Christ that caused him more problems than his socialism. The most revolutionary thing that Jesus Christ did was to encourage his followers not to serve in the Roman Army. This was the reason why Christians were “thrown to the Lions”. The Romans were very tolerant of other religions as long as religion did not become political. When persecution did not work, the Romans nationalized Christianity. Once under its control, Christianity was used to justify the status quo. The same is true today.

Over the centuries some true Christians have attempted to return to the teachings of Jesus Christ. The best recent example is Martin Luther King. He did it so well that he became as dangerous as Jesus Christ and had to be treated in the same way. However, killing pacifists will not destroy the movements towards a non-violent society. We will eventually get there, with or without the Christian Church.

Here is an article by Bob Murphy you might be interested in reading:

http://www.lewrockwell.com/murphy/murphy60.html

Jesus was clearly a revolutionary thinker who challenged the seemingly natural idea of retribution. Rather than vengeance, Jesus commanded forgiveness (Mt. 18:22). Instead of the pagan ideals of strength and power, Jesus offered the Christian ideals of humility and meekness (Mt. 5:5). Jesus went so far as to demand that His disciples love their enemies (Mt. 5:44).

The above is not in dispute. Even most atheists would agree that Jesus’s teachings were wise precepts concerning the uselessness of hatred and revenge. But did Jesus literally require pacifism?

A straightforward reading would suggest that He did. He literally (given the translation) commanded "whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also" (Mt. 5:39). But perhaps this was just a specific rule? Well, immediately before this famous injunction, Jesus also gave the general rule, forbidding resistance to evil. It is this passage that inspired Christian pacifists such as William Lloyd Garrison and Leo Tolstoy, and I find their interpretation entirely plausible.

Of course, Jesus often spoke in metaphors; one should be very careful in deriving categorical conclusions from a few Gospel passages. When studying not merely His words, but His actions, does it seem that Jesus was a pacifist?

I for one think this is the only sensible conclusion. He rebuked Peter for drawing his sword during His arrest. And of course, the entire purpose of Jesus’s coming to Earth was to suffer unjustly at the hands of evil men, despite the fact that He obviously had the power to prevent this. Such an argument alone doesn’t prove the case for Christian pacifism, but it does show that the doctrine is consistent with Christianity.

Horrible things happen to good people all the time. The use of violence won’t ever "solve" this. Most people would agree that it is impermissible to murder someone, even if so doing would save (through a heart transplant, say) a child from death. Yet most people believe that it is permissible to kill someone in order to prevent him from killing a child. The apparent inconsistency is evaded by classifying the latter case as justifiable defense, and by classifying the dead man as a criminal, worthy of less respect and rights than "civilized" people.

Yet it is precisely this mentality, I claim, that Jesus sought to overthrow. The kingdom of God can only be approached when everyone voluntarily renounces violence against his neighbors. And isn’t it just possible that the best and surest way to reach that goal is for each of us personally to renounce violence, for whatever reason, right now? To say, "I will lay down my arms just as soon as all the evil people do first" is to guarantee that you will never see the kingdom of God during your life.

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John, that is a most interesting article that you posted. Very thought-provoking.

I am not sure it answers all of the questions in the real world however.

Let us assume, for instance, that Hitler never attempted to conquer foreign nations, so neither England nor the United States was ever in danger from him.

But let us further assume that Hitler's genocide became known after he had killed close to 1,000,000 Jews and it was clear that unless stopped he would kill millions more.

Let us assume for purposes of this discussion that you are a Christian even if you do not believe in God or the deity of Christ.

What would be the Christian thing to do to respond to Hitler?

Now let's try another situation. You are a husband and a father. Your wife has never had a career but takes care of your four children full-time. A psychotic serial killer is on the loose. You recognize him and he is coming at you with a huge knife. You are cornered and cannot escape but you do happen to have a gun.

Do you let him kill you, and then possibly go on to kill others? If you do there will be an impact, of course, on your wife and family.

My first scenario considers the poissible justification of violence for a moral purpose on a national level while the second brings it to a personal level.

I certainly admire Martin Luther King, Jr.'s methods and would decry violence to achieve social changes. He of course also advocated nonviolence and submission even to physical abuse. Not sure what his position would have been had a racist, for instance, been about to kill his wife or children.

These are difficult issues but merit discussio I think. Is there a way to apply non-violence across the board?

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The issue of whether Jesus was a revolutionary on issues of social change, etc I'll try to discuss in a post tonight If other Forum members are interested I am sure it will be a most interesting discussion!

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Returning to the issue of non-violence, let us assume you are a bachelor with no family when you are confronted by a demented killer. Under those circumstances would it be appropriate to relinquish your right to defend yourself?

What do you think?

I hope Stephen Turner will join this discussion!

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Whilst I do think that the concept of "turning the other cheek" was a revolutionary innovation, I think it's an overexaggeration to see Jesus as rejecting violence under all circumstances. In fact, I think he would have agreed that in certain circumstances refraining from violence would be worse than indulging in it. In Matthew 21, 12-17, we see Jesus using violence to eject the money-changers from the temple. Here, the evil of violence is seen as lesser than the evil of desecrating God's temple... To me, this has always said that there is a point at which failure to resist is morally equivalent to complicity.

I know many devout Christians would disagree with me, and that many of them were willing to give up their lives rather than take up arms. I have deep respect for their views but cannot share them. Like Orwell, I believe that failure to resist evil, even to the extent of using violence, is wrong...

Unfortunately, this does open up a whole barrel to fish relating to the definition of evil and at which point one would be obliged to start resisting, but I do think that the situation in the 1930's to which Orwell was referring was pretty clear...

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Whilst I do think that the concept of "turning the other cheek" was a revolutionary innovation, I think it's an overexaggeration to see Jesus as rejecting violence under all circumstances. In fact, I think he would have agreed that in certain circumstances refraining from violence would be worse than indulging in it. In Matthew 21, 12-17, we see Jesus using violence to eject the money-changers from the temple. Here, the evil of violence is seen as lesser than the evil of desecrating God's temple... To me, this has always said that there is a point at which failure to resist is morally equivalent to complicity.

This depends on your definition of violence. Did Jesus urge his followers to hurt the money-changers? It seems to me that he is just illustrating his hostility to exploiting others in order to obtain riches (a fairly consistent aspect of his teachings). Is their any evidence that he was in favour of violence that resulted in physical harm to others. Did he ever try to justify the “just war”? Is it not true he told his followers to refuse to join the Roman Army?

I know many devout Christians would disagree with me, and that many of them were willing to give up their lives rather than take up arms. I have deep respect for their views but cannot share them. Like Orwell, I believe that failure to resist evil, even to the extent of using violence, is wrong...

Unfortunately, this does open up a whole barrel to fish relating to the definition of evil and at which point one would be obliged to start resisting, but I do think that the situation in the 1930's to which Orwell was referring was pretty clear...

There was a considerable growth in pacifism following the First World War. This is understandable. It is said that Joseph Ratzinger has taken the name he has because the previous holder of the name (Benedict XV) was associated with trying to bring the First World War to an end.

George Orwell did indeed reject pacifism in the 1930s. I suspect I would have done the same. Orwell made this decision when like thousands of other socialists from around the world agreed to take up arms to defend the democratically elected government in Spain. Maybe if more people had been willing to take that decision we would not have had to fight Nazi Germany in 1939. The whole appeasement policy of the 1930s was a result of the pacifism that emerged after the First World War. Those on the left in Europe (though not in America) rejected this pacifism with the growth of fascism in Italy, Germany, Spain, Portugal, etc. It was argued that it was wrong to use violence if you were living in a democracy. However, when those democratic rights had been removed, you were justified in resorting to violence. The same view is taken when your own country is invaded by another.

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Let us assume, for instance, that Hitler never attempted to conquer foreign nations, so neither England nor the United States was ever in danger from him.

But let us further assume that Hitler's genocide became known after he had killed close to 1,000,000 Jews and it was clear that unless stopped he would kill millions more.

Let us assume for purposes of this discussion that you are a Christian even if you do not believe in God or the deity of Christ.

What would be the Christian thing to do to respond to Hitler?

Now let's try another situation.  You are a husband and a father.  Your wife has never had a career but takes care of your four children full-time.  A psychotic serial killer is on the loose.  You recognize him and he is coming at you with a huge knife.  You are cornered and cannot escape but you do happen to have a gun.

Do you let him kill you, and then possibly go on to kill others?  If you do there will be an impact, of course, on your wife and family.

My first scenario considers the poissible justification of violence for a moral purpose on a national level while the second brings it to a personal level.

I have attempted to answer the point about Hitler above (see the answer I gave to Mike Tribe). I would like to have thought that I would have joined the International Brigade in the fight against fascism. I believe it is morally justifiable to use violence to protect democracy. I also believe it is acceptable to use violence to defend yourself and other people from violence. However, that threat has to be real. For example, I do not believe it is morally justifiable to favour a “pre-emptive strike”. Nor would I be in favour of torturing or executing the person who committed an act of violence against someone else.

I suspect Martin Luther King would not have started a non-violent campaign if he lived in Nazi Germany. But King did not live in Nazi Germany (although there were similarities between the Deep South in the 1950s and Germany in the 1930s). He lived in a country where some regions enjoyed a democratic system. He also lived in a society where the media was free to report on political events. Most importantly, he lived in the age of television. The most important reason why King adopted the tactics that he did was that he was aware of how those images of his followers being beaten by the police for demanding the vote would be interpreted by the rest of the world. Both Eisenhower and Kennedy realised that America’s ability to influence the rest of the world was being undermined by the scenes being showed on television throughout the world.

The interesting question is how would Jesus Christ react to these events if he was alive today. From your reading of the New Testament, do you think Jesus would be in favour of “pre-emptive strikes”? Would he be a supporter of capital punishment? Would he be arguing for the redistribution of wealth between individuals and nations.

As you will know from other threads I am critical of certain policies of the Roman Catholic Church. However, on these issues, I do believe its teachings are consistent with those of Jesus Christ.

I cannot say the same for the Christian Right in America. In fact, its policies seem to be in direct contrast to what he taught. They seem to promote the interests of the rich and powerful. Unfortunately, such is the state of your education system, the poor in America appear to be willing to let them get away with it. I am pleased to say that I suspect that this will not happen in other countries that have democratic political systems (other than those countries where the Americans install their version of democracy).

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This depends on your definition of violence. Did Jesus urge his followers to hurt the money-changers? It seems to me that he is just illustrating his hostility to exploiting others in order to obtain riches (a fairly consistent aspect of his teachings). Is their any evidence that he was in favour of violence that resulted in physical harm to others. Did he ever try to justify the “just war”? Is it not true he told his followers to refuse to join the Roman Army?
John S

One of the reasons the Christian Right manages to twist itself into such knots is that it seems incapable of grasping that Jesus spoke and acted symbolically much of the time... I do think we are basically in agreement here, John. With his undeniably violent purging of the Temple --

John 2:14

And He found in the temple those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. And He made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple

Jesus was saying that there was a line that could not be crossed before the "just man" had to resort to violence in the cause of justice.

I agree with you that his action here also makes a strong statement exploitation. I believe that Jesus would have agreed with Orwell, would have seen the "line" as having been crossed by the evil of fascism.

I also agree with you that much depends upon whether there are viable alternatives to violence, and to the degree of evil with which the individual is confronted. Orwell and the other anti-fascist volunteers believed both that fascist violence could only be effectively confronted by resort to arms and that the penalty for failing to confront it would be even greater suffering. This sounds like a working definition for a "just war".

I'm a bit torn when it comes to the idea of the "pre-emptive" or "preventive" war. Clearly, there can't be any justification for the invasion of Iraq based on the flimsiest of false stories about weapons of mass destruction. On the other hand, what about a war fought to stop the Holocaust? Or to halt the massacre of the Tutsi in Rwanda? I think that's much more of a grey area...

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I'm a bit torn when it comes to the idea of the "pre-emptive" or "preventive" war. Clearly, there can't be any justification for the invasion of Iraq based on the flimsiest of false stories about weapons of mass destruction. On the other hand, what about a war fought to stop the Holocaust? Or to halt the massacre of the Tutsi in Rwanda? I think that's much more of a grey area...

I am willing to be convinced that it morally acceptable to send in international troops to protect a group from being massacred. However, it is only acceptable if this is a decision made by the international community via the United Nations. I am totally opposed for one or more countries making this decision and then using their superior armed forces to remove a government it dislikes. Although the leaders of this countries may attempt to justify it by saying that it is removing “tyrants” (the same excuse given by the Soviets when it marched into countries in Eastern Europe), it is clear to all non-partisan observers that this action is being taken for economic and political reasons.

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I believe it is morally justifiable to use violence to protect democracy. I also believe it is acceptable to use violence to defend yourself and other people from violence. However, that threat has to be real. For example, I do not believe it is morally justifiable to favour a “pre-emptive strike”. Nor would I be in favour of torturing or executing the person who committed an act of violence against someone else.

Without meaning to sound like a die-hard communist, do you see democracy as an end-in-itself John? Interestingly, in the sermon at my church last Sunday the preacher said that Christians' need to look to God before politics and any political system. He also said that he believed this would make it difficult for a Christian to be an active member of any one political party. Whilst I'm not sure I agree with him, it is an interesting thought...

In addition, and this isn't directed at John, there is a tendency in our society to label and pigeon-hole people for our convenience. It means that people who 'consider' these issues in years to come don't have to think too much - we've supposedly already done it for them! :blink:

:plane Doug

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Without meaning to sound like a die-hard communist, do you see democracy as an end-in-itself John?

No, I do not see Democracy as an end in itself. My main desire is to see an egalitarian world. I believe the best way of obtaining that is via a truly democratic electoral system in all countries of the world. I do not believe Britain is anywhere near achieving this. Some countries are closer than others to this ideal. Britain and the USA are way behind others in Northern Europe to achieving this objective.

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Guest Stephen Turner
Returning to the issue of non-violence, let us assume you are a bachelor with no family when you are confronted by a demented killer.  Under those circumstances would it be appropriate to relinquish your right to defend yourself?

What do you think?

I hope Stephen Turner will join this discussion!

Hi Tim.

Jesus's ministry can I belive, be broken down into one single commandment "Love one another." Now lets consider this, to love someone is to, care for their well being, to treat them as an equal, share their belifes, accept them with all their faults, keep them from harm, etc etc. All of this and more we freely give when we love someone. But Jesus asks us to love everyone we meet as a brother or sister, with this he attempts to change the very nature of our day today.

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Guest Stephen Turner
Returning to the issue of non-violence, let us assume you are a bachelor with no family when you are confronted by a demented killer.  Under those circumstances would it be appropriate to relinquish your right to defend yourself?

What do you think?

I hope Stephen Turner will join this discussion!

Hi Tim.

Jesus's ministry can I belive, be broken down into one single commandment

" Love one another." Now lets consider this, to love someone is to, care for their

well being, to treat them as an equal, share their belifes, accept them with all

their faults, keep them from harm, etc etc. All of this and more we freely give

when we love someone. But Jesus asks us to love everyone we meet as a

Brother or sister, with this he attempts to change the very nature of our day

to day relationships with each other, and by extention, change the World. This

by anyone's standards is a revolutionary act .It is this Mundane, yet powerful

message that still resonates over 2,000 years later. So potentially Earth

shattering,that they crucified the Man for it, that organised Religion needs to

capture, and "interprite" it. Yet it needs no such interpritation, if Jesus spoke

at all, he addressed the common Man and Woman,not the powerful. So it appears

to me that if you wish to follow Jesus, you must love EVERYONE, regardless of

how they treat you. A hard path to walk....!!!

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No, I do not see Democracy as an end in itself. My main desire is to see an egalitarian world. I believe the best way of obtaining that is via a truly democratic electoral system in all countries of the world. I do not believe Britain is anywhere near achieving this. Some countries are closer than others to this ideal. Britain and the USA are way behind others in Northern Europe to achieving this objective.

Christians believe that man is a fallen creature and has a bias which leads towards sinfulness. This is why a political system in and of itself is not a good or a bad thing. I wish I could find the quotation which basically says that people grow thinking communism is a good idea, but end up conservatives. I think that's probably true - people end up looking out for what they've got and what they know. Keeping your mind open to new ideas throughout one's life must be difficult!

Would communism done properly be better than democracy done badly? I don't know.

One thing I do know - that it matters little whether we interpret Jesus as a revolutionary or a conservative. He was probably a bit of both. The thing that does matter is our reaction to Him, but that's for another thread...

:up Doug

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Guest Stephen Turner
No, I do not see Democracy as an end in itself. My main desire is to see an egalitarian world. I believe the best way of obtaining that is via a truly democratic electoral system in all countries of the world. I do not believe Britain is anywhere near achieving this. Some countries are closer than others to this ideal. Britain and the USA are way behind others in Northern Europe to achieving this objective.

Christians believe that man is a fallen creature and has a bias which leads towards sinfulness. This is why a political system in and of itself is not a good or a bad thing. I wish I could find the quotation which basically says that people grow thinking communism is a good idea, but end up conservatives. I think that's probably true - people end up looking out for what they've got and what they know. Keeping your mind open to new ideas throughout one's life must be difficult!

Would communism done properly be better than democracy done badly? I don't know.

One thing I do know - that it matters little whether we interpret Jesus as a revolutionary or a conservative. He was probably a bit of both. The thing that does matter is our reaction to Him, but that's for another thread...

;) Doug

Doug..

The quote is "if an 18 year old is not a communist, there's something wrong with his heart. But if a 30 year old is a communist, there's something wrong with his head..!! I guess there's something wrong with my head.......

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