Ain't Nobody's Business If You Do



If only God would give me
some clear sign!
Like making a large deposit
in my name at a Swiss bank.
Woody Allen
W.C. FIELDS LAY ON his deathbed, reading the Bible. An old friend came in and said, "Bill! You don't believe in God. Why are you reading the Bible?" Fields responded in his familiar cadence, "Looking for loopholes."
Anyone interested in social change—regardless of religious beliefs or lack of them—should read the Bible for no other reason than it is the book quoted most often to relieve us of our personal freedoms.
I must admit that I initially turned to the Bible "looking for loopholes." I knew I could pull quotations out of context to support my point of view. In planning this, I thought of myself in an adversarial relationship: the religious right has presented its out-of-context quotations, and has done a good job popularizing them. I could do the same, and make my out-of-context quotations support my beliefs. Somewhere between the extremes, perhaps people would discover something approaching the truth.
Along the way, however, I made an astonishing discovery: There was no need to pull quotations out of context. There was no need for me to ignore certain passages and highlight others. The "scriptural basis" for the religious right's claim to righteousness simply did not exist. In order to support my opinion I didn't have to—with a certain degree of guilt—leave out "incriminating" passages: the passages were not there.
Certain quotations were there, of course, but considering the context they were in, no sane human being would take them seriously. (All of the admonitions against "sexual immorality" fall into this category.) Other concepts—promoted loudly by the Bible-quoting moralists of our day—were entirely absent.[*FN]

[*FN] Although it's not the point of this book, the intolerant interpretation of the Bible by the fundamentalists also keeps sincere seekers from a potential source of inspiration and wisdom. For more on this, please read Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism, by Bishop John Shelby Spong.

Get your facts first,
and then you can distort them
as much as you please.
The Bible can be used to praise or condemn practically any human activity, thought, belief, or practice. As with the works of Shakespeare, if one looks carefully, one can find a quotation, incident, or story to support or undermine anything.
Alas, this practice has been used by many people to justify their own prejudices (by proving that "God thinks this way, too"), as a justification for grabbing and holding power ("It's not what I want, it's what God wants!"), or as the perfect excuse for not taking a fearless look at themselves and making necessary—although admittedly uncomfortable—personal changes in attitude and behavior.
It's not the Bible itself that condemns most consensual crimes, but the misuse of the Bible by petty, fearful, manipulative, or misguided individuals who deceptively quote from the Bible not as an illumination of truth, but as a justification of their own limited point of view.
Allow me to quote Alan Watts at length. He says all I want to say here, and says it much better than I.[*FN]

[*FN] Some readers may be asking, "Who is Alan Watts does not have the wide audience, readership, or reputation he deserves. In my estimation, he was one of the finest philosophers of this century. Although he had a master's in theology and a doctorate in divinity, he seldom had the pretension of calling himself "Dr. Watts" (although, while an Episcopal priest, he probably tolerated the obligatory "Father Watts"). As fine as his writing is, I find his recorded lectures even more delightful. (His tapes and several books are available from his son, Mark Watts, P.O. Box 938, Point Reyes Station, CA 94956.) Although Watts died in 1973, his writings and his lectures are as contemporary, witty, and penetrating as ever.

The Bible is the inerrant word
of the living God.
It is absolutely infallible,
without error in all matters
pertaining to faith and practice,
as well as in areas such as
geography, science, history, etc.

[The Bible is] an anthology of ancient literature that contains sublime wisdom along with barbaric histories and the war songs of tribes on the rampage. All this is taken as the literal Word and counsel of God, as it is by fundamentalist sects, which—by and large—know nothing of the history of the Bible, of how it was edited and put together. So we have with us the social menace of a huge population of intellectually and morally irresponsible people.

[The Bible is a] translation of Hebrew and Greek documents composed between 900 B.C. and A.D. 120. There is no manuscript of the Old Testament; that is, of the Hebrew Scriptures, written in Hebrew, earlier than the Ninth Century B.C. But we know that these documents were first put together and recognized as the Holy Scriptures by a convention of rabbis held at Jamnia (Yavne) in Palestine shortly before A.D. 100. On their say-so. Likewise, the composition of the Christian Bible, which documents to include and which to drop, was decided by a council of the Catholic Church held in Carthage in the latter part of the Fourth Century.

The point is that the books translated in the . . . Bible were declared canonical and divinely inspired by the authority (A) of the Synod of Jamnia and (B) of the Catholic Church, meeting in Carthage more than 300 years after the time of Jesus. It is thus that fundamentalist Protestants get the authority of their Bible from Jews who had rejected Jesus and from Catholics whom they abominate as the Scarlet Woman mentioned in Revelation.

I could not believe that anyone who had read this book would be so foolish as to proclaim that the Bible in every literal word was the divinely inspired, inerrant word of God. Have these people simply not read the text? Are they hopelessly uninformed? Is there a different Bible? Are they blinded by a combination of ego needs and naivete?
As Archbishop Desmond Tutu explained,

When the missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land. They said, "Let us pray." We closed our eyes. When we opened them we had the Bible and they had the land.

In exploring the Bible, I chose the New International Version (NIV). This is the translation favored by most of the evangelical churches. (I don't want them accusing me of using some "heathen translation.")[*FN] Some evangelicals still use the King James Version because the New International Version is entirely (and dangerously) too clear.

[*FN] The preface of the New International Version shows the fundamentalist influence: "That [the translation scholars] were from many denominations—including Anglican, Assemblies of God, Baptist, Brethren, Christian Reformed, Church of Christ, Evangelical Free, Lutheran, Mennonite, Methodist, Nazarene, Presbyterian, Wesleyan and other churches—helped to safeguard the translation from sectarian bias."

The Bible is divided into two sections, the Old Testament and the New Testament. Each Testament is a collection of "books" (although the word bible itself means book). Each book has a series of chapters, and each chapter is divided into verses. These chapter and verse citations are uniform throughout all translations of the Bible and are written: BOOK CHAPTER:VERSE. So, "Genesis 24:1–3 and 9" means the book of Genesis, chapter 24, verses 1 through 3, also verse 9.

Man is an exception,
whatever else he is.
If it is not true that
a divine being fell,
then we can only say
that one of the animals
went entirely off its head.

Old Testament Admonitions

The Old Testament presents long lists of forbidden activities, some of which most of us do regularly (shaving, getting a haircut, wearing clothing woven of two kinds of material, eating rare meat). These books also present a series of acceptable or even required practices that we wouldn't dream of doing (animal sacrifices, keeping slaves, stoning people to death for infractions such as cursing their parents).
Please understand that, in this examination, I in no way intend to ridicule, question, or even minimize any of the wisdom to be found in the Bible. I simply mean to show that no one follows all the teachings of the Bible. Certainly not a single fundamentalist Christian—not one. Even the most devout Jew has abandoned burnt offerings, keeping slaves, stoning, and a great many other activities which are permitted or required by the biblical Laws of Moses.
The first seventeen chapters of the book of Leviticus, for example, go into great detail as to which animals are to be sacrificed for what sins or celebrations, which skin irritations are diseases and which are sins, and which animals cannot be eaten—or even touched. These animals include rabbit, lizard, pig, shrimp, lobster, clam, scallop, eel, octopus, or squid. You may, however, eat "any kind of locust, katydid, cricket or grasshopper" (Leviticus 11:22–23).
Chapter 18 of Leviticus contains sexual activities that are not acceptable. It's a long list; here's the Reader's Digest version: don't have sex with your stepmother, stepsister, "the daughter of your father's wife," your aunt, "a woman and her daughter," a woman and "her son's daughter or her daughter's daughter"; with any woman while she's having her period; with your neighbor's wife. As verse 29 explains, "Everyone who does any of these detestable things—such persons must be cut off from their people" (18:29).

People are much too solemn
about things—
I'm all for sticking pins
into episcopal behinds.
Chapter 19 is a grab bag of laws:
Verse 19: "Do not mate different kinds of animals. Do not plant your fields with two kinds of seed. Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material."
Verse 27: "Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard."
Verse 28: "Do not . . . put tattoo marks on yourselves."
Verse 32: "Rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly. . . ."
Similarly, chapter 20 offers a variety of sins and punishments. Among them:
Verse 6: "I will set my face against the person who turns to mediums and spiritists to prostitute himself by following them, and I will cut him off from his people."
Verse 9: "If anyone curses his father or mother, he must be put to death. He has cursed his father or mother, and his blood will be on his own head."
Verse 10: "If a man commits adultery with another man's wife—with the wife of his neighbor—both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death."
Verse 11: "If a man sleeps with his father's wife, he has dishonored his father. Both the man and the woman must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads."
Verse 13 (Falwell's Favorite): "If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads."

The Old Testament is responsible for
more atheism,
call it what you will—
than any book ever written.
Verse 14: "If a man marries both a woman and her mother, it is wicked. Both he and they must be burned in the fire, so that no wickedness will be among you."
Verse 15: "If a man has sexual relations with an animal, he must be put to death, and you must kill the animal." [*FN]

[*FN] If this seems an extreme punishment—whether your compassion is for the man or the animal—and if you think it could never be a law, allow me to quote from William Bradford, governor of Plymouth, Massachusetts (1642): "Ther was a youth whose name was Thomas Granger; he was servant to an honest man of Duxbery, being aboute 16 or 17 years of age. (His father & mother lived at the same time at Sityate.) He was this year detected of buggery (and indicted for the same) with a mare, a cowe, two goats, five sheep, 2 calves, and a turkey. Horrible it is to mention, but the truth of the historie requires it. He was first discovered by one that accidentally saw his lewd pracise towards the mare. (I forbear perticulers.) Being upon it examined and committed, in the end he not only confest the fact with that beast at that time, but sundrie times before, and at severall times with all the rest of the forenamed in his indictmente. And accordingly he was cast by the jury, and condemned, and after executed the 8. of September, 1642. A very sade spectakle it was; for first the mare, and then the cowe, and the rest of the lesser cattle, were kild before his face, according to the law, Levit: 20:15, and then he him selfe was executed."

Verse 16: "If a woman approaches an animal to have sexual relations with it, kill both the woman and the animal. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads."
Verse 27: "A man or woman who is a medium or spiritist among you must be put to death. You are to stone them; their blood will be on their own heads."

Scrutamini scripturas
[Let us look at the scriptures].
These two words
have undone the world.
In Chapter 24 someone has "blasphemed the Name with a curse" (24:11).

Then the Lord said to Moses: "Take the blasphemer outside the camp. All those who heard him are to lay their hands on his head, and the entire assembly is to stone him. Say to the Israelites: `If anyone curses his God, he will be held responsible; anyone who blasphemes the name of the Lord must be put to death. The entire assembly must stone him. Whether an alien or native-born, when he blasphemes the Name, he must be put to death. . . .'" Then Moses spoke to the Israelites, and they took the blasphemer outside the camp and stoned him. (24:13–16,23)

Chapter 25 introduces the Year of Jubilee. Every seven years—Leviticus instructs—the land is to go fallow. Whatever grows there is to be harvested by the poor. This is the Sabbath for the land. Every seventh Sabbath for the land—seven times seven years—becomes the Year of Jubilee. In the Year of Jubilee, all slaves purchased are to be set free, all houses purchased (except houses within walled cities) are to return to their original owner ("Quick! There's only three months until the Year of Jubilee. Let's build a wall."), and all land sold is to return to its original holder. Nothing, it seems, is sold permanently; it is sold only until the Year of Jubilee; all contracts are good for a maximum of forty-nine years.
In Chapter 27, the last chapter of Leviticus, the price is set for slaves of various ages. A male between the ages of twenty and sixty is worth fifty shekels, and a female between twenty and sixty is worth thirty shekels. "If it is a person between the ages of five and twenty, set the value of a male at twenty shekels and of a female at ten shekels. If it is a person between one month and five years, set the value of a male at five shekels of silver and that of a female at three shekels of silver (27:5–6).

I never had any doubt
about it [the Bible]
being of divine origin—
point out to me
any similar collection of writings
that has lasted for as many
thousands of years and is still
a best-seller, world wide.
It had to be of divine origin.
Thus ends Leviticus, just one of Moses' four "lawgiving" books of the Old Testament. Here are selected laws from the other three, Exodus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy:

Laws from Exodus

If a man sells his daughter as a servant, she is not to go free as menservants do. If she does not please the master who has selected her for himself, he must let her be redeemed. He has no right to sell her to foreigners, because he has broken faith with her. (21:7–8)

If a man beats his male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies as a direct result, he must be punished, but he is not to be punished if the slave gets up after a day or two, since the slave is his property. (21:20–21)

If a man seduces a virgin who is not pledged to be married and sleeps with her, he must pay the bride-price, and she shall be his wife. If her father absolutely refuses to give her to him, he must still pay the bride-price for virgins. (22:16–17)

Whoever sacrifices to any god other than the Lord must be destroyed. (22:20)

If you lend money to one of my people among you who is needy, do not be like a moneylender; charge him no interest. (22:25)

You must give me the firstborn of your sons. (22:29)

Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day must be put to death. (31:15)

Do not light a fire in any of your dwellings on the Sabbath day. (35:3)

When you eat fish,
you don't eat the bones.
You eat the flesh.
Take the Bible like that.

Laws from Numbers

While the Israelites were in the desert, a man was found gathering wood on the Sabbath day. Those who found him gathering wood brought him to Moses and Aaron and the whole assembly, and they kept him in custody, because it was not clear what should be done to him. Then the Lord said to Moses, "The man must die. The whole assembly must stone him outside the camp." So the assembly took him outside the camp and stoned him to death, as the Lord commanded Moses. (15:32–36)

So Moses said to Israel's judges, "Each of you must put to death those of your men who have joined in worshiping the Baal of Peor." (25:5)

Laws from Deuteronomy

If your very own brother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you love, or your closest friend secretly entices you, saying, "Let us go and worship other gods" . . . do not yield to him or listen to him. Show him no pity. Do not spare him or shield him. You must certainly put him to death. Your hand must be the first in putting him to death, and then the hands of all the people. Stone him to death, because he tried to turn you away from the Lord your God. . . . (13:6, 8–10)

Do not eat anything you find already dead. You may give it to an alien living in any of your towns, and he may eat it, or you may sell it to a foreigner. (14:21)

There should be no poor among you. (15:4)

You will lend to many nations but will borrow from none. (15:6)

I stand fearlessly for small dogs,
the American Flag,
and the Bible.
That's why people love me.

The man who shows contempt for the judge or for the priest who stands ministering there to the Lord your God must be put to death. (17:12)

Show no pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot. (19:21)

A woman must not wear men's clothing, nor a man wear women's clothing, for the Lord your God detests anyone who does this. (22:5)

Do not plow with an ox and a donkey yoked together. (22:10)

If a man happens to meet in a town a virgin pledged to be married and he sleeps with her, you shall take both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death. (22:23–24)

You must not bring the earnings of a female prostitute or of a male prostitute into the house of the Lord your God to pay any vow, because the Lord your God detests them both. (23:18)

If you enter your neighbor's vineyard, you may eat all the grapes you want, but do not put any in your basket. (23:24)

If you enter your neighbor's grainfield, you may pick kernels with your hands, but you must not put a sickle to his standing grain. (23:25)

If brothers are living together and one of them dies without a son, his widow must not marry outside the family. Her husband's brother shall take her and marry her and fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to her. (25:5)

If two men are fighting and the wife of one of them comes to rescue her husband from his assailant, and she reaches out and seizes him by his private parts, you shall cut off her hand. Show her no pity. (25:11–12)

The Chinese said
they would bury me
by the Western Lake
and build a shrine to my memory.
I might have become a god,
which would have been very chic
for an atheist.

Those were just some of the laws from four of the thirty-nine books of the Old Testament. A few obvious observations:

1. Aren't you glad the police aren't out enforcing more of these laws than they already are?

2. The laws of the Bible (the ones we've just reviewed are more than 3,500 years old) make a poor basis for the laws of the United States today.

3. The religious right has decided to disregard most of the Old Testament laws as no longer applicable. Yet these same people cling to a select few Old Testament restrictions as a basis for judging other people's morality and criminality.

4. What justification is there for almost everyone to ignore one biblical law and make another biblical law the basis for imprisonment, persecution, and discrimination?

5. The next time a televangelist (or senator) quotes Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, or any other Old Testament book of the Bible as a justification for locking people up, remember the context from which their interpretation of "God's law" comes.

Jesus of Nazareth and Consensual Crime

More evil and injustice have been done (and continue to be done) "in the name of Jesus" than one could possibly document. Those who have not taken the time to read what Jesus actually said may—mistakenly—blame Jesus for this evil and injustice. Those who take the time to read the first four books of the New Testament will probably be surprised to discover what Jesus himself actually said. Once you've read those books, the next time someone says he or she is doing something "in the name of Jesus," you can say "But he never said that!" or "That's not what he meant at all!"

No man ever believes that the Bible
means what it says:
he is always convinced that it
says what he means.

The first four books of the New Testament—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—tell the story of Jesus' life and teachings. For the most part, they are the only books in the Bible that report what Jesus said while he lived. The remainder of the New Testament contains Luke's account of the early church (Acts); letters (Epistles) written by James and Jude (Jesus' brothers), Peter, John, and Paul to various Christian communities, to set forth doctrine and guidelines for living. The New Testament culminates with the apocalyptic vision for the end of the world (Revelation), which the evangelicals believe is due any day now—just as fervently hopeful believers have predicted for 2,000 years. About half of the New Testament consists of Paul's Epistles.

The first three Gospels—Matthew, Mark, and Luke—are known as the synoptic Gospels. Synoptic means a general view or summary; to give an account from the same point of view. These were written from twenty to fifty years after Jesus' death. The synoptic Gospels seem to rely on each other—the authors of the later two perhaps having read the first—or, at the very least, they relied on similar source material. This material was most likely the written collections of "sayings" circulated, perhaps even while Jesus lived. These "quote books" (scrolls, actually) were quite popular and allowed the essence of a teacher's message to be conveyed in those pre–printing press days. Using these scrolls as a basis, and adding what they knew, remembered, or could discover, Matthew, Mark, and

Luke wrote their Gospels (a word which simply means "good news").

one who believes that
the New Testament is a divinely
inspired book admirably suited
to the spiritual needs
of his neighbors.
John wrote his Gospel some time after Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Although it's fair to assume that he read the first three, he did not rely on them, nor the underlying "quote books," as heavily. John accepted the events in the first three Gospels as "given," and added new information. He also wanted to "set the record straight" on a few events—and he does. He was the only disciple at the Crucifixion, and was part of Jesus' "inner circle" (which included John's brother James and Peter). John gives accounts and insights Matthew, Mark, and Luke do not.
The four Gospels give us the same life and the same teachings seen from four different viewpoints. If you think that personal agendas did not affect the Gospels, consider what Mark had to say about a woman: "She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse" (Mark 5:26). Compare that with what Luke, the physician, had to say about the same woman: "And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years, but no one could heal her" (Luke 8:43). Whether Luke was protecting his profession or Mark had a bias against physicians—or both—is hard to say. Personal filtering—conscious or unconscious—is inevitable when people write about events, especially events that happened decades earlier.
And yet, with all these differences—sometimes in interpretation and sometimes with the facts themselves—there emerges a pattern of a man who, fundamentally, taught love, acceptance, and tolerance. That is the essence of Jesus' teaching. He said it himself, quoting the "heart" of the Jewish faith: "`Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind'" (Matthew 22:37) and he summed up the rest of the Old Testament—the Law of the Prophets—as "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22:39). To this, at the very end of his teaching (at the Last Supper), he gave those closest to him a final command. "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another" (John 13:34–35).

The world is equally shocked
at hearing Christianity criticised
and seeing it practised.
And how did Jesus love?

1. He healed the sick.

2. He taught love, compassion, and tolerance.

3. He attacked hypocrisy, especially among those in power.

4. He taught grace rather than law, acceptance rather than judgment, and forgiveness rather than punishment.

And then Jesus made one of the most brilliant moves in the history of human thought. He gave a series of examples that illustrated a being so loving, so giving, and so trusting in God that it was absolutely impossible for a human being to achieve the ideal. He then specifically prohibited any attempts to improve others until you, yourself, were entirely loving, giving, and trusting.
According to Jesus' plan, everyone would be so busy loving, giving, and trusting (or learning to be that way) that there would simply be no time to judge others. If one, however, were tempted to judge others, giving in to the temptation was specifically prohibited by the teachings of Jesu.s

There is no worse lie than a truth
by those who hear it.
William James
The Varieties of Religious Experience

When Anita Bryant was at the height of her campaign against homosexuals and had the backing of most fundamentalist Christian organizations and celebrities, Dale Evans—a popular Christian lecturer and author—was asked what she thought about homosexuals. Expected to give the knee-jerk reaction ("The Bible says it's an abomination and unnatural, and I'll take God's word for it"), Dale surprised everyone by, instead, stating the essence of Christ's teaching: "I'm too busy loving everybody to have any time to hate anybody."

It's a marvelous system. Too bad the people who ask for consensual criminals to be punished in the name of Jesus aren't following his teaching.

Jesus' lack of Old Testament wrath irritated his disciples: they wanted to see some of those vengeful-God pyrotechnics. In that, alas, Jesus was a disappointment.

When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, "Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?" But Jesus turned and rebuked them, and they went to another village. (Luke 9:54–56)

Jesus taught, instead, that if you're perfect, you can judge others; otherwise, keep working on yourself.

"Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, `Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye." (Matthew 7:3–5)

But we never reach perfection, so by Jesus' teachings, we never have the right to judge another. In fact, we don't even have the right to judge ourselves. That, quite simply, is God's job.

The trouble with some of us
is that we have been inoculated
with small doses of Christianity
which keep us from catching
the real thing.

Jesus and Traditional Family Values

One of the most absurd claims made by the religious right is that their interpretation of "traditional family values" is supported by Jesus. It is not. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.
Jesus never married. Within the Jewish tradition in the time of Jesus, not marrying was nearly a sacrilege. Jewish males were considered men at thirteen. It was then a boy had his bar mitzvah; he declared to the community, "Today I am a man," and the responsibilities of manhood were upon him. By this time, he knew a trade (which he entered into), and he married. (Marriages, like the son's profession, were almost always arranged by the parents.) The first child was expected within the year.
By not marrying and fulfilling his obligation to God, his family, and his ancestors, Jesus blatantly defied tradition. The pressure on him could hardly have been more intense, and yet he resisted.
When Jesus was twelve, his parents took him to Jerusalem for their annual celebration of the Passover.

After the Feast was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. (Luke 2:43)

Here they are, leaving Jerusalem for Nazareth—quite a trek—and Mary and Joseph must have assumed he was with the caravan. (Caravans were the jumbo jets of their day.) Besides, Mary and Joseph had at least six other children—four of them boys. Jesus, the eldest, was expected to be responsible.

We need more families like
the Waltons and
less like the Simpsons.

We're just like the Waltons—
we're all praying
for the depression to end.

Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, "Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you." (Luke 2:44–48)

Jesus is hardly the apologetic child:

"Why were you searching for me?" he asked. "Didn't you know I had to be in my Father's house?" But they did not understand what he was saying to them. (Luke 2:49–51)

Given his druthers, it's obvious he would rather stay in the house of his Father, where he "had to be." It also indicates, that Mary and Joseph did not realize the significance of Jesus' mission on earth. That it took them three days to figure out Jesus would be in the temple indicates that they hardly saw Jesus as the Messiah.

The Bible is entirely silent about Jesus for his next eighteen years. When we fade back in, we find Jesus performing his first public miracle—thanks to his mother:

On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus' mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus' mother said to him, "They have no more wine."

"Dear woman, why do you involve me?" Jesus replied. "My time has not yet come." (John 2:1–4)

I want to have children and
I know my time is running out:
I want to have them while
my parents are still young enough
to take care of them.
Not exactly the anything-you-say devotion we have been led to believe Jesus had for his mother.
Jesus is saying, in essence, that he is not yet ready to perform a public miracle, that his mother knows this, and why is she bothering him with this problem of the wine? What does his mother do? Like most mothers, she completely ignores him:

His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you." (John 2:5)

Mary starts involving other people. One can almost hear her saying, "My son will take care of the wine problem. Servants! Come over here! Help my son make some more wine. Do whatever he tells you." Jesus performed the miracle, and, according to John, "thus revealed his glory." Imagine: being spiritually outed by your own mother.
One of the most important passages indicating Jesus' relationship with his family is found in the third chapter of Mark and also in Matthew (12:46–50) and Luke (8:19–21). Concerning "traditional family values," here is one of the most significant—and least quoted—passages in the entire Bible:

When his family heard about this [healing the sick and teaching], they went to take charge of him, for they said, "He is out of his mind." (Mark 3:21)

I'm one of those
cliff-hanging Catholics.
I don't believe in God,
but I do believe
that Mary was his mother.
If you were teaching and your mother and brothers thought you were out of your mind and came "to take charge of" you, what would you do? That's just what Jesus did: he didn't go near them. He stayed in the house where he was protected by his followers and sent to his mother and brothers his true message concerning "family values":

Then Jesus' mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, "Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you."

"Who are my mother and my brothers?" he asked.

Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God's will is my brother and sister and mother." (Mark 3:31–35)

Considering Jesus' relationship with his brothers, this incident from the book of John is telling:

But when the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles was near, Jesus' brothers said to him, "You ought to leave here and go to Judea, so that your disciples may see the miracles you do. No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world." For even his own brothers did not believe in him. (John 7:2–5)

If it wasn't for John's comment, "For even his own brothers did not believe in him," it might sound as though his brothers were encouraging him to make his teachings more widely known. In fact, with the information John provides us, we know that they are, at best, encouraging him to "go public" so he'll get this whole savior thing out of his system, or, at worst, they are taunting him with some sibling, "We dare you! We double dare you!" Jesus handles them as any typical misunderstood sibling might: he deceives them.

"You go to the Feast. I am notyet going up to this Feast, because for me the time has not yet come." Having said this, he stayed in Galilee. However, after his brothers had left for the Feast, he went also, not publicly, but in secret. (John 7:8-10)

We never talked, my family.
We communicated
by putting Ann Landers articles
on the refrigerator.

In his hometown of Nazareth, Jesus was not exactly remembered as "Little Jesus, Boy Messiah":

Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed. "Where did this man get these things?" they asked. "What's this wisdom that has been given him, that he even does miracles! Isn't this the carpenter? Isn't this Mary's son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren't his sisters here with us?" And they took offense at him.

Jesus said to them, "Only in his home town, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor." (Mark 6:1–4)

Like many before and since, Jesus found it difficult to "be himself" "among his relatives."

On another occasion, Jesus was preaching and a woman interrupted his teaching.

As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, "Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you."

He replied, "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it." (Luke 11:27–28)

It was no great tragedy being
Judy Garland's daughter. I had tremendously
interesting childhood years—
except they had little to do
with being a child.
Jesus did not say, "Yes, and. . . ." He said, "Blessed rather. . . ." Jesus somehow felt the need to correct the impression that his mother was especially "blessed."
After Jesus' childhood, Mary is conspicuous in her absence, except for sometimes being mentioned as one of the women who followed Jesus. Except for the Nativity, practically every incident involving Jesus' mother in the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John has been detailed here. There is no record of Jesus returning to her after his resurrection, and in the remainder of the New Testament, she is mentioned only once.
None of this is intended to denigrate Mary. It is merely intended to show that Jesus' relationship with his blood relatives—including his mother—was far closer to normal than we have been led to believe.
When it came time to gather his chosen family (his disciples), Jesus concerned himself not at all with what their "traditional" families (that is, their blood relatives) might think, say, be, or feel.

As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men." At once they left their nets and followed him. Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him. (Matthew 4:18–22)

Peter said to him, "We have left all we had to follow you!"

"Family" this and "family" that.
If I had a family I'd be furious that
moral busybodies are taking
the perfectly good word family
and using it as a code for censorship
the same way "states' rights"
was used to disguise racism
in the mid-sixties.

"I tell you the truth," Jesus said to them, "no one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, eternal life." (Luke 18:28–30)

Still another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family." Jesus replied, "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God." (Luke 9:61–62)

Another disciple said to him, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." But Jesus told him, "Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead." (Matthew 8:21–22)

"If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple." (Luke 14:26)

"For I have come to turn `a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man's enemies will be the members of his own household.'" (Matthew 10:35–36)

"From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law." (Luke 12:52–53)

"Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved." (Mark 13:12–13)

"For this cause shall a man
leave his mother and
father and cleave to his flesh"—
I mean, "cleave to his wife."
Larry King Live!
August 17, 1992
Not exactly Leave It to Beaver, is it? But what did Jesus have to say about other relationships, like marriage and sex? If he didn't teach traditional family values, surely he taught morality with regard to sex.
Oh, yes—far stricter than most Christians care to know.

Jesus on Sex and Marriage

How did Jesus really feel about sex? It's a hard question to answer because (a) he almost never talked about it, and (b) the one time he did, his answer did not prove very palatable. "It is better," religious leaders throughout the centuries have decided, "to assume that Jesus was a good man, that we are good men, so the way we feel about sex must be the way he felt about sex."
Here, however, is what Jesus had to say:

When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this. He answered, "Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery." (Mark 10:10–12)

A hard teaching this, but it leads directly to Jesus' true feelings about sex:

The disciples said to him, "If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry."

Jesus replied, "Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it." (Matthew 19:10–12)

Adultery is in your heart
not only when you look
with excessive sexual zeal
at a woman who is not your wife,
but also if you look
in the same manner at your wife.
For Jesus himself, then, marriage was out of the question—the ideal was celibacy.
The word eunuch in Greek is eunouchos, which means "a castrated person," or "an impotent or unmarried man." It's doubtful that Jesus is recommending all males become castrated. His suggestion for those who "can accept this word" is to abstain from marriage and sexual activity.
Does Jesus expect perfection in the pursuit of celibacy? Hardly. That's why marriage poses a problem. If one is single and "slips," no one is harmed other than the person slipping. If married, however, slipping means breaking one's word with another, and that's not good. Jesus invokes the larger sense of adultery: not keeping one's word; not being faithful to one's promise; adulterating one's integrity. Jesus' message, then, was, "fornication is a lesser sin than adultery, so before you get married be absolutely sure that this is the only person you plan to have sex with for the rest of your life."
How did Jesus treat those who had a sexual orientation or practice different from his own? Without exception, his response was tolerance and acceptance.
No incident from the Gospels more clearly shows how Jesus wants his followers to behave toward those who have "sinned" sexually than the one in which he saves the adulteress from being stoned.

The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, "Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?" They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. (John 8:3–6)

Mr. Mercaptan went on
to preach a brilliant sermon
on that melancholy
sexual perversion
known as continence.
If Jesus said, "Don't stone her," he would—according to the law—be as guilty as she. The Pharisees would then have grounds for stoning him, too. On the other hand, if he said, "Go ahead and stone her," he would be betraying his central teaching of love, tolerance, and forgiveness. From a consensual-crimes perspective, it's important to note that adultery was a sexual transgression which Jesus personally and spiritually frowned on. Nevertheless...

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. (John 8:6–8)

Brilliant. Jesus took the responsibility from a faceless crowd self-righteously fulfilling "God's law" and placed it in the hands of each individual, saying, "If you've never made a mistake, go ahead: throw the first stone." It was restating his fundamental teaching: "First, take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye" (Matthew 7:5). He was saying, yet again, "Unless you're perfect, don't judge." Here, in fact, he was taking it a step further: "If you ever have sinned, don't judge." So much for judgment. So much for throwing stones. So much for Jesus' supposed endorsement of laws against consensual activities.

Jesus straightenned up and asked her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?"

"No one, sir," she said.

"Then neither do I condemn you," Jesus declared. "Go now and leave your life of sin." (John 8:10–11)

Who are you
to condemn another's sin?
He who condemns sin
becomes part of it,
espouses it.
The Diary of a Country Priest
He does not demand prayer, fasting, or atonement—he simply tells her to leave her life of sin.[*FN]

[*FN] Sin in the original Greek meant "mistake"—not "transgression against God."

If each elected official, before voting on the next law to take away yet another consensual freedom, would reflect on his or her own personal transgressions, unpopular preferences, and unsuccessful experiments, maybe we'd have a Christian nation after all.

Jesus and the Separation of Church and State

Jesus of Nazareth was clearly in favor of separation of church and state. Few things in the Bible are more certain. His teaching was spiritual: he had no interest in this world. His disinterest in the governments of this world—and the world itself—is profound.

"My kingdom is not of this world." (John 18:36)

"You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world." (John 8:23)

The only organization he left behind was twelve men with Peter as their leader. That was it. When turning over his authority to his apostles, he even warned against political involvement:

"The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me." (Luke 22:25–26, 29)

Christianity neither is,
nor ever was
a part of the common law.
February 10, 1814
Even when he was offered absolute political power on earth, he turned it down.

The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, "I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. So if you worship me, it will all be yours." Jesus answered, "It is written: `Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.'" (Luke 4:5–8)

Even when Jesus was offered a kingdom on earth by the will of the people, he rejected it:

After the people saw the miraculous sign that Jesus did, they began to say, "Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world." Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again into the hills by himself. (John 6:14–15)

Not only was Jesus disinterested in political matters; he was disinterested in civil matters as well.

Someone in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me." Jesus replied, "Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?" (Luke 12:13–14)

The wages of sin are death,
but by the time
taxes are taken out,
it's just sort of a tired feeling.
Two of the most famous incidents of the New Testament show Jesus' attitude toward church and state. He was as opposed to state intervention by the church as he was to church intervention by the state.

When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, "Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father's house into a market!" (John 2:13–16)

Jesus felt so strongly that the temple should be used as "a house of prayer" and not be involved in material matters at all (even though the livestock was being sold for religious sacrifice and the money changers were there so foreigners could pay the temple tax), he resorted to physical violence. This is the only recorded incident of Jesus using physical violence.
There is nothing more intimate to the function of government than taxes. No taxes, no government. Among the Jews in Palestine at the time of Jesus, many (including some of his disciples) believed that if the Jews stopped paying taxes, the Romans would find it no longer profitable to stay in Judea and would leave. Israel would then be restored. Paying taxes, then, was far more controversial than it is even today. Nonetheless, Jesus' stand was firm. When asked whether Caesar's tax should be paid, Jesus answered,

"Show me the coin used for paying the tax." They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, "Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?" "Caesar's," they replied. Then he said to them, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's." When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away. (Matthew 22:19–22)

And what of the curious resemblances
between Protestant churches and
courts of law? The minister and
the judge wear the same black robe
and "throw the book" at those assembled
in pews and various kinds of boxes,
and both ministers and judges have
chairs of estate that are still,
in effect, thrones.
Alan Watts
That is the essence of the separation of church and state. It is one powerful group saying to another: You do what you do best, we'll do what we do best; and we'll leave each other alone.
For more than thirty years, the most heated issue surrounding the separation of church and state has been prayer in schools. The evangelicals would have us believe (as they do) that not allowing prayer in publicly funded schools is "anti-Christian." The religious right is demanding that prayer in schools be reinstated by a constitutional amendment. As a matter of fact, praying in public at all is against the teachings of Jesus:

"And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." (Matthew 6:5–6)

Jesus was opposed to public prayer of any kind. He prayed in public on very few occasions: his baptism, the Last Supper, and on the cross. Even when he prayed just prior to his arrest and Crucifixion, he did so in private:

Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, "Sit here while I go over there and pray." (Matthew 26:36)

When he prayed the Lord's Prayer, he did it as instruction on how to pray, not as a prayer itself. Of the more than sixty times in the Bible the words pray, prayer, or prayed are said by or descriptive of Jesus, only three relate to praying in public.

To justify Christian morality
because it provides
a foundation of morality,
instead of showing
the necessity of Christian morality
from the truth of Christianity,
is a very dangerous inversion.
Certainly public schools are among the least private places on earth, and Jesus is firmly on the side of the "infidels" when it comes to prayers not belonging in school.
It's also interesting to note that "so help me God" got tacked onto the presidential oath of office, even though the Constitution specifically does not include it. Surely Jesus would be happy that most civil courts, swearing-in ceremonies, and even the presidential oath of office include an acknowledgment of God and a request of his help. Not so.

"But I tell you, Do not swear at all. Simply let your `Yes' be `Yes,' and your `No,' `No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one." (Matthew 5:34, 37)

If, however, someone recommended that the next presidential inauguration eliminate the phrase, "so help me God," guess who the fundamentalists would say was in league with "the evil one"?
Our founding fathers had the good sense to follow the teachings of Jesus when it came to the separation of church and state. Would that we continue in the faith of our fathers.


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