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LJWorld.com weblogs Science Becoming Religion

The Real Sin of Sodom

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I recently watched an old episode of my mom's favorite television show, the "Billy Graham Crusades". Dr. Graham surprised me with some of his comments about the Biblical city of Sodom. He said that greed was one of the sins of the people of Sodom. According to Ezekiel 16:49 - "Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy."

Many members of the Republican Party have a problem with this same sin. So why do Christians in the Republican Party encourage this sin by supporting low taxes for those with high incomes? Why do Christians support Republicans who don't believe in helping the poor?

Sodom isn't the only Biblical location whose residents were punished by God for mistreating the poor. The Israeli prophets warned the leaders of Israel about the consequences of mistreating the poor before wealthy Israelites were taken into captivity and the land left to the poor.

Ezekiel 22:12 - "you take interest and make a profit from the poor. You extort unjust gain from your neighbors. And you have forgotten me, declares the Sovereign LORD."

Amos 4:1 - "Hear this word, you cows of Bashan on Mount Samaria, you women who oppress the poor and crush the needy and say to your husbands, “Bring us some drinks!”

Amos 5:11 - "You levy a straw tax on the poor and impose a tax on their grain. Therefore, though you have built stone mansions, you will not live in them; though you have planted lush vineyards, you will not drink their wine."

Luke and other gospels carry a statement by Jesus about the problem facing the rich. " Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God." Luke 18:24-5

Preachers often suggest the camel analogy is about something large going through a tight opening. The analogy is more likely a camel saying like the "straw that broke the camel's back" or what happens if someone lets a camel get its head inside a tent. People of that era likely used the task of getting a camel through the eye of a needle as a way to determine how difficult the task was.

The problem with getting a camel through the eye of a needle is the shape of the animal and its sometimes uncooperative nature. The long neck, legs and hump means the task isn't simple even with a very large needle. Keep in mind that a needle has a long portion connected to the eye.

Christian Republicans need to recognize that abortion and sexual morality aren't the only moral issues in politics. Mistreatment of the poor and how the rich acquire wealth are at least as important. Christians need to move away from the greedy Republicans who believe the rich should escape the taxes needed to fund government.

Comments

Cait McKnelly 2 years, 5 months ago

Many years ago I heard a lecture from a Biblical scholar that the camel/needle analogy was actually a mistranslation dating all the way back to the King James version of the Bible. The actual translation is supposed to be that it's easier for a rope to go through the eye of a needle (which actually makes more sense as an analogy than a camel and is just as impossible). It points up some of the frailties of that particular book. You can guarantee that if there was one mistranslation, there are at least a hundred and possibly thousands more. No matter what anyone says, the Bible is far from "infallible". That said, I think you need to understand a pretty basic truth. The "Christian right" is neither "Christian" nor "right" (morally or politically). If you accept that premise I think you will be well on the road to having a lot of your questions answered.

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dlkrm 2 years, 5 months ago

That story you heard is not true.

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Kathy Getto 2 years, 5 months ago

If memory serves me, the word for camel and rope in Aramaic are very similar. Cait is right that there are many mistranslations to this book of stories.

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Kirk Larson 2 years, 5 months ago

As I was told, there are no vowels in the old Aramaic writing. Dots around the consonants depict vowels. One additional dot turns "camel" into "rope".

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Fossick 2 years, 5 months ago

"the word for camel and rope in Aramaic are very similar."

Yep, so it's a good thing the NT was written in Koine Greek where such fanciful confusions are not a problem.

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TopJayhawk 2 years, 5 months ago

There are some minor mistranslations also in the New Testament. Remember, in the old Greek, context drives meaning.
Who is the speaker? Who is the audience? What is their lens of perception based on their experiences? What were the politics at the time? What were the daily minutia of life? And where people get into trouble with the old Greek is when they use an abridged lexicon. You must use an unabridged lexicon, and do word searches based on the above. But when minor hiccups in translation are worked out, it does not change the meaning, it only adds depth and flavor to the teachings that just don't translate easily into English.

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TopJayhawk 2 years, 5 months ago

You must also remember that the Bible does not use the same definition of the poor and the "least among us."
These were the folks that are mentally and physically handicapped, those that have no families to care for them. This does not include illegal immigrants We are commanded to follow the laws of the Country as long as they do not interfere with God's laws. It does not include those that are lazy and choose to be on the Government dole. "Those that do not work should not eat." Really, it's in there.

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Cait McKnelly 2 years, 5 months ago

Ahhh so now the justifications come pouring out. One of Paul's letters (that same man who never actually, physically met Jesus but managed to hijack the early church and turn it into something Christ never intended.) I guess the story of the loaves and fishes needed some "Christian right wing" spin.

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TopJayhawk 2 years, 5 months ago

Cait. You never cease to amaze me. You always make accusations you can't back up, and make no sense. You are rationalizing for some reason. You know more than all the scholars combined?
What are your sources oh enlightened one? Take a lortab Cait and go to bed. Paul was the man. And he was picked by Jesus about thirty years after the ascention. Or was that just some other dude who made that one up?

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asixbury 2 years, 5 months ago

Cait was right about Paul never actually physically meeting Jesus. He was already dead long before Saul became Paul.

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TopJayhawk 2 years, 5 months ago

Cait. You never cease to amaze me. You always make accusations you can't back up, and make no sense. You are rationalizing for some reason. You know more than all the scholars combined?
What are your sources oh enlightened one? Take a lortab Cait and go to bed. Paul was the man. And he was picked by Jesus about thirty years after the ascention. Or was that just some other dude who made that one up?

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asixbury 2 years, 5 months ago

Also, Mary Magdalene's descriptor was changed to mean "witch" or "prostitute." In the original text, she was simply a single female friend. (Per the department chairman of theology at KWU.)

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jhwkchick09 2 years, 5 months ago

The phrase "eye of a needle" is also used to described a very short and narrow passage way through the walls of a city. A camel would have no chance of getting through there.

It's all about cultural context

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Fossick 2 years, 5 months ago

FTW.

"I heard somewhere once" FTL.

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jafs 2 years, 5 months ago

A lecture from a Biblical scholar was the original statement.

I have a Bible translated from Arameic that makes the same claim, that the words for rope and camel are very similar, and that rope is the more accurate translation.

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jafs 2 years, 5 months ago

I just report the claim.

George M. Lamsa's translation of the Peshi**a, page xvi. They won't let me use the word because of the expletive contained in it.

Thanks for the spelling correction - I thought I misspelled that.

Intuitively, it makes more sense for a rope to not pass through the eye of a needle - why would anyone mention a camel in that context?

Unless of course eye of a needle refers to the passage into a city, as mentioned above.

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jayhawklawrence 2 years, 5 months ago

The problem I have with your comment is that you start out by criticizing the Bible as the foundation of your argument to criticize the "Christian right".

The problem with this tact is that you first insult or attack the faith of Christians and in doing so you basically become the proof for why Christians who are defensive about their faith will side with the Republicans. People like you guarantee that the Christian Right will always stay to the far right no matter how far right it moves.

It makes it more difficult for Christians who may be moderates to try to excuse attacks on Christianity by those who appear to represent Democrats. In my view this is one of the main reasons to explain the success of a dunce like Santorum.

As long as there are anti-Christians attacking the Republican Party by attacking the Bible, our politics will continue to be even more polarized than it is today. Christians will simply hold their noses and vote Republican.

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Reason McLucus 2 years, 5 months ago

Very good point. the situation works both ways. Women's groups should have sided with Terri Schiavo when her unfaithful husband wanted the courts to allow her to be starved to death. Michael Shiavo had fathered two children by another woman and shouldn't have been allowed to decide her fate. His attorney was essentially arguing that a woman becomes her husband property when she marries and thus he has sole authority to decide her fate even if he violates the marriage contract.

Instead women's groups sided with Michael because "right to life" groups supported Terri.

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ModerateOne 2 years, 5 months ago

Reasonmclucus, you harm your cause by either (a) intentionally implying, (b) unintentionally implying, or (c) believing that the following two rhetorical questions are functionally synonymous, when in fact they are not:

"So why do Christians in the Republican Party encourage this sin by supporting low taxes for those with high incomes? Why do Christians support Republicans who don't believe in helping the poor?"

Low taxes for the rich are not a sin. Failing to help the poor is.

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somedude20 2 years, 5 months ago

The point, I believe, is that the rich, who already have lots, are going to get lots more due to tax breaks that help them but make the poor poorer. The poor will be paying for/ making up the difference on the breaks that the rich get

So lowering taxes for the rich when it comes at the expense of the poor is a sin, is what Reasonmclucus is saying.
Anyone have a cheez-it?

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Cait McKnelly 2 years, 5 months ago

No cheez-its but I have some root beer. Want some?

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booyalab 2 years, 5 months ago

"You levy a straw tax on the poor and impose a tax on their grain. Therefore, though you have built stone mansions, you will not live in them; though you have planted lush vineyards, you will not drink their wine."

Whoops, looks like you accidentally included a verse that explicitly argues against heavy taxation.

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jafs 2 years, 5 months ago

No liberals or Democrats are calling for heavy taxation of the poor.

Republicans are the only ones who seem to like that idea.

This letter is about mistreatment of the poor.

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Liberty275 2 years, 5 months ago

Next time, quote "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" instead. It will be as irrelevant as anything in the bible, but it will be more entertaining.

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jhawkinsf 2 years, 5 months ago

Perhaps. But if the tax money is then used for charity, then it is what it is.
I guess you could also say that taxation is not schools, or the military. But if the taxes are then used for schools or the military, what else would you call it?

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jhawkinsf 2 years, 5 months ago

As does charity.
The point is still the same. If my tax money is going to support charity, then my tax money is supporting charity.

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Christine Anderson 2 years, 5 months ago

Finally, someone had the courage to say it. Thank You, author.

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jayhawklawrence 2 years, 5 months ago

Good letter.

Someone needed to answer the right wing technique of putting themselves in the position to "appear" as defenders of the Bible and all that is moral and good against the attack from the carnal and immoral Democrats.

This argument is effective in convincing the undecided that the Democrats are dangerous and don't care about our traditional values.

The reality is that there are good Democrats and good Republicans and both parties work hard to control their extremist minorities. Recently, the Republicans have been less than successful doing so.

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headdoctor 2 years, 5 months ago

The Republicans are the modern version of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Although I think they are more of a hybrid of the two.

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Armstrong 2 years, 5 months ago

Ah the selfrighteous left patting themselves on the back- again.

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Fossick 2 years, 5 months ago

"Take the prefix "RE" which means again and add it to the front end of the word "publican" and what you get is a re..publican."

Oh, such a sad commentary on American education. Does "research" mean "to search again"? Not at all. Does "relax "mean "to lax again"? Um, no. Does "respite" mean "to spite again"? Nope. Well then apparently "Re-" does not necessarily mean "again."

So then your commentary is either ignorant or the saddest of partisan BS. I'll let you pick. Someone with such great a command of Latin as you have demonstrated surely deserves the benefit of the doubt.

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deec 2 years, 5 months ago

a prefix, occurring originally in loanwords from Latin, used with the meaning “again” or “again and again” to indicate repetition, or with the meaning “back” or “backward” to indicate withdrawal or backward motion: regenerate; refurbish; retype; retrace; revert. Also, red-. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/re- 1350–1400; Middle English relaxen < Latin relaxāre to stretch out again, loosen, equivalent to re- re- + laxāre to loosen, derivative of laxus slack, lax 1595–1605; < French république, Middle French < Latin rēs pūblica, equivalent to rēs thing, entity + pūblica public 1570–80; (v.) < Middle French recercher to seek, Old French, equivalent to re- re- + cercher to search; (noun) < Middle French recerche 1200–50; (noun) Middle English respit < Old French < Latin respectus ( see respect); (v.) Middle English respiten < Old French respitier < Latin respectāre, frequentative of respicere to look back; see respect

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Fossick 2 years, 5 months ago

Ah, my good man, you should research a little deeper, and I do not mean search again:

research Word Origin & History 1577, "act of searching closely," from M.Fr. recerche (1539), from O.Fr. recercher "seek out, search closely," from re-, intensive prefix, + cercher "to seek for" (see search). Meaning "scientific inquiry" is first attested 1639. Phrase research and development is recorded from 1923. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/research?s=t

"Re-" also exists as an "intensive prefix," meaning to do something completely. Thus when we research, we search completely.

Even in cases where Re- is used as a repetition prefix, once cannot simply attach it to an English word. That was the point of the five questio...er, three questions.

Besides, "publican" as you know from your own research is a Roman tax collector, with no moral judgment attached. All Mikekt is really doing is accusing the Republicans of collecting taxes again. Which is ironic considering that one of the main accusations against them is that they do not collect taxes enough.

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headdoctor 2 years, 5 months ago

Of course they are interested in the golden rule. Just not the one you are thinking of. Their idea is the one with the gold makes the rules.

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Fossick 2 years, 5 months ago

"Christianity states that 'you' should give 10% of GROSS to 'God'".

Not so much. While I'll confess that this hard number is preferred by certain Christian preachers because it makes budgeting easier, Paul said clearly that, "Let every man give as he decides in his heart. But not grudgingly or of necessity, for God loves one who gives cheerfully" 2 Cor 9:7 (Fossick's translation)"

That said, neither administration nor defense are God's work. Combining government and the church is the common error of Augustine, Torquemada, and the modern liberal. However, error it remains.

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jafs 2 years, 5 months ago

Modern liberals aren't the ones who want to combine those - modern conservatives are, as far as I can tell.

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Fossick 2 years, 5 months ago

In one sense you are correct, Jafs, as the modern conservative is happy (although not alone) to use government to enforce morality. However, if you find someone who argues that the government must provide something to someone because Jesus said something, or talks about tax rates using biblical referents, that person is almost guaranteed to be a liberal.

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jafs 2 years, 5 months ago

Yes.

But they're doing that, as you know, to nudge Christians into being consistent with their own beliefs, and not be hypocritical.

If the right wing Christians advocate for the combination of church and state, the liberals are simply pointing out that their own beliefs aren't aligned with that in many cases.

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Fossick 2 years, 5 months ago

Jafs: the liberals are simply pointing out that their own beliefs aren't aligned with that in many cases."

I think your time frame is too short. You are certainly correct about certain liberals today (though I would argue that non-Christian liberals have as much expertise in what Christians ought to believe as Creationists have for biologists). However, the argument that the government has a primary obligation to care for the poor - to pick one example - is not a new one and is certainly no reaction to Santorum, but is the providence of the 19th-Century reformer and the 20th century social gospel. It was Progressives who at the time promoted the merger of state governments with what had traditionally been church functions by arguing as modern religious liberals do, that Jesus said to feed the poor, therefore it's incumbent on us to feed the poor through government. They were generally theologically liberal as well. Fundamentalism itself is a reaction to the Social Gospel and the various modernist movements, not the precursor of them.

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jafs 2 years, 5 months ago

I have to defer on historical questions, since I'm not an historian.

But, as far as non-Christians having no expertise on Christianity, I'd have to disagree. One doesn't have to be a practicing member of a Christian church to notice the selectivity of religious believers - in fact, it often helps to be an "outsider" to do that.

And, I have to wonder about fundamentalism - I'm pretty sure that exists in most religions and in most time frames as well.

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Reason McLucus 2 years, 5 months ago

Actually it dates from the Law of Moses. Technically Israel didn't really have a government initially. However, the Law of Moses required assistance to the poor, in large part by saying the farmers shouldn't try to thoroughly harvest their crops. Instead they should leave something in the fields for the poor to harvest.

Rome's government used "bread and circuses" to provide for the poor although it was more because of concerns about the large numbers of people drawn into the city causing trouble.

Prior to that Egypt in the time of Joseph had assisted those having trouble finding food because of a prolonged drought.

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Fossick 2 years, 5 months ago

I was speaking specifically of the American government. As there's nothing in the Constitution (and little in the first century of its use) concerning the government being responsible for the plight of the poor, it's obvious that our current focus arose later.

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Fossick 2 years, 5 months ago

fundamentalism noun 1. ( sometimes initial capital letter ) a movement in American Protestantism that arose in the early part of the 20th century in reaction to modernism and that stresses the infallibility of the Bible not only in matters of faith and morals but also as a literal historical record, holding as essential to Christian faith belief in such doctrines as the creation of the world, the virgin birth, physical resurrection, atonement by the sacrificial death of Christ, and the Second Coming. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/fundamentalism.

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jafs 2 years, 5 months ago

Ok - that's a more narrow definition.

There are many in many religions who hold similar rigid beliefs - I'd call them all "fundamentalists".

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Fossick 2 years, 5 months ago

But it's also the basic and bedrock definition of the word. The word itself is less than 100 years old. When modernists tried to create a Christianity based on good works rather than theology, Torrey and Dixon wrote a book called "The Fundamentals" in response. Those who held to the five theological bases of the book called themselves "fundamentalists." The word simply did not exist before that.

So while you would call others "fundamentalists," please understand that you are imposing modern Christian paradigms and expectations on prior ages and other religions. The word carries a 'rigid' connotation because opponents of fundamentalism viewed Christian fundamentalists as rigid. It may or my not fit someone else.

FWIW, I am one who considers "Islamic fundamentalist" an oxymoron, mostly because I respect my own ignorance when it comes to Islam, but also because I recognize the ignorance of most Americans who talk about it.

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jafs 2 years, 5 months ago

My dictionary has:

fundamentalism - 2. A movement or attitude stressing strict and literal adherence to a set of basic principles.

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Fossick 2 years, 5 months ago

Jafs: "A lecture from a Biblical scholar was the original statement."

Sure, but it makes no sense as it stands. Whether it is "a mistranslation dating all the way back to the King James version of the Bible" is irrelevant, as the KJV is not the basis for any modern translation. Translations before the KJV all translate the Greek κάμηλος as camel, and all manuscripts so far as I know have κάμηλος. People forget there are 1600 years' worth of textual evidence that predate King Jimmy.

Cait as picked up a speculation (which is what camel/rope is, as there is no textual evidence for it in early Greek manuscripts) which she did not comprehend and attached it to an historical item to which it has no relevance. She may have heard a scholar mention facts in isolation, but her resultant misunderstanding translates to "I heard somewhere once..."

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Fossick 2 years, 5 months ago

FWIW, here's a decent explanation as to why, even in addition to the overwhelming textual evidence, Camel is correct:

(from a source)

Jewish Talmudic literature uses a similar aphorism about an elephant passing through the eye of a needle as a figure of speech implying the unlikely or impossible:

"They do not show a man a palm tree of gold, nor an elephant going through the eye of a needle."4

This first instance concerned dreams and their interpretation and suggested that men only dream that which is natural or possible, not that which is unlikely ever to have occurred to them.

"… who can make an elephant pass through the eye of a needle."5

In this case, the illustration concerns a dispute between two rabbis, one of whom suggests that the other is speaking "things which are impossible".

The camel was the largest animal seen regularly in Israel, whereas in regions where the Babylonian Talmud was written, the elephant was the biggest animal. Thus the aphorism is culturally translated from a camel to an elephant in regions outside of Israel. http://www.biblicalhebrew.com/nt/camelneedle.htm

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xm75 2 years, 5 months ago

The Bible says a lot of nonsensical things, and if you believe it as written one thing you'd have to accept is young earth creationism.

Aside from the literalism I find it interesting that you equate giving money to the government with giving money to poor people. Why the middle man, or rather, why the diversion? Remember the military, the $3000 Social Security checks, and the Medicare Ins. to the same people collecting the S.S. checks. Are these the poor? What about the people around the world living on a $1 per day. The US government does not help the poor.

Someone following this idea of helping the poor, based on the Bible, and not secular humanism, will run into the personal requirement to actually help the poor yourself not as a group requirement.

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cashbox 2 years, 5 months ago

One thing is sure, according to the Bible teachings it is impossible to be both Christian and Republican. Their philosophy id diametrically opposed.

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Fossick 2 years, 5 months ago

And this, Jafs, is why I respectfully disagree that "it often helps to be an 'outsider'" to determine whether Christians are living up to their own rules. Cashbox hasn't the faintest idea what the bible teaches, yet speaks as if these issues were cut-and-dried. As you know, I'm not a Republican, but I am Christian enough to realize that Dems and Repubs both are dedicated to political power, and so neither has very much at all to do with Christianity. To argue that one cannot be Christian and Republican is as reasonable as arguing that one cannot be French and Christian, black and Christian, or left-handed and Christian. One can make the same argument that a man cannot be Democrat and Christian, for they are not remotely the same thing.

The outsider is generally ignorant of what Christianity is and demands (in fairness, so are many Christians). They say, "Judge not," as if Jesus was speaking universally, not realizing Jesus also said, "Why do you not judge what is right?" (Mt. 12:57) and "Judge with righteous judgment" (Jn. 7:24). Jesus does not condemn judges at 4H nor the Ninth Circuit Court. His command was not universal, but contextual. 'Outsiders' interpret that as "contradiction," but it's merely exposing the extent of their ignorance.

But XM75 is correct in saying that "Someone following this idea of helping the poor, based on the Bible ...will run into the personal requirement to actually help the poor yourself not as a group requirement." That is absolutely correct, and the reason why the Social Gospel fails and the liberal Christian fails. When Jesus said,"Go and do likewise," he was not talking to Caesar, George Washington,or Nancy Pelosi." Jesus never demanded that government do anything. He was talking to his followers individually.

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jafs 2 years, 5 months ago

I didn't say "always".

Some Christians (although not the majority, it seems to me) are well versed in the Bible, and in their beliefs.

But, there are many who simply ignore passages they find uncomfortable, and create a belief system based on selectivity - in fact, given the various complexities and conflicts in the Bible, there may not be any other way to arrive at a consistent set of beliefs.

Kuhn talked of paradigms and anomalies - this is the way in which outsiders can often see things that believers don't see.

In broad terms, it seems clear to me that the philosophy preached by Jesus is not consistent with the philosophy preached by right wing Republicans.

And, although you're right, of course, that he was preaching to individuals, a society is simply a collection of individuals working together.

By the way, I have to wonder about why this thread has become so detail-oriented - I imagine it may have to do with the challenging nature of the passages discussed. If one takes seriously the passage about a rich man, that would challenge some fundamental aspirations and goals of many people in our society.

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