shared from and with BibleTexts.com users
Q&A #156 - Is exploring the Bible and early Christianity relevant to real needs today?
by Robert Nguyen Cramer
This BibleTexts website administrator has very much enjoyed questions and insights that have been emailed to him ever since this site was launched in September of 1996. On this page I share with BibleTexts browsers a few of the questions, insights, and responses, so that we all can further learn from and with each other.
I just saw your website and was astounded to see so many people discussing so many irrelevant topics. You people can't even agree on which Bible you believe to be the real word of God. With so much pain, illness, and suffering occurriing in the world now, why, oh why do you care who said what 3000 or more years ago? Who cares!
Please. please , please stop wasting your (and our) time debating these trivial, inconseqential topics. People die uselessly everyday. I think if you people and your "brothers" and "sisters" would devote one-third of the time you waste on these topics to actually trying to make a difference in someone else's life, some of you might actually get that bigger, heavier, jewel encrusted crown and bigger mansion on-high. After all that's what you folks are after. Correct? At least that is what your literature tells me. Just a thought.
P.S. Why have more people been persecuted, tortured, and killed in the "name" of God than any other cause ever known to man?
You ask some important and needed questions.
For the very reasons you yourself brought up in your email, many of the topics I discuss on BibleTexts.com are actually of crucial importance to both of us. They address issues that are very relevant to addressing the "pain, illness, and suffering occurring in the world now." I have family and close friends who are refugees from a variety of countries. I was 1000 feet away from the World Trade Center when the first airliner hit it on 9/11/01. Having spent a lot of time providing very practical assistance in prisons, in a refugee camp, in health care facilities, in homeless shelters, on city streets, in schools, in the homes of victims of abuse, and in many other places, I am very well aware of the suffering of our fellow humans and what needs to be done to relieve that suffering.
Unfortunately, many Christians not only care "who said what 3000 or more years ago," but most are still thinking and acting from the basis of coopted forms of Christian theology, practices, and organization, especially those that began to be launched by Emperor Constantine in 313 A.D. (See http://www.bibletexts.com/terms/313ad.htm.) Many of today's most religiously aligned politicians are reasserting a similar type of Constantinian-type Christianity that resulted in what you describe as "more people [having] been persecuted, tortured and killed in the 'name' of God than any other cause ever known to man."
One of the intents of BibleTexts.com is to provide the means for Christians to intelligently re-think Christianity and then act in ways that are consistent with the genuine motivation and practices of the earliest Christians. Due to the earliest Christians' love of God, their lives were dedicated in very practical ways to relieve "pain, illness, and suffering" -- and not only for Christians but for all who needed their help, including their enemies. They were completely against bearing arms and war, against capital punishment, against revenge, against charging interest on loans to the struggling poor, against religious talk without compassionate life, against proud self-righteousness, against the marginalization of women, of children, of the gender-challenged, of non-Jews, etc.
In the face of the religious restrictions preached and mandated by the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the priests, and the scribes, Jesus was inclusive. He was willing to regularly suffer the humiliation, mean-spirited insults, and physical persecution resulting from his associating with -- ministering to and being ministered to by -- those disenfranchised, repudiated, or despised by others. He ate and mingled with rich and poor, young and old, men and women, those self-assured of their righteousness and those who in the eyes of others were living sinfully, the conservative Jewish authorities and the more liberal masses, those religiously and ethnically similar (Jews) and those religiously, nationally, and/or ethnically dissimilar (Samaritans, Greeks, Romans), even those who had been labeled as anti-Roman terrorists (e.g., Simon Zelotes and possibly Judas Iscariot) and those who had been labeled as supporters of Roman occupation (e.g., Matthew, a.k.a. Levi). He also spent time with his critics. There are many lessons to be learned from this.
Yet today many politicians and clergy who condemn others for their lack of Christian values do much themselves to oppose historically authentic Christian values. Many are some of the strongest advocates for war and capital punishment. Many divide the American public and marginalize many of its citizens. Many are unwilling to take a stand against continuing ruthless practices (including slave trade) by subsidiaries of or close business partners of major US corporations on other continents. Many oppose women's equal participation in the church. Many show great disrespect and contempt for other cultures and religious communities. Many continue to promote expansion of US interests on religious and democratic principles, while the means they employ to achieve those interests betray such principles.
In the first three centuries before Constantine, Christianity spread so extensively throughout the Mediterranean and beyond, because it actually addressed and met the practical needs of real people. It made effective health care available to people who had no access to traditional health care. It enabled women to escape the male-dominated patriarchal systems of associating with others. It provided food and clothing to many who needed it, including to non-Christians.
It is of no value to be seeking any "jewel encrusted crown and bigger mansion on-high." With NO one excluded from his message or good news and looking not to some future salvation, Jesus said,
The Kingdom of God does not come in such a way as to be seen. No one will say, "Look, here it is!" or, "There it is!"; because the Kingdom of God is within you.
(Quoted from Luke 17:20-21. Similar sayings are found also in Gospel of Thomas 3:1-3, Gospel of Thomas 113, Dialog of the Savior 9:3, Gospel of Mary 4:4-5.)
Informing the Christian public of early Christianity's genuine history, practices, and theology helps take away some of the places behind which non-authentic, exploitative, and/or nationalistic religious rhetoric currently hide. Regardless of your religious beliefs or lack thereof, correcting these public misrepresentations is something worth supporting.
Copyright 1996-2005 Robert Nguyen Cramer