When was the last time you examined the Old Testament?
I understand that's not the most popular part of the Bible. All that "Thou shall not" seems to make people pretty uncomfortable. And while Americans and humans in general tend to love violence and sex in every other book, it feels a tad out of place to many folks in the holy word of God. I get that, really I do.
But, I've been spending some time in the Old Testament, just picking books at random and reading until I'm finished. In my studies I've discovered two very important things. One, the God of the Old Testament displays all of the same qualities as the Jesus of the New Testament. For those scoring at home, that means he has always been incredibly merciful and loving. The second thing is that human beings really, really don't change.
The first point will have to wait for another post, , but I do want to say now that I found it to be the most inspiring part of my reading. The second point is the focus of this post, particularly how this truth was driven home in my mind. It wasn't the stories of rape, murder, lying and thieving that made me comprehend the immutable nature of humanity. Those things were simply the result of a larger problem. Basically, we humans are just incredibly and amazingly selfish.
Now some of you are shaking your heads, secure in the knowledge that you and those you know care about others and do good deeds whenever possible. You likely dislike Christianity's allegiance to the concept of a "fallen man" born into sin. I understand you, but I think you're missing the message. Just because humans often do good doesn't mean we're not selfish. And just because we behave unselfishly does not mean that selfishness isn't innate. Consider the fact that every parent must teach their children to share, not to hoard.
But I discuss our selfishness for another reason. Do you know what God spent most of his time chastising Israel about in the Old Testament? First on the list was their proclivity for embracing other gods simply because that was easier and more popular. And second, God was constantly angry because his people refused to care for the poor, injured and desperate in their midst. This refusal came despite his repeated orders, and despite their own desperate pleas for his mercy.
Quite simply, it is amazing how often God discusses poverty and our responsibility to help the poor. People assume that Jesus was preaching some radical gospel, but the reality is that his teachings were perfectly aligned with God had been telling Israel for thousands of years. Jesus was basically asking the Jews of his time "When are you going to start listening to me?"
Exactly how responsible Christians are to the poor has always been a sticking point. Remember Jesus at one point allowed a lavish sum of money to be spent on him and chastised those who questioned the decision by noting that the poor would always be around. Some have taken that admonishment as proof that God want's his children to live in opulence.
This is obvious in America where the mostly white political right has wrapped itself in the mantle of Christianity although white people on the left are far less comfortable with religion. (I use white people because black people and Latinos are way more likely to express strong religious beliefs and still vote for Democrats.) It seems those folks who identify most closely with God are the ones vehemently opposed to political policies that attempt to correct longstanding economic inequities. Honestly, that's just not biblical.
Did you know that God supported socialism? Not only did the early church practice a small scale form of socialism by selling all of their worldly goods to support each other, but God himself ordained wealth redistribution.
For more proof, do a Google search on the term "Year of Jubilee" and read about how God planned for all land acquired through honest and dishonest means to be returned to its original owners every 50 years to insure that poverty wouldn't last for generations. (There is no evidence that Israel ever practiced this God-ordained rule.) Look at God's views on eradicating slavery, and the use of predatory interest rates. The more you read the Bible, the more you realize that while God has definite standards related to personal behavior, he is most concerned about how you treat him and how you treat those in need.
But, humans aren't interested in that sort of God. It clashes with the feelings of those believers who prefer the bootstraps ethos to its extreme. It clashes with those non-believers who don't want anyone telling them how to live. Human beings want to do what they want to do, and they don't care who says anything different. There really is nothing new under the sun.