Friday, October 28, 2016

Hypocrites, or Hissyfit Jesus versus Vulcan Jesus

I was talking online with a Christian who believes in Tough Love Jesus, which left me thinking about the Biblical Jesus calling people hypocrites. If you believe the word is an insult, it doesn't belong in the mouth of a teacher who said the greatest commandments are to love God and to love people.

That got me thinking about Hissyfit Jesus, the Jesus many Christians believe in, the furious man who rages at Pharisees and Sadduccees because they won't follow him. That's a comforting Jesus for angry and self-righteous people.

But "hypocrite" is only an insult when it's spoken in anger. It's a precise word: it means your words and deeds don't mesh. Hypocrites consist of two groups, those who lie to others and those who lie to themselves. The first group aren't actually offended by the word; they're terrified of being exposed, so they act indignant to deny the charge. The second group aren't actually offended either, though they may believe they are. Their anger comes from cognitive dissonance—they believe it's right for them to have their privileges because they're sure they're good people who do what privileged people are supposed to do to be considered good people. The only way for them to keep their comforting illusions is to rage at anyone who tries to shake them into seeing the world.

If I was writing a Jesus story, he would speak to Pharisees and Sadduccees like Star Trek's Spock. He would simply tell them that hypocrites live in worlds of their own making, so if they hope to become the people they think they are, the first step is rejecting the illusion they love.

In the Gospels, Jesus never applies "tough love" to the poor, but he constantly applies it to the rich. He tells the rich young man who wants to study with him to do what his other students did and share his wealth with the poor. The young man can't and goes away. But the story includes a bit of hope for all rich people. After the young man leaves, Jesus says all things are possible with God.

That doesn't mean God gives a pass to some rich people—the Gospels don't have any examples of that. They only tell of rich people who know they must share. They fall into two groups. Some, like Zacchaeus the tax collector, follow John the Baptist's teaching to give half of what you have to the poor. The ones who follow Jesus's teaching share everything.

The log in a hypocrite's eye makes them see anyone who tries to remove it as angry or jealous or any of the many things rich people call those who suggest there's no virtue in hoarding wealth while people suffer. If I wrote a Jesus story, I wouldn't change the traditional interpretation of Sadduccees and Pharisees leaving in a righteous huff.