Monday, February 26, 2007

Did Judas Really Betray Jesus?

Many modern biblical scholars and theologians make arguments that the Judas betrayal story in the New Testament was a later addition to the developing Jesus saga, and was not a real event in Jesus's life. To support this assertion, scholars point to several facts.

To start, no one is quite sure what the word "Iscariot" refers to. Normally, the suffix "iot" would have implied that Judas was from a placed called Iscaria. "Iot" is a suffix akin to "ian" or "ite". However, no such ancient town or village is known to have existed.

A more popular suggestion is that "Iscariot" was a reference to the Sicarii, which were a group of assassins in 1st century Judea intent on driving the Romans out of Jewish lands. In her book "Mary Called Magdalene," Margaret George abides by this theory and fictionalizes Judas as a Sicarii who is drawn in among the followers of Jesus.

The problem with this theory is that the Sicarii didn't seem to appear until about 50 C.E., 20 years after the events of Jesus's death. Judas, therefore, couldn't have been a Sicarii, unless the term was applied perjoratively to him later.

It is possible that Judas was a fictional character all together. The 12 apostles included 3 men named Judas...Judas son of James, Judas Iscariot, and Judas Thomas Didymus. Judas Thomas is more commonly known as just Thomas, and Judas the son of James (i.e. St. Jude) is also called Thaddeus, and sometimes Judas the Zealot. This last reference could imply a link with the Iscarii argument - perhaps Judas the Zealot and Judas Iscariot (the Iscarii) were the same person.

In addition to the problems of Judas's identity, there are numerous textural indications that the betrayal story was legendary in nature.

The earliest documents in the New Testament are the letters of Paul. Nowhere in Paul's letters does he ever refer to Jesus's arrest and crucifixion resulting from a betrayal, by Judas or anyone else. He never mentions Judas by name, and he never mentions any sort of betrayal story.

Furthermore, and perhaps even more significantly, Paul specifically refers to an appearance of the resurrected Jesus to "Peter and then to the 12." That's an important line, because, according to the betrayal stories, Judas killed himself after the betrayal, and thus Jesus's appearance were "to the 11" (see Matthew 28:16, Mark 16:14, Luke 24:9, and Luke 24:33 for references to "the 11). By stating that the resurrected Jesus appeared "to the 12," Paul is making it clear that he was not aware of any betrayal story, or any concept that Judas wasn't still with "the 12" when Jesus was resurrected.

Additionally, the details of the betrayal vary wildly among the gospels.

Mark, the first gospel, says Judas decided to betray Jesus. Jesus then predicts, during the Last Supper, that he will be betrayed, but doesn't say by whom. Judas then brings the soldiers to the Garden of Gesthemene and betrays Jesus with a kiss. Judas is never mentioned again by Mark.

In Matthew, the second gospel, written some 10-15 years after Mark, the writer adds in the 30 silver pieces detail. This is the only gospel to mention 30 silver pieces. Additionally, Jesus specifically calls Judas out at the Last Supper and names him as the betrayer. He then later describes Judas as being torn with remorse, giving the money back, and hanging himself. The writer says that the Jews took the money and used it to buy a potter's field, in order to bury foreigners. This, he says, fulfilled a prophecy in Jeremiah that talks about buying a potters field with 30 pieces of silver. Clearly (to my mind, anyway) Matthew added these details on his own, in an effort to argue that Jesus's life fulfilled scripture - which is something he does again and again in his gospel.

Luke, the third gospel, says that "Satan entered" Judas, causing him to betray Jesus. At the Last Supper, Jesus does a lot of talking, but does not predict any betrayal by anyone. When Judas leads the guards to Jesus, he tries to kiss Jesus, but Jesus stops him and asks him if he's betraying him with a kiss. Jesus is then arrested. Judas is never mentioned again in Luke's gospel. However, the same writer wrote Acts, and in Acts, Judas is described as going and purchasing a field, and then falling there headlong. In doing so, his body burst open and his intestines spilled out.

The final gospel, John, also states that the "devil prompted" Judas to betray Jesus. Jesus then predicts his betrayal, and names Judas specifically. In John's version, Jesus then tell Judas to go do what he has to do, and Judas leaves the gathering. Jesus then goes on to give about 4 chapters' worth of teachings, there at the table. After the supper, Judas leads the guards to Jesus, and Jesus surrenders himself without Judas doing anything -- no kiss, no nothing. Judas is not mentioned again by John.

So for details, you have the following:

- All 4 gospels agree that Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus (which is about the only thing they agree on).

- 2 gospels say Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss. 1 gospel says Judas tried to kiss Jesus, but Jesus stopped him. 1 gospel says Jesus gave himself up willingly, and Judas doesn't even attempt to kiss him.

- 2 gospels say Jesus specifically named Judas as his betrayer at the Last Supper. 1 gospels says Jesus predicted he would be betrayed, but did not name who. 1 gospel says nothing about a prediction by Jesus.

- 3 gospels say Judas betrayed Jesus for money. 1 of those gospels goes on to specify 30 silver pieces. 1 gospel does not say anything at all about money being involved, and instead implies Judas did it because the devil made him.

- 3 gospels imply Judas remained at the Lord's Supper until they all left. 1 gospel says he got up and left after Jesus named him as the betrayer.

- 2 gospels say nothing about what happened to Judas after the betrayal. 1 gospel says Judas was torn with guilt, gave the money back, and committed suicide by hanging himself. The money he gave back was then used by the Jews to buy a potter's field. 1 gospel says nothing about Judas feeling guilty, giving the money back, or committing suicide, but instead implies that Judas used the money to buy a potter's field himself, then had an accident in the field and died a horrible death in which his body burst open.

Some apologists might argue that the varying details prove it is a real story -- eyewitnesses, after all, always have different memories (Lee Strobel argues this point in his book "The Case for Christ"). The problem with this argument is that these same apologists don't question the memories of these writers at all when recording the details of Jesus's teachings, etc. If God inspired the words of the bible - as evangelicals prolciam - then God could have gotten the details about Judas's betrayal right.

The final point scholars make is one that I find very intriguing and interesting. The argument is that Judas's very name suggests mythological and metaphorical origins for the betrayal story.

The names Jude and Judas are etymologically equivalent to the name of the Jewish nation -- Judah, or Judea. Thus, Judas, with a name representing the entire nation of the Jews, was filled with Satan and betrayed and rejected Jesus. Considering the Christian perception that the callous Jews rejected Jesus, how convenient that the betrayer of Jesus was named for the Jewish nation.

To put this point in perspective, imagine if someone in central Missouri began preaching against the oppressiveness of the American political system. He began traveling around the country with a large retinue, teaching that Americans were fat, greedy, self-centered, and spiritually empty. He spoke out against the authority of the American government. Eventually, the government began to take notice of him and decided he needed to be jailed, to stop his damaging movement. They enlisted one of his closest companions to betray him so that they could arrest him. This companion just happened to be named none other than AMERICUS. Who could be more patriotic, loyal, and representative of American values than someone named AMERICUS, and who more appropriate to betray this anti-American leader than someone named AMERICUS?

Thus, Judas's very name seems almost too convenient to assume that the betrayal stories are entirely, if at all, accurate.

As for my personal beliefs, I think Judas was probably a real person, perhaps someone who fell out of favor with the disciples after Jesus's death, and then later became a scapegoat and the subject of betrayal legends. I also wonder if his name was actually Judas, and not something else.

Friday, February 16, 2007

New Rush Album

Antlantic Records has announced that Rush's new album, Snakes & Arrows, will be released on May 1st. A single from the album, titled "Far Cry", will be released to the radio on March 19th.

A very short "teaser" of Far Cry is available on Rush's website (see the link on the left side of the page).

This 10-second teaser doesn't give you much, but it certainly allows you to hear that A) the sound quality is superb, which is important considering all the problems with sound quality on their 2002 Vapor Trails album, and B)the style of the song (and possibly the whole album) is similar to some of their older sounds - syncopated rhythms with unusual time signatures (7/8, 11/12, etc.) - and also pretty heavy. The clip, in fact, sounds quite a lot like passages in 1980's Jacob's Ladder and 1979's Hemispheres.

In interviews, and on their websites, the band members have said that the album's theme is spirituality and belief. The title, then, makes sense, since Snakes & Arrows is an ancient Hindu game charting the ups and downs of the soul's journey towards its reunion with the Great All.

This new album is particularly exciting for me for several reasons. First, many of you know that I am very interested in religion and spirituality, for both academic and religious reasons. So the content of this album should be right up my alley. Secondly, this is the first Rush studio album of new material that I have had the pleasure of "anticipating" prior to its release.

I didn't start getting really interested in Rush until about late 2001 and 2002. Their last new studio album of new material was released around that same time, but I did not buy it until probably 2003 or early 2004. By 2004, my Rush obsession was in full swing, and Rush did have a new album out that year, but it was all remake material of 1960's rock songs. So it wasn't original, new material.

So I am anticipating this new album greatly, and my appetite is even stronger now that I've had a glimpse, through that teaser clip, of what the new album is going to be like.

May 1st can't get here soon enough!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Tragedy of Lady Jane Grey


Lady Jane Grey, in a 17th century painting

Dawn broke on a London sky heavy with clouds on the morning of February 12, 1554. The city lay cloaked beneath a miasma of light drizzle, which wetted the cobblestones and kept the streets quiet and forlorn. An eastern wind blew frigid off the English Channel, rattling the bare branches of the copper beeches.*

Inside her rooms in the Tower of London, Jane Grey must have felt as cold and dreary as the weather outside her window.


The Tower of London in a 16th century sketch

Sometime in the late morning, a horse-drawn cart trundled by on the paving stones below, carrying the mortal remains of her husband, whose head had been parted from his body only moments earlier at the public execution site at Tower Hill. Earlier in the morning, she had watched him walk by her window, sobbing.

Determined not to lose her dignity, she held back her emotions as the executioners came to her room to escort her to Tower Green. On the orders of Queen Mary, she was to have a private execution – a singular honor for someone doomed to die. Her face was pale, but she was otherwise composed as she was led to the place where she would lose her head.


Tower Green - The execution spot is in the lower right hand corner

As she walked across the grass of Tower Green, staring at the scaffold which stood in the center – the same scaffold that had taken the heads of two wives of her great Uncle, Henry VIII – she must have wondered at the disturbing turn of events that had led to her arrival at such a notorious spot.

Called by a modern British historian “one of the finest female minds of the century,” Lady Jane Grey was born near Leicester at Bradgate Park in central England.


Deer in Bradgate Park

Her mother, Frances Brandon, was the granddaughter of Henry VII through his youngest daughter, making Jane a direct descendent of the founder of the Tudor dynasty.

Frances Brandon has been characterized as a strong and domineering mother who showed little affection to her children. Because of this lack of maternal love, Jane poured herself into scholarship**, mastering many languages, including Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, and becoming a devoted Protestant.

In March of 1547, at the age of 9, Jane was sent to live with her great Aunt, Catherine Parr, who was the sixth and final wife of Henry VIII. Henry had just died a few months earlier, and Catherine was now a dowager queen. Queen Catherine showed Jane the maternal love that she had never received from her own mother, but it was not to last long, as Catherine died in childbirth less than two years later (she had remarried in April of 1547, only 3 months after Henry’s death).

An attempt was made to marry Jane to Edward VI, who had succeeded his father to the throne of England. Edward and Jane were the same age and were second cousins. Edward, however, was sickly and not in good health, and because of this and other personal reasons, he rejected the proposal to marry his cousin. Jane was then offered to Guildford Dudley, the son of Edward’s chief advisor, John Dudley (since Edward was only a child when he ascended to the throne, his rule was mediated by a regency council, of which John Dudley was the head). Though Jane was opposed to this marriage, she consented under pressure and Jane and Guildford were married on the Ides of May, 1553.

Edward VI, like his cousin Jane, was a Protestant. John Dudley – Jane’s new father-in-law and Edward’s Lord Protector – was also a Protestant and had grown wealthy after Henry VIII had disbanded the Catholic monasteries and distributed their income and properties to his supporters. When it became apparent, during 1553, that the sickly teenage king would not live to adulthood, Dudley led a not-so-private campaign to ensure that Edward’s older sister Mary – who was a staunch Catholic – did not ascend to the throne. Dudley, like the other Protestant nobles, knew that Mary would deconstruct the Protestant reforms made by her father and brother before her, and they feared the land they had gained when the monasteries were disbanded would be lost if Mary reestablished state-sponsored Catholicism.

Led by Dudley, this anti-Mary faction convinced the ailing Edward to name his cousin, Lady Jane Grey, as his heir. Jane had a rightful claim to the throne as a direct descendent of Henry VII, and since the 1544 Act of Succession had given Henry VIII the right to alter succession at his will***, Edward agreed to name Lady Jane as his heir, effectively bypassing his elder sisters Mary and Elizabeth by declaring that they were illegitimate****.

Despite being named in the will of the king, Lady Jane’s claim to the throne was tenuous at best. The Act of Succession had specifically named Mary as the heir to Edward should Edward produce no heirs – Jane had figured in the Act of Succession only in that her male heirs would take the throne if no other heirs were available. Furthermore, since Edward was only 15, and therefore not of the age of majority, his decree that Jane should be his heir was not viewed as legally watertight or binding.

Be that as it may, when Edward died on July 6, 1553, Jane became queen, and was proclaimed as such on July 10, 1553. She had been told of the machinations to make her Edward’s heir only one day earlier. Her response had been one of shock and feelings of insufficiency. Be that as it may, she became the first queen regent in English history*****. As was the custom of monarchs during the time between their accession and their coronation, Jane moved into secure rooms in the Tower of London, thereby laying claim to the Tower.

On her first day as queen, she discovered the grisly truth of how she was being used to enact a secret plan for power, formulated by her father-in-law, John Dudley. The Lord Treasurer brought a number of jewels, including a crown, for Jane to try on. She refused to put the crown on, still not fully believing that she was indeed the Queen of England. The Lord Treasurer, not understanding her hesitancy, encouraged her to take it, remarking offhandedly that another would be made for her husband when he was crowned king.

Jane was enraged, realizing for the first time that Dudley’s interests lay not on religious principles, but instead on the hopes that he could install his son (Jane’s husband, Guildford) as the king and successor of Edward. Jane immediately stated her intent to make her husband a duke, promising that he would never be a king. Guildford, angry and upset that she was not caving to his father’s grand plan, attempted to change her mind, but Jane refused to entertain the idea that she would defer her regency to him. He attempted to leave, but Jane ordered that he remain at the Tower with her.

Later that same evening, Jane’s accession was announced throughout London, and to the surprise and disappointment of Dudley and the other conspirators, the announcement was met with much hostility by the general public. The English people, it seemed, supported Mary – Henry VIII’s eldest daughter and the original heir presumptive before Edward’s deathbed will. The people felt (perhaps rightly so) that Jane’s claim to the throne was illegal, and many (primarily Catholics) felt resentful of the attempts by the monarchy to suppress the free practice of Catholicism in England. While Jane had the support of the nobles and the deceased king, Mary had the support of the populace.

Dudley, realizing that Mary was the only thing standing between him and the realization of his goals (he could worry later about conniving to get his son installed as king), attempted to capture and imprison Mary. In the last few days before Edward’s death, he summoned Mary to the king’s deathbed. Mary was warned, however, that it was a trap, and turned back, retreating to East Anglia. Dudley sent some of his lackeys after her, but they were unable to apprehend her.

As a result, Dudley began making preparations for battle, thinking that mustering a fighting force to forcibly remove Mary from the picture would be the only answer to his problem. He left Jane in the Tower, watched over by the regency council, which had sworn allegiance to her, and went lead his regiment to where he believed Mary was hiding.

But his plan was crumbling around him. Several prominent towns declared Mary the queen, and other towns followed suit. A regiment of ships Dudley had dispatched to cut off a possible escape route betrayed Dudley and pledged allegiance to Mary instead.

When news of this desertion reached London, the councilors sworn to protect Jane began to vacillate. Fearing they would desert her, Jane ordered the doors of the Tower locked from the outside. Additionally, Jane began sending out royal proclamations, signed “Jane the Quene,” urging the people to support her against Mary’s building rebellion.

It ultimately proved futile. The councilors, leaving the Tower under the pretext of visiting the French ambassador, pledged their support to Mary, claiming they had always been loyal to her and that Dudley had forced them to support Jane.

Thus, with popular and statutory support behind her, Mary was proclaimed queen on July 19, 1553, and Jane’s claim of accession was deemed invalid. Jane, who had been ruling for nine days from her rooms in the Tower of London, now became a prisoner in the very place that had been her regnal base.

Jane, who had been at the center of so many plans and aspirations, now found herself without an ally. With no one else to plead her case, Jane wrote to Mary herself, attempting to explain her position and apologizing for accepting the crown. “I might have taken upon me that of which I was not worthy, yet no one can ever say either that I sought it...or that I was pleased with it.”

For her part, Mary believed Jane. She saw that Jane had merely been an unwitting pawn in a grand game of conspiracy, and despite encouragement from several advisors, she resisted the idea of executing Jane for her role in the succession crisis.

Jane was kept in the Tower, but was treated well and began to feel that she was no longer in any imminent danger. Dudley and several of his cronies were executed in mid-August, and Jane felt that, since she had not been convicted and executed along with them, she must be safe from the executioner’s block. Mary, caught up in the machinations of her planned marriage to Philip of Spain, paid little attention to Jane during this time. She seems to have been content to simply keep Jane benignly under lock and key.

During this time, Jane spent much of her time reading and studying the tenets of her faith. She was as devout and pious in her Protestantism as Mary was in her Catholicism, and though she was regarded as a kind, intelligent, and caring person, she was, when it came to issues of faith, self-righteous and intolerant. She was greatly distressed, and lashed out in letters full of scathing and venomous reproach, when many Protestants began to turn back to Catholicism, including one of her childhood tutors******.

Eventually, Mary caved to the pressure to see justice done against Jane and her husband. So in November of 1553, Jane and Guildford were put on trial for their role in Dudley’s attempted usurpation. The pair pled guilty to high treason and were both sentenced to death. Most people, however, believed the sentences were a mere formality, particularly Jane’s. Mary’s principle advisor – the same one who had encouraged her to executed Jane – wrote in his weekly dispatches, following the sentencing: “As for Jane, I am told her life is safe.” In addition, Jane’s mother was a favorite of Mary, and Jane’s younger sisters were ladies-in-waiting to Mary. Most believed that Jane would soon be pardoned and allowed to return to her family.

In the end, Mary’s desire to marry Philip of Spain ultimately cost Jane her life.

When Mary’s engagement to the heir of the Holy Roman Empire was announced, it was met with great hostility from the same populace who had supported Mary’s claim to the throne. They feared England would become a pawn of the Holy Roman Empire, and they feared that foreigners (namely Spaniards) would inherit the throne when Mary died (she was in her late 30’s, and childless, when she took the throne).

As a result of the hostile feelings about Mary’s impending marriage, revolts broke out in January of 1554. Led by Thomas Wyatt, along with the support of several other prominent nobles, including Jane’s father – who had been pardoned and given leniency by Mary only months earlier – a rebellion was planned which would depose Mary and install her sister Elizabeth on the throne, while also marrying Elizabeth to one of their supporters, Edward Courtenay. Courtenay, however, caved under pressure from Mary’s advisors and betrayed the plot. The rebellion fell apart and the perpetrators were arrested.

Wyatt’s Rebellion shook Mary’s confidence. She felt she had been lenient and kind, and she was rewarded with rebellion. She was particularly shaken by the betrayal of Henry Grey, Jane’s father, whose wife and youngest daughters were frequent members of her retinue. She began to fear for her safety and her position, and she realized the only way to stem further rebellion was to deal harshly with those who threatened her throne.

Jane’s fate was sealed.

Though she took no part whatsoever in Wyatt’s Rebellion (she was, of course, still being held in the Tower of London), she had held the title of queen for nine days, and, as such, could be a future threat within Protestant rebellions against Mary’s rule.

Jane, along with her husband and the other conspirators, were sentenced to die immediately. Jane’s execution was scheduled for February 9th, 1554. Mary, however, felt a last minute pang of guilt, and so she dispatched Father John de Feckenham, dean of St. Paul’s, to minister to Jane and attempt to win Jane to the Catholic faith. Though she took an immediate liking to Father de Feckenham, she refused to renounce her strict Protestant faith.

As a result, her execution went forward on the following Monday, February 12th. Father de Feckenham offered to accompany her to the scaffold, and she agreed. Though he had failed in his attempts to convert her, he had made a strong impression on her, and she wished to have him by her side when she died.


A 19th century artist's rendering of Jane's execution

Standing by the scaffold at Tower Green, under a leaden winter sky, Jane Grey addressed the small crowd, admitting to treason but insisting upon her moral innocence. She then recited the 51st Psalm.

“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.”

When she was finished, she thanked Father de Feckenham for his kindness, and asked the executioner to give her a quick death. Then she turned to the execution block and, with her own hand, placed a blindfold around her eyes. She acted too quickly, however, and stumbled, unable to find the execution block.

“What shall I do? Where is it?” she is reputed to have said.

Father de Feckenham stepped forward, gently guiding her to the spot. She stretched her body out, lay her head with dignity upon the block, and awaited the falling of the axe.


The Chapel of St. Peter in Chains, which faces Tower Green, and where Jane is buried alongside her husband

No contemporary paintings of Lady Jane Grey are known to exist. However, a painting that has been hanging for years inside a home in England is now believed to be a contemporary portrait of Lady Jane. Read about it here.

Many thanks to EnglishHistory.net and Wikipedia for much of the information in this article.

* Sadly, no weather reports of February 12, 1554 exist (to my knowledge), so this meteorological description is based on traditional February London weather patterns.

** In a letter to her tutor, Roger Ascham, in 1550, Jane wrote: “...whatsoever I do else but learning is full of grief, trouble, fear and wholly misliking to me.”

*** The 1544 Act of Succession specifically named Edward as Henry’s heir. If Edward didn’t produce any heirs, then the throne was to pass to Henry’s eldest daughter, Mary and her male descendents. If Mary was dead by then, or did not have any male heirs, then the throne was to pass to Henry’s second daughter, Elizabeth and her male descendents. In the event of Elizabeth’s death without a male heir, succession would fall to the male heirs of Frances Brandon (Lady Jane’s mother). If Frances Brandon had no male heirs, then succession would pass to Lady Jane’s male heirs. There were clauses in the law, however, which more or less gave Henry the right to change any of it at his whim. By naming Jane as his heir, Edward attempted to apply these clauses to his own kingly rights.

**** Mary and Elizabeth had both been declared illegitimate, and stripped of their succession rights, by acts of Parliament in the 1530’s, but the aforementioned 1544 Act of Succession re-established them as rightful heirs of the throne; however, their official illegitimacy was never rescinded, and Edward used this to support the naming of Jane as his heir.

***** Henry II, who ruled during the first half of the 1100’s, died without a male heir and had named his eldest daughter, Matilda as his heir presumptive. However, Henry’s nephew, Stephen, usurped the throne upon Henry’s death, plunging England into civil war. Stephen ultimately prevailed over Matilda, signing a treaty in which he named Matilda’s son as his heir. There was, however, a period of about nine months, during the civil war, when Stephen was captured and Matilda claimed the throne and moved into the palace. After Stephen was released, he took the throne back from Matilda. Since Matilda was never officially proclaimed queen by the nobles, and since she was never crowned, she is not considered an official monarch of England.

****** The tutor in question was a certain Dr. Harding, to whom Jane wrote: “Oh wretched and unhappy man, what art thou but dust and ashes? And wilt thou resist thy Maker that fashioned thee and framed thee? Wilt thou refuse the true God, and worship the invention of man, the golden calf, the whore of Babylon, the Romish religion, the abominable idol, the most wicked mass?” Additionally, John Dudley, prior to his execution, had also renounced his Protestant faith, perhaps in an effort to charm Mary into sparing his life. It didn’t work. Dudley took the sacraments and was welcomed into the Catholic faith, and then lost his head the next morning.

Monday, February 12, 2007

My Newest Music Obsession

My newest music obsession is Dire Straits. It’s really odd, because Dire Straits, in addition to being my newest obsession, is also my oldest obsession.

Let me explain:

I was 10 years old in 1985 when Dire Straits’ fifth studio album, Brothers in Arms, was released. As those of you familiar with 1980’s pop rock will know, this album spawned several hits, including arguably the most recognizable pop rock song from the ‘80’s, Money for Nothing. If my memory serves me correctly, Van Halen’s album 1984 was the first album I ever purchased. The second was Dire Straits’ Brothers in Arms.

I wore the tape out. Using my bed as a stage, I would stand atop the mattress with a tennis racket for a guitar, listening to that album over and over and over again (along with a Billy Idol greatest hits album). I completed the fantasy by imagining that me and all of my friends were the band members of Dire Straits, and were the best loved rock stars on earth (this fantasy would later evolve to include the catalogue of Guns n’ Roses).

Despite how much I loved this album (and, of course, the Money for Nothing video, which has to be one of the best videos from the 1980’s), I never really listened to side 2. I would listen primarily to the first 3 tracks (So Far Away, Money for Nothing, and Walk of Life), and occasionally (particularly on car trips to my grandparents’ house), I would let it keep playing through Your Latest Trick and Why Worry. I knew the songs on side 2 by name only.

In the late 1980’s, after we had moved to Cincinnati and I started high school, my interest in Dire Straits waned, as I began listening more and more to the aforementioned Guns n’ Roses, as well as other hard rock/heavy metal musicians. After we got our first CD player in about 1991 and became members in one of those CD clubs that were so popular at the time, we got a Dire Straits greatest hits album, but it was in the “family” collection, not my own personal collection, and I never really listened to it much. Since college, I’ve been in possession of that greatest hits album, but it has always been one of those CD’s that sits in the case and never moves.

At some point in the last ten years or so, I purchased the Brothers in Arms album on CD, and I have put it to use from time to time over the years. However, it has not been until the last year or so that I finally – after two decades – began listening to the songs that were originally on side 2 of the tape. I have found that not only is the title track, Brothers in Arms, a great song, but so are the other “deep cuts” that precede it.

Additionally, due to my sister’s love of the Dire Straits song Romeo and Juliet, I have begun, recently, listening to and learning this song (which is on the greatest hits album referred to above). Like my sister, I have grown to really love this song. And in doing so, I have begun, after all these years, to get interested in buying more Dire Straits albums.

So last week, I purchased Dire Straits’ first and second studio albums, Dire Straits and Communique, respectively. I’ve been listening to both of them for the past several days, and, as expected, I am really enjoying them. Prior to their arrival from UPS, I had been listening to the greatest hits CD which had sat dormant for so long in my CD case, so I was primed and ready for the tracks on these early albums. Dire Straits has six studio albums in total, so I have three more yet to buy. I plan on completing the collection over the next few months.

And that’s how my oldest music obsession has become my newest music obsession.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Sinful Lifestyles

When we hear the phrase "sinful lifestyle," most of us immediately think of gays living together in homosexual bliss, or drug dealers selling crack to our children, or pedophiles eyeing up the kids on the playground.

I would certainly argue that the latter two qualify as sinful lifestyles – as would anyone with a sense of what is right and wrong. However, the former – gays actively acting on their sexual impulses – is probably the most common "sinful lifestyle" talked about in modern Christian circles.

I don't wish to use this essay to debate whether or not homosexuals are sinning when they act on their sexual impulses. I personally feel that there is no debate to be had. To suggest that a person's natural sexual orientation is somehow "sinful" or "wrong" is to debase the very essence of our inherent differences. Just because someone is not "like me," does not mean, by default, that there is anything wrong with them. I embrace differences in sexual orientation as a natural part of the human cycle, and I encourage anyone to embrace their own sexual preference without shame or guilt.

Instead, what I wish to debate is the inherent hypocrisy in the proclamation of the traditional Christian that homosexuals live in a "perpetual" state of sin through an active sinful lifestyle. This is one argument I hear frequently from anti-homosexual Christians when attempting to explain why homosexuality is a more significant sin than, say, lying to a co-worker.

"One lie can be forgiven through confession to God," the anti-homosexual traditionalist will say. "Gays, on the other hand, are living in a perpetual, daily state of sin."

For this reason, anti-homosexual traditionalists will argue that gays should renounce their lifestyles and be spiritually cleansed. After that, if they cannot live heterosexually, then they should live asexually. (Can you imagine anything more inhumane [and therefore ungodly] than asking someone to live a sexless life, against their natural impulse, simply because some capricious god demands it – a god, by the way, who made them that way?)

It's bad enough that anyone, for any reason, would suggest that gays in active relationships are living in perpetual sin – and, therefore, perpetual distance from God – but the proclamation is made all the worse by the complete hypocrisy inherent in such a belief.

Why is it hypocritical? For starters, because all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (as Paul tells us in Romans 3:23). Take care of the speck in your own eye before worrying about the plank in your neighbor's (as Jesus tells us in Matthew 7:5 and Luke 6:42). Those are the typical arguments against hypocrisy on this subject, and ones which the anti-homosexual traditionalist would counter with the example I illustrated above (i.e., gays live in perpetual sin, whereas the rest of us just sin on a case-by-case basis and are therefore not involved in a "sinful" lifestyle).

But the hypocrisy in the "sinful lifestyle" proclamations go much deeper than simple "we're all sinners" arguments.

I'm talking, of course, about money and the pursuit of wealth and material possessions.

The very ideals upon which this country were founded include the pursuit of happiness. And for most Americans, the pursuit of happiness includes – almost exclusively for most – the pursuit of wealth and material comforts. We all want to have nice homes and nice clothes and nice cars. We want to eat at good restaurants, take vacations to swank destinations, and have the freedom to do what we want.

We want these things so badly in fact, that we spend money we don’t even have, building up debt. We believe that gathering material possessions around ourselves – like children burying themselves in the sand – will make us happy. Instead, like the child in the sand, it only blurs our vision. It keeps our eyes off the real path of happiness – which is inside of ourselves, not arbitrarily stuck inside some material item, available to us if only we can get our hands on it.

But I digress.

Our very country's economic structure is based on the pursuit of wealth. We want more, more, more, more, more. And for most of us, the more we have, the more we spend. We put money away in IRA's, 401K's, and other investments in order to build up a nice "nest egg" for ourselves, so we can provide for ourselves in retirement and have financial freedom.

I saw a commercial yesterday on CNN for investing in gold. "PROTECT YOUR WEALTH," the advertisement ran, "IN THESE UNCERTAIN ECONOMIC TIMES!" We're all concerned about our wealth, about our stuff, about what we're going to be able to have and not have when we get older.

Is this pursuit of wealth, this pursuit of material possessions and comforts, a Christ-like objective? Let's look at what Jesus had to say on the subject.

Luke 6:20 – "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God."

Matthew 6:19-20a – "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven."

This passage goes on to say, "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." And later, still in the same passage, Jesus says, "You cannot serve both God and money."

Jesus ends this teaching on the pursuit of wealth with the following: "So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things."

In Luke's version of the same story, he adds the following: "The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus." The Pharisees – the arch villains of the Jesus story – are the ones who love money.

Pretty strong words there from Jesus and his biographers against the pursuit of wealth.

One of the most famous of Jesus's actions, as described in the gospels, is when Jesus runs the "moneychangers" out of the temple. In Matthew's version of the event, Jesus says that these enterprising businessmen were turning the temple into a "den of robbers." Now why would he say that? He was quoting the Old Testament book of Jeremiah, but why did he choose that phrase? He was mad that they were buying and selling in the temple, but why did that necessarily mean they were they turning the temple into a "den of robbers"? Clearly Jesus didn’t have much regard for "men of business." The passage in Jeremiah that Jesus quoted was referring to people who deal in the sinful ways of the world, then come into the temple and pretend that everything is all right. In Jeremiah, God says these people are turning the temple into a "den of robbers." So when Jesus called the moneychangers the same thing, he was basically saying that their "lifestyle" was sinful and worldly and had no place before God.

Let's look at some other things Jesus had to say about money and wealth.

Mark 4:19 – "But the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful."

Mark 12:43-44 – "I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on."

Luke 18:25 – "Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."

The depravity of money, the pursuit of wealth, and the thirst for material possessions is a common theme in Jesus's teachings. In fact, it was one of his favorite subjects.

Does it not seem clear that living a life of pursuing wealth is, in fact, a "sinful lifestyle," by the standards of Jesus?

And it doesn't stop there. The early Christian teachers spoke out against the pursuit of wealth too.

1 Timothy 6:9 – People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction.

1 Timothy 1:2-3 – Now the overseer must be above reproach...not a lover of money.

James 1:11 – For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business.

James 5:1-3a – Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire.

Revelation 3:17 – You say, "I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing." But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.

In addition to these strong words against money and wealth, recall that in Acts, Luke describes the early Christian communities as living together with a basically Socialist economic structure, distributing their earnings equally among all the members. Luke goes on to tell the story of a man and his wife who sold a plot of land and then hid the earnings from the other members. Peter, speaking with the authority of God, rebukes the pair for what they did, and the man dies, presumably struck down by God. Later, Peter tests the wife, and when she lies about the profits too, God strikes her down as well.

And none of this speaks at all of the numerous Old Testament teachings against the dangers of money. I'll quote only one:

Proverbs 28:20 – A faithful man will be richly blessed, but one eager to get rich will not go unpunished.

In the New International Version of the bible, the word "money" is used 127 times. "Wealth" and "wealthy" appear 126 times. The phrase "rich man" appears 22 times.

The bible is rife with stories of God, Jesus, the prophets, and the early Christian leaders looking quite harshly upon the pursuit of wealth and material possessions. Next to loving and serving God, it may be the most frequent teaching of the bible!

And yet we ignore it! Completely!

In this sense, I believe all Christians – progressive or otherwise – are hypocritical. The very nature of our culture stands in direct contrast to a major biblical teaching. We can't be following Christ's example, and living lives in pursuit of wealth. The two are mutually at odds with one another. You can't serve both God and money.

Of course, Jesus, and those who wrote the bible, were living in a completely different time period. Outside of joining a convent or a monastery, it's not reasonable, in our society, to expect someone to give up all worldly pursuits and live a Christ-centered life. We have to save for retirement, we have to have money to buy a house, transportation, clothes, and food. And, as human beings, I think most agree that we should be entitled to eat at a restaurant now and then, go see a movie, or go to Disney World.

Make no mistake, I'm not arguing for an ascetic lifestyle.

What I am arguing is that unless you are an ascetic, you are living a "sinful lifestyle" by the standards of Jesus and the bible as a whole.

This is one of the primary reasons I am not a bible literalist, nor a believer in the ultimate "authority" of the bible. As I've illustrated above, it is absurd to assume that the writings and beliefs of an ancient culture can be completely relevant to modern society. We have no choice but to pick and choose what fits and what does not fit.

And everyone does this.

Including the anti-homosexual traditionalist.

The same evangelical Christians who proclaim to the world the depravity and sinfulness of the homosexual lifestyle, will then turn around and drive home in their leather interior SUV to their 2-story house in suburbia, where they will entertain guests on the weekend with fine food and drinks, watch the game on their flat panel TV's, pay $100 a month for digital cable and DVR, install a pool when they get that big bonus check, and engage in an unabashed orgy of materialism every December 25th (in honor of the man who said "Store not for yourselves treasures on earth"!!!).

And as if that's not hypocritical enough, they will, in fact, proclaim that their material wealth is a blessing from God for their piety!

Not only did Jesus never promise blessings of great worldly wealth for great piety, but he specifically said to give up everything and follow him! Store not for yourselves treasures on earth! The deceitfulness of wealth! Blessed are the poor! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God!

Many evangelicals not only don't follow Jesus's teachings, they do precisely the opposite of what he taught. It would be like arguing that, during the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, "Blessed are the arrogant." Of course, Jesus said nothing of the sort – in fact, he said precisely the opposite – "Blessed are the meek."

Finally, they cap off the hypocrisy of their sinful lifestyles by proclaiming the sinful lifestyles of homosexuals. Remember the classic argument I mentioned above – "Gays have a sinful lifestyle because they are living in a perpetual, daily state of sin." As if the money-grubbing capitalistic evangelical is not living in an equal state of daily sin!

And remember the number of teachings on the evil of the pursuit of money? 275 references in the bible to money, wealth, or rich men alone. As I said above, money was one of Jesus's favorite teachings. Guess how many times he taught against homosexuality?

Exactly zero.

But all this seems lost on the anti-homosexual traditionalist. I wish that essays such as this would make a difference, now and then, in the minds of an evangelical or two. Maybe stop them in their tracks, make them re-evaluate their perspective.

But it won't happen.

As Neil Peart tells us in the lyrics to Peaceable Kingdom: "The ones we wish would listen are never going to hear."

Serene Musings Books of the Year, 2005-2015