A reader writes:
Bravo to you for pointing out the central conviction of the Gospels (also of the Hebrew scriptures) that there is enough and more than enough in God's abundance, that it is meant for all without distinction, and that the original sin of the Garden of Eden is the sin of failing to trust - of grabbing and hoarding - and the sin of the Pharisees and lawyers in the New Testament is that of bean-counting and score-keeping.
Right-wing evangelical fundamentalism, however, misses this point through its distorted canon. What the "Bible" churches read, in the Bible - what they preach on - is Leviticus, Proverbs (with its prudential bromides) and the Epistles of Paul. One of their absolutely favorite texts is Paul's rather grumpy throwaway line, "If any will not work, neither shall he eat." They privilege Paul's shoot-from-the-hip letters to contentious groups of new believers trying to organize their common life, over Jesus's sweeping vision of a Kingdom. The outcome of Luther's revolutionary exegesis "justification by faith" in the Epistle to the Romans is this: almost 500 years into evangelicalism, the most important messages of scripture are seen as being Paul's random dicta to squabbling communities dealing with petty jealousies and organizational dynamics.
So much for sola scriptura. It is incredibly sad.
But Christianity will survive Christianism. In that I have faith. Another writes:
A huge number of Americans (presumably including O'Reilly) believe this statement - "The Lord helps those who help themselves" is from the Bible. It is not. They don't realize it's actually a highly sarcastic comment of Benjamin Franklin's.
Either that or Algernon Sydney in 1698 in an article titled Discourses Concerning Government. It says something about the collapse of Christianity in America that what was once an attack on the Gospels is now regarded as their central truth. Another:
As a conservative Christian myself, it pains me to see Christians adopting the mindset of the Pharisees.
When I read O'Reilly's comments in the excerpt you referenced, I can hear a Pharisee making the same comments. The Pharisees would say the sick and poor were that way because they weren't faithful enough. If they were righteous like us they would be health and prosperous. It's their responsibility for being poor and they are responsible to correct it. See Deuteronomy 28 for the background of how this thinking functions. Jesus' teachings run counter to this way of thinking.
The American Dream is closer to the vision of the Pharisees than to the vision of Christ who said do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth... O'Reilly here sounds like the Pharisee in Luke 18:9 who basically prays, "God aren't you lucky to have someone like me?" Paul said the love of money is the root of all evil - think 2008 financial meltdown - but in America the love of money is supreme and corrupts Christians. This is the issue/tension that conservative Christians need to resolve instead of condemning the actions of others. Get the beam out of your own eye before worrying about the mote in someone else's.
You wrote: "I wonder how Bill O'Reilly missed the Sermon on the Mount in Sunday School."
The answer is, he probably didn't miss it because they most likely skipped over it. I grew up in Wantagh, the town right next to O'Reilly's Levittown. If his church was anything like mine - St Francis de Chantal - it was a Catholicism based on anger, bigotry and control; not love, forgiveness or charity. Any kid who attended St Francis in the 1950s-60s, going to either the school or catechism, remembers the terror-inducing Father Hein and the hardness of the nuns. I can recall nothing of the Sermon on the Mount being taught in catechism - I was left to discover its beauty seeing the movie "King of Kings".
What I mostly remember from St Francis is smoldering anger and a gospel based on submission to authority. Just picture a church full of Bill Donohues and you've got St Francis in the '60s. I'm pretty certain O'Reilly was raised in a similar church - it was the period, it was the region. My mother, who grew up a Catholic in the Bible Belt at a time when Catholics were high on the KKK's list of enemies, always said her church in Little Rock was a loving church, but she never felt there was any love in the Catholic churches of Long Island.
The thing that struck me most about the O'Reilly quote you posted was "...I know that while Jesus promoted charity at the highest level, he was not self-destructive." I was a little surprised that you felt the need to even get as specific as the Sermon on the Mount - since isn't a literally self-destructive act of charity the whole point of the Christianity? As in Jesus intentionally acted in a way which led to his own physical death in order to do good for others who didn't deserve it?
The light years between the Gospels and today's Christianist right have rarely been better exposed.
(Photo: Ann Coulter and Bill O'Reilly by Evan Agostini/Getty.)
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