Either Jesus or the Family A Christian Dilemma: Either Jesus or the Family by Kaz Dziamka (December 1996)

So this is Christmas, the “greatest Christian holiday.”

And what is the reason for this “season of peace and good will and family values”? The birth of Jesus, we are told, God’s only son, the Prince of Peace, and a loving friend of the Christian family and of all people of good will. Nobody can actually prove when, where, or even if Jesus was born; but to delve into such mighty problems is to irritate one billion Christian “brethren,” who find reality less fabulous than fiction.

If you have Christian friends — and these days everybody has Christian friends — they will tell you that Christians have always been pro-family and pro-life because Jesus was pro-family and pro-life. Don’t bother to verify this claim by reading the Bible. The Christians have monopolized the market for “family values.” There may be other pro-family religions and ethical systems, like Apache culture, Confucianism, or Mahayana Buddhism; but, of course, these systems are inferior to Christianity.

You don’t want to question Christianity’s superior moral system because to question it would be like questioning the movement of the sun around the earth. It would be like having second thoughts about a professional Hebrew killer named Joshua who told the sun to stop “moving” so that he could have extra time to finish slaughtering his enemies, the Amorites.

But I am not a Christian. I am a Polish-American freethinker (although I was born and raised in a completely Catholicized Poland), and I always remember what Thomas Jefferson said:

Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a god; because if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear.

So, unlike my Christian friends, I do not accept anything on faith any more. I open the Authorized King James Bible, and — “fixing my reason firmly in her seat” — here is what I find:

And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life. (Matthew XIX:29)

The quaint, archaic flavor of this passage (“hath,” “brethren”) is not likely to fool me, even though it has apparently fooled my Christian brethren. This quotation from Matthew simply means that the price to enter heaven is the renouncement of one’s family and belongings. Or, in plainer English, it means this:

To accept Jesus, you have to give up your family and your real estate.

My Christian brethren will now protest that I am “quoting out of context” or that I am being “picky.” Perhaps I am. But here is another passage, this time from Luke:

If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. (XIV:26)

Again, disregard the funny syntax “If you hate not” and the archaism “brethren,” and the meaning of the above quotation is as clear as it can be in English. Updated, the above verse from the Bible means this:

If you want to be a Christian, you must hate your father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, and — yes–even your own life.

The only possible misinterpretation of the Luke passage is that Jesus has no “Christians” in mind when he said the above. After all, Jesus was a Jew and had no idea that his brand of Judaism would one day be marketed by another Jew, Saul from Tarsus (aka “St. Paul”), as a new religion for Gentiles and subsequently called “Christianity,” even though it should be called, more properly, “Saul’s Crosstianity.”

The Luke verse is so viciously anti-family that even Christian editors of the Bible don’t know what to do with this embarrassing evidence of Jesus’ disrespect for family values. No verbal games can change the meaning of “hate.” I was not surprised, then, when I found (during my recent visit to Norway) that Norwegian Lutherans have now censored this passage in modern Norwegian translations. Thanks to some discreet paraphrase and deletion, Jesus will be even godlier now than he ever was (supposed to be). This is what I call revealed religion!

Those who would still cherish the image of Jesus as a nice, peace-loving family man should consider the following statement from Matthew:

Think not that I am come to send peace on earth; I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.

Could anything be plainer than this? But perhaps Christian brethren are simply incapable of a critical reading of the Bible. Would Christian brethren pay more attention to the Bible if they were told that Jesus said this:

Don’t think that I have come to you to establish peace. My intention is to cause trouble and to promote war. This is why I have brought a gun. I want all boys and girls to question the authority of their parents and to stop listening to them. I also want daughters-in-law to defy their mothers-in-law.

If you don’t trust me — if you say that my updated paraphrase of Matthew X:35-6 is inaccurate and blasphemous — then how can you trust the anonymous scribes who, centuries ago, rewrote biblical tall stories from obscure dead languages like ancient Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic? I am perfectly justified, for example, in using “gun” instead of “sword” in my paraphrase because we don’t use swords anymore to kill and maim people. Our most common weapon of homicide and murder is the gun. So, for instance, if you want to update the metonymies in the popular proverb “The pen is mightier than the sword,” you would have to modernize them by saying “The word processor is more powerful than the gun.” There may be less authority in my paraphrase, but the meaning is clearer.

Christian brethren, please stop playing verbal games and stop using archaic language as a smokescreen for apparent sanctity and spirituality. As Judith Hayes, as a columnist for Freethought Today, has pointed out:

“Let’s not forget that the Bible was originally written in Hebrew and Greek (and a smattering of Aramaic) without a ‘shalt’ to be found. King James’ English is as extinct as the dinosaur and has no place in today’s world. But this archaic English appears to impart more authority to the Commandments. ‘Thou shalt not steal,’ for example, seems somehow more important than ‘Don’t steal.’ The two directives are of course identical, but do they seem so?”

Consider another example: Some guy on a talk show makes the following statement:

Think not that I am come to send peace on earth; I came not to send peace, but a sword.

What would you think of such a person? Wouldn’t you consider him a religious fanatic or a resurrected sixteenth-century terrorist? Or maybe a comedian, such a statement being a pretty good line for situation comedy or a facetious remake of a Clint Eastwood movie: “Make my day: Think not that I am come to send peace . . .”

I could give more such quotations. I could mention that Jesus actually never used the word “family,” as one-time Christian fundamentalist preach-er Dan Barker from the Freedom From Religion Foundation points out in his book Losing Faith In Faith. The word “family,” says Barker: “appears only once in the (KJV) New Testament. The word on which it is based, patria, appears only three times in the Greek, but is always used in the sense of the general ‘family’ of humankind, never referring to the close-knit nuclear unit of Mom, Dad, and kids.”

I could also recall that Jesus never married and raised children; and yet he should have — if only to show us how to raise Christian children and instill family values. It would be so nice, wouldn’t it?, to believe in a god who teaches family values by practising family values.

Instead, Jesus chose to be a bachelor, just like his heavenly Father — a daughterless, humorless dad who happened to be neither a husband nor a widower, even though he had a son! The Hebrew gods, I gather, don’t need wives and daughters to promote family values. However, a virgin girl is okay to be a mother of a god as long as He is sired not by the mother’s boyfriend or husband, but by a third party: the Holy Ghost, now renamed the Holy Spirit in order to give “him” some respectability. (These days even kids don’t take ghosts too seriously.) The grand mystery of the Christian dogma of the Trinity is that it involves three bachelors, one virgin, and no sex.

I could easily explain to you or a visitor from outer space (but not to my Christian brethren) why Jesus made such fiercely anti-family statements. But I will not, because now you can find it out yourself if — like me — you want to follow Jefferson’s advice.

Reason may not save you, whatever that means. But it sure may help you avoid being fooled in the new, 1997, year.

Happy New Year!

Kaz Dziamka has a Ph.D. in American studies and teaches at the Technical Vocational Institute in Albuquerque, New Mexico. A Foundation member, he was recently appointed editor of The American Rationalist.

Freedom From Religion Foundation