Goodness versus Morality and the Bible

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Goodness Versus Morality and the Bible

So much of what is preached and publicized on behalf of Christian churches today consists of encouraging and sustaining morality as a basis of Christian theology. In fact, one might hear the proposal that morality is theology.

Morality is not theology because it consists, as Alan Watts wrote, “of telling people how to behave.” Focusing on morality - telling people how to behave - does not impact public or private thinking except as it relates to control of behavior. So long as the emphasis is on morality the emphasis is on control.

Preaching morality rather than the virtues of goodness – particularly the common good we all ought to be seeking – gives us mostly sermons and exhortations limited to issues that are defined entirely by judgmental thinking.
Judgmental thinking in a religious or spiritual context drags the positive and negative aspects of human behavior into moral areas where actions are governed out of a concern for reward or punishment.
Judgmental thinking has at its core the idea of worthiness based on reward and punishment. Reward/punishment tools of fear, shame and guilt if ever used successfully, always result in the right things being done for the wrong reasons.
There is value in reward and punishment if the only goal is that of deterrence, intimidating those who would commit acts that would harm another person. In that regard deterrence is a device intended to discourage criminal activity.
This sort of spiritual construct only works if God is likewise viewed as judgmental and punitive, responding to human behavior in a manner that creates deterrence and control. Whether spiritual or civic, this control is legalistic in thinking – it is both spiritual and civic governance by the letter of the law.
It also exaggerates and escalates sin into the realm of criminal activity.
Subjugation to the letter of the law is precisely the environment into which Jesus was born and ministered, teaching the Christ Path as a divine alternative for a society totally immersed in literal and letter-of-the-law thinking. In that society, spiritual leaders had done something terrible to scripture, turning it into something primarily used as a device of control and deterrence.
Scripture had become formally canonized and was therefore primarily a tool of control. Sacred writings that inform humanity of its relationship to God lose most of their power to spiritualize individual lives when reduced to a canon of inflexible statutes, rigidity and possessed of a very narrow range of interpretation.
Because a canon is essentially a conservative document, a document that has been canonized is a document of censorship. It preserves the benefits of those already in authority at the expense of the culture itself. It lets the controllers retain control.
The Bible as we have it today was an instrument of control for that portion of early Christianity that won a victory of political survival. The Bible became a tool of those specific victorious Christian leaders and a means by which conservative manipulation of the status quo was more important than the spread of the philosophy of the Sermon on the Mount, The Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan.
The controlling priests ignored that philosophy, building instead a monarchical vision of God that capitalized on the wrathful God of the Old Testament and blended it with the imperial power and imagery of the Caesars and Roman civil administration.
Jesus did not preach a Compassionate God in the punitive monarchical sense that pervades Christianity even today. The monarchical god as seen by fundamentalist and literal-minded Christian practitioners today is an inheritance passed on from the original Roman Priesthood augmented by the governance model of the Roman Empire.
Although it is not my intent to vilify the Roman Church today, I am willing to vilify the medieval Roman Priesthood who did use a monarchical god and a canon of scripture as devices of control.
Theological writings existed in the Roman Church but what filtered to the masses was moralistic manipulation. Theology does not need a “disobey and you’ll go to hell” in order to describe humanity’s relationship to God. However, morality in and of itself will fail without that kind of deterrence.
That particular conservative and political control remained intact until the Protestant Reformation - at which time the reformers literally took the book out of the hands of the controlling and manipulating priesthood. They were then able to read and use the Bible without the influence of ordained middlemen.
The problem is that by the time of the Reformation, the literalistic and legalistic canonized version and understanding of the Bible was permanently entrenched in common thinking.
The reformers yanked the Bible away from the controllers but retained that definition of the Bible given them by the controllers. That definition of necessity included a literalistic view of the information recorded in the Bible and the inherited assumption that the scripture - because it was canonized - was inerrant and absolutely written by God.
It’s a much shorter time frame from the Reformation to our present day and we see that the canonized, legalistic view of the Bible is still firmly in place and is in fact the assumption around which even many liberal Christian churches function.
It is important to understand that so long as the Bible is viewed as inerrant and written exclusively by God with God’s eye single to obedience first and punishment as the otherwise consequence, it remains primarily a tool for preaching morality.
The Bible is not an instrument for enforcing orthodoxy. Orthodoxy is not theology. Conformity to orthodoxy is morality-driven and does little toward spiritual growth to acts of choice made for the right reasons.
The Bible in fact, as Jesus utilized scripture for himself, is an instrument for theology and spiritual growth through choice. It should never be an instrument of spiritual, emotional nor civic coercion. When used in that way is becomes a mere moral document.
So long as we Christians view the Bible and use the Bible in a manner driven primarily by concerns about moral behavior, we remain in a one-down competition with ideas and philosophies that do in fact elevate the concept of doing the right things for the right reasons.
We must elevate our thinking toward doing good for the sake of goodness.
Why do so many of us fear to step outside the inerrant Bible box?
What is it we fear we lose if we look for reasons other than obedience and the hope of God’s reward as reasons for making wise choices?
Is not faith something more than timid trusting of what orthodoxy insists we practice as we remain dominated by the manipulations set forth by Roman clergy over 500 years ago?
Is there so much orthodox peer pressure in our congregations that the esteem of the righteous crowd is worth more than a sense of personal esteem with God and Jesus?
When the Father of the Prodigal Son responded to the judgmental and resentful score-keeping older brother, he did not applaud the son’s literal thinking nor the son’s blind obedience. Had he done so he would have agreed that the younger son didn’t deserve the treatment the Father was about to give.
He would have been The Judgmental Father of a Judgmental Son and justified 500+ years of Christian moralizing.
It doesn’t take fundamental literalism to realize this. It doesn’t take conformity to a group think of orthodoxy to realize this. These concepts and the internal spiritual reactions they generate are and have always been in Scripture. They are what Scripture is really about – facilitating growth toward making the right choices for the right reasons and toward a common desire for the highest good of all concerned.
“That’s not scriptural” as a response to a spiritual idea is like saying “Do not think! Just follow directions!”
It’s like being able to bake only brownies because the baker was taught that the recipe for brownies is the only approved recipe and the only food God likes.

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