Did Reported Morality of the Biblical Jesus Improve World Morals? (Part 1)
by SM Yusuf Khan, Shahbad Bhoor, Barielly
The Light (Pakistan), 1st April 1922 Issue (Vol. 1, No. 8, p. 4)
Much can be said on both sides of the subject. One fails to make any definite opinion as to the character of one who presents irreconcilable contrast in his precepts and actions. Unfortunately, such is the case of Jesus as reported in the synoptic [general summary of; synopsis of] records.
If utterance of few moral precepts unattended with their being translated into action in the very life of their preacher can give claim of a moral teacher to its utterer, every time and country can safely claim to produce thousands with importance like that of the hero in the evangelic records.
Besides, such utterances are not necessarily index of a genuine heart. Surroundings, environments, and often maintenance of position bring to the lips of many an average people, some beautiful and sublime thoughts. We should not therefore be influenced by such preachings, no matter, if they come even from men of very highly reported sanctity and importance. Action, and only action, can be a safe criterion to judge the claims of a moral teacher.
With those remarks in view, we approach Jesus of the Bible.
With all the idealistic and dreaming nature of his preaching, Jesus can force respect and admiration even from the stony breast of an atheist for all that he says in the Sermon on the Mount. But, unfortunately, our estimation of his life, when we read it in some events mentioned of him, leads us to cherish a different opinion.
He had his enemies in the ranks of the Pharisees and the Scribes, but he never made a happy choice of words whenever he spoke to them. Vipers, and sons of serpents, swine and dogs are not expressions which can be fit in the mouth of him who is reported to be the author of such noble and sublime ideas contained in some of the verses in the Sermon on the Mount.
If it is agreed on all hands that mere expressions of fine ideas and tender feelings are not the whole morality, but its scope is wide enough to include all that which leads to the betterment and utility of human life, Jesus of the Bible, then, cannot be safely classed in the list of moral teachers.
Either what we read of him is an untrue account of his life, as some of the best commentators hold, or certain events narrated of him cannot be taken to help world morality.
Take his very first miracle of conversion of a pure, harmless thing like water into wine, which even in his own time was the curse of his own nation. Self-indulgence and luxury were the characteristics of his age. Jews and Gentiles both were addicted to this evil, and if wine and fermented liquors have always been chief agents of self-indulgence, one fails to appreciate the significance of this first miracle in the improvement of the then, and the present, ethics of the world.
Symbolism-ridden people in the moments of the frenzic admiration may see some universal glorification in the miracle, but drinks have been a curse to humanity from every point of view. The event, though clothed in the graceful covering of miracle, cannot exonerate him from the responsibilities of encouraging the use of this liquid poison, one phase of everyday occurrence of which is the dissolution of that marriage bond which the Gospel declares as indissoluble. (For ready reference, I would ask readers to peruse page 9 of the L.D.T., Lucknow, 10th January 1922.) There is no doubt that Jesus sanctioned the use of fermented wine only in conformity with his own habits.
says Dr C. Geikie, D.D. [Dr John Cunningham Geikie; D.D.: Doctor of Divinity] in his Hours with the Bible, Volume II, published in London 1896,
“no such neglect of the persons as many of his contemporaries thought identical with holiness. He did not require ascetic restrictions at table…. For we find him permitting the use of wine, bread and honey, and of fish, flesh and fowl…. Jesus exposed himself to the charge of indulgence because he never practised even such intermittent austeritic as done by the Pharisees of his time.”