*** Warning **** Contains Religious Material ***
Allow me to explain myself, before digging into the meat of the subject. While I am a fairly religious person, I have no intention of commenting on religious subjects on a regular basis. The only reason religion is even tangential to the subject matter is because I believe it may provide a possible solution to my question. So relax, grab your favorite beverage, and have a read. See if you agree with me.
One of the periodicals I subscribe to is Reason magazine. I absolutely love it. I look forward to every new issue. Every time I finish an issue I feel like I just completed a mental triathlon. So many subjects new to me, so many varied ways of looking at issues, I highly recommend it.
The current issue has an interview with John Stossel, possibly the only member of the MSM I have any respect left for. In a way, he reminds me a little of me, we’re both recovering modern liberals, surrounded by people who can’t even begin to fathom why great-sounding liberal ideas are so destructive.
In the interview Stossel discusses one subject that I’ve been pondering for some time myself: why do so many Americans despise success and prosperity? Well, except when it’s themselves who are succeeding and prospering. When that happens, well, hell, then capitalism and free markets are just dandy.
Why do Americans look at someone who’s worked their ass off for years, has a nice home, maybe a couple of cars, possibly a pool, why are these people vilified? No one seems to have much of a problem if a sports star is bringing down the major bucks (as long as his team is winning), or a movie star pretending to have a life. But let Joe down the street drive home in a brand-new, gas-guzzling, globe-warming SUV and everyone wants to string him up by his huevos. He’s a tax cheat, he hates the poor, the dirty rotten bastard!
Why do we think like this? It’s certainly not logical, or reasonable, it’s pure emotions. And not very nice ones at that.
Here’s where I need religion to help make my point. Don’t worry, I’m not going to try to convert anyone.
I’ve often thought it has some connection to good old-fashioned screwed up New England puritan values. You know the kind, stretching all the way back to the pre-revolutionary war times. Hard work six long days a week, followed by hours and hours of prayers all day long Sunday. The idea, at least in my opinion, is simply ‘idle hands are the devil’s tools’. Keep people’s nose to the grindstone and they won’t have the time or the energy to think about sin.
And these people were very serious about it too. I remember reading one account of textile mill in New England at least a couple of hundred years ago. Most of the workforce was indentured female servants. The man who owned the mill and the indenture contracts was telling his wife about possibly having the girls work 5 12 hour days, spend all day Sunday in prayer, and they’d have Saturday to themselves. The wife wouldn’t hear of it, far too much idle time for the girls to get into trouble, no, the best thing was keep them in the mills as much as possible, and in Church all day Sunday. Much safer that way.
Where in the hell did this line of thinking come from?
Anyway, I digress. My point being this visceral hatred for success might have some roots in religious traditions.
Enter the season of Lent. One of the usual favorites for Gospel readings during Lent is Jesus clearing the money changers out of the Temple. I remember when I was a kid in CCD, they sometimes referred to it as “Cleansing the Temple.” Wicked, evil, rotten, vile capitalists doing business in the sight of God. Of course Jesus couldn’t stand for that. Off with the filth of money from the sacred seat of G_d.
Or was it?
I have a book that I bought, and mostly read, Isaac Asimov’s Guide to the Bible. Another book I highly recommend. Asimov tackles the Bible from the historical record perspective. What in the Bible can reasonably found in ancient history. There’s some really interesting things in there. If there’s something in the Bible that is not supported by the historical record, somewhere, he skips it entirely.
One item made it into his book, though I’m not sure why, but it’s his book, he can write about it if he wants. Jesus driving the money changers out of the Temple. And Asimov writes that he’s puzzled by the story. In those days, the Commandment against idol worship was so strictly enforced, it even covered money. As we all know, political leaders love to have their face on display. The ancient world was no different. Except in Judea. Their currency had no images stamped on it, so it could be used to pay the annual Temple tax. Jews living in surrounding provinces, rules by gentiles, did not have Temple currency, so they needed to change their local money, with their local ruler’s face on it, for Temple currency in order to meet their religious obligation. The money changers were no vile, evil, rotten capitalists – okay, maybe they were, but there’s nothing in the Gospel that spells that out. They were performing a community service for pilgrims visiting the Temple.
I posed that very question to our brand-spanking-new Parochial Vicar (fresh out of seminary). I thought that would keep him busy for a while, I was wrong. Very soon I got a response that was quite illuminating. Jesus wasn’t cleansing the Temple of these evil people, he was trying to disrupt the daily cycle of the Temple. They were part of that cycle, exchanging money.
A whole lot of people have spoken and written an awful lot about Jesus. One thing Jesus definitely was, was far sighted. He correctly predicted the Romans weren’t going to put up much longer with the Jew’s periodic rebellions and would put an end to Judea altogether. Which they did some 30 years later, destroying the Temple, wiping out Jerusalem, even going so far as to build a Roman city on the ruins.
Jews at that time believed the Temple was the actual seat of G_d. Literally, there was a room with a rock in it, and that was it. Right there. Want to commune with G_d, that’s the place. What would happen to Jews if the Temple was no more? Jesus believed they would not survive as a culture without the Temple. So he decided to start wrecking the place himself in order to start the process of Jews believing God exists in every individual’s heart, not a stone building.
That, by the way, really pissed off a lot of important Jews, they started grumbling, so the Romans got involved and we all know how that turned out.
Here’s my point. The vast majority of Christians I know misinterpret that Gospel story. We were originally taught as children Jesus tossed out the rotten, evil, vile capitalist, when that wasn’t his point at all. He wasn’t “cleansing the Temple” he was trying to destroy it. Granted, this interpretation isn’t as nice and easily taught as hating capitalism and businesses, but isn’t the point to know the truth, no matter how much it might contradict what we want to believe?
There are plenty of other examples where Jesus goes up one side and down the other of wealthy people. No shortage there. But why the different interpretation in this one single case?
My guess is because it’s just too darn sweet an image to pass up by anti-capitalist Christians throughout history. It’s the only incident in all four Gospels where Jesus actually gets physically violent. And who does he appear to open up his can of holy whoop ass on? Money changers. Key word money.
You decide if my theory holds water, leave a comment and let me know.