More Nonsense from Pope Francis:
On Jesus and the Law
I’m not talking about his prayers for the victims of forest fires. Yes, that is nonsense, but the mainstream press knows enough to ignore it. It’s just a grandiose sympathy card. (In the old days, the Pope would actually ask God to do something useful – like ending a famine and/or healing victims. After innumerable failures, the Pope is now limited to expressions of sympathy. It’s much harder to fail at that.)
On Nov. 21 Pope Francis gave a speech on the Ten Commandments and related matters (here for NCR). He went out of his way to produce this nonsense.
Strangely, Pope Francis started with the last commandments:
“ ‘You shall not covet ... your neighbor's wife’ and ‘anything that belongs to your neighbor.’ The last commandments … encapsulate the essence of all of God's commands -- that every sin or transgression stems from ‘coveting’ and being caught up in evil thoughts and desires.”
How does every sin stem from coveting? Does murder stem from coveting? Not very often. Does idolatry stem from coveting? Virtually never. Does failure to honor your father and mother stem from coveting? Who violates the Sabbath out of coveting? These are the most important commandments, as far as God is concerned. They carry the death penalty.
Now you might point out that Pope Francis added ‘being caught up in evil thoughts and desires.’ But this is just a tautology. By definition, you only violate a commandment if you have some “evil desire” which makes you do it. This has no explanatory value.
Pope Francis’ claim that ‘every sin or transgression stems from ‘coveting’’ is wrong. But he went further. Crux reports he said, “It is useless to think of being able to correct oneself without the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is futile to think of purifying our heart in a titanic effort of only our will. This is not possible.” (For some reason, NCR chose to omit this section. Neither NCR nor CRUX provided a link to the actual text.)
Pope Francis doesn’t tell us if any non-Catholics have the ‘gift of the Holy Spirit.’ We know the Catholic Catechism says there is no salvation outside the Church. This would seem to imply that they don’t have the gift of the Holy Spirit. Does Pope Francis really believe that non-Catholics are a bunch of thieving murderers who dishonor their parents and practice idolatry? What about Muslims? Jews? Buddhists? Hindus? The pope seems to believe that the vast majority of people are thieving murderers.
Pope Francis repeats the old canard that Judaism is legalistic, unlike Jesus and Christianity: “God handed down his commandments not for people to hypocritically follow the letter of the law with a proud and righteous heart, but for people to recognize the truth of their weaknesses and acknowledge their need for help, healing and salvation.”
What does the Hebrew Bible say?
First, God never explains himself. He gives commandments, and he expects them to be obeyed – literally. Contrary to Pope Francis, there is nothing “hypocritical” about following the letter of the law. What’s “hypocritical” about not killing, stealing, committing adultery, bearing false witness, and so on?
God expects people to do their best to follow the commandments, and does not think they need divine help to do so:
“This commandment that I lay on you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. It is not in the heavens, that you should say, ‘Who will go up to the heavens for us to fetch it and tell it to us, so that we can keep it? Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross the sea for us to fetch it and tell it to us, so that we can keep it? It is a thing very near to you, on your lips and in your heart ready to be kept” (Deuteronomy 30:11-14).
Most people have no trouble refraining from murder, theft, and so on. Only a wicked few cannot refrain from raping boys, and bearing false witness about it.
What about Jesus?
Pope Francis obviously contradicts the Old Testament. But this is an ancient Christian tradition. We expect him to agree with Jesus and the New Testament.
What did Jesus say about following the letter of the law? Did Jesus think you needed divine help to obey the commandments?
The Sermon on the Mount makes his position clear. First of all, Jesus’ position on the letter versus the spirit of the Law is completely different than that of Pope Francis and his brethren:
“ ‘You have heard that our forefathers were told, ‘Do not commit murder; anyone who commits murder must be brought to justice.’ But what I tell you is this: Anyone who nurses anger against his brother must be brought to justice’ ” (Matthew 5:21-22).
Jesus expects you to follow the letter of the law. He sees nothing “hypocritical” about it, nor does he think you need divine assistance to keep the law. Jesus also expects you to obey the spirit of the law. And Jesus’ concept of the spirit of the law was unique. It is actually far more stringent than the letter of the Law. And he expected his followers to keep the spirit of the law. On their own, with no mention of the Holy Spirit.
Not being angry is very hard. The gospels do not record Jesus teaching his disciples how to accomplish this. Several centuries earlier, Buddha did. Maybe those teachings spread. Maybe Jesus had other ideas.
Jesus provided other examples where his ‘spirit of the Law’ was far stricter than the letter of the Law. In no case, was his spirit of the Law less strict than the letter of the Law. One example is even more noteworthy:
“ ‘You have heard that they were told, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But what I tell you is this: If a man looks at a woman with a lustful eye, he has already committed adultery with her in his heart’” (Matthew 5:27-28).
If you think suppressing anger is hard, try suppressing a lustful eye. Yet Jesus expected his followers to accomplish this without any special help.
Again, Jesus insists on keeping the Law.
"Anyone who sets aside even the least of the law's demands , and teaches others to do the same, will have the lowest place in the kingdom fo Heaven, whereas anyone who keeps the law, and teaches others to do so, will rank high in the kingdom of Heaven" (Matthew 5: 19).
Pope Francis is a Jesuit. I am sure he is familiar with the Sermon on the Mount, which contains the core of Jesus’ teachings. Yet he and his brethren don’t get the message.
Imagine at long last that Jesus returned, and saw what Pope Francis and his brethren were doing and teaching in his name. How do you think he’d feel?
Imagine that Abraham Lincoln returned and saw how Donald Trump and his Republican brethren were running the party of Lincoln. How do you think he’d feel?
My guess is that Jesus and Lincoln would feel pretty much the same. People have an immense capacity for delusion. Religions, political parties, and other social groups excel at exploiting this, using propaganda to misrepresent their doctrines and practices. Both literally and metaphorically, they get away with murder.