Where do Observant Jews and Conservative Christians get their Morals, Theologically Speaking?

Bill Maher pointed out the irony of American Right Wing Christianity when he said that if Jesus were a Presidential candidate, the Christian Right would NEVER elect him because he’s a long-haired, sandal-wearing liberal hippie Jew. Uncomfortable with the conflicting tasks of reconciling their Christianity with charges to cut social safety net funding to the barest of bones, the honesty-impaired crew over at Conservapedia have taken it upon themselves to literally begin re-writing the Bible, claiming that previous translations have packed it full of liberal spin. Of course, the Conservapedia answer to this alleged problem is not to create a balanced Bible, but to create a Conservative Bible – hence the name of the project, the Conservative Bible Project.

Daniel Florien, ex-Christian turned atheist, recently posted some of the more liberal, socialist New Testament passages on his blog, Unreasonable Faith. Here are a few of them:

44 And all that believed were together, and had all things in common;
45 And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.

Acts 2: 44, 45

13 But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you.
14 You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.

Luke 14:13, 14

If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.

Matthew 19:21

24 You cannot serve both God and Money.

Matthew 6:24.

In addition to these quotes are Jesus’ famous endorsements of forgiveness, compassion and acceptance, rather than grudge-holding, retribution-seeking and judging (e.g., Let he who is without sin cast the first stone; judge not lest ye be judged; turn the other cheek).

When you look at these sorts of quotes, it is perplexing to fathom how Conservative Christians could see themselves in Christ and how they could appreciate let alone revere him. How do they square their widespread antipathy for government assistance programs and homosexuality with these iconic passages? Now, it’s true that the Bible may well be the most cherry-picked, quote-mined text of all time. Given this,

Are there New Testament passages that Conservative Christians can interpret as endorsing their political values?

We’ve all seen Conservative Christians site verses from the Old Testament, perhaps none more so than Leviticus 20:13 (“If a man lies with another man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood is on their own hands.”). Indeed, the more grim, authoritarian theme of the Old Testament appears – to me, at least – to jive far better with modern day American Conservative values of respect for authority, tradition, corporal punishment, capital punishment, and thoroughly retributive justice. The New Testament, judging by mainstream cultural folklore, sounds to be far more liberal, socialist, egalitarian, compassionate, and forgiving. Am I wrong? I’ll admit that I’ve only read parts of the Old Testament and none of the New, so my question is not rhetorical. What exactly is the Right taking from the New Testament?

What About Jewish Moral Theology?

The Old Testament is often viewed as hellishly harsh and unforgiving. If a country today were to use it as a strict policy guide, said country would rightly be considered to be a stunningly cruel, vicious, totalitarian state. Many Christians today, in my limited experience, seem to downplay the moral significance of the Old Testament, pointing to the New Testament as the relevant Christian moral framework. Accepting this, I can’t help but ask:

Where is the warmer, more humane side of Jewish Theology?

For Christianity, it’s the New Testament. The New Testament gives license to Christians to move past authoritarian barbarism toward less judgmental forgiveness and acceptance. Where does that come in within Judaism? Where is the feel good part of Jewish Moral Theology? It’s got to be in there somewhere. Is it burried within the OT, or in a sister scripture? I don’t for a minute buy that people get their morals from scripture. But there are plenty of people who do. So from this perspective,

Where do observant Jews get their morals?

Share your views and knowledge in the Comment section!


8 thoughts on “Where do Observant Jews and Conservative Christians get their Morals, Theologically Speaking?

  1. Pingback: Questions on Jewish and Conservative Christian Moral Theology « The Frame Problem

  2. Continuing from your endorsement of Justin Trottier in Parkdale-High Park…

    Both Cheri DiNovo and Peggy Nash both come to the same beliefs, one heavily influenced by religion and the other apparently little influenced by religion. I just goes to show religion doesn’t really make much difference in how what people believe or act. It just allows them to justify whatever conclusions they come to. When you ask “Where do Observant Jews and Conservative Christians get their Morals” the answer is the same place that atheists get theirs, from our human nature.

  3. Pingback: Where do Observant Jews and Conservative Christians get their Morals, Theologically Speaking? | Always Question Authority

  4. Darwin: Agreed. I don’t for a minute think that people get their moral drives from reading this or that text, though of course texts can influence the shape of moral beliefs. However, given that many people do believe that morality comes from religion (I’ve heard this position offered by Conservative Christians, and I would assume that there are observant Jews who have similar beliefs), I’m wondering what the theological bases of Conservative Christians’ and observant Jews’ morality are. You get me?

  5. Pingback: chill sends this quote from a news release by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory: « Bitter Harvest

  6. Excellent question, Observant Jews get their moral beliefs from the vast body of Rabbinic literature known as the Talmud. I have personally observed many atheists have a lot of difficulty when they are debating with knowledgeable Jew, this is largely because the Atheist is assuming that the Jew is just like a Christian who doesn’t believe in Jesus or the New Testament. In reality Orthodox Judaism regards both the Talmud and the Old Testament as canonical and of the two of them the Talmud is the one that is more relevant in Modern Jewish practice. You must remember, the government of ancient Judea and of the Kingdom of Judah can be compared to the one that Britain had during the Medieval era. The King was the executive, the Sadducee (or Temple priests) yielded great power and were comparable to the Legislature, and the Pharisees (or the Sages) who were the Judiciary. In fact Judaism teaches that the Prophets in the old testament were the predecessors. After the Roman conquest the only branch of that traditional government structure able to survive was the Judiciary who have henceforth dominated Judaism. As a result Jewish theology and tradition are intensely legalistic. The rabbis however were humanists for their time and may have regarded some of their own scriptures as unethical, whenever they encountered something they regarded as unethical they would expand the legal restrictions associated with it, for example the rabbis made capital punishment virtually impossible by implementing all sorts of regulations a lot of which are absurdly demanding, the only capital crime that was exempt from all but the most basic regulations was murder. Most Orthodox Jews do not put it this way, because according to their beliefs, Judaism was always this way, as a Conservative Jew I do not believe that. I regard the Rabbis as having transformed an entire religion for the better. Occasionally we go back to our old ways, however the true teachings of Rabbinic Judaism are in the Talmud.

  7. The NT does say in Matthew 5:18 that not a “jot or tittle” of the OT law is changed by the NT.

    A couple typos:

    “We’ve all seen Conservative Christians site verses from the Old Testament…”
    –> “site” should be “cite.”

    “…Old Testament appears – to me, at least – to jive far better …”
    –> “jive” should be “jibe.”

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