“God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.” –Friedrich Nietzsche.
To be honest, I am not fully familiar with the works of Nietzsche. I learned about some of his concepts while reading “Everything is F*cked: A Book About Hope” by Mark Manson. Manson emphasized that the weakening of our social, governmental, and religious institutions was creating a moral vacuum which we might struggle to fill. Pursuit of empty pleasure, quick riches, and vapid popularity have created a bankruptcy of compassion and human decency.
Nietzsche proposed that society would become so lost and self-absorbed that we would need to rely on an “Übermensch” or “Superman” to guide us to greater values. The Übermensch was anticipated to “rise above” Christian morality and instead implement a superior moral system that would usher the world into a new Age of Enlightenment.
We currently live in an era in the United States where some of our highest religious leaders believe that greed is God. They tout a return to “traditional Christian values”, usually emphasizing sexual purity, loyalty to leadership, church attendance, and tithing, with or without emphasizing community service. I would like to break down how and why focusing on these things alone, without prioritizing compassion, selflessness, and care for the poor and needy—and worse, while also legitimizing greed—absolutely misses the points that Jesus was
trying to make with his teachings.
“But I say unto you, that whoever looks at a women and lusts after her, has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” –Matthew 5:28
“…Whoever puts away his wife, except for the cause of fornication, causes her to commit adultery: whoever marries her that is divorced commits adultery.” -Matthew 5:32
LOYALTY TO LEADERSHIP
“Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.
Owe no man anything, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.
For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.
Love worketh no ill to his neighbor: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” –Romans 13:7-8
“Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father…
But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeks such to worship him.
God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” –John 4:21-24
“Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” –Luke 17:21
“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.” –Matthew 23:22
INDICTMENT OF GREED AND SELFISHNESS
Jesus had very clear teachings on all those subjects many churches emphasize, but he had even stronger teachings about greed. He often used parables to express his views on excessive wealth.
For example, in Luke 12 he tells the parable of a rich man who had an especially bountiful harvest. This rich man realizes his boon and decides to pull down his old barns and build bigger ones so that he can store all the extra crops. He plans to use his new wealth to live an easy life for the next few years.
God is described as having stern words for him:
“You fool! Tonight, your soul is required of you, and who will these things that you have saved up belong to then?
So is he that stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich towards God.” –Luke 12:20-21
Jesus implied that being “rich towards God” was dependent on being generous to others.
In the famous “Parable of the Sheep and the Goats”, he is judging the righteous and the unrighteous at the end of time. He places the sheep on his right hand and the goats on his left. He invites the sheep to join him in the kingdom of heaven. He explains that when they saw him hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, or in prison, they ministered to him. When they asked him when they had provided these services to him, he said,
“If you’ve done it to the least of my brothers, you have done it to me.” –Matthew 25:40
The goats, who had failed to provide for his brothers, were told to go to “everlasting fire.” They were not judged on the basis of their church attendance, their belief, or their adherence to superficial doctrine. Jesus had already said that there would be many who thought they would enter his kingdom who would fail to do so.
“Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?
And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” –Matthew 7:22-23
EYE OF A NEEDLE
“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” –Matthew 19:24
This verse is often quoted, but the context is just as often ignored. Jesus was addressing his disciples to explain an exchange he had with a “rich younger ruler.” This young man approached Jesus to ask him what he would need to do to enter the kingdom of heaven. Jesus asked if he was keeping the commandments, including honoring his parents, avoiding lying and stealing, and loving his neighbor as himself. The man said he had been doing this from childhood and asked what more he needed to do. Jesus instructed him to sell everything he owned and give the money to the poor so that “he would have treasure in heaven.”
The man “went away sorrowful” because he had “great possessions.” On paper, he was doing everything right, but his overvaluing of material goods—more than any other factor— stood between him and the entrance to the kingdom of God.
Jesus’ disciples were astonished, and they asked him if there was any hope of anyone being saved. Jesus replied:
“With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.” –Matthew 19:26
Some people—like millionaire televangelist Kenneth Copeland—would have us believe that Jesus was saying that somehow, rich people could enter the kingdom of heaven while maintaining their wealth. In reality, Jesus was saying that someone could find the strength to be generous and open, with God’s help.
In the face of so much anti-greed rhetoric in writings that have been attributed to Jesus, you would think that pastors would emphasize community service and generosity above building massive church buildings and parking lots and purchasing fancy technical equipment. Before the birth of what we now know as the Catholic church, early Christians focused far less on ornate cathedrals and more on eliminating poverty and spreading Jesus’ teachings.
In the book of Acts, the church is described as utilizing a communal system in which they “shared everything” and “there was no lack.” (Acts 2:44-46)
WHAT IT ALL MEANS
I could pull examples from all over the Bible showing why greed is—and should be considered—one of the worst sins in Christianity.
“For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have strayed from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” –1 Timothy 6:10
Money itself is not evil, but what is evil is accumulating wealth at the expense of others. Yet this is what so many of our U.S. politicians, church leaders, and thought leaders do on a daily basis, while sitting on a moral high horse and neatly absolving themselves of all guilt or responsibility.
We have experienced an unprecedented shift in how most people in the U.S.—and worldwide—will be able to worship. Due to COVID-19, public gatherings of more than 50 people are absolutely prohibited in most places, and that includes church services. Houses of worship—large and small—are completely empty on Sunday mornings, save for the staff of tech-savvy churches who have moved their services online. Christianity is facing one of its greatest tests of the modern age; Christians will need to decide whether they go to church or they are the church.
Yes, most other aspects of life have been relegated to home as well, but I think those who depend on religious institutions for guidance and a sense of purpose— or at the very least a way to feel as though they have done their due diligence for the week by attending services— find themselves stripped of ceremony, ritual, and community, and now they must determine if their faith endures this disaster.
Meanwhile, our government—populated largely by members of the so-called Moral Majority—has utterly failed us. They have chosen—once again—to bail out big businesses while shafting independent workers and the oft unemployed underclass. The same men and women who stood up for “Biblical marriage” are now in an adulterous relationship with money. Instead of having a heart full of repentance, they pat themselves on the back and congratulate each other on a job well done.
If there is an afterlife, they will be utterly shocked when they discover that whatever kind of hell that exists will have a special place for them.
We need something to replace the structures that are clearly rotting away. We have done what Jesus admonished against—built our homes on the sinking sand of trash values and empty dogma (Matthew 7:24-27). When major institutions erode, then the foundation is laid for apathy, violence, and even greater oppression. As our leaders threaten to plunge us into darkness—the likes of which we have not known for centuries— we need someone to shine the light for us. We do not need a savior, though, because if he or she appears, it is likely that we will not recognize or acknowledge them. Each of us must be our own savior. We have to pursue virtue, not because of some external reward, but because doing what is right is so important, especially when the world feels so wrong.
According to Christianity, love is the highest law. That means that Biblical doctrine does not force any Christian to endorse any leadership or institution that does not have love at its helm. We do not have to uphold corrupt laws that hurt the people we cherish.
If you are a Christian, you may wonder why a professing agnostic atheist is lecturing on Biblical morality. It is because that god died for me a long time ago, and I know that under these conditions, he will die for many others. People need something to believe in, to fight for, to strive towards. Life becomes very chaotic when community, purpose, and basic physiological needs are lacking. This is the “trial by fire” that was expressed by St. Peter in 1 Peter 1:7. Gold has to be refined in order to remove the impurities. For better or worse, this current crisis is exposing people for what they really are. The demons who have been disguised as angels of light are shedding their suits and revealing the reptilian skin underneath.
I am not afraid of hell in the afterlife—I am afraid of hell on earth— and unfettered greed has contributed to the reality of this hell very directly. We—the good people of earth—have to come together and rise up above this tide of trash that has been dumped on us. We need to reach out to the hurting people around us. I am a firm believer that believing a set of facts about a deity is useless if you do not embody the principles of your faith.
“Faith without works is dead.” – James 2:20