Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Those elusive Christian values

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A while back I wrote a footnote on Christian values:

Exactly what is meant with this expression is another thing that can vary considerably, but by-and-large few see them as negative, and what forms the “common core” is almost invariably (including by me) seen as something positive, notably the “Golden Rule” and related values.

This has left me a bit dissatisfied, especially with the problem of widely varying interpretations of the phrase and the knowledge that quite a bit of what Jesus taught is not followed by modern Christian and/or does not meet my own approval*—not to mention the differences between the Old and the New Testament**.

*For instance the idea of “turning the other cheek”, which could result in disaster (but the related idea of forgiveness is potentially a different issue). Charitable acts without strings attached is another thing I find problematic, because the consequences can be negative. Other points, e.g. a negative take on material values, leave me torn: Seeing material things as less important and living in modesty are good things (if not necessarily easy), but extremes like giving everything to charity and living as a monk are a different matter. I see nothing wrong with a degree of comfort; extremes of all types, even apparently virtuous, tend to do more harm than good; and a society without at least some people striving for wealth (and having other ambitions) would be doomed to poverty and stagnation—to the point that we would likely still be living in the stone age and would be unaware of Jesus and his now pre-alphabet teachings… Other yet are things where I could see a benefit in principle, but would be unable to comply. Notably, “love thy neighbor” is a tricky one for a misanthrope…

**Including the sometimes preference of the Old over the New by Bible proponents when it happens to match their ideas or agenda, even though the New Testament should take precedence when it comes to things Christian.

To remedy this dissatisfaction, I today visited a few Wikipedia links and did a few searches—and feel that I got nothing for the trouble.

For instance, the English Wikipedia article appears to be written by someone who has capitulated in face of the problems, spending half the (short) article on listing alleged world-wide “conservative” and “liberal” takes. A part from these being more U.S. centric than world wide, they contain a number of too specific items: How, e.g., is teaching “intelligent design” a (conservative) Christian value? (Even disregarding that many or most Christians, including almost all Swedish, do not believe in it…) How, e.g., is “high, progressive income tax” a (liberal) Christian value? For that matter, this is not necessarily something that even a U.S. liberal Christian would necessarily agree with, let alone see as Christian. The part of the article dealing with the New Testament is truly lazy; the Old is left out..

The German article does a better job , but also notes that “Ein allgemein akzeptiertes, in heutiger Terminologie genau konkretisiertes Verzeichnis christlicher Werte ist daher kaum realisierbar.”*

*The gist being that it is not possible to find a list of Christian values that would be accepted by everyone. I refrain from a direct translation, largely because “in heutiger Terminologie genau konkretisiertes Verzeichnis” is the type of sentence fragment that should be taken out and shot.

Other sources found are mostly similar, contentless, or depict a too personal view to be interesting.

It seems clear, however, that the Ten Commandments and the “Sermon on the Mount” (which includes the “Golden Rule”) are of great importance to any discussion. I will refrain from a more detailed analysis (lacking the time to do the necessary leg work; but also see the first footnote); however, I note that the latter is more likely to contain controversies and differences between supposed and actual behaviors, and that the former is mostly free from controversy once the religious parts are left out and noting that there are allowances for circumstance* in typical interpretations.**

*E.g. in that killing is allowed in self-defense situations.

**A remaining complication is whether a violation occurs already with the thought or only with the action. That we should not sleep with the neighbor’s wife is uncontroversial; if we must keep “naughty thoughts” about her out of our heads, then controversy is hard to avoid. (As the recurring reader knows, I am a strong believer in thoughts not being punishable—only actions.)

Surprisingly little time appears to be spent on “the seven deadly sins” and the opposing virtues, whereas I would have thought them central. While these are quite open to interpretation, many or all could be seen as beneficial for both the individual and society in at least some interpretations. Avoiding sloth, gluttony, and wrath might be beneficial in all reasonable interpretations. As an aside, I have long found these to be more a matter of instructions on how to lead a happy life than e.g. on how to please God or how to fit within society.

A very different source gives me an equally different angle, especially with the common U.S. intermingling of Christian and family values. I have been revisiting “Family Guy” lately, which has a (highly ironic!) theme song of:

It seems today that all you see is violence in movies and sex on TV

But where are those good old fashioned values on which we used to rely?

[…]

(Quoted, with some editing, from http://www.lyricsmode.com/lyrics/f/family_guy/family_guy_theme_song_lyrics.html.)

These two sentences* catch much of the Conservative view on the issues, while also explaining much of the attraction of Conservatism. Honestly: Where are those good old fashioned values?

*The first obviously giving only a special case to be taken as representative.

Written by michaeleriksson

November 19, 2017 at 2:42 pm

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