In the culture wars of the first century, there was a group of activists who came down on the right side of all the values questions. They rejected relativism and secularism. They were unwavering adherents of ethical absolutism. They were committed to the Judaeo-Christian values of monogamy in marriage and chastity outside it. They promoted monotheism against polytheistic Roman paganism. Clearly, the Pharisees were considered the Religious Right of Israel.
But it is interesting that the people who held the "right" values were the ones least responsive to Jesus' message and most likely to receive his reprimands. His message was received with the greatest eagerness by those who came down on the wrong side of all the values issues—the prostitutes, the tax collectors, the religious half-breeds.
To be sure, Jesus frequently occupied the Pharisees' circles as a dinner guest and intellectual companion, and there were even those within the group who embraced him. Nonetheless, most Pharisees could not accept Jesus' radical claims and actions in light of their reading of the Holy Scriptures.
The ironic result of their "rightness" in belief and practice was that they became unable to love—did not want the sick healed on the Sabbath, did not want an adulterous woman to be forgiven, did not want sinners to share fellowship with the righteous. They came to see people they were called to love as "the enemy."
But they are not the only ones. The Inquisition, the Crusades, slavery—all these were entered into by people who believed in ethical absolutism and even defended their actions with the Bible.
This is a common temptation for all of us who take faith seriously. I regularly get fundraising letters from Christian organizations ...1
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