Wednesday, January 02, 2008
The Pharisaical Publicans
In the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 18, Jesus tells the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican. Pharisees, the ancestors of Rabbinic Judaism, were pious laymen who strove to keep the Law of Moses perfectly in all circumstances. Publicans were Jews who work for the Romans as contract tax collectors. Paragons of religious virtue vs craven collaborators with an occupier.
The parable: To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.' But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.' I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."
Due to the vast ingenuity of mankind, even this binary upset can be re-turned on its head. In Christian churches, we have the phenomenon of the Pharisaical Publican: because humility and self-reproach are praised in this parable, some people emphasize their sinfulness precisely in order to occupy the more favorable position of the Publican. You may have met such people: you can tell that they are proud of their humility.
One of the ways in which I view the world, especially liberal Western culture, is through the lens of Christianity. Most Western liberals have emancipated themselves both from God --though not from "spirituality"-- and from the Church. But I detect the ongoing structure of the Christian dispensation in these post-religious saints.
I recently heard from someone about a group of well-off liberals asserting that the value of human life is so high that it would be wrong under any circumstances to take a human life. Even the example of being attacked by a Muslim terrorist intent on murder did not budge them from this view. And, to a wo/man, they also asserted that the Divine lived within them and not outside them. My initial puzzlement gave way to unease and then to horror. Pacifism holds no honor in my eyes; it is simply the collaboration of the highminded with evil. I am sure that all these folks have "evolved" views on a great many things. I remain horrified.
As well, some of my gym-mate were asserting recently that there is no reason to think that humans are the highest species on earth. They opined that the chickadee...yes, the chickadee, might be superior to ourselves. After all, how could we know? Again, what do I say?
Another gym fella found it mind-bending that the US Government declined to intervene in Pakistan's current problem after the Bhutto assassination. After all, didn't we put Saddam in power? If we can break the rule once, why not again? His ethical outrage was palpable and his upturned nose at his own country quite noticeable.
All these folks, it seems to me, are unhinged from reality. But they are unhinged for reasons of ethical superiority...always expressed in terms of confessed inferiority. Pharisaical Publicans.
To say that I find them dishearteningly typical of the denizens of this place would be an understatement.
at 8:40 PM