Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Beatitudes, morality, and you

So, today I am going to interpret the beatitudes . . .you know, because I'm totally a biblical scholar and qualified to do that.


Interpretation isn't exactly what I mean here. I would like to look at the beatitudes, look at interpretations of them as put forth by the Church (note, these will not, in fact, be my interpretations) . . . .and then I would like to make a few comments on how these little phrases can carry a lot of moral weight even for those who may not consider themselves "Christian". Why am I doing this? Because some part of me believes that morality comes down to the same things regardless of what religion you may follow, or not follow. That there are certain base elements of human morality that apply to all of us who consider ourselves to be "moral" beings, even if we do not consider ourselves to be "religious".

I would also like to apologize in advance for any unintentional blasphemy. Also note that interpretations from both perspectives are horribly generalized, and intended more to squeeze out my own thought-juice rather than convince or persuade. Full disclaimer, etc, etc.

1.) Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven: Now, this is a tricky one. A common interpretation among Christians of various denominations is that only those who understand the nature of real poverty are blessed.A common misinterpretation is that those who are spiritually deficient, or otherwise just plain poor are somehow gifted the kingdom of heaven . . . -_-u 

Anyway, lets look at this from a basic "moral" but not necessarily Christian perspective: Understanding, I think most of us would agree, is essential to any sort of moral behaviour. You cannot treat someone well, cannot do right by them, if you have no idea of what they are going through and what effect that is having on them.Often, this understanding has come from our own sufferng. Those of us who truly understand poverty and other suffering--often being acquainted with it firsthand--will naturally be better equipped to help our fellow man. 

2.)Blessed are the meek, for they shall possess the land: This one's pretty straightforward. From a Christian perspective, this means that those who are humble enough to be taught by God and follow his will, will inherit God's earth.

From a non-religious perspective, there is still a moral message here of note. Although non-Christians aren't having the promise of world domination dangled before them as incentive, most basically "moral" people will acknowledge that too much pride, too much boastfulness, too much bro-like swagger is not only irritating to your fellow man (and women, too), but causes you to become self-centered in a way that prevents you from treating others as kindly as they deserve.   

3.) Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted: Another one that is especially straightforward from the Christian perspective. Those who mourn will be comforted by God, and therefore blessed.

This one is a bit more difficult to interpret from the non-Christian perspective. When a non-Christian mourns, comfort does not come from God (barring a sudden conversion, which is not uncommon). Comfort can come in the form of "it was for the best" or "it was his/her time" or just by simply taking that grief and dealing with it in purely secular ways, often including punching bags and/or alcohol. What can be said here in terms of how secular grief pertains to morality is that there is this sense of "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger." Those of us who have grieved, truly grieved, and who have come out the other side emerge with a better understanding of the world we live in, and once again this makes us more sympathetic towards others. 

4.) Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall have their fill: Now this one is interesting.There appear to be many different ways to interpret it from a Christian perspective. I know this is true of all of them, but some to a greater extent than others. In some ways, this could be taken literally: those who fast in the name of God could be seen as hungering and thirsting after righteousness. However, one could also take this in a more abstract spiritual sense--those who strive to fill some deficiency of righteousness within themselves, and in the world around them will someday find it. 

From the non-Christian perspective, this can also be viewed as a (more easily interpreted) moral point. The notion of fasting in this context is right out, which leaves only a more steady moral perspective.Those who strive to do right in the world, who hunger and thirst to be a "good" person, to live by moral standards whatever they may be, will wind up doing better for their fellows than those without that drive (provided that drive is not taken to absurd extremes, I suppose).

5.)Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy: This one is once again fairly straightforward to interpret from a Christian perspective. Those who are merciful to others, will receive mercy from God.

From the secular perspective, too, this is straightforward. While not receiving mercy from God, necessarily, for merciful actions, non-Christians can and frequently do use this concept of mercy in their own moral practices. Forgiving other people's flaws, accepting that everyone is just human seems to be a significant moral point around the board. 

6.) Blessed are the clean of heart, for they shall see God: The meaning of this from the Christian perspective means a person who keeps clean of sin, or is forgiven for their sins and continues to stay out of sin. One of the fundamentals of the religion, as I understand it, is this striving for purity.

From the non-Christian perspective, the meaning could be interpreted as slightly different, but result in another moral component. While non-Christians are not preoccupied with keeping themselves free of sin, per se,there does seem to be some element of purity in their moral system which, often in a bassackwards way consists of staying true to that same moral system.   

7.)Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God: While some denominations interpret this as an encouragement for pacifism, others interpret it as taking a more active role in ending conflict. 

This applies in pretty much the same way across the board regardless of religion. Avoiding being unnecessarily confrontational, playing the role of peacemaker between two conflicting parties seems a common moral point among both Christians, and non-Christians. CAN'T WE ALL JUST GET ALONG? 

8.)Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice's sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven: From the Christian perspective, this often means that those who are willing to suffer for their religion will receive rewards for their sacrifice.

From a secular perspective, this can be interpreted as a willingness to suffer for what the individual believes is a "just cause" as a strong moral point. Sticking to your guns and your moral beliefs, and being willing to fight for them in the face of criticism is an important characteristic of anyone considering themselves "moral" in some way. Once again, provided that this is not taken to extremes, and that the moral system this is based on is not totally whacked.  

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