Here we go with number two on this list. I’m still not sure how this will work out, but I’ll go with it for now. Christopher Hitchens had a lot to say on what was in the beatitudes. I have no doubt that childhood gave him much to think about regarding this topic.
I don’t want to hit each of them and criticize them, rather I want to talk on just a couple of points. The beatitudes are found in Matthew 5. I’m going to borrow some words from newadvent.org both to avoid me messing up the RCC definitions and so that we’ll be clear what the RCC (roughly speaking) thinks is rightful thinking about these topics.
Seventh beatitude – Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. (Verse 9)
The “peacemakers” (verse 9) are those who not only live in peace with others but moreover do their best to preserve peace and friendship among mankind and between God and man, and to restore it when it has been disturbed. It is on account of this godly work, “an imitating of God’s love of man” as St. Gregory of Nyssa styles it, that they shall be called the sons of God, “children of your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:45).
Eighth beatitude – Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Verse 10)
When after all this the pious disciples of Christ are repaid with ingratitude and even “persecution” (verse 10) it will be but a new blessing, “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
So, by an inclusion, not uncommon in biblical poetry, the last blessing goes back to the first and the second. The pious, whose sentiments and desires whose works and sufferings are held up before us, shall be blessed and happy by their share in the Messianic kingdom, here and hereafter. And viewed in the intermediate verses seem to express, in partial images of the one endless beatitude, the same possession of the Messianic salvation. The eight conditions required constitute the fundamental law of the kingdom, the very pith and marrow of Christian perfection. For its depth and breadth of thought, and its practical bearing on Christian life, the passage may be put on a level with the Decalogue in the Old, and the Lord’s Prayer in the New Testament, and it surpassed both in its poetical beauty of structure.
What Does All That Mean?
I could spend my time talking about what it means and there would be those that might (rightly?) point out that an anti-theist interpreting holy scripture is not right. When I was a fundamentalist evangelical, it was never what the beatitudes said that bothered me, it is what they do not say. Yes, when you have only 66 chick tracts to live your life by, it is important to know both what they say and what they do not say.
The “peacemakers” (verse 9) are those who not only live in peace with others but moreover do their best to preserve peace and friendship among mankind and between God and man, and to restore it when it has been disturbed.
This No.7 sounds like a good thing. Of course, the Jews don’t go with the NT so that might explain some of the issues they seem to be having on the West Bank. Moreover, this sounds a lot like true Christians (TM) need to be accommodating people. The kind of people that ‘restore peace when it has been disturbed’ or so it would seem. It doesn’t appear that any of the monotheistic religions get this part right. Pope Frank might be in tune with this but he’s got a lot of catching up to do. Making peace with all those that were raped/molested by clerics is a Herculean task, if I can mix up religions. There are enough words there to say quite a bit. That said, there are a bunch of things it doesn’t say:
- Go to court and fight to keep the 10 commandments in a building that is not a church.
- Feed/help the poor but only when you get to proselytize to them.
- Fear outsiders or the government or those that do not believe as you do.
- Take over secular education and fight against what is not written in the holy scripture.
- Vote only for candidates who would push Christianity on those that do not want it.
- Enact laws that specifically protect the rights of Christians to pray publicly in houses of government and education. Of course this one brings us to another verse in Matthew – 6:5-7
5 And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
6 But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.
7 But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.
It appears that few of the most vocal Christians (at least in America) are intimately aware of the beatitudes. Many of their most public actions are clearly not in the spirit of these commandments. In verse 19 the believer is reminded that if you mess these up a bit, you’ll be able to get into heaven, but you’ll be the least of those in heaven. Perhaps you’ll be a toilet cleaner or sewage plant worker?
19 Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
Any common reading of these texts will tell you that vocal and common Christians in America are trying hard for that coveted toilet cleaner job.
Having said all that about Verse 9 it should surprise nobody that verse 10 follows up with motivation to go ahead and take the ‘persecution’ that is doled out to them.
Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
It doesn’t appear that there are many True Christians wanting to ‘take up that cross’ for the sake of living up to their stated convictions.
Sure, there are good people who are Christians. The trouble is that being Christian did not make them good.