A Possible Interpretation of the Biblical Beatitudes in the Modern World Continuity of Western Culture – still offering beneficial guidance? 080909, 073110
Western Culture, after the Greeks and Romans, was strongly impacted by two currents of thought and values – Christian ethics and, after some interruption, increasing intellectual clarity – the latter reaching from the ancient Greek thinkers to the Muslim universities of Southern Spain, through the scholastic period, Renaissance, and Enlightenment, into our modern, “scientific” world, including Darwin – postulating that, in nature, not Christian love, but the “fittest shall prevail” – and finally to awakening socialism as an echo to early Christian teaching. Overemphasis on one philosophy has often led to a strong reaction by another philosophy. In our time of emphasizing science, we see a resurgence of religious fundamentalism in many parts of the world. This may be explained by a closing-of-the-ranks of those who feel seriously threatened in their security by the loss of the foundation of their faith and culture or gain merit by fighting for their faith – and also explained by the defense of hierarchies hanging on to their power. The resurgence of old theological dogmatism often does not fit well with the needs and thoughts of the modern world, and it may even be counterproductive. We readily point out that Muslim fundamentalism may have done more harm to the Muslim world than any good it basically wanted to contribute. The same, however, must be said about many forms of Christian fundamentalism throughout history, and about other religions as well. What do we teach our children? What path in life do we ourselves pursue? We want our children to establish a sound economic base to their lives – we need one ourselves – by being fit to “prevail”. Obviously, though, in our human culture (which is based largely on cooperation), we prefer peace, cherish trustworthiness, and admire charitable generosity. Does the original Christian teaching of old, the words of Jesus, still fit into the modern world – or do they merely need to be reinterpreted? A core area of Christian teaching are the so-called Beatitudes, which are part of the “Sermon on the Mount”, a collection of verbally transmitted sayings attributed to Jesus. In their most quoted form, these were written about 50 years after Jesus’ crucifixion. They were quoted by “Matthew” (see his Chapter 5 in the Christian Bible’s New Testament), but are also recorded in a different selection by Luke (Chapter 6, V 20 and following), even though both apparently quoted from the same earlier source, named “Q”. Luke mentions only four Beatitudes; Matthew recites eight. Were these sayings, especially those mentioned only by Matthew, really the words of Jesus? Were the thoughts of the Beatitudes already contained in the words and thoughts found in earlier biblical writing or in the thoughts of other cultures the Jews had been in contact with? This may be important to the researcher. Pope Benedict XVI, in his book Jesus, presents primarily the relationship between the Beatitudes and other (some earlier) biblical writings, theological thought, and the Catholic church. For most of us, however, these writings express the earliest Christian thought They actually reach the ultimate form of all historic ethical concepts leading up to Jesus – from nature-formed ethical behavior among social animals to Urukagina’s first ethical writings 4,500 years ago, and from there onward through the development of human cultures. Finally formulated by the young and inspired Jesus, these Beatitudes postulate, in their own time, an enhanced attitude toward society and fellow humans. The Beatitudes offer more demanding rules of thought and behavior, thereby promising a better world for all. .
Four of the Beatitudes in Matthew (the 1st, 2nd, 4th, and 8th), as all those...