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An article by Alton C. Thompson

"I feel Sheepish!"

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I have long thought of the famous “sheep and goats” passage in Matthew 25 as both beautiful and brilliant:

35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in.

36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, Iwas in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?

38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?

39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

This morning (2019-NOV-30), however, a different perspective on the passage occurred to me -- that new perspective probably being a consequence of this paper that I wrote yesterday:  Global Warming:  The Emergence of a Broader Approach.

What “dawned” on me, this morning, about the “sheep and goats” passage is that it makes no reference to the Existing Order.  That means that although it supplies no explicit criticism of the Existing Order, its advice does criticize the Existing Order implicitly -- but only implicitly.  In so doing it treats the Existing Order as a “given” that, in effect, is not to be recognized explicitly.  And the implication of that fact is that it advises tacit acceptance of the Existing Order.

In short, the explicit advice that it offers is based on the fact that the Existing Order is not at all a desirable sort of society.  Unlike what Anthropologist James Suzman found by studying the Bushmen in Africa:  He found them to be egalitarian, “comfortable, peaceable, happy and secure.”  That is, the Bushmen live in a society there is no need to advise them to give food to the hungry, etc.; for the behaviors enjoined in the Matthew passage are engaged in automatically by them!

What the author of Matthew could not have known is that the lives of his distant ancestors were likely rather similar to today’s Bushmen, in that they lived in “the original affluent society”!  The author of Matthew, however, was living in a “civilized” society -- which he, understandably, took as a “given.”

Here’s the tragedy of doing so:  By tacitly expressing a criticism of a consequence of the Existing Order (e.g., the fact that many in the society were in need of food), but not expressing explicit criticism of the Existing Order itself, he discouraged his fellows from developing an awareness of fact that their society was not the only possible sort of society. So that -- in not thinking about their society -- it never occurred to them that the society they lived in was in need of change.  It’s not surprising, then, that the Existing Order continued “on its merry way,” making some improvements along the way, but never returning to the Eden of the hunter-gatherer society 

Despite the fact that the Existing Order continued on, thanks in part to the author of Matthew (!), some, over the centuries, have sensed deficiencies in the Existing Order, and then developed ideas for a better society. (See this list of “utopian” literature) Some have even made attempts to implement “utopian” ideas. (See this article). 

Unfortunately, those ideas and efforts have never been connected to ideas in the Bible, so that many Jews and Christians have not been very active in attempts to replace the Existing Order with something better.  That failure may very well mean that of the 1,000,000 species likely to go extinct soon, our species will be among that number!

I feel sheepish in not having recognized the above earlier, but “better late than never!”?

A final point:  There’s no point in criticizing the author of Matthew for his “failure” noted earlier, for it’s unlikely that he would have been able to avoid that “failure.”  We should respond to the “sheep and goats” passage by working to try to “save” our species from extinction!

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Original posting: 2019-DEC-01
Updated: 2019-DEC-07
Alton C. Thompson

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