If I haven’t learned anything I’ve learned the messages we send out are many, layered and often mixed. Our biggest issue ultimately is our inability to control the thoughts feelings & actions of others. Boy if I could do that, I would never have to take responsibility for my own. So lets lay it on the line...If I have learned nothing of religion & even those who claim no religion, I have learned that how we seek, investigate, experience, think about, interact with the higher place/energy/being found within & without our individual material existence…that place within us that tells us how we make sense of our world & the experience of it… I have learned no matter what version of philosophy, religion, spiritual practice, cultural context…it repeatedly speaks & points to life giving truth… AND due to the human condition is just as quick to be used in every attempt to control what makes “me” uncomfortable in others – which in reality actually becomes a very destructive force to life, love & freedom.
There is much to criticize about what we call the Holy Bible, from the actual text, to the context, to what is in & what is not, to how it is used. I am one of the first to raise the hard questions that become blatant spotlights on what seems contradictory, paradoxical & and if read believing it is the “inerrant word of God,” it often reflects a God who seems at best bipolar & at worst sadistic. I personally have come at it from a number of perspectives. My introduction was fundamentalist indoctrination, which served to feed into & reinforce the belief within me that even though I instinctively understood there was power that was not my own, that was a part of creating me, it hated me. I believed I was worthless, and had to earn my value by becoming everything I was not, this would include the attempt to control my very thoughts, feelings & beliefs. Emotional manipulation was the weapon, recruitment the goal. Whether one thinks of evil as an entity – the devil, a force – energy/will or as a self determined act, admittedly it worked its damage well, the evil that attacks me most is emotional, mental & spiritual insecurity.
A few things which have become clear with time, study, experience is that our material lives – that includes the breathing we do in this time & place on this earth, in these bodies – has limits – we can call it natural law – our physical body only last so long. We hold within us varying degrees of knowledge, skill, gift, understanding, vision. We come with a variety of biological, historical & cultural experience. The point being I’ve come to recognize, I have little knowledge & experience to judge another person or the path in life they walk. I also recognize no one else can legitimately hold judgment over mine. Consequences are a whole other can of worms.
Some things scripture has taught me, through story, context & experience…Full & abundant life requires Love – unconditional acceptance of what is – a love that holds within it truth & freedom. Humans hold within them all that makes life possible & all that can destroy that very life in this time & place. The Gospel or Good news found in the story or life of Jesus is not whether he was man, God, prophet or not, healer, heretic, messiah, symbol real or fiction. The Gospel or "good news"is quite frankly and on many levels simply offensive. It at once holds us to account for our own thoughts, beliefs & actions AND at the same time frees us by giving us permission to be just what we are. The offense is that it is in living life that abundant life is found, not in some formula of control – of myself or of others. The irony is that one develops self control, wisdom, and experiences comfort, peace of mind & heart in the midst of pain, violence & chaos.
Take one short New Testament story that has been much used to justify taxation that has nothing to do with taxation. The story can be found in several places, including Matthew 22:15-22. The setting…One large oppressive military state has taken over the region & imposed their own laws, blending an odd mix of being allowed to keep ones religious practice as long as the “feds” (emperor/senate/Rome) had priority in everyday life. The consequences for not adhering to the law – local, religious, cultural or national could & often did end in death.
The characters…some religious fundamentalists, and a few “sheeple herders” who are not happy with the new kid on the block, his ideas & practice threaten their comfort zones – that is it triggers their fear. He is preaching to the sheeple that have longed for a different way to live out from the under oppression. These who have sought him out do to the rumors they heard about what he had to offer. The religious nuts (Pharisees) are determined to stick with the control script, the sheeple herders (Herodians) are just out to cover their own ass, come together to form a tenuous alliance in order to mark their turf to this infidel – he wears the wrong gang colors & has a big mouth.
The set up…taxes…paying them supports the state, not paying them can get you killed…either way the question posed is a set up…Jesus was no idiot – he may or may not be many things – but idiot is not one of them. One of the rules that sets up several stories on money in new testament, is that only Rome could distribute silver coins. One of the religious rules was that one could not even depict human face on something like a coin, it was tantamount to idol worship, to even use a coin with an image is blaspheme. Jesus says show me the coin used to pay the tax & asked the question “who’s image is on it?” His response is “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s & to God what is God’s.” He doesn't explain what that is, how that is, or even the ritual to make sure to do it right…he simply threw it back in their lap…with the truth…You are free to choose”
It begs the question, “what will you choose?”