Saturday, October 28, 2017

The Moral Decline of Religion and the Seven Woes of Jesus

   By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

            Christianity is in decline.  It is projected that by 2030 a third of Americans will have no religious preference.  While over 70% of Americans still claim to be Christians, that’s down 10% from 10 years ago.  Surprisingly, in spite of the decline in Christianity, Catholicism is holding its own, and that’s likely due to the moral leadership of Pope Francis.

            The moral decline of Christianity was on display at the Values Voter Summit earlier this month.  The “family values” celebrated by evangelical Christians are more like the self-centered objectivist values of Ayn Rand than the altruistic values taught by Jesus, which are summarized in the greatest commandment to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves—including neighbors of other races and religions.  It is a common word of faith for Christians and Muslims.

            Thomas Jefferson considered the teachings of Jesus “the most sublime moral code ever designed by man.”  And Reinhold Niebhur, perhaps the greatest Christian theologian of the 20th century, emphasized Christian morality in politics.  But their enlightened views have been lost on Christian evangelical leaders like Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell, Jr., Paula White, Joel Osteen, Robert Jeffress and Tony Perkins, whose prosperity gospel conflicts with the gospel of Jesus.
            Islam is growing, but it is also experiencing a moral decline.  Mustafa Akyol has noted that the moral teachings of Jesus are relevant to Muslims, and that Islamists advocate oppressive Islamic laws (Shari’a) that deny fundamental freedoms.  Jesus issued a scathing, seven-fold indictment of hypocritical religious leaders like Christian evangelists and Islamists who ignore the moral imperative of the greatest commandment and promote oppressive radical right politics:

1. Woe to you religious leaders who misrepresent God’s kingdom as a worldly kingdom.  You will not be able to enter God’s kingdom, and you prevent those who follow you from entering. (Mt 23:13)
2. Woe to you who convert people to your corrupted beliefs and make them children of hell worse than yourself. (Mt 23:15) 
3. Woe to you who misrepresent your personal selfish desires as God’s will. (Mt 23:16)
4. Woe to you who put your faith in worldly power and its rewards rather than in the gift of God’s love. (Mt 23:17-22)
5. Woe to you hypocrites who preach justice but promote injustice. (Mt 23:23-24)
6. Woe to you who deceptively equate worldly power with God’s power; you appear to be Godly but you are corrupted by Satan’s evil. (Mt 23:25-26)
7. Woe to you who disguise yourselves as righteous and honor the prophets in word, but then refute them with your hypocritical and evil politics. (Mt 23:27-32)          

            Jesus concluded the seven woes with a final condemnation and a personal lament:

“You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? (Mt 23:33)
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.  Look, your house is left to you desolate.” (Mt 23:37, 38)

            Jerusalem remains desolate to this day, as a crucible of religious conflict between Jews, Christians and Muslims.  Its desolation illustrates the relevance of the seven woes to religious leaders today who are responsible for the moral decline of their religion.  Jesus condemned such religious charlatans, and enlightened Christians and Muslims should do likewise.  They should then lead an interfaith revival to give the moral teachings of Jesus primacy in their religions. 


On projections that Christianity is declining in America and that by 2030 a third of Americans will have no religious preference, see
For a BBC report on the 2017 Values Voter Summit, see  For the VVS website, see

Thomas Jefferson embraced the moral teachings of Jesus but condemned the institutional church.  He wrote Henry Fry on June 17, 1804: "I consider the doctrines of Jesus…to contain the outlines of the sublimest morality that has ever been taught; but I hold in the utmost profound detestation and execration the corruptions of it which have been invested by priestcraft and kingcraft, constituting a conspiracy of church and state against the civil and religious liberties of man."  Thomas Jefferson, The Jefferson Bible, edited by O. I. A. Roche, Clarkson H. Potter, Inc., New York, 1964, at p 378.  See also, Introduction to The Teachings of Jesus and Muhammad on Morality and Law: The Heart of Legitimacy, an interfaith study guide that compares those teachings of Jesus selected by Thomas Jefferson with comparable provisions of the Qur’an and hadith, with commentary, posted at

Reinhold Niebuhr (1872-1971) is considered by many to be America’s foremost theologian, who “…wrote and spoke frequently about the intersection of religion, politics and public policy, with his most influential books including Moral Man and Immoral Society and The Nature and Destiny of Man.”  See

Kim Ghattas has noted that Muslims have allowed political Islam (Islamism) to deny them fundamental freedoms over the last 50 years, citing Purifying the Land of the Pure by Farahnaz Ispahani.  See   

The following are the Seven Woes in Matthew 23:13-36:
13 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. [14] [b]
15 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.
16 “Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gold of the temple is bound by that oath.’ 17 You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred? 18 You also say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gift on the altar is bound by that oath.’ 19 You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred?
20 Therefore, anyone who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. 21 And anyone who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it. 22 And anyone who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it.
23 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. 24 You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.
25 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.
27 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.
29 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. 30 And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’
31 So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors started!
33 “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? 34 Therefore I am sending you prophets and sages and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. 35 And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. 36 Truly I tell you, all this will come on this generation.

Related Commentary:

(12/8/14): Religion and Reason
(12/15/14): Faith and Freedom
(1/11/15): The Greatest Commandment: A Common Word of Faith
(1/18/15): Love over Law: A Principle at the Heart of Legitimacy
(4/12/15): Faith as a Source of Morality and Law: The Heart of Legitimacy
(5/3/15): A Fundamental Problem with Religion
(6/7/15): The Future of Religion: In Decline and Growing
(1/23/16): Who Is My Neighbor?
(1/30/16): The Politics of Loving Our Neighbors as Ourselves
(2/27/16): Conflicting Concepts of Legitimacy in Faith, Freedom and Politics
(6/18/16): A Politics of Reconciliation with Liberty and Justice for All
(6/28/15): Confronting the Evil Among Us
(7/5/15): Reconciliation as a Remedy for Racism and Religious Exclusivism
(8/2/15): Freedom and Fundamentalism (8/9/15): Balancing Individual Rights with Collective Responsibilities
(1/23/16): Who Is My Neighbor?
(1/30/16): The Politics of Loving Our Neighbors as Ourselves
 (2/7/16): Jesus Meets Muhammad on Issues of Religion and Politics
(4/23/16): Standards of Legitimacy in Morality, Manners and Political Correctness
(4/30/16): The Relevance of Religion to Politics
(5/7/16): Religion and a Politics of Reconciliation
(6/18/16): A Politics of Reconciliation with Liberty and Justice for All (8/5/16): How Religion Can Bridge Our Political and Cultural Divide
(9/10/16): Liberty in Law: A Matter of Man’s Law, not God’s Law
(9/17/16): A Moral Revival to Restore Legitimacy to Our Politics
(11/19/16): Religion and a Politics of Reconciliation Based on Shared Values
(11/26/16): Irreconcilable Differences and the Demise of Democracy
(1/21/17): Religion and Reason Redux: Religion Is Ridiculous
(1/28/17): Saving America from the Church (2/25/17): The Need for a Revolution in Religion and Politics
(3/4/17): Ignorance and Reason in Religion and Politics
(3/18/17): Moral Ambiguity in Religion and Politics
(4/22/17): The Relevance of Jesus and the Irrelevance of the Church in Today’s World
(6/24/17): The Evolution of Religion, Politics and Law: Back to the Future?
(7/1/17): Religion, Moral Authority and Conflicting Concepts of Legitimacy
(7/15/17) Religion and Progressive Politics
(8/5/17): Does Religion Seek to Reconcile and Redeem or to Divide and Conquer?
(8/12/17): The Universalist Teachings of Jesus as a Remedy for Religious Exclusivism 
(8/19/17) Hate, History and the Need for a Politics of Reconciliation
(9/2/17): The Evolution of the American Civil Religion and Habits of the Heart
(10/7/17): A 21st Century Reformation to Restore Reason to American Civil Religion
(10/21/17): The Symbiotic Relationship between Freedom and Religion

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