This one’s gonna run and run!
You hear the one about the blind Christian bloke with only one hand and no balls? And he did it all to himself! Cut off his hand, gouged out his eyes and castrated himself. When asked why he’d done it the man explained, ‘I’m a follower of Jesus and when he tells me to do something, I do it. My self-mutilation is my witness to what a great guy he is. He wouldn’t steer me wrong.’
Sure enough, the normal people who heard him were incredulous, until one of them looked in the Bible and found the very instructions to which the eyeless, testicle-free, one-handed believer referred.
In Matthew’s gospel chapter 5, Jesus is talking about lusting after a woman, which in his eyes (he still had both of his) is as bad as having sex with her. Course it isn’t, not by a long way, but he tells his followers, ‘If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell’ (Matthew 5.29).
A bit drastic perhaps, but there it is; the Son of God is clear about how to avoid the sin of checking out a member of the opposite sex. That’s why you see so many one-eyed Christians around the place because they all take his admonition very seriously.
Except… you don’t. Either Christians ignore him entirely on this one or they never look at the opposite sex with an eye to sexual congress. We all know they’re like the rest of us in this respect – some, as Jimmy Carter once famously did, are honest enough to admit it – and some even act on it; the divorce rate among Christians is not the same as it is for everyone else just because they get tired of being married.
Perhaps though Jesus is being metaphorical when he proposes that gouging out one’s eyes is the best way to deal with lust. Not surprisingly, Christians prefer this possibility. In The Method and Message of Jesus’ Teachings, Robert Stein argues that:
what Jesus was seeking to convey to his listeners by this use of overstatement was the need to remove from their lives anything that might cause them to sin… Jesus is saying in effect, “Tear out anything in your life that is causing you to sin and keeping you from God”.
If that was his intention, Jesus might have actually used these words. If he wants to say ‘in effect’ that the believer should jettison anything from his life that causes him to sin then why doesn’t he?
But eyes are not enough. You gotta get rid of that wanking* hand too (the context of Jesus’ comments is specifically sexual and entirely male orientated throughout these verses): ‘And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell’ (Matthew 5.30). This must be why we see so many one-handed Christians…
The difficulty with interpreting these and other verses metaphorically is that Christians want to claim that the Bible is the literal ‘word of God’ and then want select parts of it to be metaphorical – and guess who they think should do the selecting. But they can’t have it both ways. Even if they could, how would they know which parts to interpret literally and which symbolically? Perhaps the Holy Spirit tells them, or maybe, and more likely, it’s just their personal preferences. After all, who wants to lose eyes and hands just for being human?
If that’s not enough, Jesus encourages other mutilations for the sake of his Kingdom when he reveals in Matthew 19.12 that ‘there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can’. No Christians today seem able to ‘accept’ this recommendation, either; what a truly feeble bunch they are, putting their testicles before the Kingdom!
It seems likely that, given he believed the end of the age was fast approaching, Jesus actually meant what he said, counting on the probability (as he saw it) that anyone who followed his ridiculous suggestions would not be eyeless or handless for long. They would, at the resurrection, be fully restored to live in the Kingdom where, according to Matthew 22.30, they would not be troubled by either impure thoughts or marriage itself (and so wouldn’t need those testicles anyway).
Whichever way you cut it (off) – literally or metaphorically – Jesus words in these verses are remarkably idiotic. Throughout history there have been some individuals, like the dude we started with, who have indeed made themselves eunuchs for the cause. But the vast majority of male Christians have always dismissed this advice or have decided JC was only speaking metaphorically (as he always is when they don’t like what he’s telling them to do).**
So next time True Believers start thundering on about the evils of same-sex marriage and gay sex, tell them to get their own house in order first. A little amputation is all that the Lord requires.
* ‘Jerking off’, for any Americans reading.
**Read more in my (five star reviewed!) book Why Christians Don’t Do What Jesus Tells Them To …And What They Believe Instead, available from Amazon.