As a guide for choosing attitudes and behavior, many Christians encourage young persons and others to ask, “What would Jesus do?” That slogan is often abbreviated on Christian jewelry and other items as “WWJD.” The idea is that if people would think and act the way Jesus did, the world would be a better place.
But is a WWJD mindset really what the modern world needs? If advocates of that philosophy would examine Jesus as depicted in the bible, they might realize that his views can cause great harm to individuals and communities.
What would Jesus do about the problem of violence in society? The bible indicates he would make it worse by promoting violence as a favored method of dealing with problems. Unlike modern civilized people, he did not limit the acceptability of violence to situations requiring self-defense or the defense of others.
Jesus taught that when he returns to earth, he will cause infinitely more gratuitous violence than is contained in any slasher film. At that time, he will send his angels to gather people and cast them into a furnace of fire, where there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Also at this glorious homecoming, he will order persons to “depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.” The book of Revelation tells us that this everlasting inferno is a place where people are tortured forever, where “the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day or night. . . .” That hideous state of affairs is illustrated in Jesus’ story of the beggar Lazarus who went to heaven and the rich man who was consigned to Hades. Jesus described the rich man as suffering torment in the flames.
Elsewhere, he indicated that the same fate will befall everyone who does not accept his message. This will include the vast majority of humanity. Thus, we have the role model of the WWJD folks causing not only the death but eternal torture of billions of people–many of them simply because he disapproves of their religious beliefs.
Jesus’ parables contain further illustrations of the types of violence he supported. By failing to condemn the violent acts described in those stories, Jesus implied that such behavior was acceptable.
Consistent with his other teachings about the afterlife, Jesus approved of torture in a parable relating to Judgment Day. This story involves a king who forgave a servant’s debt but later found the same servant treating harshly a debtor of the servant. Jesus asserted that the king became angry and delivered the servant “to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due. . . .” Jesus went on to say that God will do the same to people who do not forgive the trespasses of others.
There is also a parable in which Jesus condoned dismembering people. That story concerns a servant who, after being put in charge of his master’s property, began to bully the other servants and eat and drink with drunken friends. Jesus explained that if the master returns when the servant does not expect him, the master will cut that unfaithful servant in pieces.
Jesus endorsed the killing of defenseless people for their political differences, when he related a parable about a nobleman who went to a far country to receive a kingdom and then returned. Jesus described the new king as ordering that “those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me.”
In a parable involving servants waiting for their lord to return from a wedding, Jesus supported the beating of people. He explained that the servant who knew his lord’s will but failed to do it “shall be beaten with many stripes.” And the servant who did not know his lord’s will but “did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes.”
Kidnapping and the violent treatment of the victim are other actions Jesus favored, in a parable that compares the kingdom of heaven to a king who made a marriage for his son. When the king saw a guest who was without a wedding garment, he told his servants to “bind him hand and foot . . . and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
So in these parables, Jesus spoke approvingly of persons who torture, dismember, slay, beat, kidnap and otherwise cause extreme misery. He applauded this behavior, and indicated that he and his Father will do the same to people. That lesson, in fact, appears to be the point of the parables. Do we really want persons to think of these actions when they ask, “What would Jesus do?”
Another way that Jesus espoused violence was by supporting the Law of Moses. He said he did not come to abolish that Law but to fulfill it. He warned that anyone who sets aside even the least of the Law’s demands, and teaches others to do so, will be lowest in the kingdom of heaven. According to him, it is “easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail.”
This approval of the Law of Moses means endorsement of that code’s horrible requirements concerning the death penalty. The Mosaic Law prescribes execution as the punishment for cursing one’s parents; being a stubborn and rebellious son; being a witch, medium or wizard; worshiping gods other than Jehovah; enticing a friend or family member to worship other gods; working on the Sabbath; gathering sticks on the Sabbath; not being a virgin on one’s wedding night (applies to women only); blasphemy; adultery; and homosexuality.
The method of carrying out the executions was normally stoning. For other infractions of the Mosaic Law, the punishment could be a flogging. For certain violations, the penalty was mutilation or amputation. It is hard to imagine how anyone with a brain or heart could uphold such a barbaric and absurd legal code.
Violence incited against family members and others
Jesus not only implied that he approves of violence in this life, but explicitly asserted that he intends to cause it. Contrary to the “peace on earth, goodwill toward men” talk during the Christmas season, Jesus stated: “Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division . . .” This divisiveness clearly includes violence, for he said he “came not to send peace, but a sword.”
In connection with his promise to send a “sword,” he explained that he will “set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.” And he predicted that “a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.” Thus, he advocated divisiveness within families and the use of violence against one’s own family members.
Among all Jesus’ violent teachings, parents would be wise to consider that one, in particular, when deciding whether to have their children ask, “What would Jesus do?”
Hate your family
Besides endorsing violence against family members, Jesus showed in other ways that he is not a supporter of family values. He never married or fathered children; instead, he urged people to hate their families and themselves. In his words: “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.”
Desert your family
Jesus encouraged people to abandon their families and promised rewards for doing so. He said: “There is no man that hath left house, or parents, or brethren, or wife, or children, for the kingdom of God’s sake, Who shall not receive manifold more in this present time, and in the world to come life everlasting.” He even criticized a man for wanting to say goodbye to his family before leaving to follow him.
There were moments when Jesus apparently had a mood swing regarding his view that people should hate and leave their spouses. But here he swung too far in the other direction, by prohibiting all divorce.
On the subject of divorce, he said: “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. . . . Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her. And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery.” He additionally claimed that anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery. On occasion, though, he backed away from a total prohibition on divorce, by allowing it in situations where a spouse has committed “fornication.”
Unfortunately, by preventing divorce in all other situations, his teachings require spouses to stay married even when love has irretrievably died, such as where one of them turned out to be extremely abusive and exploitative. To prohibit divorce and remarriage in those cases is simply a prescription for human misery.
Abuse your children
Jesus also endorsed child abuse. He specifically approved the Mosaic Law’s command that, “Whoso curseth father or mother, let him die the death.” He denounced the Pharisees for not following that cruel and nonsensical instruction, which he described as a “commandment of God.”
From these teachings, many persons guilty of neglecting or abusing their family members could receive a green light to continue by asking, “What would Jesus do?” Others would be encouraged to behave likewise. And some spouses who are the recipients of that treatment would have to endure it and not leave the marriage.
Spurn medical science
What would Jesus do about the issue of health care in society? He would increase health problems by discouraging reliance upon medical science. He taught nothing about germs, bacteria, sanitation or medical science. Rather, he promoted the idea that disease is caused by demons or sin, and that cures should be obtained by supernatural means. He pointed to demon possession as the cause of epilepsy, blindness, muteness, insanity, convulsions and crippling disability.
Rely on supernatural cures
As for the supernatural methods of curing such problems, Jesus explained to his disciples that certain types of demons can only be exorcised by prayer and fasting. On another occasion, faith was the remedy he prescribed, when he cured a leper and then told him that “thy faith hath made thee whole.” He also advocated laying hands on the sick as a means of healing, when he promised that a sign shown by believers is that “they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.”
Forgiveness of sin and avoidance of sin are other methods he supported for curing and preventing illness. Right before healing a man who had palsy, Jesus told him: “Son, thy sins be forgiven thee.” And after healing a man who had been crippled for thirty-eight years, Jesus admonished him to “sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee.”
It is noteworthy that, on one occasion, his cure of choice involved cruelty to animals. He healed a demon-possessed madman by sending the demons, at their request, into a herd of about 2,000 swine. The pigs then ran into a sea and drowned.
Because Jesus thought that the cause of maladies is spiritual, it is understandable that he would recommend supernatural cures rather than scientific ones. But the error of these teachings is shown by the many tragic cases of people–often children–who have died from treatable illnesses after ignoring medical science and following what Jesus did about sickness.
Handle deadly snakes and drink poison
Jesus also had other views that cause illness and death. He said that his followers can take up serpents–not excluding poisonous ones–without being harmed. And he stated that believers may “drink any deadly thing” without suffering adverse effects. Would the WWJD crowd want their children acting on these teachings?
No discussion of Jesus’ unhealthy teachings would be complete without mentioning his views on sexuality. Jesus had some downright crazy and pernicious ideas about that subject.
He was so opposed to sex that he thought people should be sent to Hell for having a sexual desire. He taught that “whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” The book of Galatians informs us that adulterers shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
Mutilate your body
To avoid being eternally tortured for having a natural sexual urge, Jesus recommended self-mutilation. He said: “And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.”
He made similar recommendations for preventing other types of sexual activity. Apparently referring to masturbation, he advised that “if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee . . .” to avoid being sent to hell.
And he endorsed castration. He told his followers that “there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.”
Do the WWJD people really want persons to hate sexuality and mutilate themselves in an effort to avoid sexual desire and activity?
Jesus could be quite rude to people. After he accepted a Pharisee’s invitation to a meal, the Pharisee asked him why he did not wash before partaking of the food. Jesus then went into a tirade against the Pharisees, accusing them of injustice and calling them fools and hypocrites. He also said there was nothing inside them but greed and wickedness, which seems inconsistent with the fact that one of them had just invited him to the meal. And he didn’t let up this verbal attack after a lawyer protested that he was insulting them. On another occasion, Jesus labeled the Pharisees and scribes as hypocrites, blind guides, fools, serpents, vipers and murderers. This name-calling is hardly the way to win friends and influence people.
The same can be said of his rudeness in the temple. There, Jesus overturned the tables and chairs of the sellers and moneychangers, scattered their coins, and used a whip to drive them and their animals out.
Many judges today would not only impose a fine and jail time for such vandalism and physical assaults, but would also sentence the offender to attend conflict resolution classes.
Although it is difficult to top rudeness in a place of religious devotion, Jesus did so by being discourteous to his mother. While he was at a wedding, she informed him that there was no wine. His curt retort was, “Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come.”
Inconsiderate to the poor and hungry
Moreover, Jesus likely was discourteous to many people when he, while hungry and looking for food, became piqued at a fig tree that had no figs. The season was not right for the tree to have figs, yet he cursed it and caused it to wither. As a result, no one–including the poor and hungry–could obtain figs from that tree in the future.
Callous to the sick and suffering
One of the worst examples of his rudeness–and downright callousness–was shown when a Canaanite woman begged him to help her daughter, who she said was being tormented by a demon. When the woman pleaded for aid, Jesus ignored her at first. Then he explicitly refused to assist her, saying he was sent only to the house of Israel. After that, while she continued her pathetic begging, he added insult to injury by stating that it is not proper to take the children’s bread and cast it to “dogs” such as her. He only relented and healed her daughter after the woman argued that “the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” Apparently, if she had not come up with that response, Jesus would have let her and her daughter continue suffering even though he had the power to stop it at any time. Such a man in no way deserves to be a role model for young people.
Reject material possessions
Jesus’ teachings are inconsistent with developing productive citizens and eliminating poverty. Our society offers financial rewards to motivate persons to produce goods and provide services that satisfy the needs of others. But Jesus taught people to reject material possessions and financial gain.
He advised a wealthy young man to “sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.” After the young man went away sad, Jesus told his disciples: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”
Along the same lines, he said “whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.” He also taught that a person cannot serve God and money. And he said, “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth . . . But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven. . . .”
Clearly, Jesus was opposed to capitalist self-interest as a means of motivating people to be productive and useful.
Eschew food and happiness
Along with preaching against material possessions, he opposed having enough to eat and otherwise enjoying life. He proclaimed: “Woe unto you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation. Woe unto you that are full! for ye shall hunger. Woe unto you that laugh now! for ye shall mourn and weep.” Poverty, hunger and sorrow were what he advocated for this life. He stated: “Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are ye that hunger now: for ye shall be filled. Blessed are ye that weep now: for ye shall laugh.”
Thus, unlike the Declaration of Independence, Jesus did not endorse the “pursuit of happiness.” Happiness was for an afterlife, not this life. As a result of these teachings, parents can lead their children to throw away the American Dream by encouraging them to ask what Jesus would do.
Don’t bother planning
The success of most human enterprises is highly dependent on good planning, but Jesus denigrated that activity. He taught his followers: “Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. . . . But seek ye first the kingdom of God . . . and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow. . . .”
In other words, Jesus believed that by focusing on spiritual matters, a person’s material needs would be supernaturally met. He therefore saw no reason to think about physical requirements or plan to meet them. Instead, he thought that any physical needs could be met by simply asking God.
He proclaimed: “. . . What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.” Reasonable people know that the world does not operate in this manner. The countless unanswered prayers demonstrate that it does not work this way. By telling persons to have no desire for material goods, to not be concerned about obtaining food or clothing, to make no plans for the future, to not think about the next day, and to expect their physical needs to be supernaturally met, Jesus prescribed an attitude likely to produce drifters, derelicts and lunatics rather than productive and valuable members of society.
Injustice in this life
Jesus’ philosophy also is antithetical to producing justice in society. One of his commands was to “Judge not, and ye shall not be judged. . . .” That teaching would eviscerate the justice system by completely eliminating the judiciary.
But under his philosophy, there would be no need for judges anyway. He said to “resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.” He further ordered that “him that taketh away thy cloak forbid not to take thy coat also. . . . [A]nd of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again.”
Under those doctrines, his followers are not to oppose crimes against persons or property. They are even to allow criminals to obtain more than they sought in the first place. The upshot is that crime pays in this life, criminals go unpunished and the victims receive no recompense for the harm done to them. It would be difficult to come up with a philosophy better calculated to produce evil, injustice and misery.
Although Jesus’ followers are supposed to accept the shaft in this world, he promised that their docility will ultimately work to their advantage in the next life. He assured them that, “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.”
The innocent punished in an afterlife
Jesus promised that there will be punishment in the afterlife, but his views of justice are logically deficient on that subject, too. One of the basic requirements of justice is that the innocent shall not be punished. Jesus taught, however, that his generation would have to answer for “the blood of all the prophets, which was shed from the foundation of the world . . . From the blood of Abel unto the blood of Zacharias . . . verily I say unto you, It shall be required of this generation.”
The people of Jesus’ time were certainly innocent of harming prophets who lived and died before the existence of that generation. Nevertheless, Jesus proclaimed that his contemporaries would be called to account for the harm done to those ancient prophets.
Disproportionate punishments in an afterlife
In order for justice to be upheld, there also must be proportionality between offenses committed and punishments administered. That is one of the principles underlying the U.S. Constitution’s Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishments.
But Jesus preached that “he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation.”
According to the bible, the Holy Ghost is part of the Godhead, so it is hard to see how that being could be harmed by the words of a puny human being. Yet Jesus indicated that eternal punishment–with no forgiveness–was an appropriate penalty for this harmless act.
Likewise, Jesus claimed that “whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.” Although calling someone a fool is usually rude (such as when Jesus did it), advocating eternal punishment for that reproach is absurdly disproportionate.
The same conclusion applies to his teaching that people deserve eternal damnation for refusing to believe he is the Son of God. The failure to accept that belief harms no one. Yet Jesus required infinite punishment for disbelief in his divinity.
Jesus would flunk out of law school his first year for clinging to such ideas about justice. Children should not be taught to think that way.
Religious persecution a natural byproduct
Regarding Jesus’ teaching that unbelief deserves eternal punishment, a further problem is that it can lead to religious intolerance and persecution. If a society really believes that holding incorrect religious views causes people to be eternally tortured, it is logical for that society to view the proponents of heretical religious beliefs as the worst possible wrongdoers in society.
Under that line of thinking, the harm inflicted by other criminals is limited to this world, but the act of promoting erroneous religious doctrines produces infinitely more harm. It causes the eternal torture of the souls of persons who adopt the mistaken religious views. Stopping the proponents of unorthodox theological ideas then becomes imperative. The rationale is that, just as there is a right to use force to protect oneself and one’s family from physical harm from a criminal, there is justification to use force to stop those whose promotion of false religious views can harm the eternal fate of people’s souls. The result is religious intolerance and persecution.
Further incitement for that attitude is contained in the Mosaic Law’s requirement that blasphemers should be put to death, as mentioned above in connection with Jesus’ support for the Law of Moses.
So here we have it, the person the WWJD folks point to as an exemplar of virtue! He is a man who supported the use of extreme and unnecessary violence–including torture, dismembering, slaying, beating, and kidnapping–in dealing with people. He also wanted the death penalty imposed for a multitude of trivial acts.
Moreover, he promoted division in society; encouraged persons to hate, abandon, and use violence against their families; prohibited people from divorcing abusive spouses; taught that disrespectful children should be killed; discouraged medical treatment by favoring spiritual means for curing illness; was cruel to animals; said his followers could handle deadly snakes and drink poison; abhorred sexual desire and activity and encouraged persons to avoid both by mutilating their bodies; hurled insults and engaged in rude name-calling; treated his mother discourteously; vandalized property and physically assaulted people; failed to show consideration for the interests of the poor, the sick, and others; wanted people to give away all their property and have no desire for financial gain; espoused hunger and sorrow; denounced planning and self-reliance; said that innocent people should be punished for the wrongdoing of others; promised horrible punishments for harmless acts; and promoted religious intolerance and persecution.
With Jesus holding such views, no wonder the great nineteenth-century agnostic Robert Ingersoll said that if a man were to follow strictly the teachings of the New Testament, he would be insane. And insanity is exactly what the WWJD philosophy is. Its supporters need to wake up to the fact that they are advocating extremely irrational and harmful doctrines.
1 Matthew 13:41-42
2 Matthew 25:41
3 Revelation 20:10-15
4 Revelation 14:11
5 Luke 16:19-31
6 Mark 16:16; Revelation 21:8
7 Matthew 7:13-14
8 Matthew 18:23-35
9 Matthew 24:45-51
10 Luke 19:11-27
11 Luke 12: 47-48
12 Matthew 22:2-14
13 Matthew 5:17
14 Matthew 5:18-19
15 Luke 16:17
16 Leviticus 20:9
17 Deuteronomy 21:18-21
18 Exodus 22:18; Leviticus 20:27
19 Deuteronomy 17:2-5
20 Deuteronomy 13:6-11
21 Exodus 31:15
22 Numbers 15:32-36
23 Deuteronomy 22:20-21
24 Leviticus 24:16
25 Leviticus 20:10. (At John 8:1-11, however, Jesus arguably did not support enforcement of this provision in the story of the women caught committing adultery. But that story is not in the earliest and most reliable New Testament manuscripts.)
26 Leviticus 20:13
27 E.g., Deuteronomy 13:6-11; 21:18-21; 22:20-21; Numbers 15:32-36
28 Deuteronomy 25:1-3
29 Leviticus 24:19-20; Deuteronomy 25:11-12
30 Luke 12:51
31 Matthew 10:34
32 Matthew 10:35
33 Matthew 10:36
34 Luke 14:26
35 Luke 18:29-30
36 Luke 9:61-62
37 Mark 10:9, 11-12; Luke 16:18
38 Matthew 5:32; Luke 16:18
39 Matthew 5:32; 19:9
40 Mark 7:10-13 and Matthew 15:4-6 (Jesus is referring in these verses to Exodus 21:17 and Leviticus 20:9.)
41 Mark 7:7-13 and Matthew 15:1-6
42 Matthew 17:14-21
43 Matthew 12:22
45 Mark 5:1-13
46 Mark 1:23-27
47 Luke 13:11-13
48 Matthew 17:14-21
49 Luke 17:12-19 (And at Mark 5:25-34 and Luke 8:43-48, Jesus healed a woman and then said her faith had cured her.)
50 Mark 16:17-18 (Also, at Mark 8:22-25, Jesus healed a man by laying hands on him.)
51 Mark 2:3-12
52 John 5:8-9,14
53 Mark 5:1-13 and Luke 8:26-33 (Matthew 8:28-32 says the demons were driven from two men.)
54 Mark 16:17-18
56 Matthew 5:28
57 Galatians 5:19-21
58 Matthew 5:29
59 Matthew 5:30
60 Matthew 19:12
61 Luke 11:37-52
62 Matthew 23:13-36
63 See generally, Carnegie, Dale, How to Win Friends and Influence People (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1981)
64 Matthew 21:12-13; John 2:13-17
65 John 2:1-3
66 Mark 11:12-14 and 20-21
67 Matthew 15:22-28
68 Matthew 19:21; Luke 18:22
69 Matthew 19:24; Luke 18:25
70 Luke 14:33
71 Luke 16:13
72 Matthew 6:19-20
73 Luke 6:24-25
74 Luke 6:20-21
75 Matthew 6:25-34
76 Mark 11:24 (Similar teachings are at Matthew 21:22 and John 14:12-14, 15:7, and 16:23-24.)
77 Luke 6:37
78 Matthew 5:39
79 Luke 6:29-30
80 Matthew 5:5
81 Luke 11:50-51
82 Mark 3:29
83 I John 5:7
84 Matthew 5:22
85 Mark 16:15-16
86 For additional examples of disproportionate punishments, see the above discussion of Jesus’ support for the death-penalty provisions of the Mosaic Law.
87 See footnotes 19, 20 and 24, above, and the accompanying text.
88 Greeley, Roger E., (Ed.) The Best of Robert Ingersoll (Buffalo: Prometheus Books, 1983), p. 6.