The Philosophy of Jesus

Like so many things in my life, this was a big project I started probably 10 years ago, in college (my Google Drive is now filled with a bunch of stuff from 10 years ago). In this essay or book, I wanted to treat Jesus as a philosopher. What is his philosophy? How does he relate to other philosophers? Obviously I barely scratch the surface, and only discuss  Socrates, Aristotle, and Kant, but feel free to laugh at my obtuse philosophical language:


Philosophy of Jesus

Commands of Jesus
When thinking about Jesus’ moral philosophy, we tend not to think of it as containing rules or commands; but, in fact, it does have them. The commands, or laws, or imperatives, of Jesus’ philosophy seem not to be “rules” at all. This is simply because rules seem to have negative, or restricting, overtones. Commands, in the word’s typical sense, tell us what not to do. Many times Jesus is not worried about telling us what not to do, but what to do. In any case, they can still be formulated as commands, as I will show. Instead of taking the form do not do X, they take the form do X. The two forms have a curious relationship, where the latter form, do X, usually implies and contains the former form, do not do X. So in most cases, the second type of command is simply an expansion of the first. For example, when we say give unto others, the command do not steal is implied, or contained, in it.

We can break Jesus’ moral philosophy into three, general commands, all of which need grounding and explanation.

Command #1: Seek with every single human faculty, and up to the potential of every faculty.
Command #2: Love God absolutely and above all things.
Command #3: Love humanity in proportion to how much one loves oneself.


The first law presupposes a theory of human nature. By the phrase “every single human faculty,” we can already see that it suggests a division of the self. How does Jesus divide human nature? We will turn to several passages for clues:
Jesus and Other Philosophers
In many ways Jesus expands on, and responds to, the ancient Greek philosophers. Whether Jesus was aware of this is irrelevant. He may or may not have studied Plato and Aristotle, but either way his philosophy does have intimate connections.

Jesus and Socrates
Divine destinies. Jesus the Savior. Socrates to find the meaning of wisdom, and the three days after prophesy (or dream before his death).
Rejection of society’s expectations. The idea of the Messiah is an ancient one, going back long before the time of Jesus. We find the expectation of a Messiah in Old Testament writing. Most Jews were expecting a political savior, one that would rightfully restore the Jewish people in their place of political power, and usher in a time of peace. Christians, in recognizing Jesus as the messiah, would revolutionize the conception of the purpose of the Savior.
The trial of Jesus and Socrates. They were both convicted of the same charges. Jesus: stirring up a revolt against the state; heresy, or claiming to be the Messiah, a form of worshipping novel gods. Socrates charges: corrupting the youth of Athens, worshipping false gods, and not worshipping the gods of the state. They were both religious in nature.
Calling out hypocrites. Jesus calling out the religious elect, the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Scribes. And Socrates showing the ignorance of people who claimed to be knowledgeable (using the Elenchus).
Focus on morality. All of Jesus’ knowledge was related to moral action. In this respect, it was not only true, but practical—a way to live. Socrates admits that he is only interest in moral issues. What is justice? holiness? piety? love? These are the subjects of Plato’s dialogues.

The relations between Jesus and Socrates are numerous. Many aspects of their life story match up. They both had, or, were supposed to have, political aspirations. Although friends, disciples, and society wanted them to be politically active, they both rejected the political life; Socrates because it was corrupt, Jesus because it was superficial, and wasn’t his destiny (and probably because it was corrupt too). So instead, they both lived a life of moral perfection; a life on the road, a life of wandering throughout the city and countryside.

Socrates claimed to know nothing. He claimed that wisdom was only for “the god.” A very modest claim, but many scholars think he was being too modest. He does, after all, claim to know some things (i.e. that one should respect their superiors). But as a general rule for Socrates, wisdom is not a human quality. Finding the truth of this statement was his destiny, which started with the prophesy from the Oracle of Delphi. The prophesy—that Socrates is the wisest man—puzzled him, because he was aware that he had no wisdom. Thus, part of wisdom is realizing our own ignorance. Socrates revealed ignorance in every single interlocutor he spoke with. Many scholars shun Socrates because they think ridiculing was all he did, and that he did nothing good for society. But I would disagree. Socrates taught people to self-reflect, self-examine, to look inside oneself for answers. Socrates thought that if one could not explain why they were doing a certain thing, then they had no justification for doing it. And these were not trivial matters—they were moral matters.

Jesus, in relation to his conceptions of truth and wisdom, is striking similar to Socrates. He too also claimed to know nothing. Everything Jesus claimed to know did not come from himself, but from “the Father who sent me.” When asked to justify himself, Jesus replied: “Wisdom is justified by her children,” or “the tree is known be its fruit.” So any knowledge that Jesus had came from God. This makes us wonder about Socrates: if he claimed that all wisdom resided in the god, did he not think that wisdom could be passed through humans, from god? Scholars would debate. I believe that Socrates knew many moral truths; it seems absurd that such a respectable and just man of history would know nothing.

Jesus and Aristotle
For Aristotle, the “good for man”, or summum bonem, or goal of life, or aim of all action, is happiness. Happiness is composed of two elements. The first element is rationality, which comes by using our rational capacity, our ability to think, deliberate, and philosophize, to the fullest. This amounts to an intellectual and moral life, a constant life of deliberation and contemplation in regards to morality and virtue. He describes it as an “activity of the soul;” and not merely an active soul, but one “exhibiting excellence…” It basically amounts to thinking (and then acting) well. The second element of attaining happiness is through sheer fate, chance, dumb luck, coincidence. This includes any thing that happens to us, the things we have no control over. This includes our genetic make up, our parents, our environment, schooling, race, gender, tragedies, etc. According to Aristotle, a child that happens to have bad parents is, for the most part, doomed to a life of unhappiness. Nature simply dealt him a horrible fate, and there is little he can do about it.
We see, then, that Aristotle’s idea of happiness includes an element that we are in control of, and involves our free choice, namely Rationality; and an element that we are in no control of, and have no choice in the matter, namely fate. At first glance this doesn’t threaten us as a problem, until we learn that both of these elements are necessary conditions for happiness. Happiness requires both elements, not only one. In other words, a rational person, exhibiting an excellent soul, can only be happy if he also has a decent and bearable fate. And alternately, a man with the best fate in the world isn’t necessarily happy. When we insert this ethical theory into Greek religion and society, it can read like this: A man’s happiness depends on the will of the gods. This leads to many disturbing conclusions: Am I to blame for my unhappiness? Are the gods to blame? What is the reason for my horrible fate? Do I have any choice in the matter? Why should I be rational, if it can all be taken away with a series of tragedies? These are sad and helpless conclusions, followed by an indifference towards life, a cold and selfish attitude, and a reason to stop trying, leaving men powerless to the forces of fate. Certainly this is an undesirable aspect of Aristotle’s ethics. They all lead us back to Aristotle’s problematic second element of the Good for man; I will call it the problem of fate.

Jesus solves the problem of fate theologically. This is best expressed in his Sermon on the Mount:
“…Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth…”
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh…”

For Jesus, the people who have been given a bad fate are the most susceptible for the summum bonum. The child with bad parents need not fret, because God is his true Father. The man born blind is not at a loss, for “the work of God may be displayed in his life.” Tragedy takes away our earthy attachments, which in turn brings us the God, which is the good for man.

Jesus and Immanuel Kant
I would not be exaggerating to say that, in many respects, the moral philosophy of Immanuel Kant is simply the moral philosophy of Jesus, only clothed in philosophical language.
The idea that morality consists of universally true principles, or laws, is shared by Jesus and Kant. These principles are a priori, not based on experience or circumstances. For Jesus, “you ought to love all people” was such a principle—it is true in all situations, and therefore we should follow it in all situations. We should not modify this principle with experience and situation because that would dilute it, even though many times we often do this. Many times we think it is morally right to love our friends, and hate our enemies. But this is a violation of the first principle, “you ought to love all people.” This is why “love your enemies” is simply another formulation of the first principle.

Free Will and Determinism
It is unclear whether Jesus believe in a completely free will, or determinism. In fact, it seems like he believed in both; there are sayings that support both views.

“But if you are oppressed by Satan and are persecuted and you do the Father’s will, I say that he will love you and will make you equal with me and will consider that you have become beloved through his providence according to your free choice.”
This saying is the most obvious proof that Jesus recognized the existence of human free will.

The Philosophy of Jesus

Religion cannot solve Poverty, so Government must

The religious virtue of Charity is great indeed, but that alone cannot solve poverty. After thousands of years, the results are in. Poverty still exists, at alarming levels. Even the great secular charities, like Oxfam and Unicef, which do incredible work, cannot solve poverty. 51% of African American children grow up in poverty today – in America, in one of the richest countries in the world. That should make any decent person cringe. And that, my friends, is only the tip of the iceberg. World poverty – that is, living on a dollar a day – is even worse. When you stop and put people behind the numbers, it’s beyond comprehension.

Charity, by William-Adolphe Bouguereau

So charity isn’t working. Therefore, it falls on government. What else is there? Who else could it possibly fall on? It is the greatest, most important political issue of human history. What we need is governments that eliminate poverty through compassionate and rational policies and laws. It’s not as hard as it sounds. Budgets are a set of priorities. There’s enough money for whatever you want; it depends on what you want. We could probably solve domestic poverty and world poverty at the very same time, although I suspect that governments would start domestic and then spread outwards. Okay, fine. The only problem with that approach is that Third World poverty, if you look at the impact that one US dollar can make, is technically easier to solve…it would help more people faster. But these are details to consider after you make the commitment to solve poverty. That must come first.

Consider the billions of dollars that is wasted on corrupting the political process in America. That could solve poverty. Consider the billions of dollars of funding given to the comically giant Department of Defense, an outdated agency that should be shrinking every year. That could solve poverty. Consider the all-consuming, cut-throat profits, that corporations make, who don’t pay their taxes to the government. That could solve poverty. Consider one percent of the income of the richest people in the world. That could solve poverty (actually, it could probably solve poverty 12 times over…go read Peter Singer’s book The Life You Can Save).
Above we see Charity depicted as a mother with children. There are many layers of truth here. The irony, I believe, is that women – if they were in power – would probably solve world poverty. It’s time for women to stop being the object of men’s charity (a creation of men to begin with) and start being the solution to it. Still… Bernie for President.
Religion cannot solve Poverty, so Government must

White People Talking about Racism

It’s a sick irony that a person like me – white, male, privileged – is in a privileged position to talk about racism in America. The epitome of privilege! Several months ago, after giving a talk at work that briefly touched on racism, a fellow African American colleague of mine approached me and basically said that my voice was powerful because I’m white. I was a strong ally. I hadn’t really considered that.

Matthew Ahmann (left of King) was an important part of the Civil Rights Movement
Matthew Ahmann (left of King…the white guy) was an important part of the Civil Rights Movement

My voice is powerful because white people need to be convinced of racism, because white people have the power, always had, and, sadly, because white people won’t believe black people when they talk about it. White people listen to me because I don’t need to talk about racism, ever. I have no skin in the game. It doesn’t affect me directly. In fact, I could just shut up and enjoy my white privilege thank you very much. I could live a happy, insulated life without troubling my delicate little mind. Yet the search for truth and love prevails in my heart, and the hearts of many. And once I learned about the facts of racism, and the history, and the disease that it has become, I could never look back.

And immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he regained his sight, and he got up and was baptized. Acts 9:18

Yesterday I learned that 51 percent of African American children are born into poverty. The ability to comprehend these facts in an empathetic, compassionate way; the ability to put faces behind these monstrous numbers, the ability to realize that your experience might be different than others. It cannot be denied. Such a light cannot be put under a basket.

White people talking about racism is comical, especially if hidden behind the internet. On one side, you have white people that don’t see it, or don’t want to. They also get highly offended if you mention “white privilege” because it suggests that they didn’t completely control their own destiny, that they didn’t pull themselves up from their own bootstraps. I get it, I really do. It’s hard to take credit away from yourself. On the other side of the argument, you have white people that are correct.

Yeah, I know, that sounds arrogant. But it’s time to be blunt. This is a debate composed of facts and one side has them. The other side has opinions, fears, anecdotes. When a rational person considers the facts, statistics, and trends of racism in America, there is one logical conclusion: that racism still exists on a systemic level. So, anyways, the two groups of white people basically talk past each other, shakes hands, agree to disagree, and life moves on. Agree to disagree?

We need to stop talking about race!  Right? That’s the problem, say some white people. Colorblindness. Well, it’s a nice thought. We tried that. It doesn’t work. When a group of people are getting the shaft, and those people happen to be black, then we must consider race at that point. That’s step one. In a perfect world, we wouldn’t have to talk about race. Because racism wouldn’t exist. We don’t live in that world.

The first step of alcoholism is admitting you have a problem. Have we reached the first step? Not even fucking close. I do think things are getting better, and I’m optimistic in the long run, but it’s hard to be happy when looking at the causalities – and the years roll by.

White People Talking about Racism

The Teachings of Jesus

Early in college, I undertook a project that took several years to complete. I went through all the teachings of Jesus, as recorded not only in the Gospels but the extra-canonical texts as well (most importantly the Gospel of Thomas which might have been a source for Mark, Matthew, and Luke). I read them, wrote them down, and categorized them. I wanted a complete understanding of the most important part of Christianity. I wanted to see how the teachings of Jesus fell into categories, themes, focal points. The moral teachings of Jesus, and this project, changed my life forever, more than any other person living or dead.

We start with what Jesus said was the most important teaching of all: love for God and love for your neighbor.

Love and Forgiveness

[after being asked what the greatest law is.]
Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. Mt.

Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing. Lk

But I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye?…And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than other?…Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he cancelled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?…You have judged correctly…Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little. Lk

Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.

Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word many be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as a heathen man and a publican. Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. For where two of three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. Mt.

If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him. Lk

Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.

Moral Teachings

For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own? No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money. Lk.

Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock.

Become haters of hypocrisy and evil thought. For it is thought which gives birth to hypocrisy, but hypocrisy is far from the truth.

But I say unto you, that whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. 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.

Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?…Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.

[after being asked what the greatest law is.]
Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. Mt.

The most important one (commandment) is this: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” The second is this: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no commandment greater than these. Mk.

Do not be judged, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Lk.

But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. Of someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love you enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as you Father is merciful. Lk.

(On being asked if circumcision is profitable):
If it were beneficial, their father would beget them already circumcised from their mother. Rather, the true circumcision in spirit has become completely profitable.

(On being asked how to receive eternal life, and a scribe answering with the ‘greatest commandment’):
You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live.

Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions. Lk.

[after Jesus tells the parable of the rich fool]
But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’
This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God. Lk

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?
Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. IF that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.
Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there you heart will be also. Lk

That servant who knows his master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked. Lk

Why don’t you judge for yourselves what is right? As you are going with your adversary to the magistrate, try hard to be reconciled to him on the way, or he may drag you off to the judge, and the judge turn you over to the officer, and the officer throw you into prison. I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny. Lk

Continue reading “The Teachings of Jesus”

The Teachings of Jesus