The New Pharisees, Or, Everything Was Black And White Inside

This evening, as I was engaged in my customary multi-tasking between working on finishing a most excellent book [1], listening to music videos online, and idly browsing the carefully manicured trending stories on Facebook, I came across a story on Emma Watson, a pulchritudinous actress responsible for bringing to life the adorkable Hermoine Granger from the Harry Potter series, and who has served as an outspoken liberal activist for social and environmental causes since becoming an adult. Of striking interest in this regard is the fact that she was recently named as one of the people who is part of the Panama Papers scandal for having set up an offshore shell company [2]. While the question of whether Miss Watson’s offshore company was really on the up-and-up and was simply done to preserve the celebrity’s desire for privacy, or whether the offshore accounts in Gringotts Wizarding Bank were set up for tax evasion is a question between her and Her Majesty’s tax collectors of Great Britain, it is clear that at least the use of offshore accounts by some people, whether politicians, celebrities, or wealthy businessmen, is done with a deliberate desire to evade taxation, to the ire of increasingly merciless and populist voters and citizens in many countries.

One is reminded of the warning given to the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23:1-4: “Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do. For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.” Here we see the spectacle of left-leaning celebrities who promote increased government services and attention to the poor and needy to be paid for via taxation, politicians who preach messages of austerity for their unwilling populace, and wealthy businessmen who profit off of crony capitalism and outright corruption through lobbying and influence, all of whom are engaging in a double standard by which their profits are hidden away from public scrutiny even as their policies and behavior increase the burdens that are placed on ordinary people. Even if one agrees with their rhetoric that decreased standards of living to preserve environmental sustainability, increased government aid to the poor and exploited, and increased regulations to curb excesses are wise policies, a concession made here simply for argument’s sake, the fact that words and deeds so clearly diverge here casts doubt on the sincerity of the claims made by these elites, who clearly consider themselves above the rules that apply to everyone else, whatever their motives for behaving so privately.

Let us take it one step further. The “Panama Papers” scandal is the result of a leak of the papers of Mossack Fonseca, bringing to public scrutiny that which was done for the express purpose of absolute privacy. Readers of this blog, and people who have not lived under a rock are well aware of the fact that this is not the first of the large leaks scandals that have caused problems to people in our contemporary world. Indeed, large leaks [3] have been a frequent matter in recent years, whether those leaks are of diplomatic cables, private conversations of an unsavory nature, accounts to websites like Ashley Madison, or possibly corrupt offshore accounts set up for tax dodging, or even how Facebook manages its trending topics as part of its infotainment services. Most of these leaks have resulted because of a large enough and technically savvy enough group of people who are so offended by the large degree of subterfuge and skullduggery and sheer hypocrisy within our world and its institutions that they have used their technological proficiency to tear down the wall of privacy that has protected government and other institutions from the full scrutiny of other people, even as government and business have shown less and less regard for the privacy of ordinary citizens. The repayment of karmic debt is not something to rejoice in, as it truly is deeply unpleasant in many ways–whether that is in a general cynicism about government and institutions because of rampant corruption, the rise of right-wing populism, or the sad sight of seeing people hounded off of social media by crazed people wielding emoji of lemons and bees at those they suspect may possibly be “Becky with the good hair.” Bullying is not enjoyable to see, even if one does not like the people being bullied because of their own shady dealings. Nor should the reality of vigilante justice against suspected evildoers be something that brings comfort to any of us, seeing how hard it is to build or maintain a good reputation in the face of such universal cynicism and thinking evil of others.

One is reminded of the behavior of the Pharisees in John 8:2-9: “Now early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people came to Him; and He sat down and taught them. Then the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman caught in adultery. And when they had set her in the midst, they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?” This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him. But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear. So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.” There is a lot going on in this passage. Let us note, though, that the Pharisees had used some dastardly and underhanded means to try to trap Jesus Christ into showing Himself as being hostile to God’s law or engaging in vigilante justice of His own, either way discrediting Him as a leader in the eyes of the populace. The Pharisees here sought to take advantage of a shocking exposure of a private sin, namely the woman’s adultery (with whom, one is compelled to ask–one cannot commit adultery by oneself; it takes two to horizontal tango, after all) for their own nefarious political purposes. However, whatever Jesus Christ was writing on the dirt, and whatever became obvious when He said that none of them were competent to throw the first stone because they were all guilty of the same offense themselves, they were convicted by their consciences and departed without having stoned the young woman they used first for her sexuality and then for their own dark political ambitions. Hopefully she was able to marry a decent man and leave those scoundrels far behind, but we are told nothing further of her in scripture.

Let us take it one step further. Why is it that an idle search of news stories turns up juicy and salacious gossip about an actress anyway? Why is it impossible to shop for groceries without seeing endless headlines in the checkout aisle about some celebrity in marriage trouble or going to rehab or some other such nonsense? Why, indeed, am I writing this post about an actress at all, a young woman I do not know and am not likely ever to meet, even for an autograph? There exists a large number of unsavory people from internet hackers to pontificating bloggers like myself to gossip magazine photojournalists because we all have an appetite for gossip [4]. Because we like to see people get their comeuppance, we enable a whole host of other people who make it their self-appointed task to dig around for and spread around dirt about other people. And where there are not enough other people engaged in the task, we happily engage in it ourselves, passing along stories, imputing motives to the words and deeds of others that may exist only in our darkened imagination or that may be true but that we have no business spreading around to others. We casually slander and libel others, and then act outrages when other people do it to ourselves, as if we were not expert practitioners in the trade.

In this, we are much like the scribes and Pharisees. As it is written in Matthew 23:13: “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.” How is it that we do this? For one, we act with a lack of love towards other people, in that we fail to be merciful and gracious to others, pardoning their offenses in the knowledge that we too are in need of mercy, and showing happiness when others are brought low either as a result of their own sins being brought to light or because of the clever invective of others. Yet we are not content merely to live contrary to God’s ways ourselves, but we actively hinder the spiritual lives of others by putting stumbling blocks in their way, by filling their ear with tasty morsels of gossip that are sweet in the ear but bitter in the heart and mind, that turn people against others, and that spread our cynicism and lack of love and mercy and outgoing concern. We pretend to be seeking to protect others from evildoers, or feign a concern with bringing the truth to light, but in reality we act out of malicious disregard for the well-being of others by subjecting them to scorn and ridicule, driving sensitive and flawed people to despair, only to find ourselves hoisted on our own petard and being dished the same unpalatable treatment ourselves, with the result that we are driven into despair over our own shortcomings becoming public gossip fodder for the unmerciful masses of pitiless avengers in plentiful supply in these dark times. And we only have ourselves to blame for this. May we start showing mercy to others, and may God be more merciful to us than any of us deserve, or else we are all doomed.


[2] See, for example:

[3] See, for example:

[4] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Bible, Biblical History, Christianity, Church of God, History, Musings and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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