Gospel Disproof #31: Burning coals

Ask the average layman who Jesus was, and if they’re a more secular/liberal sort of person you’ll probably hear that he was a “great moral teacher.” Ironically, however, the one uniquely Christian moral principle he taught was this:

But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.

Great philosophy, isn’t it? Let’s dismantle airport security and send Al Qaeda free tickets. Do good to those that hate you, give them whatever they want, let them hurt you and take your stuff and get away with it.

Obviously, for all their praise, even Christians do not follow Jesus’ one uniquely Christian moral teaching, except on rare occasions when it’s to their advantage to do so. This is a doctrine whose true virtue lies not so much in practicing it as in just teaching it. Hypocrisy aside, there’s a certain gloss of nobility and selflessness in the idea of being more generous to one’s enemies than they are to you.

Unless you look at this sentiment in its biblical context.

The roots of Jesus’ teachings can be found back in the Old Testament book of Proverbs, chapter 25:

If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat;
if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head,
and the LORD will reward you.

The idea of being nice to your enemy is actually not original with Jesus. It had been a proverb for centuries before Jesus came along. But notice the catch: being nice to your enemy actually sets him up for major paybacks. Your kindness now isn’t really being nice to your enemy at all, you’re just setting yourself up for a divine reward that includes the torture of those you were nice to.

Paul, like Jesus, picks up this same theme as an explicitly Christian practice.

Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord. “BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD.”

Paul takes this passage from Proverbs and explains why Christians ought to follow Jesus’ advice and be good to their enemies: it’s to “leave room for the wrath of God.” By being nice to your enemies, you’re giving God an opportunity to really nail them better than you ever could. He doesn’t specifically mention burning them forever in Hell, but “burning coals,” eh?

Even in its mercy and forbearance, Christianity is selfish, vindictive, and cruel underneath. Though the outward pose is one of generosity and forbearance, the ultimate goal is to increase the suffering of those who oppose you. Look at the gloating over Christopher Hitchen’ death. Look at Cranston, RI. Yes, there are nice people who are Christians. But they didn’t get that from Jesus. Christianity itself is not nice at all.