A Humanist Perspective on the Sermon on the Mount

Gordon Gamm

I received my religious education in Sunday school, as a Jew. It was shortly after the Holocaust, and the Jewish community was eager to ensure the perpetuation of Judaism. Intermarriage—even mere exposure to Christianity—were viewed as palpable threats. My religious education said nothing at all aboutChristianity. My parents’ understanding of Christianity was limited to a notion that Christians believed in three gods—God, Jesus, and the Holy Ghost—while we Jews believed in only one. I learned that “an acknowledgement of that God was the centerpiece of the Friday night service in every Temple in the world."We recited a prayer that affirmed that God was one. We understood that Christians believed that Jesus was the Messiah, whereas we believed that Jesus was a great man, but the Messiah, the son of God, had not yet arrived. Reform Jews had a distinct belief that instead of a personal messiah, there would be a messianic age when there would be peace on Earth. Since there was no peace on Earth, the Messiah had not yet arrived.

My first exposure to the words of the Sermon on the Mount was upon seeing the movie King of Kings (1961). Before that, I literally did not know what moral message distinguished Jesus’s teaching. I began reading analyses of the Sermon on the Mount by Christian scholars. It seemed that as a humanist, I had a distinct perspective on the suitability of this message as a moral guide for contemporary life. That is the basis for this article.

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