A century ago, the Bible was the moral and metaphorical lodestar for many Americans: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 9:24); “The Good Samaritan” (Luke 10:25-37); “The Patience of Job” (James 4); “Eat my shorts” (Bart 12:22)
These Biblical lessons and expressions are still part of our makeup and our vocabulary. But, to me, who spends more time watching Seinfeld re-runs than my grandmother spent reading Genesis, Seinfeld is an equally rich source of moral insight and memorable catch-phrase, with a lot more laughs than Leviticus.
I suspect I am not alone. This may say something about the future of America, but I judge not (that I be not judged). I simply report what I see, and seek to understand the implications for the common weal. Let us consider, in no apparent order of logic or importance:
Love: Bible: “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” (Romans 13:9); Seinfeld: “What’s the matter?” “It’s Patty.” “… you break up with a girl every week.” “What … what is this salty discharge?” “Oh my God. You’re crying.” “This is horrible! I care!” (Elaine & Jerry: the Serenity Now episode; 97-98 season, episode #159, hereinafter Serenity Now 97-8:159)
Hate: Bible: “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.” (Matthew 5:38); Seinfeld: “No soup for you!” (The Soup Nazi 95-6:115)
Good: Bible: “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.” (Hebrews 10:24); Seinfeld: “Who else would’ve gone through the trouble of helping this poor immigrant? I AM special. My mother was right.” (Jerry, thinking about his advice to Babu Bhatt: The Cafe 91-2: 24)
Evil: Bible: “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.” (Matthew 7:15); Seinfeld: “Newman!!!” (Various)
Acceptance: Bible: “To everything there is a season, and time to every purpose under heaven.” (Ecclesiastes 3:18); Seinfeld: “But I don’t WANT to be a pirate.” (Jerry: The Puffy Shirt 93-4:66)
Human Sexuality: Bible: “Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.” (Leviticus 18:22); Seinfeld: “There’s been a big misunderstanding here … we’re not gay. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.” (Jerry (and George): The Outing 92-3:57)
Human Shortcomings: Bible: “How are the mighty fallen and the weapons of war perished!” (Samuel 1:27); Seinfeld: “I just got back from swimming in the pool. And the water was cold …” “Oh, you mean … shrinkage.” “Yes. Significant shrinkage!” (George & Jerry: The Hamptons 93-4:85)
Solidarity: Bible: “And Jesus … said unto them … every city or house divided against itself shall not stand.” (Matthew 12:25); Seinfeld: “If Relationship George walks through this door, he will kill Independent George. A George divided against itself cannot stand.” (George: The Pool Guy 95-6:118)
Family: Bible: “But if anyone does not provide for … members of his household, he has denied the faith …” (1 Timothy 5:8); Seinfeld: “Mandelbaum, Mandelbaum, Mandelbaum.” (Izzy, Izzy Jr, Izzy Sr: The English Patient 96-7:151)
Charity: Bible: “ … remember the words of the Lord Jesus, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ” (Acts 20:35); Seinfeld: “There’s something strange about this girl … she’s too good … I mean she’s giving and caring and genuinely concerned about the welfare of others – I can’t be with someone like that.” (Jerry: The Sponge 95-6:119)
Balm: Bible: “Is there no balm in Gilead?” (Jeremiah 8:22); Seinfeld: “You put the balm on? Who told you to put the balm on? I didn’t tell you to put the balm on. Why’d you put the balm on? … If you’re gonna put a balm on, let a doctor put the balm on.” (Kramer’s lawyer, Jackie, to Kramer: The Maestro 95-6:113)
Honesty: Bible: “Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make ye free.” (John 8:32); Seinfeld: “Just remember, it’s not a lie if you believe it.” (George: The Beard 94-5:102)
Self-Control: Bible: “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41); Seinfeld: “ … my brain is facing my penis in a chess game. And I’m letting him win.” (Jerry: The Nose Job 91-2:26)
Self-Gratification: Bible: “And Onan … when he went in to his brother’s wife … spilled his seed on the ground …” (Genesis 38:9); Seinfeld: “I go out for a quart of milk, I come home, and find my son treating his body like it was an amusement park.” (George’s mother, to George: The Contest 92-3:51)
The Staff of Life: Bible: “And Jesus said unto them, ‘I am the bread of life.’ ” (John 6:35); Seinfeld: “Who’s gonna turn down a Junior Mint? It’s chocolate, it’s peppermint, it’s delicious … it’s very refreshing.” (Jerry & Kramer: The Junior Mints 92-3:60)
Compassion: Bible: “And the Lord said unto Cain, where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9); Seinfeld: “So you feel ‘women and children first’ … is … an antiquated notion … it’s every man, woman, child and invalid for themselves.” “In a manner of speaking.” (Jerry & George: The Fire 93-4:84)
Justice: Bible: “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” (Galatians VI); Seinfeld: (All four watch and joke as a carjacking takes place) Police Officer: “You’re under arrest.” Elaine: “ … No, no, we didn’t do anything.” Officer: “That’s exactly right. The law requires you to help or assist anyone in danger … it’s called the Good Samaritan Law. Let’s go.” (Finale, Part I 97-8:179)
Apart from some of the more theologically abstruse questions like the Holy Ghost and the Virgin Birth, the Bible does a good, common-sense job of grappling with the dilemmas of daily life, and tosses in a lot of quotable quotes. Who could argue with being loving, peaceful, truthful, charitable, compassionate, honest, rational, self-controlled, and just?
Seinfeld covers much the same moral ground as the Bible, but in its own Bizarro World — lustful, dishonest, selfish, petty, superficial, self-gratifying — what most of us would like to be if we could avoid the consequences of our misguided ways. It’s true that occasionally Jerry & Co. say they would like to do the right thing — “… we’re like children…” “Why can’t I be normal?” “It would be nice to care about someone.” “Yes! Yes! Care!” (The Engagement 95-6:111), but we know they don’t really mean it.
Such flouting of our God-given norms probably should dismay me. But, like staring at cleavage (The Shoes 92-3: 56), I can’t stop watching the depravity. I like to think that observing such bad behavior is a catharsis that will open me to the Bible’s moral lessons. It hasn’t happened yet, and, if I don’t change my ways soon, I’ll probably burn in Hell, “with devils and all those caves, and the ragged clothing.” (The Burning; 97-8: 172) It’ll be tough, but there’s a reasonable chance Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer will be there and, if we can still laugh at “No soup for you” or “Mandelbaum, Mandelbaum, Mandelbaum,” I think we can bear it together. As the Rabbi, the Priest, and the Minister said as they walked into the bar, “A Good Laugh Assuageth Sin.” (John 06:28:2012)