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imagesA 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 Hellimages-11, “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)

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