Monday, September 5, 2011

In (partial) Defense of Jesus

I can put it in a nutshell: I have no beef with Jesus, just with Christians. And not all Christians either. My dividing line is between Christians that stress the Old Testament and hellfire and those who favor the New Testament gospels with their message of humility and mercy.

I'm not a Christian, as anybody who read the prior post would know. However crazy some Christianists (as Andrew Sullivan calls the fundamentalists) are, I can understand people who might want to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ.

A few years back, I was regularly attending Catholic Mass because my girlfriend found it comforting. I hadn't been inside a church for over thirty years, but I was newly fascinated and a little mesmerized by the familiar ritual that had changed little over the span of time, the main difference being the change from Latin to English. After attending every Sunday for about a year, I came to the conclusion that there is validity to a humanist vision of Jesus' teachings and a modern, living code of conduct based on it. In fact, I recognized that I had no quarrel with those who believed in what I consider the silly part (belief in God, miracles, afterlife, and such) but were in fact living up to Jesus' ideals as expressed in the New Testament. They're good people participating in a tradition that provides a decent moral code, one I could live by.

Though I reject religion on its face if belief in deities are involved, I still am drawn to the nature of a church as a community. I also have no problem with Jesus the historical human being -- to the extent that his existence can be proven or not -- as being a teacher with a humanist message to follow. His was a message of love, peace, humility, and mercy, and when the Christianists don't resort to Old Testament fire and brimstone to force on their followers the merciless morals of a way of life that Jesus himself wouldn't recognize, then I can easily accept anyone or any community that would want to emulate his true message.

Fact is, I feel the same about Gandhi, Buddha, Confucius, Lao-tsu, and a dozen or so monks of Zen Buddhist lore. Combined with the teachings of Jesus the human, the assembled wisdom provides a pretty good road map for living and thriving in a loving, inclusive, tolerant manner. And whether these wise men actually lived or not -- of course Gandhi did -- is not so important. Someone was inspired to write down, probably from oral history, an account of their teachings, and they measure up to a pretty good way of relating to the world.

No, my only problem with religion in America is the distortion of Jesus' moral code. His was an inclusive vision that made room for everyone. Those who call themselves followers of Jesus who use religion to exclude people probably don't really get Jesus. Also, those who use the Old Testament as a science textbook are living in the wrong century. To them I say, "Hey, evolve!"

Finally, it's freaking 2011, not 30 A.D. It's time for Americans of any religion to adopt a more modern world view that is relevant today and accounts for changes in the way we live. For example, I get that eating pork might not have been wise back in the day when parasites made you sick if you ate it. But for Pete's sake, pork is safe to eat nowadays. Let's move on.

That's a weird example, being more about Jews and Muslims than Christians, but you know what I mean.

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