My recent post A Cowboy Buryin’ drew a Reader’s Pick and some wonderful comments. Thank you all. Among the comments was one from Koshersalami, who offered what could be called bullet points on Judaism. What follows is drawn from his comment and my reply.
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I consider myself a Christian, and I remain a Christian for the simple reason that's how I was raised. In that, I'm with Jesus – who most Christians seem to forget was not a Christian, but a Jew – and Gandhi. Both men remained in the faith of their fathers, and I can't imagine two better role models.
Yes, the Christian faith has its foibles and its faults, its foolishness and its fantasies, but so do all other faiths. To my mind, some Bible stories are typical tribal glorifications of deeds of derring-do (see Samson, Jericho, et al), while others are superstitious nonsense (burning bushes, rods turned into snakes).
Clearly, other stories are fanciful tales not unlike the Brothers Grimm, meant to entertain and teach children moral lessons. But alas, too many of these children never grew up, which is why I sometimes refer to them as Kindergarten Kristians.
But again, those indictments can be lodged against all faiths. And as I once told my cousin Jack, a Mormon, I see no point in trading one set of fairy tales for another.
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Perhaps more to the point, I see no reason to reject my faith simply because I – like most Christians – fail to put it into practice. As Jesus warned, putting faith into practice is usually difficult, often arduous, and sometimes dangerous – as it obviously was in his case. Indeed, Jesus likened following him to taking up a cross.
Sad to say, too many people who call themselves Christians don’t seem to comprehend that the prime directive of the faith is self-sacrifice, suppressing one's selfish desires for the good of the commonweal. Too many Christians seem to be in it to reap rewards in the hereafter. Indeed, many – if not most – don’t even bother to try to put their faith into practice – as our elections bear stark testimony.
From my reading of the text, the twin pillars of the faith – at least as espoused by Jesus – are pacifism and communism. But advocating either pillar in this self-professed "most Christian nation" can get you ostracized or even killed.
So much for claiming to follow the Prophet of Peace and Love.
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As for Kosher's bullet points on Judaism, I’ve taken the liberty of bolding and enumerating them. From his description, it sounds as though I may be Jewish without having converted.
(1) No original sin
Agreed. From a theological perspective, it’s absurd on its face that any just God would mete out eternal punishment simply due to the accident of birth. Yes, Church thinkers have applied countless theological band-aids to heal that logical chasm; but drop the premise of original sin, and those machinations are no longer necessary.
As a practical matter, nothing I know of is more destructive to the developing mind and the fragile ego of the young than the notion that one is worse than worthless, that one is inherently evil. What's inherently evil is that notion.
How awful – how truly sinful – to teach self-debasement, to teach that one can do nothing of merit on one's own, to teach that one is worthless save by the grace and good offices of some celestial Benevolent Dictator.
(2) Satan is a minor figure
I don't believe in Satan, and I see no need for any such entity, since humans are capable of all manner of evil all on their own. If God exists and is omniscient and omnipotent, as is the claim, the whole scenario of "Battlefield Heaven" and "fallen angels" is also logically absurd.
Fear, not love, is too often the prime motivator for Christians. They not only fear Satan, but fear God. That sort of thing was incomprehensible to at least one Native American who said:
"What sort of men are these Europeans that they must fear their God in order to do good?"
(3) Emphasis on how you treat others is theologically paramount. Not an emphasis on what to believe. Conduct trumps faith.
That’s certainly what I take from Jesus' words. Unfortunately, the heretic Saul of Tarsus argued otherwise, argued that grace trumped works. Thus he opened a rift in the faith that has never completely healed.
To me, Saul/Paul doesn't quite get it. Yes, he argues love is paramount, but he can never seem to completely escape the legalistic way of thinking. Try as he might, Saul/Paul remained a prisoner of the pharisaic tradition.
So, I reject Pauline heresy. Instead, I hold with the view that "You will know them by their fruits" and with Jesus’ admonition "As you have done to the least of these, so also have you done unto me."
We see the trap of legalism in our own time with a decision like Citizens United that treats a legal construct called a corporation – which in reality is nothing more than a contract that can be created or destroyed at the stroke of a pen – as having the same divinely-given, inalienable rights as human beings.The Creator shudders; Jesus weeps.
Indeed, we see this fallacy at work every time a court holds legal a law whose consequences are clearly immoral. That is not what Jesus would do. “Man," he said, "was not made for the Law, but the Law for Man.”
(4) Afterlife is believed in but mostly ignored and not really used as a motivator. Life is the main event, not death prep. Virtue mainly is its own reward.
Agreed again; and here I take my cue from that great 20th Century theologian Peggy Lee:
“Is that all there is?
If that’s all there is, then let’s keep dancing
Let’s break out the booze and have a ball”
While you catch your breath at that, I’ll remove my tongue from my cheek. But I'll also make mention of the fact that Jesus' first miracle was turning water into wine at a wedding reception. I should also make mention of Matthew 11:19:
"The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they said, ‘Behold, the man is a glutton and a wine-bibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners’. But wisdom is justified by its works."
Contrary to the bleating from certain pulpits and other conservative quarters, the realization that this may be “all there is” is no excuse to hedonistically “break out the booze and have a ball”. Instead, it is an argument to enjoy our days and leave something of value behind; in short, to make the most of the three-score and ten – if we are lucky – we are given on this Earth.
An old gospel song says “we’ll understand it all bye and bye”. Maybe. Or maybe we go in a hole in the ground and become food for worms and never do find out the answers to the questions that so vex us here in this earthly realm. But if that's the case, at least those questions will no longer vex us.
Personally, I’m fond of the Hindu notion that you come back in the next life as what you persecuted in this life. That notion seems inspired by a divine sense of justice. Racists, homophobes and xenophobes, beware!
If there is a Heaven – and frankly, I rather doubt there is – it certainly won't be as it's sold to Kindergarten Kristians. I like to trouble them with questions such as these:
If our earthly bodies are restored in the afterlife, how so? Will it be in the form of a helpless baby that can't fend for itself? Will it be as a gawky, obstinate, pimply teenager? Will it be in the full physical glory of one’s thirties? Or will I be forced to spend eternity in the body of a decrepit old man with twisted painful joints, a bald head and a weak heart? These questions are no more absurd than the usual "answers".
(5) Questioning scripture is a tradition; in fact, it's our most sacred tradition - that's mainly what Torah study is. "Israel" (well, really "Yisra el" if pronounced in Hebrew) translates into English as "wrestles with God." There's a reason for that.
When I was young and questioned the faith I was handed, my father would say "When you talk like that, the Devil has entered the room." Sorry, Dad, but either God gave me this mind and expects me to use it, or there is no God and my humanity demands that I question what does not comport with reason and experience.
(6) Sex is not a bad thing. Infidelity is, because it hurts people.
I'm afraid I learned that lesson not from my faith, but from my own painful experience. Indeed, among the wisest things I ever learned was from a Catholic priest, who helped me through a very troubled time in my life. I don't recall who he quoted, but I certainly remember the quote: "A man's only authority is his own experience."
I've come to understand that the measure of a man is not his mistakes, but what he learns from them.
(7) The big mission is to Repair The World.
One could certainly take Jesus’ declaration that “the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” to mean that Heaven is in the Hereandnow and not in the Hereafter. Thus if we are ever to reach Heaven or achieve Nirvana, it will be by undoing the damage we have done to the world.
To me, that is the idea embodied in the injunction to have “dominion over the Earth”. But at the moment, we seem to have given the word dominion a very different – and perverted – meaning. One might say it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a climate-change denier to enter the Kingdom of God.
Much is made in conservative Christian circles of "the purpose driven life". I haven't read Rick Warren's book, but it seems to me that purpose is not to discriminate or legislate against people because of their race, religion, gender or sexual orientation. That is not what Jesus would do.
Nor is that purpose to be constantly at war. The old hymn says "Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war"; that as is critically important, but too many Christians ignore it, in their hubris believing the God they hold to be omniscient and omnipotent is paradoxically so weak as to need defense by mere humans.
For the record, Jesus said, in essence, "Make love, not war."
Seems to me our purpose as sentient beings supposedly created in God's image is simply to love in the truest sense of that word. Seems to me that was the essence of Jesus' message, and it seems to me that is a difficult enough challenge without getting lost in the weeds of pharisaic legalisms.
Seems to me our purpose should be to love as much and as hard and as long as humanly possible so that each of us leaves this world – in whatever small way – better than we found it.
©2012 Tom Cordle