Monday, October 29, 2007
Pretend that you're God... you're wise and powerful, and you want your followers to do what's right to each other, and to other folks as well. And let's suppose you've sent someone down to give them a message, and then, just to cap off the message giving, have that guy arrested, tortured, and put to death. Come up with a nice, catchy name for him, like Jesus or something.
What would his message be? What would he tell people to do? People have debated this for a long time, and they've settled on two possibilities for what he said to do.
First, many suggest that folks should stop believing whatever they believe now, and start believing that Jesus died for their sins, and that they should accept that sacrifice. This is a nice, easy message, it's kind of catchy, and most importantly, it means convincing people that you're right. Doesn't you like to convince people that you're right, so they come over to your side?
It's an interesting idea. Perhaps once a believer has taken one step, and chosen to accept the sacrifice for an eternity of bliss (and to avoid an eternity of suffering), the believer will do other good things as well. Of course, there's no mandate to do so... believe, and your sins are forgiven.
On the other hand, what if the command was to love others in an active fashion? To help the hungry, the poor, the sick and imprisoned? What if the command was to go out and take care of people, and to do it humbly, never making a show of your faith or piety?
That'd be a lot harder, wouldn't it? It can feel awfully good to talk about how great your are - oops, I mean, how great your beliefs are, and it's rewarding to get other people to join your exclusive club. On the other hand, helping other people, loving other people, well... that sounds like work! And sometimes, if you love other people, you help them out even if they're not in the least bit grateful for your help. If they're complaining that they hate Christians for being so self-righteous and preachy all the time, but they need help, real love says that you'd have to help them anyway. And you couldn't even trumpet your accomplishments around town, because you're supposed to be humble!
I mean, think about that! You'd have to do real, meaningful work, you'd have to make actual sacrifices!
You'd have to really believe that this was important. You'd have to work to transform your heart into a loving heart, your spirit into a caring spirit, you'd have to have patience and faith to carry out such work.
Isn't it a lot easier to just preach the word, and complain about the state of the world?
Lots of folks would like to think so. They want to distill Christianity down to "believe and be saved" because that's easy to work with. If nonbelievers are facing eternal damnation, what could be more important than giving them the message of salvation? Feeding them? Sheltering them? Helping to make their lives, and the world around them, better? What do any of those things matter, next to eternal damnation?
So, let's go back to the beginning. Pretend you're God. You're wise. You want folks to do what's right. What would you tell them to do? To believe, and preach belief? Or to love, and work to make the world better?
Would you ask them to reward themselves by preaching how great they are, and convicing others to be like them, or ask them to do the hard work of loving, and caring, and changing the world for the better in real, physical ways?
It's a really tough question, but the interesting thing is, if you look at the gospels, the telling of the story of the man Christians consider the Messiah, only the latter is strongly supported. "Love one another," he says, "as I have loved you". And let's keep in mind that he was willing to die out of love, so "as I have loved you" is not a weak modifier!
The loudest, most public face of Christianity has been corrupted to the core; they aren't even preaching the message of their Messiah in any meaningful way any more. They're trying to run on the name, and on meaningless professions of beliefs, and a bunch of symbols. But don't believe me... don't assume they're doing things wrong just because I say so. Pretend you're God, wise and powerful and good, and look at what they're doing, and look over the choices.
Which would you ask them to do?