Wednesday, August 18, 2010

I Still Do Not Like Your Christ

... and I'm not wild about your "moderate" Christians either. This was posted in a lively comment thread today (doesn't matter where, doesn't matter who -- it's the thought that counts):
Holy Moley! What great conversations!!!! Enjoyed every one of them...thank you...the point is, folks, there are many different religions practiced all over the world. We should be respecting each one of them and understand that in each of them there are extremists. Just don't be one! I personally choose to follow the teachings of Christ...but it could be Buddha as well...they are all similar. Just be a good person and you have it down pat!
I commented:
I disagree. We should respect other people's freedom to choose their religion, or none at all, but we are under no obligation to respect anyone's beliefs, religious or otherwise. Evidently you don't respect the beliefs of the people you call "extremists," so you're in a bit of a bind. (Martin Luther King Jr. proudly avowed himself an extremist, by the way. So do I. Probably the one thing I agree with Jesus about is that being lukewarm is not a virtue.)

You say you "personally choose to follow the teachings of Christ." Which ones? Do you pluck out your eye if it leads you to sin? Do you agree that anyone who divorces and remarries is an adulterer? Do you refuse to attend a parent's funeral? Do you bring not peace but a sword? And so on. Or do you pick and choose?

"Just be a good person and you have it down pat!" That's certainly not a teaching of Jesus. Nor is it a teaching of the Buddha.
To which the other commenter replied: your life anyway you want and believe whatever you want...don't judge me and don't judge anyone else unless you are perfect...and I'm thinking you are not.
And added:
and also, Duncan...kindness is in every religion...maybe you should look into it a little more...I choose to follow the teaching of Christ regarding love and kindness and helping others....How would you know what the teaching of Christ or Buddha would be? You sound extremely negative with all of these conversations...You certainly can believe whatever you choose...and I will do the same.
I replied:
I don't know, you sound mighty judgmental to me. You think you can divide the extremists from the good believers, for example, and I'm still trying to figure out where I "judged" you. Disagreement is not necessarily judgment, and how interesting that when faced with disagreement the "kindness" melts away and you become rather ... harsh.

Sure, there's "kindness" in all religions, as well as outside them. Kindness is a human trait. But that doesn't mean it's at their core. Jesus says some nice things in the gospels, and a lot of nasty things. I mentioned some of them. I think the burden of proof lies on the person who claims, without evidence, that "just be a good person and you've got it down pat!" is all you need. How do you know what the teaching of Christ or Buddha would be?
I haven't gone back to the comment thread, so I don't know if the other commenter replied. It doesn't seem she is interested in addressing the question anyway. Sure, Jesus taught "kindness" ... sometimes. So do most religious "extremists." The other commenter wrote that she follows "the teachings of Christ", but apparently she meant "the teaching [singular] of Christ that I like" -- Cafeteria Christianity, as it's known by Cafeteria Christians. It's significant, and quite typical in my experience, that she completely dodged the question of what she does about the rest of the teachings. (Ignores them, I suppose, with crossed fingers.) She has the right to believe whatever she wants, of course, and I never denied that. What I was asking was which "teachings of Christ" she follows.

The Buddha taught compassion, but like Jesus he was primarily concerned with salvation, though he meant something different by that than Jesus did. For Jesus, salvation meant being saved from the judgment of Yahweh, coming very soon to a theater near you. According to the gospel of Mark (1:15) Jesus' first preaching after his baptism and testing in the desert was: "The time is fulfilled and the Kingdom of God is at hand! Repent, and believe in the glad tidings!" The alternative was eternal torture by Satan and his demons. Many Christians claim that Jesus put "love" first, as in "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Mark 12:30-31), but actually he put that one second, after "Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God the Lord is one" and "You shall love the Lord with all your heart and all your soul and all your strength." Yahweh, not too surprisingly, comes before mere human beings. And even here, Jesus didn't say that nothing else mattered or that loving was all one needed to do to be saved. He'd been asked what the greatest commandment was, a question of legalistic Torah interpretation. Jesus was a bit unclear about just what one needed to do to escape damnation, giving different answers at different times. Maybe he wasn't sure himself.

The Buddha was concerned with salvation as escape from the cycle of birth and rebirth, but also as escape from suffering. Suffering was due to craving or desire, which was due to being alive. He set out a program for tamping down desire. Like Jesus, he wasn't very interested in the nuclear family, for what is dear to one makes one suffer. Like Jesus, the Buddha said some things I like and others I dislike. As an atheist I feel free to take the ones I like and ignore the ones I don't, but I don't pretend to "follow the teachings" of either one, or of anyone. I certainly would not claim that the bits I like are all you need to get it down pat.

If you claim to be a follower, you're stuck with all of it. Once you take responsibility for your own values and actions, you're no longer a follower. I think that's a better approach to living -- indeed a necessary one for an adult human being -- but what do I know?