Standing up for Jesus

Dec 20th, 2009 | By | Category: Spirituality

The baby Jesus had a Santa hat at our Nativity Play.  It was good that Mary and Joseph had remembered it was Christmas, I had joked.  The attempt at satirical humour had fallen flat.

Why bother to stand up for Jesus, anyway?

It makes little practical difference to conservative Christians or secular liberals whether or not the name of Jesus is treated with respect. The Christians can tell the liberals that they are damned and doomed to spend eternity in the lake of everlasting fire and the liberals can tell the Christians they are bigots and go shopping on Sunday morning and then to the pub. Everyone can live very happily with a stand off, each side congratulating itself on how right it is, assured in the fact that the others are wrong.

Conservative Christians are concerned that the name of Jesus be respected because of their religious sensibilities, and, possibly, because they fear their threat of damnation will not be taken seriously if blasphemy is considered a trivial matter. But there are other Christians of other shades of opinion for whom the name and the status of Jesus are equally a serious matter.

I visited the Philippines back in 2001. It had been ten years since my previous visit. I wanted to see how the tiger economy years had changed the country and whether greater prosperity had brought and greater degree of peace and justice.

Much had changed, and for the better, but there remained a huge level of grinding poverty and widespread social injustice. I visited the island of Mindanao, torn by inter-communal tensions and terrorist attacks. In a community where my Presbyterian companion and I were not allowed outside of the compound without escort and where one visit to a village necessitated plain clothes policeman as bodyguards as well as an army foot patrol, there were excellent development projects, projects that were empowering, sustainable and making a real, practical difference in people’s lives.

The agency behind the projects was the Catholic diocese, laity, religious and priests collaborating in a bias to the poor, not because they thought they should do so, but because in the Gospel Sunday by Sunday, there was a divine absolute imperative to do so.

The work in Mindanao is being replicated by churches in countless thousands of places around the world. The theological base for such work is one in which the names and commands of God and Jesus are taken seriously. I remember Desmond Tutu speaking in Belfast more than twenty years ago. Apartheid was a theological issue he said, because it was a blasphemy; people created in the image of God were not being treated with the respect God demanded.

I’m not really worried about conservative Christians, they have never been any friend to the Anglican tradition to which I belong. I am worried though when the relativism that pervades liberal thinking starts threatening to undermine the cause of peace and justice.

All opinions are not equal. Human dignity and human rights are not served by suggesting that everyone’s viewpoint counts. The Christian Gospel gives absolute worth to human beings, over and above all other considerations.

Denigrating the name of Jesus suggests that Christians have no more valid a position than anyone else. It suggests that Christians have no stronger mandate for their actions than have the logging companies, who would claim to provide work as they bring wholesale destruction to the environment, or the mining companies, who will trample on land rights and sacred places in the name of economic development.

Tread carefully, before you trash what some of us hold dear, for you tread on our dreams of a new heaven and a new earth.

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  1. “All opinions are not equal. Human dignity and human rights are not served by suggesting that everyone’s viewpoint counts.”

    Are you for real man? I’m not sure if I understand. Are you saying that not everyone should have the right to voice their opinion? Thats shocking.

    “religious and priests collaborating in a bias to the poor, not because they thought they should do so, but because in the Gospel Sunday by Sunday, there was a divine absolute imperative to do so.”

    Morality is not supernatural its a human creation. Religion bothers me because of the idea of blind faith. Its a bad idea to encourage children in their formative years to accept answers to lifes biggest questions that have no basis in truth. Religion encourages people not to think and question the way the world works. Maybe if this wasn’t the case then third world countries wouldn’t be smashed to pieces economically and divided up between greedy multinational corporations. Free thinkers in rich countries wouldn’t buy from them unless they acted fairly . No, we just send food and water and give back maybe 10% of the money we’ve taken through exploitation. Oh and we tell them contraception is wrong then hold concerts to raise money for aids research.

    The world is shit because people dont think, they blindly accept any story that looks good on the surface, they’ve been doing it since they first went to church.

  2. Who says morality is a human creation? Liberal relativists. Who says they are right? They do. Circular argument, just like the church.

    ‘Religion encourages people not to think and question the way the world works’. The religious people, I know think quite a lot.

    We don’t give back 10% or anywhere near it, we can’t even make the 0.7% UN target.

    And who apart from the Pope tells them contraception is wrong? We have accepted contraception in our church since the 1930s.

    People do think.

  3. Morality has a basis in logic. Humans are instinctively social animals, who treat people well out of basic self interest ie. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Its the same instinct that encourages people to group together. People have a need for social tags. Your trying to push one on me now- Liberal relativist. You assume that I’ve taken a proscribed philosophy and simply learned it like you have. Your slotting me into the same file as everyone else who mocks the way you abandon your critical faculties.

    I think you take comfort in drawing a nice clean battle line between believers and non believers. It helps you to retreat into a clan mentality. If you question your faith then you’ll be abandoning your allegiance to your clan. You think of Athiests and you attach all these other preconceptions about their character. You convince yourself that they are utterly different to you and that its not in your capacity to question your religion.

    Please try not to think of this discussion as a battle with two sides defending and attacking. If you do that you’ll just focus on winning and you wont objectively consider what I’m saying. I assure you I’ve thought about God a lot. It wasn’t easy renouncing my faith.

    It is in your basic nature to be curious. To gather information and form opinions about your environment is how you survive. In order to keep a little corner of your mind free from critical examination you have to put up walls.A mental wall is that reflex to change the internal subject when you have a ‘bad thought’.

    Have you ever honestly considered the idea that there is no god? Really tried to just think about it and decide if it makes sense?

  4. Ah, I’ve abandoned my critical faculties.

    And which to clan do I belong?

    Counting Atheists amongst my best friends, I’m not sure what preconceptions I have attached to them; they are all different. I even flew to Birmingham for lunch with one of them last summer – odd that, if I have no capacity for questions.

    Have I considered that there is no god? Of course, I’m not from a church background, I’m from a Left wing English secular background. I frequently consider the possibility – I was in Rwanda in the summer.

  5. Gary, you state that “Morality has a basis in logic. Humans are instinctively social animals, who treat people well out of basic self interest ie. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

    If that’s the case please explain the way people are exploited “out of basic self interest” of those who do the exploiting.

  6. This is an interesting argument. The label point is valid – but surely necessary for us to function with some ‘ease’ in society? I have been called a ‘wooly liberal’ but if that means I try to think the best of people – of human nature – then I accept the ‘label’, I can not accept that people only treat others ‘well’ because of self interest. Some people would describe my morality as ‘Christian’ despite my opposition to the church.
    In that mode (and possibly best wooly liberal mode) I respect Ian’s right to have his faith. He knows I can’t understand it .

  7. Incidently, I don’t think that the average person in England gives much thought to religion, certainly not to whether they are right or someone else wrong. Although I heard an interesting label being applied to/by someone, she described herself as a ‘cultural Christian’. The discussion took place because Worcester College invites its staff to attend a carol service on the last day of winter term.

  8. I’m not sure why the English allow an Established Church to persist. I would be strongly in favour of separation of Church and State and would be baffled that a third level institution would have an ‘official’ carol service. The churches have had far too much influence and power here, to the detriment of what was meant to be preached

  9. Ian, If you have considered the question logically, please explain to me why you believe in God.

    Martin, Exploitation in this day and age comes in two forms in my opinion;
    1. Capitalism and its single minded devotion to profit maximization.
    In a modern multi national corporation, the company has a singular basic mandate. Although it is run by people they are essentially administrators and cant move the company away from the profit motive. So in a poor country with little or no labour law and WTO sponsored theft of natural resources, the company has no mechanism to avoid exploitation. It is bound by the capitalist system to pay as little cost as possible.

    2. Sectarianism and Ignorance.
    Like what I said earlier about assumptions made about Athiests, Its easier to not empathize with someone if you convince yourself that they are fundementally different to you. This also applies to cruelty and exploitation. If you can convince one group of people that another is ‘sub human’, you can enable them to ignore basic moral rules for how to treat people.

  10. Explain faith? Why? It’s like trying to explain love or music or art. It belongs to the realm of the subjective.

    A science professor from Trinity College, Dublin who belongs to my church choir says that science and religion belong to parallel realms. Logic belongs in the realm of science and mathematics. The idea that faith can be logically explained comes from medieval Catholic thought. Protestant emphasis is much more based on experience, which is something individual and non-transferable.

  11. Science and religion are at odds. You would have people believe that that we came from the mind of a creator, that our consciousness will persist when our bodies die, that our omnipotent creator watches us always and although it doesn’t communicate with us in this life we have the eternal afterlife to live with it in bliss. This is your method of coping with the unknown.

    Science is also a way to cope with the unknown. We form a theory about where we originated. We then hold this theory up to the scrutiny of anyone who wishes to challenge it. Every fact and piece of knowledge that we have is held up to the theory and if there is a contradiction then the theory fails. Only when it can be said that according to everything we know this theory is correct is it held to be truth.

    It is ridiculous of you to say that faith and logic cant be compared. They are the opposite extremes of the same spectrum. Faith is nothing short of the wholesale suspension of logical thought. You believe that things are true without any evidence at all to suggest their truth. You cant contact the creator. No signs exist of its continued presence, Only the idea that it was there in the beginning and now it silently watches. However there is ample evidence to suggest that humans are at the tip of an evolutionary chain stretching back to the very first single celled organisms.

    We are different because we possess the capacity for abstract thinking. We question our own existence. This would have been very hard for our ancestors. So many fundamental unanswered questions. What is the sun? What are we and how have we come to be? What is death?

    Sigmund Freud once said “The more the fruits of knowledge become accessible to man, the greater is the decline in religious belief.” Religion was at its beginning a valid scientific theory. As more and more facts have become available its been shown to be incorrect. That said I can understand people clinging to the idea and refusing to question their beliefs. Its a lovely idea. I can see why generation after generation of people have wanted to believe in the afterlife, but facts don’t cease to exist because they are ignored.

  12. ‘Science and religion are at odds’ is an opinion; the geologist who sings tenor in our choir would disagree with you. Coming from a non-Christian background, I have never had any problem reconciling evolutionary science with my faith, no serious Scripture scholar takes the opening chapters of Genesis as anything other than a piece of theological writing.

    I would not have anyone believe anything, the core of Jesus’ teaching is that people make their own responses. Anglicans believe in individual conscience, which is why Archbishop McQuaid so strived to eliminate all Protestant influence in this State.

    The post was a plea that Christian beliefs be treated with respect, just as I would expect Christians to respect the beliefs of others.

  13. “I would not have anyone believe anything, the core of Jesus’ teaching is that people make their own responses.”

    You are a crazy person. Please just admit that you believe in a load of supernatural shit. You think your going to heaven yes?

  14. Crazy?

    Maybe, but I don’t claim to have all the answers.

  15. Look I’m sorry for ripping on you I’m sure your a nice person.It just really upsets me when people dont try to apply logic in their lives. The world is terrible. All the worse that we could easily fix it. People dwell on the minutia of their daily lives and think nothing of society or the common good, lazy in their thoughts. The people I see every day are directly responsible for global poverty simply through their apathy.

    I’ve spent years trying to show my friends that socialism as a system of government could change the world. Never has any of them argued with me or directly disagreed, just brushed it off. since roughly the time I started posting here I’ve realized I’ll never see it in my lifetime. I feel so disconnected from everyone. I cant just force myself back into ignorance and think about bullshit all day knowing what i know. Any attempt to change things
    is futile. I cant find any meaning in life. If religion has anything helpful to say I’d love to hear it.,

  16. Gary,

    Believe it or not, I can understand where you are coming from and I would have a lot of sympathy with old Marxists who say that religion is the opiate of the people. Having been involved with the Militant Tendency in teenage days, I read lots of the stuff which argued there was an inexorable process in history that would lead to a new society.

    The new world never seemed to be coming though and the poor and working people seemed to always get the worst of things, as they have with our budget and with NAMA.

    Being a Christian, for me, is about believing in some sort of cosmic justice, which is probably a form of craziness, but helps me get through life and prompts me to work in tiny ways for a better world in the here and now.

  17. My philosophy on life is that I’m an animal that has developed the ability to question my own existence. As empty a notion as that might seem, it takes away any sense of a pre-determined destiny. This lands responsibility for my own existence squarely in my lap and takes away what I would see as excuses for non thinking. Logic and the capacity for abstract thinking are what make man unique and incredible.It is up to me to look at the world around me and to make sense of it, questioning everything. Its not such a bad view on life I think.
    Existence doesn’t have to be divinely inspired to be beautiful. I dont mean to be aggressive when I debate religion, but when I think it through I cant help thinking that religion corrupts the very thing that makes us human, our minds.

  18. I think most religion does restrict human minds; I think of the treatment of Galileo and Darwin, and countless other scientists by the churches. In the Roman Catholic tradition the Pope has said that certain matters are simply not subjects for discussion by the church, which seems extraordinary, and dissenting voices are removed from teaching positions.

    Within my own tradition there would be some people who would claim to have absolute answers, answers which generally exclude people they don’t like (they particularly exclude gay and lesbian people, making the whole of religion turn on what people do in the privacy of their own lives.)

    There are things I believe which atheist friends would find unbelievable, but that doesn’t mean I don’t attend astronomy lectures, or read stuff on theoretical physics. I think there is a cosmic spirit at work in things, they do not feel any need for such a belief.

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