Okay, here's my VERY IMPORTANT disclamer. If you didn't read my previous post, STOP. Read it first. No joke. These posts are so inter-connected that I actually wrote them on the same day, but don't like to post multiple blogs because it doesn't look pretty. So go read it.
Okay. Carry on. Disclaimer #2 follows.
(It is my experience that when talking about religion, people get upset. I fully expect that to be the case here. I do apologize in advance if I upset anyone with the below commentary. Sometimes I'm serious; sometimes I'm flippant. I'm not trying to pick on Christians because they're an easy target, I'm picking on Christians because it's what I know, what I grew up with. I welcome comments, but if you're going to criticize what I have to say, please be respectful and back up your opinions with examples. I'm interested in different perspectives on my thoughts, but if you can't follow the rules to the right, I'm not going to entertain flame wars.)
In light of yesterday's blog, I had a thought. While I know that there are lots of staunch human rights defenders who subscribe to one religious doctrine or another, my experience to date is that they fall in the "other" category.
It got me thinking rhetorically: wouldn't our efforts be better spent making sure that people aren't jailed for wanting the right to vote than convincing people that Jesus is The Way?
Hear me out. The current POTUS, George W. Bush, is a self-professed Christian. When he turned away from alcohol, he turned to Jesus, his personal Lord and Saviour. This is a man who's political policies are unabashedly rife with his belief that God is on his side. And he's also the same man who has been allowing the ongoing detainment of Arabs in Guantanamo Bay for the past 4+ years. This is a man who wants to defend his country's "right" to use torture on other human beings. Who cuts taxes for the wealthy (seriously, watch the video -- it's hilarious), while urging against raising the federal minimum wage (currently $5.15 US). Because rich people need to buy a boat more than poor people need to buy groceries. Ahem. Sorry. Bitter.
I realize that all denominations of Christianity focus on different parts of Jesus' message. Frankly, I don't strongly remember what message my particular parish advocated, but I think it was something about being an example for people to follow so they too could enjoy what Jesus teaches. Or something.
But if following Jesus leads us to spend more time trying to convince other people to follow Jesus, and less time helping people (which are the stories I remember from the Bible), then how is a belief in Jesus helping make the world a better place? If I'm a "heathen" living in a developing country that's crippled by foreignly-held debt, suffering a drought because of CO2 emmisions caused by smoke stacks in an industrialized nation, and cowering in fear lest my neighbour rat me out to the local dictator that I criticized my inability to vote, then believing in Jesus isn't going to solve all my problems. Sure, I might be able to focus on what's promised me in heaven, but I might also be contemplating how I can get there faster, since life can't get any worse. Until my husband is up and "disappeared" (a human rights term for people who are taken covertly and held without official charges or any communication with loved ones) because he had the audacity to ask for seconds at the food ration station.
Seriously, I know that there are lots of Christians who do wonderful things in the world, and help many people regardless of race, religion or creed. I know of many soup kitchens run by local parishes; my mother's church volunteers for a school breakfast program, and the shelter I wrote about in the previous blog is run by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd. But overall, what good is Jesus if so many people who believe in him can't stop complaining about the price of gas long enough to really look at what they can do to help? Heresy, I know.
As for my subtitle, the Jesus I learned about in church healed lepers and blind people, he raised Lazarus from the dead, he turned water into wine so the party could keep going. He talked about compassion, turning the other cheek (as opposed to an eye for an eye), getting the whores and money changers out of the temple (oh, wait -- not my point), and tolerance. He was non-violent (let's call him a forerunner of Gandhi). In fact, he really just wanted the freedom of his people (who were the Jews, by the way, not Christians) from the oppression of the Romans. He taught people about God's extreme makeover; no more pestilence, plague and wandering the desert -- His love is for everyone!
So, what do I think Jesus would do if he were walking down the street in an industrialized nation (I think that's unlikely -- he didn't show up in Rome, he showed up in Bethlehem, a Roman-occupied territory; it's more likely he'd show up in Iraq or Tibet these days)? I think he'd remind people that the price of gas isn't worth a hill of beans, unless those beans are being sent to people in Africa to help them grow bean crops (give a man a fish vs. teach a man to fish). I think he'd say, "Okay forget all that earlier stuff aboutnot spilling the seed and help prevent the spread of this disease." And if you need some further convincing, let's say his reason is, "God sent this as a test of human tolerance and a lesson for the wealthy to reach out to the disadvantaged and save the world." (Note: I DO NOT believe that HIV/AIDS is a disease sent by God to punish anyone. I think it's something that popped up when people were eating an endangered species. Please don't quote me out of context.) I don't think Jesus would think it's a good idea to bomb civilians (even if those civilians are in a wealthy country), nor do I think he would advocate retaliation (he might not say, "Offer up the subway line, too," but I doubt he'd think that destroying infrastructure in struggling nations is a good idea either).
Emily Starr talked about "Father's God" vs. "Aunt Elizabeth's God." I actually quite liked this idea when I first read it. I think you should have to read the book if you want to know what I mean, but let me summarize: "Father's God" was good and kind and compassionate; "Aunt Elizabeth's God" was tyrannical and fierce and rigid. Maybe L. M. Montgomery was a bit of a prophet when she characterized these two very different beliefs in what God wants and how he operates.
I just don't think there's anything in the Bible about letting people suffer to the extent that they do while worrying about whether a billion dollars should be spent on air transports for the military or on subsidies for wheat farmers.*
*I love farmers because I get to eat, I'm not a fan of subsidies that make it harder for those in the 3rd world to make a living.