Friday, July 30, 2010

picking out parts of Christ

Many people, maybe even most, are hesitant to fully embrace every literal recommendation of any particular religion. That's fine and dandy; I think religions represent millennia of accumulated wisdom about how best to live in our world, much of which is very valuable, but the process of enforcing these views through the generations turns good advice into crazy cultish, or at best meaninglessly antiquated, nonsense. Viewing the multitude of religious philosophies through a lens of modernity and common sense and picking the best parts to take to heart is a good way to go about it.

As far as Christianity goes, this often turns into a rhetoric of "Well I don't know if Jesus was God incarnate, but he was certainly an admirable person in history, so I will follow his teachings as I would any wise and good person's."

To these people I would like to share this quote-in-a-quote. Christopher Hitchens quoting C.S. Lewis, that famous and beloved Christian theologist and apologist. If even he can say these things, you have to admit it's worth consideration.

[C.S. Lewis comments the claim of Jesus to take sins on himself:] Now, unless the speaker is God, this is really so preposterous as to be comic. We can all understand how a man forgives offenses against himself. You tread on my toes and I forgive you, you steal my money and I forgive you. But what should we make of a man, himself unrobbed and untrodden-on, who announced that he forgave you for treading on other men's toes and stealing other men's money? Asinine fatuity is the kindest description we should give of his conduct. Yet this is what Jesus did. He told people that their sins were forgiven, and never waited to consult all the other people whom their sins had undoubtedly injured. He unhesitatingly behaved as if He was the party chiefly concerned, the person chiefly offended in all offenses. This makes sense only if he really was the God whose laws are broken and whose love is wounded in every sin. In the mouth of any speaker who is not God, these words would imply what I can only regard as a silliness and conceit unrivalled by any other character in history.

[Christopher Hitchens continues:] It will be noticed that Lewis assumes on no firm evidence whatever that Jesus actually was a "character in history," but let that pass. He deserves some credit for accepting the logic and morality of what he has just stated. To those who argue that Jesus may have been a great moral teacher without being divine (of whom the deist Thomas Jefferson incidentally claimed to be one), Lewis has this stinging riposte:

That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman and something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.

And with that I will disappear for three weeks of nonstop studying and praying to the disinterested universe that I pass my field exams. Although I have such a backlog of blog posts maybe I can clear a few out in the meantime.

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