What Would Jesus Not Do?
Shortly before Easter, during the middle of Passover week, I came across this curious blog post: “Sorry! Here’s Why Jesus Wouldn’t Join Today’s Church“. Every Jew reading this has already said the answer out loud, and the Jewish answer is, of course, because Jesus was a Jew. Jesus knew nothing of Christianity, certainly not that anyone would deify him a century after his death. That was, of course, all Paul’s doing.
However, telling that historically accurate backstory to anyone who believes in the literalness of the Christian bible is like trying to get an Orthodox Jew to believe that the Sea of Reeds probably didn’t part when Moses waved his staff, even though the Hebrew bible says so. In truth, we and our traditions are all a mishmash of each other and what has come before. For every Christian who believes Easter is an original concept, there’s a Jew celebrating Passover who knows better. And for every Jew celebrating Passover who knows better, there’s a religious historian doing research into ancient Pagan spring festivals around which Passover was really based who knows even better than that.
Our common roots are too far back to ever dig up and examine fully. But we all came from somewhere. Christianity and Islam both honor Judaism as the mother religion that came before them, even if the kids decided eventually to head in different directions. (An intensely Jewish concept in itself, Lech L’cha–”Go forth for yourself”–explored in the third weekly Torah portion of the Jewish religious year.)
And like it or not, we all owe a debt to the obscure traditions that came even longer before. You won’t find coloring eggs in the Christian bible or the Seder plate’s roasted egg in the Hebrew bible. Paas and the Talmud both found their eggy inspiration from Pagan fertility traditions. Which doesn’t make our modern religious traditions any less meaningful. But it does place them in the common story of humanity.
To the author’s credit, the blog post correctly placed Christianity in the cradle of Judaism. In the comment thread, I and many others–and in fact, mostly religiously active liberal Christians–pointed out the historical facts that made the title of the blog post a moot point. I wasn’t surprised to see the response that generated: an equal tide of fundamentalist Christians telling their fellow Christians of a differing opinion that they couldn’t possibly be “real” Christians for not believing in the literalness of the Christian bible.
I wasn’t surprised because that’s exactly how we Jews throw each other under the faith bus every time a similar discussion arises about the literalness (or not) of the Hebrew bible or the debt that we owe as a religious civilization to the religious traditions that came long before us.
It’s amazing how much we’re willing as a human race to insult and hurt each other–and ultimately, ourselves–often mortally so, just to prove that the things we believe are right. And no, my atheist readers, don’t think for one second you aren’t grouped right in there with the faithful. Gratuitous disbelief in Deity has caused just as much suffering and pain on this planet as gratuitous belief in Deity has.
Shakespeare had it right. The fault lies not in Deity, dear readers, but in ourselves. I wish I knew what in the human condition so often makes it a capital offense to disagree with each other. Perhaps it’s contradiction that we really fear. The groundless queasiness that attempting to hold seemingly conflicting ideas together in one heart for the benefit of peace seems to engender.
Jewish tradition might suggest that to be the point of existence. As Rabbi Marci N. Bellows wrote recently:
“The Blessed One created us as co-creators; our purpose in existence is to redeem the broken shards of Creation, and to be instruments for the continuing act of Creation.”
Rejecting each other because of our differences just creates more broken shards. Loving each other despite our differences starts picking up the shards, but still redeems nothing. When we learn to love each other because of our differences–because in the end we are all completely different and yet all completely the same–Creation may finally begin to be redeemed. Historical accuracy and loving each other only seem at odds with each other when we forget to let loving each other come first.
We’re only human. The urge to hate–part of Judaism’s Yetzer Hara–will always be there. In fact, Jewish thought suggests that without the “evil inclination” of the Yetzer Hara, no creative acts would ever be possible. For Jews, the task is to learn to channel the impulse for good. To put it in service to the Yetzer Hatov–the inclination for good. In fact, I suppose that’s the task for all of us.
Putting a finer point on Shakespeare, maybe Kelly Clarkson (or at least her songwriters) said it best of all:
“Everybody’s got a dark side
Do you love me?
Can you love mine?
Nobody’s a picture perfect
But were worth it
You know that were worth it
Will you love me?
Even with my dark side?”
May we all live to experience a day when no one has to fear the answer to such a question anymore. Loving your fellow Christians / Muslims / Jews / Humans is more than a nice idea, a goal, or even a commandment. It is, in fact a choice that, made or rejected billions of times a day, creates the world we live in.
So what kind of world do you want to live in? Fellow instruments of Creation, as it turns out, the choice has always been in your hands. So go forth.
And choose wisely.