Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Was Jesus Good?

Jesusphoto © 2007 Tony Unruh | more info (via: Wylio)
Last week I finally watched the 15-ish minute video from Peter Brietbart called Madman or Something Worse wherein Brietbart tries to make a case against what he calls the three unique teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. You can find the two parts of the video here and here. (Thanks to Hemant Mehta for the links.)

My first quick note in response to the video is strictly about style, rather than content. I regularly read from atheists about how religious services are designed to emotionally manipulate the congregation and that any response one may have is just as likely to be related to the way the music rises and falls or because the particular delivery of the sermon is used to control your feelings. I think there can be some validity to this claim (that our response may be emotional rather than spiritual), but I did find it entertaining that Brietbart uses the exact same kind of manipulation in his film. It's beautifully done (truly, for a no budget film, this is very professional looking and it's well executed) but the images, music and delivery from Brietbart himself definitely "lead" the audience to affirm his assertions. I admit, it surprised me to see no one mention these devices that are almost identical to those used in many churches.

Okay, now on to content. I'll be addressing the points that Brietbart makes regarding what he considers to be the three only unique teachings of Jesus, in the context of him being just a man and according to the best moral standards (in other words, good should transcend time, not simply be good for your particular place in history). He addresses what he believes are other problems associated with Jesus and I may address them at a later time, but for this post, I want to focus on his primary assertion that "his moral contributions are not original and his original contributions are not moral."

These are the three problematic teachings, according to Brietbart:
  1. Turning the other cheek (non-resistance of evil)
  2. Christ can forgive our evil actions
  3. Love your neighbor as yourself
Non-violent resistance is something that I believe DOES extend beyond the teachings of Jesus. Confucius is attributed with the quote that if we embark on revenge, we should dig two graves, which I would say is a pretty clear idea that we're not to repay evil with more evil. It was used by Mohandas Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The idea of choosing not to fight back does not mean, as Brietbart suggests, that one will allow something like the Holocaust to happen without action, but rather that we will not meet violence with additional violence with it comes to us, but to instead rely on another "immoral" command (specifically #3) to carry us through. One may certainly disagree with non-violent resistance, but to dismiss it outright as immoral strikes me as problematic.

Looking at #2, Brietbart fails to use Christ's own teachings regarding forgiveness, but instead uses a passage from John. Jesus did suggest that he could forgive sins, but he also instructed each of us to forgive one another - and that is always framed in the terms of personal relationships. In other words, I'm not forgiving my daughter for hitting her brother. According to the teachings of Christ, she is to go to him directly to receive forgiveness. Jesus also taught that receiving forgiveness from him is dependent on forgiving one another. Brietbart suggests that one can escape guilt from your wrongs by simply asking God for forgiveness rather than approaching the person who you wronged, but this is not what Jesus taught. Again, I can accept that one rejects the idea that another person (if one rejects the divinity of Christ) can play any part in forgiveness, but to suggest that Jesus's teaching begins and ends with him offering forgiveness is simply incomplete.

The third point that he makes is that love is cheapened when we apply it across the board. Again, I find this somewhat preposterous. I have four children. My love for my husband didn't lessen because we had a kid. And my love for my first child didn't diminish with the births of my second, third or fourth child. More love is more love, not less. When I choose to love even those who are difficult for me to love, it opens my heart up to give more love to those who are easier to love. I find that more love enhances the love that I have for those closest to me rather than diminishing it.

Aside from that, I find that living out #3, and being in community with those who also live out #3, it's much easier to follow #1. When I know that others love me and will support me, I can let go of things that might bother, upset or hurt me. I can't say that I react in the best way at all times (bwahahaha!), but the more secure I am in knowing that others have my back, the more I can let offenses go.

I recognize that none of this proves the divinity of Christ and I want to be clear that I am not using this post to make that case (though I do believe it to be true). But as someone who does want to follow the teachings of Jesus, I felt that I needed to examine the case against those teachings. I have done that, and I still find those accusations to be lacking.

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Have you watched Peter Brietbart's film? Is there anything that I'm missing in my critique? What are your thoughts regarding these teachings of Christ (either as a man or as God)?


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