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What Would Jesus Do?


Neon Genesis
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I think one of the biggest problems for interfaith dialog with Christians is this question "What would Jesus Do?". It seems like whenever Christians start debating morality and ethics, it always comes back down to this question. Like conservative Christians will cherry pick the gospels to say that Jesus is a small government Republican who supports the Iraq war and thinks the government should be ruled by Christian ethics. Lest we become too holier than thou to conservatives, liberal Christians do the same thing all the time just with liberal issues. So then liberal Christians will cherry pick the teachings of Jesus to turn him into this liberal hippy who supports pacifism and feminism. What ends up happening is that Jesus just gets turned into a symbol that represents whatever the person already believes about morality and quoting Jesus becomes a conservation stopper in political debates. I think the teachings of Jesus are important but rather than letting the teachings of Jesus shape your worldview, it seems like Christians just cherry pick whatever quote from Jesus that they can find to justify whatever political or moral belief they support when unless we invent a time machine, none of us can know for certain what Jesus would think about our modern day conflicts and political battles.

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I think one of the biggest problems for interfaith dialog with Christians is this question "What would Jesus Do?". It seems like whenever Christians start debating morality and ethics, it always comes back down to this question. Like conservative Christians will cherry pick the gospels to say that Jesus is a small government Republican who supports the Iraq war and thinks the government should be ruled by Christian ethics. Lest we become too holier than thou to conservatives, liberal Christians do the same thing all the time just with liberal issues. So then liberal Christians will cherry pick the teachings of Jesus to turn him into this liberal hippy who supports pacifism and feminism. What ends up happening is that Jesus just gets turned into a symbol that represents whatever the person already believes about morality and quoting Jesus becomes a conservation stopper in political debates. I think the teachings of Jesus are important but rather than letting the teachings of Jesus shape your worldview, it seems like Christians just cherry pick whatever quote from Jesus that they can find to justify whatever political or moral belief they support when unless we invent a time machine, none of us can know for certain what Jesus would think about our modern day conflicts and political battles.

 

Excellent points.

 

I agree that Christians of all shapes and sizes "cherry pick" biblical passages to support their worldview and either overlook, metaphorize or contextualize those that might refute it.

 

One of the problems (or I guess one could argue strengths) of the Bible is that it represents the views of so many different writers in over a 1000+ years, living in a wide variety of circumstances and cultures that almost any worldview is represented.

 

However, I think there is a theme of pacifism, forgiveness and justice that runs through the OT prophets and the New Testament that is hard to be -- but often is -- ignored.

 

George

Edited by GeorgeW
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Good Morning...

 

This is an excellent topic because it raises the fact that people will adopt a religion and wear it like a fashion or present it as a justification of their politics. It can be called 'cherry picking', but I call it ignorance and hypocrisy, open, confrontational, and very convenient. The deeper question, the real challenge for Christian Seekers and for those attempting to escape such abuse of Faith, is not to answer with the question 'What would Jesus do?' I feel that we must understand who Jesus was and why he carried the message that he did. Jesus of Nazareth was not the final authority on ethics, but a person of Spiritual Wisdom and Jewish Mystic who saw the political role of religion hijacked by the Temple power elites of his time. His response was to point the way to the Kingdom of God not only in definition, but as something Within that could be attained through certain behaviors...behaviors that ran contrary to the teachings and interpretations of the power elites in Jerusalem in his time. We are faced with the same situation. The Christian faith has been hijacked by power elites who define Christianity according to their own interests and use it to justify behaviors that run contrary to the teachings of Jesus. Our response must be based upon an understanding of the life, teachings, politics, and social context of Jesus and not the handed-down stories in the Bible. By having the Bible as the Last Word, the debate gets narrowed. But what of the sayings of Jesus in the Gospel of Q or St. Thomas? When we study Jesus in a deeper way, a Jesus emerges that is the opposite of the character drawn by the Hypocrites. To me it is not a question of what Jesus would do, but one of who Jesus was and why he said what he did.

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I appreciate what George has said about the idea that while the Bible lacks a monolithic view of Jesus, there is still a general theme about him that can be discerned and understood.

 

We have, of course, the three synoptic gospels in which, to a large degree, Jesus' life and message are seen through a very similar lense. Although Mark may present Jesus as the suffering servant, Matthew present Jesus as the new Moses, and Luke present him as the new Elijah, the views are fairly close.

 

But the gospel of John is in a category all on its own. Unlike the synoptics, Jesus focus is on himself, he teaches in very long passages, and he has no parables. John's view of Jesus is quite different that the other gospel writers.

 

Revelation is, IMO, even moreso and quite a distortion from the Jesus portrayed in the gospels. In Revelation, Jesus is portrayed as God's holy jihad warrior, sent to rid the world from evil by killing anyone who does not worship him. This is quite different from the "gospel Jesus."

 

So using Jesus to push one's agenda and theology is nothing new. Does this leave us as "cherry pickers," choosing the Jesus that *we* like?

 

Here, I agree with Russ, find the historical Jesus, as much as possible. To me, the "Christ of faith" tends to be everyone's ego with the stamp of God put upon it. :D IMO, it is much better to try to find out what the historical Jesus was really about, not so that we can become legalistic in "doing what Jesus did," but so that we can at least discover the general theme of his life and what it meant for him to be guided by the Spirit.

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sbnr1,

 

I think that our worldview motivates our biblical interpretation much more than the Bible motivates our worldview. So, in a sense, the Bible has little influence on our behavior (IMO, good or bad).

 

There is an excellent book "Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think" by George Lakoff, a well-know linguist. In it, he presents a model of the values that underlie one's worldview. And, he has a chapter titled "Two Models of Christianity" in which he shows how these underlying values motivate one's Christianity. It is easy to see how there is a consistency between our social/political views and our 'theology.'

 

Often (see Sam Harris, et al.) religion gets blamed for social or political views - like homophobia, militarism, racism, etc. I think this is shallow and wrong. Religion, only, IMO, gives authority or rationalization to one's basic worldview. Absent the Bible, one would hold the very same views.

 

It is interesting that personal salvation is a primary concern among conservative Christians where concern for others is the focus of liberal Christians. This is consistent with an individualistic vs. communitarian worldview that is also reflected in secular social/political issues.

 

George

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It is interesting that personal salvation is a primary concern among conservative Christians where concern for others is the focus of liberal Christians. This is consistent with an individualistic vs. communitarian worldview that is also reflected in secular social/political issues. George

 

Excellent point, George. This was brought out sharply in Marcus Borg's book, 'Conflict, Holiness, and Politics in the Teachings of Jesus'. It is here that Borg emphasizes that Jesus did not exist in a vacuum and was a product of his time and social context a complete counter-position against the 'Jesus is God' theory. Borg proposes that Jesus was one of many activists who organized followers around his ideas of restoring Israel and its people to a land and people of God, something that had been corrupted by the power elites of the Temple, including collaboration with the Roman invaders. Jesus words and actions were political and directly opposed to the norms, values, and behaviors advocated by the ruling parties of the Temple. Jesus followed the laws of the Torah, supported the Temple as the center of Jewish life in Israel, and solidly advocated living according to the Ten Commandments. The difference was that Jesus' interpretation ran totally opposite to, and in conflict with, that of the Sadducees and the Pharisees. Where the Temple rulers interpreted separation from the poorest and outcasts in society based on laws of purity, Jesus taught inclusion. Where the Temple rulers advocated that Israel be isolated from the rest of the world and collaborated with the Romans to ensure that isolation from other countries through Roman occupation, Jesus taught that the Kingdom of God extended out to all peoples and nations. His message of love for one's neighbor and non-violence was totally revolutionary and challenged the cast system of Jewish society of the time. When understood in this way, the Teaching of Jesus is also just as revolutionary today when seen as a political program as well as a proposed way of life. This is the reason why the rulers of American society keep the discussion confined to the Bible and 'cherry pick' quotes to justify their actions. The alternative would shake them to the ground. My question is one of the whereabouts of the people and organizations that are willing to stand up and argue loudly and boldly against such hypocrisy?

Edited by Quaker Way
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My question is one of the whereabouts of the people and organizations that are willing to stand up and argue loudly and boldly against such hypocrisy?

 

I agree with you, mostly. However, I would substitute 'values' for "hypocrisy." I would not argue that hypocrisy, greed and the like don't exist. But, a conservative worldview (as demonstrated by Lakoff in "Moral Politics") can be based on sincerely held values. While these values and worldview often conflict with mine, they can be principled.

 

I wouldn't want to speak for conservative Christians, but I suspect they take much of Jesus' teachings as well meaning, idealistic, a little hyperbolic (like plucking out the offending eye), but not practical in the real world.

 

George

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