Bryan Magee on Jesus

A surprising quote from Bryan Magee, one of my favorite historians and commentators of philosophy. His writing is clear and eloquent, and in his Confessions of a Philosopher, also very humble, personal, and autobiographical. His love of the big questions and metaphysics is loaded in every page. As he’s an atheist with a lean towards Kantian metaphysics, we’re quite far off on theology and metaphysics, but as truth-seekers and metaphysicians with an interest in morality, we stand together on the radical message of Christ:

“What came through to me most strongly was the radically ‘different’ character of Jesus’ moral teaching. So different is it, indeed, that it borders incomprehensible. Other moralists put forward rules of behavior; other revolutionists in morals try to overthrow whatever are the existing rules and establish different ones in their stead; but Jesus is saying that rules, any rules are not what morality is about. God, he says, is not in the business of awarding prizes to people who live in accordance with moral rules. You will not win any special favors from him by being virtuous, but are only too likely to find – to your great chagrin, no doubt, as well as your incomprehension – that he loves sinners just as much as he loves you. Just as he loves the underserving, so you also should love those who are underserving of your love, including those who deserve it least, namely your enemies. Love is what matters, not deserving, and least of all rules. In fact, love matters about everything else. It is the ultimate reality, the true nature of existence, God… If we had enough love and concern for one another there would be no need for rules. We need them only because we are selfish. They are not, in themselves, good. These are only a few of the teachings of Jesus, but they are central to his message; and the fact that there was anyone at all going around preaching things like this two thousand years ago in a desert area of the Middle East is, to say the least of it, surprising… Jesus was also, although for the some reason this is scarcely ever said, a profound psychologist. When, in addition to all this, one considers the audacity with which his views are expressed, and the poetically striking quality of many of his illustrations, he appears perhaps the most remarkable moralist there has ever been… When it comes to tellingness of moral insight, a question like ‘What will a man gain by winning the whole world at the cost of his true self’ is unsurpassed’.”

Magee, Bryan. 1999. Confessions of a philosopher: a personal journey through Western philosophy from Plato to Popper. New York: Modern Library. 277-278

 

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