Why Jesus?

Christian Piatt has a post up in which he attempts to present a non-Christian friendly version of Christianity; a sort of “introductory Christianity” for those who just want a sample.

As always, there’s the troubling question of authority. How are we to judge the different versions of Christianity? Why should we accept that Piatt’s version of Christianity is really Christianity, as compared to Spong’s version, or the Pope’s version, or Pat Robertson’s version? Is it really just a matter of choosing which version feels right, or whichever you find most appealing?

But putting that aside, Piatt tries to explain why you might want to be a Christian in his fifth point:

Just being a “good person” or “not hurting anyone else” isn’t enough. Sometimes I hear people say that they don’t see the need to be a Christian because they already have it more or less figured out. Basically, don’t be a jerk, try not to hurt others and be kind. These are all fine, but they are also the same values than my preschool-age daughter learned her first day at school. And just like we graduate from picture books to more sophisticated volumes, or from playground recess more demanding physical exercise, we always were so to stretch further. Further, we have a tremendous capacity to justify that our behavior is virtuous – or at least not harmful – if and when we want to. But can we honestly say that the daily habits of our lives, our habits of consumption, our material priorities, is to the betterment of others in the world?

I see two ideas here: 1) morality needs constant effort, and 2) humans are great at justification. Both explain why we need something more than a few pat answers and a catchphrase as a moral guide.

I basically agree with these points, but I have to note that Christianity has problems with both. I’ve met many a Christians who believes that the Golden Rule and a few parables from Jesus amounts to a mature ethical philosophy.

As for the second point, are Christians any less likely to ignore problems? How many passages in the holy writ have to do with economic justice, and yet how rarely do they get quoted? How much time are we spending debating issues of sexual purity while half the world starves?

I can see another level to this argument. Perhaps the point is not Christian doctrine, but Christian community. Joining a group that is dedicated to moral development might help with both issues.

But I see no reason why such a community would have to be based on Christianity. It’s not like discussions of moral philosophy stopped after the 2nd century. Why wade through the New Testament, with all of its apocalypticism, miracles and exorcisms, just to get at the few nuggets of moral thought? Why burden yourself with Christian traditions, most of which are outdated and many of which are appalling?

If morality is your goal, why bother with Jesus?

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