What Would Jesus Do Instinctively?

What Would Jesus Do Instinctively? July 3, 2018

Richard Beck posted one of his characteristically provocative posts recently, this one with a title informing readers that “you don’t have time for ‘What Would Jesus Do?'” Here is part of that post:

Most of us, I’m guessing, think that becoming more Christ-like in our lives is a process of making good choices. Life presents us with a series of moral decisions and we need to ask ourselves at each of these crossroads “What would Jesus do?”

But…life isn’t really like that. Those “choices” come at us so fast that we don’t really even notice we’re making them. Mostly because our decision-making is being done automatically and emotionally…

We tend to think being like Jesus is controlled by the fast, rational, and conscious part of the mind, the part that asks “What would Jesus do?”

But in reality, it’s the fast, emotional, and automatic part of our minds that’s really controlling the show. As I’ve written about before, the battle to be like Jesus is won or lost in milliseconds.

In short, learning to love isn’t about standing at an ethical crossroads and making good, Christ-like decisions, rolling the question “What would Jesus do?” over in our minds. Life and our brains are moving way too fast for that.

Learning to love is, rather, about forming yourself into a person where love becomes natural and automatic, like a habit of breathing.

Confucius emphasized something similar in Analects 2.4, a particularly famous passage:

At 30, I took my stand; At 40, I no longer had doubts; At 50, I knew the will of the heavens; At 60, my ear was attunedAt 70, I follow all the desires of my heart without breaking any rule.

The idea is that morality became first a matter of deep investigation and reflection, but ultimately a matter of determined habit-formation, so that the instinctive reaction becomes that which one would judge moral if one had the time to think and reflect on it, but which so often in a moment of intense crisis we do not.

Finally, I came across the image below when searching for a picture that would serve as a suitable accompaniment for this post, and it amused me enough that I thought I should share it with you. But jokes aside, if it is true, isn’t it precisely because Jesus had turned his teaching into instincts that he followed without having to stop and look at a bracelet around his wrist?

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  • John MacDonald

    Clearly, the CRITERIA (e.g., Do unto others as you would have them do unto you; etc), EXEMPLARS (e.g., Jesus, Gandhi, etc.) AND SO ON that we consciously/unconsciously refer to in making moral judgments certainly become ingrained and automatic. Imagine if we took the time in making moral judgments as we do in judging what chess move or what wine is best! We would be unable to act. Not that any of this makes the abortion question any more solvable: One side is arguing a human life is being terminated to prevent inconveniencing the mother for nine months, while the other side argues that a woman’s autonomy over her own body trumps terminating the life of something that is in no way a human person.

    • How extraordinarily reductive.

      • John MacDonald

        I’m not sure what you mean?

        • There aren’t two sides with clearly articulated positions, there are many positions along an axis, some of which are mutually incompatible, some of which aren’t.
          Let’s take your statement apart. You’re basically answering three questions here:
          Is a fetus human?
          Does a fetus have a soul?
          Is bodily autonomy an innate right?
          Not only are those not the only questions that you need to ask to articulate a position on abortion rights, you only proffer two sets of answers. It’s entirely possible to believe that a fetus is distinctly and uniquely human, that a fetus may or may not have a soul, and that a woman’s right to bodily autonomy still trumps the fetus’ right to life.

          • John MacDonald

            2 points: Do you have a position as to whether pro life or pro choice is the more ethically grounded position? If there is nothing like the essence of pro life, or the essence of pro choice, why are we able to group people into these two categories?

          • I think both positions are too poorly articulated here for there to be any reasonable means by which to determine which is more ethically grounded.
            And we can divide people up into groups because it’s what we do, as humans, often without the permission of the people involved.

          • John MacDonald

            Well then, please, indulge me lol. Articulate what you see as the essence of the two positions so you can teach us which of the two is more ethically grounded. Surely if your competence in analysis outstrips mine to the extent you think it does it is your didactic duty to put me on the right track.

          • The camps you describe don’t exist as coherently as you describe them, so I simply can’t. It’s like you’re asking me to describe my favourite imaginary colour.

          • John MacDonald

            So, regarding the abortion debate, there are opposing sides who describe themselves as pro life and pro choice. Admittedly there are fringe positions on both sides of the debate that don’t really have a well reasoned position, but let’s say that, on both sides, people have generally thought through and have reasons for their position. Now, you have impeached my characterization of the debate as juvenile, and yet you refuse to describe the opposing positions from your point of view. You’re no fun at all. lol

          • Given that I disagree with your conclusion that both sides have a reasoned position, or that there are, in fact, two sides, I suppose so.

          • John MacDonald

            You have repeatedly trashed my characterization of the opposing sides of the abortion debate, but refuse to give your own characterization. This is like pulling teeth. I’m beginning to think you are a Troll. Now you say ” I disagree with your conclusion that both sides have a reasoned position.” Fine, I’ll try again. What side do you think has the reasoned position, what are the foundations of this position, and why does the other side lack foundation in their arguments?

          • To explain further, I know people who are opposed to abortion in 99% of cases based on a long chain of sensible, logically argued positions. I think some of those positions are based on bad data and errors further up the logic chain, but it’s a position they’ve absolutely reasoned themselves into. Then there are people who are opposed to abortion in 99% of cases because God said, I believe it, that settles it.

          • John MacDonald

            I’,m not sure what you mean by “based on a long chain of sensible, logically argued positions.” Have these people articulated the essence of their position and of the opposing position, so that they are clear on what they are “logically grounding?”

          • Yes, there are some who’ve given a clear, articulate answer on why they’ve reached the point where they believe that 99% of abortions are morally and ethically wrong, explain the various different positions that they had to resolve in order to reach that conclusion.
            And then there are those who … simply haven’t. They’ve reached the conclusion that 99% of abortions are morally and ethically wrong for no reason they can articulate other than the Bible says they ought to think that.

          • John MacDonald

            Mythicists also have an extremely meticulous argument as to why Jesus never existed, but that doesn’t mean their foundation rests on solid ground. Young Earth Creationists also are adept at logical contortions.

          • Well, yes, that’s kind of a given – as I said, I don’t agree with some of their conclusions, but it’s entirely possible to reach a bad conclusion through good logic, if your premise is flawed enough.

          • I’m Jesus, I’m against 3rd trimester abortions in most cases and would prefer abortions be done in first trimester. Most abortions aren’t 3rd trimester.


          • John MacDonald

            Thanks for sharing another one of your creative videos!

            Above I said:

            “One side is arguing a human life is being terminated to prevent inconveniencing the mother for nine months, while the other side argues that a woman’s autonomy over her own body trumps terminating the life of something that is in no way a human person.”

            My point was just that there is no reason to choose pro choice over pro life or vice versa, because an equally reasonable case can be made for either side – so they cancel each other out. If your values, point of view, biases etc line up with one side of the debate, that’s the one you choose. But in terms of the logic of each side, choosing one over the other is arbitrary.

          • I’m King of Kings and Lord of Lords so only my opinion really matters.


  • I’m trying to form the attitude of gratitude.