I hope this message finds you doing well and enjoying life.
Religion in one of those subjects that I don’t broach lightly, due to the fact that some people tend to have such deep rooted beliefs that saying something to the contrary has a tendency to upset them. But I have had three encounters now with Christian promotional materials which has caused me to make some realizations about myself as well as religion in general.
Let me start by saying that I am one of those people who was turned off of Christianity a long time ago due primarily to my exposure to those who talked about eternal damnation for failing to follow certain rules. This idea of a vengeful and judgmental God has never really appealed to me, and, unfortunately, my idea of Christianity has suffered as a result. I suspect that I am not alone in this and that those who are condemning sinners to hell have actually been tarnishing the image of Christianity for a great number of people.
However, after two different eye catching pamphlets crossed my path in a week, both of which I read with an open-mind, and both of which had the same elements of “believe or burn,” I had a realization that made sense to me. I finally understood why “they” (the numerous authors, translators, editors, and promoters of the Bible) would make God out to be judgmental. “They” were/are trying to put the fear of God in people as an added incentive for people to follow the teachings of Jesus. This gave me a sense of relief because I realized “they” were only doing what they thought was best at the time (as I believe everyone is doing at all times).
However, I don’t think the best way to get people to become kind and caring people is by using fear tactics. I think that by projecting God to be judgmental, we ourselves become more judgmental. We are in effect justifying our own judgmental nature by making God in our image. This is where my third encounter with Christianity comes in to play.
I received a DVD in the mail, and was given it again later by a friend, entitled Jesus, which was sent by a consortium of churches in the area. Not being particularly well versed in the life of Jesus and being the open and eager to learn type of person I am, I watched the movie and took notes. I think the following quotes taken from the movie (which were supposed to be taken straight from the Bible) sum up the teachings of Jesus quite nicely:
“Love your enemies. Be good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who mistreat you. If anyone strikes you on the one cheek, let him hit you on the other one also. If someone takes away your coat, let him have your shirt as well. Give to everyone who begs from you. And if someone takes what is yours, do not ask for it back again. Do for others as you would have others do for you.... Love your enemies and do good to them. And lend expecting nothing back. And then you will have a great reward.... Be merciful just as your father [God] is merciful. Judge not and you will not be judged. Condemn not and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven.”
What a great message. It seems to me that if we could all live by these simple guidelines, which I hope represent the core essence of what it is to be a true Christian, then we would already be living in heaven. Another thing that fascinates me is that this message weaves throughout the Eastern religions as well. In fact, one of the main paths to enlightenment is paved by these same values. So, there must be something to it because I don’t think that many ancient sages be wrong.
After watching the movie, I can even empathize with those people who would try to spread the word by any means necessary. But the means affect how the message is received, so great care should be taken when delivering it. In my personal opinion, now that Christianity’s image has been tarnished in the minds of some, I think the only way to rectify the damage is to focus on embodying these core teachings.
In the end, I would not have even watched the movie a few short years ago, but I found it quite enlightening. I also felt like I had seen it once before a long time ago when I was too young to remember well. I was a bit turned off by the brief opening scene about Adam and Eve and “the Fall,” but we’ll get into that some other time.
Hope all is well with you and yours. Stay in touch, stay open minded, and love your enemies.