January 1, 2014

WALTER RUSSELL MEAD: Meaning In 3-D.

Yesterday’s post looked at what divides Christians and other theists from atheists; today we cut deeper and look at what separates Christians from believers in other religions.

And the truth is that nothing separates Christianity from other religions like Christmas. That little baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying so cutely in the manger is the biggest trouble maker in world history, and the shocking claims that Christianity makes about who he is and what he means irritate and antagonize people all over the world.

If Christians saw that little baby as nothing more or less than a beautiful symbol of human innocence and love, there would be no problem. Even recognizing him as an important teacher and religious leader does not raise many hackles. Islam recognizes Jesus as a prophet and the predicted Messiah; as we have seen, Islam has no trouble with the idea that he was born of a virgin, and the Virgin Mary is a popular and well respected figure for Muslims. When it comes to his moral teaching, much of what Jesus says is unexceptionable. The Golden Rule (Do unto others as you would have others do unto you) has its analogs in many religious traditions. Jesus’ summary of the moral law (Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself) is both drawn from and perfectly compatible with Judaism and is also something that people from many different religious traditions can take to heart. Many non-religious people (and non-Christians like Mahatma Gandhi) have been inspired by Jesus’ example and teaching. If Christians were simply celebrating the birth of a moral teacher on Christmas, there would be little controversy about it.

But that’s not how most Christians see the baby in the manger. They don’t think he is a symbol; they don’t think he’s a messenger. They think he is the real thing.

Some people are put out by that, as Mead notes.

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