I love my aunt. She amuses me. She also makes me think sometimes.
For all that the aforementioned question and it’s variants are ridiculed, the simple fact is I don’t have a good answer to them – ‘no’ is more likely an invitation to further persuasion than anything.
Let’s review my personal philosophy, for those just joining us. God is a convenient way of referring to the wholeness of beauty and order in the universe. I don’t attribute will and intention to this concept. Religious texts are not literal, but more like fables that contain the accumulated wisdom of humanity. Their long and prosperous currency attests to the fact that quite a lot of people find strength and guidance in the stories. The stories of Jesus in particular are part of the environment I was raised in, but largely I’ve given them no special attention. I have, however, made some reflections on the concept of death and resurrection as a metaphor, which is a major part of the Jesus mythos.
Now, let’s review my dear aunts arguments and ideas. The expected conclusion is that I agree with the underlying moral, but differ in the key element of not believing that the stories are literally true.
-Jesus died for the sins of humanity.
It quickly becomes apparent that my review above has not defined Jesus to the depth required by the following discussion. The first idea is Jesus (part divine, i.e. perfect) is the image of perfect man, an archetype to each each person can compare himself to judge the rightness of an action (a.k.a., W.W.J.D.) This doesn’t seem to be especially promising in the matter at hand. You might say that Jesus, being perfection, was ‘slain’ by sin or imperfection. This line of analogy becomes more fruitful when we consider that Jesus was crucified BY men – the sinful ones, or simply sin. The divine principle, the path of righteousness, is overturned the by selfish sinful tendencies. But, just as Jesus rises again, so can righteous behavior arise in men. Indeed, to some extent to be a living person at all is be a dead version of a perfect person. The possibility of rebirth into divine grace is a pretty powerful theme. This reasoning is slightly unsatisfying, however, because it completely ignores the sacrifice theme.
-Only because Jesus led a righteous life, was he a worthy sacrifice to accomplish the redemption of humanity.
The worthy sacrifice idea got me thinking of something I’m sure is high heresy in many circles. Jesus was human; he was like unto ourselves. Jesus was divine, he shared in the aspect of the highest thing, the greatest thing, the center of the universe. Now, what might be the center of a person’s universe, especially a person who has ‘strayed from the path’? Himself. “Me first.” THE self; a human thing, holding the highest regard possible. So long as the self holds that highest position, it may be, true righteousness is impossible. All those ‘sinful’ behaviors are tied in one’s self definition, seemly impossible to separate. Now return to the death and resurrection theme; only by sacrificing “god’s son”, the most important thing in world, is rebirth possible. We are still lacking the idea “only because Jesus lived righteously was he a worthy sacrifice” however (the former idea even runs kind of counter to it.)
Of course I don’t remember the exact words used, (and the exact words of a 2000 year old story are a lost cause anyway) so I’m going to rephrase that slightly “only because Jesus lived righteously was he able to sacrifice himself for humanity.” This is going to explore another angle of the sacrifice of self. Only because Jesus had achieved a certain level of moral awareness was he able to make the ultimate sacrifice – the self – and dedicate himself to uplifting his fellow man. The death and resurrection are metaphorical – he sacrificed himself, but kept on living in service to humanity. Very much like a Bodhisattva who forestalls nirvana to aid others on the path.
-Sin began with Adam and reached a kind of conclusion with Jesus.
The main thing I found interesting here is that the both the beginning of sin and the possibility of redemption are placed on individuals, even though they apply to humanity as the whole. Individuals are far easier handles for the transmission of otherwise abstract ideas. (Essay: define sin and redemption without recourse to examples.) That sin began with the first man places it as an inherent quality of humanity. That redemption was not possible until Jesus may be extreme; probably he elucidated slightly more reliable method for achieving it.
-You either have to accept Jesus words as the literal truth, or call him a liar.
This apparent dilemma is founded on a number of assumptions.
That Jesus actually existed. Heck if I know what happened 2000 years ago.
That Jesus’ divine nature makes lying either impossible, or any lie invalidates everything he said (even the parts that have been giving people strength and guidance for millenia) thereby making that option untenable.
That these are the only two options. He might for instance have been insane – fully believing what he said, without it being what we would call empirically true.
That the stories have come down to us through 2000 years of translation and editing – by human beings to whom falsehood is neither impossible, or for that matter especially uncommon – unchanged.
One could go on. In total I’ve ended up where I expected to. I’m no more convinced of the literal truth of the stories; to some extent even less because they work so much more powerfully as metaphor than history. Meanwhile, a little reflection on a sliver of humanity’s wisdom has probably done me good, and I’m better armed for “the question” ;^)
“Did you know Jesus Christ died for your sins?”
“I’ve heard that story. It is a good story.”