15 April, 2017
It has become fashionable to sneer at religion, save where it is used (by some) as an element of their identity. Christianity, however, is safe to disparage so many cannot restrain themselves. Our ancient faith deserves respect, not abuse.
The British essayist Terry Pratchett observed (in his fabulous Discworld Novels) that humanity is where the falling angel meets the rising ape. It is our constant struggle to reconcile the two and human progress might be best characterized as a pace of ‘three steps forward, two steps backward’.
Religion, however, is the main driver of our progress. Will and Ariel Durant, in their epic 11 volume ‘Story of Civilization’ began this magnum opus with a fashionable curl of the lip towards religion; 50 years later, with their last volume, comes the admission that the story of civilization is one of religion.
The roots of our attainments lie with religion – architecture, astronomy, law, literature, mathematics and philosophy derive from belief. The Golden Rule that unites Laozi, Confucius, Vidura, Buddha, Isocrates, Jesus, and Hillel the Elder is the religious ideal that provides for the best of our behaviour. This is how we pursue Dharma, achieve merit, earn karma and uphold the Covenant with God.
Christianity, however, took things two steps further.
Christ had time to talk to prostitutes, Roman centurions, and – God help us – a tax collector. He even promised salvation for one of the robbers crucified alongside him. Nobody was ‘unclean’ or beyond redemption.
The more subtle point of Christ’s teachings often escapes many of his followers, even today. Nevertheless, the parables about mustard seeds, tending to the master’s money, lights under a bushel, et cetera, come down to an unusual point. God is in all of us, part of the divine essence is ours to nurture and to use, and the best usage is in service to each other.
Throughout the long and often imperfect history of Christianity, we can always find hospitals for the sick, shelter for travelers, refuge for the hunted, the hungry being fed. Always, even in the hardest times, there is the whisper of conscience and the urge to restraint. This backdrop has always been there.
We are still where the falling angel meets the rising ape; and it remains hard to reconcile them. We are imperfect and need not aim for perfection, yet every instance of respect, of mercy, of patience, and of kindness helps. This is a very subversive message that Christ delivered, and always worth remembering.