The Jesus Meme
After my week-long "original religious experience" last month (I'll explain more about that another time) I decided to spend some time revisiting my Roman Catholic upbringing. I submitted to the Sacrament of Reconciliation (a.k.a. Confession) for the first time in decades -- my uncountable sins were forgiven in return for a requested pledge to avoid masturbation and homosexual sex (the former is more difficult to avoid than the latter, given my current status as a single Queer male). Since then, I've been to Mass twice, and I've read some of the introductory material at the beginning of the American English version of the Catholic Study Bible.
The Roman Catholic faith bills itself as the original Church with an unbroken lineage to the Twelve Apostles. These fellas were handpicked by Jesus, the (supposed) son of God, to help him bring the Good News of God's new covenant to the masses. Of course, back then they didn't have CNN on satellite, and most people could neither read nor write, so it took a while to spread the Good News around the world. Plus, there seems to have been a great deal of murderous resistance to what we now call Christianity, at least for the first few centuries A.D. Lots of martyrs died for openly believing that Jesus was the son of God. Many of them became Saints via a process that I don't yet understand.
Those who speak for the Jesus meme believe that there is one God. Only one God. No other religions (or lack of religions) need apply.
They also believe that there is only one way to achieve everlasting life (in heaven) -- to believe in Jesus and to ask for God's forgiveness.
Although lots of conservative people claim to believe in God, if you read the Gospels carefully you find a Jesus whose teachings are as radical as those of the extreme left. Jesus is accepting of everybody, even society's outcasts. Jesus offers forgiveness (and eternal life) to everybody who asks for it with true sincerity. Jesus expects his followers to love everybody, even those who are not Christians. Jesus tells his followers to peacefully turn the other cheek when they are attacked. Jesus tells people to abandon their careers, their wealth, and even their families if necessary, to join him and to help him spread his Good News.
When I attend Mass and hear these beliefs spread from the altar, when I hear the words of Jesus and his Apostles elaborated upon by priests ... and then look around at the people in the pews ... I see a huge disconnect between the teachings of Christianity and many of the Americans who identify themselves as Roman Catholics.
Heh, I sit here toying with the Jesus meme ... analyzing it ... but it isn't meant merely as a way of living. It isn't a political platform for reform. Jesus wasn't interested in political governance, and he appeared to support the separation of Church and State.
No, the Jesus meme is taught on the basis of supernatural faith. Without concrete evidence, we are to believe in one God, his Son, that Son's birth to a Virgin, that Son's Resurrection, and that we are all promised happiness forever in the afterlife if we believe and behave appropriately in this life. Christians are not trying to create heaven on earth. Christians are trying to prepare themselves for heaven.
Supposedly. Many of the Christians I know are less "Christian" in their behaviors than I am. Ah, but that makes me judgmental ;-) I'm not supposed to judge others. That is for God to do. Or, in this world, for the State.
Except ... that the employees and followers of the Roman Catholic Church do often make judgments that go beyond the radical acceptance and love teachings of Jesus (the anti-homosexual judgments come quickly to my mind, as well as the ban on female clergy). Yet, the Church offers forgiveness via the Mass and the Sacraments ... but often with some sort of price tag attached (even if no dollars change hands). There's a lot about how the Church operates, and how Christians live their lives, that doesn't make sense to me.
I think that most people want the protection offered by the Jesus meme without having to pay the ultimate price. They talk like they know Jesus, but how often do they meditate upon their own actions and ask themselves whether they are living the lives they profess? Do they judge others, sometimes for mere entertainment value? Do they accumulate wealth, perhaps using their own unpredictable future needs -- such as a comfortable retirement -- as a justification? Do they practice loving those who treat them harshly?
I could see myself working to incorporate portions of the Jesus meme into my own lifestyle regardless of whether I "believe" in one God, etc., etc. If you strip away the monotheism teachings and the afterlife teachings and treat Jesus as an enlightened person who, like the Buddha, saw the human situation for what it is and prescribed a radical solution ... to love one another as children of God ...
I see no unavoidable conflict between Christianity and Buddhism. The only conflict results from those who believe that there is only one road to the truth.
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