John Lennon wrote:
"Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn't argue about that; I'm right and I will be proved right. We're (The Beatles) more popular than Jesus now; I don't know which will go first -- rock'n'roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It's them twisting it that ruins it for me."
It is time to put behind us the childish interpretation of the religion of Adam and Eve of the Garden. As Paul declared: "When I was a child, I used to talk like a child, and see things as a child does, and think like a child; but now I have become an adult, I have finished with all childish ways" (Cor. 13:11). The Bible is far more than its manifest meaning beloved by children. It is a rich, multi-layered, multi-faceted, deeply profound work of art. The Bible entreats us to be our brother's keeper, to behave like Abraham who questioned God and protested on behalf of others, so that we develop, internalize and practise compassion and empathy.
A well-functioning democracy must have at its base the ability to empathize and therefore, implement policies that go beyond one's own needs. The Bible gives us step by step instructions on how to establish a society that gives equal weight to individual rights and group responsibilities. And the Bible urges us not to give in to our fears. Fear leads us away from paths of righteousness and into the arms of false messiahs who promise us answers to all the questions. The Bible teaches us not to fear living, relating, revealing, creating. Do not fear and the past will not hold you back. Do not fear and the present will give you hope. Do not fear and the promise of the future will be bright.
Is there reason in belief? More importantly to me, is there reason to believe? For me, yes. Belief in God provides a way to explain the yearning and the searching for something that we intrinsically know we once had but now eludes us. Belief in God provides for hope and possibility even in the presence of evil. Reason insists that creation is the result of evolution; cold, hard facts. It is belief in a compassionate and merciful God that expands our awareness of the awesomeness of the universe and all it encompasses, reminding us of our obligations to all creatures, great and small. As Eli Wiesel had written:
"Faith in God is linked to faith in man, and one cannot be separated from the other."
Belief in the teachings of the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus, that we welcome the stranger does not demand of us that we welcome all his beliefs and behaviours. It is in the public square that we practice and protect our freedoms and our openness. It is in the privacy of our own homes that we practice our rituals and patterns of worship.
Freedom flourishes with hard work and requires constant nurturing. We are the caregivers of the teachings of the one God and like tending a garden, we must be ever vigilant so that we can distinguish between the behaviours that we want to flourish and those that could overwhelm and destroy the garden.
Life offers us multiple opportunities, multiple ways of seeing, perceiving, understanding and explaining our outer and inner lives. Life is meant to be deeply lived and loved. It is our opportunity to continue the chain from past to future. We each have the honour of adding something to the world; charity, loving-kindness, empathy.
This journey is not meant to be taken alone. We all require assistance. We can turn to psychology and sociology. We can deconstruct language or study philosophy. And then there is religion, ties that bind one to the other. Not the religion of dogma, but the true essence of religion; honouring the ethical teachings of God, while transforming them into compassionate behaviour.
The stories in the Bible and the Gospels come from a particular time and a particular voice, but we must keep in mind that in the history of the development of humankind and fire, ethical monotheism has been with us for a mere blink in time.
Our ancestors arrived around 6-8 million years ago. Between two and five million years ago, they evolved into bipeds-walking on two feet. Homo erectus walked in Africa 1.6 million years ago. Homo sapiens evolved approximately 300,000 years ago and our most direct homo-sapiens ancestors approximately 50,000 years ago. The oldest cave art discovered thus far is 40,800 years ago and was found in El Castillo, Spain. Speech developed about 40,000 years ago.
The morals and values given to us at Mount Sinai entered our consciousness a mere 3500 years ago. Although these teachings are in their infancy, the lessons of the Bible will not lose their significance as long as we allow them to teach our minds and touch our souls. Here's a quote from the Anonymous Fellow of the Chinese Academy of the Social Sciences:
In the past twenty years, we have realized that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity. That is why the West has been so powerful. The Christian moral foundation of social and cultural life was what made possible the emergence of capitalism and then the successful transition to democratic politics. We don't have any doubt of this.