This Easter week-end I made an unlikely call to a radio talk show on Ottawa’s CFRA.
Don’t get me wrong… I have called radio stations before, and am no stranger to being on the air. However the circumstances of my call this particular Sunday morning were probably… out of character, or at least unexpected.
The topic of the show was: Can you be a good Christian if you do not believe in the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. While this might be a reasonably common topic of conversation between Christians, as a Jew it is not usually one that I would weigh in on… but as I listened to three callers in a row I felt that I had to say something.
The host (I do not know his name, but he was obviously religious and well-versed in Christian doctrine) was being bombarded and he was shocked that it seemed to be unanimous… caller after caller said if you did not believe, you could not be a good Christian.
The first caller I heard (I tuned in late) said that there is only one path to Heaven, and if you did not believe that Jesus died on the cross for you, and then rose from the dead three days later, you would be denied entry into Heaven.
The next claimed that if Jesus did not rise then there is no hope for any of us (I assume she meant Christians) to be saved, and there is no reason to believe anything else in the Gospel.
They continued on like this. Now I should remind you that I am Jewish, and while I have been married to a Christian woman (and father to a Christian son) for many years, I still strongly believe in my own faith… I have never believed in the divinity of Jesus of Nazareth, which is why I never call him Christ (which translates to Messiah). However that does not mean that I do not respect the rights of others to believe.
I called and told the screener my position, and she put me on right away.
The message of Jesus, both alive and since, has essentially been that you should be a good and kind and charitable person. If you are a good person then you will be rewarded in the afterlife. Of course there is a lot more to it than that, but if you read his words essentially the rest is just commentary. Of course, Jesus was not the first person to say this, and he was not the last. However as far as Christian tradition goes he is the most important of those. Okay. Does that message stop being right if he did not rise from the dead?
There are many aspects of Christian doctrine that I do not understand. If Jesus did not die on the cross for our (their?) sins then what is the point? If Jesus did not rise from the dead then there is no hope! As a Jew I don’t get it…
…But here’s the thing: In this day of science and proofs and thousands of years removed from any ‘confirmed contact’ with G-d, do any of us really believe? I am not an overly religious person (I can hear orthodox Jews laughing at that understatement as I type it), but I believe in the Torah. I think many of the stories are exaggerated… but if we start from the Forefathers I believe most of it happened. However I also believe that a lot of the miracles that happened can be explained scientifically. I won’t go into those details for fear of starting a holy war with my own people. Does my belief that the ‘miracles’ could be proven scientifically make me less of a Jew? Not unless I say ‘Well, there really is no G-d so I can live as I want.’ I certainly do not say that.
So getting back to Christians and the story of Easter, even if Jesus did not rise from the dead his message is just as true… being a good person will bring rewards.
If you do believe in Heaven and Hell (and not just the Joe Jackson album) then I cannot fathom any deity, who in his time on earth spoke of kindness and forgiveness and turning the other cheek, being so petty and unforgiving as to not letting a person who spent his or her entire life being good and charitable into Heaven just because they did not believe in one part of the doctrine that was written after he was gone from this earth.
What if you do not believe in Heaven and Hell? I believe the message is just as valid. I consider myself to be a good person. I am kind, considerate, caring, charitable, and so on. I do unto others and so on. However that was not always the case; there were years when I was angry with the world, and was not so nice. At a certain point I made the conscious decision to become a better person, and over time, as it happened, my life got better. I became happier, I had more friends, all of the things that happens to good people. Even if I do not believe in the Afterlife (another Joe Jackson album!) my life on earth became better, more enjoyable… less of a Hell. See? Even as a Jew, following the messages that Jesus taught I am enjoying the positive results here on earth, in this life.
I am not going to go into what I believe as far as doctrine versus science… that is a conversation for another time (and hopefully over a scotch or three). However it seems to me that anybody – Christian or otherwise – who judges others on their beliefs rather than on their actions cannot himself (/herself) be a good Christian… or for that matter a good Jew or a good Muslim. If we are supposed to turn the other cheek. I suppose it would not be a proper religious article if I did not quote scriptures at least once… “Judge not, lest ye be judged!”-Matthew 7:1.
With that being said, if you are going to judge someone, is it right to do it based on their beliefs rather than their actions? Who among us has not seen someone else’s spouse and had inappropriate thoughts? That may be a bad idea, but there’s nothing illegal about it. If we were to act on those thoughts, that would be wrong. I expect there are many of us who are relieved that we cannot be judged (and tried and sentenced) based on our thoughts and beliefs alone… but to go to Hell for them? I think even Jesus would scoff at that.
Happy Easter to all of my Christian friends and followers, and Happy Passover to my Jewish friends and followers.