I must first make a disclaimer that I am not a Christian but am an agnostic. But I don’t feel that disqualifies me from talking about Christianity because I do have a strong Christian background.
Our moral values of “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth“, retribution, and vengeance are prevalent throughout America’s history, films and media, justice systems, wars, foreign policies, and behavior. It is so ingrained in our culture that we are usually blind to its presence within us. We call it by other names such as justice, punishment, payback, getting even, settling a score, what they deserve, they started it, etc. Many refuse to hear the other side of the story or what effects we have on other human beings and in a sense dehumanize others as being something other than like ourselves. We are in denial of our inherent animosity towards others seemingly different from ourselves, treating them like aliens from another world.
I was just like that until I started to realize that each person, no matter how they appeared or what they believed, is really a part of me when stripped to the essence of who I am; no less human or capable of feeling joy, love, fear, suffering, and pain. This was a real revelation to me some 40 years ago. It altered the way I looked at the world and others forever. This is largely what this blog is about. This revelation did not greatly change my emotional responses to others but it did change my RATIONAL views about others and the differentiation between what is just and what is unreasonable. We are all products of our cultural upbringing.
It is strange how I arrived at this realization. At the time 40 years ago I considered myself a Christian struggling to find my spiritual identity in relationship with God and my fellow-man. I put great thought into the character of Christ, being both man and God, as reflected in the Christians in my life as well as what I Reasoned as the true and consistent character of Christ embodied in the human being Jesus. I concluded that the New Testament Christ was a total breakaway from Old Testament attitudes; that God was actually more than just about love, compassion, forgiveness (grace), and charity. He was about the total immersion of each of out hearts into the hearts of All. He was about the inclusion of all human being as being the totality of themselves. There was no place for animosity, enmity, hatred, vengeance, greed, or exclusion in God’s aspirations for man.
But he also gave man the fruit of knowledge: free will, the will to feel alienated from God and his fellow-man. I viewed not having free will as only seeing the truth. But for some mysterious reason God granted us the freedom to distort our views of the truth about ourselves, others, and the world; to place ourselves at the center of the universe. The story of Cane and Able, the sons of Adam and Eve so exemplified this.
So I questioned institutional Christianity and ethics as I knew it for not taking the central theme of the teachings of Christ more to heart. Too little of such New Testament God-like attitudes prevail in our American culture today. My struggle breaking away from Christianity involved many factors, not only this. But I still believe that my conclusions about the character of God are close to the truth.
I recently heard that America has more people in prisons that any other country including China. Our recidivism rates are very high. But when the President suggested encouraging prisoners to pursue a college degree to reduce recidivism there was an outcry that this would reward prisoners for doing crime and serving time. Such attitudes are typical of the eye for an eye vengeance mentality. The sole purpose of prisons here is to punish, not to reform, thus the revolving door prison system. Once they serve their time many citizens shun them as tainted human beings unworthy or trustworthy of integrating back into society. No wonder so many return to do more crime and more time.
Our treatment of Muslims by many is as if they are not really human like us but have some genetic and religious disposition towards terrorism and blowing themselves up with religious hatred for Americans. Many fear that once we remove our troops from the Middle East Muslim Arabs will send more suicide terrorists here to bomb us. I’ve even heard the argument that we killed them first making them seek vengeance of us forever so we need to get rid of them (genocide?). In fact if we were to leave the Middle East today the last thing terrorist there would want to do is antagonizes us and get us so mad at them that we send even more troops again with a vengeance to destroy them. They know the power of our technology to target their leaders. We often treat Arabs as if they were stupid and incapable of reasonable thinking from a people with a long history of inventing math, science, medicine, and philosophy.
Even in our governments, sports, jobs, marriages, entertainment, education, and relationships we have become combative and adversarial. It is part of the social fabric of many of our cultural institutions such as our system of government. I feel that we, as a predominantly Christian nation, need to be far more Christlike and stop copping out with the excuse that we are all hopeless sinners. There really isn’t anything hopeless about us other than the attitudes we hold in our own minds. There are individuals who have exemplified this throughout history such as Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. The world will become far more peaceful for it. Or is Christ and his teachings simply too naive for the true nature of life and human beings? In what way are we created in the Image of God?