Someone once said that morality is what you do when no one’s watching. Personally, I believe morality can exist without a Divine Creator, but that God cannot exist without morality. What better time to consider such questions?
Think about it: Has any other Christmas ever been as important to us as individuals? At any other time in our lives, have we more deeply questioned our existence, our relationships with others, our beliefs?
When have we taken a more sober look at whether morality itself was created by religion or has existed, all along, on its own?
Why must there be a reward (as in: everlasting life) for good works? I don’t know about you, but incentives aren’t necessary where I come from. I don’t need a monitor, an enforcer, or a mega-prize to simply be good. Compassion, assistance, courage, love and generosity are all huge payoffs in themselves.
What is with this carrot and stick approach to morality, anyway? How was I born convicted when no indictment was ever handed up, no interviews ever conducted, no CSI unit brought in — gloves and masks on — to collect trace evidence? Why am I doing hard time before I’ve even learned to speak?
Here’s another one: Why is it that those who believe they’ve “crossed over” all tell a similar tale, one that always involves a long passageway to “the light“? Could it be because that same story has been told so many times, it passes from a phenomenal delusion to a “real” feeling?
(If it ever happens to me, I want to walk right up to a Venetian table with a sack that I can stuff and bring back.)
Is it possible that this same subconscious repetition among many in the group gave us the Gospels — which, if written today, would be the subjects of multi-million plagiarism suits?
What if we were to tone down the apostasy and think of Jesus Christ as a really cool dude with a brilliant mind and a fiery nature, a propensity to sometimes go on at length and at other times retreat into himself for a few fortnights?
What if he cursed and caroused? What if he drank too much wine now and then, got pissed and overturned some tables, yet loved with all his heart and made people believe they could do things they never thought possible?
When I think of Jesus, I am inspired by the stories. I always return to the image of him at the rock, his hands clasped, as the Apostle Posse snoozes in the Garden at Gethsemane. I’m not religious, but I’ve kept a rendering of that apocryphal moment — a First Communion present my parents bought at my request — on my bedroom wall.
It’s in that tale, on the night before his death, that we are clearly meant to see Jesus Christ as more human than ever before. That he eventually chooses to accept his mission after asking his “father” to take the cup from his hands isn’t a perils-of-Pauline rescue from the cliffs. He doesn’t suddenly “see the light.”
Rather, he makes a moral decision, one based on the principles he has come to believe, at what would now be considered a relatively young age, is the right thing to do. And the right thing to do, in his words, is to obey his “father’s” wishes.
By agreeing to take the nail, he isn’t “dying in our place.” He is showing us, through the most extreme example possible, the truest meaning of human kindness — as in: sacrificing self for kin. No God. Just living, loving morality.
Jesus admits so himself, or so the story goes, when, dying on the cross, he shouts his own question to the skies.
Judas, on the other hand, accepted his role, apparently without any backsliding. He also was the only one in the entire melodrama who got paid. If that isn’t existentialist symbolism, I don’t know what is.
Jesus: human or divine? I embrace the former. It’s far more rational, and allows me to avoid having to deal with the supposed ascension of a body into the sky like a rocket man at the World’s Fair, or an invisible gentleman’s club when he gets to the big dance, whose president is somehow — illogically — both the Alpha and Omega.
Seems this “faith” that I was baptized into challenges reason at every turn, as if blind submission and unquestioning surrender — rather than simply being good — were the point.
My point? I believe the event being celebrated this weekend is an invention made necessary by the passion of the Christ. The masses discovered the adult Jesus first; a creation story had to be written, and it needed enough oomph to give the grand finale its meaning (I’m not the least surprised that no one could fill in the “missing” years. Journalists must’ve been thin on the ground in those days; come to think of it, they hadn’t been invented yet).
Like everything else in the “mystery,” it’s a fantastical tale: Try explaining to your kids how kings from three different countries all reached the same stable with no address — or GPS. Just a star.
Yes, I know of the Prophets. But they could’ve been written in, too. Closes the loop, so to speak.
Still, the story of Christmas serves a “higher” purpose: It offers a common touchstone around which we can examine what we truly believe — and how we truly behave.
This Christmas, as always, I am thankful for what I have. I am humbled by the unrequited goodness and kindness of others. But as much as I try to keep the “Merry” in Christmas, I again find myself wondering — more than ever before — whether we need to believe in something in order to survive, or whether Nietzsche was right when he said we are more likely made up of a “ferocious human will” that can easily withstand the absence of God.
I guess I’m asking: Which came first, the Christian or the egg?
Christmas is a time for the children, yes. But I believe it’s also when we should remind ourselves how important our values — not some religious dogma or fractured fairy tales — will shape them. We are no more or less than the sum of our choices, one action over another. They will be, too.
You’d be surprised how well the progeny could survive without God. On the other hand, they will create their own Hell on Earth if they try to live without morality.
What better time than now to get our priorities in order? I’m not saying you should agree with me, but I’ve come to believe that morals and ethics trump God, not the other way around. For proof, I look no further than the Nazis (Gott Mit Uns?).
In my hypothetical book, Jesus didn’t prove the existence of God. He succeeded at being the change he wished to see in the world. In other words: Morality came first.
Does my skepticism offend you? Does it irk you that I bring it up at this time of year? Is it because you are deeply Christian?
That’s a good thing, then.
It gives me faith that you will forgive me.
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