If they think that it's okay, they can't then think it's not okay, right?
So today I share with you a thought-provoking passage from The Third Jesus, a book by one of my favourite authors, Deepak Chopra. The book is available in all the usual places, like MPH, Times, Borders etc:
Jesus is in trouble. When people worship him today - or even speak his name - the object of their devotion is unlikely to be who they think he is. A mythical Jesus has grown up over time. He has served to divide peoples and nations. He has led to destructive wars in the name of religious fantasies. The legacy of love found in the New Testament has been tainted with the worst sort of intolerance and prejudice that would have appalled Jesus in life. Most troubling of all, his teachings have been hijacked by people who hate in the name of love.
"Sometimes I feel this social pressure to return to my faith," a lapsed Catholic told me recently, "but I'm too bitter. Can I love a religion that calls gays sinners but hides paedophiles in its clergy? Yesterday while I was driving to work, I heard a rock song that went, "Jesus walked on water when he should have surfed," and you know what? I burst out laughing. I would never have done that when I was younger. Now I feel only the smallest twinge of guilt."
No matter where you look, a cloud of confusion hangs over the message of Jesus. To cut through it we have to be specific about who we mean when we refer to Jesus. One Jesus is historical, and we know next to nothing about him. Another Jesus is the one appropriated by Christianity. He was created by the Church to fulfill its agenda. The third Jesus, the one this book is about, is as yet so unknown that even the most devout Christians don't suspect that he exists. Yet he is the Christ we cannot - and must not - ignore.
The first Jesus was a rabbi who wandered the shores of northern Galilee many centuries ago. This Jesus still feels close enough to touch. He appears in our mind's eye dressed in homespun but haloed in glory. He was kind, serene, peaceful, loving, and yet he was the keeper of deep mysteries.
The historical Jesus has been lost, however, swept away by history. He still lingers like a ghost, a projection of all the ideal qualities we wish for ourselves but so painfully lack. Why couldn't there be one person who was perfectly loving, perfectly compassionate, and perfectly humble? There can be if we call him Jesus and remove him to a time thousands of years in the past. (If you live in the East, his name might be Buddha, but the man is equally mythical and equally a projection of our own lack.)
The first Jesus is less than consistent, as a closer reading of the gospels will show. If Jesus was perfectly peaceful, why did he declare, 'Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword"? (Matthew 10:34). If he was perfectly loving, why did he say, "Throw out the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth"? (Matthew 25:30) (Sometimes the translation is even harsher, and Jesus commands "the worthless slave" to be consigned to hell.) If Jesus was humble, why did he claim to rule the earth beyond the power of any king? At the very least, the living Jesus was a man of baffling contradictions.
And yet the more contradictions we unearth, the less mythical this Jesus becomes. The flesh-and-blood man who is lost to history must have been extraordinarily human. To be divine, one must be rich in every human quality first. As one famous Indian spiritual teacher once said, "The measure of enlightenment is how comfortable you feel with your own contradictions."
Millions of people worship another Jesus, however, who never existed, who doesn't even lay claim to the fleeting substance of the first Jesus. This is the Jesus built up over thousands of years by theologians and other scholars. He is the Holy Ghost, the Three-in-One Christ, the source of sacraments and prayers that were unknown to the rabbi Jesus when he walked the earth. He is also the Prince of Peace over whom bloody wars have been fought. This second Jesus cannot be embraced without embracing theology first. Theology shifts with the tide of human affairs. Metaphysics itself is so complex that it contradicts the simplicity of Jesus's words. Would he have argued with learned divines over the meaning of the Eucharist? Would he have espoused a doctrine declaring that babies are damned until they are baptized?
The second Jesus leads us into the wilderness without a clear path out. He became the foundation of a religion that has proliferated into some twenty thousand sects. They argue endlessly over every thread in the garments of a ghost. But can any authority, however exalted, really inform us about what Jesus would have thought? Isn't it a direct contradiction to hold that Jesus was a unique creation - the one and only incarnation of God - while at the same time claiming to be able to read his mind on current affairs? Yet in his name Christianity pronounces on homosexuality, birth control and abortion ....