Monday, September 21, 2009

Do you Speak Biblical or Christianese?

Ok, I admit it I was bored and didn't fancy starting cooking dinner yet, but anyway, while pottering around the internet I decided to check an online Bible to see how many of the common Christian one liners are actually quoted from the Bible. So as not to get sucked into the vortex of various translation arguments, I checked in a couple of versions, the NIV, KJV and the CEV (really, is there any more pointless discussion within Christianity?).

  • "simple faith" - none at all
  • "all you need is faith" - nope that's not there either
  • "childlike faith" - quess what, zero again

I admit that I have deliberately picked on some of the vacuous phrases I have heard, phrases that I have long thought evasive of the reality of following the precepts of Jesus of Nazareth. There is nothing simple about faith in my experience, it is full of doubt and questions - if you have never doubted then I would contend you are either dead, in denial or just plain lying. I sometimes wonder if when people talk about "simple faith" they use it as an excuse not to engage with the Bible in a mature, meaningful way and thus continue with a simpleton's faith.

Faith is also clearly not all you need in following the revolutionary Jesus, works and social awareness are part and parcel of the teachings of Jesus. To preach about the "full gospel" and ignore the Gospel's calls for social, racial and economic change is to fall short of your own claims, let alone the requirements of Jesus. Faith without works is dead and thus not the faith of Jesus.

With "childlike faith" we often take the image of the sweet little trusting child as our image of such faith, rather than the more usual child you see in the streets, constantly bugging their parents with the question "why?". Mrs Velkyal works with 3 to 6 year old kids and some the questions they come out with are remarkable, and reveal the true nature of a human child with a thirst for knowledge. Children don't just accept, they dig, search, experience and challenge everything, do we?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

An American Question

With the never ending furore about healthcare in the United States, it seems to me that a fundamentally American question is being avoided entirely in this debate. It is a question which goes to the very heart of what many perceive to be the American psyche, a question which, if you believe some sections of the populace, is the most important question any American can ask of themselves.

The question is simply this, “what would Jesus do”?

Yet it seems that in this most devout and openly religious country that nobody on any side of the political spectrum is prepared to ask that question. What would Jesus do about healthcare reform in the United States in the 21st century?

Firstly on the question of requiring the right insurance before getting healthcare, I am reminded of the story where Jesus makes a scourge and drives the money changers from the precincts of the Temple. A quick reminder for those of you who haven’t read the Bible, or those of you who think the God of the Old Testament is where it is at. The Temple in Jesus’ time required pilgrims to change imperial coins for those acceptable in order to pay for temple ceremonies, Jesus takes exception at the money changers extorting the people for profit, when, as he says, “it is written, My house shall be called a house of prayer but you have made it a den of thieves”.

I think here that Jesus would accept that healthcare has to be paid for, but would he approve of the extortionate premiums placed on receiving that healthcare? Would he approve of families paying thousands of dollars a year in insurance payments and then when they get sick they are asked to pay some more? Was the insurance they had paid into for all those years insufficient to cover the bills? Or is it more likely that Jesus would make for himself a scourge and drive the extortionate insurers from the market place?

One of the arguments I hear quite often against reforming health insurance is that it is wrong for hard working, well off, people to pay more in order to subsidize the poor and less fortunate. Does Jesus have anything to say in response to this? Well I think he does, if the parable of the sheep and the goats is any indicator of his view on how to treat the poor and less fortunate. Again a paraphrased refresher, Jesus is talking about the end of days when he comes to judge the living and the dead, separating all of humanity as being either sheep or goats – the sheep go to heaven, while the goats don’t.

To recognize a sheep is really easy, a sheep is the person in his Sunday best, driving a fancy car to an expensive church, fronted by a handsomely paid pastor and his ever so demur wife…oh wait, sorry I said I would stick to what Jesus himself did and said. A sheep then is someone who came to the sick and healed them (notice there is nothing about asking to be paid for an essentially humanitarian act), someone who fed the hungry, clothed the naked, someone who saw the human value in every single person regardless of economic well being. Jesus claims then that to treat the poor with value, to provide for their needs is a Christian duty, to ignore the needs of the poor and less fortunate is to ignore the needs of Jesus himself.

Now the questions come flying, what about the people who don’t work, who abuse the system, who are illegal immigrants, who, who, who? Questions that sound so much like Peter at the end of John’s Gospel, asking what would happen to the disciple “whom Jesus loved”, and being given the reply “what is that to you? Follow me”. Yes people will abuse any system put in place, whether a purely free market, or whether strictly socialist, it is human nature, but if you are one of the millions of Americans who claims to be a Christian and takes the ideals and teachings of Jesus seriously, then what would Jesus say to you?

Perhaps it is time in this debate, in this “nation under God” to take a step back from entrenched positions and ask that very simple question:

What would Jesus do?