“I have conquered the world,” once said Jesus. It seems that he has conquered the world, only a lot of people have yet to recognize it.
Let’s put aside his identity for a moment, whether he was the messiah predicted by the Jewish prophets, the Son of God, or other identities.
Let’s also put aside the historical accuracy of his words, found in the New Testament. Ok, maybe his disciples didn’t spread his words just as he spoke them. Maybe the translators weren’t totally accurate when they translated his words from the spoken Aramaic, to Greek and Latin (which the New Testament was originally written). Maybe at the Council of Nicaea in 350 CE – which gave us the final, authoritative New Testament document — didn’t make accurate editing. Maybe the current translations from ancient Greek and Latin versions of the New Testament (the oldest versions that we have) into English aren’t entirely accurate.
The belief is that God’s spirit guided the transcribers and the translators. But regardless of one’s belief regarding God’s spirit, the reality remains: the words in the New Testament — the only authoritative book of Jesus’ words that we have today — stand on their own. No other book contains this level of wisdom, especially wisdom that is relevant to current political and economic problems.
Some of his followers have said about Jesus, “Search the world, search the heavens, there is none like him.” This seems to ring true as well. Of all the political, philosophical, and religious leaders who have come and gone in the last 2,000 years, Jesus seems to have come on top. When the dust of history settles, he remains standing.
The same is true with his words, regardless of their historical accuracy. Billions of words and theories have come and gone in the historical marketplace of ideas, and Jesus’ words always seem to rise to the top.
On buses and trains throughout the world, you can see no one any longer reading Socrates, Aristotle, Napoleon, Mao, Marx, Hitler, Caesar, Buddha, or Jefferson, but you do see them reading – and studying – the New Testament. They study it to learn how to become better people and how to create a better world.
Most people don’t seem to recognize that the revolution is over. The world has been conquered. Jesus remains the king of kings, until a better king comes along, which hasn’t happened in 2,000 years.
Sure, we don’t know anything with certainty. There is no certainty (quantum theory has revealed this). But we do have one person who seems to know more about reality than anyone else who has ever lived, and he has the words to prove it.
Many modern philosophers say there is no way of knowing what is right and what is wrong, that all morality is subjective value judgements, and that one person’s values are just as true as another person’s values.
But Jesus gives us a very clear value system, and one that has not been surpassed in 2,000 years, especially one that has not been surpassed by contemporary Islam, with its goal of jihad, that is, the – often violent — spread of an inferior moral system.
Jesus clearly states his moral philosophy:
Love one another.
Treat others as you want to be treated.
Love your enemy.
Turn the other cheek.
Return good for evil.
Be charitable to all people.
Forgive to the same extent you want to be forgiven.
If you want to be perfect, sell everything you own, give the proceeds to the
poor, and follow him.
The 6th principle – return good for evil – perhaps was the moral basis of the Marshal Plan in Europe and our treatment of the Japanese after WWII. It was also the moral basis of Abe Lincoln’s policy towards the South after the Civil War: charity towards all and malice towards none.
All good American Christians agree with the first eight of these principles, but most simply ignore the last one: Sell everything you own, give it to the poor, and follow him. It flies right over their heads without the least amount of thought.
In fact, our whole economic policy is based on the antithesis of this moral principle. Our economic moral philosophy is that individuals should make as much money as they can and the national economy should grow at least 3% a year. Plus, everyone’s children should have more consumption of goods and services than their parents had.
Many Christians rationalize their violation of Jesus’ commandment by giving some version of the following argument:
“Jesus came to set us free. So we should be free to accumulate as much wealth as we can.”
I contend that the violation of this moral principle – the infinite accumulation of wealth – is one of the main causes of many of our contemporary problems and the cause of the eventual destruction of the earth and interminable wars. Poor people want the same level of wealth as the rich people, and the rich people want even more.
In an amazing way, the uneducated and non-Christian aboriginals of many countries had a higher level of morality than the most sophisticated moral philosophers and theologians of Harvard and Oxford when it comes to this principle. The aboriginals left the earth in the same shape as they found it. They cared for other species and they loved their descendants. We have contempt for other species (speciesism) and are leaving our descendants with a parking lot, one that is over-heated and one that has a $20 trillion debt.
Our tiny, sensitive earth and our 7 billion – and growing – human family can’t sustain such economic growth.
We can argue about this until the cows come home (and why do we have cows anyhow?), but the argument has been over won for over 2,000 years. The revolution has been won. We can shout Jesus’ name from the rooftops, but we can also read what he said.
We can all reduce our consumption of goods and services to the level that the earth can sustain. We can work towards a realistic plan for permanent world peace – that is, work against an eventual disastrous, international war. We can make God’s work our own.
And we can read the policies of RG Martin.