I think, Christianity is a great idea. All people are inadequate in one sense or another. All have imperfections. All make mistakes. All make bad decisions once in a while. All are “sinners”, not in a sense “evil-doers”, but in a sense of lacking perfection in their thoughts, words, and deeds. All need “salvation” from this inadequacy and imperfection. I think, it’s important to realize this about myself. If I don’t realize and acknowledge my own mistakes, errors, and imperfections, I will persist in these errors with arrogance and pride.
Naturally, when we realize our own mistakes and errors, moved by love, we would also want to “save” our neighbor from repeating these mistakes… And this is where the whole idea gets upside down. Our neighbor is merrily going about his own business, enjoying life, and here I come as a “loving Christian”, bringing “the good news” that the wide road he is following is the high way to hell and that he needs to pick his cross and follow the narrow path.
But I am not my neighbor. How do I know that the things that I consider “bad” for myself are “bad” for my neighbor? Some like it hot, some like it cold, some like it in a pot nine days old. If my grand-grand-grandfather died after eating a bad shellfish, and, forever since then, my tribal rule book says “shellfish is detestable”, should I really take this message to the other tribe that has been happily living on shellfish for generations?
All Christians want to “be like Jesus” who is perfect. The problem with this aspiration is that, at some point, people start to believe that they have achieved some state of moral perfection and superiority and are in a position to go around and teach others, righteously turning over tables in other people’s temples and saying “woe to you, hypocrites!”, not seeing the plank in their own eye.
The situaion becomes even worse when this desire to “save” others is made into a state policy. This is where the whole doctrine of “salvation” creates hell. When one nation takes on a mission of “saving” other nations – “liberating” them from whatever is considered “oppression”, “sin”, “immorality” – this doctrine leads to rivers of blood.
These words are prompted by the current events in Ukraine, my home country. Some Russian leaders somewhere got an idea that Russia represents a unique culture, “civilization”, if you will, somehow “distinct” from the rest of the world and has a “special” mission – to save other “brother” nations from corruption, immorality, and oppression of the West. On the other side of the ocean, U.S.A. poses as a world policeman and believes that all countries should have “the right” form of government to be “happy” and “free”. As a result, there is an unprecedented surge of hatred between people in Ukraine fueled by media. People are kidnapped, tortured and killed, civilians die from bullets and shells. Each side accuses the other in “state-sponsored terrorism”, “fascism”, “genocide”, and what not. The same scenario is played in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria.
So, is it right to “save” my neighbor or is it right to watch my neighbor suffer what I consider to be oppression, depravity, pain, or sin? Should I not “do unto others as I would have others do unto me?” Should I not fulfill what I consider to be my moral and, often, patriotic duty? But how do others know how I want to be treated and how do I know how they want to be treated? I may consider my suffering real. But is my neighbor’s suffering real or is it only in my head? These are not easy questions, are they?
Here is an interesting picture regarding “saving Muslim women”.
In this picture, both women think that the other needs to be “saved”. Do Muslim or Western women really need to be “saved”? Perhaps, Sam Harris can devise a clever science experiment and save me from facing this choice. But, on the other hand, shall we tolerate beating, torturing and killing women in other countries for not complying with some tribal rule books and sexual discrimination in our own?
There are words of wisdom in the Bible:
“I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. — Romans 14:14”
“Nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
Go figure who thinks what.
To save or not to save? That is the question. This dilemma seems to be at the very heart of Christianity. But I can see how this post may outrage some Christians as “unchristian”. I can be accused of advocating moral relativism. I will be pointed to the numerous commands in the NT to “go and spread the word”, to the quotes about “the lamp on a lamp stand”, etc.
It’s interesting that becoming an atheist and rejecting the whole idea of “salvation” will not rid me of this dilemma. I see a lot of atheists going out of their way trying to save others from what they perceive to be opression of religion.
Is there a way of this “spiritual darkness” and blindness?