And now for something completely different.
For those humans who follow the Western Christian tradition, today is Easter Sunday. For people of that branch of that faith, today is the holiest day of the year. In that belief system, a deity (people of that belief system understand there to only be a single deity) caused a woman to conceive a child, and that child grew up to be offhandedly executed by the mightiest empire in the world. So far, all well and good. This next bit is where “faith” comes into it.
Today Western Christians (next week for the Eastern Christians) celebrate the resurrection of their deity. 3 days after his death, Jesus got up, stretched his legs, and announced that- having been a blood sacrifice for the sins of the human species- he was back.
Apparently God meant what he said to Abraham.
For those who have faith- as I do not- in the truth of this story the willingness to give one’s life to atone for the awfulness of the human species gives someone tremendous moral authority. What Jesus is believed to have said and done between resurrection and ascension basically amount to showing his face around town, and telling his followers to get to work.
What things did Jesus say he wanted people to do? What terrible sins required the blood of a god to atone for? Moral authority to do what? Even the moral teachings of a deity must be tested against an external reference, unless we want Cthulhu to have unfettered access to our uncritical brains.
And so it seems to be that we should examine a brief part of Jesus’ teachings. For extra fun, read that passage while replacing every use of “hypocrites”, with “douchebags”.
What I read is an extended meditation on the virtue of doing the right thing for it’s own sake, rather than for the sake of being seen to do the right thing. Someone who gives bread to the hungry in order to be seen doing so may make someone better off, but they have mentally recategorized another human being from “person” to “prop”. It is impossible to love a prop.
So: people are supposed to pray in private, and not for specific goodies. What should people pray for? The first part of the prayer Jesus gives his followers is a reminder that they are not supposed to ask their deity for things– and “things” in this case counts for actions and outcomes as well. “Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven.” So, you know. Christians technically can pray for a touchdown, or for a war to have a specific outcome. But if they do they’re contravening a direct command from their deity.
Interestingly, there is also an injunction against wanting forgiveness for infractions against that deity’s commands. “and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us.” As a child, this was always the scariest, most terrifying part of the prayer– Christians are asking god to create a direct, 1:1 correspondence between what they have done wrong and wrongs which others have done. The only way to make good- the only way to attain heaven- is to forgive other people. It is not good enough to simply the the “keeper” of one’s siblings. Everyone is now, in an ultimate moral sense, yourself.
If you only click one link:
The Slacktivist tells us about Holy Saturday, when God is dead, and everyone cares.