Some Thoughts on Jesus (or, Samsara Revisited)

Not long after I posted about “The Moral Arc of the Universe,” I realized how nihilistic I sounded. There have also been much better explorations of that quote than my own musings. I’ve decided to revisit that quote.

Trump, beyond his personal failings, represents the union of two awful movements: post-modern “truthiness” and 21st-century fascism, aka the “alt-right.” These aren’t merely typical, spectrum-graphed American political positions, but existential threats to a secular, multi-cultural society. “Truthiness,” the warping of truth in the pursuit of entertainment, breaks a belief in objectivity. Fascism punishes the other, either conforming everyone to the same mold or casting them out, metaphorically or literally. Trump, an entertainer, distorts the truth for political power, and allies himself with far-right movements that are reviving xenophobia in the 21st century.

I’ve struggled with how to respond. Buddhism failed me in this, as I can’t extend my compassion to all beings without being overwhelmed with their suffering. Nor can I bury my head in the sand, as tempting as that has been. I also can’t throw my life into becoming “the resistance,” like so many activist friends, as people depend on me for support.

Then I remembered I believe in God.

Yes, despite being a student of Buddhism, I never stopped being a Theist (Process Theology helped a lot with that conundrum). I’ve always been a believer in Buddhist ethics, but its metaphysics never sat well with me. That’s why I look back on my Samsara post with disdain, because if it’s true then I have no moral counter-argument to Trump’s methods. I have to believe in objective truth, and I have to believe in the inherent worth of everyone, especially our differences.

The following may come as a shock to some readers.

Remember when I read CS Lewis and couldn’t stand him? Well, that’s still true, but reading other Christian writers gave me some better perspective. Progressive Christians, the kind that embraces Jesus’s admonition against stoning in judgment, are up in arms over Trump’s co-opting of the evangelicals to further these agendas.

I’ve always had a strange, heretical relationship with Christianity — it’s why I became a UU in the first place! — and it’s an odd feeling embracing it now. Yet I follow Jesus on Twitter. I consider the Beatitudes more than just a fancy sermon, but a call to action. I don’t consider the historical Jesus of Nazareth to have been divine (no more than the rest of us!), and my God is, erm, unitarian.

But what if I believed that the story of Jesus could be a transformative force, that it has power despite not being historically true (like all other good myths)? That if God had appeared in human form, that God might act and speak like Jesus does? I’ve never had a problem reconciling science and religion before — I mean, it’s not like I believed the stories about the miracles Buddha performed — so why should the divide between the historical Jesus, a revolutionary Palestinian Jew speaking out against Rome, and Jesus Christ, the divine made flesh, be a sticking point?

I can’t believe I’m typing these words, but am I a Christian?

That might be too far — again, I’m a heretic in most churches! — but Christians believe in an objective truth (or Truth), and they believe in every person’s inherent worth as a child of God. These are the counter-arguments to Trump’s truthiness and fascism. And if the loosest definition of a Christian is “someone who follows Christ,” then that’s true of me.

“The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice,” as Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. proclaimed. I write this post a day before MLK day. If God exists as the Christians describe, that can be literally true, not just as a metaphor. The world may exist in Samsara now, but it won’t always. The Kingdom of God is at hand, and it’s big enough for heretics and cowards like myself if we work hard enough.