Happy Easter, everyone.
Every year, I make the same tired joke, that Easter is when Jesus emerges from the dark hole in which he was buried, and if he sees his shadow there will be six more weeks of winter.
Yes, I think it’s funny, too, though some might be offended. If you are one of the offended, do accept my apology, but also try to see the humour in it. I mean, it’s not as if I drew a cartoon and published it in a Danish newspaper!
I do want to be serious about Christianity for a moment, though. I am ostensibly a Hindu, and intellectually I cling to much of Hindu philosophy, especially its cosmology and the idea of maya. But having grown up in North America, it’s hard not to have absorbed much of Christian teachings. (In grade 3, my teacher actually quizzed us on “who was Jesus’s father”; if we said “Joseph”, we were scolded because the answer, of course, is “God.” Yes, this was a public school.) Indeed, we Indo-Guyanese are typically either Christian or a combination of Christian and something else (Hindu or Muslim, for example). For my people –unlike my forebears in the subcontinent– there tends not to be any conflict between religions; many of we nominal Hindus can be found in Christian churches on Christmas, Easter or on a random Sunday.
And while, like with every other religion, horrible things have historically been said and done in the name of Christ and Christianity, I find that religion’s fundamental tenets to be quite beautiful. The idea of a deific saviour struggling to find his identity has some resonance with the writer in me, so the New Testament can be appreciated as both a guidebook for moral action and as a seminal work of literature. Moreover, I once heard the Old Testament (and thus Torah) described aptly as a description of a God and his people struggling to find one another. This is quite a poetic and attractive appreciation, and I think without parallel elsewhere in the theological world, except maybe in the Koran (which, I’ve heard argued, has essentially the same content).
Christianity is also fascinating for the history it represents. The New Testament can almost be considered a kind of meta-text, drawing upon the best of contemporary ideals. Jerusalem of the time of Christ was one of the world’s most active crossroads, where ideas and religious thought were shared with gusto. It is thus not surprising that seemingly some of the teachings of Buddha and Lao Tse are reflected in the New Testament, since I believe it likely that its writers were influenced by Asian travellers. Similarly, a Jesus-like figure supposedly appears in Hindu texts describing a fellow named “Isha” (“Issa” is also the Islamic name for Jesus) , which some theorists believe explains the years of Jesus’s life missing from the New Testament, and also explains why his teachings resemble more those of Buddhists and Hindus than they do the teachings of many saints in the more fire-and-brimstone Old Testament.
But I in no way claim to be an authority on Christianity, that period of world history, or on any aspect of theology. Perhaps some of you are, and can enlighten me on some of these issues. What I do want to pontificate about, though, is our contemporary tendency to dismiss the tenets of a given faith because we conflate them with that faith’s politicized nature. Do the Pope or TV evangelists sometimes piss you off? Me, too. Doesn’t mean we should discount any wisdom that we might find in the Bible. Similarly, are you offended by the Taliban or by Iran’s ruling Imams? Who isn’t? Doesn’t mean there isn’t beauty and truth to be found in the Koran. Does Richard Gere make crappy movies? Maybe; doesn’t mean his Buddhist faith is without merit. And does India’s Shiv Sena foment violence and intolerance? Pretty much, but don’t blame the arcane content of Hindu scripture for the Sena’s chauvinism.
There is a remarkable sameness to the messages produced by the world’s great religions, first articulated well, I believe, in the so-called Axis Age of 500 BCE. And that sameness is reflected in the Golden Rule, which was recapitulated in the teachings of Jesus, but that many –even those nominally Christian– tend to forget. It is simply this: treat others as we would have them treat us.