Friday, December 16, 2011

David Marshall: "The Aquarian Revolution"

For my write-up today on David Marshall’s Jesus and the Religions of Man, I’ll blog some about Chapter 5, “The Aquarian Revolution”. This chapter is about how many Westerners have become attracted to Eastern religions, and how the Eastern religions and cultures are fulfilled in Christ, in the sense that they (or aspects of them) have Christian-like motifs as well as appear to yearn for someone like Christ. I will not be going into detail on this issue, at least not in this post. When I read David Marshall’s True Son of Heaven: How Jesus Fulfills the Chinese Culture, which is the next book on my night-stand, I may compare what Marshall says about certain elements of Chinese religion with what others have said. In this post, however, I’ll just address two points that Marshall makes:

1. On pages 109-110, Marshall states: “In a broader sense…Yahweh saved the poor, orphan, and widows for centuries from sacred prostitution and religious exploitation. He saved families from sexually-transmitted diseases and divorce. The prophets mandated a systematic program of social justice that allowed the poor a dignified opportunity (‘sweat equity’) to glean the fields, saving them from both hunger and the dependent status of beggars. By contrast, consider India, land of monism and tens of millions of gods. A land that has the distinction of being about the only country in the world where the life expectancy for women is lower than for men. Which of India’s gods saved widows from being burnt with their husbands? Which allowed outcasts to escape from social animosity or Brahmins from self-sufficiency? Which protected girls from temple prostitution? Kali? Shiva? Ram? Agni? Forgive my intolerance. But I happen to think a god that, rather than protecting children, demands them as an object of prayer and sacrifice, ought to be smashed to crumbs and fed to the crocodiles of the Ganges River.”

Marshall presumes here (and elsewhere) that we can compare different religions according to moral criteria and prefer the religion that is more in accordance with morality (which, for him, is Christianity). In my opinion, that’s fair. But I wish that conservative Christians would recognize that many atheists do the same thing when they evaluate Christianity or the Bible and find them to be wanting. For example, there’s the issue of hell. The notion that God will eternally burn or leave in torment millions of people simply because they did not believe something in this life offends the moral sensibilities of many people. But a common conservative Christian response to that concern is that God’s ways are higher than our ways, and so we should just have faith. But why can’t we use our moral sense when evaluating certain Christian claims? Marshall points to examples in which Christianity is better than Hinduism. Why can’t one point to examples in which Hinduism is better than Christianity? In my opinion, reincarnation is better than eternal torment in hell, for reincarnation at least offers some hope concerning those who botched things up and failed to make things right before death.

2. On page 110, Marshall states: “What should a Christian say to an idealist setting out on a journey? Seek the good in every spiritual tradition and cherish it; but don’t be naive…Take ideals seriously enough to live by, even die for. But be careful to whom you open your heart…What is it you are looking for? Look, then, for a god among the gods of humanity. Look for a guru among the gurus of humankind at whose feet to find enlightenment…Shake clouds of dust from ancient manuscripts of the sacred libraries of Lhasa and Alexandria. Ponder every sect, tribe and teacher from Tierra Del Fuego to Tibet. Then come, open the New Testament. Look again at the life and teachings of the man who said of the Jewish writings, ‘You investigate the Scriptures, because you suppose you have eternal life in them, and yet they bear witness to me’ (John 5:39).”

I appreciate this passage because it encourages seekers to be open-minded, and yet to be careful. That’s good advice, in my opinion. I have two questions, though. First of all, how does an open-minded and free exploration of different religions jibe with the doctrine of many evangelicals that you have to accept Christ in this life or you will go to hell for all eternity? And many evangelicals are quite urgent about this: they say that people need to accept Christ NOW, for people don’t know when they will die. “You could walk outside and be hit by a car and die right then, so accept Christ now”, many have said. I’d be stressed out by a belief system that said I had to get my religion right before it’s too late. That seems to preclude an open exploration of different religions, which may take time.

Second, what if people read the Gospels and do not see the benevolent Jesus whom Marshall sees? I know one ex-evangelical lady who read the Gospels and highlighted things that did not rub her the right way (and, to be honest, have troubled me for a long time). When Jesus says in Mark 8:38 that he will be ashamed of anyone who is ashamed of him and his words, for example, does that really inspire you with a sense that Jesus loves you unconditionally? I can understand why some would answer “no”.

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