Sunday, December 18, 2011

David Marshall: "How Has Jesus Changed the World?"

For my write-up today on David Marshall’s Jesus and the Religions of Man, I’ll blog about Chapter 7, “How Has Jesus Changed the World?” I have two items:

1. On page 137, Marshall quotes Valieriu Gafencu, who narrates:

“My father was deported from Bessarabia by the Russians. We never had enough to eat. I was beaten in school, then put in jail for running away and joining the Iron Guard. I’d never met a single good, truthful, loving person. I said to myself, ‘It’s just a legend about Christ. There isn’t anyone in the world like that today and I don’t believe there ever was.’ But when I’d been in prison a few months I had to say that I was wrong. I met sick men who gave away their last crust. I shared a cell with a bishop who had such goodness that you felt the touch of his robe would heal.”

This is a powerful quote. I think that non-Christians, too, can do good deeds, as Marshall acknowledges. A lot of that may be rooted in empathy. If I know what it’s like to struggle financially, then I can empathize with others who struggle financially. If I can envision how awful it would be for me not to have food to eat, then I can sympathize with those who are hungry and give them food or money so that they can eat. But suppose I was in a Gulag, where it’s every man for himself? In that case, I’d have a difficult time being generous, except perhaps to those I truly love (not people Christianity tells me to love). Christian beliefs such as God’s love for me and an afterlife would play a significant role in whatever generosity I could muster. To be honest, I don’t know if I have that kind of faith right now.

Overall, I have to admire the Christians Marshall discusses in this chapter, who sincerely care about others and make a firm stand for justice. In my opinion, that’s basic Christianity, and it should be basic humanity. That’s something that I’d like to recapture, wherever my faith is right now.

2. On page 146, Marshall quotes a Signapore Chinese person who wrote the following to Newsweek Magazine:

“Your article emphasized the historical aspect of Christianity. Living in an Asian culture, I would like to add another perspective. Imagine a society where man is not made in the image of God and the dignity of the individual depends on his power and wealth. Imagine truth belongs only to powerful and influential people. Imagine a society where forgiveness is a weakness. These are still the conditions in many countries. What the United States and Europe have become are results of living out the basic doctrines of Christianity. Don’t shrug up Christianity and elope with secularism. It is your religion’s greatness that has been slowly influencing the world for better.”

I remember hearing Joseph Campbell praise Japan as a country that is not weighed down by the Christian doctrine of original sin. Whether the impact of the doctrine of original sin is positive or negative, that is debated. Many say that it’s been negative, for people should not have to see themselves as rotten. Marshall, however, holds that it encourages us to see all people (ourselves included) as human beings of weakness rather than elevating ourselves above other people, as well as was a significant factor behind the American system of checks and balances, which is based on a distrust of human nature and a desire to prevent the corruption and concentration of power. Joseph Campbell believed that a society that was not influenced by original sin was a good society, and I have read atheists appeal to Japan as an example of a country in which people can be good apart from Christianity. I believe that their points deserve a fair hearing. But the Signapore Chinese person raises another important consideration: Are there ways that Christianity is better than Asian culture?

I hope that I don’t offend anyone, here, and I apologize if I did.


  1. "Are there ways that Christianity is better than Asian culture?"

    This is a tough question I've had to think about since I moved to Japan six years ago. Japan is culturally spiritual but not particularly religious and certainly not Christian. And while the country has its problems like all do, I don't think there is another nation on earth with the same communal spirit of peace, cooperation, tolerance and hard work. Where else can you live in a major metropolis yet feel safe going to the park at midnight or leaving your doors unlocked?

    I read so much online about abusive Christian families in the West, about sex scandals in the church, and about rampant religiously-motivated bigotry in politics, and I realize how hard it is to imagine that sort of stuff happening in Japanese society to the same extent.

    I have to acknowledge the possibility that if Japan were Christian — at least, conservative evangelical Christian — its society would be the worse for it.

  2. Thanks for sharing your perspective on this, Paul.


Search This Blog