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Outside the Box


The teachings of Jesus are so radical, that it pays to make certain general observations about how easy it is to baulk at what he is saying, and in particular, how easy it is to baulk on religious grounds.  What I mean is that nearly everything he said was "outside the box", or a radical departure from the traditional way to look at spiritual issues... so much so that he actually sounds anti-God at times.

 

We have used words like "spiritual" as opposed to "religious" to distinguish between what Jesus taught and what churches traditionally teach about spiritual truths.  (See "The Kingdom of Heaven vs Religion".)   Religion does not necessarily have to be a bad word, but it becomes bad when we let it blind us to alternative ways of looking at things, in particular the alternative ways that Jesus looked at things.

 

I will give a few examples.

 

One would think that anyone trying to promote faith in God would see that prayer is essential, and that we should be doing everything we can to encourage more prayer.  In general that is true.  However, when we find Jesus teaching against praying out loud in the "synagogue" (and saying that hypocrites do that), it sounds like he is the one taking the anti-prayer position, while the Pharisees (much like most churchies today) were the ones just trying to encourage people to speak up and "prove" they have a good relationship with God by praying out loud for others to hear and see their faith through what they say in their prayers.  But, of course, Jesus was NOT really opposed to prayer, whereas those promoting "show prayers" were, because they gave people the false impression that praying out loud is genuine personal communication with God, and not the show it really is for those listening in.

 

I remember when I became an Australian citizen.  I was asked to swear on the Bible that I would be loyal to my country.  I refused to make an oath, and just affirmed that I would be loyal to the country.  A friend was shocked, and said that he thought I was a Christian, and yet I had refused to swear on the Bible.  (Those who DID swear on the Bible got to keep it afterwards as a souvenir.)  He assumed that I was taking an atheistic stance, since many atheists refuse to swear on a Bible as a demonstration of their opposition to what the Bible stands for.

 

But, of course, to those who know what Jesus said, I was simply trying to obey him.  By telling us not to make oaths (especially ones with religious connotations) Jesus came across as being both against people telling the truth and against them calling on God to witness their truth telling.  Again, what he was really promoting was that we should tell the truth all the time and not try to impress people with religious phrases to convince them that we are telling the truth.

 

Then there was the time I helped do a mural for a church youth group, which included sayings like, "It's not what goes into your mouth that defiles you, but what comes out of it" on a billboard that looked a little like a cigarette ad.  The minister said that such a teaching was actually promoting cigarette smoking, and that the young people in his church should not be allowed to hear it.  (Note:  His kids all smoked; whereas mine did not, but that did not stop him from thinking that my emphasis on smoking as a purely health issue and not a moral one was going to make matters worse for his kids and mine.)

 

You can go through most of the teachings of Jesus and see things like this, where almost everything he said could be taken as a threat to the religious stability of the whole country, whether it's defending an adulteress, hanging out with drunks and prostitutes, telling people to hate their parents, hushing up talk about miracles and fasting, banning "titles of respect", or teaching people to walk away from their jobs and let God take care of their material needs.  No wonder the religious system persecuted him, and no wonder the institutional church today still refuses to promote his teachings!  They go against all that the religious system (then and now) has done to try to bring some stability to the country and respectability to the lives of those who attend their religious services.

 

But, as I said, Jesus was thinking outside the box.  It's true that many of his teachings could be twisted to say that we should show contempt for all who are in authority, live promiscuously and selfishly, hang out with the worst sorts of people, and leave God out of our lives altogether.  But it's rather obvious from the bigger picture that he was NOT anti-God.  He was, instead, just anti-religious, and it seems to be society's inability to see the difference between religion (i.e. a superficial pretence and show about serving God) and real faith, that Jesus wanted (and wants) to expose.

 

When someone thinks outside the box, they are not necessarily trying to undermine any good that is being done by the traditional way of looking at something.  But they are trying to take a fresh look to see if they can locate underlying problems in the more traditional approach.  Jesus seemed to think that was pretty important, and so he calls on his followers to take such a radical stance as well, and to face with him the persecution that comes with it.

 

If we can recognise how universal this alternative approach is, and how universally "religious tradition" tries to rob the "Word of God" (Jesus) of his effectiveness, then we will learn to brush aside the superficial appearance of righteousness that is put forward by the traditionalists long enough to be able to see the hypocrisy behind so much of it.

 

While we find the churches almost universally opposing the actual teachings of Jesus, we also find them fairly united in teaching some stuff that is NOT taught either by Jesus or by other Bible writers, such as the infallibility of the Bible, that masturbation is evil, or that good Christians don't smoke or drink.  It all sounds good (i.e. pro-Bible, anti-sexual immorality, and anti-lung cancer and alcoholism), but it's simply not what Jesus taught, and so we need to have the courage to question it, and to challenge it if it is shown to be steering people away from the more important issues that Jesus really did teach.

 

While thinking outside the box is seen as a special ability possessed by only the most radical individuals today, it appears to be a fairly fundamental requirement for anyone who wants to follow Jesus.  So let's get this picture clearly in our minds, and work on constantly questioning the status quo... weighing it all up against what Jesus taught, so that when the rains and floods come, our house will stand firm.


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