Is Religion Philosophy Gone Bad?
Some believe that religion is little more than a particular philosophy with a twist of unfounded supernaturalism. While it is true every religion is under-girded by a particular philosophical viewpoint, or understood within a particular philosophical viewpoint, religion cannot be relegated to a philosophy gone bad. While it is impossible to interpret or practice a religion apart from a particular philosophical understanding (because we all inherit some sort of philosophy from our culture), religion and philosophy are not the same thing. They are conceptually and functionally separate. While religion has a philosophical viewpoint, this does not mean religion is just a philosophy; i.e. a mental and behavioral thing with no inherent meaning.
Some, while rejecting Christianity with all of its supernatural claims, will consider it one of the best philosophies known to man, and Jesus as one of the greatest of all philosophers. While such a consideration demonstrates that one recognizes the inherent truth within Christianity, it is an unreasonable perspective to take on Jesus and Christianity. Jesus was not a philosopher. He did not come to teach moral truths and give people good principles to live by, although He most assuredly did these things. Jesus did not point people to a way of life as did Buddha and the rest; Jesus pointed people toward Himself as the only way to God. Jesus claimed to be divine in and of Himself. Jesus even allowed people to worship Him.
One cannot reasonably take the position that Jesus was a good man and a good philosopher, and yet reject who Jesus claimed to be and reject what Jesus said He came to do. His message was not divided. He spoke of the moral and spiritual realm as equally true, and spoke authoritatively on these matters because of who He believed Himself to be: God. Jesus' teachings demanded that people accept the entirety of His teachings as authoritative truth. A rejection of any part of His teachings constituted a rejection of His entire message. It was an all-or-nothing type of teaching.
His mission was not about philosophy. He was not trying to persuade people to a particular philosophy, but to persuade people to change their minds and hearts toward God. He came to save the world from their sins, not to give them another philosophical system. Jesus saw Himself as the Son of God whose mission was to die for the sins of the world. He did not come to start a new religion, or to teach a good philosophy. He came to deal once and for all with the sin problem that had separated man from God.
When looking at Jesus' message one is only afforded the ability to conclude one of two things: 1. Jesus was a lunatic who was Himself deceived and/or willingly deceived others; 2. Jesus was who He claimed to be; i.e. the divine Son of God. There can be no middle opinion of Jesus. If Jesus' claims to His personal identity and divine mission were lies intended to deceive others it ruins His ability to be an authority on morality and truth. If Jesus was Himself deceived about His identity it casts serious doubt on His ability to correctly perceive other truths that He claimed to be an authority on (morality and ethics).
If God does not exist why follow the philosophy of a man who was so mistaken about reality that He claimed to be God, and even had others worship him as God? Who should listen to a man who taught that things such as heaven, hell, angels, demons, and eternal life really exist, if indeed there are no such things? If theism was the foundation of Jesus' ethical teaching, and theism is false, what foundation is there for Jesus' teachings? If His foundation is removed, the meaning and force of His teachings crumble with it. If Jesus was incorrect in His supernatural claims, then we must conclude that Jesus was an impostor, claiming to be someone he was not, and thus not qualified to be a teacher of moral truths.
Jesus could not have been a great moral teacher if He was lying to people, telling them things that were not true. Saying a liar like Jesus is capable of being a good moral teacher is like saying Hitler was capable of being an authority on human rights. Jesus could not have been a good philosopher if His philosophy was tied up in ideas about things that do not exist. Jesus told people to pray and the God of heaven would answer them. If that is not so, then Jesus is evil for giving people a sense of false hope. Jesus said people needed to repent of their sins, but if there is no God, then there can be no objective evil to repent from, and no one to repent to. If there is no sin Jesus died for the wrong reason. His death was the biggest defeat of all history, because He willingly gave Himself to die for a non-existent cause. His philosophy led Him to believe that His death would benefit the entire world because it would offer the sacrifice for all men's sins. In reality, however, Jesus' death was just the end of another human life. Jesus' philosophy deceived Him into believing He was someone He was not. Why would anyone want to follow after a philosophy capable of such self-deception? Jesus claimed He would rise from the dead. Normal people do not claim such absurdities. If His claim to resurrection was not true Jesus ought to be considered crazy, not a good philosopher. People who lie, are capable of mass deception, and are able to deceive others are not moral individuals worthy to be looked to for a good philosophy. People as crazy and/or evil as Jesus are not wise enough to be a philosopher, and not good enough to be moral teachers. Either Jesus is who He claimed to be and should be followed for who He is, or Jesus is a charlatan. As C.S. Lewis noted:
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: 'I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept His claim to be God.' That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic-on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg-or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. [C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Book II-What Christians Believe (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co, Inc., 1952), 55-6.]
Every person who looks at Jesus' message must decide if they will reject it in its entirety, or accept it in its entirety. Following Jesus' teachings without following Jesus is not a reasonable option, and not an option ever afforded one by Jesus. Following Him and following His teachings are two sides to the same coin. One must follow both or follow none. One must either accept or reject Christ for who He claimed He was and what He claimed He came to do. One is left to decide whether Jesus' message was truth or deception, myth or reality, authoritative or fiction. No matter what one decides they cannot decide that Jesus was just a good moral philosopher!
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