Sunday, March 24, 2013

Palm Sunday: Would Jesus support modern individualism?


I often do wonder if Jesus would have sanctioned modern individualism.  And I think the answer is generally no, not as it has evolved in “classical liberalism”.

The most telling parables in the New Testament emphasize personal humility, avoiding personal judgments, and empathy with the poor and unfortunate.  Modern individualism stresses meritocracy and personal responsibility to an extent greater than that which the Gospels seem to view as realistic.

Some of the most telling anecdotes and parables include the “Rich Young Ruler” and the “Parable of the Talents”.  There is a certain stress on a readiness to make enormous or existential sacrifices for others if called upon to do so. There is a notion (as in the parable of the Vineyards) to consider real needs when compensating people. There is also the notion that some people are “given” more than others but that more is expected of them.  Many of these seem to confound our modern ideas of “equality.”

The Gospels seem to take the advantage that the “poor” will always be around because civilization inherently involves a lot of luck and misfortune.  It isn’t possible for anyone to be entirely “self-made” without depending on unseen sacrifices from others. (For example, the “Left” loves to point out our dependence on low-wage dormitory workers in China.)   Consistent failure of most people to take this into account increases social tension and instability, and can lead to breakdown and wars.

I think it is a bit presumptuous in the “Rich Young Ruler” story for Jesus to say, give up everything and “follow me”.  I chuckle a little bit.  The way he is usually presented, Jesus would have looked like a young adult (that is, mid 30s or so) physically fit male, considered “desirable” in the gay world.  (Actor Bradley Cooper, although he is straight, is about the closest match to the image that I can think of.)  “Following” anyone around sometimes sounds like stalking in our culture.  Isn’t it better to make yourself first, have your own world, prove your independence?  That’s usually seen as mentally healthful in our culture.  But the New Testament seems to deny it.  And lack of interdependence means dangerous social isolation, and maybe social instability later.

These stories put that individual who is "different" in an interesting and perhaps controversial or precarious position.  You can't "shine" using your own gifts without "taking advantage" of the labor and sometimes sacrifice (not so willing) of others.  Does that mean, to play fair, you have to submit to their demands when they catch you in your dependence on them? One can see the indignation that can result from various kinds of "unfairness", and it can blow up into a microcosm of "class warfare" that destroys the "rich ruler" sort of individual.  It becomes personal for someone in my "outside man" perch, demanding that I show the capacity to step up and respond when suddenly confronted with unexpected need -- a "solicitation" or "urgent asking" -- but "the right instance".    
    
Today, in the last Fellowship Hall service at the First Baptist Church of Washington DC (before moving back to the Sanctuary for Easter – with the new concert organ not quite ready yet), Dr. Haggray spoke about the hungry, the poor, and about humility – and then we learned of his resignation at the end of the service.  I won’t get further into that other than to report it.  (There was a “Blue Jeans Ball” to end hunger in Washington DC today, Palm Sunday, as reported by television station WJLA.)

The new Pope Francis will speak the same way about these matters.

What are the “treasures” in heaven?  I’ve ordered a couple of books (like “Proof of Heaven”) recently discussed on Katie Couric’s show.  I get the impression that “Heaven” is someone how a real place, with a geography, like another planet, maybe in another universe.   But I find some of this hard to accept.  How can a child struck down in infancy enjoy eternal life the way an adult is supposed to?  Doesn’t someone need the opportunity to live as an adult first?  What if that is taken away by a criminal?  Again, when I hear all this talk about victims, I want to say “Please”.
  
My grasp of physics sees life, reproduction and consciousness, even free will, as counters to entropy.  It seems to me that a person’s consciousness can’t disappear.  He or she at least knows the “truth” about the universe after passing and knows everyone else’s motives, just as others in his or her life know his own.  There is cross-consciousness and complete telepathy, almost like the biological Internet of Pandora on “Avatar”.  But to have more experience, he or she must be reborn, maybe on a different planet, maybe in much different circumstances.   Science and physics tell me that we are almost certainly “not” alone. 

Wikipedia attribution link for drawing of Keppler22B (earthlike planet), link here. Could this planet house "Heaven"?  (600 light years away, I think.)  

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