1. I’ve come to think about the Bible as symbolically dense stories about what it means to be one small, vulnerable human on this earth for a little while. It means that I am part of a larger story about what it is to live out the promise of the crucifixion and the cross. The promise is that one day the world will end, and we, and with it all our suffering and loss, will be redeemed (parousia). Trouble is, I’m not always sure what these words mean.
Albert Camus says that the absurd is born of the confrontation between human need and the “unreasonable silence of the world.” I would say that Christianity (indeed all religion) is a conversation to fill that silence, still our angst, and so create meaning for our lives. That we make the meaning we subsequently discover is fine, as long as we don’t think that it explains more than it does. It doesn’t explain the mystery and wonder that is every human life.
2. The ethics of Jesus Christ are the right ethics: love, humility, care for the widow, orphan, and stranger. These represent the downtrodden of today, such as the mother who can’t pay her rent and feed her children at the same time.
For forty years I taught ancient political theory, particularly Plato and Aristotle. I learned a lot, but I learned almost nothing about the ethics of love and care, the Judeo-Christian ethic. Love and care were simply not Greek and Roman virtues, though friendship was. Without the Judeo-Christian tradition, Western civilization would be bereft.
Jefferson’s Bible abstracts the ethical teachings of Jesus from its religious context. Trouble is, that leaves open the question of “why?”, as in “why should I care about anybody but myself and my family?” People don’t often say it so bluntly, but many people act as if this is what they believe. Christianity has a good answer. In loving others, we rehearse the love of God, who sacrificed his son so that we might live.
3. God is essential so that we do not become idolaters. It’s really that simple. The only alternative to God is idolatry: of money, sex, power, self, the great leader, or whatever. Václav Havel had it just right.
The relativization of all moral norms, the crisis of authority, the reduction of life to the pursuit of immediate material gain without regard for its general consequences . . . do not originate in democracy but in that which modern man has lost: his transcendental anchor, and along with it the only genuine source of his responsibility and self-respect . . . . Given its fatal incorrigibility, humanity probably will have to go through many more Rwandas and Chernobyls before it understands how unbelievably shortsighted a human being can be who has forgotten that he is not God.