Monday, June 24, 2013

Book Review: Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? By Brian McLaren

As promised, my partial review of this book with an amusing but rather long title. I admit, I had mixed feelings going into the book. On the one hand, it seemed like it would address issues that are often glossed over or tut-tutted within the Christian community; but on the other hand it seemed like it would do this in a very liberal, "right and wrong are relative" sort of way. And in some ways, my mixed feelings were both correct and incorrect.

McLaren is writing specifically to combat, well, Christian combativeness. This isn't "soldier of the Lord" combativeness. This is "Westboro's at it again" combativeness. It's a very important issue that I haven't heard addressed by many, except for Lutheran Satire's extremely amusing video. As I stated above, I've heard a few, "oh, that's terrible what they're doing, they should stop", but not much else. In other words, McLaren is purporting to fight against the hypocrites in Christian culture-the ones who believe they know it all, and all others are clearly an inferior order of beings. Many Christians place special emphasis on certain sins and not others; others forget that their salvation does not make them better than everyone else.

McLaren does not confine this to Christianity. He points out that other major religions do the exact same thing. There is a great deal of misunderstanding, hatred, and superiority complexes out there. McLaren calls for a Christianity that understands and loves people of other religions while still maintaining their own faith.

However, McLaren doesn't seem to quite get over his early confusion on how to go about this. Certainly, we shouldn't treat people like crap, or even in a kindly but condescending fashion. We also shouldn't back down from our own faith. But I read through half the book, and still did not get a clear answer.

For one thing, McLaren's definitions of "hostility" are confused. He has the traditional version of hostility-hatred and annihilation of others. But another definition of hostility involves "wishing other religions would cease to exist."

Now, I find that somewhat vague. How should other religions cease to exist? Well, they should cease to exist by their members becoming Christians. Does wishing others to become Christian make one hostile toward others? McLaren doesn't make it clear.

Another problem with McLaren is that he essentially blames much of present day conflict on early Christianity. For example, his tale of how Mohammed decided to make his own religion seems to indicate that really, the guy would have totally become a Christian, but Constantine was just a big war-mongering jerk! Mohammed never wanted his people to become warmongerers!

McLaren doesn't mention how Mohammed did lead a few battles in his own lifetime.

This, of course, doesn't mean that he's entirely wrong. Yes, Christianity, as with any religion, is rife with examples of people who were, ah, too zealous. Or perhaps too hypocritical. And in that case, we should refrain from assuming that anyone from another religion must embody all the terrible things we've heard about it. I know that there are plenty of Muslim terrorists out there. I also know that the lady who runs the cafe down the road is one of the friendliest people I've ever met. Unless she's really trying to trick us all, I doubt she has C4 hidden under the counter, right next to the coffee.

McLaren also seems fuzzy on doctrine himself. Oh, he defends the usefulness of doctrine well enough. But he refers to both the Flood and Creation as stories in the context of other mythology. He gives no indication he believes them to be true, unlike other doctrines. Now, he could have just neglected it, but I do find it odd that he sounds as though he's writing my Comparative Religions textbook whenever he mentions certain stories from the Bible.

He also uses the tired "what would Jesus do" scenarios. Now, in some ways, this is a good point, cliche as it is. How would Jesus treat a random person on the street? He would treat them with love and kindness. But McLaren goes farther and insists that Jesus wouldn't try to correct their own thinking or beliefs. However, we see Him do that many times throughout the Gospels. When Jesus helped a person, He didn't just say "Well, that was fun, wasn't it? We should do this again some time!" He said, "Go and sin no more." This is the struggle to be like Christ. Not just speaking truth, or showing love, but learning to do both at the same time.

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