Religion is an emotive issue that stirs up passions in many people. Perhaps as a moral code enforced by those who have authority over the people, any failure to maintain the principles preached can lead to resentment and a charge of hypocrisy. Some say that religion causes wars, and there have been some instances of this. But wars are usually fought as an extension and failure of politics. If people groups have belief structures that become intolerant, then the people under their tutelage can resent that code even if incorrectly applied.
Christian’s believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God who began their religion. Christianity could be offensive to those who disagree with it, or who have had bad experiences at the hands of those who propound it. But many who have looked at the Biblical accounts of Jesus life, whether they accept him or not, find it difficult to find fault in the man.
Christianity is always a personal choice and if you study the Bible, in my opinion, it shines light on the God-Human relationship from many different angles. There are 66 books in the Bible; there are many different writers and about 12 different literary styles, such as historical narrative, songs and letters.
One point I find interesting about Jesus is that if you focus on his early teaching and set aside the divine claims, he is one of the first people to promote socialist ideas. It was claimed that one of the most important parts of his ministry was the healing of the sick. We do not have any evidence for such miracles, although many Christians would claim to have experienced such things. But the principle is that healing was a major part of his goals, to free people from the burden they carried, whether it was their own fault, caused by others or just due to fate. He offered what he had to all, free of charge and without prejudice. This was an act of love whose sole purpose was to improve the lives of others, regardless of their status. This demonstrates the principles that were promoted in the foundation of the National Health Service. Later in his ministry he would find that those who followed him to hear him preach were left without food. By miraculous means or not, he managed to feed thousands with a simple meal without the need for payment.
When Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount, he advanced new ideas for the way people should treat each other. He would say if someone asked you to walk a mile with you go an extra mile, or someone asked for your coat, give your shirt as well. Legalists would expect this as a religious demand, but it is in my view a suggestion that in dealing with people, the possibility of giving a little bit more than asked demonstrates love and can improve the tone of society.
He spoke about blessings in the beatitudes, where those who lack money, food, health, love or are mistreated will be honoured by him in the future. He also said that those that cause such suffering may in turn suffer in the future. He talked about the laws set down by Moses, about issues such as murder, adultery and divorce and explained how it was not just the letter of the law that mattered, but the thoughts and words that could lead to such actions that need to be avoided. He treated people as individuals who should think for themselves about the effect their actions have on others.
He encouraged charity, not just to salve a guilty conscience or to raise ones standing in the community, but to meet a need. He demonstrated time and again it was the motivation of the heart that was important and that charity should be regular and in secret and meet the actual needs of the less fortunate.
He also gave people hope, to live together as a community, to achieve a right attitude to those that rule over them and to make the most out of themselves in all areas of their lives.
Some feel the Bible to be a judgmental book that puts people down with impossible rules and condemns those who fail with hatred. I have never felt that from reading the Bible, maybe sometimes from those who preach it, but Jesus message was always challenging and filled with life affirming and empowering love. He did not condemn or even, mention homosexuals or any other people condemned as a sinner in that culture. When a woman was caught in adultery, she was brought to him to be stoned as the law decreed. But, he could find mercy for her due to the guilt of her accusers. He never criticised the Romans, maybe as the invasion of Israel was something arranged by the Generals not the rank and file soldiers and officers. He did not condemn the poor or suggest that their plight was their own fault. There were two people groups that he almost exclusively criticised, the Priests who put heavy burdens on the people and the rich who exploited the poor.
In other cultures in other times there may have been other targets but these were the ones he chose. The Priests had become powerful in Israel and even held sway despite the Roman occupation. They would teach the law and take their money and probably had become used to a comfortable existence. Jesus teaching threatened their iron belief structure and power base and it appeared that very few were prepared to accept him or his teaching. They would try and trap with clever words and schemes to find fault in what he said. Maybe worse than this was the overly pious attitude of the Priests. They would have believed that their sacrifice and holiness brought them closer to God, but it resulted in them cutting themselves off from the people who lived in a different environment to their holy world. As the teachers of religion they had become too centred on themselves and unable to relate to ordinary people and therefore separated the people from God. Jesus reserved some stinging rebukes for them.
As always the rich were exploiting the poor. Jesus pointed out that their lack of generosity and mercy, arrogance and greed would eventually count against them come the time of judgement. Jesus was saying that those who had accumulated much had the responsibility to see to the needs of those around them. The obvious point was that however much money and objects one had hoarded, they won’t be able to take it when they go.
One man that Jesus met was a man named Zacchaeus. He was one of the hated tax collectors who were well known for swindling the people for themselves and the Romans. They had become outcasts in society because of their treacherous ways. Jesus confronted him, and Zacchaeus responded by generous acts of charity and repayment of that which he stole. This was an interesting solution and less confrontational than the battle to tax the rich. If the rich can be persuaded to see they could take the responsibility to care for the poor without being forced, society would benefit greatly. It is understandable for the rich to resent tax, but charity would seem a preferable option.
So, I would say that Jesus teaching promoted community, good relations, meeting the needs of the people, personal and societal development. For socialism generally it would it be far better for those who could potentially lead the people to unite under common goals and accept different belief structures to bring about a better and fairer society. A society based on balance, agape love and truth would be a great foundation. It is a philosophy that comes from Jesus.
I do not believe that it is necessary to repent and be baptised before you read the Bible. There is social history, political history, poetry, spirituality, wisdom and socialism. Read it for your selves and make your own mind up. As individuals we need to find our own way, but without being able to work together, while accepting our differences, then those driven by the common goal of money and power will continue to win.