Recently a friend said that the problem with our society is that we’re trying to combine the rationalist teachings of the Greco-Roman world with the teachings of Jesus. Though I appreciate the spirit of what he’s saying (the schizophrenia in our society when it comes to politics and religion) I do not believe the teachings of Jesus are irrational. In fact I believe they are more rational than many other so-called rational ideas.
Jesus taught non-violence, for example. This is certainly counter-intuitive, but that does not mean irrational. Jesus realized that to strike someone in retaliation will just provoke another retaliation from them, which of course is precisely what happens. He suggested that instead of striking back, we absorb the blow and look them in the eye. This confronts them squarely with what they have done. Jesus did not suggest hitting back (which invites further hitting), nor did he suggest running, which invites chasing. He suggested standing fast. Counterintuitive, but completely rational. So rational that when Gandhi and his followers applied it, it broke the back of England. When MLK tried it, it drew attention to the brutality of the oppressors. Now of course both of them ultimately died on this platform. But had they taken up weapons they might well have died sooner. Either way one must decide what they are going to die for. We live in a world that calls it rational to take up weapons and kill other people and be killed ourselves, and irrational to live non-violently and perhaps be killed that way. That, to me, is part of the cycle of madness the world lives in.
Everything Jesus taught is rational. The problem is that so much of his teaching is counter-intuitive, which it what makes it also generally untried and perhaps difficult. But only difficult because Jesus taught from within a framework of a whole life that is built on an understanding of life in the Kingdom of God where the rules ARE different. So I cannot turn the other cheek no matter how hard I try, if my main goal is to advance my kingdom with my resources. What I can do is root myself in the Kingdom of God, putting practices into my life that will deal with the roots of anger and contempt in my life, and that will help me to rely on God at all times and to see him as sufficient. As I do this, roots of anger and contempt will disappear and I will increasingly view God as sufficient for me, and there will simply be no room in my life for violence and retribution. I will not strike out in anger because there will be no more anger left to motivate violence in me. I do not need revenge because I will trust in God for all things. I believe this is what Jesus meant when he taught about cleaning the inside of the dish, and how a good tree cannot bear bad fruit nor a bad tree good fruit. The Kingdom of God happens internally, and brings transformation to the soul and spirit, from which all emotions and actions ultimately flow.
In The Matrix Neo says to Morpheus, “Are you saying I’ll be able to dodge bullets?” Morpheus replies, “I’m saying that when the time is right, you won’t have to.” This is perfect! As Neo increasingly learns about reality as it is and not as it has been fed to him all of his life, he learns to base his life on what is real. He changes in greater and greater ways until finally he is the master of the dream world around him and doesn’t have to dodge bullets. He can just stop them in their tracks. But he can’t simply do it – he first has to root his life in a new way of thinking, which creates new emotions that lead to different actions. He has to come to see himself in a new way, as someone who has access to power that before he neither knew nor understood and which would seem to those still in The Matrix to be fantasy or legend. This to me is a perfect parable of how God’s kingdom grows and how Christ’s teachings are rational in ways that it’s hard to understand. As we are transformed inwardly, our personal power grows and gives us capabilities we previously would never have imagined – not to dodge bullets perhaps, but to love, to release anger, to embrace forgiveness, to live sacrificially, etc.
I do not believe our struggle is trying to work rational Greco-Roman thought around the irrational teachings of Jesus. I believe our struggle comes from all the ways in which Greco-Roman thought actually isn’t rational (perhaps intuitive, but not rational), and all the ways in which the teachings of Jesus are applied in ways that are intuitive but irrational.