Tuesday, March 11, 2008

One of the Problems With Christianity

I had a visit today from an old friend who has gone mad and descended into the very depths of destitution. In respect of her privacy, I won't go into any details, but she is completely incapable of taking care of herself and our much vaunted "social safety net" is totally inadequate for her needs.

It got me thinking about and contrasting the messages of Christianity and Daoism. When I was young I went to Sunday School and we were taught a song who's lyrics went

God sees the little sparrow fall,
It meets his tender view,
If God so loves the little birds,
I know he loves me too.

When I grew older I spent a lot of time studying the Christian message and I went to the trouble of looking up the New Testament passage that this song refers too. Actually, the passage in question is more than a little weird.

"What do Sparrows cost? A dime a dozen? Yet not one of them is overlooked by God. In fact, even the hairs on your head have been counted. Don't be so timid: You're worth more than a flock of sparrows." (Luke 6-7, The Complete Gospels, Annotated Scholars Version.)

It is odd because Jesus is asserting that because God is looking out for these birds, people shouldn't be worried about him looking out for them. But the birds in question are trussed up in a market to be taken home, killed, cooked and eaten. This is hardly something that I particularly find reassuring, let alone something to make into a kitschy song and teach to children!

In spite of this fact, the vast majority of Christians have the belief that in some sense or another God is looking out for each and every human being. I had this come home to me when I was asked to sit in a panel discussion at a school after the 9/11 attacks on the US. One of the other participants was a Catholic priest who assured the children that even though it might not seem that there was a loving God looking out for them, there really is a purpose that will be revealed eventually.

I thought about that when I saw my friend. What possible purpose could a "loving God" use to justify scrambling my friend's thoughts into a porridge of paranoia? And as if that wasn't enough, to then consign her to grinding, absolute poverty? If I met such a God I would give him a real talking to, that's for sure.

Ultimately, this is why I gave up on the Christian enterprise. It seemed to be based on a vision of God that ultimately made him into the sort of person who would lower your property values if he bought the house next door.

I think that Laozi is far more accurate when he says that

"Heaven-and-Earth is not sentimental,
It treats all things as straw-dogs."
(Chapter 5, Dr. John C.H. Wu, trans.)

This isn't to say that I gain any consolation from this point of view. I wish I could believe that there was some sort of smiling God in the Clouds that was looking out for my friends and I. But my experience would indicate that we are the only force of compassion that really exists in the universe.