With apologies to Mr. Russell
I am not a Christian because I don’t believe Christ would have wanted me to be. I believe, if we take him at his word, that his call to take up our cross and follow him was not directed to all (or even most) of us, but only to a select few willing to deny themselves to do so. 1 I believe Christ’s demands of those who would follow him are few, simple and very clear: radical love2, radical poverty3, radical non-violence4.
Now, I’m not a literalist. I understand about translation anomalies and historical context and allegory and parable, but even if the Eye of the Needle is a narrow gate, I think the point about the camel is the same5. I believe Christ fully intended to convey that the road to salvation requires complete divestment of bodily and material interests6. To stand with Christ under the raging torrent of the Holy, I must walk into the water alone, naked and empty-handed.
If we, as a people, as all people, aspired to the monastic model Christ requires, to eat only what is offered as a gift, giving no thought to tomorrow, who would there be to offer us food?7Without reliance on the material world and those who dwell within in, the monk’s life is not possible, only the martyr’s is. If we only turn our other cheek, in this world, we’d all be beaten to our deaths. As Christ was.
Without even getting into the denial (or outright condemnation) of one’s sexual self, to resist the urge to fight or flee when violently confronted, requires the subordination of even the animal desire to stay alive. To use your higher mind to conquer even instinct is powerful, certainly. It is the power of Christ8 and Buddha9 and of radicals everywhere who are willing to die for what they believe10.
I am not called to stand in the raging waterfall. I value my physical being, my body and mind. I am deeply attached to people I love. I am bound and anchored in this dry world and do not wish to free myself to enter the nirvana stream. But I have too much respect for Christ and Plato, Buddha and their fellow mystics- ecstatic under the divine torrent, to swath myself in rationalization and pretend to the deluge when I stand only in the overspray. I am not a Christian. Divine submergence is not for me, but I would gladly drink from the still pool the torrent feeds, if I could find a cup to fill.
1 “If any man would follow me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Mt 16:24
2 “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.” Lk 6:27-29, 32
3 “Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven…. How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!” Mk 10:21,23
4 “Do not resist on who is evil. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if anyone would sue you and take your coat, give to him your cloak as well.” Mt 5:39-41 5 Mt 19:24
6 Mt 6:25-34
7 Lk 10:4-9
8 Jn 19:11
9 Dhammapada, Canto XV: 197-203
10 “Man lives freely only by his readiness to die.” -Mahatma Gandhi, “If a man hasn’t discovered something he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.” Martin Luther King Jr.