One of the things that really irks me is when a person can’t be pleased no matter what you give them. I am reminded of the scene in Monty Python’s movie “The Life of Bryan” where a leper is healed and complains about it because it took away his livelihood of begging. Bryan replies “There’s just no pleasing some people!” and the Leper says, “That’s just what Jesus said!”
If you can’t please someone no matter what you give them, for my own part I tend to stop trying to please them at all. At the very least, when confronted with such behavior, I tend to view it as marked irrationality. I do not feel threatened by people’s arguments if they can’t say what will satisfy them. For example, I know an atheist who requested a sign from God. He received it. We spoke together on the phone about it. He was freaked out. After a few months he decided it wasn’t enough and that it was all probably a trick of the mind. Surely we can see how if God had done more or does more my friend can still chalk it up to a trick of the mind? Why should God give him what he wants when it won’t make him happy anyway?
Such themes have come to my mind again as I read the Phillip Pullman trilogy for an eventual review. I am through book 2 beginning book 3 and I am curious as all get out to see if ‘Jesus’ enters the scene, but already I have seen him describe- with approval- behavior that in other places I have heard atheists despise. There is no way I can go deep into it right now. As a brief example, consider Pullman’s approval of bravery, courage, and even the use of lethal force under certain conditions.
Now compare that with an exchange I had recently with an atheist who, because I granted him superhero status and the title “Hyperbole Boy” has concluded that there is no better example of a Christian being unloving, for, after all (and he cites passages), Jesus was so nice. This sort of disproportionate response to what I said is exactly why I gave him the name “Hyperbole Boy.”
But perhaps my atheistic friend is unaware of instances where Jesus went well beyond such playful jabs. For example, he calls the Pharisees Sons of Satan and Whitewashed Tombs. In Matt 23 he calls them snakes and a brood of vipers. And of course, we all remember his ‘cleansing’ of the temple- probably twice. My atheistic friend acts as though if I had played it completely straight he would have considered Christianity more credible. Is it his view that Jesus was a panzy? Do people find Christianity attractive because its founder was a wuss?
At the same time, we often hear complaints about conduct in the Bible where people are wiped out and killed wholesale. We aren’t usually given the reasons, but we are told that it is just. This is considered a perfect example of how religion is evil. But it is, in fact, the same sort of argumentation we see in Pullman’s books, where so long as the cause is just, the violence is justified under certain conditions.
The fact is, the reason why Jesus is compelling is not that he was a sissy pacifist, but rather that he was overwhelmingly mighty, but, to accomplish a particular deed, he set aside his aggressiveness and took whatever was thrown at him. He could have overthrown the gates of Hades by force, but only by laying down his arms did he not only defeat Hades but also freed its prisoners.
When a soldier throws himself on a grenade to save his fellows, all except a handful of Ayn Randian objectivists applaud his valor. Here, to save his fellows it would have done no good to charge out of the trench when the grenade tumbled in and kill those who tossed the grenade. Here, only self-sacrifice could achieve the goal, but it did not follow that the soldier was soft and tender in spirit. You see, it depends a great deal on the circumstances and what one wants to achieve. There is a time for aggressiveness but there is also a time for meekness. The problem is knowing exactly which time it is. (Ecc. 3)
I think most of us agree that there is a time for negotiation and a time for action. The time to have persuaded Hitler was years before WW2, and when it was clear that the time for persuasion was over, the pacifist Dietrich Bonhoeffer realized that to pursue justice and mercy it would mean trying to kill Hitler. Do we really think Roosevelt was being ‘unchristian’ because he went to war against Hitler? Should he have endlessly spoken in soft terms? Would we think of FDR as a great war time president if he had?
Atheists are going to have to make up their minds. Do they want a Jesus meek and mild? Or do they want a Jesus that administers justice? But they complain when we hear about justice being administered and likewise they complain that it was sadism for God to punish his own son.
But Pullman gives it all away: The truth is that there is a balance. The problem is how do we discover that balance. The argument is over what world view best explains the fact that there is a balance at all. I see no reason at all to expect atheism to explain why such moral realities exist. I expect them only to take them for granted and use them when it suits them to judge God, Jesus, and yes, of course, Christians.