Baxter, my cat, not having books written about his life, means I will have to suffice. This blog is an ethical critique and answer to the question—what would Jesus Do?—much beloved by some Christians. Can Baxter do any better? Maybe not, but I will give it a try.
Disclaimer number one. Be prepared for cherry picking (see my blog – Do You Want to Pick Some Cherries?)
In doing a little online research to see what people think Jesus would do I picked up some background story. The question made its appearance in the 1880s with the question being posed by Charles Sheldon in his sermons, which became very popular. He eventually wrote a novel about a pastor and his flock – In His Steps: What Would Jesus Do? The interesting thing is that he was a social Christian, which many fundamentalists came to oppose.
In the 1990s a woman in Michigan, who led a youth group, started using the question as a teaching tool. She decide to help the young people in her church by giving them bracelets she had made up for her with the abbreviation WWJD for what would Jesus do? The bracelets became very popular, and the company, that manufactured them for the women, decided to make and sell the bracelets themselves and take all the profits. Would Jesus have done that? Baxter would not have, but he does not even like collars let alone bracelets.
I also came across a number of websites that took the inerrantist fundamentalist biblical view of the question. Pick up your cross stuff. One website complains that some modern evangelicals think that the question is answered via the imagination. In other words they try to decide on what to do based on what they imagine Jesus would have done in their situation. This person also concludes that Jesus’ actions have very little to do with the social gospel, which was the original context of the question. So does Baxter use his imagination? In spades. Sometime it seems that that is all he acts on.
Brian Snyder wrote a scathing piece on the sinfulness of wearing the WWJD bracelet. He calls for people that wear them to take them off and throw them away and then repent. From there he spews such hate it makes my head dizzy. Is this what Baxter would do? Absolutely not. He might have his nasty moments, but he is sweet as an angel.
So much for the haters. Oh, did not Jesus tell his disciples to love your enemies. I will move on to a more balanced approach. The article is “7 Priorities that Guided Jesus’ Decisions”¹
Disclaimer number two. I intend no disrespect to any sincere believer. Any such believer should realize that other people have other beliefs. Heck, not all Christians even have the same exact beliefs.
First, praying. Jesus in the article is said to have prayed to his father on a consistent basis even while he was very busy ministering to others. Would Baxter do that? What is the point. You can pray all you want to a nonexistent god, but the only answer you will receive is your own thoughts and feelings.
Second, hanging out with “outcasts.” “Well, isn’t that special.” Let us hang out with some bums. The sentiment might be nice, but I think working to mitigated social ills is more important than shaking hands with vagrants. Would Baxter do this? He is an indoor cat, and there is no way I would let him outside.
Three, healing people. For a good look at why miracles do not occur see the work of David Hume, maybe more famous for his doubting of our ability to prove cause and effect, and in ethics that you cannot derive “ought” from “is.” Richard Carrier also has a good argument against the occurrence of miracles based on Bayes’ theorem.* Baxter cannot perform any miracles, and neither can I or anyone else. (This might draw the most contested response by a fundamentalist.)
Four, argued with “hypocrites.” This is from a man who dissed his own family, while preaching “love.” We all fail to live up to our own standards and this includes the biblical Jesus. This is one case were Baxter has a one up on us. So, would Baxter do this? Maybe if “meow” means anything to anyone other than Baxter. Personally, confronting hypocrisy depends on how egregious the hypocrisy is, and whether you are in a position to respond.
Five, he spoke the word of god. If there were a word of god, how could anyone tell if someone was speaking it? After all, there are plenty of people claiming this ability, but again how could you tell? “Meow, meow, meow.” Baxter’s word of god. Sounds good to me.
Six, serving others. Come on, is washing someone’s feet really such a great act of serving. Baxter does not serve, he orders. Well he is not perfect. But, he does bring plenty of joy to my life. No one needs god to tell them to be nice and kind to others. It is a basic human instinct, or no one would be doing it. As proof, consider atheists. There are many friendly and nice and kind atheists, and there are plenty of nasty Christians (e.g. Brian Snider).
Seven, making disciples. Oh yeah, teaching others to spread fear and loathing. Fear of hell – burning in a trash dump forever. Loathing of natural human thoughts, feelings, and instincts. Well, Baxter does not have any disciples, unless you count me. I have to say that mentorship can be a very good thing. Helping others were you have gone before, whether as a teacher, boss, friend, or fellow traveler. Showing someone the ropes as it is said, but god is not needed for this.
As an aside, I think that I could consider Baxter a god, and that Baxter could consider me a god. The reason I say this is because we both try to placate each other, and placating a god is one of the ritual actions (e.g. prayer or sacrifice) performed to a god. I try to sooth (placate) him when he meows, and he tries to ease his hunger (by placating me).
Disclaimer number three. The whole question – What would Jesus do? is moot². I think there is a good possibility that Jesus is a mythical person. There is a myth of a Pagan Christ out of Egypt. Why would anyone want to copy someone’s else myth and assert it as real. Two reasons are prominent. One, a certain sect of Judaism felt the need for a crucified Messiah after the destruction of the Jewish Temple. Two, to counteract the dualism of Marcion (a very probable writer of Paul’s epistles³).
It is moot in another sense as well.4 The point of this blog is that not everything the biblical Jesus did was not good (e.g. acquiesce to a dictatorship). The point is you need no belief in a god, no matter how widespread the belief, to do good things. And, nonbelief would not have you condemning others to hell (burn baby burn – the attitude of some Christians) or disrespecting homosexuals because it is against god’s laws—bugger god’s laws. To accept homosexuals as persons, but then telling them to refrain from expressing themselves sexually (like Pope Francis) is not respecting them.
Finally, I firmly believe that being good or bad is independent of any belief, whether it is a belief in god or gods or a belief in the nonexistence of god or gods. After all, Baxter does not determine whether I am good or bad. Of course, loving a dependent animal might bring out more good than bad.
²Moot as in its original meaning – something open to debate.
³See Robert M. Price’s The Amazing Colossal Apostle and Hermann Detering’s The Fabricated Paul for arguments for this position.
4Of no consequence.
*Bayes’s theorem is a measure of probability of something being true based on the probability of event A being true times the probability of observing B given A being true, then dividing this by the probability of event B being true. This gives the conditional probability of observing A given B being true. When you have actual measured quantities to enter in to this equation it gives fairly straight through probabilities, but when you have to subjectively give values for these quantities as Carrier does, the probabilities becomes less straight forward, but not necessarily wrong.