Before I begin the post I should say that I am aware that “humanist” is a label being used by many atheists these days. I am using the word “humanist” in reference to its original definition as someone passionate to advance human agency and advocate social justice.
When I think about social justice, I often think about the life of Jesus. It is the charitable characteristics of Jesus that I connect with when I read the stories about his life. And it is this personage of Jesus that keeps me holding him in regard despite my discontent for religion and the doctrines it produces.
I have been thinking a lot lately about the ministry of Jesus. And I wonder if he was not a humanist and his ministry was to advance a socially amicable humanity?
When I read the gospels I see Jesus represented in two ways. I see him as he speaks for himself and the actions that he commits to. And then I see him as Paul wrote about him. Perhaps it is just my own understanding, but the Jesus who speaks about himself is not the Jesus whom Paul speaks about. And he is not the god/man produced by the Roman Church in antiquity, woven together by unified god myths of the time.
The bible presents a very human portrait of Jesus for those willing to see it. He was spiritually committed, sometimes at odds with his conscience and inclinations, but motivated with the intention to advance the moral and ethical regard of people. Jesus was someone who acknowledged the marginalized people in his society, the tax collectors, the poor, non-Jews, even the lepers. He took the time to speak to people who would not be given any measure of recognition by others. He expressed to them that despite their condition or status that they mattered. I recently watched a documentary on a leper community in India. As I looked at the disfigurement and grotesque features of the afflicted I couldn’t help but consider the immense sense of benevolence that Jesus must have possessed to engage such people while living in a medically uneducated and subsisting society. Yet he comforted them, touched them, and tried to heal them.
I have to admit that it disturbs me at times when atheists scoff and mock Jesus, although I know that they are targeting the god myth created by religion. But it disturbs me because I believe behind all of this religious dogma was a moral and honorable man. Jesus was a revolutionary. He was someone who railed against the hypocrisy of the religious elite who condemned and marginalized people. He was a man who spoke out against the tyranny of Rome and the oppression of his people. He was a social advocate for the poor, infirmed and outcast of his society. He stood apart and spoke out publically knowing it could cost him his life. So when I see billboards that mock this man hanging on a cross it disturbs me. It bothers me that people do not understand what the person of Jesus represents for modern society. Within his spiritual persona he was a humanist advancing the agency of humanity when civilizations were hesitant to value the concept. Before the times of great humanitarians like Lincoln, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr, Mother Teresa and Nelson Mandela was the story of Jesus.
When I think about the person and ministry of Jesus, I realize that he was not a demigod to give rise to temples, and statues and saints. He was a man, a teacher, a spiritual leader who wanted to give rise to humanity and the moral high ground that should be taken by all to advance an amicable society wherein all its members can experience a gratified existence.