Almost everyone in the world can divide themselves into one of two groups: those who believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and our Savior, and those who don’t. Christmas time is a time when these two groups begin to intersect in some small way by celebrating a holiday that has become far more secular (and commercial) than its religious roots would have predicted.
What I like to think about at Christmas time is a way to bring these two groups together, by focusing not on their differences, but on areas where they can align. There is a middle ground between believing in Jesus Christ as your personal savior and disregarding everything that the bible or the church has to say. That middle ground is remembering Jesus Christ, the man.
In a recent book by Deepak Chopra, he talks about three different versions of Jesus that we can learn from. The first Jesus is the historical Jesus. This is the carpenter from Galilee about whom we know very little, although there are some scant historical records to ponder. The historical Jesus is like a puzzle with most of the pieces missing.
The second Jesus, is the mythical Jesus. This is a Jesus heavily influenced by the church, and reconstructed from the passing down of stories and legends from generation to generation. These stories fill in the missing pieces of Jesus and they tell a powerful story. But they do so in a polarizing way by asking people to define themselves as “believers” or “not.”
Then there is the third Jesus. Jesus as a man and a rabbi and a spiritual teacher. This is the Jesus that anyone can learn from. Some believe that Jesus was the Son of God. Others believe that what Jesus was preaching is that we are all the children of God. And others do not believe in God at all.
But we can all agree that Jesus Christ was one of the most influential men to ever walk the face of the earth. His teachings have changed the tide of history, transformed lives, launched wars, brought peace, and provided guidance and solace to millions.
The third Jesus, as a paragon of virtue, has lessons that anyone (not only the devout) could learn from. He exemplified a life of love, humility, compassion, and forgiveness that anyone could aspire to. His life serves as a model, if not to follow directly, at least to consider philosophically.
In The Third Jesus, Chopra reviews the teachings of Jesus from a more universal lens. He approaches Jesus not as the Son of God but as an icon of “God-consciousness,” a state of transcendence demonstrated not only by Jesus but by other spiritual leaders as well (Buddha, Abraham, Gandhi, etc.)
I don’t agree with everything Chopra says in the book, since he sees things through his own “new age” filter (almost another religion unto itself.) But I appreciate his approach of looking at the bible, not to find areas of difference or disbelief, but to find universal lessons that seem to align with other important tenets of morality and wellbeing (also see Christianity: Philosophy or Religion?)
It reminded me of the Dalai Lama’s recent book, Beyond Religion, in which he suggests that spirituality is like a cup of tea. The water represents universal principles that are true to everyone. And the tea represents the different rituals and teachings that vary from one religion to another. As the Dalai Lama points out, we can live without tea, but we can’t live without water.
When you look at Jesus in this way, you find an account of Christ that is not contradicted by science. On the contrary, you begin to see a man who seems to have been ahead of his time, practicing life principles that science is increasingly able to validate.
Unfortunately, the holidays sometimes divide us along religious lines. Some of us will be practicing Christmas through religious rituals and traditions designed to enhance faith in Christ. Others of us will be practicing a more secular (and consumerist) approach to the holiday, with hardly a mention or thought of the man who started it all.
My wish is that we all come together at Christmas around the ideals of the third Jesus. For the devout, sharing stories of Jesus Christ the man could introduce principles of Christianity to a much broader audience. And for the agnostic, they would have an incredible opportunity to learn from and pay homage to one of the most influential and inspirational men to ever walk the earth.
Merry Christmas everyone.
References and recommended reading:
Chopra, D. (2009). The Third Jesus: The Christ we Cannot Ignore. Three Rivers Press.
Dalai Lama (2012). Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World. Mariner Books.
P.S. Maybe next year, I will write about “Celebrating a Secular Hannukah.”
by Jeremy McCarthy