By Gene Rigelon
With all due respect for Pastor George Bowers, I take exception to his suggestion in the Jan. 5 Northern Virginia Daily column that "concepts such as mercy and grace were rare before he (Jesus) came."
There was a courageous and honorable man who lived many years ago who believed that only God is wise. The ruling hierarchy found this threatening. They brought him to trial for nonconformity to the established religion, found him guilty and he suffered the ultimate penalty. What follows here are some of the words attributed to him that reveals his true character:
"This inquisition has led to my having many enemies of the worst and dangerous kind, and has given occasion to many calumnies. And I am called wise, for my hearers always imagine that I myself possess the wisdom that I find lacking of others: but the truth is that God only is wise . . . The wisdom of men is worth little or nothing.
"If you say to me. . . you shall be let off, but upon one condition, that you not enquire or speculate in this way anymore, and if you are caught doing so again you shall die - if this was the condition on which you let me go, I should reply; I honor and love you; but I shall obey God rather then you and while I have life and strength I shall never cease from exhorting any one whom I meet and saying to him after my manner; you my friend, are you not ashamed of heaping up the greatest amount of money and honor and reputation, and caring so little about wisdom and truth and the greatest improvement of the soul, which you never regard or heed at all?"
Who is this man? As many of you have known all along it was Socrates, who was tried and put to death by the Athenian state five centuries before Christianity. We see here expressions acted out in life and death of a non-Christian many elements incorporated in the Christian faith. We see much the same attributes in other teachers of morality down through the ages such as Buddha and Confucius. It was Confucius who, long before Jesus, articulated what has become known as the golden rule: " Do not do to those that which would not have done to you."
I agree with the good pastor that Jesus had a significant impact on the world. However, I also would remind him that the Christian bible was used to support the divine right of kings, against the freeing of America's slave population, against the ending of segregation, against women suffrage and is now being used to deny equal rights to the gay community.
The fact is that morality was not created by Christianity, rather it was morality that created Christianity. It is humanity's innate attribute of altruism, fostered by Darwinian natural selection, driven by reason and compassion, that is the driving force that will eventually create a world in which peace, prosperity, freedom and happiness are shared by all.
Gene Rigelon of Front Royal is coordinator of the Shenandoah Area Secular Humanists, sash.wash.org. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org