Our Fred group met tonight. Ice cream with all the fixin’s was served, and I declined. Someone from the group had been reading my blog, so I became the center of attention for a while as I tried to explain why I was doing a 40-day fast. “I want to be more like Jesus,” I had told a friend earlier, and I repeated that line tonight. It got a good laugh. Of course, it’s ridiculous that an atheist would want to be anything like Jesus. Could *anyone* be like Jesus? There was even the joke that I didn’t want to be *too* much like Jesus, as he ended up on the cross.
That’s right, I can’t be like Jesus, if that means “The Son of God”. However, I don’t believe that Jesus was God. That will upset many Christians, but an atheist cannot very well believe otherwise.
So Jesus was a man. I’m beginning to see that humans need a role model, and Jesus had it all: God-like powers, sacrifice, wisdom, tolerance, seemingly unlimited knowledge of moral and spiritual issues, strength of character… The list goes on. I want to be more like Jesus because Jesus is a good role model. He’s tolerant but outspoken. He’s vulnerable but wins in the end. He’s supposedly chaste, but he overturns tables in the temple. Did he really wear robes and have long hair, or was he disheveled from all his travels in the desert? I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but we take these things for granted. We form an image of Jesus the man, based on movies and storybooks. Did Jesus set out to become the founder of a great religion? Or did he just get caught up in circumstances beyond his control and end up a celebrity?
But are Christians just engaging in celebrity worship? No, most definitely not. I think that Christians are genuinely trying to be like Jesus, to the best of their abilities.
As I told the Fred group this evening, I think that one of the virtues exemplified by Jesus is creating a vacuum in yourself, emptying yourself of things that don’t matter and letting the things that do matter enter you to fill the void. Living in the desert, fasting, riding a donkey, holding on to no possessions, all these things are a way of emptying yourself of things that don’t matter. I imagine that there are books written about what Jesus would do today. Would he drive an expensive car, or would he just walk about among the people? I suspect the latter. Would he be an obese pig of a man, like so many are today? I think not.
Would the Jesus of today find a desert and seclude himself there for 40 days and 40 nights? Undoubtedly. He would have to. In order to free himself from the insanities of daily life, in order to collect his thoughts and reinforce what is important in his mind, in order to connect with the deepest part of himself. And one doesn’t have to travel far to find a desert today. Just walk down any city street. Turn your mind inward. Empty yourself of all but the essentials. Turn your back on humanity for an afternoon or for six weeks. That’s the desert. And don’t be afraid to cry over what you discover about yourself.