When “Believe what you want, but just be a good person” doesn’t cut it
photo credit: archer10 (Dennis) via cc
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I took a couple of Buddhism classes at UBC in Vancouver. Did you know that UBC has one of the best Asian Studies department in North America? True story. At that time, I was incredibly attracted to Buddhism. Its message of peace, non-violence, self-discipline and renunciation to achieve self-satisfaction and oneness with the world is obviously very attractive. But there was a catch. It required immense effort on my part. Renunciation meant immense effort at abandoning the world and in practice joining a monastery. A monk who visited our class told us this. And since I wanted to become a doctor who did humanitarian work, this idea of renunciation seemed very antithetical to why I was at university in the first place.

I already knew that other religious worldviews were the same at least in this respect– they all required immense self-effort from the “believer” to achieve nirvana, paradise, salvation, heaven, a better afterlife. Even people who don’t believe in life after death believe in immense human self-effort to build a better life now through science and technology.

Common denominator for all religions and worldviews: you do it.

No wonder believing (or at least what you believe) becomes secondary.

“Believe what you want and just try to be a good person.”

Who here has not heard that one before?

Question: A guy at the bar date-raped me. What do I do?

Answer: … believe what you want and just try to be a good person…

Question: I wake up every morning and wonder if my life has any purpose. Does it?

Answer: … believe what you want and just try to be a good person…

Question: I have an amazing social life, but why do I still feel empty and lonely?
Question: My mom just died of cancer. Why?
Question: My heart just got ripped out. Will this pain ever go away?
Question: My friend just told me that they would rather commit suicide. Is there hope?
Question: When I see myself in the mirror, I feel shame. Will this last forever?

Answer: … believe what you want and just try to be a good person…?

No. That answer just doesn’t work.

Sometimes being good isn’t enough. What you believe does matter. Because issues of hurt, purposelessness, shame, apathy, emptiness, pain, hopelessness, meaninglessness matter immensely. So what you believe about humanity and a higher power provides either meaningless or meaningful answers.

photo credit: Thomas Hawk via cc

photo credit: Thomas Hawk via cc

After my Buddhism1 classes, I came to appreciate Jesus a lot more. Because even though a lot of worldviews suggested “you do it,” Jesus said “I do it for you.”

When a worldview suggested that I could heal my own pain, Jesus told me that he would heal me with his love. When a worldview suggested that I can fill my life with the things I buy, Jesus told me that he could fill my emptiness with his satisfaction. When a worldview suggested that my life is just random and meaningless chemical and physiological reactions, Jesus told me that I was made for a purpose. When a worldview suggested that I can clean my shame, Jesus told me that he would clean me with his sacrifice. When a worldview suggested that s*** happens, Jesus told me that he would be my peace in the midst of the s***storm.

He didn’t tell me where I could find love, satisfaction, purpose, healing, sacrifice, peace, and all that jazz. He told me that he was those things. I could either believe that love was just some feel-good energy milling around in the ether of the universe. Or I could believe that Jesus is love personified because he said that’s what he is.

So, what about you? If I was to hear this, I would probably at least try to explore it for myself. Perhaps pick up a book about the life and words of Jesus. But I don’t know if I could just overlook it when someone tells me that Jesus can heal my pain, fill my emptiness, make my life meaningful, or sacrifice himself for me. I can’t do that… I just can’t.

(1) I really am not railing on Buddhism here at all. I’m just sharing about a time in my life.

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