On this day of celebration, it seems appropriate to reflect a little on what’s truly important, not in the next day or week but in the long run, in your lifetime and the lifetimes of all your descendants and all those who share the earth.
If you’ve read this blog at all, you know I’m an atheist and secular humanist. As a philosopher, I have great respect for Jesus, the focus of today’s celebration, as a moral philosopher. I believe he probably existed and he certainly made an impression on those he met. I don’t believe he said many of the things attributed to him after the fact by zealots of various competing ideas. But I think there are patterns in the gospels, both the “official” and the unofficial works such as the Gospel of Thomas, as well as in Paul’s writings, that paint a pretty clear picture of his beliefs and teachings. Jesus stood for life above all. He made clear that taking the long view of life, considering others as equally important as ourselves, caring for them, and treating them as we would like to be treated, was the only reasonable way of living. He extended this respect for life beyond humanity to the animals. He was almost certainly a vegetarian, as Paul felt it necessary to discuss the acceptibility of admitting to the early Christian fellowship those who ate meat.
I mentioned Jesus because today is ostensibly a celebration of his life and because he is one of many great moral teachers who taught that respect for life, all life, was the highest value. These people saw that only life can reasonably be considered the highest value when you consider the nature of life as a flowing stream with an unending series of relatively discrete beings coming to be, existing for a time in a state of becoming, and then returning their material components to the stream of being to be used for future life. Of course, these teachers did not state their position this way. They presented this idea in a form that was palatable by their audience. In Jesus case, his teachings involved living with respect for life within the framework of Judaism. In Buddha’s case, his teachings involved living well according within the framework of Indian advaita philosophy. I’m oversimplifying of course, but this is already a long article. Both Jesus and Buddha, and many great teachers since, saw that living as you should (in harmony with Life) involved stripping away the impediments to seeing yourself in your true relation to the universe, giving up material possessions which anchor you to a short-sighted and self-centered viewpoint as well as embracing the principles of being truly pro-life.
Exploring what is truly important and what it means to be truly pro-life are major focuses of my philosophy and I’ll be returning to this subject in greater detail soon.