A discussion on my FB page began w/ my heartfelt anger at recent attempts (many successful) to discriminate against gay & trangender men & women. An old friend & former colleague pointed out that most Christians (at least here in America) are far more familiar w/ the 10 Commandments than the Beatitudes.
It was a lightbulb moment for me.
The 10 Commandments are prohibitions against certain behaviours, not a way of life, necessarily. You can be a pretty mean-spirited, hateful person and still follow the rules, so to speak.
That’s simply not true of the Beatitudes. Especially if you’re reading from Luke (Luke 6: 24-26), where Jesus goes into very specific condemnation of the rich, the falsely popular, and others. Like several other places in the New Testament, Jesus explicitly warns that wealth is not conducive to goodness.
And yet I never hear about these teachings from large churches, or TV evangelists (many of whom are quite rich). This hypocrisy (Jesus is pretty clear about helping the poor, and doing good to them that hate you, and turning the other cheek; none of these are prevalent attitudes in many denominations & their churches).
The wise & beloved Thomas Merton — an ordained Trappist monk as well as interfaith advocate — wrote that all religions have worth. I doubt he was thinking of those churches that use faith as a deadly weapon, advocating for hate & violence.
Here’s the deal: faith in a larger something — God, Jesus, Krishna, Allah, the Goddess — should, as my hero the Dalai Lama urges, bring us joy. Make us happy. Not the kind of happy that material goods provide, but that deeply soul-satisfying happiness that wells up when we know we’ve been ‘good people.’ Helping the waiter at tea yesterday w/ his application letter for an artist’s grant, for instance. Not a big deal (& please don’t think I’m setting myself as any paragon!), but I felt so happy afterwards to know that I’d been useful.
The best thing about Buddhism — & the best thing about Christianity, as well — is their mutual elements of compassion. The world becomes a much nicer place if we all treat each other with love & respect. To feel for those who are less fortunate is easy in principle, but to do something about it? That’s very hard; it’s not easy to try to find good in people I can’t stand! But I believe it’s my duty. And the Beatitudes — those lovely, more gentle commandments — are a good place to start.