Alex Ness is a writer, poet, and social critic. Recently Alex interviewed me about my book, The Karma of Jesus. Here are some excerpts:
AN: If Karma isn’t necessarily correct, it is at least a more consciously moral way to live than Christianity. How many wars were fought over Karma versus say, doctrinal difference or ritualistic Christian debate?
MH: I’ll give you your critique that wars have been fought over Christian doctrine. That’s irrefutable. But to assume from that Christianity itself is morally inferior to other systems is an illogical jump. We need only examine history to discover that proportionately, Christians have, on the whole contributed to more than they have diminished the world’s status. Christians have built more hospitals and schools than adherents of any other belief system. We rescued unwanted babies in Rome, set up make-shift hospitals in the middle ages in plague inflicted European cities, and today, in the battle against human trafficking we’re doing much of the dirty work of rescue in the back allies of Bangkok.
Karma of course does offer an alternative moral standard, but it’s a standard of utilitarianism that has no bend in it. No bend but a lot of break. Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith has written a book called “Souls in Transition” about the religious and ethical views of young adults in America. Smith did a longitudinal “National Study of Youth and Religion,” using statistics and face-to-face interviews to paint a picture of the moral and spiritual lives of 18- to 24-year-olds in America. Smith concludes that “emerging adults” tend to hold to a vague moral reasoning. The dominant metric they seem to use in deciding right from wrong, is a strange marriage between “if it feels good do it,” and “karma” – “do it if it works.” The problem, answered one of his respondents: “Karma’s a bitch.”
Indeed it is. I agree that Karma is a predictable moral standard, but it’s a brutal standard that never bends or makes exceptions or takes appeals or tardy slips. Screw up and there’s a price to pay. The Bible offers a similar bold exactness it calls “righteousness.” But the difference is that for in Christianity there’s a Person behind the standard, a Lawgiver behind the Law who can, out of love and mercy find a way to both keep the Law and bend it, which is what he does in Grace and in Jesus.
AN: As you know I am a Christian. But my worry is that in an attempt to write what is a very interesting book, and one that I find convincing, it could wound instead of heal. How do you leave people unbruised but interested enough to explore further?
MH: I don’t think there’s any way around getting bruised. Life is tough. We get beat up. The unique thing about Jesus is that he blatantly brings the bad news before the good news. He offends us, but the truth sometimes really is inconvenient. I find Jesus refreshingly honest. There’s no blind Pollyanna platitudes in his words. He’s straight up about injustice and the dark intentions of the human heart and corruption in powerful places and the grief inherent in the death of the young. Jesus faces facts and I find that this gives me courage to be honest as well, about my life and my world. Stuff is screwed up and I’m partly to blame Okay. That’s the bad news. But Jesus doesn’t stop there. He goes forward to solve the problem. He bruises us with a naked blast of truth, then he resolves it in a surprising and loving way: He takes the bruises on himself.
700 years before Jesus lived the Hebrew prophet Isaiah wrote about the one day coming Messiah. Christians believe Jesus is that promised One. Isaiah said (Isaiah 53),
He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
Like one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely he took up our infirmities
and carried our sorrows,
yet we considered him stricken by God,
smitten by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
There’s no promise we won’t get bruised. In fact, the bad news is we all are and must be. The good news follows though. Jesus takes the bruises for us. We can trade places. He already has. We just need to follow suite and make the exchange.