Pittsburgh has its own unique philosophical take on life: play hard, work harder; do anything for your family; stand by your team; invest in your community. So it should come as no surprise that with this brand of ethics, there are a lot of happy and friendly people in this town. When it comes down to it, nearly everyone is a philosopher in a way. After all, what is philosophy but a theory of how to live? With that in mind, let’s look at philosophy from a Christian standpoint.
Recently, a reader inadvertently presented a challenge when he demanded to know what makes Jesus worth studying, and referenced Buddha and Confucius as more important ethical figures. Since this was an intriguing assertion, it was profitable to do a brief side-by-side comparison. Below is an excerpt from the author’s response to the reader:
“That is assuming that his [Jesus’] intention was merely to contribute to moral philosophy. But let’s look at Confucius and the original Gautama Buddha….
If you boil down Confucianism to its most basic precepts, it is all about living a virtuous life – being honest and righteous – which is an excellent goal to strive for. Interestingly, it was also one of Jesus’ main teachings. Confucianism teaches the Ethic of Reciprocity – don’t do to someone else what you wouldn’t have them do to you. About 500 years later, Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount which centered on the Golden Rule – do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Confucianism teaches that humanity and righteousness are worth dying for. Jesus actually did die in righteousness, for humanity. Where is the big difference in the philosophical contributions of these two figures?
If you wanted to make a separate argument, the most you could say is that Jesus was just passing on the teachings of Confucius some 500 years later in history, but even then you’d have to admit that while Confucius taught that one should be willing to die for these virtues, Jesus had the follow-through to actually do it.
Buddhism, like Confucianism, upholds virtuous living [although it is] in the quest for enlightenment. The philosophy is admirable, since it seeks to eschew everything that is vile, and to live in peace. However, if anything, it is stricter than Christianity and less in touch with the reality of the world. Strict Buddhism does not only teach things like don’t kill and don’t steal; it also teaches don’t drink, don’t dance, don’t have anything that is comfortable in your life (e.g. comfortable furniture like beds) and only eat at very specific times of the day (e.g. morning to noon). There is nothing wrong with these concepts at all, but where is the basis for stating that beliefs which make a person deny all pleasurable things in life – literally ALL of them, even ones which the rest of the world would consider totally harmless – is a larger contribution to moral philosophy than a belief which is founded upon, Love God and Love your neighbor as yourself?”
This study got me thinking further. How does Jesus measure up against history’s foremost moral philosophers? Were his teachings actually more significant, if viewed objectively? With such a weighty topic, I decided to devote the next few columns to exploring this issue in a series entitled, “The Divine Philosopher.” In this series the doctrine of Christ will be viewed alongside the principles of 24 legendary thinkers, as well as one ancient school of thought.
Morality did not begin at the birth of Christ, but it certainly was affected by it and has continued to be ever since. In closing, here is what happened when the apostle Paul met with some of the great minds of his day, as recounted in Acts 17:18-21, “Then certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoicks, encountered him. And some said, What will this babbler say? other some, He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods: because he preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection….(For all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing.)”
To be continued…