My favorite conversations about Jesus have been about (1) human nature; (2) good and evil; and (3) the character of God. They’re interrelated topics, and I think you’ll see why.
Here are abbreviated examples of real conversations I’ve had. Be mindful that I’m really just giving a bare bones outline here. If you find this helpful, be more personal in actual conversation. But watch for how I keep pressing other people to have a coherent story of good and evil, a clear location for the evil, and whether they can really live in the story they’re telling me.
Academic Activist: There’s no way I would go for any religion that tells me what to do with my body.
Me: Why not?
Academic Activist: Because my body is who I am. Religions are all patriarchal. Men use religion to control women’s bodies.
Me: I think you’d be surprised at how that’s not true with Jesus. So you object to Jesus because he makes a claim on our bodies – and really, all our bodies and not just women’s bodies. But let me ask you this: Isn’t your body connected to other bodies?
Academic Activist: Not in a way that other people can tell me what to do with my body.
Me: But other people do have a claim on what we do with our bodies.
Academic Activist: Like who?
Me: Like our future children. If your mom or dad used drugs or carried lots of stress or ate junk food, then that would impact you. And you might have something to say to them, a moral claim. It’s epigenetics. Then, when a child is an actual person, it gets even more serious.
Academic Activist: Here it comes. You’re talking about abortion, like all evangelical Christians do. And then you’re going to tell women what to do with their bodies.
Me: Hold on. No, I’m not. I’m talking about how a child’s brain develops. It develops through touch, eye contact, love, nutrition, and a whole bunch of things. So parents are morally obligated to do those things, don’t you think? If they don’t, we call it neglect.
Academic Activist: Sure, but that’s based on science and not religion.
Me: If you want to talk science, then I have to say that science is not in favor of you saying that our bodies are just our own.
Academic Activist: Yes, it does. Science shows when a fetus can actually feel pain, and it’s not at conception. What are you talking about?
Me: What does science tell us about children who experience their parents getting divorced?
Academic Activist: Oh see, there you go again, trying to make a moral case, this time for monogamy. Science shows us that monogamy is not actually part of nature. It’s a construct. So it’s not part of human nature either. You’re trying to tell people what to do with their bodies, their sex lives, and their family choices.
Me: You didn’t answer my question about children suffering because of divorce, which is really a problem. I want to come back to science telling us about our bodies. Science tells us that we are like a waterfall. We keep a similar shape but change in substance. Every 16 days, 72% of you is replaced, because it’s water. The lining in your stomach and intestines is replaced every 4 days; your gums every 2 weeks; your entire skin every 4 weeks; your liver every 6 weeks; your heart and the lining of your blood vessels every 6 months. Says one science article, ‘There is a 100% chance that 1000s of other humans through history held some of the same atoms that you currently hold in your body.’
Academic Activist: So what?
Me: So your body is not your own. Science says so. We might even be exchanging molecules right now through the air. That’s why caring for the environment is caring for each other.
Academic Activist: I’m surprised that you’re a Christian and an environmentalist! Don’t meet at lot of those where I’m from. But okay.
Me: Which is why I agree with some of your concerns about our bodies but I don’t think it’s because ‘my body is just my own.’ I think Jesus is a better foundation for honoring human bodies than some individualistic philosophy.
Academic Activist: But if you go with science, then what do you do about science telling us that monogamy is not necessarily part of human nature? You Christians say that monogamy is part of human nature, don’t you?
Me: Maybe, but there’s more to it than that. I think ultimately our arguments do come down to some idea of what ‘human nature’ is. You think science tells us what a normative human nature is? And that makes casual divorce okay?
Academic Activist: Yeah, it does. And yeah, it is. If there is such a thing as human nature.
Me: What if human nature is damaged in everyone, so we’re getting an imperfect picture of who we are meant to be even as we look at ourselves?
Academic Activist: Give me a break. What evidence is there for that?
Me: Oh, easy. If male human nature is to have sex and make babies, then it’s okay for men to treat women like objects. You think that’s okay? Isn’t that where some ‘science’ might lead you?
Academic Activist: We have to move past that. Definitely.
Me: I agree, but your framework isn’t giving you that. Here’s another example of human nature being messed up: Our brains will lie to us to keep up a good self-image. Two books: Mistakes Were Made But Not By Me; and A Mind of Its Own: How Your Brain Distorts and Deceives. It’s pride. Our minds are geared for survival, not truth. That includes psychological and social survival.
Academic Activist: Okay, so human nature kind of sucks! Ha ha.
Me: So face it. You want to define what human nature is.
Academic Activist: What’s the matter with that?
Me: The problem is that Jesus already healed human nature in his own body. He joined it to a loving God. That’s why Jesus can tell us what a normative human nature is.
Academic Activist: That is the most dangerous claim I’ve ever heard. Now you’re going to tell me that Jesus is the reason why monogamy is normative, why we should be sexual prudes, and why women’s bodies aren’t really their own.
Me: Jesus makes a claim on men’s bodies just as much as women’s. But the bigger point is that, yes, Jesus is the reason we believe we are connected to each other and connected to him.
Academic Activist: That’s really dangerous. We are individuals first and foremost.
Me: Sorry, we are relational first and foremost. Individualism came from Western Enlightenment political thought. But where were people ever born ‘free’ into ‘the state of nature’? We are born into families, and communities. And we have obligations and benefits in relationships. Western Enlightenment individualism doesn’t fit with other academic disciplines: anthropology, sociology, neuroscience, and psychology. Sorry, it just doesn’t work. You’re really using a Western philosophy of individualism that is not supported by other fields.
Academic Activist: Are you for science or religion? You’re kind of dancing between the two when it suits you.
Me: And you’re dancing between pseudo-science and pseudo-philosophy. I’m taking Jesus first, and science second. Jesus gives human relationships, human persons, and human nature special meaning, because in science, humans might just be another part of the universe. When I use science, I’m arguing on the basis of science with certain things you’re saying which are not rooted in science as you think they are. But I don’t think we can only use science because science can’t tell us what human nature really is, and is meant to be. Jesus can.
Academic Activist: That’s a big claim. Can Jesus give us a DNA sample so we know what his human nature is like???
Me: Ha! I don’t think we can do that. But he shows us how to live in God’s presence, and he explains to us how. Maybe we can talk about how Jesus has actually limited the cultural power of men. Because I think you’re trying to use individualism and pseudo-science to protect women’s bodies. I think Jesus does it better, and more holistically. So if that’s really part of your objection to Jesus, take a look at that with me.