What Would Jesus Do? It's an oft-heard question, but it's been a long time since he was hanging around.

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This is an often-asked question by Christian believers. Usually, the answer they provide to their own question is a preachy sermon, extolling the wonderfulness of Jesus and the religion that is named after him. Or, it’s used to justify some action that an individual intends to take anyway.

I stumbled upon a piece recently that had a refreshing take on this perennial question. The author is a devout Christian believer, but he skewers Christians who ask this question and then prattle on about it.

Jesus (allegedly) lived two thousand years ago, and the world has changed just a bit since then. Trying to apply his teachings to situations that arise in the modern world is usually a waste of time.

The main point he makes is that Jesus (allegedly) lived two thousand years ago, and the world has changed just a bit since then. Trying to apply his teachings to situations that arise in the modern world is usually a waste of time. As the author says:

“So, when we ask ‘what would Jesus do?’ I think we miss the point if we are literally looking for something in his life that validates whatever we are about to do. It reminds me of that anti-vaxxer who went viral with her idiotic shirt about how Jesus didn’t get vaccinated. Well, duh! There’s thousands of things Jesus didn’t do that we do today. But that’s beside the point.”

MAtthew Distefano in ‘Reframing the Question “What Would Jesus Do?”’

He also makes the point that most Christians dodge and weave around: What Jesus are we talking about? What version of the Bible? The accounts of his life differ significantly among them.

Does that mean I’m going to get a WWJD bracelet any time soon? Not a chance. I’m not really into pithy little Christian sayings. But for those who do ask this question on a daily basis, I hope this can help frame things a little better. Jesus was not a modern person, but that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t be into solving modern problems with modern solutions should he come back today. I think he would be in favor of curbing climate change. I think he would support the Black Lives Matter movement. I think he would be in favor of LGBTQ affirmation. I think he would be against all wars, including the dreadful Drug War. But maybe that’s just the Jesus I want to believe in because these are the things that matter to me. Then again, maybe that’s exactly what Jesus would want from me.

This reminds me of the data that we have to show that most peoples’ perception of God or Jesus ends up being a reflection of themselves. The religious moral compass most often points in the same direction that the religious adherent is facing. As Professor Epley and his team have found:

People may use religious agents as a moral compass, forming impressions and making decisions based on what they presume God as the ultimate moral authority would believe or want. The central feature of a compass, however, is that it points north no matter what direction a person is facing. This research suggests that, unlike an actual compass, inferences about God’s beliefs may instead point people further in whatever direction they are already facing.

Nicholas Epley et al, Believers’ estimates of God’s beliefs are more egocentric than estimates of other people’s beliefs, PNAS

For nonbelievers, the question has no practical relevance for two reasons:

  1. The existence of Jesus is questionable, and even if a person with that name actually lived two thousand years ago, attributing divine powers to him is absurd.
  2. Speculating about what he would do in any given situation based on the various versions of Scripture is simply projection of one’s personal biases.

Instead of asking what Jesus would do, the question should be, “What should I, as a moral person, do?”

Bert Bigelow graduated from the University of Michigan engineering school, and then pursued a career in electronic systems and software design. He has always enjoyed writing, and since retirement, has produced short essays on many subjects. His main interests are in the areas of politics and religion, and the intersection of the two. You can contact him at bigelowbert@gmail.com.

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Jonathan MS Pearce

A TIPPLING PHILOSOPHER Jonathan MS Pearce is a philosopher, author, columnist, and public speaker with an interest in writing about almost anything, from skepticism to science, politics, and morality,...