Although I have devoted a large part of my life to the study of religion and to discussion with religious leaders of all faiths, I know very well that I cannot but seem presumptuous in writing about Jesus Christ and trying to explain what He means to me. I do so only because my Christian friends have told me on more than a few occasions that for the very reason that I am not a Christian and that (I shall quote their words exactly) "I do not accept Christ in the bottom of my heart as the only Son of God," it is impossible for me to understand the profound significance of His teachings, or to know and interpret the greatest source of spiritual strength that man has ever known.
Although this may or may not be true in my case, I have reasons to believe that it is an
erroneous point of view. I believe that such an estimate is incompatible with
the message that Jesus Christ gave to the world. For He was, certainly, the
highest example of One who wished to give everything, asking nothing in return,
and not caring what creed might happen to be professed by the recipient. I am
sure that if He were living here now among men, He would bless the lives of many
who perhaps have never even heard His name, if only their lives embodied the
virtues of which He was a living example on earth; the virtues of loving one's
neighbour as oneself and of doing good and charitable works among one's fellow men.
What, then, does Jesus mean to me? To me, He was one of the greatest teachers humanity
has ever had.
To His believers, He was God's only begotten son. Could the fact that I do or do not
accept this belief make Jesus have any more or less influence in my life? Is all
the grandeur of His teaching and of His doctrine to be forbidden to me? I cannot
believe so. To me it implies a spiritual birth. My interpretation, in other
words, is that in Jesus' own life is the key of His nearness to God; that He
expressed, as no other could, the spirit and will of God. It is in this sense
that I see Him and recognize Him as the son of God. But I do believe that
something of this spirit that Jesus exemplified in the highest measure, in its
most profound human sense, does exist. I must believe this; if I did not believe
it I should be a sceptic; and to be a sceptic is to live a life that is empty
and lacks moral content. Or, what is the same thing, to condemn the entire human
race to a negative end.
It is true that there certainly is reason for scepticism when one observes the bloody
butchery that European aggressors have unloosed, and when one thinks about the
misery and suffering prevalent in every corner of the world, as well as the
pestilence and famine that always follow, terribly and inevitably, upon war. In
the face of this, how can one speak seriously of the divine spirit incarnate in
man? Because these acts of terror and murder offend the conscience of man;
because man knows that they represent evil; because in the inner depths of his
heart and of his mind, he deplores them. And because, moreover, when he does not
go astray, misled by false teachings or corrupted by false leaders, man has
within his breast an impulse for good and a compassion that is the spark of
divinity, and which some day, I believe, will burst forth into the full flower
that is the hope of all mankind. An example of this flowering may be found in
the figure and in the life of Jesus. I refuse to believe that there now exists
or has ever existed a person that has not made use of His example to lessen his
sins, even though he may have done so without realizing it. The lives of all
have, in some greater or lesser degree, been changed by His presence, His
actions, and the words spoken by His divine voice.
I believe that it is impossible to estimate the merits of the various religions of the
world, and moreover I believe that it is unnecessary and harmful even to
attempt it. But each one of them, in my judgment, embodies a common motivating
force: the desire to uplift man's life and give it purpose. And because the life
of Jesus has the significance and the transcendency to which I have alluded I
believe that He belongs not solely to Christianity, but to the entire world; to
all races and people, it matters little under what flag, name or doctrine they
may work, profess a faith, or worship a God inherited from their ancestors.