Sunday, December 22, 2013

A Christmas Card for a Closet Atheist

Peace Be Unto You

Yes . . . I still receive Christmas cards. But, I don't mind.

Since the cards I receive usually come from acquaintances, friends, and loved ones, I still take time to read them. The fact that I no longer consider myself Christian is still largely undisclosed to most people who know me. So, it makes sense that people still send me Christmas cards.

And who knows? Perhaps they would still send Christmas cards to me if they discovered how I really felt about Christianity. Maybe they would try to use the cards as a means to stir up convictions in my heart concerning my apostasy. Nonetheless, the fact remains; I don't mind the Christmas cards.

So, I get a particular card wishing me peace for this holiday season. I honestly appreciate the sentiment. They even took the time to hand write a personal note which also wished me a happy New Year. That felt good to read.

Peacemakers-- the Children of God

This lovely card concluded with an afterthought from Matthew 5:9 which reads:

Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.

After reading that, I tossed the card aside. But then, I started to wonder about the implications of that verse.

Next, the questions flooded my mind.


The verse from the book of Matthew implies that peacemaking is a virtue that can identify one as a child of God. If such a virtue identifies one as a child of God, then is the virtue of peacemaking exclusive to Christians? In other words, are the only people capable of pursuing peace the children of God?

What if a Muslim acted as a peacemaker and denounced the radicalized versions of his or her faith? Could that person then be called a child of God based on the teachings attributed to Jesus concerning peacemakers?

What about an atheist who engaged in peacemaking endeavors? Could that individual be named as a child or God?

The Nobel Peace Prize

Could the Nobel Peace Prize be a reliable standard for declaring someone a peacemaker? If so, what if an non-Christian became a Nobel Peace Prize laureate? I wonder would that individual still qualify to receive the label "child of God".

What about an atheist laureate? Perhaps the Nobel Peace Prize doesn't have a high enough standard to be use as the criteria for a true peacemaker. The award seems to hold at least some integrity because the laureates have usually pursued an outcome of peace in the face of adversity on a national or international level. But, perhaps this standard isn't what Jesus had in mind during his sermon on the mount. If that's true, then what do those standards for a peacemaker look like?

What Did Jesus Mean?

Is it possible that being called a child of God had more to do with how one behaved rather than the religious doctrine one professed? After all, being called a child of God carries the connotation that one is saved and has a relationship with God as a Christian. Perhaps that verse from Matthew records an attempt by Jesus to suggest that the children of God only need to be peacemakers, rather than adhere to any specific religious doctrine. These are, after all, the words of Jesus, right? Couldn't he have meant that?

Did Jesus even mean to equate peacemaking with being a child of God? How can one think that peacemaking is an identifier for the children of God after considering the following quote attributed to Jesus?

Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.

(Matthew 10:34-35 KJV)

Since Christians generally accept Jesus as the only begotten Son of God-- and often call him the prince of peace (Isaiah 9:6), it would make sense that Jesus would equate peacefulness with being at least one identifier of God's children.

But according to Matthew 10:34, Jesus would not have us be confused or mislead-- peace on earth is not his objective. Yet, the same source that revels Jesus' teachings about peacemakers being called the children of God also revels to us that Jesus has no interest in bringing peace to earth. Instead, bringing a sword to divide people against one another is an expectation we should have concerning Jesus.

Perhaps peace requires strife and that was the true idea Jesus wanted to convey. Is this what Jesus, the son of God, means when he says that he came to bring a sword to earth to cause strife while still at the same time says that peacemakers are called the children of God? Does this mean the true peacemakers are those who cause strife in the name of a higher purpose or cause? Could killing for God, should he ever command it, be a possible action of peace?


Though all this line of questioning, I do not mean to suggest that Jesus ever lied to us about what he really means concerning peace. I don't claim to know exactly what he said or meant; I was not at the sermon on the mount 2,000 years ago and I don't have authoritative understanding concerning his declaration that he came to bring a sword-- not peace-- to earth. Therefore, I do not have enough evidence to accuse him of deception. However, as I contemplate the quotes which both come from the book of Matthew, I can't help but wonder if people added words to Jesus' teachings over the centuries as the book of Matthew entered circulation.

How can we be sure the words of Jesus were never altered once they were written down-- assuming his words were correctly recorded in the first place? Consider the book of Mark: an ending by a second author was appended to the book of Mark according to many reputable scholars. Even a few main stream study Bibles make a note of this occurrence. How then can we know that the book of Matthew never had revisions by multiple authors? And in those possible revisions, how would we know if words were attributed to Jesus that he never actually said?

And Again, I Say: Peace Be Unto You

Shall we solidly conclude then that only children of God are the peacemakers of the world? This is a worthy question to ponder during the holiday season.

Also to consider: Can non-believers be peacemakers? And . . . what can we all do-- believers and non-believers alike-- to spread more peace throughout the world and towards those close to us in our lives.

Think about it. I'll try to think about it, too. I see nothing wrong with endeavoring to be peacemakers if that means making the world around us a better, safer place.

May peace be unto you all-- not only for this holiday season, but to the fullest extent possible!

Happy Holidays!