Book Feature Friday: Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Muhammad Cross the Road?

Editor’s Note: In the spirit of building interfaith bridges of peace so desperately needed in the ongoing aftermath of September 11th, we are reposting this book review from two years ago for Book Feature Friday. As it did for Adam, this beautiful book helped me also to identify questions central to interfaith peacemaking and served as a map for me on the road toward answers. It is as relevant today as it was two years ago, and the issues explored within are both urgent and timeless. – Lindsey Paris-Lopez

Today, 9/11/2012, marks the release of Brian McLaren’s book Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Muhammad Cross the Road?: Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World. The date, of course, is significant. It’s been 11 years since the tragedy of 9/11 – a tragedy that had religious overtones, but also political and economic overtones as well.

The question I often ask myself about religion is simple: What needs to stay and what needs to go? Jesus might have asked, “What’s the wheat in religion and what’s the chaff we need to burn?” Brian’s book has helped me discern an answer to that question.

Bob Koehler and I interviewed Brian about the book last week on our podcast Voices of Peace. At the end of the show, I asked him about the title of his book. “So, Brian, why did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Muhammad cross the road?” Brian responded, “To get to the other.”

Of course, one can get to the “other” to do harm or to do good. But the point of Brian’s book is that Christians need to have a strong identity based on the love of Christ. Christ loved the “other.” He loved people as they were and for who they were.

For Christians, that’s the point of our religious identity in the post 9/11 world. Some bloggers are suggesting that Brian is somehow watering down Christ. That Christ would help people, sure, but Christ would also demand that they worship him, or he’d send them to hell. That’s not the Christ I see in the Bible. Brian has helped me see that Christ had no superiority complex. He didn’t get into a rivalry with people by demanding that they worship him; rather, he did things like wash 1st century filthy, nasty, sandal-wearing Mediterranean feet! Jesus came to serve, not to be served! It’s true: Jesus did come to convert us, but he came to convert us away from a life of hell on earth. Away from a life of violence over and against others and into a life of love and compassion that is for the flourishing of others.

Christian tradition has always emphasized the cross, but has frequently gotten the cross wrong by stating that the Father demanded the violent death of the Son. That understanding of the cross, often referred to as penal substitution, is wrong. It’s a myth based on a god of violence; it’s not the Gospel, which is based on the God of love. So, the Father didn’t demand the death of the Son; we humans did! We are the ones who demanded that Jesus be crucified, and we continue to demand crucifixion in various forms of violence today.

The Gospel Jesus proclaimed invites us to stop our hostility and violence against one another. His early followers learned from him that God is love and violence belongs to us alone. Brian claims that the violence we witnessed 11 years ago and the violence that continues to rage leaves us with a choice. “We are increasingly faced with a choice,” writes Brian, “not between kindness and hostility, but between kindness and nonexistence.”

Kindness or nonexistence.

How can we be kind and love the “other” in a post 9/11 world? However Christians answer that question, Jesus was right: Our future depends on love and compassion. Brian is leading the way in helping us answer that question in our 21st century context. And so I hope you read his book!

3 replies
  1. Allen Ray Johnson
    Allen Ray Johnson says:

    I’ve appreciatively read Brian McLaren’s instructive book and thank you, Adam, for your comments.

    I do have a question, though. One of the prevalent themes in The Bible involves idolatry. Idolatry might involve worship of “golden calf” type graven images. Yet there are numerous warnings and injunctions against foreign religions such as the fertility gods (Baal, Molech, etc.). I don’t think McLaren would insert “Baal” or “Molech” into his book title along with Jesus, the Buddha, Moses, and Muhammad. and not just because those gods are extinct. (and maybe not extinct, just transmogrified into materialist and violent expressions). This then is a hermeneutic question within the context of biblical exegesis and modern application. Why does The Bible have strong injunctions against idolatry and (with a few exceptions such as the Good Samaritan) toward other religions.Your thoughts?

    • Adam Ericksen
      Adam Ericksen says:

      That’s such a great question, Allen. I don’t know if this is helpful, and I’d like to here what you think about your question, but I’m reminded of Sandor Goodhart, a Jewish Girardian, who introduced me to the phrase “the idolatry of anti-idolatry.” I’m still trying to figure out what he means by that phrase, but I think in some ways there are biblical passages that fall into this category. In being so against idolatry, we can fall into the trap of being violent in the name of God b/c people are being idolatrous, the violence which itself is idolatrous. And so the Bible does critique other religions for idolatry, but it was also written by people who were critiquing their own idolatrous practices.

      So, to summarize my response, one of the things I find so fascinating about the bible is its self-critique – that it does have strong injunctions against other religions, but it also has equally strong injunctions against its own religion!


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