Jesus is most commonly thought of as a religious figure, but in reality, his core message a fundamental change in human thinking. Jesus’ contribution to philosophy is the single most important idea in history.
The ancient world was a difficult place. Tribalism ruled the day, an understandable coping mechanism for the chaos of lawlessness. Societies formed around common ancestry or geolocation and fought viciously to subjugate neighbors and members of opposing groups.
There were a few good leaders, sparks of an idea that life is about more than absolute power. Cyrus, for example, rode in from Persia to destroy Babylon and freed the Jewish people to return to their homeland. Hammurabi established a legal code granting rights to common citizens. In spite of these outliers, across nations and societies, there was an embedded caste system that could not be dismantled.
Jesus presented a philosophical revolution that has changed the baseline of human thinking. It was a single, simple idea that in the millennia since he presented it, his followers have spread throughout the entire world. It has crossed borders, cultures, and even religions.
All people have inherent dignity and worth.
The Greeks are lauded for their wisdom, but in their ideal world the family unit had to be destroyed for the good of the state. Romans could take unwanted newborns outside of town and dispose of them, leaving them to die of exposure in the elements. Even those societies that treated people with dignity and respect often only afforded that privilege to members of their own nations and tribes.
From the first twelve apostles, Jesus’ idea has slowly spread throughout the world, carried by the Catholic Church. Imperfectly, we have convinced the world of this dignity of the human person through our words and actions. It’s the core idea that caused us to open the first university in 1188 and bring public education to all people. It’s the core idea that caused us to develop public healthcare to extend the healing ministry of Jesus to all people.
Children are no longer viewed as disposable, but are wrapped in society’s tightest legal protections. A multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural nation, the United States of America, built the world’s most durable and long-lasting democracy. Righteous outrage bubbles up in the global community when nations and leaders commit crimes against humanity.
This sea change was all possible because of Jesus’ simple philosophical idea that changed everything. It’s the idea that built the modern world.