We are what we read. Of course "we are what we ____" is a truism. We are what we eat, what genes we have, what parents we had. But I am proud to say that I am what I read, and the more I read the more I am, the larger I get, the more multitudes I contain. My heroes are the list of dead people that live through me, that have inspired me, stayed with me, changed my behavior. They provoke and inspire me. Jesus, Plato, Emerson, Whitman, Aurelius, Descartes, Berkeley, Kant, Jung, Tolstoy, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., just to name a few. They feel like people to me, like friends.
May as well start with the first. In high school I had a real conversation to Christianity; that is, self-propelled, self-discovery, the only real way to do anything. To discover something yourself, to own it, chew it up, digest it, spit some out, internalize it. I would wake up at 6AM and go to the coffee shop. I would acquaint myself with Jesus by reading the gospels, slowly, gradually, from small to big. When your friend introduces you to someone, do they say "this is Jim, he is perfect and saved your life"? That's the most ridiculous introduction ever, yet that is still the way preachers present the man Jesus to little children. It's all absurd and, in the end, sadly exaggerated and ineffective. Jesus to me was a silly idea represented by the Trinity, another silly and absurd idea to present to children.
Finally, he was turning into a person, one that I could read about. By dropping the dogmatic belief that he somehow, mysteriously "saved my soul" by dying on a cross, I allowed him to really save my soul by showing the path to become a good person in the eyes of God. Quickly he became a hero in my life, which shouldn't be surprising to anyone who has simply read the gospels and met the Jesus found there. He stands for nothing more than love and forgiveness and everything that entails. He is a simple, tragic man that is horribly easy to understand and follow. He is as simple as Tolstoy, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King Jr., with the same beautiful message.
Soon after reading the gospels I became obsessed with doing anonymous good deeds for other people. Secretly shovel a driveway, leave a dollar, write a warm letter. I was thrilled to think about it, plan it. I was thrilled to know that only God, the searcher of our hearts--if God exists--was the only other witness. After all, it's the only way to test whether a deed is truly moral (and Kant says we can still doubt).
I must say, looking back at my life, in proportion to the amount I have been reading the gospels there has been a correlation with good, selfless deeds on my part. That is not a coincidence. But neither do I claim that "the gospels" are somehow the only way to do this, or more special than the book that Martin Luther King Jr wrote on love, which also blew my mind and changed my life forever.
Jesus became a close friend, a fundamental hero, an archetype for pure love, principled and enlightened love, theistic-based love, never failing love in the face of the greatest hatred. When he said "love your enemies" it resonated in my soul as the most true thing I have ever heard and will ever hear in my life.