Thoughts of late


John Morreall
Liberal Christian scholars tend to offer more devastating critiques of the Bible than its atheist critics simply because they know more. For example, few Biblically literate atheists would know that the Pharisees only constituted 1.2% of the Jewish population during Jesus’ time rather than being its dominant face as portrayed in the Bible. However, by the time the gospels were written decades later, they had become Judaism’s dominant face and Christianity’s chief critics, making it probable that Jesus’ attacks on them were interpolations. Likewise, few atheists would know that the signers of the Nicene Creed couldn’t agree on a definition of the Trinity, and that half of them changed their minds it even existed and asked that their signatures be removed from the Creed. Neither would most atheist critics of the Bible know as much about Biblical archaeology, the languages in which it was written, or its social and historic background. Yet, liberal Christian scholars use their knowledge of the Bible to build a new faith while atheists use theirs to substantiate non-belief. Maybe religion really does have a genetic component.

One of the most interesting books that I’ve had the good fortune to come across lately is John Morreall’s newly released Questions of Christians in which he tears down organized religion and dogma, yet offers a positive appraisal of Jesus. One sentence of his book struck me as particularly powerful: “In Jesus’ preaching and in his life, there are ten recurring themes.” I was stimulated by this sentence because anyone who is willing to read the gospels impartially can easily point out statements that Jesus supposedly made that are cruel, absurd, bigoted, grandiose, hypocritical, or contradictory, but it had never occurred to me to put such isolated statements aside and to instead focus upon his “recurring themes.” Yet if someone were to critique my beliefs, this would be only fair way to do so because I say silly things all the time, although they don’t reflect my best thinking. Here is Morreall’s list of Jesus’ “recurring themes”:

Tenet 1. Love God and Love All People
Tenet 2. All Human Beings are Brothers and Sisters, with God as Their Father
Tenet 3. Each Person Counts the Same
Tenet 4. From Each According to Their Ability, to Each According to Their Needs
Tenet 5. Leading People Should Not Mean Dominating Them, but Serving Them
Tenet 6. Celebrate Your Loving Relationships
Tenet 7. Minimize the Number of Rules, and Apply Them Flexibly to Benefit People
Tenet 8. God Alone is Judge
Tenet 9. Be Ready to Forgive Anyone for Anything
Tenet 10. “Do Not Resist an Evildoer” (Matthew 5:39)

So, what does all this mean to me? It means that my upbringing might have influenced my adult thoughts about Jesus more than I realized because the only options I was given were to view him as insane, or a charlatan, or the Son of God, when he was probably more like you and me except that: (a) he never recorded his thoughts, and (b) those who did record them didn’t know him personally; wrote their accounts decades after he was dead; and often put words in his mouth in order to give credibility to their own views.

I believe that Morreall’s tenets might very well be true to what Jesus meant to convey. I believe this on Biblical grounds, and because I would like to think better of Jesus in order to justify my continued presence in church. Morreall’s interpretation of Jesus is as different from that of almost all churches as springtime is from winter. It reminds me of a scene from Religulous in which Bill Mahr is standing in front of the splendor of the Vatican saying, “What does any of this have to do with Jesus Christ?” Indeed, what does it have to do with Jesus Christ? Then again, what does Protestantism have to do with Jesus Christ? Here in America, at least, both Catholics and Protestants (with evangelicals and fundamentalists taking the lead) are more likely than secularists to favor capital punishment, corporal punishment, waterboarding, going to war (it doesn’t matter which war) and compulsory prison sentences. They oppose helping the poor because they blame the poor for being poor, but they have no problem with tax breaks for the rich whom, they believe, wouldn’t be rich if God didn’t favor them. They oppose gay marriage, but have no trouble with making a three-way marriage of judgmental religion, militant patriotism, and conservative politics. They believe that a gun-toting, abortion banning, capitalistic democracy is God’s favorite kind of government; America his chosen nation; and themselves his chosen people.

Not all Christians fit my description—the Christian readers of this blog don’t—but the dominant face of Christianity in America does, so, yes, I like Morrell’s view that Christ might have been better than the rank and file imagine him to be, and better than I imagined him to be. I also like Spong’s view that atheism is compatible with Christianity; and the common liberal view that Jesus’s use of the word belief has nothing to do with the credulous acceptance of unverifiable propositions (most notably, “Accept Jesus as your savior or go to hell”) and everything to do with trusting in that which is good, with Jesus serving as an example and metaphor for good. It’s the difference between saying I believe that, and I believe in. Unfortunately, I can’t regard Jesus as my primary example of good simply because too little is known about him. His biggest recommendations in my mind are Morrealls list and that the status quo killed him. Since the status quo regularly destroys that which is good, the latter is an awfully big recommendation, and the former at least portrays Jesus as having a good heart.

P.S. Maybe I should explain my near absence from blogland. I’ve been pulling up an old fence and building a new one. I take narcotics during the day, Neurontin and Ambien at night, sleep ten hours, wake up hurting and exhausted, and go at it again except on days when I’m too tired and in too much pain to do anything but nap. Yesterday, I finished everything but the gate of one section of the three-section fence and will save the rest for next year. I’m sad that this work is proving so hard, but elated that I can do it at all.

13 comments:

Elephant's Child said...

I am very glad that you can do the physical work (despite its cost) and unsurprised that your mind continues to wrestle with issues dear to you.

Snowbrush said...

Peggy used to think that maybe I was babying myself more than was necessary, but as long as I had hope of getting better, I was determined to take the best care of myself possible in order to promote healing. Once I gave up on getting better, I stopped holding back any more than I had to hold back in order to keep going, so she then determined that I was working too hard. Now, she's pretty much given up on trying to tell me what to do. By the time she encourages me to rest a little, I'm ready to rest a little.

People who tell me to do less work imagine that they know better than I what is the right amount, and people who discourage me from working at all don't take into account the emotional--and even the physical--cost of not working. As hard as some work is for me, it's still easier emotionally to do it than to not do it, and I think it might even be better physically too.

Stephen Hayes said...

Like you, I have no problem with Jesus' recurring themes. I once saw a bumper sticker that I wish I'd bought. It read: Dear Jesus, please protect me from your followers.

Linda said...

I have not babied myself a bit. Sometimes, I overwork until I am shaking and just go to bed with a single aspirin. It takes three days of rest to even consider doing a minimum. If I take anything for pain, then I cannot work...ironic, isn't it.

Paula Kaye said...

I think you are a wise man Snow and it is your body and you will know when to rest and when to work. And I am completely enthralled with your continued dissection of religion. I look forward to what you have to say.

PhilipH said...

Hi Snowy, so glad to read that you are doing some strenuous and tiring physical work. Good on you!

And what an interesting item today; this John Morreall chap is a true scholar and his ten points make a lot of sense. Common sense in may ways I think.

From each according to his ability etc., is popularly attributed to Karl Marx, as we all know - but in part of the New Testament it could be construed that the Apostles, or one of them, alluded to it.

Whilst digging into this topic I discovered that PHILIP was on of the Apostles; I really didn't know this. Very interesting. We all know of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John but Philip?

Apparently, Philip's feast day is 14th November. So, must start getting the menu prepared. Loaves and fishes for starters? Yes, why not. You're all invited.

Charles Gramlich said...

It definitely seems that in many criticisms, whether of Jesus or religion, or of political figures, people focus on the minutia and forget the overarching message. It bothers me greatly when people do this. They throw the baby out with the bath water so to speak.

Snowbrush said...

"Like you, I have no problem with Jesus' recurring themes."

I'm no pacifist, and I'm not about to follow Jesus' advice to sell all that I have and give the money to the poor. Indeed, along with not finding a reason to believe way back when I started having my first doubts, I recognized that I didn't know a single person who lived as Jesus taught, and I knew that I myself never would, and this meant that his religion wouldn't bring me peace but guilt.

"If I take anything for pain, then I cannot work..."

I've gotten used to it, plus I've built up a tolerance. I can carry on a normal life while taking enough narcotics to knock a person out. This isn't a good thing because the less a person needs, the better off he is.

"I think you are a wise man Snow and it is your body and you will know when to rest and when to work. And I am completely enthralled with your continued dissection of religion."

I am ever supported and uplifted by your comments because they portray me as I would like to see myself but often don't. There is pressure on us all, I think, to be one way or another and to think one way or another about all manner of things, so to be ambivalent isn't seen as wisdom but flakiness. I feel this criticism deeply, yet I also recognize that I know more and have more depth and sensitivity than those who would condemn me.

"And what an interesting item today; this John Morreall chap is a true scholar and his ten points make a lot of sense."

Why thank you, Philip, I'm so glad you liked it.

"Whilst digging into this topic I discovered that PHILIP was on of the Apostles; I really didn't know this."

I went to an atheist convention once with two fellows whose names were John and Paul. Since mine is Thomas, I thought it was pretty funny that we all shared names with the apostles.

"We all know of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John but Philip?"

He too supposedly wrote a gospel (at least there's one attributed to him), but it isn't in the Bible because it's gnostic in nature, and the gnostics lost-out in the struggle for power.

"people focus on the minutia and forget the overarching message. It bothers me greatly when people do this."

It makes me want to throw up my hands and walk away, because the truth is that no one knows what he said, and no one knows what he did. He seems to have been a real person but beyond that, no one knows what happened way back then, yet people fight tooth-and-nail over whose beliefs about Jesus are the right beliefs.

Snowbrush said...

"From each according to his ability etc., is popularly attributed to Karl Marx, as we all know - but in part of the New Testament it could be construed that the Apostles, or one of them, alluded to it."

I think you will agree that it was a bit more than simply construed that way. The following is from Acts 4:34-35:

"For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales and lay them at the apostles’ feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need."

Now, here's a link to the text of the Gospel of Philip: http://gnosis.org/naghamm/gop.html

As with a lot of gnostic writings, it's a bit hard to follow, at least for me. Here are excerpts from the first two paragraphs of the Wikipedia article about it:

"The Gospel of Philip is one of the Gnostic Gospels, a text of New Testament apocrypha, dated to around the 3rd century but lost to modern researchers until an Egyptian man rediscovered it by accident, buried in a cave near Nag Hammadi, in 1945.

"it is not a sayings gospel, but a collection of gnostic teachings and reflections... Sacraments, in particular the sacrament of marriage, are a major theme. The text is perhaps most famous as an early source for the popular theory that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene. The Ancient Greek manuscript describes Jesus as Mary's 'koinonos' which may imply an intimate sexual relationship... Although the original text is missing from the papyrus scriptures discovered, some translations 'fill in the gap' by suggesting that 'Jesus loved Mary Magdalene more than all the disciples and used to kiss her often on the mouth.'"

PhilipH said...

Snowy, "a bit hard to follow"? The under-statement of the year, but thanks anyway.

Did you hear about the Archbishop of Canterbury (head of the church of England) expressing 'doubts' when questioned recently?

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-29255318

The Blog Fodder said...

Those recurring themes are truly words to live by. Would that I could live up to them but even if we all tried it would make a difference.
Your description of American (and Canadian) christian religions is pretty accurate. Disgustingly so.
Glad you are doing work you enjoy even if you pay for it with pain. If the Orthodox redemption through suffering has any merit you can "skip pergatory and go direct to heaven".

Snowbrush said...

"Did you hear about the Archbishop of Canterbury (head of the church of England) expressing 'doubts' when questioned recently?

The spokesperson explained that he was responding to a specific question, so his choice was between honesty and dishonesty. Still, he's paid to think a certain way, and that's the problem with clergy. Like cars salesmen, they're not doing their jobs if they tear down their product, but they're lying if they hide its defects. I couldn't begin to be a preacher even if I believed, and I really don't know how any of them pull it off. I should think that being a member of the clergy would be an enormous challenge to maintaining one's religion.

"If the Orthodox redemption through suffering has any merit you can "skip pergatory and go direct to heaven'".

Whoopee! If it should become known that there really is a paradise after death, but that only atheists are eligible to go there, I wonder how many people would continue to believe in God. In other words, to what extent is belief tied to self-interest rather than to honesty and love?

CreekHiker / HollysFolly said...

Glad you can work a bit... I tried to gang a blind and my shoulder just wouldn't cooperate