Sunday, May 24, 2009

The View from my Bicycle [COLUMN]

Mere Christianity

Men make gods in their own image; those of the Ethiopians are black and snub-nosed, those of the Thracians have blue eyes and red hair. - Xenophanes

Unusually I was in church this morning. It's somewhat awkward, somewhat enlightening and usually interesting. Awkward because I make no bones about the fact that I'm a heathen, an infidel, a kaffir or to use the contemporary jargon, an agnostic.

So why am I there? Good question. I'm there because I do believe in community, and I do believe people ought to interpret the world and examine themselves in terms of a higher power, towards a higher order of the universe. I'm there to amuse myself with the intelligent delusions of our community. What explanations and comforts we give one another to deal with the troubles of our time. I'm also there because my girlfriend gets some comfort and value in the experience and I think it informs our relationship to some extent (with respect and good values). I'm not there because I'm searching for a personal relationship with God, or wanting to be saved etc.

Interestingly the preacher today said that if we only believe Jesus was a good man (as I do), we should all walk out the door, close the door and go and do something else. That's something I might not disagree with.

The value of Christianity (and other religions) is that it does bring people together. In a world that is increasingly isolated from itself, anything that brings structure to our communities, restores relationships and creates a family of people, motivates people to care for one another, is something to cherish, something to encourage.

There was a great example in this, when a 42 year old man witnessed today about his travails in Zimbabwe. He'd lost his mother in the war. He'd tried to have his child aborted as a young man of 20 and his son was then born anyway (fortunately with no defects). The son then evagelised the father 20 years later. At the same time a Zim war veteran was in the congregation who made an unnecessary gaffe as far as I was concerned [the only reason we didn't kill people like you was because I'm a rotten marksman]. Sorry, not a very nice joke that. I'm sure that in that building and in that setting, they were able to talk to one another and see each other as belonging to the same group (called church-on-a-sunday). And that's at least a step forward.

What I got out of the sermon were 3 things.

1). The circular and linear flow of God's grace.

If you are going in circles, it is because some aspect of your life is out of sync with the truth and you will keep coming back, repeating a scenario again and again. Once you find your true calling and respond with the correct attitude, you begin to move forward. Linearly.

2). We must smash our mirrors and start making windows in our lives

For me mirrors represent vanity, self indulgence, consumerism, a regimented and self-centred view of the world. It's a selfish me-myself-and-I paradigm. We need to connect with others, with the world around us, and see what is happening around us (and allow ourselves to be see).

3). Think critically

At one point the sermon was so powerful and effective I suddenly doubted my own perception that Jesus was a human-construct, the making of God in man's image etc. The preacher said that the entire template of human culture, East and the West, BC/AD time, everything, is based on 12 men accepting that Jesus was God. You probably need to hear the entire pitch to be as convinced as I was.

I then asked myself, "Why is it that you don't believe?" The answer is because the Bible is a flawed book. It was not written once but over thousands of years, hundreds of writers, has been edited and shaped (that is books switched, swapped, left in or left out) by hundreds of scholars and customised thousands of times, fine-tuned voted into and out of existence along with the existence of God. Language gave birth to religion, and only once language existed did it breathe life into the possibility of God. Languages also have evolved, and at some times religions have taken various forms, mysticism, superstituon, monotheism, polytheism, animism, and then the more conventional Abrahamic, Indian and FarEastern religions that survive today.

What Christians see today is the finished, polished result of a rather messy haphazard process. Something like evolution, in fact very much like it.
There is also this text (from C.S. Lewis) which asks us to make a choice since there is no middle ground (apparently):

Either Jesus Christ was God and the redeemer of mankind or he was a raving lunatic. There is no middle ground. The facts simply do not support one. Lewis says that we must take Jesus as the Savior of mankind or we must not. “We must take it or leave it.”

There is another possibility. That Jesus was a political figure, a political leader that became a martyr for a persecuted race of people during a time of siege, and revolution (one the persecuted people ultimately lost). That race of people has remained persecuted ever since, and the martyrdom (or perception of it) has continued ever since which to some extent explains the utility and relevance of these faith texts through recent history. They have been modernised and contemporarised by countless politicians. The view above recommends a radical approach, a fundamental following of the gospel untempered by critical thinking. We could also make this sort of statement:

Either that object in the sky is a UFO, with crew from a far advanced civilisation, or it is nothing. There is no middle ground. The facts simply do not support one. But don't come with patronising talk of weather balloons or tricks of the light. Take it or leave it. And obviously, common sense, logic, suggests that it is neither nothing or a UFO, but rather something for which we do not have specific information and must then remain inexplicably in the in-between space. People are loathe to not classify, label or identify something.

" was more possible that the human race possessed a spark of divinity that was worth cultivating than that a mysterious being was up there in the ether somewhere with anthropomorphic qualities of goodness and mercy running the whole show, and maybe it was the job of clergy to nurture that divine spark in us and make something of it."

I found it interesting that both Jim and I sold out...maybe that's too harsh a term...but in my austere novel THE HALF FULL MOON which is about the desert of the real, and the true nature of the original human being, about the threat of extinction to the human race (set in the Kalahari), I also flirted with divine inspiration and interference. Is it not (only) through the divine that we authorise radical change to ourselves and society? This is a peculiar subscription for us though, if you think about it, that we effectively endorse this view even in our fictions, while in our lives we are chagrined by the washes of diffused 'religion'.

...some analysts believe that the message of questioning authority is an important one.

I'd say the message is not healthy either way. Children are going to begin reading the books out of curiosity anyway. What is being shown is that the emphasis seems to be centralled on this very question of authority. Let's call it what is is: rebellion against authority. Ultimately I don't believe that the real issue is whether authority is good or not, but whether we are ready to honour and submit. The truth is that we are all part of a structure - nobody is above the law.

SHOOT: This guy seems to suggest that curiosity or being curious is dangerous, subversive or wrong.

"Ultimately I don't believe that the real issue is whether authority is good or not, but whether we are ready to honour and submit."

That's an extremely silly statement when you think about it. So wherever you are, whoever your master is (God, Satan, Hitler or Mandela) you submit without making sure who/what it is you're submitting to? Crazy!!!

'For if God’s greatness entails being invisible, intangible and inscrutable, then he can’t be disproved — but nor can he be proved.'

One argument that is almost never raised when non-Christians converse with Christians is this one: Why would an all-Powerful God have to resort to an elaborate drama that is the life and times of Jesus Christ? To put this into pure and simple terms: if you have a child that has misbehaved (because you said so), would it really be necessary to slaughter someone that is very close to you (as a substitute for yourself) as a way to say, “Okay, I forgive you, everything is fine.”

It seems to me Christians never think critically about the fundamental premise of Christianity, that God has to resort to an extravagantly operatic scenario (which demonstrates extreme cruelty in addition to a lack of both absolute power and divine imagination) in order to relieve mankind of the burden of sin. If someone does something wrong, do you set out a hundred year plan filled with tests, culminating in something where blood can be spilled? Blood sacrifice is an ancient practise, yet we are barbaric enough, us human animals, to still believe in it. Sacrifice a man, and what's wrong is restored to right. Wow, very progressive. The only way to restore justice to the universe is through a negative - so a negative cancels out another negative. Interesting mathematics. Using that logic it's hard to imagine a species capable of surviving a particularly tough challenge, and a number are lining up right now.

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