Saturday, May 31, 2008

Website's fixed

Yay! Finally my website for God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky is fixed. Check out the excerpts, reader comments, etc. More updating will follow.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

“Feminist witches,” etc.

A comment that just came in to an older post, “Surface Religion,” sneers, “At their mystical core all religions agree? So I am actually in agreement with feminist witches, new agers, devil worshipers, and marxists and didn't even know it?”
This language exposes offensive bias so obvious that no more need be stated about that, but it raises a point I made that needs expanding.

What is the mystical core of religions not recognized by many of their practitioners? It is their efforts to direct people toward the spiritual core of the universe, what we call God. Each religion attempts to explain this unexplainable Source of all, this Formlessness that is God. It can do so only by using images grasped by our senses in a concrete physical world. We focus on the concrete imagery of our religion, which is to say, its mythology, but these symbols are not the core of the religion.

When we stay with the images instead of recognizing the larger Reality they point to, we slide toward us versus them thinking: Our religion, our language, our customs are right. Theirs are strange, abnormal, and wrong.

It’s the basis of human conflict.

Friday, May 9, 2008

About core belief

I apologize for the lack of updating on my events page. For some reason the site won’t update as it should. So I’ll mention an event coming up this coming Monday, May 12. At the Village Bean in Avon, I’ll be talking to a book group about God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky. Other reading groups have taken it on—it’s that kind of book. I encourage readers to discuss its topics with others and to delve deeper into them by reading the works I cite in my bibliography.

As some comments on this blog indicate, it’s not easy to open up to a wider, inclusive view, when we’ve had a lifetime of training in following, without question, a line of thinking laid down by authority. Well, to be accurate, by some authority. I haven’t posted all the objections that came in to “Ultimate Authority” because they were repetitive and insulting. This sums up their outrage—that I “still claim identity in an organization where you outright reject its core beliefs.”

What I reject in God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky is literal belief. A thorough understanding of the distinction between literal and figurative can lead to a deeper appreciation of Christian doctrine. And doing so does not contradict core Catholic teaching. For evidence, I refer readers to Kathleen’s comment.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Ultimate authority

Florian’s comment to Man vs. Myth is about authority. He thinks the Catholic hierarchy has the right to tell Catholics what to believe. I don’t. I follow the voice of authority within.
This will be interpreted as arrogance. But is it less arrogant for human officials of the Catholic Church to claim the right to define truth?

Florian says, if I don’t comply with Church teaching, I’m not Catholic. I say I can’t stop being Catholic because it is who I am. If I were excommunicated, I would still be Catholic.

I believe in Ultimate Truth but consider it indefinable. This is why I like Joseph Campbell’s term for God—Transcendent Mystery. It indicates the incomprehensibility of what we call God. God is not a creature, not a being, not a somebody, not an individual alongside other individuals, as Karl Rahner pointed out.

All God-images, including the Christian one of Jesus Christ, need to be distinguished from God Itself, which is beyond anything humanly imaginable. It is the Source of all reality and all possibility. This is why I disapprove of worshipping Jesus as God; I consider it a form of idolatry.

Still, I love and claim my Catholic heritage with its evocative rituals, its glorious history in art, its contributions to social justice, and its resistance to conventional thought. I particularly love the growing body of Catholic thinkers who are moving past traditional belief to a deeper, less reified, more mystical understanding of ancient dogma.

I listened to Krista Tippet's "Speaking of Faith" this morning. She had asked Catholics around the world to say what Catholicism meant to them. This blog post reflects some of what I heard and gives my own answer to that question. God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky answers it more completely.

Henri de Lubac
I was shocked and disappointed when I encountered traditional theology in a publication of my alma mater School of Theology—a review of Henri de Lubac’s writings. Samples:
• Humans sinned and corrupted the image of God’s likeness in themselves.
• Therefore the human-divine relationship stays opposed between natural and supernatural.
• Unaided, no human can rectify it.
• “Whether humanity knows it or not, it needs Christ.”
• Christ’s church is necessary for salvation.

This is precisely the exclusive, narrow, self-centered form of Christianity that prompted my writing of God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky. De Lubac’s stifling theology—from original sin to god-man savior to exclusive church—could have been written a thousand years ago. It captures the medieval mindset. But de Lubac was one of the most influential theologians in 20th century Catholicism. Shocking.

I’m not fair to de Lubac if I don’t mention his emphasis on the church as the whole body of people rather than just the clergy. This really was the reason for his status during the Second Vatican Council. But, except for his challenge to clericalism, de Lubac’s theology remains unmixed by contemporary spiritual currents.

His theology represents the Christian form of navel-gazing, absorption in one’s own narrow mental framework, unable to see out into the world, incapable of global vision. Again I'm unfair if I don't mention that de Lubac was born before 1900. We in the 21st century have a greater responsibility to enlarge our vision.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Man vs. myth

I have great respect and liking for the man Jesus who actually lived in Palestine 2,000 years ago. But I don't worship Jesus because I don’t believe he's God, as I explain in God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky, where I also give reasons for my public confession.

One incident in my spiritual evolution remains memorable. I was at the School of Theology and several of us were preparing for a liturgy when one of the women stated firmly, “I don’t consider Jesus my savior.”
What a relief for me to hear that! Hallelujah! It motivated me to be firm in my realization that the Christian story is myth. I entered graduate school with the knowledge and what I learned there bolstered it, instead of refuting it.

What my fellow graduate student and many authors, notably Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell, did for me, I now do for others. In response, I get explosions of relief from active Christians afraid to say what they truly believe or even to confess their questions, fearful of activating religious thought police. Also from ex-Christians who venerate Jesus but have given up on the religion of their childhood.

My problem with the God-image Jesus Christ began in my youth, when I sought spiritual depth and was told the way to achieve it was to develop a personal relationship with Jesus. I tried, but couldn’t do it. Jesus was a man, and I was looking for SOMETHING much greater than a man.

For years I felt vaguely inadequate because I couldn’t pray to Jesus or get close to Jesus. Now I’m at peace because I have the distinction between man and myth that I explain in God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky.

This brings me to a comment Anonymous sent, a long, long article I’m not posting. It restates traditional belief along with familiar, tired arguments to support it.

Anonymous, read my book! To paraphrase my readers, it gives you a clear understanding of the distinction between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith, between the man and the myth. Understanding this is the key to understanding why I claim to be Catholic and don’t believe Jesus is God.

I’ll say more. I believe that many Christian scholars today are shifting or have already shifted to believing as I do. Few of them, however, are broadcasting this because of the present oppressive religious climate.

I hereby give readers permission to think the unthinkable. Theologians do it all the time, as do others who are spiritually mature. If they’re Catholic, they’re apt to get their hands slapped by the Vatican. That is, if they confess their beliefs publicly. It takes courage to go beyond thought boundaries established by religion.

From my observation point, it’s clear that the most spiritually-inclined people harbor the most searching questions about religion. Church educators usually don’t state them publicly because they like their jobs—they don’t want to roil the hierarchy or “the faithful.” Victims of thought police are in the news daily. I don’t have a position to guard, which is why I state my beliefs boldly.

But you could misunderstand my brief confession in this post unless you read more of what I write about Jesus and the myth of Christ. You can go to my home page or scroll down, cruising through my blog and blog index.

Is Jesus God?
I'm answering comments of Florian in Confused Teaching? Or Correction? 2 Jesus’ divinity is not the question; it’s the claim of his exclusive divinity, the idea that he was God as no other human ever was or ever will be. And that belief was not universally accepted by early Christians; it was imposed by emperors who sided with the bishops advocating the belief.

The best source I’ve found on this subject is Richard Rubenstein’s When Jesus Became God: The Epic Fight Over Christ’s Divinity in the Last Days of Rome. Another book challenging the notion that belief in Jesus’ exclusive divinity was monolithic in the first centuries is Walter Bauer’s Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity. And there are the books of Elaine Pagels.

Besides these challenges to conventional interpretations, there are many theological clarifications of Trinitarian doctrine that correct the popular perception of God as three male individuals. See Catherine Mowry LaCugna’s God for Us: The Trinity and Christian Life and her article "Placing Some Trinitarian Locutions” in the Irish Theological Quarterly (Volume 51,1984).

Very few theologians would say Jesus is God. A common iteration of official belief is this: God reveals Self in Jesus. To this we can add the insight of Eastern sages and the Christian mystic Meister Eckhart. I challenge readers to explicate his statements:
"When the Father begets his Son in me, I am that Son and no other.... Thus, we are all in the Son and are the Son.
The Father gives birth to his Son without cease, and I say more: he gives birth to me his Son and the same Son.”

Sophia & Eucharist

From God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky:
Mythologists inform us that eating and drinking god-food is not unique to our tradition but has existed in religions all over the world. [Robert Johnson tells us that god-food] “carries the power of the inner world into visible and physical form.” Both ancient and modern rites signify personal transformation.
On August 16, Abbot John delivered a homily in Sacred Heart Chapel that spurred me to meditate on how Christian language can be interpreted inclusively. His central idea was transformation. This was on the same day that Roman Catholic women were ordained priests in Minneapolis, a powerful example of transformation in the Church.

The readings at Mass that day and the excellent homily unpacking their meaning motivated me to write this post. The readings were from Proverbs 9 and John 6, both meditations on God food, the passage from the Gospel of John specifically on the Christian Eucharist. As he usually does, Abbot John gave us God-food filling and satisfying.
He stressed the purpose of eating spiritual food:
Christian belief is fundamentally about transformation, about changing our consciousness, our awareness of God, our sense of who we truly are . . . Our own Godfrey Diekmann had a strong theology of Eucharistic transformation. Through the power of the Holy spirit, we believe that the Risen Christ is truly, really, substantially present under the appearances of the bread and wine.

But Godfrey would always challenge: “What good is it if the bread and wine are changed, and we are not?
My atheist friends will chafe at the words, “truly, really, substantially present” and so did I and I’m sure others who stay in the Catholic Church but have enlarged their awareness to non-Christian dimensions. I offer here my manner of translating such language.

First, I have to explain my understanding of “Christ.” It is the divinity within each individual, the soul, the higher Self always coaxing us toward greater awareness, toward an enlarged consciousness. Those who accept the Eucharist as uniquely powerful will be “truly, really, substantially” transformed and so, for them, Christ is “truly, really, substantially present” in the bread and wine. Their consciousness shapes their reality. Perception is reality.

Those who do not ascribe unique power to the bread and wine see many incarnations of this inner power that steadily nudges us to grow in emotional/spiritual awareness. God-food does not flow exclusively through the Christian tradition. As we read the signs of the times, our transformation consists in leaving the exclusionary box and linking with other spiritual ways of thinking.

Circling back to the readings, I find in Proverbs 8 the remarkable discourse of Sophia, whom scripture scholars identify as the precursor of John’s Jesus because that Jesus repeats her claims.
The Lord begot me, the firstborn . . . When there were no depths I was brought forth . . . When he established the heavens I was there . . . one who finds me finds life (Proverbs 8: 22, 24, 27, 35)

Come, eat of my food and drink of the wine I have mixed (Proverbs 9:5).
Parallel statements quickly come to mind in the Jesus discourses of John’s Gospel. But Jesus’ words seemed to support the charge by pagans that Christians were cannibals:
“My flesh is real food and my blood real drink.”
Of course, to get past cannibalism we have to understand these words symbolically. And this key—symbol—unlocks the meaning of all religious language; it’s the key to bridging religious cultures, the key to translating our Christian terms for all spiritual persuasions.

Sophia and Christ represent the inner Self at the core of humanity that continuously feeds us, guiding, prodding, teaching, correcting us. I was delighted to hear a homilist on another Sunday tell us that Godfrey Diekmann said Christ’s transforming presence in the assembled community is more important than what happens on the altar at Mass. I heartily agree.