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.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

When reading some of your posts, it becomes impossible to take you serious as a scholar and intellectual.

For instance, the other day you said "we Christians". The fact that you call yourself a Christian in light of today's post is absurd.

The fundamental belief of Christianity is the salvific and redemptive mission of the God Incarnate, which you adamantly do not beleive.

Whatever you claim to be, which seems to have no label, you are not a Christian.

And then in another post, you talk about still going to the Catholic Mass. If you want your ideas to be taken seriously, then demonstrate in word and action that your are serious. Otherwise, you look confused.

Florian said...

Who are you to "disapprove" of worshiping Jesus? Why should Christians listen to you instead of their own church leaders?

Why say more on Man v. Myth? You keep making the same points over and over again. We get the idea; it's not rocket science.

And stop calling yourself a Catholic. You know you are not a Catholic. I don't know why you can't say that you are a Unitarian or something.

Jeanette said...

Their anger apparently stems from my claim to be a Catholic Christian despite disagreeing with Church officials.
Analogous is the situation of Americans—I’m one of them—who disagree with almost every position of the present administration. We are not less American or less patriotic for doing so. I believe we are more patriotic in the true sense of loving our country because we disapprove of governing abuses.
Just so, those of us who are nudging Christianity past its parochialism toward a universal, more mature spiritual consciousness are not less Christian for doing so.

Florian said...

No, no, no. You can't make these simplistic arguments. Allow me to explain why your response to the comments of mine and of anonymous is unsatisfactory.

You argue by way of analogy, but the analogy fails. Your comparison of the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) with the United States of America (USA) is fraught with problems. Let me list them:

1) First of all, realize that you are trying to make a comparison between two radically different institutions. One of them, the USA, is a post-Enlightenment representative democracy, while the RCC is more of an ancient/medieval religious society that is definitely not a representative democracy. Thus, your comparison/analogy was bound to run into problems from the start.

2) The RCC is not a democracy; and so it is the hierarchy, not the laity, which has the final say about which directions our church will go, no matter how much you try to "nudge" the church in one direction or the other. In fact, since you are not just a lay person but also a heretic, you actually have no right to ANY say in church affairs.

3a) In the USA, we have an expressed right to criticize our government. We have the freedoms of speech and press. These also imply the existence of what I would call a freedom of belief. But, in the RCC, we don't have freedom of belief. At least we are quite restricted in what we are permitted to believe, since there are these dogmas that all Catholics are supposed to believe. We do not have permission to disagree with the hierarchy if that means disagreeing with dogmas.

3b) Further, criticizing government usually means disapproving of its laws. No one expects us to agree with all the laws; we are only expected to obey them. But in the case of church dogmas, it makes no sense that one can obey an order to assent to a dogma while disagreeing with it and even opposing it.

4) There is, of course, a difference between changeable and unchangeable rules/laws. One may disagree with changeable church laws in many circumstances. For example, one might be of the opinion that All Saint's Day should no longer be a holy day of obligation, and the hierarchy probably would not be in agreement with such an opinion. But unchangeable dogmas are another matter entirely.

5) Now, to the core problem with your analogy. The USA does not have anything analogous to the unchangeable, infallible dogmas of the RCC. The closest thing to that in the USA is the constitution, but that's not infallible, because it can be amended. It can even be scrapped in favor of a whole new constitution. We even have the right to scrap our government by armed revolution, if necessary. Though one can be opposed to the law, constitution, and government of the USA, the one thing we are not supposed to oppose is the USA itself. That would be unpatriotic, if not treasonous. To be against the very idea of the USA cannot in anyway be helpful to the USA. That is not loving one's country. Analogously, being against the institutional church is not helpful but harmful. Judging from your opinions, Jeanette, I don't think you love this institution of the RCC; on the contrary, you would like to see it destroyed.

6) You will probably protest that you don't want to destroy the church. But you are against the very idea of any Christian Church in the correct sense of the term. "No exclusive claims to any supernatural revelation of any special sort!" you say. "Let's blend in with the rest of the world to form a generic global spirituality," you say. Well, then, let's disband the church and go out of business. The church is essentially destroyed in that case. At least, it is no longer Christian in that case. We could still say we are "Christian", yes, but words have to mean something. Being Christ-ian has always meant acknowledging Christ as Lord.

7) The next issue is whether infallible dogmas are indeed infallible. Why can't they be amended like our constitution? It is because they have a divine origin as opposed to a human origin. They have been supernaturally revealed. To deny that our church is founded on supernatural revelations is to be against the very idea of the church once again. To believe in certain articles of faith is what it means to be Christian by definition. The word "Christian", like any word, ought to have a fixed definition that cannot be contradicted, lest we, again, go against the very idea of being Christian. Got it?

So,in summary, it follows that to rebel against dogma is not analogous to being a patriot, but rather, a traitor, and even, a contradiction, if you claim to be Christian.

In the very first sentence of your comment, you say that "[Our] anger apparently stems from my claim to be a Catholic Christian despite disagreeing with Church officials."

No! It does not stem from disagreeing with Church officials, whose opinions can presumably change, at least with some change in "administration".

Instead, it stems from disagreeing with dogmas which never change, which have been deposited in the faith tradition, and which are merely preserved by the hierarchy and even by the church as a whole. These dogmas are not "enacted" by the hierarchy, or "repealed" by future hierarchies.
This first sentence of you comment, thus, reveals your complete failure to understand.