Saturday, September 20, 2008

Sin-talk

I want to give you a taste of the sin-talk mentality that all of us in the Western world have inherited. My examples from Christian literature illustrate the extremes of that thought paradigm.

The Christian Father-god laid down rules and inspired fearful obedience. He was a Big Boss topping a long line of bosses in the hierarchy of the church. This is evident in the words of the interrogator at St. Joan of Arc’s trial:
You are subordinate to . . . our Holy Father the Pope, the cardinals, the archbishops and the other prelates of the church.
He might have gone on to remind her that she also had to obey priests, her father, and all men. She in turn was superior to animals and to all of nature. Relationships in this paradigm are vertical. We either dominate or are dominated in a silly sort of pecking order.

St. Augustine’s words make this clear:
You . . . make wives subject to their husbands . . . you set husbands over their wives; you join sons to their parents by a freely granted slavery and set parents above their sons in pious domination . . . You teach slaves to be loyal to their masters . . . [You] warn the peoples to be subservient to their kings.
Quite a switch from the words in the Declaration of Independence:
that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights.
We might be tempted to think we’ve moved way past relating in the subservient way. But the following theology was written as late as 1982:
Just as it is not possible to be a father without having a son, so too God cannot be almighty unless he has creatures over which to exercise his power.
In this paradigm, power devolves from above so that we are always looking up to some and down on others. And what effect does this have?

Meeting the demands of the exacting god prompted St. Teresa of Avila to "thinking of how I have offended God, and of the many things I owe Him." It led her to frequent confession and worrying that her confessors were "poorly educated" when they said that "pastimes and satisfactions" were acceptable. She was afraid their lax idea of sin—calling what she considered mortal sins only venial sins—put her in danger of going to hell. "Without a doubt," she wrote, "it seems to me that my salvation would have been in jeopardy if I should have then died."

Teresa was no more scrupulous than were many of us Catholics when I was growing up. It was a vertical universe that demanded strict obedience to higher-ups.

Today we’re shifting to a more horizontal picture. We are breaking the image of the Big Boss over and above us by visualizing the Holy erupting from below or appearing from within. We are learning to listen to an inner voice.

We are shifting from practicing POWER OVER to POWER WITH or POWER TO as in the power to act capably and courageously, even if it displeases some individuals in authority. This more horizontal way of relating invites us to look straight ahead and act with integrity, treating all alike instead of looking up to some and down on others.

4 comments:

also known as rikki said...

First I'd like to say I really enjoy your blog. I discovered it a couple of days ago and I've been reading some of your past entries. You speak about a lot of the same thoughts I've had practically all my life. It's really encouraging whenever I meet others of a similar worldview. Growing in a predominately Baptist part of Texas I don't get a lot of that. Here there are more atheists and liberals in the closet than there are gays. Funny thing actually, when I came out as gay to my Christian friends they were really supportive but when I began to doubt God’s existence, a vast majority of them abandoned me.

I came here because I had a question though about the Trinity. It's one of the doctrines of Christianity that I've struggled with, even as kid in elementary and middle school when I went to church like my life depended on it. Granted Baptists never really say much about the Trinity. They talk about the Father and the Son extensively but the Holy Ghost is barely talked about. My first encounter with the concept of Triune God was when I asked my youth leader what was meant when God said "Let US make Man in OUR image, in OUR likeness" in Genesis Chapter 1. He simply told me it was Trinity and when I pressed him for further explanation he simply told me that's just how it is. As a kid my beliefs were always unorthodox. I always believed that God was not one, or three but a race of many that acted as one hive mentality. Something like a Godhead. Needless to say, I was often alienated from the other children at church.

I've since abandoned such unorthodox beliefs and I'm not sure where I stand about God or the Trinity. Nowadays I side more with the Jews and Muslims in that God is singular and cannot have a son nor be divided into three parts. But what I had wanted to ask you, and I apologize for not getting straight to the point sooner, you talk about being inclusive and finding truths in all religions. Is their anything in particular about the Trinity that is inherently exclusive? After all, don't the Hindus have a Trinity of their own? And there are countless pagan religions that have Trinities, dating back to ancient Babylonians to the Romans of Christ's day. Now it could be said that early Christianity was corrupted by pagan and eastern religions but aren't we at the same time supposed to be inclusive to them as well? Considering how ancient the Hindu religion is, can't there be truth in the Trinity as well, even if not exactly in the same way it’s thought of in today’s Western Christianity?

I don’t mean to offend as I really like your blog so far. Just food for thought. To me the Holy Ghost at least I’m can’t really grasp as person, much less a male. From what I’ve read in the Bible it behaves more like a force and is often depicted as a flame or a pillar of smoke, never as an actual being. It is sometimes referred to as having feelings like a person but we often attribute anthropomorphic characteristics to inanimate things all the time and Bible is filled with such instances where whole cities and countries were characterized as women. Doesn’t mean they literally were gigantic women with buildings and people living on them. The Holy Ghost, in my humble opinion, matches what a lot of liberal spiritualists refer to as a spiritual force. What’s more, the Holy Ghost needn’t be male either. In some translations it’s given a neutral gender and some refer to it as female and associate it with Sophia of the Gnostics. Would the Trinity be more inclusive if it turned out the Holy Ghost was the missing God the Mother so many have searched for all along?

Jeanette said...

As I started reading and formulating a reply, I thought I’d have to list other trinities, but you answer your own questions when you ask whether there is something inherently exclusive about the Trinity. Yes, Hindus, “countless pagan religions” and other religions have trinities, as you point out.

And then, after correcting the misconception that the Christian trinity is unique, you go on to correct another misconception—thinking of the Trinitarian persons as humanlike individuals. You even go on to say the Holy Ghost can be female. Absolutely. If we imagine the three parts of the Trinity to be humanlike persons, it would be appropriate to image the Spirit as feminine. I also like your last statement, which echoes a favorite theme of mine—the human need for relating to the feminine face of what we call God.

In Greek and Hebrew, the Holy Spirit has the feminine gender. For excellent historical and theological analysis of this subject, go to http://www.pistissophia.org/The_Holy_Spirit/the_holy_spirit.html Thank you for your informative comment and its contribution to my work of interpreting Christian doctrine inclusively, for which God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky provides the foundation.

Jeanette said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
also known as rikki said...

Thanks. I wasn't sure about responding at first. I'm not exactly "formally" educated in theology but it is a big interest of mines, particularly Christianity and all it's various forms, and what I do know about religion and spirituality comes from talking to people of various religious backgrounds. I've never been much to blog but you've inspired me to start one of my own.