We can relate to God in a personal way—I do it regularly—but we must know that God is not a mere humanlike individual. I like what New Testament scholar S. Sandra Schneiders says,
God is our father and God is not our father; God is our mother and God is not our mother. If we forget the “is not,” then we create an idol—that is, we make God into the image of a creature.This idolatry is what Christianity allows in its prayers. It's not what Jesus of Nazareth wanted.
February 10, 2011.
Last evening someone called to thank me for my letter in the National Catholic Reporter. I hadn’t read as far as the letters in the February 4th issue and had forgotten that I wrote it. Upon reading it, I decided it serves well as my confession of faith. Because it's not available at NCRonline, I include parts here and invite readers to see if they, like the caller, believe as I do.
Unless Christians can transcend literal interpretations of our myths and symbols, we will continue to collide with other ways of imagining the spiritual realm and eventually become obsolete.
I do not believe Jesus is uniquely divine or that the God-image “Jesus Christ” is better than God-images in other religions. At Mass I don’t recite the Creed because I don’t believe it literally and, to preserve my integrity, I need to make an outward sign of that. As I watch others in church mouth the words, I pick out those who probably understand them symbolically as I do.
The Incarnation does not refer uniquely and exclusively to one man named Jesus; it refers to all humans as well as to the entire universe. The spiritual master Jesus talked about the reign of God, the realm of Spirit, not an exclusive kingdom ruled by a lord. Each of us is incarnated—spirit becoming flesh or spiritual soul living within a body. The Incarnation is about Spirit over, underneath, within, and through the physical universe; it is not about worshiping a certain man.
Christian idolatry January 30, 2012
It took guts to write this title. I was surprised to find the title in my old posts. Amazing.
A friend asked me if I remember when I started thinking that Jesus is not God.
As a child I sought closeness to God, never to Jesus, because Jesus was just a man. In a vague way I knew that God was infinitely greater than the man Jesus. This was not a clear thought; I simply didn’t pray to Jesus.
A college friend told me I used to say in college, "God is not just a man!" Fr. Jerome Theisen (later Abbot Theisen) taught us theology in our senior year and introduced us to historical-critical research on the Bible. That started my serious questioning.
A few years after college I left the church and tried being an atheist, but I noticed that anything about religion or Catholics held intense interest for me. In the ‘70s I read Teilhard de Chardin and Jung, who fed me delicious and wholesome spiritual food, whetting my appetite for more.
In 1980 I joined Al-Anon and its concept of the Higher Power opened a new vista of revelation. Out flew atheism, which never had satisfied my spiritual yearnings, but my brief sojourn in atheism gives me understanding and sympathy for atheists, most of whom reject religion out of a spiritual sensibility.
After 1980 I read fiercely in women's theology and liberation theology. By the time I landed in the School of Theology in 1986 (obviously arranged by my Higher Power, but that’s another story), I had a pretty good idea of Christian myth and everything else I've been articulating since then. The work of articulating is hard, not so much the realizations—they come unbidden.
Giving up the god Jesus was no big deal for me, but I saw others struggle with it. I value the confession of one, who said that a theologian told her very few Catholic theologians believe Jesus is God.
One reason for the religious ferment in our Christian culture is growing realization that Jesus is not God. It could soften the blow to see Jesus as a God-image and a symbol of Divinity. He has become a mythic image who, indeed, can lead us to God.
But we should be aware that much Christian language leads to idolatry, which substitutes an idol for God—the inexpressible reality that is more than any particular image or idea.
I think I have been wanting to find out that exact information about you for a long time. It was, "Wow! That is what I have been wondering!" You managed to be very succinct in your answer, and that is not an easy task given the subject matter.
It is very hard for me to admit that I don't think Jesus is God. That seems like going against the very essence of Christianity. I try to believe in the Trinity and yet it is like believing in three gods. I so admire Jesus the man and I do believe he is in heaven on an elevated plane. (I better check your blog to see what you have to say about heaven.) My husband and I go to Mass just about every Sunday. We have a church and a pastor which we are comfortable with most of the time. We consider ourselves "cafeteria Catholics."
Although I love your book I have never been able to definitively say "Jesus is not God." When I pray, however, it is to God the Father/Mother most of the time. Since there are so many gospel stories of Jesus the healer I often think of this as I pray for healing for someone or myself.
Your faith journey was meticulously researched. I have allowed mine to remain inconclusive. This way I can attend Mass while knowing that I believe women should be priests and also hold on to my pro-choice stance. I do admire your intellect, your courage and your fervor. I am so glad that your blog will be made into a book.Jean
That's funny! You are right, it is like coming out of the closet.
I do not regard Jesus of Nazareth as essentially or structurally more divine than the rest of creation. . . . Divinity resided in Jesus as it does in all human persons—and squirrels and rocks and thistles and the entire universe . . .
We should give Jesus a demotion. It is no longer credible to think of Jesus as divine. Jesus' divinity goes together with the old theistic way of thinking about God.
One of the truths that reason can discover is that God is a person, and the central claim of the Bible is that this person has not remained utterly hidden but has, indeed, spoken.
The mysterious and the incomprehensible . . . can never be defined by being distinguished from something else. For that would be to objectify it, to understand it as one object among other objects, and to define it conceptually.Indeed, we must express it as something distinct from everything else . . . God is the absolute reality, the original ground and the ultimate term of transcendence. This is the element of truth in pantheism. . . .[God is not] one individual object alongside others.
I know. It’s hard to think about such abstractions. The simple human impulse is to just worship someone and let it go at that. And just obey religious authority without figuring things out for ourselves. And worshipping Jesus comes so naturally to Christians; all our God-talk directs us to it.
This last disturbs me greatly. I understand that religion teachers cannot explain the insights of Karl Rahner to people in the pews, but there’s no excuse for church authority forcing people to recite words that train them to believe falsehoods. As I argue in my Sermon to priests, prayers to Lord/Father/He/Him/His train minds to accept as normal the unequal treatment of the sexes. Indirectly it promotes sex abuse by making the subordination of females seem right and proper.
• Yes, God walked on earth two thousand years ago, but God walks on earth no less today.
• Yes, Jesus had a particular mission. No, he did not found Christianity.
• Yes, Jesus had an intimate relationship with the Mystery we call God. No, the universe was not qualitatively changed at his conception.
• Yes, Jesus’ suffering and death contributed to universal salvation. No, his was not the ONLY salvific suffering and death.
• Yes, Jesus had uncommon wisdom, strength, and character. No, his perfection did not surpass human perfection.