Friday, October 25, 2013

Jesus, savior and sacrifice


At the School of Theology we were planning a liturgy in Frank House where non-seminarians hung out. A fellow graduate student said firmly, “He’s not my savior.” It was an electric moment for me. Not because I accepted the belief that Jesus died for our sins but because I didn’t and had not had the courage to say it. Her statement spurred me to be more honest. I see many, many religious people refusing to tell what they know for fear of losing their jobs.

For more than three decades I have studied Christian doctrines in comparison with other traditions religious and non-religious. Christians who can step out of our religion’s traditional mindset get my respect. One such wrote an article that a member of our Mary Magdalene, First Apostle, community found during her theological studies—“Sacrifice and Social Maintenance: What's at Stake in the (non-)Ordination of Roman Catholic Women” by Joseph Blenkinsopp.

The matter rose when we were dealing with a request that our liturgies employ the word “sacrifice” as in “sacrifice of the Mass” and “Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.”  Our newly-ordained priest Bernie explained that many have a problem with the idea of a god who demands payment for transgressions and asks his son to suffer for them. Jan reminded us that the word sacrifice comes from Latin and means “to make holy,” enlarging the meaning of “sacrifice.” Ruth reported on the Blenkinsopp article, which contrasts expiatory sacrifice with sacrifice as abandonment to good. The first preserves male ownership of the ritual.

Blenkinsopp informs us that, historically, priesthood meant a male performing a sacrifice. Menstrual and postpartum blood defiled the act, a belief that excluded women from the status of priesthood. Women were outsiders used for reproduction, but they were allowed no role in cultic acts except as spectators.

Sacrifice played a social role essential to cementing male status and power between generations. It preserved and passed on their material resources. [Let’s not forget that women in the Old Testament were property.]

Continuing Blenkinsopp’s analysis, the patriarchal frame assumes that Jesus chose 12 male apostles [a myth unfortunately accepted as fact] and, this thinking goes, while instituting the Eucharist at the Last Supper, Jesus deliberately expressed the relationship between men and women willed by God.Therefore, gender inequality is divinely ordained. [Let’s not forget that this belief system worships a male god]

Blenkinsopp cites examples to illustrate this mental frame through Christian history. 1) Apostolic succession was restricted to male celibates, an effective a means of preserving the given social order. 2) The Second Lateran Council in 1139 prohibited marriage for priests to protect church property [transmission of material resources]. 3) In the 1930s women could not obtain degrees at Oxford & Cambridge even though they had completed the coursework.

Finally, Blenkinsopp proposes a new way of expressing sacrifice—abandoning the aim of maintaining boundaries and restrictions to building communitas or unclogging channels of communication and collapsing distinctions of status.

In a subsequent homily, Bernie suggested, “To accept each other with all of our differences might be the greatest sacrifice we are asked to give.”

For me, Jesus is neither savior nor sacrifice. I add that Christians of the first centuries had no image of Christ on the cross despite Paul introducing the idea of Jesus buying us back or redeeming us (Romans 3:22-25). The cross pervades and dominates Christian life today but did not enter Christian imagery or writing until the 5th century.

I invite readers who have open minds to browse information HERE about pagan precursors of Christ. The information has been available in books for centuries, dug up by Christian researchers but not given to ordinary people. I want more people to be informed.

*  If anyone is interested, I can email the pdf of Blenkinsopp’s scholarly article, summarized inadequately here.

1 comment:

Kathleen H said...

Thank you for sharing your knowledge, Jeanette. It is a shame that in my husband and my 17 years of Catholic education, we were never exposed to any of this historical information and certainly hope that students today have this opportunity.