Wednesday, January 28, 2015

How Jesus Became God

January 28, 2015, The Word "Christ"
I don’t say “Christ” when I mean Jesus, but most of the world uses the word “Christ” as if it were the last name of Jesus. They mean a man Christians worship as God. So “Christ” is a God-image. In discussions of religion, Jesus Christ means Jesus-God or Jesus-god, depending on your beliefs.

When I was little I lived on a farm in the middle of Stearns County, encased in a German-Catholic cocoon. I do not remember praying to Jesus when I was little. Before we kids entered first grade we didn’t know English and I do not remember learning about Jesus in German, only praying in German, but those words didn’t mean anything. I do remember having a God-consciousness, a kind of childhood mysticism. At that early age I did not imagine God to be a humanlike person. While knowing nothing about pronouns then, I think I would have preferred the pronoun “It” to “Him” or “Her.”

In a non-verbal, inchoate way I understood God to be infinitely beyond human beings. I am told other children asked questions like, “Does God have a wife?” or “Where is Lady God,” but they did not occur to me. I am sure that even in my youth such questions would have seemed to be jokes, not questions seriously looking for answers. In the same inchoate way, I must have known that references to God as “He” did not mean God was more masculine than feminine. But it would take many years of living before I would realize the harm in the male-centered pull of our language.

When the apostle Paul wrote “Christ Jesus,” he did not equate the man he was writing about with God. This elevation of Jesus happened later. For Paul, the Greek “Christ” had the same meaning as the Hebrew “Messiah” and both meant “the Anointed One.” Anointed ones in Hebrew history included the Persian emperor Cyrus. Paul’s focus was salvation. He thought all people were headed for hell until this one man sent by God “opened the gates of heaven,” to put it in common language.

Centuries after Paul was writing, Jesus became God in the official belief of the Roman Empire and therefore of Christianity. The religious master who inspired our religion was declared different from the rest of humanity. This came about in a series of Church councils called by emperors who wanted their subjects to agree on religion.
Religious disputes in the Roman Empire raged between Orthodox Christians who believed Jesus was God and Arian Christians who believed Jesus was the son of God. This vastly over-simplifies the issue but I will not go into the dozens of isms, “heretical” groups making distinctions in belief from the 2nd to 4th centuries. It must have been exciting and scary—a time when religious conflicts resulted in lynching and other barbaric cruelties. A time with similarities to ours.  More about these conflicts next time.

In my younger years religious writings exclaimed over the marvel of God coming “down from heaven” to be a man. Catholic teachings identified the man with the second person of the Trinity. Today such worship of Jesus still appears in evangelical writings but rarely in Catholic theology. There is more nuance today.
I think theologians realize that worshipping Jesus is like worshipping Dionysius or Isis or Krishna or any other image of God. Christian theology today reflects the influence of Carl Jung, Teilhard de Chardin, science, Eastern spirituality, and insights from global awareness. We now have to place our God-image in this broadened perspective.

I don’t say “Christ” when I mean Jesus. For me, “Christ” symbolizes the inner Self, the divinity within all beings. I believe the man Jesus expressed divinity to an extraordinary degree but we’re all God-stuff. In my post We Are Divine, I quote poets, sages, and religious leaders regarding this deep reality in human beings. READ THIS to get a Jungian explanation of Christ as a symbol of the Self. I think it should be required reading in every seminary.

More about Arians and orthodox next time, when I’ll quote from When Jesus Became God: The Epic Fight over Christ’s Divinity in the Last Days of Rome by Richard Rubenstein.

March 6,  How Jesus Became God

I thank a friend for sending me a writing in response to the previous posts. I think it supports my assertion that Catholic theologians today speak more like Arians than anti-Arians (read the post on February 13 for a review of the Arian controversy).
Luke Timothy Johnson, a former Benedictine monk and now New Testament scholar and historian, critiques a book by Bart Ehrman that treats the question of Jesus’ divinity. Ehrman, a former evangelist and now agnostic historian of early Christianity, refutes the Christian claim that Jesus is God. Two expert historians of Christianity in its infancy who disagree. I think both make valid points.

Johnson agrees with Ehrman that visions of the dead do not prove anything. Trying to determine the facts regarding the empty-tomb stories is beside the point because Jesus’ resurrection transcends history, states Johnson.  I agree. He says, further, it is “the shared experience of divine power” that led Christians to identify Jesus with God.
His becoming “Lord” means that he shares completely in the presence and power of God. It is as “Lord” that Jesus is perceived by the first believers to be “God.” 
I agree with this also. But Johnson writes as if the experience were unique to Christianity. It is not.
Philosopher Andre Comte-Sponville writes of being confronted with “the mystery of being.” He is an atheist who recognizes that,
We are finite beings who open onto infinity.
Hindu writer Ravi Ravindra glories in the “Abundance of the Vastness”—revealing his encounter with Infinity. These experiences of the atheist and Hindu surpass rational understanding; they have nothing to do with knowledge in the conventional sense; their experiences transcend history.

The mythologist Joseph Campbell explains this phenomenon as the power of myth. The myth of Christ was the subject of dispute for both sides in the Arian controversy. Their "shared experience of divine power” had elevated Jesus into a mythical figure, although Eastern bishops were more aware of his humanity and therefore more sympathetic to Arianism. 

Johnson states correctly that the Resurrection experience did not happen to Jesus alone. He explains that Jesus’ divinity empowered the latent divinity in others, using terms such as “new creation,” “life-giving spirit,” “in-dwelling Holy Spirit” and “Resurrection.” Jesus’ followers touched divine power through Jesus, and they were transformed—resurrected.

As Comte-Sponville and Ravindra demonstrate, however, this divine experience is not unique to Jesus and Christians. Religious leaders in all traditions have demonstrated the same, and it does not have to come through an inspiring myth or person. The Ineffable Something has touched countless humans, some of whose stories are recounted by William James in The Varieties of Religious Experience.

Stories of Native American spirituality provide more examples of such transforming power. And so do stories of pagans worshiping Mother Goddess. Sadly, however, our religious tradition has trained adherents to despise feminine images of the Divine. Irrational and wrong.

Johnson focuses on “the question, divine in what sense?” the same question that divided Christians in the fourth century. To me his answer—that through Jesus his followers are transformed—sounds more like Arian arguments than anti-Arian ones in the 4th century.

Readers can draw their own conclusions by reading Johnson’s review and Rubenstein’s When Jesus Became God. I find that theologians today write about Jesus, not as being God, but as representing God—the Arian position.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Gloria Steinem

Even if you don’t agree with Gloria Steinem, this can make you laugh and lead you to re-think some assumptions.
It leads me to think: WANTED
          Pregnant women at the altar to symbolize creation.

If Men Could Menstruate by Gloria Steinem
Living in India made me understand that a white minority of the world has spent centuries conning us into thinking a white skin makes people superior, even though the only thing it really does is make them more subject to ultraviolet rays and wrinkles.

Reading Freud made me just as skeptical about penis envy. The power of giving birth makes "womb envy" more logical, and an organ as external and unprotected as the penis makes men very vulnerable indeed.

But listening recently to a woman describe the unexpected arrival of her menstrual period (a red stain had spread on her dress as she argued heatedly on the public stage) still made me cringe with embarrassment. That is, until she explained that, when finally informed in whispers of the obvious event, she said to the all-male audience, "and you should be proud to have a menstruating woman on your stage. It's probably the first real thing that's happened to this group in years."

Laughter. Relief. She had turned a negative into a positive. Somehow her story merged with India and Freud to make me finally understand the power of positive thinking. Whatever a "superior" group has will be used to justify its superiority, and whatever and "inferior" group has will be used to justify its plight.

Black men were given poorly paid jobs because they were said to be "stronger" than white men, while all women were relegated to poorly paid jobs because they were said to be "weaker." As the little boy said when asked if he wanted to be a lawyer like his mother, "Oh no, that's women's work." Logic has nothing to do with oppression.

So what would happen if suddenly, magically, men could menstruate and women could not? Clearly, menstruation would become an enviable, worthy, masculine event: Men would brag about how long and how much.

Young boys would talk about it as the envied beginning of manhood. Gifts, religious ceremonies, family dinners, and stag parties would mark the day.To prevent monthly work loss among the powerful, Congress would fund a National Institute of Dysmenorrhea. Doctors would research little about heart attacks, from which men would be hormonally protected, but everything about cramps.

Sanitary supplies would be federally funded and free. Of course, some men would still pay for the prestige of such commercial brands as Paul Newman Tampons, Muhammad Ali's Rope-a-Dope Pads, John Wayne Maxi Pads, and Joe Namath Jock Shields- "For Those Light Bachelor Days." Statistical surveys would show that men did better in sports and won more Olympic medals during their periods.

Generals, right-wing politicians, and religious fundamentalists would cite menstruation ("men-struation") as proof that only men could serve God and country in combat ("You have to give blood to take blood"), occupy high political office ("Can women be properly fierce without a monthly cycle governed by the planet Mars?"), be priests, ministers, God Himself ("He gave this blood for our sins"), or rabbis ("Without a monthly purge of impurities, women are unclean").

Male liberals and radicals, however, would insist that women are equal, just different; and that any woman could join their ranks if only she were willing to recognize the primacy of menstrual rights ("Everything else is a single issue") or self-inflict a major wound every month ("You must give blood for the revolution").

Street guys would invent slang ("He's a three-pad man") and "give fives" on the corner with some exchenge like, "Man you lookin' good!" "Yeah, man, I'm on the rag!"

TV shows would treat the subject openly. (Happy Days: Richie and Potsie try to convince Fonzie that he is still "The Fonz," though he has missed two periods in a row. Hill Street Blues: The whole precinct hits the same cycle.) So would newspapers. (Summer Shark Scare Threatens Menstruating Men. Judge Cites Monthlies In Pardoning Rapist.) And so would movies. (Newman and Redford in Blood Brothers!)

Men would convince women that sex was more pleasurable at "that time of the month." Lesbians would be said to fear blood and therefore life itself, though all they needed was a good menstruating man.

Medical schools would limit women's entry ("they might faint at the sight of blood"). Of course, intellectuals would offer the most moral and logical arguements. Without the biological gift for measuring the cycles of the moon and planets, how could a woman master any discipline that demanded a sense of time, space, mathematics—or the ability to measure anything at all?

In philosophy and religion, how could women compensate for being disconnected from the rhythm of the universe? Or for their lack of symbolic death and resurrection every month?
Menopause would be celebrated as a positive event, the symbol that men had accumulated enough years of cyclical wisdom to need no more.
Liberal males in every field would try to be kind. The fact that "these people" have no gift for measuring life, the liberals would explain, should be punishment enough.

And how would women be trained to react? One can imagine right-wing women agreeing to all these arguments with a staunch and smiling masochism. ("The ERA would force housewives to wound themselves every month": Phyllis Schlafly)

 In short, we would discover, as we should already, that logic is in the eye of the logician. (For instance, here's an idea for theorists and logicians: if women are supposed to be less rational and more emotional at the beginning of our menstrual cycle when the female hormone is at its lowest level, then why isn't it logical to say that, in those few days, women behave the most like the way men behave all month long? I leave further improvisation up to you.)

The truth is that, if men could menstruate, the power justifications would go on and on.
If we let them.
(c) Gloria Steinem, Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions. NY: NAL, 1986.

Catholic Civil Rights,  March 12, 2015
On February 1, 1960, four Black students sat down at an all-white lunch counter in a Woolworth store in Greensboro, North Carolina. They were refused service and told to leave, but they continued to sit there until the store closed. More civil rights protestors joined the peaceful protest, which spread from the Woolworth store into a massive boycott of stores with segregated lunch counters in Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee as well as all over North Carolina. As sales dropped in the stores, owners were forced to give in and serve the Black students.

Continuing the movement on January 31, 1961, Black students ordered hamburgers at another segregated counter, were asked to leave, and stayed.  Ten students were arrested and sentenced to pay a $100 fine or 30 days in jail with hard labor. The NAACP offered to pay the fine, but Nine chose to endure the hard labor, beginning the strategy of “Jail, no Bail” to reverse the financial burden of protests all over the South.

Now the reason I tell this story.
On January 28, 2015, a judge vacated the convictions of the “Friendship Nine.” One of them said,
We knew that all of this would come to fruition and we would be exonerated.
We Catholics who support women priests and inclusive liturgical language know that all of this will come to fruition and we will be exonerated. 

At this time progress for women in the Church lags despite the kinder, more compassionate face presented by Pope Francis. On March 9, 2015, Lakshmi Puri  of UN Women appeared on the Newshour to assess the progress in equality of women worldwide. The story is not heartening. One in three women have experienced domestic or sexual abuse. I feel privileged to be among those who have not. No stats are available to tell us whether violence against women has increased or we just are more aware of it today.

In the field of religion, the most glaring inequality occurs in power and decision-making. Allowing more power to women is more than an issue of justice. When women control their own lives, they benefit not only themselves but their families, their communities, and consequently all of society. This was determined by Muhammad Yunus, founder of the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh. He says he prefers lending to women because they use the money more wisely than men—not on luxuries but on investments for the future of their families and communities. And he says they repay the loans more reliably.

Women with political power improve the entire field of politics. This is the conclusion expressed in articles, verbal opinions, and studies. Examples abound. One is a study by a Rutgers University center that found women make better politicians. Even recalcitrant cardinals now are giving lip-service to the idea of allowing women into councils of Catholic power.

The important word is “allowing.” Change for women won’t happen if it depends on what men in power allow. Women need to wrest the power. And this is what the Catholic womenpriest movement is doing. As Catholic womenpriests gain power, their example will inspire more women to openly oppose injustice in the Church. I have no doubt that benefits will accrue to the Church and to all of society.

March 19, 2015            Liberating God from Patriarchy
Language shapes consciousness and consciousness shapes reality. That’s a bunch of abstract words, but if we understand the meaning of these words we can see that continuing to pray to a lord has devastating consequences for the human race.

We need to follow models like John Lewis, civil rights leader now in Congress, and Malala Yousafzai, the intrepid Pakistani teenager campaigning for the right of girls to education. At a ceremony commemorating the 1965 “bloody Sunday” march in Selma, Alabama, John Lewis, a survivor of a nearly-fatal beating on that Sunday, urges civil right proponents to be bold,
Get out there and push and pull until we redeem the soul of America.
I invite Christians to push and pull until we redeem our patriarchal religion. I implore Christians who understand the far-reaching consequences of praying to a lord to resist it and model alternatives.

Christian God-talk that is consistently male promotes idolatry. The “Lord Father” image has become a god, an external deity, an idol. If this were not so, Christians would pray to God our Mother as freely as to God our Father. We would theologize about the inner realm instead of father and son. We would use terms like “Divinity,” “Infinity,” or “Sublimity” instead of “He,” “Him,” and “His.” We might refer to Her powerful help and pray,
God our Mother knows our needs.
We are hidden in the secrecy of Her divine protection.
She surrounds us with Her divine love, wisdom and mercy.
When troubles assail us, we turn to Holy Mother God.
If this prayer feels like blasphemy, dear reader, you have been praying to an idol.

Change happens as people feel safe to implement it, wanting to go only as far as is fairly popular. Standing up for gays, for instance, has now become acceptable, bringing more onto its bandwagon. Among Catholics, it has now become safe for lay people, not yet for Catholic institutions, to openly favor women priests.
But telling the truth about sexist God-talk … that still makes people nervous. The patriarchal lord-father still has many in his thrall. Until more of us speak boldly, in the manner of John Lewis and Malala Yousafzai, understanding cannot blossom. Until alternative ways of praying are heard, timid people will not feel safe to do it.

Let’s help human consciousness to evolve to a higher level. Dear Pope Francis and the entire Vatican need our fiery advocacy. Like John Lewis and Malala Yousafzai we need to move past fear and DO IT.

COMMENT      Kathleen H said...           Thanks, Jeanette, for another thoughtful piece. When women attain equality in all areas, the world truly will be a better place.

Bill Cosby & the Lord    July 30, 2015

The first allegations against Bill Cosby did not seem believable to me; they veered too much from the image I’d formed of him. I mourn the downfall of a comedian I loved and at the same time I am glad of the scandal surrounding Cosby. The scandal heightens awareness of gender abuse. But not its source.

The Bill Cosby story goes back thousands of years, back to “the Lord” of the Bible. This male image of the Creator/Source won out over the Goddess so that later generations—our generation, in fact—thinks the Creator/Source must be male. Just as I could not imagine Cosby guilty of his heinous acts, Christians cannot imagine the Creator/Source as female. But Hebrew ancestors of the Jews did imagine Her female as well as male. The Bible tells us so (evidence given in previous posts).

Recently a column in the St. Cloud Times claimed yet again that “Ours is a nation founded upon Christian principles.” I wrote a letter saying this claim is not warranted. Deism tempered Christian conditioning in the founders. The column’s scriptural citations all came from Hebrew Scriptures revered by Jews and Muslims as well as Christians. More evidence of religious diversity appears in Bible passages showing Hebrew ancestors of Jews worshipping the Goddess. This information was withheld.

The ultimate consequence of suppressing Goddess worship can be seen in the acts of Cosby and other male abusers of women.
When I connect gender abuse to “the Lord,” some respond in the same way I first responded to facts about Cosby—incredulously. Some images we form in our imaginations are hard to dislodge. People don’t like having holes poked in their preconceptions, of which familiar God-imagery may be the most cherished. Drawing the connection between that male god and abuse becomes impossible for some.

The whole world is trained to pray to a “Him.” How could that not affect gender relations?