Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Theology Thursday #3: Made Up

Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.  -  Acts 10: 34,35 NRSV

If blasphemous statements easily offend some of you, you might want to skip this week’s column.
If you like to push yourself theologically, then read further, and consider the possibility that truth is often stirred up on the fringes, well beyond the well-paved roads of conventional dogma.
First, understand that I am a Lutheran Christian; this is my brand and it probably will be for a while. I seek to follow Jesus of Nazareth explicitly through this lens of understanding.
Now, the tough stuff…I’m going to make this as uncomplicated as possible (deep breath):
God doesn’t care if you are gay or straight, republican or democrat, socialist or Ayn Rand. God isn’t concerned about our silly little tribes, our flags, or our favorite sport’s team.
God certainly doesn’t care about religion or holy books or the rules we like to think are God’s.
You know what else?
God doesn’t give a rip if you are Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Mormon, Atheist, Agnostic, Bahai, or Wiccan.
There is no doubt this religious symbol was made up.
After all, they are all made up.
Yes, you read that correctly. They are made up.
Religion (or lack thereof) is a finite, human construct manufactured to comprehend the infinite.
This applies to Christianity, too, and whatever flavor you choose within that brand (denominations).
Think that it doesn’t apply to your brand? Your flavor? Do you fear that if your brand or flavor is “made up” that it might not be “real”? Are you so convinced that it takes “an act of faith” to really believe in ridiculous, supernatural miracles to somehow prove that there might be a power greater than ourselves?
Think again.
Baptism of Cornelius  Wacky Clothing
Take this week’s epistle reading from Acts. Peter is talking to several people. Who are they? They are a Roman centurion named Cornelius who is “God fearing” and several other Gentiles. Peter begins by telling them the story of Jesus. They believe. Everyone is baptized and people are amazed.
Why did they want to follow Jesus? For Cornelius, he said he had a vision of Jesus. For Peter, he recounts Jesus’ teachings, death, and resurrection. Then here’s the kicker: he says, “God allowed [Jesus] to appear, not to all people, but to us who were chosen.”
Really? I mean, really?
You expect us to believe that?
Evidently, Cornelius and company did. Why did they believe? I think they believed because they needed to believe. Life, in all its struggles and meaninglessness creates a void to which the human psyche needs to fill with something. Then, just as now, people filled it with something: be it the cult of Mithras or Athena, secular humanism (this flavor isn’t new, marginal believers existed then, too), even outright atheism (the Epicureans were the hipster, angry, “rational” god haters, par excellance).
Whether or not Jesus “really” physically rose from the dead isn’t the point. The point is that something (faith, hope, community) came out of nothing (the void, silence, the terror of the abyss of nonexistence).
The story created it. The creation was real. Isn’t that enough? Why do we need certainty? Why are we compelled to prove, to know “for sure?”
And why Christianity? Why did so many choose this brand? I believe because they cared for each other in ways different than what they saw around them. Humans are constantly revising and struggling to give purpose, meaning, and value where none is found. Jesus of Nazareth was different, very different. And they wanted that. They must have gotten it, because it caught on.
Scholars only have a fuzzy picture of primitive Christianity. Even the source materials themselves (the gospels and epistles) were generations removed from the apostolic church. We do know that the message appealed to slaves and rich citizens alike. We also know that it caught like wildfire and the more the state sought to extinguish said fire, the hotter it burned.
As the years passed, Christianity, too, became a religion. It warped and morphed into a multiplicity of forms and expressions, always seeking to give hope and truth, but frequently not succeeding. Often the church of one flavor would seek to oppress other flavors, convinced their way was correct.
From the perspective of other religions (or lack thereof) each feels that it is right and correct. Come on, folks! Can’t we see a pattern here?
That’s why I say that all religions and philosophies are made up. I’m not denying that Jesus or Gautama or Mohammed existed historically. I’m saying that all the supernatural crap, as well as the built up rules and constructs we add to it, are simply window dressing to get more people to come into our ice cream shop to buy our flavor. It’s the story that matters. And different stories have meaning for different people.
Are all stories right, all religions equal paths to salvation? I don’t know. Really, I don’t. But I choose to believe that my story—the core message of Jesus—is that God (if there is one) probably doesn’t make as big of fuss over things compared to the way we do. This is pretty obvious when you look at the way we so easily kill each other. And that, I believe, God DOES care about. Causing suffering is anathema to being truly human. I think we all can agree that killing people = God not cool with that.
“I truly understand that God shows no partiality.” Peter got it right. We’re all flailing about, trying to figure out the un-figure-out-able. If there is a God, then the story that touches us, and the people we care about, mean something.
Partiality comes pretty easily to us.
To me, the resurrection is real because Jesus’ love lives on. The story could be completely made up (and it probably is) and I “believe” it because the reality of Jesus can be found in glimpses here and there. It gives me meaning and value and purpose. More importantly, I can give this same love of Christ away (I’m not talking about proselytizing, I’m saying that we can feed people, clothe them, and care about them). This benefits others – without any thought of return or response from them. Remember, God shows no partiality. We’re all in the same boat. We might as well sing some sailing songs while the storm rages. I think this is what it means to be human.

It's ironic, isn't it? The place where we hear the story is the church, the bastion of the Christian religion. And the story of Jesus is against that very human construct! If there is a God, she certainly has a sense of humor.
I, for one, will hear the story this Sunday. I’ll “believe” it. And I will say it. Yeah, I’ll say it loud.
“Jesus is risen. He is risen indeed.”


Djibouti Jones said...

Quite an interesting post, Dan. I agree that our titles, the boxes we categorize people into, are not what matters. Those are cultural constructs, often used to quickly determine who is 'on our side,' so to speak and can hinder deeper, meaningful discussion and relating.

Bill W said...

Dan, what I like about this is that it encourages thinking. It challenges us to examine our idolatrous certainty and our tendency to "god" ourselves. Then perhaps we can settle for being human.

Agnes said...

Dan, St Augustine puts it aptly, "Lord, our hearts are restless until they rest in You." We are made yearning for the truth and find it along often winding spiritual pathways. Or more likely, It finds us stumbling and bumbling among the thickets.

Trent said...

6 blind guys and an elephant walk into a bar...

M theory suggests that a long time ago, two universes may have collided and caused a big raucous or 'bang' of sorts. One was dark, the other regular and both completely perfect, eternal, and BORING. Each mixed a bit with the other a la Reece's Peanut Butter Cups and voila: Corporeality... So maybe we're just avatars here to play a game or learn what we can with limits until we go back to our own mostly material and eternally perfect universe. Or maybe that's just BS, too. I'll let you know when I'm dead.

Love the post, Dan.