Thursday, April 09, 2009
It's That Time of Year Again
You can mark your calendar by it, come Holy Week or Advent there will be, in the media, stories about how the virgin birth is a lie (not just false or mistaken, a lie), stories of these Christian experts (usually dissenters who are either excommunicated, discredited or far outside the mainstream of any branch of Christianity, but they don't mention that - and hey, they're wearing that funny collar so they must be legitimate!) who tell you that Christians are really wrong about the person of Jesus and His miracles and the entirety of Church history, scripture and tradition, stories about how the resurrection is a great hoax, etc. Occasionally, you see this treatment of faithful Jews around Passover, even rarer around Channukah. Usually, the target is orthodox Christianity, though. You'll notice a conspicuous absence of a third monotheistic religion in these exposes, however, which shows exactly how cowardly these "brave, outspoken, truth tellers" are. It is much easier to attack someone who has been commanded to turn the other cheek and then congratulate yourself on how courageous you are to stand up to them than to actually stand up to tyrants who are intent on killing you.
I linked to a commentary on the article, because I didn't want to give the article any hits, but you can see the original article from the link I posted. I love how the author can't even get basic facts of Christianity correct. He says, in the first sentence, that Paul was the first Christian. That would be an interesting bit of information to Paul (and the established Church he was sent to visit). This makes me doubt either his credentials of having grown up a Baptist minister's son or his true knowledge or understanding of anything that was taught him.
One of the comments on Mark's blog really struck me:
But when such faith is lost, as in my case, what am I left with? I'm left with the teachings of Jesus...
Why? If you've obviously concluded that Jesus was a liar about a number of important things (son of man raised from the dead, temple destroyed and rebuilt in three days, etc.), then why listen to anything else? And if you're sure that the Christian account of history is so very wrong about the thing that matters most to it, why should it be trusted on the lesser issues?
Why indeed? It always amazes me that these purveyors of the "true" Christianity put any stock in any of the claims of Jesus or the Church or the Bible. If they believe the Church, the apostles, Jesus to be such liars, why would they believe anything else they taught? It is no wonder that the heterodox churches are the churches that have clergy shortages and dwindling membership. Why would anyone join an organization that required getting up early on a Sunday morning, time commitments, financial support and that carried a stigma in the West (of being one of those religious types) for something that you can get from NPR, CNN and Hollywood? Why would men sacrifice money, freedom and (in the case of Roman Catholic priests and Orthodox bishops) marriage for the same old political clap-trap that can be found in the world with a bigger paycheck and fewer demands? There are two directions for the people in these churches: orthodoxy or atheism. Both of which lead them out of those churches. Sure, the atheists will still identify as Christian (usually in the brand they knew, Episcopal, Catholic, Lutheran, Baptist, etc), but they don't actually attend church, believe the bible, believe Church teaching, have any regard for the Church or her members, they are shocked, shocked I tell you!, when the Church stands firm in her beliefs and rules, even more shocked that the Pope is Catholic and in many cases (like a woman who called herself Catholic once told me) identify more with pagan and nature based religions than Christianity.
You might ask why they would call themselves Christian at all, rather than coming up with their own religion. I think it comes from a desire to still have a connection to a community and a realization, somewhere in them, that there is a legitimacy conferred by a major religion that cannot be found in one's own made up faith or an attachment to a fringe religion. Mind you, even the "spiritual" people, who claim to follow Native American religion or "Eastern" religions don't actually adhere to their beliefs, practices or teachings, it's simply a way to appear avant garde without requiring anything of the "believer," more like visiting a quilt show than being a quilter. As for those who are taking over churches in the West, I think it is far more sinister than that. I think they think of each communion as a brand of Christianity that they can use to destroy from within, leaving it a shell that is decayed and empty, which can then help to, finally, kill Christianity, as the secular prophets have been prophesying for many centuries (it flummoxes them as to why believers - in any god - persist in believing in this imaginary God of theirs). It's not as if people in the west are unable to create their own religion, but they would rather use the money, buildings, vestments and credibility of established faith traditions.
So, back to our "authentic" Christian. He's ignorant of the (basic) teachings of the Church, thinks Jesus is a liar at least part of the time on some pretty important things, thinks that the Church is a fraud, but he has somehow discovered the truth out of their web of deceit. How again is he a Christian at all, let alone a "true" Christian?
It reminds me of the brou-haha over Dan Brown's book. Here was a work of fiction parading itself as secret truth which got such basic facts about Church history so wrong that all it would take is an outdated encyclopedia to correct him, and yet people, and sadly people who called themselves Christian (a woman I know who was a so-called Catholic was amazed at the secrets uncovered in this book), bought it as a work of legitimate research.
The self-loathing evident in these people is much like the self-loathing many in the West have about our culture. You will not find this self-hatred among other cultures. You should not find it in theirs or in ours. How can anyone truly appreciate another culture if they cannot first appreciate the good in his own?
The year before we were married, we attended a cathedral in Seattle for Sunday morning church. It was a waste of time. They mentioned the name of Jesus right at the beginning, to get it out of the way I imagine, and then went on a political stump (you know, the kind that is allowed, not anything that is socially conservative or endorsing a libertarian candidate, the other kind) about taxes and a particular local candidate. It was still the Christmas season, and they were preaching that what baby Jesus really would have wanted is more taxes. We could have slept in and had a more spiritual morning. The cathedral wasn't even a beautiful building, so we could lift our eyes and spirits to the beauty of God and His creation by reading the salvation story in the images and art work. It was built in the 70s, I think, when people forgot that God commanded the Israelites to use their best for the house of God and evidently decided that the scratch and dent concrete and metal they could get to make this monstrosity was the best God deserved. They preach the gospel of Barney and expect it to be life changing (the feeding of the 5000 men wasn't a miracle, no, it was an exercise in sharing!), then wonder why their churches are emptying out. I fear their churches are emptier than the tomb on resurrection Sunday, but without the hope of rebirth.
We can only hope that these "true" Christians will spare everyone the Easter sermons on bovine flatulence.
There is also a strong desire not to be known as one of those nutballs. So many people want to distinguish themselves from those people.
The thing I don't get is why they wish to affiliate with something they have such a problem with in the first place. There is no shortage of churches or branches of Judaism and other religions. Find one you agree with rather than try to insist that your interpretation of the faith is the real one.
I once had someone tell me how the Catholic church "forced" people to be Catholic. By excommunicating people if they didn't subscribe to the Catholic faith. I said that it sounded more like they were not forcing people to be Catholic, but sending them out.
Then there are people who really don't get that other people believe differently. Some close friends of ours belong to a church that has very different theology than ours. When we went to their son's baptism, we didn't expect them to suddenly teach what our church taught because we were there. We corrected the mistakes we saw, privately, to our children, and were able to rejoice and celebrate with the boy and his family with no trouble at all. Another acquaintance took offense because she thought that the pastor was preaching about their view on baptism specifically because she was there (her church held a third position on this topic). She thought the pastor was preaching "against" her, essentially. We just figured he was teaching and reinforcing their particular view, as we would expect and have seen at our own children's baptisms and at other occasions like weddings, etc.
This was topped off by the woman making an off hand comment that was rather insulting about infant baptism and those Catholics with their dumb ideas about salvation, then made passing comment about Jerome's baptism. Or perhaps our host made a comment about Jerome's baptism coming up (they don't do infant baptism, but they have a decent grasp on why we do, and are respectful), I answered that it was the following week. To which she responded by laughing, I think she thought we were joking, because surely serious Christians like we were wouldn't engage in that idiotic Catholic nonsense.
In general, though, it is the non-practicing members of a particular religion that I've seen/heard getting their knickers in a knot over people believing differently. I figure, if you don't buy it, why does it bug you? It has no effect on your day to day life if people believe that Christ is God or if they believe that he is a prophet only of if they think he isn't anyone special. Fill in any other theological point for the same result.
Anyway, sorry for the long-winded reply.