Sunday, December 9, 2012

An Open Christianity

(Continued from A Closed Christianity)

I do not self-identify myself as Christian. Often times in certain circles and certain conversations I will inevitably be asked if I am a Christian. I have never been comfortable with this question. Usually I will let other people determine whether I am one or not. Most often I'll ask them to give me their clear cut definition of what a Christian is and I'll answer accordingly.

I believe in an Open Christianity.
I believe the different world religions sprang up due to God's general revelations and what we see is a reflection of their different cultural and historical circumstances.
And if we believe in this, then we must too believe that Christianity is only another different cultural and historical circumstance in which this one particular religion sprang up. We cannot be that unique.

I do not believe God is a bigot.
I believe God 'distributes His wisdom – His Sophia – with all peoples of all nationalities, in all geographic locations, and all cultures. Whether this Sophia speaks their “culturalistic languages” or that they hear her voice through their “culturalistic filters” matters little. The outcome is the same. She meets them where they are.

A think a common accusation levied against this position is that it waters down the 'truth' to the lowest common denominator. I'd rather see this aspect as deliberate choice to focus on what unites us rather than on what divides us for the sake of relationships, simply getting along, peace, mutual respect and tolerance. In a single word, Compassion.

But what about the actual truth itself, outside of social or civil environments? This doesn't address how to 'hear' God's wisdom; God's Sophia. It is easy to find common ground within various belief-systems but I'm not totally convinced this is necessarily the voice of Sophia. After all, this could just be various cultures or people in agreement.

I think it is in the contradictions and the paradoxes in which Sophia is most challenging and speaks the loudest. It is not in their shared commonalities that she speaks and challenges us to change and grow and learn but in their apparent conflicts. It is in the parts that don't 'fit'.

The Bible, or the bible?

For those serious about an Open Christianity, their first conflict should be an internal one. Whether or not they suffer from Bibliolatry, rather than launch into a defense to prove how they could never suffer from it. The problem with Bibliolatry is that if one should suffer from it, by its very nature, you would not readily identify it.

The Wisdom of the Gold of the Golden Calf

The gold that the Israelites built the Golden Calf out of, was their gold earrings (Exodus 32:2-3). This gold was then melted down and cast into the shape of a calf. After Moses destroyed the idol, he burnt it in the fire, ground it to powder, scattered it on the water, and made the Israelites drink it.

It is interesting that Moses didn't just destroy it. Why would he make them drink it? What’s important is that the material – the gold of the Golden Calf – was always among the Israelites: before, during, and after the Golden Calf. It’s not that the gold wasn't valuable, it’s just that it wasn't important enough to worship in God’s place. There’s a lesson to learn here from this story.

I see the bible in these same terms as the gold but not the Golden Calf. I am not comfortable saying that I believe in an “Inerrant-Bible” because it runs the risk of making the bible the center of one's faith and becoming an idol – making that transition from precious gold to Golden Calf.
To go that far is to go too far: just like the Israelites making their precious and valuable gold and reshaping it into a god. But that’s not to downplay its importance and value. The Israelites drank it and absorbed it within themselves. It is worth making part of our beings. It is worth consuming. It just isn't worth worshiping. The bible is golden but it isn't a Golden Calf.


If God's word and will were so simple, so clear in its intent, then why are holy scriptures so ambiguous? Outside of personal and/or private manipulation and agenda, why can so few people agree? We would be following an apparent omnipotent deity who failed in His endeavor to successfully communicate to us.

If I'm trying to communicate an idea or message to you, there's three places for it to go wrong:
Firstly, I may not have the idea or message straight or correct in my head to begin with. If this is the case there will be guaranteed failure.
Secondly, I may not properly articulate my idea or message and it may be misunderstood.
And finally, you may not properly interpret or understand my idea or message.
If any of these occur the effort to successfully communicate will fail.

But, when dealing with an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent entity, these “rules” change somewhat. The first two point deal with errors or flaws with the communicator, which in the case of God, cannot be, or else we need to reevaluate one of our presumptions (omnipotency and/or omniscience). If there were errors or flaws then they would be deliberate omissions, which could put into question God's omnibenevolence.

The problem cannot be in the articulation of the message itself (the bible) unless we are willing to compromise that God is its author, or had less than genuine intentions. (An alternative possibility is that the bible is a sort of hybrid of human and divine authorship and editing).

And finally, as far as the recipient not correctly receiving or understanding the message properly; I struggle with this one. A perfect God would know how to successfully reach and communicate His message, unless the deliberate intention was to make it veiled, hidden to all except a select few (which would only work with the selected-damned of extreme Calvinism, but, I should think, would compromise this God's omnibenevolence).

We find ourselves in this conundrum because of an assumption; that the bible is the final and total revelation of God. This assumption includes that the bible is somehow the answer or the solution; that it is in and of itself the goal, or contains the goal, or is some sort of map to the goal.

An Open Christianity would hold that it is directional in the sense that it points to a process, a direction of growth, a spiritual evolution, rather than a goal.
In Christianity alone there are over 35,000 denominations. It isn't just Christians disagreeing and dividing among themselves. It isn't just Catholics and Protestants. Catholics don't agree with Catholics and Protestants don't agree with Protestants. Muslims divide into Sunni and Shi'a, as well as Sufi and others. Jews divide into Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionists, and others. Buddhists divide, Hindus divide... every single spiritual path divides. Yet, ironically enough, we have a wellspring of time, experience, and resources at our disposal. Hindus trace back over 4,000 years. Moses led the Hebrews out of captivity more than 3,000 years ago. The Buddha taught his wisdom and shared insight over 2,500 years ago. Jesus preached 2,000 years ago. Muhammad brought forth the Qur'an over 1,500 years ago. Humanists have been around in one form or another since before the Renaissance. If there was one correct way to view or encounter or experience the sacred, in our ever shrinking world, it should have been made absolutely crystal clear by now. 
I think the truth is right before us; we're just holding onto the wrong paradigm. All of us know the Golden Rule: Do onto others as you would have other do onto you. The Rabbi Hillel living a generation before Jesus taught this exact same thing. 500 years earlier still Confucius taught the same thing. Muhammad and Buddha likewise.
In nearly all of our religions and sacred traditions we are called to compassion. Interestingly it has always been made absolutely crystal clear how we are to treat one another.

Let's assume God exists (in whatever form we wish to define 'God' as). Let's also assume God has tried and continues to try to communicate his message to us.

Why has God failed to successfully communicate to the world what's the one true, right belief? And more importantly, why has God left absolutely no ambiguity as to how we are to treat one another? Why is Compassion the one message or instruction we are called to?

If we return to the 3 points of potential failure in the act of communicating and factor in the conundrum of God's 'omni's' traits, I think we find a clear solution. Whether we choose to approach the problem from a single faith point of view, or even from a global, pluralistic multi-faith point of view, we are given little to no wiggle-room.

God's message - Sophia's wisdom - to the world through numerous times, places, and cultures was never a message of the one true right faith. (That was us looking for something's that not there). Sophia's message was a calling to Compassion. Plain and simple. The rest is our controlling, self-serving propaganda.
I don't believe God's 'revelations' are the answers in and of themselves. I believe they are progressive; that they're directional.


Within Christian circles, there are basically ”the Big Three” when it comes to issues of soteriology.

Camp # 1) Eternal Conscious Torment
Camp # 2) Universalism
Camp # 3) Annihilationism

These are the most popular soteriological positions, but they aren't the only ones.

There's what Spencer Burke speaks of in ”A Heretic's Guide to Eternity” as an ”Opt-out” Salvation.

Then there's the Eastern Orthodox's Theosis as well a Catholicism's Purgatory.

I suppose there is also reincarnation (which actually makes sense from a scientific-energy-can-never-be-created-or destroyed-only-changed point of view), but I'm not aware of any Christian denominations or views that hold this.

In an older post (Life Immortal) there are even some perspectives that maintain that God had never intended for us to have immortality. (Funny how that one never really caught on, eh?)

Just for argument's sake, let's just suppose this was true. No eternal life, no Heaven. Just Annihilation. Annihilation for all. God wants or expects us to be good simply because. Our compassion, our love, our good morality are not to be bought or purchased. There should not be a reward for being good. It is simply expected.

Wouldn't that make nearly every type of Christian little more than Spiritual Hedonists? In the end it would all be self-serving, wouldn't it?
""To be a pagan means only that one is not a Christian; and since "being a Christian" is a very broad and ambiguous term, the meaning of "not being a Christian" is equally ill-defined... he feels slight pity or contempt for the "religious" man who does good in order to get to heaven and who, by implication, would not do good if he were not lured by heaven or threatened with hell." Lin Yutang's "The Importance of Living", John Day Company 1937,  pg. 401
Let's take this obsession a step further. Couldn't Christianity completely drop its Soteriological facet? Must Christianity have a soteriological position?

To keep this argument simple, all 3 soteriological positions (ECT, Universalism and Annihilationism) can find biblical support. I know. I've looked.

Isn't it odd that this point too is biblically ambiguous? Clearly God's either remaining silent on this issue, or it's an issue of such insignificance that it's left hanging and we're missing some larger point.

Could this too be a defining difference between a Closed and an Open Christianity?

A Closed Christianity must hold a soteriological view – whatever that may be.

An Open Christianity can remain soteriologically agnostic.

Here's a good question; Does your soteriological view affect your compassion? (and remember, compassion and pity are different).

Should these two things have absolutely any bearing on one another?

Am I only compassionate to others to purchase my own eternal existence? That wouldn't say too much for me, would it?

Would that align with Jesus' teaching of absolute sacrifice for others; a purest form of agape? Would you exchange your salvation for someone else's? Or is that a Christian taboo?

An Open Christianity can remain soteriologically agnostic.

No comments: