Sunday, April 20, 2008

Repairing the Torn Veil

Part I: The Bad News First

“… only one conclusion is possible… religion that human beings must get right in order to have a correct relationship with god – is a subject that shouldn’t be given Christian houseroom… There were no works of any kind we had to get right to achieve the relationship; we had only to trust him and be pleasantly surprised at the light burden he had substituted for the iron yoke of religion” Fr. Robert Capon

“Therefore, when Jesus would say to people “your sins are forgiven” (see Matthew 9:2; Luke 7:6-50), he was not just being a source of encouragement to hurting people. He was completely bypassing the religious system of his day and helping people connect with God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness, directly… So offering forgiveness to sinners directly was, in a way, both a creative and destructive gesture. Creative for the human spirit; destructive for the religious system. At the same moment he was building people up, Jesus was also tearing religion down.” Bruxy Cavey, The End of Religion, pg. 135.

Bruxy Cavey quotes William C. Plancher as saying,
“’If you couldn’t buy the right kind of animal, then how could you sacrifice? If you couldn’t sacrifice, why have a Temple? By his actions, Jesus seems to be challenging the very basis of religion’”

Herbert Haag, in his book “Upstairs Downstairs: Did Jesus Want a Two-Class Church?”, shares this same opinion:
“Jesus’ threats of the imminent destruction of the Temple should not be overlooked… When Jesus announces that he will rebuild the destroyed Temple in three days, this can only mean the absolute end of the Jerusalem Temple and of any earthly temple at all, and indeed not just of the Temple as a building but of it as it functioned in the way Jesus had experienced it… [D]riving the traders out of the Temple [and] the expulsion of those selling animals and the action against the money-changers… can only have been directed against the Temple practice of sacrifice…If Jesus drives out those buying and selling animals and overturns the tables of the money-changers – all of which was necessary for the conduct of sacrifices – then he makes the whole traditional ritual of sacrifice impossible, he proclaims it to be over and done with… One should indeed bear in mind “that the Temple ritual was genuinely for Israel a heavenly gift through which God wished to save his people from the consequences of their sins and trespasses… When Jesus started driving the traders and buyers out of the Temple and when he overturned the tables of the money-changers and of the pigeon-sellers, then he was offending against the only thing that could secure the continued existence of the people of God’.” Herbert Haag, “Upstairs Downstairs: Did Jesus Want a Two-Class Church?”, pg. 52-53.

Its interesting that the book’s title questions a two-class system – or more specifically, a priesthood-class; Clergy and laity. It made me question, what exactly did Jesus ‘banish’ at the temple?
“…he was upset with the institution’s financial practices, charging too much money for their services and the like. But the meaning runs deeper than that. A den of robbers is not a place where thieves go to rob people, but where they go to hide out after they have done the robbing. The religious system of Israel (like any religious system today) was repeatedly used as a spiritual hideout for people with a guilty conscience. Rather than change how they lived, the people of Israel simply added a little religion to their lives to keep everything balanced. Like the godfather going to Mass on Sunday morning or going to confessional before returning to his life of crime, religious systems make it all too easy for self-centered people to find comfort in familiar rituals without experiencing a change of heart or committing to a life of love.” Bruxy Cavey, The End of Religion, pg. 136-137.

I cannot help but think of Roman Catholicism because of the references to the Mass and the Sacrament of Confession. It has also made me think that the Temple System that Jesus was so set against is very similar to Sacramental Theology. And Sacramental Theology requires a priesthood-class.

It would seem to be that those denominations that subscribe to Sacramental Theology also adhere to the need of those who administer the sacraments. This would specifically be the Roman Catholic, Anglican, and most Orthodox Churches. They would seem to be attempted to repair the veil Jesus torn upon his death. The symbolism is very important because it would be an attempt to undo what Christ had done.

However, before we begin taking the splinter out of our brothers’ eye, maybe we should also check to see if we’ve a log in ours.

Protestantism has done away with the priesthood-class. There are no Protestant priests. Ministers and Pastors, yes, but Ministers and Pastors are not Priests. The difference may be technical or even semantic to some people, but they are not the same thing.
“Some Christians not only call the building they meet in their “church” but they also call a special room where they hold Sunday services the “sanctuary”, a word that means the sacred place where God dwells. And, to confuse our minds just a little bit more, at the front of the sanctuary is often a big table called the “altar”, a word that refers to the place of animal sacrifice in Old Testament ritual.” Bruxy Cavey, The End of Religion, pg. 139.

However, Protestantism – for the most part – maintains the tithing system. Tithing is directly linked to a priesthood-class. Although I don’t personally agree with Sacramental Theology, and by implication those that would administer sacraments (a clergy or priest-class), I have to admit, at least the Roman Catholics, Anglicans, and Eastern Orthodox aren’t playing both sides of the fence. How can the modern Protestant church seriously justify tithing?

“It is biblical”
No, actually, it isn’t. It was biblical for the support of a priest-class, which Jesus did away with.

“It is necessary to support the Establishment/Institution”
(This sounds dangerously close to attempting to repair the torn veil). This reasoning becomes justification for the price of admission. Therefore church would become a show, a stage, entertainment, a spectator sport. I can understand this logic to a certain point. If I were to frequent, let’s say Good Life Fitness, I should expect to pay its fees or membership fee at least. I am, in essence, a member of a club. Now this is fine and fair, however, this is not tithing and under no circumstance should be called such. Also there is the issue of the exclusivity of being a club member. This would seem to fly in the face of some of Christ’s core teachings.

Or, this “It is necessary to support the Establishment/Institution” argument must be some sort of insurance premium paid. If I don’t buy the insurance policy, I shouldn’t expect to benefit when in trouble or in need. Again, this isn’t tithing. In fact, this is closer to blackmail.

Now, I’m not suggesting that this is actually what Protestant churches are actually doing. What I am saying is that you cannot justify tithing once the priest-class has been abolished.

My point being the “Bad News” is religion itself.

Part II: Now the Good News
“Jesus seems to be saying that God’s presence is best experienced in the sacred space that exists between people when love is offered and received rather than in special buildings or pious places.” Bruxy Cavey, The End of Religion, pg. 137.

Now, many of you may be familiar with the aversion I have to what I usually call The Evangelical One-Two-Punch; First the Bad News and only then the Good News.

The first ‘punch’ is the Bad News – “you’re a sinner and you’re going to hell!” Then the second ‘punch’, the Good News – there’s hope in Jesus Christ. Just come to church and… etc., etc., etc.,… you get the idea.

However, I’m going to come across as a complete hypocrite and actually use the One-Two-Punch method of first the Bad News and then the Good News. However, I am going to use the definition Fr. Robert Capon uses for the Bad News.
“In spite of the fact that the Good News of Jesus Christ (to give Christianity one of its own titles of preference) has been seen as a religion by outsiders and been sold as one by its adherents, it is not a religion at all. Rather, it is the announcement of the end of religion... far from supplanting the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Paul actually rescued the Good News of Jesus from the danger of being converted into the bad news of religion... That is why the Gospel alone is Good News and all the religions of the world – whether they're about God or some lesser thing – are bad news.”

Religion itself is the Bad News, and it is Religion itself that Jesus saves us from. Not necessarily from our sin.

But the issue that should actually force us into some serious thought, is when we look at the Bad News as religion itself (and Christianity is a religion), then what exactly does the Good News looks like now?

I will again quote from Fr. Robert Capon:
“...our baptisms (to come finally to the root sacrament of the Good News) do not divide the world into the saved (us, inside) and the lost (them, outside). Baptism – and the church it constitutes – is simply the authentic, effective sign of the mystery of the Christ who has already saved all, whether in or out.”

Once successfully freed from Religion, the Good News becomes a celebration! It becomes a mind-opening experience. It forces us not only to admit, but to legitimately see how 'big', how incredibly huge and magnificent God really is. God's love and mercy and grace no only breaks through the man-made boundaries of Religions – it decimates them!

I realize this concept terrifies many Religionists. I like what passinthru from TheOoze had to say about this:

“Once I realized my box was woefully insufficient, I started to discover that God is in so many places I once thought impossible for him to be. I discovered that when a human being helps another human being out of compassion, that regardless of the face of their faith, God is there. That when a father is utterly devoted to his family and treats them with genuine love, tenderness and respect, that regardless of what name he calls God, God is also there. God is in every true act of charity, in every landscape of breathtaking beauty, in every bar of uplifting music, in every drop of life-giving rain, and in every word on behalf of one who is defenseless, in everything of beauty and worth.

“I'm not saying I'm necessarily a Universalist. But I am saying that I don't believe that all of the actions and words of non-Christians are completely devoid of His nature and His truth.”

This topic can be engaged in conversation at TheOoze's Repairing the Torn Veil.

- continued on Misconceptions

Sunday, April 13, 2008

A Problem with Religious Pluralism

Many people claim to believe in God.

Are just as many people obedient to God?

How is a Religious Pluralist to be obedient to God? To be obedient you must obey God's will. How are we to know God's will?

To the Religious Exclusivist or Inclusivist this isn't an issue (regardless of whether what they believe God's will to be is right or wrong).

If one is to believe or entertain that certain scriptural writings is a combined effort of God's revealed will and man-made agendas (which I do believe), then how are we to know which is which? How are we to discern one from the other?

This is the problem with religious pluralism. This is a problem I'd be interested in hearing an answer to.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Trinity's End

I had never subscribed to the Trinity as a Doctrine. I was willing to accept the Trinity as a man-made concept; a man-made explanation to attempt to explain, or define, the nature of God. It is a useful tool to help a finite mind grasp an infinite entity and concept, but is, at its core, flawed.

The closest I've come to understanding the Triune nature of God (or more specifically, Jesus, or "God the Son") was as follows:

I cannot say with certainty whether I believe in Jesus as being truly eternal. It is a difficult issue. To me it is a paradox. I know the Father is eternal: having no beginning and no end. He is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. I believe He became incarnate in flesh and bone in Jesus, and in that state was a temporal being (bound by the laws of physics and time). Yet He was both perfect Man and perfect God. In essence the Father “stepped into the time-stream”, exiting his state of infiniteness. But on the same note, even if you remove a small piece of an infinitely large being, you are not left with fractions. You are still left with infinite sums. (And similarly, the fraction 'broken' off must in itself remain infinite). Yet the very nature of an eternal being is not bound by the constraints of time. If it ever existed then it always existed.
However, in John Hick's "The Metaphor of God Incarnate" makes an incredibly good point on pg 52 & 53:

"[Jesus]... became conscious of being in a state of mutual I-Thou awareness with the second person of the Trinity. In these moments he was conscious of being in the presence of God the Son and at the same time aware that God the Son was conscious of him. Such a picture would seem to fit the New Testament indications – except of course that the encompassing divine presence of which Jesus was so vividly aware was not the second person of a trinity but simply God, known as abba, father.

[A] possible way of spelling out a limited access of the human to the divine mind is in terms not of occasional consciousness-consciousness interaction but of occasional consciousness-consciousness unity. That is to say, from time to time and perhaps with varying degrees of clarity, the human mind of Jesus became conscious of its identity with the divine mind of God the Son. In these moments Jesus was consciously divine, aware that he was God the Son incarnate. This is consonant with the picture of Jesus offered in the fourth Gospel - except that there Jesus is depicted as believing that the divine presence with whom he was in unity with was God the Father: 'I and the Father are one' (John 10:30), 'he that hath seen me hath seen the Father' (John 14:9)."

What I had understood, or accepted, as the "left-behind", ever-present and eternal part of God, was the Father. Hick clearly makes the point that this belief necessitates this 'piece' as not being God the Father, but must only be God the Son. ... and he's right.

I can no longer accept what I had understood the Trinity - and for that matter, the Triune nature of God - to be. I know many will say or think that I have been unduly influenced by this singular book. However, that would be a wrong assumption. These are thoughts that have been on my mind, in one form or another, for more than 8 years now.

Now combine that with the impossibility of all "two-natured" theses and all "kenosis" theses (all these theses fail or end in heresy), I can no longer accept the concept of the Trinity.

How does one successfully explain, understand, and accept a literal "perfect God and perfect man" without resorting to some loose and undefined mystery? I know the cookie-cutter answer many would offer me: faith. But, again, I am forced to agree with Hick. This formula "is a humanly devised hypothesis; and we cannot save a defective hypothesis by dubbing it a divine mystery."
I am forced to conclude, "...the Christian doctrine of incarnation... has not been found to have any acceptable meaning."

The implications are also far reaching. It confirms something I have always suspected (which I wrote about in Three Syntheses): The bible (the writings of Moses and the epistles of Paul make the greatest examples: see Mat. 19:8 re. Moses, and 1 Corinth. 7:10 vs. 1 Corinth. 7:12 re. Paul) are a mixture of divine inspiration (or 'laws') as well as man-made ideas, theologies, philosophy and 'laws'.


What makes a religion a "good" religion?

I don't know if I'm for the idea that "all religions lead to the same place". There just have to be some religions bad enough out there that can be excluded from the "good religions" category, and therefore should be place in the "bad religions" category.

What would be the standard of the "good" category. Good religions tend to have abstract ideologies (which is fine and good). Good religions must also have some guidelines for putting these ideologies into practice. Here are some possibilities (admittedly expressed in Christian terms):

1. Love God - Having some kind of focus on the importance of loving God and worship. Some kind of clarification that worship is a discipline as well as being enjoyable. That act of worship necessitates the believer to receive love from God

2. Love your neighbor - It would have to have some version of The Golden Rule as even atheists agree (Sam Harris, Karen Armstrong) this is the highest form of moral development.

3. Love is the "most excellent way" - The more stuff you do where love is the motivating principle the better. i.e., NOT giving the guy on the corner a dollar if you know he's going to buy crack. Again, this is a discipline as well as something that feels good.

4. Love you enemies - This is probably the truest litmus test as far as practice goes. My personal opinion is that if a religion teaches that someone should be killed or their rights limited because they believe the wrong stuff or the religion identifies their lifestyle as sinful, than this religion fails this test. On an even more practical level is the daily discipline of this guideline. Who will I come into contact today that I must love? Who did I fail to love yesterday and how can I learn from that mistake?