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Monday, July 28, 2008

Real Christianity.

It has nothing to do with fundamentalism; rituals or memorisation.

by Lego Acies

In his book '381 A.D.' Charles Freeman makes the valid claim that the imposition of a fundamentalist Christian orthodoxy by then Eastern Roman Emperor Theodosius, laid the basis for the development of a literal church and clerical institution. This conservative and inflexible liturgy represented the melding of church and state which found its ultimate expression in the crowning of Charlemagne in 800 A.D. in Rome, as leader not only of the Western European empire, but also of the Christian church. It is obvious however, that Christianity neither in its origins, nor in its ethical program, was developed as a system of supernatural, dogmatism and ritualisation. It is a moral-mental therapy framework. Christianity's universal appeals and ethical precepts have often times, and with negative effect, been buried by institutions; politicisation and by state contamination. This is not what the real doctrine of the church represents.

A literal and dogmatic interpretation of 'scripture' or what is in essence a set of ethical and moral ideals, has stifled debate; created an elitist church structure; and limited what was once the great flexibility and accomodation shown by the Christian sects to other ideas including those of the pagans, Romans, Near Eastern empires and that of the all important Greek civilisation. The first Christians were protean, that is they were very accomodating of debate, ideas and discussions around the primary impulses of the Bible or of what later became scripture.

The key ideas of the church of Christ can be found in the psalms [or poems] which relate a development – Jewish created of course – of mental awareness; psychological analysis and ethical relationships. The psalms are remarkable documents in that they cover all varieties of human emotions and of human relationships. Here then is the first creation of 'self help manuals' or injunctions about what life is about – joy, sadness, family, faith, moral activity, social responsibility. Christ took this Jewish heritage and extended it – calling for equality, justice and love of those whom society at large had struck down or cast off – the poor, the sick, the female, the aged, the diseased.

Men like Origen of Caeserea who taught scripture in the 3rd century AD were men of the true tradition of Christ. Christ's ideals were based on universal concepts. Economic and political equality. Justice, law and safety. Hope through faith, love and gratitude. Respect for others. Good judgement. Protecting the weak. Embracing the wonders of the natural world. Tolerance. Inner strength to struggle through bad times. Good deeds producing their own benefits in this and perhaps another life. These and other concepts are simply moral products taken from Jewish liturgy and expressed in a way that all people can understand and participate in. This was the genius of Christ's teaching. He gave hope and faith and the call to justice, to the masses.

But much of this simple program – powerful and vital – became lost. The church and its institutions began to impose 'one word' and 'one way of thinking' on 'true believers'. There is of course no one interpretation of Jewish or Christian writing. There are for example, 20 odd gospels or good news stories which were written of which only 4 found their way into the New Testament. The church had selected these texts based on what they wanted people to hear or read. This marked aversion to debate, thinking and rationality permeated the church and grew in strength from the Nicene declaration to the Inquistion. It only collapsed with the rise of Luther's protesting movement and a popular revulsion against an unaccountable, corrupt and remote Roman church.

With the Reformation and men such as Erasmus and John Locke and others of the English and Scottish enlightenment, rational humanism and individual spirituality returned – much to the benefit of civilisation. Yet even today in the 21rst century there are many who are dogmatic that we must adhere to 1rst century concepts. This is rather absurd. The church needs to adapt to modern times.

There are thankfully many who reject church fundamentalism. Reverend John Spong of New Jersey is a modern reformer of what he terms 'blind faith fundamentalism'. Spong is an active minister who has written many books on the needed reformation of the Christian church and the irrelevance of ritualised, first century based dogma. Central to Spong's critique of the church is the still outdated and patently absurd reliance on supernatural phenomena. Early Christians – especially the immediate family of Christ – created myths including miracles, a rise to 'heaven' and other unexplanable events in order to impress upon a skeptical Jewish populace that their Christ was indeed the long awaited messiah. These events have nothing to do with real Christianity.

In Jewish scripture and messianic philosophy, the saviour of the Jewish race would be a man above mere human qualities and attributes. He would be a powerful almost pagan-god like creation, a man who would defeat Jewish enemies, end injustice, and impose order and equality including the relief of economic suffering. The Messiah complex is a firm feature of Jewish writing dating back to the time of Abraham circa 2000 B.C. The fact that Christ died the most horribly human of deaths, suffering a crucifixon, was anathema to his immediate family and friends who would now, with his death, be persecuted and hunted for falsely claiming and falsely proposing that their teacher was the divinely inspired Jewish messiah.

Myths, miracles and the 'risen' were thus quite necessary additions not only to impress impressionable minds with the idea that Christ might have been a millenial leader inspired by divine powers; but also quite simply for the family and relations of Christ to survive. First century Jewish leaders and sects – of which many abounded in various degrees of fundamentalism – did not look with great kindness or charity on those pushing forward false prophets. Even the Old Testament and the Jewish Torah warn against false messiahs and condemns to death fakirs or those leaders who claim to speak for 'God'. Thus the false creation of supernatural myths elevating Christ from a man to either the same as God, or the son of God, greatly rigidified Christian thinking and in modern times, has greately detracted from its relevance.

Bishop Spong's admonition to the Church is crucial – blind faith fundamentalism is not Christian. Memorising, prostrating oneself, believing that simple stories, allegories, examples or illustrations are some literal word of God is preposterous. This was never the intent of those who wrote the Bible over 1000 years. The additions by the Church long after the death of Christ of Greek concepts of 'Hell'; hellfire; eternal punishment and eternal sins; or even more ridiculous the idea of predestination in which you are born as a predestined favorite of God; are all concepts which destroy rationality, true faith and which enforce intolerance. Intolerance, blindness and stupidity are not what the Christian church is about.

Spong's declaration that Christianity must go back to its ethical and rational [yes thinking cognitive] roots is an essential message in an era of post modern emptiness. Christianity is vital mental therapy and its injunctions to be mentally aware, support the Golden Rule and to be grateful for the wonders of life, is critical for living a balanced life. Spong puts it very well when he writes:

“I am called to live ethically, to care for others and all creation....the church is called to work for the empowerment and expansion of life....Christian education is the search for truth. I believe that life in community is important. We are free to live fully and love wastefully...Belief is not a set of doctrines. It is instead the way in which we live in our world and with each other.”

Amen brother. A beautiful statement of purpose. Origen, Erasmus, Spong. These men get it. The fundamentalists don't.