The Luddite Returns with an Easter thought

Posted by on 05.03.10 | 3 Comments
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An update before launching into a quick Eastertide reflection. In the course of demonstrating once again my inability to grasp even the must rudimentary aspects of modern technology Beth referred to me as “One Of My Favorite Luddites.” I rather like this title, and am henceforth adopting it as my Virtual Teahouse name, which should be spelled as “OoMFL.” I am not at all sure how it is pronounced, so you may either add a vowel to come up with “OoMFul” or “OoMFel” or something of that sort, or just begin to refer to me as “The blogger formerly known as Bill.” Now back to our regularly scheduled post.

As a professional Christian (no disrespect to me or my colleagues is intended by that term) I periodically attend conferences with other professional Christians. At our recent spring gathering we discussed, among other things, the question of what is essential to Christianity and what is accidental. For once in my life I added nothing to the discussion, choosing instead to listen to the conversation and to note what was written on the big board that had been posted for the purpose of giving people something on which they could list the various ideas of what was “accidental” and what “essential.” It took me quite a while to process this whole thing; in fact against my will I found myself taking it quite seriously. When I boiled it down to what is essential I could in the end come up with but one thing: we are the organization whose purpose is to tell the world that we are all in this together, and that it is God’s will that we understand this and start living together in peace with justice sooner rather than later. The shameful death and complete vindication of Jesus is the demonstration of this truth, for that death was the direct result of the human attempt to identify a scapegoat who could first be blamed for social unrest, then dehumanized, then killed, and his subsequent vindication showed that this standard human pattern of behavior is completely contrary to the Divine will for the world, whose “plan for us” is not that we all end up agreeing upon certain ideas about the relationship between God and Jesus, but rather that we end up rejecting the kind of violence that led us into killing him in the first place and begin to live lives of compassion.

I can’t figure out anything else Christianity really needs to be about. We can of course have all sorts of ways of getting that essential message across, but those would necessarily be cultural and contextual, speaking to people in terms they can understand, and would therefore be “accidentals,” a term that in this sense would apply to the various doctrines of the church as well as our liturgies and offices.

Divine wrath, for example, is a meaningless concept if by it we mean evils visited upon us by some violent transcendant power punishing us for the bad things we have done. We have never seen such a thing, and those things which we once attributed to that sort of Divine wrath are now seen to have entirely different explanations. On the other hand, Divine wrath becomes a very powerful concept if by it we mean what happens when we create a world without love, peace and justice. Then we can see that Divine wrath is what happens when we so mistrust each other that we rush to see who can first develop and then monopolize nuclear weapons, and so create a world dominated by fear and insecurity. Divine wrath is the condition we must live in when we not only tolerate, but encourage the kind of vast inequalities that characterize the world today. Divine wrath is what happens when we actively destroy the environment upon which we all depend in an effort to make life more comfortable. This, by the way, is the point St. Paul is making in the first chapter of Romans, a passage that has been horribly distorted in recent years by folks with an ideological, rather than a theological, agenda. So this idea of mine is nothing new.

By the same token, redemption then is what happens when life is characterized by the willingness to live for each other; it is what happens when we exercise compassion and love for one another and so create communities that no longer need violence to remain stable. Redemption, in other words, is what happens when we finally go beyond mere understanding of the Divine message being sent in the life, death and vindication of Jesus, but truly and fully internalize that message as well. There are anecdotal examples of such communities; we find them in every culture and religion, and the number and variety of these examples prove that the essential thing is the message itself, not the specific manner in which the message is conveyed.

What I have come to is that in the end we do not absolutely have to have a religion focused solely on Jesus; what we need is a perspective, a new way of looking at ourselves and our world inspired by what happened to Jesus. At its very best Christianity does this, and it is a terribly important that it does. But Christianity is also a finite, limited, context driven way of getting to the truth of what happened to Jesus, and there are in this world other ways of getting at that truth, and so getting out that message.

As John Crossan once said: “If, confronted with the blinding glory of God, all convert freely not to Judaism or to Christianity but to justice and righteousness, then all is well in our religious imagination.” Just so; and in that is the statement of the one essential, a conversion to Justice and Righteousness by all of us.




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