Monday, June 21, 2010

When I Speak of Myself 3

I think it is somehow fitting that I tell this part of the story on the Summer Solstice...the longest day of the year. We are drenched in light and heat (well, out here in the desert we are) and there aren't many shadows. Thank you all for stopping by.

You guys remember where we left off, right? So, I was Pagan (or was I?), I had a new understanding of ethics with which to view the world and my movement through it, and even if I didn't completely like my life, things were better and that was ok.

This next part will probably make more sense if I explain a couple more things from my childhood...cue the flashback music...

Somewhere in a history or religion class, I was taught that there was a natural evolution of religion. The primitive people of the past were polytheistic, meaning they had lots of gods, but the modern, enlightened people were monotheistic, and had only one god. In my young brain (the same one that thought the Moon was more powerful than the Sun, because She could go where He could not...) didn't like this concept. For one thing, thinking that one being could take care of *everything*, every single little thing...just didn't make sense. Heck, even at home there were things my Mother did, and other things my Father did. I also didn't care for the feeling that we were supposed to look down our noses at those poor, poor people who still thought there were multiple gods.

No matter how many times I ran across this concept during my school years, I never liked it. It wasn't like going from stone to metal...a natural technological change. Why couldn't people have more than one god? Specially since the other gods I was learning about seemed way cooler than the robed, bearded duder who seemed so far away.

((Just a side note's not my intention to insult those who have a relationship with Jehova, or Yahweh...this is simply how I felt about Him at the time.))

...and end flashback...

Alrighty, so it was somewhere around this time that I learned about Deism. From the Wikipedia page it says, "Deism can be a belief in a deity absent of any doctrinal governance or precise definition of the nature of such a deity." I realize that this only one facet to Deism, but this is the one that I gravitated to and it ended up forming the core of my eventual belief system. It made sense to me that if there was a intelligence or intelligences out there that were capable of envisioning the entirety of the universe as we know it (and perhaps all the rest we haven't discovered too...), then it would be something so beyond our experience as a human being that we couldn't possibly be able to connect to it.

Enter Joseph Campbell. Through studying at home, and seeing his lectures in a couple anthropology classes, Joe has become one of the most influential people I have ever studied, right up there with ol' Aristotle.

From Joe I learned what a religion is, and what a system of belief needs to do in order to be considered a religion. I learned what a metaphor is, separate from the literary device, and how it applies to a belief system. It was the first time I'd heard the phrase, "petrified religion", and it changed the way I looked at the Abrahamic faiths.

He said that believing the words of a book to be the absolute word of any deity was like going to a restaurant and eating the menu, instead of using it as a metaphor for the food you could order.

Woah...wait, let's see if I have this straight...

Ok, so on one hand, I have the idea that the nature of deity is undefinable. And on the other, I have the idea that metaphor is the language with which we communicate to deity.

Which deity? I dunno, it seems that it doesn't really matter...since the intelligence that created the universe is so much more vast than my human understanding.

What metaphors? Well, it also seems that there are so many out there, and most of them have some really good points, so it seems like it doesn't quite matter.

Now hold on a minute here, this is sounding like you're saying that because the nature of deity is unnamed and unknown, the metaphors that we use to communicate with it can be our choice?

Yes, that's exactly what I'm saying.



And that's exactly what I did.

With that, I think I'm going to stop here today. I have a feeling that I raised more questions than I answered, and I really want to be able to go into my epiphany that I have been promising for like a month now, without feeling like you guys are gunna get to the point where it's all "tl:dr".

So I wish each of you a blessed Solstice, and as always, thank you for reading.

Till next time, be well,


  1. You wrote: "It made sense to me that if there was a intelligence or intelligences out there that were capable of envisioning the entirety of the universe as we know it (and perhaps all the rest we haven't discovered too...), then it would be something so beyond our experience as a human being that we couldn't possibly be able to connect to it."

    The thing I find so great about the Christian faith is that while we agree with this statement, we also believe that this God is all about connecting with us and making him/herself knowable to us, to the point where he became human and lived among us. This fascinates and thrills me =)

    Maybe I'm overstepping here, but I couldn't quite grasp what you feel about this statement you have made about deity being beyond our experience. Do you feel comfort in this knowledge, or insignificance, or freedom, or simply satisfaction in being able to articulate the way you understand deity? Or something else? Anyway, I'm just curious how this makes you feel. Or perhaps the answer would contain spoilers for your next post...

    Two other quick comments:

    I googled "petrified religion" and didn't come up with any good explanations. I could wager a guess, but could you explain what you mean by this?

    I basically agree with your menu analogy. I have often felt that many fundamentalist Christians believe in the Bible first and God second, as if the Bible defines or contains God in some way. I have a beef with that kind of thinking. I can elaborate on this at length if requested, but don't wish to bog down your comments section any more than I already have =)

    I look forward to your conclusion to see where this is all headed.

  2. Polytheism -> Monotheism -> what?

    I look forward to the day when the next step happens.

    And Deidre, I agree completely. My theory is that Biblical literalism is fundamentally (<.<) about lack of faith. If you cannot believe in a Deity, you grasp at physical things that you can believe in, like a book. If one part of it weren't literally true, then maybe none of it is. That is why evangelism is so important to them, it isn't so much a matter of sharing good news as trying to make their own beliefs more real by destroying disagreement.

    Ultimately, literalists are idolators of a sort.

  3. I was a Deist briefly during my fall from grace :). I was raised Southern Baptist, and by the age of thirteen realized that I didn't believe in most of it. I still believed in Jesus and God for a while. But after a while I thought about it a bit more and realized that something really bothered me about the Christ story.

    I was always taught that Jesus died on the cross for my sins. But as a kid, my sins were pretty trivial in retrospect, certainly not requiring any death to balance the scales. It would have made more sense if Jesus took a time out and a couple of spankings for my sins. So the sense of scale seemed off.

    Also, the idea that any one person can assume responsibility for another one's actions seemed wrong to me.

    And finally the resurrection completely ruined it for me. I think I may have asked my sunday school teacher about it. I don't remember the answer if there was one. I asked "If Jesus is God, then he can't really die, can he?" I remember at some point being told how wonderful it was that God was willing to experience death for us. But that didn't make any sense to me either. If you give your life to save mine, you do it for keeps. God wasn't playing for keeps, he got to take back any marbles he lost and go home. What is the meaning of sacrifice if nothing is lost?

    I don't think there was a single moment of change for me. At some point I realized that Bible stories didn't sound that different from Zeus or Odin.

    Anyway, I enjoy discussing religion. Fun stuff.

  4. "Ultimately, literalists are idolators of a sort."

    Ooooh, yes. I can't believe I've never thought of it that way before.

  5. There are three main understandings of what Christ's death & resurrection means for our salvation (aka theories of atonement). Forgive me if I'm repeating something you already know here--I have no idea what your background or education is--but I'm going to outline them ever so briefly. The one you appear to be reacting to is substitutionary atonement, namely, the idea that the penalty for sin is death, and that Jesus volunteered to take the punishment in our place. This theory gets the most press in North America because it's what the vocal evangelicals believe.

    The "Christus Victor" theory of atonement is that in Christ's resurrection, he triumphed over the powers of sin and death and can therefore liberate humanity from bondage those powers. A third theory is that of "moral influence" (good idea with a lame name), namely that Jesus showed us by example how God wants us to live and that having this example makes it possible for us to follow in his footsteps and become Christ-like.

    I like the latter two ideas best, and I do have some difficulties with the notion of substitutionary atonement. "Wait, what? You say that God loves me but deep down he really wants to kill me, so thank goodness for Jesus?" One way that I do manage to wrap my mind around it is that God relates differently to people throughout the ages (this is obvious in reading the Bible as God moves from relating to Adam & Eve>Abraham>Moses & the Law>Jesus Christ & the church), and that perhaps this kind of atonement made more sense to people in ancient cultures that included religious atonement sacrifices. But I sure can't relate to it very well today.

  6. My understanding of the Christus Victor model of atonement is that humanity had subjected itself to the devil with original sin and the fall and that Christ was the ransom for the devil.

    Since this all predicates on the concept of original sin and the devil, I don't find it particularly compelling.

    The Moral Influence or subjective theory seems similarly uncompelling, since his death was essentially meaningless in objective terms. He didn't save anyone else from being crucified. If he had spoken up, he would have been released. I've never been sure what that death was supposed to mean. What is the moral lesson? If you piss off the establishment enough that they want to kill you, you should let them just to show them? Without either the ransom the devil theory or the guilt-switcheroo theory, I don't know that it holds up in any way. Of course, Abelard was also famous for inventing limbo just to avoid the concept of babies going to hell.

    It seems to me that stripped of the supernatural threat of either god's damnation or the devil's damnation, Christ's death was basically unecessary and meaningless.

  7. Yes, the idea of ransom is one way of explaining christus victor. The devil was holding humanity in bondage to sin, and accepted Jesus as a ransom for them, but the joke's on the devil because he can't hold Jesus. Jesus beat the devil, so now we're all free to go. The ransom idea is still about Christ's victory over the powers of sin & death & evil.

    Moral influence wouldn't work at all if Jesus didn't die. His death is part of his humanity. Jesus really knows first-hand what it's like to be us. If nothing bad ever happened to Jesus, his moral example would be moot because we could always say, "Yeah, well, Jesus never had to deal with _______ so his example doesn't apply to me." Moral influence isn't supposed to be about saving anyone from crucifixion, that's substitutionary atonement.

    In Christianity there is a lot of talk about humility and submission. As John the Baptist said, "He must become greater, I must become less." I understand that this is counter-intuitive and/or distasteful to many, which is probably why the moral influence idea doesn't always resonate well with those who don't follow Christ. I can't think of anything else constructive to say here since I suspect we won't agree anyway. (Sometimes typed words on a screen don't convey tone of voice very well...I meant that in a respectful "agree to disagree" kind of tone, not a snarky one.)

    And you're right: Christ's death & resurrection is unnecessary and meaningless if you don't believe in some sort of sinful condition that humanity finds itself in and needs to be divinely saved from. It's kind of part of the Christian belief package.

    As for limbo, the best response I have to that is....*facepalm*. I'm with you on that one.

  8. The question of moral influence boils down to the divinity of Jesus. For a human death is for keeps, and barring external supernatural agencies, a permanent state.

    For a human, the giving of one's life is literally the most one can give, and means something profound.

    For a omniscient, omnipotent deity, not so much. Sacrifice means giving something up. What did god give up on that cross?

    "For God so loved the world, he gave his only begotten Son*"

    *offer valid for three days only.

    Christ's story would be so much more compelling if he were only a man.

    I am uncertain as to what you mean by humility in this context. Perhaps you could expand on that.

    And in closing, I really enjoy this. I hope I don't come across as snarky or dismissive.

  9. I'm enjoying this too! It sounds like we're on the same page with the lighthearted banter and non-snarkiness. Let's always assume the best tone of voice in each other then =)

    I guess I just don't see it the same way you do with your "3-day only offer" idea. God didn't have to die at all, but we all do. The great thing about being divine and immortal is that you never have to experience that kind of pain and fear, you're above it all. But God did choose it, along with all the scorn and humiliation that came with the public execution as a traitor, nevermind the disappointment of his followers. And Jesus was afraid of dying, it's not like he took it as lightly as you're suggesting a god would.

    You're right, I didn't connect the humility & submission thing very well.

    The moral lesson is that you don't win by becoming a king and conqueror of your enemies, such as Jesus might have done if he cashed in all his popularity and went with the "King of the Jews" style of messiah-ship and liberated his people from Roman oppression. You win by doing the right thing, refusing violence and domination that are the powers of this day and age, but leading by example in faithfulness and humility and righteousness. Jesus was tempted in the desert to take earthly acclaim and political power, but he refused, choosing instead God's path of humility and nonviolence and submission the consequences of faithfulness. We are not citizens of this age, we are citizens of heaven, and we need to start acting accordingly even if it costs us our lives.

    You know, I'm not sure that was any more articulate than my previous answer. Sorry, it's the best I can do at 1:00AM. I'll be up front and say that much of my theology here is influenced by the work of John Howard Yoder, and that I'm an Anabaptist, so not all Christians everywhere will necessarily agree with me.

    P.S. You seem to have some theological know-how, so I've just assumed you're catching my biblical referencs and such. If I've skipped over something you would rather I explain fully, just let me know.

  10. P.P.S. You've been outed, Clark. *wave*

  11. that she is having fun reading.