Monday, January 1, 2018

A Theology for the 21st Century: Faith Is Not Believing The Unbelievable

A relative of mine was explaining to me that for Christians to accept the Holy Trinity; the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, that they must believe that Jesus was literally and physically resurrected or "the whole thing falls apart."

If you don't believe in levitated dead bodies and the "whole thing falls apart," then it's a very shaky edifice in the 21st century, isn't it? Since no dead body has ever physically re-animated in thousands of years, it's unlikely that it ever happened, so it's a very shaky foundation indeed.

I can't claim to completely understand the symbolism of the Holy Trinity. But do I really need to? And why create a "litmus" test that requires me to believe the unbelievable? Why aren't we satisfied with the simple understanding that the nature of God was revealed by Jesus--and that same God remains the core and ground of our being for each of us today? And with our death, the deepest part of our being likely persists unchanged beyond our physical death. (No one knows if our self-awareness persists after death.)  See my blog post "A Theology For The 21st Century."

Faith should not be about believing the unbelievable. As a man of science, I don't literally believe in most of the miracle stories throughout the Bible. I have good company. Thomas Jefferson worked on a version of the New Testament where he removed all of the miracle stories to leave only the moral teachings.

I don’t believe in the literal resurrection of Jesus; but I accept that it’s a story with huge meaning. Jesus’s followers had just suffered the most humiliating and heart-breaking defeat conceivable. For it to happen to the man in whom his followers could see the divine-itself is beyond horrible. His followers could see that Jesus and his teachings revealed the “the beyond within our midst”,“ultimate ground of our being", "our ultimate reality”and THE MEANING OF LIFE ITSELF!

For his followers to see such a humiliating end at the hands of the ham-handed, amoral political authorities is absolutely intolerable. That could not stand!! So, over time his followers, the early Jesus movement and early Church had to protect and preserve his legacy. The resurrection stories did this and became biblical canon. They COULD NOT ALLOW his devastating and unjust crucifixion to end his story! This is the exact point where life, depth and meaning is captured by myth. So yeah, I believe that Jesus is fully God and fully human.

I recently was at the gym and I noticed one of the young gym instructors working with a disabled man. I was close enough to see how attentive, empathetic and supportive this young guy was, like he was bending over backwards to “will the good” for his client. As I was watching, I could see empathy, goodwill and even beauty. I understood that I was witnessing something close to the meaning of life-itself; maybe even the nature of God working in the world. The young instructor was responding to a need so beautifully and his client was open to receiving help. I had to move over to a quiet corner of the gym so I could let flow a few tears. They were tears of joy. Thanks to education and experience, I was able and ready to see the depths of that moment; something extraordinary in the seemingly ordinary. Sometimes movies or books bring me similarly to the depths of meaning of life itself (which is God).

Might this be similar to what Jesus’s followers saw? If so, is it really that different to what the followers of Buddha might have seen?

So God is in plain sight if you know where to look; in acts of kindness, good will and desire for justice for others who we meet---the very definition of the New Testament's 'apape' love. Miracles are not where boulders are moved or where waters are parted but where minds are changed and hearts moved by deep understanding and personal interactions. Think of the reconciliation revealed by the parable of the prodigal son. God is pulling all of us toward the "good" by tugging at our hearts and minds.

It’s clear to even conservative scholars that the Christmas stories of Jesus’ birth were added later by the early Church to complete a “picture.” (This happens a lot in the New Testament. There are also many "sayings" of Jesus that were most likely "written-in" by the early Church.) There’s no historical evidence of any miraculous events occurring anywhere near the time when Jesus was born. In fact, we don’t even know when Jesus was born! But isn’t Christmastime really the most wonderful time of the year? Aren’t billions of people’s lives enriched immensely by these wonderful stories (myths)?? Still convinced that myths don’t have meaning??

It’s important to teach these kinds of things or smart young people will continue to be “turned-off” to Christianity because of a “requirement” to believe the unbelievable.

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