Friday, March 2, 2012

Thoughts While Contemplating Christianity After Religion

In the Dune books there was an “Orange Bible” which conflated all of the wisdom texts of earlier faiths – and religions. Is this where we are headed?

In Star Trek (the original) I don’t think there is any “religion” or “faith” except as found in obscure or primitive-type societies. In Star Trek Next Generation such things have been long understood as emotive expressions of some sort of Jungian archetypes. The wisdom of past religions are remembered and respected. Are these places we are going?

I preached on the Jonestown mass suicide (1978) and later the Hale-Bopp comet as “Heaven’s Gate” suicide (1997). I remember saying that belief can lead us to dangerous places. It isn’t that we will believe this or that, but that we are capable of believing almost any crazy thing.

After my own experience of “the Spirit” as a young adult, after study of Christianity in seminary, after working in numerous congregations and religious institutions, after working with Jesus scholars, I wonder – why think at all any more about these fantastical things? No one pays me any more to do so. I have concluded that no one really knows much about the man, Jesus. The activities of early Christians are little known. There isn’t much there and there never was, except the Christ myth. Martin Kahler said this and I have hated him for it. Bultmann, and Barth, Bonhoeffer and Tillich understood it, but they did not enough with the insight.

This is becoming a sermon, so here is the message: Only we, the table, the bread and wine, and the cross as an instrument of execution by the powers are real. There is nothing else, except all that we think and create and make! [They are symbols that retain power, and will do so until they don't.]

A table is not just a table, it is a center for gathering round, and meeting the other face to face. Around a table perhaps more than anywhere else, we must encounter the other, hear the other, and speak to the other, hopefully without lying or guile, anger or violence. The table is the means for our being human.

Joe Haroutunian, teacher and friend of my teachers, said that "the Spirit" is not a supernatural being beyond and above us. Spirit is the way we speak of our interactions, what happens between and among us.  Similarly, Daniel Day Williams spoke this way of Spirit as the form of love. Robert Wuthnow reminds us that we acted for years as if Spirit needed a space (like a church). Jacques Derrida reminded us that Spirit is the maker of culture, the result of all our interacting. (Such interactions can be used to assemble power against the human – He was writing about how Heidegger came to serve Nazi culture and then would speak no more of “Spirit.”)

Bread and wine are all of the true things that sustain our lives, for there is labor and love in the making of bread and of wine. Sharing our labor and love, and bread and wine and other good food is the most important thing in life. (I don't think Twinkies and other junk count. See Ecclesiastes 2:24a; repeated elsewhere.)

Death is real. We can bear it with wisdom but not without pain when it comes to those we love.

The powers of this world and their weapons are real, too. They bring death unjustly. They must not be feared but should be pitied, for they understand only the accumulation of wealth and power and its expression in violence (often masquerading as something else). Their way is not to a better world or a better life, but ultimately to the end of their own humanity and of the human project itself.

Religion is always allied in some way to the powers and by extension to violence and death. (Hitchens was right.)

Spirituality is what people spin from contemplation of the really real. We should never mistake the spin for what is real, nor the real for mere things.

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