Saturday, July 22, 2006

New kind of Christianity?

This will be posted on the message board at -

I feel like slaughtering a sacred cow today. I’m not Hindu, so there’s nothing to hold me back. Of course I’m rather small to be slaughtering an entire sacred cow by myself. Maybe I can get one stab in. Maybe all I can do is be a vampire bat or an insect and get one bite in and hope the animal will bleed to death or catch a disease from me. If FredP, Aletheia, flow, Cynthia and whoever else no longer post here out of fear that I will disagree with them, maybe I’m more virulent than I realize. I might as well use this destructive power of mine for whatever good I can think of.

For those who don’t like the imagery of hurting an animal, it is true that a “sacred cow” is more like a logjam than a cow. A real cow can be shooed along easily, not by a devout Hindu, but by someone who is free of the false dichotomy of sacred vs. profane, a dichotomy that the real God tells me is nothing He started. A “sacred cow”, meaning an unchallenged idea, needs something more aggressive. Ah, just my line of work.

So what is there that’s so stuck? I have an idea. As long as I’ve been aware of TCPC, I’ve heard that it is beckoning toward the future. Before that I read J.S. Spong’s book about how Christianity must change into something more rational. I guess I’ve heard all of my life that the liberal Christianity I embrace in my own way is the new Christianity, the Christianity where people can integrate the changes in the world with the wisdom of the past and voila, a Christianity for the future.

I’ve never questioned this much. I know an Episcopal minister who likes to say that he goes forward with one foot in science and one foot in religion and how wonderful that is. I pointed out to him that this doesn’t sound mechanically stable to me. If science and religion are going in different directions, they’ll pull his legs apart. He’ll have to choose one at some point. Still it wasn’t clear to me what the problem might be outside of his metaphor.

I think it’s becoming clearer to me what the problem is. New-style Christians are not very Christian. Old-style Christians aren’t either for that matter. I agree with atheists on so many points about the hypocrisies of traditional Christianity. Those allied with TCPC certainly aren’t like that. They don’t pick out these idolatrous causes like being anti-abortion, anti-evolution, and anti-homosexual while neglecting the needy. No, they are pro-choice, pro-mainstream science, and pro-gay, while neglecting the needy, compared to what people might be doing, compared to what the need is.

I’m not going to flesh out that criticism right now, because there are additional areas to criticize. I’ve always felt that whoever cares to call himself or herself a Christian can do so. Fundamentalists have had certain beliefs they consider essential before saying someone is Christian, the trinity, the virgin birth, the atonement, the resurrection and maybe the inerrancy of the Bible. I’m not big on beliefs, one reason I do better with liberals. But on the other hand, gosh, the singing at a liberal church is never that good, like they don't believe it. I have in mind a few songs at a charismatic church on a day when the Spirit was very much in attendance. Wow, that’s amazing. Things like that get so left behind when all people talk about is beliefs, as if the best Christian is the one with the best beliefs, whether that turns out in the end to be, traditional, liberal, Progressive, New Thought, whatever. I’d tell you what God says to me about that, but you won’t believe me anyway.

What maybe you can believe is that the Spirit has something to do with authentic Christianity. Marcus Borg’s book, The Heart of Christianity, has been discussed here in the past. His conclusion seems to be correct that the essence of Christianity is transformation, to die to the flesh, to live in the spirit, to live by faith. Borg describes how it has been a mistake to think of faith as beliefs. Faith can be defined as simply trust and devotion with no elements of beliefs at all. Which definition is God’s preference? Ask Him. Some of us get answers when we ask questions like that in prayer. It’s hard, but how hard can it be when someone like me, who so many must think is a fool, can get answers from God that have given me considerable direction, strength and comfort, and I’m sure will continue that way into the future?

No, that is not purely rational Christianity. It is a spirituality some find repulsive, for various reasons. I don’t think it’s progressive. I don’t think it’s liberal. I don’t think it’s conservative. God just is, whoever and whatever He is. You’re not going to beat that by cobbling together everyone’s beliefs and saying that must be God.

We are all going to die, and at least some of our prejudices will die with us. We will be replaced by people farther along in time. I’m sure that for the immediate future, the next hundred years at least, religion will be about the same hodgepodge it is now. The pressure that conservatives fight will grow. Both the genetics and neuroscience revolutions will provide much more ammunition to say that traditional Christian theology is ridiculous and provide these enticing powers to people so that they will learn the science. Maybe when these sciences fill out their current expansion, to know all 25,000 of our genes in every detail, meaning we know everything genetic in our being, to explore all of the brain that functional neuroimaging can do, it may be enough to say that we can’t explain something about us and about consciousness any more than we can explain the ultimate origin of the universe. Maybe there will be a more obvious place for God than there is now. Now evolutionary psychologists describe a God-shaped void in us, a need for power, knowledge, love and goodness, but they see this as a legacy from atheistic evolution. They haven’t been willing to consider the possibility that a real God fills that void, something nonphysical. It’s not necessary to believe that in order to do the science. Who knows if science will ever argue more for God than it does right now. Atheists might be right, and the God I know is all contained in my head. If so, it is still a much more powerful phenomenon than atheists give it credit or even theists who look down their nose at anything spiritual. It doesn’t just change singing. It changes behavior, at its best it does. It changes many things in that transformation Marcus Borg details.

God is whoever and whatever God is. Can you get an understanding of that from cobbling together so many beliefs and calling it Progressive Christianity? I haven’t seen that. What I see is people saying Progressive Christianity, whatever they mean by that, is what they want to be there in the future. It might not be, any more than fundamentalism can survive forever. God will survive, whatever He is that fills our God-shaped void. People eventually may find religion irrelevant to that.

No comments: