Universal Love & Jesus

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A Christian friend of mine today posted a comment on Facebook bemoaning modern theologians who consider miracles to be unreal yet who still claim to be Christian. I’m not exactly his target, but as he described such views as painful and “actually rather disgusting,” I felt compelled to respond. I’m sharing some of our ensuing exchange with his permission.

As a former Christian, I remember feeling similarly to my friend. As I respect this friend for many reasons, I’m hoping someday he’ll at least come to respect those who feel compelled to set aside miracles and focus on other aspects of Christianity.

ME: I don’t mean to cause you pain, and I’ll confess that I grieved intently for years after I lost my faith in the literal resurrection and other biblical miracles. I’ll stipulate that the scripture authors believed in their supernatural claims, but it wasn’t a matter of science vs supernaturalism, since modern science didn’t exist.

That said, I still find value in approaching the biblical material with a demythologized liberation hermeneutic.

FRIEND: I’m always baffled by that last. Not saying someone else can’t find value in fiction claiming to be truth simply because I cannot. But Christianity as a proposition or a life path only makes sense to me if it is in fact historically true; that’s what the New Testament writers all seemed to believe (most of ’em died for it). It makes no sense whatever unless the events therein described actually occurred….

And re a liberation hermeneutic… why not just use one that is altogether non-religious. Something from Marx, Fanon, Davis (Angela), or the like? They offer liberation minus the “fiction” of Jesus and gospel and red sea slavery narratives….

ME: As for your first comment, every ancient religion claims miracles occurred that authorize their cultus. Christianity survived because it was better at creating a cosmic narrative that was big enough for the cultural shifts that came after the biblical texts were written, and even capable of shaping those shifts to a significant degree. I consider myself semi-Christian because I can’t shake the conviction that universal love is more true as an ethnic than any other I’ve explored.

What I find non-religious hermeneutics lack is agape, universal selfless love. In fact, I’ve argued for years that Marx got much of his ideas from the liberal Christian Hegel, heretical Christian socialists such as Etienne Cabet, and primarily discarded the empathetic core.

FRIEND: Yes… that universal love can’t exist unless there is a Person at the heart of it. Love, yet non-Sentient Being? I admit that if Christianity was not intellectually tenable to me I’d end up a functional nihilist. Yes, I’d probably still struggle politically for those dispossessed… and yet, it would be hard to feel much conviction in it… more an existentialist rebel yell into the Great Void that in the end will erase all our history, good, bad, or indifferent. But I’m my own personal pretzel, and no one else need pay undue attention. Heh.

ME: I know Christians believe that nihilism is the only rational alternative to orthodox faith, but it really isn’t. Most non-Christians I’ve known find motivations to work for positive goals, often better than the goals of rightist Christians, imo. For me, though, liberalism rings hollow if all we seek is abstract human rights that leave the structural systemic causes of poverty and domination to persist undermining the potential beauty in every living person.

I came to communism via Jesus, though he did lack a historical consciousness that Marxism supplies for me. Marx lacks a gender analysis that feminism supplies. They both lack a racial analysis that Cornel West provided. Buddhism and paganism as well have contributed to my theological constructs, but agape still provides the interpersonal core.

Yes, my finite universal love will die, as will all human love someday, but I don’t believe this is the only physical universe. The cosmos seems to constantly create new stars and worlds, and by speculative extrapolation, universes are also being born endlessly. That means love, though finite in space and time, may also be reborn endlessly in an infinite variety of beautiful histories of struggle and emancipation.

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2 thoughts on “Universal Love & Jesus

  1. I missed the original comment, obviously, but I probably lean in the direction of your friend.

    Of all of the so-called miracles in the New Testament canon, there is one that I find to be central to the Christian identity, and that is the bodily resurrection of Christ. Without that act of God in history (which is essentially what a miracle is), there is no conquering of death, no explanation point on the life and teachings of Christ, and certainly a theological problem to claim the incarnation. (I read incarnation and resurrection to be two sides of the same metaphysical, cosmic coin). And without these two, interrelated claims, you are no longer Christian. You are just a person who thinks that this Jesus dude was pretty cool.

    I find the insistence on some that they can throw away this central tent pole of the faith and claim the label “Christian” to be problematic and in some of their behavior I find disgust. I will never forget Borg belittling an older lady for “holding onto the myth of the resurrection.” (This single event turned me off to liberal theology more than any other)

    I have many more thoughts, but I am afraid I am making zero sense as I have been up for 23 hours and was in class/doing school work for about 20 of those.

    I’ll try and come back and readdress this tomorrow, in the light of day (and tea!).

    1. I agree that no “liberal” Christian has any right to belittle supernaturalist beliefs. They have been the stuff of all human history. In ancient times, the battles over idea were not about miracles or deities, but which miracles and which deities. Today’s defenders of classic doctrines have to construct two arguments, one for miracles and deities and one for the specifically Christian miracles and deity. I side with Bultmann and others that these miracles are not as important as is why these specific miracles were embraced as critically significant, apart from objective facts. For example, why did belief in a bodily vs. a spiritual resurrection make such a big deal to the orthodox faction of the churches that eventually suppressed all other theologies?

      What Christian leftists, such as my liberal friend above and others like him as well as socialists, need to ask is what weight do we give such theological questions in our political activism? The Christian Right is quite happily willing to endorse Ayn Rand, Jewish, and Mormon conservatives and look the other way doctrinally.

      So, yes, Borg’s dismissive attitudes don’t help matters, and there are others such as Spong who engage in a sort counter-dogmatism I find unhelpful to the social struggles that face all of humanity. One can be a full-blooded orthodox Christian and an ecosocialist, so these liberal dogmatists do need to learn the same sort of mutual respect I hope the orthodox can give the theological modernists.

      I see my task as a semi-Christian unorthodox religious communist to be that of bridge-building a secular-religious social revolution alliance. That includes mutual respect across theological barriers.

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