Opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of the congregation I joyfully serve. But my congregation loves me!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Are Miracles Essential to Religion?

I do enjoy April DeConick's blog. Most of it is over my head. Some of it has to do with scholarly politics (ie. the shenanigans at the SBL and what not). But I like to check in now and then because she certainly is on the button (at least in my view) regarding history. In her latest post, Talking About Miracles, she writes:
When miracles are attributed to famous people in historical writings - and there are many examples beyond Jesus - historians start with the position that these are stories meant to attribute certain superpowers or status to the famous person, or are being used to show the ancient reader that the person being described was thought to be extra-ordinary, divine or godlike. Why should the historical study of Jesus be any different in terms of method?
Exactly. And she writes:
I am not going to get into the discussion about whether or not miracles can or cannot happen. I am tired of that discourse and all the false labeling that goes on with it. What I want us to face is the fact that we, as biblical scholars, are willing to suspend what we know about our world when it comes to Jesus and so-called historical research about him, but we are not willing to do so for other figures.
I think I have said the same thing off and on, but it is nice when a Ph. D. says it.

I have been wondering about all the miracle business for some time. Does religion need the miraculous? I personally find that all the miracle hoopla around Jesus detracts from his message(s).

Many cannot imagine a Christianity without the miraculous Jesus. If they were to recognize Jesus as an historian does, a person who had miracle stories attached to him like they were for other figures, then it wouldn't be worth their time to go to church.

I wonder how many people really feel that way. I suppose many do. I would say there are others who put up with all the miraculous stuff and attend religious activities in spite of it, not because of it.

What I find interesting is that this conversation is happening out in the open these days. It is incredibly frightening for some. Others are refreshed.

Miraculous-oriented Christians are pretty upset and defensive these days. They think that their version of Christianity (which they believe is Christianity) is being attacked by the non-miraculous-oriented Christians. We see this divide surface in popular culture over things like movies such as The Golden Compass.

Then of course there are the Christians who are in a half-way house. They understand the historical Jesus and so forth but feel the need to keep the miraculous story going. They are the most complicated as they have to do a lot of double-thinking. I find myself in this half-way position a great deal.

For instance, as we approach Christmas, we will sing about the Virgin and tell the Christmas story. None of this happened, as I see it. It is all part of the miraculous legend that was told about Jesus long after the fact. He wasn't born of a virgin any more than you were.

Yet I affirm both the incarnation and that Jesus was born of a humanly impregnated human being just like everybody else. The goal of the half-ways is to find the meaning of the incarnation. The half-ways have fun with the mystical aspect of God being born within us, and being among us, and one with us, and of course we love the pageantry and music, well some of it. We like it as we like a good novel, movie, or story.

Frankly, I love a good holiday, but I could do without the miraculous Christ. The historical study of early Christian origins is far more interesting. For me, it is not just interesting on an intellectual level, but also on a level of how to live my life, how I arrange my values, how I find my "center" if you will.

At some point, I wonder if the half-ways are going to need to make a decision. This decision is being forced upon us in one sense as more and more people are really seeing Christianity as a bunch of bunk. The growth of miraculous Christianity among the neocons and the credulous makes it even more bizarre (creation museums, anti-gay legislation based on the Bible, Armageddon and support for Israel, and so forth).

The divisions now surfacing in the mainline churches will increase I am afraid. It won't be because we are not nice to each other or can't get along. Some of it is that, I suppose. Eventually, the division will happen in the mainline churches between the miraculous-oriented and the non-miraculous oriented. I think it will reach a point in which it is obvious.

The two orientations will realize that they have very little in common with one another. It will come down to those who believe Jesus was actually born of a Virgin (or some other dogma) and those who don't.

I feel a little for the half-ways. They will eventually have to grudgingly go along with one side or the other. Or maybe the half-ways will somehow win the day. Perhaps the center will hold. I am not holding my breath.
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