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

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Good Old Jesus and Me

We had a great Jesus Seminar on the Road with Robert Miller and Jarmo Tarkki. Here are some pics on my Facebook.


The subject was Jesus in the first and twenty-first centuries. Bob Miller stayed an extra day and participated in our adult forum and preached on "The Historical Jesus and the Kingdom of God."



It has taken me a long time since seminary, when I first had to wrestle with biblical criticism and critical analysis of Christianity, to make my peace with Jesus. At this point on my journey, I find that the Christ of creed is flat, dated, and oppressive for the most part.

In a liturgical setting, hymns and prayers to the "Cosmic Christ" are tolerable. The Cosmic Christ, Buddha-Nature, God, Goddess, etc. all speak to that transcendent aspect of reflection and experience. Even more so, does good poetry about nature and life.
I like liturgy to reflect the creativity of the human spirit. I can appreciate some of the traditional hymns (especially the classical ones) as long as the words aren't too supernatural, archaic, or bloody. I like "secular" music in worship as long as it's good. Moments of silence are nice.

But when it gets right down to what it is about, that is,
what I want my life to be about, I find the historical Jesus a good resource. He wasn't perfect. As Bob Miller pointed out on Sunday morning, he died young before he could mature and reflect on his vision and mission. He appeared to be impulsive. He cut himself off from his roots and demanded that others do the same ("let the dead bury their own dead") and it is doubtful that he could have sustained an itinerant lifestyle through middle or old age.

But he stood up against the powerful on behalf of the marginalized and that is enough for me. I don't need much more religion than that. I certainly don't need miracles or afterlife. I don't need supernatural beings telling me what to do. Nor do I need supposedly supernaturally derived books as proof-texts for decisions I need to make on my own.

Back to Jesus. He poked and prodded his listeners to live a life with courage. Be bold. Take some risks. Leave the zone of comfort. Stop whining about whatever isn't going your way and have some compassion for others. I mean, really.


Bob preached on Luke 10:1-9, where Jesus instructs his followers to wander around and heal in exchange for food and in the process tell the good folks that this is the kingdom of God. Or in the words of Kurt Vonnegut, tell them, "If this isn't nice, I don't know what is."

For some people, religion should be more than that. They need miracles, angels, resuscitated corpses, reincarnated souls, complex ladders of being, and life everlasting. Not me. I'm good with good old Jesus, the socialist prophet who thought if we shared and healed we would be doing all right.

30 comments:

MadPriest said...

Yes, he said all that. But he also gave reasons why. That God loves people and that the good go to heaven. It's okay for you people who can delude yourselves into believing that goodness has a stand alone worth. But some of us need incentives for doing good that are not just arbitrary inventions of the current cultural elite. I'll be honest with you, if I did not believe in God I would steal whenever I thought I could get away with it and not give a damn about anyone else because it would be ultimately pointless. If I was to ask you why we should behave in a certain way, you would reply and I would just ask why to your answer and that would go on and on until you got bored.

You have deconstructed religion and in doing so have made it impossible for their to be any ultimate meaning to life.

John Shuck said...

Yet there seem to be many people who manage to be as good if not better than religious people who don't do good because God makes them.

I will grant that life is pointless and without ultimate meaning. However, religion doesn't solve that problem. It simply extends meaninglessness into infinity.

"When we've been there ten thousand years bright shining as the sun" I am going to want to check out. If 10,000 years aren't enough to make the point, how about a billion years or a trillion? It may be nice to see granny again, but I don't relish the thought of seeing her for a billion years. Neither of us are that interesting.

Religion doesn't provide ultimate meaning. It just provides a dodge and a delusion. If you want meaning for your life, buck up and make it. The wisdom of the ages, including religion, can be a resource for making our way here and now.

MadPriest said...

Yet there seem to be many people who manage to be as good if not better than religious people who don't do good because God makes them.

Yes, you are wonderful, John. But, if you would actually read my comment you will discover that I am talking about me and my need for a reason to do things.

And you don't address my question, "why bother." You accuse religious people of being delusional but an atheist's concept of goodness, in a meaningless universe, will always be a delusion.

John Shuck said...

But, if you would actually read my comment you will discover that I am talking about me and my need for a reason to do things.

I thought you were using the first person rhetorically. All right fine then, do what works for you.

I thought I did pretty well in answering the two questions, but I will answer the "why bother" again.

There is no ultimate reason to bother. Religion provides no reason either. In the meantime there are many, many provisional reasons to "bother".

MadPriest said...

In the meantime there are many, many provisional reasons to "bother".

Yes. You keep saying that. But what you don't do is name these reasons.

Maybe you have had a wonderful life. Mine has been shit with the occasional brief respite. And I've still got old age, illness and death ahead of me. If there is no eternity of individual memory and sentience then after death comes oblivion. We come from oblivion. It is simple utilitarian logic to conclude that oblivion without suffering is infinitely better than oblivion with suffering (unavoidable death being enough suffering to warrant choosing not to be born). Therefore, there is only one morally righteous choice that an atheist can make in life and that is to not have children. Any atheist that has children is guilty of such extreme evil that any "provisional" good they convince themselves that they are doing is spitting in the wind.

John Shuck said...

Yes. You keep saying that. But what you don't do is name these reasons.

Because you already said that if I offered a provisional reason you would ask why and why and why and it would lead to no external absolute reason. I agree with you. I find no ultimate meaning in my existence. But I doubt you have found it either. Supernaturalism simply enables us to avoid reality.

There are billions of people who believe as you do. Take comfort.

MadPriest said...

So, if there is no reason why are you such an evangelist for atheism? I don't try and persuade everybody to believe in God because I can't prove God exists. I'm not trying to persuade you to believe in God. But I am trying to persuade you to stop going on about there being no God as it makes no sense to take even false hope from people, especially if you think there is no reason to life.

Explain yourself, Mr. Shuck!

At the moment you are being illogical, Captain.

John Shuck said...

I am not an evangelist for atheism. You are making up these names. I am saying what I think is real. I happen to like religion. Believe it or not, there are people who resonate with me. Some of them, like me, are tired of being bullied by your superstitions. They don't need to believe in pretend beings who threaten with spankings or lollipops in order to force them out of fear to behave. Since you do, then by all means, believe it.

MadPriest said...

The thought of you being bullied by anyone is not an easy thing to visualise. But then you are an American. In England Christians don't bully anyone except other Christians. So it's difficult for me to imagine a world in which atheists feel threatened. In fact, in England it's the atheists that do the threatening. Richard Dawkins has a similar sense of certainty as yourself. Which is no problem until you people start having to prove that you are right by getting other people to believe what you believe. I see no difference between you and evangelical Christians.

MadPriest said...

I happen to like religion.

Well, it pays your bills, so you bloody well should :-)

John Shuck said...

You certainly are hostile.

John Shuck said...

That's right, you have no idea, no clue, zip, in regards to what life is like here.

But, no matter.

Snad said...

I'm confused, MadPriest. It sounds like you, a priest, are accusing John of taking away the one thing you think gives meaning to a meaningless existence, yet don't seem to be able to find the meaning yourself, in the religion you are rather hostilely defending.

"We come from oblivion. It is simple utilitarian logic to conclude that oblivion without suffering is infinitely better than oblivion with suffering ..."

Oblivion is oblivion, and suffering or not suffering is outside the definition of it. How could that be any less comforting than eternity with consciousness (Heaven, for those lucky enough to make the grade and Hell, for the rest of us poor saps)?

And if, in order to make the physics of Heaven work out (you know, Granny being seen as a little girl by her second cousin who died at 7 and being seen as a loving and perhaps sexual partner by the husband who died at 60, and yet again as good old Granny) there would be no consciousness, then what's the difference? After all, there is very little in scripture that points to a big family reunion in the sky.

John said "I will grant that life is pointless and without ultimate meaning. However, religion doesn't solve that problem. It simply extends meaninglessness into infinity.

Wow. Sounds fun. Goodness may not have a "stand-alone worth" in the end (if there is one, ha!), but it is a lot more fun, for most people, to be good, to be kind, to try to help one another through the times of shit with or without the brief respites.

Does it give you a brief respite from your shit life to expect someone across the ocean to kowtow to your version of the great hereafter?

John Shuck said...

For the record, I have not said I do not believe in God. I do trust in God. I use the word God quite often and it means many different things for me. I am interested in learning from those who do not believe in God, who do call themselves "atheists" even though I don't call myself such.

God is at least for me a symbol for the universe and a symbol for our highest human virtues and emotions. I explore God as a symbol for creativity and what have you. I am open to other ideas.

I play with those notions on this blog and in my sermons quite openly which may be cause for some confusion. It is also a reason for opponents and others to jump on my open reflections and find a label for me. I find that tedious because the conversation turns to me rather than the topic.

I don't know the exact name of my theology. I explore it. I haven't been satisfied with any name yet.

I am fairly convinced that for me, what I don't mean by God is an external supernatural being.

My religion, and I do call it religion, is about the sacredness of the here and now.

We have been told again and again by the dominant religious culture that our lives are only meaningful if we can live forever.

I object to that theology and I object to the abuses associated with it. These abuses are real and I deal with them. These are people who have been put through psychological hell because of fear of hell and punishment. This is not a hopeful religion. It is fear-based religion. It is as common as dirt.

I easily reject eternal punishment.

I don't think heaven is particularly promising either. I am game to give it a go if it comes to it.

I don't think living forever is what anyone would want when they actually think about it. Forever is a long time.

Certainly, I would like to hang around for a few million years and see how things turn out. I would like to explore other galaxies. There is a real sense that life is a tease.

It is true that life is a living hell for many on this planet and traditional religion including promises of heaven and the guidance of divine beings may provide comfort for them. There are thousands upon thousands of churches and ministers and priests that can offer that comfort.

Even so, not everyone finds that comforting. Something that is not credible is not comforting. It can be liberating and then comforting to actually be affirmed as to what one really believes.

If this life is what I need to call home, then reorienting my meaning toward it can be a wonderful experience.

I came with nothing. I go out with nothing. What have I lost? Nothing. But here I am. I will live.

Many religions realize the illogic of life everlasting. Hinduism and Buddhism do not celebrate reincarnation. They don't want to come back. They want to "blow out" and become "no thing".

Even Christianity in certain forms recognizes a union with the divine in such a way that one loses self-consciousness. It into the sea of God or some such thing. I don't see that as much different from what I experienced before I was born.

Unconscious coming in. Unconscious going out.
Conscious now.
This is where I live.

MadPriest said...

Does it give you a brief respite from your shit life to expect someone across the ocean to kowtow to your version of the great hereafter?

Erm? At least I had the common decency to read John's post before attacking him.

MadPriest said...

We have been told again and again by the dominant religious culture that our lives are only meaningful if we can live forever.

I object to that theology


It's all very well to say you object, but you do not explain what can be regarded as meaningful in a meaningless universe. Even if I didn't choose to believe in eternal life I would not be able to argue with the statement that "lives are only meaningful if we can live forever." I would just have to accept the utter pointlessness of it all. I choose to remain deluded rather than be even more miserable. I am not a naturally good person and I would have trouble getting more fun out of being nice to everybody than being a selfish bastard and taking every opportunity for personal gratification that came may way when there is no reason not to.

MadPriest said...

That's right, you have no idea, no clue, zip, in regards to what life is like here.

Well, I have a better idea than most of my race. I read your blog everyday for a start, and there can't be many of us Brits who do that.

And, no I'm not being hostile. I am just interested in getting you to answer some questions I have about atheists. I can understand why you don't believe in a God person. What I can't understand is why you want other people not to and why you sneer at believers in a God person. And, yes you do, John. Like Richard Dawkins you make it obvious that you think you are more intelligent for not believing in what you call the supernatural.

John Shuck said...

I get that you are speaking for yourself and that you would be miserable without a belief in life everlasting. Thanks for sharing.

MadPriest said...

You can be really pompous. You know that, John.

John Shuck said...

I read your blog everyday for a start, and there can't be many of us Brits who do that.

Why?

And, no I'm not being hostile.

Yes, you are.

I am just interested in getting you to answer some questions I have about atheists.

Stop calling me an atheist. Or do you not bother to read what I write?

What I can't understand is why you want other people not to and why you sneer at believers in a God person.

I am only sneering at you for being hostile.

Like Richard Dawkins you make it obvious that you think you are more intelligent for not believing in what you call the supernatural.

As if you can talk, you pompous ass.

MadPriest said...

I'm sorry. I didn't mean to offend. It's just you come over as someone who wants intelligent discourse and then you refuse to engage in discussion. It's a shame because I would be interested in discussing this sort of stuff with someone who could explain themselves.

John Shuck said...

Refuse to engage in discussion?!?!?

Do you even read anything I write? Or are you so fixated on Richard Dawkins that you see his specter everywhere and project it on me?

I just finished writing a lengthy comment on what I am wrestling with here (2:50 pm).

You say life would be miserable for you if you didn't believe in life everlasting. I got you. Fine. OK. That is your belief. I do not share it. I cannot speak for you, but I wonder if you might do OK after all.

I know you don't agree with me and think I am evil because I procreated, but nonetheless, there are people who really do resonate with what I write and say and are glad that someone in my position writes what I write and addresses these questions.

I may come across as a know-it-all and I suppose that comes with the territory of challenging dogmas.

If the question you are really asking is why do I write what I think which includes challenging the dogmas of supernatural beings and afterlife, here is my response. In addition to what I have already written in this comment thread, I will add this.

I think that people deserve a religious option. I think many people have trouble with these notions anyway, and knowing that there are clergy and churches that offer a religious meaning in this life is helpful for them.

MadPriest said...

Yes. But none of that is what I'm asking. And I am asking. I promise you I am not trying to win an argument. I know you too well to even try to convert you even if I could be arsed, which I can't because it's not my thing.

What I am asking is, "If life is meaningless why do you bother doing what you do? And if life without eternal life is not meaningless, what is the meaning and why is it meaningful."

And no I don't think you're evil. I'm trying to get you to knock holes in what seems logical to me. If you think I'm dogmatic and give a damn about whether you or anyone else believes in God then you obviously don't read my blog as often as I read yours.

At the end of the day the one thing we do have in common is honesty (note my use of the word "choose" when talking about belief). Both our gods are slippery and would appear to be conceits to literal minded people. I can see how my conceit can be helpful. I cannot see how your's can be. So enlighten me. I've been niggling away at this question for nearly forty years.

And sorry about the atheism thing. But you haven't given me a different word to call your beliefs that would differentiate them from what they are not, and I can't write two paragraphs of Tillichesque footnotes every time I want to refer to your beliefs.

John Shuck said...

What I am asking is, "If life is meaningless why do you bother doing what you do? And if life without eternal life is not meaningless, what is the meaning and why is it meaningful."

OK. Good questions. Hard questions. I doubt I will do them justice.

First part:

I do not think that eternal life makes life meaningful. I will grant that people may find meaning by believing in eternal life. The church has taught people to do so. I don't find the doctrine nor belief in the doctrine particularly persuasive. I don't think that believing in eternal life makes this life better or easier.

So, I don't pretend to have the great answer in regards to finding meaning in a meaningless existence. But I don't think eternal life does either.

That said, I think that locating meaning in this life as opposed to eternal life is better in a number of ways.

1) It gets rid of the anxiety regarding whether we are good enough or believe enough to make the grade or whether we believe in the right religion.

2) It locates the sacred and holy in this life on this Earth. That may keep us from denigrating or desecrating Earth.

3) It places value in this life. Life is precious. That which is precious does not last forever. Live this life.

4) It offers liberation from fear of divine beings and eternal hell and provides autonomy for people to make their own decisions about how they will live their lives.

What is the meaning of life?

You have to figure that out for yourself. For me, as a religious person, a Christian, I find a helpful resource for meaning in the historical Jesus. That is what I wrote on this post. [See above]. I see "God" there. There is no reason or evidence that I can provide for seeing God--that is meaning--in Jesus. It is a matter of faith.

I think the historical Jesus had some insights that were quite meaningful. Perhaps that is why we made a religion out of him. I don't find the religion we created (complete with eternal life and supernatural beings) particularly meaningful. But I like what he stood for, and I recognize that the historical Jesus is a reconstruction.

Others may find other resources for meaning and for the sacred that are also located in the here and now.

For those who say, "My life is crap, I need the comfort of heaven" or "I need a concept of a just God to keep me in line" I don't know what to say, except, OK, that's fine. I have no desire to change you.

However, that doesn't mean I won't poke and prod. I think that people might find that they can find ways to find comfort in this life and can develop an internal moral compass if given a chance.

The bottom line is that you can't force yourself to believe in what you don't believe in, so why try? I couldn't believe in a supernatural being or in eternal life anymore if I wanted to. I am not alone. Why berate or kick myself over it? For those who resonate with me, let's find meaning here.

John Shuck said...

Addendum.

I don't really say life is meaningless. It is meaningful. It is located in the here and now and we create it. There is no "outside" that provides meaning.

Hal said...

Beautiful, John. The truth is none of us really knows. In the meantime, we have each other.

And if having each other isn't enough to keep is from hurting each other, "I don't know what is."

Hal said...

Arghh. "Us from hurting each other."

John Shuck said...

@Hal Thanks. None of knows. That is for sure.

Boaz said...

I've read through the comments and I'd like to thank the both of you, Mad Priest and John (oh yes and Snad) for this thought provoking discussion.

Clearly some help is needed to break the deadlock. I'm not a Presbyterian but, being a Sydney Anglican for many years, I did as a matter of course read a lot of the Presbyterian stuff from the 17th Century in my early years, which one did as an aid to detouring/suppressing a forbidden libido.

As I remember it, "What is the chief end of man?" has the answer, "To glorify God and enjoy him forever". Now I'm thinking, could this not be a solution and a way of harmonising your two views?

Clearly, for Mad Priest there is a need to enjoy God forever as a way of understanding his experience of this life, while, I would suggest that John's view:

"I'm good with good old Jesus, the socialist prophet who thought if we shared and healed we would be doing all right"

...is a very good way of glorifying God.

Now, if you need any other problems solved you know where to find me.

John Shuck said...

I did as a matter of course read a lot of the Presbyterian stuff from the 17th Century in my early years, which one did as an aid to detouring/suppressing a forbidden libido.

Ha! Nice.

Thanks for tidying us all up, too!