Shuck and Jive

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

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Resurrection Roundup

The Easter poll was a popular one. More responded to it than to the poll on the worst 80s songs. Here are the results:

Poll questions 1-4, choose one answer
Poll questions 5-6, choose as many as are true for you.

Poll Number 1:
The resurrection of Jesus was an historical event.

1. Yes. 73 (57%)
2. No. 54 (42%)


The intent of this question was to poll folks on whether or not they felt the resurrection of Jesus was event of history upon which the New Testament authors (especially the authors of the empty tomb narratives), are seen as reporting on an event, even if these reports may have elements of exaggeration or creative license. Of the 127 voters, 73 said yes and 54 no. 42% is a significant minority.

Poll Number 2:
The Empty Tomb narratives in the gospels are more like:
1. Reliable historical reports of an event. 66 (53%)
2. Creative religious legends. 58 (46%)


This question looks more specifically at the type of literature the empty tomb narratives represent. Only a slight majority see these narratives as historical reports instead of religious legends.



Poll Number 3:
The truth of the Resurrection can be approached through historical methodology:
1. Yes. 51 (44%)
2. No. 64 (55%)

This was interesting in that a slight majority felt that historical method does not lead to the "truth" of the Resurrection. This question did not specify what "truth" is. That may have been enough for many who may have voted yes on question one to choose no here.


Poll Number 4:
Christianity rests on:
1. The resurrection of Jesus as an historical event. 15 (12%)
2. The resurrection of Jesus as a proclamation of faith. 38 (32%)
3. Both. 40 (34%)
4. Neither. 24 (20%)

One-fifth of the voters claimed that Christianity does not rest on the resurrection of Jesus either as an historical event or a proclamation of faith. Only 12% said it rested upon the resurrection as an historical event. Most felt that the resurrection is a proclamation of faith even though 34% felt it needed both faith and history. Does the both answer mean folks have to have faith that it was an historical event or faith in the historical event's meaning?


Poll Number 5:
I am not a Christian because
1. Christians are jerks. 8 (19%)
2. Christians think theirs is the only true religion. 23 (56%)
3. Christianity insults my intelligence. 12 (29%)
4. Christians insist that their myths and legends are historical facts. 25 (60%)
5. Christians are wrapped up in right wing politics: anti-gay, anti-choice, pro-war, etc. 23 (56%)
6. I am just not interested. 13 (31%)

Questions 5 and 6 were for those who do not self-identify as Christians. Multiple answers were accepted. In question 5, 41 people answered with 13 saying they were simply not interested. Only 8 of the 41 said it was because Christians were jerks. That is not a large factor. Also only 12 said Christianity insulted their intelligence. The most popular answers had to do with the way they saw Christianity, connected to right wing politics (56%), as conceiving of itself as the only true religion (56%), and their belief that Christianity insisted upon its legends and myths to be historical.

Poll Number 6:
I might consider Christianity if
1. Christians behaved better. 15 (32%)
2. Christians valued the contributions of science. 28 (60%)
3. Christians valued the contributions of other faiths. 28 (60%)
4. Christian myths and legends could be appreciated symbolically. 29 (63%)
5. Christianity made the world a better place rather than a worse one. 27 (58%)
6. Christians were inclusive to gays, reproductive choice, against war, etc. 32 (69%)
7. I could find a community that respected my freedom to think and to grow. 31 (67%)
8. I am just not interested. 8 (17%)

When pressed, 46 people who did not self-identify as Christian responded as to why. Only 8 of those said they were not interested. In other words, 38 of them said they might be interested in Christianity if it were perceived by them to be different. Only 15 credited their lack of self-identification on the behavior of Christians. Apparently Christians do not hold the corner on bad behavior at least for the other 31. The rest of the answers were nearly even, with a full two-thirds saying they might be interested if they could find a community that respected their freedom to learn and to grow.

What I think this last question illustrates is that many people who do not self-identify as Christian would if they perceived Christianity differently. Obviously, these questions were mine, and they reflect my values, the values of the congregation I serve, and the values of Progressive Christianity.


While Progressive Christianity is not for everyone, it certainly is a path that many would take if they found such a community. This poll as a whole suggests that there are different views regarding the stories of Christianity held by people already in the pews and the pulpits.

While not a majority, a solid minority does not regard the resurrection of Jesus as an historical event. This is an important option for many. Some may regard this as a lack of faith or apostasy within the ranks. They may see this as a sign of an ever-widening division. Others see this as part of the reformation of the church as people continue to learn and grow, embracing both the mysteries of faith and the modern or post-modern world.

The big question is this? Can we worship together? My answer is that we already do and certainly could and should continue to do so.










37 comments:

  1. The big question is this? Can we worship together? My answer is that we already do and certainly could and should continue to do so.

    That may be the big secret--there are lots of people in the pews who don't necessarily agree with the orthodoxy that they are hearing from the pulpits.

    I wonder if a lot of people who attend church know what their fellow attendees are thinking. My experience has been that theology doesn't exactly get discussed at coffee hour--instead, they talk about their jobs or church activities or movies they've seen.

    I remember once attending a seminar of the DVD "Saving Jesus", sponsored by a local church. I was in a breakout session with a couple of women who were probably in their eighties. One of, who I presume was a member of that church (I was just an interloper) said, "I don't think Jesus is God."

    Some people, like me, are more a part of John Spong's church alumni society--people who are uncomfortable with the claims that are being made, claims that we simply reject. But others have less problem with sitting in the pews and hearing some of those things being said. Maybe they get other benefits from being in church. Maybe they've always gone to church and it just what they do. Maybe they like the social aspect of going to church. Who knows.

    Some people would like to impose a hegemony of belief on members. It is all a huge power trip to be sure, but it is ultimately a wasted one. You can try to control the way people think, but you'll never fully succeed.

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  2. I think it has made a huge difference that scholarship now bypasses the pulpit. The pulpit failed in bringing what was learned in seminary to the congregations, so wise scholars brought it themselves.

    In my experience it was members of my congregation who introduced me to the work of the Jesus Seminar and others.

    The largest contribution the Jesus Seminar made to the public was presenting the scholarship of the last two hundred years in accessible language.

    This has helped preachers who were too afraid of harming the faith of the sheep now be able to bring critical scholarship in sermons and in studies.

    It has also made the public more interested in Christian origins and in attempting to make their faith fit a modern context.

    Marcus Borg is now pretty much standard in moderate mainline churches.

    I think it is amazing that this has happened just since I have been in seminary.

    I think it is exciting although not without its tensions.

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  3. John and Mystical,

    You have come to the heart of the problem. The central issue is not the miraculous in general, the interpretation of the resurrection, or views concerning the authority of the Scripture. It's not about the sexuality issue.

    The issue is: Who is Jesus Christ, and what does He mean in my life?

    The church needs to decide if we any longer believe that Jesus is also truly God as well as man. Are we able to affirm the reality of the incarnation together? What does it actually mean to say that Jesus is Lord?

    Everything else we affirm flows from this.

    I will be honest, and share that if the church decides to renounce the Nicene Creed, and leave this affirmation, I would personally have no choice but to leave.

    I have no desire at all to steal anyone's property, take their job, or force them away. But, for me there would be no point in really sticking around at all. The institutional church in my mind would have ceased to actually be the church of Jesus Christ, just another empty cult.

    Sincerely,
    Grace.

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  4. Grace, what is "the institutional church" of which thou speakest? If you want to be with like-minded people, then be with those like-minded people. If you want to be part of an authoritarian religious institution that tries to control the thinking of its members, nothing is stopping you. There is no such thing as "the" institutional church, and hasn't been for a long time. If your complaint is that there exist churches that don't preach what you want to believe, well, join the human race. There are tons of churches that preach things that I don't agree with. That's life. There is nothing stopping you from congregating with like minded people, and I'm sure you'd have no problem finding such people, regardless of what this mysterious "institutional church" proclaims.

    However, I think you really missed the point that John was making, so I'll repeat it here: there are a lot of churches out there already where people with different views--yes, people who actually disagree with you about the incarnation or about whether Jesus is Divine or about 100 other questions--who sit there in the pews with you. Maybe you managed to find a homogeneous church; maybe, if you are really lucky, you found a church that is so homogeneous that everyone is practically an automaton. But the fact is that there are lots of people out there in the pews who don't always agree with the standard dogma. They might even be sitting next to you in church--who knows.

    It is already a fait accompli. People in the churches out there don't always agree with you.

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  5. Mystical:

    'There is no such thing as "the" institutional church, and hasn't been for a long time.'

    Sure there is. The One Holy and Apostolic Church started at Pentecost is still around and preaching the faith once entrusted to the Saints.

    Just last Sunday, I attended a service translated from a Liturgy first used in the 4th century.

    You'd hate it, btw, Mystical.

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  6. "But the fact is that there are lots of people out there in the pews who don't always agree with the standard dogma. They might even be sitting next to you in church--who knows."

    And who cares? So long as they behave themselves as the guests that they are.

    You are welcome in my house, so long as you don't start rearranging the furniture to suit yourself.

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  7. Harry sez:


    "You are welcome in my house, so long as you don't start rearranging the furniture to suit yourself."

    There you have it. It is HARRY'S HOUSE.

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  8. I know you were, Harry. So who owns the house?

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  9. What gets interesting for me where does one draw the line at who is and is not a Christian? It would seem, based on the name itself, that if one is to participate in any sort of community, Christ has to be a factor. Ater all, it makes up a large portion of the name 'Christian.'

    I have no problem seeing even atheists as Christians, depending on their behavior. If they are Christ-like, then who am I to say differently? Of course, I go with a broader description, and just say that I see God in their life.

    But in looking at some key points that Paul makes -- for instance, confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that he was resurrected. I tend to get really symbolic with that idea. What does it mean to say that Jesus is Lord? It means that Caeser is not Lord. All authority on heaven and in earth was given to Jesus, not to any sort of material kingdom here, and not to any leaders we see today. God made Jesus Lord. So if someone rejects an earthly kingdom as trying to be God-like, to me, that's saying that Jesus is Lord. It means that you let no person on this Earth be your Master.

    Even for the resurrection -- I think that can also be looked at symbolically, as it means that one has faith that death is not the end, not the victor, and that there's something after.

    I feel that there are ways of confessing the truth without an intellectual assent as to what that 'truth' is. Such as denying the lordship of a leader today.

    However, I do wonder if Christianity will ever reach the point where it says that maybe there's not a Trinity, and Jesus is not God. For one thing, that would mean saying that for the past ... well, at least 2,000 years, it's been worshipping a man. Once you go down any sort of path that questions "truths" that are historical, you can open up some very uncomfortable doors that destroy the faith altogether. If we're wrong about this historical aspect, what else are we wrong about?

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  10. Good points, One.

    "What gets interesting for me where does one draw the line at who is and is not a Christian?"

    Lines are important when the concern is power. Who is in, who is out has to do with who gets to make the decisions.

    "However, I do wonder if Christianity will ever reach the point where it says that maybe there's not a Trinity, and Jesus is not God. For one thing, that would mean saying that for the past ... well, at least 2,000 years, it's been worshipping a man."

    This is very interesting. Well, 1700 years anyway. When Christianity married the empire is when all this really cemented itself.

    Besides that, I am not sure if it is worship of a man. It is possible that the man never even existed, or at least what we know about the man is pretty unknowable and hardly at all related to the 4th century description of him by the winners or even the various gospel descriptions.

    I think the worship has been of a divine presence symbolized by Jesus Christ. This can be valid even if there was no person Jesus.

    Krishna is a real symbolic presence of the divine even though the historical Krishna is not important.

    What is important, I think, is that the symbol be appreciated as pointing to what is real.

    A friend of mine well-versed in the Hindu and Buddhist traditions has been having a conversation with me about thinking of Jesus as an ishta devata.

    My hunch is that Christians who have a personal relationship with Jesus are really having this kind of relationship.

    The difference with Hinduism as they have a lot of deities from which to choose. Christians are limited to Jesus (or perhaps Mary or the saints).

    However, there are a lot of "Jesus" figures from which to choose. That is why perhaps the variety of historical Jesus figures is helping people find one that fits their inner quest.

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  11. I own my house, and have the deed to prove it.

    But if your speaking about the Church, the Church is the Body of Christ. It is not the sort of thing that can be owned, and it is not the sort of thing that can be appropriated by private definition.

    It is bigger than you or I.

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  12. John,

    **Lines are important when the concern is power. Who is in, who is out has to do with who gets to make the decisions. **

    Very true. I do think we draw the line at some point, in determining the in and out. But I can't make that line be doctrine, because doctrine doesn't really tell me anything. Even the idea that God is love -- that tells me nothing. Seeing someone's life in action, and then having those actions match the statement that God is love does tell me something. My line is the action.

    And even then, I'm still left with the idea that I may see a horrible person, but God might see the little boy that horrible person used to be. The little boy who was twisted by circumstances to be what he is now.

    **I think the worship has been of a divine presence symbolized by Jesus Christ. This can be valid even if there was no person Jesus.**

    This, I can get behind. :) For me, it's worshipping the God I see in Jesus. But I see this same God in everyone, and while God may have been more prominantly displayed in Jesus, I don't "worship" Jesus. I see the Logos as a road, and it leads to God. I don't worship the road, I worship the being that the road takes me to.

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  13. Rev. Shuck:

    "I think the worship has been of a divine presence symbolized by Jesus Christ. This can be valid even if there was no person Jesus."

    "My hunch is that Christians who have a personal relationship with Jesus are really having this kind of relationship."

    The Christian literature is pretty emphatic that the relationship is with a Divine Person.

    Now, it is certainly your privilege to explain this away in any way you want.

    The point is that by not believing in the Living Christ as the second Person of the Trinity you cannot lead your flock into this experience. Your spiritual instruction will lead to some other sort of experience of a "divine presence" at best.

    Thus, you are not leading your sheep into the bona fide traditional Christian spiritual life.

    Which is fine by me, except that by calling yourself a Christian you are guilty of a sort of bait and switch.

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  14. For me, it's worshipping the God I see in Jesus. But I see this same God in everyone, and while God may have been more prominantly displayed in Jesus, I don't "worship" Jesus

    That echoes my own view of things. I think that God is everywhere and in everyone. One person, Jesus, had a deeper relationship with God than many or most of us did, and as such, he revealed (disclosed) something wonderful about who and what God is. That is a great deal different from saying that Jesus was God, however. I think we can all emulate the faithfulness of Jesus to God, without having to engage in the idolatry of making a finite part of the universe into God.

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  15. Harry,

    So what does your analogy about moving the furniture in your house have to do with the church?

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  16. One,

    I need to clarify my "lines" thing. I was offering a critique of line-drawing with that. It has been based on doctrine which in turn has been based on power.

    "My line is the action."

    I think we can make a distinction like that, but very carefully. I think to look back in history, those who started the Inquisition were not in my mind, Christian, or at least Christ-followers.

    "For me, it's worshipping the God I see in Jesus. But I see this same God in everyone, and while God may have been more prominantly displayed in Jesus, I don't "worship" Jesus. I see the Logos as a road, and it leads to God. I don't worship the road, I worship the being that the road takes me to."

    Great! Sounds cool for me!

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  17. Harry,

    Seeker wrote:

    "I think that God is everywhere and in everyone. One person, Jesus, had a deeper relationship with God than many or most of us did, and as such, he revealed (disclosed) something wonderful about who and what God is. That is a great deal different from saying that Jesus was God, however. I think we can all emulate the faithfulness of Jesus to God, without having to engage in the idolatry of making a finite part of the universe into God."

    Also very cool, Seeker.

    The real point here, Harry, is about engaging the mystery. Living it, being it, doing it.

    Who knows all the right answers? Engage the questions, my friend!

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  18. I like to think I am engaging the mystery in a Christian manner. For all my questions the Church has supplied useful answers.

    There is two thousand years of experience lived by the Church. I have benefited from this experience. I think others can too. But only if they get a chance to hear it, and not be fobbed off with some neo-gnostic philosophy.

    Traditional Christianity is actually a viable religion followed faithfully by a large variety of highly educated and thoughtful persons.

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  19. Harry,

    Thanks for your opinion. I will let slide the comment about "neo-gnostic philosophy."

    You wrote:

    "Thus, you are not leading your sheep into the bona fide traditional Christian spiritual life.

    Which is fine by me, except that by calling yourself a Christian you are guilty of a sort of bait and switch."

    You are certainly entitled to your opinion on what the "traditional Christian spiritual life" is.

    You are entitled to your opinion about whether I am a Christian or if I am leading my sheep along the correct path.

    However, I find what you wrote highly insulting. I don't really care what you think about me or my pastoral call. I am a Christian and my "sheep" are doing just fine.

    I am happy for you that you have found the answers you need.

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  20. A few quick comments:

    I'm itching to write a post on my blog someday about the orthodoxy of John Shuck. Because it really does shine through in a number of ways that some visitors to this site miss.

    As disconcerting as it might be for Harry you can find the lineage of ideas in liberal Protestantism within the Christian tradition as much as you can within every major movement from Pentecostalism to Catholicism.

    In terms of the questions I always wanted a third option :) Was the resurrection an historical event? Yes. But was there a physical resuscitation of a corpse? No. Was there an encounter with the living Christ? I love the the road to Emmaus story where Christ is found in the breaking of bread. Is that filled with myth? Yes. Myth and yet true.

    I'm a fan of the Jesus Seminar but there is a faith story here which I think resists historical categorization. I think Crossan is someone who is able to make the distinction of where history can take us and can't (without trying to shut off inquiry). Anyways nice post.

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  21. Rev. Shuck:

    Don't be so coy. When you approve of Joseph Campbell, Carl Jung, Freke and Gandy and Harold Bloom (in a sermon I read), who are all self-professed Gnostics you shouldn't be surprised when you are taken for one too.

    ----------------------------------

    As far as being highly insulted, well, that is a useless sort of emotion. The Church could teach you how to use being insulted as a means of spiritual growth:

    For instance:

    A person who suffers bitterly when slighted or insulted should recognize from this that he still harbours the ancient serpent in his breast. If he quietly endures the insult or responds with great humility, he weakens the serpent and lessens its hold. But if he replies acrimoniously or brazenly, he gives it strength to pour its venom into his heart and to feed mercilessly on his guts. In this way the serpent becomes increasingly powerful; it destroys his soul's strength and his attempts to set himself right, compelling him to live for sin and to be completely dead to righteousness.

    St. Symeon the New Theologian
    --------------------

    Dwight:

    Please do write your blog entry, I promise not to be disconcerted

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  22. Guys,

    I don't think it's at all about power. I think it's about the truth of the gospel, and the fellowship and worship of Jesus Christ.

    What someone thinks about Jesus Christ, and how that's presented in the church affects everything that we're about together. How we do mission, and education. How we worship together. It impacts the meaning of the sacraments.

    A church that does not proclaim the unique divinity of Christ, and everything that means in our lives is no more truly Christian to me than if it were a Muslim mosque, or a Buddhist temple.

    We can all be great friends, and neighbors, and love each other to pieces. We can work together on come common social concerns. But, in truth, on a deeper level we have no real spiritual unity together at all.

    What saddens me as much as anything is the deceptive nature of what's happening, even some church leaders claiming to be orthodox while truly rejecting every central tenet of Christian faith, using Biblically sounding terminology, reciting the Nicene Creed, while investing all these terms with far different meaning than the historic witness of the church.

    I think it's all terribly morally and ethically wrong.

    I don't know if it's possible that people are truly spiritually confused, and deceived. They're not able to see what I'm sharing.

    Or, is this all a deliberate and willful attempt to subvert the witness, and testimony of the Christian church.

    I'm just not sure. Only God knows our hearts, and in the end we are all surely accountable to Him.

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  23. Grace wrote:

    "What saddens me as much as anything is the deceptive nature of what's happening, even some church leaders claiming to be orthodox while truly rejecting every central tenet of Christian faith, using Biblically sounding terminology, reciting the Nicene Creed, while investing all these terms with far different meaning than the historic witness of the church."

    This is a strong accusation. Who is doing this and do you evidence that this is the case?

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  24. Harry,

    Thank you for the St. Symeon quote. I will try to take your insults and false accusations in that spirit.

    "Don't be so coy. When you approve of Joseph Campbell, Carl Jung, Freke and Gandy and Harold Bloom (in a sermon I read), who are all self-professed Gnostics you shouldn't be surprised when you are taken for one too."

    Just because an individual quotes and even quotes favorably the work of certain thinkers on particular points of view does not mean the individual necessarily agrees or even knows all of their philosophy. Guilt by association.

    Back to "neo-gnostic philosophy." Could you define that? If your definition points to something that is enlightening, true, and good I may adopt it.

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  25. This is a strong accusation. Who is doing this and do you evidence that this is the case?

    When push comes to shove, Grace always ends up accusing those in the Christian churches she disagrees with of lies or other moral misdeeds. This is just par for the course.

    I don't think it's at all about power. I think it's about the truth of the gospel, and the fellowship and worship of Jesus Christ.

    You think that the exercise of power and the belief in the "truth" of one's own views can't coincide? Au contraire, my friend, they co-exist all the time. Some of the worst abuses of power come from those who are convinced of the rightness of their, and only their, point of view. The point isn't that some people think they have the "truth", but that they seek to impose it on everyone. As if that were possible. Of course, the point that John raised, which you keep seeming to ignore, is that it simply is not possible to suppress people's freedom of thought. People sitting in the pews next to you may be thinking things that you consider heretical. All these efforts at controlling people's thinking just doesn't always work so well.

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  26. Rev. Shuck:

    I will gladly define neo-gnosticism for you. First let us outline basic Gnosticism:

    1) The world was not created by God, but by an blind and ignorant demiurge.

    2) Somehow, a part of God, a "divine spark" became trapped in matter and these matter encased sparks are called "human beings".

    3) We humans are ignorant of this divine spark because we are oppressed by beings called "archons".

    4) We can become liberated by aquiring knowledge, "gnosis", of the divine spark.

    5) Humanity is divided into three classes "hylic" (or "carnal"), "psychic" (or "soulish"), and "pneumatic" (or "spiritual").

    Now, Progressive Christians, replicate most or all of these beliefs in a more modern form (hence neo-Gnostic).


    1) The demiurge is Evolution, Dawkin's "Blind Watchmaker".

    2) The divine spark. I refer you to your own words:

    "Personal faith is the heart. It is the connection, to rephrase Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell, to our essential Self or what we might call God."

    (emphasis mine)

    3) The archons now (as in the ancient world) the institutional church, who seek to control the masses through dogma.

    4) Modern gnosis is the understanding of the Gospel as myth and allegory duly suppressed, of course, by the archons.

    5) Progressive Christians are the "pneumatic" people, with ordinary Christians considered "psychic".


    Let me append a quote from a review of Harold Bloom's "The American Religion".


    For Bloom the American Religion is a national faith that shapes the way we think and act, whether we realize it or not. He defines it as a "religion of the self," one that is "irretrievably Gnostic." In other words, "it is a knowing, by and of an uncreated self, or self-within-the-self, and the knowledge leads to freedom." This religion is experiential in nature, celebrates knowing rather than believing, and achieves freedom in solitude. The key is that Bloom's "self" has a divine spark within it.

    http://www.nytimes.com/books/98/11/01/specials/bloom-religion.html

    Progressive Christians also espouse a more recent heresy, immanentizing the eschaton.

    Here is an article about it. I know you hate reading assignments, but I don't want to go into it here. The post is long enough as it is.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Immanentize_the_eschaton

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  27. Very interesting, Harry.

    I commend you on your homework. Although your categories are more than a bit of a stretch.

    If you or others are truly interested in an historical study of what moderns have termed "gnosticism" I would suggest April DeConick's blog The Forbidden Gospels.

    Various views were diverse and complex.

    The jump you make to "neo-gnosticism" is little more than name-calling.

    "1) The demiurge is Evolution, Dawkin's "Blind Watchmaker"."

    I have no idea what you are talking about here. Evolution is the scientific theory of change over time. How that corresponds with a demiurge is beyond me.

    "2) The divine spark. I refer you to your own words:

    "Personal faith is the heart. It is the connection, to rephrase Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell, to our essential Self or what we might call God."

    (emphasis mine)"

    This is worthy of further discussion in regards to what we are talking about when we use the term God.

    "3) The archons now (as in the ancient world) the institutional church, who seek to control the masses through dogma."

    Yes, the church has historically (and still does) seek to control its members through dogma and punishment. That cannot be any surprise. I don't think I would use the term "archons" but if you would like to call yourself that, be my guest.

    "4) Modern gnosis is the understanding of the Gospel as myth and allegory duly suppressed, of course, by the archons."

    Understanding the literary type of gospel stories and of other stories is the result of historical and literary criticism. Pretty standard method in the university and the seminary, although certainly scholars are on a spectrum regarding conclusions on specific texts.

    "5) Progressive Christians are the "pneumatic" people, with ordinary Christians considered "psychic"."

    Not my view, but perhaps yours.

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  28. Rev. Shuck:

    What you call "name calling" I call an accurate analysis of beliefs.

    By using this analysis, one can understand why Progressive Christians speak and act the way they do, and in fact make predictions and test and refine the analysis. It works pretty well predictively. It is in this sense, a scientific theory.

    I suspect that you can appreciate the parallels between ancient Gnostic beliefs and your own approach a little more deeply than you would like to admit. I would never accuse you of not having a subtle mind. But I have seen you to be intentionally obtuse when it serves your purposes.

    (I don't mean this as an insult. It is a great debating technique, and here is another place where I am your student.)

    Naturally, I am already a fan of Professor DeConick's blog as a source for ancient Gnosticism.

    For understanding neo-Gnosticism I recommend Harold Bloom, "The American Religion".

    Hans Jonas is also very good, but a bit dated as he wrote before Nag Hammadhi was discovered. But he draws important parallels between Gnosticism and Existentialism which parallels are also an important strain in Progressive Christianity but a bit too subtle to discuss in a blog comment.

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  29. Post Script:

    I would never consider labeling someone as a neo-Gnostic as name calling, any more than labeling someone a Buddhist is name calling.

    Neo-Gnosticism is a perfectly respectable religion, and I enjoy discussions with neo-Gnostics. Such discussions help me appreciate the subtleties of Christianity more keenly.

    But neither Gnosticism and Christianity are well served when they are confused.

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  30. 1) The world was not created by God, but by an blind and ignorant demiurge.

    In that all Christians agree God created the world. We may disagree on the mechanism but the demiurge only makes sense if you need to so remove God from the world that you figure another thing created the world. Sometimes that creation is a mistake. Many times it's evil depending on the type of gnostic. If anything liberal Protestantism affirms quite the opposite: the goodness of the world, the goodness of matter, the belief that God is the source of this. Your average liberal Protestant sounds more like Augustine when talking about creation than dour view of the creation gnostics had.

    As for the other claims...if you were to make liberal Protestants believe this, I'd have to ask what group of Christians, especially in America don't?

    Suspicious of institutions. Belief in direct religious experience. The problem that we don't know who we are in relation to God and the world. Um..that's good old protestantism. I can find it in Luther and Calvin. I can find it in evangelicalism (which of course Bloom claims for this claims in the American religion.) I can find it in any protestant body including my own.

    The claim of Gnosticism in this proves too little (but it does have emotional punch as a word)..much of Christianity can be swept up in these descriptions if you angle them right. Maybe some new agers and christian science folks could fall in the net but while I don't doubt that there are big differences in Christianity, I don't think this term separates out much.

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  31. A few more comments

    Symbolic interpretations are as old, older than Christianity. It's what led Augustine to become a Christian and reject Manicheanism. He was a literalist and that was his stumbling block. Not to disregard the number of ways scripture might be read, but just noting that most of the church fathers would get labeled as gnostic if we took metaphor, symbols, analogy as indicative of gnosticism.

    Also looking at the immanent eschaton: I'm a liberal who *doesn't* believe in that. Actually I may be too much on the other end. I think the language of the eschaton (lamb and lion laying down together) is an ideal which may or may not ever be an event in history. It's an ideal in the only real sense of the word: it's not a reality but always stands in judgment of reality. Like the ideal of democracy stands in judgment of our system. The end of history is one way to speak of it's transcendent quality.

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  32. Harry
    I think the problem is that gnosticism and Christianity have a lot of overlap as well as key differences. So it becomes easy to find the overlaps and brand someone a gnostic but the differences between the two end up being ignored to place that tag on someone.

    Grace
    No one is denying the unique divinity of Christ on here. I suspect that means to you: become a Christian or there's no grace to be found. In that even the poor Catholic church could be found as faulted because it recognizes a grace larger than the visible church. The witness of the church, we ought to be attentive to it. That means including the breadth of that witness (and yeh we have a pretty diverse tradition). And it means that we too form part of the witness of the church. It didn't end at some point.

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  33. dwight:

    I thought you might chime in here, and I thought you might respond much as

    you did. I remain undiscomfited, thank you very much.

    I will admit that my allusion to evolution is the most problematic. I

    almost thought of leaving it out. What liberal protestants believe about

    evolution, somehow being both the product of chance and divine instigation,

    leaves me a bit baffled. I think it leaves most of the atheists baffled

    too, which is why our mutual friend MysticSeeker is so chagrined at

    Dawkin's attack on Progressive Christianity.

    I recognize that liberal Protestants do not subscribe to the ancient

    Gnostic belief that matter is evil, and so didn't include it in my list. But very few self-identified neo-Gnostics do either, which is why I am careful to use that term.

    As far as allegorical interpretation is concerned, I am unaware of any Church Father who interpreted any New Testament event as allegorical. The parables, yes, but not the Virgin Birth or the Resurrection. Please advise me of a Church Father who teaches differently/

    But more to the point, the allegorical interpretation favored by the Progressive Christians coupled with denial of the historicity of NT events count as "secret knowledge" taught to initiates in the semenaries, but withheld from the psychics in the pews.

    As you point out, Bloom finds much gnosticism in American Protestantism and this may well be accurate. If so, so much the worse for American Protestantism in general including your own denomination. I understand that most Protestants believe that when you die you go to Heaven and seem to have forgotten about the bodily resurrection. Sounds gnostic to me, a dualism of soul and body.

    If you want to know what Orthodox Christianity is, you ought to go to the Orthodox Church which has successfully resisted the Gnostic heresies and other heresies, including those introduced by Augustine (e.g. "original sin").

    There are indeed some similarities between Orthodoxy and Gnosticism, including the possibilitity of direct knowledge of God. The problem with Gnosticism is that it looks to a non-existent "divine spark" within themselves (see the Rev. Shucks remark about the "essential self", compare with the Quaker "Inner Light".)

    Chesterton put it best:

    That Jones shall worship the "god within him" turns out ultimately to mean that Jones shall worship Jones. Let Jones worship the sun or moon -- anything rather than the Inner Light; let Jones worship cats or crocodiles, if he can find any in his street, but not the god within. Christianity came into the world firstly in order to assert with violence that a man had not only to look inwards, but to look outwards, to behold with astonishment and enthusiasm a divine company and a divine captain. The only fun of being a Christian was that a man was not left alone with the Inner Light, but definitely recognized an outer light, fair as the sun, clear as the moon, terrible as an army with banners.

    (From "Orthodoxy")

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  34. dwight:

    "I think the problem is that gnosticism and Christianity have a lot of overlap as well as key differences. So it becomes easy to find the overlaps and brand someone a gnostic but the differences between the two end up being ignored to place that tag on someone."

    I agree that there is some overlap, but I am confident I have zeroed in on the differences. There is, of course, much more overlap between Liberal Protestantism and a gnostic-tainted Protestantism in general.

    I speak for Orthodoxy, to the best of my understanding.

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  35. Harry
    I admit, I'm not as familiar with eastern orthodoxy but in some measure orthodoxy versus heresy is as much a function of the communities in which we participate. For me, certain ideas and themes become prominant within the Protestant tradition that get exemplified by sites like this. I think that's a good thing. Of course I think so is eastern Orthodoxy and Catholicism. Hopefully we're in a position to enrich each other's understanding of faith.

    I don't see the secret knowledge piece, especially with John Shuck who does more than most pastors, seek to create programs that connect lay folks and biblical scholarship. And lay folks are hungry for such things. And rightfully so.

    The use of allegory had more to do with difficult or obscure OT passages than certain NT doctrines. But the approach to scriptures which admits of a number of methods was given to us by the church fathers. Today it may be taken in a different manner but hopefully for the purpose of increasing love of God and love of neighbor. Augustine gives us this hermeneutic and it's a pretty good one at that.

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