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!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Update on the Easter Poll

People are responding to my Easter Poll regarding the historicity (or not) of the resurrection. You can cast your ballot on the sidebar. Vote the way you think, but if you are curious as to my answers, they are:

#1 No. The resurrection of Jesus is as historical as Muhammed's ascension into heaven (or any other myth you can find).
#2 Creative religious legends. Yup. Are you going to give up your religion if yours can't be the best or objectively most 'true' on the block?
#3 No. Although, what is truth?
#4 Toss up between 'resurrection as proclamation of faith' or 'neither'.
#5 and #6 are for those who do not self-identify as Christian.



I have just started reading Burton L. Mack's The Christian Myth: Origins, Logic, and Legacy. Here is a little bit about Burton Mack.




Mack makes the argument that scholars have used myth studies quite effectively to understand how they influence how societies work. Then he states the obvious:

One might have thought that scholars interested in Christian origins and cultural history would turn their attention to the Christian myth and explore its social functions and rationale in keeping with modern myth theory. That has not happened. The Christian myth has not been an object of scholarly investigation. The very idea of the gospel story being called a myth has been anathema to Christians and scholars alike. Although the gospel was the Christians' story of the gods, and although it was always in mind when scholars were working with the stories of the gods of other peoples, only the stories of the gods of other peoples were called myths. The gospel story, by contrast, was referred to as the gospel and it was imagined as "true" in ways that other myths were not. (p. 17)

He explores what this myopia to our own texts and traditions does for Christians and for "Christian nations."
  • Our religion is true.
  • Theirs are not.
  • We have a mission.
  • Convert them to the true religion.
  • Use any means necessary.

Rather than Christianity taking its place around the table of humanity, Christians, because they blindly think their myth is "true" or more true than anyone else's, won't sit around a common table unless they own it.

This myth of Christian superiority lives out in the myth of American superiority. This "Christian nation" won't sit around a common table with other nations unless it owns the table.

Mack's book is an important book not just for the religious but to open our eyes to how the Christian myth--
because it is unexamined as a myth--has become destructive to the survival of the planet.

21 comments:

  1. #1 No. The resurrection of Jesus is as historical as Muhammed's ascension into heaven (or any other myth you can find).

    This is your resignation you understand. If Jesus wasn't who he said he was then he can't be trusted for anything. If he did not rise from the dead then we have not been visited by God at all.

    On the other hand there is substantial historical evidence for the resurrection - it does not exist in a vacuum. For all we know the ongoing investigation of the Shroud of Turin might be a key piece of forensic evidence verifying a supernatural event such as a resurrection.

    If you stand decided against the resurrection then Jesus is just an idiot to you. Just as an actor signed to Universal Studios says he can't work for the idiot that owns the studio, you will eventually have to find other employment.

    You do have talent and you are a good leader for your church members. It would be a shame to see you waste time managing the lawn supply department at Walmart. Good day and good luck.

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  2. The Muhammed example illustrates an important point. It's funny how Christians will dismiss as fanciful nonsense the extraordinary claims made by other religious faiths, while taking for granted the literal truth of mythological tales in their own faith tradition that have just as much credibility as the ones they deride.

    I do have to say that I have mixed feelings about Burton Mack. I think he has some interesting ideas, but I tried to read one of his books and couldn't finish it. I don't actually remember what caused me to stop reading the book, though.

    Oh--and I don't know what to make of Jim Jordan's comment. Is he issuing some kind of threat against you, John?

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  3. Eh. Could be interesting. It seems like it is making a central claim that is untenable. *Everyone* thinks their myths are more true than other people's myths. True enough to live into. I mean, John, even you are still minister of a church and not imam at a mosque or monk at a buddhist temple or something. You talk about the truths you find in your myth differently from some, but it is still more true to you than others - otherwise, you'd be living into and through those other myths as well.

    I definitely don't buy that Christians, or Americans, are somehow more certain of their myths than anyone else in the world. Its just by accident of ecology and history (Guns Germs and Steel) that puts Christians and Americans in positions of power. It isn't as if another group with another myth wouldn't abuse the power if they had it.

    All the groups with profound, ethically rooted myths likely shy away from the exercise of power anyway :)

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  4. I mean, John, even you are still minister of a church and not imam at a mosque or monk at a buddhist temple or something. You talk about the truths you find in your myth differently from some, but it is still more true to you than others - otherwise, you'd be living into and through those other myths as well.


    I can't answer for John, but my take on this is that there is a difference--a huge difference--between saying that my myths are literally true depictions of historical events and saying that my myths are not literally true but they speak to me on a personal level. That is how John can be a pastor of a Christian church rather than a Buddhist or a Muslim. For reasons of upbringing, culture, personality--or some combination of those factors and maybe others as well--people can be drawn to and attracted to a given faith tradition with its associated myths, even if they don't take those myths to be literally true.

    So yes, one can say that a set of myths are "more true to me", but that isn't the same thing as saying that they are Universally True for everyone. Myths are a portal to the Divine, and saying that a set of myths are more true for one's self simply means that one finds meaning and depth in the deeper truths that those myths point to; that is how it is possible for John to be a Christian and someone else to be a Buddhist and someone else to be a Muslim.

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  5. Hey Doug and Seeker (and yes, Jim),

    Actually, I do not believe everyone thinks their myths are more true than everyone else's. That is actually somewhat unique to Christianity and perhaps Islam.

    Christianity is focused on "beliefs" that one must hold to be true as opposed to others that are false.

    This has been the central part of Christianity's meta-narrative that needs (in my opinion) to be deconstructed.

    Christianity's story is not more true on any level than any other religion. It is not more true historically (as in its story is more historically accurate), nor is it more true regarding depth of meaning.

    Because Christianity believes it is the only true religion and because of its exclusivity and because of its "mission" focus (read conquest) I think it is destructive to achieving equality, democracy, and cooperation with other citizens of Earth.

    I guess I have said that pretty forcefully! : )

    Jim's comments give witness to what I have just said. Christianity is about control. Anyone who doesn't follow the line of "correct beliefs" is out, especially clergy. The wonderful news is that I am neither leaving nor shutting up.

    I have a very different vision for Christianity. This is one that loses the missionary/exclusivistic/belief-centered meta-narrative in place of a variety of Jesus-myths that are healing, liberative, collaborative, and Earth-centered.

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  6. If Jesus wasn't who he said he was then he can't be trusted for anything. If he did not rise from the dead then we have not been visited by God at all.

    Yeah, this doesn't logically follow. Is "love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself" contingent on certain supernatural phenomena? I think it cheapens Christianity to insist on such starkness--"either it is completely true, smotings and all, or it is completely false, Beatitudes and all."

    On the other hand there is substantial historical evidence for the resurrection - it does not exist in a vacuum. For all we know the ongoing investigation of the Shroud of Turin might be a key piece of forensic evidence verifying a supernatural event such as a resurrection.

    You're kidding, right?

    There is a saying about relics that if all the splinters of the True Cross across Europe were gathered, you'd have enough wood to build the ark.

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  7. Incidentally, I have not yet answered question #1, though I did answer the others.

    I believe that Jesus walked and lived on this Earth.

    I believe that Jesus lives now, though in what form is difficult to tell.

    I suppose the "yadda yadda yadda" in between those two sentences is the resurrection.

    It's one of those things in Christianity I find myself trusting in, even though I cannot for the life of me explain it.

    --

    An actor famous locally here is Tom Key, who in the 1980s did a brilliant stage adaptation of Clarence Jordan called Cotton Patch Gospel. Key himself plays many parts, including Jesus. Jesus is born in Gainesville (and laid in an apple crate), baptized in the Chattahoochee, gave a great sermon from Stone Mountain, and eventually executed in Atlanta. On the third day after he was lynched, Jesus appears before his followers and exclaims, sounding a bit surprised himself, "it worked!"

    I love that moment.

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  8. I'm still a little curious what to make of the threatening sounding statements from Jim Jordan ("this is your resignation, you understand" and "it would be a shame to see you waste time managing the lawn supply department at Walmart.")

    Jim Burklo was just last month (or at least I surmise he was, based on I reading between the lines from the cryptic comments in his blog) forced out of his job at Sausalito Presbyterian. And perhaps that happened for reasons that had nothing to do with his progressive views on God and Jesus, but I'm just a little curious about these things from my perspective as a non-Presbyterian.

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  9. Hey Fly,

    "I believe that Jesus walked and lived on this Earth.

    I believe that Jesus lives now, though in what form is difficult to tell.

    I suppose the "yadda yadda yadda" in between those two sentences is the resurrection."

    I can resonate with that. What I don't want to lose is the reality of Jesus or the reality to which Jesus points that we get to through Jesus.

    I am thinking of parallels. In Hinduism Krishna is an historical figure who walked Earth. Yet he is also has wonderful stories about him and is present in the world today.

    Is Jesus "present" in the way "Krishna" is not? Another question is like it, what would the historicity of their stories have to do with their current presence?

    I am not commenting on your comment,really, just kind of thinking aloud.


    Seeker,

    Thanks for your concern about my position. Jim here is simply odd Jim. Harmless, no threat. Unless he tattles, then he doesn't get to comment on Shuck and Jive. That would be a punishment far too great to bear.

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  10. Is it possible for all religious faiths to be equally true, if they are saying contradictory things concerning the nature of God, how we can truly know Him? I can't see it.

    Islam, for example, teaches that it's even blasphemous to consider that Jesus died on the cross at all, let alone affirm that He is the unique Son of God.

    Some faiths may teach a pantheistic concept of God, far removed from the witness of Christian faith.

    I can definitely affirm there we can find common ground, and that there is some real truth in other religions and philosophies. I would not say all other religious faith claims are fanciful, and totally false.

    But, this is not the same as saying all are equally true, or that we are all speaking of the same God in different terms.

    But, how this all ties into America as a Christian nation, I don't know folks. We are far from a theocracy, IMO. Thank God!

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  11. John said**Jim here is simply odd Jim. Harmless, no threat.

    Yes, that would be me! But I did not mean the resignation from PC(USA), or any threat to a job position. Are we too worried about that? I've been wanting someone to fire me from my job for years, only I am the owner and I haven't found a buyer for my business yet (and I don't have the cajones to fire myself). That's the worst case scenario in my opinion.

    But if Jesus did not rise from the dead then why would you embrace the broken spirits of 39 men who were humiliated by the local media? (the 40th killed himself the day after his name and picture appeared in the Johnson City Press). When I mailed a letter of support and love to each of those 39 men, the truth is I knew I couldn't refer them to any other church except First Presbyterian of Elizabethton. That means something to me, and I am sure that would mean something to Pastor Shuck. Value comes from the approval of Jesus not the Presbytery.

    But if Jesus rose from the dead and lives today then what difference would it make if you disagreed about his bodily resurrection if his spiritual resurrection was not in question? Jesus explains the physical nature of spirit in John 3 and it is both physical and spiritual - His metaphor is the wind.

    John wrote**I believe that Jesus lives now, though in what from is difficult to tell.

    I can. I'm taking dinner to a homeless man who lives this week between a hedge and a fence behind my business. I've known about his circumstance for several days but I'm finally responding. Why did I wait? Because I have ADD (i.e. I'm a sinner). Why now? Because Jesus lives.

    Have a great Easter and God bless.

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  12. John,

    "Christianity is focused on "beliefs" that one must hold to be true as opposed to others that are false.

    This has been the central part of Christianity's meta-narrative that needs (in my opinion) to be deconstructed."

    While I understand and to some extent agree, I'd point out that it is too strong a statement to claim this about all of Christianity. Much about Christianity is merely about >faith< as opposed to >belief<.

    Push comes to shove, it is primarily the so called orthodox and fundamentalists that focus on beliefs, and I'd say they do that at the expense of faith. Faith is about trust. Beliefs are about doctrine.

    I trust the Living Jesus Christ. I place my life in his hands every day of my life.

    What I believe about him, well, the Fundamentalists will tell you is woefully insufficient. But Jesus doesn't seem to have a problem with it. He gives me the impression that most of what most people believe about him is wrong, myself included, but that it doesn't matter. He asks for my trust not my system of beliefs. He asks for a relationship based on discipleship. The relationship is dynamic. It has many facets. Sometimes its about love songs, sometimes its about feeding the hungry, sometimes its about fighting, sometimes its about facing the fears of life.

    Beliefs in essential doctrines is to Christianity what the Maginot line was to the defense of France. A static line of defense that is just there for target practice. It's almost too easy, even.

    Building and exploring a relationship on the basis of trust, that is where its really at, I think. And there is absolutely no way to predict where it will go. But I trust it will be good.

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  13. While I understand and to some extent agree, I'd point out that it is too strong a statement to claim this about all of Christianity. Much about Christianity is merely about >faith< as opposed to >belief<.

    I agree. Here is what Marcus Borg says in "The Heart of Christianity":

    Yet the twin notions that being Christian is about "believing" in Christianity and that faith is about "belief" are a modern development of the last few hundred years....Prior to the modern period, the most common Christian meaning of the word "faith" were not matters of the head, but matters of the heart. In the Bible and the Christian tradition, the "heart" is a metaphor for a deep level of the self, a level below our thinking, feeling, and willing, our intellect, emotions, and volition. The heart is thus deeper than our "head", deeper than our conscious self and the ideas we have in our heads. Faith concerns the deeper level of the self. Faith is the way of the heart, not the way of the head. (p. 26)

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  14. Seeker and Jodie,

    Of course I agree with that. I am not a Christian because I believe stuff but because I trust that its most healing symbols point to something real and in turn trust in that reality.

    I could have been more clear. The critique I have is that the dominant form of Christianity is dominated by beliefs in certain things to be exclusively true.

    Two commenters on this post, Jim and Grace, both emphasize this aspect in their comments.

    I am all for Marcus Borg's definition, but as we look at the way Christianity currently functions in practice, it has to do with believing certain things to be true at the exclusion of other things that are false.

    Not all religious systems work like that, and I don't think Christianity has to either, but that shift will be monumental.

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  15. Jim,

    "When I mailed a letter of support and love to each of those 39 men, the truth is I knew I couldn't refer them to any other church except First Presbyterian of Elizabethton. That means something to me, and I am sure that would mean something to Pastor Shuck."

    Thank you, Jim, that does mean a lot.

    "Value comes from the approval of Jesus not the Presbytery."

    Thankfully both Jesus and my presbytery love me! : )

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  16. But, guys,

    Even reason this out together. Of course, Christian faith involves more than intellectual assent to a bunch of propositions. It is about trust, and a relationship, and walking this out in our lives.

    But,Jodie, if Jesus were a mere man, apart from the reality of the incarnation, and the empty tomb, there is no point in trusting Him, or placing your life in His hands. He couldn't even save Himself. He can't love anyone because this Jesus is dead and buried, and not conscious.

    The object of faith is important. Anyone can say the name, J E S U S.

    But, who is Jesus, and what does He actually mean in our lives? Why should we give our lives to Him at all?

    "Who do you say that I am?" The answer to this question makes all the difference.

    And, who are these 39? Why can they only attend John's church, if it's ok to ask?

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  17. Oh, Jim,

    I followed the link. How terrible to make these names public, and thank God that you and John were able to reach out.

    I personally think that our culture's homophobia, and how that can be internalized in people's lives helps lead to all this.

    It's so sad that often the folks who speak out the loudest against anonymous sex, and promiscuity in parts of the gay subculture are also against any legal recognition or affirmation of committed, monogamous gay and lesbian relationships.

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  18. Grace,

    I never said I thought Jesus was a mere man. Personally I believe he was crucified dead and buried, that on the third day he rose again and appeared in the flesh to many faithful witnesses.

    But in all honesty I de-constructed my faith a long time ago. Didn't know that is what it was called at the time, but the process went like this. Item: Can I delete this and still have my faith. If yes, then delete. Repeat for all items.

    The rock bottom I reached was the question of whether this Jesus with whom I am familiar mostly through prayer, and have been throughout my entire conscious life, was also the Jesus that walked the lands of Palestine and died and rose again just as they say. Could I delete that? The answer was 'no'.

    He has used the Scriptures and the community of his disciples to reach me. I have learned to communicate to him through them as well. But those are not the only objects he has endorsed in that manner, nor do they limit him. So when people say Jesus can use other religions to reach other people he loves, or even non-religions for that matter, I say that is not only possible, but also indeed likely. This arrogance some have to claim that God can only communicate with his creation through channels endorsed by Man is preposterous. I am inclined to believe the Dalai Lama knows Jesus much better then they.

    Mythology is a meta-language humans use to communicate. Is it possible that Christianity is rife with mythology? Sure. Metaphor is a meta-language humans use to communicate. Is it possible that Christianity is rife with metaphor? Of course. And poetry and music? Obviously yes. But all this language has stirred up a rumor that there is something, or someone, “out there”.

    So is there something objectively real to this “rumor of Angels”? We toss all this language up into the cosmos, and it reflects off of Something. It comes back to us like a radio wave that bounces off the moon, only re-arranged into a new message, and it tells us yes, Someone is listening and talking back.

    I know Him as Jesus of Nazareth.

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  19. I see, Jodie. Is it possible if we shared and listened long enough, we would understand, and come to agreement together? I love the expression, "rumor of Angels."

    I think Jesus can show up in the middle of a Buddhist temple if He wills it.

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  20. John,

    I think propositional religion comes to us via Greek Philosophy and the Renascence. But I don't see it in the Scriptures except maybe a little in the writings of Paul when he was trying to convince the Greeks and Hellenized Jews to accept Christ.

    It’s one of the tragedies of history that we have largely forgotten the non-Hellenistic versions of Christianity. Hellenized Christianity served us well for 1500 years, but I think it has run its course. In what other area of life would I allow a bunch of Fourth and Fifth Century middle age Turkish men tell me what I can think, read or believe?

    Christianity became fat and lazy in its symbiotic relationship with Empire. Now that the relationship no longer exists, Christianity is drifting. We are searching for mental and spiritual tools that will take us into the next millennium, and deconstructionism is part of that process. I am personally somewhat (not entirely) past my own de-construction phase and moving on to what will be. More mystical, earthier, more accepting and more rooted in the inherent goodness of God’s creation rather than the T of the TULIP. Less reliant on the divide and conquer singsong of propositional logic. I do not seek to understand so much as to stand under. I do not seek to embrace but to be embraced. To be one with the unifying Spirit of Life that breathes in all of creation. This is the direction I feel our Religion should go. And I sense that it was there from the start, and easily found in the Scriptures.

    Some will say that sounds like New Age, but it is really the other way around.

    In a way it’s no different than pruning a tree. Our religion needs pruning from time to time. It hurts to see a tree pared down to the nub, but when it grows back it will be so much stronger, and more beautiful than it is today.

    Grace,

    “Is it possible if we shared and listened long enough, we would understand, and come to agreement together?”

    The very fact that you ask makes it so.

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  21. I know this is a bit off topic, but when did Attention Deficit Disorder become a sin?

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