The Pokey Finger of God

meditations on religion and culture

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The New Touchstone

April 10th, 2018 · No Comments · culture, Illuminations

Let’s start with some definitions.

“Religion” is a set of tools and practices that bring about specific reactions in people — primarily useful in enhancing memory, reducing anxiety, and providing a context for existence.

“Christian” can reference a cultural fundament, or a type of religion or organization, or a niche of media expression, or an element of self-image. Once useful to distinguish the disparate peoples of Rome from the barbarians around it, the title of “Christian” now provides authority to define normals of behavior and interaction among the nearly as disparate modern religious organizations that claim such a title.

“Christianity” is a word that means everything and nothing. In the modern world, and especially in the US, the definition of what makes an organization Christian is extremely elastic, to the point that there are very few elements common to them all.

This is also a good time to point out that I’m not opposed to Christianity in modern practice. Folks today who can get benefit from modern Christian practice — where ever they can find it! — are heroes in my book. However, I’m a big fan of religion, and I know that the world of religion is so much larger (and so much more helpful) than mere Christianity that it’s a good and helpful thing for me to show people where it’s at.

“Atheism” in the modern sense has a lot more to do with an opposition to the cultural and judicial dominance of Christian fundamentalism and Calvinistic tendencies toward deprivation and cruelty, than any sort of sustained disagreement about the nature of God. In Christian Early Church mythos, the early persecuted Christians were called “atheists” for denying the gods commonly worshiped by their neighbors, so classically, it’s less of an anti-religious term than a denial of an authority claimed by a faith organization.

I once upset a fellow by summarizing Christianity as an authority cult. While I’m disappointed to have upset the fellow, I stand by my summary. Pretty much any element of practice or theology that you encounter in one Christian church can be found to be absent, if not taboo, from another Christian church. Expectation of submission to their authority is consistent across all forms of Christian religious organizations. Further, since Christianity started as an emperor cult, submission to the emperor and Empire and the spirit of the Roman people was baked into the foundation of the faith. And so very often, this tendency to cling to tyranny becomes its fatal flaw.

The Gospel stories are beautiful and full of wonderful ideals and the highs and lows of human experience. I certainly do not think less of anyone who reads those words and finds beauty therein, because it’s there to be found by anyone. However, I recognize the Gospel stories as being fiction — sacred and beloved, but fiction. Consequently, the myth of the Early Church, with Christ’s apostles spreading the word throughout the Earth, is equally fiction.

The reason for making this decision is based on simple logic. In the Gospel tales, a man dies, and then returns to life several days later — and his name is Lazarus. Further along in the tales, the character Jesus is shown as dying on a cross and appearing as living some days later. In real life, people who die, and remain fully dead for several days, never return fully back to life. Death is never defeated, that’s a fact of life. So a story in which two men return to life after death is a story that begs me to understand it to be fiction.

But it’s not just fiction — it’s the mythic standard by which a culture from two thousand years ago drew the lines into the future we still run our legal systems on today. I am not relieved of my desire to know the truth of it all by knowing the Gospels to be fiction. If anything, it cranks my desire further.

So the question becomes: where did these stories come from? Who would write such tales, and to what end?