May 07, 2008


Rachel Lucas has been reading C.S. Lewis. (And dressing her dog up like the Queen of Angels, but there's nothing too new in that; I hate to admit it, but I love it when she dresses her dog up—except, maybe, in the bee outfit, which was a bit much.)

One line from Lewisí book that actually made me laugh out loud (at myself) was that if people ďcannot understand books written for grown-ups, they should not talk about them.Ē Iíve mentioned before that Iíve read the Bible a couple of times, but the thing is, I didnít read it as a real grown-up. The last time I read it, I was actively looking for faults to prove that I was right. I wasnít truly being objective and considering it in a historical or scholarly context.

Itís difficult to articulate on a blog why Iím even bothering trying to learn about Christianity now because as Iíve mentioned before, I hate being misunderstood. The truth is that I am not exactly seeking salvation or God or anything like that, and frankly if I were, I would not talk about it with virtual strangers at this stage of the game. At this moment, my biggest aim is simply trying to relieve myself of the terrifying feeling Iíve had for years that I live in a society full of and run by people who believe a theology I donít believe in, and that therefore I am surrounded by crazy people. Itís a bit of cognitive dissonance that I simply couldnít take anymore.

Is my dad a crazy person? Are 90% of the people who read my blog crazy people? Are most of my friends crazy people? If I think Christianity is crazy, then the only answer to those questions is YES. But it just never added up.

This rings so true for me: in fact, a lot of my family and friends do think I'm crazy—or weak—for believing in God. Crazier still for believing in Jesus as my savior. And I know that plenty of 'em think that's why I'm an "right-wing racist gun nut." But in fact my religious beliefs are entirely separate from my political beliefs: the only connection is that I'm willing to buck the trend in both arenas.

But, Jesus: well, I'm one of those people who do not believe he was a "great teacher," and just a man. I cannot feel a bunch of warm fuzzies about him if he wasn't who he said he was. Either he was the Son of God (and therefore God), or he was, as Evan once put it when we were in Junior High School, "an insane rabbi with charisma."

For me, Occam's Razor applies here.

I would say, "that's all," but it most certainly isn't. However, I'll stop.

Kudos to Rachel for investigating this with an open mind, and for re-thinking some of her preconceived notions about organized religion. The very best we can hope for from anyone is intellectual honesty. She is, indeed, awesome.

Posted by Attila Girl at May 7, 2008 10:16 AM | TrackBack

First off, no dog costume is ever excessive. Ever. I speak as from on high and will brook no objections.

Second, I find the words and example of Jesus just as inspiring, just as much a call to imitation, if he was an inspired rabbi or if he was the Son of God. Personally, I go with the former, not seeing much evidence of a personally involved deity anywhere. But the whole being nice, giving to the poor, getting over yourself thing... that's good advice, no matter what the existential or metaphysical nature of the one who said it.

In fact, I really like believing we can follow the example of Jesus' life without having to believe in His Power To Punish us if we don't.

Posted by: Rin at May 7, 2008 12:58 PM

Dear Rin:

Em, no. Jesus' entire ministry revolves around His claims to be God. And I would strongly recommend you re-read the Gospels if you think that Jesus is all about 'being nice' (see what He has to say about His disciples shaking their dust of their feet), or 'giving to the poor' (John records Mary anointing Him with some perfume that costs a year's salary), although 'getting over youself' is true, even if it includes "take up your cross and follow Me."

Jesus walks around doing miracles as signs of His sovereignty; healing the sick, reviving the dead, mourning with those who mourn. His baptism shows the Trinity being present all at once.

At the end of the day, what we make of His words very much depends on how we see Him. Either Jesus was telling the truth, or He was lying, when He said "before Abraham was, I AM".

Please, please, I urge you to read again the Gospels and see what Jesus says about HIMSELF. And ask yourself; what do His claims add up to?

Posted by: Gregory at May 7, 2008 05:44 PM

Not to mention that if He is not God, he is a liar. Why? Because He said He was God. Funny how no one ever brings that up when they try to tell you that it is enough that he is a man and he said some good things.

If he wasn't God who became man to subject himself to the same rules of life he set out for us, he would be just a man. And His words would be merely opinions. Opinions like the opinions of the 100 billion people who have walked this Earth since the dawn of man have had. Give or take. Opinions, not truth--not Law. The Commandments told us what NOT to do. Jesus told us what to do. And if I didn't believe Jesus was God, I'd file His Words in the same place I file the words of other ordinary men. In my "for what it's worth" file. And I would not build my life upon them.

Posted by: Darrell at May 7, 2008 07:30 PM

gotta love cs lewis. and dogs that wear clothes aren't really dogs for gosh sakes!!! :)

Posted by: zoey at May 7, 2008 07:54 PM

The idea is that his teachings were "misinterpreted" by his followers, that he didn't REALLY mean to claim he was the Son of God, his followers just put that in to fool the rubes later.

Of course, that sort of leads to the question, if they got that central of a tenet wrong, then how can you trust their report of ANY of his teachings? Therefore, you are left with a total intellectual conundrum. The idea that they got the central tenet of his being the Son of God wrong, but correctly transmitted the rest of the teachings is the sort of idea that only someone with the cognitive dissonance of, well, a liberal, could hold.

Note, that since I am a Mormon, I am neutral on all these things, since I am not a Christian. Just ask Mike Huckabee.


Posted by: David at May 7, 2008 08:12 PM

Zoey, I have to defend Rachel's dogs: they are clearly not happy about it. But the scarves and hats just slay me--like it did at the design magazine, when we'd try to get pix of the Bitty Terrier wearing the latest fabric samples as veils or dresses.

I'm becoming a sicko in my old age . . .

Re: Christianity, I have to say that there were teachings of Christ's that were revolutionary--on gender relations, for instance, and the formulation of the Golden Rule in the positive.

But I still think that if Jesus wasn't divine, he was probably insane (or a liar, though that's less likely). And I don't think most of his apostles were on-board with this whole "I am God" thing until after he rose from the dead.

So I suppose one could get by with the formulation that he was insane, but still chock full o' insight. But that seems like small beer to me, all things considered.

Posted by: Attila Girl at May 7, 2008 08:16 PM

My dog loved his sweaters. The halloween costumes, not so much. And the raincoat, frankly, made him depressed. His best outfit was the Harley Davidson t-shirt with matching hat. ;-)

As for Jesus....

First, I have total respect for anyone who finds in the Bible (or another text) inspiration and tools with which to become a better, kinder, more principled human. Second, since the New Testament was not written by Jesus, but by people quoting him decades after the fact, I'm going to hypothesize that the "I am the Son of God" element was not original to Jesus. The essence of the NT is compassion, acceptance, forgiveness, and charity. Not smiting, not judging, and not doctrine.

In any case, not believing in a vindictive God who smites anyone who gets the doctrine a little bit wrong, and instead assuming that "in my father's house there are many mansions" means there's room for all and a lot of ways to get there, I find it most likely that any person of compassion, honorable principles, and personal responsibility can earn whatever post-mortem rewards are on offer, besides the most essential reward for good behavior, which is itself and the world it produces.

I used to be a devout Anglican, married to a pro-forma Catholic. Now, I'm an optimistic agnostic doing the best I can, trying to focus on living as a good person would.


Posted by: Rin at May 8, 2008 06:13 AM

There is no evidence, either, that anyone changed the story of Jesus. The early Christians were persecuted, everywhere, and if there were any contemporaneous 'Gospels'(The Life of Jesus) they were surely hidden. Or existed only in words, kept in followers' minds--to keep evidence out of prosecutors' hands.

Jesus is the fulfillment of the Covenant between God and the Jews--God becoming man. Without that element, the gospels are pointless. And there are consequences for your actions. Go back and reread the Words of Jesus. The point is that Jesus purchased your forgiveness by paying the infinite price with his death on the cross. And is there doctrine? Of course there is! There is the Way, the Truth, and the Light. And it's a one-way street.

Posted by: Darrell at May 8, 2008 11:48 AM

I'm fuzzy about the afterlife, but I don't believe that any of my family members are going to be bunking down with Stalin--in any time, or in any dimension.

I know what I am called to do--spiritually, at least, if not in terms of my writing--and that is enough.

Posted by: Attila Girl at May 8, 2008 02:00 PM

Dear Rin:

Second, since the New Testament was not written by Jesus, but by people quoting him decades after the fact, I'm going to hypothesize that the "I am the Son of God" element was not original to Jesus.

I'm sorry to say this, but that's utter rubbish. No, the NT was not written by Jesus. However, Jesus died around AD33 or thereabouts. The LATEST dates posited for the completion of the Gospels is around AD70. Therefore, we can say that it is likely they were written down earlier, maybe AD50-60. I do not wish to spend too much time on this, but these events were accessible at the time, and immediately after. If the disciples had added stuff Jesus never said, there were thousands of people who could have contradicted them. And Christianity, right off the bat, was one of the most persecuted religions, so you can't argue that there was evidence suppressed.

Again, Rin, I URGE you to read the Bible again, as well as standard apologetic texts, which are not too expensive even if some of them are dry texts.

Posted by: Gregory at May 8, 2008 06:39 PM

I kind of dig the Gospels; St. Paul was such a freakin' sexist, it makes him hard to read.

I haven't read the Gospel of John in a long time--I've been hangin' out with the "linear narrative" guys. Could be I'm overdue.

Posted by: Attila Girl at May 8, 2008 07:16 PM

I would call 30+ years "decades."

I would also point out that the 4 Gospels vary in tone, emphasis, and details, so, without arguing for suppression or collusion, it's possible to say that the exact words of Jesus may not be perfectly quoted, nor yet quoted without embellishment. Those embellishments are, I'm sure, consistent with his overall message, but that doesn't make every syllable of the Gospels the absolute factual transcription of his message.

As for the facts being available to thousands afterwards, that's true. But not everyone was literate, not everyone had access to what the authors of the Gospels were writing, and not all texts have survived or been included in the Canon. I wouldn't argue for robust fact-checking, in other words.

I believe there are many ways of understanding and following the will of the Divine. Mine may be less formal than yours, but that makes me respect yours no less... and no more, than my own.

Posted by: Rin at May 9, 2008 11:36 AM

Decades, yes, but well within the lifespan of eyewitnesses. Which was his point, btw, which you knew, btw. Everything relevant has been included. Not the phony Gnostic 'gospels' of course, because they couldn't even see who was the main character in the life story of Christ. The Jews didn't included Gnostic writings in their texts, either. That's why they glommed on to Christianity. The Gospels vary as most eyewitness accounts vary. Differences with emphasis and minor details, rather than substantiative matters. There are multiple references to earlier written accounts in the historical record, and the surviving Gospels more-than-likely were built around these and oral accounts passed down first and second hand.

Surprisingly, LMA, Luke was associated with Paul. Go figure.

Posted by: Darrell at May 9, 2008 04:02 PM

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