Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Divinity vs. Morality

I have a lot of issues with the Christian right. I'd like to say it boggles my mind how they can use Jesus Christ as an excuse for bigotry and violence, but the truth is it doesn't. The core of my belief in Jesus Christ is based on the moral code that he laid out. Christ told us not to judge each other. He told us to live in love and tolerance, and that is why I love Him.

For the right, however, the value in Christ lies not in his teachings, but in his divinity. They assert that the only way to be deemed good in the eyes of God is to accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior. In doing that, they not only elevate themselves (in their own minds) above everyone of even slightly dissimilar belief systems, but they also negate the value of Christ's core teachings (in their own minds). This is a problem.

Luckily, I'm not the only person who has noticed this problem. Apparently Eric Reece has too. From The Washington Post:

American Christianity has historically been focused so obsessively on the
Nicene Creed—which says Jesus was the son of God, who was crucified for our sins
and rose from the grave three days later—that it never made much room for the
actual teachings of this radical Jewish street preacher.

This is why I'm against Easter. It celebrates the death of Jesus nearly to the exclusion of his life. If the Easter miracle can save us from this life, then why bother with the harder work of enacting the kingdom of God here? It is, after all, much harder.

Back in Catholic school (from which I will probably never recover), some religion teacher or another explained to us why Easter is the most important holiday in the Christian calendar (instead of Christmas, which is what we all thought it was). It is, they said, Jesus' death and resurrection that make his life significant, not his birth. Even as an eight-year-old, this argument didn't hold water for me. First of all, how can a man die without first being born? If He hadn't been born, none of this would have happened. There would be no Christian code of morality to ignore, nor would there be a resurrection to revere (though some of us might argue that it's pretty unlikely there actually was a resurrection).

Every denomination of Christianity, whether or not they like to admit it, has evolved out of the Catholic Church. Nothing makes this more evident than the prevailing Christian obsession with the death of Christ. I mean, what's the central symbol of Christianity? It's the cross on which Jesus died. While most Christian denominations have progressed from mourning the death of Christ (as the Catholics do every day of their guilt-ridden lives) to celebrating it, the obsession is still there, and still disturbing.

To follow the Word of Christ, or rather to follow the spirit of the message, is a brave thing to do in America. Now, as ever, the prevailing religious sects are self-righteous and corrupt. They praise a God who said not to judge, yet all they do is condemn. They worship a God of Love while spewing only hate. They follow the letter of the law (the parts they like, anyway) without understanding the meaning behind it. They are fucking ridiculous, and they think we're fucking ridiculous. It's pretty fucking ridiculous.

So, good on you, Eric Reece, for calling them on it. That's WTF Jesus would do.


Joshua said...

Yeah, we need to stop talking about Jesus' death and more about his teaching. You know, like:

John 12:24 "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit."

John 15:13 "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends."

John 10:11 "I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep."

Mark 8:31
And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32And He was stating the matter plainly. And Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him. 33But turning around and seeing His disciples, He rebuked Peter and said, "Get behind Me, Satan; for you are not setting your mind on God's interests, but man's."

So, you know, in the words of Jesus: "Get behind me, Satan"

Jocelyn said...

Also a White Stripes album.

As for the rest of it, of course there's honor in martyrdom (when it's the only option), but that's no reason to negate verses like, say, John 15:12 (conveniently left out of your quote, which says "My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you."

Or John 8:15, which says "You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one."

Or perhaps John 12:47, which says "As for the person who hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge him. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save it."

Hannah said...

And a damn fine White Stripes Album, too.

I don't understand this obsession with Christ's death. First of all, if we Christians were supposed to be celebrating His death our big holiday would be Good Friday. It's about the RESURRECTION! It's not about His death, it's about His triumph over death. That's what I was taught by the Catholic church. One Sunday many years ago I remember a priest saying in his homliy "we are an Easter people", it gave me a really different understanding of Christianity. He may have died to save us from our sins but He rose from the dead to give us eternal life. The fact that he was born and died is lead up to the resurrection. However, that doesn't mean that Christ's teachings should be lost - it seems to me that should be the blueprint for how to live a Christian life.

I get a little preachy around Easter time. Regarding the cross, it was originally used by early Christians to identify themselves to one another when the Church was a clandestine organization, I believe. It was later adopted by Constantine and became the symbol of Christianity - and there's probably a few other steps in there.

Jocelyn said...

I regularly blame Constantine for everything that's wrong with Christianity. He turned it into a political organization, and so it largely remains. Stupid douche.

Hannah said...

Jocelyn, you nearly caused me to laugh out loud at my desk thereby drawing attention to the fact that I am not working.

Jocelyn said...

Then consider this my revenge for coming up with "Jocelonians".

...Wait, that was you, right? Or was it Phoebe...?

Hannah said...

Yeah, that was me - I'm kind of proud. There are so few people in this world who appreciate Bible-based humor.

Jocelyn said...

I know what you mean. I think I'm the only person who's excited about that Year One movie with Jack Black, and the only reason I'm excited about it is because in the trailer some babe asks Jack to enter the "Holy of Holies" and he's all "What a coincidence, because I want you to get on the Poly of Polies," which is possibly the funniest thing ever uttered.

Joshua said...

You made the argument that we focus on Jesus' death rather than his teachings. I countered that he taught about his death. You responded by quoting verses about not judging.

I'm sure that's not what you meant, but don't worry, I don't judge you for your fallacious argument.

Jocelyn said...

Ha. OK, when you put it that way... yes, I realize I didn't articulate myself very well at all. What I meant to say (and failed) was that these verses I listed (and others) are often blatantly ignored by Christians who believe the divinity of Christ is all we need be concerned with.

I've seen many a street preacher crying to anyone who will listen about why they're all going to Hell (in the name of Jesus, of course). Which, if my assessment of the Gospel is correct, is contrary to His message.

To believe in the value of the moral code outlined by Jesus Christ does not negate the value of His divinity. To believe that His divinity is the most important part of the equation, however, really devalues His moral code. So, while I agree that there is at least symbolic significance in His death, elevating the death and resurrection above Christ's acts in life is dangerous and proven to lead to some pretty bullshit behavior.

Alexah said...

Your blog is always an uplifting experience, Jocelyn. YOU are WTF Jesus would do.

Hannah said...

You have to have both His acts and words when he was alive and the death and Resurrection. I believe that it is not enough to have faith, you have to have the words and actions to go along with it. Christ's teachings are supposed to guide us, He was teaching his followers how to live. But His death and resurrection are proof of his divinity. Without that isn't he sort of just some dude who had some good things to say?

However - the whole faith alone vs. faith + good works is one of the major differences between Catholics and Protestants and probably most fundies too.

Jocelyn said...

Alexah - thanks!

Hannah - this is, of course, where the argument gets sticky. I try to concern myself with the morality of Christ (on this blog, anyway), because arguments about the rest of it are subjective and personal. I see no point in arguing with people's ideas of who or what is or is not divine, as none of it can be proven or disproven and I don't think it really matters anyway.

But you're right. Both faith and good works are professed in the Bible. To let either one fall by the wayside is, ultimately, abandoning half of the message.

Hannah said...

I guess I missed the point. I don't really care what people believe but if they are going to claim to be one thing and act another I think that's bs, that I think we can agree on.

Marj said...

Hannah - What's wrong with the idea the Jesus was just some dude who had some good things to say? I'm not Christian (by choice...was raised in a pretty a-religious family, went to Catholic school) and I don't believe that Jesus was the son of God, but I do think that if there was an actual person named Jesus who taught the things that he supposedly taught, he was a pretty cool dude with some pretty awesome things to say. I think it is his teachings (acceptance, tolerance, love, etc...) that should be a universal moral code. Regardless of whether he was the son of God or just some radical in ancient Israel, his teachings have changed the lives of millions, possibly billions of people for the better.

Jenny said...

I read a book recently called 'Grand Theft Jesus' and it delivered unto me my new favorite bible verse (I haven't had many, being an atheist raised by atheists) Luke 6:46 'And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?'

If I went to pro sports games I might hold up a sign saying Luke 6:46, to counter the John 3:16 thing.

Jocelyn said...

Jenny - welcome to my life. Perhaps I should put Luke 6:46 up on the sidebar of this blog.

Hannah said...

See that's where I missed the point - I understood this post to be about Christian hypocrisy, not about what should or shouldn't be a universal moral code. There is absolutely nothing wrong with thinking that Jesus was just some dude. However, Christians believe that he is divine so if you are going to use the behavior of self-proclaimed Christians to point out their hypocrisy you have to include that aspect of their faith. Christians are supposed to follow Christ's teachings because they are (in Christian tradition) the Word of God not just because they are good ideas. My point is that if you want to use Christ's teachings to point out the hypocrisy of his followers you have to understand their beliefs, not discount them. Otherwise you are pretty much just saying, "you are a hypocrite for not believing what I think you should believe" and that is a different issue.

Jocelyn said...

Perhaps it's my fault for posting this in the first place. The argument as to whether or not Jesus Christ is divine is not one I want to get into on this blog or anywhere else. Even if this is a Christian blog, it's not just for Christians. I am, ultimately, a universalist, and as such flat-out refuse to argue with anyone over who or what is or isn't divine. I'd much rather argue with people over what is or isn't the right thing to do.

The morality laid out by Christ is not unique to Christianity. These ideas are good ideas, and therefore are present in most religions. That said, the morality laid out by Christ was laid out pretty explicitly, and I take serious issue with anyone who pays lip service to Him without behaving accordingly. It's one thing to be a douche. It's another thing to be a douche in the name of someone who specifically told people not to be douches.

I don't think that "you are a hypocrite for not believing what I think you believe" is every something that would be said on this blog, in those words or others. We're talking about Jesus Christ, not my ideas of morality. I disagree with some of what Jesus said (or may have said, as I do not believe the New Testament has an entirely accurate acount of His life), particularly on the subject of sexuality. I'm a bit more into the free love than He is. That said, that's not the argument I'm making. The argument is now and always shall be "Jesus said this, and you're doing the opposite. In His name. WTF?"

Hannah said...

Jocelyn, I am not arguing one bit about whether Jesus Christ is divine or not. I'm saying the same thing you are in different words, "you claim to be a Christian (i.e. accept Christ as Lord and Savior) but you don't do what he says." I don't think you can separate the people from their beliefs. The scariest "Christians" out there are the ones who believe most strongly but act so distinctly counter to who Christ was. It's two different perspectives on the same thing.

Thank you for the reminder, Jocelyn that is your blog and if I feel the need to philosophize I can get my own and stop taking over yours. ;)

Jocelyn said...

No, I know, Hannah. I know what you meant by your original comment. It's just subject matter that, like I said, I'd rather avoid. Saying things like that here will, inevitably, create an argument that nobody can win, because it doesn't deal with empirical truth.

I don't mean to shut you up, I just want to make it clear that I'm not taking this argument on. I'm happy for you guys to discuss whatever you want in the comment section, I just want to emphasize that I'm not involved in this one. I believe that what I'm trying to say with this blog will be less effective if I start arguing personal ideology regarding divinity.

So, I'm not trying to attack you, or tell you you can't say anything you want. I just want to make it clear that these discussions of divinity are not my argument.

Hannah said...

You may want to consider possibly avoiding headings like "Divinity vs. Morality" in the future - it kind of opens the door to the subject.

I don't feel attacked - I just feel like I'm not getting my point across and I think maybe these types of discussions are better suited to face-to-face discussion instead of blog comments where it can be difficult to make my intentions clear.

Jocelyn said...

Too true. The lack of inflection is the only flaw of the Internet. THE ONLY FLAW!!!

They really need to invent different fonts for that shit.

Anyway, I know I'm the one who opened this can of worms. Thus the "perhaps it's my fault for posting this in the first place" from a previous comment.

Anonymous said...

Actually, it might be a bit more accurate to say that all denominations of Christianity developed from an early version of what we now call Eastern Orthodoxy. The structure of the early Church was not at all centralized, and the "catholic" (i.e. universal) Church had bishops in various cities who generally considered themselves equal. Petrine supremecy actually arises later, in the 6th century, and is first applied by Roman Catholic popes with any vigor only in the 11th century.

In any case, Eastern Orthodoxy cannot be considered a development out of Roman Catholicism by any stretch of the imagination.

Jocelyn said...

No, you're right. At Catholic school, we were always taught that Eastern Orthodoxy and Catholicism were two sides of the same coin, whose paths separated only because of distance. I'm not sure how accurate that is to history, but that's what we were taught.

As such, Eastern Orthodox churches are, as we would say, part of the Catholic tradition. In actuality, the Eastern Orthodox are practicing a version of Christianity that much more closely resembles the common ancestor than Catholicism, but they are, as I said, inherently similar, particularly historically.

So, I think my biased Catholic education may have caused me to phrase what I said in a way that is not wholly representative of reality. My bad.

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