Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Christianity, Version 25.34

Brandon Ambrosino writes, "A friend emailed me that I was reading the Gospels wrong, and that the resurrection was best interpreted metaphorically. To relegate the resurrection to a purely physical phenomenon was to read the Easter narrative in the most primitive way, at its lowest common denominator."

Yes, and to say that the two-thousand-year-old stories in the New Testament are primitive, even compared to other stories that old and much older, is potentially insulting to Christians, even if it's obviously true. Ambrosino's Christian friend is vulnerable to that insult, and so denies that Christians have meant what they said for 1600 years or more. He, and many other contemporary Christians like him, insists that the stories about Jesus were written metaphorically. Which means that for most of the existence of Christianity, virtually all Christians were engaged in a whopper of a ding-dang dilly of a misconception. Now, that also could be embarrassing. But only if you acknowledge the plain facts of the history of Christianity. It seems that, in the absence of a remarkably childlike simplicity, massive denial is called for in order to be a Christian: either you deny all sorts of common-sense assumptions and believe literally in the traditional stories about Jesus, including the Virgin birth, walking on water, miraculous healings and so forth, up through the Resurrection and beyond -- or you deny that Christians have traditionally believed the things which the historical record clearly says they believed, and instead believe this immense whopper currently being told by "modern" theologians (There is absolutely nothing modern about any theology.) and their fans: that believing Bible stories literally is a recent error introduced into Christianity by evangelical fundamentalists in the 19th century. Which requires ignoring an amount of evidence comparable to the amount of evidence one has to ignore in order to believe that God made the Earth 6000 or 7000 thousand years ago.

Now I know that I study the history of Western Civ much more energetically than yr average Schmoe, who has all sorts of other things on his mind -- but the theologians asserting that literal readings of the bible are less than 200 years old? Don't they have to study theology for years in order to get their degrees in theology? What on Earth is going on in those seminaries? How can they possibly believe what they're saying?

Perhaps I just massively underestimate the ability of many people -- of most people, perhaps? -- to ignore what they know whenever it conflicts with what they choose to believe. I suppose that widespread, deep-seated cognitive dissonance was required in order for Christianity to get off the ground to begin with, let alone to have lasted this long and still have billions of adherents. We really can't attribute it all to stupidity, cowardice, dishonesty and bad luck, can we?

But I keep talking about what people believe, and of course many religious -- or spiritual, po-TAY-to, po-TAH-to -- people remain religious by keeping their beliefs vague. And this may be the case with Ambrosino: "Now did Jesus bodily rise from the dead? That's not my question here. I'm simply asking, 'Did the early Christians believe that Jesus had risen bodily from the dead?' And when we read the Easter stories within their first century political and religious contexts, I think the answer is emphatically, 'Yes!" So, okay then, Ambrosino and I agree about that. Ambrosino self-identifies as a Christian. So does that mean that he also believes in the bodily Resurrection? That's "not his question here." Also, unsurprisingly, he doesn't provide a link to some other place where it is his question. It's not at all uncommon for religious people, when pressed about their beliefs, to give several different answers at different times which are quite at odds with each other, and ultimately to seem greatly annoyed at the attempt to nail the blob of mercury which is their religious belief, not just because they ultimately don't know what they believe but because they don't want to know. They're floating in a cloud of vagueness, and your Hey-buddy-what's going-on-in-there line of questioning threatens to rouse them from blissful slumber, so of course they don't like it. Ambrosino self-identifies as a gay, Orthodox Christian, and gay Christians often prove to be judo black belts of vagueness about their beliefs. How could they not?

So, you deny that earlier Christians believe what they clearly believed, or you ignore the foolishness of those beliefs, or you ignore what's going on inside your own head. Or you simply wake up and stop believing, because you can't stop seeing anymore how far it all comes from adding up.

I don't relish robbing people of bliss. I wouldn't try to do it if I didn't think there were enormous compensating benefits to be had. And I believe that enhanced clearness of mind is a wonderful thing. Potentially of tremendous practical use in very many ways..

And we can still keep every bit of those thousands of years' worth of beautiful Christians art and music and literature. I love all of that stuff even more than most Christians do, I daresay, having studied it intently for a long time.

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