Hearty Heresy

Back in the USA
March 31, 2007, 2:44 am
Filed under: Bible, Christianity, Heresy, Jesus, Religion, Theology

Well, Mrs. Heretic and Hearty, Jr. and I are back from our trip to the Pacific Northwest. We spent a long weekend in Vancouver, B.C. visiting Mrs. Heretic’s sister and her family. Of course, as soon as we got back I had to start getting ready for a quick trip to Iowa City for some heretical business, which is why I’m in a Microtel Inn in Marion, Iowa, eating a Strawberry Cake & Toppings Parfait that I just purchased at the Wal-Mart across the street. Yes, progressive heretics shop at Wal-Mart occasionally, although the parfait may have been one of the only products in the whole store that was made in America. That’s not necessarily a critique of Wal-Mart. I think we’d all find it difficult to avoid products made in China, etc. That’s one of the economic realities of this day and age.

Borg and Crossan, by contrast, write in The Last Week about Jesus’s day and age, although they do repeatedly ask themselves, “What does then have to do with this now, our now?” I guess that’s one of the things I really appreciate about them, individually and collectively. It’s one of the reasons why I consider myself a heretic. I’m not going to swallow whole a set of beliefs that were fossilized in, what? the 4th century C.E. If I’m going to follow Jesus, I’d better find a pretty compelling reason to do so today, in this here and this now. At any rate, one big learning I’ve had reading the book is that the idea of sacrifice, as in the kind of blood sacrifice practiced at the Temple in Jerusalem, “should never be confused with either suffering or substitution,” which is the whole Mel Gibson/Ann Coulter take on Brand Xianity. For those of you who missed my post on it, here’s Ann Coulter’s down and dirty take on Jesus: “People are sinful and need to be redeemed, and this is your lucky day because I’m here to redeem you even though you don’t deserve it, and I have to get the crap kicked out of me to do it.” Suffering and substitution…in spades. Borg and Crossan offer another perspective, which I’ll fill you in on later.


The Atheist’s Nightmare
March 27, 2007, 9:45 pm
Filed under: Bible, Christianity, Jesus, Religion, Theology, Uncategorized

I’m taking a break from posting about the Borg & Crossan book to share with you a new video site for Christians. It’s called GodTube.com, and it’s pretty, um, strange if you ask me. For example, they’ve got a video posted there (which I’ve embedded in my vodpod below) called “The Atheist’s Nightmare,” featuring Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron. It’s supposed to convince folks about the existence of God based on the way a banana fits into a human hand, indicates when it’s ripe, is easy to peel, etc. Personally, I’m not convinced by the argument. What really gets me, though, is the tendency by some Brand Xians to think that an argument for the existence of God is necessarily an argument for the Christian concept of an almighty God, complete with the need to accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior and so forth.

I’m thinking mainly of Hugh Ross and his Reasons to Believe think tank. Ross is the evil genius (kidding) behind the “anthropic principle,” which says that the universe was finely tuned by a creator in order to produce: life, humanity, sin, and the need for Jesus to sacrifice his life for the rest of us. Makes total scientific sense, doesn’t it? You can read a summary of Ross’s argument in the press kit for Journey Toward Creation, a PBS-like “documentary” revealing the truth about creation. The best part, though, is the “Who Is the Creator?” interview at the end of the disc, where Ross evaluates “the truth claims of several religious holy books by comparing them with the scientific record.” Hindus, Muslims, Mormons, and Jews all lose. Guess who wins?

The Last Week
March 26, 2007, 4:49 pm
Filed under: Bible, Christianity, Heresy, Jesus, Religion, Theology

I started reading Borg & Crossan’s The Last Week last night. It’s really quite interesting, especially in relation to my Lenten practice of repeatedly reading Stephen Mitchell’s Gospel According to Jesus. Mitchell’s version is basically a stripped down version of Mark’s Gospel, with a little Luke and Matthew sprinkled in (and very little John). The Last Week is an day-by-day interpretation of the end of Mark, from chapter 11 on. Of course there is much more here than in Mitchell’s version, which gives me an opportunity to evaluate his decisions about what to put in and what to leave out. One thing’s abundantly clear: both Mark and Mitchell were adapting the story of Jesus for their particular audience. And so are Borg and Crossan, of course.

Two things about The Last Week that have really grabbed me: 1.) The authors mention that Daryl Schmidt in his book The Gospel of Mark refers to Mark as “a wartime gospel,” and 2.) Their quick definition of “ancient domination systems”–rule by a few, economic exploitation, and religious legitimation–sounds awfully close to contemporary domination systems. But as I said, Borg and Crossan are interpreting the story of the Holy Week for their audience, too, which seems to be people like me–progressives who are troubled by both the political and religious direction of this country. That’s exactly what got Jesus in trouble, wouldn’t you say?

Borg and Crossan Take on Mel Gibson
March 22, 2007, 8:27 pm
Filed under: Bible, Christianity, Heresy, Jesus, Religion, Theology

If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile, you’ll know that I’m not a big fan of Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ. (I am a Mel Gibson fan, by the way, just not that particular movie). Well, when I was getting a link for my last post on Marcus Borg’s Meeting Jesus Again, I noticed that Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan have written a response to Mel’s version of The Passion called The Last Week. There’s a link to an mp3 of a brief conversation with Borg and Crossan about the book, and it’s well worth a listen. For example, they believe that at the time Jesus was entering Jerusalem through one gate, there was an imperial procession entering another main gate. And they say that it’s up us as individuals which procession we’re going to be part of.

Now I don’t necessarily agree with their thesis. I tend to go along with Bishop Spong’s conjecture that the Holy Week scenario was developed to align the story of Jesus’ death with the scripture passages read in synagogues during Passover. But again, that’s just conjecture. And speaking of Spong, he’s got a new book out that sounds perfect for us heretics: Jesus for the Non-Religious. I enjoyed the other books I’ve read by Spong, and I’m looking forward to reading this one. But first I think I’ll wander over to the Borders on 4th Street in Seattle (which is beautiful, by the way–Mrs. Heretic and Hearty, Jr. and I visited the Aquarium this morning…there’s nothing like seeing the world through the eyes of a 20-month-old child to restore a sense of awe and wonder!) to buy The Last Week.

Lenten Discipline Check In and a Word about Compassion
March 20, 2007, 11:40 am
Filed under: Bible, Christianity, Heresy, Jesus, Religion, Spirituality, Theology

Okay, so I confess that I haven’t been able to faithfully do what I said I would try to do as a spiritual discipline this Lenten season: read through the 26 pages of Stephen Mitchell’s Gospel According to Jesus once each day. I have, however, been able to read at least some of it each day, and it’s been a worthwhile exercise. It’s also been worthwhile for me to get some comments on relying on the limited scope of Mitchell’s portrait of Jesus. There are definitely some important things that Mitchell misses. I mentioned one in an earlier post. Here’s another.

I found this in Marcus J. Borg’s Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time. It’s from the chapter entitled “Jesus, Compassion, and Politics,” under the section Compassion, God, and Ethics. I won’t go into detail here because I’m just offering this as an example of where Mitchell’s translation needs to be augmented. Basically, Borg looks at the word “compassion,” explains that the Hebrew singular form means “womb,” points out that it’s often translated as “merciful,” (including the “quite wonderful expression from the King James Version…’tender mercies'”), and so on. The payoff for me is how Borg translates one particular verse: “Be compassionate as God is compassionate.” Not perfect. Not merciful. Compassionate. That’s the message I hear Jesus spreading, a message that wasn’t quite getting through to me when I was being raised in a Brand Xian church. It’s one I take seriously now, just as I take Jesus seriously as a spiritual guide.

And now, Mrs. Heretic, Hearty Jr., and I must prepare for a trip to Seattle. I’m taking my computer, of course, so I’ll post if I can. And I’ll be reading Stephen Mitchell’s version of the Gospel, too…just not as religiously as I had planned!

Trusting God: The Way of the Heretic
March 17, 2007, 12:10 pm
Filed under: Bible, Christianity, Heresy, Jesus, Religion, Theology

According the Cambridge International Dictionary of Idioms, the phrase “go the extra mile” means “to make more effort than is expected of you.” Which is the way I think most folks (Brand Xians and heretics alike) interpret the last of three sayings Jesus clustered together in his Sermon on the Mount. But according to Walter Wink, Jesus had something much more radical in mind (just as he did when he told the oppressed to “turn the other cheek” and “give your shirt as well”):

Jesus’ third example refers to the angeria, the law that permitted a Roman soldier to force a civilian to carry his 65 to 85 pound pack. But the law stipulated one mile only. At the second marker the soldier was required to retrieve his pack. By carrying the pack more than a mile, the peasant makes the soldier culpable for violation of military law. Again, Jesus is not just “extending himself” by going the second mile, as the popular platitude puts it. He is putting the soldier in jeopardy of punishment.

Rather than setting an impossible standard of bending over backwards to accomodate evil, Jesus was actually encouraging the oppressed to engage in nonviolent resistance. As I’ve said before, this interpretation of Jesus’ teachings was never part of Sunday school when I was growing up. Instead, I and perhaps the majority of children being raised to accept Brand Xianity were taught that Jesus set the bar so freakin’ high that only He could do these things. “You have to be perfect like your father is perfect. Can’t do it? You’re in luck because I died for you sins!”

As far as I’m concerned, this is a complete disservice to a great spiritual teacher, one who could show both the oppressor and the oppressed, the righteous and the unrighteous how to enter into the Realm of Heaven. For some it might mean selling everything they have, for others it might mean nonviolent resistance against their oppressors. For all, it meant trusting in a loving God who makes the sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends the rain on the just and the unjust.

Allmightiness [sic] One Day at a Time
March 15, 2007, 8:32 am
Filed under: Bible, Christianity, Hell, Heresy, Jesus, Religion

Apparently one of the cool things about the web these days is sharing content in different media, so before I get to the last part of Walter Wink’s enlightening (at least for me) analysis of what I believe to be the heart of Jesus’ teaching, I’d like to take advantage of a WordPress feature I haven’t used yet, the “vodpod” (just scroll down a bit…you’ll find it on the left). I’ve embedded all of the current episodes of a pretty funny online series call Mr. Deity, which, in the words of its creator, Brian Dalton, “looks at God and the Universe with a smile (and sometimes, a wink).”