Hearty Heresy

Kill Christianity, Part Two
September 28, 2007, 10:20 am
Filed under: Christianity, Heresy, Jesus, Religion | Tags: , , ,

Okay, so before we can “kill Christianity,” we have to “kill the Christ.” I don’t want to kill Jesus, mind you–I’m not one of those the-historical-Jesus-never-existed kind of heretics. I wouldn’t be a heretic then, just an unbeliever. But I do believe that the teachings of Jesus still have value, which is why I feel it’s so important to go beyond the standard interpretation of them (Jesus wasn’t just a spiritual teacher and moral exemplar, but the SON of GOD who DIED for YOUR SINS!) and dig the diamonds out of the dunghill of the Gospels (to use Thomas Jefferson’s metaphor). So, where to begin killing the Christ?

Brand Xians sometimes like to point out that Jesus (as the Son of God) not only became human, but became the lowest of the low of humans. After all, he was baptized in the Jordan River, the lowest point on land on earth. That’s a nice metaphor, but remember–John baptized everyone else in the Jordon River, too. They were all sort of equally low. Sure Jesus was born into humble circumstances, but so were all of the other non-Roman citizens at the time. (And Jews even had special privileges in the Roman Empire, like being allowed to continue their exclusive sacrifices at the Temple in Jerusalem.)

So Brand Xians will take it further: Yes, but Jesus was even lower because he was a Galalean, and “nothing good comes out of Galalee.” Of course most the inhabitants of Galalee were non-Roman citizens, so they were all sort of equally no good. Again, that doesn’t make Jesus very special–just part of the great unwashed.

The next step can be taken by the only most non-sentimental Brand Xians, which is to acknowledge that Jesus was considered a “mazmer,” i.e., illegitimate, and therefore relegated to the lowest of the low. But Matthew and Luke inserted an escape clause here by claiming the Mary was actually betrothed and eventually married to Joseph which saved Jesus from being labeled with the worst possible designation–being a bastard.

But that’s actually the place to beginning killing the Christ. Spend some time meditating on the idea that he wasn’t the Son of God, but a Jewish bastard from Galalee–the son of an unwed teenaged mother, if you will. For me, that’s why his teachings about love and forgiveness are so powerful. He really was in a pretty low position in the pecking order of the day, and there would be absolutely no expectation that a country rube who adhered to a quaint relic of a religion would have anything of value to say, especially if he was a bastard. But he did have something of value to say, which is why his teachings survive, in spite of the best efforts of orthodox Christians to elevate him to GodMan status, a status which I believe actually devalues his teachings. So down with the Son of God and up with the bastard Jew from Galalee!


Kill Christianity, Part One
September 21, 2007, 3:28 pm
Filed under: Buddhism, Christianity, Faith, God, Heresy, Jesus, Religion, Spirituality, Theology

Scanning the radio as I was driving home from a trip to Kansas last Sunday, I stumbled upon the American Public Media program Word for Word, which was featuring a presentation by Sam Harris entitled, “A clash between faith and reason?” (You can download a podcast here.) It was certainly a welcome relief after hours of football scores, 70s rock, and Brand Xian preachers. Harris delivered a wonderfully thorough argument against religion (specifically religions like Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, which require adherents to take so much of their beliefs on faith alone). I enjoyed it so much that I cruised the web when I got home looking for more from Harris. His website lead me to a provocative article by him in Shambala Sun called “Killing the Buddha.” Here’s the opening blurb:

“Kill the Buddha,” says the old koan. “Kill Buddhism,” says Sam Harris, author of The End of Faith, who argues that Buddhism’s philosophy, insight, and practices would benefit more people if they were not presented as a religion.

I think Harris is right here. Buddhism at its best is not so much a religion, but a philosophy of life that’s supported by specific practices. Here’s how Harris puts it:

The fact is that a person can embrace the Buddha’s teaching, and even become a genuine Buddhist contemplative (and, one must presume, a buddha) without believing anything on insufficient evidence.

He goes on to say that “the same cannot be said of the teachings for faith-based religion [like Judaism, Christianity, and Islam].” I agree wholeheartedly with the first part of Harris’ statement, but I have to disagree with the second. I believe that “faith-based” religions can provide philosophies, insights, and practices that can benefit more people. In fact, I believe that the same exact statement Harris makes about Buddhism can be applied to Christianity:

The fact is that a person can embrace the Christ’s teaching, and even become a genuine Christian contemplative (and, one must presume, a christ) without believing anything on insufficient evidence.

Indeed, that’s a pretty accurate summation of what I would call my main heresy, that one can follow the teachings of Jesus and develop the “christ-nature” within oneself without believing anything on insufficient evidence. But in order to do so, one must both “Kill the Christ” and “Kill Christianity.” Neither one is very easy in this culture. As Harris notes:

If you really believe that calling God by the right name can spell the difference between eternal happiness and eternal suffering, then it becomes quite reasonable to treat heretics and unbelievers rather badly.

And that, of course, is what fundamentalists specialize in–treating heretics and unbelievers rather badly. But I won’t let that stop me. In my next few posts I plan on taking a shot at killing Christ and killing Christianity. Stick around.

All or Nothing Christianity
September 19, 2007, 7:19 pm
Filed under: Christianity, God, Jesus, Religion

Here’s another version of C. S. Lewis’s “poached egg” argument for the divinity of Christ. I found it at j4jesus, and I don’t even know where to begin pointing out the logical problems with this quote from N. T. Wright:

The pain and tears of all the years were met on Calvary. The sorrow of heaven joined with the anguish of earth; the forgiving love stored up in God’s future was poured out into the present; the voices that echo in a million human hearts, crying for justice, longing for spirituality, eager for relationship, yearning for beauty, drew themselves together into a final scream of desolation . . . The death of Jesus of Nazareth as the King of the Jews, the bearer of God’s destiny, the fulfillment of God’s promises to his people of old, is either the most stupid, senseless waste and misunderstanding the world has ever seen, or is the fulcrum around which world history turns. Christianity is based on the belief that it is and was the latter.

As with the Lewis argument, the events surrounding the life and death of Jesus are either inexplicably senseless (or utterly insane) or the obvious work of the Lord of the Universe, and there’s no middle ground. All I can say is, there’s plenty of middle ground here, and all one has to do is read something other than Brand Xian boosters (like N. T. Wright and C. S. Lewis) to get a sense of what other possible explanations there might be for the life and death of Jesus. Try Spong, Crossan, or Borg if you’re looking for something to help you sort through the hodge-podge of accumulated distortions about the life of Jesus that have been perpetuated by Brand Xians.

As far as Jesus’ death being “the most stupid, senseless waste and misunderstanding the world has ever see,” any death that is the result of an oppressive political and/or religious system is a stupid and senseless waste.

I Bet the Number of Heretics Is on the Rise, Too
September 15, 2007, 2:30 pm
Filed under: Bible, Christianity, Faith, God, Heresy, Religion

I just saw an article in the Washington Post titled In America, Nonbelievers Find Strength in Numbers, and it’s got me wondering if the number of heretics in America is rising as well. Here’s a bit from the article:

A study released in June by the Barna Group, a religious polling firm, found that about 5 million adults in the United States call themselves atheists. The number rises to about 20 million — about one in every 11 Americans — if people who say they have no religious faith or are agnostic (they doubt the existence of a God or a supreme deity) are included.

That sounds like a pretty significant number for a “Christian Nation.” In fact, if I’m doing my math right (which isn’t one of my strong points), it appears that there are more atheists and agnostics in the United States then there are people who have a “Biblical worldview” (see this earlier Barna report I blogged on a while back, which says “only 4% of adults have a biblical worldview as the basis of their decision-making.”) Sounds to me like reason is winning over Biblical literalism. Who says there ain’t no good news in the papers these days!

The God Game
September 9, 2007, 12:36 pm
Filed under: Bible, Christianity, Faith, God, Jesus, Religion, Theology

“One of Us” is not my favorite Joan Osborne song–that would be her version of Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” with the incomparable Holmes Brothers. But I can’t help but thinking about “One of Us” when I’m riding the bus to or from work. You see, Mrs. Heretic and I reduced our carbon footprint earlier this summer by donating our second car (a late ’90s white Toyota Corolla with manual transmission) to Habitat for Humanity, and since then (well, actually, even before then) I’ve been commuting to work via Metro Transit. And it didn’t take long before I heard a trio of riders actually quote Osborne’s top 10 hit. In fact, they even asked me my opinion on the subject while we were waiting for the bus. “What do you think? Do you think God could be one of us?” And I said something like, “We’re all God’s children, aren’t we?”

At any rate, I don’t miss the old white Corolla that much. I find sitting on the bus much more relaxing (fighting traffic is not one of my favorite activities) and it gives me plenty of extra time to read things like Crossan’s The Historical Jesus and Frend’s The Rise of Chrisitanity. It also gives me a little time to play the God Game, which is pretty much doing what “One of Us” says: imagining that God was “just a stranger on the bus.” The rules are pretty simple. Whenever you happen to spot someone (either on the bus or waiting at a stop) who would be the least likely to fulfill, say, Pat Robertson’s image of God, you say to yourself, “That’s God.” And you have to take it seriously. That older woman with the bad dye job and the sloppy lipstick? God. The overweight man in the dirty Our Lady of Guadelupe T-shirt? God. The shirtless young blood with corn rows and saggy black jeans? God.

But that’s just the beginning. Then you have to imagine, “If this person really is God, what would they have to do demonstrate their divinity?” Now folks who believe in the Strict Father type of God would find this pretty easy. All someone has to do to prove that they are God is to perform some sort of miracle, preferably something that contradicts the laws of nature: walk on water, calm the seas, raise the dead. But folks who, like me, believe in a more Nurturant Parent type of God would look for another sign. For us, the clearest demonstration that one embodies the divine is to perform an act of love. And that’s what I like to imagine. What if my current candidate for God were in a no-win situation, like being robbed at gun point? Would they use their super God powers to melt the gun out of the assailant’s hands? Or would they choose to see the face of God in another and respond with compassion and forgiveness, even if it meant losing everything they had?

Okay, you probably see where this is going. As far as I can tell from the Gospels, Jesus took the second option. He confronted the worst case scenario of arrest, trial, and crucifixion with dignity and grace. And by doing so, he proved that he possessed to an almost unimaginable degree the most powerful force in the universe: love. For me, that’s enough to show how seriously he took the core message of his ministry, “Love one another.” But for Orthodox Christians, love is not enough. Jesus’ death gets loaded with so much baggage by Brand Xians (ALL the SINS of the WORLD), that it’s almost impossible to see the simple truth of the cross. In the words of Saint Paul (via The Message):

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.

Bible Answers
September 5, 2007, 11:45 am
Filed under: Bible, Christianity, God, Jesus, Religion

No, I don’t believe the Bible has all the answers! These are the answers to Monday’s Bible Quiz.

1. Name the first five books of the Old Testament.

Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy.

2. Name the four Gospels.

Matthew, Mark, Luke, John.

3. Name three letters attributed to the Apostle Paul.

Romans, Thessalonians 1 and 2, Galatians, Corinthians 1 and 2, Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon, Philippians, Timothy 1 and 2, and Titus have all traditionally been attributed to Paul.

4. What chapter in what book begins with the words, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want”?

The 23rd Psalm.

5. Name the giant that David slew.


6. Which of the Gospels do not include the narratives concerning the birth of Jesus?

The birth story appears in Matthew I: 18 ff and in Luke I: 26 ff, but not in Mark or John.

7. In how many Gospels will you find the word “Trinity”?

“Trinity” appears nowhere in the Gospels.

8. List as many of the Ten Commandments as you can.

From Deuteronomy V: 7-21:

You shall have no other gods before me.

You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.

You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.

Observe the sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you.

Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God commanded you; that your days may be prolonged, and that it may go well with you, in the land which the Lord your God gives you.

You shall not kill.

Neither shall you commit adultery.

Neither shall you steal.

Neither shall you bear false witness against your neighbor.

Neither shall you covet your neighbor’s wife; and you shall not desire your neighbor’s house, his field, or his manservant, or his maidservant, his ox, or his ass, or anything that is your neighbor’s.

9. State the Golden Rule and tell where it is found in the Bible.

Luke VI: 32–”And as you wish that men would do to you, do so to them.”

Matthew VII: 12–”So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the law and the prophets.”

10. Name four of Jesus’ disciples.

The twelve disciples were Simon Peter, James and John (sons of Zebedee), Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James (son of Alpheus), Thaddeus, Simon the Canaanite, Judas Iscariot.

So, how’d I do? I missed the book of Numbers in the first question, and I forgot about taking God’s name in vain and committing adultery in the eighth. I also over did it on question nine because I thought the Golden Rule could be found in Mark, too. I may not be a “Walking Bible” like Jack Van Impe (who says he has logged over 70,000 hours of Bible study), but at least I’m not Biblically illiterate.

Bible Quiz
September 3, 2007, 9:10 pm
Filed under: Bible, Christianity, God, Jesus, Religion

I found this Bible Quiz in a resource for new Unitarian Universalists (remember, I scored as both a Liberal Quaker and a Unitarian Universalist on the Belief-O-Matic quiz). I think that everyone who calls him- or herself a Christian should be able to score a perfect ten on this. Give it a try…and no peeking!

  1. Name the first five books of the Old Testament.
  2. Name the four Gospels.
  3. Name three letters attributed to the Apostle Paul.
  4. What chapter in what book begins with the words, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want”?
  5. Name the giant that David slew.
  6. Which of the Gospels do not include the narratives concerning the birth of Jesus?
  7. In how many Gospels will you find the word “Trinity”?
  8. List as many of the Ten Commandments as you can.
  9. State the Golden Rule and tell where it is found in the Bible.
  10. Name four of Jesus’ disciples.

I’ll give you the answers (and let you know how I did) later this week.