I’ve had a metamorphosis in the past few years not unlike that of the insect world we studied in high school biology. It was refreshing to learn, both figuratively and actually, that others had veered off course as well. Veered onto a new path- less trodden, less safe- forged by very brave people who dared to question the authority of The Church. My circle of friends have never dissuaded me from seeking alternate answers to questions like: What, where and who is the entity commonly known as God? And what’s that religion stuff all about anyway?
As a kid, religion and Sunday services got in the way of my free time and impinged my otherwise curious mind. It all began in the Garden of Eden and the apple and the damned talking snake. Bang-off at that early age I suspected that something wasn’t quite right about those biblical stories. Then there were the stories of Jonah and the whale, David and Goliath and Noah and the dinosaurs on his ark. These fantasies competed on Saturday mornings with Flash Gordon and Tom Corbet Space Cadet on my 14″ black and white TV. Oddly the latter two seemed more ‘real’ than the heroes of the bible. But I went along on the ruse because it seemed like everyone else was doing it too.
The fact that everyone else was doing it too seemed to give credence to the entire gig. Everyone I knew in my neighborhood [except for that odd boy across the street who had the queer name, Eugene Victor Wolfenstein] was Christian too and learned the same stuff. Meaningless but common stuff. My best friend didn’t have Jesus hanging on a cross in his house, but beyond that, he heard similar stories in his Sunday School classes that I heard in my religion classes. He was First Baptist; I never inquired back then if there was a 2nd or 3rd Baptist.
Although he and I have lost contact after all of the intervening years, I’m betting that he still ‘believes’ those Sunday school stories. Many Baptists are fundamentalists and they too ‘believe’ in the literalism of the Bible. What a shame. A pity as well. Metaphor has escaped them. So has parable and, of course, Jewish Midrash. Rather than investigating the deeper meaning found in biblical writing, fundamentalists are content to hold literal beliefs not unlike children reading tall tales. Pitiful.
Not only pitiful but dangerous. Smite thy enemy. Take the conquered land unto your own. Kill everyone in the land, women and children too. “I will sweep away both people and animals alike. Even the birds of the air and the fish in the sea will die. I will reduce the wicked to heaps of rubble, along with the rest of humanity,” says the LORD.
The Lord? Shall we do likewise? Does the LORD give us example?
That type of rhetoric ought to cause a person alarm. What kind of ‘Lord’ wants us to kill others? Why then Moses’s tablet that reads, ‘Thou shall not kill.’ Or does it all depend on who? Then of course there are passages condoning slavery, beating or killing your children, and dishonoring women.
It is hard to imagine that 21st century Americans still believe that nonsense, yet, not only do they believe it, many want to legislate it. It seems that many Americans who proudly state that America is a Christian nation never ‘got’ the Jesus message. Or, rather, got the wrong Jesus message. Where is the vindictive Jesus? The misogynistic Jesus? The warring Jesus? The divisive Jesus?
That wide chasm between the old and new testaments clearly separates today’s so-called liberal Christians from the conservative Christians. I’m reminded of the right-wing blogger who said, ‘I’m more of an old Testament Christian.’ He supported GW Bush’s War on Iraq, hates Obamacare, loathes paying taxes and thinks the poor ought to get a job. Odd type of Christian.
Odd indeed. And there’s the rub. And my epiphany. How does one read the life of Jesus and come to that set of radical conclusions? How? Salvation theology rather than wisdom theology. Or, what was Jesus all about? The Broadway musical Jesus Christ Super Star! asked the question 4 decades ago.
Salvation theology permeates the Bible Belt and fundamental/evangelical ministries throughout America. It holds that one must accept Jesus Christ as personal Lord and Savior. They further believe that ‘Jesus paid the price for your sin and mine by giving His life on a cross.’ And this: ‘When we realize how deeply our sin grieves the heart of God and how desperately we need a Savior, we are ready to receive God’s offer of salvation.’ Further: ‘All that’s left for you to do is to accept the gift that Jesus is holding out for you right now.‘ Finally: ‘God says that if you believe in His son, Jesus, you can live forever with Him in glory.‘
Neat package deal. By the way, these quotes are from the website of the Southern Baptist Convention. These Baptists and other fundamentalist/evangelical Christians make it easy to ‘become a Christian.’ It’s an alluring albeit bogus package that appeals to emotions rather than logic or wisdom. Salvation theology. Simplistic and personal with a guarantee at the end. It does not speak of others; it does not require doing anything for others. It is passive, not active. Done and over.
Yet it is never merely an individual or private vision. It is never about just “getting right with God” and then resting in the assurance of personal salvation. One ought not worship Christ as a Deity, but instead, learn what he did and said and follow. This is an active and a bumpy path. It involves others; it involves the community. Yes, those people. The ones outside of your neat and comfortable circle.
Rev. Robin R Meyers instructs: We draw circles but Jesus is ever-widening it for us. His was an inclusive message, not exclusive. His was plural, not singular. His was active, not static. Meyer’s latest book title says it all: Saving Jesus from the Church: How to Stop Worshiping Christ and Start Following Jesus. Meyers theology is the theology of wisdom, not salvation.
I’m sure you get it. So do I.