Sunday, 20 March 2011

Jesus Positions and Today

Krishna stories are just that, and fit into an imaginary family tree that allows a diversity of attachments over a family of religious symbols and their messages. The story of Muhammad was written about a century after his death, but has been fairly consistent and unified about a trader, statesman and warrior, and the tradition of Buddha and his teachings have come through monastic stories that have tried to push in a direction of deification and yet shown resistance to deification consistent with the non-theistic orthopraxies developed. In contrast, the traditions of Jesus are quite varied so there is not one meaning to Christ despite efforts at doctrinal uniformity.

There is the primitive setting of Jesus as end time prophet seeing the immanent coming of the Kingdom of God, a new reality which he was helping to usher it in. He didn't claim divinity, and he pointed away from himself to God. He did not even call himself the Son of Man but hoped that through his own service and sacrifice that the Son of Man would vindicate him at the end of time. We might understand these views, we might perceive them if we could be parachuted in through time, but few but the strangest sectarians believe them today. Jesus had some strange beliefs and was simply wrong, misinformed by culture.

Another focus from that of earliest followers starts with the baptism of Jesus to serve God, and that after his death they said he was vindicated by God and would soon return as the Messiah or Christ and be the Son of Man. Such would be the end of time. Already the focus has shifted to his followers, where the 'Easter perspective' is being played out.

A further perspective saw Jesus as being sent by God to be Lord, Christ and Son of David. When raised and ascended he watched over his Church until the end at the parousia. This is still a Jewish perspective, but more distant in space and after the events and is now post-Easter.

The next perspective is a pre-existent Son of God who came to earth plagued by suffering and death, and though killed by evil powers he had actually defeated them in gaining eternal life and thus went back into the heavenly realm, the defeat allowing humankind to be restored again via connecting with him. We still see this in contemporary evangelical belief, but it also develops into very high Christologies: Christ looking down from the heavens.

These are all biblical perspectives, and premodern. There are others too, and one is the idea that Jesus is the model of a perfect human and is someone who can be followed as an exemplar. He earns his Christ title by supreme moral effort and, though we might not achieve what he did, we too can become Christlike through service, sacrifice and ethical effort. This is a sort of Christian humanism. Miracles, including the big one of resurrection, tend to be downplayed. This might be seen as modernist, and is stripped down and limited. The problem with this historic secularised approach is that Jesus can become a figure of noble tragedy. Furthermore, you cannot build divinity upwards, unless it is shared throughout living things. Divinity is a given, whether co-equal with God or subordinate to God.

A variation on this is to say such a view is historically impossible, but the texts have been written, so one more or less follows the texts of this example. The problem with this approach is that it becomes story based, and although it seems attractive it clashes in world view with the dominant world view of now, and can lead worshippers and Churches to live inside their own bubbles of meaning at some distance from contemporary meaning that is naturalistic, scientific and technological in basic assumptions. If we are postmodern, it is still post modern, with continuities as well as some discontinuities. Postmodernism is better as critic than as a new metanarrative, which it is designed to undermine. The problem with the postmodern view is that it says very little at all. It might appear to deal with history, in the detail, but it only ever operates at the history-like and the biography-like - it is still subject to the severe tests of history and science and critical thinking whenever it goes beyond the poetic. Often the postmodern view allows all sorts of add-ons back in which the modernist perspective started to cut out, but they come back as a rag bag of understandings and the whole result lacks clarity and even communication. I fail to see the point of postmodern conservatism (e.g. Radical Orthodoxy) except as a means to keep something going past its sell-by date and full of confusion as to meaning.

Many liberal Christian people today, ordained and otherwise, present a combination of the last two, the modern and postmodern. The modernist perspective has the difficulty that it cuts out long held doctrines as either meaningless or irrelevant, but it also fails to provide historical data. It becomes about ethics, and anyone can do ethics, and becomes about transcendence rather than any specific doctrine of God. To add to this old doctrines one some sort of "I love these" justification or as a narrative story tends to confuse as much as enlighten. The Trinity has a meaning beyond some sort of internal social God communicating with itself, and divinity is a condition of different order rather than a medal for sufficient effort.

I preach against the moral superiority of Jesus on the basis that there is no data to support such a claim and that he made mistakes. He will have grown up like everyone else, and we learn through mistakes. He is a context-set ethical preacher, healer and teacher. Whilst our lives have narrative shapes and we can learn from stories, we ought not to confuse story and objective belief. Objective belief is considerably thinner and unknown than the constructions of Christianity.

Thus I have dropped any notion of 'following' Jesus, and indeed the whole notion of spirituality is about our own humanity and the world (universe) in which we live. What is important is ourselves in this present conflict and disaster ridden world.

Of course there is still doctrine: that tends to shortcut the arguments. But then let's not confuse doctrine and what is laid down with liberality and either modernity or postmodernity. You can be liberal about something, but sometimes it looks like a boat going out to sea with the anchor down.

I find the Unitarian setting the best place to work through this reflective approach to spirituality in that it comes into a market place of ideas and difference where both postmodern narratives and modern objectivities clash and tolerate one another. At least, that's the intention. Although one appreciates richer spiritualities, I wouldn't want to move into say LCCI (Liberal catholic Church International) or LCAC (Liberal Catholic Apostolic Church) forms of Liberal Catholicism in that they promote a rather vague and unrooted cosmic Christ to be freer of dogma. We can build more symbolism through music and art, and we do inherit working sacred language forms, but there is also the need for clarity.

I could change my mind. So often Churches skew our understandings and defences, or residual even dependent commitments to a religion kick in even when we might be on the edge. Too often the defences go up and we don't see what people really think, or rather they let out what they really think and then put the covering layers back over again rather rapidly. Some need institutions to give support and a basis of certainty somewhere, even if they end up fighting these half the time, and often this conflict is quite visible, but it gets most visible and attempted as invisible when the receipt of one's income confuses the issue.

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