Saturday, 5 March 2011

Saying Jesus was Wrong

In BBC 2's Hidden Treasures of African Art on Friday evening, Griff Rhys Jones, travelling between Mali and Ghana, argued the point that after the coming of Islam and Christianity the old belief in sacred objects had gone and yet he wondered whether art as a previous sacred object had an undeserved legitimacy over all the actual art going on in places like Ghana. People in the art business spent time faking objects in current manufacture as if they were from the 1920s or before.

I took a different view. The reason the villagers in Mali kept and locked up their statues after Islam had come and preached against images was because these statues retain residual power. They cannot be thrown away, in case something nasty might occur. Any sociologist of religion knows that sacredness and taboo go hand in hand. These objects retain taboo value. All the controversy about the Satanic Verses in the Qur'an relates to taboo value, after all.

Such superstition has been imported into the great traditions of religion as expressed in their new localities. African Islam and Christianity is highly supernaturalist, whereas in the West Christianity in general at least is losing its supernaturalism. It has become absorbed into general ethics and the Church has become more bureaucratic.

West African urban life adds an extra impetus to modernity at a level not found in villages. Art becomes part of business, including contemporary images and forms (and those decorated coffins!) and part of this is fakery. In the city real and fake sacred objects will end up in galleries and antique shops.

Again sociologists know about invented traditions: making often imagined connections with a past time in order to enhance legitimacy and authority. Royalty and religion do it the best.

I've always been one to take what happens in exotic popular religion as subjected to the anthropologist's essay and transfer it to what happens in religious activity closer to home, and taboo is important within Christianity at home, although its shock value decreases with the decline in the supernatural.

For example, how many Christians will say, "Jesus was wrong" or, less so, "Jesus just had an opinion" regarding an important topic? On discussing Jesus, a taboo operates.

Given the usual historical provisos, I think Jesus was wrong. About the motivation of urgency for the coming kingdom of God, for which he travelled and both healed and preached, he was clearly wrong. It's nonsense to think he could have been considering many years ahead, or simply a 'within you'; rather like Lenin much later he was out to give history a push by acting the suffering servant model in his Bible and asking God to do the restoration deed and send the transformed Messiah. Of course he was subject to a limited cultural setting that fed him this misinformation about how the world works, but nevertheless he was wrong.

He was also limited in being focused on his own tribes of Israel, treating Gentiles as second class, if occasionally commenting that they had more faith than those who needed faith for their more immediate entry into this coming change in reality - one that would sweep away powers held by the likes of the Romans.

As for his reversal ethics, well they are important but they are because we can be the judge of them. You don't have to agree.

Early Christian communities were highly supernatural and escalated Jesus's titles, so that the faith ended up being as much about him as about the coming kingdom (especially as that expectation receded) and so Jesus became increasingly more sacred and taboo-surrounded.

These days you can mix and match religions as packages and create your own as well as joining in one of the inherited traditions. But see how even when mixing the taboos still operate. My blog here added a link to an independent bishop who combines Christianity and Buddhism. Craig Bergland describes himself as:

...the co-founder of The Christ Enlight Movement and Presiding Bishop (and co-founder) of The Universal Anglican Church (, but... [he writes the blog from his] personal perspective as what Wayne Teasdale called an Interspiritual Priest.

Look how he deals with exclusivity issues (around which much taboo operates):

Nowhere did any great spiritual teacher ever claim that there was only one path to the truth. I am aware that in John's Gospel Jesus is quoted as saying, "no one gets to the Father but through me." My problem is that is so unlike anything Jesus said in the synoptic gospels, and John's Gospel is the last written and therefore most theologically processed of the four. I simply don't believe Jesus said those words.

I don't either, but so what if he did say these words? Jesus is pretty much the only way to the concept of God set up by John who was already creating a subordinate divine deity as a package deal. Equally Buddha is the only way to the Dharma of Buddhism that proceeds with the teachings of Buddha. Craig Bergland states further:

My Buddhist self is probably best described as a Theravadan with a Bodhisattva vow. I realize that's a contradiction, but no more so that being a non-theistic Christian who believes that Joseph was Jesus' biological father and that the Holy Spirit moved over his conception in a way that made Jesus Divine - and his mother's virginity had nothing to do with physical virginity. Most Christian Churches would want nothing to do with that kind of theology, but the way I see it most North Americans want nothing to do with most Christian Churches, so we are probably even. What I have to offer is a spiritual path that isn't afraid to look at truth wherever it is found. It's a path that is willing to listen to and consider every person's spiritual journey and every spiritual tradition AND allow each person to explore what works for them.

Well I simply take it as a given that, like all humans everywhere, Jesus had two biological parents, and that his mother had no virginity (except before she first had sex). I have no idea whether a Holy Spirit moved over him at whatever period in his life, but I rather think it is gloss anyway.

Jesus as in the texts is one of our cultural and religious traditions about prophetic figures handed down among others. We do not have the information about him or others to make up a league table system where he keeps winning the Premier League, with Gandhi and Buddha in contention, like a Manchester United, Arsenal and Manchester City, which is rather pointless punditry; nor is the created doctrine relevant (so what?) that just states who's at the top or indeed is alone, and nor do I see a need to do what some do, and that is create a kind of Cosmic Christ divorced from doing history where the football is played in Plato's heaven.

(Goodness me. I see that I am 29th in the Religion and Belief League, and 670th otherwise, as if I can be bothered. I only blog for about ten people anyway.)

Whilst I agree with the tolerance of "Reverend Bob", and can be as bendy, I prefer the approach of Neville Kenyon, the current Unitarian General Assembly President, who is desiring clear blue water regarding the Unitarians and others - except that I am also happy to splash about in the same water and come to different conclusions about it.

I'm perfectly happy to read and use the Bible, to examine the life of the man as presented, and to use the perspective of the early community and its beliefs, knowing that our understandings of the world are quite different. My next service I was 'volunteered for' is Easter Sunday's, so look out for a service that does examine these issues and indeed the 'last miracle' of some modernists.

Although I will construct a theology that is continuous with that of James Martineau there is the need to go the extra mile with Francis William Newman, who preached against the moral superiority of Jesus. So do I, but because of rules of doing history and absence of doctrine and the understanding that Jesus was both limited and wrong.


Rachel said...


I'm 24, of course, these things are of little consequence...;-)

Rachel said...

...and McGrath likes you - now you have really made it....

James said...

I like...

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

You were writing on something similar, James, for your sermon?

Why does McGrath like me? What is the relevance of being 24 for things to be of little consequence?

Anonymous said...

Is that guy in the purple jacket an anorak/beardy weirdy? That's pretty typical for English non-conformists/Lib Dem types, isn't it? Wonder why non-conformists have an identifiable type/look. Seems a bit contradictory.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

He is a late nineteenth century liberal of liberals, F W Newman, brother of John Henry, Unitarian and vegetarian.

Rachel said...

..not being cryptic Adrian. McGrath likes you -James the blogger. I am not 24, excuse error 26 - Wikio - you ref. your score. Like you I pretend this does not matter.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

James is James Ford, Unitarian Universalist minister and Soto Zen priest. Its not McGrath - I hardly think he approves of me, after all I don't approve of his writings.

You're a mighty fine 26 and probably why I draw you too often, though you do keep giving me the situations. Of course Chadderbox is no longer accessible like it was, though you never know what might appear on 'Northern Catch' on TV.

Rachel said...

see here

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...


A secret reader then, at least if you don't have their Facebook page. Of course I am not offering a model of Christianity and the discussion over there has to deal with the dilemma of disagreeing yet following.