Sunday, 7 April 2013

Does She Believe It?

A week ago I was thinking of commenting on the service taker's Easter Day service. I didn't do it. He said that at one time a Spring service of renewal he took as a Unitarian cop-out, and one should examine the Christian Easter. Now he's not so sure. But he did, expressing the view that over time the influence of Jesus worked on the followers who told stories about him in a supernatural fashion. I was disappointed in the sermon, though I've some agreement with the general point that before one does general renewal one might tackle what Christians claim.

Use of Bill Darlison's The Gospel and the Zodiac I think was a distraction. The service taker is not convinced either that Mark was written with the Zodiac in mind, though the reading contained agreeable material about the ahistoricity of the passion narrative leading up to the death. The zodiac was not only far from Mark's mind, but irrelevant to the narrative. But I agree that the passion narratives simply aren't historical or reliable. They start with Palm Sunday at the wrong end of the year, and I doubt the Jewish court was involved and the Roman Governor wouldn't have given this set of executions other than a second glance.The boss doesn't bother much with operational routine, even at the edge of empire.

The problem I have with the oft-heard explanation after Jesus's death is that it relies on slow time. I actually think things happened quickly, and furthermore even some Christian Jews (but not all, maybe not most) were getting dangerously binitarian in their view of Jesus for monotheists.

We don't know that the disciples were devastated, but they certainly got out of the way of the killing authorities. The key for me is the expectation of the coming end of time and reality as known, that the Kingdom would sweep all away, and that Jesus followed a suffering servant model for God to act, and did so to its ultimate conclusion. I don't know if Jesus and Judas set things up or if Jesus was just easily picked up for death, hardly needing a plan. (The later atonement beliefs rely on there being bloody authorities in place; it cannot work with democracies and ASBOs).

The key is the ongoing expectation, particularly in the Jewish Church, but that died out. Paul also believed in that closeness of the end, but he turned Jesus into a figure of salvation himself. This is early stuff, within years, though Paul as Saul had no interest in that crucifixion live.

He is only interested in Jews that follow a messianic figure to return, or Jews that follow the Law. You can't do both, he claimed. Saul at first upholds the Law. He keeps the same argument when he flips and upholds the messiah, and the messiah is the only one. It makes more sense if the world is close to completion to have a messiah. The Law he argues is a holding device until now. On such an argument he can accommodate Gentiles who'd like a more monotheistic argued faith enjoyed by the Jews but not so available to varieties of polytheistic paganism.

The early Christians, including Jews, will have been pregnant with expectation and excited - charismatic, in our words - and highly supernatural in outlook (as was Jesus). That reality where the stars fluttered (not so high up, they thought) was coming to them.

I keep to the view that the tomb tradition is late. It is a late story explained within the story by women as witnesses told not to tell anyone. The real impact is Paul's, and then we have the meals by which Jesus or his transformation is the guest to come. Once he is dead, he either has to become someone that matters or fades away, and Paul fixes him up for cultural transformation in a way that the Jewish Church could not. As the eschatology dies down, the salvation figure starts to arise more centrally, and there is more looking back for looking forward.

Christianity is, in the end, a cult of an individual. This is what we moderns can see and what I cannot understand. I don't 'follow' individuals.

I've been reading some of Sarah Coakley's views delivered at Salisbury Cathedral. Death - it is accomplished.  She is an intelligent woman all right and she is clear that this is John's perspective, though I'm not sure she's right in seeing Jesus as simply "God/Man" under John.
A cosmic (remote from historical grounding) divinity he may be in there but not simply God given statements of subservience. Perhaps John is actually proposing a cosmic Superman that took on others' sins in the pre-scripted drama. Our hope resides in what was there done, says she, in the one death then. But what is the mechanism of this? It is not stoicism, not passivity, not cosmic power. But she is just making an assertion of a believer's joining in with it is finished, for which there is no mechanism proposed other than participating in the cult of an individual.

I do think that the Christian's faith is in vain, in the narrow cultic sense. Left with no mechanism for crucifixion, what is the resurrection then? She says it is not three impossible things to believe before breakfast, but rather three things to do: let go, as a kind of personal death, to turn and turn again (as doubt is present) "to keep longing for and loving him" and then see, clearly, the Christ.

Now there is something Buddhist about this, in that you give up the selfhood, and then go into something of a mind clearance turning around but with a longing for love, and then a clarity of mind opens up. But that's the process and quite enough: again, why a cult of an individual?

Resurrection may not be a gritting of the teeth in bad times before you can get to the good times; something may well have to die and be laid to rest to clear the decks for the good. But in a reality where the dead rot and quickly, you'd better stay alive to experience the good times.

The issue regarding the resurrection is not whether we die to self, turn around and then see clearly; it is whether a man died and that same consciousness was present and directive afterwards in encounters with his followers. I'm saying no, that the dead human is dead and that's it. If there are other cosmic possibilities (say consciousness has a quantum aspect that goes on beyond a brain) then there is nothing unique. The whole view of resurrection was about bodies dead that arise; Jesus was the first, but because he obviously hasn't kept appearing to people in a Church-official capacity, the resurrection was followed by an ascension and the Christian unique (then Muslim too) second coming. Jesus was made to ascend to tell Christians why there was no more in the way of appearances, once they had legitimated leaders and finally a congregation.

It is a myth, and Sarah Coakley is intelligent enough to know it. It is a myth about letting something give up in order that something new can really come about. But then she speaks within the story and doesn't historicise it (indeed, she accepts the limits of history), and she dodges whether the same consciousness directed a renewed body and met his followers as he did when he was more obviously human.

No. He was an evolved human being, like all the rest of us: an accident of evolution after those dinosaurs were removed. It hardly needs saying but to some it has to be said. Our cosmic end on this earth is based on the sun's life and our behaviour with technology; it has nothing to do with the cult of an individual, other than the possibilities from violent competition such cults encourage among a few of its followers.

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