Thursday 14 October 2010

No Really New Creations

So we have the claim of a Jesus as the New Creation. This to be so is surely Jesus at all times if we are to go with the fully Man fully God theory along with it, and I suggest that the non-moral perfection of Jesus rather dismisses the idea of a new creation. With the same DNA - the same common ancestor of humans and apes and all that! - he is no more (or less) a new creation than any new born baby or person who goes on to live whatever life is lived; indeed every planted or self-planted tree is a new creation in this sense.

So let's be generous and add that the resurrected Christ might be different and thus transformed and a new creation in this sense. As the first of the resurrected he is apparently the beginning of the perfect end.

This isn't just a trinitarian issue either. The earliest English ideological Unitarians believed in the resurrection and miracles, both being signs of God (the resurrection is the big miracle, after all), and thus was raised a chosen prophet to God's anointed. This is probably closest to Paul's view. Their unitarian (small u) views were eventually superseded by more critical views based on German theology, subjective individualism, and forms of religious non-supernaturalism. James Martineau pursued a sort of theistic Christian subjectivism while Francis William Newman pursued an objective theism whilst he preached against the moral perfection of Christ.

The problem with Paul is that he is so unhistorical, even with the near to him Jesus (and the escalating stories about him). The resurrection experience is nowhere explained other than as appearances and (a later tradition?) of a missing body, with the exception of Paul in so far as early on Acts says a light came from heaven came and a voice was heard and that the people around him heard the voice but saw no one. Later in Acts Paul is held to say in contradiction that they did see the light but did not hear the voice. Paul in 1 Corinthians gives a mini creed of authority about who saw the risen Christ and he being the last. Galatians is about a revelation to Paul for preaching purposes.

What is more significant regarding generating a New Creation is the Pauline theology that gets plastered on to this Jesus, and one that involved him not, apparently, conferring with flesh and blood (though Paul is full of hyperbole, and keeps having to say he is not lying or that he is telling the truth).

Paul was always of a view that it was, basically, either the Law or the Messiah, and that these were contradictory. In the first case he supported the Law but then flipped and with his Roman name supported the Messiah. Paul was an in-between man, a cultural bridge, and can see how a new Messiah can break across the cultural divide in a way that Moses and the Law could not. None of this is relevant to Jesus, of course, who stayed within his own cultural setting.

Now Moses was a primary prophetic figure, but equated with the Law he would never be able to reach out to the Greek Gentile. There will have been Greeks seeking out a monotheistic faith and the 'rationality' and earthiness of the Jewish synagogue. One reason Christianity was taken up between traders along the roads of Christian expansion was it gave a sign of advancement and trustworthiness, of godliness and dealing straight. Paul now had a Jewish figure who he could offer to the Greek mind, but only if Messiah was a salvation based son of God, where the messianic, the esoteric element of Judaism, and even the Essene is used in the crossover to concepts in the Greek mind. Such implies granting some divinity to Jesus, although being God's chosen sole worker (as regards the Kingdom) does not. Nevertheless, to have such a messianic figure at centre does allow the Law to be bypassed for those who want to bypass the Law, and Paul has been consistent with his past position, if now batting for the other side.

For Paul, Jesus is subordinate divinity at best, and indeed Jesus will give up the Kingdom to God to God (not have it eternally as in the Creed). The synoptic gospels keep this 'unitarianism' (with some puzzles in Mark about potential divinity) and only in John do you get one consistency of development from Paul, but yet a long way on: the Arianism of the first born (in the beginning) being the Word and the Word that does the job of creation.

Paul also makes an early Christian meal, consistent with Judaism, and with the love feast of Jesus, a feast after the sacrifice in memory of a - the - saviour. There are connections here with Mithras, and not the first. The Eucharist perhaps was sufficiently different from the Jewish meal to appeal to the Gentiles (note also that simplification may be a result of oppression). Not that Judaism was free of Greek and foreign influence: far from it, indeed the resurrection belief itself was only partially within Judaism and originally had come down the road from Persia and the Zoroastrians.

So a Jesus who in his own life pointed from himself to God and who healed as a servant of God, though may have come to see himself as essential to demonstrate to God the readiness of bringing in the final Kingdom, becomes instead a salvation figure not principally based on his teachings but based on the fact that a brutal regime killed him and that he was then a part of earliest messianic Christianity with transferred concepts.

The uniquely Christian bit is the ascension, that part that answers the early Christians' questions as to why Jesus, the resurrected, before all would be resurrected, didn't keep appearing to Christians - to more leaders and to more congregations say of the magic numbers 120 or 500. He appears and gives authority and legitimacy to the leadership and to congregations and then says farewell.

It is easy to get lost in this theology and say, Yes and so there is the New Creation and job done. But it is based on Paul's theology and the fact that the Christian community after 70 CE was not of the smashed Jews. It is all about interpretation, ready-beliefs and adapted beliefs, and then communal memory and the people being forward-looking for a time.

Go back a bit to the time Jesus is in Jerusalem, raising the stakes. He gets picked up with others and dispatched to his death. Paul will then have been in Jerusalem, and would not have given that or the next batch of crucified a further thought than to be careful himself, whatever may have been his fanatical nature and organising ability. The way Paul pleads his own lack of ego in the texts suggests that he had it in spades, and he found his role in life after his switch of sympathies.

The point about the New Creation is that it is just relative to these people and times, and involves a demonstration of cultural shift. This is hardly a new creation: rather it is a common example of a shift of insight. You see the same with the Bahai Faith as it leaves its Shia Muslim background and enters the West, and that had a consistency of family and written materials. Even Gandhi, who we know best of all with many primary documents, showed cultural sensitivity. New Creation is just another cultural evolution in religion.

So there is no biological sense that Jesus is a New Creation, as it has no meaning in that manner, and then theologically it seems to be entirely relative and after the event.

People might then say they feel it emotionally, that they have a 'relationship' with this New Creation Christ, but all that amounts to is their own emotions and their own fancy thoughts. They might of course want to identify with the early Christians as a community (but I bet if they could time travel they'd need the help of an anthropologist to try to get into a very different thought-world).

In the end, the question I ask is why do they want to do this, to maintain what is, in the end, a cult of an individual, of a salvation figure. You don't need to in order to examine the teachings and the stance, according to what data is available, plus such a desire for a cult of another human takes from examining other lived lives and other ideologies and thought patterns.

Spirituality is much much wider than this, and all the more interesting.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very interesting indeed Pluralist. Funnily enough I was just reading Romans this morning ! And what you write is like cold water over the warm fuzzy feeling Romans evoked in me !

Spect i needed the dousing ! :)