Wednesday, November 07, 2007

"What was God before he was a Christian?"

A letter to the editor in the Trib today invites disgruntled Presbyterians to join the Roman Catholic Church, "the one Jesus started 2007 years ago."

Well, forgive this Protestant for being a bit sensitive on this point, but that ain't how it happened. The Roman Catholic Church essentially was started 300 years after Christ's death, when one interpretation of Jesus' life -- and one set of scriptures -- was sanctioned and the others branded heresy.

Jesus was Jewish, a faith that many of his disciples continued to practice after his death, until their allegiance to his teachings and their desire to spread his word to Gentiles drove them away from Judaism. Even in the four "orthodox" gospels -- none written by Jesus' contemporaries -- there is scant evidence that Jesus intended to start a new religion.

As for the letter writer's contention that Catholic doctrine never changes, well, how then to explain celibacy, a rule that has been in effect for priests for only about 1,000 years or so? What about the Immaculate Conception, which has been official doctrine for only about 150 years? Can't the pope change doctrine anytime he pleases?

It's hard for me to believe that Jesus would be terribly pleased with any of the churches that have been formed in his name. This is a man, the gospels tells us, who flagrantly violated the laws of his own religion, because he believed those laws were perversions of God's will and had become instruments of oppression.

And so how do we choose to worship him? By creating byzantine institutions governed by arbitrary rules that alienate us from one another, and from the love of God.

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Blogger EdHeath said...

There is a whole dynamic, which perhaps should be examined either by atheists or people very secure in their faith, between Jews and Christians, about their faith’s relationship to each other. I can’t speak very well to Judaism, even though I knew quite a few Jews growing up. I get the feeling Christians view Jews somewhat paternalistically, since we share much of the same religion, but Jews just haven’t recognized the truth of Christ. Ann Coulter actually pulled off a fairly clever piece of parody when she talked about Christians as “perfected Jews”. When I was growing up, with the naivety of youth, I thought of Jews as rejecting Christianity because their parents had been Jewish, and it was a sort of ingrained habit (like the way some people vote republican or democrat (damnit)). I figured the Jews hadn’t considered the issue closely enough, although *I* didn’t want to take the time to make them see the error of their ways (isn’t that God’s job?). And then amongst themselves the Catholics and the Protestants have their own issues, one hundred and also thirty years worth of warfare of. I guess the Protestants see themselves as keeping up with the times, bringing the church into line with such new inventions as double entry book-keeping, the printing press and guns. What’s funny to me is that the Evangelicals don’t need Dogma. To them all the (carefully selected) word(s) of god are ironclad, which makes them better to beat you over the head with. It is funny how religion is so obvious to the religious, and yet we spin so many variations of it.

7:05 AM

Blogger Jonathan Potts said...

An Episcopal bishop named John Shelby Spong wrote a book called "Liberating the Gospels" which makes the case that the four gospels were written as texts for Jewish followers of Jesus to use in the temple. He explores the relationship between Judaism and Christianity in the decades following Jesus' death.

8:12 AM

Blogger Maria said...

Well, there certainly was a debate among the early followers of Christ as to whether non Jews could become Christians.

9:34 PM

Blogger Jonathan Potts said...

Yes, and that debate was captured in the Book of Acts, if I recall. Many of the reasons for the ultimate schism between Judaism and Christianity were political; a big one was the destruction of Jeresalum (sp?) by the Romans.

9:07 AM


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