As if the comments by Rep. Todd Akin of Missouri last week weren’t bad enough Tom Smith, the Republican running for Senate in Pennsylvania, made things worse for himself while actually attempting to distance himself from Akin. He compared rape to “out-of-wedlock pregnancy,” saying – among other things – that the situation in both cases is the same for the father of the child. After first condemning Akin’s comments, Smith than said something equally – or more – ignorant. Men aren’t presenting themselves very well this election season, I’m afraid, and it would be bad enough if the things they were saying were actually mistakes – the result of fatigue after long hours on the campaign trail. Unfortunately, these clowns actually believe the ignorant fodder they are spouting as evidenced by their failure to issue sincere corrections, retractions, or apologies followed by different rhetoric.
Notice that very important distinction. Suppose, for example, I told a reporter that the sky is green and the grass is blue. When confronted with my error, not only would I apologize and retract my earlier statement, my future statements would reflect my understanding that the grass is green and the sky is blue. One could then reasonably conclude that I had misspoken, that I wasn’t really an ignorant insensitive fool, and we could move on. However, bald-faced statements that reflect near total ignorance of human reproduction, the horrific crime of sexual assault, and the distinction between that crime and consensual sex between unmarried partners aren’t simply unfortunate gaffes, they reflect an unfortunate and erroneous world view: conservative Christianity.
I can remember hearing discussions when I was younger that centered around needing to ensure that Christianity never died as a world religion. It seemed at the time an important goal, worthy of my energy – but can we put away for a moment all of the emotional baggage we may carry around religion and ask some serious questions? For the purposes of our discussion, let’s take as a historical fact that Jesus of Nazareth was a real human being who lived in Palestine, his life and teachings are recorded in the New Testament, and that after his death a religion arose around him. In other words, Jesus was a historical person and a religion grew from his teachings. I am aware some people would dispute those facts, but in the interest of having a rational discussion we’ll avoid that can of worms.
So Jesus and Christianity, being historical entities, cannot be erased. In other words, if as of tomorrow nobody continued practicing Christianity it would have no impact on either the reality of Jesus or the fact of Christianity. I have come to believe that this was the fear of those people I heard speaking of ensuring Christianity continues – that what they had believed and done would somehow be negated. I just don’t think that’s possible, much less true.
When are religions abandoned? There have been many, many religions over the years that have been abandoned, after all. What we today call Greek Mythology was actually a religion, but it’s no longer practiced as a religion – the same is true of the Roman gods and goddesses. Religions die when they no longer speak to the reality of contemporary life. Why does that happen? I believe it happens when the custodians of the religion fail in their responsibility to address contemporary concerns. The historic founders – who often don’t even know they are founders – of religions speak to their circumstance and time in history. It is the job of the custodians – often called clergy – to make connections between those historic teachings and contemporary culture and knowledge. Note clearly that I am saying that valid spiritual teachings do speak throughout the ages, but they also need someone who can reinterpret and explain them as necessary. That is something that institutional Christianity has failed to do with great intention, especially in the most popular corners of the Church – conservative Christianity!
His Holiness the XVI Dalai Lama has famously said that if science disproves a belief held by Buddhism, then Buddhism will abandon that belief. It’s a sensible, intelligent position to hold in a scientific world. Christianity suffers from no similar sensibility – in fact, quite the opposite. Christianity has always seen science as its adversary rather than being able understand that the areas of study for science and spirituality are complementary. The result is that over the last fifty to seventy-five years much of Christianity has progressively lost touch with the real world. They even developed a justification for doing so – the fiction of the rapture, which claims it will take true believers from this evil world and deliver them to heaven post-haste at some undetermined yet immanent time.
Clearly, what passes for Christianity in the eye of the media, the public at large, and much of the Church itself, has jumped the shark. I believe with all my heart that Jesus contains just as much validity and truth as he ever did, but the vehicle that has historically presented Jesus to the world has so perverted and distorted his message that it is no longer recognizable. Whatever this Christianity is, it isn’t about Jesus and hasn’t really been for some time. Certainly, there are corners of Christianity that still present Jesus in fullness and truth – and those corners are seen as heretical by most of Christianity!
It’s over, I am afraid. Christianity as it is practiced by the majority no longer has the ability to speak to contemporary times, not because Jesus can’t but ironically because Christians refuse to do so. Instead they choose to prattle on with unscientific fictions about human sexuality, reproduction, attempting to advance misogyny as a religious practice, battles with other religions for control of the world, and battles to re-establish the very theocracy Jesus deplored. All of the best efforts to correct the course, all undertaken by well intended people, have only served to delay the inevitable. The truth is that unless we allow Christianity as it exists to die then a new birth cannot occur. We have to give up hope that conservative Christianity is going to see the light, because it isn’t about Jesus. It’s about power, control, politics, and a social agenda based superstition and ego.
Let’s free Jesus from the religious prison we have built around him and allow him to speak once again. Let’s talk about a spirituality of Jesus, rather than a religion of Jesus. Let’s talk about a vital, living spiritual practice that isn’t afraid of the world but rather celebrates it and assumes the responsibility for it that was given us in the Genesis myth. Let’s talk about non-violence, disarmament, caring for the least of our brothers and sisters, love for everything and everybody with an understanding that love builds up, doesn’t tear down, a very scriptural notion of which contemporary Christianity knows nothing.
Oh, but what shall we call it. Let’s not call it anything, and just get to doing it – that would be unique.