Posted by: Harold Knight | 01/06/2010

A Funny Thing Happened—My PC’s death as religious distortion

‘Thou arisest fair in the horizon of Heaven, 0 Living Aten, Beginner of Life…there is none who knows thee save thy son Akhenaten. Thou hast made him wise in thy plans and thy power.’

Two guys, James A. Sanders, and Paul E. Capetz, Presbyterian ministers, (1) have written lots of theological (Christian) stuff.  Sanders was the translator of the Psalms from the Dead Sea Scrolls. About five years ago Capetz wrote God: A Brief History, published by the (Lutheran) Fortress Press. You’ll have to forgive them, but they’re thorough-going academics, scholars, and Christians. In an article last year they wrote:

All of this, indeed his whole ministry, demonstrated Jesus’ belief that God was not limited to the parameters and traditions of any religion but was and is the One God of All. Christianity has generally forgotten that and like all religions has tried to comprehend (contain) God in its doctrines and beliefs and even to claim exclusive hold and possession of access to God through exclusivist misunderstandings of the Incarnation and of the Gospels. (2)

My PC died. I’ve got to have a laying on of (some brilliant geek’s) hands. My life is in that box. I’ve known for awhile that I needed a new one. It’s been doing terminal illness kinds of things lately.

I don’t know if information on a hard drive can be salvaged or not, but, if it can’t, I will have no other choice but to get me to a nunnery and live out my natural life in grief.  I want to yell obscenities. (I HAVE yelled obscenities!) I should be grateful for my laptop, I guess, but it doesn’t have my life on it in Word Documents and saved email messages.

I should have lived in the 18th century. Nothing electronic, no weapons of mass destruction, no “birthers,” no Senator Lieberman, no Brit Hume, no Lady Gaga, but a blissful life of thinking I am either crazy (TLE) or the chosen one of God Most High (maybe TLE) to whom she sends amazing experiences hoi polloi cannot share.

Today is the Feast of the Epiphany for those who mark Christian festivals.  I love to think about the history of minutia (the Online Etymology Dictionary may be my absolute favorite website). I also hate Christmas (being oh-so-spiritual, I can’t stand the orgy of Christianity-sponsored materialism that starts at Halloween and ends with “repudiate your loved ones by returning gifts” day on December 26). So I approve of the Feast of the Epiphany.

In some traditions it IS the Feast of the Nativity, and the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus, which was much more important than Christmas to the early church. I’m amazed that Christians, especially fundamentalists and sentimentalists, are so enamored of Christmas that they ignore their own theology of the Epiphany. After all, most of them would not be Christians if the earliest church had had its way. It took something of a struggle, and a dream of St. Peter’s that seems positively LSD or TLE inspired to allow the Gentiles to become Christians. Check out  Acts 10. Scary.  Jesus might have said, “You are the Acidhead” to Simon instead of Tu es petrus, et portae inferi non praevalebunt adversus te. 

At any rate, the Fundamentalists go around wanting to “win souls for Jesus,” and they celebrate the cuddly little baby in the manger instead of the revelation of the Messiah to the Gentiles. The fact is Holy Mother Church began celebrating the Epiphany as early as 361 CE with a fixed date, and in many places the Nativity was part of that observance. Christmas had been floating around for a little while before that; I say “floating” because there was no fixed date until after the date of January 6 was fixed for the Epiphany.

Wise Men from the East

So why am I ranting on about this? Because I can.

One problem I have with church or any religion that’s an institution—especially one that controls societies—is the insistence on special access to God. (How, for example, is ‘‎شريعة  law any different than putting a stone monument to the Ten Commandments on the grounds of the state capitol in Austin, Texas, or having laws against “sodomy,” or not letting certain people marry?) The church by-and-large ignores spiritual ideas in order to concentrate on fluff. If the church wanted to think about “holy mysteries,” it wouldn’t go after a little babe in a manger. In America, dolls used in “nativity scenes” are generally blond-haired and blue-eyed. If churches play-act this story, why not at least use a somewhat dark-skinned baby with kinky black hair and black eyes who will grow up to have a dark beard and fit the description of the 650,000,000 Arabs and Muslims Obama just put on the “watch list” for air travel into the United States—and who will soon be forced to go through “full-body scans” so the Homeland Security goons can get their jollies looking at people naked?

Instead of huddling in bathrobes around blue-eyed dolls, the church would do well to think about the idea that God (whoever She is) made herself available to ALL humans equally, not only to a bunch of first century Common Era Jews following a disreputable anti-establishment teacher? As far as I can tell, that’s the meaning of the Epiphany. God isn’t keeping herself to the right people (pun intended). She’s not saying to the Muslims and other folks, “You’re excluded.” She’s not saying to the Christians, “Kill a commie for Christ.” She’s not telling the Supreme Court of the United States to rule on “moral” issues or “human rights” based on the Roman Catholic theology of six of its nine members. She’s not telling the Baptists to shoot doctors who help women retain their constitutional (and, perhaps, God-given) right to control their own bodies.

No. No one wants to celebrate a universal God. No! God is OURS. We know God. God knows us. We don’t believe in One God, we believe in OUR God.

Epiphany Services degenerate into “I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light” instead of the terrible (inspiring terror) idea that God is God, and, if we “believe in one God,” then God is the same god for Jews, Muslims Christians, and (HORRORS!) Buddhists, Hindus, and atheists. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. All of us.

I began with Sanders and Capetz. I’ll end with them. By the way, I met Dr. Sanders a couple of times. He’s a very nice man in spite of the less-than-self-congratulatory nature of his words.

Belief in One God is as intrinsic and integral to the Christian faith as it is to Judaism and Islam. But none of the three has yet arrived at accountable belief in the One God of All. Each is to some extent still caught in the ephemeral cultural traps and trappings in which the scriptures and traditions of each were written. And each has remained in its comfort zone of henotheism, belief in its particular view of God, falling well short of true monotheism, which recognizes that God is incomprehensible. (3) 

God is not incomprehensible if you know “I want to walk as a child of the light.” Neither is She spiritual. She’s like having your life in a PC. And if you lose access, well. . .

Wise Men from the West

(1)  James A. Sanders, Ph.D. (Hebrew Union College/Jewish Institute of Religion) is professor emeritus of biblical studies at the Claremont School of Theology, professor emeritus of religion at the Claremont Graduate University, and founder and president emeritus of the Ancient Biblical Manuscript Center. Paul E. Capetz, Ph.D. (University of Chicago) is Professor of Historical Theology at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities.

(2)  Sanders, James A., and Paul E. Capetz. “Credo in unum deum: a challenge.” Biblical Theology Bulletin 39.4 (2009): 204+.

(3)  Ibid.


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