Saturday, 16 December 2006

The Ultimate Square Peg

I'm annoyed by stereotypes --- and naturally, particularly so when I'm in the group being stereotyped. So I was pleased to read about a new US reality show "One Punk Under God" about Christian minister Jay Bakker. That's cool.

I also dislike the way that Christians, especially (but not only) in the USA, have become identified with some key causes that all seem to revolve around making other people behave in certain ways. This has unfortunately led to people believing that that's what Christianity is all about --- when actually one of the most important truths is that just doing things is not the way to make things right between us and God.

So, I thought I'd really like this article by Jay Bakker, which leads with:

What the hell happened? Where did we go wrong? How was Christianity co-opted by a political party? Why are Christians supporting laws that force others to live by their standards?

In fact, there's little in there that I would specifically disagree with. But there's a problem with it as a whole: it implies that Jesus was about nothing but unconditional love. That is an error in another direction, and it's also a common one. His parables and lessons do talk a lot about love and forgiveness, but they also talk a lot about hell, judgement, and "I have come not to bring peace, but a sword". To paraphrase a common Christian saying, he does have a message of "come as you are, not as you should be" --- but he doesn't want you to stay that way.

The problem with Jesus is that he doesn't fit into boxes. He doesn't seem to countenance the imposition of a morality state, but he also won't be coerced into being a comfortable anything-goes Saviour. He never conforms to the image we demand of him. That's uncomfortable and disconcerting ... but it's one of the things I love about him.


  1. Roc, your last paragraph (specifically the first sentence of that paragraph) is interesting, especially how we draw different conclusions from a common premise: "The problem with Jesus is that he doesn't fit into boxes."
    Being an atheist myself, I see Jesus as a historical figure who had some radical ideas about community and personal morality. Radical particularly in a way that they differed from the values of the prevailing culture at the time.
    But that the whole weight of a religion has rested on those shoulders may be a little more than any one human being, past or present, can bear. That is what I find disconcerting, and perhaps troubling. That in the modern age, with education, science, and technology, people look to a 2000 year old person for answers.
    And perhaps quite unsurprisingly, people are going make Jesus into what they want him to be.

  2. Justin:
    I think if you read the Bible and you read about the things that Jesus said, it's not enough to claim that he simply talked about morality. It's true that he did; however, he also made a ton of other statements about himself, about God, etc. which I think shouldn't be so easily discarded. If you read about the things that he did, sure, he performed miracles. He also ate with tax collectors, picked fights with religious authorities, lectured his disciples, prayed by himself often, etc. etc. and the defining reason behind his actions was His connection to His Father and His obedience to His purpose on Earth. It does take a lot of time to read through each story regarding Jesus to notice all the subtleties of what He did. To a Christian, labeling him a simple teacher or philosopher or social worker completely misses the point.
    Christianity can say that it rests itself on Jesus's shoulders because it claims Jesus is God, and being perfect and the originator of all things, wouldn't that seem like a solid footing?
    In any case, if you take a look around this modern age, you'll find that education, science and technology haven't changed anything. The methods may be different, but the motivations - pride, power, greed, lust, envy, etc. etc. are all the same. There is this unstated belief that if we just get all the science down, all the technology; if we can educate everyone, then we'll solve the world's problems. Let's even say you took religion out of the world. I hope you might agree that the world would STILL be screwed up - greed, lust, envy, etc. wouldn't go away. That fundamental brokenness is what Christianity explains - the idea that "I am and should be the master of my life," Christianity says, is wrong. The solution, then, is not about submitting yourself to a code of conduct at all, but submitting your will to God. It sounds crazy, but it's not a mental delusion, I promise. I know too many people who serve God quietly, behind the scenes. They do good things for people, like a friend of mine who runs a children's after school program in a poor urban neighborhood. They tend not to talk big though, so they don't attract much attention.
    It's a shame that people don't understand Christianity for what it really is. People get all sorts of messed up views from their childhood, from the news media, from big talkers, from reading random passages in Leviticus without regard to context, etc. etc. People need to learn to make more informed decisions.

  3. I'm Jewish and I don't see Christians in America trying to force their religion down my back. They feel they can't express their views "oh we can't talk about religion in school because we might offend someone and hurt their self-esteem." On the other hand, they have to pay taxes for those schools. I went to Jewish schools so I was able to express my religion. But it comes at a big cost of higher tuition and lower availability. This isn't an option for most Christians and I think they have every right to be frustrated when they are told what they can't do in public.

  4. I read this article a couple of days ago, and feel about the same way you do. I agree with his general point about the way Christianity is perceived in America, and the need for less condemnatory language, but am concerned that he is attempting to reduce the importance of the issues of homosexual practice and abortion.
    The issue about the moral rightness or otherwise of homosexual practice is, at heart, an issue of scriptural authority. Scripture is clear throughout that the correct place for sexual activity is within a marriage between a man and a woman, and that implies that anything outside of that - cohabitation, adultery, whatever - is wrong.
    It's very sad and equally wrong that some Christians go from that position to one of condemning or hating people who engage in homosexual practice; they should look to the lustful plank in their own eyes. But love and acceptance of the person is not the same as condoning or accepting the sin.
    This is the issue with the new Sexual Orientation Regulations which are currently under discussion in the UK. A legal attempt to avoid discrimination in the provision of goods and services would mean that a Christian printer could be forced to print leaflets advertising a Gay Pride march, and a Christian hotel owner could be forced to rent a double room to a same-sex couple in a civil partnership even if he denied such a room to an unmarried heterosexual couple. Christians in the UK wish not to be forced to condone or abet the sin.