Monday, February 23, 2009

thoughts odd about God

I am fascinated by christian schismatism (for reasons that are not at all clear to me.) Mostly, I'm interested in the Protestant reformation in Europe, but I was also curious about the split between the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches (alas, not over anything serious-The Eastern Churches wanted Constantinople to be the seat of power, but the western ones preferred Rome) and I've started to look up some of the schismatic movements in America (Great Awakenings).

I've been particularly interested of late in how the Protestant Reformation led to the ascendancy of the christian right and the election of George W Bush as President of the United States of America*.

Consider the beginning of the continuum-Martin Luther (and Henry VIII) tell you that you can read the Bible in your own language--that you can interpret it without the help of the priest. Then move over to America, which even though it still had it's rich and it's poor, was still a less hierarchical society than Europe in the 1500s. Enter the Great Awakenings. Aside from the snake handlers and the con men there are decent men and women who tell Americans that not only can they read the bible for themselves-they can also talk to God himself and hear what He has to say.

On the face of it, this is not a bad proposition-everyone should be able to talk to God. It's the second half that troubles me though. Most of the people I've heard telling them God told them to do a certain thing (In Particular GW Bush) are people whose motives are suspect. Did god actually tell you to do a certain thing, or did you want to do it anyway? Did you present it to the American people as God's idea, because you know a certain number of your electorate make decisions based on God's advice and therefore they'd think you made the right choice?

This incidentally, (not unlike the Protestant Reformation) is another reason why politics and religion have no business mixing.

But my main point is, why not postulate that anyone can talk to God, but no man or woman alive has the authority to say how He responded. I am not a biblical scholar. I have no right to state the above postulate, but my own native reason.
I believe in God
I believe everyone should be able to talk to God-it gives comfort
Human beings lie
When one of them says he or she was directed to do X by God do we know he or she was speaking the truth
Human beings (myself included) are fallible. We misjudge. Right now there's some guy/girl at a bar/coffee house less than half a mile from me who thinks that someone is giving s/him a come hither or a dirty look and he or she has a 50% of being wrong. That being the case how are we supposed to say we can hear God?

There are obvious problems with this postulate, not the least of which is that people who are a great deal better read in This Sort of Thing would disagree with it. And then there's the fact that I developed it from a weird angle (how are we to stop people from doing evil in God's name?)

This also runs into rocky ground when it meets the wonderful sermons that my parents pastor gives every sunday. He reads the Gospel text and then trys to explain what, in the given text, God is asking us to do.

Obviously this needs more work. I just posted it so I wouldn't forget it.

*there are a lot of books that have been published about stolen elections and voter fraud, but at the moment that doesn't interest me.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

on guilt and Christianity-not that I know enough to judge

Since I started this blog like a journal, and since I don't have any readers (since I haven't told my friends about this blog) I'm going to make a kind of rambling post.

Where to start? Given: I am an ex-catholic. I'm the worst kind (I think) It would be simpler if I had thought it all was bullshit and I wanted no part of it. Instead, I ingested enough of it to believe that it is *not* all bullshit and that, while I don't feel comfortable with a lot of the tenets of the religion (lesse, I'm pro-choice, feel weirded out by the idea of my own personal Jesus, think it's okay for people who made a mistake to get divorced, why the heck can't priests be married and I think it's odd that one man is God's spokesman), I cannot dismiss it entirely. I'm at least a deist Credo en Unam Deum Facturat Coeli et Terram. I was raised to celebrate Christian feasts (Christmas in particular--I never know what to do with myself at Easter) and my moral up-bringing was yer basic Judeo-Christian set (heavy on the liberal) and I find no fault with it.

Add to that I am or try to be, an existenitalist, and I'm obsessed with speech acts. Consequently, when someone makes a joke about Unitarians singing badly because they're reading ahead to see if they agree with the hymn I turn red (because that's *exactly* what I do in church).

I am not rushing out to become a Unitarian. My parents attend Lutheran Church these days and I like their church (the people are great, the pastor is great, they have a soup kitchen and a beer-club) but I find myself weaseling out during the service. No, I will not say "I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord" which seems rather petty of me. Consequently, since I can't even agree with the original set of dissenters, I've taken it into my head that it is not likely that I will find a pack of dissenters with which I agree. So I've chosen to try to find God on my own.

But that is all preface. In December, my sister mentioned that she was reading Kristin Lavrensdatter-a trilogy set in medieval Norway. Since I read a lot and since my sister and I don't have a heck of a lot in common to talk about at the moment (she's currently working as a mom with two small children in a house with no Internet access and I'm currently working as tech support for a financial services company) I decided to read the books with her. The author Sigrid Undset has written several historical novels in medieval Norway-all of them with some Christian flavor. In Kristin Lavransdatter, people do wrong and repent (usually), but the heroine has a personal relationship with God and St Olaf that's a bit weird, but acceptable. In the series my sister and I are currently reading, the characters are falling over their own feet to find something to feel guilty about. They fight and they fornicate and that's all they do and it's no fun to read. I sent my sister a text message saying that really the novel is all about people finding things to feel guilty about and her response was "Isn't that what being Catholic is all about?"

Now it seems to me, from what little reading I've done (historical novels, a good deal about Henry VIII, a bit about Martin Luther, A Distant Mirror) that a good deal of medieval Christianity was about making people feel bad (So that they wouldn't rise up against their lord, so that they would go to church and pay indulgences etc) However, I *don't* think that's what being Catholic is all about. To be fair, I aught to say Christian-not Catholic since at the time the terms were one and the same.

It is my belief (as a non-believer) that the whole point of Christianity was that no one was perfect, and no one behaved perfectly, but that was okay--that could be forgiven. For this reason God sent His son to earth and for this reason His son sacrificed himself. (the logistics of this are bizarre and creepy-what other religion do you know that has an execution device as it's symbol?)

Noticed I said "could be forgiven?" All you have to do (As I understand it) is admit that you've done wrong (to a priest) accept your penance and don't do it again. Aye, there's the rub (As Hamlet would say) If, for example, your sin was that you cheated on your wife, but you felt terrible about it, you could go to a priest who would give you penance, absolve you and tell you to go your way and "sin no more."

There was an old idea (I'm not really sure where it initiated) that we were all not so much doing the "sin no more" thing. This lead to extreme unction (including the sins that a dying person cannot articulate because they're, well, dying) and the horrors of purgatory for the unshriven (See also, Hamlet's Dad).

The whole point (As I understand it) Is that we're human and we fuck up, but as long as we are willing to admit to our mistakes and make some kind of reparation for them,God will forgive us. This is not the worldview given by The Axe-the Sigrid Undset novel I'm currently reading to talk over with my sister. And it is most definitely not the worldview of the Evangelical Christian set in the US.

How oh how could they have gotten this bass-ackwards? They got the everyone can talk to God, but they missed the Christian forgiveness bit. The whole "it's between you (and possibly your confessor) and God." And they are definitely not winning any medals for their Christian Charity.
ugh more musings later

more on this at a later date.