The Promise of Religion: If Only it could Evolve with the Rest of Us (well… most of us…)
By Syd Gris
Easter Sunday made me think, as it often does, of my Christian faith, it’s promises and perils. I say ‘my’ Christian faith loosely. I don’t identify myself as a Christian in the average use of that term, but it is my cultural heritage and part of my family heritage as well and I have no qualms standing up for the teachings of Jesus as I understand them that I have come to respect and honor as I do other teachings from other traditions that feel aligned with my felt sense of Spirit.
Phrases such as: ‘as I understand’ and ‘my felt sense’ are a kernel of the problem Easter and other religious holidays make me think about. This whole enterpirse of knowing God and truth and purpose is wildly open to interpretation and speculation and subjective forms of knowing. The early Christian pioneers operated in an age of hostility to their message where you could literally die a horrible death for your beliefs. Add to this the fact they were trying to establish a teaching across disparate beliefs and cultures with slow forms of communciation, it’s obviously quite the uphill battle. In their eyes, only in the uniformity of the canon, and the conformity of its adherents, could this new teaching take root and spread- the so called words of Jesus Christ.
I say ‘so called’ because of course we don’t know and will never know what he actually said. The books that formed the New Testament were written anywhere between 60 and 100 years after Jesus died, passed on through oral tradition, not written by the men whose names are on them (Matthew, Luke, etc.). They were translated over and over, and maybe more importantly, they were in part chosen with the agenda of the early church to create a unified message of what it meant to be Christian, and with an emphasis on the church as a necessary institution to be the portal for knowing God. Other self identified Christian sects that did not fit in with this mission became heretics. Even within the books of the Bible there are contradictions. As scholar and historian of the early Christians Elaine Pagels highlights: “…if you look in the New Testament, in say, Luke 23 and John 21, you see that both Luke and John tell different accounts of how Jesus appeared. In one account, he appeared in a vision and he disappeared before they touched him, and in another he appeared in absolutely physical form. He actually ate with them. They could touch him and they could feel the wounds. So there are different kinds of stories even in the canonical Gospels….”*
The First Council of Nicaea was convened in A.D. 325, so ya- 325 (ish) years after the death of Jesus, to decide in the most formal way yet what would be the foundations of the Christian faith, now suddenly the religion of the state because of Constantine’s conversion. They had an agenda to decide not just what was ‘true’, but what would ensure that the new church would survice and be the gateway to God. For if it were left to the individual to find their own way to God, as some Gnostic teachings allowed, there would be chaos without uniformity. Thus, the Catholic (‘true’) faith was born.
What I’m working up to here is the fact that anyone can take the Bible even remotely literally given these historical facts of their origins, and the agendas involved in what books would become canon and what books would become heresy is totally beyond me. I can’t beleive they’re all just uninformed. What was necessary in the 1st century to get this whole enterprise off the ground still has unnecessary remnants standing today. Some of that is harmless, much of it is completely counter productive to providing true spiritual direction.
What but truth must be the foundation of spiritual inquiry? I dare say if more of today’s religious doctrine could have evolved a little more with the times, we’d have a society more open to sacred pursuits without the trappings of outdated dogma. Of course, myths serve a purpose, lost when taken too literally. I’m willing to go out on a limb here and say Moses did not part the Red Sea, Lao Tzu was not 900 years old when he was born, Mohammed didn’t cruise up to Heaven on a horse above Jerusalem, we are not all related to Adam and Eve, and yes Jesus did not rise in the flesh, have a meal with the boys, and ascend into Heaven.
The world needs Spirit, and religion is the best vehicle to reach the masses. But much of it needs to grow up, evolve and put the impetus to having a relationship with God & Godess back on the individual responsibility of each to be a pure house for the dwelling of the Divine. It’s already in us, our heritage on one end and our desitiny on the other. I have no idea what it will take to shake loose the hold of fundamentalism, but wow, what potential!
Imagine if all those young Arab brothers willing to die for their religious beliefs did the opposite of blowing themselves up? What if they loved with reckless abandon and let the small self die instead of the physical body? Imagine the good they could do with that kind of conviction. That’s not polyanna bullshit, it’s simply a matter of teaching. How do we get in at that level of religious discourse and change the myths into present day spiritual tools to true awakening, love and compassion?
I’d love to know. I’d join that team.