Sunday, April 16, 2017
Clickbait 2.0: Does the Round Dance of Jesus Scale?
Once again, the interwebs has led me. I was googling 'round dance of Jesus' this morning and the first suggestion was thebamabong.com. Odd, since there is not post like that on the bamabong. But it seemed a good way to follow up on my previous post, which several people had asked me to do, so, here goes.
I do not follow Kant's categorical imperative in all things. I recognize that many of my activities are not possible for everyone to do, that my rather rich but indolent life style in my old age is possible because I lived differently when I was younger and because other people are living differently now. My life style is not a moral statement, it's a hobby, like, I would suggest, organic gardening. A religion that claims catholicity, however, should probably fit Kant's criteria. In other words, it should scale.
The problem with Christianity, as with most religions, is that it does not scale. It is based on and claims to be a continuation, a fulfillment, of revelations and promises made by a rather tribal god to a man named Abraham, in the mostly desert region we now call the Near East. Despite some suggestions that he was a god of thunder storms, he wasn't consistently good about providing rain, so Abraham's tribe had to go to Egypt, where their gods kept the Nile flowing. But things went sour in Egypt, and the god of the Israelites, as they were now called, after Abraham's favourite grandson, fought with the gods of the Egyptians, who let his people go. Into the desert they went, where they were given water miraculously and also the law. And, they were promised a land. When they entered the land, the way with dealing with peoples of other gods was to wipe them out, a task which they failed to do very well.
I am going to skip the history for several centuries, except to mention that the most successful of the descendants of Jacob in terms of conquest was David. As we all know from Christmas carols and the Gospel according to Luke, Jesus, the Christ, is proclaimed as the proper scion of David. How comfortable Jesus was with this designation is a little hard to tell, but the Romans took it seriously enough to put him to death.
But, Christians say, the story didn't end there. He was resurrected from the dead, ate and cooked fish, hung around with his disciples and other friends for forty days before going up into the sky, promising to come back the same way, but sending 'another 'paraklete', the Holy Spirit, to lead them until he came back.
The Christians quickly became a much more motley crew than the Israelites. Membership was open to anyone, whatever their ethnic and social background, by baptism, and it was voluntary. To the distress of many Christians, even till this day, not all Israelites, who were called Jews by the time of the Roman empire, volunteered to follow the new David. What had been a movement within Judaism found itself anathematized by mainstream Judaism. But in the Roman empire, which encompassed many tribes and many gods, Christianity became a very powerful new force for unity, a situation which Constantine recognized by making Christianity a state religion. With Constantine's recognition and celebration in architecture of the new religion, however, it quickly changed from a pagan religion--a religion of the countryside, even though it had churches and bishops in town and cities--to a religion of powerful bishops in powerful cities.
I am going off on a bit of a historical limb here by suggesting that although there were many skirmishes within Christianity during the early centuries, it would be the substitution of the centralized, priestly religion for the god-in-a-blazing bush, god-knocking-one-off-one's-horse religion that would lead to its biggest opponent. Certainly we can see the stresses going back to the time of Samuel when David wanted to build a temple. And Jesus himself would predict that the Jerusalem temple would perish. But out in the desert, where Abraham had been a wandering Aramean, the same angel Gabriel who had appeared to Mary would appear in 610 to another prophet, Muhammad, with what Muhammad's followers would insist was the final and definitive word on all matters theological. Many Christians at first thought that the Muslims were just another Christian sect. Some say the same today about Mormons. Muslims did not see Christians that way. Christians and Jews were not so evil as Zoroastrians, but they were not part of the faithful.
As Christianity. which had ceased to be voluntary but had become a matter of imperial fiat, spread further into Europe and Asia and Africa, it encountered other religions that found it intolerable. Need I mention the attitude of the Vikings, for instance, upon encountering people who did not recognize the authority of the true gods? In places that Christian kings conquered, baptism by force became normal. This led to some odd circumstances. The dancer on the right in the picture that heads this blog is named Jesus 'Jacoh' Cortes. He is part of an American Indian dance group called Dancing Earth. Is his really the dance of Jesus? Is there something in Christianity other than its familiarity and comfort that is valuable to the world today, that is really catholic in the sense of belonging to the whole world? I think there is, and that it is easiest to find, perhaps, in the Gospel according to John. But that discussion will come in 'Clickbait 2.1: Monogenis'. We in the age of the interwebs have trouble reading something as long as this post has been.