Thursday, May 3, 2007

am I a Christian?

There seem to be two essential doctrines that define Christianity: incarnation, and Jesus' death as payment for sin.

If the doctrine of Incarnation must mean that Jesus was the incarnation of God, then I don't believe. It offends my reason and intuition to say that Jesus was God. This theology brings the distant God one step closer to humanity - he walked among us - but preserves the essential separation between God and humanity that causes so much damage to our spirituality. But incarnation could mean what I think Jesus meant, that God is incarnate throughout all creation. As Emerson wrote in his essay, "The Oversoul" "Let men then learn the revelation of all nature and all thought to his heart; this, namely; that the Highest dwells with him."

And what of Jesus' death? I find repugnant the idea that Jesus had to die to assuage God's offended justice at our sins. This Christian doctrine seems to say that God could not forgive our sin unless we paid God off with a bloody corpse. The origin of the idea is clear. Jesus died apparently having failed in his Messiah task. The first century Jewish Christians needed a story that would make that death a triumph. A handy example of how to make spiritual sense of death took place every day at the temple in the animal sacrifices performed there. Maybe Jesus' death was a kind of sacrifice as well? I think Jesus would be appalled. The Gospels tell us again and again how consistently his disciples misunderstood Jesus' teachings. I think they got this one wrong, too.

Jesus' death was only regarded a failure because his followers expected him to be a Messiah in a different way than he was. Jesus kept saying that he wasn't here to overthrow the Romans and restore the Jewish Kingdom. Death in itself isn't a failure. Everybody dies, winners and losers. Jesus' death is a tragedy in that he died unnecessarily and at the hands of violence. But when death becomes inevitable we can face it bravely, even serenely, trusting in the infinite love of God, who will be with us after death the same way as during life.

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