Christ's Role, As He Might Have Meant It
It seems that organized religion has assumed the role of Christ in the dispensation of Truth, be it relating to the church itself or in the very Word of God. The Pope, when speaking in his official capacity, is considered to be the mouthpiece of God." Many churches actually dissuade their congregations from the exploration of scripture. Many churches frown on alternative, esoteric thought. But wasn't Christ all these things? A student? A teacher? A mystic? Yes. He was all these things, and much more.
Why should the Church's authoritative stance and forced positioning be troubling to us as a global society? There are several reasons. First, Christ himself, if we believe the "red words" in the Bible (those that purportedly were spoken by the Son of God himself), was never too pleased with the goings on of an organized, hierarchical regime/religion. (In his time "church" would have been the temple, or orthodox Judaism.) An obvious example of this would be, of course, Jesus' destruction of the temple, preceded by his discovery that the "holy men" and their establishment were actually marketing and selling wares in the temple of God. If we look at his angry explosion, we are safe to conclude a few things:
Assuming it is safe to accept the above, let's translate Christ's experience in the temple to the present day. What do you think Christ would make of present day churches? (i.e., WWJD?)
If we were using the selling of wares as the only barometer, well, then Christ would be displeased with just about every church in the West. Let's call the point moot that the selling of goods is anti-scripture, be they t-shirts, cds or costly "seminars," regardless of our personal feelings about same. But what was Christ really communicating vis-à-vis his display in the temple?
If we look at the sayings of Christ closely, we see that he never really endorsed organized religion as a vehicle. In fact, more times than not Christ upbraided the church and its teachers, and many times its lazy membership. The only "vehicle" he ever advocated as a pathway to God was, in fact, himself. "For I am the Way, the Truth and the Life, no man comes unto the father but through me."
When Christ said that he was the way, was he truly saying that it was his way or the highway? Or was he saying it more in an emblematic sense, such as, "follow my example and you will see the Father"? It seems more in keeping with the general spirit of Christ's teachings to assume he meant those words in an emblematic capacity. Yes, Christ came as a sword, but he also came to unite the people, and to point them in the direction of the loving Creator. How could he unite the people by excluding 99.9% of them? That's what he'd be doing, wouldn't he, if he only granted entrance (into paradise) to those who believed HIS WAY? What about the Hindus? The Muslims? The Buddhists? What about all other cultures and manner of thought? Is it really reasonable and in keeping with Christ's example that he'd keep most of the global populous from eternal life, and this from the time of his ministry down through all the ages?
Which leads us
to the next question: what is "his way"? The church has ordered
throughout the years as well as vis-à-vis their various and sundry councils
(see The Arian Controversy) precisely what that Way is, and has never
hesitated to tell us all how to proceed so as to adhere to the true path of
Christ. There are and have been the frequent interactions with the rosary, confessional booths, exclusionary communion, penances and indulgences, to cite a few examples.
But does a church rich with a history of violence, political motivation and out-and-out cruelty really possess intimate knowledge of one singular and ambiguously-attainable roadway? And would Christ really have wanted us to rest our hopes of salvation with the very institution and archetype he railed against daily, and for most of his ministry? Some may say that the church(/temple) of Jesus' day was a different sort of institution, and that the church as a whole has since progressed and changed with the times. Yet is that truly the case? What progression has their been, truly, besides the necessary socio-scientific changes the church had to make in order to retain their followers? Let's not forget the Crusades, which occurred hundreds of years after the death of Christ, in which thousands of earnest and esoteric believers were tortured and destroyed because their views and practices did not conform with the edicts of church and pope. Nor should we quickly dismiss the Inquisition, where others were killed for the very same reason, only in a different time and place. (And let's all remember that Galileo Galilei was imprisoned by the pope, his friend at the time, because of Galileo's correct assertions concerning our heliocentric galaxy, assertions which he was subsequently forced to revoke. Galileo Galilei!) Further, what are we to make of this recent edict by the current pope that the only true way to reach God is through the holy Catholic church? (All those Baptists and Mormons and Methodists are good, absolutely, they're just not right.) And what about the church's current position that only priests may receive salaries, but not nuns (though the sisters are the primary fund raisers)---and that, in addition, women should never be priests! (Thereby destroying a woman's opportunity for paid service.)
Are these examples of any real progression?
True enough, the church continues to faithfully proclaim "the good parts" of the gospel, that being love and charity and good will. But some of the other extraneous rubbish included in typical church dogma and tradition is both inflammatory and degrading, as well as wholly unrepresentative of the teachings of Christ. (See Saint Augustine's Doctrine of Original Sin; The Doctrine of Mary the Ever-Virgin; and The Immaculate Conception.)
Much of the discussion on organized religion is easily navigable and plain common sense. Neither you nor I can pick and choose scripture to suit our cause, nor can we discount the coherence of a thing (such as the style and/or general spirit of Christ's presentation). You cannot say, Yes, Christ is forgiving of each and everyone of us, he absolved the horrible sin of the prostitute Mary Magdalene and dined with the scorned debt collectors...but still! He only accepts and welcomes the chosen few who follow his specific rules as handed down by his church.
One part of that
thought does not reconcile with the other, am I right? Therefore there is incoherence and inconsistency (neither of which is identifiable with the example of Christ), and as such, according to many academic and theological
scholars, one part of the thought must necessarily negate and dismiss the other. They cannot both be right. Either Christ has accepted us all, and provided a way for us all (and that way just may look different for each one), or he has hand-picked a few "elect" individuals willing to "walk the walk" to dwell with him in heaven.
Put on your thinking cap. Which part of the sentence followed with Christ's style of love and manner of acceptance? Therefore, which part necessarily becomes inapplicable? Again, this is all common sense.
We receive our rules from the church. As to Christ himself, he did not concern himself overmuch with the arbitrary dispersion of rules. (Though he taught daily through his love and example, to be sure.) He said, fundamentally, that the greatest commandment of all was to love the Father, and that the second greatest commandment was to love your neighbor as yourself. Everything before this statement as well as everything following simply builds on this cornerstone idea.
How do we love the father? By seeking first his kingdom. By thoughtful and consistent prayer. How do we love our neighbors? By feeding the hungry. By clothing the poor. By loving our husbands, wives and children, as well as our parents, our neighbors and our friends.
What I've provided are examples which find their genesis in the true principles of Christ (that of love for God and others). These types of examples abound throughout the New Testament, as well as the Old. These principles are the gospel. They are plain and that simple. What's more, they are available and "do-able" for and by all of us, therefore none of us are excluded, ever. All the other superfluous nonsense that followed the life of Christ, inclusive of many of Saint Paul's writings and the pages ad infinitum that flowed from the early church councils, are of little to no consequence to our daily faith life. Much of these extraneous teachings do no more than facilitate a type of behavior to which the church would have us conform.
Yet Christ's behavior was never conformist. He preached on the Sabbath, reviled the priests of his day and was for all intents and purposes the Rebel's Rebel. So why do we as a nation and global society feel the need to constantly conform to the dogma and self-serving proclamations of the church? Here's why:
But are those reasons good enough?
The Church would have us follow their rules and regulations so that they can maintain our membership and our tithes. No doubt for many within the infrastructure of organized religion, such as the laity and helpers, the purpose and intent of the efforts toward conversion are sincere. But as for the mechanism of the church itself, it is antiquated and falsely conceived, and, in my opinion, the antithesis of Christ's true sentiments and teachings.
Christ was not only the Son of God, he provided the manner (and/or emblem) by which we could (and now can) commune in a complete and whole way with our Creator. It is your choice whether to see "God" as an anthropomorphic archetype or an all knowing cosmic energy, but in my estimation, neither is wrong. Once true communion with God the Creator is achieved, you can name him any way you see fit. If your worship is true and sincere, then it is like incense unto him, and acceptable. Let no organization or keeper of a hallowed hall tell you differently. In God there is liberation, and a type of faith life that is both liquid and rock solid---ever-present, always secure, all-encompassing. In other words, it's all good.
So, is the Church good for anything? Perhaps by my tone you think I would say that it is not. Wrong. The Church is good for much. A panacea can be as good as it is bad. A lullabye is always sweet, and helps us secure rest and comfort. This means much for many. But for a select few, there must be more, and when this is the case, religion necessarily will always fail, with common sense and experiential truth the victor.
As always, your comments and ideas are welcome.
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