Friday, April 10, 2009

Whither Christianity?


The Creed
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.
Amen.
It is Easter Friday today, and as I write this, many people have gone by my study window on their way to the church next door. I look out at all those neatly dressed families and children and say: these are good people. I could look at the ugly past of the Church, the suppression of the Gnostic heresy, the joining of church and state, the Crusades, the Inquisition, and how it condoned slavery and the genocide of the native peoples, and how dispensationalistic Christians in America still support Israel no matter what, and the never ending war against the rest of the world.
But it is Easter Friday today, and I look at the Christians going by with love, and ask, whither Christianity?
I think it extraordinary that of all the faiths I have taught and been connected to, and all the people I have met, all my closest followers were born into the Christian faith. Not one Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu or Pagan. Perhaps it is that even though all others still look for a redeemer, only Christians are ready? Pity.
The fact remains that the hundreds of thousands of pages written in the Vedas, and the Buddhist and Muslim teachings, can't match the simplicity of the story of Jesus. Perhaps the parables and sayings of Jesus have a magic which allowed it to not only spread around the world, but to enable many to reach the God within without the intervention of the priestly class and has transcended all barriers to understanding.
But I bear no ill will to the Church, or any other religion. People have already left, as I wrote in 1974, to seek the church within. And there is a magic in the Word, made flesh.
What did Jesus do? Not that he died on the cross and returned in 3 days, not that he will come to judge the living and the dead, but:
He came not as a king but as a man, he healed the sick and ministered to the poor, he threw the money lenders out of the temple, and he taught his followers to believe in miracles.
And that is the message of Easter.

30 comments:

Xanadu said...

"It is Easter Friday today, and as I write this, many people have gone by my study window on their way to the church next door. I look out at all those neatly dressed families and children and say: these are good people."

Today is Easter Sunday and I have been to Mass at Buckfast Abbey. The church was packed to the seams. We are told that Christianity is dying and that God is dead, but you would't think so from looking at all those people!

There was an atmosphere of intense devotion in the church. Even the children looked transported, as if touched by an angel's wand. Belief didn't matter. Only grace did. All were touched by grace.

The beauties of the Latin mass, the fluting voices of the girl sopranos, the clouds of incense flying to the vaulted dome like sacred doves, all these external aids to devotion brought us closer to God.

On Good Friday the Abbot prayed for the Jews. I was amazed. I thought this had been forbidden — as something likely to give offence to the Jews. But it went ahead anyway. Then there was that ceremony known as "the creeping to the Cross."

All the people formed a long line and processed slowly up to a giant cross, held aloft by two monks. Then you bowed low and bent your knee and planted a kiss on the bleeding foot of the crucified Christ.

I missed his foot and kissed the nail instead. Just my luck! I don't think he minded much though.

As I walked away, I noticed one of the monks was in tears. I threw him a shy smile and he suddenly cheered up. My good deed for the day.

Oh, it was all so lovely this morning with the sun shining in through the stainedglass windows and the sunbeams dancing on the altar. The music was heavenly. As I received the eucharist, the priest murmured CORPUS CHRISTI ('The Body of Christ'), and when I received the golden wine, I heard him say HIC EST CALIX SANGUINIS MEI ('This is the chalice of my blood.')

And here I am now, Naseer, sitting at my keyboard. All best wishes to you, dear cyber friend. May you find happiness on earth.

Man From Atlan said...

All this is so evocative of everything that is good in religion. Next time, in Devon. I admire the liberation theologists of the Catholic Church, and the many sisters of various orders who work for the poor. Thank you for your blessing. There is much suffering in all of us, but my suffering is for others. I have known peace and happiness all my life, for I know who I am.
Today is Easter Monday, and the Christ has already risen.

Xanadu said...

"I admire the liberation theologists of the Catholic Church, and the many sisters of various orders who work for the poor."

Yes, it's a broad Church with all sorts of people in it. I myself, if tested for orthodoxy, would probably fail the test and be banned as a heretic.

As you know, I have a soft spot for Islam, and this is most unusual in Catholic circles. Dante in his Divine Comedy, you may remember, consigned the prophet Mohammed to Hell. Why I am not quite sure.

Man From Atlan said...

Dante just wrote the earlier version of the Muhammad cartoons, LOL. Then, it was the Christian kingdoms versus the Ottoman Empire, and now, the globalists versus those who don't want a homogenised religion. I admire that attempt to be pure, actually, even if I disagree. But nothing justifies war, and I dislike the lies told to justify it.

Anonymous said...

I find it hard, impossible to understand what it is about "thou shall not kill" that they, these fine kind and caring people, all of them, from Christians to Muslims, Jews to Hindus, do not understand.
A ten minute or two hour long epiphany is not very impressive.
To me, talking high philosophy or religion over chicken salad is an absurdity.
Neither is ignorance of karma an excuse..

"Thou shalt not kill" does not apply to murder of one's own kind only, but to all living beings; and this Commandment was inscribed in the human breast long before it was proclaimed from Sinai. ~Leo Tolstoy

I do not like eating meat because I have seen lambs and pigs killed. I saw and felt their pain. They felt the approaching death. I could not bear it. I cried like a child. I ran up a hill and could not breathe. I felt that I was choking. I felt the death of the lamb. ~Vaslav Nijinsky

You have just dined, and however scrupulously the slaughterhouse is concealed in the graceful distance of miles, there is complicity. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

While we ourselves are the living graves of murdered beasts, how can we expect any ideal conditions on this earth? ~George Bernard Shaw

To my mind, the life of a lamb is no less precious than that of a human being. I should be unwilling to take the life of a lamb for the sake of the human body. ~Mahatma Gandhi

Thank you,
hp

Anonymous said...

P.S. Hi Xanadu! Hope you are healthy and hale!
You are a very nice person. I always enjoyed your words and emotions.
hp

Xanadu said...

Dear Homer, I gained more from you than you gained from me, and that is the truth. Are you still riding that bike and reading Mencken?

Vedanta is the bond between us. You understood me, and I understood you. Though I practise Catholicism, I love the Sacred Books of the East like you do, because I was born in India and that country has entered into my bloodstream.

I still have the links you sent me. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

No Xanadu, I don't read much Mencken. Though I still do enjoy a quip or two of his at times.
My bike I gave to my friend in Austin, when I left Texas last November.
Anyways, glad you are well. Here's a little something you may enjoy..
Thanks for the little visit.
Homer

"When the rivers hear the flute-song of Kṛṣṇa, their minds begin to desire Him, and thus the flow of their currents is broken and their waters are agitated, moving around in whirlpools. Then with the arms of their waves the rivers embrace Murāri's lotus feet and, holding on to them, present offerings of lotus flowers."
Srimad Bhagavatam

Thanks Naseer, for the medium!

Man From Atlan said...

You're welcome, homer. This is a place where people can tak to each other.

Xanadu said...

Homer, thanks for the quote from Srimad Bhagavatam. This is like old times on Xymphora!

MFA, I wish you would write an article one day on the Islamic paradise, comparing it with the Christian and Hindu heavens.

The idea of the 72 virgins intrigues me in particular, especially as this aspect of Islam has been used by Islamophobes as a big stick to beat Islam with. (For example, the silly idea that suicide bombers are motivated by little more than the desire for promiscuous sex in heaven!)

Xanadu said...

Homer, your quotes advocating vegetarianism have been a catalyst to my decision to give up meat.

I will stick with fish for the time being, however, for the following three reasons:

(1) Fish is a valuable source of Vitamin D and essential fatty acids; it is also good for the brain — hence the high IQ of fish-eating nations like the Japanese.

(2) Christ ate fish, and his apostles were all fishermen; so if fish eating was good enough for Christ, it has to be good enough for me.

(3) According to the Essenes and a passage in the Gospel of St Thomas, lower forms of life benefit spiritually by being eaten by higher forms of life. Their essence is allegedly transformed; and the next time they are reborn, they will be reborn as human beings — or so it is said.

According to this viewpoint, it follows logically that human beings would benefit if they became food for spiritually advanced extraterrestrials. An intriguing if somewhat disquieting thought!

Incidentally, Ouspensky thought human beings were "food for the moon". (See In Search of the Miraculous and The Fourth Way.)

Man From Atlan said...

Did Jesus eat meat? Yes, all things (with exceptions) being permissible according to the law.
http://www.lavistachurchofchrist.org/LVarticles/DidJesusEatMeat.htm
And his apostles did too, The Acts 2:46 "eat their meat with gladness"
Perhaps if we did too?

Anonymous said...

A big smile to you, Xanadu!

I hear chirps and peeps and baas and moos and whistles and grunts and clicks and clacks of thanks.
hp

Xanadu said...

MFA, You are right about Christ being PERMITTED to eat meat by the Mosaic law, but you are perhaps a bit hasty in assuming that people will automatically do what they are permitted to do. Millions of people throughout history have lived strictly celibate lives, though they could easily have opted for sex if they had so wished.

Note this:

"The Essenes were one of the three main religious sects in first century Palestine and Jesus is believed to have been a member of the northern group...Members of the sect wore white and followed a vegetarian diet...current members of that order claim that Jesus was an Essene and [he is] portrayed as A STRICT VEGETARIAN [My capitals]

http://www.ivu.org/news/1-96/essenes.html

True ahimsa would surely require a vegan diet...and yet, if the Gospels are correct, it would seem that Christ ate fish. (Luke 24: 41-43).

Xanadu said...

Btw, don't be misled by the word "meat" when you see it in the King James version of the New Testament.

"Meat" in 15-17C English did not mean meat in our sense, but was simply a synonym for "food" or a "meal". ("We sat down to meat" = "We sat down for a meal.")

Oxford Dictionary (1): MEAT = Food in general; usually, solid food, in contradistinction to drink. Also, anything eaten or imbibed, e.g., "Thy mete shall be mylk, honey and wyne." (Middle English).

In the bit you quote from Acts 2:46, "Eat their MEAT with gladness," meat simply meant "food." In fact, St Jerome's Latin, from which the English was translated, uses the word CIBUS (Latin for "food").

Sorry for being such a pedantic bore. Must resist this temptation in future!

My conclusion? Christ was a strict vegetarian (a vegan) at most times, but occasionally ate fish out of deference to his disciples who were fishermen. The fish were already dead, so what harm eating them if it pleased his disciples?

(I know vegetarians who follow a similar practice: vegetarians at home, but happy to accept whatever is put in front of them when they are guests in someone else's house — so as not to give offence.)

Man From Atlan said...

Come on, Xanadu. I'm not trying to convert anyone to meatarianism :)
but there is NO evidence Jesus was an Essene. His cousin John the Baptist was, and they split with each other. The Essenes were non-traditional Jews, and he made it clear he followed the law of Moses, but in his own idiosyncratic manner. How would he have celebrated Passover without eating the Passover Lamb? How many references to cattle are there in the Bible, and how about the injunction in the Torah that all foods were given by God for the benefit of Man? (Except for the listed no nos, which did not include Beef)
Is it ok for a Christian to be a vegetarian? If they like. But they shouldn't use scripture to justify a personal choice without at least point to the verse prohibiting it.
Was Krishna a vegetarian? Perhaps, but Rama certainly was not, nor was Sakyamuni. http://www.hindunet.org/srh_home/1997_5/0117.html

Man From Atlan said...

Was Jesus a Vegetarian?
http://www.lavistachurchofchrist.org/LVarticles/DidJesusEatMeat.htm
""... observe the Passover to the LORD. 'In the second month on the fourteenth day at twilight, they shall observe it; they shall eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. 'They shall leave none of it until morning, nor break a bone of it; according to all the statute of the Passover they shall observe it. 'But the man who is clean and is not on a journey, and yet neglects to observe the Passover, that person shall then be cut off from his people, for he did not present the offering of the LORD at its appointed time. That man will bear his sin." (Numbers 9:10-13)"
""Then came the first day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. And Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, "Go and prepare the Passover for us, so that we may eat it."" (Luke 22:7-8)"
http://www.kamat.com/kalranga/mythology/krishna/picnic.htm
Lord Krsinha goes on a picnic :)

Anonymous said...

I agree with Tolstoy 100%.
Some things you just know..

And regardless of whatever means one uses to justify/explain whatever, the ultimate truth lies in your own heart.

Your decision made me very happy for YOU, Xanadu.
Because I feel, no, because I KNOW how you feel.
And so does Paramatma.
hp

http://krishna.org/images/Misc/creation.jpg

Srila Prabhupada: If you simply want an ordinary education, you have to devote so much time, labor, and understanding to it. Similarly, if you are going to take to spiritual life, you must become serious. How is it that simply by some wonderful mantras, someone can become God in six months? Why do people want something like that? This means that they want to be cheated.

Reporter: How can a person tell he has a genuine guru?

Srila Prabhupada: Can any of my students answer this question?

Disciple: Once I remember John Lennon asked you, “How will I know who is the genuine guru?” And you answered, “Just find out the one who is most addicted to Krsna. He is genuine.”

Xanadu said...

Hmmm, you both make some excellent points and are probably right to think as you do. Experience has taught me not to be too dogmatic about anything, for I have often been proved wrong in the past. Truth can only be reached through a thicket of opinions.

I'm sure you would agree, MFA — as Homer probably would — that true ahimsa is incompatible with the grim rituals of the slaughterhouse.

Though there is nothing in religion that FORBIDS meateating, vegetarianism is surely the kinder alternative. Wouldn't you think so if you were an animal?

Xanadu said...

There is an amusing anecdote about Bernard Shaw and the extent to which this sensitive vegetarian practised ahimsa.

A female visitor to his house, noticing that the garden was full of flowers but that none were to be seen anywhere in the house, said to him:

"Mr Shaw, I can't help noticing the complete absence of flowers in your house. Don't you like flowers?"

"I adore them, madam," Shaw replied. "I also adore childen, but I don't cut off their heads and put them in vases!"

Man From Atlan said...

You'll be pleased to know we only eat organic, humanely slaughtered meat. But that's our choice. If a person makes a spiritually oriented choice, that is up to them to make. But from a health point of view, occasional meat is necessary for most people, and especially for children. All foods are provided by God for a reason.
So Ahimsa, and grace, may come from respect for all beings, but first look after YOUR needs, and your family.
And it strikes me that even the spiritual argument is flawed, but I won't argue that this weekend :)

Anonymous said...

I tend to agree with Thoreau..

"One farmer says to me, "You cannot live on vegetable food solely, for it furnishes nothing to make the bones with;" and so he religiously devotes a part of his day to supplying himself with the raw material of bones; walking all the while he talks behind his oxen, which, with vegetable-made bones, jerk him and his lumbering plow along in spite of every obstacle." ~Henry David Thoreau

As for the slaughtering, for quite some time now I've said the truth, (the seminary students used to get upset), the firing squad is good enough for me...
Thanks,
hp

Xanadu said...

Cheer up, Homer, I'm sure there are no carnivores in heaven! The more sensitive one is, the more I think one tends to be a vegetarian. (No offence to MFA).

Bernard Shaw was a strict vegan and lived to a ripe old age. In Yogananda's 'Autobiography' there is a photograph of a vegetarian lion, kept as a pet by some yogi. Certain Catholic saints reportedly gave up food altogether and subsisted entirely on the Holy Eucharist once a day — a thin coin-sized wafer of bread as light as a feather.

Xanadu said...

St Catherine of Siena lived on the Holy Eucharist alone for months at a time; she would actually get ill when forced to eat food.

Other saintly women who went without food for years were Angela of Foligno, Catherine of Genoa, Elizabeth the Good, Gemma Galgani and St Rose of Lima. I mention these five only. There were dozens of others.

Frauds and the charlatans might well outnumber genuine mystics by a factor of 1000 to 1, but I do believe that genuine instances of the "miraculous" exist. I have encountered them myself.

Man From Atlan said...

I might be the wrong person to ask on the subject of meat; I recall a life where as a Huron medicine man I ate the heart of an enemy as part of a spiritual process, and my wife and I ate placenta after the birth of our child. Cooked of course, but still, to help the recovery after pregnancy but also a spiritual process.
I'm sure there were saints who didn't eat for years and yogis who float ;) but as a goal in itself, it's all a show of piety and a form of religious mania.
And heaven is a state of oneness and also nothingness, and we all experience that at one time or the other.

Homeopath said...

interesting blog you have here....

Man From Atlan said...

Thanks

moonkoon said...

Hello and best wishes to hp and Xanadu.

"The fact remains that the hundreds of thousands of pages written in the Vedas, and the Buddhist and Muslim teachings, can't match the simplicity of the story of Jesus."I think you are right about power of simplicity, MFA.

Christianity, (in a roundabout and multi threaded sort of way, via Sumer, Egypt and Persia), owes much of its canon to the Eastern tradition.

An understanding of the common threads that connect mankind helps me to accept and tolerate the "love one another as my Father loves you" message that Jesus brings. Love is our strength, we are burden enough to the world with it and without it we are a menace, "better that we were never born", as Jesus might say. In a way, it is our saving grace as it seems that others have it over us in most other skills and attributes ("What about intellect?", you might exclaim,
to which I would reply, "Let me know when, bird to man, you outsmart a crow." :-))

I think that Jesus embodies the great revelation that, despite many failings in its observation, has made life the generally fulfilling experience that it is today. That fulfillment also includes the realisation of our short-comings while in this "vale of tears".

Many bad deeds are done in Christianity's name but they are not done in it's spirit, which is Agape.

Thanks once again for your great blog, MFA.

Xanadu said...

Hi Moonkoon, I really miss hearing from you. So nice to hear from you again. I always thought your ideas highly original and your voice distinctive. Your were also remarkably tolerant toward my own excesses. (I'm a reformed character now, you'll be pleased to hear!)

Man From Atlan said...

Thanks to you too, moonkoon.