Tuesday, December 01, 2009

What if Christianity is a Farce?

This morning I had an invigorating conversation with a friend of mine about the origins of Christianity. He's done some intense research on the transition from Jewish Christianity/James the Brother of Jesus to the Gentile Christianity/Paul the Apostle. There are scholars out there who have proposed alternative ways of reading the New Testament, using the writings of Josephus and fragments from the Dead Sea Scrolls (and other documents). When other ancient texts are brought to bear on the New Testament characters and events, new interpretations emerge of how history may have unfolded. What if everything we have been taught is wrong?

For those of us secure in our faith, we dismiss this question easily. We believe what we have been taught is true, it is reliable and thus we have plenty of assurance. But there are obviously lots of people who aren't sure about the reliability of what they have been taught. And when investigations begin into ancient history, timelines get messy, stories contradict, and alternative perspectives emerge. How do you know what is the truth?

What happened in the centuries following Jesus prior to the ascension of Constantine to the throne of the Roman Empire and his endorsement of Christianity as it's official religion? How did Christianity change following that co-option by the Emperor? What do Protestants do with the "Catholic" and "Orthodox" centuries of church history? What do Evangelicals do with our fascination with the First Century church - what if the book of Acts and the Epistles aren't the only sources of reliable information?

Do any of these questions really matter in light of the real-life issues we all have to endure as the weeks swiftly accumulate into years? Don't we have better things to do with our lives than probe into archaic issues? Granted, these questions aren't for everybody to delve into. But they interest me. My friend has prompted some good questions, provoked a quest of sorts to dig and discover more about the origins of Christianity. What is the connection between Jesus and his brother James (the bishop of the Jerusalem Church)? What is the connection between James & Peter and Paul? What about the Church Fathers of the second and third century (100AD thru 300AD) - what were the variant views in existence and how is it that we decided what was "orthodox/correct" and what was heresy? Still today there are many, many, many divergent views of everything within Christianity (thus the existence of THOUSANDS of denominations, sects, and branches). This is not going to fade away anytime soon.

Maybe there is a new Christianity that is emerging; it is post-Evangelical, post-Anabaptist, post-Protestant, post-Catholic, post-Orthodox. It is a Christianity that is unfettered by the whims of Empire, it is able to hold together a mosaic of theologies, it is again the religion of the poor and working-class, it is refocused on a Jesus of Nazareth that is a Prophet (according to the Gospels) and the Christ (according to the Epistles). As we rediscover more details about the emergence of Christianity two-thousand years ago, we may be able to embrace what Christianity will become in the millenias ahead of us.


Anonymous said...

"There are scholars out there who have proposed alternative ways of reading the New Testament, using the writings of Josephus and fragments from the Dead Sea Scrolls (and other documents)."

Can you give examples?

Tim Hallman said...

For example, my friend has been reading the works of Dr. Robert Eisenman. Other authors include Jefferey Butz and Daniel Unterbrink.

Anonymous said...

Yes Christianity in 2009 is a farce--and well past its useful use by date.

Especially when a "liberal arts" Christian university features a psycho-pathic war monger as a "distinguished" fellow.

The said fellow is very much entangled with, and a very loud apologist for the very real history of the church depicted in these two stark references.



Existential Funk said...

Various religious sects are constantly redefining and recreating their doctrine. A Methodist does not have the same doctrine as a Lutheran or a Catholic.

So which one is correct? Well it depends on how you define correct. Is "correct" the actual historical account? Or is it what was meant to be inspired divinely?

If you were to go the historical route you would have to prove the existence of the persons you are attempting to emulate. If you could prove they existed, you would have to prove that their experiences were actually true. Which is to say, quite impossible as there is no method of testing truth when it comes to measuring spiritual validity except on a person by person basis, which is in no way universally accurate or applicable; the whims of one person can change dramatically from another.

If you are going the divinely inspired route, again there is no way to test that so there is no possibility to determine who is right and who is wrong.

The other option is to believe that the religious organization (or individual) of the modern day supersedes these past teachings. But there is no way to prove that those people are correct.

In any case it is perfectly natural to question what you have been taught. It is actually quite healthy to do so. If you never question anything, you can't say you truly believe in anything because you are never acting by your own will or rather because you were told to do it.

Blind obedience is what most religious organizations require because as soon as you begin to question them it doesn't end and before you know it you don't require them at all.

Make decisions based on what makes sense to you. Read diverse literature, listen to different ideas and use all of them to create your own set of beliefs. Don't just turn your brain off and go with the crowd because it was how you were raised.