Wednesday, 20 June 2007

Giving God a bad name?

The following is a comment (a very long comment!) which I sent in response to a posting by fellow Irish blogger GUBU aka Sarah Carey (Sunday Times columnist and frequent panellist on various Irish TV/Radio shows). Sarah was discussing a recent book by Christopher Hitchens: God is not Great: The case against Religion. In her blog she points to a radio interview with the author’s brother who disagrees radically with him. My comment is so long and obviously erudite I thought it worthy of posting on my own blog ;-):

Sarah – interesting clip. I had already read a review of Hitchens book in the ST culture section this past weekend. The reviewer, Christopher Hart saw through the circular nature of most of his arguments (“All wicked rulers are in essence religious, and therefore all religion is wicked”) but bizarrely in my opinion seemed to swallow the portrayl by Hitchins of Jesus as anti-Gentile, otherworldly and focussed on what I call the “I’m a Christian – Get me out of here!” attitude to the World.

Sadly this ‘evacuation theology’ (Thank you Rob Bell for that wonderful description) is what Christianity has for the most part presented to the World and one can hardly blame Hitchens and the like for reacting against it. But it is soooooo wrong! Jesus was not about pie in the sky when you die! When he was asked to show his disciples how to pray he said “thy kingdom come ON EARTH as it is in Heaven! In other word’s this world is not simply a waiting room for something better – this is it! As Rob Bell a contemporary writer and Christian pastor put it when speaking in Dublin last week: “Nobody gets beamed up!”

And as for being anti-Gentile…..what Bible was he reading?…..This is the Jesus who was so radically inclusive and contemptuous of barriers and boundaries that he got up enough noses to get crucified! Tax collectors, prostitutes, Samaritains, lepers, all the unwanted people on the margins were the ones Jesus hung out with – despite what the Christian Right might like to tell us.

The problem is not so much with Jesus but with Christianity as a religion and how it presents (misrepresents) Jesus and in that sense Hitchens is justified in much of his criticism. As Mahatma Gandhi famously said: “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

If you want a great read on the Church’s misrepresentation of Jesus, which is as much for atheists as Christians can I suggest “A heretics guide to eternity” by Spencer Burke which manages to pull Jesus out from under all the shit the Church and Religion has heaped on top of him through two millennia! Its on amazon at and well worth checking out.

Just to give you a flavour some of the points he makes are as follows: “Nowhere does Jesus call his followers to start a religion. Jesus invitation to his first disciples was to follow him”….”religion at its most basic, provides a way of understanding the relationship between humans and the divine…for centuries, religion generally developed along the arc of human progress, but it no longer seems to be the case. At some point, religion dug in its heels and stopped advancing………..Religion works best in fixed societies…where ideas are static and boundaries are clearly defined. But this is not the postmodern world……Religion by nature always tries to divide…Spirituality seeks common ground……….What if God’s primary occupation isn’t punishment for sin?.............The role of religion is to point the way to God, not to control the flow. The goal is not to make people forever dependent on the Church………..Maybe the greatest gift the Christian religion can offer the world right now is to remove itself from the battle for God……In our current culture, it isn’t the local church or pastor that is providing a compelling vision of the afterlife but musicians, filmmakers and authors……….The message of Jesus is about making connections with each other and rooting the world in the love of God………part of faith’s role in society is to inject a vision of another way of being human…..grace is a miracle because it is not controlled, structured, shaped, or handed out by human beings or their religions”

Many in our churches today would dismiss this as ‘heresy’ and they would be right but they forget that the one who we wrongly call the ‘founder’ of the Church was the greatest heretic of all. And ironically I think Christopher Hitchens would be much more comfortable in Jesus’ presence than many of those who are a part of that institution we call Church.

Sorry to be so long-winded Sarah but this confusion of Jesus with Christianity really gets me wound up!

Thanks for providing a safety valve!

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