Awhile back, I got snagged into going to a bible study. I contained myself…even participating in a way that impressed the members of the group. I was really surprised, however, when the study leader said, “Now, this the the correct interpretation.” Of course it was his interpretation. To my reckoning, an interpretation cannot, by definition, be true. It would be like saying “the sky looks beautiful today” was a fact. The emphasis of the evening was on the raison d’etre of the Old Testament being to point to the coming of Jesus. Substantively, the group leader gave the definition of Christ when defining Messiah (the Messiah is not the annointed one). I realize that formal education is not–and should not–be a prereq for the ministry, but if a minister is going to define terms he is obliged to get them correct.
One of my concerns regarding born-again Christians is that they stress a cognitive belief in Jesus’ identity and a personal relationship with Jesus so much that they can come off as hypocrits in how they relate with other people. That is, they stress belief and personal relationship with jesus so much that they might tend to drop the ball in being generous with other people. Absent a promise of attending the Christian’s church service or allowing the Christian help with one’s decision to accept Jesus and build a relationship with Him, the born-again Christian might be rather indifferent to the person’s requests for help. The mix of presumptuousness and not being helpful to others is what I’m getting at here. That a person could be so presumptuous in terms of what one knows of religious truth and yet so utterly clueless on how selfish and miserly one is in relating with other people…that is, how someone could be so clueless and yet presume so much…is a mystery to me.
In going to the bible study (which I was pressured into), I didn’t think I would convince anyone to adopt my beliefs; rather, once in the study I tried to take on their perspective and help them in their own terms. In fact, I raised a question that assumed their belief system and led to interesting discussion among the participants. Although not intended as such, my question led all of us to a paradox wherein an apparent logical contradiction need not invalidate our understanding of the divine because the latter transcends human reason. The two apparently opposed stances on the same question suggested by two group members could both be valid, and this paradox need not invalidate the underlying truth.
Indeed, the presence of paradox in a religious matter demonstrates the absurdity of “the correct interpretation.” We, as human beings, are inherently limited–hence so are our cognitions and perceptions. In having faith, the emphasis can be on the glancing out beyond…rather than on the nature of “the object” that inherently transcends the limits of human cognition and perception.
My critique of born-again Christianity is that it is oriented to the nature of “the object”..an inherently presumptuous enterprise given human nature. Relative to the divine, we are all human beings and therefore in the same condition. For some of us to presume that our truth is superior to those of others is mere artifice and pretension. Such artificial distinctions that benefit ourselves are in actuality projections of our egos. We are all human beings. Fundamentally, we are in the same sandbox when it comes to playing with God’s sand. Let us not take our our castles for divine edifices. We have only to wait for the next wave to discover the actual substance of our truths.
To presume so much for ourselves…and to be so little. Such is perhaps the human condition. Yet surely it is not set in stone tablets. Presumption, being of our own making, seems without our limited ability to eradicate. The problem is: it can be like a hard wall when efforts are made by others to make it transparent. If a person can come to see his or her presumptuous, I believe he or she will want to shed it like an old coat. But attachment to “truth” can be like a straight-jacket and thus resist any external or internal efforts to loosen its grip. That none of us have a monopoly on truth means that our efforts to reduce human presumptuous are inherently compromised. How can a compromised tool cut through a stone wall? Even as they don’t seem to me to be inevitable, both the wall and the dull drill can be said to be part of the human condition. I do believe, however, that the problem of presumptuousness in humanity’s approach to religion (and in general) can be solved, though the solution eludes me. Tu be sure, it is a tough nut to crack.