Posts Tagged ‘Jesus’

A piece of a papyrus paper written in Coptic in the fourth century, probably translated from another manuscript written in Greek in the second contains the following line: “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife . . .’” A second clause just below says, “she will be able to be my disciple.” This wife-disciple combo dovetails with the line in the Gospel of Philip, which says, “[Christ loved] M[ary] more than [all] the disciples, and used to kiss her on her . . . “  Lest these findings seem to upend Christian dogma, the significance should be carefully considered.

First, even if the paper is genuine, it does not prove that the historical person was married. Writers of religious texts do not view themselves as historians documenting empirical events; rather, sayings or narrative serves religious points. If such a point is best served by wandering from “what really happened,” doing so would be in line with the writer’s objective and thus perfectly acceptable in his or her mind.

Theologically speaking, a married Jesus who has sex with his wife as he wanders with his followers throughout his preaching days suggests that his way into the kingdom of God may not be foreign to us mere mortals. That is to say, stressing Jesus’s human nature can show his way as realizable rather than ethereal.  For this point to be made, the writer could have invented the marriage if Jesus had not been said to be married. In short, making Jesus more human (not at the expense of his divinity) is not the project of a historian. Superimposing the latter would reflect more on us than on anything in the writing of the text.

Second, even theologically, portraying Jesus as married does not mean that he could not be a god-man figure (i.e., the Son of God).  Being married—even having sex—is consistent with being fully human, fully divine, the two qualitatively different elements not intermingling. The biological sex act would doubtlessly be on the human side, though “making love” suggests that “divinity as love” could come into play. Therefore, a theologically orthodox Christian should have no problem with “married tradition” evinced in some early scriptures.

The question of whether Jesus and his wife had children opens up the question of whether Jesus’s “genes from His Father” could be passed down. In other words, if your dad is a god-man, are you likely to be a mere mortal or might you have some special qualities. Greek mythology contains god-men such as Hercules and Dionysus who had special qualities. I do not know whether the offspring of such an offspring of Zeus and a mortal woman were said to have special qualities. It could be that Jesus’s children would have laid low after their father’s cruel death, so the lack of any reported miracle-worker does not mean that Jesus’s children were only fully human.

Rather than serving as historical evidence or upending theology as it has come down to us, the reference to Jesus having a wife bears mostly on the traditions of some of the more traditional Christian sects, such as the Roman Catholic Church. Specifically, if Jesus was said by religious to be married and his wife to be a disciple, the tradition of the clergy being limited to single men (or simply men) would be directly confronted as dogmatic, or arbitrary. I submit that even this matter is of little significance in religious terms, as a tradition is not dogma. That religious functionaries would view the matter as much more important may suggest that they are more worldly than religious, for if one’s eye is on unfolding the Kingdom of God that lies within, the matter of the sex and marital status of priests would pale in comparison.

To be sure, if the Christology of theology—the identity of Jesus Christ—has through the centuries become “higher and higher,” the discovery that Jesus might have actually been married or portrayed  in faith narratives as such could “crack that pristine egg.”  That is to say, if the notion of the Son of God became less and less “human” through the centuries (or even decades), then introducing a married Jesus who had sex could be seen as discrediting the entire God-man concept—the entire Christology. Even if “fully human, fully divine” can support such a man who fucks his wife, the god-man figure as idol surely cannot. This does not mean that the “new information” is lethal to the theology; rather, it is the obsession that has engulfed the god-man concept at the possible expense of the historical Jesus that is at risk. At the very least, its utter inflexibility renders its decadence transparent. That a married Jesus need not cancel or invalidate Jesus’s message that the kingdom of God is at hand suggests that the significance of the reference to a wife is not a big deal  after all, at least to his authentic followers in the real Church.  In fact, the contrary reaction of the “guardians” of the Church could be helpful in making them transparent, and thus more avoidable as obstacles to the faithful.

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The Roman Catholic missal of 2011 reflects a trend then well-underway in the Church to return to pre-Vatican II customs and assumptions, such as on the relationship between the clergy and laity. In particular, the changes in the missal reflect an attempt to more accurately translate the pre-Vatican II Latin Mass. I contend that such changes also make the distinctly theological element of the belief system more transparent. It could be that the translations in the 1970s blurred the lines between theological concepts and things from our daily lives in the world. Even though theological constructs are intentionally distinguished from temporal matters, we tend to want to place them as existing or having referents empirically. The religious putrification of the twentieth century can be put in the form of the question, Did it really happen?, even when the it is a concept having the theological attribute of eternal.

For example, when reciting the Nicene Creed, the statement of faith, Jesus being “one in being with the Father” is changed to Jesus as “consubstantial with the Father.” Also, Jesus is not “born of the Virgin Mary,” but, rather, “incarnate of the Virgin Mary.” The terms consubstantial and incarnate are theological terms. In other words, they have currency only as theological concepts. Where as animals, including human beings, are born, for example, the term incarnate exists only as a theological construct. One cannot go outside and say, Look mom, there’s something incarnating over there! To expect to find something or someone incarnating is to commit a category mistake by taking a concept that exists in theology and applying it elsewhere. Constructs such as consubstantial and incarnate, as well as transsubstantiation (i.e., real presence of Christ in the Eucharist) exist in the domain of theology. In other words, they exist theologically. Transsubstantiation makes sense only theologically; to look for it otherwise, as though lying in a field somewhere, does not make sense. Indeed, the Aristotelian distinction between substance and accident is a philosophical distinction that has no place other than in doing philosophy. The theological concept of transsubstantiation makes use of this distinction. Neither the distinction nor the theological construct are empirical; rather, they involve constructs that have existence in the mind.

Therefore, to equate incarnate with the act of being born, consubstantial with “being made of the same stuff,” and transsubstantiation with a substance that exists empirically (i.e., has an existence apart from the in the mind) is to treat theological constructs as though they were something else–indeed, as something more banal and worldly. The category mistake conflates theology with empirical science or gives the former an existence in the latter. Merely in asking the question, Is real presence in the physical object?, a theological construct is being applied outside of its domain, which is in the mind. A theological question would be: Is the essence of real presence agape (self-giving love)? In focusing on real presence, it is a category mistake to focus on an empirical object as though the construct is somehow in it. Just as the consubstantial relation of the theological Father and Son does not reflect relationships between dads and sons, incarnate should not be thought of in terms of the empirical conception (beginning) of a human being. Hence, to ask whether the Incarnation “really happened”–meaning empirically in history as a fact somehow evidenced by a faith narrative–does not make sense; or better yet, it reflects a category mistake, which in turn evinces a fundamental misconception of incarnate as part of the vocabulary of history rather than theology. Unlike scientific and historical concepts, theological abstractions are not “in” objects existing empirically in the world, even if certain objects are associated with them.

For example, Catholics apply the theological concept of real presence to concecrated bread and wine. That association depends on the mind applying it (and the associated agreed-upon “social contract”), as transsubstantiation is theologically rather than empirically “in” the object. The object is not a mere symbol, however, for the meaning of the theological concept mandates a real theological presence. Even so, if I were to stick a concecrated wafer in your sandwich without you realizing it, your eating it would not convey the theological concept. Nor would there be theological real presence in the Sacred Blood spilt on the carpet and walked on by unknowing people. They would not be walking on Christ’s blood, for it would be again wine on a carpet without the application of the theological concept. For one knowing that the wine had been consecrated, one could simply say that the theological application would not apply to the Blood as soon as it is spilt; the application dissolves because of the incompatible use of the wine. It is the mind’s application of the theological concept that is key here–not some magic quality of an empirical object irrespective of use. Once again, the application does not change or inhere in the empirical object empirically (i.e., in its matter) because the change is theological. The real presence is theological, and in this sense real, but not physical (or symbolic).

To look for a theological concept as though it were a rock or a mushroom is to engage in a quest that must finally be futile. If I am correct, the Roman missal of 2011 represents progress in delimiting theological concepts to their own domain. To refer to incarnate as though it is like born misses the distinctiveness of theological concepts and sets us up for disappointment when we don’t find incarnate among the evidence of births. Even so, I suspect that people will continue to look for unicorns in the country and mistake horses for the abstraction–saying, a unicorn really did exist! It is not necessarily the case that “really” in the empirical/historical sense is any more real than “really” in the theological sense. Indeed, the felt-meaning of a theological concept can be just as real, if not more, to the person of faith. Such a person would instinctively view historical or factual verification as a step backwards. Even more, such an assumed basis would evince a category mistake–indeed, the category mistake when it comes to religion in the twentieth century and I suspect beyond.


Jaweed Kaleem, “Changes to Roman Catholic Mass Will Surprise Majority in the Pews, Survey Says,” The Huffington Post, August 19, 2011. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/19/roman-catholic-mass-changes_n_931908.html

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Beginning in 1979 and continuing at least into the second decade of the twenty-first century, the Roman Catholic Church underwent a “movement,” or “step,” back—in the sense of turning back from the shifts made possible by the Second Vatican Council. Aspects of the reactionary agenda include a greater distance between the clergy and the laity (as eventuated in less emphasis on lay ministries, ironically as the proportion of priests decreases) and more emphasis on two particular political issues: abortion and stem-cells. In other words, the clergy in the movement tend to hold themselves in a more elitist position vis a vis the laity while feeling more confident in asserting their particular partisan position. One such priest at a parish, and indeed diocese, “gone reactionary” is reported to have added a prayer in the petitions at Mass as the campaigns for the Republican primaries were revving up in 2011, “We pray for the election of a pro-life president.” As Barak Obama is pro-choice and most of the Republican candidates are pro-life in terms of being anti-abortion, the prayer was in fact for a Republican to win the White House. There are a number of problems with this sort of petition—none of which evidently had swayed the overconfident “high” priest

First, the partisan nature of the petition could be expected to turn off any independents and Democrats in the congregation. In fact, they could have felt alienated—some strident Obama supporters may perhaps have even skipped taking Communion. In attending the Mass, the members of that parish had agreed to take part in Roman Catholic religion; they had not agreed to attend a Republican or even a politically partisan club. Indeed, you can bet that priest would have quickly dismissed any members identifying themselves as intending to vote for Barak Obama. The priestly arrogance falls particularly flat when politics, wherein each person has one vote, is the priest’s chosen field of endeavor. Lest he object that religion is everywhere and thus preemptive in other domains, one might wonder whether he has any self-control or restraint, not to mention humility—particularly as it is his favored ideological stance that reigns supreme and trumps all others.

Second, the petition itself may be self-defeatist. According to the New York Times, “attacks on the E.P.A., climate change science and environmental regulation more broadly” are red meat to many if not most Republican voters. Some
of the Republican candidates would do away with the E.P.A. outright. Michele Bachmann, for instance, said, “I guarantee you the E.P.A. will have doors locked and lights turned off.” Now, if we let corporations and drivers send our climate to a new equilibrium that is incompatible with the human species, then any pro-life political agenda would be thwarted, at least with respect to human life. The partisan priest could take solace, however, in that there would not be any abortions.

In fact, not only is the petition narrow-minded and self-defeating, it bears a contradiction if universalized (i.e., everyone votes anti-abortion) that renders the maxim immoral, at least according to Kant’s categorical imperative. For the maxim “Vote anti-abortion” universalized could bring with it a trashing of the environment to the extent that the maxim no longer makes sense because there is no possibility for abortions when there are no human beings remaining. In other words, the maxim universalized is self-contradictory, so the maxim cannot be taken as a fact of reason (i.e., as having the necessity of reason, as in 4+5=9) and thus the maxim is immoral. This is obviously a rationalist method of assessing morality.

The main oversight by the reactionary politicized priest is that voting on a single issue opens one up to the risk of having voted recklessly with respect to other issues. Moreover, the tenet that one single issue is so much more important than all the others, such as social justice and aiding the poor, even with respect to the religion (and religious morals) not to mention politics is faulty at best. In Christianity, for example, Jesus is depicted as urging aid to the poor—the least of us or the lowly being exalted. Considering the Republican condition for raising the debt-ceiling in July 2011 that unemployment compensation be ended, it is difficult to see how voting for a “pro-life” candidate on abortion could be
consistent with Jesus’ admonition. Even from the standpoint of following Jesus, the self-vaunted ideology of the priest is problematic for him. With respect to humility, which the Catholic Pope (Joe Ratzinger) has maintained is God, a partisan petition is at the very least unseemly and ultimately self-defeating with respect to union with God.

See John M. Broder, “Bashing E.P.A. Is New Theme in G.O.P. Race,” The New York Times (August 18, 2011).

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As Madrid prepared for the Catholic Church’s World Youth Day in August 2011, many people, including 120 priests, were raising objections to the Pope’s visit. Rev. Federico Lombardi, a spokesman at the Vatican, said at a briefing at Rome that the protests were not very surprising. Dismissing the objections, he said, “It’s part of life in a democratic country.”  I contend that there is a certain arrogance in this statement. Would the spokesman use the same statement regarding protests against apartheid, for example?  Oh, well, what can you expect; there are always protests. To be sure, the frequency of protest does indeed rarify the impact of any particular protest. Surely, however, the gravity of the causes differs. Exterminating the Jews, for example, should not be treated as of similar importance as saving some bird species, yet both causes could be expected to eventuate in protests.

In the case of the Pope’s visit to Madrid for the youth festival, priests who work with the poor objected to the “lavish $72 million celebration.” That some of this sum would be paid with tax dollars even as Spain was in an austerity program affecting the poor had more than some people shaking their heads at the priorities of the Vatican and Spain. It was not as though the Pope had not visited the state. In fact, Esther Lopez Barcelo, a youth coordinate for a political party, observed, “They still can’t tell us how much the pope’s visit cost two years ago. Every time he comes here, the figures become opaque.” Cost-containment is obviously not a priority at the Vatican.

To be sure, having more than a million visitors in Madrid could be expected to benefit both local business and the government’s coffers, though it is doubtful that the spending by the youth would match the increased municipal expenses such as trash removal. In short, Spain—one of the PIGS in the E.U. in terms of the debt crisis—was in no position to host a church’s youth day. The Pope’s home region of Bavaria in Germany would have been a better pick, considering the state of the German economy.

For the Catholic Church, the Vatican’s dismissiveness of the protest signed by 120 of its own priests plus others rings of the sort of heartlessness in ignoring someone. It is the sort of heartlessness in someone who has no qualms about enjoying himself even as he knows that some people nearby are suffering. There is a fakeness to such a smile that involves willful blocking of something that is not convenient.

In a broader context, the Vatican’s indifference regarding objections to its lavish spending was amid a trend since 1979 away from social justice and human rights and toward a hypertrophy in abortion and stem-cell protests. I wonder, by the way, whether “It’s all part of life in a democratic country” could also be used by pro-choice groups to dismiss pro-life rallies? Furthermore, I wonder if the Vatican would object to that use of its statement?  Would the Vatican be willing to contend that using a human stem-cell in research is more objectionable than diverting religious and public funds from the poor in a time of need?

On the Church’s “own turf,” one could point to Jesus’ use of the five loafs and two fishes to feed the multitudes. Furthermore, one could recount the saying attributed to Jesus about the rich man getting into the kingdom of heaven being like a camel getting through the eye of a needle. Surely, profligate spending for a festival as the poor are suffering from austerity-program cut-backs is hard to square with Jesus’s teachings. Higher human love (caritas), and especially selfless divine love (agape), manifest justly in terms of universal benevolence (benevolentia universalis). Leibniz, for example, based this justness of this obligation on the fact that we all share in being—God is perfect Being. Augustine based the justness on caritas applying even to one’s enemies (as opposed to merely one’s friends—Cicero’s amicitia).

Similarly, John Rawls points to the unfairness involved in knowing beforehand where one is situated in benefiting from the benevolence. Under a veil of ignorance concerning one’s station, it is only fair to see to it that the least fortunate position benefits. Practically speaking, one never knows if one will someday occupy such a position. For a person (or organization) to ignore the poor while using funds that those people who are barely surviving badly need (from the state)—particularly when one knows one’s station (i.e., as not poor)—is to add selfishness and a hardened heart to the unfairness. This is not exactly a station of the Cross. Rather, it pertains to the lofty, who are justly brought low, rather than to the lowly, who are to be exalted.

To refuse to take part in the exaltation of the lowly by ignoring the obligation of redistributive justice, particularly as arrives at a festival as the star of the show, reflects on one’s underlying attitude toward the teachings attributed to Jesus (or Gandhi, for that matter) as well as the ethical principle of basic fairness. It is, in short, to practice hypocrisy, if one represents a Church in the name of a simple carpenter who may well have gone from meal to meal.

See Suzanne Daley, “Catholic Clergy Protest Pope’s Visit, and Its Price Tag,” New York Times, August 16, 2011.

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While it might seem easy, discerning saints from sinners can be rather difficult. Hence, we are urged not to judge, lest we, too, be judged. This lesson landed on me when I found my opinion on a seemingly-saintly elderly woman change dramatically.

The elderly Philipino woman whom I met seemed at first to be very pious, having an explicit desire to gain the attribute of holiness. The simplicity of her faith appealed to me. Yet when I made reference to one of her priests being–to put it nicely–more of an administrator than a pastor, she replied that her priest “was Jesus.” I replied that the priests are in the line of the Apostles, rather than instantiating Jesus. I cited apostolic succession, and she relented. Not content to be corrected, she asserted that the Bible is sufficient as a source of historical evidence. I replied that a faith narrative is neither written with the intention of recording historical facts nor of the genre of historical writings that is taken as proffering historical evidence. The woman disagreed, insisting that a faith narrative can be considered as a source of historical facts. I asked her whether she knows or believes the so-called facts. She readily replied that she knows them. “Well,” I observed, “then it would seem that you have no use for faith then.” My unexpected comment stopped her in her tracks. “What do you mean?” she asked. “We have faith in things we don’t know–things we are not certain of, such as whether we will be alive tomorrow,” I replied. “It doesn’t make sense to have faith in something we know because there is not uncertainty about it. So if the Bible gives you facts that you know, that tells me that it is not a matter of faith.” Taken back, she repeated that she knew that the Bible proves that certain historical events took place. “And you can’t be wrong about that?” I asked. “Yes, I can’t be wrong about it.” As if giving the conclusion of a syllogism, I remarked, “Then that means that not only is faith unnecessary for you, but it is based on arrogance–that of presuming that you cannot be wrong.” My pronouncement stunned her into speechlessness. She stood staring at the ground as if unable to move. There was no anger or resentment–just a wall that was blocking her view and not letting her pass.

If Jesus is a door, then a believer opens the door and walks through; one does not keep holding on to a front door once one has entered a house. The elderly woman was stuck holding on to a doornob as if it were attached to a wall. For myself, I was simply stunned that religion could so distort cognition so much and involve denial to the extent that a human being readily admits to not being able to be wrong about something that most of us would say involves belief rather than knowledge. It is as if the domain furtherest from certain knowledge were somehow the most capable of proffering evidence about which a person could not be wrong.

Perhaps this exchange reflects the saying, “Where God builds a church, Satan builds a chapel.” My question is: In preaching against arrogance, was I in the church or chapel?

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I’m reading an article on MSBNC on the Rev. Moon of the Unification Church.  He is set to marry off and bless 40,000 in a “massive global ceremony.”   The following paragraph caught my eye:

“Moon, a self-proclaimed messiah who says he was 15 when Jesus Christ called upon him to carry out his unfinished work, has courted controversy and criticism since founding the Unification Church in Seoul in 1954.”

Such a claim is so fantastic and original that one might conclude that the line between religion and sanity has been breached here.  However, how do we know?  Furthermore, for all we know, the miracles and angels surrounding ancient revelations of a messiah were ex post facto accretions.  What if Jesus was like Moon, claiming “I am the Messiah” to a skeptical world?  Is Moon today like Jesus was in his time, and if so, how will the Unification Church view him in 60, 400, or 2000 years?  We don’t get to go back and see what was really going on in Jesus’ day, so we don’t know how much of what we think we know about him really happened.  Scholars tell us that the Gospel writers were not oriented to writing history; they had other purposes.  Yet we presume historical veracity in their works.   What if we are seeing how a new religious figure is “born”?…like using the Hubble telescope to see how the universe looked just after it began.  In other words, what if the “beginnings” is more mundane than we think?  It is possible

Source: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/33296507/ns/world_news-asiapacific/

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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.

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