Saturday, February 9, 2019

God was Talking about Death

One of the most destructive concepts in the world is that of “the Christian life.” There is no such thing, at least as it is generally understood. Followers of Jesus do not live individual lives, much less the individual lives of fulfillment and prosperity promised by the hucksters. Followers of Jesus necessarily, by definition, give up their lives. While “life” in a larger, exalted sense is the state of being of a Jesus-follower, this true life is a participation in the greater life of Creation.

Eve and Adam were not given an implicit promise of marital bliss or parental gratification when they were roundly cursed by God. Eve and Adam—who were promised death commencing the very day they ate of the forbidden tree—got what they had been threatened with. What they had been threatened with, moreover, was not just the “spiritual death” that the commentators like to describe.

The commentators sell a religion in which mankind is cursed from the Fall by having tribulations and impediments injected into a divine plan of personal and family life that, nevertheless, is predicated on the idea that good Christian living lets one enjoy a good Christian life. Just let the “spiritual death” of the Fall be attended to by the proper salvation mechanism, and the believer is free to revel in earthly delights.

No, when God threatened death, he meant it. In severest form, this means the requirement to be ready at any time to die for necessary just cause. In most poignant form, this means that death is intertwined with parenthood, as the very logic of the first parents’ curse entails. Parenthood is not the enlargement or fulfillment of life that the (demographically-driven) religions describe it as being.

The only good parent is he or she who gives up life, in the individually-driven sense, to engage in the process of parenting. (To be plain, there are no good parents—at least in light of the importance of the challenge.) Parenthood detracts from life; it doesn’t add to life or fulfill it. The parent who does not understand this fact is headed for horrible disappointment, or even worse is bound to engage in horrible self-delusion.

One thing that remains to be said, though it is logically evident, is that the concept of “parenthood” attends all of adult human life. By any number of analyses, we are all responsible for the world’s children (and all those requiring some manner of guardianship). We have only to choose whether we will address this responsibility as a joyful death to self, or as an exhausting and ultimately futile phantasm of “the Christian life,” or some such.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

We are Talking about Death

We scarcely remember our lives. One day, we were born, and we knew what it was to reach out for the touch of a fellow human being. Then a brief time passed, and we learned that we could, by touch or by sound, give comfort to another.

Then, it must be fairly said, we first encountered a stern word or touch (or withdrawing of touch); we encountered the first instance of disciplining. And, like the ages-old objection against the punishment of Adam and Eve (they were punished for doing that which made them aware of good and evil, and were therefore punished for what they did in a state of innocence) we were first initiated into the cycle of transgression and consequence by feeling the consequence.

These realities are the basics of what it is to be a child; mankind has never lived any other way, nor ever devised any other plan. It should scarcely need to be said that the concept of justice has little place here; how many millions of young people have said, “I didn’t ask to be born!”? How many times have children responded to a rebuke—often correctly—with “I didn’t know!”?

And yet even more sobering is the realization that the life of a child (or of a person relegated for some reason to a child-like state) is the only real “human life” that is ever experienced. When we become morally aware (when we, metaphorically, eat of the forbidden tree), we assume the power to level judgment against others and against ourselves. As the teachings of Jesus—and teachings consonant with those of Jesus—will reveal, this assumed power threatens spiritual death to those who are its victims, and assures the spiritual death of we who wield it.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Proper Arguments from Silence

In Matthew and Luke, Jesus fasts for forty days in the desert.  To say, as Luke’s gospel does, “he afterward hungered,” (4:2, KJV) is surely an understatement; Jesus would certainly have been at the limits of physical endurance.  In other contexts, Jesus does not present fasting as a grueling experience.  In Matthew 6:16-18, he cautions against making a show of fasting’s discomforts.

The forty days, then, is obviously no ordinary experience.  We cannot know all of the aspects of the fast in the desert, but it is undeniable that Jesus was in a depleted state, or at least was presented as such to the devil.  In the ensuing series of temptations, Jesus responds to the devil’s manipulations of Scripture by presenting Scriptures of his own.  In effect, Jesus does not answer the devil at all; he confronts the devil with the fact that his evils are diagnosed and catalogued in writings that the devil cannot refute.

A Jesus who does not provide his own answers to the devil is consistent with a Jesus who has been disarmed of all but his true nature as the son of God.  The physically and—as our understanding of physiology would indicate—mentally depleted Jesus would have been reduced to a conduit of truth straight from the divine.  Jesus here framed as an individual does not present an individual answer to the devil.

Of great importance, then, is the fact that the devil is presenting arguments that are doomed beforehand to fail against responses of which the devil is fully aware and which he cannot refute.  The depleted Jesus, being in truth fully divine, is uniquely empowered by the very fact of being disempowered—and is honest enough to invoke truths that stand in any circumstance.

What is simultaneously revealed is the fact that the devil, for the purpose of acting out the scenes in the desert, does not really need Jesus there at all.  The devil is merely arguing with himself.  And in this scene is the essence of our tendency to present arguments that, in truth, do not relate truth because we have not been truthful about what we are trying to accomplish.  We say we are arguing with someone else—someone with whom we are trying to communicate and with whom we are trying to forge an understanding—but that is rarely the case.

Most often we are trying to convince, not the person with whom we are arguing, but our image of that person.  Or we are trying to convince ourselves of something that we have to rehearse so often that it seems to assume an existence outside of ourselves.  (And it probably need not be said that we are particularly good at constructing communal truths that are not true.)

Jesus knew a better way to argue, but it is not always easy to spot in the gospels.  Though it is repeatedly said therein that Jesus was silent before his accusers, a critical observer might well remark that Jesus displays a distinctly verbose silence.  What is crucial is the extent to which Jesus offers non-responses, not quite silence.  To the elders, chief priests, and scribes Jesus says, “Ye say that I am” (Luke 22:70), and to Pilate he says, “Thou sayest it” (Luke 23:3, KJV).

Here Jesus is not arguing, as we understand it.  He is confronting his audience with reality and challenging them with what they know but would rather deny.  “Tell truth and shame the devil” is good advice from Shakespeare, but far too often arguing for the truth in order to shame the devil leads to behavior that delights the devil.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Only One Tree is Said to Be Guarded

Two trees are spoken of in the story of the Garden of Eden, the “tree of life” (KJV) and the “tree of knowledge of good and evil” (KJV). It is only the tree of life that is said, in the end, to be guarded by the flaming sword (Gen 3:24).

The tree of the knowledge of good and evil might not even have been confined, by its kind or by its offspring, to the garden. The contamination of that tree might be with us still, and might have spread to all Creation, or at least have spread to our communal estimation of all that has been created. There is no need to assume a Fall that changed the intrinsic nature of humanity.

Indeed, the nefarious quality of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil might have consisted merely of it being imperfect in its provision for the first couple’s needs. One might be reminded of Jesus’ cursing of the unproductive fig tree (Mat 21:19; Mar 11:14), or even of Jesus’ parable of the fig tree given a year’s probation to become productive (Luke 13:6-9), or yet again of the fact that the coverings of fig leaves were not sufficient to shield Adam and Eve (Gen 3:7).

And, indeed, it might be wondered if the prohibited tree’s fruit was the first nutritionally imperfect food consumed by the first couple, starting an inexorable progress to death from that very day (as alluded to in Genesis 2:17). Or it might in addition be thought that the experience of eating from the tree was the first unsatisfactory experience for Adam and Eve, leading them to level judgments against Creation, against themselves, against each other, and eventually against God.

The knowledge of good and evil was in any event a curse, and it scarcely seems reasonable not to follow that curse through to Jesus’ warnings against pronouncing judgment.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

What it Means to be Born and Re-born

A traveler may be going down a path, either a physical path or a path defined by his intentions.  It is possible that he might be thrown off that path by some force or circumstance arising from an intersecting direction.  Both the traveler’s original path and the direction of the intervening factor can—indeed, inevitably will—be viewed as outworkings of chains of cause and effect.  If the identity of the traveler is linked to his physical form, then the origin of his new travel will be understood to be his first direction, now complicated by an alteration, and the causal chain that forms the history of the intervening factor will be reduced to a subset of the traveler’s history of cause and effect.  The traveler follows, in the usual analysis, a bent path, even if his new direction is indistinguishable from the path of an overwhelming intervening factor, and even though, as is indisputable, the intervening factor is the product of a causal chain just as inescapable and infinitely regressive as that which attends to the traveler.

This is because, in this scenario, the essence of the traveler is linked to his physical form.

Another example is not so simple.  Assuming no complicating physical differences between two peoples, an excruciating situation could still be forced on a child whose heritage was contested.  For the sake of consideration, a situation can be envisioned in which a child of some manner of colonists was raised by natives, and only later discovered the fact.  Which heritage would be his?  What if he was legitimately adopted by natives as an infant and then appropriated in early childhood by a third family, this one again of colonists?  To which culture might he attribute his earliest recollections of human interaction, to say nothing of imprints established even earlier?

This second scenario is more complicated and more difficult because it deals with psychological matters.  Or then again, it might be said that its complications and difficulties arise only from misplaced emphases on parentage or heritage—when more worthy considerations ought to be in view.  In any event, the fact remains that evaluation of concepts as they proceed from the mundane to the sublime by necessity requires abandonment of mundane mental constraints.

A chief example of shedding such constraints is that required in properly understanding Jesus’ insistence on being born again/born from above.  The simplistic notion of a one-time life-changing experience (for which Christianity conscripts Jesus as a ritualistic blood-washer) simply has no basis in the Gospels.  The Gospels speak repeatedly of parentage and heritage as mutable concepts, and as human beings—rather than as once-born or twice-born—as being sons or children of whatever personal metaphor will further the purposes of a lesson.

To return to the first scenario, that of the diverted traveler, and to attempt to transmute it into the purposes of the Gospels, is merely to see the futility of such an attempt.  Our souls are not tied to physical reality, and physical analogies to spiritual truths are limited at best—and they are at their worst as the truths become more crucial.  We are, in the spiritual realm, beset by every force and every possibility from every side at every moment—if it even makes sense to use physical analogies.

If we choose to appeal to the teachings of Jesus, then the scenario of the diverted traveler only applies in light of how Jesus applied terms of parentage and heritage.  If we embrace the faithfulness of Abraham, then the attributes and history of Abraham become the character and story of our souls, and so on for every instance we face among innumerable possible instances.  We are redirected by forces, for good or ill, and our heritages and our inheritances are those of the new paths, as though we had never traveled any other.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Contention Four-Syllable Prompts

Please forgive the following list of theme or topic prompts for this blog. They will (presumably) make more sense later.

1. Storm of the Eye 2. Fear Need Want God 3. Mercy Play Work 4. Sin Sincerely 5. Life is Past Change 6. The One-Role God 7. Across God’s Edge 8. Not Natural 9. We’re Not Like Us 10. Dead Trees Walking 11. All Indulgence 12. Being of Pain 13. Co-Editors 14. Expanditure 15. Pillars of Fear 16. Hell’s Not a Tale 17. Non-Unbelief 18. Dispense with This 19. Pray Like Jesus 20. Lord Abraham 21. Mountains Climb Us. 22. My Eye, God’s Glass. 23. I Want His World 24. Sex is What’s Left 25. With Me One Hour 26. Which of You Will 27. Reckoning’s Realm 28. Angels Up Down 29. I Speak Nonsense 30. Truths Only Teach 31. Context with Words 32. Always Always 33. Living the End 34. Sired Not Twice 35. No Nearer Peace 36. Would Have Told You 37. Piercing the Mind 38. Buried Alive 39. The Primal Cry 40. Burning with Salt 41. You Can’t Be One 42. You Can’t Have That 43. The Empty Whale 44. The Judas Goad 45. Father of Sons 46. Stretching the Time 47. Not Your Perfect 48. Torrent of Gold 49. The Naked Saint 50. The Waiting Saint. 51. I Spoke, I Lied 52. Refrain Retain 53. Always a King 54. The Dying Rock 55. Be Choose Choose Be 56. Do My Damnedest 57. Give the Business 58. Grace in Your Face 59. All You Can’t Do 60. Will a Miracle 61. Fisher’s Dozen 62. Born Yet Again 63. Pardoned Before 64. Named For the Shame 65. Jesus’ Skin 66. Said He’s Not God 67. Want’s Perfection

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Earliest Scriptural Premise: Mercilessness, Not Sin

The declarations featured in this blog are derived from Christian traditions, but such traditions stripped to the core premises of the existence of Jesus of Nazareth, the presentation of his statements and actions in the standard four gospels, and the necessity of crediting his spiritual contentions if those gospels are to be taken as substantive.

In short, the Jesus of the canonical gospels existed, and he existed in the fullness of the divine.

In regard to “Earliest Scriptural Premise”, it is the premise of this blog that the thrust of Jesus’ ministry is aimed not at the problem of sin—so often taken as the root of humanity’s alienation from God—but at the problem of mercilessness. The earliest humans were not sinless, yet they were in communion with God. That communion was broken when Eve and Adam first began to exercise judgment—invariably imperfect judgment—against human beings. Eve and Adam, in other words, had eaten of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

The story of Adam and Eve in the book of Genesis—the first book of the Bible—is logically the presumptive Scriptural foundation of Jesus’ exhortation “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” (Matthew 7:1, KJV)

God was Talking about Death

One of the most destructive concepts in the world is that of “the Christian life.” There is no such thing, at least as it is generally unde...