Monday, January 07, 2013
I have always identified as a Catholic, even at times when the Church and I have been at odds. It wouldn't seem to jive with my general distance from organized religion - after all, what religion is more organized than the Roman Catholic Church? I respect and admire the Pope as a leader, but refuse to follow him blindly. He isn't God. Heck, I don't even blindly follow God. I recognize that no religion is perfect, and in fact that none are even close; but I also recognize that the truth is nowhere near anything you or I or anyone else (including any church) is likely to comprehend anyway. Much of what was written down about Jesus, for example, was mere oral tradition for hundreds of years prior. There is no way these stories can be 100% accurate, even if they started out as the divine word of God. There have been discoveries that have been concealed from the public that shed light on these things. Scriptures omitted from the Bible have been denounced by the Church unfairly, and archaeological finds have gone completely unreported until much more recently. The Church has always been particularly stubborn about making adjustments to doctrine, so I can understand their ignorance of these things, though I don't particularly agree with it. Here are some things that I believe that may be at odds with various tenets of Christianity and/or Catholicism:
1. The Accuracy of Scripture
There's an old party game we used to play when I was a kid. Get a bunch of people and sit in a circle. The more people you have, the more fun you will have with this. Choose a place in the circle to start. Have that person make up a short message, no longer than a short phrase, and have him whisper it into his neighbor's ear. That person repeats what he heard into the next person's ear, and so on around the circle until the message is finally heard by the last person in the circle next to the starting person. Let that person say the phrase he heard aloud. I guarantee it will be different from what the first phrase was, and that the longer the original phrase and the more people in the circle, the more different the result will be. This game is truly a lot of fun, but think about how different an entire story would be, and how it would change over the course of being passed down for days, weeks, and even years or centuries. This is what happened with the scriptures. If you can't trust the accuracy of a few words passed around a circle of a dozen people over the course of ten minutes ... you get the picture.
As such, there must be enhancements or deletions made to the original story by various storytellers, sometimes to make a point of their own. Other things may have been changed for dramatic purposes. Some things may have changed without any intent whatsoever. The possibilities are endless.
2. The Old Testament
Due to even longer periods of oral tradition, most of the Old Testament is purely symbolic. For example, we are told that Adam was the first man, and Eve was his wife and the first woman. Somewhere along the line, there is a woman named Lilith, who is supposed to have been Adam's wife prior to Eve. These stories conflict, as do many in scripture. Stories such as this, the Parting of the Sea, Noah's Ark, and others may have their origins in older cultures.
3. The Life and Death of Jesus and the Holy Family
This will probably piss off a lot of people, but while I do believe that Jesus actually lived and walked the Earth (archaeological finds during my lifetime prove this to my satisfaction), I believe it to be a much different story than what we get to hear about in church or read about in Scripture. From virgin birth to physical ascention, I believe that a lot of what we are told is tradition and not history. Here's the historical Jesus as I see him:
a. Born to Joseph and Mary
In the tomb found in Israel that is believed to have belonged to the Holy Family, Jesus is documented as "Jesus, Son of Joseph". Since these ossuaries would only have been seen by family members, there would be no reason to document Jesus's ossuary in this fashion unless it were true. I interpret Mary's being cast a virgin as a reference to her purity of heart and soul, not a reference to her actual virginity. Most people also know that Jesus was emphatically NOT born on December 25. This date was chosen by the early church to coincide with a pagan holiday in an effort to attract more people to the cause. Jesus was likely born in March or April, but there are some reports of his birth occurring in September. I don't think it matters which is actually true.
b. The Role of Judas
Judas Iscariot may not have been the villain that he is sometimes portrayed to be. Jesus is likely to have chosen him specifically for the job of handing him over for his suffering for reasons they would have discussed between them. Why would a disciple among Jesus' most favored do this for a few pieces of silver? Most likely, Judas was put up to this by Jesus himself so that Jesus could fulfill his destiny.
c. The Crucifixion and the Resurrection
Regardless of the manner of attachment to a crucifix, death occurred much later than the mere three hours Jesus spent on the cross. This points to the possibility that Jesus' body may still have been alive when it was taken down for burial. The accounts that suggest that the Crucifixion occurred on Wednesday and the Resurrection on Saturday are not likely. The reason Jesus was taken down was to ensure burial before sunset, as tradition disallowed handling the dead on the Sabbath. Jesus may have also partaken of the gall and vinegar that was offered him, which would have sedated him sufficiently so as to appear dead. Does this opinion turn my status as a Christian on its head? I do not believe so. Per John, all that is required of a Christian is to "believe in him". If belief that Jesus' suffering occurred on my behalf, regardless of whether he actually died or went to Hell, is sufficient, then a Christian I am (and do believe myself to be). I also believe that it is completely plausible that Jesus' spirit could have left his body while he ws sedated and spent that time in Hell just as we are taught it did. This is more likely for me than any assertion that Jesus, without being revived, was simply removed at a later time for final burial (he was not likely buried in the family tomb at the time of the Crucifixion).
d. The Ascension of Jesus and the Assumption of Mary
According to what we are taught, Jesus' body ascended into heaven at the final end of his ministry, and that that of his mother was taken to heaven at the end of her life. While there is no way to know whether this actually happened, it can emphatically be said that if it did, this was not a permanent arrangement. Ossuaries belonging to both were discovered in the family tomb when it was discovered, confirming that both individuals found their final resting place in Jerusalem.
e. The Marriage of Jesus to Mary Magdalene and The Family Presence in Europe
Mary Magdalene's remains were also found in the family tomb. This would not have occurred without either a genetic family connection or a marriage. Mitochondrial DNA tests showed that Mary and Jesus did not have the same mother and were therefore most likely not brother and sister. Adoption by Joseph and Mary would be the only other option, and this is not mentioned anywhere. There are numerous accounts that would point to the possibility of this marriage, however, and an ossuary was found bearing the name of a child and reference to his parentage that would coincide with the marriage. There are also accounts of the family's presence in Europe at some point. A daughter (and possibly other children of the marriage) may have remained and lived out her life in what is modern-day France. The hazy accounts of Jesus' and Mary's burial in Europe are inconsistent with the findings in the family tomb, but any child of the marriage not found in Jerusalem could have lived, died, and been buried there.
4. What all of this means
From archaeological evidence, we can see that Jesus was both a husband and a father. We know (with reasonable certainty) that neither Jesus nor his mother were permanently physically raised to heaven, and that Mary was most likely not a virgin at the time of Jesus' birth. Since this conflicts with what the Church tells us, what does this mean with regard to what we are to believe about God and Jesus?
First, it must be understood that even if the Scriptures were once the pure word of God, it is impossible to know what changed over the centuries or how. Even the Church has changed over these same centuries, despite its efforts not to do so. You have no way of knowing what Jesus really intended by his words at the Last Supper, for example, and neither do I.
Second, it must be understood that each person must use the information he has in his own way to build and/or reaffirm his faith. No one has the right to act negatively upon another person due to his beliefs. It is up to you what to do with this information. Agree or disagree as it suits you without fear of judgment from God or from me. God is certainly aware of what you believe and why you believe it. As long as you believe that the suffering Jesus endured two thousand years ago was endured on your behalf, then you are a Christian, regardless of what else you believe. If you somehow find evidence that Jesus liked tomato juice with his breakfast and find it to be somehow relevant to your faith, then so be it. If the Jesus of tradition suits you, so be it. Truth is, it doesn't matter, as long as you believe that he suffered for you.
And that is my point. It doesn't matter at all. If Mary's virginity was a mere metaphor for her purity, it should make no difference because her purity was the point to begin with. A different perspective on Judas doesn't change the fact that he did what he did. It was his destiny in either case. Jesus' suffering took place whether he actually physically died from it or not, and a faith that provides for a spiritual soul that can leave the body can certainly leave the living (possibly sedated) body of one chosen by God to serve that very purpose. His suffering was what saves us, not so much his death or resurrection. The Ascension and Assumption have only symbolic significance to us anyway, and I personally am more comfortable with a savior who married and had children than one who did not. Changes in the message from early to modern Christianity are the business of those who choose to or not to embrace them. It's pretty tough to get a read on what James and Jesus' other early followers really believed.
Learning what I have learned and continue to learn has not really changed much about my faith. I still identify as a Catholic, even though I seriously doubt the Church would accept my faith as shown here. My reasons for said identity are more rooted in habit than anything else, and I am fine with that. Maybe someday I will identify with another sect of Christianity (there are lots of Lutherans in my family). I am sure that I will be fine with that as well, without any negative feelings toward the Church.
The bottom line is that we all are who we are, and we all believe what we believe based upon our own experiences. An atheist deserves the same courtesy as a Christian, because he has made his decisions about God using the information available to him. Of course, he forfeits the benefits of Heaven in making that decision, but since he doesn't believe Heaven exists, it's not a problem for him in this life. So it also is for the non-traditional Christian, though Heaven does await him. No one has the right to cram his religion down someone else's throat. You have all read this treatise of your own free will, and I do appreciate that. I am generally very private about what I believe in this area, and do keep to myself most of the time. I will, however, answer those comments with which I am comfortable. Please be respectful with regard to those I choose not to answer.