This evening I find myself musing over what it means to be a Christian.
As a bit of personal background, I was raised Roman Catholic, but I am no longer a church goer. This is a familiar story in this time period! I have my own personal reasons why I no longer attend a faith gathering, but suffice to say that although the road was initially rough, for the time being I am satisfied to be a lone seeker.
I think that being a Christian, or at least being someone who lives with Christianity within his or her being, is a wonderful thing. I believe that if one is truly in tune with what it means to be Christian, then that person is filled with an enthusiasm for living. This enthusiasm comes from knowing that there is a powerful force acting in our lives, and in creation itself, to move things in a certain direction. Knowing this helps alleviate the basic existential fear of being that all humans suffer at some point and at some level.
We are lucky as Christians to have our faith built not only on the words of the Master, but also on what came before, namely, the morality of Judaism. I respect Judaism very much for the depth of its discourse on its own beliefs. In fact unlike Church-based Christianity, which has often been loath even to examine itself, Judaism never rests, but is always reexamining itself which I believe is an admirable quality.
Islam has the virtue of not needing to rest on any kind of supernatural "wonder". (I will get to what I mean by this in relation to Christianity in a moment). Mohammed when asked to prove his words by a miracle simply said that this world is evidence enough of the Creator's power, and that these "things" were enough. I like the elegance and simplicity of such a statement, and Christianity could actually learn from this core tenet instead of needing to prop itself up with false beliefs.
Getting to what I mean by "wonder", I think Christianity suffers by its insistence on certain "wonders" such as the virgin birth, the turning of water into wine, and the feeding of the five thousand. None of these things are necessary to accept the core Christian message, which is: God is real, God is loving, and God is watching over and caring for humankind. Let me explain more what I mean.
At the Council of Nicea in 325, the early Church of Rome sought to strengthen the new religion of Christianity by codifying its beliefs. Namely, it sought to fix the date of Easter and more importantly, to decide on the exact nature of Jesus. Was he truly the Son of God, or was he simply a man, as the Arian heretics of the time believed. This decision was of course pivotal in setting the course that Christianity would take over the next 1,700 years.
The Church sough to emphasise that Jesus was a being of Light, of Spirit, that he had truly come from the Divine Father. Therefore, as the custodians of the truth of that Light, the Church was the organisation to whom all Christians should look for salvation. The problem today of course is that the Church is being seen publicly to fail on many counts. Protection of children, popular dismissal of its wonders in the face of secular materialism, and failing to provide comfort for its congregation are the most common charges.
The core problem I believe is this: that the Christian faith has accustomed itself to propping up its valid and vital message with unnecessary structures of belief. The Church Fathers of old naturally did this to protect the precious truths that they felt were in danger of being lost. They no doubt felt that to survive in a civilisation such as Rome, with its incredible diversity of beliefs, but also to compete with the existing state religion of sun worship, that wonders were needed. To give the Christian message any validity, it had to be seen to work, to have tangible effects on creation, and to demonstrate the power of the divine. Therfore, at the First Council and then later, beliefs such as the virgin birth and the divinity of Christ as Son of God were promulgated.
But herein lies the main issue - a great lie was perpetuated in order to protect a great truth. This is the decision the early church took and that it has had to defend ever since. That is why, in this modern era, that some feel that God is simply the "God of the gaps"; that is, the gaps left in reality after science has supposedly filled in all the blanks with so-called "facts" (and it has, of course, done no such thing).
So what is the great truth of Christianity? I believe every religion has a great truth; in Judaism, it is that God is moral. In Islam, that God is pure. In Christianity, it is that God is love - powerful love!
Cna you see how each religion offers one form of tribute to God? Each religion describes a particular aspect or quality of God; put 'em all side by side and you begin to build up a picture of what God is. There's no need to believe in silly magic tricks; we can see, as Mohammed did, just by looking around us, by listening to the air at sunrise, by watching the mighty ocean, by observing how animals operate with awareness and intelligence, that something must be behind all this. And indeed there is! We know him as God.
But too much simplicity can be a bad thing. There must be depth in our understanding of God, not just surface beliefs and mindless platitudes. We need depth both in time and in space; historical depth, to know where we have come from and how we got here; and present depth, depth in our understanding, our thinking, and in our feeling. We must engage intelligently, as in Judaism, with our faith, not just - God forbid! - accept without question what we have been told. Think for yourself! Read! Search. Look. The Master says that they who ask, seek and knock will be rewarded.
In the end I believe something which would shock many Christians but it again goes to the core problem we face today and it is this: was Jesus the Son of God? Yes. But are we also sons and daughters of God? Yes I say we are. That's why the early Church was right - but the Arians were also correct. Jesus truly is a great Master, but he is no more a son or child of God than me or than you. The being that is Jesus may be a greater adept than you or me, more advanced in spiritual development. But there are others. And truly God has created each one of us, has he not? Therefore, we do not need a Church to intervene for us. Does a child need to seek a third party to ask its parents for what she needs? Of course not.
In the real world naturally it helps that we have an institution that can minister to us, baptise our babies, marry us, bury our dead. All that is fine but I guess I've always been an inward looking seeker. If the Church that does all these things cannot even give a decent account of itself in terms of its beliefs then it becomes very hard for me to be a part of such a thing.
For this is the age where humanity is awakening. We are learning to use our own abilities, finally, after centuries of being mollycoddled by the Church. Like an overprotectivve, smothering parent, the Church's hold over our lives is finally broken. But again there is this dichotomy that some of what the Church says and does is plainly wrong, but the basic morality it espouses is sound. Today as we see people like Charlie Sheen seeing nothing amiss in having porn stars around his small children, morality is needed now just as much as ever. As a new parent myself I consider it a disgrace that this man even considers himself a proper father. So there remain elements of Christianity that we sorely need, but there are other things frankly that we could do without.
The "wonders" of the early Church were introduced to ensure the survival of the message. Perhaps now, to ensure its survival, these are the very things we need to jettison to preserve the truth?