Inclusive Christianity

In the last several posts, I have addressed early stories in the Bible which are shared, or were shared, with others around the world, unconnected with the writing of the Bible. My intention is to show that the basic biblical stories are not exclusive to the Bible, but are broadly shared. Ultimately, I hope to show that inclusive Christianity is not only possible, but that it is also inescapable in the larger “picture.”

It is difficult to know the source of many of our deeply held convictions. Likewise, my conviction of “inclusive Christianity.” I can see the roots of my convictions both in the Christian fundamentalist background of the churches of my youth and my learning in college, both college classes and independent reading.  A number of years ago I was given a book by our associate pastor: Open Christianity: Home by Another Road, by Jim Burklo. At my first reading, it rang true with my experience, giving words to it. As I reviewed it recently, it very much is reflective of my own Christian convictions, so I will share those.

Burklo, a college chaplain, writes,

Christianity is defined by a road that is hard for everyone who walks it. It is defined by the struggle of Jesus and his followers to love against all odds.  A Christian is a person who fails in divine love, fails to love 1000 times, and each time is resurrected by divine grace to love once again.

He sees Christian dogma as a roadblock for many thoughtful people.  He writes,

Does God really expect us to believe things that require the suspension of our God – given good sense…?

People succeed in believing the unbelievable much more often than they succeed in loving the unlovable.

I was especially disturbed by the claim that Christianity is the one and only true religion.

This book is a meeting place between Christians who are leaving strict orthodoxy behind, and non—Christians who hope to discover Christianity’s rare treasures and enlightening practices.

For Burklo, there are two essentials of Christianity: love God and your neighbor as yourself.  I know this is shared by many other religious teachings.

One of the challenges of Christianity in these days is to sort out what are essentially theological stumbling blocks that may have had a purpose in their day, but are no longer useful to Christian practice. Too often, theological niceties have defined a religious following and are maintained merely to continue that identification.

Burklo writes of “the everyday discipline of knowing God.”  I had never thought of it as a discipline, but I am convinced of its truth.

He speaks of visiting Russia when it was under Communists rule. He found that he and the obligatory communist guide had more in common spiritually than he would have expected:

We walked together, a committed Christian and a committed atheist, sharing a common experience but using different language to express it.…the reality that I called God and that he called wonder.

Just because the gospel is at the heart of Christianity, it does not mean it belongs only to Christianity.

Jacob’s Vision of the Ladder

Genesis 28

Jacob has cheated his twin brother, Esau, and his birth right; and he has cheated his father, Isaac, of the blessing intended for Esau. Esau is furious, and Jacob flees. The first night, Jacob awakes suddenly, is terrified, and exclaims, “God is here!” “This is no other than God’s house; this is the gate of heaven.” In the morning, filled with awe as, he erects a stone as a memorial pillar to God in gratitude of the blessings he has received that night. He names the place “Beth-el”, or “house of God”.

The Protestant interpretation of the story, as I have come to know it, is simply that God has chosen to bless Jacob, despite his dishonesty; and God tells him in his dream that night. Nothing more. Dreams are one way that God uses to speak to us.  If we face the facts and dare to claim the obvious in this passage, clearly the dream connects earth with heaven; a ladder ascending and descending between the two.

The imagery of this passage is common in the ancient world. A cave painting associated with the Persian God, Mithras, depicts souls descending to earth then returning to heaven through “the seven planetary spheres.”There are Egyptian sculptures also depicting souls ascending and descending from heaven to earth on a ladder.  Likewise in India.

The pillar of stone that Jacob erected at the site is similar to other forms of phallic worship in the ancient world.

There is a related notion of the transmigration of souls taught not only by Jews, but also by Indians, Buddhists, and other areas world, including the Americas. It is also evident in the New Testament.  In Mark 8:27, 28 Jesus asked his disciples, “whom do men say that I am?” 28 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”  In John 9:1, 2, upon seeing a man who was blind from birth, the disciples asked Jesus who sinned, the blind man or his parents. The question itself suggests a principle of transmigration of the souls, since the man had been blind since birth, and by implication, could only have sinned in a former state. See also Matthew 17.  Such a notion was common in Hinduism, Buddhism, ancient Egypt, even in North America and Mexico.

The divine, the transcendent is revealed throughout the world.

Would you please share your own faith story?

 

The Trial of Abraham’s Faith

Genesis 22:1 – 19 tells us that the Lord God told Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac to the Lord. Abraham obeyed, and was preparing to kill assignment lame on the altar when God, saw “that thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son, from me.” Thereupon Abraham saw a man caught in a thicket provided by God as a substitutionary sacrifice. And because of Abraham’s faithfulness, God tells him that he will have descendents as the stars in the sky and as the sand upon the shores; and that in his name all of the nations of the earth will be blessed.

A Hindoo story tells that King Hariscandra prayed to Varuna for a son, promising to sacrifice the child to the God. He was granted a son, named Rohita.  In time, Varuna called upon him to prepare the sacrifice. Rohita was not about to offer himself as a sacrifice, so he ran away.  He wandered for six years when he happened upon a starving Brahmin who had six sons. Rohita’s way did the man self him one of his sons for 100 cows. Scented the boy to his father as a substitutionary sacrifice. While praying to the gods from the Veda, the gods released him from promise.  There is a similar ancient Phoenician story, and three Grecian stories of similar accounts of the gods demanding a human sacrifice and then offered in animal in its place.

The story of Abraham and Isaac written at a time when “the Mosaic party in Israel” was attempting to eradicate idolatry from the Israelites. Human sacrifices were made to the gods Moloch, Baal, and Chemosh. Eric Fromm, the noted author and psychiatrists, makes similar note.

The divine, the transcendent is revealed throughout the world.

Would you please share your own faith story?

 

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The Tower of Babel

After the flood the whole earth spoke one language. And they determined to build a city with the tower to make a name for themselves. The Lord God came to see what man was doing and saw the city and the tower and felt threatened by it: “the ways they are starting to behave, nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and some confuse their speech that they cannot make out each other’s words.” Genesis 11:1 – 7.

In a Chaldean account, mankind is impressed with its size and its power and decide to build a tower to the heavens. The gods are frightened and confound their speech. During the reign of Nebuchadnezzar and Babylon, high towers were built and used as observatories, but there was no connection between them and fear of the gods.  The Mexicans have a story similar to the Tower of Babel; likewise the Armenians and the Hindu.

The divine, the transcendent is revealed throughout the world.

Would you please share your own faith story?

 

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Early Generations and the Flood

The fifth chapter of Genesis gives account of the early generations descending from Adam. We are told of each that they lived an exceptionally long time by present human standards: Adam lived 930 years, his son, Seth, live 105 years, Enosh 905 years, and Enoch lived 365 years during which he “walked with God: and he was not; for God took him.”  Genesis 5:24.

In the next chapter, Genesis 6:2, 4 we are told, “The sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose.… There were giants in the earth in those days, and also… mighty men… men of renown.” KJV.

In Genesis 6:11, 12, we are told that mankind had become corrupt and violent. Therefore, God decided to destroy all life on earth, humankind and animal, by a great flood.  However, one man, Noah, found favor with God and God decided to save Noah and his family, and through Noah to save remnants of animal life.

In Genesis 6:14 – 16, God tells Noah the material and the manner in which he is to make the art which will save his family and select animals. In Genesis 6:19-22, Noah is told to gather two of every living thing, and gather sufficient food to keep them alive on the ark. Noah obeyed.

In Genesis 7:2 – 4, God tells Noah to gather seven of each clean animal and two of those that are not clean; he is to gather by sevens foul, and in seven days the flood will begin. Noah obeyed.

Then, “were all the fountains of the great deep broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened. And the rain was upon the earth 40 days and 40 nights.” Genesis 7:11 – 12. It rained for the number of days signifying trial, tribulation, and purification: 40.

To the writers of this biblical story, there were two sources of the waters.  It was not “just rain.” Rather, two great sources of water were tapped: the windows of the heavens and the fountains of the great deep were opened. This cosmological view was maintained, even to the time of Jesus.

Thereafter, “the fountains of the deep and the windows of heaven were stopped, and the rain from heaven was restrained; and the waters returned from off the earth continually: and after the end of the hundred and fifty days the waters were abated. The rains began in the second month and the waters decreased sufficiently that the ark came to rest upon the mountains of Ararat on the on the 17th day of the seventh month. Genesis 8:2 – 4.

The waters continued to recede. On the first day of the 10th month, the tops of the mountains became visible. After 40 days, Noah opened the window of the ark and released a Raven that flew “back and forth” until “the water had dried up from the earth.” Noah then sent out a dove, but the dove could find no place to perch “because there was water over all the surface of the earth; so it returned to Noah in the ark.” He waited another seven days and sent a dove out again. This time it returned with a freshly plucked olive leaf. Noah waited yet another seven days, sent the dove out, and it did not return.  “By the twenty-seventh day of the second month the earth was completely dry.” God then told Noah to come out of the ark. Genesis 8:6 – 16. Noah built an altar and sacrificed to the Lord. God promised never to destroy life upon the earth again “as I have done.” And as a sign of that covenant, God set a rainbow in the sky. Genesis 9:12 – 15.

Flood stories abound in many civilizations around the world. The Chaldean story accords closely to that of the Bible. There are Assyrian clay tablets that tell a similar story. A similar story appears in Hindu sacred writings in which Satyavrata is the Noah figure, the righteous man, for whom a great ship is sent. The Chinese have a similar story of the opening of the vaults of heaven causing the whole earth to be flooded. Even in Greek mythology Zeus becomes disturbed by the violence of human society and destroys life with a flood. And Josephus, writing in the first century A.D., notes that the flood is a common element in Babylonian histories. Similar stories appear in Celtic and Scandinavian mythologies, even that of remote and isolated Mexico.  Some writers subscribe some basis to the stories because certain areas of the world, such as Nebraska, USA, abound in fossils of sea life despite its relatively high levels above sea level, which may have some influence in the formulation of these stories.

The divine, the transcendent is revealed throughout the world.

Would you please share your own faith story?

 

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Cain and Abel

The next Genesis story following the creation and the fall tells us that Eve conceived and bore a son, Cain, and then a son, Abel.  Cain was a farmer (“Tiller of the ground”), and Abel was “a keeper of sheep.” Genesis 4:1, 2. KJV. In time, Cain sacrificed some of his crop to the Lord; and Abel brought of his first and fat of his flock as a sacrifice. The Lord respected Abel’s sacrifice, but he had no respect for Cain’s.

Cain became very angry that the Lord respected Abel’s sacrifice but not his own. The Lord asked Cain why he was so angry, and said to Cain, “If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.”

One day as Cain and Abel were and a field together, Cain killed Abel. Then the Lord asked Cain, “Where is Abel thy brother?” Cain responded in that famous denial-and-excuse, “I know not: am I my brother’s keeper?” God retaliated, “what hast thou done? The voice of thy brother’s blood cries than to me from the ground.” And God condemned Cain to till the ground with meager production, and “a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth.” Genesis 4:9 – 12. Cain protested that his punishment was too great for him to bear and that “everyone that find if any shall slay me.”  However, the Lord protected Cain and promised to punish anyone who would hurt or kill Cain seven times the fence.

And so Cain escaped to the land of Nod, where he took a wife, who bore Enoch.

 

Other Stories of Cain and Abel

Stories abound in the ancient world on themes contained within the story of Cain and Abel: concerning sibling rivalry, more specifically that of brothers, herding societies versus agrarian societies, good against evil, strife between society and the individual, and the first murder as the ultimate violation of individuals within society. One source even interprets the story as an account of Homo sapien triumph over Neanderthal.  There are various Cain and Abel traditions, with slightly variant facts, such as their rivalry with regard to twin sisters. There are various New Testament references to Cain and Abel, including, Matthew 23:5; and Hebrews 12:24. The Muslims revere the grave of Habeel (Abel), according to Shia tradition.

According to Hittite mythology, the God, Anu murders his brother, Alal. In Samaria in mythology, two gods, the herding god, Dumuzi, vies with Enkimdu, the farmer god, for the the attention of the chief godess, Inanna. In Greek mythology, Acrisius and Proetus are twin brothers who hate and compete with each other from birth, much as Isaac and Esau.

The divine, the transcendent is revealed throughout the world.

Would you please share your own faith story?

 

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The Temptation and Expulsion from the Garden of Eden

The Biblical Account of the Paradisiacal Garden, the Temptation, and Expulsion

The story of Paradise, the Garden of Eden, takes up where the second story of creation ends with a foreshadowing of what is to come:  “Now although the man and his wife were naked, neither of them was embarrassed or ashamed.” Genesis 2:25.

Genesis 3:1 begins, “Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made.”  King James Version.  That word, “subtil,” is old English for our present day “subtle.” The KJV dictionary offers the following definition: “1. Thin; not dense or gross; as subtil air and 2. Nice; fine; delicate. The Revised Standard Version settles for subtle; the Modern Language Version replaces it with “wiliest,” and the Living Bible Version uses “craftiest.”

The serpent then applies its skills: it asks the woman if the Lord God has told her they could not eat of the fruits from the trees in the garden. She answers that they may eat of any tree except of the tree “in the midst of the garden.” About that, she says, the Lord God instructed them not only not to eat it, but not even to touch it “lest ye die.” Genesis 3:2, 3. The serpent responds that they surely will not die, God has told them not to eat of it lest their eyes be opened, and they become “as gods, knowing good and evil.” Genesis 3:5.

And so, the woman looked upon the fruit, it did look good for food and desirable “to make one wise.” So she took the fruit, ate of it, and gave it to her husband, who ate it, also. Genesis 3:6. And, indeed, their eyes were opened; they then realized that they were naked and covered themselves with aprons made of fig leaves. Genesis 3:7.

Then “they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day;” and they hid. Genesis 3:8. The Lord God called to Adam, “where art thou;” and Adam immediately excused himself: “I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” Lord God asked who told him that he was naked; and, had he eaten the fruit of the forbidden tree? And Adam, evidently realizing he’s in trouble, wastes no time shifting blame: “the woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the fruit.” Lord God asks woman what she has done, and she responds with yet another shift of responsibility: “The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.”

The Lord God punishes the serpent: because of what it did, it will thereafter be cursed above all beasts; and thereafter he shall move by slithering on its belly, and it will eat dust. Lord God told woman, “I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.” Then the Lord God said to Adam that the ground is cursed “for thy sake;” he shall eat sorrow, he shall eat of the herbs of the field, but thorns and thistles will confront him; and the bread he eats will be of the sweat of his face until he returns to the ground, from which he came. Genesis 3:14 – 19.  Adam called his wife Eve, “because she was the mother of all living.” God made for them clothes of “skins.”Lord God said, “Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil . . . ” Therefore God sent Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden

to till the ground from whence he was taken;… And he placed at the east of the garden of Eden cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.

Genesis 3:23, 24.

Joseph Campbell tells us of the mythological significance of “snake.”:

Snake is the symbol of life throwing off the past and continuing to live.… The power of life causes the snake to shed its skin, just as the moon sheds its shadow.… Sometimes the serpent is represented as a circle eating its own tail. That’s an image of life..… There is something tremendously terrifying about life when you look at it thatway. And so the serpent carries in itself the sense of both the fascination and the terror of life.

Furthermore, the serpent represents the primary function of life, mainly eating. Life consists in eating other creatures[,  other life].

Campbell notes that in most cultures interpret the snake in a positive light. Even the cobra is a sacred animal in India; “and the mythological Serpent King is the next thing to the Buddha.”

American Indian traditions also revere the snake. The Hopi Indians perform a snake dance in which they hold the snakes in their mouths, make friends with them, and then send them back to the hills. The serpent represents the interplay of man and nature.

A serpent flows like water and so it is watery, but it’s tongue continually flashes fire. So you have the pair of opposites together in the serpent.

Likewise, Campbell tells us of the  mythological significance of  “woman.”

…  In the biblical tradition we have inherited, life is corrupt, and every natural impulses sinful unless it has been circumcised or baptized. The serpent was the one who brought sin into the world. And the woman was the one who handed the apple to man. This identification of the woman with sin, of the serpent with sin, and thus of life with sin, is the twist that has been given to the whole story and the biblical myth and doctrine of the Fall.

Campbell considers that the Christian treatment of the serpent in the creation story as the seducer,

amounts to a refusal to affirm life. In the biblical tradition we have inherited, life is corrupt, and every natural impulses sinful unless it has been circumcised or baptized. The serpent was the one who brought sin into the world. And the woman was the one who handed the apple to man. This identification of the woman with sin, of the serpent with sin, and thus of life with sin, is the twist that has been given to the whole story and the biblical myth and doctrine of the Fall.

Nowhere else in myth is a woman associated with the introduction of sin.

… The closest thing to it would be perhaps Pandora with Pandora’s box, but that’s not sin, that’s just trouble.

Joseph Campbell notes the geographical and historical significance of this story of  the temptation  and ” the fall.” When the Jews settled in Canaan, they entered a culture of the goddess, which was associated with the serpent. The serpent is the symbol for the mystery of life. The Israelites rejected the mystery for its own male – God – orientation. The biblical story of the temptation of the serpent, the symbol of mystery, and Eve’s, symbol of life, embraced  that mystery, then beguiling man to disobedience is a record of Jewish invader’s conquest of the female principle by the male. Is the sword at the entrance to the Garden of Eden, upon their expulsion from it, some reference to the power of the sword, war? Note the brutal history of the Jewish people, at times while they were in the wilderness, and then continuing with their entry into Canaan.

The biblical creation story introduces, right at the beginning, the unity and peacefulness of Eden which was rejected by the will of Eve and the weakness of man for the world of “pairs of opposites,” as Campbell describes it  Man cannot escape that world of opposites because, after the second story of the creation of Adam, and then Eve, man is stuck in the world of paired opposites because man cannot enter life except through woman.

Campbell calls the Garden of Eden the Garden of paradise, the Garden of Eden, which is a “mythological dreamtime zone” where man and woman are just creatures, unaware of their difference, and they walk with God, whose image they reflect. When they eat the apple they acquired the knowledge of opposites which evicts them from the “Garden of Timeless Unity” into the field of opposites.

Moyers asked why we think in terms of opposites, and Campbell answers, “because we can’t think otherwise.”

Dark and light, life and death, good and evil, man and woman, yes and no, true and false, temporal and eternal. All we can know is in the field of opposites. Myths tell us that there is something more than what we can see with our eyes, or think with our minds: a transcendent unity. The poet, Blake, wrote, “eternity is in love with the protections of time.” Moyers asks what that means.  Campbell responds,

The source of temporal life is eternity. Eternity pours itself into the world. It is a basic mythic idea of the God who becomes many in us. In India, the God who lives in me is called the “inhabitant” of the body. In to identify with that divine, immortal aspect of yourself is to identify yourself with divinity.

 

All things in the field of time are pairs of opposites. …

It’s a matter of planes of consciousness. It doesn’t have to do with anything that happened. There is a plane of consciousness where you can identify yourself with that which transcends pairs of opposites.

That which transcends the pairs of opposites is unnameable. It transcends language by which human kind names all objects and actions that it perceives.

Other Accounts of a Paradisical Garden, Temptation, and Eviction

The ancient Babylonians, 1,500 years before the biblical account, tell of a sacred garden, Anu, into which man and woman were placed, and which grew a tree of life, man and woman were expelled, and the tree of life was guarded by cherubim, and the entrance to the garden was guarded by a sword, turning to North, South, East, and West.

The Egyptian God, Ra, also created the world and planted a garden in which he also placed man and woman to live as gods. They were expelled from the Garden because of their “inquisitiveness,” to live in a world of sorrow and pain.

Each of the above stories preceded the writing of Genesis.

In Grecian mythology, Zeus breathed life into dolls of clay to make man; and he gave to man a beautiful woman, Pandora, brought with her a box that man was ordered to keep closed. Again, as in all of the other stories, the man disobeyed.  In the Greek myth, he opened the box to the doom of life’s troubles, but consoled with hope.

A Tibetan story also places man and woman in a sacred garden, and man is ordered not to eat a sweet herb.  As in the biblical story, they disobeyed, and ate the herb; they then recognized their nakedness, were evicted from the garden and made to rely upon the hard work of agriculture, and to endure the hardships of evil.

There is a story among the eastern African Negroes, a Calabar story of creation. Their god, Abasi, do promised to provide for them: all they had to do is ringing the bell at mealtime. Woman tempted the man to use tillage instruments; and he succumbed to that temptation to provide for themselves. Who thereafter, humankind was condemned to mortality and abandoned to reliance upon agriculture.

In a Persian story, the tree of Hom was not only the sacred tree of life, but also of resurrection. The Greeks had a story of the Garden of the Hesperides in which grew and a tree that bore fruit of Golden Apples of immortality. One of the tasks of Hercules was to collect those apples. But he first we had to overcome the Dragon which guarded the garden.

A Vedic story gives a poetic rendition of creation from nothing, no life, no time, no light; only darkness. Siva, the great God, tempts Brahma, not created, but just being, by dropping a blossom of the fig tree. That tree is known in Buddhism as “Tree of Knowledge” or “Tree of Intelligence.” The Chinese have a story and their scriptures, Che – King, of an Age of Virtue in which humankind was placed in a sacred garden with a tree bearing “apples of immortality.” All of humankind’s needs were provided them, and all was in harmony.  However, a woman tempted man with knowledge, and that desire through humankind into its own fallen state, a story similar to that of the notion of “original sin.”

A story of Madagascar are places humankind in a sacred garden about whom grows luscious fruit which is forbidden them.  And ties to buy a beautiful painting of the fruits, he ate and he fell.

The Tahitians of Polynesia have a story that man was made of red earth, it’s also provided him nourishment. Their god, Taarao created woman from one of his bones, whose name was Ivi, meaning “bone.”  The Scandinavians also have a story of a “Golden Age” that was also disrupted by woman.

Even the ancient Mexicans had a story of a garden of bliss, into which calms a woman and a snake who talk to each other. In their sacred images, Eve is depicted bearing twins. In southern India sacred carvings upon the columns of a temple shows an Ambrosio tree under which sit “the first couple,” and among its branches a snake that introduces the woman to delicious fruit, to which she is tempted and takes  it.

The divine, the transcendent is revealed throughout the world.

Would you please share your own faith story?

 

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