My Christian Beliefs

I Christian Beliefs

I am. I know that I am in that I see and to some extent I know what I see; I think and to some extent I know what I think; I feel and to some extent I know what I feel; I smell and taste and to some extent I know what I smell and taste. However, I also recognize that at least on a subconscious level, I feel, I taste and I smell much more than I am conscious of. No one can do any of those things for me. In that, I am unique.

What I know is first perceived through my senses and processed by my brain; from that rudimentary start, the brain develops concepts and suppositions that become the building blocks of ideas and conversations with self and others.

The source of “I am”:

The physical “I am” is entirely the late organization of “stardust.” The organization of my stardust is largely dependent upon the most rudimentary of intermediary life forms, including scum and germs, apes, perhaps, and inherited genetics.

And, to say that “I am” is inadequate because neither I nor God is in fact merely existent, but I and God are in the process of becoming in so far as I or God is responsive to the world in which I live.

As to the rudiments of existence and God, I choose to follow the path that Spinoza laid down nearly 400 years ago as adopted and adapted by me:

Self Caused:

The notion of anything as self – caused is illogical, as something cannot cause itself without having an essence prior to that causation. Spinoza began with the problem of logic as applied to God. My belief concerning the subject is strongly influenced by Hans Kung in his book, Does God Exist? In that I recognize that the existence of God can neither be proved nor disproved: it is therefore a matter of choice. For myself, the existence of God gives me a sense of purpose and strength for living, therefore I choose God.

I cannot say that I have experienced the presence of God. Nonetheless, I choose to believe in that believing holds the possibility of a future relationship.

There is nothing logical that can be said about anything being “self – caused.” One can make an argument that the ultimate being is “self – caused” but any logical proof of that ultimate being, God, will always fall short. Likewise, there is no logical argument that can be made that there is nothing “self – caused;” I am faced with the choice: to believe that there is such being beyond me as opposed to there is not. I see the question stated another way: is life meaningful or is it not? My choice will affect how and what I do and who I will become; I choose meaning as opposed to no meaning.

Finite:

All physical existence is finite, having size, extent, and other physical characteristics attributable to it and the world in which we live in.

Substance:

Substance is part of the nature of all finite being, and it distinguishes one manifestation of the finite being, such as color or number, from another manifestations of finite being.

Mode:

Mode of being is the manner in which finite being is manifested.

God:

I accept Spinoza’s notion of God as absolutely infinite. There can be no attributes of infinity. Attributes describe the substance and quality of things in existence, and therefore cannot themselves be infinite.

I do not wish to characterize God as Spinoza concluded, as coextensive with nature; that is a conclusion that I am not yet ready to make. I see it as unduly limiting the notion and the experience of God. I accept that one’s experience of God is greatly affected by one’s experience of their own father. For myself, I had polio at the age of 11 months and was hospitalized and isolated from my parents for a period of six months. I have spent a lifetime, 67 years, living with the sense of abandonment. My positive relationship with loving parents has not changed that. Likely, that is a contributing cause my inability to sense the presence of God. And understand that could change, and I permit the possibility not foreclosing the notion of my experience of God.

Free:

Therefore, nothing finite can be free and to the extent that anything is otherwise free, it must be infinite in nature to be self – contained.

Eternity:

Nothing physical can be eternal, as all physical being must have a beginning, and therefore, logically, an end. Eternal must be beyond physical being and therefore necessarily part of the existence of God.

The nature of physical being:

Logically, if physicality has a definite beginning, that being in God, then God must also have a beginning whatever that may be.

Christianity:

First, Orthodox dogma and I assert that Jesus was human, i.e finite.

I find that the acceptance that Jesus was human effects how I read the synoptic Gospels: as the story of a human being with my can relate.

I was raised as a Christian, and it is with Christianity that I relate at the core of my being. I agree with Matthew Fox that I am best served to stay with that which I am familiar (i.e., Christianity) rather than straying after things with which I have had no familiarity (i.e, Greek Orthodox Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc.)

Jesus

It is the human Jesus with whom I most relate. In that I have been heavily influenced by Spinoza, Schweitzer, and Schillebeeckx.

I have heard and reject the notion that because Jesus was with God and was God, he had superhuman powers to do what is humanly impossible, and therefore cannot be expected of we mere humans.

I believe that the historical Jesus can best be found in the synoptic Gospels. The Gospel of John is heavily influenced by Gnosticism in that it perceives Jesus as spirit more than just physical and human. I believe that the Gospel of John best expresses the notion of man made in the image of God, more specifically, Jesus made in the image of God. In the same sense, we each are a son or daughter of God.

I believe that the apostle Paul can best be understood as making the Jesus story accessible to the Greek world, using Greek experiences culture, and more specifically, Greek religious practices, as, for example, the Dionysian rites. One must be careful, I think, about changing the historical Jesus according to the preaching and writing of Paul. In I Corinthians 13, Paul held, consistent with the teaching of Jesus, that of all of the spiritual gifts, the greatest is love. With that, I agree.

I see Jesus in the light of civil disobedience, including his paying the ultimate sacrifice willingly in his appearance before Pilate, his trial, the scourge, and his death on the cross.

I see evidences of resurrection in the personal experiences that reminded people of Jesus’ life with them, as the experience on the road to Emmaus, and his disappearance upon recognition.

Jesus taught, “by their fruits you will know them; a good fruit is not fall from a bad tree, nor a bad fruit from good tree.”

A great emphasis of Protestantism is about being saved by faith in Jesus as the son of God. However, Jesus taught, “inasmuch as you did it down to the least of these, you did it to me.” And, so far as being saved, salvation was not in  obtained by a state of belief, but rather by a state of doing. Those that loved others were invited into the kingdom of God; those that did not love others were excluded from the kingdom of God.

As to the kingdom of God, it was not a future event. Rather, “the kingdom of God is at hand,” during the time of Jesus life and continuing to the present day.

Christ

The Christ is the meaning of the life of Jesus- what we attach to it.

As to the great “I am” of Orthodox Christianity, I am greatly influenced by Eric from who says that the Jewish Yahweh is better understood in the imperfect sense of the verb to be: I am becoming. That, I think, is one of the sources of the notion of the living God which pervades much of the Old Testament. That makes sense to me, and I adopt it.

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My Experience of God

I have never felt a direct experience with God. The closest I came to that was when about age 20 I went with Mom and Dad to the second day of a week of evangelical services at a local church. In that experience, I felt very much betrayed. The evangelist was stirring the crowd, and I felt moved. After the emotional manipulation, he asked all to close their eyes as he prayed. I closed my eyes. Then he asked those who would like for him to pray for them to raise their hands. I felt that was noble thing. Who wouldn’t want another to pray for them? So I raised my hand. When he was done praying, he asked those who had raised their hands to come down to the front of the church. I had raised my hand, he knew that I had raised it, and so I obeyed. As I went, I realized that either others who had raised their hands were disobeying him, or that I was his prize for the night. I played along with his game, and when done, I returned home with mom and dad. There was no further mention of that.

About a year ago, as I was writing for my blog, I noted that I did not have a sense of a personal relationship with God, although I did not disavow the reality of God – just a lack of a sense of connection. In my post, I acknowledge that I wondered if that impersonal relationship might have been affected by my experience of abandonment in infancy from my six-month polio hospitalization at 11 months of age. I never had any response to that post.

And so, my perception of God is that “God” is beyond anything that I can imagine. I see a remarkable world about me and I experience to some degree a sense of awe – but that, more intellectual than as a matter of feeling. And so, although I am familiar with the notion of grace, I have never had a sense of the need of grace. The God that I know is not particularly personal, and I resist in concept a notion of a God who keeps score for which grace might have some significance.

I have noted at various times through my life that I am the recipient of many good things that I did not deserve, never even thought about, as though they were generous gifts.  Many of those have far exceeded anything I might have imagined. For those, in concept, at least, I am thankful.

I pray each day, but don’t know why other than that I ought to think of others.  And I have faced great difficulties.  They are not matters to pray about, but for me to suck it up and get to work to overcome. And, perhaps influenced by my preverbal survival of polio, I have a confidence that I can survive, but not necessarily to thrive. To that degree, I can adjust.

Examining Fundamentalist Beliefs and How My Own Differ

I want to examine my friend’s statements to me, not to disprove them, but to help clarify my own beliefs in relation to fundamentalist Christian beliefs in America. In doing so, I will address each of my friend’s main points, it’s premises and my beliefs concerning those premises:

All human beings are sinful; and more specifically, our sinful nature is inherited from Adam’s own sin (called Original Sin).

I would agree that humankind is sinful, not in an inherited sense, but in an active sense. In college, years ago, Dr. Nida taught me the definition of sin as “anything that separates us from the love of God.” I do not see God as the “old man scorekeeper in the sky,” but as a power of becoming in the world, transcendent, in all history, in the present, and in all times to come. God can be experienced in part by a sense of awe and gratitude.

I must ask, if God is creator and has made the rules by which his creation operates, surely he can change the rules and save His Son from paying the price for the sin of others. Moreover, the God of the Old Testament forgives and punishes, with no reference to any unpaid penalties due to the disobedience of Adam. Why would he stop forgiving with the New Testament?

and we need someone to “pay” for our sin: someone must pay the price of our sin, of our inherited sinful nature.

The common Christian notion is that, according to the second creation story told in the second chapter of Genesis, Adam sinned by disobeying God and eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

I do not understand that story in a literal sense. Rather, it asserts that humankind knows the difference between right and wrong, good and evil, and because they know that, they cannot live in a paradisiacal garden, free of strife. According to the Genesis account, Adam and Eve were evicted from the garden lest they also eat of the tree of life and “become as the gods.”

The story is a statement of the human condition. All life is “designed” for self-preservation, individually, and for social preservation of the life systems of which it is part. More specifically, the condition of humanity is that we must balance self-interest with dependence within our life system. That is part of the existential crisis that we human beings must face.

In my view, sin is not something that must be “paid for.” but it has its natural consequences. The problem of the consequences of sin is not black and white anthropomorphic intervention in life, but a matter of balance: self and others; physical needs and spiritual needs.

I see several problems with this assumption. First, if God is omnipotent, and if there were such rules of paying the price for sinfulness, then God could accept that as part of human existence (the constant tension among self-interest and social reliance and social responsibility); it is unavoidable.

If God is absolutely holy and demands righteousness who can measures up?

I do not see God as a superior humanoid who demands righteousness when the human condition precludes a clear answer between self and others, self responsibility and social responsibility.

Moreover, the above statement refers to righteousness as an objective state of being, a thing. I see righteousness as an active social state of being in right relationships with others and with our environment. That balance is also constantly shifting. It’s just part of the human condition.

That is the point of Jesus, God, who became man, condescending to rescue us all.

The above statement starts with the premise that Jesus is God-come-down-to-earth-to-pay-the-price-of-our-sinful-nature, to rescue us from our sinful state.

I see Jesus as a human being, like we, “made in the image of God,” according to the first creation story in Genesis. I see the statement that Jesus was both fully God and fully man as an illogical creedal statement deriving from bewildering facts: an experience of life of a loved one after death. It is derived from perception and feelings concerning a loved one who has died, i.e. Jesus.

There is danger in the fundamentalists’ assertion Jesus is God, in which case the hard sayings of Jesus are not taken seriously because he was God and we are human.

The above statement also suggests that God has a grand plan for all mankind. I don’t know what that means, but I have seen the argument used to fill in the gaps of human understanding, even to escape responsibility as a predestined act. It also has been used to dismiss the pain of loss.

We cannot (nor do we really want to) be good enough.

I don’t understand the above statement except that the great theme of fundamentalist Christianity is that humankind can never be good enough (to earn salvation).. This statement relates to prior statements that Jesus paid the price for us because we could not be good enough to pay it ourselves.

I am more moved by Jesus command to love and not to judge. It’s not a question of being good enough to deserve a theological intervention on our behalf.

Christians believe they are sinful, they can do nothing to deserve God’s favor and believe that Christ, God in the flesh) died to pay that penalty.

I see this argument as a summary of the last several arguments. The human condition is not a penalty for inherited sin or actual sin apart from our own actions. Human condition is what it is: recognizing our own limitations and mortality, sense of something within us that transcends our physical existence, need and desire act in our own interest, yet at the same time being insufficient to provide our own needs and our own dependence upon others and our own social responsibilities.

Hence, ‘by their fruits they shall know them.

I cannot disagree except for the implied condition in the foregoing statements that one must first “be saved.” I see the statement as unconditional, particularly because its context was the observations of the disciples of Jesus that others were doing miracles but not in the name of Jesus. Jesus response was basically, “Don’t worry about it; by their fruits you will know them.”

Our actions are a natural outcome of the love we have for Jesus who loved us, died for us and loves all people. We want to love those He also loves.

I see the above statement as implicitly connected with the statement in the Gospels: “we love because he first loved us.” I do not know whether humans are capable of loving only because Jesus first loved us. I have heard it said that hatred has to be learned and does not default nature of human beings. On the other hand, I do see Jesus in many emotional states, including angry outbursts, but most of all for his loving and I’m judging acts and teachings.

If we do not believe we need a savior we are damned already, and do not know ourselves.

I acknowledge that we as individuals are in fact not only responsible for ourselves, but are dependent and have social responsibilities that goes with our dependence. I understand “need a savior” as relating to damnation, as it is in fact used in the sentence.

It seems to me that the outstanding characteristic of Christians is that they know intensely that they need to be forgiven and that they trust Jesus to keep his word that he has covered their sinfulness with His righteousness.

I would say that the outstanding characteristic of Jesus teachings are 1 love, and 2 do not judge. I see my friend’s statement, “that they trust Jesus to keep his word that he has covered their sinfulness with His righteousness” as an allegorical statement cast in theological robes.

Don’t forget Jesus also said “I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved.” John 10:9.

The context of my friend’s’s citation is John 10:7-10:

Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep.All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.[a]They will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

A related and similar citation is John 14:6 – 10:

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know[b] my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”

Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.

These two passages are often cited by fundamentalist Christians to support their assertion that there is salvation only through Jesus. Used in this way, “salvation” has a particular theological significance relating to a notion that humanity has been lost and needs to be found by a power greater than themselves. That higher power is Jesus.

One of the mistakes of this statement is that it fails to recognize the distinction between the historical Jesus and the Christian interpretation of that Jesus as “the Christ:” “the promised one” of the ancient prophets.

I cannot help but ask about the many more around the world who are not Christian and yet do good works in the name of another, be at Mohammed, Krishna, Buddha, or another.

The God that I know is not an exclusionist. Nor are these passages wholly consistent with the synoptic Gospels in which Jesus does not insist upon doing good in his name, only. Rather, he tells us “by their fruits you will know them;” and “inasmuch as you did it unto the least of these, my brethren, you did it unto me. Enter into your reward.”

To understand someone we love we need to pay attention to all they say and do.

The presumption of the above statement is that the whole Bible is literally true, and that the sum of all that the Bible says about Jesus is accurate and cumulative. I note that among the four Gospels there are inconsistencies in the accounts of similar events as well as in their order. I believe that the gospel accounts are more than a mere historical documentation of the historical Jesus. See Albert Schweitzer’s Quest of the Historical Jesus, in which he demonstrates that the historical Jesus eludes us, but that the significance of Jesus’ life is inescapable. I take that to mean that Jesus teachings concerning “the way” is significant rather than the historical documentation to be found in the Gospels.

My interpretation of the Gospels is that it includes all and excludes none.