Monday, August 28, 2006

across the universe

I don't know, I can never think of good titles.

Anyway, I'm working on my universalism paper. It's actually turned into a descriptive paper rather than an argument. See, it turns out, people mean a lot of different things when they talk about it. And I'm not sure anybody's bothered to compile all these types of universalism and explain the subtleties in them. So it's really easy to dismiss it if you only know of one aspect, but it's not so easy when you find several other ideas calling themselves universalism that actually hold some appeal (and have some nice biblical support).

So I think I'm going to categorize these and then maybe at the end I'll tell which I find most compelling (if any). It's not going to be a super scholarly paper, but hopefully it will be enough to finish off the class. I so wish it was done...this and the other one. I'm really really really ready for my break now.

One thing that happens because of this blog is that people sometimes email me offering me books to read (assuming I will blog about them, I guess). Now as a confirmed geek I can't really turn down free books. So I take 'em. And in good faith, I really do read them.

Right now I've started a new book by Spencer Burke (who founded and Barry Taylor called The Heretic's Guide to Eternity. I'm not far into it, but so far, I can tell you this:

  1. The title is pretty much entirely sensational. Near as I can tell, it's not that heretical, and it's really not much about eternity. As the LA Times review put it, it's more about how to reject religion than anything having to do with the afterlife.
  2. This dude's method of citing his sources has got to go. It's driving me up the wall. I got an advance copy and I can only pray that when they really publish there will be actual endnotes. Right now, there are no numbers next to the quotations. So I'm thinking wow, this guy is seriously plagiarizing, right? But then I looked in the back and there are actually notes, they just aren't numbered. Now either the numbers are coming later, or he thinks numbers in the text will bug people so he's left them out. But let me tell you - numbers in the text aren't all that distracting, and what is seriously distracting is not being able to follow up on his sources. It drives me up the wall when I can't find the note because it's buried in some paragraph and there's nothing to point me to it. And some of this stuff I really wonder if he isn't pulling out of his ass. Hopefully this will be remedied, but if ya'll are trying to be "different" please just don't.
  3. Somehow he strikes me as more hostile to the church than the majority of non-Christians I know, and he professes faith in Christ! Now you all know me. You know I'm hardly Ms. Christian role model. But although I challenge the church and my fellow Christians I hope I never come off as hating them. This guy is so totally bitter! I can't believe how much damage is seeping through the pages. And I can't quite tell if he's really messed up or he's just trying to say what he thinks will sound appealing to the younger kids. Problem, dude - you're just coming off as whiny, intolerant (of your own! never cool), and...well...old.
  4. Finally, and here's my biggest peeve and soapbox, he's suggesting we throw out all the rituals, rites, performances, prayers, and other trappings of the cult of Christianity. He calls this "religion" and basically wants to throw it out with propositional truth. Now I am all for getting rid of prop truth as a foundation for Christianity. And there is some stuff about religion - polity, denominational barriers, etc - that certainly can be dispensed with. But if you've read this blog for any length of time you know I am NOT going to stand by and let somebody say our rites and rituals are worthless.

Oh. No. He. Di. Int.

Dude has completely thrown out the baby with the baptismal water (that's a Todd Johnson joke, not mine). He apparently hates the church so much that he's willing to dispense with the very foundation of Christianity - namely, a community that meets together to do ritual. Yes, my friends, that is what the church of Christ is. And Jesus set it up that way.

This author says he wants to get back to Jesus' way - feeding people and making relationships and reaching real physical needs (it sounds a lot like the mission church we almost joined). But that wasn't Jesus' way!

Everything he did was laden with symbolism. He didn't feed all the hungry people - he fed at times and with actions that had significance to the message he was bringing. He didn't heal everybody who needed it - he healed with specific intention to preach a bigger point. He was constantly doing performance art, performative action and utterance - he was always, always revealing a bigger picture behind his words and deeds.

Jesus didn't set up a religion? Bullshit. Jesus was founding a movement - he was purposely molding a group of people to become a community, not a bunch of individuals with great relationships with God (which seems to be Burke's final solution - I skipped to the end) who don't need the church because they've transcended all that nonsense. Excuse me? Jesus gave us a ritual! He didn't even give us the scriptures - but he gave us a ritual!!! So what the hell is more Christian than meeting together to do the ritual Jesus commanded us to do? He wasn't doing it for fun, people. He was doing it because he knew it was the way we would become like him. I just read it today - we've been reading it all week - unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you have no life in you...whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood will live...I will raise him up on the last day.

I mean, there's not really a clearer way to put it. The ritual is absolutely central. The coming together is the very center of life with God. We cannot have life with God without religion. I'm sorry, Spence. We can't. I know there are a lot of things wrong with religion and it's gotten ugly. I know it's really hard to believe in a lot of the time. But without it we are lost. I would rather you convert to another religion, and still have ritual in your life, than give up on it altogether.

We are creatures of habit, we are creatures who need rites and performances and prayers - to learn who we are, to learn how to get by in the world, and to learn to relate to and become like God. We are lost without them. You can't take ritual away from people and expect them to be able to relate to God. They will only be able to do so on the most superficial level. You will wind up with them worse off than they were before they left the church.

So please, please, please, you can say the church has gone astray and it's a dangerous place to be. But we can never, never give up on it. It is what God gave us - it was established by God's Spirit as Christ's body on earth. It is central to our faith and without it I don't know what we have but it's not a relationship with Jesus.

Anyway, I don't know if this is making any sense because I'm not taking the time to formulate a smart argument, I'm just streaming consciousness. Or perhaps vomiting it. I just can't deal with this. I could explain myself better in person.

Just think...this is only from chapter one.

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