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Christianity needs a brand manager.

December 27, 2011

I was raised Lutheran (Missouri Synod), which is a variety of Christian.  It has some very definitive values assigned to the personage of Jesus Christ, for whom Christianity is apparently named.  These values are partially shared by other Christian faiths, meaning that they are partially not shared, as well.  Personally, I find this problematic.  The core of a Christian faith, after all, really ought to be its Christology, or its study of the nature of Christ.

A lot of things are claimed about Christ, after all.  Even if we just confine our musings to those things that are said by those who purport to believe in his divinity, the wide variation of information is confusing, at best, and misleading at worst.  Now, I’m not going to claim to be telepathic or anything, so I’m not going to say what people’s motivations for using these highly varied sets of qualities for Christ are.  I will, however, say what it seems like they are.  It would seem, to one who has a reasonable grasp on psychology and the systems that people use for persuasion, that the invocation of the name of Christ is being used quite often to attempt to use the authority of Christ to back one’s personal claims.

If this was confined to religious ceremonies and church bodies, that would be one thing.  It would still be a damnable offense (by the sets of theological laws that these same church bodies purport to follow), but it wouldn’t be the worst possible thing.  The real problem, as I see it from a limited perspective, is that these claims seem to establish that Christ’s qualities are in alignment with Earthly individuals or organizations, and not the other way around.

Yes, I’m beating around the bush, because according to Luther, I’m not following the eighth commandment unless I put the best construction on everything, which means that I need to give people the benefit of the doubt.  Still, here’s where my metaphysical butt gets burned.

In recent times, I have heard people say some things about Jesus Christ that are patently false.  Conservatives claim that Jesus was conservative.  Liberals claim that Jesus was liberal.  Hate mongers claim that Jesus hates whatever group it is that the hate mongers themselves hate.  Many of these statements are contradictory to one another.  It isn’t possible that Jesus is all of these things; even if Lutheran Christology teaches that he is omniscient and omnipresent, he most certainly has a definitive alignment.

“But Scott,” some might say.  “Where does one go to for information on the nature of Christ if not from a church group that claims to have the definitive source of this information?”

I’m going to rip some theology up, now.  I’m no longer the member of any church, much less the church body that trained me in biblical theology.  Time away from the church may have lent some perspective.  I need to make something perfectly clear.

I am NOT going to purport to have the definitive answers to what is, and isn’t, pure theological truth.  There is no “this is what I believe, you should follow this” here.  I’m not saying that anyone needs to believe in Christ or his divinity.  I’m saying that there are people who DO believe in it, and a good number of these people are misusing Christ’s name.  It’s none of my business what or who you do or don’t believe in, theologically speaking.  It isn’t necessary to believe in Christ in order to believe in Christians.

We have a number of books, in a handy collected form, that have the primary qualities of Christ given to us by literary demonstration.  These qualities aren’t, exactly, listed, but in the actions of Christ within these works, we can get a pretty good grip on his qualities.  I am speaking of the Bible… but not the entire Bible.

Here, I depart vastly from the church body that trained me in biblical theology.  I’m suggesting that we search through three books of the New Testament for the qualities of Christ, those being the gospel books of Matthew, Mark, and John.  Why am I removing the gospel of Luke from consideration?

I’m removing the gospel of Luke from consideration for the same reason that I’m removing the Pauline epistles from consideration – mostly, I’m not buying the “road to Damascus” conversion of the “apostle” Paul.  Luke was written by “Paul’s physician,” and the epistles of the other apostles were written after Paul met with them and convinced him that he was truly trained by Christ.  Yeah… no, not buying that.

I’m not even buying the entire book of Mark.  Last chapter – gone.  It appeared in only about half of the original manuscripts that have been found, and at that, only the later manuscripts.  The post Pauline manuscripts.  This is important not because the last chapter of Mark contains one of the resurrection accounts, but because it also contains the “great commission,” which gave the early Christian church leave to convert without let or hindrance.  No, doesn’t fit.  Doesn’t get included.

Don’t even get me started on the Revelation of St. John.  Suffice it to say that I don’t think that a political rant disguised behind mythical allegory should really be canon.

Anyway, back to the nature of Christ, based on the three non-Pauline gospels.

The Christ depicted in these gospels didn’t particularly care about politics.  “Give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s,” after all.  He wasn’t on earth to affect political change, but metaphysical change.  Offered the opportunity to get involved in politics by taking over the world, he refused because he had spiritual things to do.  Biblical Christ had other, better things to do than become involved in politics, or care that much about them.  Governments come and go, rise and fall.  Christ’s kingdom is eternal.

Christ constantly espoused charity, and taught that the wealthy should eschew their wealth.  Want to go to heaven?  Follow all of God’s laws perfectly, AND give away everything that you have to the poor.

Christ never turned his back on anyone who society thought should be cast out.  He spent his time with prostitutes and tax collectors (who were thought of even less well than we tend to think of them now.  Think about that).  He had conversations with lepers, and people with other horrible and infectious diseases.  He gave his time and his attention to people regardless of their social standing, political orientation, nationality, or even their faith.  The only people that he had NO time for were those who believed that they were better than other people because of their position in religious organizations.

Do Not Take My Word For This.  There’s a Bible within a few hundred feet of you, if you’re in the United States, and there are plenty online for you to look at no matter where you are.  Read the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and John.  Compare what Jesus says and does with what is being said about him, now.

All of which is to say that Christianity needs a brand manager.  There are a lot of people out there claiming that they are right about one thing or another because Jesus agrees with them; these people can not all be right.  There needs to be some authority for Christianity, that monitors communications and looks for the claims of people who claim to be Christian.

“Hello, this is Christianity’s brand manager.  You mentioned that Jesus hates people of a sexual orientation different from yours?  Well, that’s contrary to the brand guidelines.  You can continue to claim that YOU hate these people, but if you claim that Jesus shares your hate, or if you even continue to claim to be Christian, we’re going to have no choice but to serve you with a cease and desist letter.  Have a nice day!”

“Hi there; were you claiming that Jesus doesn’t want you to share your wealth with the poor?  This is the Christianity brand manager, we’re going to have to ask you to stop making these fraudulent claims, or our next step is to have our lawyers contact you.  Have a nice day!”

I’m not saying I want the job… I just want to have access to the inter-0ffice memos.  I have a strong suspicion that if anyone actually started to enforce Christian values and behaviors on those who claim to be Christian, there would be a vast amount of unhappy unleashed on the “faithful.”  I don’t think I’m a bad Christian because I want to see people using the name of Christ held up to a strict legal standard for doing so… I think I’m a bad Christian because of the warm, happy feeling that I get when I imagine the suffering involved.

 

14 Comments leave one →
  1. Twisted Joe permalink
    December 28, 2011 3:42 pm

    Although I’m sure you’re speaking in a rhetorical sense, I still have to balk at the idea of a human manager for the description of Jesus. I mean, how many of these denominations have been corrupted because of the influence of humans?

    Personally, I’m much fonder of the idea of having very loose authority on the scriptures. Essentially, I’d like all the denominations to take a step back, breathe, say this is what we think he is and what Christianity is about…but we could be wrong. If Christianity was taught more like a high level philosophy/mythology class, with ample discussion and expansion on ideas, I think we’d all be better off.

  2. December 28, 2011 4:00 pm

    On one level, I’m very much in agreement with that, Joe. The nature of Christ is really a matter of conjecture based on what information we have about his actions, rather than a definitive list. Unfortunately, the people who I’m primarily talking about are never going to go that route – the vast majority of modern Christian institutions are built on the concept that their doctrine is correct, and not open to debate or discussion. Is that the correct way to go about it? No, likely not. Is that the reality of their views and practices? Yeah, unfortunately. Church dogma is what it is.

    No, my point isn’t that there actually IS a single incontrovertible truth about the nature of Christ… it’s that many people who loudly claim that their philosophy is correct because it mirrors the philosophies of Christ are using, as a model of their philosophies of Christ, a set of stances that are generally defeated by careful examination of the literature that we do have which gives us a basis for studying the philosophies of Christ.

    I’m not trying to say that the Bible is an incontrovertible truth – mostly because I don’t think it is. What I’m saying is that, when someone jumps up on my chest and tries to tell me what Jesus thinks of me because “the Bible says so,” it would sure be neat if there was someone there with a pair of pince-nez glasses, thumbing through the text, who would look up and say “No, the Bible doesn’t say that.”

    tl;dr: It isn’t about how correct or concrete the scriptures are. It’s about how they’re currently commonly misused, and what I’d like to see introduced to combat that misuse.

  3. December 28, 2011 4:20 pm

    I agree that Christianity has been somewhat hijacked and what it has come to mean to many people is a distortion of it’s original intents and ways. In fact, I’m a part of a movement to help reform Christianity. See more about this here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rev-roger-wolsey/progressive-christianity_b_892727.html

    That said, I agree with the comments above that warn against human ability to truly follow purely in the ways and teachings of Jesus. We should beware of all parties to “have it exactly right.” All we can do is to do our best to take Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience seriously, and to follow the leadings of the Holy Spirit as best we can.

    May God help us.

    Rev. Roger Wolsey, author “Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don’t like christianity”

  4. Twisted Joe permalink
    December 28, 2011 4:42 pm

    Ah, see I’d be more prone to call that the “Christianity fact-checker”.

  5. December 29, 2011 7:57 am

    Ummm … hasn’t Rome been trying that “brand manager” thing for centuries? Seriously: wonderful post, and dead on. And this from a cradle Episcopalian who was educated largely in the Lutheran school system (Missouri Synod, back when “Misery Synod” was a joke not a reality — a lot of what we were talked could get you thrown out of Missouri Synod nowadays).

    • Twisted Joe permalink
      December 29, 2011 9:56 am

      Yeah, that was kind of my thought as well, which is why I wasn’t keen on the idea.

  6. December 29, 2011 8:53 am

    I’m slowly coming to the conclusion that religion’s sole purpose in the world today is social formation. It does well to inculcate faith and values in young people. But it’s becoming increasingly impotent in its efforts to affect adults in a positive and meaningful way to bring peace and harmony to the planet. Don’t get me wrong. I do see and I honestly believe that religion plays a significant role in many people’s lives and that religion is the reason many people behave kindly and respectfully towards one another. But I also see, all too often, that these expressions of kindness and respect go only so far as church walls and their faith-community’s social structure. It’s still all too common to hear well-educated and consciously-aware, adult Christians speak about atheists – let alone Muslims and other non-Christians – as if they had no soul at all.

    If religion is to survive the 21st century I fear it will have to find some identity beyond its current, disparate and fragmented belief structures. What would it take for Christianity to welcome as true members of the human family people like me who honestly and faithfully do not find any personal meaning in many tenets of the Nicene Creed? What would it take for Christians and Muslims and Jews and Hindus and Buddhists and atheists to find common ground in one faith? What would it take for people of all faiths to be truly vulnerable in their personal relationships?

    Am I simply dreaming?

  7. December 29, 2011 9:03 am

    Scott. I shared your blog on our Facebook page: darkwoodbrew.org. That’s the second seal being broken…

  8. December 29, 2011 9:17 am

    On getting to a true sense of who Jesus was/is – dare I say Christ-consciousness – I would take a different tack. I would include the entire Christian canon, the apocryphal texts (including the texts in the Nag Hammadi library), the Quran, the Bhagavad Gita, theTao Te Ching and other sacred texts.

  9. December 29, 2011 9:57 pm

    Nice post, Scott. I think you’d enjoy Darkwood Brew if you haven’t been there already. Starting Jan 8, Darkwood Brew will be spending 6 weeks challenging “orthodox” Christian beliefs about Jesus, salvation, etc, in a most “unorthodox” manner – by using the apostle Paul to challenge them. You may find that you and Paul have more in common than you think! http://www.darkwoodbrew.org

  10. December 30, 2011 6:18 am

    Scott,
    Let’s leave aside your biblical hermeneutics, for the moment, since I disagree with your diagnosis but we could go round that circle all day. I will take exception to your disregard of Paul, and here’s why: Jesus is the Word. When we speak of Christology, the primary goal is not to go “back” to some person who lived and died two thousand years ago, but to hear the Word in our lives. If you believe that Jesus Christ is risen, and that he is speaking today, the question must be: who are you to tell Paul that he did not meet Christ on the road?

    Next issue: your line between political and metaphysical. Jesus was informed by the Hebrew Scriptures (he did quote them), and the church confesses these witnesses as part of the canon. In the Hebrew Scriptures, you will not find a similar divide. I would challenge you to remove this bifurcation from your exegesis and see what happens to Jesus’ “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s”, which in my opinion is hardly a message of disregard for politics. Your interpretation could make sense, but underneath I suspect there may be a pre-formed assumption that these to categories even exist.

    Next: Christianity does have a “brand-manager” – God. In the Holy Spirit, the church gathers. Through the Word, the church is united to the Father. In the sacraments of bread, water, wine and Word, the church is personally instructed and corrected as the communion of saints. The authority of Christianity is communal. These statements about Christ, which have not been agreed upon by the church as a whole, should be part of an internal dialogue. Instead, groups within the church have thrown these descriptions out into a world which is not equipped to critique or interpret them. This is because these people do not want God for a brand manager – they want something or someone concrete, constant, predictable and controllable. And that’s not God.

    I understand and agree with your sentiment, and especially believe that Christians everywhere (especially in America) are being strongly called to repentance. My understanding is that the way to do that is in communion, around the table, hearing the Word. Only after the church event are we equipped as disciples to go into the world, preaching the gospel of Christ crucified and risen.

    In Christ,
    Gary

  11. December 30, 2011 8:10 am

    The idea that meaningful and relevant truth is accessible through abstract rituals and religious practices – the very real perception of the uninitiated – places orthodoxy above and before orthopraxy; good and proper for young children but not as helpful for uninitiated adults. It seems to me that for philosophical idealists practice follows doctrine – “only after the church event are we equipped as disciples to go into the world, preaching the gospel of Christ crucified and risen” – and for philosophical pragmatists and liberation theologists orthopraxy precedes or at least has a symbiotic relationship with orthodoxy.

    “Traditional understanding which presupposes the existence of an absolute pre-existing truth, independent of its historical effectiveness, came to be rejected. For liberation theologians, drawing here mainly from Marx, the basic epistemological assumption is that truth lies not in the realm of ideas but on the historical plane of action. ‘Action itself is truth’. To know the truth, it is further contended on the basics of the theme of ‘doing the truth’ found in the discourses of the Johanine Christ, is to do the truth. From this perception – i.e. that truth is know not in abstractness but in praxis in the midst of involvement in history follows the affirmation of the priority of right-doing (orthopraxis) over rightthinking (orthodoxy).”

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