Sunday, January 30, 2011

What DOES the Gospel say?

For the last two years, I have gone to church nearly every Sunday with my wife. It's the least I could do after turning her into an Episcopalian (say, where's my toaster? ;-) I haven't attended church regularly since my 8th grade (Roman Catholic) confirmation, which was well over 30 years ago, so I come back to it quite "fresh". And, of course, since I don't actually believe in God, I expect I hear the readings as a different kind of narrative than most of you do.

And I find that it is impossible to miss the fundamental message in the weekly Gospel. It is what I will call responsibility, in the sense of accountability. It's really quite, quite striking.
  • We are responsible for the poor and the sick. They may be with us always, but we are expected to care for them, to feed them, to bind their wounds, to cure them if we can.
  • We are responsible for the stranger among us, and by providing him hospitality, we discover he is no stranger after all. We are all one, there is no them and us.
  • We are responsible for our jobs, to carry out our duties honestly and dependably-- and this includes paying our share of taxes.
  • We are responsible for loving all those around us, not judging them, turning the other cheek, and forgiving as many times as necessary.
  • We are responsible in turn for admitting our own wrong and seeking forgiveness, when we do wrong ourselves. And we should try to avoid doing wrong.
  • Finally we are responsible for being generous in every way: generous in what we think of others, generous in how we live, generous in how we share our possessions. The bravest among us may give up worldly things to live this out more completely because possessions matter least compared to all the rest.
Wouldn't you say that about sums it up?

So, I ask you, how can our politicians, particularly those on the right, claim the mantle of Christianity with such fervor when they appear to be unable to hear what it actually says?

There's nothing there about enriching plutocrats, seeking power, or waging war. There's nothing there that can justify eviscerating health care, education, or aid to the poor. Nothing that allows telling lies or demonizing the opposition. Nothing that justifies a Them vs Us, rather than a We.

Or perhaps they just aren't hearing the same Gospel I am.


desertcat said...

I think that sums it up beautifully. I'd never considered "responsibility" in the context of this reading but having read how you hear it, it is definitely one I will keep in mind. Thank you.

Hermano David | Brother Dah • veed said...

IT, you obviously hear the Gospel through very liberal filters. And perhaps while wearing rose tinted glasses.

Grandmère Mimi said...

IT, you hear the Gospel message rightly. For an atheist, you make a damned good preacher for Christianity. :-)

Ann said...

That's about it -- thanks IT -- how about giving us your point of view of the lessons - what do you hear - each week -- would be great.

Erp said...

I suspect most hear (or seek a church that preaches) the Jesus they imagine.

David Hayward had a recent cartoon on 'pick your Jesus'.

Erp said...

Forgot to link to the cartoon.

it's margaret said...

Preach it, IT!

JCF said...

I think you've summed up the Gospel truthfully, IT.

Now, to be annoying: when I think of the word "responsible", I think of a scenario like this.

Parent, to Child: "I'm giving you a __________ . . . but you're responsible for it. YOU will have to _____, _____, and _____ to take care/maintain it."

In other words, the whole notion of responsibility comes from the Overarching Guardian who establishes it.

I mean, sure: you'd like to think that the party deemed "responsible" responds to what (whom) they're responsible for [e.g., a pet]. That's the healthy, functioning conscience.

But if not? What authority is there---even to appeal to---when someone is {ahem} "irresponsible"?

I think that 99% of Christianity---any worthwhile religion---is moral code, ethics.

But what gives a code any weight, without a ... a... [JCF goes for Tillich!] Ground of Being to underpin it? (At least conceptually, if one cannot accept any extent claims to "revelation")

If the appeal is to democracy, what makes a democratic-majority anything other than Just Another Mob, w/o at least the pretense of grounding the democratic process in the Quest for The Good? [Hence, the usual appeals to something like "Nature's God" in the various preambles to various constitutions]

I guess for me, it comes back to this: if there's no Higher Power (Ground of Being, Law of Karma, Absolute Truth, Universal Good, All-You-Need-is-Love ... the G Word), why NOT be irresponsible? Who cares?

Just my...3c!

Ann said...

What I said (sort of) is at my blog.

Mary Clara said...

The Gospel -- the Good News -- is also that we are FREE to do all those good things you have listed. The Good News is that we are indeed all one and don't have to live lives of selfishness, isolation and oppression or exploitation of others. We don't have to be entirely bound by the norms of our society which set us apart from certain people and encourage selfishness and injustice toward them. Often societies have powerful lists of rules one must obey and responsibilities one must fulfill to members of one's own family, tribe, nation or caste; Jesus announced that the community and the duty of care extend beyond those boundaries.

The Good News is that the cosmos supports us in fulfilling our responsibilities to the stranger and to society. The Good News is that at the heart of the cosmos there is an endless fountain of LOVE available to connect us to each other and give meaning to all our encounters and our sufferings. Without this Love, human existence, including spiritual life, would be nothing but a job! An ethical to-do list is great, but remember that Jesus summed up "all the law and the prophets" in the Love commandments, and the Good News is that we can love God and each other because we were first loved by God.

These principles of Freedom and Love, I believe, reflect an essential openness and indeterminacy at the heart of things. It is part of the structure of reality (and not something freaky from outside of reality) that we are not purely victims of cause and effect. Transformation can occur, breaking the chain of causality, lifting us to a higher ethical plane, creating new insights and connections and more just social arrangements, especially if we are attuned to incipient possibilities, which is what prayer and scriptural study are for.

The politicians you refer to don’t seem to understand this.

Paul said...

I think there is a tendency for people to see in the scriptures what they want to see. In most cases that includes condemnation for those awful folk over there, with smug self righteousness for one's own group. Start challenging that too forcefully, and you get shown the door.

Jesus didn't give us a church, he gave us a challenge. We were the ones who insisted on creating institutions and tying everything up with a bow to make it pretty and respectable. Jesus was neither.

Marshall Scott said...

Ah, esteemed IT, I think you have it. However, as has been noted, not everyone wants to hear it. The last few times when July 4 has fallen on a Sunday and I was preaching, I have stated that I cannot consider this a Christian nation until we base our social policy on Matthew 25 ("Even as you've done it for the least of these....") and our economic policy on the early chapters of Acts ("And all who had gave and all who needed received what they needed...."). I'm usually there as a supply priest - and it's usually years (and new clergy) before I get asked back.

Marshall Scott said...

By the way, and admittedly somewhat off topic - but, I think, you'll enjoy it, IT, and so might JCF - I've been reflecting on Brian Greene's appearance on Colbert and Mathematics as a language of faith. I'm not suggesting there's a hidden theism underlying it. I'm just appreciating how he's understanding mathematics - and his fervor as a "true believer."

Cathy said...

Nicely said, IT. I think you should write a letter of complaint about the toaster though.

Denbeau said...

IT, I thought that I should let you know that I used this post as the meditative reading in the service I lead yesterday (with full attribution, of course). The feedback was very positive, and it worked well with service, which was on the parable of the banquet.
You identify as an atheist; I don't think so ... I would call you more of a transtheist (as are most members of my congregation). I think you've just had some 'bad church' experiences (for me, a 'bad church' is one that thinks they have all the answers; a 'good church' is one that isn't even sure they're asking the right questions).