Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Pulling the Meringue Out From Under Their Feet

I love a good meringue, especially on a tart lemon pie. Fluffy whipped egg whites, air and sugar. Like cotton candy, lots of fluff, no substance. Just a tongue treat leading to a sugar crash.

Such is the stuff of religion.

I've been thinking quite a bit lately about the topic of religiosity. On Friday, I must present a topic for discussion in our book club. As a neophyte in the group, I am cautious about stomping on feet, especially of those who I do not know too well.

It is a 'church' group but not all attend the same one. From the first two meetings I've gleaned that the people are on the liberal side of Christianity yet that is not an invitation to pull the meringue out from under their feet. Not yet, at least. They are good people and are generally 5 years my superior. I was taught to respect my elders. I also know when not to pull a mask off of one's face lest they be left mortally exposed.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German Lutheran pastor, executed by the Nazis during the Resistance, suggested that perhaps it was time for a 'religionless Christianity.' Swell idea. I conjure up the idea of a simple painting by an artistic master to which layers of 'additions' have been added by pseudo-artisans, rendering the original unrecognizable. Two thousand years of 'stuff' and 'fluff' has been heaped upon The Christ as manifested in Jesus of Nazareth such that his image, his words and ideas are nearly obliterated.

How a religionless Christianity would be manifested is a difficult concept to muse upon as one immediately conjures 'churchy' thoughts. Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong ran with Bonhoeffer's idea when, in 2007, he wrote "Jesus for the Non-Religious." Spong laments [mild word indeed] the doctrines of conservative Christianity which have given rise to the religious anger that fuels the hatred of women, homosexuals, and non-believers in the inerrancy of the Bible. "I submit," he writes, "that this constant onslaught of ecclesiastical negativity comes directly from our theistic portrait of God, who has been traditionally understood as a punishing parent figure." The themes of guilt and degradation have been hammered home to believers in millions of sermons and Bible tracts and is instilled [brainwashed] early in life as children of evangelicals are sent off to summer Bible camp each year.

Spong sees Jesus as the breaker of tribal boundaries. He presented to his disciples and others "a new and inclusive kind of life" outside of tradition and in solidarity with all people. Spong also sees Jesus as the breaker of prejudices and stereotypes, and this makes him really relevant to our times when race, gender, and sexual orientation are the major areas where hatred divides people from each other. And, finally, there is Jesus as the breaker of religious boundaries, which was, of course, the thing that got Jesus into so much trouble.

Today's world is so interconnected and intertwined that the old version of Christianity, with its boundaries, creeds, and hierarchical structure, fraught with cultural bias, and tied in knots by countless religious wars, Inquisitions, excommunications, and bigotry cannot serve this modern world. That religion ought to die an unnatural death.

Rather, says Spong, "Jesus was not divine because he was a human life into whom the external God had entered, as traditional Christology has claimed; he was and is divine because his humanity and his consciousness were so whole and so complete that the meaning of God could flow through him. He was thus able to open people to that transcendent dimension of life, love and being that we call God."

Solid stuff. And a difficult concept to accept if one has been mired in the meringue of religiosity all of their lives. I'm in a conundrum as to wheter to unload this topic on the gathering this Friday evening. Wouldn't it be a hoot if the hosts seve lemon meringue pie for dessert!

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