Happy Easter, too

While I did not grow up Catholic, my best friend did. So, one of our rituals that lasted about ten years was going to midnight mass on Christmas Eve. One of the traditions of that mass was the Father would also wish Happy Easter, as he knew he would not see more than a few parishioners until next Christmas.

While fewer people are church goers than before and some check the box “none” when surveyed, Christmas remains an important holiday for the promise it brings. Whether you believe that Jesus is the son of God, there was a man by this name who walked the earth and spoke to gatherings of people of all sizes. He reminded us of four key themes among his many parables and lessons. And, these themes can be found in other religious texts.

– Treat others like you want to be treated.

– Help people less fortunate than you.

– Recognize each of us is imperfect.

– Forgive those who trespass against us.

To me, if we live our lives doing our best to remember these four things, Jesus’ words will help us be better people. And, if enough of us do this, the world just might be a better place.

 

Jesus on my mind

On PBS Frontline, they are airing a two-part series called “From Jesus to Christ: The First Christians” about how Christianity took shape. It is a fascinating history lesson that blends biblical writings with other known historical and archaeological findings. It interviews twelve religious scholars, theologians and historians who offer terrific insight.

I gained a greater appreciation for the role Paul played in spreading the teachings of Jesus following his death around Year 30. His followers were scared after Jesus’ death in Jerusalem as the Romans did not tolerate much dissent. So, Paul spread the word through home gatherings away from Jerusalem and through his many letters which were the first writings about Jesus. These home gatherings were usually over meals and sharing of prayer and stories. It was noted that these followers were a mixture of socio-economic classes, whereas around Jerusalem Jesus’ followers were more agrarian. Hence, Jesus’ parables had to be interpreted for more urban followers of Paul.

I also got a better understanding of the context of when the Gospels were written. Mark was the first Gospel author who wrote around forty years following Jesus’ death, but after the Romans had destroyed Jerusalem squelching the first rebellion of the Jews. He also wrote just after the deaths of three key Christians – Peter, James and Paul. Following this massacre, there was a much somber audience, so Mark highlighted the agony of Jesus’ death noting how much he suffered, just like they were now. He also wanted to record the life of Jesus, with the passing of these three principals.

Matthew and Luke years later followed with their Gospels and used some of the same words as Mark did, which gave the scholars the sense there was another document that had recorded some of Jesus’ teachings. The scholars noted they had to be working off a previous text of Jesus’ parables, as they were written in different regions by different men.These three Gospels are more symbiotic than John’s Gospel, as a result.

The scholars also note that Luke’s writings must be viewed in tandem with his second piece called Acts. They said Luke was more educated than Mark, so his writings flow more like the stories of the day. He also was writing to a more urban audience around the Aegean Sea who spoke Greek. John’s Gospel writings took a different tack as his writing was later and at a time when people were looking for something more lasting. He wrote more of a spiritual Jesus that is the basis for much of modern Christianity.

These scholars spoke of the Gospels in terms that makes sense to me. Gospel means “good news,” and that was the purpose of writing them to share the news of Jesus. But, as one scholar pointed out, these were not four reporters summarizing what just happened in a courtroom. They were writing down the stories that had been told and retold following Jesus’ death. He went on to say he would err on the side that these writings were meant symbolically and have been interpreted literally, rather than the other way around. Since four people are telling the same stories from different perspectives and times, there are inconsistencies in the stories.

Two examples would indicate this, as the day of Jesus’ death is different, where in one it is occurring at Passover where others showing it occurred later. Also, the example of Jesus’ overturning the gambling and trading tables in the temple, occurred earlier in one Gospel, while it is the reason for his ultimate arrest and later crucifixion in the others.

The final key takeaway for me is the separation between Judaism and Christianity became more prominent after these writings. Jesus was Jewish and much of the earlier teachings especially near Jerusalem were in keeping with the Jewish faith. The scholars explain that 90% of people in the Roman empire were paganists worshipping multiple gods. So, the only organized religion around one God was the Jewish religion. This is one reason the Romans feared teachings that wrapped religion and politics together, as in the Roman rule, the emperor was the supreme leader. This is also the reason Christians worshipped in secret in their homes.

The Frontline piece is excellent. It helps better understand context and the history of Jesus and those who followed him and created Christianity. Below is a synopsis of the two episodes.

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/religion/etc/synopsis.html

 

Nice boys don’t ask questions like that said the minister

Earlier this week, Dan Brown the author of “The Da Vinci Code” and “Angels and Demons” appeared on CBS Good Morning. It was fascinating to learn of his upbringing as he was raised by a mathematician father and a very devout mother who was the church choir director. Brown even sang in his mother’s choir. He said he was raised to ask questions and lived in a very healthy balance of science and religion.

Brown noted it was not uncommon around the dinner table to question all things, such as what if Jesus was not the son of God and was a mortal prophet? This type of questioning was encouraged as it opened his mind to discussion. It also let him gain a better understanding of religion in the context of greater scientific information. When he became concerned that the Big Bang Theory seemed to be at odds with the bible’s view on creation, he went to ask his minister. The answer he received was not welcoming of discussion. The answer resides in the title to this post. “Nice boys don’t ask questions like that,” said the minister.

He said this was a life changing answer. It had the opposite effect from what the minister likely intended. Brown said it told him that we should be questioning more things in the bible especially where the text doesn’t jive with scientific data and leading thought. Many who have discussed the Big Bang Theory have noted that it need not, by itself, contradict a divine hand of creation. But, that is not the answer he received.

Since he wrote “The Da Vinci Code” which is based on the plot that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married and had a child, he was asked on the show about the recent papyrus that indicated that Jesus was married, but was proven to be not authentic. Brown notes that religious scholars over time have discussed whether Jesus was married. The book and movie just made the issue more known to others. He was not saying Jesus was or was not married. Brown was simply noting that it has been discussed in religious scholar circles.

So, we should question texts such as the bible, especially when considering the context of when they were first written and later translated. I have written several posts about people of faith teaching against science and scientific exploration. For the home schooling mothers (and fathers) and owners of the Creationist museum that talk about the dinosaurs walking with man on an earth that is only 7,000 years old, this does a huge disservice to the children. They are being taught that others will try to dissuade you from these teachings, which will only alienate the kids from their teachers when the truths become more evident.

As someone of faith, to repeat a message that I have been noting in earlier posts, it is not possible that every word in the bible is true or any religious text for that matter. They each have good messages and teachings to live by, but even if divinely inspired, these texts were written by imperfect men, interpreted and reinterpreted by imperfect men, and translated and retranslated by imperfect men. God did not dictate, so the men related what they believed to be true in the context of their own biases, understandings of science, and human imperfections. And, they were men. Women are treated as second class citizens and even chattel in many religious texts.

For a minister to give the response to young Dan Brown’s question like he did, showed his own lack of faith in the document. The bible has many great lessons, but it also has parts that don’t get brought up much in sermons. We must question things. King Solomon, who is revered in the bible for his wisdom, tells us God gave us a brain and we honor him when we use it. So, we should use it and ask questions.

We need to reconcile what the text means in the greater context of science and history.  For those who believe the earth is only 7,000 years old, when data literally beneath your feet refutes what you are saying about the age of the earth, then you should pause and think. If we don’t allow an updated understanding of the bible and religious texts, then people will pay attention less and miss the key messages that Jesus had for us. And, that would be a shame.