Please let me begin in mentioning that I'm married to a wonderful man, love of my life, who... I don't think he would mind me saying that he follows the news almost obsessively, for whatever reason. Son of a journalist (shrug), rubbed off on him perhaps, but he sends me articles and mentions things to me throughout the day or in the evening. It's a bit much sometimes to be quite honest (lol), but I do appreciate that I'm married to someone who I find I can talk to about just about anything, more importantly, and he probably sees that in me too, a common interest or concern, which is likely why we tend towards these conversations about challenging issues. Having said that, there's a reason why I avoid the news (haha), and you may soon see why (lol). Anyway, Geoff showed me this story last night about a United Church minister by the name of Gretta Vosper of a greater Toronto congregation, who's well, an atheist of all things. She may be defrocked, and she may just well -fight it. Isn't that lovely, when oxymorons aren't oxymorons anymore, atheist Christian equals church minister, apparently, and from all appearances, she doesn't see the contradiction. It gets me thinking, as a part time seminary student and as a long term lay person, as a Christian, how can it not?
There seems to be a buzz in the air these days, isn't there? A buzz that goes something like this, please correct me if I'm wrong. Christianity's passe, secularism is in. We know so much more than Peter and the boys did way back when. It's all a myth and well, we didn't die for that "myth" as they did, but we know much more than the people who were actually there and we believe in progress now. Progress, you see, is based on science and progressive stuff, you know, stuff that progresses -on a blind. Material. Process. It's progressing, yes, it's just oozing right along. Did I mention that already? Oh, and we're progressing with it, naturally, not quite sure where that blind material stuff is taking us or what human beings amount to when all that is -is binding material -but hey, we're progressing and progress is good, whatever the good is -on a blind...material...you get the idea.
Please forgive my sarcasm, but a lot of thoughts have gone through my mind since reading this article. So much so that it's hard to know where to start really (sigh), but aside from wondering how this person ever found their way into ministry in the first place (I can't help but wonder), or where she received her training (lol)...or what she preaches on or why she preaches at all on a blind. Material. Process... Regardless, it seems obvious to me that this is just another step along the way of humanism becoming more formally instituted as a religion. I know that there are a lot of people who would disagree with that assessment as atheists tend, in my experience, to try to declassify themselves out of any criticism. But when you can't question something -it's becomes an institution...and when something is formally set apart in such a way as to be ritualized and most highly esteemed and deemed worthy of worship, it's a religious institution, like it or not. The unfortunate realization seems to me to be, that some once mainstream Christian churches seem to be along for the ride, in losing their spiritual heritage as secularism finds its way into the church.
If I may, I'd like to remind anyone who will listen that atheist Christian is a contradiction in terms. Christian implies follower of Christ, and Jesus didn't claim to be a myth -or a humanist. :) Myth implies fiction or revision -and is almost to be expected, when you stop to think about the many revisions that Jesus has undergone historically. Gnosticism made Jesus into a Greek philosopher. Islam made Jesus a prophet of Islam and supporter of the Quran and the Arab empire. Western rationalism and now modern humanism and unfortunately some of our modern western churches seem to be well on their way to making Jesus into a mere human teacher and humanitarian, etc. What I try to do is to get people to go back and to read the earliest sources that we have about Jesus and to ask ourselves, which Jesus is consistent with the Jesus of history, or does the Jesus we have made, look more like the culture that surrounds us? That's the question, isn't it?
Myths tend to develop over time, unlike orthodox Christianity which has always held to the earliest sources which are firmly rooted in first century eye-witness testimony of people who knew Jesus or who interviewed people who did. Stop to think about this please, how do the claims of this atheist minister, that Jesus is a myth, make sense of the historical crucifixion and empty tomb of Jesus (two events which are regarded by the majority of critical scholars in the field as historical fact)? After all, I would hardly think that claiming to be a myth would get anyone executed let alone get you followers after your execution. All the evidence points to Jesus being a real person who made blasphemous (if not true) claims within a first century Jewish context. So much so that even his earliest followers as Jews themselves, had to be convinced of his claims. First century Jews didn't believe in a bodily resurrection until the end of time, so how does this Christian leader explain the rise of the Christian church from within first century Judaism? What happened that could possibly explain how a group of devout Jews would risk their lives to proclaim a message that if it wasn't true, it would mean the loss of everything they knew, their community, their families, material possessions, even their own salvation?
To answer the minister's expressed concern about Christianity's exclusive truth claims, yes, Christianity makes exclusive truth claims, as does humanism, as demonstrated in this secular minded minister ending the recitation of the Lord's prayer in her church. The answer to her concern, I think, is not in pretending that some views are exclusive and some aren't because the reality is that all truth claims are exclusive. The answer as a society is in respecting each other's right to disagree. And that's my starting point here, rights, respecting the other person's right to disagree with me. My humble suggestion, having said that, is that the minister start her own meeting place, the church of the communing humanist, if you will, and I won't go there, but she can, and her followers can. It's a free country, after all. My wish would be that it wouldn't be called a church at all, of course, because Jesus wasn't secular. Jesus was Jewish and started a movement commanding his disciples to go into all the world and to baptize his followers in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Does that sound like secularism? If so, I beg to differ. The historical Jesus made extraordinary claims that he then willingly gave his life for. With this fact in mind, if we respect Jesus at all, even as a human being, will we not address his claims? With this said, I'm not a United church member and whatever the United church decides is ultimately up to them -but can I tell you what I see? I see a secular culture that is so desperately dependent on Judeo-Christian biblical concepts that intellectually ground it's humanistic ideals -but do we ever get a footnote?
We're not going anywhere folks, on a blind material process. We're not special as human beings -or should I say, as highly evolved organisms on a pale blue dot in an endless expanse of space and time, in a vast universe that is slowly running down... In the grand scheme of things it's not going to matter whether we paid our taxes or helped little old ladies with their groceries or adopted stray dogs. No matter the offence to the humanist ideal, that which we don't want to see deflated, that we are not morally improving as a species because we have a more advanced can-opener and everything is not getting better all the time. What survives and reproduces is simply what is -by whatever means, while we are and remain, DNA machines. Luck, not love, has everything to do with our propogation, in the words of Richard Dawkins, the universe we observe amounts to "blind pitiless indifference." Do you see it? Can we separate the New Atheist myth from the New Atheist reality? The universe does not care about you and me....and the faith statements of a humanist preacher don't change a thing...on a material world that is only acting and reacting and thinks not and cares not and hopes not and forgives not.
I can do cynical too, can you tell? There's a reason for that. I've been there. I understood a long time ago as a very broken young adult who barely believed in anything, except God, that unless there is something more in this, we're kidding ourselves to think life matters. But something tells me that nihilism is not what this well-meaning United Church minister is going to be preaching about this Sunday. Something tells me that she will be reaching for something far greater with an evangelical fervour, a glimpse of utopia in her eyes. Whether or not she can verify her assumptions scientifically, it will not matter, will it? It goes without saying, she will talk about faith. She will talk about hope, she will talk about love and compassion and mercy and forgiveness. She will talk about humanist values and community and I don't doubt for a moment that this is what she sincerely believes, while encouraging those who will listen to keep reaching alongside her. Why else would she continue doing what she does if she doesn't believe that it's all true? As a seasoned preacher and a true believer in objective if ungrounded morals, I suspect there will be an implicit criticism of those who do not share her belief in a brave new Godless world. "Imagine no religion." Can you hear it, can you hear the voices rise as they sing another round toward unending fantastical ideals? And this is what I see all the time with secular folks that I talk to, an unbridled faith in something, anything more...while they talk about other people's belief in Santa Claus.
Here's my point, it's not that the myths of our secular culture are any less subjective, or anymore scientifically verifiable; it's just that they are believed with more faith, such beautiful childlike optimism -ironically, while the rest of us are considered fools by the same culture for believing in the historical source of the same values! Can you show me a television show on prime time that questions humanism? Can you show me a media outlet that criticizes this myth of collective human "progress?" I hope to develop these thoughts further, in time, in terms of the history of humanism and how in the words of atheist writer John Gray, "pretty well all of secular thought is a repression of its roots in Judaism and Christianity." I would add to his critique: secularism depends on a historically Judeo-Christian culture while dismissing the spiritual and intellectual framework on which humanism is rooted. May I humbly suggest that if our culture and our churches for that matter, desire to find an objective starting point that stands up to intellectual scrutiny with consistency, the Gospel can be found online and in many a hotel room, if not in the hands of the leadership of the United Church. When belief in nothing becomes belief in something because belief in something is required....The Gospel is still an option, dear friends, for a culture that is desperate to believe in something and a hurting fractured world that needs much more than belief in nothing to sustain it.
Thanks for listening, with prayer and petition for a broken western church that needs renewal. God bless. :) I'll close with the words of the Apostle Paul to the Corinthians, "but we preach Christ crucified..."
Quote: "Pretty well all of secular thought is an unknowing repression of its origins in Judaism and Christianity." John Gray (atheist author and academic).