Literarily speaking

I was thinking tonight – while sitting in a Christmas Eve service in Dalby – that I don’t understand why the liberals or “progressives” are so keen to see the narratives of the birth of Jesus as “metaphors” or hyperbole. Not because that’s what the church in Dalby did – the Christmas story was presented in all its glory.

The story of an unlikely conception, occurring in such a way that the baby arrived in a city that did not have room to receive the incoming “king”, who was pursued ruthlessly by a rival king, and heralded by angels is a story laden with significant metaphors and literary devices – I just don’t know why the presence of metaphors makes the truth of the story any less likely.

It seems the liberal and progressive arm of Christianity isn’t prepared to cut God any slack to act in a creative way. Why shouldn’t we expect God to use metaphors, similes and miracles? Jesus spent a fair bit of time teaching in parables. I just don’t get the mindset that says that God firstly must act in a way consistent with our scientific observations and secondly limits him to acting and communicating in a mundane and boring manner. If Jesus was just an ordinary baby born in an ordinary way there’d be nothing to celebrate about his arrival.

And I still can’t get my head around what you have left if you toss out all the supernatural bits of God. If you don’t believe that God could cause a virgin to conceive or the dead to be raised then what’s the point?

Merry Christmas.

The slippery slope of liberalism

In the grand scheme of “who annoys Nathan most” there’s a battle between the rabid anti-theists and the waffling liberals.

They seem unlikely bedfellows. But liberals like Spong and his ilk, and atheists like Dawkins, work off each other in a symbiotic way – both pulling people away from Christianity like a fat frog pulls moths away from a lamp.

Today I read a post where an atheist asked what religious believer fellow atheists would mourn in death – and many admitted an admiration for Spong – some even claimed that it was reading Spong that lead to their atheism.

I’ll be sad when John Shelby Spong passes away. It was by reading his writings that I started to shed my fundamentalist views, and if it were not for him, I would not be the happy atheist I am today.

Then I read this article on the Sydney Morning Herald about how significant Jesus is to history. The author, a politician, couldn’t quite decide what his response to this historical Jesus should be…

From whatever perspective we come, thinking people ought to be able to agree, the birth of Jesus was a good day for mankind. I suspect I may never quite shake the childlike hunch that there is some uniquely divine imprint on the central individual of the human story. Happy Birthday, Jesus.

But the rabid commenters on the article were quick to point out what his response should be.

I don’t believe the arguement that without religion we would not have morals, if we followed the morals of the Church we would be burning alternative medecine practitioners (aka witches) and would say goodbye multicultural Australia. Sorry Christmas day is a sad day for humanity it made hatred justifiable.

The anti-slavery movement was founded in Enlightenment principles — all men are equal, and all that — principles that the Christian churches fought every step of the way, until at the very last the unquestionably correct fight was joined by some fringe (at the time) Protestants.

It’s funny how we all read history differently and often with the prejudice that comes with our philosophical views.

Once you get to the point of liberalism – of distrusting and second guessing the only account we have of God communicating to the world, or of reinterpreting history through a postmodern lens, you may as well pack the whole thing in. Which is why this “shocking” billboard campaign from a Liberal Anglican church in New Zealand doesn’t actually shock me at all… it saddens me.

It creates a dichotomy between “progressive” Christianity and “fundamentalist” Christianity. What it actually means is people who reject the Bible and read it through the lens of culture and people who believe the Bible and interpret culture through it. When did they think the Bible was culturally relevant? Was the culture of Corinth – where a man was permissibly sleeping with his step mum – really that much different to our sex charged culture today? Did people really only discover sexual freedom in the 1960s?

Here are some quotes.

Fundamentalism believes that Christianity is essentially about individual salvation and admission to an after-life off the planet. What one believes rather than how one behaves is paramount. This planet is merely a testing ground.

Progressive Christianity however emphasizes behaviour above belief. How one treats ones neighbours, enemies, and planet is the essence of faith. The celebration of the birth of Jesus is a celebration of God in every birth and every person.

For fundamentalist Christians the incarnation is about the miraculous arrival of a baby soon to die and by his blood save us. For progressive Christians the incarnation is about the miracle of this planet earth and all life that exists here.

It came with a pretty bizarre string of comments where people clearly struggle to articulate a cohesive logical view on the incarnation from a “progressive” standpoint.

This one is from a commenter named Matthew who shared a series of statements he no doubt believes are quite profound.

“If Jesus is the product of divine insemination (in whatever format) and not the seed of Joseph, then he is not human, his crucifixion means nothing because he has no connections to humanity, it’s just God killing himself to prove he can.

If however (as must be true) Jesus is an enlightened being birthed from the union of a man and a woman, then his life and his death can be seen as a statement of the possibilities of humanity, not some freak show that simply excites Mel Gibson fans.”

I’d counter this claim with the notion that if Jesus isn’t part divine then all aspects of his divinity are lost and the whole thing falls down. If he’s just human then there’s nothing that “connects” him to God. And why does Jesus require a human father in order to be human? Why isn’t a human mother sufficient? There are so many problems with the logic of the supernatural when people try to translate it into a rational framework.

If it “must be true” that God can’t intervene in the womb of a person then what’s the point of having a God to begin with? What’s the point in believing in a God who didn’t become flesh?

At that point it’s far more honest to be an atheist and join some sort of community group like Rotary where you actually do good things and don’t cause trouble for the true believers – though one suspects Spong isn’t actually too disappointed by the fact that his teachings lead to atheism.

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