I had an interesting discussion about the messianic concept in Judaism and Christianity. It was interesting partly because I was talking to a Jew who was fairly knowledgeable about Judaism. I gained some new understandings or maybe just some new info.
The problem was that he was a convert from Christianity and converts are often a bit on the zealous side (btw this can include converts to atheism as well). He seemed fairly open-minded, but there was this aspect of him that was as annoying as a Christian Fundamentalist… defensive and righteous, a very bad combination especially when you throw in a slight victim complex. He quite likely used to be a Christian Fundamentalist and seems to have this distorted view of what all Christianity is. I’m sorry he had such a bad experience with Christianity, but I have no desire to help him work through his issues.
This guy seems to think of himself as a representative of Judaism… which, I must say, is unfortunate for Judaism. The Jews should be more careful about who they convert.
The discussion mostly went well, but after a while it felt like walking across a minefield as he was so touchy about so many things. He had a lot of emotional baggage. The issue for me isn’t the emotional baggage. Rather, the issue is that a person like him who is always projecting their problems onto others. I have a lot of psychological problems of my own, but I try my best and (hopefully) am somewhat succesful at separating my problems from my interactions.
Anyways, that discussion put the nail in the coffin for that particular forum. I give up on trying to have intelligent discussions with people in online forums. Why are there so many mentally disturbed people online? I’ll save that question for another day.
Well… water under the bridge. All of that isn’t what I wanted to talk about, not exactly at least. The topic of this blog post is religion. I’m attracted to religion and I enjoy discussing it, but religion can be such a depressing subject. When I study some aspects of religious history, I start thinking that religion itself can even be the problem. Religion can inspire people to do great and wonderful things, but it also can justify the psychotic (if not homicidal) delusions of various kinds of nutjobs. The history of Christianity can particularly depress me. The first thousand years of Christianity was almost and endless spree of destruction.
And then there are people who leave Christianity because of its history of bigotry and hatred only to join another religion that isn’t any better. To pick a random example (wink wink), Judaism is in some ways worse than Christianity. At least, Christians were going against their own scripture when persecuting and killing various peoples. The Jewish history as recorded in their scriptures is utterly horrific. The Jewish God even commands the Jews to commit genocide, rape, and enslavement.
Talk about depressing. And this whole Judeo-Christian tradition is the foundation of Western civilization. It about makes me want to kill myself to consider that this is my cultural heritage.
This is a major issue that religious people never consider seriously. Some religious people would respond that athiests commit horrible things as well. Yes, this is true to an extent. Humans in general have great capacity for cruelty. However, the point of religion is supposed to be to help humanity strive towards higher ideals. The evidence, unfortunately, is to the contrary.
I’m not dismissing religion. As I see it, religion is something like the scientific knowledge of the atom. Scientists can make atomic energy and scientists can make an atomic bomb. Now consider what happens if some religious nut gets hold of an atomic bomb. Forget about 9/11. The real fun has yet to start.
I should point out that that Fundamentalism as we know it is actually a modern invention. Fundamentalism is a response to modernity. For instance, the extreme forms of literalism came into existence in response to modern understanding of objective reality. In the past, people had less sense of distinction between subjective and objective realities, between myth and history. It wasn’t even that imporant for ancient people to make such distinctions. Literalism is the attempt of religion to retain its authority in the face of science and the secular academia in general.
So, Fundamentalism isn’t fundamental, ie., isn’t original to religion. However, the awareness of literalism as opposed to allegorical thinking did start to develop thousands of years ago. This was a distinction that Greek philosophers were starting to consider. Even though literalism didn’t clearly and fully manifest until modernity, its been there from the beginning of religions such as Christianity and Islam.
For example, some early Christians were aware of and even open to the allegorical interpretation of scripture. Christianity, in fact, developed out of the milieu that included a growing trend of allegorical thinking. But this was still a very new way of thinking for the human species. The new mentality arose all of a sudden during the Axial Age; and then, within the centuries after Christianity began, the new mentality was disappearing again. The former Roman Empire was lost in the Dark Ages.
It took Europe another thousand years or so to remember these ancient ideas. The re-introduction of Greek thought (strangely enough, from Islamic culture) helped to jumpstart the Renaissance, but to balance out the Renaissance was the Reformation. The Reformation set the groundwork for modern Fundamentalism.
Okay, all of that is basic enough. Here we all are in the wake of modernity. The Fundamentalists are on the defense and they become ever more dangerous as they become cornered into their own dogmatic righteousness. In the US, we shouldn’t worry about the Islamic Fundamentalists from the Middle East. We should be worrying about our homegrown Christian Fundamentalists. Right now, our Fundamentalists are fat and contented by American wealth and power. But throw in enough dissatisfaction (such as if this economic downturn lasts long enough), and we’ll start to see a new breed of American Fundamentalists.
The Fundamentalists, in the past, at least had control of the Biblical studies in academia. However, they’re losing their grip and their apologetics is becoming obvious for what it is. A battle is going on right now even though many people are unaware of it and of it’s greater significance. The battle is occurring on multiple fronts. The Fundamentalists have three mortal enemies.
Christian theologians/apologists essentially created the Atheist movement (by creating the term) as a way of containing secularism. They defined the terms of battle and many Atheists have been happy to play their pre-designed part. This battle gets a lot of public attention, but its just a front for a more complex battle.
Agnostics are even more dangerous to the Fundamentalists. Agnostics refuse to play by the rules that the apologists are familiar with. Many Agnostics are even Christian. Fundamentalists simply don’t understand this opponent even if they happen to notice him. Agnosticism is more like a cancer than an enemy that can be fought. The Agnostics are the Aikido masters. And, to mix in another metaphor, they fly below the radar… which is to say they don’t get much publicity. Being an Agnostic just isn’t sexy. To think of it another way, Agnostics are like Martin Luther King Jr during the race riots. King once said that the only reason white people listened to him was because there was an angry young black man behind him with a molotov cocktail. In this manner, the Agnostic slips in and seems quite moderate in comparison to the raving Atheists.
Related to the Agnostics, is a new faction of Christians. The Agnostics have been an agitating force within Christianity. Many believers have felt a need to resolve this unsettling sense that something isn’t quite right within Christianity. The seeds of doubt have were planted and a call of a renewal of faith has been sent out: Spong, Harpur, etc. Christianity is not only being forced to take academia seriously, but also other religions as well. It’s becoming increasingly difficult for Christians to live in isolation from the larger world.
So, the first two groups (Atheists and Agnostics) are the one-two punch, and the latter group (the new Christians) are the knock out. Christianity won’t be left behind in the cultural transformation going on… even though that is what many Atheists would like. What is happening is that Christianity (along with all the other religions) is being dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century.
This is what I’m actually interested in. There is change in the air, but its hard to know what exactly it is or where it’s heading. Starting with the Theosophists, there has been a lineage of proponents of allegorical thinking: Theosophists to Jung to Campbell to the present Mythicists (G.A. Wells, D.M. Murdock, Tom Harpur, Freke and Gandy). What recently brought this to the greater public attention is the movie Zeitgeist (the first part to be specific). Many great thinkers had pointed out these mythical parallels to Christianity long before, but nobody was listening. Zeitgeist had the advantage of being able to bypass the media censors and went straight to the internet where it went, as they say, viral.
The Fundamnetalists thought they had forced the mythicist movement permanently underground back in the 1800s. The Apologists gained control of Biblical studies (especially in the US) and held that control for the last hundred years or so. The internet has turned out to be the Apologists undoing despite their heavy use of it in their proseletyzing. The Tektonics website is no match for the Mythicists.
Part of the reason is that mythology is now cool. Movies such as Star Wars and the Matrix have given a foothold for comparative mythology to break into mainstream culture. The imagination of Western Culture has been awoken. Even Apologists have been forced to use these movies to reach a younger generation, but in doing so they’ve created a foothold for comparative mythology to enter Christianity. They can’t win for losing because they chose the wrong battle in the first place.
Movies have had this power because special effects have improved vastly in recent decades (and, of course, technology will continue to improve). As a culture, we can create (in fiction) anything we can imagine. This is more profound than many people realize. And the internet has brought to the masses this ability to imaginatively create. The collective imagination has been democratized. Our society isn’t prepared for what will be the results of this. A generation is being raised with all of this and they’re going to utterly transform society. The generation growing up right now is bigger than the Baby Boomers. The Boomers are retiring, and (because Gen X is a small generation) the Millennials will flood the job market.
I have no idea what this will mean, but it’s going to big. To put it into the terms of Strauss and Howe, we are in the Fourth Turning.