Sunday, July 23, 2006

The Original Letter

Hello, Friends,

Having survived my summer bicycle trip, I've been contemplating my next exercise in endurance. It’s going to be another one of those things I have always wanted to do someday. But, instead of the roads of Western Oregon, this time I'm taking on the great sacred text of European civilization. That's right: over the next year or so, I’m gonna read the Bible.

In order to keep myself focused, reflective, and moving forward, I am going to blog this experience. I’m certainly not promising to have any great and riveting insights or anything like that. But, if you are interested in this sort of thing, I'm inviting you, my brilliant, insightful, and (one hopes) patient friends, to take part if you would like -- to read, to comment, and to tell me when I'm full of crap.

I am particularly interested in a few specific questions:

1. Is God a Republican? That's certainly the impression one gets from many of his most vocal advocates. Are they right? This seems important.
2. Is God good? If you're shocked to read the question, I'm awfully shocked to be writing it. But I have vague notions that there's a ton of smiting in the Bible. And, as a rule, I'm strongly anti-smiting. How does that kind of thing get resolved?
3. An afterlife? Really? This whole "hell" thing, in particular, seems like a real stretch to me. Let's take a look.
4. What are God’s family values? Does God really, as the Rev. Fred Phelps used to tell us in Kansas, "hate fags"? Is monogamous heterosexual marriage really the only way to fly? Inquiring minds want to know.

I suppose these are all really facets of a simpler question: Am I a Christian? I've been fairly content with my stock answer for while now -- "I'm one part Quaker, two parts gardener" -- but that is pretty flip, and holds questions like the ones above rather at arm’s length. I'm ready to put them under the microscope, and engage with some sacred text.

Care to join me? This subject matter isn't for everyone, and obviously neither is reading my personal prose stylings/rantings. But if you are interested in participating in the experience, or in just following along, here's the URL:

http://michaelreadsthebible.blogspot.com/

Michael

9 comments:

Karin said...

Ah, no need to read the Bible. I have all the answers. Just ask me.

But if you insist on finding your own answers, well, then, knock yourself out. (Just be sure to wake back up.)

It oughtta be an interesting journey.

chuckdaddy2000 said...

Could it be possible that the Old Testament God was (or is?) Republican, but the New Testament God is a Democrat? I seem to remember Yahweh being a bit of a Rumsfeld type (was that offensive? Your ground rules are going to be very hard with this subject).

At least we can be assured that Jesus would have most definitely voted for the Green Party (fucking hippy- oops, that was definitely bad).

michael5000 said...

Since I have unwittingly put myself in the position of offensiveness referee, I guess this is as good a time as any to establish some case law.

I seem to remember Yahweh being a bit of a Rumsfeld type MRTB says: allowable. Easily. For starters, there are many who would not consider "Rumsfeld type" to be a negative in the first place. Secondly, while the idea CDMM is putting forth might be counter to other people's beliefs, it doesn't attack or belittle those people.

the word "fucking." MRTB says allowable. Just becaue we're talking about God doesn't mean we're in church. (It may be helpful to point out that my mom will not be reading this blog.)

"fucking hippie." MRTB says allowable. CDMM clearly is not directing any real malice either at Jesus or at hippies. This kind of humor is a little edgy for some people's taste, which is fine, but it is within bounds here.

Hope this helps.

M-MMMMM (is there a Roman Numeral 5000? 'cause that would be awesome.)

Karin said...

You are assuming, I see, that God is an American. Many Americans do believe this, though it may be limiting The Almighty just a tad. But that's just me. I'm not a very good American anyway, it could be argued.

And 5000 is MMMMM. Not very concise, but MM...MMM...good.

chuckdaddy2000 said...

You just have to write five vs MichaelVwithabarontop.

Karin said...

OK, MMMMMM. It's like this, see.

"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." Genesis 1:1

Now you go.

michael5000 said...

This is a bit long, but really superinteresting I thought. It was sent to me personally by a friend, from whom I then extracted permission to print it here:

------------

Some answers...


1. *Is God a Republican?*

I'm going to invoke Plato on this one. The Republic is the place ruled by philosopher kings, recall. It is the place from which artists should be banished because they create art which lies. Platonic reasoning tells us that an increasing dependence upon the image will take us further from truth. I must then conclude that modern American Republicans are furthest from God because they manifest the greatest reliance on simple word-image conjunction, a language of rebus that takes us increasingly further from actual lived experience in the world and humanity, into fear and loathing driven by unspecified abstractions.

Follow this reasoning further: in the beginning there was the word and the word was god (in the Torah anyway). God creates humanity in
his/her/its own image. Thus we are all God. And God is the word. We are God's poetry. If their funding record on the arts is any indication, Republicans hate poetry.

2. *Is God good?*

Kabbalistic thinking is that god and the word and world of god are not binary but trinary. The left hand of God is the hand of severity, the hand with which he smites us. The right hand is the hand of mercy, the hand with which he embraces us. And yet there is a third pillar between these two which is the place where we receive from God and are grounded
into the earth to give into the world. Viewed this way, we are
essentially batteries for this ionic charge moving through us. This is crucially important if the alternative view is that we are either blessed or battered by God. Kabbalistic thinking maintains that the path of life is the path of the serpent. (Not into temptation, but around--and around and around--the tree of life, moving from severity to mercy, through various stages. Our lives and our fate are not fixed.

Important here as well is the Kabbalistic notion that we are brought into the world to receive, which means to receive all things from God. The Christian notion is that we are born with original sin and spend our lives trying to make amends through amens. Kabbalistically, we must look at the concepts of mercy and severity more closely. Mercy is that which flows from us. It is our creativity, our divine spark, our
capacity to bring something into the world. Yet in order for anything to become anything, it must adopt form. Thus, severity. If each of us has divine electrical current, that's just great, but we need a cord to
connect our energy into some purpose. The cord gives form to the divine. Yet at the same time the cord limits the amount of energy that can be transferred. To give form to anything is to restrict it. Water needs a glass to contain it, yet the glass restricts the amount of water, and so on.

All of this is by long way of saying that the old testament (or Ye Olde Testament, for those burning Yankee Candles in New England) is the history of the Jews. The perception of God as having smitten one's enemies is important spin for the proliferation of a culture. When you win, you get to write the history, and the winner gets to say God picked his side.

Joseph Campbell writes that the problem with our archetypes is that we mistake the metaphor for the concept it illustrates. We take literally the story of the god without seeing what it tells us metaphorically about the arc of our own lives. I think that, in conjunction with the victory-history problem, this is part of what has happened to the concept of God. Mercy and Severity have become oversimplified into
blessing and beating (smiting) instead of the divine energy and the necessary limitation incurred by doing anything with it. I teach
creative writing, so of course I think this. My students want to wallow in the Eden of creativity, but it's my job to indoctrinate them into the grief of limitation, of finding form for their expression. Every choice made implies infinite possibilities not pursued, but limitation must be
embraced or one creates nothing.

3. *An afterlife? Really?*

If we think about a universe of matter in which nothing can be created or destroyed, then whatever energy might constitute our life force must find a place to go after we die. Nothing is ever wasted. But, protoplasmic soul-spore that you might be... you can't expect to keep your body and memory and everything and float around guiding the people
who are trying to reconcile your foundered checking account. There are many who believe we choose each life in order to learn what we need to learn, that we are each continuing individual souls on a path to enlightenment. What a boring concept. What a hardpan spiritual row to hoe. Back to Kabbalistic thinking here--if what we are here to do is to receive, then who we are is not all that important, only important is
the doing and making and pursuit of life in which we engage, which
giveth and taketh away from others such that we are all, at all times,
giving and receiving goodness and grief. We are a perpetual motion
machine, a self-sustaining system both as simple and as complex as
chemistry. (Morpheus would say we are fueling the Matrix).

4. *What are God's family values?*

I hope MHM is not the only way to fly. I'm divorced. Does God hate
me? Perhaps, in the parlance of Kansas ministry, God views me as a
failed player on Team Marriage-and-Procreation. At a recent wedding of one of our students, the minister declared to the groom, "Now Austin, you've been tagged by God as team leader on this one." To the bride he
said, "And Amanda, your job is to help the team." Or perhaps God finds it highly amusing that we've created this large tax break around
procreative (the Republicans believe God wants us to have $400 per child) heterosexual, monogamous marriage. There is a lot of male gender power socialization built into marriage which is not supported by any
biological principle. I suggest the reading of Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice for All Creation. Ample evidence to the contrary suggests that it is often better for the species and for us to keep separate the setting up of house from reproductive activity. In biology, resources equate to
passion--you got stuff and the ability to get stuff and sustain and keep stuff? You're my guy! In human-specific biology, there is a considerable dose of psychology and sociology involved in who we are and by extension, who we want. Honestly, how can anyone who has taken a single cultural anthropology class even think of a universal concept of
marriage? And when the biological demands of nature, the bodies we're
in conjoin with the ways our psychological processes have been formed by nurture, well, it's a crap shoot isn't it? The real miracle is that anyone finds anyone to spend any time with himself at all. E-Harmony won't fix that.

Am I a Christian?

Are you a Christian? I have no idea. I know with utter certainty that I am not. I do not wish to be associated with Christianity, and I believe it takes courage, perhaps the most requisite courage of our generation, to claim this without hedging. I could say, "I was born Catholic but raised Methodist," trying to let the querant know that I'm not from a completely different ideological planet. But why should I? A better answer might be a question: What is it about yourself that you are trying to define when you say that?

Jessica said...

I am way behind the 8 ball here - but I would just like to say that I am truly enjoying your style of writing! You are quite comical, and being someone who has been a Christian for many years, and who knows the Bible very well - it is very refreshing to read the Bible with you in this light and easy fashion! I'm trying to catch up with where you are currently - and I hope you have enjoyed your journey through the Bible thus far!

Michael5000 said...

Hi Jessica, I'm delighted that you're interested in my project. If you want to comment or bring another perspective on any past post, I'd welcome it as an opportunity to revisit the parts I've already been through on the long march!