I wanted to talk about something kinda metaphysical today. See, sometimes I get this overwhelming feeling like the human race is struggling toward a rebirth. We’ve had these Golden Ages before now–times when humanity struggled toward some new understanding and suddenly exploded into a period of huge gains in wisdom and understanding. When we moved past a little collection-batch of tribal gods to begin thinking about a transcendent god-concept, when we began to suspect that maybe there was something a bit more universal about ourselves, when we began to understand how to figure out what objective truth was with the scientific method, when we began to grant humanity to Others outside our tribes–just whenever we’ve decided to push forward, we’ve gotten a little bit closer to something sublime, something universal, something that just staggers me when I think about it.
Sometimes I feel like every one of us is just a tiny piece of the Universe waking up and seeing itself in a mirror. We’re each and every one of us a point of light in a brilliant tapestry of lights all twinkling and sparkling against the cosmic blackness. Some of us don’t know it quite yet and some of us aren’t letting that light shine, but it’s there–waiting.
Today I stretched out of bed and noticed my ankles. They’re nice ankles, if I say so myself, and they pivot and twist and do what ankles are generally supposed to do in a way that aesthetically pleased me this morning (as long as I don’t ask them to help me ice-skate–seriously, I’ve never met anybody as categorically, fundamentally, constitutionally incapable of ice skating as I am, and the folks who’ve tried to help me learn usually end up blaming my slender little ankles for it). I know I’m pretty lucky to have hit my 40s and still have nice, healthy legs; it’s the genetic lottery and due to no virtue of my own, to be honest and fair there (thanks, bio-dad). I’m also aware that this fortune might not always smile upon me and well aware that it doesn’t smile upon all people at all; our bodies are ephemeral things in so many ways.
As I looked at one and then the other of my ankles, though, I got this sudden impression that I was a bag of meat noticing its own bag-body as if for the first time ever, and suddenly got this brilliant mental slam upside the head as I wondered if this is what the Universe is like.
As above, so below, the saying goes. What separation is there really between my bare foot and the carpet beneath it? What really separates me from the shrieking children playing outside right now? Or the sun shining overhead? Or the people suffering in Syria?
Then I saw this video from a young woman who has something to say to her Christian peers:
I’ve seen it before and liked it, but I saw it in a new way today. I realized that the video’s creator, Emanuella, could have been me, many years ago. She is struggling toward an understanding in this video, a very clear one that actually has next to nothing to do with the Bible but everything to do with humanity itself and the rebirth she wants to see happen for us all.
Watch the video; it’s not long and the music is kind of nice. Do you see what I see there? She’s gotten an epiphany of how to love. She was indoctrinated just like many young Christians are with the abusive sort of redefined “love” that Christians often mistake for real love, and she practiced this kind of “love” for a long time with her biggest Jesus smile on her face. But then she got the epiphany that so many of us ex-Christians got: she realized that the way she practiced Christianity was not actually loving at all. On the heels of that sudden flash of understanding, she realized that love was more important to her than religion. So in this video, she’s trying her hardest to atone for that old way of thinking and move forward with something new. And most importantly she’s challenging her fellow Christians to join her on that journey: she is asking them to take her hand and travel with her from their older worldview to a much newer one.
In the Bible, Jesus hung suspended not only on a cross, but also between two very different worldviews: a much older tribal religion that believed in “an eye for an eye” and was perfectly okay with condemning entire races to death if need be to get their way–a religion that taught that it was a great idea to throw rocks at people till they freakin’ died for having unapproved sex in private–and a newer, altogether different idea about love and acceptance. Indeed, the earliest days of Christianity were taken up with arguing over just who the message was meant to reach–just Jews? Or pagans too? Just where they should go to spread the message–just Jerusalem and the nearby area? Or everywhere? And how much it would borrow from its Jewish roots–everything? Or almost nothing? Which worldview would Christians inhabit? Which worldview would their Jesus identify with?
Today there are two Christianities struggling for Christians’ hearts. There is the older tribal one that preaches Hell and damnation, that wants and understands only control and dominance, that condemns and judges and thumps its chest with its fists and deceives and destroys and points fingers and whines and screeches and pouts. Then there is a newer, progressive one that is trying to move past all that to emerge at last into a place of love–genuine love, not the abusive skidmark that that older version wants people to believe is really chocolate cake. Folks are beginning to realize that this older type of Christianity might have been the best humanity could do for a while, but there’s something more to be had, a more excellent way to express what is best about ourselves as a species, some better way to treat people and interact.
The Jesus of these progressive Christians does not look much like the between-worlds prophet portrayed in the Bible, and especially doesn’t look like the Jesus of the misogynistic, racist, violent, controlling-yet-pathetic god of the Christians still locked into that older, tribal religion. The religion these newer Christians are talking about doesn’t look a thing like the one I grew up in or converted to or have spoken against on this blog for the last year. It bears similarities only in name and general source material. There’s no terror in it, no Hell to fear, no judgement or wrath to cower away from, no flinching, no vengeance, no injustice, no ruthlessness, no pandering, and no violence.
What these newer Christians are doing is realizing that love is the most important thing there is–real love, not abuse relabeled as love–and they’re trying to find a language in which they can express that feeling and those aspirations and those desires.
Humanity seems like it is struggling toward a new understanding, a new way of looking outward and then back at itself, a new inclusiveness, a new form of grace. I’m not sure anybody has a word for any of it yet.
I know I don’t have a word for it yet. I don’t know what that new way or that truth is called. I’d be the first to tell you that. I’ve struggled to find a name for it that makes any kind of sense to me at the most primal level. I’m not talking about spiritualism or supernatural bullshit, either, so relax, I haven’t taken leave of my senses; whatever that truth is, it won’t contradict known facts or reality but rather will embrace and celebrate both. I don’t think that we need to resort to the unknowable and unprovable to get to where we need to be. I do not accept the idea that we absolutely need either one of those things. I can’t think of any point in history when we were well-served by retreating into ignorance like that.
I don’t personally think this most-sublime expression of humanity is called Jesus. The idea of pinning that concept onto the character of Jesus or the religion established by the New Testament doesn’t fit or make me happy or seem to work as anything but the most clumsy of kludges; as I’ve mentioned before, Christianity’s history is long, brutal, bloody, and in my opinion frequently evil. I’m not even actually that impressed with the character of Jesus as depicted in the Bible. Calling that love “Jesus” is like those folks who try to reclaim racist words or super-offensive symbols. I’m sure they mean well, the people who do that kind of thing, but I’m not sure that anybody, even the sweetest and most loving Christians, can rescue Christianity from what it has become or heal it from the sickness it suffers. I’m not even sure that old-school religion really deserves to be rescued or healed.
That said, I’m not sure it really matters what someone else calls this love as long as someone recognizes and embraces it. Emanuella calls that love “Jesus,” but I’ll bet you that she has more in common with me, a non-Christian who completely rejects Christianity, than she does with Pat Robertson or Joyce Meyer.
The world is vast, but the cosmos is vaster still. Reducing all this amazing stuff down to a little bitty tribal god from a little bitty corner of a little bitty world in a little bitty corner of the universe seems, to me, to be missing the whole point of everything. Many of us are reducing something wondrous and too vast to even wrap our heads around to a mundane and ultimately starved and bloodless mockery of love and truth–to a mere shadow on the cave-wall, so to speak. We are part of something big, and whatever that vastness is called, I am sure now that we’re going to understand some significant bit of it one day. We just have to keep plugging along and working toward the changes we want to see.
It can be really hard sometimes to be a non-Christian in a polarized and Christianist culture, a 99% in a world dominated by the 1%, and others have it even worse. But this morning I realized anew:
Friends, we’re gonna be all right.
We’re moving in the right direction. Though it is by fits and starts, though it seems sometimes like we’re stumbling two steps back for every three forward, overall we’re slowly inching forward.
Birth is never easy. Y’all don’t need me to tell you that it’s about the most painful thing any human can experience. Birthing a new person can be time-consuming and even dangerous. But birth is necessary for humanity to continue. When a pregnant person is ready to give birth, nobody and nothing is normally going to stop that baby from coming out.
That’s where we are now. I see it all very clearly sometimes–slowly building, slowly piling up, this growing tide of love that is spilling out through and around the cracks of the door those tribal old-world Christians are trying so hard to keep closed and barricaded.
Many Christians will simply stop trying to change their religion and walk away from it to find some other, better way to express this emotion and these needs. Others will stay and continue to try to fix the religion from within.
But the most powerful thing about change is its sheer inevitability.
You can’t really stop a birth.
You can only delay it.
And people are trying to delay it. We’re going to talk a little next time about one way they’re trying to delay it–a sickening, awful, horrifying way at that. But that’s all they’re going to do: delay it. Whenever something like what we’ll talk about next time gets tried, the backlash happens faster and faster; we’re losing patience very quickly with this nonsense. If someone or some worldview advises willful ignorance, violence, or lies, then we’re a lot quicker now than we’ve ever been to say that idea can’t possibly be good for us.
I think that’s what’s got these toxic Christians scared the most. Their insistence on staying true to their rigid doctrines has the ring of fear to it. I can see clearly that their leaders are all but in panic mode. And they really should be twice as panicked as they are. This is the reaction we’re seeing when they can barely dimly comprehend what’s happening around their ears–imagine if they saw the picture clearly and fully!
I feel the blush of recognition when I look at it all and remember how it was for me. I’m sympathetic to most of the folks caught in that mindset; I know that fear plays a big role in keeping a genuinely good person stuck in that old way of doing things. I was very afraid once. Change scared the pants off of me and to some extent it still kinda does. Buddhists would gladly tell folks that trying to stop change is one of the main ways people make themselves miserable; the Sufis would gladly share that the pot must be stirred. There is wisdom to be had and shared here, if some folks would only open their hands to receive it.
Every point of brightness that suddenly blazes up in every human breast helps light the way. Every part of us is joined to every other part. That’s the whole idea and maybe that’s what the “best expression” of all these different religions is trying to say in their own “blind men and the elephant” sort of ways.
And I genuinely think that humanity is entering one of those phases where we’re starting to recognize this truth.
Do you wonder, like I do, what we’ll end up calling it when we find it?
Next time, please join me for a look at how the “purity myth” is whacking Christians right in the face. There’s been pushback about it off and on for a while now, but lately I perceive a certain amount of impatience with the idea that I’ve never detected before–and we may have finally hit that watershed moment we needed to really defeat this stinking cesspit of old-time thinking once and for all. See you next time!