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Friday, June 19, 2009

The Jesus Problem

What role does the historical Jesus play in our faith today? I have consisted resisted images of Jesus predicting an end to the world because Jesus of the Gospels does not. Of that I am quite confident, although I've changed my mind about many thing for which I was once confident.

However, it seems Paul's letters are a much more reliable source of what the historical Jesus thought, and Paul thought the world was coming to an end--e.g., no reason to get married because it is happening so soon. Perhaps the Gospels served as a rebuttal to Paul--who never saw Jesus in the flesh--but my understanding is that this is not the case.

Jesus wrote nothing down and neither did any of his closest followers. That is an undeniable fact. There is a phrase "the post Easter Jesus" that is usually employed by folks who claim that not just the ministry of Jesus, but the Spirit of Jesus continued on past his death. The problem with this understanding for me is differentiating between (1) the holy spirit (2) post Easter Jesus and (3) the eminent God with us. Sort of a Trinity without a Distinction.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Who First Thought Progress Was Possible?

The idea of progress—belief that the conditions of life can improve, and that history can in this sense get somewhere—originated in the West. Insofar as other peoples have come to this notion, they have acquired it from the West.

Striking as this fact is, it seems explicable. If we confine ourselves to the two other enduring civilizations—South Asian, centering in India, and East Asian, centering in China and its cultural offshoots—we find that there presiding outlooks were forged by people who were in power; in India these were the brahmins, and in China the literati. By contrast, the West’s outlook was decisively shaped in this matter by the Jews, who for most of their formative period were underdogs. Ruling classes may be satisfied with the status quo, but underdogs are not.
~Huston Smith.

This is really marvelous. First, I like it because it affirms and explains my faith that Western religion is about justice for the down trodden. (Smith writes a little later, perhaps gilding the lily a bit, "The prophetic protest against social injustice is universally conceded to be without close parallel in the ancient world.) Second, I love this because it provides an explanation for why Eastern religions are so much more focused on the internal self.

I do cringe a little from overlooking the religions that originated in--you know--the other four populated continents. That notwithstanding, this really struck me as an eye-opening passage.