Thursday, February 5, 2009
Once you've got the taste Oh just a little taste of freedom You can't go back To living in your head --The Lovehammers, "Say You're Sorry" I rarely doodle. Okay, I take that back. I doodle a lot. But it's usually random loops and squiggles and things to move my pen and pass the time. I was sitting in class once. This was out at Western. It was either Judaism or Modern Religious Thought. Probably the latter. I'd been reading a lot of Joseph Campbell at the time and was suddenly taken by the nature of Jesus Christ as a reflection of Campbell's Monomyth. I started drawing on the page. In the upper left corner I drew the Tree of Life from Genesis and in the lower right I drew the Cross. These were the twin World Navels of the Christian myth. In between I attempted to cover the space between the World Navels. It wasn't sin and death that I put between them, at least as far as I can recall. I think I still have that notebook somewhere, but that somewhere is my parents' house and it's 10:45 on a Wednesday as I write these words. Still, I remember being struck not by the idea of the sacrifice of the Christ as a necessary step in the Bridge Diagram, but as the completion of a cycle of broken and rebuilt connection. I was also reading Buber's I and Thou at the time. Somehow connecting Buber, Campbell, and the Gospels in that moment taught me more about Christianity than anything I'd ever learned. And I promptly forgot pretty much everything I'd learned. Funny, that. It's weird. I was reading Paul Tillich for that class. I hated Tillich at the time and for the life of me I can't figure out why. Tillich and Campbell go together astoundingly well. As I recall, Tillich wrote of the Christ story as a broken myth. It wasn't that pieces had fallen off and it wasn't useful any longer. It's that the myth had broken through in to reality and in being able to place god in history the universe had changed. But there's a problem with broken myth. It's one that both Eldredge and Bly have to account for, Eldredge far more than the poet. The placement of Jesus as the Christ and the Christ as an actual historical figure puts god on our plane of existence. We, in effect, pin god in to a historical place, point back to that place where god was and put up a sign like those "George Washington Slept Here" plaques that hang on the walls of sufficiently old inns. We also pin ourselves in to that same place in history. It's something we see in modern American politics. The current generation has basically deified the Founding Fathers. We've mythologized them to a point where there is no reality to be found in many of the stories. We look at their sacred texts and attempt to divine our world from theirs without any real sense that Thomas Jefferson had no concept of an internet-based world, Jon Adams couldn't have conceived of the motor car, and no one from a primarily agrarian society dominated by white, landowning males could have fathomed the problems that we face in our disconnected, urban, heterocultural world. It strikes me that there may well be a reason why Judaism has done a better job of making it in to the modern world than its offshoot. The Jewish Messiah hasn't come yet. They're still looking forward to the day god steps in to history, while Christianity is looking back to the day when god apparently made the world stop. There was this sense in the Christianity that I grew up in that the conversation stopped two thousand years ago. I know this isn't true, as we've had the Catholic/Orthodox split, the Reformation, the Counter Reformation, the rise of Pentacostalism, Evangelicalism, Christian Postmodernism, and a thousand tiny and huge splits in between. It was kind of funny when I finally got around to learning about the history of Christian dialog and realized that all of those great "new" Christian Postmodern ideas that are swirling around right now with Rob Bell, Brian McLaren, and others were debated and discussed by Tillich, Hans Frei, Calvin, Luther, Augustine, Origen, and a million others between. There is, truly, nothing new under the sun. All of those endless debates leading to schism and strife, however, seem to stem from an attempt to better figure out how things were back when god touched ground and made history stop in place. Just as the United States has moved far beyond the ken of the Founding Fathers, the world has moved past the Church Fathers. We're forced to imagine that men who are long dead had a sort of supernatural ability to see the future and fathom the challenges we are facing right now and give us all the answers we need. The problem is that we can look to the past for wisdom and insight. We can look to the past as a sort of laboratory to ask what did and didn't work in times of change and crisis. But we cannot actually divine the answers we need now from what happened long ago. I see the study of history as a form of science. But it's a social science because of a simple limitation that historians always have. I describe this limitation with the phrase, "We can't re-create Napoleon in a lab." But this doesn't mean that history is, as Ford said, bunk. Like I said, we can still get a great deal of wisdom and insight from the study of history. At the very least, we can use it to tell us what didn't work in the past and try to figure out why. We can also look to history to tell us what ideas turned out to be dangerous and which ones turned out to be pretty good. Which is how I can say that Bly's hypothesis of The Sacred King and his beneficial patriarchy is dangerous. I've already spent a lot of time on the unacknowledged misogyny of the mythological manhood movement (say that three times fast), so I'll leave it at that for the moment. Instead I'll move on to the idea of god as Heavenly Daddy in Eldredge's conception as massively misguided. Jesus taught his disciples to pray using these words: "Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, they will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not in to temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen." Oddly enough, the Lord's Prayer isn't something that comes particularly naturally to me, as it wasn't really taught in the church that I grew up in. Evangelicals aren't really big on the ol' Pater Noster. It reeks of not being a personal appeal to god, which is really what everyone tried to go for. We prayed a lot in the churches I attended. It was always the pastors praying pretty much off the cuff or someone saying, "Okay, pray now," and then being quiet so everyone could pray in whatever way they wanted. "Our Father" took a back seat to "My Father." It encouraged the navel-gazing faith that I've often gone out of my way to rip apart in the times since I left that place. That "My Father" sort of prayer life also has absolutely no precedence in Christian history. The liturgical nature of Catholic, Anglican, Presbyterian, Orthodox, Lutheran, and whatever other churches that existed before the Evangelical and Pentecostal movements took hold preserve the idea of religion as a communal event. This is the sanctuary. This is the Garden. The Christian world where you come together, sing a few songs, then break off to pray on your own or listen to the pastor pray whatever is on his heart breaks the spirit of the Garden. It's not Adam and Eve walking with Elohim in the cool of the morning. It's Adam walking with god and Eve walking with god. They may physically be in the same space, but they're not in the same place. Turning "Our Father" in to "My Father" reaches its logical conclusion in Eldredge's conception of manhood as a hyper-solitary endeavor. It's just the manly man and god out in the wilderness, fighting evil. He'll concede that most stories actually have two men fighting side by side (erm, not like Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhal in Brokeback Mountain. More like Enkidu and Gilgamesh. Y'know, totally not gay. It's funny, too, since in these situations David and Jonathan tend to get pulled out as the perfect example. But it's a little tough to read some of those stories and David's reaction to Jonathan's death and completely buy that fighting was the only thing those two were doing with their swords, if you know what I mean...), but to Eldredge the journey is ultimately a solitary one. Or whatever the term would be for one plus god. Religion was never a solitary venture. Sure, there were the occasional ascetics and hermits, but they were usually the oddballs. Religion started as a societal venture designed to keep people together and moving towards a single goal. Christianity started with that flavor and retained it for most of its history. Hell, as long as you avoid the types of churches I spent time in you'll still find it all over the place. I think I discovered a much deeper truth than I realized that day I combined Christ with Campbell and Buber. If the I and Thou is limited only to me and god, then my religion has failed. If you're writing books telling people that the only relationship in the universe that matters is that singular god/self relationship, then you are completely missing the point. And if you believe that history stopped just so that god could wait two thousand years, and then develop a personal relationship with you and everyone who doesn't see that simple truth be damned, well you're pretty much an idiot. That's not loving. That's not gracious. That's just dumb.