Thursday, July 1, 2010
"A Different Christianity"
There has been a lot in Sidney’s blogs recently to do with Hellfire and Damnation, the End-of-the-World and so on. All these things are essential features of the fundamentalist Christian view of the world, and they feature too in the beliefs and traditions of the Catholic Church.
However, it would be a mistake to assume that Hellfire and Damnation etc are an essential part of Christian theology. The story is more complicated than that. To begin with, one should consider the nature of theology.
People often confuse ‘theology’ with ‘dogma’. ‘Theology’ is a kind of ongoing debate about the major issues of religion. Christian theology – like the theology of other religions – embraces a huge range of views and hypotheses.
Fashions in theology change over time and are partly controlled by political edicts issued by the Church hierarchy. These political edicts are known as ‘dogma’. ‘Dogma’ is quite distinct from theology.
‘Dogma’ is the collection of pronouncements made by the Church in favour of one or another side in the ongoing theological debate. ‘Dogma’ is essentially a collection of policy statements issued by the management of the Church. ‘Theology’ is to do with thinking about God. ‘Dogma’ is to do with controlling or limiting thought by either legitimizing it or declaring it to be heretical.
The current view of the world presented by Christianity puts sin, guilt, and damnation at the forefront of the picture. In the Christian view of things mankind was initially created in a state of bliss – in the Garden of Eden – and in consequence of sin was relegated to a world of pain, suffering, and death. At this stage the Son of God (Xristos, alias the Logos) intervened and offered Himself as a blood sacrifice to redeem mankind. He chose to be incarnated as a human being.
Because of the profound corruption of human nature he was rejected, tortured and crucified, and He thereby fulfilled the conditions of the ‘blood sacrifice’ required for the redemption of the human race. This is grim stuff.
How might it have been different?
Very few theologians have addressed this question over the Christian centuries. An exception was the medieval theologian Duns Scotus. Scotus was famed in his time for the subtlety and penetration of his thinking. But Scotus went out of fashion shortly after his death and the theology of the Church has subsequently been dominated by the writings of Aquinas.
Later generations found Duns Scotus too subtle altogether, and they decided that the problem was with him rather than with them. The ‘subtle doctor’, as he was known in his own lifetime, later came to be known as ‘the Dunce’ (Yes – the modern word ‘dunce’ is actually a corruption of his name!).
Duns Scotus put forward the startling view that the Fall and subsequent Redemption of mankind were side issues. They were simply the result of a historical accident that had derailed the Divine Plan.
It had always been God’s intention for His Son to take on human nature and to incarnate in the physical world and in a human body: His incarnation was planned as the final glorious stage of Creation. He (the Xristos, the Logos) would incarnate in a perfect world where he would be recognised and welcomed. And he would subsequently lead the rest of Creation in a kind of triumphant procession back to God. No Fall, no Sacrificial Blood, no Crucifixion, no Hell and no Damnation.
I suspect that Duns Scotus’ more positive view of cosmic history would take the fun out of religion for a lot of Christians.
One disturbing implication of Scotus’ ‘Primacy of the Incarnation’ as he called it, is that the physical world – including the human physical body – is by nature good. Another implication (connected to it by a chain or arguments too abstruse for me to summarize here) is that the individual is also by nature good: that the creation of individuals with a will of their own was, in fact, the aim of Creation, and that the free will of the individual is by implication in harmony with the will of God.
This leaves no one to hate, burn, save, send to hell, or feel morally superior to.
Duns Scotus’ view of cosmic history is more than a mere theological hypothesis. I would contend that it represents the theological consensus of the various ‘Xristian’ sects as formulated at the Council of Nicaea in 325AD. The Nicene creed, which was issued by the Council, is generally taken as the foundation stone of Christian theology.
It makes no mention of an historical Jesus of Nazareth, no mention of Mary, no mention of a Virgin Birth, and no mention of crucifixion or even of the Xristos dying. Nor does it have anything to say about the Fall of Mankind, sin, redemption, or hell and damnation.
So the question is: where did all these other grim and implausible ingredients come from?
(See link to Sion's pages "Another Way of Being" on right.)