Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don't like christianity   by Roger Wolsey

published January, 11 2011

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Chapter 5

Humans, Sin & Morality

          Why must he be like that and chase cats? Perhaps it's just the dog in him. 

Atomic Dog, George Clinton & P-Funk

Some people blame a woman, but he knows it's his own fault.  Margaritaville,
Jimmy Buffet


Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.”

H.G. Wells


For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.  Paul, Romans 7:19


I mentioned earlier about a conversation that I had during my college years with my friend Peter.  In that discussion, it dawned on me that the reason we chose different political allegiances was due to our differing understandings of God and theology.  A key component of any systematic theology is anthropology - how one views and understands humanity.  Over the ages, perceptions of the human condition have shaped political, ethical, and religious doctrines and the cultural manifestations of those beliefs.  The great Chinese scholar Confucius[1] had a largely neutral view of humanity positing that people were capable of being either superior or inferior.  However, two major students of Confucianism came to diverging notions about humanity.  Mencius (Meng Ke) believed in the innate goodness of all people whereas Hsun-Tzu thought that people were essentially evil.  As a result, depending upon the direction of the prevailing political winds, and who was in charge at any given time, the leadership of China has been more or less legalistic and oppressive  - or creative and free - depending upon which of those two schools of thought the reigning political powers subscribed to.

There are similar diverging understandings of humanity within Christianity.  We touched on this earlier in our treatment of Arminianism and Calvinism.  According to conservative Christianity, humans are fallen, wretched, and utterly depraved.  It bases this notion upon a literal understanding of the “fall” story in the book of Genesis.  If Adam and Eve (mostly they blame Eve) hadn’t eaten that fruit from the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden, then humanity wouldn’t know suffering, death,[2] or even work.  But since they did, we were booted out of Eden.  We know suffering, death, and have to work to provide for ourselves.  Women now have pain in childbirth, and we’re supposedly in a perpetual state of war with snakes (Genesis 3:14-19). 

To be fair, conservative Christianity also bases this understanding not merely on the creation myth in Genesis.  They also ground it in the actual experience of humans being at their worst.  Indeed, this was the basis of Karl Barth’s dialectical “Neo-Orthodox” theology.  He taught theology in Switzerland and Germany during World Wars I and II and he saw that the liberal Social Gospel (the theology that was in vogue prior to WWI) held an overly high esteem and regard for humankind which failed to recognize how monstrous and evil we can be toward one another.

If one holds that humans are essentially evil and wreteched, then it would make sense for society to have many harshly enforced laws that proscribe how we should interact with each other.  Such a view also implies that our justice system should be retributive – as restorative justice wouldn’t make sense if people have no hope of changing their ways.  Dictatorial "strongman" forms of governance would be natural and logical given that premise.[3]  Another natural result would be requiring citizens to be submissive, blindly loyal, law-abiding citizens.  The masses should be kept in line via the stick (punishment) instead of the carrot (reward).  If humans are utterly wretched, they don’t have the capacity to be motivated by positive reinforcement.[4] 

According to this logic, since humans don’t really have the ability to pursue the common good of their fellow man, then efforts to improve society are to be considered in vain.  The ethical focus instead becomes trained on the personal.  This has meant condemning personal laziness and sloth.  For some reason[5] conservative Christianity has largely reduced sin to what happens in people’s bedrooms: whom they should love and how and when they should love them as well as sex and abortion.  It was recently reported that 91% of non-churchgoers ages 16-29 describe Christianity as being “anti-homosexual”.  80% of churchgoers ages 16-29 agreed.[6]  Progressive Christians ask, “Is that really what Jesus had in mind?”........

....... I close this chapter by offering a unique sort of “beatnik sermon” that I wrote back in 1995 during my years in seminary.  I delivered it as part of a chapel worship service at the Iliff School of Theology.  I think it captures the understanding of sin that we’ve been exploring.  You might want to snap your fingers and make soft, high-hat cymbal sounds as you read this: “t-ttsss tt, t-ttsss tt, t-ttsss tt, t-ttsss tt, t-ttsss tt ...”

Groovin’ With God

 Our Creator God does indeed create.  Mercy and how! 

But She is not the only one who makes the decisions about what will be created.

If that were the case, blind obedience... would be our only mission

we would merely be puppets who could only do things when    God    pulls our strings.

      Dig this.  As children of God who've been called to groove, let's groove on the metaphor of "Jazz Music."    In jazz there is an imperative for listening to, and respecting the composer and director.  However, for truly beautiful and creative music to flow, there must be room for the musicians to play  off the score.

     We need,        to improvise.

       Now God is the composer and lead musician of all creation.

He sets the beat and the main melody lines, and we humans, well we're asked to apply our gifts and graces and to playfully experiment and create variations on the themes.

      Check it out!  When we open-up and listen...  

     we can hear some cool and kickin' riff floating in from above...

     "Dom diba dooba, dom diba dooba.."

 We can groove on that wave for a while....

     Dom diba dooba, dom diba dooba!

- then, one of us gets an idea of her own, 

doobie doobie dooba, doobie doobie dooba...

  she tries it out and adds a little bit of this... zoobie dee dom, zoobie dee dom, ... and brings in some of that.. zip zip zoi, zip zip zoi...

  and before too long, something new has been created

something that can only come from the dynamic synergy  

      of God

            and God's People,        

                                                              jamming       together!

   However, we need to carefully listen to, and work with, God and each other   otherwise....   all we have...  is noise.

     The fool notion that "there are no wrong notes in jazz" is musically - false.

 We can monopolize the act and not allow God or the others their turns to play..

    ..we can play out of tune or in the wrong chords....  

     we might play too weakly  when it's our turn to solo..

 or try to "hide-out" by meekly playing behind the others...

    or we might play in an inappropriate style, straight - when it should be swung,

    Dixie, when its supposed to be Cool...  Be-bop, when it oughta be Smooth,..

and so on, and so on, etcetera, etcetera...    Man!

None-the-less, God desires this creativity on our parts - you dig?

And She risks the sour notes.   She always attempts to make beautiful whatever we come up with.  

Humph...  Sometimes, well, sometimes He has to work harder than others!   But no matter what, God is inviting us to make beautiful music together. 

It's up to us. 

Are we willing to open up our ears?, 

  To release the energies of our minds?,  

     To let loose the passion in our 

          hearts, souls and bodies?!

Now, Listen Up you Cats!

  Let's let God know that we've  

     tuned our horns,  freed our souls,

             and that we're ready

               to groove    with the Lord!     Amen!?

[1]  (K'ung-fu-tzu, Confucius is a latinization of that name in the same way that Jesus is a latinization of Yeshua)


[2] the “wages of sin” being death (something Paul wrote in Romans 6:23)

[3] This is ironic considering that Barth’s theology was based upon his experience of the extremes of German fascism.

[4] An exception to this is seen in the political liberals who feel that certain humans (capitalists) are incapable of self-regulation.  For instance, the corruption of the CEOs of the banking, mortgage, and investment industries in 2007-9.  Political liberals are advocates of regulated markets; specifically, they advocate the stick when it comes to this segment of the population.  Philosophical consistency is not a human strong-suit – but progressives at least are willing to admit this.

[5] (Subconscious infection by the body-hating and sex-avoiding Gnostics and being overly influenced by the Victorian era, I’d guess)


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