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Climbing Jacob's Letter -- whoa there now!

To Dear Jacob from Dear Susie: (neither of us shooting the messenger I hope.)  Your beautiful name filled with Biblical allusions running the gamut from purchase of brother Esau's birthright to synonymy with "Israel"?  Well, be advised that "Susie" Is Hebrew-originated also.  Thus, our Judeo-names, selected by our parents, place us squarely upon the same playing field or turf with one another, right?  I shall restore my words into the context within which they were written, as both of us live in a Judo-Christian America which guarantees free speech and, incidentally, welcomes all manner of beliefs and ethnicities.
 
Please note my use of  the word "presently" which was emphasized in my letter as I consulted the April 13th edition of NEWSWEEK opened upon my desk; I had just concluded perusing a scholarly, thoroughly documented and researched article by Jon Meacham, editor and self-admittedly devout Christian.  Armed with a vast body of statistics (do read the article), his clear vision, with subsequent advice, creates a picture--in the mind's eye--of dwindling church membership. He seems to wish to avert the "Post-Christian" era encroaching upon us. I did not gallop backwards through ancient history, nor even the middle ages, with either or hatchet or a cherry-picker.  I wrote of NOW--and not contentiously. 
                                                                       
Bacon or Mendel, Luther or Henry VIII, Joan of Arc or John the BaptistAlbert Einstein or Robert Oppenheimer--you name 'em-- beckon to us from the past and taught us much, and their instruction and deeds reverberate still today...as do the teachings of Jesus Christ.  Inventions, philosophies, medical discoveries, cures for illnesses, planetary explorations, etc., etc.--all are established and facilitated by those before us in this evolution of mankind.  We reach for the stars, not to dwell among them nor to permanently float upon the clouds, but to better understand our universe and ourselves and to challenge supposed truths within our limited--or limitless--world of reality. Most often, understanding and building upon the past leads to a better future, moving forward.
 
Yes, often we visit reality only as tourists.  Your sense of reality and mine may differ, and we can only hope to reach a compromise, probably neither of us changing our minds completely for we have both lived, I assume, pretty long lives full of similar and dissimilar experiences.  Our future? The children.  We owe an improved world to them, better than even we were fortunate enough to have enjoyed, by speaking face to face to exchange ideas and truths in a spirit of common-sense sharing. Those moments might happen inside or outside of a church home. Children learn by example.  We both can cite references and can thump paragraphs within the history textbooks we have been handed by those before us, but we must blend these references with our own experiences, and, most importantly' allow current thinking to infiltrate inside our circle lest we simply go round and round with the same old traditions, many of which require adjustment and refreshing.
 
Neither of us possess a handle on absolute logic; logic may result from engagement in dialogue--still not a sure thing.  No need for either of us to feel smug on that score!  Sides should not be taken nor battles fought over religious concepts.  Aspersions, cast upon other religions, seem unintelligent and dangerous and vainglorious.  You wrote of "making gods of ourselves", yet you catalog all kinds of reasons, most of them from your study of one book--the Bible, as to why you accept the God, with a capital G, created thousands of years ago by humanity, possibly resulting from fear of elements and each other.  Back to square one.  Also, happily, you speak of Christian-oriented scientists; yet you criticize scientific advancement, which holds the potential to alleviate human suffering, in your opposition to stem-cell research in a previous letter.  Let us not toss the word LOGIC about...this skill, mastered by the Greek philosopher Socrates, arose from open-ended questions and answers, deductions occurring after lengthy conversation, welcoming and including all who wished to learn.
 
I wrote not of "restrictions" (that's your word), but of exclusions, and yes, a false superiority which allows no questioning nor exploration. Those very questions would surely arrive at beautiful, helpful conclusions which would revive enthusiasm for the religious discipline you and I were trained to respect.  Jesus lived at a time not so long ago, but far enough back, that certainly He would be pleased to witness ongoing improvements and alterations maintaining beneficial pace with the world as it is now, filling Earth evermore with love and understanding and acceptance of differences among ourselves.  Every great, meaningful religion survives the questioning.  Do not be fearful of challenges.  Why are you?
 
"Exegesis" and bioethics" discussions would be enlightening, and I thank you for the invitation.  One question though.  Will there be a question and answer session afterwards or during, as I am maybe at the end (if our voices be hushed, muffled, pooh-poohed, censored) of a long procession of white, Anglo-Saxon PROTESTants, supremely church indoctrinated as well as college educated, and a participant in the game of life and one who welcomes new ideas and fresh approaches from people of varying backgrounds and persuasions?  I have more questions than I can count.  How about you?  Wouldn't becoming more tolerant of differences make this world, while we inhabit it, a far better place to live?  I liken this to Christ questioning the authority of  Roman oppressors, or the materialism of the money-changers in the temple, or His query, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?"  Yes, Jesus certainly questioned  voices of authority, misguided or otherwise.  He even questioned himself.  "I am the truth?  I am the light?  I am the way?"  How could you have missed that?  Why have you no interest in the historical Jesus?  He walked among us; why do you wish to take him away from us?
 
As far as Christ's call to "put out into the deep" (double preposition there--is that an accurate quote?) in the book of Luke, which you referenced in closing?  I admit I am forced to consult one of my 15 Bibles in my religious library, which includes books descriptive of the worlds' great religions and explanations of their similarities and differences, to locate your quotation.   I only guess that since Jesus appeared to walk on water, you either wish me, a mere mortal, to drown...or to plummet to greater depths of thinking?  Well, I would find it difficult to employ logic while submerged in water, nor perched upon a dreamy floating cloud in a blue, blue sky high above our Earth and looking down.  Like it or not, we are both earth-bound PRESENTLY , and this is our responsibility: to live nobly daily right where we live.  Since Bible writings exist for all of us to interpret figuratively, I'll locate the perfect chapter and verse soon to fit my logic, and I shall thump it for you. In the meantime, let us move forward and learn to understand and possibly accept belief systems other than our own. That should keep both of us very busy for the rest of our lives.
 
Peace Through Understanding and Acceptance and Inclusiveness,
 
Susan Sexton

 

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Love one another as I have loved you
It is very apparent to this reader that Susie Duncan Sexton is a woman very committed to the ideas of independent thinking and inclusion. As someone who feels equally passionate about open dialogue there are two things about her recent editorials that struck me.
First was her perspective on Christianity and her theory that openness to free thinking would improve upon its current state. As a devoted Christian I must remember that Christ told us “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6) Even earlier in the Gospel of John we are told “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” (John 13:34-35) As a follower of Christ I am compelled to live out His Word. These scripture passages (and many others) tell me that the only way to Heaven is through following Christ. If I love humanity the way that I am instructed, than wouldn’t I want them to go to Heaven? My love for them will not allow me to sit idly by and subscribe to the theory of “I’m okay, you’re okay.” This is not, though, a superiority complex. My faith also makes me plainly aware that I am sinful and that even in my best attempts to imitate Christ I am superior to no one. On the contrary, my desire is that my brothers and sisters (in the biblical sense) be BETTER than me.
My second observation was that, despite her desire for open dialogue and the free exchange of theories and ideas, she seemed bothered by Jacob’s insights. I can’t imagine that Susie is only open to those ideas that mirror her own. Yet even the title of her response (specifically the “whoa there now!”) seems to indicate that his independent thinking was not quite welcomed. Obviously in order to exchange thoughts and ideas we have to appreciate that agreement (or conformity) is not necessary. I didn’t read Jacob’s response as smug, but as that of a committed and well educated Christian who doesn’t regard the bible as something to be read “figuratively”.
I will continue to happily gallop through the ancient history that makes up my Christian faith. Particularly on Easter, as I celebrate the resurrection of my Lord and Savior, I am very aware that what makes up my faith and leads me closer to Heaven relies far more on what happened in the past than on what takes place presently. I only hope that I can live out my faith and lead others closer to Christ.
A Stay at Home Mother

To Susie and Jacob:
I wouldn't attend the place of worship that either of you were the leader of. While you both write with flowery prose, it comes off as rather arrogant. Susie, I could care less how many Bibles you have in your library, it is how you interpret the word of God and live your life that matters. I am rather offended that the two of you are using such a positive forum for your Christian battle. Please meet up at one of the local eateries and hash it out between the two of you. Thanks for a great paper, Jennifer!

Susie, I am pleased that this is not a dialogue dependant upon the range of each person's vocabulary or the eloquence and style of writing, where it is certain that I am found out of my league. In the same breath, I want to apologize for sending you looking through your religious library. I unintentionally cited the scripture passage as Lk 5:3. It was taken from Lk 5:4

As a side note, I believe the discussion on embryonic stem cell research is of great importance, and I do not wish that debate to be diluted. Therefore, I will refrain from addressing that serious issue. If you wish to have further exploration of current thoughts on this topic please respond to my previous letter.

Throwing out all the flowery language and creative use of simile and metaphor, I feel it is most important to discuss the main issues of this dialogue in a clear and concise way. Too often this sort of debate turns into a contest where the parties involved focus more on scoring style points than the substance of their positions. My goal is to make my points a clearly as possible and to encourage you to do the same.

To do so, I will first focus my attention on your initial letter. You cite the needs of the current church, “most vitally, the human desire for independent thinking, which is neither a threat nor a crime.” You also claim that the supposed loss of momentum of Christianity may, “reverse if historical, geographical, literary, governmental, economic, cultural, psychological, societal,” connections would be established. You point out further in your second letter that the faith has a tendency to just go, “round and round with the same old traditions.” “We need to allow current thinking to enter our inner circle.” Furthermore you call present Christian dogma as suffering from, “shallowness and a sense of false superiority—very sad and too wasteful of the energy necessary for sincere thought and analysis.”

Where to begin? Let’s start with independent thinking being a crime. History bears out that belief in the monotheistic God has provided the philosophical basis for many of the greatest scientists and thinkers in history, right up to our current day. Far from being a crime these men and later women, encouraged by the church community, made and are making real connections to all of the categories you mentioned above. There are a multitude of scholarly works regarding Christian Citizenship, Christian Psychology, to great scientific works being done by modern day Christians. Not hindered by outdated traditions, the secure foundation of the historical dogmas of Christianity are the reason their work has borne much fruit. Pope Benedict XVI has said, "If we push history aside, the Christian faith as such disappears and is recast as some other religion."


If any church’s dogma suffers from shallowness, it is because it has cut itself off from the historical teachings of Christianity. If you were willing to expend the energy to examine the writings and philosophy of Karol Wojtyla (Faith and Reason, The Splendor of Truth, The Dignity of Work, The Social Responsibility of the Church), Alvin Plantinga (Rational Faith, Faith and Philosophy, Naturalism Defeated), Pope Paul VI (Humanae Vitae), Reverend Tadeusz Pacholczyk (Making Sense of Bioethics), and countless other books and authors of modern Christianity, you would have an opportunity to see the beauty and depth that emanates from the dogmas which have persisted from the early church to our own day.


The other point that needs to be addressed is the purpose of the Christian Church. Is Christianity a think tank for solving the worlds problems? Is its primary focus to find a “real world” answer for all of the issues plaguing us today? Well….no. This myth can partly be exposed by responding to one of your questions. In your first letter you proposed that Christianity should welcome discussion on making, “real world connections,” while minimizing the supernatural. In your second letter you asked me, “Why have you no interest in the historical Jesus? He walked among us; why do you wish to take him away from us?” This statement and question are intimately connected.

On a personal note, I have spent a significant portion of my life investigating the historical Jesus and have come to realize the truth in a statement made by a prominent philosopher and theologian of our day.

"The reconstruction of this Jesus became more and more incompatible with one another. At one end, Jesus is an anti-Roman revolutionary … at the other end He was a meek moral teacher who approves everything.... If you read a number of these reconstructions one after the other, you see at once that far from uncovering an icon that has become obscured over time, they are much more like photographs of their authors and the ideals that they hold."

Examples of this phenomenon abound. From Richard Horsley to John Dominic Crossan to numerous other writers who identify a Christ that looks an awful like they do and who has the same earthy agenda. Why wouldn't this be the case? The figure of Jesus is a useful tool in swaying public opinion. Billions of people profess devotion to Christ and His teachings. So, if He can be made to teach something that pushes forth an agenda a monumental shift could be in the works.
Of course, there are some who believe that this claim can only legitimately be made against the early figures in Christianity. No one has been more of a target than the Apostle Paul (How Jesus Became Christian, The Brother of Jesus and the Lost Teachings of Christianity, The Mythmaker: Paul and the Invention of Christianity). What all of these books have in common is that they turn Jesus of Nazareth into a mere political figure, with political purposes.
This idea is the antithesis of what Christ preached in the Gospels. Ironically, the “real world connections,” that you speak of hand in hand with minimizing the supernatural are the identical pressures on faith behind Christ’s temptations in the desert and the choice of Barabbas over Christ by the Jewish people.

They desired a political kingdom. A “real world” king, not a supernatural one. A king who would rule in an historical, governmental, economic, cultural, and societal sense, is what the misguided people of Christ’s time wanted. Satan tempted Christ to be all that His people desired of the Messiah (Lk 4:5-8). Recognizing Christ as the Messiah, Peter was startled by the idea of Christ dying in Jerusalem. He told Christ that it should not be so. Christ’s response to the echo of the desert temptation coming from Peter’s lips was clear. “Get thee behind me Satan,” (Matt 16:23). Still, in the end, the people chose a political agitator, Barabbas, over Christ, and Jesus knew this would be so. Christian morality is not a guide to political activism. Moreover, it is Christ’s supernatural incarnation that makes real world connections real for Christians. To remove such an element would be to eliminate Christianity altogether.

What is the value of a Christianity that is no longer Christian? Church membership may expand tremendously if the message of Christ is cast aside, but it defeats the purpose. The Church’s mission as given by the resurrected Christ is to go out and make disciples, baptizing them and teaching them, “all that I have commanded you.,” The disciples were not told, “go ye therefore listening to everyone’s independent thoughts and pack them in the pews.”

holy moly...all i was ever doing with DIMINISHING FERVOR was attempting to share reasons why church membership currently dwindles according to recent studies, from one person's point of view. how i ended up in the middle of embryonic stem cell research debates or obama speaking or not speaking at notre dame or who believes or who doesn't the most is totally odd. religion seems to be one hot topic...let's ask ourselves why that is. certainly feel badly and bewildered that the responders singled me out to vent...i discussed only the institution based on a NEWSWEEK article issued on april 13th, 2009. let's just rely on the new FOCUS ON FAITH by mr. kramer...he does a fine job and has received training for such discussions. enough said, i hope.

Hi Jacob Alles!

Though I believe I have yet to meet you, my fondness for you grows by the day. Intelligence and serious thinking always impress me. Your sense of humor, as evidenced by your final statement, closing with "...packing them (into) the pews" assures me that you are an exceptional person. This exchange we have been engaged in has been enlightening, worthwhile and actually fun. Thanks.

Susie

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