Scripture: An aside

I’ll return to the rest of the standard works shortly, but doing these last few posts on scripture has gotten me thinking.

In my discussion of the Gospels (and now that I mention it, I had intended to do a post on the Pauline epistles as well, but I skipped straight to the Book of Mormon… maybe later), I talked about how I am not so interested in the particulars of Jesus’ life and ministry. I think it is just too difficult to separate out what he may have actually said from what others have put into his mouth over the centuries (for all of its flaws, Bart Erhman’s Misquoting Jesus has a great title).

What is interesting to me is how Jesus is re-imagined over time. This morning, I was reading a really interesting post on the “war on Christmas” nonsense that pops up every year around this time. To quote the post,

You see, the baby we remember this time of year was not part of the dominant culture the way the religion he started now is. The religious stories that were told in those days were told under the shadow of the dominant culture. They were stories of oppression and hardships, stories of overcoming unthinkable odds, stories of hope for a people living in times and cultural positions that, quite frankly felt hopeless.

But today, our stories are told from places and positions of power. Today, Christianity is the dominant culture. So, instead of story of a olive skinned middle-eastern, unwed, pregnant mother, who was seen as little more than property, giving birth to what the world would surely see as an illegitimate child who was wrapped in what rags they could find and placed in a smelly, flea-infested feeding trough in the midst of a dark musky smelling animal stall, we end up with a clean, white-skinned European woman giving birth to a glowing baby wrapped in impossibly white swaddling clothes and laid to rest in a manger that looks more like a crib than a trough in the midst of a barn that is more kept and clean than many of our houses.

The way that we tell the story changes over time, and the Jesus that we imagine for ourselves is–in all probability–quite different from the one that we claim to worship.

It is a scary thing to give ourselves over to the idea that the only way Christ exists in the world is in our collective imagining, but I can’t help but think that is a more healthy position than believing that we have some special access to his true reality. Too much confidence in an idea as powerful as Jesus can lead to dangerous places. When we acknowledge our own limited capacity for imagination, we acknowledge the possibility that we have him wrong (a type of religious humility that is too often lacking in Mormon thought).

This is exactly why I believe that dialog is so important. When we acknowledge that we cannot see the whole picture, we are ready to listen. An imagining of Christ that happens alone — never exposed to the contrary opinions of others who are similarly striving — will always be incomplete.

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About Brad

I am a rather typical — or perhaps just not atypical — example of a 21st century, “uncorrelated” Mormon. My “Mormon Story” is (I have learned) rather cliche. I was raised by goodly parents, we went to church, followed the letter of the word of wisdom, abstained from the baser elements of the culture, etc. I served an honorable mission, enrolled at BYU, got married in the temple, and never seriously doubted until beginning a PhD program far beyond the Mormon corridor.

One response to “Scripture: An aside”

  1. Timothy Kay Browning says :

    Yeah, I think both liberals and conservatives use Jesus from a position of power. Obviously, he was very interested in standing up for the underdog, but he also seem interested in granting institutional power to men. But if my money was on which part of that equation later church leaders and authors were going to conflate, it would probably be on how institutional Christ was trying to be, not on how concerned with the poor.

    That’s pretty much how I deal with all revealed words now: consider the author and consider their motivations and give a greater default criticism to the things that they teach that seem to serve what I judge to be their motivations.

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