Seeing Christianity Through Fresh Eyes
Dear Cynthia, I have discovered the mystics and your work, which are slowly helping me see a deeper path in Christianity than the exclusive, dogmatic, and scientifically incompatible Christianity of my childhood…but I still really struggle with the Bible. How do I make sense out of a text that still makes so many statements of exclusion and condemnation?
Like most other critically thinking Christians, I see the Bible as a symphony (sometimes a cacophony!) of divinely inspired human voices bearing witness to an astonishing evolutionary development in our human understanding of God (or God’s self-disclosure as we grow mature enough to begin to comprehend it, another way of saying the same thing). The Old Testament, whose 46 books span well over a millennium in their dates of composition, also straddles what scholars call “The First Axial Period,” when spontaneously, across the entire globe, human spiritual consciousness seemed to take a huge evolutionary leap forward. In the same time frame that the Biblical psalms were being composed, the planet was also being graced with the Buddha, Lao-Tse, Zoaroaster, and Plato: a quantum leap in human understanding and ethical vision. It simply defies credibility—my credibility, anyway!—to believe that the early Old Testament teachings on animal sacrifice and “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” are at the same level as Ezekiel’s luminous axial prophecy, “I will take away your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” or Jesus’ stunning “Love your enemy; bless those who revile you.”
This is not in any way to demean holiness of the Bible, but only to affirm that God reveals God’s self in time, through process and dialogue, not in unchanging monolithic statements. This does not make the Bible less sacred; it makes it more sacred, for it grounds God’s divine presence in the lived reality of our human experience.
As a Christian I am bound, when I listen to this diversity of Biblical voices, to set my compass by the teachings and the path walked by Jesus himself. Where Biblical testimony is internally inconsistent (and even Jesus experienced it this way!), I am bound to honor Jesus as my final court of appeal. And thus, the bottom line must inescapably be that nowhere does Jesus wish harm upon anyone, even those whom the religious culture is so quick to condemn as sinners. His harsh words are reserved entirely for those whose certainty about their religious rectitude causes them to condemn others, or to block the Spirit’s persistent attempts to open up new channels of forgiveness and hope. Jesus is all about inclusion, forgiveness, and empowerment. In the light of his compassionate presence, people are set free to live their lives in strength and hope, regardless of whether they be considered outcasts by those in the “religious know.”
Thus, as a Christian, when confronted by a tension between an entrenched religious certainty, which leads me to violate the law of love and “loving my neighbor as myself,” I am bound to choose the latter course…and to always uphold the dignity of all bodies—human and non-human alike.