Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Trying to understand two different versions of the life, teaching and death of Jesus of Nazereth in Christian religious history

Following my discussion the other day of how my belief in God originated I found that I had a library book in my possession I had not yet read that deals with the two conflicting versions of the life of Jesus called "Hidden Wisdom" by Tim Wallace-Murphy, a scholar and historian who has written many books about how the Gnostics' version of Christ survived. There were documents in their possession about the life of Jesus that strongly suggest he did not think of himself as the only begotten son of God but as a great teacher who also loved and respected other members of his family who were great teachers. These documents were not acknowledged in the other version first taught by the Apostle Paul and later adopted by what became the powerful Roman Catholic Church. The Gnostics claimed that Paul had not known Jesus and he was misinterpreting his life and teachings by calling him divine and 'the only begotten'.
There was a long period of time where people disagreed with one another almost from week to week about the nature of Jesus, even those who had embraced the belief that he was divine.
The author, Tim Wallace-Murphy says, "Heresy inevitably arises from the exercise of God's gift of free will and the use of discernment in matters of Christian history, faith and morals." Meaning that anyone who came to disagree with the New Catholic Catechism 1990 could be guilty. This catechism states, "The Task of giving authentic interpretation of the Word of God--has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the church alone."
As a child, I could have been accused of heresy because when I first heard the claim that Jesus was the only son of God born of a virgin I protested, saying that could not be so. I did not believe it anymore than I believed some of Joseph Smiths' claims to have seen angels and been given the authority by God to restore the only true church on earth, making it a necessity for all people to be baptized Mormons before they could enter heaven. In fact, I could not even see any reason for God to have only one son, as we were all technically I thought the children of God, and to elevate just one being above everybody else as the son of God was discrimination. And would take away from the idea we were all children of God.
Had I lived during the days of the Inquisition when people were tortured and burned for 'heresy' I might have been proclaimed a heretic even though I was a child.
But when I ran into a discussion of what the Gnostics thought about the nature of Jesus which I did in my reading from time to time, I would think now these people have documents preserved from people who actually knew Jesus. I am sure they are more reliable than those who didn't know him but are trying to interpret his nature through prayer and from what they read and heard from others alone.
I have long thought prayer is subjective when it comes to belief and you will generally get the answer that you want to get. In discussions with Mormon Missionaries they have told me that if I will just pray I will receive the true answer as to whether the Mormon religion is so. I said I would probably never receive the answer you do because prayer is so subjective. I could understand why young Mormons born to devout members of the church would receive the answer that the church was true. If they did not get that answer this might involve going against their parents and causing a lot of trouble for themselves.
So I thought that it was necessary to use common sense and all kinds of historical documents as well as prayer to receive an answer closer to the truth just because prayer was too subjective, and information coming through prayer alone really could not be proved one way or another.
In fact, I thought that doubters caused the Catholic Church to go into a long history of cruel suppression and even severe punishment for those who could not be coerced into accepting their version of Jesus. A lot of people were going to say they believed Jesus was divine if saying he was not was going to get them charged with heresy. But the history of the Inquisition alone makes the claims of the Church more dubious I think.
In fact I am a little hesitant in the present time to say that I do not believe in the divinity of Jesus to certain people, not wanting to cause trouble for myself.
I have had this argument, however, with a number of people bent on converting me to a belief in the divinity of Jesus, saying I could not be saved without that belief. I have read the books they gave me but still had to go back and say, no I still do not accept it. And they have had to give up on converting me to their version of Christ without which they claimed I could not be saved.
But I understand where they are coming from having been born and raised in a state from which missionaries went all over the world trying to convert people to the only true church on earth without which they could not enter heaven. The Christians who wished to convert me to the belief that Jesus Christ was divine were representing a much longer history than Mormonism had. Until I left the Mormon Church I thought I was a Christian since I revered the teachings of Jesus in the New Testament, but found that I differed from most Mormons also in at least one aspect, I did not believe in the divinity of Jesus. I have asked many questions of believers in his divinity how they thought this could have come about. I just could not even imagine it.
I could see believing that your child had a great destiny on earth and that he would be a very great man but I never could get a clear picture of how those believers thought Jesus could differ in his birth from any other man. As a child thinking of the animals on the farm I would say that all animals and people were born through a certain process and it was very unlikely there would be an exception. In fact, it seemed like the purported divine birth of Jesus resembled fairy tales or claims that certain ancient Kings were divine. It seemed like what ancient people were apt to think and believe before they could really reason well about what was going on around them. So I was very relieved when I ran into Gnostics' version of Jesus's birth and their claims that Jesus did not think he was divine or born differently than any other man of his time. They also claimed that these documents had been suppressed which were different from the version that the emerging predominating church put out.
The ability to reason seemed to have developed slowly. But it was going to help discern more accurate truths about the nature of reality. I thought that people who believed the Mormon Prophet's claims about deciphering hieroglyphics on gold plates he was led to through the help of an angel were somewhat naive. If the Prophet seemed very prayerful at the same time and spoke in a profoundly 'religious' manner this was apt to cause people to believe his claims all the more, I thought. He would not have seemed like the ordinary prevaricator.
It was a very big problem to me to live among people who got very angry if you disputed such claims and said they couldn't possibly be true! I would be coerced on Sunday to get up and say that I believed the Church of Latter Day Saints was the only true church and the teachings of the prophet were true! I felt angry because I was being coerced to say something I did not believe. My mother would not allow me to stay away from church either. She would get very angry if I did not go. In fact I resolved to have a talk with my mother to tell her I could not be baptized as a member when I was eight years old as I had too many doubts. She forestalled this action by asking her brother from Salt Lake to do the baptizing. I was very fond of him and didn't want to upset him, too, as well as quarrel with my mother who did not brook disagreement well, but I knew very well this baptism was not going to take and I would soon be back to doubting again, probably the very next day.
As soon as I was an adult and had more freedom to think and say what I thought I knew I would be leaving the church. So having gone through all this soul searching and examining claims that sounded false in some way to me in the Mormon Church, I also examined all the claims I doubted made in Christian Churches I investigated.
I am still today reading books such as this one called "Hidden History" about any history that might have been suppressed about the life of Jesus. I have always found him to be a very great thinker and teacher, and I was very intrigued to find out that these claims bothered the "Gnostics" who down through history expressed their opposition with documents they claimed were more authentic at the risk of being arrested for heresy.
My goal was to get at the truth as near as possible. I realized that if there were documents that even claimed that Christ did not believe he was divine when the Catholic Church proclaimed his divinity there would be a problem. I would say that the claim of divinity was favored because it made Jesus sound powerful and unique. It therefore established a church that proclaimed it as the true representative of a divine leader, of the son of God himself. I would say that whenever a church makes a claim that belies common experience it is to set it apart and make it seem more authoritative. Yes, Jesus is the one exception, the only true son of God. And how was this fact ascertained, through prayer, since it was claimed after his death by people who had not known him. Prayer is subjective. Paul received a vision. Others came to this 'knowledge' through visions. But that kind of proof is still on shaky ground which is why I think many people with this belief get angry if it is questioned and this is of course the road to suppression and coercion which led to the Inquisition with its most extreme punishments. Okay, you don't want to believe this? You are the enemy of the church and its revelations of divinity and the church will be justified in persecuting you for the sin of heresy!
Wars are very often fought over people not believing and objecting to a leader's claims. Hitler was ready to mow down everyone in his path who objected to his cleansing the land of heretics like the Jews in the interest of purifying the Aryan brotherhood. He was a self proclaimed prophet who was going to set up a new world order after he had conquered the major countries.
But the Inquisition more than matched Nazism in its range of persecution and atrocities toward people who did not embrace the beliefs of the church. This church was once more powerful than any government in the world.
Now this historian, Tim Wallace-Murphy, who writes of all these matters in this book of history, is a pretty brave man as I see it, but men have had to be brave to oppose the reigning leaders of thought if they disagreed with them. I have been seeking such writers all my life because I believe the fearless examination of reality by such thinkers is our only hope of advancing civilization. We have to allow disagreement and questioning without trying to punish those who do it so severely. Such thinkers have been called blasphemers down through the ages, when I have thought they were really more truth seekers, who did not want to be deceived.
Such men have preserved ancient documents that differed with accepted versions. They have tried to keep alive the spirit of questioning even when leaders in power found them disturbing. From them have come great works, great inventions, the advancement of physics, and much much more. Jesus is not the only great thinker and teacher born in this world. There have been many more whose work requires recognition in order to benefit from their insights. The idea there is only one great thinker authorized because he is the son of God does not give credibility to many more thinkers down through history, this including women, too, who have contributed to our knowledge of reality. And the best ways to develop the mind and spirit of man.


Amrita said...

My dear Gerry I find this very thought provoking and I will think about your post and post my remarks.

Anonymous said...

I agree with some of this...esp the right to disagree & the value of truth seekers.

Naive simplicity works with some things, but not with others.

Gerry said...

My 'retarded' (his word) companion (Doc) has made a comment after listening to me read this morning's blog (at his request)--that comment being "I am impressed with all the good work I have done for you so that you are now realizing that you are the woman I have always thought you could be. Actually I didn't do much work. You did all the work. I just kind of gave you a nudge once in a while. Again I am impressed. Intellectually I always knew that you had it.And as Tennessee Ford said, "God willing and the cricks don't rise, I will see you next week."

vooman's voice said...

I have been reading the Jews Bible and I am finding some interesting differences from the King James Bible. I don't think the book of Wisdom is even in the King James Bible. Trying to find God in all of the religion can be challenging. Many times in the Bible they challenged the people worshiping other Gods and their God did nothing...where as the Jewish God would take the sacrifice in a ball of fire, etc. I think God must have loved the Jews because they kept such good records, some good poetry there too. God will love you, Gerry, if you keep writing. I was looking at David as a poet. Wow! He had no fear of worshiping God, where as today it seems people with any education seem to find God and religion embarassing. Since I had a breakdown involving God...I keep digging into the God books and finding something. Max laughs at the very word God, as if anyone who believes that crap is stupid. I still haven't understood Seth much.
Our belief system can be built on sand. Brigham Young only had 52 wives. I think David had 800 and concubines besides that. God of the Jews seems to be very easy the men with their women, but he had a lion kill his prophet who didn't do exactly as he was told. Well, I do think he got mad at Bathsheba, (a woman of a different race) What does this speak of all the mixing of the races today.
I dreamed God had the swan (Ann) in his hand, but he showed me a lion's tail. (I wondered if this was a bit of a joke.) My dreams have been telling me God likes Ann. I saw the swan leading a parade with everyone else behind her.

Have Myelin? said...

I am watching a show on the History Channel on the Lost Books of the Bible and it is reallllly interesting.

I mean who knew (I didn't) that they had to decide which books to include and exclude from the bible. Some of the books significantly change things- like Adam's first wife. Yes, of Adam and Eve fame. I said "hello? I didn't know Adam had a first wife..." Turns out she had a mind of her own and Adam wanted her to be subservient. So Eve is number #2. That's for starters...

It's not included in the bible but it's certain out there.

I'm watching it right now.

You can google for the lost books of the bible too. Interesting reading!

Amrita said...

Dear Gerry , the question for me is not:Does Christianity contain truths? Does it contain individual truths that can be combined with truths with truths from other religions and philosophies?

The question is :Is Christianity itself the truth? Is the whole system of Christian belief consistent within itswelf and consistent with everything else we know? Do Christian beliefs when taken together as a whole teach "the truth" about man, the universe and God?

The question is not simply;How can I know if christianity i s true for me? Is it true to my experience, true to my understanding of myself regardless of whether or not it expresses the truth about all men? Is it true exsistentially? Does it express the esistential truth of my own experience (whether or not it is true objectively?

The question is rather:Is Christianity objectively true? Does it give a true account of what is there? Is it true objectively and true exsistentially at the same time. Can it be true in my own experience simply because it is the truth about the way things are?


Blog Archive