Splashing around in theology.

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Monday, April 17, 2006

The Uncomfortable Christian

Tonight I attended a seminar entitled Modern Faith & The Historical Jesus.
The speaker was Tom Harpur, and as many readers of this blog will know, Harpur’s book The Pagan Christ was very influential in the process which I call my own spiritual renaissance. I have described the process in a previous blog.
The picture shown here is of Harpur. I’ve heard him speak before, but only tonight did I notice how tall he is.
The guy is like some kind of Philistine giant! [There was a sign, as you walked in... "Check Slingshots At Door"]!!
I was expecting Mr. Harpur to lecture upon the topic written across my ticket, but instead, the format of the evening was a brief reading from one chapter of his new book, followed by an interrogative interview by a moderator and then a roving microphone, fielding questions from the audience.
I would have liked to hear more outright lecturin’!
Thankfully though, the questions were pretty good, and the answers even better. Right from the get go, the moderator asked Tom to elaborate about the use of his phrase “uncomfortable Christian.”
Harpur replied that he describes himself as an “uncomfortable Christian” because he is grieved about “the large pond, or lake, or slough of literalism into which Christianity has fallen and cannot extricate itself from.”
He said that it embarasses him, and then cited several reasons for his chagrin if he were to go no farther for illustrative ammunition than the Easter service he attended just yesterday, in some un-named United church in rural Ontairo. He said that it was literally plagued with literalism, and clarified by saying that not one mention was made concerning “the first Bible ever written.” [I was all ears!]
By this term he meant, the heavens.
He explained how that Easter, the very timing of Easter, has everything to do with events in the heavens, as does Christmas, and that a full understanding of either of these religious festivals cannot possibly be understood without reference being made to the vernal equinox and winter solstice [respectively.]
In response to another question, Harpur again focussed on the topic of literalism, saying that if there is a planetary cataclysm [end of the world] we need to realize that it will not come about due to political upheaval or breakdown, but rather, it will come about because of “people taking a few words of ancient text and pushing those words to the limit.”
[This so confirms to me the idea behind the writings of Sam Harris, alluded to a while ago on godpuddle.]
Harpur was asked: “Is there a role for the churches today…. any relevance they can offer a true seeker of spiritual truth?”
His answer was that the “potential” is there, “but not along the path they are currently following.” By this he further explained that “symbols need to be revived, but revived subjectively.” He stated that “99.9% of sacred text is symbolic, allegorical, metaphorical, or meant as imagery.”
He followed this up with citing several examples; the 40-year long wandering of the Israelites, Jesus’s walking on the water, etc. These are metaphors, not references to historical events.
When asked why the churches are so fearful of allowing the metaphorical approach to biblical interpretation, Harpur said “It’s really a power thing. Fear!”
This [he went on to say] is why the Gnostics hid their texts, and these texts are only being found in recent history, by modern-day archaeologists. The Gnostics hid their texts because “they heard the tramp of Christian footsteps behind them”… Gnostic-thinking is not about heirarchy. They knew that true spirituality came from within, and this was a doctrine that flew in the face of Christian leaders of the day, who felt that their positions would be threatened if the common person got hold of such teachings.
Harpur had very little good to say about The Jesus Seminar, when asked. This may be the point at which I most differ from Harpur, in my current spiritual journey, his contention that there was no such person as the “historical Jesus.”
In the midst of one comment, Harpur paused to highly endorse the work of Harold Bloom, and specifically his latest book, entitled Jesus And Yahweh: The Names Divine.
In a lighter moment, towards the end of the evening, Harpur, a firm believer in an afterlife, was asked what Good Friday and Easter mean to him?
He said, “You’re as dead tonight as you’re ever going to be.” [Laughter.]
We, all of us, go through crucifixions and resurrections, he said. “I myself have gone through many of each.” There is no life that has not been through them. The current way that Easter is celebrated is an example of far too much emphasis being placed upon one ancient story of such a crucifixion and resurrection. [My paraphrase].

All in all it was an enjoyable evening.
Was it worth it?
It is always worth it, to think, and to listen to someone who has thought.



Blogger sanyavich said...

Wonderful Cip,
Thanks for the review. I should have went with you. Just love the "you're as dead as you'll ever be" Gives me unbelievable hope. Harpur is heretic for sure, God bless him (or whoever maybe Horus).

4/18/2006 6:37 AM  

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