Tuesday, January 30, 2018

TTT #3 God is Fully Revealed in Jesus, but the Christ is not Limited to Jesus

This third article in the series “Thirty True Things Everyone Needs to Know Now” (TTT) presupposes the content of the first two articles, but reading those previous pieces about God are not prerequisite for reading this one.
How Can We Know God?
One of the basic assertions of Christianity, especially in its traditional Protestant understanding, is that knowledge of God is not due primarily to human effort. Rather, our knowledge of God results from God taking the initiative to reveal Godself to us humans.
God’s self-revelation took place primarily through Jesus of Nazareth, Christians claim. This means that the universal (God) is known primarily through the particular (Jesus) – an assertion that is sometimes called "the scandal of particularity."
This in stark contrast to the ancient spirituality of India—or to late 20th century New Age spirituality—which emphasizes that God, or some alternative designation such as the Absolute or the Eternal, is universally available to all persons and which, it is often avowed, exists in all persons.
Is there any way that the emphasis on the particularity of traditional Christianity and the universality of Indian religiosity can be brought together?
Perhaps that is possible by realizing that God is fully revealed in Jesus but that the Christ is not limited to Jesus.
Knowing God through the Logos
The first chapter of the Gospel according to John begins with the affirmation of Jesus as the eternal Word. That term is the English translation of logos, a term pregnant with meaning.  
Greek word logos.

In the Greek world before and during the time of Jesus, logos was considered in somewhat the same way as tao (dao) was in China and dharma in India.
So the first chapter of John begins with this statement of great significance: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
What is most significant, and problematic for many people, is the assertion that follows in verse fourteen: “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”
From this passage we are told that the universal is known in the particular, the eternal is known in the temporal, and God is made known through a single human being.
Further, John 1:18 states, “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.” God is fully revealed in Jesus.
Knowing God apart from Jesus
Is the logos, which can be legitimately called the cosmic Christ, limited to Jesus, though? Probably not. Even in the first chapter of John, there are the enigmatic words about the logos being both life and light, the “true light, which enlightens everyone” (v. 9).
Yes, the Word (Christ) became flesh in Jesus of Nazareth, but that Word is the eternal logos, understood, for example, as the tao in China and as the dharma in India.
The light of the logos/Word has enabled the Chinese to speak of Heaven, the Asian Indians to speak of Brahman, the Native Americans to speak of the Great Spirit.
If the Word is the true light that enlightens everyone in the world, there must be some (or considerable) knowledge of God which is not directly related to Jesus of Nazareth—although indispensably related to the eternal logos/Christ.

Not only is God greater than we think, or even can think, by means of the logos knowledge of God is also broader than most traditional Christians have thought through the years.

[Click here to read the entire chapter.]

Thursday, January 25, 2018

In Praise of a “Half-naked Fakir”

A tragic assassination occurred seventy years ago next week, on January 30, 1948. That was the day that Mahatma Gandhi was shot and killed by a right-wing advocate of Hindu nationalism. This article is written in praise of Gandhi, whom Winston Churchill called “seditious” and a “half-naked fakir.”
The Life of Gandhi
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born in 1869. He came to be called Mahatma, which is not a name but rather a term of respect. (“Mahatma is Sanskrit for “Great Soul” and is similar to the English term “saint.”)
After studying law in England for three years, Gandhi returned to India in 1891 but then two years later went to South Africa where he lived and worked as a civil rights activist until 1914.
The first part of the movie “Gandhi” depicts his struggles for justice in South Africa. (My respect for Gandhi was so great that I went to a showing of the movie on its opening day in Japan, where I was living in 1983; it is still on my list of “top ten” movies.)
Following the end of World War I, Gandhi began to protest Great Britain's control of India. By 1920 he was the leader of the movement for Indian independence, which he finally saw come to fruition on August 15, 1947—just 5½ months before his assassination.
The Work of Gandhi
The lifework of Gandhi was multifaceted, but perhaps of greatest importance is his role in leading India’s struggle for independence from Great Britain.
In 1930 he launched a mass protest against the British salt tax, including civil disobedience activities such as leading the Salt March to the Arabian Sea where they could make their own salt by evaporating sea water.
That march galvanized opposition to Britain’s rule over India, and it resulted in Gandhi and some 60,000 others being arrested.
In 1931 Gandhi was released from imprisonment and allowed to attend the Round Table Conference on India in London as the sole representative of the Indian National Congress.
Earlier that year, Winston Churchill had referred to Gandhi as a seditious, half-naked fakir. (According to Merriam-Webster second definition, a fakir is “an itinerant Hindu ascetic.”
Upon his return to India, and after being jailed and released again, Gandhi continued his work as the leader of the independence movement based on his core value: satyagraha (truth-force), which basically means non-violent resistance toward that which was considered evil.
Here is a picture of Gandhi in 1946 at an All-India Congress committee meeting with Jawaharlal Nehru, who became the first Prime Minister of India the following year. 
Gandhi’s long, hard, non-violent work led to India gaining independence in 1947.
The Influence on and of Gandhi
Gandhi was a Hindu, and remained so throughout his lifetime, although generally there is little difference between being Indian and being Hindu. But he had great admiration for Jesus Christ and in many ways lived and acted like a follower of Jesus.

A Methodist missionary to India has shared (here) these words he heard Gandhi speak:

I have a great respect for Christianity. I often read the Sermon on the Mount and have gained much from it. I know of no one who has done more for humanity than Jesus. In fact, there is nothing wrong with Christianity, but the trouble is with you Christians. You do not begin to live up to your own teachings.
As is widely known, Martin Luther King, Jr., was influenced by Gandhi and his practice of satyagraha.

There are many reasons to praise Gandhi, who, like King just 20 years later, was tragically assassinated in spite of his non-violent activities for truth and justice.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

TTT #2  The Better We Know God, the Broader and Deeper Will Be Our Understanding of the Universe and Everything in It

Ten days ago I posted the first of 30 articles of my not-yet-published book titled “Thirty True Things Everyone Needs to Know Now” (abbreviated as TTT). This article presents the gist of the second chapter, which is closely related to the first chapter but does not require prior reading of that opening chapter.
An Important Question
Many people seem to think that embracing a religious faith narrows one’s understanding of the world. Some people have even jettisoned religion because they wanted a broader worldview. Such people have viewed belief in God as a straitjacket that limits thought about the world in which we live. But are such views well founded?
It cannot be denied that some types of religion do limit exploration of, and acceptance of, a more comprehensive view of the universe than that has traditionally been held. There has long been, for example,  an anti-intellectual bias among some Christians. Such a position, though, is clearly a perversion of what Christianity is, or at least should be.
The Answer of the Early Scientists
Many people have held the widespread perception that “warfare” between science and religion has persisted through the centuries. But investigation into the true nature of the situation reveals that most of the early scientists in the Western world were people of deep faith in God.
As most of you know well, Nicholas Copernicus initiated a massive change in how people understand the nature of the universe. The Polish-born Copernicus (1473-1543) was a first-class astronomer, but he was also a Catholic cleric and an ardent believer in God.
The striking painting below is titled “Astronomer Copernicus: Conversation with God.” It is an 1873 work of the prominent Polish painter Jan Matejko.  
Is Theology the “Queen of the Sciences”?
There was a time, long ago, when theology was widely considered to be the “queen of the sciences.” It was so called because if God is the creator and sustainer of the entire universe from the beginning to the present and on into the vast future, there is nothing that is not related to God.
So theology, the study of God, must include everything since everything is related to God.
Because of various misunderstandings of God – mostly because of parochial views that failed to grasp the greatness of God  and because of a growing secularization which grew partly as a reaction against the narrowness into which religion had fallen, theology gradually lost its place as the “queen of the sciences.”
Now theology is even seen by many in the academic world as an unwanted stepchild.
Nevertheless, the attempt to know God includes the desire to know everything related to God – and as we have seen, the physical sciences were developed as a means not just to understand the universe better but also as a means to know God better. Thus, the study of God includes the theology of science and the theology of nature.
Rightly understood, the idea of theology as the “queen” of our human quest for understanding the universe is a claim worth taking seriously.
God and the Basic Virtues
In both Western and Eastern societies, truth, beauty, and goodness have long been understood as basic virtues. If we accept the “true thing” explicated in the first chapter, then we can consider the likelihood that God is the basis for all truth, beauty, and goodness.
So, it seems clear that the better we know God, the broader and deeper will be our understanding of the universe and everything in it.

[To read the five-page chapter of TTT #2, please click on this link.]

Monday, January 15, 2018

American Empire, 1898-2018

We all know who POTUS #45 is, but do you know who was #25? That would be William McKinley, who was born 175 years ago this month—and who became President 121 years ago, in March 1897.
Learning about McKinley
June and I have the good fortune of living only about 12 miles from the Truman Presidential Library and fairly often are able to hear talks given there by guest lecturers. Such was the case last fall when were able to hear author Robert Merry talk about his new book President McKinley, Architect of the American Century.
Perhaps like many of you, I have never known (or cared?) much about McKinley, except that he was the third President to be assassinated in office (all within the space of 36 years!).
Even five years ago when I posted a blog article titled “Remember the Maine,” I didn’t mention the President when that event took place 120 years ago on February 15, 1898.
Merry titled the Introduction to his book, “The Mystery of William McKinley,” and it is somewhat mysterious that McKinley has not been more highly regarded—especially if, as Merry thinks, he can rightly be considered to be the “architect of the American century.”
Achievements of McKinley
While there are certainly other aspects of McKinley’s presidency that are noteworthy, none are more significant that the expansion of American power during his time in office. In fact, the events of 1898 initiated the beginning of what some call the American Empire.
The Spanish-American War began in April 1898 and ended with the Treaty of Paris, signed on December 10 of that year. Merry summarizes the benefits received: “The president [McKinley] got all he wanted: the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Guam, Spain out of Cuba and the Caribbean, with no debt assumed by the United States” (p. 340).
It was also in July 1898 that the U.S. annexed the Republic of Hawaii, which had formerly been known as the Sandwich Islands.
McKinley was serving “Uncle Sam” new territory for his enjoyment, as is expressed by the following cartoon by Boz in the May 28, 1898, issue of the Boston Globe newspaper. (The cartoonist could see which way the winds were blowing.)  
By the end of 1898 it looked as if the U.S. had, indeed, become an empire, which Merry recognized by titling his 21st chapter “Empire.”
Questioning McKinley’s Achievements
There was strong opposition, however, to what seemed to be the surge of American imperialism under McKinley. On June 15, 1898, the Anti-Imperialist League was formed especially to fight U.S. annexation of the Philippines. It included among its members such notables as Andrew Carnegie, Mrk Twain, and William James. 
It was in that context that James, the eminent American philosopher and Harvard professor, exclaimed, “God damn the U.S. for its vile conduct in the Philippine Isles” (cited in Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States, p. 307).
(With reference to his much-criticized remarks back in 2008, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama’s former pastor, said he was quoting James. See my brief article about that here.)
The U.S. relinquished its sovereignty over the Philippines in 1946. Then in 1959 statehood was given to Hawaii, even though it is not in North America.
Guam and Puerto Rico still remain U.S. territories and their inhabitants are citizens of the U.S.—although they seem to be treated as “second-class” citizens as the insufficient response to last year’s hurricane destruction of Puerto Rico has shown.

In recent decades the American “Empire” has been seen primarily in its global leadership and international influence, positions now being considerably weakened because of the words and actions of #45.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Thirty True Things Everyone Needs to Know Now

During this year of 2018, I will be doing something different with many of my blog posts. For 30 out of the 72 scheduled articles for the year, I plan to post articles based on my as-yet-unpublished book that has the title you see above.
In the preface of the book, which you can read here, I tell how the idea for the book came from Gordon Livingston’s 2004 bestselling book Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart: Thirty True Things You Need to Know Now.
There are 30 short chapters in the book, so 30 times this year I plan to summarize a chapter in 600 words, or less, and then provide a link so that those who have the time and interest can read the entire chapter.
Please give attention now to the main points from the first of the “thirty true things” (which I will occasionally abbreviate as TTT).
#1  God is Greater Than We Think, or Even Can Think
I don’t fully understand God. And unless you are greatly different from everyone else, you don’t fully understand God either. But that is all right, for as someone wisely said many, many years ago, “A comprehended god is no god.” (That statement may go back as far as John Chrysostom, c.349-407, but it is often attributed to Gerhard Tersteegen, 1697-1769, a German Pietist.)     
One of the reasons why God is greater than we think or even can think is related to the assertion that God is the Creator, maker of heaven and earth. If God is really the Creator, the cause or source of all that is, for that reason alone we are not able to comprehend the greatness of God. Since we cannot even begin to grasp the size and nature of the physical universe, how could we possibly grasp the “size” and nature of God, the creator of all that is?
If God is really the creator of all, then every person must be related to God in some way, and there surely must be some awareness of God by all the peoples of the world. John Hick (b. 1928) has been one of the most prominent and prolific religious philosophers / theologians during my lifetime, and he is the author of a book titled God Has Many Names (1980).
A recognition of the fact that God has many names helps free us from one of the main problems of many religious people, Christians included: the problem of tribalism, the belief that one’s own “tribe” is inherently superior to all others.
So, why is this “true thing” important?
First, it is important because it allows us to embrace a view of God large enough that there will be nothing we can learn about the physical universe that will conflict with our belief in God.
Further, when we truly understand that God is greater than we think, or even can think, we can then more easily affirm the idea that God is the God of all people, regardless of how they perceive God or even regardless of whether or not they acknowledge God.
So, even though Livingston was probably right in saying that most people get “too soon old, too late smart,” and even though it may be rather late in life for some of us, let’s try to be smart enough now to comprehend that God is, indeed, greater than we think, or even can think.

[To read the five-page first chapter of TTT, please click on this link.]

Friday, January 5, 2018

The Beginning of “Spiritual Warfare”

Tomorrow (Jan. 6) is “Epiphany” on the liturgical Christian church calendar. Among other things, it is a celebration of the visit of the Magi to the Christ child. That “Visit of the Wise Men” is told in Matthew 2:1~12. Matthew continues with “The Escape to Egypt” (2:13~15) and then with “The Massacre of the Infants” (2:16~18).
The “War” against Christ
In recent years there has been much talk, especially by the Christian Right, about the “war on Christmas.” But Matthew’s Gospel tells about the war on the Christ-child.
Properly understood, the attempt of Herod to destroy Jesus was the beginning of “spiritual warfare” seeking to destroy the one born to be the Savior of the world. Or to use different words, this was the beginning of the attempt by the “principalities and powers” to destroy the Christ.     
"The Flight to Egypt" (c. 1650) by B. Murillo
“Principalities and powers” are often interpreted as being “invisible” forces of evil that war against people of faith. But those words most likely refer to concrete, visible forces—such as King Herod.
The spiritual warfare that began soon after the Magi returned to their homes “by another road” was not just nebulous activities by unseen powers. No, it was the slaughter or massacre of the baby boys that was intended to include Jesus.
Stringfellow’s Explanation
In my Nov. 15 blog article, I briefly introduced William Stringfellow and his book An Ethic for Christians and Other Aliens in a Strange Land (1973). A major theme of that impressive book is the author’s elucidation of the meaning of “principalities and powers.”
According to Stringfellow’s deep understanding of the Bible, the “principalities and powers” are not some esoteric spiritual forces of evil in a nonvisible realm. Rather, they are “all authorities, corporations, institutions, traditions, processes, structures, bureaucracies, ideologies, systems” and the like (p. 27).
Such principalities and powers inevitably reside in those, such as Herod, who have abundant possessions, power, and prestige – and, according to Stringfellow, they “are legion in species, number, variety, and name” (p. 77).
“Thus,” he avers, “the Pentagon or the Ford Motor Company or Harvard University or the Olympics or the Methodist Church or the Teamsters Union are all principalities” – as are capitalism, humanism, science and scientism, white supremacy, patriotism etc., etc. (p. 78)
Stringfellow even suggests that we should “perceive the President as a victim and captive of the principalities and powers (p. 142). (This was written when Nixon was in the White House but is certainly applicable to the current occupant as well.)
The Victory of Christ
The New Testament later testifies to the victory of Christ over the principalities and powers by his resurrection. That important emphasis is found in 1 Corinthians 15, which prognosticates “the end, when Christ hands over the kingdom to God the Father, when he brings every form of rule, every authority [principality] and power to an end” (v. 24, CEB).
The eventual victory of Christ, however, began on the cross. As Brian Zahnd elucidates in Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God (2017), “Jesus was killed by the principalities and powers” (p. 100)—embodied in the religious and political leaders who colluded to put Jesus to death: Caiaphas, Herod, and Pilate.
BZ goes on to state, “Paul says the cross heaps shame on the rulers and authorities that preside over structural sin. ‘In this way, he disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities [principalities]. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross’” (pp. 106-7, citing Colossians 2:15, NLT).
The struggle against principalities and powers continues. In this new year let’s deliberately and definitely choose to be on the side of Christ, who will finally win through sacrificial love and unconquerable truth.