March, 2012, Port Orchard, WA
“Freedom of thought” is one of those things that many in the U.S. think of as the very foundation of our American nation. And as long as we are not defaming nor endangering the life of another, we are also free to speak and write those thoughts. We declared war on our British rulers to acquire this freedom and we don’t intend to give it up for any reason now.
But there are areas in which expressions of thought, though not condemned by law, are, nevertheless strongly disapproved and punished by shunning and strong criticism. I am referring to religion and, more specifically, to issues within Christianity.
Within just the last few generations we have moved from a period in which expressions of doubt about what were considered the “fundamentals” of the Christian faith were severely punished, to our present, where many feel free to doubt, or flat out reject. most everything taught by Christian churches. “Oh?”, Well, then, what are the “forbidden questions” referred to in the article title?
I recently finished reading a book by one of the many Christian scholars who have written of their mental – spiritual journey from a conservative to a more liberal faith. One of the changes common to most of these writers is that, while they no longer accept such teachings as the virgin birth, nor the miracle stories, some still consider Jesus to have been divine, and most, if not all, consider him a model of the most perfectly spiritually developed human on the planet, the perfect example of the love of God on earth.
But unless we use a “pick and choose” method of interpreting the material from our gospel writers, I contend that we are failing to ask some quite obvious and reasonable questions regarding the figurehead of our faith. And what strikes me as so very remarkable is that these questions have so long lain dormant, never even hinted at by Christian history’s great body of scholars and thinkers. So I have to ask myself why is this so? I come up with two main possibilities: first is that these are, in fact, not logical and reasonable questions to anyone but myself. Second is that the very bringing up of such questions is simply “unthinkable” to not only Christians, but to many in our Western Culture.
So, I am going to go ahead and ask these “forbidden questions” and let the reader respond in whatever manner they see fit. My hope is that the reader will not simply discard the issue without giving it serious thought.
I create a fictional contemporary setting in which Jesus and I can have a comfortable and relaxed setting. As I don’t know what Jesus would really have to say in response to me, I will simply indicate the points at which I could picture him as having something to say. I leave it to the reader to imagine what Jesus’ response might in fact be. I picture a setting in which Jesus and I are seated on comfortable lounge chairs on a lawn under some beautiful shade trees.
“Jesus, I very much appreciate your willingness (and ability) to spend this time with me today. I realize this is a privilege never granted anyone before and is not likely to ever be repeated, so I am greatly honored and take this opportunity very seriously.
(Jesus replies with a gracious response.)
“I’m not quite sure what and how much of the events of the world you are aware of since your death, so let me tell you something of the information we have received since then.
First of all, we have no records of your life from those who knew you while you lived, and only have material that was first written down some forty and more years after your death. And these stories were written by just a few men and, rather than their being first hand accounts, they are instead oral stories that were repeated over and over again until finally they were written down, but even then were copied and translated from one language to another and continued to be modified and “corrected” by the scribes transcribing them.
Because of these facts and still others which I won’t bother trying to offer in complete form, those who became your followers tell stories that diverge and differ on many points. I am one of a growing number of people who accept that I can’t really know just what a true and adequate story of your life contains, or if any really exists.
But in spite of all this uncertainty, some questions began forming in my mind a few years ago that I have really wished to have answered. And once these questions became clear in my mind, it began to seem very strange to me that I had never seen these questions appear before.
(Jesus: “And just what questions would those be?”)
“I think the first question began to form in my mind from my academic training and professional experience as a family therapist. It became clear to me that so much of who and what we are is significantly shaped by the experiences during our infancy, childhood, and youth in our family or origin. Those years and experiences in large measure form our mental, emotional, and I’ll include the term “spiritual” picture of the nature of reality, our world, and our own self. The results of that shaping are often evident throughout our entire life, guiding us toward relationships with some individuals and away from others, and toward certain careers and away from others.
And as I learned of your life from the writers of those works we call our “Gospels”, certain things began to stand out. One of the first was my surprise, and, I must say disappointment, in your apparent aloofness and even coldness regarding your own family. Now, as I said earlier, I am aware that far too little can be conjectured about your life from the few fragments passed on to us, but, still, the one time when your family is brought to you when you are busy teaching followers, you sound downright dismissive and cold. The additional evidence of that lack of love and affection toward your mother or your father is the simple fact that there are so very few stories revealing any love or deep affection. So the question formed in my mind, ‘ If Jesus is held up to us as the shining example of one who showed God’s love here on earth, how could there be so little of it evidenced toward the very group that we might most expect to see it shown?’”
(Jesus replied: (??????)
“Thank you, Jesus! I had given up ever expecting to have that question answered. Let me go on with a related, but still somewhat different question, one that almost no one throughout our history would have dared ask out loud. As I said, this is a related question: A “normal” life for a young man in your time and in mine is that sometime during youth, the need for a female companion leads us to form a deep and intimate relationship with a young woman around our age, marry, have children, taking on the primary roles of husband and father. When a male adult rejects that role today, one possible reason is that he is “homosexual”, simply not drawn toward women as lifetime sexual and marriage partners. I’m aware that such a choice did not openly exist during your lifetime. In fact the topic of “sex” was not openly permitted then and is only recently becoming so. You are quoted by one of the Gospel writers as saying that “if a man ‘lusts’ after a woman, he has committed adultery in his heart. In our modern language we would translate that as saying that if we experience sexual arousal toward a woman who is not our wife, we are committing some kind of sin. Did you really believe that sexual arousal is in itself “sinful”?
(Jesus replies: ?????)
“Again, thank you Jesus. It is such a relief to hear your direct and honest answers to these questions we could not only get answered, but even felt forbidden to even think them, and certainly not voice them. Your honest answers are a very welcome relief.
Let me go on for a moment more regarding the issue of your relationships with the men and women of your time. It has seemed to me that while you chose a life depriving you of the rewards of intimacy of a woman, you also did, in fact reject the blessings coming from having a very dear and intimate male companion, and here I am not necessarily meaning a sexual partner, but simple a man whom you valued and trusted so deeply that you felt free to open yourself completely to him, also receiving the same intimacy in return. You instead chose a role of “teacher” to a group of men, none of whom you really considered your peer. They highly valued and respected you, but never considered themselves your equal. Your only “intimate” relationship appears to have been with the figure of “God” that had formed within your mind and heart. Was that all you really needed? Didn’t you get terribly lonely at times?
“Again, thank you so much for your open and honest answers. This visit is deeply meaningful to me and I will never forget it. I only with many more could have a similar visit with you.
Let me now move toward a conclusion. I spoke a moment ago of the “God” that had formed within you mind. It seems strange to me today to realize that I have never seen nor heard anyone offer the question, “Where did Jesus get his idea of God?” Were you somehow different than the people of your time and place? Did you have some other, more “direct” and “divine” source for your image of God? It appears from the words attributed to you by the first writers of your story that you shared the common images and religious concepts of the people of your culture. Like them, you refer to God as “Father”, giving ‘him’ gender. And you appear to conceive of God in the commonly held anthropomorphic manner of your time, which would seem entirely natural and normal. But for those who hold you as a ‘divine being’ it might be expected that you would instead have understood ‘God’ to have been the divine spirit which created and saturates not just the planet earth and the human residents thereon, but also the entire universe, including it’s more than one hundred billion stars in our own Milky Way Galaxy, but also the many billions of other galaxies. And were ;you aware also that it’s almost an absolute certainty that there are at least millions, and more probably billions of planets that are homes to countless forms of life, perhaps many more evolved than we humans here on planet Earth?
(Jesus offers lengthy reply:???????)
´I find your reply to be most interesting, and I’m sure that if you give me permission to share it with my contemporaries they will find it most interesting, as well. I feel sure that many will be unwilling to accept that it came from you and some may even become quite angry that I attributed your answer to you, believing, instead, that you would have something very different to say.”
(Jesus: Encourages my patience with any who are upset at what I offer as his words.)
(“Thank you, Jesus! I, of course will greatly welcome any chance for another visit between us in the future, but understand such times are rare indeed.”
Respectfully, Dean Watt