We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Beyond the Newtonian Jesus

Christian orthodoxy across all denominations and traditions affirms the dual nature of Christ as both human and divine, man and God.  In the Age of Science, the European branches of the faith have largely treated the Doctrine of the Incarnation as if it is a fact on the order of scientific factuality.  Gravity attracts, Columbus discovered the Americas in 1492, and Jesus was human and is divine.  These three "facts," however, exist in three different realms of their own.  Gravity is an observable physical phenomenon.  It requires research to explain it, but explain it or not it is.  The discovery of the Americas is a historical fact, which itself is not observable.  It does not even exist because it lies in the past, which by definition no longer exists in the present.  It is over and done.  We require research to know that it even took place.

The doctrine of the incarnation takes us into a third realm.  All spiritual experiences do.  In and of itself the dual nature of Jesus of Nazareth was not observable, even after his resurrection.  It took the early church centuries of controversy and debate to develop the doctrine.  It cannot be established by observation or by research.  It is a matter of faith that is both experiential and philosophical.  It is philosophical in the sense that it had to be thought through using the powers of reflection and reason.  It is experiential in the sense that on reflection the earliest church saw in their experience of Jesus an experience with God and succeeding generations of Christians have affirmed that we too see in our experience with Christ an experience with God.  None of this fits the profile of a physical phenomenon or historical event.  Jesus did not have a special God organ.  According to the biblical accounts, he was observably human.  And while the doctrine of the incarnation and its development is historical as a doctrine, the purported divinity of Christ is not itself a historical fact.  All that historians can establish is that there was and is a belief in Christ's divinity, not the divinity itself.  Historians are not equipped to deal with spiritual events any more than carpenters are equipped to drill teeth.

For those of us living on the postmodern bridge between the Newtonian world (a.k.a. "modernity") and whatever is coming next, it is excruciatingly difficult to separate divinity from factuality.  For us, God is not a physical phenomenon.  There is no science that deals with God or has the tools to establish the factuality of God in any way that makes scientific sense.  I am personally convinced that one day future science (or whatever comes after science) will discover God, but I don't have a clue what that even means.  Future science will rely on technologies and ways of thinking that have yet to be developed.  In the meantime, we must rely on spiritual sensitivities and the insights we draw from them to discern the Beyondness and the Presence of God.  And we have to unlearn our worshipful respect for facts.  We have to move beyond the doctrine that only what is factual is real.  We have to stop thinking that science is the last stop in our cognitive evolution.

We have to live in faith.

This does not mean we stop thinking critically but precisely the opposite.  It means that when we sense the divine in a sunset and find peace in meditation we accept that we are participating in a different realm of reality—one where Christ is human and divine for those of us who put our faith in him and where the logic of science is flawed, open to criticism.