In recent blogs – except the immediately preceding one -I have been teasing out the meaning of my first principle of theology:
ALL GODS ARE INVENTED BY HUMAN BEINGS
In particular I have emphasised that human beings must take responsibility for their Gods. No references to revelation or holy books can excuse bad behaviour, since these authoritative sources are themselves the product of human imagination, and have been freely chosen by believers.
I have also argued that any real God cannot be part of the universe and therefore cannot be adquately described in human language. I have urged believers to see even the deepest theologies as no more than approximations, or better, pointers towards God, which can and should be changed if they cease to represent the experience of believers.
In all this I have pointed out the place of human creativity in religion, and have interpreted Jesus as the central creative agent in Christian faith.
From the viewpoint of Christian faith however, I have to insist that this is only half the truth.
For human beings, as the Christian tradition bears witness, are forever inventing themselves as masters of the world, and creating deities in their own murderous image. This is not just true of the monstrous empires of history, Rome, Spain, Britain, Germany, Russia, USA and their present day successors, but also of other human institutions, groups and individuals. The Bible word for this tendency is “sin.”
Sin means that some human beings are conquerors and others are victims of their power. I have often noticed this crucial difference when overhearing a conversation in a bus: one person is getting their own way at the expense of the other. This kind of conquest is fuelled by greed and the desire for power. An even more deadly form of victimisation occurs when certain people are defined as a threat to the nation, the church or the community. Sometimes this is done out of shrewd calculation, so that people do not notice where the real threat is coming from, sometimes from a hysterical aggression towards those who are in some way different. Churches have often used their creative imagination to justify victimising whole groups and even populations, as for example in the Spanish conquest and ethnic cleansing of Central and South America, in the 16th century, or the various killings of Jews in most of European history. As I write, the U.K. Government is trying to persuade its citizens that Syrian and North African refugees, are a threat to our national welfare, making them doubly victims, of violence in their homelands and prejudice here. The creation of victims is the most frightening and wicked use of the human imagination.
But at the heart of my religious tradition is a victim, Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified Messiah. Here we are dealing with a real and not an invented person, although of course his whole life and death has been presented by the creativity of believers. His story encourages me to see him not only as a victim of worldly power and prejudice, but also as my victim, the one whom I have subjected, rejected or at best, failed to support. He points me to all the others whom I have made my victims.
But, according to the the story told by believers, he does more than that. He refuses to be a victim and fights power and prejudice to the death. Moreover, in his dying and also in his resurrection, he forgives me and all his tormentors, not only in his own name, but in the name of God, his father. He forgives me, not so that I can go to heaven, but so that I can live on earth and heaven “in him” that is, in the creative spirit of the one who simultaneously identified himself with the most victimised of his brothers and sisters in the world, and with the father who is beyond all worlds.
I have not invented this Jesus, nor indeed has the Christian gospel, which although it is an imaginative construction, represents a real person, involved in real events, in a real place at a real time. Jesus is a gift to me. I could never have invented him. I could of course reject him or admire him from a distance, or think him inferior to Gautama or Mohammed or Capitalism. But with the encouragement of the church, I have received him, not only as a guide to living, but as the revelation of The God whom human words cannot express. Does Jesus tear away the veil of mystery and make God accessible to human reason? No he does not; but as the gospels assert, he tears away the veil of religion ( see Mark 15) and makes God the victim accessible to the human heart. I do not mean to mere emotion; but rather to the unified intelligence of the whole person.
This does not enable me to describe the being and nature of the God who is beyond all worlds; rather it allows me in union with Jesus to live with him/her as his/ her dear child. “The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing.” This huge gift turns my world on its head. The active human creativity of which I have said so much is shown to be itself a gift, as is the universe of time and space in which it works.
Yes, human beings invent their Gods, but using the abilities and materials that God has given to them. For my heart, the gift of Jesus is central, guiding my thinking and at least some of my living. This extraordinary partnership of averagely wicked human beings like me with the God of goodness, is a mystery which my tradition has called the Holy Spirit, and that, dear reader, will be my next topic in this blog.