The following is one of a multi-part response to an article by Jim Burklo entitled “How To Live As a Christian Without Having to Believe the Unbelievable.” For an introduction to these thoughts, see Burklo’s Bible.
As promised, let us turn now to that nasty dogmatic discussion of Arianism, a spectrum of beliefs which, in their many forms, share the common denominator of a belief that Jesus was somehow less than divine. The Trinity, and its necessary belief in the full and equal divinity of Jesus, is among those pesky doctrine that Burklo would have us do away with if we find them at all offensive. What he proposes instead is a benign, new age rendition of the divinity of Christ more palatable to our refined, enlightened sensibilities.
When Jesus asked us to believe in him, he wasn’t asking us to believe a list of ideas about him. He was asking us to believe in that spark of the divine that was inside of him, because he wanted us to believe in the spark of the divine that is in every one of us.
Let’s ignore, for the time being, the unfortunate reality that Jesus never actually says what Burklo wants him to. He never references a common divine spark shared between himself and humanity. He doesn’t mention a divine spark at all. But this willingness to pick and choose and distort Burklo’s own chosen source material to conform to his preset notion of who Jesus ought to be is a problem to deal with tomorrow.
Instead, let’s assume, arguendo, that Burklo’s argument isn’t self-defeating on its face and look to the disastrous implications of his vision of Christianity. What Burklo has offered us is a perverted version of Jesus message read anachronistically through the lens of Enlightenment humanism. It imagines Jesus not as something other than or apart from the human condition but as an exemplar of the ideal human as humanity can and ought to be. If only humanity would see and embrace love (“who is God”) which is already available to us, already accessible, then we could construct a heaven on earth.
It is, for all intents and purposes, a functionally atheistic form of Christianity. Except that really isn’t fair because what it actually does is deify humanity creating a vulgar, anthropotheistic religion. This devastates theology, particularly the cosmic story of fall and redemption, creation and recreation, that dominates the biblical narrative, replacing it instead with universe which revolves around me. Just the way we like it. This paring away of the annoying doctrines of soteriology, cosmology, and eschatology will be the subject of my final complaint. More crucially here, Burklo’s vision of Christianity even undermines his all important ethical consideration. After all, if God is love and I have God (i.e. love) inside me and practicing love is the whole duty of man (not, as the narrator of Ecclesiastes says, fearing God and keeping His commandments) then any behavior which I can reasonably justify as originating from love–whatever that is, however I feel like defining it, since I have the divine spark equal to that of Jesus–is moral.
In fairness, Christians of all stripes do this anyway. I’m loving that homeless man by not giving him a few dollars because he’ll probably just use it to buy liquor anyway. I’m loving my spouse by being obstinate because, in the long run, what I know is right will be best for both of us. I’m loving my enemies by invading their country and setting up a democracy because that’s how God wants their lives to be governed. It’s all ridiculous, but, by making Jesus the messenger of love and divine sparkliness, Burklo actually exacerbates the problem. If Jesus really did come to say, “Hey, I have a divine spark, and I’m living consistent with it. You should look to your divine spark too and live in accordance with its law of love,” then he freed every man to be a canon unto himself, the measure of what love is and how it should be applied through the loose framework of “willingness to feed the hungry, liberate the oppressed, heal the sick.”
Sure, it makes you always feel good about the kind of loving your doing because it is always consistent with your divine spark, but you’re left feeling a little suspicious of the guy down the road whose working just as hard to liberate a different set of oppressed people–maybe the people you thought were oppressing your oppressed people–and in a way that you don’t think is all that loving. I guess maybe his divine sparkler just sparkles different from yours.