Spiritual Skepticism

Ever since I was a kid I have been skeptical of what I was told by authoritative people.  I used to blame it on my father for the way he would mercilessly trick me.  Of course, I am similar with my own son.  And as I got older I realized that it wasn’t just dad’s who were tricky with kids as I witness my grandfather doing it to my own son.

Of course, this brought back memories that I am still fond of.  Ones where a broad shouldered, black haired man with horned rim glasses was hold out two fists to a pudgy blond kid, asking him to guess which hand the quarter was in.  Obviously, I would never get it right the first time….hence the “trick”.  Now that was a man that looms large in my memory….but that is a digression.

Growing up, I lived among a family of Lutherans, with the exception of my paternal grandparents (who were some sort of ultra-fundie like Church of Christ).  I had a healthy exposure to Jesus, and all the biblical stories.  But at an early age I started noticing that 1+1 was nodding adding up to 2.

Of course, when you are 7 and start to have heretical thoughts, your primary fear is disappointing those who love you.  Even though my family was a very relaxed Lutheran family, heresy was not something that was condoned.  Especially by that man who looms so large in my memories (my grandfather).

To make matters worse, I live in a very conservative, religious part of the world.  Everyone is either Baptist or Methodist, unless they are hispanic, which will usually make them Catholic, or maybe Jehova’s Witness.  Regardless, there was not a single peer of mine that would understand my thoughts on this matter.  So I just put my head down and went through with what I felt was an obvious charade.

But I still read.  Prodigiously, as a child I would read.  There were several encyclopedia sets in the family, and I read every single one of them.  I didn’t know what I was looking for, I just knew there was so much to learn and I seemed very far behind.  It was to a point that in 8th grade my mother told me I had to get out more.  I suppose in retrospect I get her concern.

But it was all because of these stifled feelings on religion.  I didn’t limit myself to boring encyclopedic texts, and searched out other things as well.  During the summers, mom would drop me off at the library 2-3 days a week.  I would spend the day reading.  I found some Buddhist texts along the way, and read them.  I read the bible (a few times) one summer as well.  I also convinced my aunt to buy Dianetics back in the late 80’s (interesting book, even if you share my views on Scientology being a farce). The library was pretty conservative so I mostly read historical literature (to better understand where I came from).  On a side note, it is exhilarating to see so much of what I read being turned over…even if it does make me feel a loss for the time spent throughout my life.

Even with all of this, I had never heard the name John Dominic Crossan.   To be honest, it is amazing that someone who has spent their life delving into the same concepts that have haunted me has so eluded me.  Of course, I can understand how (in the pre-internet world) information could be so limited.

Below is the first page of a very interesting piece on the man:

One of his first fan letters came from someone who declared:

“If Hell were not already created, it should be invented just for you.”

Other critics have called him “demonic,” “blasphemous” and a “schmuck.”

When John Dominic Crossan was a teenager in Ireland, he dreamed of becoming a missionary priest. But the message he’s spreading about Jesus today isn’t the kind that would endear him to many church leaders.

Crossan says Jesus was an exploited “peasant with an attitude” who didn’t perform many miracles, physically rise from the dead or die as punishment for humanity’s sins

Jesus was extraordinary because of how he lived, not died, says Crossan, one of the world’s top scholars on the “historical Jesus,” a field in which academics use historical evidence to reconstruct Jesus in his first-century setting.”I cannot imagine a more miraculous life than nonviolent resistance to violence,” Crossan says. “I cannot imagine a bigger miracle than a man standing in front of a tank in Tiananmen Square.”

In another time, Crossan’s views would have been confined to scholarly journals. But he and his best-selling books, including the recent “Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography,” have changed how biblical scholars operate.

Crossan believes the public should be exposed to even the most divisive debates that scholars have had about Jesus and the Bible. He co-founded the Jesus Seminar, a controversial group of scholars who hold public forums that cast doubt on the authenticity of many sayings and deeds attributed to Jesus.

The 77-year-old Crossan has built on the seminar’s mission by writing a series of best-selling books on Jesus and the Apostle Paul. With his silver Prince Valiant haircut and his pronounced Irish accent, he’s also appeared on documentaries such as PBS’s “From Jesus to Christ: The First Christians” and A&E’s “Mysteries of the Bible.”

Crossan’s overarching message is that you don’t have to accept the Jesus of dogma. There’s another Jesus hidden in Scripture and history who has been ignored.

“He’s changed the way we look and think about Jesus,” says Byron McCane, an archaeologist and professor of religion at Wofford College in South Carolina. “He’s important in a way that few scholars are.”

A reluctant scholar

Crossan is also reviled in a way that few scholars are.

Some critics say he’s trying to debunk Christianity. Some question his personal faith. At a college lecture, Crossan says an audience member stood up and asked him if he had “received the Lord Jesus” as his savior.

I encourage you to read the rest here.

It tells of a man who is wholeheartedly Christian, at least in core values.  He has serious issues with the narrative of Jesus, and points to the same issues that rattled me 31 years ago.  Like him, I feel deeply spiritual and deeply connected with our Creator.  Yet, the popular story as presented by the Roman Catholic Church (and all of its denominational progeny) is not a representation of what our Creator wills.

I often say I am Buddhist, mainly because it is a way to say I don’t really have a religious faith but follow a logical path.  “Deist” is a term that is in vogue as of late, and would actually apply to my beliefs far better.  I would suspect that Crossan would fit the same bill.

Regardless, what I thought was caused by the merciless harassment and trickery of my father seems to be an actual trait.  Looking at my uncle a few years ago, and hearing him speak about some of his own life’s experiences, planted the seed in my head that it may just be the way some of us in my family are.

But now that I have my own 13 year old proclaiming to be an atheist, it all makes sense.  He is given an amount of freedom that a kid 31 years ago just wasn’t likely to get.  He is encouraged to be skeptical, but to take a scholarly approach to his skepticism to attempt to reconcile it with logic.  Being 13, he doesn’t always succeed…but that is the job of the parent I guess.

I will likely buy a Crossan book, however.  It may be just what is called for here.

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2 Responses to “Spiritual Skepticism”

  1. BFFT,

    Ever see the PBS/Frontline Documentary “From Jesus to Christ”? You can view it online on the PBS website. It features many segments with this man and other. You will not fully agree with. Heck neither do all the scholars in the work but it very informative. You will enjoy it.

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