Monday, June 30, 2008

My own beliefs

Right now my own beliefs are of a Hermetic/Gnostic nature. It's ironic that in the Dan Brown books the Catholic Church is represented as the foe of Gnosticism and of other heretical beliefs because compared to most Protestant denominations the Catholic Church is much closer in their belief system to the Gnostic Christians. Protestant denominations who emphasize the humanity of Christ miss the boat entirely. Jesus was human, he was a really wonderful guy, and...he died and was reborn. But he was such a cool dude. I'm not a Christian but I understand this. In both the Catholic Church and in Gnostic Christianity Christ's importance lies first and foremost in how he fits into the cosmic drama of sin and redemption that started with Adam and Eve's expulsion from the Garden of Eden. The Gnostics express this in a more complex was but essentially the story is the same. Christ is important first as a form of a cosmic figure sent down to earth to redeem the souls there through the association of himself with the lowest, poorest, sections of humanity and his sacrifice of Crucifixion. He appears as an emissary from God who can show how to achieve redemption. Redemption not in the sense of a conversion at the hands of a revivalist or fundamentalist charismatic church but redemption in a profounder, more basic sense relating to one's being.

I'm not a Christian but I was raised, for better or worse, as one, although I never really believed in it. When I was young I was a Lutheran, but after family strife and we became Catholic and that was the main denomination of my life. It wasn't a really negative experience. We went to folk mass on Saturday nights instead of the more formal and conservative mass on Sunday mornings and the service always put a focus on social justice, even if they didn't explicitly outline it. I went to Catechism but never attended a Catholic school, thereby not coming into contact with the more virulently conservative aspects of the Catholic Church.

My only sojourn back to Christianity happened in a strange way. First, I got attracted to the Unitarian Universalists and went to UU services for about a year. Eventually I decided that they were too positive in that they focussed on the nice, happy aspects of life but didn't really examine the bad aspects of life, of the reality of people doing bad things to one another and how this shapes the human experience. So, I moved to the Congregational Church, where the Unitarians themselves came from, also known as the United Church of Christ but having nothing to do with the ultra-conservative "Church of Christ". The UCC is the direct descendent of the Puritan church of New England, but has gotten substantially more liberal, especially since the '60s and '70s when they took a real large turn to the left. I went to services there for a much shorter time than I went to the UUs because I had an experience with the Pastor that convinced me that the church was more of a social club that focussed on prestige, in particular their prestige in being descended from the church of the original New England settlers, more than it did on the teachings that it supposedly believed in. After that I sort of drifted, occasionally going to mass largely because family members showed a renewed interest in it, and then getting an interest in the Orthodox Church but not actually attending services. My respect for Christianity lies mainly in the Catholic and Orthodox denominations (even though Wilhelm Reich would label these entities as the enemies of a true understanding of Christ's message), with the Anglican or Episcopalian church getting some respect as well since it's semi-Catholic. Orthodoxy isn't as far away from Catholicism as you might think, so the distance when you come at it from a Catholic perspective is much less than it is if you look at it from a Protestant perspective.

All through this I saw Jesus mainly as a symbolic, mystical, figure who indicated processes and underlying realities in nature and the cosmos. The actual Jesus as a personality concerned me much less than what exactly the teachings potentially meant on a cosmic level, so to speak, which is no doubt why I gravitated back to the Catholic Church and to the Orthodox faith, both of which de-emphasize Christ as someone who you would want to hang out with and watch a football game on TV with. In certain denominations of the Orthodox faith, although of course the teachings of Jesus and his actions are centric to it, the idea of Jesus having first a human nature is almost denied entirely. I like that approach although if I was Christian I wouldn't go that far.

My religious beliefs now, and the religious beliefs that I've gone through since then, would be enough to make pious Christians cross themselves and spit if they heard about them, but nevertheless as Christian denominations go I still have respect for the somewhat mystical and esoteric teachings of the Catholic and Orthodox churches. They have a piece of the puzzle that Protestant churches aren't even aware of.


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