“If thou be the Son of God, come down form the cross”
You did not come down because you did not want to enslave man by a miracle. Because you hungered for a faith based on free will and not on miracles.
You hungered for freely given love and not for the servile raptures of the slave before the might that has terrified him once and for all. But here, too, your judgment of men was too high, for they are slaves, though rebels by natures.
…you hoped that, following you, man would remain with God and ask for no miracle. But you did not know that as soon as man rejected miracle he would at once reject God as well, for what man seeks is not so much God as miracles.
And since man is unable to carry on without a miracle, he will create new miracles for himself, miracles of his own, and will worship the miracle of his own creation.
Chpt 5 The Grand Inquisitor, from “The Brothers Karamazov”
by Fyodor Dostoyevski, first published 1880
In fifteenth century Spain, Jesus shows up the day after 100 heretics were torched in a great cleansing by The Grand Inquisitor. In a scene created by Dmitry for his brother Aloysha, the ninety year old bishop – the Grand Inquisitor – has Jesus arrested immediately.
In a dark cell, the old priest tells Jesus the way it is with humanity. How Man loves happiness and security more than the freedoms in God that Jesus offered.
It all comes down to the three tests of Jesus by Satan. Jesus is able to reject the idea of making bread from stones, of testing God’s protection, and of the offer of political power. And while Jesus triumphed over the temptations, the Inquisitor points out, ordinary humans will choose bread over faith, security over blind trust, and sheer power over the possibilities of love every time.
“You left and handed things over to us” he tells Jesus. He claims that by enslaving man within strict religious doctrines, backed up by brutal fear of punishment, the Church has given humanity what it really wants. Now Man can pursue happiness because his freedom is under the Church’s control.
Do we truly want freedom? Or do we need the security of structure, routine, and ritual to be happy?
The freedom Jesus offers has little to do with the pursuit of happiness. The gospels make clear that the path of Jesus is full of threat and sacrifice. Loss of security, family, status, is the best you can hope for. Most likely you’ll be scorned and attacked for going at cross-purpose to the social norms of those who pursue the man-made miracles of happiness.
It seems that Dostoyevski’s prediction that once we free ourselves from the addiction to God-miracles, we’ll also free ourselves from the relationship with the Source of mystery, has come true.
Modernity has shed God like an old coat. But instead of running to the Church for shelter – as the Inquisitor would offer – we’ve also shed the moral authority and fear of the Church’s power over our destiny.
It took a Century for it to happen. The theological wrestling that the Brother’s Karamazov started in 1880 took a lot of decades to be absorbed by Western Culture. Can we be good without God? What are the consequences of a morally free humanity? Is humanity at heart religious? Or, are we ultimately fearful of the dark corners in every heart freed without the constraints of religion’s control.
The generation of churchgoers who came through WWII and rode the last wave of a dominant Christian culture, celebrate the loss of innocence that Spong, Borg, and Crosson dish up. The offer of faith without a belief in miracles is an exciting freedom for those whose beliefs were tested by the threats of hellfire (or at least social exclusion)
But the end of Modernity has seen the end of the Church’s grip on humanity’s heart. In the west a new generation has grown to adulthood without ever stepping inside churches. They don’t fear hell. They don’t fear being godless or unchurched. Their baby-boomer parents faced those fears and managed to cope fairly well with living outside the box of religion.
The Post Modern generation is not surprised to hear that they don’t need to believe in a Virgin Birth, or a wave-walking Jesus, to “get” God. They come to religion freed of any social-control fears, and freed of illusions about religion’s human nature (it’s corrupt and violent mistakes). If they come, they come looking for ways to connect to the Source.
If all humanity has a divine nature, then we all have an innate ability and desire to express and explore that essence of who we are.
Religion comes in two forms. If the box is quite small, if the offering is all too human - then it will attract those seeking happiness. It will offer the miracles of bread (telling people what they want to hear). It will offer the miracles of protection (God helps those who are like us). And it will offer the miracles of power (God has a plan for you. God has a plan for “us” and not “them”). This is how religion gets in the way of people’s yearning for God and gives them instead what their weaker, more fearful natures desire.
Or Religion can get out of the way. This is the Jesus Way. The primary purpose is to assist searchers in their searching. To invite the divine imagination in each person to express Joy, Fear, Hope, Hate, Hunger, Passion and whatever hurts and healings they encounter in a container that is safe and sacred.
Over and over, Jesus tried to declare that the miracles he offered were only what the people themselves had within them. Their own capacity to be healed, saved, sent or sorry was simply evoked by the presence of a pure, clear, grounded divinity like that of Jesus. It wasn’t what Jesus did but what he evoked, invited, inspired in others. “You’ll do what I do – and more.”
It wasn’t the miracles, or the creation of a bigger religious box, that was the point of Jesus’ journey. Jesus’ invitation is then, and now, simply to walk fearlessly in relationship with the Source of divine Imagination.
Jesus sits silent in the Grand inquisitor’s cell. That he’ll be tortured and murdered once again is certain. He knows that it’s not a matter of logic, it’s not a matter of argument, it’s not a matter of legalities that can change hearts or minds. Love is just a word until one experiences it.
It is the experience of divine love flowing – in art, in all my relations, in music, in truth spoken to power, in silent eyes meeting at death’s bed, in the miracle of birth and re-birth awakening souls to be free, unafraid, and unhappily but joyfully dancing into the suffering that is ours to share.
Is there room for this to flow in our church?
The Believer/Atheist iceberg cartoon
comes from www.nakedpastor.com