Friday, December 26, 2008

The Proliferating Christ

It was in 2004 that Canadian theologian Tom Harpur published his world-shattering book, The Pagan Christ. Harpur convincingly shows how the Christ of the gospels was not a new figure appearing on the scene in Palestine about 2000 years ago. On the contrary, the idea of Christ, down to the details of his reported daily lived life, were found in a mythical character from ancient Egypt – and these details were laid long before the stories of the biblical Christ. In fact, this Christ figure repeatedly appeared, not only in Egypt and later in Palestine, but in many ancient mythologies.

Clearly this appearance of a Christ figure in ancient worlds, far outside of the Judeo-Christian worlds, long before the creation of the New Testament stories, is a major challenge for contemporary Christianity. However, the challenge this creates for modern day Christianity might not be quite as straight forward as it might appear on the surface.

One obvious way of understanding this difficulty is to distinguish between an emphasis upon the historicity of the biblical Christ, as is seen in modern day fundamentalist Christianity, and the spirituality of a more mythological Christ figure.

The issue as I see it, however, is not so much one of historicity over against spirituality, but one of singularity over against multiplicity – and this, by the way, is a challenge which supersedes religion and effects the modern day secular worlds as much as the religious worlds. Harpur reveals a Christ figure whose mythology is proliferate, repeating, in its spirit and its details, throughout cultures and civilizations. A Christ is revealed who refuses to be limited to one incarnation, to one point in history. And, here appears a challenge not just to Christianity but to a legacy of Western thought, religious and secular. For, in the world which Harpur presents to us, truth itself is transformed, it becomes additive; truth follows rhizome, zigzag lines; truth refuses reductionist lines and instead accumulates possibilities.

Harpur’s world does not so much reveal the Christ as it creates, generates a universe of Christs. Using Nietzsche’s language, we can say that Harpur creates a “becoming” Christ, or “becoming” Christs, incarnating not only in ancient mythologies but in contemporary lives and institutions. And not only Christs, but also proliferating creations of endless possible spiritual figures. Spiritualities emerging which shed exclusivity and unity and instead create repeated affirmations of endless life possibilities. Life collects, life assembles... and life refuses a systemic or mechanistic unity.

While there is a long history of challengers to such singular views of truth, I want to conclude with an emphasis upon the generative spiritualities so beautifully discussed by American poet, Walt Whitman. No exclusive gods in Whitman’s world, just a spreading divinity which enlivens life in its every corner. Christ, divinity is created, like “leaves of grass”.

Speaking of his own work of writing as if he were a visual artist, Whitman says:

Painters have painted their swarming groups
and the centre-figure of all,
From the head of the centre-figure spreading
a nimbus of gold color’d light,
But I paint myriads of heads,
but paint no head without its
nimbus of gold-color’d light...

Walt Whitman

Monday, December 8, 2008

How to Talk about Life

I apologize to my readers for not having posted for such a long time now. I have been preparing a book, based upon pieces of this blog... and that job has been quite overwhelming. I am hoping that the book will be published possibly within the next month. During this time, however, my mind has been playing with many ideas I want to write about. So... I suppose I just have to start writing again.

In this posting, I want to talk about how we talk. I want to language about languaging.

I find myself tired of the techno/scientific language which has come to dominate our talk. It is a language which is far removed from nature, removed from connections with real life. No more anachronisms, like PTSD, or ADHD. We can talk about the challenges of having to live through horrific circumstances or the experiences of little boys in the classroom without such cold and dry language.

And so much professional language is impossible for the regular citizen to seriously address. Think of global warming, for example: scientists put together models of climate change, and those of us who are not scientists (more particularly, those of us who are not scientists of a climatology specialty) have no ability to make any reasonable judgment on such information. As a result of such types of discourse, we learn to trust schools of thought and specialists. We learn to champion certain schools of thought, types and outcomes of scientific research, in the same way we show loyalty to a sports team. And, in the process, we learn what seems like the necessity of minimizing and trivializing our own ability to perceive life and make decisions. In this process, we know we see life, but we are led to believe that the truth always lies far beneath our own perceptions. We learn that those things which are most important in our world are transcendent to the living of life, transcendent to experience, transcendent to nature, and are instead embedded in formulas and algorithms of labs and universities.

Following up with the climatology example -- Why is a discourse on global warming necessary to convince us that the earth is not well? Just living in this world tells us that the earth has been desecrated. Seeing the haze lingering over the city tells us this. Developing asthma as an adult, particularly during the hot summer seasons, tells me that the air is not well. Seeing the removal of much of the natural environment around me, noting the growing disappearance of the salmon from year to year, wondering why I no longer hear choruses of frogs in the springtime – all of this tells me that the earth is changing, and it informs me of this with great emotional impact. I don’t need a global warming discourse, of which I can truly understand nothing, and upon which I am unable to make any wise judgments. Democracy itself demands access to life without having to blindly rely upon what experts tell us regarding how we are to think about this very world we live and move within. I want to talk directly of nature and life, and not of abstracts such as global warming. I want to talk of life as it is accessible to us.

Some scientists are able to make things clear to people like me. Einstein, for example, revealed a world which was strange, yet a world we could understand. He revealed a universe built upon what he called “relativity”... that is a universe composed of relationships, vast realms where the relations between things truly matter. This connects with much more than physics, it connects with our experience of daily life. And Charles Darwin wrote “The Origin of Species” -- a document which is understandable to anyone who takes the time and energy to understand. It is not at all limited to experts. I find it interesting that those scientists we often consider the most influential, those we consider to be the greatest minds, are able to communicate in ways which you and I can find accessible.

When I talk of trying to talk without anachronism, without specialized languages which are disconnected from life and nature, I am not at all suggesting a simple language. I am not suggesting a language of limited vocabulary and grade-school level sentence structures. The way of talking I am referring to can be challenging, it can invite us to expand our usages of words and sentences. It also is not afraid to push aside the dryness of the language of professions, it is not afraid to push aside the secret languages of specialists.

I am referring to democratization of talk.

Let us talk like poets... savouring not just meanings, but also the tones and textures of words. As David Abrams suggests, let us listen to words as we also listen to the babbling of the running river, the chorus of wind in the trees, the laughter of the coyote, the dancing melodies of a song sparrow. Words, talk, language then becomes alive with something approaching magic. Words becoming living things.

I want to live in a world where language is living, where talk is beautiful, and where those words which are cold and disconnected from life are chased away --with no love lost.