Thursday, April 06, 2006

Gospel of Judas

For the last 15 years, off and on, part of me has really wanted to embrace Christianity. I think there's real meaning there. I love the idea that we are all united as a spiritual family, that there is a tie of spirit or energy that binds us. And certainly since my Mom died, I've wanted to believe in a spiritual connection that goes beyond our 5 senses and our sense of time. It's certainly better than thinking we are alone and unconnected to each other.

I especially like the idea of putting our egos to the side and letting someone or something else be the guiding principle of our lives. Submission to something greater, dedication to being on the path, is a wonderful concept, and a test, and it unifies us in purpose. It forces us to come up against our egos and our issues, and fail, and rally again with humor. It allows us to experience grace. And the idea of celebrating that unity and grace with other people in fellowship (or by helping others) is great and makes all the sense in the world to me.

Since I was raised Christian, it's the easy choice for me. It's part of my culture. Unfortunately, I've never been able to really get into Christianity as it's generally practiced. The literalism, the conservative and repressive politics espoused by many mainstream churches, and the exclusivity of Christian dogma ("Noone comes to the Father except through me," etc.) make it tough for me. I prefer the idea of Jesus as a guide, someone who pointed out a path to humility and unity and ultimately divinity, in a way that is much more open and metaphorical. When he said "I am the way," I'd prefer to think he was saying "Listen, I am the way, look to my path. Your lives are founded on illusions and desire. Stop and go this way." However, I think the vast majority of Christians do not see things this way, which makes it hard for me to associate with them. I have a hard time believing that Christianity is the only true religion, that everyone else goes to Hell, that the miracle of the Resurrection is a physical certainty, etc etc. To most Christians, if you're Jewish, you're going to Hell. Buddhist? Burning. And if you are a "practicing" homosexual, you're definitely out. And then there's so much time spent talking about how bad and imperfect we are, and how much we need Jesus, like he's a pill to swallow.

But then something like the Gospel of Judas comes along, and I'm fascinated by the possibilities all over again. Have you heard about how they've translated this 1800 year old document? It basically says that Jesus actually blessed Judas and said he would exceed all the other disciples because he would free Jesus the Spirit from Jesus the flesh. Pow! Suddenly, Judas is transformed from a traitor to Jesus' dearest servant, the only one who understood what Jesus wanted.

Now, I'm not saying I buy into the Gospel of Judas as a newer or better dogma (I don't), but when something like this comes along, it just shows how so much of our fundamental beliefs rest on accepted tradition. What was yesterday's internecine battle is today's understood "fact". Elaine Pagels said in this NYTimes article, "These discoveries are exploding the myth of a monolithic religion, and demonstrating how diverse — and fascinating — the early Christian movement really was."

Hearing this warms my heart. Maybe there is a place for metaphor in the Christian spectrum. Maybe looking to the Jesus way without getting hooked on all the damnation and oppression and literalism is ok? I've felt in the past like you either were a Christian and bought into the dogma, or you didn't buy in and were out. Sure, there's some area for disagreement, but if you're not sure about basic facts like the Resurrection and about Christianity being the only true religion, I think you're out. The Gospel of Judas doesn't necessarily change either of those, but it does point out that at one point in time, there were some very different, competing ideas of what the point of Christianity was to be. How much was it about deifying Jesus versus following the Jesus path? I think the Gnostics were more in the latter camp, but I don't know nearly enough to make that claim.

In the end, I'm still on the fringes. Maybe I can hang out with the Unitarians or something. (I always liked the Quakers, too.)

Here's a link to the article. (The first picture above is from the article, copyright NYTimes. The second picture is from ClipartReview.com.)

19 Comments:

At 3:11 AM, Blogger Cassandro said...

Fascinating. The urge to judge, even someone as ancient as Judas, surely is a conviction against the judgers, as Jesus himself would have said.

It has occurred to me that the church as the body of Christ is the body on the way to the passion: bloody, scourged, betrayed, near death.

Many Christians are very frightened by texts like this, and the fiction of Dan Brown et al as well.

A new book "Misquoting Jesus" points out that there may be as many errors in the Bible as there are sentences, or even words. Thus it helps that the essential message is plain and simple.

That the Western church has managed for so long to "live" without taking seriously Jesus's own words, e.g. from the sermon on the mount, is somewhat breathtaking. The prophetic word today is more likely to come from Kurt Vonnegut or Ozzy Osbourne than from what is declared or perceived to be "Christian."

I lived decades hearing "those who are not with us are against us" until actually reading and finding it is "those who are not against us are with us."

Vonnegut's "Cat's Cradle" has an idea that appears in another form in a book, "The Divine Conspiracy"--that there is a God, and that people are working his will in concert without even knowing it.

Certainly Judas plays an essential role. If he was commanded, or commended, or both--how much does that really change? If it changes a lot, then maybe we've had the wrong priorities all along. It's not about the dead, but the living. It's not about condemning, but redeeming.

 
At 10:00 PM, Blogger Crawdad said...

Redeeming ourselves, and without so much judgement, of others or of ourselves. The Buddhist concept of just watching is so good here. Not judging, not spinning or brooding, but noticing and letting go and going a different way next time. Or as Jesus said, "Go, and sin no more." (And relax, yo!)

I like the idea of "those who are not against us are with us."

 
At 10:08 PM, Anonymous shrinkwrap said...

Thanks, crawdad...great piece. I have been reading some of the "the historical Jesus" stuff (Marcus Borg et al) and the counter arguments (TM Johnson)and find it fascinating...which is more important, the Christian "heritage" of beliefs or what we can unearth (sometimes literaally) as what "really" happened and what Jesus "really" said, or the evidence of a continuous flow of experiences, comments, etc. starting with the gospels, Paul, and on to the present?

The cool thing is that we each have our own experience and can learn from books like "THe Gospel of Judas" as well as from each other!

Good on ya, mate!

 
At 10:12 PM, Blogger Crawdad said...

"And then there's so much time spent talking about how bad and imperfect we are, and how much we need Jesus, like he's a pill to swallow."

That's one thing about the Mormons, they did cut much of this feeling out of mainstream Christianity by focusing so much on self-perfection. Also a wacky one to me, Mormonism, but I have to give props to J. Smith for getting folks out from under the self-dislike rock.

 
At 10:21 PM, Blogger Crawdad said...

Thanks SW! I really don't know much about Marcus Borg besides that one book ("Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time" I think it was) which I read years and years ago. Maybe I should check it out again?

I was just talking to Auracana, and we were talking about how much space there is in Christianity for different beliefs while still being Christian. I may be too hooked on to catechisms and what's in the papers these days about denominations being exclusive in their definitions of who is or is not a Christian. She asked the question "who gets to define who is or is not a Christian?" And I don't really know the answer, just that I go by what most mainline churches put out as their definition of who's in or out, who can be a pastor or no, etc. But maybe I should just relax!

So I agree with you - the cool thing is we can learn from each other, from our own experiences, etc.

I'm going to go hang out in the Matrimandir and stare at the crystal. I'll be there if you need me! : )

 
At 10:00 AM, Anonymous Kiarill said...

um. You sound like you're from a really conservative church where dancing will be considered shocking. [forgive me if I am wrong] But the whole thing about christianity [to me] is that Jesus is my brother and God is my father. And all they want for me is for me to have a good life, and truely, when I'm really with my father I feel good, and my life goes well.

About the Christian Dogma thing, When Jesus said "Noone comes to the Father except through me" I don't think of it as exclusivity. Because it IS true, he's just stating facts. Are you meaning that people who do not believe esus saved them should go to heaven. If they do not believe God, then what will they do in heaven when we praise God all day long?

I also think like you, [about "I am the way"] Jesus will never force anyone, be it to believe in him or not. But he does want you to believe in him, because he does love you.

To us Christian, resurrection is not even sure to Christians. But we have faith. Faith is a very essential in our religion. If everyone else is going to hell, that's why we're working so hard to win people for God. No matter if you're homosexual or Jewish or Buddhist, If you can see the light, why won't you be saved?

The whole thing about Christianity is your love story with God, and to matchmake others with him. God forgives.

 
At 10:33 AM, Blogger Elizabeth said...

Yeah, hey, about you and the Quakers: one time, didn't they put your name on some NYT ad as a reference person in Oregon for the Friends Service Committee?

BTW, you'd make a great UU, and you'd probably get along great with the people I'm going to school with. These sorts of things--like, everything in your post--is what gets us excited and frustrated. You should investigate the Church of the Larger Fellowship (http://www.uua.org/clf) for folks who don't live near a Unitarian Universalist congregation.

Yeah, Judas!

 
At 11:25 AM, Blogger Crawdad said...

hey kiarill thanks for your comment. I appreciate your comment about faith, especially. I agree that having faith and letting the answers come over time is necessary.

I have to admit, I've never thought of Jesus' statement ("Noone comes to the Father except through me.") as non-exclusive because it's just the way it is, the truth. To me it all comes down to whether the truth is an unmalleable concrete thing that exists in itself, or if it's a concept that has developed out of human discourse, based on our needs over the ages. I think Karen Armstrong weighed in with the latter opinion in A History of God, but I read only part of that book, and that was in 1995 I think. But sure, it makes sense that if God is and is as the Bible says, then we need to recognize that and orient our lives around that fact. I think I see that God is, just not necessarily that the Bible is his one and only book of guidance. It seems more likely to me that humans around the world, throughout the ages (i.e. way before the internet or even printed communication) all saw evidence of the divine, and they all made stories of creation, salvation, and right living. These stories eventually got put down in print, and over the years accrued a significant amount of cultural weight. Now as we are so easily able to travel from culture to culture, these systems of faith are conflicting more and more.

So it sounds like when you look at it, you see the clear fact that God and Jesus are the truth, period, yes? (No?) And that God's love is a gift we just need to accept. But when I look at it, I just can't get around why God would plant so many different religions around the world, each similar in many respects, and most with claims of exclusivity. Sounds more like something humans constructed in their quest to explain the unexplainable. It doesn't mean Christianity is wrong, per se, but it does give me pause before signing up, especially if I have to believe that all Buddhists are going to Hell, because they didn't see the light and become saved. I think I prefer orienting my life around a more abstract concept of the divine, but one that is still living and all around us. From there, I'll let the chips fall where they may.

All the best, and thanks again for your response; I really appreciate your thoughtful comments.

 
At 11:31 AM, Blogger Crawdad said...

Hey E! Yeah, that was me in the ad, go Quakers! I had no idea my name would show up in the NYTimes though. Smaller community than I thought! I really like the Quakers a lot, but they may even be a bit too abstract for me. I wonder if there's a group of Quakers in New Delhi? I'll check. And you know, I've never checked out the UUs. (Yoohoos?), so I will do so. I guess when I was growing up I heard they didn't believe in too much, that there wasn't enough substance there. But that is 100% rumor, and probably slander, as I'm reacting only to what others told me. So, yeah, I'll check it out. UU! Woot!

This whole thing has re-prompted me to listen to Jesus Christ Superstar music, too.

Off to unpack my iPod HiFi system... Have a good day (or night, depending!)

 
At 1:49 AM, Blogger Cassandro said...

Per Garrison Kiellor:

Q: Why are Unitarians such bad singers?

A: Because they are always looking ahead in the hymnal to see if they agree with what is coming up next.

Per Frederick Beuchner (pr. Beekner)

Jesus said, "I am the way the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me." He didn't say that any particular ethic, doctrine or religion was the way, the truth, and the life. He said that he was. He didn't say that it was by believing or doing anything in particular that you could "come to the Father." He said that it was only by him--by living, participating in, being caught up by the way of life that he embodied, that was his way.
Thus, it is possible to be on Christ's way and with his mark upon you without ever having heard of Christ, and for that reason to be on your way to God though maybe you don'e even believe in God.
A Christian is one who is on the way, though not necessarily very far along it, and who has at least some dim and half-baked idea of whom to thank,.

This is pretty good, I think, and reminds me of those who want to use a term like "follower of the way" (Taoist?) rather than "Christian," since, like so many words (e.g. conservative) it has lost much if not all of its meaning.

 
At 2:49 AM, Blogger Crawdad said...

Bravo, Cassandro, well said. That is very helpful to me! I hope to be on the right track, however dim my idea of whom to thank...

Just for kicks, here are two Libyan proverbs I heard tonight:

1. As the lion ages, monkeys hold him in contempt.
2. When a man enters a hot bathroom, he must perspire.

 
At 5:37 AM, Anonymous shrinkwrap said...

That is so true, so true....

 
At 7:59 AM, Blogger Alizarin said...

Crawdad, this is a great discussion. It raises a lot of strong beliefs in me also ... Like everyone else, these are personal reflections.

Cassandro, I totally agree with what you said about people possibly being on Christ's path without realizing it, or even without particularly believing in God. If God were so fragile as to need us to believe in him before he could work in and among our lives, then he wouldn't really fit my idea of God. I'm much comforted by a God who doesn't need me to mentally take care of him in order for him to take care of me. I mean, if our relationship were reciprocal ... we'd be dating.

Crawdad, you know I'm also troubled by the idea of an exclusive salvation. The only toe I dipped into the "historical Jesus" studies was by reading _Jesus: a Life_, a gift from SW. One of the most intense ideas I got from it was that Jesus sat down to eat with the tax collectors and prostitutes as they were. (No I'm-just-going-to-wipe-this-glass-before-I-drink-from-it, it-looks-pretty-grimy.) It's hard to recreate why that made such an impact on me ... Something about the banquet as symbol for the kingdom of Heaven ... Like, of course he comes to the people with problems. If they were all right, why would they need to be saved? More than that -- if you only "save" the people who've met you halfway, brought you into their hearts, converted, believed you existed and that you're in Heaven now with a stern eye on their futures etc. -- what kind of saving is that?

Well, I'm afraid I may have come on more strongly than I meant to. Like I say, these are personal beliefs.

I could go on and on, like my favorite Kurt Vonnegut quote regarding God ... but I've got my own blog. Thanks for an interesting discussion.

 
At 9:27 PM, Blogger Cassandro said...

C'mon, give us the Vonnegut quotation!

 
At 3:27 AM, Blogger Alizarin said...

Ha ha, okay, from _Breakfast of Champions_:

There was a message written in pencil on the tiles by the roller towel. This was it: WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF LIFE?

Trout plundered his pockets for a pen or pencil. He had an answer to the question. But he had nothing to write with, not even a burnt match. So he left the question unanswered, but here is what he would have written, if he had found anything to write with:

To be
the eyes
and ears
and conscience
of the Creator of the Universe,
you fool.

As Trout departed, he sent this telepathic message to the Creator of the Universe, serving as His eyes and ears and conscience: "Am headed for Forty-second Street now. How much do you already know about Forty-second Street?"

 
At 4:46 AM, Anonymous archetypist said...

Very interesting discussion!

As you know, crawdad, I come down on the other side of some of these questions -- especially about those wacky Mormons. The exclusivity thing is a bit of a koan though. Trying to understand "I am the way" in terms of drawing sectarian lines in the sand or seeing abstract shapes in the clouds kind of misses the point and the lesson, from my POV. Jesus had a lot more to say on this (or so the Bible reports), but it really does come down to how we live and why we live. For me the question is, am I, like a compass needle, oriented toward God? And when I find that I'm not, how do I get back into the maximal alignment with God as I see it?

So sure, many who've never heard of God or Christ are no doubt better Christians than I'll ever be. But that doesn't remove the desire I have to try to align myself with what I know of the character of God, which incorporates (but for me does not stop at) acknowledging Jesus as the sole exemplar of such a truly aligned life and ultimately the one who makes my desire and striving worthwhile.

But yeah, you still have to deal with the physical reality of the resurrection. At some level either you get around that or you don't. Personally, I take things like that as lessons in humility, reminders of how little I know and how not to get on my high horse about what is or is not possible. I find when I do that even halfway successfully, much more becomes possible than would have been otherwise.

 
At 7:37 AM, Blogger Crawdad said...

How great to hear from you Archetypist! (Archie? ; )

Let's see, a couple of comments before I run off to work this morning. First, I hope you noted that I said that Mormonism was also a wacky one. I don't mean to disparage the LDS faith more than others -- for a more recently communicated faith, I like what I see as the increased emphasis on one's actions. Anyway, after you said "those wacky Mormons," I realized that my comment sounded like a slam, which I def didn't mean it to be! While this is all very serious stuff, it's also all existentially comical to me, and that's where I was coming from. My sincere apologies for riffing without thinking! And thanks for not flaming my hide too hard on that. : )

Second, I like what you say about being a compass needle, oriented toard God. But at the end of the day, don't most denominations believe that if you have not accepted Christ as your personal savior, that you are not going to Heaven and are therefore going to Hell? Some may not emphasize Hell as much, but isn't that the only other place to go in Protestant theology? Put another way, is Gandhi really in Hell? He certainly had heard of God or Christ, but was not a Christian. I'm sorry if that sounds sophomoric, but to me it does point to an exclusivity issue with Christianity. And it's why I really like what Cassandro said above. At the same time, though, I have a feeling that most pastors I asked would say that I have to accept Jesus as my personal savior, period.

(This is another place where, as far as I understand it, the LDS faith has another improvement with the concept of the terrestrial, celestial, and telestial areas or levels of heaven.)

Last, I agree again that a certain amount of humility is key in having faith, and I'd like to submit more in that way. There's a certain amount of skepticism that can't be answered, only transformed into faith, held in a holy escrow account for later, I suppose. As in, sure, I'd like to know the answer to this, but it's not going to affect me making an investment. Ok, riffiing again, sorry.

Now it's 7:30 and I have to run to work. Great to hear from you A!

 
At 8:03 AM, Anonymous archetypist said...

Archy if you have Mehitabel around, I guess. ;)

No slam perceived or offense taken. A little existential wackiness isn't a bad thing. :)

I like your riff on an escrow for skepticism; nicely put.

I've talked with a lot of Christians who do put everyone not overtly in Category A (their form of category A) squarely in Eternal Category B -- Ghandi and (for many) Mother Theresa included. I've never really bought that, and as you note LDS theology doesn't go that way. In short we believe we come as close to God as we choose to; that we make ourselves who we are in this life. This doesn't devalue faith in Christ and a living relationship with the Holy Ghost; that's in many what makes it possible for us to draw closer to God than we could possibly do on our own.

And that's me riffing; don't want to bog this down too much. Where are the elephants when we need them? 8--j

 
At 6:34 AM, Anonymous shrinkwrap said...

Imagine how much I am enjoying this running dialogue! Great to read and I would add my 2 cents if I had them.

 

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