When I argued on 29 May that the Kingdom of God/Heaven was the centre piece of Jesus’ message NOT ‘sin’ it was the culmination of a period of frustration growing over the last few years. As a sort of reality check I completed a process today of downloading the text of two of the gospels and abstracting just the words attributed to Jesus in order to ensure that I wasn’t being selective in the words I used as a basis for my argument. I chose Matthew to represent the strain coming to us from Peter although Luke would have been just as good – remember that as per 29 May we accept that Matthew & Luke contain all of Mark plus additional source material commonly known as ‘Q’. The contrasting gospel was the strain coming from John.
In reading the words of Jesus, or more pedantically the words attributed to Jesus, in the two accounts one is always aware of how different the slant/thinking of the Petrine tradition is from that of the Johannine; but the one thing lacking from both is the emphasis on sin that forms so much of our church services. In fact in the Petrine tradition (Synoptic gospels) it plays absolutely no part whatsoever other than in connection with healing and since a modern understanding of illness/disability allows no part of ‘sin’ we can say it just isn’t present at all.
Next I return to a thought process I developed a few years ago – that in 2000 of church history we see little, if not negligible, evidence of the Love of God coming out of the Christian institutions or even the Christian tradition. A survey of 1700 years of Christian history, since Constantine put Christianity at the heart of the Roman empire, shows no emphasis on love in the world. In fact until the great aid agencies of the 20C one is hard put to find any consistent approach to ‘caring’ within Christianity. The one example I COULD find was of a convent order – ‘women’ would sexist males please note – in the 16C set up to care for the poor.
Add to these two thoughts the description of pre Reformation Christian practice from Eric Ives’ ‘The Reformation Experience’ – which emphasises the place that sin and ‘ameliorating its effects in the afterlife’ played in Christian practice, to a degree more effectively than I have met hitherto, and an uncomfortable thought arises. Is it perhaps this message of ‘sin’ that has so militated against the example of a loving God? By allowing a concentration on ‘doing things to balance out one’s sins in a superstitious age’ has the church itself become the propagator of evil. In which case, if proven/accepted, it’s sole virtue is that it kept the flame alive long enough to influence a post enlightenment, humanist, mindset in 20C.
One is reminded of the second of the Stephen Donaldson trilogies of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever: where Covenant returns to the land he once helped save from Lord Foul the Despiser 2000 years after the first trilogy only to find the very institutions that fought the works of the Despiser had become subverted from the inside and where now propagators of evil themselves.
When I first became aware of a gaping chasm in Christian history that the lack of God’s Love represents it was the motivation & actions of the nuns in the books (not the TV programmes) of Call The Midwife that gave me some hope that the net effect of Christian history was not quite as totally negative as it appears. It’s a scary and rather horrendous thought though that wonders whether, in concentrating on the words of Paul, from whence the heavy emphasis on sin originate, amplified by those very thoughts of Augustine in the 4/5C that so shaped the medieval world, rather than the words of Jesus himself, we haven’t neutered what Jesus revealed – the nature of a loving God.