I’m continuing to ask myself, what is Christianity? A previous post saw it as being like the typical supermarket set of shelves, with many different options on offer. Let’s narrow things down, however, to a traditional, historical, generic outline of what Christianity has said it’s about. Let’s consider the 4th century CE Apostles’ Creed, which sets out the beliefs held and required by the Church at that time.
“I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.”
‘God’ is a three-letter word, meaningless until the user invests it with meaning. This, for me, is where difficulties begin. The Creed is presumably not about a Greek-type god, living the high life on Mount Olympus, and occasionally coming down to impregnate a virgin or two, or otherwise interfere in human affairs.
It’s talking about a God who’s the “creator of heaven and earth”, which includes everything that is, and who therefore exists outside of, and apart from, the Time and Space that’s our ‘reality’. This God, then, is ‘transcendent’ in the fullest sense, as is suggested when the Bible says that “God is spirit”. If God has no material existence, that seems to mean that there’s no way in which you or I can verifiably describe him, her or it. We’re free to entertain beliefs that make intellectual sense to us, or meet our psychological needs, or that we’re otherwise ‘comfortable’ with, but we can’t credibly claim to possess any definitive facts.
At the time of the Creed, “heaven and earth” were two of the component parts of a concise little universe. “Heaven” was high above the clouds, where God was enthroned amidst his angels. Under the earth was ‘hell’, with its fiercely burning pit, awaiting the arrival of the unbelieving, or otherwise ‘unfaithful’. In the centre, was the flat and fixed “Earth”, with its inhabitants easily watched over from above, and their progress (or lack of it) duly recorded, pending a final and forever judgement.
All of that has had to go, except for a remnant of die-hards. God has had to be re-modelled, to fit an inconceivably vast universe, an Earth that’s a grain of cosmic dust, and a lack of any credible location for a fiery pit. God has had to become, not a Mega-Person somewhere in or beyond the cosmos, but the source, or “Ground of Being–Itself”. Perhaps the Bible conveys more than it intended, when it says “in God we live, and move, and have our being”. That evokes for me the inseparability and identity I find in the idea that God is ‘in us’ and that we are ‘in God’. Many a buddhist could buy into that.
We’re still left with “the Father almighty”, and some further difficulties. “Father” entails gender – patent nonsense if God is spirit. It reminds us that the Judaeo-Christian seedbed out of which Bible and Creed emerged was patriarchal and correspondingly misogynistic. A father who is “almighty” has a potentially terrifying aspect, especially for women and children who’ve suffered oppression and abuse. For us to be in need of some kind of ‘almighty father’ seems to me, to reduce us to a childlike, if not infantile, dependence. Count me out, thank you.
The word “almighty” also suggests the traditional, insupportable ‘trinity’ of all powerful, all knowing and all good. To choose just one example, that ‘trinity’ cannot hold together when one thinks about the God of his ‘chosen people’, the Jews, who did absolutely nothing to foresee and prevent, or intervene and stop, the hell of suffering inflicted on men, women, children and infants, beaten, separated, tortured, starved, humiliated, worked to death, gassed and burned. If God did indeed embody that impossible ‘trinity’ then for me, he would invite contempt, rather than belief.
Am I an atheist then? Some might say I am, but I see myself, a non-materialist, as more of a transcendentalist, for whom ‘God’ can indeed be the ‘ground of all-being’, and also Mind – that’s built into the bricks of this universe, and is the source of matter, design, intelligence, life, information, consciousness and personhood – but not as some kind of Mega-Person. I can’t find it within myself to contain and constrain the immeasurability of ‘God’ in that anthropomorphic kind of way. ‘God’ must not be ‘made in the image of us’. The first line of the Apostles’ Creed is well past its useful date for me.