A Revisionist Christmas
A few days after Buckminster Fuller died in 1983 at at the age of 87, the Christian Science Monitor published a lengthy appreciation of the 20th century genius who answered to a handful of job descriptions: architect, inventor, designer, poet, author and visionary.
Fuller wasn’t a church-goer, recalled the pastor of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, but "he was the most spiritual person I ever met."
A year after Fuller’s death, I took a workshop called "Money and You" that was conducted by one of his acolytes, a San Francisco attorney-turned-entrepreneur named Marshall Thurber. Despite the title, there were abundant references to our "oneness," along with a lot of hugging, a strange and powerful experience called "The Blocks Game," and the singing, while holding hands in a big circle, of "We Are the World."
Throughout the weekend, audio clips of Bucky Fuller were played to underscore various concepts. Unlike his writing (I found his "Critical Path" to be impenetrable), Fuller proved on tape to be not only comprehensible, but warm and loving as well.
Indeed, it was while listening to his deep, rumbling voice and marveling at his grandfatherly manner that I understood the elemental difference between Fuller and Thurber. Thurber grasped "oneness" as a philosophical concept; Fuller had taken it to heart, and lived it. Thurber talked the talk; Fuller walked it.
I was reminded of Fuller the other day after a conversation with a friend whose tribulations have driven her into the arms of fundamentalist religion. "The scriptures are the word of God," she said, and to disregard them was to be "disobedient."
While I understand that the scriptures have been of enormous comfort to her, I feel no such attraction for the Bible, and I certainly don’t feel that I’m being disobedient. I have encountered interesting passages, but seldom do I relate to the characters or their stories. Perhaps it’s because they derive from a different time and place, when lifestyles and mores were dramatically different. The stories about Jesus are particularly frustrating. They often feel abbreviated, as if the writer were in a hurry to be done with the story and move on.
There is also the impression that certain stories have been adulterated, whether innocently, through the inevitable inaccuracies of the oral histories that preceded the recording of them in writing, or through the difficulties in translating from one language to another. In other cases, I blame the natural human instinct to embellish a story, and there are some, I suspect, which have been doctored in the interest of spiritual politics. That is, to manipulate others.
It’s worth remembering, too, that Jesus lived in a time dominated by pagan cults and mystery religions, such as Mithraism. It may have served the purposes of early Christians to combat the ignorance and superstitions of the time by jazzing up their own stories.
Consider the "virgin birth" of Jesus. It is miraculous if true, but does it matter if Jesus was born of a virgin? I think not. The miracle is that Jesus was conceived and born in the usual fashion, lived the everyday experiences of the common man and gradually awoke to his divinity.
In fact, it could be argued that the virgin birth diminishes Christianity because it is improbable and unnecessary, and because it requires a childish credulity on the part of the believer.
This is not to deny Jesus’ capacity for the miraculous, but to underscore the ambiguity inherent in such situations. After Jesus fed the 5,000 from a few fishes and loaves, the crowd chanted "Jesus is king!" Dismayed, he reproved them, pointing out that they were moved only because their stomachs were full. He said, "I want to fill your hearts, not your stomachs."
The best explanation I’ve seen for the virgin birth is found in the Urantia Book (see "Tools" on the nav bar to the left). In a section entitled "Birth and Infancy," it explains that many Old Testament Messianic prophecies were applied to Jesus well after his life on earth. In this case, the passage "a maiden shall bear a son" apparently was changed to read "a virgin shall bear a son."
Little wonder, then, that so many resist Christian traditions and beliefs. That eminent theologian Ian Anderson, leader of Jethro Tull, waged a rock ‘n’ roll jihad against the ponderous Church of England. In "Wind Up" on the "Aqualung" album, he wrote, "I don’t believe you, you had the whole damn thing all wrong/He’s not the kind you have to wind up on Sundays."
Nor, I think, is He the kind whose credibility depends on fairy tales. My guess is the true story of Jesus can withstand the most rigorous intellectual scrutiny, and do so effortlessly. And I take comfort in Jesus’ teaching that admission to the kingdom of heaven depends not on a set of beliefs, but on the simple acceptance of, and love for, the Heavenly Father.
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