I have far too many books, and really need to get rid of at least 75% — many still unread – very few that I’ve read from cover to cover. But, much like the photographs I still haven’t tossed, the process of scanning for final execution revives my diverse interests which motivated their original purchase. I told myself I should put aside my religious books arguing various positions, retaining only those for reference == maybe 2 or 3 bibles, one Torah, one each on the major religions, a few of Karen Armstrong’s religious history, and copies of the Bible History and Baltimore Catechism No.1 used in my Catholic grade school, as well as the 1994 English translation of Catechism of the Catholic Church sanctioned: “A sure norm for teaching the Faith” — Pope John Paul II. (Starting at age 7, I was taught by the nuns to memorize the answers to questions in the Catechism. Question #10: “How shall we know the things which we are to believe?” Answer: “We shall know the things which we are to believe from the Catholic Church, through which God speaks to us.” Other answers we memorized included: “God had no beginning; He always was and He always will be. God is everywhere. We do not see God, because He is a pure spirit and cannot be seen with bodily eyes. God knows all things, even our most secret thoughts, words, and actions. Adam and Eve did not remain faithful to God; but broke His command by eating the forbidden fruit. Through the disobedience of our first parents we all inherit their sin and punishment, as we should have shared in their happiness if they had remained faithful. Baptism is necessary to salvation, because without it we cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven. The priest is the ordinary minister of Baptism; but in case of necessity anyone who has the use of reason may baptize.”
This last point (about who can baptize) made important history about 150 years ago. At the time, the Vatican was a separate city, independent of Italy, the country surrounding it. Within that city, the law allowed Jewish people to raise their own children Jewish, but the law forbad them to raise Catholic children. A Catholic teenager who was baby-sitting for a Jewish family claimed she baptized their very sick baby boy, not expected to live. She wanted the boy to enter heaven. When the boy recovered, and the Catholic baby-sitter revealed that she had baptized him (making him no longer Jewish, but Catholic), the boy was taken from his parents and raised by the Pope’s staff. This caused an international uproar. But by the time the case was processed by the law, the boy wanted to stay with the Pope against his parents’ wishes. He not only became a Catholic priest, but came over to New York, with the specific mission of converting Jews to Catholicism. U.S. bishop refused to support him in any way, and appealed to the Pope to get him ‘out of here’. N.Y. had a large Jewish population, and we just don’t do things like that in America. I might have remembered some of the details wrong, and I can’t remember the name right now. But I got most of my information off Wikipedia, which is usually a fairly reliable. My point is that this kind of religious behavior is not ancient history. Some scientists are still trying to find a “God Gene”, because it might help explain humanity’s persistence in the God search. Personally, I don’t think it’s all that complicated. I suspect most people simply choose the same religion as their parents, with basic beliefs accepted without question. And sometimes, even in my life-time, it’s a survival question. I wouldn’t doubt that there are German Jews who became Christian just to stay alive. In Galileo’s time, it was the Inquisition. Many Americans may not even know about the Crusades, but you can be sure people in the Middle east are taught about it. Religious Wars throughout history! Protestants and Catholics killed each other. And our Native Americans were robbed of their homes and treated as savages needing to be converted to Christianity.
Got side-tracked a little, there! The point I wanted to make about books, is that, rather than a quick scan, I started reading Steven Mitchell’s “The Gospel According to Jesus — A New Translation and Guide to His essential Teachings for Believers and Unbelievers”. Reading only the first 20 pages, not only makes me want to want to keep it, but to also get his “The Book of Job”. I also have his translation of “Tao Te Ching”, but mainly because I’m a great fan of his wife, Byron Katie. She lovingly mentions him occasionally in her workshops and books. i want to write a few blogs about my experiences with her work. ( http://www.thework.com ) I had rejected my belief in the all-too=human Christian God, specifically because of my dogmatic early education, and some of the teachings in the Bible. But it turns out I’m far from alone. Mitchell writes: “No good scholar, for example, would call the Christmas stories anything but legends, or the accounts of Jesus’ trial anything but polemic fictions…No careful reader of the Gospels can fail to be struck by the difference between the largeheartedness of such passages and the bitter, badgering tone of some of the passages added by the early church. It is not only the polemical element in the Gospels, the belief in devils, the flashy miracles, and the resurrection itself that readers like Jefferson, Tolstoy, and Gandhi have felt are unworthy of Jesus, but most of all, the direct antitheses to the authentic teaching that were put into “Jesus'” mouth, doctrines and attitudes so offensive that they “have caused good men to reject the whole in disgust.” I’m reconsidering ‘rejecting the whole’ because of the parts I cannot bring myself to believe.
Steven Mitchell continues “Once the sectarian passages are left out, we can recognize that Jesus speaks in harmony with the supreme teachings of all the great religions: the Upanishads, the Tao Te Ching, the Buddhist sutras, the Zen and Sufi and Hasidic Masters. I don’t mean that all these teachings say exactly the same thing. There are many different resonances, emphases, skillful means. But when words arise from the deepest kind of spiritual experience, from a heart pure of doctrines and beliefs, they transcend religious boundaries, and can speak to all people, male and female, bond and free, Greek and Jew.”
Such thoughts give me pause!