From WILLIAM EDELEN
The Contrary Minister
For more than 25 years the beloved Senior Minister of the famed City Temple of London (Methodist) was Leslie Weatherhead. His books have been read by millions.
In The Christian Agnostic he opens with this: Not for much longer will the world put up with the lies, the superstitions and the distortions with which the simple message of Jesus has been overlaid. The message of Galilee has been so overlaid with creeds, ceremonies and doctrines, that one can hardly catch the essential message.”
He goes on to say that any minister, standing in a pulpit, who is not an agnostic is dangerous. Why is he (she) dangerous? Because he pretends to have positive and absolute answers, that he does not have. He lives in the 20th [and 21st] century, parroting back a third century biblical mentality, as though nothing had been learned, thought or discovered in the last 2000 years.
As the religious historian Joseph Campbell put it: “The majority of ministers either do not understand their material or else are deliberately misrepresenting it, if they know better. They present myth and metaphor as historical literal events. The idea of virgin birth, for example, is presented as historical fact, whereas every mythology (and religious tradition) in the world has included the mythological motif of virgin birth in their legends and folklore. American Indian mythologies abound in virgin births.”
I commend another book of his to those of you who would like to become more knowledgeable in this area. It is The Inner Reaches of Outer Space.
What these scholars are telling us is this: There was a Jesus of history with a simple message. Then there is the ‘Christ’ mythology created by the early church, using well-known mythological themes of Babylon, Egypt, Persia and Greece. For several hundred years, for instance, early Christians in Alexandria would worship before statues of the Holy Virgin, the Holy Mother Isis. She was suckling her divine child, Horus, whom she had conceived miraculously.
In the 1980s there was in International Symposium held at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Distinguished scholars from major universities in Europe and America presented papers on the Jesus of history and the Jesus of mythology.
Gerald Larue, professor of biblical history, University of Southern California, said this: “Writers put in Jesus’ mouth what the early church wanted him to say. For clergy who know better, why are they not communicating to their parishioners what they know? For clergy who do not know any better, it is simply a matter of ignorance.”
Van A. Harvey, professor of religion, Stanford University, used these words: “Anyone teaching Christianity, or the Bible, to college students cannot help but be struck by the enormous gap between what the average layperson thinks is historical truth about Jesus, and what the great majority of biblical scholars know after a century and a half of research.”
Let it be said that there are ministers keeping their congregations abreast of the latest scholarship in religious studies. The largest Congregational church in America (United Church of Christ), the denomination to which I belong, is the Church of the Beatitudes in Phoenix, Arizona. The Senior Minister there made this observation in a December sermon: “The key to Renaissance thought is the questioning spirit and the willingness to entertain doubt (agnosticism).
“I have no use,” he said, “for any religion that does not liberate the human mind to ask great questions. I am impatient with any religion which dampens the inquisitive spirit in humans. I am appalled by any religion that pretends to have firm, final and absolute answers.”
Weatherhead gives us our final reminder: “Any minister, standing in a pulpit, who is not an agnostic, is dangerous.”