Monday, April 21, 2014

Book Review: Girl at the End of the World

I preordered Elizabeth Esther's  Girl at the End of the World: My Escape from Fundamentalism in Search of Faith with a Future. I got it the night before it was released, when my Kindle thought it was already midnight in wherever Amazon Standard Time is.  I finished it by 1am. 

If you grew up in fundamentalist Christianity, in the inner circle of church leadership, in any kind of cult, or even in garden-variety abuse and addiction, you paid a price with your very soul. And you will find solace in this book, knowing that you weren't alone. I laughed and I cried and I tried to keep the noise down so my husband could sleep. But I finished with a full heart, for Elizabeth Esther wrote the drama of my childhood. Sure the setting was different and the costumes were changed, but still the essence of the story was my story too. It is the story of far too many children.

 I will be thinking of this book for days, I know, as it pulls up long-hidden memories and deeply buried feelings from my own childhood. It is a healing space.

Thank you, Elizabeth Esther, for creating a safe space for me to look more deeply at the wounds in my soul.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Did Jesus Die to Appease God?

(image from, item #4)

Jesus didn't die to appease God. Jesus died because he wouldn't appease men. 

God sacrificed his ineffable infinity to become a finite human with human limits in order to demonstrate The Way of Compassion and a bottom-up society. He was killed "for our sins" in that the society and culture we humans have created, ego-driven and top-down, couldn't tolerate the radical and transformative message. Oppression sells. When the oppressed rise up, the oppressors kill them. That is our collective human sin. And that is what killed Jesus.

Penal substitution is one of the biggest lies Christians tell themselves. When Christ “paid it all, all to him I owe” (as the hymn goes), he wasn't paying a debt incurred by the individual sins of believers (or the world, if you're a universalist). His sacrifice was not death on the cross as some kind of late era human offering. His sacrifice was in accepting the human limits on his infinite divinity in order to teach us compassion and equality. The human culture, created out of the blindly ego-driven human desires for authority, hierarchy, and power-over, killed him to save itself.

Despite the sincere efforts of groups like Anchor Baptist Church, who published the photo above, to establish that Jesus paid a debt to appease a deity whose holiness demanded perfection according to an impossible standard set by himself, the Bible actually never speaks of any debt owed to God (or even Satan, as one version of this doctrine states) nor that Jesus paid it. Nor does the Bible explain how failure to live up to the Ten Commandment standard, which standard even God himself couldn’t maintain in the Old Testament, incurs a debt, demands punitive justice, or is actually in any way responsible for the death of Jesus.

Sin is “having eaten of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil”, or, having come to a state of consciousness in which duality is possible, believing that separation from God is not only possible but the inherent way of existence.  Sin is living in denial of the fundamental unity of All That Is.  Sin creates the human conditions of power-over and oppression, of hoarding resources and poverty, of In-groups and Othering.  The consequence of such belief and behavior is death and degradation of most of the human race. And a nearly irreconcilable poverty of spirit for those few at the top of the heap.  There is reason to believe that the poverty of spirit is so acute that the One Percenters indeed lack any capacity for empathy or compassion at all.  Sociopathy rules.

Jesus’ death was not to justify some cosmic accounting ledger for a tyrannically holy, fully Other, tortuously punitive deity.  That story isn’t in the Bible.  It’s a story modern Christians have made up for themselves to keep the masses shame-laden and burdened with exalting the few who manipulate the stories.  Much like the few who didn’t approve of the story Jesus was telling of a radical, inclusive, egalitarian compassion. 

Jesus told of unity and oneness and the inseparability of holy and human.  He taught that the weak and the poor are as worthy and powerful as the rich and the strong.  The One Percenters of his day had created a society in which such talk wasn’t only heretical but treason.  The social climbers and power-hungry and would-be rich-and-famous colluded with the society of sin and degradation to put that story to death.

We crucify Jesus again and all like him whenever we allow oppression, hierarchy, poverty, or exclusion to occur.  When we believe in the separation of sacred and secular, when we ascribe to the few more worth than the many, when we deny the holiness of all humanity.