Monday, October 9th 2017

Jesus in a Post-Christian World

By David Pincus

David reflects on who Jesus is for him and the community of SMX.

You may have heard the well-known story about a famous physicist who was giving a talk about the Big Bang and modern theories of cosmology.   When he asked for questions, a lady got up and said she knew that he was wrong and that a turtle made the universe.  Not wishing to upset her, he mildly inquired who made the turtle.  She replied that it was made by a previous turtle.   He asked who made that turtle and she said it was a previous turtle.  He pointed out that such reasoning was self-defeating and circular as eventually you had to ask who made the original turtle.  “But you don’t understand” she said triumphantly – “it was turtles all the way”.

Here at SMX, we, very correctly, do not have that certainty. We are all searching for the truth and it is in that spirit that I present my thoughts now.

Today, I will follow up on one of the logical consequences arising in my mind from the marvellous homily given by Robert Perrier a few years ago.  Robert stated that he had no fixed idea of the existence of a personal God, but that he agreed with the AA idea that the start of redemption, whether it is from alcoholism, drug addiction or any self-destructive habit, needed to begin with an acceptance of a particular idea. This idea is that there was a power superior to one’s own and that this acknowledgement of our individual subservience to this power could be the basis for an effective philosophy and, importantly, for a personal system of morals. By the way, as the humourist James Thurber pointed out, one addiction that must be fought is addiction to calling and attending meetings.

Peter Kennedy echoed the same idea that we all need a principle to guide us in our personal moral code when he advocated that SMX should preach orthopraxy, rather than following the hierarchical religions which concentrate on Orthodoxy. It is what you do that defines you, rather than what you believe. I personally consider that each member of SMX cannot decide on an underlying system for our actions, an orthopraxy, unless we each individually decide on an underlying principle behind the orthopraxy.

A modern theologian, Tom Drake Brockman, wrote in a recent article of the contrast between the teaching of Jesus as against the position that Paul promulgated in his Epistles. Jesus spoke of deeds and defined an orthopraxy that saves us - as outlined in the Gospel passage I have just read. Paul said in his letters that it is faith that determined whether you are saved. Paul particularly concentrated on an acceptance that Jesus rose from the dead and that Christ died for our sins and outlined an orthodoxy. Jesus, on the other hand, taught that deeds are what matter and concentrated on an orthopraxy based on the golden rule and forgiving our enemies..

The Catechism that I learnt by heart as a schoolboy at a Catholic school asked “Why do we call the Church holy”? The prescribed answer is that Catholics “every day and in every age” were renowned for their holiness. Would that even that were so! It was not very obvious to listeners at the Royal Commission. By ”holiness”, the Catechism meant “Piety” and the Gospel passage I read earlier shows that Jesus did not teach that piety would save us – we need actions.   This is in line with the SMX concentration on orthopraxy i.e. good deeds, and rejection of orthodoxy i.e. what we believe, as the fact underlying what SMX is. It is the same message as Drake Brockman has in his article. He says that we should concentrate on faithfulness to Christ’s teaching and ignore the faith promulgated by Paul and similar teachers. He correctly asserts that the obsession with faith is a twisting of the teaching of Jesus.

Drake Brockman goes on to assert that, as faith-based religion has run its course and we live in a post-Christian world, “secular humanism …..has proven itself incapable of little else beyond an obsession with human rights.” Personally, human rights are so important to me that I would never call an emphasis on them an obsession, but I know what he means. Humanism puts human beings at the centre of the universe and rejects both mysticism and the idea that there is any meaning in the universe. Years ago, I read a book about humanism written by the then secretary of the British Humanist Society – now the British Humanist Institution. The book asserted that it could  be proved that humanism had a long history because an ancient grave stone found in the sands of North Africa must have been the grave of a humanist. The grave stone said “I was not, I became, I am not. It does not matter”. “I was not (before birth) , I became (alive), I am not as I am dead). It does not matter”. Young as I was then, I decided that I would never be a humanist as, for me, it does matter.

In this homily, I am trying to show that SMX does have an underlying philosophic principle and that its orthopraxy is based on Christ’s teaching. Many of the members will protest against this. They will say that they no longer believe in the hierarchical churches. They no longer believe that Jesus was God. Some of us no longer believe in a creator God and have explained the fact that there is a universe by a materialistic approach. To me, this honest divergence of opinion is healthy. But, to my knowledge, members of SMX do not embrace the idea of a purely physical universe. They, like Robert Perrier, believe in a transcendental entity. Mysticism is an important element in many SMX members’ system of belief.

I accept that Western society has largely rejected Christianity. I also believe that even though we live in a post-Christian society, the legacy of Christianity still is important. I consider that the idea behind Micah and the idea behind the many kind acts that so many SMX members do, is based on the Gospel message from Micah – to act justly, to love tenderly and to walk humbly with our God. I, personally, hope that we can preserve that heritage and use the teachings of Jesus as our guiding light.