One suspicion I carry with me from my church days is that the importance American Christians place on Jesus’ divinity does some crucial unacknowledged work.
One of the things that really stuck with my dad from seminary was a belief that whether Biblical events were factual is completely beside the point. (If you had any wonder how I ended up an English major, stop now. It ought to be clear I was brought up that way.) What is important is the story. He asked three questions about every story in the Bible. What does this tell us about God? What does this tell us about man? What does this tell us about God’s relationship to man?
So, what does it tell us about us that we so firmly insist on the complete inhuman divinity of Jesus?
(Let’s get at this from another way. What are folks trying to accomplish when they haul out Martin Luther King’s infidelities or his plagiarism? Why would anyone think that was a meaningful indictment of his work?)
Here’s what I think it is. It is important that we feel justified in our sloth. If we see something we know is wrong, we need to feel excused from having to be affected by it. We need to leave things to the good folks, and, when they turn out to be as ordinary as us, we need to revel in them thinking they were better than us and being taught that they weren’t.
This, America, is fucked up.
It’s fucked up because it allows the people in power to remain in power, because it’s an unspoken assumption of merit. The people motivated enough or crazy enough or egomanical enough to run for office (or become famous or whatever) are voted into office on the unspoken assumption that they somehow, more than you or I, deserve to be there. Do you see what I’m getting at?
If people in the United States really knew that, that it just takes motivation, determination, and a certain amount of craziness and ego to do things, it’d be revolutionary. Not because we’d all run out and “take back our country” or some other slogan-like goal, but because we might stop passively playing our role.
What is our role, you ask? One, to do nothing. To stay out of the way of the people in power and to accept that they have power because they deserve it and that we don’t have power because we don’t. Two, to knock down the folks like us who would presume to do anything, despite being from the group of people who do nothing.
If we wait around for the perfect people to show up to do something, nothing gets done. Folks benefit from that, from most of us thinking that it’s just not our place to give a damn, because, if we do, if we aren’t above reproach, we’ll be torn apart, and rightfully so.
So, it’s important for some Christians to insist on the divinity of Jesus–because, if he was perfect, we cannot measure up–and it’s important for some secularists to insist that Jesus didn’t even exist–so he’s no example at all.
Both positions serve the same ends, to reaffirm our belief that most ordinary people can’t really be perfect enough to do anything.
Look at even how the media has started to talk about Ashley Smith. Last week, she was a hero acting on the courage of her convictions. But now, it’s the book she read to Nichols from–The Purpose Driven Life that’s become the real story. Never mind that it’s one of the most successful hardcover books ever, which means it’s in the homes of a lot more people than just Smith, the story is now less about her and more about that book, as if she could not have done something brave without help from the folks who do stuff–in this case, the author, Rick Warren.
But the truth remains that we are all ordinary.
The Professor says that, in the face of the ills of humanity, she feels “expendable and insignificant,” and, as she says, that “just as I get myself out of the slump and feel not only that I am capable of saying something clearly but further that I might have something worthwhile to say, you remind me that I might just be insignificant and easily interchanged with anyone else. “
But these things are not opposite ideas. It’s precisely because we’re each insignificant and easily interchangable that we each are capable of saying something worthwhile in a clear manner. In fact, it’s precisely because we’re all insignificant, even the people who’ve managed to construct lives of deserved or imagined significance, that we must try to speak clearly our worthwhile ideas.
The writer over at Now I’m Pissed (thanks for the link!) says something interesting and pertinent to this. (For the sake of making my life easier and not assuming gender where none is clear, let’s call the writer Pissed.) Pissed is talking about blogging, about whether we’ll have to go in to work in the future or if we can all sit at home in our underwear on the couch, when Pissed goes of on an interesting tangent. Pissed starts talking about the “progression of the ‘elites,'” from industrial, to technological, to the creative class. As Pissed says, “The power to mold and alter the course of history is changing hands. For many, it appears to be a rather uncomfortable change. Politics has always been the friend of business and technology, but the artist? the intellect.”
Pissed goes on:
Those who before felt as if there was no way to be heard, now have an avenue – and the audience is growing. Growth, the magnitude of which demands an audience. An audience, not only of the casual browser or researcher, but of those currently wielding power.
The thrust to inhibit (censor, control, manage, insert other appropriate suppressive verb here) by government for the good of the children / people is nothing more than a grab for the power that is emerging. Its a power that is self-developing and self-organizing. Most importantly, its a power than cannot be placed at a comfortable level in the current power structure, but will place itself at all levels of that structure.
This is great. We’re in a moment of possibility. A brief window of change has opened up and we’re all able to participate. If the dominate paradigm can’t figure out how to comfortably incorporate the creative class (and signs point to this being true), the creative class will “taint” every aspect of the current power structure.
Creative folks as a kind of societal virus. I love it.
Did I have a point originally? Yes, yes I did. I’m not going to reiterate it here. Instead, I’ll just end with Uncle Walt, another ordinary person who spoke clearly his worthwhile ideas.
Failing to fetch me at first, keep encouraged;
Missing me one place, search another;
I stop somewhere, waiting for you.