Monday, April 16, 2007

The Christian God Undercount

According to the book Lost Christianities --- well at least the introduction which is all I got through on the metro home tonight -- there were some early Christians who believed in more than one god. Some thought there were two gods. Some thought there were thirty.

Actually, the estimates of the number of gods among early Christians ran from 1 to as many as 365. Three hundred and sixty five gods is somewhere beyond polytheism. The ancient Greeks look modest by comparison. Who were those Christians that thought there were 365 gods? Unitarians? How did all this confusion happen?

1. Jesus might have been a remarkably ineffective communicator. It was probably not too easy to be confused by Jesus. He spoke in those incomprehensible parables. I could very well see some followers asking things like, "Ok, are you saying that a camel could pass through an eye of a needle or not?" "What was that thing he said about mustard seeds? What are we supposed to do with the mustard seed story again?" There might have been a few who were like, "Did he say that there is one true God, or there are a God for every day?" "Man, I don't know, I am just here for all the free fish and wine." "How could the 365 gods match up with days on the calendar since the Gregorian Calender didn't come into existence until the 16th century AD?" "Where can we get more wine?" Which leads to the more likely explanation...

2. Jesus might have had some remarkably stupid (and probably often drunk) early followers. All cults or movements have their fair share of naifs and idiots. I am sure Christianity shared that truism with other religions. How else could explain how some early Christians believed God created the world while others believed the world was created by a subordinant, clueless lesser god (Pan?)? And yet others believed that the earth was a goof-up an angry God, who intended one thing and ended up with a prison of suffering and pain. In other words, God meant to create Disney World, but we ended up with Busch Gardens. Were people even listening to what Jesus was actually saying? This is what happens when you hang with the guy with good stories and an endless supply of wine.

Although a Christian, I have not believed in organized religion for over twenty years now (to date myself, since I was 12 or so). And, it is for this precise reason -- the principal creation myth is the one behind the various churches. The distilled Christianity we have today is being filtered from wildly divergent views of what Jesus actually said. And, as Ehrman points out in the Lost Christianities, it has led to widely divergent views of Christianity today:
  • Some Christians live in poverty and work to the poor; some televangelists are millionaires who spend countless hours on tv begging for cash.
  • Some Christians closely adhere to ancient litury; others view "high liturgy" as evil tripe.

It is why I subscribe to an existential brand of non-denominational Christianity. The simplest core message in the "New Testament" is the love commandment. That is a cosmic truth: do unto others as others do unto you. For everything else, I think you are on your own. And, that is not a bad thing.


Blogger Alexei said...

Polytheist Christians?

8:01 PM  

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