Bahai News - Theologians for a flat Earth

Theologians for a flat Earth

By Cedric Mayson

Johannesburg (Mail and Guardian, September 15, 2000) - The dominees deserve a wry vote of thanks for admitting to the flat-Earth theology still followed by many Christians in South Africa. Last week they stated in Synod: "The Dutch Reformed Church accepts the Bible in its totality and in all its parts as the word of God ... On the basis of the word of God we therefore profess that we have no other access to God than through the only mediator and intercessor Jesus Christ."

Other followers of Jesus think this puts a halo around heresy. They say: "Brothers [for there are few sisters in the leadership of the churches]! Brothers - this is the 21st century. The Earth is round. For five centuries we have been able to study the Bible in our own tongues rather than accept what the priests told us it said. For three centuries we have had the insights of modern science and philosophy, and for two centuries have enjoyed modern scriptural scholarship and theological reflection. Our century's struggles to liberate society from political, economic, paternalist, racist, ecological and theological oppression have revealed a common ground of spiritual truth that we share with believers in many other traditions."

Contemporary followers of Jesus are not surprised that the church alienates people when its leaders cling to distorted attitudes that are not true.

The theological absolutism which prompts some to accept the Bible in all its parts as the word of God is incredible. Like all literature some of it is not what it claims to be and those who write in the names of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Peter and the others do not always get it right. (The conflicting stories of the resurrection, for example, cannot all be equally "the word of God".) This inspiring and unique book stands on its own feet, and turning it into a series of divine injunctions can hide the truth it seeks to reveal.

Heresy is a sin of believers, not atheists.

Heretics are Christians who have got it wrong. When Aaron and the children of Israel made a golden calf to worship they were not idolising another god: it was a false image of the real God. They danced round the idol shouting: "Here is your God, O Israel, who brought you out of the land of Egypt." They declared their fake god was real, and planned a party "to amuse themselves" until Moses broke it up.

In his day, Jesus said the traditions of the religious authorities had destroyed the word of God. They had taken true beliefs and twisted them into a caricature.

For 2000 years conservative religious leaders, bristling with their power, have falsified Christianity by equating "the word of God" with their own objectives.

They made idols in terms of the paternalist god of the early church, the emperor god like Constantine, an ecclesiastical dictator like the Pope, a violent politician like the god of the Crusades, the national god of Henry VIII, the personalised god of the 18th century, the colonial god of the Victorians, and the spiritual terrorism of evangelical fundamentalists, and shouted: "This is your God." And from Aaron to apartheid, heresy has led to oppression and violence.

Churches have claimed support by teaching there is no way to God except through Christ and no way to Christ except through the Church, which is spiritual blackmail.

They may be sincere, but they are sincerely wrong. Jesus did not teach that he was the only mediator between God and man. He did not say that followers of other religions were damned. He did say that God is love, and loves everyone including sinners and loves us enough to suffer with us and empower us. This is the nature of love, the nature of God and the nature of spiritual power, but it does not depend on Jesus.

We can rejoice that the whole human race asserts the presence of a vital spiritual power that is loving, merciful and supportive in the community, whether it is Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Baha'i or traditional.

Promoting creeds that have passed their sell-by date and gods who are dead and gone is not a gospel but an epitaph. We live in an exciting era when people are throwing off the chains of ecclesiastical oppression and discovering new ways of believing and acting together. It is backed by decades of scholarship that is not usually taught to our clergy, books that are seldom available in local bookstores, teaching that is seldom heard from our pulpits and cooperation that largely evaporated after 1994.

The sooner clergy and laity start believing, reading, teaching and acting in harmony with what Jesus and his spiritual peers actually proclaimed, the sooner we shall establish a community with a positive belief in humanity and find the way to moral regeneration, prosperity and peace.


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