Fundamentalism, identity and the Word of God

avec12 As you enter the home, give it your greeting. 13 If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. 14 If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.” (Matthew 10:12-14)

Dear Brethren,

I must say I am always astonished by the way the Gospel gives us messages able to fit any occasion even 2000 years after it has been written.

I confess these verses, the ones of Matthew chapter 10,  are constantly coming to my mind in these days in relation to very different elements and in particular to two big problems of nowadays society: identity and fundamentalism.

I’d like to start briefly commenting the incredible period we are living, a period filled with violence, hatred, death due to the recrudescence of the self-defined Islamic terrorism (self-defined as I hope we all know that the real  Islam is very far from the Wahabi fundamentalism inspiring the deviated, desperate minds and souls of a minority of the Muslim believers).

When the carnage at the offices of “Charlie Hebdo” took place I, as many others, didn’t  hesitate to publish the “Je suis Charlie” banner on my page as a sign of solidarity with the victims of an inhuman, vile and also politically absolutely stupid attempt to apply the most extreme censorship of the most extreme and ignorant interpretation of the Shari’a to the freedom of press. I absolutely don’t regret it as I deeply believe we must all stand up for our rights against any attempt of imposition of ideas with fear and violence, with menaces and terror. Jesus Himself asks to us not to be afraid when He says: “You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved” and, sometimes, also a symbol like a banner could be a way to “stand firm” .

However, a few hours later something  made me feel a little dizzy about that banner I had published. That something was the claim, coming from many parts, that the dead of “Charlie Hebdo” were “heroes of the Western civilization”, “martyrs of freedom”, “models for the whole world” (I am quoting randomly from different international newspapers), that the Muslim groups changing the banner in “Je suis AVEC Charlie Hebdo” were, in a way, siding the attack or, at least, not condemning it enough and that, as The Guardian published in an editorial, “satire has to shock. Being shocking is going to involve offending someone. If there is a right to free speech, implicit within it there has to be a right to offend“.

As often I am probably going upstream and I will surely be blamed by many for saying this but I deeply feel I must say it: I totally don’t agree with these ideas. To me Charlie Hebdo was and remains total rubbish, its drawings were and are in majority vulgar and just insulting and its cartoonists were not heroes, models or martyrs but just victims of the madness of the most misleading interpretation of a religion possible! That’s the way it is for me and I won’t lie.

Which doesn’t mean, in any way (I want to be absolutely clear about this), I can even distantly agree with the ones thinking that “they deserved it” or “they brought it on themselves”! They didn’t: nobody deserves to die or brings a murder on himself for a drawing and this is very clearly stated in the verses I am commenting, where the Master affirms: “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet. He doesn’t say: “burn their homes, kill them, destroy their towns” but simply “shake the dust off your feet” and leave them. And I suppose He says this for many reasons: as Jesus always condemns the use of violence, as any murder is the destruction of the whole universe according to that Jewish culture the Master never refused, as He speaks about mercy and love for everybody and, possibly, as mentioned, as violence is always the most stupid and counterproductive way to act. An example of this last point? Well, why not a couple as they are clearly in front of us? What about, in example, that big slice of the public opinion which, in France as well as in other countries, was front-line in blaming Israel for its political behavior and now is revising its positions  in the light of the victims of the blindest anti-Semitic rage? Or, what about the new public judgment about a magazine like “Charlie Hebdo” which, in the past, had been condemned even in courts for its lack of any refrain and was practically close to fail for the constant loss of readers?

With all the due respect for the victims, I won’t join my voice to the chorus of hypocrisy of the ones now suddenly changing their mind after the carnage! I repeat: to me Charlie Hebdo was and remains rubbish, exactly like some other newspapers and magazines from all over Europe incapable to understand the perhaps subtle but anyway existing border between satire and insult.

So, which is this subtle border? To me (and, as far as I can see, also according to many of the most important religious leaders of the planet) it stands in the defense and untouchability of anyone’s deep identity.

I try to explain. Can satire touch anybody’s actions if they are wrong, ridiculous, blame deserving? Of course it can! Actually it must! To denounce mistakes and to put in the pillory anyone deserving it, with no exceptions and no obsequiousness for any power is the real role of satire. But actions are one thing and identity is something totally different. Identity, personal identity is the root of our being and it is formed by many different basic elements, many of which not even depending on the single’s will: your ethnicity, your nationality, your family, your religious values… To offend these elements means to hit the radical core bases of a human being and, therefore, to offend him/her in his/her entirety. And there are no exceptions: it is surprising how so many tend to adopt different systems of judgment and blame anybody mocking ethnicity as racist (Dieudonné’s case is quite exemplar in this sense) but consider anybody mocking religion as an intelligent secularist and free thinker. Actually I don’t think there is any difference: exactly as much a racist satire is anyway a disgusting act of racism, a blasphemic satire is a disgusting act of blasphemy. Period.

Identity matters, my brethren: identity is what shapes us as human beings and to respect any identity, in any occasion, in any situation, with no exceptions, means to respect the supreme creation of God.

I suppose there is something very important, a very deep teaching also for the Christian Unitarians in this idea. Because, you know, to respect anyone’s identity means, as first thing, to respect our own identity and to defend it.

I think in some occasions there are very deep misunderstandings about the meaning of being “liberal Christians”: to adopt a liberal view of a religion means to distinguish between a private sphere and a public sphere, not to try to impose your idea, not to blame or attack anyone for religious ideas different from yours. In no way it means to renounce to your idea, to your belief, to the claiming of the message you perceive as true in the name of a misunderstood generic, undifferentiated love for everyone (but for yourself, evidently) reducing Christianity to the lowest level of banality or in the name of a relativistic or nihilistic cowardy  masked as a sort of “mental openness” allowing anything to be said and done without objection, even “in our name”.

Identity matters and the Master Himself expresses this concept very clearly. What should you do if they don’t accept the message you take with you?  We read that you must “shake the dust off your feet” and we said that it means not to use any violence, coercion, intimidation to impose what you believe in. We must, anyway, understand that “to shake dust from your feet” is not, in the biblical culture, a neutral act, an act meaning: “ok, do what you want as it’s anyway the same”.  Dust is symbolic of a number of things in Scripture. Man was created from the dust (Genesis 2:7) and to dust he will return upon death (Genesis 3:19). The Serpent in Eden was punished by being sentenced to a dust diet (Genesis 3:14). People would often cover themselves in dust as a sign of mourning or repentance (e.g., Joshua 7:6; 2 Samuel 1:2; 15:32; Job 2:12; Nehemiah 9:1). Dust was also associated with poverty (Psalms 113:7). Indeed, God calls Israel, through the prophet Isaiah, to “shake off your dust” and to “rise up”. In this case of Matthew 10, as one can, in example, read in “Robertson’s Word Studies”, “shake off the dust (ektinaxate ton koniorton)” is a rather violent gesture of disfavor. In the Middle East travellers would often arrive with their feet caked in dust and hence foot washing was quite traditional. The Jews made this a theological and sacred issue though. Jewish customs and traditional teaching believed that any land outside of Israel was defiling, or at least its dirt was. This presumably caused some questions of conscience and consternation for those Diaspora Jews living outside of first century Palestine. Jews were to “shake off” any dust or dirt from outside lands when returning to Israel, or even off any imported fruit and food. The dust of a gentile land was equivalent to the defiling brought about by coming into contact with a corpse.

According to the philologist Edersheim, the very dust of a heathen country was considered unclean, and it defiled by contact. It was regarded like a grave, or like the putrescence of death. If a spot of heathen dust had touched an offering, it had at once to be burnt. More than that, if by mischance any heathen dust had been brought into Palestine, it did not and could not mingle with that of “the land” but remained to the end what it had been, unclean, defiled, and defiling everything to which it adhered. This, I suppose, casts light upon the meaning conveyed by the symbolical directions of our Master to His disciples in the moment He sent them forth to mark out the boundary lines of the true Israel, “the kingdom of heaven” that was at hand: they were not only to leave a city or household not receiving them, but it was to be considered and treated as if it were heathen. Even considering the fact that the Master was often quite extreme in His words and that surely we don’t need to take the passage literally excluding any “non-Christian” from our lives, it is quite clear that, given the prevalent attitudes to gentile grit and grime one could think that Jesus was suggesting to his disciples that if their Jewish hearers rejected the gospel then they should treat them as gentiles, shaking them off, and move on to more fruitful ground.  There is no neutrality in this, no indifferentism, no relativism.

There is identity, on the other hand, identity, the identity of a message to spread and witness with no imposition but also with no fear, the identity of a faith we have, we are proud of, we live and we must peacefully defend against anything: against the violence of any fundamentalism as well as against the more subtle (but, in the end, not less pernicious) violence of any blasphemic, vulgar insult to the elements shaping our souls, of any relativism diluting our beliefs.

Adonai echad, amen.

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To defend the rights of our soul

CUSo … new year … new post, after a long silence due to the need to think back about some religious bases of my life …

And this new post is just to start this new year with an admission.

For a long time I have thought and claimed that isolation was highly unproductive for Christian Unitarians, that it was just a way to close ourselves into a self made ghetto, to cut ourselves off from any form of growth coming from exchanging perspectives with other Unitarians from different backgrounds, that, in a way, it was a sort of insult to the idea of tolerance which should lead any liberal Christian oriented mind.

Well … I was wrong and I must honestly admit it! To get apart from the rest of the worldwide Unitarian movement is, for a Christian Unitarian, not a form of self-imposed seclusion but the only legitimate form of self defense left to us in this historical moment.

What do I mean with this? I mean that I don’t think that what I used to claim was wrong in itself: I do believe in the necessity for any Christian to be open to any discussion, to have a faith able to face other opinions and to grow also thanks to them, not to be a monolith in front of other visions. I really do believe in all this.

But not now, not in the frame of a nowadays Unitarian Universalism led by a winning humanist/atheist vision no more representing the spiritual needs and the religious convictions of those who find their denominational roots in the teachings of theologians like Servetus, David, Channing or Parker and, mainly, in the immense human vision of our relation with God pointed out by our Master Jesus Christ.

Why does it happen? Why is atheism the winning position in a Denomination born from the union of two Christian movements like the Unitarian and the Universalist ones? Personally I don’t think the answer is so difficult to find and that it can be articulated at three levels:

1) simply, a humanist position is, so to say,  less engaging. It could involve the presence of an ethic level (and nobody denies Humanists can be as ethic as Christians, sometimes even more) but, not needing the passage from an ethic to a morality or, in other words, from a pure horizontal way of “acting well” to a horizontal way which involves a source and a goal that transcends that plan to find its final perspective in a vertical level, it doesn’t imply a pure, total, all-encompassing trust which leads us towards that direction. We could say that ethic is a choice, compared to religious morality which is, on the contrary, a law, an inner law for all the believers. And that’s the point: we want to be free from any law, even from the laws of God, we prefer to choose (also because to choose to be good makes us feel much better than to have the inner obligation to be good) and to have the possibility not to choose, we want to get engaged if we feel like doing it not as it is our must as human beings. That’s the trend worldwide and U*U world is just a mirror of that trend;

2) it’s not so surprising that humanists lead the majority of congregations in the world. Given that the social element is the absolute priority for them, while it is a priority a Christian must share with a second priority of “vertical” path (the relation with God), it is quite obvious that the political engagement of the humanists is superior (being their unique level of interaction) to the one of the Christians who tend to be more interested in a real “religious” relation within a Church. Consequently, what’s strange if they manage to emerge in community leadership, national leadership, international leadership?

3) Moreover, at community level, their emersion is consolidated by the fact that community is not a mean for them, but a goal, “the Goal”, while the opposite happens if we speak about the Christians. I have often asked to myself the reason for which an atheist should join a church, which, to me, looks like being just an absurd oxymoron. Well, the only answer I can get is just the need to share a sort of spiritual level to avoid the desperation of a totally mechanistic life, hijacking the sense of the community from being, as said, a mean to walk a path towards God to being a sort of spiritual association having an end in itself.

And so they have led (and go on leading more and more) U*Uism so far from its premises, so far from its deep meaning that it is not only unrecognizable to any other Christian Denomination (in fact not recognizing U*Uism as Christian anymore) but also to its Christian adherents, who feel betrayed, feel like being victims of a theft. But in case they complain… well, they are not only the underdeveloped ones, the fall guys (which is what stands behind 90% of the humanist claims although not openly expressed for a matter of political correctness): they … we become the intolerants, the ones betraying the real spirit of openness, the disturbing ones to push aside … That’s the unbearable part of the story: to add insult to injury!

It’s high time to clearly state, on the contrary, that the only insult is the presence of atheists into a Church, an insult to logic, to faith, to intelligence!

Why?

I’ll try to explain my point.

Let’s start from definitions.

What is a religion? It’s the combination of beliefs and manifestations thanks to which the human being tries to relate to the supernatural, to the divinity, to the ierophany.

What is atheism? It is the doctrine denying the existence of God.

Pardon me if I ask but … how can these two positions even lightly match?

Let’s be clear: atheism is something completely different from agnosticism. The second is the position of those who, though being in constant quest, humbly declare their impossibility to clearly claim the existence or inexistence of God, of a transcendent level which remains, anyway, a mystery. The first one is the position of the ones superbly declaring their total, clear certitude of the lack of any transcendent level, finally contradicting themselves in the moment in which in so doing, they end up creating a faith in the “non-faith”, a dogmatic certitude closing any possibility to the free, constant, never-ending quest for a meaning in life. Therefore atheism, as religion, becomes a way of life, an optic to know the world but, in a sort of opposite mirroring of religion, it is an optic denying the possibility to find a meaning for our existence, to find any hope. Is it possible to live without hope? Probably yes, though I can’t even imagine the abyss of sadness coming from such a vision, but, as far as I am concerned, I dare to say that this process of denial of any transcendence never historically succeeded, ending up with the creation of “alternative cults”: the cult of science and progress in Positivism, the cult of social justice in Marxism, the cult of a sort of unexpressed entity called love in humanistic U*Uism…

It even hurts me to list U*Uism together with Positivism and Marxism also because this kind of vision of U*Uism is, historically speaking, just an aberration! I really hope it is clear to everybody that both Unitarianism and Universalism were born as something totally opposed to Atheism: Unitarianism roots in the quest for a pure, uncontaminated cult of the Only God, far from any idolatry while Universalism in the search for an element of hope for any human being. How distant are both these ideas from the desperate lack of transcendence characterizing atheism!

Anyway, a U*U atheism has come to light and, as said, is diffusing more and more. I will not indulge to the idea that it is just a devastating fruit of modern relativism making any line of thought equivalent or of the egocentrism of the contemporary human being, denying, in his total myopia and in his arrogance, anything he can’t manage to understand. Simply, I affirm that it is totally nonsense to define atheism a natural evolution of the Unitarian Universalism as, very clearly, it is something spurious in respect to Unitarian Universalism and logically and semantically we can’t speak about an evolution in front of something which is clearly not a result of the source it should supposedly come from, being opposed to it. Period!

So, what should this “Humanist U*Uism” be? What should it be based on? As previously outlined its core belief, its meaning should be a sort of “cult of mutual love”: a wonderful concept is correctly framed, a silly romantic-hippy molasses if seen as a target in itself.

Is the “act of love” the object of cult of this “evolution”? Ok but any act of love must have a subject and an object. I suppose this “act of love” should be, if I well understand, a sort of reflexive act of the humans on themselves, in a endless net of reciprocity whose goal should be just to live better here and now. Cool! Actually I am not, according to empiric experience,  so sure that a generalized and undetermined love towards any other could make one live so much better here and now (which is the only level for an atheist), but, even given that this wonderful dream could be true, should this love be a sort of inner natural instinct, part of the human nature?  Obviously it must be so in the moment in which we deny any transcendence: it makes no sense to think about an act that should need a trans-human effort if we accept only the materialistic level of life and so we are forced to think that such an act must forcibly be a natural instinct. Is it a natural instinct? Well, even not mentioning the fact that naturally speaking the basic law is the one of selfishness and of the alimentary chain, could anyone affirm that to reach the point to sacrifice your life for the others is a natural act and not an act totally opposed to the natural law of self-preservation? I don’t think so!

Therefore, this “love” can’t be transcendent as transcendence doesn’t exist and is not natural not being part of this chemical melt we call human being: is it a product of the union of all human being? Well, is it possible that these ultra-logic atheists forget that summing up an even infinite series of 0 you can never obtain a 1?

Is, therefore, this “love” an “ingenerated miracle”? Come on! Not even this primitive believer in God can accept the idea of miracles and, well, though I’d like not to mention the Aquinas, if these atheist and humanist U*Us believe that the “ex nihilo nihil” law is wrong they must be really too intelligent to know things nobody else knows!

Let’s close this logical-theological parenthesis and let’s go back to semantics.

If a Church is based on the common, communitarian cult of a manifestation of the Transcendence, I just ask to myself what are these deniers of any transcendence doing in a Church, what do they give cult to. To their rationality? To this presumed “love” whose source they deny to define? To the friendship of a nice chat or to a philosophical discussion? Can’t they see that their presence in a Christian function is equivalent to a blasphemy in the moment in which we believe in the presence of God during the cult and they deny Him (what would they think if they introduced their father to me and I said I don’t think he exists)? How do they consider a Church? A cultural circle, a humanitarian association, a collective analytic session, a club of friends? Words have a meaning and Church means something different from all these things! That’s it!

I could go on for hours and hours, but I know it would be useless! I am the primitive fall guy, they are the ones leading the liberal Church to the future and who cares if their liberalism becomes only anarchic unengaged libertinism melting any instance to a zero level degree …

Is this the church I want? Definitely no! But that’s the way it works, that’s the way it looks, that’s the way it is going to be.

It is for this reason that I was wrong: there is no possibility to work from within the existing international U*U leading organizations to defend the Christian identity of our Church, our Christian identities they are stealing from us!

For a Christian Unitarian to get apart is, therefore, the only possible remaining defense, not of the rights of God, as God doesn’t need us to defend His rights, but of the rights of our soul, the rights which is our must to defend!