A Stele in China
There is great diversity among the many Christianities

You may find that I have allowed myself to drift a lot in this journal entry, which started out rather succinctly as something on the diversity within Christianity, but then got greatly expanded in areas more distantly related to that particular topic. Be that as it may, you will undoubtedly still be able to see the connections. And if not, blame it on my roaming spirit of letting the currents carry me where they may.

In a panel discussion on C-Span the other night someone asked the question whether a Unitarian could ever be elected President of these United States. The answer was a surprisingly unanimous NO from the panelists.

That means that four of our earliest and most respected presidents, who happened to be Unitarian, could not be elected today by the current electorate. http://www.adherents.com/adh_presidents.html

It boggles the mind to think what might have been, however, if instead of an Adams or a Jefferson, a Bush Baby, a Cheney, a Rumsfeld and a Karl Rove had been among our founding fathers--but oh, please, let's not dwell on that, shall we, for we would have lived in quite a different society--if indeed it had been able to last this long without burning itself on the stake, like a self-immolating Texas barbecue.

George Washington himself was baptized into the Anglican Church as an infant, but what he may have been on his death bed remains a secret, as observed by no one less than one of our great Unitarian Presidents, Thomas Jefferson himself:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Washington_and_religion

On February 1, 1800, a few weeks after Washington's death, Thomas Jefferson made the following entry in his journal, regarding an incident on the occasion of Washington's departure from office:[18][19]

Dr. Rush tells me that he had it from Asa Green that when the clergy addressed Genl. Washington on his departure from the govmt, it was observed in their consultation that he had never on any occasion said a word to the public which showed a belief in the Xn religion and they thot they should so pen their address as to force him at length to declare publicly whether he was a Christian or not. They did so. However he observed the old fox was too cunning for them. He answered every article of their address particularly except that, which he passed over without notice. Rush observes he never did say a word on the subject in any of his public papers except in his valedictory letter to the Governors of the states when he resigned his commission in the army, wherein he speaks of the benign influence of the Christian religion.

I know that Gouverneur Morris, who pretended to be in his secrets & believed himself to be so, has often told me that Genl. Washington believed no more of that system than he himself did.

The old fox would not be caught--for even in those days long standing tradition dictated that one could not be completely out of the closet in the religious sense of that phrase. 

Of course Jefferson himself remained in some kind of closet as well, for tradition also dictated he could not declare his love and/or lust--or perhaps merely his need for comfort and convenience-- for Sally Hemings, the child/woman he was living with and who gave him many descendants--because she was not only half black and his slave, but  also his widow's half-sister--and only fourteen years of age at the time she became his concubine:

Sally Hemings - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Sally Hemings (Shadwell, Albemarle County, Virginia, circa 1773Charlottesville, Virginia, 1835) was an American slave owned by Thomas Jefferson. She is said to have been, by blood, the half-sister of Jefferson's deceased wife Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson.[1] Jefferson was alleged during his administration to have fathered several children with slaves; more recently DNA tests indicate that a male in Jefferson's line, possibly (but not conclusively) Thomas Jefferson himself, was the father of several of Sally Hemings's children.

Should we blame Jefferson--or the long-standing dysfunctional tradition of a strongly religious society?

Or perhaps both? 

In today's society, the 'long standing tradition' of slavery is no longer condoned--even by very conservative Christians. Blacks and whites may marry in both civil and religious ceremonies and one can even marry the sister or half sister of one's widow. And there are countries and there used to be states where statutory rape of an underage child could be converted into the sacrament of holy marriage simply by making the act official prior to its consummation. 

I have always found this difficult to understand: statutory rape is based on the idea that a child below a certain age, which varies greatly from place to place and tradition to tradition, is constitutionally not able to consent, for they have no sufficiently developed judgement of their own. But presto, when a priest, rabbi, mullah, or minister appears, or even merely a JP, or a clerk at City Hall, then, suddenly, the child acquires that well developed judgement to consent to the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony, or at least to some form of marital contract. Miraculo! It's a miracle! Even today in most states parental consent does not change statutory rape into a legal act--except when it comes to that traditional and Holy Sacrament of Marriage.

Of course slaves never get to be of the age of consent, for they have no free will of their own. But 'long standing tradition' in those days simply didn't call the sexual act with one's own slave rape--it was merely an exercise of ownership--or if it was with someone else's slave, either a favor or a theft from the rightful owner--or perhaps a quid pro quo. This went on for hundreds of years! Imagine that for maybe ten or twelve generations your ancestors, our ancestors,  not only had to endure such pain and indignity, but were left with practically no hope and no dreams for a better future. Some among us need not imagine that--but simply recall (and come to terms) with that. How would that make anyone feel?

Actually, most Americans, most Europeans and indeed most human beings do have slavery or servitude in their background. Most people that migrated here not only came here as undocumented aliens, because prior to the 20th century no documentation was even required--and the Native Americans, if asked,  would certainly not have granted any kind of visa or green card to the early boat people, white black or brown--but they came here as refugees from a very harsh life in 'the old country'.

Even Native Americans, or 'Siberian Americans', themselves were undocumented when they crossed over from Siberia, but then there was no one here at the time to require any 'documentation'. That requirement is of relatively recent date, from sometime in the early 20th century in fact.

The conditions in which most Europeans lived were far closer to slavery and serfdom than to the kind of fantasies one might entertain about one's ancestors in the Hollywood sense. Maybe at some other time I will go into greater detail on this. But trust me--it is very true.

For now, let me just give you three examples from European literature:

1. There is a Dutch novel, Gewassen Vlees, (which could mean either washed flesh, or grown up flesh)  from Thomas Rosenboom which occupies quite a unique place in our literature--a brilliant and extravagant, even bizarre  novel, which 'I had to flog myself to read'--to quote the late William F. Buckley (upon his reading of Ayn Rand's book Atlas Shrugged). This novel would be  almost impossible to translate--if anyone can find it in English, please let me know-- but for  a book discussion, or boekverslag, in Dutch, please check:  http://www.scholieren.com/boekverslagen/20288 -- for a view of the cover, please click on: Gewassen vlees - ROSENBOOM THOMAS .

2. There is also the first book in the tetralogy on Swedish migrants to the U.S. by Vilhelm Moberg: JSTOR: Sweden to Minnesota: Vilhelm Moberg's Fictional Reconstruction, which details the kind of deplorable social conditions I am referring to--but with no flogging required, for the heros are quite likeable and decent people, if somewhat naive.

3. And finally, there is Martin Andersen Nexö's Danish novel  Pelle Erobrern,  Pelle the Conqueror or Pelle de Veroveraar --of which many people have seen the movie version--about indentured servitude of Swedish migrants in Denmark: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pelle_the_Conqueror

None of this really can compare to the far more atrocious conditions found in the institutionalized racial slavery once so entrenched in this 'God-Blessed America', this 'Land of the Free' of course, but it does provide some historical context. 

The need to find one's roots in the black community is all about putting names and faces to those ancestors who suffered so much--whereas in white society, genealogy is too often all about the pretense of or hope for some long and noble lineage. The truth is that there was often great nobility in suffering--and great dysfunctionality or sinfulness in privilege. Most people have very mixed ancestry--some saints, some crooks, some lions and some mice. But ultimately--we all come from the same source: Africa. So why treat each other like alien slime?  

Perhaps this is the context one must understand black rage in? Black rage such as expressed, rightly or wrongly, in black congregations by ministers like the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. One may not approve of what the Reverend said (I don't and Barack Obama didn't in his brilliant and historic speech on race) but were his words not taken straight out of the Old Testamentary tradition of prophets like...Jeremiah?

That prophet Jeremiah, Wrightly or Wrongly, but apparently with the blessings of 'long standing tradition' from all the pulpits of Jewish and Christian society said very similar words about Israel that the Reverend Jeremiah Wright may have said about America: 'God damn America, for you have flouted the will of God.'

In saying this, he may have crossed the line, but if he did, did the ancient prophet Jeremiah whose name he bears not also cross the line, on many occasions--or did he deliver a message that (in the words of Barack himself) the people didn't necessarily want to hear, but which they needed to hear?

Church-going Christians hardly need this, but for those not as  familiar with the Prophet Jeremiah as with the Reverend Jeremiah--here's a reference to the Prophet,  from the Holy Wikipedia:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_Jeremiah  And believe me--he had quite a mouth on him too.

O tempora, o mores! Just another example of religious, social, historical and territorial diversity in 'long standing tradition'--something I have been writing on for some time.

But this journal entry is not about diversity outside Christianity but within that great religion itself.

This internal diversity within Christianity is as old as the religion itself--for, to quote a Roman Catholic theologian, Dr. Phan, there is more evidence that St. Thomas went to India then there is that St. Peter went to Rome--and the variety in Christianity from that early time, the time of the contemporaries of Jesus himself, is undisputed. For instance, here is a link to Nestorianism:

http://www.chinaknowledge.de/Literature/Religion/nestorianism.html

The Nestorian or Assyrian Church is a kind of oriental national church ("church of the east") that was opposed against the Roman church after the concile of Ephesus in 431. The Assyrian Church is said to be founded by the apostles Thomas and Addai and was very widespread not only in Syria, Mesopotamia (modern Irak) but also in Persia where the katholikos of Ktesiphon-Seleukeia acted as bishop of the Eastern Church. The bishop again renounced the concile of Chalkedon in 451 and followed the teachings of Nestorios who believed in the unity of the human and divine nature of Jesus Christ, a dogma that was later manifested as the two hypostatic natures of the Christ (two natures, two persons, Chinese: erxing erwei 二性二位). The bishop of the Eastern Church acted as head of all eastern Christians and promoted the voyages of missionaries to India and Central Asia. From the 7th to the 11th centuries Nestorianism was the Christian sect with believers in the most widespread territory. There is a bilingue stele in Chinese and Syrian (Ugaritian) in the prefecture of Xi'an 西安府 (older texts write: Si-ngan-fu), erected in 781 and rediscovered in 1625 that reports the existence of Nestorian (Chinese: Niesituoli 聶思脫里) parishes in China since the begin of the 7th century. Nestorian monks lived in a "Persian" Yiningfang Monastery 大秦義寧坊寺 in Xi'an, and the first missionary was a Persian called "Aluoben" (Alopen) 阿羅本. After the expellation of foreign missionaries in the 840es, the Yuan Dynasty period of religious tolerance against foreigners enabled a second wave of Nestorian missionaries (hence called erkehün, Chinese: yelikewen 也里可溫) to work in China. Since the 15th century Nestorianism lost its influence in China and vanished around 1550. Today the number of Nestorian Christians in the whole world is about 150,000, and the church is dived into different branches. In the last years many documents about Nestorianism in China were discovered in the Central Asian parts of China, like the translation of Nestorian liturgies, the Xutingmi shi suo jing 序聽迷詩所經濟, and Yishenlun 一神論 "Monotheism". By the way, the Syrian script used by the Nestorians was the base for the creation of the Mongolian and Manchu alphabets.

Here's a picture of the famous Stele of Xian with a text in 1500 Chinese characters, erected in 781 to commemorate the introduction of Christianity into China a hundred years earlier, in 681:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nestorian_Stele

Then there are the socalled Jesus Sutras, which 'display Buddhist and Taost influences':

The Jesus Sutras, or the Lost Sutras of Jesus are early Chinese language manuscripts of Christian teachings brought to China during the 7th century by Alopen, a Persian bishop of the Assyrian Church of the East. The sutras date from between 635 AD, the year of Christianity's introduction to China; and 1005, when the Mogao Cave, near Dunhuang, in which they were found was sealed. Four of the sutras are said to be located in private collections in Japan, while one is in Paris. Their language and content reflect varying levels of adaptation to Chinese culture, including Buddhist and Taoist influences.

I had only been vaguely aware of the existence of Nestorian Christianity, but in a recent lecture at the UCSB which I was able to catch on UCTV Channel 75, I was charmed by the personality and sense of humor of Peter C. Phan, who is a Catholic Theologian very critical of the notorious Regensburg address of Pope Benedict VI, which you may recall caused a lot of anger and indignation in the Muslim world as well--for entirely different reasons. 

First, let's check on what caused the uproar among the Muslims: what the Pope did was quote the Christian Emperor of Byzantium, Manuel II Paleologus:

http://uustoughtonma.org/Sermons/Archives/2006-09-24-WhyPopeKnownBetter.htm

“The emperor [Manuel II] must have known,” Benedict said in his lecture at Regensburg, that one of the early surahs, or verses, of the Qur’an (Koran) reads: “There is no compulsion in religion.” Religion is not to be forced, Mohammed has written (on a direct pipeline from Allah, God Himself, in the Islamic view, remember). “There is to be no compulsion in religion,” the teachings of Islam state.

But then, the Pope went on, this is one of the suras of Mohammed’s “early period”—from that time in history “when Mohammed was still powerless and under threat”. Mohammed wrote these words about “no compulsion in religion” before he had a huge army of his own; before he marched on Mecca and seized state power; he said them when he was weak and under attack himself—when he couldn’t force anyone to accept his radically monotheistic religion even if he wanted to-- when he was more concerned about being forced to accept what someone else was forcing on him. It is at this point in history that Mohammed wrote (or Allah told him): “There is to be no compulsion in religion.”

[And] we know what happened next, the Pope continued: “The emperor [Manuel II] also knew the instructions, developed later and [also] recorded in the Qur’an, concerning holy war.” (These are from a later period in Mohammed’s life, after 630, when Mohammed had seized power in Mecca and unified Arabia under Islam.) It is in this context, Benedict says, with Muslim expansionism continuing unabated from the seventh century into 14th, into the emperor’s own time—with the forces of Islam breathing down the neck of Constantinople (the city was constantly under siege by and would finally fall to Islam in 1453)—that Mohammed changed his tune, as it were, and turned his back on (or, at least, great modified) the idea that “There is to be no compulsion in religion.” Now, in these latter days of Mohammed, jihad, holy war to spread the faith of Allah, became the order of the day.

In this context, Benedict continued at Regensburg, Manuel II “turns to his [Persian] interlocutor somewhat brusquely with the central question [in their ongoing discussion] of the relationship between religion and violence in general, in these words:”

[And these are the words—not of Benedict XVI himself—but of Benedict quoting a 14th century Byzantine emperor—that have resulted in such scorn and rage from Muslims around the world:]

“Show me what Mohammed brought that was new,” Manuel II Paleologus wrote, “and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.

I'll let this matter rest as uneasily as it may, and turn instead to what so irritated the bowels of  Peter Phan.

Being a Roman Catholic ThD, he emphasized he was not criticizing Benedict for words spoken ex-cathedra, which would have been a nono, but for speaking as just another academic, like himself, at a university.

You can find Dr. Phan's biographical information at: http://explore.georgetown.edu/people/pcp5/

But first some introductory humor:

He stated that his name is sometimes pronounced Peter Pan, but those who like him are called Fannies. When he first came to the U.S. as a refugee from Viet Nam he already had his doctorate in theology, but was constrained to support himself in a job as a garbage collector at $2.10 and hour. Now, he says, he has reversed things and instead of collecting garbage, he is giving it back to society.  All in all, he seemed to me  a good sport--and very eloquent, inspite of his slight foreign accent.  That wonderful and engaging personality of his is the main reason why I continued listening to his lecture on the question he raised:

Is  Christianity a Western Religion or a World Religion? 

Actually the question was first raised by the Pope and he seems to have decided that Christianity is indeed a Western Religion--that it was 'no accident' that the New Testament was written in the Greek Koine--and that the Hellenic concept of the Logos (Word, Logic or Reason) is central to its message:

http://www.helleniccomserve.com/popespeechlogos.html

Regensburg Address of Pope Benedict XVI:
Hellenic Concept of Logos Is Central to Christianity

Let me lift the following passage from the above address:

Is the conviction that acting unreasonably contradicts God’s nature merely a Greek idea, or is it always and intrinsically true? I believe that here we can see the profound harmony between what is Greek in the best sense of the word and the biblical understanding of faith in God. Modifying the first verse of the Book of Genesis, John began the prologue of his Gospel with the words: "In the beginning was the Logos". This is the very word used by the emperor: God acts with logos. Logos means both reason and word - a reason which is creative and capable of self-communication, precisely as reason. John thus spoke the final word on the biblical concept of God, and in this word all the often toilsome and tortuous threads of biblical faith find their culmination and synthesis. In the beginning was the logos, and the logos is God, says the Evangelist. The encounter between the Biblical message and Greek thought did not happen by chance. The vision of Saint Paul, who saw the roads to Asia barred and in a dream saw a Macedonian man plead with him: "Come over to Macedonia and help us!" (cf. Acts 16:6-10) - this vision can be interpreted as a "distillation" of the intrinsic necessity of a rapprochement between Biblical faith and Greek inquiry.

Here's another good website setting forth the Pope's basic thesis:

Speaking in many Tongues: why the church must be more Catholic ...

[in which] the pope outlines this de-Hellenizing process in three stages. The first began with the Protestant Reformation, with its sola scriptura principle. The second stage was ushered in by the liberal theology of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The third stage, which Benedict calls "inculturation," is now in progress.

It is important to understand Benedict's thinking on inculturation--what his predecessor John Paul II referred to in his 1990 encyclical, Redemptoris missio, as "the intimate transformation of authentic cultural values through their integration in Christianity and the insertion of Christianity in the various human cultures." In a nutshell, Benedict holds that the "Greek heritage" forms "an integral part of Christian faith"; the New Testament, he notes, was "written in Greek and bears the imprint of the Greek spirit." In light of this foundational imprint, it is "false" (falsch), "coarse" (vergrobert), and "lacking in precision" (ungenau) to hold that one must "return to the simple message of the New Testament," by-passing its Greek heritage, "in order to inculturate it anew" in different cultures.

Peter Phan took great exception to the Pope's idea that the process of  inculturation of the simple message of the New Testament into diverse cultures, by-passing the Hellenic heritage, results in a religion which is falsch, vergrobert und ungenau: false, coarse and imprecise, or vals, grof en onjuist, in Dutch.

And it is true of course that Jesus not only said: "I am the Word" (which is equivalent to: "I am the Logos") but he also said "I am the Way" (which is equivalent to: "I am the Tao"). To understand what Jesus meant by the Logos, one might have to know Greek philosophy, but to know what he meant by the Tao, one would have to turn to Chinese philosophy--and in inspired writings there are no accidents, toch

In fact, Dr. Phan pointed out, Christianity from it's inception was an Asian religion, not a European religion at all. Judaea and Palestine were Roman provinces, but half of the Roman Empire at the time lay in Asia and Africa. Jesus and all his dsiciples were Jewish, hence Asian, not European.

In fact, at one time Nestorian Christianity was more wide-spread than any other form of that religion. Could that also have been no accident? Jesus spoke not Greek or Latin, but Aramaic, still the liturgical language in some ancient forms of Asian Christianity:

In Isolated Pocket of Syria, the Language Spoken by Jesus Survives

Here in the barren Qalamun Mountains the people do not speak Arabic, at least among themselves. That language has been the lingua franca in this part of the world for more than 1,000 years, but theirs is even older, going back nearly 3,000 years to around 900 B.C.

The language is Aramaic, the one spoken by Jesus Christ. Everywhere else, it died out centuries ago, but here, somehow, it has endured, insulated by isolation and nurtured by pride. Only in Malula, with a population of about 5,000, and in two nearby villages does Aramaic survive.

So Christianity was a from the outset an Asian and Semitic religion, just like Judaeism and Islam--though perhaps at some stage and to some extent 'inculturated' into the European context, i.e. Hellenized, just as Ghandara Buddhism was 'Hellenized' to some extent, and just as Christianity was--and still is--becoming inculturated in other parts of the world, like India and China, Japan and Korea, as well as Africa and now Latin America. And, one might add, that inculturation process is not a one time thing but an ongoing process--even in these United States of America, for our culture here, anymore than human cultures elsewhere or at other times, can't be viewed or understood as static or unchanging, but must be understood as evolutionary.

As a member of the California Supreme Court said recently in addressing certain constitutional issues in re marriage cases: tradition alone without a rationale is not sufficient. Check my recent journal entry on that: http://forthuyse.googlepages.com/humanrightsandthesupremes

But that rationale, logic or logos need not be Greek or Hellenic, for reason inheres in all human cultures. 

That means the Christian religion itself cannot be considered as static or unchanging, but must, if it is to survive, continue to be as dynamic as it has been at all times--and in all places and contexts--in the past: it must continue to be alive and grow with the times--as it always has before, for the Word, the Logos, is a Living Word--a Word that lives in all human cultures and contexts--even, if I may say so, in the Gay cultural context:

BBC NEWS | World | Americas | Profile: Bishop Gene Robinson

Most of the early theologians of the Christian church were from Asia, like Aphrahat, Bardaisian, Ephraim the Syrian, Jacob of Odessa, or Piloxenus--others were from Africa, like Tertullian, Cyprian and Augustine. And of course, we have no idea how many of them might have been Gay--my guess would be quite a few of them, given the Greek cultural context so vaunted by Herrn Ratzinger, whose proclivities are unknown to me but who was himself preceeded in the Holy Office by numerous Holy Fathers homosexual in both inclination and practice--indeed, i Papi della Chiesa were fundamentally just like you and me, except perhaps  a bit... holier. Here's a list of them all 264, or 265, depending on whether you count St Peter as a Pope (which he patently never was, not even a bishop--see below) but then add in Benedict VI: http://www.tgcom.mediaset.it/cronaca/articoli/articolo250359.shtml 

The first real Bishop of Rome was Prince Linus, son of King Caradoc or Caractacus, the Pen Draeg or Pendragon (Head Dragon, or Chief Ruler) of Britain. But that goes counter to the 'long standing' Roman tradition... See:  The Lost Magic of Christianity: Celtic Essene Connections - Google Books Result where it states clearly that St. Paul consecrated Linus as the first Bishop of Rome in 58 AD.

Whatever one may believe, whatever 'long standing tradition' one may chose to subscribe to, the great diversity of Christianity did not start with either the Great Schism or the Reformation, but was a part of the very earliest developments of this religion--and the process of diversification has continued unabated since then. To think otherwise would be historically myopic, geschiedkundig bijziend.

So you may ask--what does it all mean--what are you trying to say?  What I mean to say is that anyone can choose what particular version of Christianity is his or her cup of communion wine.  

It puts the responsability for what kind of Christianity one choses ultimately on the shoulders of each individual.

In our current context, it means that to deny modern social developments in America which tend to give increasing recognition and equal status under the law to large groups of people previously denied such equal treatment-- is a choice not dictated by ancient scribbles or the dogmata of the past, but by one's personal preferences and prejudices, or perhaps--even more noxious--by the preferences and personal prejudices of other people one  happens to hang out with--and with whom one might be afraid to lose face.

Jesus, to my recollection, was never afraid to lose face--he was known to hang out with those frequently rejected by polite society--the poor, the sick and the powerless. Losing face was not in his Aramaic idiom.

Instead, the natural process of religious inculturation (which Beneditct so objects to, but Dr. Phan and many other theologians support) would allow for a religious choice that opts for the company and society that would include rather than exclude, let's say, homosexuals (or other minorities)  from the church, or the priesthood, or parenthood, or marriage.

It is therefor a choice, not dictated by the dogma of Christian religion, but by the feelings one has in one's own heart,  feelings of love and acceptance versus feelings of fear and rejection. That means it becomes an intensely personal matter for all individuals--within families as well as well as within society.

The question is then: what side do you chose and whose side are you on?