Christianity without God?

Is it possible for Christianity to exist without the notion of God/Yahweh?  Does Christianity require the existence of a deity?  Certainly the doctrine of the ‘Holy Trinity’ is predicated on the notion that God exists and was made physically manifest in Jesus of Nazareth, psychologically or “spiritually” in the ‘Holy Spirit’/’Holy Ghost’, and remains nebulous as ‘God the Father’, but it is necessary to point out that this dogma was a much later addition to the teachings of the early church and certainly those of Jesus of Nazareth.

Can one have a Jesus without a God?  The answer is simply, yes.  Denying or disregarding the question of Jesus’ divine character does nothing to undermine the power and meaning of his words, particularly if we accept the following quotation’s author who argues that by being true to our most genuine selves, then we are being true to God.  It is not a difficult leap to realize that God is not a power outside of us, but is in fact manifest in each of us.  But God is not some deity or power, it is merely the goodness within us which craves honesty and openness from others and from ourselves.

From “Revisiting a Groovy Jesus” on the blog The Wild Reed:

[As] Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer notes in his latest book, Is Religion Killing Us? Violence in the Bible and the Quran, “many Christians [believe in] a gracious God who loves us enough to send his only son to die in our place so that we might avoid punishment, go to heaven instead of hell, and have eternal life.”

Yet such a “rose-colored” interpretation, insists Nelson-Pallmeyer, conceals “brutal images of God.”

“If we believe that Jesus died for us so that we will not be condemned,” says Nelson-Pallmeyer, “then we should ask, ‘Condemned by whom?’ The answer is, God. What remains unstated in classic Christian statements of faith is that Jesus dies in order to save us from God, not from sin. More precisely, Jesus’ sacrificial death saves us from a violent God who punishes sin.”

“The idea that God sent Jesus to die for our sins makes sense only if we embrace violent and punishing images of God featured prominently in the Hebrew Scriptures,” concludes Nelson-Pallmeyer. Like the writers of the Hebrew Scriptures, many of the New Testament writers project abusive, violent power onto God.

Why did Jesus die?

So, if we reject the notion that Jesus was predestined to die for the sins of humanity, why then did he die? And what is the significance of his death for those of us who claim to be his followers?

Well, I always like to say that it isn’t so much Jesus’ death that saves, but rather his life – a life which, of course, led to his eventual death at the hands of those heavily invested in a system of dominating imperial power; a hegemonic power, willing to do whatever it takes to stay in control. Sound familiar?

Theologian Daniel Helminiak, in writing about Jesus as a “model for coming out,” suggests that, “Jesus did not know precisely where his life was leading and what the exact outcome would be – although, as circumstances unfolded, it would not have taken a rocket scientist to figure it out, and toward the end he must have realized that his sense of authority was on a collision course with the authorities [of the hegemonic power of his day].”

And yet Jesus persisted in preaching and living his message of God’s inclusive love and radical hospitality.

I’ve come to believe that it was for this message that Jesus ultimately died. Indeed, he believed in it so much that not even the prospect of torture and death could deter him from imparting the liberating message of God’s love and of humanity’s potential to be, like him, living embodiments of this transforming love.

Helminiak reflects a similar view when he writes that, “Jesus’ death was redeeming only insofar as it was the ultimate expression of his human virtue. Precisely his virtue restores human commitment to, and trust in, God. Jesus’ human fidelity – first to himself and thereby to God, from whom he came – is what reconciles humankind with God. [ . . .] The self-affirmation of this wondrous human being, even in the face of death, is Jesus’ saving contribution.”

“The lesson of Jesus is a lesson about human living,” says Helminiak. “The lesson is that fulfillment in life must come from our being ourselves. [. . .] As Jesus' experience shows, we know God and God’s will only in probing our own hearts; we will be true to God by being true to our deepest and best selves.”

Affirming such an understanding of Jesus’ life and death allows Helminiak to echo the perspective of Nelson-Pallmeyer: “Away with other notions”, says Helminiak, “for example, that God intended Jesus’ gruesome murder [. . . ] or that in justice God demanded Jesus’ blood, or that Jesus was born precisely to die in sacrifice for others, or that Jesus’ painful death was the price paid to God for sin! These notions [. . .] make God out to be an ogre. They are also bad psychology: They encourage unhealthy attitudes” . . . as attested by centuries of religious imperialism, “holy” wars, inquisitions, and persecution of anyone whose experiences take them beyond the parameters of orthodoxy.

It’s enough to make you ask, “Could we start again, please?”

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