(Side matter: Wow! I procrastinated so well, that the blog missed the whole month of October! Heh.)
Anyway, I recently ran across a reference to a fairly new book called Jesus and the Lost Goddess. It's about a gnostic approach to Christianity, and focuses on what I suppose we could call the "Feminine Principle", in the person of Mary Magdalene. The blurbs tout the contents as the being the beliefts of "the earliest Christians".
Gnosticism, generally speaking, does in one form or another, predate Christianity. It's a particular way of looking at existence. According to some sources, one feature is the perception that material existence is evil, and that knowledge of spiritual matters is more important, and acquired by special initiation. And indeed, many who were exposed to early Christianity blended the two.
But at rock bottom, gnosticism runs counter to some basic things about Christianity. So the idea that gnostic Christians were the earliest Christians (and implying that us orthodox believers have got it all wrong) really bugs me. And when they go on to talk about Jesus (and even Mary Magdalene) as some sort of mythic figure outside history, that too bugs me.
It really happened. Jesus really did walk the earth, at a particular time, in a particular place.
Not only that, God Almighty, creator of the universe, chose to manifest himself in a material form.
So... if God chose to become human, that sort of indicates that He does think there's something important and valuable in the material world. Therefore we should regard our material existence as being as important as our spiritual existence. And also, the whole point of the Gospel was that the knowledge of God that Jesus gives us is available to everyone. Right out there in the open. Nothing hidden and esoteric about it. From the simplest children to the oldest confused grandparent, from the ill to the healthy, from the poor to the rich, all the teachings of Jesus are right there, available. No special initiation required. All that is needed to "join the club" was the acknowledgement that Jesus is Lord. How hard is that?
Well... hard enough, because it seems too easy. There is a bit of a human tendency not to value those things that come easily.
Now, I mentioned the bit about making Jesus into some sort of mythic figure as something that bothered me. I do need to address that, because I do have very strong beliefs about the power of Christ's story as myth. In other writings, I've called myth "the language of our psyche". We use symbols to represent powerful meanings -- like lightning representing the sudden appearence of the power of God, for example. It's one of the ways we humans go about sorting out our reactions to the world around us. I think it's an important part of our nature. And I think Christianity is the most powerful myth because it is also the true, the real mythic story.
It really happened.
It's not just a symbolic representation of spiritual nature. It's not just a pattern of the cycles of life. It's not just a story that reflects our nature.
It really happened.
There are many myths about heroes being born at the darkest points of the year, heroes who go on to do great things for their people, bringing hope. But Jesus really did it. (Of course, we don't really know what time of the year he was born. Luke's account doesn't really give an indication of which season Joseph went down to Bethlehem. So, tradition moved the celebration to the "mythic time" that would suit the real events.) There have been myths about gods being killed and rising from the dead (because that is the pattern of agriculture, harvest and regrowth). But Jesus really did it.
If it were all "just a story", just a myth about meaning with no real connection to history, why did the early disciples describe themselves so badly? Time and again, they are shown not to understand what their master was teaching. Time and again, they show themselves to be dense and foolish. Peter denies that he's a follower of Jesus, not once but three times. Sure, it was a scary situation. But if it were here and now, that wouldn't exactly recommend him as a leader and authority. Not only that, God has to send him a dream multiple times in order to convince him that it's okay to take the Gospel to the Gentiles. Paul admits that he started out trying to exterminate the very beliefs that he ended up spreading far and wide. James and John are shown to be bickering about who will get precedence in their Master's kingdom. Thomas very stubbornly disbelieves his comrades when they tell hime that Jesus did what he promised to do, to come again, from the dead (this in spite of having seen him raise Lazarus from the dead). These are not flattering pictures, and have the definite tang of "real life" to them. So very human in their reactions, these men tell about the events as they really happened, including all their own mistakes.
J.R.R. Tolkien, trying to help C.S. Lewis over his last stumbling blocks to becoming a Christian, made the observation that (pagan) myths have power because they are partial reflections of a genuine reality. The story of Jesus doesn't have power because it "fits mythic patterns". It has power because it is the prototype of all myths. From before the foundations of the world, the Logos was with God, was God. And became incarnated in a specific time and place.
Nothing hidden. Nothing esoteric (ie, known only to a select few). Nothing mysterious.
Well, the only mystery is why God loves us so much that He did this for us. Came close to us, became one of us. Just for love.
But it really happened. It wasn't a made up story. It wasn't some vague "mythic pattern". It really happened. Not just spiritually, but materially. Flesh and blood, along with heart and soul.
There isn't a story more exciting than that. Not really.