Recently a friend of mine mentioned that a counselor had concerns about her daughter because she believed that mermaids existed. The questioning included why she believed in their existence, and the child responded because she had read about them and had seen a documentary on the Animal Planet, yet admitted to not have seen one in person. The “professional” was concerned. The child did ask the interviewer if she believed if giant squids existed and if she had seen one, and as you probably have guessed the answer was, the counselor had read about them and saw a documentary. This would be funny if the person was not a “professional” analyzing the youth. I had seen most of the mermaid documentary one late night with my brother-in-law, and I must admit I truly understand one believing that mermaids might exist on earth, after viewing the documentary. I honestly had to choose not to believe this reality when watching the show, and I have to admit the choice is mostly because it may “freak me out” if I saw something while on a boat and that it may open me up to the reality of Bigfoot. I did just move to the Seattle area, where there are more boats and Northwestern woods in my future, so I have decided on a reality where there are no mermaids and Yetis.
As Christians, are we simply asking people to believe in an historical reality--Jesus’ birth, teachings, death, and resurrection? Even our Gospel accounts do not match up neatly. This sets up a reality in which those that believe are in, and those that do not are out. It is ok to believe in giant squids, but not mermaids. This is not my Christianity. My religion is reality, which I find in Christianity.
Humanity did not create God, but humans did create religion. We must look at our rituals and beliefs with anthropologic and sociological lenses and not simply as a litmus test, such as do you believe….? And this can be true of the progressive churches as well. We cannot kid ourselves to think we don’t have litmus tests. Often we stand there like the professional above, judging other’s beliefs.
“Reality:” that word is itself a question, perhaps even a riddle. I have been enlightened by the theory of Mimesis, put forth by René Girard. A one sentence explanation might be that we desire based from the desires of others, and this changes the dialogue immensely. I would argue it is pre-historical, and cognitive scientists have even confirmed this as desire based off the desire (and actions) of others within our brain function. As a confessing Christian, this theory has opened me up to Christianity that dare I say, seems “natural” and “scientific.” No longer am I claiming something that others choose not to believe, nor am I stating what I believe they will know exactly like I know. Rather, I see the reality of religion within Christianity, which I knew before, but now worry only about divine love as an action against our human reality of rivalry from mimetic desire.
Our purpose is to help the Divine we call love be the reality we know. Violence and rivalry are part of our human condition, and as Christians we know the realization of love by Jesus empting himself without rivalry or retaliation on the cross. This love is the reality we all aspire to, yet we are tied together not by our individual transgressions, but our universal sin of rivalry and violence. Thus we don’t need everyone to believe exactly the same way, but to live, what we confessing Christians call the compassion of Jesus, as our reality. The reality is, who cares if one believes in giant squids and/or mermaids, but rather, are we teaching love--that is, nonviolence, and compassion?
That is the religion for me, religion of revealing forgiveness, compassion, and love without rivalry and violence, as the reality and culture of earth as it is in heaven. That is a transformed world reality here on this globe, not simply an eternal heaven of gold streets, where some are in and others out.