Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Tiger God and the Supreme Court.


I wrote about anthropomorphism last time. If you are still with me, I would like to talk briefly about anthropologists, the people who study human behavior.

On January 20th, 1801, John Marshall became the first Chief Justice of the United States and served for thirty years, the longest term of any of our chief justices.

He was not an anthropologist. He was a lawyer.

More about him in a moment, if I can fit it in.

Many anthropologists say that Christians worship an anthropomorphic God, a god we have created in our own image.

They say that every god is created either in the image of a man or a beast.

Think about a wild man watching a tiger run through the forest. His heart starts beating fast as he watches it run. Soon, he is awe-struck.

Later, as he thinks about his experience, he imagines a Great Cosmic Tiger, running through the sky.

Soon the wild man builds a Tiger Temple.

Then he organizes a tiger religion.

Can’t we understand that process?

Don’t people (certainly not us, but all the other people!) project their experiences into the sky and call what they imagine there, “god?”

Well, think about it!

Some people you know probably view God as a Great Cosmic Tyrant. He basically hates everybody.

Others seem to believe in a God that resembles something like a doting grandfather. He thinks it’s cute when we disobey Him and just chuckles when we act like brats.

We do seem to make our gods after all from things that either please or terrify us.

After we create our god, we want to keep him, her or it happy.

So, we are guilty as charged.

We do indeed make up gods.

We may even call our private god “Jesus,” or “Father.”

The Bible calls that process idolatry. We are all guilty of it.

What would happen if the actual God, The Father Almighty, showed up?

What if it turned out that He was nothing like all the gods we have been worshipping?

That would be upsetting.

Choosing between a real God and the anthropomorphic gods of our imagination is something all spiritual seekers must learn to do.

But back to the Tiger!

A Tiger God is interesting, a lot more interesting in fact, than the Heavenly Paw Paw of modern Christianity.

When I teach about the beliefs of Christian faith, I hear people say something like, "Well, I don't care for a religion like that."

Of course, what we like about it or don’t like about it is not the point at all! If God really is a Cosmic Tiger, if He growls His way through the universe and consumes people with a fierce and eternal “gulp,” I may not like it, but I better figure out what He wants or how to stay out of His way!

It’s really not about what I like or don’t like. It about learning what is true.

I know. Christians don’t believe in anything like a Tiger God.

“Ahhh,” say the anthropologists, “but you do. You take your experience with your own “father.” You keep inflating that image. You project it up in the sky somewhere. You call that image “God, the Father”.

The Christian response is that the Bible teaches the exact opposite. It says that “God, The Father” is the form. Earthly fatherhood is the crude copy of that form.

Earthly fathers are supposed to mold their fatherhood after the form God reveals in Scripture. One of the things that should happen to us when we say, "I believe in God the Father," is that we begin to understand what makes a man into a true father. We then commit ourselves to become that kind of father.

Perhaps it begins to come clear why it is important to call God, “Father.”

Nonetheless, it is also important to not misuse the term “Father,” as a way to justify our own cultural bias.

We must see what “Father” means in the scripture. We must read the Bible words, not “read into” them. In other words, we must not make the Bible word mean what our own political and cultural conservatism or liberalism, or any other “ism” for that matter, makes them mean. Resisting this human tendency requires humility and mindfulness.

It is also important not to make the phrase “God, the Father,” mean, “The God of the Old Testament.” When we do that, what can Jesus be but “another God”? That means the Holy Spirit becomes yet another God.

Our commitment to monotheism won’t allow us to do that.

The English word “God” refers to the entire Godhead: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We don’t believe in God the Father, and God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. We believe in God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

In an earlier blog, I quoted earlier from an Orthodox theologian who said that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are the internal names of God. Allow me to review some of the crucial ideas behind that statement.

In the Old Testament, all the names believers used for God describe aspects of His external nature. They refer to things God does. That is why the Old Testament emphasizes God’s Oneness. Old Covenant believers always saw God “from the outside,” as it were.

The New Testament takes us closer, to a more intimate look at God. New Testament believers begin to contemplate the paradoxical distinctions within God’s nature. That moves us to sometimes emphasize God’s triunity.

As we have seen, the creeds attempt to describe and define the New Testament’s intimate view of God. The Nicene creed speaks of the Son as begotten of the Father. The same creed tells that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father. But notice that both the Son and the Holy Spirit are described as “coming forth” from a single, common source – the Father. That is why we begin the creeds and the Lord’s Prayer by acknowledging God’s Fatherhood. For when Christians honor God the Father, they are acknowledging Him to be the ultimate authority and source of all that is, both in Heaven and in Earth. An earthly father is a source of our biological life. God the Father is the source of everything.

This is some heavy stuff, to be sure; but you’re up to it.

By 1801, the founding fathers of our republic realized that we needed our judicial branch to help us discover the implications of our founding documents to the on-going life of the country. They chose Justice Marshall to preside over that work.

They chose well.

Justice Marshall worked hard to secure the sanctity of the United States Constitution. As presidents and parties came and went – his own party disappeared during his tenure – he helped common citizens transitioning from being British citizens, who had very little say in government, to become fully functioning participants in government.

Justice Marshall believed in a concept called Justice.

On the front steps of the Supreme Court Building is an anthropomorphic depiction of Justice, blindfolded. The scales are in her hands and she weighs without regard for the outcome.

It is a very important picture of what is supposed to happen inside that building.

What would an anthropologist say about that?

2 comments:

~*Miss Kelly Jay*~ said...

The blindfold is a representation of an impartial justice.

I believe it would be impossible to achieve justice without weighing the outcome of a matter.

In fact, inherent in a just result is consideration of the outcome beforehand.

While Chief Justice Marshall was a remarkable jurist - he created judicial review - the rule of law that declared the judiciary says what the law is, Justice Marshall wasn't always just to Native Americans.

This may not have been his fault; just the times; but, I recall opinions where he fell down hard on tribes, and it was upsetting.

~*Miss Kelly Jay*~ said...
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