Thursday, August 31, 2006

More Crossan: Universal v Particular

Here is another fascinating -- and to me enlightening -- quote from Crossan memoir. It comes near the end of chapter 4.

In context, he is explaining his idea that the Christian Trinity -- Father, Son, Holy Spirit -- correlates to comparative religion understanding of the "structure" of the Holy which includes the categories of metaphoric (God, or the Holy, can be comprehended only through metaphor -- God as Father is a metaphor), Locality (the Son places the Holy here on Earth, in history, among the People), and Particularity (the fact that the metaphor and locale are recognized by believers, but not by non-believers). He then writes:

That mystery of particularity closes the Trinitarian loop, and here the best analogy to divine faith is human love. You must experience faith or love as if it could not be otherwise. Imagine this. I wake up tomorrow morning next to my wife and say, "If I had not met you, fallen in love with you, and married you, I would probably have met someone else, fallen in love with her, married, her, an be waking up next to her this morning." That would be a very imprudent way to start my day, yet it is probably true. It is also unspeakably crude in its denial of human particularity. Or imagine this. A young couple have just lost their firstborn child and I tell them, "Don't worry. You can always have another one." That, too, is unspeakably cruel in its denial of human particularity. So also, then, with your religion: you must experience it as if no alternative were even possible. But at the back of your mind, you must also recognize that alternatives are always present. Particularity is not relativity, not the belief that anything goes or that everything is the same, but the acceptance that our humanity, at its deepest moments and profoundest depths, is individual and specific.

For individuals, groups, and communities this metaphoric and that locality, this seeing-as and that seeing-where, seem absolutely true, and all other possibilities seem but heresy, apostasy, infidelity -- mistake at best and treason at worst. Whether through genetic or ethnic occasions, personal or cultural drives, psychological or social forces, this metaphoric and this locality are experienced as choosing us rather than our choosing them. I do not say (although I know it is true): "I might have been a Muslim or a Hindu, but I was born in Ireland and so I'm a Roman Catholic Christian." Particularity, too, is part of the structure of the Holy, and it is only through it that metaphoric and locality act upon us.

pp 105-06

I've long had the sense that the relationship of a person to his or her church community is analogous to one's relationship with a spouse or partner, but haven't been able to put it into words as well as he has.

What fascinates me about this is the notion that "this metaphoric and this locality are experienced as [my emphasis] choosing us rather than our choosing them," as if it could not be otherwise, even while knowing at a different level that it might have been.

This certainly is what it feels like to me -- Christianity (or was it Christ?) chose me at birth through being born to my particular parents. (Would anyone say it was my "choice" of parents??) Though I experimented some with other religions while a youth, in my deepest soul I have always known that I belonged to the Christian (but not necessarily the Lutheran) community -- over time and space -- and so eventually stopped denying the alternative possibility and have since tried to learn how to be most useful and faithful to that community.

To the extent that I can say that I chose to be a Quaker kind of Christian (or a liberal member of that family), I can give lots of reasons, but in reality -- to me, in other words -- it feels that I was drawn inexorably to it, no more my "choice" than a fish "chooses" the bait that reels it from one world to another.

If this is true (and I think it is), then it seems impossible to be "religious" in a general sense (though one may have a predisposition to think about religious things), any more than one can be a "lover" in a general sense (though you may have an amorous temperament). You need a religious community --this one, not just any one -- just as you need a lover -- this one, not just any one.

The implication seems to be a variation on the "think globally, act locally" idea. If we believe it is worthwhile being Quakers, we must preach the Gospel as understood it as Friends -- with our words as well as our lives -- without apologizing for our evangelism. But at the same time we must remember that we are one of many ways, some of which may be equally authentic and effectual. (I'm not willing to say they all are, or even most.) We show that we know this latter to be true by the way in which we do the former, avoiding the twin traps of fundamentalism and pseudo-universalism.

(There's more in the Crossan book which I'm finding strangely captivating, including a discussion that I may summarize later of the distinction between "universal or functional" and "patronal or influential" societies.)


Lorcan said...

"If we believe it is worthwhile being Quakers, we must preach the Gospel as understood it as Friends"
I am not sure I understand this. As I see it, if this were the case Dominic Crossin would still be a vatican historian. Human thought, I think, is a river, not a Merry go round. If we live in a world of constant revelation, how can we be bound to the past for definition?
If that IS the case, each generation must eith abandon the religion of the past ( ie - thee is not a Quaker if thee grows in knowlege each generation ) or remain intelectually static.
Thine in the light

Lorcan said...

PS Thee really would like my CD, send me an email Friend =)Hear a little of it, on a back broadcast of Beppeblog!