The Interventionist School of Christianity
I never liked contact sports. Whenever I worked out, it was always a single-player engagement like jogging, swimming, or running frantically on a tread mill. Even today, I continue to exercise by myself, even though I am sometimes in a gym or in a park walking with others.
During my college teaching years, committees were, for me, the most difficult arenas to get anything done. Discussions were often endless, tangents seemed to be the norm, and listening levels almost non-existent.
Even my experiences with institutional religion, growing up Catholic and attending Catholic institutions right up to my Masters Degree, my notion of community was limited to Sunday services or singing in a choir.
Most of the time, however, I saw religion and spirituality as individual pursuits. That may explain why I was always partial to the mystics and intellectual rebels who walked their own journeys in spite of how the church hierarchy often felt threatened by them.
And in my family upbringing, it was just assumed that, by eighteen or nineteen, after graduating from high school, you were pretty much on your own or “kicked to the curb,” as some of my friends would say.
A family upbringing in which, after a certain age, self-determination was the norm; my own tendency to be a loner in my physical activity and intellectual life; and my belief that spirituality was something very personal—these were all the influences that shaped much of my own self-knowledge journey.
Over time, I began to give up the notion that a church hierarchy, a sacred text, or a cleric were going to, ultimately, determine my value system, even though I remain deeply influenced by the Catholic Church’s strong emphasis on self-examination and service, both of which have been crucial to my spiritual journey.
And theology, I discovered late in life, is different from ethics. Theology is a construct that offers faith-based conclusions about creation, miracles, the supernatural, the afterlife, a supreme being or beings, and codified rituals. Ethics, on the other hand, relates to our own attitudes, our behaviors, and how we treat others.
Christian theology requires of its followers to “believe” in a an afterlife, a non-finite soul, and a “Supreme Being” who created the world and humans. This Being, Christians are told, can be an active force in one’s life through grace or some other form of intervention, the most notable being the “ten commandments,” which, according to the Old Testament narrative, were given to Moses by God for all of humanity to follow (this act, by the way, is one in which theology and ethics conflate).
The interventionist school of Christianity also believes that the “sacred texts” (the Old and New Testaments) were divinely inspired and, therefore, error-free. In addition, this school adheres to the philosophy that all goodness stems from a creator, that we can do nothing benevolent as humans without the touch or hand of a divinity.
Within Christianity, the theological concept of divine intervention has many forms other than grace or the “handing down” of commandments to live by: an incarnated divinity figure (Christ), radical epiphanies, and miracles.
In many ways, all of these interventionist forms are indicative of many deus ex machina, sky-god narratives from the polytheistic traditions of ancient Greece and Rome to the Hindu religion of India. In those stories, gods were always descending, rescuing, changing forms (avatars), or morphed into human-acting entities.
Within the Christian narrative, Christ became the incarnated son of a sky-god patriarch, the New Testament symbol of a redeemer-messiah-king who, by his example and the sacrifice of his death would “teach” his followers the true and noble path to eternal life in addition to “opening up” the possibility of personal moral redemption (Another narrative—Christ’s harrowing of Hell—would cinch the “redeemer/sacrifice” meme established by the New Testament writers, for it could be used to show that Christ even opened up the doors of Heaven to those Old Testament figures who, according to the story, were denied entrance into Heaven until a Messiah would come to release them from the bondage of Hell.)
Radical divinity-inspired “epiphanies” are also part of the sky-god interventionist stories in Christianity. The most famous one in the New Testament is the St. Paul story in which Paul was to have been thrown from his horse by a bolt of lightening from heaven. It was the incident that marked Paul’s conversion to Christianity.
“Miracles” are another extension of the interventionist school. The Catholic Church still uses miracle narratives to determine whether or not an individual will become an “officially” declared saint in the beatification/canonization process.
Many Christians continue the miracle narratives in weekly televised Sunday evangelical services in which a minister or motivational speaker places his/her hands on a suffering victim who appears to be instantly cured.
So many theological systems are driven by top-down mandates to “believe,” to have “faith,” in order to avoid eternal damnation. These same systems, particularly in Christianity, require mandated codes of behavior which, if we are to believe church hierarchies, must be followed if an individual is going to be “saved,” rescued, if you will, from the clutches of the dark forces of Hell.
It also became clear to me that theological systems were human inventions, in many instances, to reassert the power and dominance of a clerical hierarchy, or to continue the mythologies of “mystery.” In the Catholic Church, for example, the Vatican began to add a non-Biblical layer of faith-beliefs—the Assumption, the Immaculate Conception, the existence of limbo and purgatory, the immorality of non-procreative sex,among others—that were required faith adjuncts.
These institutionally created faith-beliefs continue to be based on the assumption that the Catholic Church’s pope is a direct descendent of St. Peter, who, the Church alleges, was Christ’s official spokesman for what Christ would have instituted as the leader of Christianity.
Like so many of us who were brought up within one of the many sects of Christianity, our theology and our moral values were set in stone. We were “told” what to believe and how to act. Nothing would be left up to the individual to discover, on their own, their own set of values. And, God forbid, that anyone would veer from the official position of any church mandate. That, of course, would be risky business.
(Part II of this series will be about the “risky business” of leaving the interventionist theology of an institutional church and discovering one’s own moral values from a number of sources)