Christmas Eve, 2009
I was named after my parents' youth minister, Douglas Clyde Macintosh*. My parents came from the "poor section" of New Haven, Connecticut. Macintosh was a professor in that city at Yale Divinity School for 40 years. One of his books (Social Religion) had a preposterous proposition: Even if the Jesus of history never existed, the validity of Christianity would remain intact.
Pretty radical: Christianity without Jesus; Christmas without a manger; Easter without a cross; death without a Resurrection.
My own average citizen interpretation of this is, that if you susbstituted the word Forgiveness with a capital "F" for the word Christ, the religion would mean exactly the same: Forgiveness is my personal Savior(saves me from the hell of Self); Forgiveness promises me victory over death (saves me from fear of Eternal Judgment; because every time I refuse to judge --indeed I forgive --others, I build faith in a judgement-free Eternity); Forgiveness cleanses my soul (where resentment and fear were, there shall serenity be).
Admittedly, this is a psychoanalytic interpretation of Christianity; but, then, I believe all religion is an imagistic, metaphoric form of primitive psychiatry emerging from the collective unconscious.
Our difficulty as inheritors of this primitive psychiatry is that we have turned the images and metaphors ( Father, virgin, manger, savior, king, crucifixion, resurrection, eternal life, eternal damnation, etc.) into literalities instead of the cathartic symbols they are intended to be. We have made them ends, rather than means (or meanings).
Would living a life of forgiveness and sacrifice without a historical Jesus bullying us to do so, bring life everlasting, i.e. life undeterred, life uninterrupted ("EVER-lasting") by anxiety, fear,and the burden of self?
Is that all there is?
No Emerald City in the Sky?
Paul D.M. Keane
Yale Divinity School
* See September 11 post: "Macintosh Chalice donated to Yale Law School"