Thursday, April 19, 2012

A stub of a Thursday sermon

Say, you’re a believing Christian of the twentieth century and you’re transported by time machine back into ancient Rome. You’re walking around the main squares and it’s all pretty impressive. Big marble cathedrals with columns. Huge statutes all over the place, and folks crowding into the temples, genuflecting and bringing offerings. Plenty of priests and acolytes in fancy dress, the whole society rests on this spectacular stuff.

And then you ask what’s behind it, what’s it all about. You sit down with a couple of these ancient Romans and they start telling you it’s Jupiter, the god who lives up in the sky and runs the world. And you think, Jupiter? Jupiter? What’s Jupiter? There isn’t any Jupiter, it’s all imagination, it’s all some made-up idea.

You know damn well that this sacred Jupiter that everyone’s so devoted to, that everyone’s dependent on, that everyone praises and carries on about, and writes epics and treatises and holy books about, and mutters prayers to . . . you know damn well that their Jupiter is air, their Jupiter is a phantom, there isn’t any Jupiter, no Jupiter of any kind, the whole religion’s a sham and a fake and a delusion, no matter how many poets and intellectuals adhere to it, no matter how many thrills and epiphanies people get out of it.

Then you come back to the twentieth century, and what you’ve seen and understood doesn’t mean a thing, you’re blind as a bat, you figure you’ve got the goods on Jupiter but Jesus is different, Jesus is for real, Jupiter is a vast communal lie but Jesus is a vast transcendent truth . . .

That, my freinds, is the very great Cynthia Ozick in Heir to the Glimmering World. The obvious lesson is that  it pays occasionally to look in the mirror, to ask ourselves if our own sincerely held beliefs are any different from the sincerely held beliefs of the ancient Romans. They muttered prayers, and we mutter prayers. They wrote epics and poems and crafted theologies in honor of Jupiter and we... well, you get the idea. Are our grounds for believing in a God who lives in the sky and runs the world better or worse than their grounds for believing in Jupiter? And does it matter? 

I have much to say on this, but no time right now to hammer it out. Perhaps my thoughts will take shape in the comments as the discussion develops. 

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