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The Christian Gospel is the most powerful “meme” ever crafted on this planet.
1/3 of the terrestrial population claims it plays a central role in personal life.
In its most reductionistic form, it takes on a phrase like “Jesus died for our sins.”
Of course, unpacking that phrase theologically could take a lifetime of work.
The problem is, it becomes a language game which can be accepted or rejected without any actual spiritual experience. Isn’t it possible that a person could say yes to it without any real “saving” happening at any meaningful level in his or her life?
Language games don’t need a real God any more than Monopoly boards need a real Atlantic City. They work because they keep their own rules.
This “disconnect” effect becomes even more pronounced with usage; even those who accept the Gospel can face serious diminishing personal returns and even boredom when a reductionistic form of the Gospel is repeated over and over for decades.
For this reason, I wrote the June 2011 Summerside Press novel The Blackberry Bush.
I wanted to explore biblically-responsible atonement models in a medium (fiction) that would allow great freedom of expression.
You see, getting saved or not had to be “real” and believable for Kati and Josh, the protagonists. Just having someone approach them on the beach (props to Mr. Luptak for the image) and presenting them with a reductionistic Gospel would not have been believable to the readers.
And I wanted their “salvation wrestling” to work for two kinds of people:
1) Those who don’t identify with the Christian salvation ‘meme.’
2) Those who have heard it for so long that it no longer really matters to them in real life.
How would you describe salvation without getting reductionistic?
In Paul’s letter to the Galatian Christians in the first century, he talks about the contrast between pleasing people and pleasing God (see chapter one of Galatians).
The truth is, loving people is not the same as pleasing them. Loving them is required. Pleasing them is impossible.
We can “overshoot” people pleasing and end up totally co-dependent.
Our personality can actually disappear when we, like a chameleon walking across a patchwork quilt, exploded into a puff of smoke.
The truth is, the collective “web” of people’s expectations can smother us.
Paul calls this collective “web” the law. Most of it is good. But taken as a whole, it is impossible.
And those of us brought up in a (well meaning) religious background were fed an implied message (or even explicit one) that trying to keep all the rules and say yes to all the grownups made us “nicer” and better people. So we had a whole ‘nother layer of rules and (infinite) expectations from church and God that made our bar even higher to clear.
Add to that the expectations of peer pressure in teen years and the social expectations of advertising, the economy, our bosses, etc. and we’re in a real mess by the time we’re adults.
Our response to these impossible compounded expectations can only be a broken one. We lie. We bargain. We spin. We try to keep everyone happy. Remember Lucille Ball on the dessert assembly line? We get behind and we start to fake it and cut corners.
Isn’t this “broken response to impossible expectations” more or less a pretty good everyday definition of sin?
This would be a good place for a savior to show up :-). More coming later.