15 September 2016

When we remake Jesus in our image.

PROJECTION prə'dʒɛk.ʃən, proʊ'dʒɛk.ʃən noun. Unconscious transfer of one’s ideas to another person.
[Project prə'dʒɛkt, proʊ'dʒɛkt verb.]

When we’re talking popular Christian culture’s version of Christianity, i.e. Christianism, we’re not really talking about what Jesus teaches. We’re talking about what we’d like to think Jesus teaches. We’re talking about our own ideas, projected onto Jesus like he’s a screen and we’re a camera obscura. We’re progressive… and how about that, so is Jesus! Or we’re conservative… and how handy is it that Jesus feels precisely the same as we do?

Y’know, the evangelists told us when we come to Jesus, our whole life would have to change. But when we’re Christianist, we discover to our great pleasure and relief our lives really didn’t have to change much at all.

We had to learn a few new handy Christianese terms:

“I think…”“I just think God’s telling me…”
“I strongly think…”“God’s telling me…”
“I feel…”“I just feel in my spirit…”
“I don’t wanna do that.”“We should just take that to God in prayer.”
“That scares me.”“I just feel a check in my spirit.”
“That pisses me off.”“That just grieves my spirit.”
F--- you and the horse you rode in on.”“I’ll pray for you.”

and we learned a few handy ways to act more Christian. Like learning all the Christian-sounding justifications for our fruitless behavior. Like pointing to orthodox Christian beliefs as the evidence of our new life in Christ; it’s way easier to learn and repeat than to develop fruit of the Spirit. Like how to act like Christians when surrounded by Christians, but be your usual pagan self otherwise, and never once ask yourself whether this is hypocrisy.

As for what Jesus actually teaches, for actually following him: Christianists figure we do follow him. ’Cause we believe in him. Jn 6.40 That’s how you get eternal life, right? Jn 3.16 Just believe. Nothing more. So we do nothing more. We’ve got faith, God figures this faith makes us righteous, Ro 3.22 and being righteous means we’re right. God rewires our minds so everything we think is right and good and usually infallible.

Problem is, that’s not how we become right. That’s how we stay wrong. That’s how we wind up arrogantly assuming the way we think, is the way God thinks. That all our depraved, self-centered motives are spiritual insights into how God’s gonna bring glory to himself. How God’s sovereignty and God’s kingdom works. How God’s sense of justice and wrath is gonna affect all the people in the world who, coincidentally, are the objects of our ire, spite, and disgust.

God’s ways are not our ways. Is 55.8-9 All the more true if we never bother to study God’s ways. But when we’re Christianists we think we know his ways, ’cause we have his Spirit (whom we barely follow), learned a few memory verses (some even in context!), skimmed a bit of bible, heard Sunday sermons for the past several years… and all our Christianist friends believe the very same way we do. There’s no way we could all be leading one another astray.

Filling in the blanks with ourselves.

We humans tend to believe, and prefer to believe, we’re normal. If we have a bit of pride, we’d like to imagine we’re above average in certain ways; if we have low self-esteem, below average. But we’d still like to think we know where the average is. We’re not that far different from everyone else. All humans are basically alike, right?

So when we see another person behave a certain way, and we don’t know their motives—we don’t think of ’em as an opponent or enemy or “bad guy”—most of the time we assume they think like we think. For the most part, optimists assume other people are optimists like them, and cynics assume other people are only out for number one—also like them. If we have good intentions, we figure they have good intentions. If we’d act that way out of generosity, we figure they’re generous. If we’d do such things out of spite, we assume they’re just as spiteful. And so on.

Psychologists call this trait the false-consensus bias: We don’t actually know other people are just like us, or have the same motives we do. But it makes us feel comfortable about ourselves to assume so. It makes us feel that, since we know ourselves, we know humanity; we have some sort of special insight others lack. I know you because I know me.

Studies show just about everybody does this. ’Cause it’s easier to guess at other people’s motives than it is to come right out and ask them. It’s more satisfying to assume we know how people oughta be, than discover we don’t really understand human motives—including, when it gets right down to it, our own motives—all that well. It’s why we need to do psychology studies in the first place: We think we know what makes people tick, but a good study might show us people behave quite differently for very different reasons. (Heck, any political election where everybody votes for the other guy, exposes this fact!)

Now, that’s how we are with our fellow humans. How well do you think the false-consensus bias is gonna do when we apply it to God?

Well, we see it all over Calvinist theology. It begins with a simple thought-experiment, “What would I do if I were God, and almighty, and sovereign, and my will could never ever be frustrated?” It turns into a theory that God has two wills: One where he told us what to do and not do; the other where things appear to go entirely against God’s will, but actually don’t because God does want things this way. (Problem is, this is an awfully evil universe. How is God not at fault for that? Well, explain Calvinists, it’s a secret. God’s ways are not our ways and all that.) So in this universe, God doesn’t really wanna save everybody, hasn’t really poured out his grace on everyone, and is “good” following this weird redefinition of “good” in which “it’s good if God does it,” not “the Law is good,” Ro 7.16, 1Ti 1.8 and God defines sin by it. Ro 7.7

And we definitely see it all over pagan theology. Whatever beliefs about God appeal to ’em best, that’s what they believe. Typical paganism resembles the popular culture, including popular Christianity. But it’s been rejiggered to suit us, and ignores anything God reveals about himself. Our idea of love isn’t unconditional, so “God’s love” has strings attached and a cutoff point. Our idea of grace lets us get away with anything. We don’t wanna suffer, don’t wanna be poor, so we imagine God blesses us with comfort and wealth. We don’t wanna practice self-control, so we redefine “freedom in Christ” so it’s no longer necessary. We don’t wanna go to church either; same deal.

Turns it into a loveless, faithless, joyless, impatient, angry, argumentative, partisan, fearful, wild, wind-tossed Jm 1.6 Christianity. More often than not, turns it into dark Christianity. Something which greatly appeals to our flesh, because it justifies all the flesh’s works. Something the devil can surely use.

Doubt yourself!

Let’s not assume any and every bright idea which pops into our heads comes straight from God. You might recall King David ben Jesse once had that experience.

2 Samuel 7.1-7 KWL
1 It was when the king sat in his house, and the LORD gave him rest from all his enemies around,
2 the king said to the prophet Nathan, “Now look:
I sit in a cedar house, and God’s box sits surrounded by a curtain.”
3 Nathan told the king, “Go do everything you have in mind. The LORD’s with you.”
4 But it was that night the LORD’s word told Nathan:
5 “Go tell my slave David the LORD says this: Will you build me a house to sit in?
6 For I’ve not sat in a house from when I brought Israel’s sons out of Egypt to this day.
I’ve been traveling in a tent, a tabernacle, 7 in all the places I walked with all Israel’s sons.
Did I speak a word to one of Israel’s shepherd-staffs, which I wield to pastor my people Israel,
to say, ‘Why don’t you build me a cedar house?’ ”

Nope, building the temple wasn’t the LORD’s idea. Totally David’s. Not that God didn’t appreciate it, but still: He was totally fine with his tabernacle. Spent a couple chapters of Exodus making sure it’d be built right. He liked camping amongst his people, instead of living separate from them in some less-accessible sacred palace. (Liked it so much, he did it again in Jesus of Nazareth. Jn 1.14) My point, though, is there are plenty of clever ideas we humans will have, and assume they’re totally God-ideas because they appear to bring him honor and glory.

But they’re not. Never were. David appreciated having a cedar house, and assumed the LORD would appreciate having a cedar house. Hey, if the king merits a palace, what’s the Almighty doing in a tent? But again: Projection. False-consensus bias. His ways aren’t ours. Does the Highest God live in houses made by human hands? Ac 7.48 Even really nice-smelling cedar houses?

Years ago I came up with a shortcut that I figured would catch most of my own acts of projection before I run amok with them. I don’t guarantee it works 100 percent of the time. After all, that temple idea seems to fit it. Still, here it is.

If it makes God look good,
and doesn’t make you look good
(and possibly even makes you look a little stupid)
it’s probably God.
But if it makes you look good, it’s you.

No, my shortcut isn’t based on the belief God wants us to look dumb. It’s because most of our presumed “God-ideas” come with an ulterior motive: We wanna look important, mighty, clever, holy, or otherwise good. Our “God-ideas” aren’t rooted in the pursuit of God, but human selfishness.

So once we realize there’s a little bit of personal reward involved in our “God-ideas”: Start doubting. Our motives should be to glorify Christ Jesus, grow his kingdom, and point to him. The only way we really look good is when we set ourselves totally aside—and our Father, who sees what we’re truly up to, rewards us for it. Mt 6.4, 6, 18

Our worry about looking stupid: If it’s really God, it’s an unfounded concern. It’s irrational fear. It’s that self-generated “check in my spirit” which is our excuse to avoid the direction God leads us. When we follow him anyway, we regularly find we don’t look stupid at all.

Again, this is only a shortcut, not a guarantee. It’s a quick-’n-dirty way to rethink our knee-jerk Christianist reactions. Instead of assuming every clever idea we have—or every clever thing some other Christian tells you—is a God-idea, stop. Think. Study the scriptures. Ask the Holy Spirit for direction. Look before you leap. Never assume.