These are my thoughts for the 3rd Sunday of Easter, 26 April 2009. The Scriptures for this Sunday are Acts 3: 12 – 19, 1 John 3: 1 – 7, Luke 24: 36 – 48.
This is also Heritage Sunday, the Sunday in which we commemorate the union of the Evangelical United Brethren Church and the Methodist Church. It is of some importance to me because I came to this point in my journey through the EUB Church. I was confirmed and found Christ in 1965 at the 1st E. U. B. Church of Aurora, Colorado (see “Thoughts for Scout Sunday”, “The House We Build”, “A Scout is Reverent”, and “Holding The Key To Tomorrow”). This is also Native American Sunday (see “Knowing God”).
I have had one recurring thought/theme in this journey of mine and that is the development of one’s consciousness. Consciousness, if you will, is the awareness of one’s self.
When I began the work that lead to my doctorate I studied the work of Jean Piaget and his ideas on the development of thought from early childhood through college. His ideas, in conjunction with the work and research of Dudley Herron, have given me a lot of thought with regards to how to teach chemistry. And when I was at the University of Memphis (when it was still called Memphis State University), I learned about Kohlberg’s stages of moral development (somewhat analogous to Piaget’s model of development but dealing with concepts of morality rather than analytical thinking).
But I have never delved into the idea of how we develop our own consciousness. The discussion of the past few years, especially in terms of creationism and evolution as well as the rise of atheism in the popular literature, has given me time to think about that idea.
It seems to me that a hallmark of a sentient being is that they are aware of their own existence; at least at one level, this means that they have a conscience. And if you have a conscience, then you have to have some sort of belief system.
All civilizations, be they the Middle Eastern civilizations that we hold to be the ancestors of our current civilization (and which we often forget) or the Asian civilizations and Native American cultures that developed concurrently but have somehow been laid aside in our movement forward in time, have a belief system. It is a system that developed as we, as humans, first looked around our surroundings and began to ask questions. Not just the questions of “how” but also the questions of “why”.
Out of our own consciousness and the questions that we asked about our existence, we developed the concept of gods. Such gods were the explanation of why things happened and the entities to which we addressed our problems and concerns. But as our awareness of the world around us increased, our need for such gods to explain things diminished.
And while we perhaps know what brings rain, causing lightning and thunder and other such phenomena, we still are trapped by the questions of “why are we here?” or “why is there good or evil in the world?” It may be that the one basic question that taunts our lives each day, no matter whom we are or where we live, is “why do good things happen to bad people and why do bad people seem to enjoy the riches of life when there is suffering in the world?”
Every civilization, from the moment we began to organize ourselves into collective human groups, has asked those questions and, more times than not, come up short. But what are our options?
Some will tell us that there are no gods and that everything can be explained through rational thought and process. If that is the case (and yes, I am perhaps oversimplifying it), then good and evil are a part of our own being, something in us from the beginning of our lives. If this should be the case, then we will wander into ethical discussions that, quite frankly, I do not believe that we are capable of discussing.
And the fact is that, if we believe that some people are inherently good and some people are inherently bad, then it becomes very easy for us, individually and collectively, to sanction the torture of another human being. After all, clearly they are bad and we are good (or not as bad).
Quite frankly, if we hold to a line of thinking that allows that type of action, then I think we are denying our own humanity. And I think it is even worse, if we do have some sort of belief system (be it Christianity, Buddhism, or anything else) but quietly accept such behavior; then we have problems far beyond our fears for the security of this country. An acceptance of good and evil as part and parcel of our being makes it quite easy to diminish the worth of or demonize an individual.
And if we hold to the notion that our conscious develops somehow internally from our consciousness, then we need to look at how it develops. And again, no matter what belief system you hold to, it is clear that there is something common in all of them, something that transcends race, nationality, time, and place. It is perhaps again over simplification but the fact that there are common points in all belief systems, that there are common traditions in the mythologies of all cultures and civilizations suggest to me that there is a Supreme Being. I have come to believe in a God who created this world and who sent His Son to save us. In my own development, I have had the opportunity to see others who believe as I do and I have had the opportunity to see others whose belief system is just as valid as mine. This does not make either of us right or wrong; what it does is make it necessary to further seek the truth.
What it also says is that those individuals who insist that there is no God, no Supreme Being are missing something in their lives. It is perfectly acceptable to deny the existence of a Supreme Being but such a denial leaves you with a gap in your consciousness and makes it necessary for you to develop extraordinary concepts to explain ordinary things. Good and evil, happiness and sorrow, laughter and crying cannot develop from within the makeup of the body but are part of one’s soul or spirit.
Now, I am not saying that a belief in a Supreme Being eliminates the idea of good and evil. Nor am I saying that having such a belief makes it easier to justify behavior such as torture or greed. Anytime your actions imply a greater worth to your life than the life of someone else, anytime you make the argument that “my god is better than your god”, then you have placed yourself at the top of the hierarchy of your belief system and subverted the entire purpose of what your belief system is supposed to be about.
This is, in effect, what the political and religious systems of the early modern era did. Those who tried, convicted, and crucified Christ and those who sanctioned that trial and its outcome placed their purpose in life above the purpose in life of all people.
When Peter spoke to the crowd, he pointed out that those who carried out the trial and crucifixion of Christ were unwilling or unable to see or hear the message because it moved against their own wishes. They were quite content to live at the level they had; after all, they had everything. Jesus was going to take it all away and share it with the people; therefore He deserved to die because His was a radical idea.
Even today, we have people who use the church as a means of conveying their own agendas, secular or sectarian. And too many people today accept that view because they have come to believe that if they do the same, they will achieve the same power and glory. But those who have the power and the glory are not willing to let others share; it is against their version of their operating belief system.
When Peter speaks of the people acting in ignorance, it is because they were unwilling or unable to move beyond the plane of thought that had dominated their lives for so many years. And just as repent was the commandment the Baptizer gave when he first came out of the wilderness and just as repent was the commandment that Jesus Himself gave when He first began His ministry, so too does Peter tell the people to repent and begin anew.
To understand Jesus’ motivation, you can not live in the present system but instead you must change. We must be born again was another way He spoke of this new life. In his first letter, John speaks of the readers being God’s children, of being in that new stage of development, that new stage of consciousness.
It is very difficult for many people today, as it was two thousand years ago, to visualize Jesus’ message of the Lord who was the Servant. They cannot conceive of someone proclaiming a Kingdom in which roles are reversed and the least shall go first. They cannot conceive of a kingdom that calls for sacrifice first.
Power comes from the top down, not the bottom up; concern must be for those at the top of the pyramid, not the ones at the bottom who support them. Too often, we have interpreted the call from Christ to go out into the world and make disciples of all mankind to mean that we can make others be our servant. If we are to understand what Jesus spoke of, we must first cast aside our old ways and begin anew; we must arise to a new level of consciousness, one in which we understand that His death on the Cross freed us from a lifetime of slavery and death.
And we must tell others and we must show others that Christ is alive. We are not going to do it with words alone but with actions. And our words must be words of love and compassion, not threats and condemnation.
We have an interesting challenge before us. To meet this challenge we must rise to that new level of consciousness found in Christ.