What Is Christianity? And What Is a Christian? A Dialogue with a Visitor from Far, Far Away, Episode 3
by Ervin Taylor | 5 February 2018 |
In Episode 2, we left off our conversation with OV (Our Visitor, from a far far away planet) at the point where we were talking about the first known source of information about Jesus. It was contained in a letter from Paul of Tarsus to Jesus believers in a town in Greece called Thessaloniki. This letter had been written about 20 years after Jesus had died.
I told OV that during the period that Paul had visited this town, he had attracted a small group of believers who apparently met in the house of a member. While he had been there, he had apparently told the group that Jesus was going to return very soon from where he was now and all who believed Jesus would then live forever with him in the place where Jesus was now.
OV had been listening casually, but then his eyes opened wide, and he said, “Whoa! Just a minute. Jesus was going to return from where?”
I said, “Don’t you remember that I told you that after Jesus died, he was brought back to life and went to the same kind of place where your ‘Mysterious One’ lives? Most English-speaking Christians call this place Heaven.”
“Where is your Heaven located?” OV asked.
I’ve already confessed that I was beginning to get a little desperate in answering OV’s questions. All of the things just taken for granted by people living today in areas where Christianity has been practiced for hundreds of years or more were totally foreign to OV.
We ended Episode 2 with my saying that I clearly will have to get “creative” to answer OV’s questions.
“Where is Heaven located?” I repeated back to OV.
“Yes,” he said.
“Well,” I started, “that is a hard question to answer. To be honest, where heaven is located has never been determined. It may not be a specific place. It might be just a word used to indicate where the Christian God or your ‘Mysterious One’ is located at any specific point in time.”
OV got a strange look on his face and said slowly: “The ‘Mysterious One’ is not said to be necessarily present at any specific place at any specific time. Sometimes [HSI] exists everywhere and sometimes [HSI] exists in one place. We just don’t know.”
(When I use the term [HSI], that is a stand-in for [He/She/It]. That is not OV’s term. He is of the opinion that English is a very limited language. He calls English a “primate” language. I didn’t want to argue with him, because I would have almost certainly lost. When I transcribed his words, I had to substitute [HSI] for the term he used which I would have had a terrible time transliterating. So I will just use [HSI].)
“OK,” I explained, “‘Heaven’ is one of those words which some Christians use today to talk about where their God is located, and they view it as a literal place, but there is some vagueness about where it actually is physically located. Some talk about it as where good people go after death. Others view it as not a place, but use it entirely symbolically as a state of consciousness. It’s really difficult to know how Paul viewed the place that Jesus was described as coming back from. In some places, he talked about ‘heavens’ in the plural.”
Then I heard the dreaded “Hmm” coming from OV.
“Where good people go?” OV repeated, but in the form of a question. “What do you mean, ‘good people’?”
“Oh, Oh. Here we go again,” I thought to myself.
I tried the direct approach and responded: “You’re not going to tell me that there are not both good and bad individuals on the planet from which you come?”
OV then stated, “I will be happy to respond if you will tell me exactly what you mean by ‘good’ and ‘bad’ as in ‘good and bad people’?”
I tried this out on OV: “‘Bad people’ are individuals who are toxic to others; they do destructive things to themselves and others. They are often confused by how they were brought up as children. ‘Good people’ are different. They help others.”
OV thought about this for some time.
“OK. We certainly have both types of people on the planet from which I come. However, things are arranged so that the individuals whom you call ‘bad’ are slowly helped to be less and less destructive to themselves and others. Other people are protected while these toxic individuals are slowly learning to behave in ways that are most positive and life affirming.”
I asked: “Fine. But what happens when someone will not respond to being helped? Who continues to be toxic to himself and others?”
OV looked at me with a puzzled expression: “That rarely happens, at least currently. That is not allowed to happen, because if allowed to continue, it will cause many problems. We just work harder and harder to help any individual who responds more slowly than others to being helped.”
“So you force some people to be ‘better’ even if they do not want to be ‘better’?” I asked.
“Force?” OV queried. “No, force never works. If, after a lot of efforts have been made to demonstrate that being helpful provides positive feelings, some rare individuals still continue to act in a toxic manner, we suspect that there is some problem in how that individual processes information in what you call the brain. Perhaps the brain was impacted by some physical trauma that caused damage. Or perhaps some tragic event happened very early in this individual’s life to which he or she is reacting and is not even aware of it.”
OV later claimed that the number of individuals who exhibit that kind of problem is very small. He added, though, that the ancient traditions and legends do say that there were more individuals like that in the past, and his ancestors spent a lot of time deciding how to deal with these people.
On the basis of all this, I finally asked, “So, in the end, there are no ‘bad’ people?” OV replied, “That’s right, everyone eventually — except, those who have real brain trauma — eventually sees the advantage of not behaving in a toxic manner.”
(I thought to myself that I had better not bring up Paul’s view that everyone had “sinned” and continues to sin and merits the judgment of God. I’m pretty sure that OV would have been horrified that anyone held that view.)
After saying this, OV reminded me that we had gotten off the question that he asked which had to do with the teachings of Jesus and how Paul fit into communicating Jesus’ ideas.
I thought to myself.: “Thank heavens . . .”
“So, moving on,” I continued, “the point is that the believers at Thessaloniki apparently were left with the impression by Paul that Jesus would return very soon before anyone in their little group died. But some had died and there were major concerns about that.”
OV asked: “So when did Jesus finally come back?”
I hesitated to answer so long that OV asked, “What’s the matter? Is there a problem?”
I finally said, “Well, to be honest, Jesus has not, as yet, returned.”
“Oh . . . ,” OV said and then stopped.
OV reflected a while and then slowly reflected, “So Paul lived more than 2,000 years ago, and said that Jesus would return ‘soon,’ and 2,000 years has passed, and Jesus has not returned.”
“I guess that’s about it,” I agreed. “But I can explain.”
OV looked at me and said: “Boy, I hope so. Paul seems to not have been, shall we say, completely honest with these people. Was he always that way?”
In Episode 4, we will hopefully justify to OV Paul’s statement 2,000 years ago about Jesus’ coming back “soon.” We will then see if there is any reasonable way of explaining Paul’s theology and why he referred to Jesus much of the time as “the Christ.”
Ervin Taylor is Emeritus Professor of Anthropology and Past Director of the Radiocarbon Laboratory at the University of California, Riverside. He is also currently a Visiting Professor at the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at UCLA and Visiting Scientist at the Keck Carbon Cycle Accelerator Mass Spectrometry Laboratory at the University of California, Irvine. He has served as the Executive Editor of Adventist Today.