I am not one to buy things whole. I like iTunes, where I can download a song, rather than buy a whole album. If I like 2 cuts from a CD, I don’t need the other 10, right? I occasionally buy a Greatest Hits album, but with these, I know I like (or should like) most of the songs.
Which leads me to religion: I have been thinking about religion for the last 12 hours or so. I’ve made conscious efforts to be barely-controversial in the religious stuff I’ve posted in the last year because… I don’t know why? Maybe I didn’t want to offend anybody, or open any “cans of worms” so to speak. I didn’t want to start a firestorm that centers on my faith. So I’ve been mostly quiet about my own beliefs.
I frankly have been in a time of percolation for the last dozen-or-so years, developing my own theological thoughts and shaping my own heresy. Am I an iTunes theologian? Do I like to pick and choose? When you pick and choose, you may find yourself with a heap of nothing.
Case in point: last night I downloaded that famous crooner’s love song, N.W.A.’s “Fuck tha Police”. It has a certain attitude toward the gendarmes, and what sort of sexual intercourse we, as a society, should have with them. Helpful hints, those! Why did I download it? Because I’m a completist. It was on the Rolling Stone magazine’s List of 500 Greatest Songs. I’ve been working on getting all the tracks on the list for a few years now. I’ve had them for free, but now that I’ve given up my piratey ways, it’s taking some time to reassemble the thing for money. It gives me comfort, somehow, to buy the whole thing.
Yet, I can’t say the same of Christianity.
Part of the Reformed faith (the branch of Christianity to which I’m most closely aligned) is the Apostles’ Creed, which reads like this:
I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
the Maker of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
born of the virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried;
He descended into hell.
The third day He arose again from the dead;
He ascended into heaven,
and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Ghost;
the holy catholic church;
the communion of saints;
the forgiveness of sins;
the resurrection of the body;
and the life everlasting.
A creed, for those who don’t know the jargon, comes from the latin word credo, or “I believe.” That’s exactly what the statement is: twelve cardinal beliefs of the orthodox (used with a small O here) Catholic and Protestant believer. It’s about 1300 years old and for the masochistic, can be memorized (and for the ultra-masochistic, can be sung):
My question is, does all this matter? The Catholic Church divides the credo into twelve statements (a nice Biblical number–one for each disciple, and for each tribe of Israel). What really needs to be believed? any of it? None of it? I guess if you want to buy Christian orthodoxy, you’d buy the whole thing. Is that the cutoff point to attain your Fire Insurance, so you spend eternity floating on a cloud?
I’ll be honest: after years of struggle, I can take or leave some of the Apostles’ Creed (I’ll keep the Mozart C minor Mass all the same, thanks). I don’t believe it’s crucial to one’s Christian-ness to, say, insist upon a Virgin Birth. My friend Dan, a Lutheran Minister, recently posted about Mary, and her virginful ways. We tend to get hung up on this detail. And, to go back to the iTunes analogy, how important is the Virgin Mary track to the album as a whole?
Another thing–do you think it’s fair that Pontius Pilate–a minor Roman official–gets to be immortalized? Why don’t we say “betrayed by Judas Iscariot”? or “suffered under the Romans” (which was probably the point when the thing was written–to point out the sheer Roman-ness of Jesus’ suffering). Do Christians worldwide need to recite the name of this guy, or suffer the wrath of eternal damnation?
I know some chunks of Credo landed there specifically to combat specific heresies: the born, suffered, crucified, dead–all that “body” language keeps Christians from going down a Gnostic/Ascetic path. Chunks of credo: I like that. Sounds like a scene that might happened in the Star Wars movies.
Notice, also, the Creed nothing about Jesus (or the Holy Spirit) being God. Christians needed later Creeds (the Nicene Creed, for one–it gets a lot longer treatment when sung) to clarify the point of “oh yeah. Jesus? he was God, too.”
And, hey! What about the “Descended into Hell” bit? Do we need to believe Christ conquered Hell in order to be a Christian? Or is Christianity, at its heart, a rather violent concept of redemption through blood? We Christians love us some action words. The first 8 or so parts of the Credo read like a story of the life of Jesus as told by Matthew and Luke. Is the story manufactured? Is it wholly important? Or is real heart of Christianity the communion of the saints and the forgiveness of sins?
Do we get to choose our iTunes Greatest Hits version of Christianity? Or do we have to buy the whole album for $15.99 (plus tax)? Are you willing to shell out some cold, hard belief credits? or, like so many others, can you do without the tracks altogether?
John Lennon (who represents, with this statement, more people than Christians may realize) had the following to say: “Jesus was all right, but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It’s them twisting it that ruins it for me.” John Lennon, by the way, has very few tracks available on iTunes. The Beatles were a major online music holdout. I wonder what kind of deal Apple had to broker in order to get them to paste their music online? Good old Apple. Did Steve Jobs give the world what it needed, or what it wanted?
Black Sabbath, by the way, is not yet available on iTunes. I wonder if they have an Apostles’ Creed too?