Thursday, January 14, 2010

Making Paradise

Of course, our hearts and our money must go out to the people of Haiti. They are living now in a hell far removed from paradise. I wonder what the early Christians, who suffered their own kind of hell under Roman domination would have to say. I have thought a great deal about John Corrado’s description that we are more interested in “getting heaven into people, rather than people into heaven.” In many ways, I believe this early understanding of Christianity is where we are bound as Unitarian Universalists and perhaps even, ultimately, as a human race.

Up until the advent of agriculture in the ancient world, our view of the world was eco-centered; that is our culture and our religion focused on the power of the earth as the giver of life. The goddess of the earth was in her ascension and the relationship between human survival and meaning was rooted in a certain obedience to the earth. This was the real garden of Eden; not free of want, but certainly free of eco-genocide. With the advent of agriculture and a surplus of food, control of those resources led to an increasing culture of domination by those who had the means of production, initially the priesthood and later kings. The earth became a thing to be manipulated and controlled for power. (See David Korten’s The Great Turning) With the increasing domination of empire, our view of what constituted paradise shifted away from what the earth could provide to what a distant deity would reward. In other words, the more power we gained, the farther paradise slipped from our grasp. For much of the last 3000 years we have come to believe that paradise could at best be walled off in private gardens on earth, or rewarded for following doctrine in the afterlife. (See David Eisenberg’s The Ecology of Eden) As empires grew we entered into what Harvey Cox has called “The Age of Belief” in which what we believe could save us or earn us ever lasting damnation. (See Cox’s The Future of Faith) The suffering crucifixion replaced the blessing of baptism as Christianity’s predominant symbol. Early Christianity, as a not yet empowered religion, recognized the ancient meaning of paradise as on earth. (Parker and Brock Saving Paradise) Echoing the words of Jesus, "The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, 21nor will people say, 'Here it is,' or 'There it is,' because the kingdom of God is within[a] you." Luke 17:21

We are, in other words, the community of God’s chosen, here to bring paradise into the now. This is, in fact, what our Universalist heritage teaches: not only are all of us not going to hell, but paradise is ours to make right now and right here. Give generously my friends.

With grace and grit, John