History has had many great influences upon its pages. Great evils and great goods have characterized the fluctuating influences of all great men. In “Self Reliance” Emerson states that “To be great is to be misunderstood” (Emerson). In this he relates to us the problem with interpretations of revelation. Intuitive action is uninterruptable to its true form. The attempt to interpret another’s free flow of self-realization is a mistake leading to the degradation of your own Self. Throughout recorded time, religion has been disfigured by countless attempts to interpret intuition, extract timeless truths from another’s momentary insight, and relive questionable past experiences. Within the pages of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Divinity School Address” he speaks of the many falsehoods that lie within the wrung out, time warped religious traditions. The Christian doctrine is central to his argument as its confounding tales of long ago wonders spin helplessly just overhead, as the straining arms of religious beggars reach wildly for a taste, and as momentary illusions further the unsustainable salivating appetites of the discontent mob. The “Divinity School Address” written and presented by Ralph Waldo Emerson has had a great impact on my idea of modern Christianity. His work shows us how Christianity has misinterpreted the teachings of Jesus, distorted the role of the teacher into the “all knowing” preacher, and gives us insight into the relation between our person and the soul.
First, “The Divinity School Address” shows us how Christianity has misinterpreted the teachings of Jesus. The Misinterpretation of Jesus as a “God” was the greatest and most detrimental lie the Christian church has suffered. Jesus was a great teacher, but his teachings have been trampled and spoiled. Fearing men have distorted his message into one of impermanence and far off hope. Emerson shows the distinction between the truth of Jesus’s teachings, and the twisted, self-serving interpretation when he says that “The idioms of his language, and the figures of his rhetoric, have usurped the place of his truth; and churches are not built on his principles, but on his tropes” (Emerson). This shows us that the church is built upon the simple minds of Copy-cat rat packs that repeat his words to their own liking. Statues of his unknown figure have been placed outside for all to gawk upon, while his words rot within the narrow, weak, collection of connected minds. Not only are his words skewed, but his image has been recreated countless times always bending in the direction of the conformed artistic mind of its creator. We find an example of this in the work “The Historical Jesus” by Claudia Tikkun Setzer when she says “The images of Jesus throughout history are as varied as the people who have embraced him-the Son of God, the Divine Word by whom the world was created, the Passover sacrifice on behalf of the people, the Suffering Servant who takes on the sins of the world, the new High Priest, or more recently, Jesus the intellectual genius, the liberator of the oppressed, or the feminist. Each group and generation sees in Jesus a reflection of itself” (Setzer 73). This mirror like reflection is dangerous. It creates a false interpretation of the teachings of Jesus.
They become no more than a reflection of each individual’s desire backed by a fabricated sense of right, and if these desires are interfered with, furry and vengeance rain down upon the transgressor. Another problem Emerson faced while dealing with Christianity’s misinterpretation of the teachings of Jesus was the violence that sprang forth from it. Violence finds justification behind the guarded walls of Christianity. To speak of Jesus as an equal, is considered blasphemous, and inspires his false followers to riot against the parasitic deviant. When confronting the issue of emotional reaction to another’s view of Jesus, Emerson says, “This was Jehovah come down out of heaven. I will kill you, if you say he was a man” (Emerson ). Emotional reaction and interaction envelop the Christian church. Rituals and teachings excite the mind. As the preacher conducts his sermon, addicts rant and rave in a placebo induced euphoric haze. A sense of security is formed in presuming to know the unknown, and actions are justified through the elevated status received from knowing this secret spoof. In the journal article “Violence and Institution in Christianity” Robert J. Daley’s says that “When we speak normatively, or take Christianity and its institutions according to its best ideals, Christianity is essentially non-violent. But when we speak descriptively, i.e., take Christianity according to what the institutions of Christianity have actually done, and according to how those who call themselves Christian have actually acted, we can make the argument that Christianity is violent” (Daley 4).
This shows us that Christianity is not characterized by a love for all beings, but is fueled by the emotional and physical connection its adherents experience through ritualistic interaction within each separate church body. According to Emerson, “Historical Christianity has fallen into the error that corrupts all attempts to communicate religion. As it appears to us, and as it has appeared for ages, it is not the doctrine of the soul, but an exaggeration of the personal, the positive, the ritual. It has dwelt, it dwells, with noxious exaggeration about the person of Jesus” (Emerson). By saying this he means that interpretation limits communication through chosen preference. Jesus did not condone biased relations. He did not discriminate against a single being. He would not find comfort in knowing that Christians not only discriminate amongst themselves, but against their very persons, their own self.
Secondly, Emerson proves that the Christian church has distorted the role of the teacher into the “all knowing” preacher. The teacher acts as a guide, while the preacher commands the thirsting quenchless appetites of his pleasure seeking crowds with revised revelations passed down through generations. Ignorant liars define most, and the rest are hopeless men chasing the divine through fear, and self-disgust. Emerson enumerates on this point when he says “The Spirit only can teach. Not any profane man, not any sensual, not any liar, not any slave can teach, but only he can give, who has; he only can create, who is” (Emerson). As the modern day church is, so are its followers: cold stone walls, resounding with the preachers threatening turret like vomit of words. Do this! Not that! Death, agony, burn, no?! Behave, Believe in what I say, Acceptance. Christianity has become an evil joke. Jugglers stand atop a stage, not with balls, or flaming knives, but with the shackled minds of all the members. Up and down go their lives, believing this and that as the preacher pulls them in and throws them back again. “Repent you sinners,” sta-sta-stutters the preacher, “you are evil, disgusting flies, sucking on the sores you have inflicted on God’s great earth. Give thanks for him even noticing the reviling smell of your naked black buzzing carcasses.” The preacher’s words are injurious to the soul of one’s own self, and do nothing but prevent it from being recognized. The teachings of the modern Christian church are a distraction from the sentiment of virtue, and should be abolished and rebuilt upon the intuition of the personal moral soul. In “The Non-Religion of the Future” Jean Marie Guyau says that “the more feeble and dogmatic religions become, the greater the necessity for a stronger and higher art” (Guyau 414). In this she means that we must strengthen ourselves, our own personal positive natures by reflection upon the higher virtues we hold within.
Finally, Emerson gives us insight into the relation between our person and the soul. We must replace and reform the instructions given by the church with that of the true holder of the higher order. Within his Address he says “When a man comes, all books are legible, all things transparent, all religions are forms. He is religious. Man is the wonderworker” (Emerson 5). We human beings hold the keys to worship truly of ourselves, and should not be distracted by the strict religious overflow of another’s misguided babbles. God is not lost, but wholly found by relinquishing our ties to another’s interpretation of historical fiction, and living as if the pages of the bible are fully alive, and being written in each step we take. One of the great teachers in mindfulness Thich Nhat Hanh says
that “The mind can go in a thousand directions, but on this beautiful path, I walk in peace. With each step, the wind blows. With each step, a flower blooms” (Hanh 106). This phrase exemplifies the importance of living mindfully in the present. Emerson takes a similar stance in his confrontation of Christianity in “The Divinity School Address” when he says “It is the office of the true teacher to show us that God is, not was; that He speaketh, not spake” (Emerson 5). To live as if God is dead, is to worship the end of something, and not to recognize its presence in our lives today as anything more than a long list of cold past instructions. To live and worship this way, is to give up the beauty of a compassionate, fully aware existence, for that of an ugly, old, decomposed, distant relationship with incomprehensibility. We must not lose connection with our breadth, or ignore the warm glimmer of the sun’s rays passing between the branches of a tree. We must look out upon the ocean, and watch as the high wind carries the rolling waves to shore, never one of them the same, but all rising and falling in their own time. Our natures fluctuate as rapidly as do the waves. Conforming to anything other than change, stunts and tangles our structure, and confuses our spiritual progression. Do not accept death in life. Do not fall into the deep darkness that overshadows the light of the active soul. Live, fully alive, and present of the fluctuations of the ever changing landscape on which you step.
Guyau, Jean Marie. “The non-religion of the future: a sociological study.” Rahway, N.J.: Mershon, 1897. University of Toronto Library. Web. 03 May 2013. .
Nhat, Hanh. “Buddha Mind, Buddha Body: Walking toward Enlightenment.” Mumbai: Jaico Pub. House, 2008. Print.
Robert J. Daly S.J. “Violence and Institution in Christianity.” Contagion: Journal of Violence, Mimesis, and Culture 9.1 (2002): 4-33. Project MUSE. Web. 5 May. 2013. .
Setzer, Claudia Tikkun. “The Historical Jesus.” 10.4 (1995): 73. Jesus’ Many Faces. PBS, 17 July 1995. Web. 03 May 2013.