We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.
I woke up reciting this to myself and thinking about every word. Well, not the whole thing, but just the first few words initially. What is a modern thoughtful person to make of the meaning of the text?
I participated in Bishop Greg Rickel's Blog
discussion this past spring. The discussion was on the book 'The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing and Why' by Phyllis Tickle. I didn't think the book was well written or that Tickle had much to say, and I said so. I mentioned the Creed in one of my comments and got a surprising response from the Bishop.
I gave an example to demonstrate how the dynamics in discussing religion in a modern context works:
Look at what happens when I mention virgin birth and evolution in the context of modern molecular biology. A hundred years ago we might have had an excuse, but now we stand up and even more forcefully parrot the Nicene Creed at every service. There have been reputable modern scholars who have written on the subject, for example Bishop Spong, who we demonize, vilify, and marginalize until we've successfully restored our precious medieval world view.
I was only indirectly challenging the Creed in that discussion. My point was that the blind reciting of the Creed is used as the response religious people use to avoid anything that might show up any of their precious professed beliefs. The content of the Creed wasn't the thrust of the argument. They refuse to even acknowledge that there is an issue.
The Bishop's later direct response to my comment was astounding. The Bishop responded:
There were a few comments about the Creeds. Many seem to point to the need to change them in some way. I want to throw into this discussion the idea that we have just passed through an era where this was the "plan." If only we could get the right word usage, or drop a line here or there, or simply leave it out altogether, we would be better off. In some ways I wonder if this does not show some contempt for those who went before us, a somewhat arrogant belief that we are smarter than they are. I put this up against the reality I am seeing in the newer generations, who do not seem to have the need for the semantic changes to yet continue the conversation. With this, they hardly check their brains at the door either. They seem more willing to honor those that left the tradition and history as they knew it, and to instead look for the Truth our forbears were trying to tell us in the story. Even in these conversations there seem to be insinuations, or outright statements, that Tickle is not very smart, that those that came before us are not very smart, and that it is up to us to "make this all right." I am pushing a bit I realize, but so have some of you! I used to teach a class where I invited the class to rewrite the Creed to "make sense" to them. Of course, if there were 20 individuals in the class, there were 20 different versions of what is "right." Even after putting them together to come up with one, well you see where this is going. I am well aware that this is how we got the Creeds we have, but having some unaltered centering point to come back to, to honor, and to question seems to make sense as well.
It's as if two thousand years of scientific inquiry amount to nothing. I had been developing the subject of fraud in religion before this exchange, and after the Bishop's statement there was no reason to continue the discussion. It was as if his response had completely validated my line of argument. That's what you would expect someone committing fraud to say. We had just had the Bernie Madoff
example of massive fraud for context.
Don't get me wrong. I actually like Bishop Rickel, but as you know I've discovered that all religion is fraud used for power and control. I haven't actually proved the 'all' part yet, but have firmly established the 'some' version and believe the 'most' version of the argument to my own satisfaction. It is possible that there is a piece of some religion that is just innocent mistake and not fraud and it is possible that there is religious fraud that is used for some purpose other than power and control. I haven't fully developed the lines of the argument yet to know if either exception holds.
To get back to the Nicene Creed, this is the point of this post. It's always difficult to form arguments on subjects of religion because it's hard to nail them down. The Creed is a specific sequence of words that have their own meaning, so it begs for an actual discussion of what it says and the validity of that. It is given high importance by many Christian demoninations, so the discussion can't be waved off as inappropriate.
"We ..." already requires explanation, and that's before we even get to the "We believe..." part. I can see that the former leads to several discussions about who is talking and what the context for the Creed recitation is. The later requires a huge discussion about what it means to proclaim that one "believes". Is it possible to "believe" something that you know is false or meaningless? I could give up completely, recite the entire Creed and even convince everyone that I'm sincere about it, but does that constitute "belief"?
There is the monotheistic "...one God..." part that is repudiated immediately and turns out not to really be monotheistic
already in the next sentence. All of this has a long history of being written about
, the New Athiests discuss
a lot of the concepts
, so I can already see that my taking the Creed apart is going to take a huge effort and require a book, if not volumes. Placing the language of the Creed into a modern scientific world view after all of the stuff said and written about it for two millennium would be tedious. I don't know if I'm interested in doing that scale of a project yet.