Does faith require facts? Must The Bible be an accurate record of events in order for its contents to furnish truth?
In a talk called “Bending the Steeples: A Political Reading of Christmas,” Peter Rollins explains that the subversive nature of Christianity is “not that we’re trying to get into heaven, but that we’re screaming to get God out of heaven into the earth to the ground, into everyday life.” He delineates how the Christmas story captures this need by contrasting Christ to Caesar. Both were said to be born of virigins. Both were said to be sons of God.
“We shouldn’t think of these as esoteric church doctrines. These were political statements. These were declarations of a different type of God.”Peter Rollins
The virgin born God-son Caesar was born in a mansion, amid the oppressors of the land, and he became a tyrant enslaving multitudes. In contrast, the virgin born God-son Christ was born in a manger, dwelled among the oppressed, and liberated multitudes.
Most would assume that Caesar was not actually virgin-born, nor the son of God. At the same time, people consider this assumption of Christ blasphemy. If early Christians fabricated Christ’s birth story to subvert the politics of their day, would it make the truth of Christ’s message any less true?
Is it possible that the story of Christ was originally intended as a symbolic device, to emphasize spiritual truth?
The crucifixion signals the death of God–not as the divine presence in the world, but as the social construct subjecting commoners to oppression. Likewise, when Christ died, it is said that the temple curtain tore in two. This event indicates the death (or end) of a religious order–of the dominion over lower classes by the social elite. This translates beautifully into an analogy for spiritual practice. Christ said the greatest commandment was to love God and love your neighbor as yourself. To truly practice this command requires the death of dogma, the death of doctrine, and the death of ideology, all of which encompass prejudice and injustice.
In short, the symbolic reading of a text does not dilute truth; on the contrary, it serves to amplify. By considering an alternative reading of Christian religious texts, I am far more aware of the profundity of my faith. I believe in the truth of Christ’s message: a better way of life is not achieved via moral regulation, but through love, empathy, and compassion. God doesn’t dwell in the chapel; He dwells in these.