“Where’s the beef?”
This 1984 catchphrase from a Wendy’s burger chain TV commercial went “viral” before viral existed in American popular culture. The phrase questioned whether something — competitors’ burgers, in this case — had fundamental substantiality. In the ad, grandmotherly actor Clara Peller, memorably disparages a purportedly undersized hamburger patty of a Wendy’s competitor with the now-famous reproach.
That’s exactly how I view all supernatural faith.
A couple of recent posts in the Patheos blog hub’s Progressive Christian channel underscores this view. The critical issue in any religion is its fundamental veracity — its “beef.” Yet, as with all faith-based concepts, the veracity of a faith’s core assumptions is always only stipulated in (but not proven by) doctrine and assumed by adherents without proof.
So, for humanists, atheists, secularists and the like, the question is always, “How can you verify your deity exists?” Without such confirmation in reality, there’s really no point in talking further, because you won’t be talking about what is but only what someone believes is. One manifestly exists in the cosmos, the other only in mind.
When the faithful deign to provide such verification, they usually evoke something real — e.g., the Bible exists — which is never relevant to any discussion about whether what it proclaims is actually true in reality.
Former Christian pastor Keith Giles, in a recent post titled “This Present Reality” in his eponymous Patheos blog, promotes the theory in a 1964 book (The School of Christ, by Austin Sparks) that nothing on earth would change even if the prophesied new temple in Jerusalem were physically built. Scripture predicts that the temple would usher in End Times and the rule of Jesus in the world for a thousand years. Wrote Giles:
“The image of this temple in Jerusalem as described by Ezekiel, and even later by John in his Revelation, is a metaphor for the reality that was to come – and has now already come – through Jesus our Messiah. The dwelling place of God is now among men, as we read in Revelation 21:3.”
“The reality is Christ. The literal things – the temple, the priesthood, the daily sacrifice – those things were the shadow of what was to come, and now that the reality is here [Christ], those shadows have vanished and are already fading away.” [See Colossians 2:17; Hebrews 10:1]
Like a lot of metaphorical Christian language, it’s beautiful on the surface. But what does it really mean in the real world? Nothing it would appear, save a reflection of dreamy Christian yearning that has continued mostly unabated for two thousand years or so.
How can “the dwelling place of God is now among men” or “the reality [of] Christ … is here” be actualized except as a verbal explanation of ideas some people entertain in their minds. It can’t. It’s all chimera, creations of human imagination. We can no more substantiate a metaphorical temple or a god than a flight of fancy.
“The Divine has come to touch the earth. The seed was planted. The fruit has begun to ripen. Nothing will ever be the same again,” Giles wrote. “We are the New Jerusalem. We are the End Times Temple. We are the Body of Jesus in the world today.”
If he says so.
In another recent Patheos post, blogger Chuck Queen, a Baptist minister, deconstructs traditional, biblically justified Southern Baptist racism. In his post, titled “Southern Baptists, Racism and Biblical Inerrancy,” Queen contends that such racism is only due to Baptists being too literal in interpreting the bible, which clearly condones slavery. He said racial bias stems from the sect’s moot focus on the bible’s assailable literal “truth” (“without any mixture of error”) and on individual salvation (even slaves could be saved, mitigating white guilt).
As though the “truth and light” of scripture is just as absolute and binding when only metaphorical.
But what Queen’s post does not discuss is whether it’s even remotely rational to believe that a millennia-old book written by people, endlessly translated and retranslated (sometimes for political or selfish purposes), and extensively altered over many centuries could possibly offer a perfect blueprint for human behavior in all times, much less absolute truth. He also does not ask how a provably fallible holy book can retain its divine authorship and authority. Or whether immortal salvation — individual or otherwise — is even physically possible.