Memetics and Christianity part 2
Doctrine-belief independence is a particularly interesting facet of Christian memetics, because it gives rise to what is perhaps the most infuriating and obtuse sort of Christian behaviour - the willful ignorance they exhibit about their most revered icons, Jesus and God, preferring to invest them with their own personal meanings. Most of the time these meanings have absolutely nothing to do with the Biblical representation of these characters.
This sort of behaviour can appear very bizarre to the person approaching Christian belief from a naive perspective. We rarely see even obsessed fans of Star Trek or Star Wars, for example, arguing that the characters of those series have a completely different personality than that displayed on the TV shows. Even crackpot fans don't misrepresent the events they see or read, they simply put a different spin on them. So why do almost all Christians project their own Christian flavour on the characters of the Bible ?
I think that such a projection is necessary for doctrine-belief independence. To maintain the particular flavour of their sect, Christians must, to a certain extent, warp or ignore the Bible stories and believe in "their Jesus". So you get Jesus as liberal, Jesus as conservative, Jesus as radical, Jesus as feminist, Jesus as egalitarian - the Amazing Morphing Jesus, then. Even popular atheist bloggers are not immune to this nonsense. When a reading of the Gospels gives us a Jesus as frustrated, failed cult leader with strong apocalyptic beliefs. But you can see that this "real Jesus" can only possibly please a small proportion of believers. Any attempt of adaptation must therefore have a way to adapt "Jesus" as well.
"Jesus" and "God", therefore, become symbols. A symbol is basically a kind of memetic package, representing and transmitting a whole set of beliefs and attitudes within a very compact concrete (the symbol itself). So they are very efficient, and this is why belief systems tend to use them as much as possible, as flags, slogans, specific loaded words (such as "freedom", "democracy" or "truth"), or heroes. "Jesus" is part of that last category. He is the hero of the story, and in our blackwhite hero/enemy mentality, he is therefore noble by definition, and represents what is good. One can then transpose "what is good" into whatever one believes is good. He is also presented as saviour and sacrifice - therefore, as the perfect collectivist symbol, an example for believers to follow. And there you have your Amazing Jesus, perhaps like Bobby from King of the Hill :
BOBBY: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, I am the Amazing Jesus, son of God and master of prestidigitation! Has this ever happened to you? Your followers want a glass of wine, but all you have is water. Well, if you're the Amazing Jesus, no problem! Water into wine! It's a miracle! John 2:11. Thank you. Now you're going to need something to go with all this wine, maybe some bread. But how are you going to feed all these hungry people with just one slice? No problem, if you're the Amazing Jesus! Amen! It's a miracle, ladies and gentlemen! Mark 6:44. Thank you! Now, for my next miracle, I'll need a large wooden cross and a couple of volunteers...
Now, how to evade the truth is another story. Ideally, as in today's Christian world, you have a situation where people believe so much in the concept of the Amazing Jesus that the very idea of an objective "Jesus" story is only a pesky detail in the corner of most believers' minds. Before that point, religious authorities had to battle it out to get their fundamental beliefs about of the Amazing Morphing Jesus accepted as canon, but I'm ready to grant that the dispute on whether Jesus was an liberal or a conservative is somewhat less fundamental than the question of whether "Jesus" is the "son of God" or not, although the latter has a lot less importance to the believer than the former. So there is still a superficial agreement, and everyone still believes that they are worshipping "the same Jesus" because of these fundamental points, when in fact they are worshipping a symbol used to represent very different flavours of Christianity.
When a Christian says "Jesus" represents love, or caring for others, or giving, we know he is 99% wrong, but in his mind he is expressing a subjectivist tautology. "Jesus" is love because he has defined it that way, based on the basic "Jesus" beliefs of Christianity. Whether most "Jesus" verses agree with him or not is pretty much besides the point, especially if everyone around agrees with him.
Do you doubt that Jesus is a symbol ? Then look at the piles of hate mail that Normal Bob Smith, the owner of Jesus Dress Up, gets every day. So far he has 239 pages of it and counting. If that's not devotion to a symbol, I don't know what is.
The "Jesus" and "God" symbols, therefore, provide convenient coathangers for moral feelings and attitudes that are just not present in the Bible. This is simply a common and feeble expression of the presuppositionalist desire to pin everything in human cognition on these characters. Their compulsion to put the label “God” on everything is natural, since they have nowhere else to go after denying the efficacy of human cognition and the power of the material world. But this compulsion also paints them in a corner, insofar as the notion of God itself contradicts many of the concepts they try to explain away, such as "purpose", "morality" and "induction". In the end, removing the label "God" demands an entire shift in perspective for the believer, but only because he or she has been indoctrinated into believing that there were no other answers beyond "God did it".