Brainy Apes for Jesus

by Elias Blum



This blog was never meant to be about liberal Christian theology per se, but rather about the intersection of such theology with politics, economics, lifestyle and culture. It sought to explore what it would mean to live out a liberal, progressive and dissenting theology as a citizen, a voter, a tax-payer, a worker, a consumer, an author, a husband, and, in short, as a member of a Western European society in the 21t century.

I believe that the Christian message of redemption and transformation through graceful love is the only real hope for this hurting world, and that the gospel in its fullest, most personally and socially regenerating sense, is desperately needed today. But how can this gospel be articulated, and how can it be lived, now that the old pre-scientific explanations are untenable to all honest thinking people?

If the Bible isn’t the inerrant word of God, if the anthropomorphic ‘magical sky-daddy’ god is nothing but the cultural construct of bronze age tribesmen, and if the historical Jesus was more likely a martyred radical prophetic rabbi than the second person of an eternal and consubstantial trinity, then what is left?

Are we faced with a choice between believing the impossible and living without hope? Is the honey of Christian ethics and virtues, of Christian love and grace, inseparable from the rock of hard and unyielding dogma? I hope not. But the choice is stark: either Christianity must honestly reappraise itself in the light of our scientific and historical understanding of reality, or it must lock itself into the shrinking bunker of obscurantism, anti-intellectualism and dishonesty.

As John Shelby Spong put it, Christianity must ‘Change or Die’.

“Jesus becomes the captive of the hysterically religious, the chronically fearful, the insecure and even the neurotic among us, or he becomes little more than a fading memory, the symbol of an age that is no more and a nostalgic reminder of our believing past. To me neither option is worth pursuing.” –John Shelby Spong

To take the path of honest reappraisal will require a rejection of biblical literalism, and all that flows from it: no Adam and Eve, no literal fall, no talking snakes. The whole notion of what salvation is and why salvation is necessary must be reconsidered in the light of what we know to be real in the empirical, scientific, sense. The gospel must face the incontrovertible fact that we are nothing more than big-brained sociable apes who evolved quite recently on a geologically unstable rock in orbit around a very ordinary star.

What, then, is the gospel of Jesus Christ to a brainy, chatty ape? What is it to an internet-using ape who has sufficient self-awareness to recognise in the traditional images of god nothing more than the projection of idealised alpha-male onto the leader of the troop? What does the gospel mean once we realise that religion is itself an emergent property of our evolved big brains, versatile larynxes, and opposable thumbs? What does the ape we call Jesus, who lived and died about two thousand years ago, still have to say to his fellow-apes today? What insight into our condition does he give, and can we still see the beauty, truth, promise and joy in his Way, once all the ‘mumbo-jumbo’ is swept aside?

These are questions of fundamental civilisational significance. Perhaps, if we can answer these questions, we can be good apes: apes who live well, act lovingly, care for one another and protect the weak. Perhaps we will have a need for prophet-apes and saint-apes, to call out the wrongdoing of the ruler-apes in the name of justice and to heal the hurting-apes in the name of love.