This week I was reading about the Arian controversy. These nuts in the 4th century spent years and years trying to firmly ascertain whether Jesus, the sorta founder of their religion, was a human or a God or a Godlike thing.
The cutest part of the debate was the way the poor Holy Spirit was added as a total afterthought. The Holy Spirit is, in most churches, the junk drawer of our theology. Anything spiritually weird, we will throw in with the twist ties and the piece of something broken that I don’t know what it is, and the rubbery grabber thing that helps you open jars that I always forget I have.
I found the participants in this Arian argument rather annoying. I was sitting in the chemistry lab at school, on my break, shoveling chili toward my belly so I wouldn’t faint when my next class started in ten minutes, and I couldn’t believe old Athanasius (he who wanted Jesus chock full of God) was exiled like five times. These Christians could not get their act together. I was a very busy person, and I couldn’t believe they spent time on this hair splitting when there were essays to be graded. (I have a terrible suspicion that there were always essays to be graded, even in the 4th century.)
And then, after I had turned up my nose at the dysfunctional struggles of the theological cliques, I spent 7th and 8th periods arguing with my students about the seating chart. That sounds silly.
Some small things are petty. Ancient theological battles can seem petty. The seating chart seems petty. Were they? Is it?
Some people wanted to protect the humanity of Jesus, to keep him from turning into a cold statue, like the Roman emperors did. Other people wanted to protect the divinity of Jesus. They wanted to remember that Jesus was the kind of person who turned you inside out. Not just another ranty street preacher.
When we are fighting about the seating chart, we are fighting about control and authority. I am in charge of your physical location while you are in my class. I make decisions about how you can best learn. It could look petty.
And I can get my ego sucked into the debate. It can become more about the power struggle than the practicality of the thing. A seating chart merely keeps you far from people you like to chat with. You are not trying to drive me crazy when you sit in the wrong place. It just feels like it.
Probably Athanasius had the same problem. Keeping your ego out of an important fight is especially difficult, and especially important. It doesn’t mean there aren’t things worth fighting for. Some hairs need splitting. Some hairs are asking for it.
2 thoughts on “Splitting Hairs”
Whatever his other struggles may have been, Athanasius struggled so hard against Arius mainly I think, because he knew the stakes. If Jesus was not 100% God and 100% human, justification through his sacrifice would not be possible. I would say that this (rather pivotal) aspect of Christ was more of a motivation than elevating the preaching of Christ. Attacking the full divinity of Christ (and instead making Him a created being with some God-like essence or qualities) is the primary underpinning of cults like Mormonism and the Jehovah Witness, where a works theology comes into play (without a fully divine sacrifice, everything turns into ‘faith+’ rather than faith, since the work isn’t finished).
Also, a bit of hair-splitting of my own: Athanasius vs. Arius happened in the 4th century AD (or, if you insist on the blatantly PC designation, “CE”), not the 4th century BCE (BC). I will defer my rant on the obvious anti-Christian undertones of those designations for the moment. . . ok I can’t help myself. Our concept of ‘zero’ comes from Indian hindus circa the 6th century. The current numerals used by us are Arabic in origin. The current calendar accepted the world over was set up by the Roman Catholic church. I’m not Catholic, but they came up with a good calendar and everyone uses it, so that’s good enough for me. Taking that calendar away with blatantly PC-labeled equivalents is tantamount to saying ‘we’ll take and use concepts and ideas universally, so long as they don’t originate in Christianity’. Which is of course the current liberal mantra.
All my love – can’t wait to see you at Thanksgiving!
Gracious, I was so worried about getting the right century that I threw them way back in the past.
I guess in my reading of church history, what stood out is the utter absurdity of trying to use logic to defend what is wildly illogical. Last night, one of my classmates compared these theological debates to all of us bringing 10 pieces of a different puzzle and trying to build an image. They just won’t fit. You know, like 100% + 100% = this makes no sense.
I don’t mind using CE. It’s sort of silly, but the kind of polite silliness of men holding doors open for me. I know the calendar was originally Christian, but it’s weird for the secular calendar to revolve around a religious tenet. So I’ll politely call it something secular. And I can certainly open doors, but I’ll happily let someone open it for me. It’s no big thing.