four phases of a trinity
In response to a recent comment from a cheeky young scamp, I clarified that I am a complex person: a mother, a daughter and wholly spirited. Something about my comment sounded familiar and awoke in me the need to express my feelings on fellow beings who have evolved three aspects in one charming package.
Phase One – inventing a deity
I think it’s safe to say that the historical figure of Moses* invented the Jewish god God. A well-educated man with a gift for compassion, he grew up believing the Egyptian gods of his palace were the ‘correct’ religion. However, on taking an interest in the slaves of his day, and discovering his true heritage, he undoubtedly questioned how all the gods could actually co-exist. His humanitarian crusade eventually led to the release of his people and he had the unenviable task of leading hundreds of thousands of people across daunting landscapes in search of a land they could settle in. Hundreds of thousands of hungry, tired, superstitious and uneducated people. What to do?
The obvious control mechanism in this situation was to create a figurehead that everyone would respect and no-one could question. After weeks of dispute-filled wandering and cranky bickering, Moses took the opportunity to retreat from the crowds and take a few days to gather his thoughts in an inspiring place. Mount Sinai provided just the perfect setting for peaceful contemplation. As he returned to the mayhem he’d left behind, he sighed and thanked his lucky stars he’d written down his plan. A handful of rules to keep the masses in order – stop the fighting over possessions and sexual partners, have a day now and then to relax and unwind, ensure respect of authority, and unite the disparate superstitious people under one frighteningly jealous and possessive, yet protective and all-powerful deity.
And that’s how the monotheistic deity of the Jews was born. A little backwards projection with an inventive creation story and lead-in was dreamt up further along the line to give the whole thing an air of consistency.
Phase Two – concocting a spirit
Moses forget to tell anyone that he had made it all up, and he did such a good job of creating the single controlling deity, that the people continued building on his stories and rules. As the invented god God obviously never personally made any physical appearances on earth, there was a danger that people would feel distanced from the notion of his power and authority. After all, statues and images were banned, so there was nothing to demonstrate the potential presence of the deity. But what if this judgemental deity could roam the earth and influence people in the form of an invisible spirit or ghost? Nice idea. Makes him even more frightening, unpredictable and liable to be obeyed.
Phase Three – birth of a son
As with all religions, the promise of important events and people yet to come is a key part of the religious narrative. This future-telling strategy is useful in giving people something to look forward to: a reason to feel optimistic and motivated to continue following the deity. The trick is to leave the prophetic visions sufficiently vague enough so that many events and people have the potential to fulfill the prophetic bill. The Jews like to think that a special person is coming to make everything right. Several possibilities have come and gone, and the Jesus character did a quite convincing job (although not for them specifically).
He called the god God, ‘Father’ – a common Jewish name for their god. He was the son of the god God, as any created beings could claim to be. He came with a message direct from the god God and built up a substantial little following. But, after his death, it became clear that for people to take him extra seriously, it would be a good idea to give the Jesus character the same authority level as the god God. The actual son of a deity is a great plan, but it starts to look like there might be more than one boss – room for a power struggle and splinter groups. But not if they’re part of the same package!
Phase 4 – avoiding pantheism
The idea of a trinity wasn’t aired until almost 200 years after the death of Jesus, and it was another hundred years before official churches started an attempt at defining this ‘key’ understanding of their deity, in order to avoid embarrassing misunderstandings that might undermine their authority… sorry, their god’s authority.
This far down the line, there was no opportunity to re-write the gospels and omit the parts where Jesus clearly doesn’t say ‘me’ but says ‘my god’, and refers to the god God as a separate being. Oops. Nevertheless, the theologians had a trick up their sleeves, the ultimate card they play when pushed into any corner: their god is a supernatural being and, as such, a mystery to the puny human brain. Phew, close one!
Each Christian believer can now take their pick of interpretations in this area: trinitarianism, social trinitarianism, modalism, binitarianism and all the subdivisions within these. Because, like everything else in religion, it’s completely open to interpretation. Just remember though, there’s only one god in Christianity. Three distinct persons/aspects saying totally different things in one coherent supernatural being. It’s no pick’n’mix, pantheistic, pagan jumble of random gods – okay?
What’s that? It doesn’t make sense? Well, of course it doesn’t make sense – it’s a cobbled together set of ideas used to control people as and when the occasion arose, that are ‘rationalised’ as an after-thought by endless streams of people desperate to make sense of their one, true religion. It wouldn’t be a religion if it made sense, it would be scientific fact.
* Well, if Moses wasn’t actually real, then someone else with similar motives.