Well, yes, you probably were reading too much into it, there, anonymous Christian, but as much as one has to laugh at such blatant and strained sermonizing, you can almost not blame the people engaging in it: they are stuck in a religion that claims its truth is sole and all-inclusive. Therefore, they can't allow anything to escape it or exist apart from itespecially anything that seems new, or better, or smarter, or more interesting, or fun. Everything must be interpreted from within that narrow, old reality tunnel. Nothing outside the reality tunnel can be allowed to be what it is, without being sanctified and baptized and somehow Christianized. By rejecting novelty and openness, you reject the very source of wild creativity.
There are, however, still some forms of creativity open to those stuck within the confines of the Christian reality tunnel. One of them is what I would call a wildly creative (or at least idiosyncratic) re-interpretation of other peoples' cultures or works, such as when Wyman writes of
The Jesus who has adeptly embedded his presence into the myths and histories of cultures....
This ideathat the pre-incarnate Jesus somehow went around leaving a scavenger hunt's worth of hints of his (eventual) gospel in pagan religionsis one that crops up from time to time in books by modern Christian writers such as C. S. Lewis, but it's an ancient dodge, at least as old as Justin Martyr, the second-century Christian apologist, that attempts to explain Christianity's syncretism (that is, its borrowings from pre-existing religions). In Lewis's version, the reason that Christian ideas could have existed in pre-Christian religions is that God was salting away the truths of The True Religion within false religions, as a way of "preparing their hearts" for the eventual Jesus story. That explanation seems to me not only silly on its own merits, but also impossible to square with the Bible's various accounts of God commanding his people to commit genocide upon other people explicitly for practicing the religions that Lewis seemed to think were leavened with pre-Christian Christianity. Justin Martyr's version was more straightforward, as well as easy to harmonize with God-ordained genocide: he maintained it was all part of a plot by the Devil! Regarding Jesus's reputed virgin birth, Justin wrote: "that Perseus was begotten of a virgin, I understand that the deceiving serpent counterfeited also this."
(Side note: Justin Martyr didn't deny that the myth of the virgin birth of Perseus existed long before the myth of the virgin birth of Jesus, so it would be pretty strange if "the deceiving serpent" had been able to counterfeit something that didn't yet exist. It might be stranger still if Satan had been able to divine the prophecy of a virgin birth in Isaiah 7:14, where no Jew ever did, and apparently the Paul the Apostle never did, and no one else did, until the anonymous writers of the gospels, decades after Jesus's death, ransacked their way through the Hebrew scriptures for verses to transform into prophecies of their Jesus, and got confused because they were using the Greek translations of those scriptures, rather than Hebrew, which evidently they were unable to read. Maybe "the Devil can cite Scripture for his purpose," but he'd have had to try pretty hard to twist the Old Testament as hard as the gospel writers did for their purposes. For those interested, an excellent introduction to this practice is Randel Helms's Gospel Fictions.)
What Christian missionaries at Burning Man are doing is not much different from what Christian missionaries have done for thousands of years: invade an alien culture and try to re-interpret its beliefs as being "really" about Christian beliefs. "That's not Shing Moo and her savior son! Why, it's perfectly obvious that it's the Virgin Mary and Jesus! See? In your blinkered darkness, you've really been worshiping Jesus all along." It's a technique as old as the Apostle Paul's speech on Mars Hill, where he is said to have informed the Athenians that their altar to The Unknown God was "really" an altar to the Christian God. "Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you."
At root, the message is one of condescension: What you think is real is merely a shadow of what I declare to be really real. Or, as C. S. Lewis expressed it, in the context of pagan myths that predated the Bible myths: "The Pagan stories are God expressing himself through the minds of poets, using such images as he found there, while Christianity is God expressing himself through what we call `real things.'"
Nearing the end of the article, we stumble into what I see as the crux of the contrast between Burning Man and Christianity's idea of itself:
Dennis told Daniel the meaning of his name: `Beloved of God.'
Contained in that seemingly insignificant errorthe name Daniel does not mean beloved of God, it means God is my judgeis a picture of the huge gulf between Burning Man and Christianity. Burning Man is typically characterized by a flexible, non-judgmental openness to novelty and differences among people, whereas Christianity, which Christians often characterize as a religion of love, is usually more accurately characterized by inflexibility, close-mindedness, intolerance of novelty, claims to exclusive truth, and the conviction that its Jesus will one day be everyone's judge (not only of people named Daniel!). If that sounds weird or surprising to you, take a long look through the "good news" (that's what gospel means), and you'll find that no character in the Bible is represented as ranting about Hell more than Jesus does.
In 1996, I invited a Christian friend to come along with me to Black Rock Desert. Afterward, he had a one-word judgment of Burning Man: "Satanic."
I'd be willing to bet that if experiences such as Burning Man were Satanic, Satan would enjoy a better reputation than he does, and I'd bet also that if people visiting churches got the reception they get at Burning Man, and experienced what people routinely experience in Black Rock Citywhere the goodwill truly is free, there tend to be few, if any, exclusive truth claims, and there are no threats of judgment at allthere would be people lining up to crowd into churches the way crowds line up to get into Burning Man.
I wish Mr. Wyman and his fellow Christian missionaries no success at all in mashing Burning Man (and all else) down into the dark, pinched confines of their reality tunnel. More importantly, though, I wish them no success in their efforts to win converts, but insofar as they succeed, I hope that for every person they convert, at least a dozen Christians leave the closed environments of their churches for the openness represented by phenomena such as Burning Man.
I am glad, however, that Mr. Wyman and his Christian colleagues don't openly call Burning Man "Satanic," because it leaves open the chance that maybe, eventually, they might be able to open their eyesmaybe even at Burning Manand truly see what surrounds them, without filtering it through a single reality tunnel built by an interpretation of the Bible.
But if they never do, they need not worry, of course: at Burning Man, only The Man burns. No eternal torment awaits unbelievers who refuse to accept Burning Man attendance into their hearts as their personal behavior.
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