Degrees of Separation, Part 3

Degrees of Separation, Part 3

As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us…

John 17:21

The theory of the Six Degrees of Separation[1] proposes that we can meet anyone in the world via someone we know or via someone we know who knows someone else who knows someone else who knows someone else who knows someone we want to meet. It assumes that we all know at least 100 people as friends, family, or otherwise. The first degree of separation comes in exploring the 100 people known to each of our 100 personal connections and, assuming all the connections are unique, we would have the opportunity to meet any of 10,000 different people at one degree of separation, meaning with one person we already know separating us from each of those 10,000 people. If one expands that reasoning out to six degrees of separation, or five people between us and the person we want to meet, our circle of possible acquaintances grows to 1,000,000,000,000 people, which is roughly 150 times the number of people alive on the planet today.

The six degrees of separation theory demonstrates how interconnected we are to everyone else. My interest in bringing this theory into this current series of Life Notes is in using it to help illustrate our degrees of separation from the source of the Christian faith, Jesus the Christ. While the six degrees of separation theory is directed at those presently alive, what about those from the past, like Jesus for instance? As long as there is an accessible record of what they did or said, I think the theory can reasonably be applied to the past, too. Specifically, what are the fewest degrees of separation we can manage before we connect with Jesus, at least as directly as possible?

The path to Jesus is not as clear-cut as it may at first seem. If one believes that Jesus’ words and life are accurately portrayed in the Bible, then one could say that by reading the Bible accounts of Jesus, there is only one degree of separation between the reader and Jesus – that degree of separation being the Bible itself. If one believes that Jesus’ words were recorded as accurately as possible by direct witnesses to Jesus’ teachings and life, then there are two degrees of separation – the first being the witnesses and the second being the Bible in which the witnesses recorded their testimony. If, as I suggested earlier, the Gospel accounts were not written by direct followers of Jesus but by followers of his followers, another layer of separation is added. Add to that the various layers of translations, knowing that each translation removes us another degree from the source, along with how the various languages evolve and we have additional degrees of separation. None of which is to say that the Bible is not a useful document for learning about the teachings and the life of Jesus. It is the best written record we have, but I believe it is important to understand what it is – a worthy instrument for learning of the life and teachings of the source of our faith, but not, in and of itself, the only thing that stands between us and a direct connection to Jesus. Once we know and accept its limitations, I believe we can move forward with the Bible as a worthy tool for Christian enlightenment.

The Gospel (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) accounts of Jesus’ life and teachings are likely closest to the source of all the biblical books, but churches generously draw from numerous other biblical references for their teaching and doctrine. The letters of the apostle Paul, who never met Jesus (at least not physically), are widely used by churches even though Paul’s letters add yet another degree of separation. I will discuss Paul’s conversion next week. He was a passionate and often violent zealot, implying that if he were alive today and politically involved, he would likely be on the far right or the far left of the political spectrum. He was a relentless and widely feared persecutor of the early followers of Christ until his conversion. The foundation upon which many churches today are built consists of the teachings of Paul. There is even a title for those basing their works on his teachings: Paulists.

The books of the New Testament attributed to Paul are letters to specific churches in the regions where he taught and preached. His letters are perhaps most easily adapted by churches since he was writing to and about the churches. Many churches use Paul’s teachings to fill the societal and moral gaps that Jesus seemingly left open, however, and I suspect this filling of the gaps has been a significant contributor to the evolution of Churchianity from Christianity.

This is the 13th in the series of Life Notes titled Churchianity vs Christianity. I invite your thoughts, insights, and feedback via email at ghildenbrand@sunflower.com, or through my website, www.ContemplatingGrace.com. At the website, you can also sign up to have these reflections delivered to your Inbox every Thursday morning and browse the archives of my Life Notes, Podcasts, music, books, and other musings.


[1] https://exploringyourmind.com/the-six-degrees-of-separation-theory/, accessed April 5, 2021.

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