GOOD NEWS 2.0
Good News 1.0 was: “Jesus died for your sins.”
This announcement was based on a misunderstanding of the events of the life of Jesus, because of his contemporaries’ lack of explanatory information.
Good News 2.0 is: “Jesus died for your information.”
He demonstrated that death is only a transition, not anything final. This announcement is based on the same raw data that early Christians had, but studied much more closely, and with 2,000 years of additional knowledge.
The Jews of his time considered history to be an important manifestation of divine reality (Werner Keller, The Bible as History, etc.), and so they left a generally reliable record of what he actually did during his time on earth. But they lacked explanatory knowledge.
So, I will (1) start with an account of what Jesus actually did, (2) present some early interpretations of his life, and (3) make the case for a revised interpretation.
Nowadays, we have huge bodies of knowledge that the contemporaries of Jesus did not have. That makes room for finding a different meaning of his life from the one made in the first days of Christianity. I should also note that religions in general have a strong inclination to value their original formulations over later ones. This is certainly true for Christianity.
Prefatory Notes: Additional Knowledge.
Every historical event is a sequence of material transformations in time. So, in order to explain an historical event, you have to understand how time and matter “work”. The contemporaries of Jesus had no idea at all about how time and matter “work”. Furthermore, Jesus did not appear in history according to the laws that govern how time and matter work even for us.
Therefore, we can expect there to be serious flaws in the interpretations of Jesus by his contemporaries (“early Christianity”).
(2) Time and Eternity.
Three things: (a) Time has been going on for about 15 billion years, but it has not been going on forever. Time has a beginning. (b) Time is molecules. Aristotle’s definition is: “Time is the measure of change according to before and after.” Only molecules change according to before and after. (c) If time has a beginning, then there must be such a thing as non-time. This is “eternity”. (I know Hawking tried to wiggle out of this one, but his effort fails. How can there be a “law of gravity” when there is no matter for gravity to work with?) Whatever initiates time is more powerful than time. Time is the product, and non-time is the producer.
(3) The Eternity Connection
In Order and History (1974), Eric Voegelin (1901-1985) concluded that all human societies throughout history have an “In-between experience”, that is, an experience that crosses the boundary between time and eternity. This experience routinely generates ultimate values, but cannot itself become an object of propositional knowledge. So, it needs “experiential reactivation” through “meditative practice”. Voegelin finds it in all cultures of recorded history.
In 1902, the remarkable William James had already identified an In-Between Experience in The Varieties of Religious Experience:
One conclusion was forced upon my mind at that time, and my impression of its truth has ever since remained unshaken. It is that our normal waking consciousness, rational consciousness as we call it, is but one special type of consciousness, whilst all about it, parted from it by the filmiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different. No account of the universe in its totality can be final which leaves these other forms of consciousness quite disregarded. How to regard them is the question — for they are so discontinuous with ordinary consciousness. Yet they may determine attitudes though they cannot furnish formulas, and open a region though they fail to give a map.
James’s cautionary note about “how to regard them” is of course a point well made, and all the numerous students of these forms of consciousness take great care to pay attention to this issue.
But James and Voegelin agree that the eternity connection is one very common form of discontinuous consciousness.
Studies of discontinuous consciousness could fill a sizeable library. I have personally dabbled in such a collection, and so I can offer a few examples to alert us to the seriousness and breadth of this work.
One of my favorites is Mysticism Sacred and Profane by Robert C. Zaehner (1967). There are two good reasons to put Zaehner at the top of our list. One is its voluminous cross-cultural bibliography, and the other is the reason that he wrote the book. That was to correct the work of Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception (1954), which was a meditation about a mescaline trip Huxley had taken in 1953. The work was a counterculture hit in the 1960s.
Zaehner says: “What is the challenge thrown down by Mr. Huxley and by many who think like him? It is this: that religion is a matter of experience, almost of sensation; that religious experience means “mystical” experience: and that mystical experiences are everywhere and always the same.”
Oxford scholar Zaehner, who was at the time one of seven people in the world who could actually read the ancient Persian language of Zoroastrianism, proceeded to completely demolish the naïve pretensions of Huxley by reference to mystical writings across many cultures and centuries.
We are forewarned. There are many strange things in the realm of discontinuous consciousness, and only one of them is the direct eternity connection.
So, objectless awareness actually occurs in one degree or other in all human beings. One form it shows up in is “conscience” in children that dismisses conventional wisdom (especially conventional religious “wisdom”) and makes authentic ethical decisions on its own. The strength of this awareness varies widely, as do other innate abilities such as art, music, mathematics, dance, and simple deductive intelligence. (Some people are just smarter than other people.)
But its occurrence is most seriously hampered by the traumatic injuries sustained by an individual. And, its expression is seriously constrained by the cognitive tools of its anbient culture.
(4) The Evolution of Religion
We have actual information about the development of religion for the past 40,000 years (Australian aboriginals).
About 10,000 years ago, we start to find magical, shamanic religions. These have gods and special religious organizations. They are still very intertwined with nature and have remarkable knowledge and harmony with it. Their use of language is still largely concrete. Their religious language centers on stories of deities that are projections of the forces of nature and human emotions. (E.g., God is angry.) The shamanic viewpoint is filled with economic and legalistic anthropomorphisms: merit, redemption, “you have been bought at a price”, justification, judgment, and the like.
About 2,000 years ago, we find the Historic religions. The great religious traditions of the modern world — Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, Daoism, Confucianism — are all Historic religions. (Abraham left Ur in about 1900 b.c.e.) The historic religions have esoteric and exoteric components. The esoteric components are carried forward by prophetic and mystical minorities, who have discovered that personal life is a brief spark in a vast universe. The exoteric components (“popular” religion) still have beliefs and practices from an earlier stage of human development. (Animal sacrifice would be such a component.)
The Factual Record.
The New Testament and other historical records agree on the basic facts of the life of Jesus. He was born, lived for 30-40 years, died by crucifixion at the hands of Roman authorities in Jerusalem, rose from the dead and interacted with his followers for a few months, and disappeared by ascending into the sky.
The bare facts do not reveal that his life from beginning to end was one long series of confrontations between time and eternity.
He did not enter history by the standard route. He was born of a woman, but his ovum in her womb was not fertilized by a male sperm. Therefore his conception violated a basic law of human biology. This is a basic disturbance in what we consider to be the behavior of molecules. Throughout his life, he displayed a casual mastery over molecules: changing water into wine, multiplying food supplies, and curing diseases. Finally, he underwent a very public and violent death. Then he recovered from that death and engaged in social interaction with his followers. More disregard for fundamental physics. So, his appearance in history violated some basic laws of “nature” under any circumstances.
Jesus had mastery over molecules.
The Apostle John placed the story of the wedding feast at Cana very near the beginning of his Gospel because it is paradigmatic of the whole meaning of the life of Jesus (and apparently it did happen very early in his public ministry, namely, right after his meeting with John the Baptist).
2 On the third day [i.e., after meeting Philip and Nathaniel] there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. 3 When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
From our perspective 2000 years later we can say that changing water into wine requires mastery of molecules (fermentation). Likewise for the multiplication of food (bread and fish), healing of physical illnesses, and the like.
These are called “miracles”. The important thing to note about the day-to-day miracles of Jesus is that all of them contained their own immediate physical verification. At Cana, water not only becomes wine, but it becomes better wine. [Contrast this with the so-called “miracle” of transubstantiation, by which bread becomes human flesh, and wine becomes blood, but with absolutely no physical verification. Yay, Aristotle. Yay the human imagination.]
“Mastery of molecules” is the one characteristic of eternity that is most difficult for ordinary consciousness to accept. But, here again we are helped by Stephen Hawking. Time has a beginning, and so molecules have a beginning. So, eternity – the situation of no molecules – initiates time. We know this (a) by the mathematics of Hawking, (b) by the evidence of our senses: tasting the wine of Cana, gathering up baskets of loaves and fishes, and feeling the bodily presence of Jesus after his crucifixion, and (c) by “meditative practice” (Voegelin). (This is one of the “discontinuous forms of consciousness” that William James mentions.)
So, the eternity connection showed up in Jesus of Nazareth. But wherever it does show up (via miracle, prophetic utterance, or meditation) it needs to negotiate a relationship with the previous interpretations of reality that already exist in ordinary consciousness.
Studying meditative practice helps to show us how the brain, which is material and not eternal, can construct this relationship.
Meditation is a form of introspection. (Introspection explores the realms of consciousness entirely different from everyday waking consciousness.) Introspection chooses a field of attention that is directed towards those internal energy events that are always going on in human consciousness. One class of energy events is trauma imprints. Trauma imprints are emotional wounds. Recent science of mind observes that all human emotions are neurological events. You can never be sad for no reason. You can never be joyful for no reason. Sadness is the pain emitting from damaged neurons. An old injury is precisely that: an old injury. Joy is the pleasure emitting from stimulated neurons.
So, introspection is risky, because all human beings have experienced some emotional injuries. Therefore “going inside” can naturally activate the pain emanating from damaged neurons.
Skillfully controlled inner attention, such as practiced in Zen, psychotherapy and trauma treatment, carefully finds its way through the assembly of pain stimulants in ordinary consciousness, and at a certain point arrives at objectless awareness. There is no logical problem with claiming that the human brain, enclosed as it is in its material composition, can engage in objectless awareness. This IS the eternity connection.
[My personal reflection is that inner attention can remember the very first instant of one’s personal existence. This is because every human being does have such a moment, when the life of the organism became human. This would have to be the instant when the sperm penetrated the ovum and the full DNA of the person was in play. From this DNA, all subsequent components of the body are produced by automatic physical laws.
Referencing the fidelity of Yahweh to the Covenant with Israel, this viewpoint has some interesting implications for abortion. “Covenant-thinking” would say that once a human existence begins, it will never end. Embeddedness in molecules (“life”) will end, but not existence. Existence and not life is the ticket to eternity. So, whether an embryo or a fetus lives for fifteen minutes, six months, ten years or 90 years, when it dies, it passes into eternity, and has “full membership” in that condition. Furthermore, the first moment of your personal existence is the instant when you were called forth from eternity. It is your personal connection with eternity.]
However, without skillful controls, inner attention does not always lead to pure awareness. It can lead to absorption in the pain stimulants that are the result of emotional injuries. Idée fixe is a common French phrase for this. Beyond that simple phrase we have a laundry list of irrational thought/behavior patterns, e.g. “being in denial”, projection, road rage, prejudice, hypersensitivity, schizophrenic break, and PTSD. Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is a form of PTSD.
Good News 1.0
For the first disciples of Jesus, meeting him had the same effect as skillful meditative practice. It bypassed their emotional injuries and gave them an experience of pure awareness.The culmination of Jesus’s mastery of molecules was his coming back from death. His first disciples were direct witnesses to his presence before his crucifixion and after. This would have given them a vivid sensory experience that challenged all their emotional habits. It would stimulate objectless awareness. However, sudden access to objectless awareness has to be a shock to habitual anxieties and tensions. It would not automatically replace them, and it would be difficult to explain. It would take some time to negotiate a synthesis between the experience of eternity and habitual beliefs. And his followers would have to go to their ambient worldview to explain it. The experience of sudden freedom from anxiety is one thing. What it means is something else again.
So, in early Christianity we find (a) simple reporting of contact with the risen Jesus and (b) interpretations of that experience. The reports of contact with Jesus are direct and simple.
“And the doors of the room being locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst.” (John 20, 19)
Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Tiberias. It happened this way: 2 Simon Peter, Thomas (called Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. . . . . (John 21, 1-11)
But God raised him from the dead, and for many days he appeared to those who had accompanied him from Galilee to Jerusalem. They are now his witnesses to our people. (Acts, 1, 3)
But the interpretations always refer back to his death, and use those economic and legalistic anthropomorphisms of the shamanic paradigm: merit, redemption, forgiveness, “you have been bought at a price”, justification, salvation, judgment, forgiveness of sin, and a God with human emotions.
The original followers of Jesus had primitive theories about how time and matter work. They could not conceive of the existence of molecules. They had a mythical version of how time began, no idea when it began, or how long it had lasted before their generation. They had no method of tracking inner attention.
So, they did what magical-shamanic religions do. They used projections of the forces of nature and surface human emotions to explain the mysterious events. These forces included a deity with human emotions, and a series of economic and legalistic transactions modeled on human experiences. In social science, these projections are called “anthropomorphisms”.
The Good News 1.0 is the beginning of Christianity as announced by Paul:
“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,” (1 Corinthians 15:1-4)
But there is a clarification:
“God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished.” (Rom. 3, 25)
Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned.” “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” (Rom. 5, 12)
For Paul, the death of Jesus was the key event. “Christ died for our sins…”
In this view, the resurrection just proves that the death works. It guarantees divine status (he “sits at the right hand of the father”), and that He is the Messiah. It guarantees the resurrection of the body “on the last day”, an idea drawn directly from popular end-time beliefs of Jews at the time.
The “right hand of the father” image, the messianic claim, and the end-time beliefs are all products of magical, shamanic thinking. It should be noted that the term “Christ” actually means “the anointed one”, an attribute of the Messiah. . (The whole Messianic scenario in the Bible is one elaborate fantasy.)
We need to be very attentive to those magical anthropomorphisms in this announcement: “sins”, “forgiveness of sin”, “atonement”, “sacrifice”, “faith”, “punishment”, “Christ” (the Messianic “anointed one”). All of these elements presume a God with human emotions, and a human relationship with God modeled on legal and economic institutions. These are all characteristics of magical-shamanic religions.
“He died for your sins” is a meme from the library of magical-shamanic religion that was popular in the culture of the time of Jesus and his first followers. In fact, “sin” as an offense against God, “the forgiveness of sin” by God, and “died for your sins” are all very durable memes in religions all over the world. They are found all over the Bible.
In Good News 1.0 the facts are real, but the explanations are imagined. Jesus is a delegate from God (his “son”) who sacrifices himself with his blood to atone (to an angry God) for human behavior that has displeased God (“sins”). Believing this story and repenting for one’s bad behavior (faith, repentance and metanoia) will enable one to escape (be “redeemed from”) the judgment of this deity and obtain eternal life. Baptism is the outward sign that gives social expression to the faith, repentance and change of heart.
But, Good News 1.0 never actually explained the most remarkable fact that Jesus rose from the dead. His death was noted with great prominence. A central symbol of Christianity for centuries was the crucifix (and remains so to this day). Even Paul’s memorable line, “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” only connects the historical event to the resurrection of the body “on the last day”. [This was an obviously fictitious end-times belief popular in Jewish communities of the period.]
But the resurrection was not as important as the death.
The accounts of the Last Supper in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, all have Jesus connecting his death with forgiveness of sin. He gives his disciples a cup to drink from and tells them: “This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”
The gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke are called The Synoptic Gospels, because they all draw from the same collection of stories about Jesus used by Christian communities in the years right after his Ascension into heaven. (Matthew for Christians in Jerusalem, Mark (Peter’s secretary) for Rome, and Luke for Ephesus). And all of them were put in writing by the year 65 c.e.
So, Matthew, Mark, and Luke use the meme “forgivness of sin” that they got from their anbient culture.
But the Gospel of John was not drawn from the traditional collection. It was written by John, published later (95-110 c.e.), and designed to fill in what eyewitness John thought were gaps in the Synoptic Gospels.
In his very long (5 chapters, 4,000 words) description of the Last Supper, eyewitness John does not mention his blood, a covenant, or the forgiveness of sin. But he does have Jesus making a reference to his resurrection: “I go to prepare a place for you.”
13 33 Little children, I am with you a little while longer. You will seek Me; and as I said to the Jews, now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’
14 I go to prepare a place for you. 3 If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also
14 “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 [c]After a little while the world will no longer see Me, but you will see Me; because I live, you will live also. 20 In that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you.
16 16 “A little while, and you will no longer see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me.”
This is the only textual reference I find in the New Testament to the resurrection being a demonstration of the non-finality of death.
No problem. We can extrapolate from that. There was no way Jesus could have actually said, “I am going to demonstrate for you that death is not final.” There was simply no knowledge in the ambient culture of the time that would have supported such a claim. But, our culture today does have such knowledge.
First, there is some obvious biology. The death that Jesus was about to die is biologically exactly the same death that all human beings die, wherever and whenever they do so. Crucifixion usually kills by asphyxiation. You cannot lift your rib cage and become unable to breathe. Loss of oxygen leads to decomposition of soft tissue, collapse of internal organs, decomposition of muscle tissue, and at some time in that process, loss of “life”.
Second, Jesus of Nazareth knew what he was doing. He knew where was going. His disciples had no clue where he was going. But we know where he was going because we have 2,000 years of science to apply to the situation.
He was going to die. And then he was going to come back. Where can anyone go when they die and then come back? It has to be a “place” or a condition that has no molecules, because you do not take any molecules with you when you die. But your destination has to produce molecules. (You’re “coming back”.) Since it has no molecules, it has no time. So, it is eternity.
[btw, he said he was “going to the father”. This is a fascinating piece of coded communication. The word “father” is used 54 times in John’s account of the Last Supper. The word “father”, or Hebrew abba, or Aramaic aboun is found throughout the Bible, since the tribal abba was a prime necessity for the survival of a nomadic, pastoral society living in the desert. For the disciples of Jesus, it would have meant simply “God”.]
I was in the Jesuits for fifteen years. I spent a lot of time studying the Bible and the history of Christianity. After a while I became very curious about how it was that Christian beliefs about Jesus shifted from the experience of the resurrection to the idea of the resurrection. It was a shift that in the phrase of Cardinal Newman (Apologia Pro Vita Sua) went from real assent to notional assent, from a vivid sensory experience to a mere idea. I could never identify the exact time that the shift took place, but certainly the earliest Christian martyrs went to their deaths with a joy that could only be attributed to the fact that they knew that death is not only a transition, but an existential improvement.
Now I understand that the place of the resurrection in Christianity was ambiguous from the very start. Magical-shamanic religion has a clear place for a meritorious death. But it does not have a place for a demonstration of a transition from time to eternity. This is the fundamental ambiguity of Good News 1.0.
Paul’s announcement of the good news of Jesus Christ was a clear reference to the temple tradition of Judaism.
“Sacrifice” was the practice of killing animals to express deference to the power of the one Supreme Being in the universe (“God”). “Atonement” was the offering of material substances in compensation for offenses against that Supreme Being. “Faith” was cognitive acceptance of the role of Jesus in such a scheme of sacrifice and atonement, and “sin” was behavior that could make God angry.
Paul frequently refers to Jesus as “crucified”, but rarely to him as “risen”. This does not mean he did not recognize that the resurrection happened, but only that he was not clear on its meaning. For Paul, the death of Jesus was his salvific achievement. His resurrection was more just a proof of the value of the death.
Paul refers to Genesis 3 to infer that humanity has been disconnected from God ever since the beginning of time. Since we now know that Genesis chapters 1-ll was not history (as is the rest of the book), but a philosophical speculation, then of course the reference to Adam has no merit. However, not even the Jews of Paul’s time placed much stock in Genesis 3. They were more interested in Moses than in Adam.
Paul’s mistake is easily explained by the training of the ex-Pharisee who had been knocked from his horse and blinded by the vision of Jesus. This completely changed his attitude toward Jesus, but did not remove all the beliefs that already existed in his ordinary consciousness. So, he explained his vision of Jesus by his traditional Jewish beliefs.
But Jesus himself was not so constrained. He explained his death by the prophetic tradition.
There was noticeable tension in the religion of Israel between the prophetic tradition and the temple tradition.
1 Samuel 15:22 But Samuel declared: “Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, obedience is better than sacrifice, and attentiveness is better than the fat of rams.
Jeremiah 6:20 What use to Me is frankincense from Sheba or sweet cane from a distant land? Your burnt offerings are not acceptable; your sacrifices do not please me.”
Hosea 6:6 For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.
Amos 5:21 I hate, I despise your feasts! I cannot stand the stench of your solemn assemblies.
Amos 5:22 Even though you offer me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; for your peace offerings of fattened cattle, I will have no regard.
“Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would no longer kindle useless fires on my altar! I take no pleasure in you,” says the LORD of Hosts, “and I will accept no offering from your hands.”
But the heart of the prophetic tradition was the unbreakable connection with God by virtue of the covenants between the People of Israel and Yahweh.
Abraham, Moses and David all had their own covenant relationships with God. But the connection is most eloquently stated in the prophecies of Isaiah and Jeremiah:
Isaiah 59, 21 (740-686 b.c.e.)
“As for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the LORD. “My Spirit, who is on you, will not depart from you, and my words that I have put in your mouth will always be on your lips, on the lips of your children and on the lips of their descendants–from this time on and forever,” says the LORD.
Jeremiah 31:31-34 (626-587 b.c.e.)
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
At the Last Supper Jesus had to know that his death was going to be extremely painful, but that he was not going to be dead for long. So there was something about his death that gave a key piece of information about the relationship of humanity to eternity, and that was that death did not disturb this relationship. This is why at the Last Supper he said, “This is the cup of my blood, of the new and eternal covenant, which will be shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sin.” This was of course a reference to the prophecies of Isaiah and Jeremiah.
So, he went straight to the covenant tradition. His death would seal an agreement of God with all humanity (“for you and for many”, echoing Jeremiah 31: “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”)
This has been completely missed by Christianity up to this very day. It is still locked into the shamanic paradigm. The resurrection validates the death, proves that he is the Messiah, and will pay off some day. But right now, it does not do very much at all.
Bottom line: in Christianity you get the idea of the resurrection but you do not get the vivid sensory experience of the risen Jesus. His original followers did, but they had no conceptual tools to explain it.
Good News 2.0
So, here we have the link to Good News 2.0. Jesus did not die for anybody’s sins. He actually died to demonstrate the non-finality of death for human beings in general.
Jesus died for your information.
Life is a passage.
Death is a passage.
You will return to exactly where you came from.
This has been clearly demonstrated.
If you know anything about Christianity for the past 2,000 years, this has to be something of a puzzle, because the theme for Christianity has not been “he died in order to prove the non-finality of death”, but “he died for your sins”. Furthermore, for 1600 years at least, the central symbol of Christianity has been the crucifix.
So, what happened there?
1. The ambient culture of the time did not have the knowledge to support that piece of information.
2. 2000 years later, we have such knowledge, about time, about matter, and about our own inner reality. So, we can give a more realistic explanation of the resurrection of Jesus.
3. During the intervening centuries between Jesus and now, humans have had so much pain from mass traumatization that a freedom-from-pain argument (“remission of sin”) was persuasive enough to attract them to Christian beliefs and practices.
Real Things in the Good News 2.0
So, Good News 2.0 only uses real things: our present-day understanding of “the universe in its totality” (William James).
These are: (a) historicity, (b) inner attention, (d) mastery over molecules, (e) Roman capital punishment, (f) coming back from death, (g) association with his followers after his death, (h) returning to eternity, and (i) God.
Historicity. The life of Jesus was tracked contemporaneously, as was his mastery of molecules. Jesus was not like the God Ram in the Hindu Ramayana, who was a historical local king who was gradually divinized over a period of about 400 years (200 b.c.e – 200 c.e.) Nor was his divinity the product of established customs of ancient cultures that routinely divinized their rulers (e.g., Rome, of course.)
Inner attention. William James noted that there are many strange things in the realm of discontinuous consciousness, and only one of them is the eternity connection.
Erik Voegelin claims that an eternity connection is found in all cultures of recorded history:
“The In-Between [i.e., between time and eternity] of experience has a dead point from which the symbols [of ultimate values] emerge as the exegesis of its truth but which cannot become itself an object of propositional knowledge. …… Unless precautions of meditative practice are taken, the doctrinization of symbols is liable to interrupt the process of experiential reactivation and linguistic renewal. When the symbol separates from its source in the experiential Metaxy [Plato’s word for in-between], the Word of God can degenerate into a word of man that one can believe or not.” (The Ecumenic Age, 105.)
We have noted that the eternity connection shows up in three places: (1) the mathematics of Stephen Hawking, (2) prophetic utterances, and (3) meditative practices. The early followers of Jesus had absolutely no knowledge of Hawking’s mathematics and no meditative practice. They did recognize that Jesus was “a prophet” but that did not give them a historical context for his prophecy. They had to turn to popular Jewish religion for that.
Mastery over molecules. Verified. Only eternity can do this (as it did at the beginning of time).
Capital punishment. Jesus did not die a mythical death. He not only died a physical, biological death, he died by the Roman method of capital punishment, a brutal and public execution accompanied by much gratuitous violence. Mel Gibson captured all this in The Passion of the Christ (2004). (Gibson’s fascination with violence is troubling, but in this case helpful to us all.)
Resurrection. Yes, he actually did that.
After-death activity. Just to make the proof more convincing.
Ascension. Eternity is still the ultimate reality.
God. I hearken back to the Yahweh tradition in Israel, where God is best not talked about at all. (‘Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord Thy God . . .”) The cornerstone of Mosaic Law is “no strange gods”, that is, gods with human qualities. The paradox of Yahweh is to be intimately involved in human history, and still have only one human quality: love.
The best mystics of all religions agree with this. One of my favorites is Teresa of Avila (1515-1582):
Nada te turbe,
nada te espante
todo se pasa,
Dios no se muda,
todo lo alcanza,
quien a Dios tiene
nada le falta
solo Dios basta.
“God does not change.” Right. This is pivotal.
Imaginary Elements in Good News 1.0 transformed.
We remove all elements of a magical-shamanic paradigm from our announcement of the Good News of Jesus of Nazareth, because none of them are real. They are all imaginary. When we assemble our non-imaginary elements, the imaginary elements in Good News 1.0 get transformed.
Adam. Never really existed.
Satan. Our actual enemy is trauma imprints.
Sin. Human behavior does not displease God; it just produces a lot of pain. Sin in fact is merely the thoughts and behavior generated by the pain of unresolved trauma imprints. (But we only began to realize that since Charcot and Freud studied what they were calling “hysteria” in Paris, France in 1870.)
Human behavior had been going on for about 200,000 years before the appearance of Jesus. It was part of a trial-and-error process of learning how to live on this planet.
Since God is, precisely, not human, he/she is not offended, not angry, not male or female, does not judge or condemn, does not require atonement. Is eternal. Creates molecules, but is not composed of molecules. Is outside of time.
God’s Forgiveness. Just another traditional anthropomorphism for the unreflective mind. (See “God”, and “Sin”).
Repentance. As we grow more self-aware, we regret acting out of inner pain and unrestrained impulse. Chogyam Trungpa: “The play between hesitation and impulse is beautiful to look at. So delightful in itself is the approach of sanity.”
Salvation. The death that Jesus died was exactly the same biological experience any human being has, ever. So, existence itself is our ticket to eternity. No one who exists needs to be “saved”. There is no “salvation” because there was no “fall” (because there was no Adam.). The learning experience of homo sapiens had been going on for a very long time, and it was very painful. But there was never a loss of connection with the creator of the species. Dios no se muda.
Change of heart (metanoia). In psychotherapy it is a “release of primary emotion” when a trauma imprint is neutralized.
Atonement, forgiveness. Again, “Dios no se muda,”
Faith. I see three uses of “believe” and “faith” in the New Testament.
One. “cultural condescension”. (Origen used this term when he was asked why Abraham could have many wives, and we can have only one.)
You can call this “going along with the prevailing cultural mindset”.
In John 6, Martha tells Jesus that she knows her brother Lazarus will be “raised up on the last day”. This was part of a popular belief-system of the time. The response of Jesus was to completely dismiss the “on the last day” part: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,” like right away. No waiting until some imaginary last day.
He could not tell her the unvarnished truth about the previous 200,000 years of human living (which he knew), that everyone who has ever existed will live forever, even though they died. And even though Martha was not aware of it, his rising from the dead would make that perfectly clear. The “belief” comment only marked the difference between the unvarnished truth and the popular belief system.
Martha (and John, Mary, Paul et. al.) had no concept of existence. Their concept of eternity was vague, and a period of 200,000 years was beyond their comprehension. (“Deep time” does not enter the human vocabulary until late in the 19th century c.e. Until about 1856, Western culture in general thought that history was about 5000 years old. Darwin’s Origin of Species was the first shocking piece of science to dispute that, and shortly after Darwin, geology started to calculate time in millions of years, not thousands.)
Two. This-worldly benefit. Belief in Jesus was often used in connection with a miracle: “Your faith has made you whole.” This could be (a) mastery over molecules, or (b) psychosomatic healing.
Three. The Covenant reference.
(a) At the last supper Jesus said: “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the (new) covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”
(b) John chap. 6, connects belief, flesh, blood, and food (spiritual nurture):
6, 29: Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”
6, 54-55 “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.”
The Covenant in principle had always been presented as a benefit to all of humanity: “Now if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you will be my treasured possession out of all the nations—for the whole earth is mine.” (Exod. 19, 5.) So, the mention by Jesus of a Covenant at the Last Supper implies the universality of what was to follow.
Baptism. Ceremony of induction to a healthy community.
Damnation. Being overwhelmed by the injured neurons carrying a trauma imprint.
Depravity. An addiction. Moral helplessness. In principle it is treatable by human means; in practice very often intractable. But still, it is a human problem, not a God problem. (Therefore, anthropomorphic Paul, got it completely wrong: “The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.” Rom. 8, 7. Freud or Carl Rogers could have explained it to him.)
Divine Grace. xaris , a “gift.” Any surprising discovery of new information can be said to come from God if you don’t have a theory of natural causality. (The Incas were slaughtered because they thought the solar eclipse came from God, while the Spaniards knew it was just astronomy.)
Holiness. The condition of permanent healing of old wounds. “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.” Romans 6:22 |
Trauma and the Historical Persistence of the Shamanic Paradigm.
Elaine Pagels reports the idyllic experience of Christian community in Cappadocia described by Gregory of Nyssa (375 c.e.). Baptism transformed converts from their former state as “children of necessity and ignorance … to become children of choice and knowledge,” washed clean of sin, illuminated, and “by our deeds too found to be good citizens and keepers of the commandments.” and that “the soul immediately shows its royal and exalted character, far removed as it is from the lowliness of private station, in that it owns no master, and is self-governed, ruled autocratically by its own will.”
That might have been the case for Christians in Cappadocia, a province in central Asia Minor on the edge of the Roman Empire, but the experience of Christian communities in most of the Roman Empire in the third through ninth centuries (250-800 c.e.) was not so tranquil. Those times were filled with so much secular and doctrinal turbulence that Christians were experiencing serious emotional instability.
Augustine in particular (420 c.e.) was not impressed by the healing power of Baptism. He significantly altered the spin put on the self-psychology of the earlier Christians. Whereas they thought that the grace of baptism did repair a defective human nature, Augustine found reality to be otherwise. Pagels says: “What Augustine says in simplest terms is this: human beings cannot be trusted to govern themselves because our very nature — indeed all of nature — has become corrupt as the result of Adam’s sin.” AES, p. 145.
Orthodox Christians such as Irenaeus took great pains to distinguish their own explanatory paradigms from various idiosyncratic interpretations of the life of Jesus (the “Gnostics”). They were especially opposed to explanations that turned Jesus or the Apostles into fictitious, symbolic entities. And they suppressed the written teachings of “Gnostics” at every opportunity.
So Christians had a lot of emotionally destabilizing experiences.
Roman authorities persecuted Christians intermittently from the time of Nero (64 c.e.) until the Edict of Milan in 313 c.e. The last of the “great” persecutions (i.e., empire-wide) took place in the early 4th century (302-305) under the superb administration of emperor Diocletian, who, besides trying to get rid of Christians in the Roman Empire, divided its administration into four geographic regions, and appointed Constantius, the father of Constantine the Great, as regional Caesar based in Britain.
When Constantius died (306 c.e.), his son Constantine quickly moved to re-unite the Empire under one rule, and by 324 c.e. succeeded in doing so. In 313 he issued The Edict of Milan, officially proclaiming tolerance for Christianity.
[Constantius and Constantine were both Illyrians (a province on the east coast of the Adriatic Sea covering modern Croatia), as was Diocletian. Although as soldiers they were often stationed in Western places such as Britain, they considered the East to be more civilized, and so it is no wonder that as soon as Constantine took over the Roman Empire, he moved his capital to Byzantium and renamed the city Constantinople. Constantine’s mother was Helena, a Greek, a Christian, a concubine of Constantius, and down through history is said to have spent her later years searching for the remains of the “true cross” (on which Jesus had been crucified).]
Traumatic assaults on human consciousness in Europe by no means ended with the reign of Constantine. Tribal peoples continued to move across Europe, killing and pillaging as they went, for at least the next thousand years. Thus, Christianity started to add new tools for emotional stability to its traditional reliance on the announcement of the Good News and Baptism
One was doctrine. Constantine ushered in the age of the first Ecumenical Councils, beginning with the Council of Nicea in 325. This Council produced the Nicene Creed., which was still in use in Roman Catholicism in 1940 (when I made my “first Communion” at the age of seven).
The other one was the Eucharist and the Cathedrals.
The Nicene Creed.
The Nicene Creed was drafted in 325 c.e.in order to forge an identity for Christianity that separated it from the many heresies that had grown up. (The Arian heresy was very widely believed. It claimed that although Jesus was “the son of God”, he was not fully God.)
The Nicene Creed was a combination of (a) known facts, (b) reasonable but sectarian extrapolations from known facts, and (c) traditional anthropomorphisms.
Italic = known facts.
Standard = reasonable but sectarian extrapolations from known facts.
Bold = anthropomorphisms.
I believe in one God, the Father Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible:
And in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only-begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages;
God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God;
begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father,
by whom all things were made;
who for us men and for our salvation descended from heaven.
He was incarnate by the Holy Ghost out of the Virgin Mary, and was made man.
He was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; he suffered and was buried:
And he rose again on the third day according to the Scriptures:
And ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father:
And the same shall come again, with glory, to judge the living and the dead:
Of whose kingdom there shall be no end;
And (I believe) in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and life-giver,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son,
who, together with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.
And (I believe in) one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church,
I confess one baptism for the remission of sins.
And I await the resurrection of the dead:
and the life of the coming age. Amen.
It turned out to be an extremely stable formulation and remained in use in a large portion of Chrstianity for over 1600 years.
However, although a Creed can provide emotional stability, it cannot provide ultimate emotional satisfaction. It is only “doctrine”.
Erik Voegelin makes an observation about this:
“The In-Between [i.e., between time and eternity] of experience has a dead point from which the symbols [of ultimate values] emerge as the exegesis of its truth but which cannot become itself an object of propositional knowledge. …… Unless precautions of meditative practice are taken, the doctrinization of symbols is liable to interrupt the process of experiential reactivation and linguistic renewal. When the symbol separates from its source in the experiential Metaxy [Plato’s word for in-between], the Word of God can degenerate into a word of man that one can believe or not.” (The Ecumenic Age, 105.)
The eternity connection is trans-rational; it is objectless awareness. Doctrine is a rational exegesis from such an experience.
So, the Nicene Creed gave emotional stability to Christianity for 1600 years, but it did not give emotional fulfillment. It would take mystics to do that (Catherine of Siena and Teresa of Avila immediately come to mind. There were many others.)
The Eucharist and the Cathedrals also gave emotional stability to Christianity, but not emotional fulfillment.
From the very first days of Christianity its members gathered regularly in the meal commemorating the Last Supper mentioned in all four gospels. In very early texts it was referred to as the “agapé”. In the middle ages it came to be called the Eucharist. In contemporary Catholicism it is known as the Mass, and among Protestants as the communion service.
The building of Romanesque churches all over Europe started in the eighth century, followed by the great Gothic cathedrals. Attending Mass in the cathedrals was a powerful trance-inducing technology. The modern expression “hocus-pocus” comes from the Mass. It is what the words of the consecration of the host –“Hoc est enim corpus meum.” — must have sounded like from the nave of those immense, vaulted structures. Kneeling with the hands folded in front of the chest is a fetal or infantile bodily posture. Communion was received with eyes closed, head tilted back, mouth open, tongue out.
What organ of nurture might you expect to receive in that position? The sounds of organ music and Gregorian chant, the shape of the space enclosed by Gothic arches, the quality of light through stained-glass windows, the smells of beeswax and incense, the effect of periods of silence while kneeling with eyes closed, are all capable of being reminiscent of the womb. And so the Mass constitutes a regressive hypnotic state that recaptures the third trimester of fetal experience.
Exposure to this experience began in early childhood, and by the time a person reached the age of seven or so, the cues for entering the womb-and-infancy state of consciousness were so well learned that people began to go under long before they actually entered the building. All they would have to do is think about what they are about to do, and they would begin to go under. The process merely deepens as they go through the activity known as “going to church.”
During the centuries of its use, the Eucharist provided a trance-state to support a weak ego structure, as the faithful struggled with the repressed fears and pain of traumatic experiences. And it worked. People grew stronger. It was a pedagogical device of immense benefit in building up the strength of personality to carry the social group beyond the immersion in nature of shamanistic tribal magic, into a wider mental and social world.
In the fourth Lateran Council in 1215 c.e., Christianity settled on a theory to explain the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. It was the theory of transubstantiation. That theory uses Aristotle’s notions of substance and accidents, and says that the “substance” of Jesus is present “under the accidents” of bread and wine. Transubstantiation is accompanied by the belief in “the real presence” (of the body and blood of Christ in the bread and wine). But there is a very simple textual problem. This is not Aristotle.
For Aristotle “being present” is itself an “accident”. Since the “accidents” in question here belong to bread and wine, they cannot at the same time belong to the “substance” of Jesus. It can’t be said to be “there.”
This is a classic case of Orwellian doublespeak. The purpose of doublespeak is to conceal an underlying emotional agenda and provide a habitual defensive posture. It is the art of “tricky language”. So, textual accuracy was never the main point. It was always rhetorical support for the emotions in question. Transubstantiation was one of those brilliantly clever moves a traumatized psyche makes to support an emotionally necessary choice. The choice in this case was to experience the deeply regressive state of mind that all “presence of god” rituals induce.
The Eucharist always had an emotionally calming effect. Endorphins such oxytocin or serotonin are involved. Oxytocin is noted for the effect it has on prosocial behaviors, such as facilitating trust and attachment between individuals. Selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs) (e.g., Prozac) are common anti-anxiety medications. The Mass was a top-of-the-line medieval serotonin re-uptake inhibitor.
The Christian community never mistook the food metaphor of the Last Supper as a reference to the physical level of nurture. They never thought of the Eucharist as magical cannibalism. But they did use the food metaphor to mobilize those endorphins in the body that help heal the effects of trauma. This is what the belief in “the real presence” of Jesus in the Eucharist and the theory of transubstantiation did, brilliantly, for Christians at a certain stage of personality development. I call it “the oxytocin solution”.
From 1.0 to 2.0.
In Luke 24, 13-35, Jesus gives an interesting instruction: “You foolish men! So slow to believe in the full message of the prophets! Was it not ordained that the Christ should suffer and so enter into his glory? Then, starting with Moses and going through all the prophets, he explained to them the passages throughout the scriptures that were about himself.”
So, “the full message” is not suffering, but “glory”.
This instruction definitively displaces the crucifixion as the central event in the life of Jesus, and replaces it with the contemplation of the risen Jesus as the core of the legacy of Jesus. But that is not what Christians latched on to. Especially in the theory and practice of the Eucharist, they chose a hypnotizing and sedating ritual that was all about recovery from trauma. When Christianity entered Europe, the traumatization of its population was in terrifying full swing. Stage One of recovery would take another fifteen hundred years.
TRAUMA RECOVERY STAGES
In Trauma and Recovery, Judith Herman notes that there are three stages in the recovery from emotional trauma, and this where religion enters the picture.
The stages are physiologically grounded and so they always happen.
1. Safety-Stability — stop the bleeding, restore boundaries, release tension , sadness, shock, rage, venting … the body starts to recover damaged emotional processes. Of great help at this stage of recovery (often even necessary) is the use of sedative. In emergency rooms, in cases of severe (physical) traumatization, sedatives are commonly used to prevent anaphylactic shock.
2. Self-exploration, mourning — the body works on detecting specific emotional lesions and repairing losses. Practices such as meditation are classic forms of self-exploration. Herman notes that “the second most common error in trauma treatment is premature or precipitate engagement in self-exploration without sufficient attention to establishing safety and securing a therapeutic alliance.” (Trauma and Recovery, 172.)
3. Personality re-integration — as the body succeeds in repairing damages, new emotional pathways are established.
Traditional religion, as we will discuss at length below, is, historically, a Stage One treatment for the pandemic trauma experienced by homo sapiens.
You have to get to Stage Two in trauma recovery before you can access Good News 2.0.
And, by the way, the message of suffering and glory harmonizes extremely well with Buddhist teaching about enlightenment: “When you realize that everything is just a flashing into the vast universe, then you become very strong and your existence becomes very meaningful.”
So, in order to move forward, we have to get beyond trance induction techniques. However, Christianity without its trance induction techniques would be unrecognizable vis-à-vis the contemporary institutions that go by that name.
For example, the Roman Catholic practice of the Mass will have to go. It is too heavily a trance induction technique and is based on a mistaken interpretation of the New Testament.
The authority of clergy has to go. This is clearly a paternalism that doubts the power of self to grow.
The concept of “redemption” has to go. It was a metaphor that worked pedagogically in the time of St. Paul, but it is merely a metaphor, and once you get to the heart of things, it gets in the way. We are not green stamps. There is no economic transaction going on in the Jesus event.
The concept of original sin has to go. It was in the first instance a very big mistake that may have served developmental purposes, but is clearly schizoid in implication, and in conflict with positive self-regard, which is the state of consciousness of the healthy human organism.
The concept of “grace” as something added to and outside of nature has to go. Again, this line of thought is schizophrenigenic and a leftover from a stage of emotional development in which the ego is very weak.
In general, this means the end of what we know as “Christianity”. But it does not mean the end of the legacy of Jesus of Nazareth. Rather it brings that legacy forward in a post-Christian set of ideas and practices that enable humanity (a) to survive into the future, and (b) help it conduct its affairs in a manner that satisfies the needs of all.
In 2004, Mel Gibson made an actually very good movie about the death of Jesus, The Passion of the Christ. It features all the genius for violence that Gibson is so capable of. (When I saw that movie on Netflix, I realized that Christianity has still not really “gotten” the meaning of Jesus of Nazareth. The movie ends with a 15-second clip of the resurrection, an excuse-me footnote to the story.)
But the historical record contains a quite detailed Part Two of the story. And, we could really use a good movie about Part Two.
Some random helpful hints.
I start by paraphrasing Good News 2.0.
What we call “life” is our receiving of the gift of existence. Once you have existence, you never lose it.
Your existence was started by an infusion from eternity. When you die, you simply go back to where you came from.
The resurrection of Jesus is the historical event that demonstrates this fact.
In order to fully recover awareness of all this, you only need to go inside. All of this information is written on your molecules.
One good idea is to look for pieces of Good News 2.0 already floating around in human consciousness around the world.
Some of my favorite examples are:
(1) Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Divine Milieu (NY Fontana Books, 1963), p. 77
… I took the lamp, and leaving the zone of everyday occupations and relationships where everything seems clear, I went down into my inmost self, to the deep abyss whence I feel dimly that my power of action emanates. But as I moved further and further away from the conventional certainties by which social life is superficially illuminated, I became aware that I was losing contact with myself. At each step of the descent a new person was disclosed within me of whose name I was no longer sure, and who no longer obeyed me. And when I had to stop my exploration because the path faded from beneath my steps, I found a bottomless abyss at my feet, and out of it came — arising from I know not where — the current which I dare to call my life.
(2) William Shakespeare, Sonnet 146:
Poor soul, the centre of my sinful earth,
[Why feed’st] these rebel powers that thee array?
Why dost thou pine within, and suffer dearth,
Painting thy outward walls so costly gay?
Why so large cost, having so short a lease,
Dost thou upon thy fading mansion spend?
Shall worms, inheritors of this excess,
Eat up thy charge? is this thy body’s end?
Then soul, live thou upon thy servant’s loss,
And let that pine to aggravate thy store;
Buy terms divine in selling hours of dross;
Within be fed, without be rich no more:
So shalt thou feed on Death, that feeds on men,
And, Death once dead, there’s no more dying then.
There are plenty of others to be found in world literature.
Secondly, reduce or abandon any participation in organized religion. This is because all religion, all the time, everywhere, is part of the first stage of treatment for that pandemic trauma experienced by homo sapiens in our evolutionary climb out of our primitive animality.
All of those promises that Jesus gave to Peter and the Apostles were what I call “start-up provisions”. Hierarchical organization is useful to establish a way of life that has no social presence at all. But the legacy of Jesus was always one of simple awareness (“the new and eternal covenant, written on the fleshy tablets of the heart”).
If you are still so traumatized that you cannot function at all, or if you live in a community that is so traumatized that it cannot function at all, then participate in organized religion, but cautiously. Recovery from trauma is a process that you must be in charge of yourself. Especially beware of authoritarian religions. They insist that you not trust yourself at all. “Question authority.”
For most people, there is no hierarchical organization to join, no ceremonies to perform, no papers to sign. The natural setting for Good News 2.0 is a network, not a hierarchical organization.
Thirdly, make a note of the fact that Good News 2.0 works for anyone who is going to die. To wit, you can be a Muslim, a member of the Chinese Communist party, a Japanese Buddhist or Shinto devotee, a professional Atheist, or whatever. If you have a human body and are in it, the notification that existence is your ticket to eternity, and you cannot avoid that destiny, should be good news. (This is why Thomas Aquinas said “melior est esse quam non esse.” “It is better to exist than not to exist.”)