“There’s a divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will.”
Hamlet, Act 5, Scene 2.
My question is: did Jesus of Nazareth contribute anything of value to humanity as a whole, and if so, what was it? The answer is: yes he did, but it was not what Christians have always thought it was.
Good News 1.0. Early Christians announced the importance of Jesus of Nazareth with this news: “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.” (1 Corinthians 15, 3) (This is also found in Colossians 1:22; 1 Peter 1:19 and elsewhere).
Everyone among early Christians agreed with it, except the apostle John, and it remained a powerful invitation to Christianity for the next 2,000 years.
But it was wrong. Jesus did not die for anybody’s sins.
In order to understand this, we can use the principle of “divine condescension” invented by the early Christian scholar, Origen of Alexandria (184-253 c.e.) When his students asked him: “Why could Abraham have several wives and we can have only one?” Origen coined the term “divine condescension” whereby God permits practices that are demanded by the stage of cultural development of their users. (What an amazing early anthropologist Origen was.)
Theologically, Origen’s view is completely consistent with Judaeo-Christian creation theory. Thomas Aquinas put it this way: Legisfert creando (“By creation, God also passes the laws of nature.”) So, since God created time and all its developmental features, it is perfectly consistent with divine intervention to make concessions to evolutionary necessity. (No opposition to evolution, rather complete support for evolution, except for how it starts [see below].)
So, we are going to find that the New Testament and the history of Christianity are completely riddled with huge, basic mistakes. “Christ died for our sins” is just one of them. All of them can be attributed to the slow learning process human beings go through in the course of cultural evolution.
Good News 1.0 was therefore a relic of the then over one-thousand-years-old command of Yahweh to the primitive believers of Israel to engage in animal sacrifice as an expiation for their personal sinfulness. This command is found in the Book of Leviticus (about 1275 b.c.e.). It extended to the people as a whole to sacrifice the paschal lamb on Yom Kippur in commemoration of the blood of the lambs that was smeared on their doorways to protect them from the (highly dubious) “avenging angel” of the tenth plague of Egypt.
Animal sacrifice as expiation for sin is a classic shamanic form of sympathetic magic. Personal emotional pain comes from various injuries, such as childhood trauma, day-to-day hardship in harsh ecological niches, and moral guilt. Sympathetic magic is a primitive form of emotional healing in which the human actor makes a connection to the animal actor on the basis of similar characteristics. Breath and movement and blood – elements of sheer physicality – are the qualities that the shaman uses.
Instead of being self-aware and realizing that emotional pain comes from inside the self, the human actor sympathetically substitutes animal experience for human experience. Animal pain relieves human pain, blood relieves wounding, killing relieves the self-destructive impulse. This absence of self-awareness is the very definition of “primitive”. So, the command of God in Leviticus is a case of “divine condescension”.
In the 3,000 years since the writing of Leviticus, human beings have learned many other instruments of emotional healing. The more advanced among them are techniques of introspective awareness.
Gautama discovered meditation and monastic chanting as methods of emotional healing in 500 b.c.e., but his discoveries did not migrate out of Asia until very recent centuries. From the 1870s, western psychological science discovered methods of introspection that basically duplicated Asian practices such as Zen. (“Make friends with yourself; start sitting.”) Christianity itself discovered trance in about the fourth century c.e. (in the Eucharist, monastic chanting and the Cathedrals). Trance is not introspective, but it is a great advance over killing animals and shedding blood.
Furthermore, personal repentance (metanoia in the New Testament) shows up from time to time in the whole Bible, but it never gains prominence of place.
So, the bottom line here – that we will fully explain and demonstrate below — is that Christianity has never gotten beyond the sympathetic magic of Leviticus. “Jesus died for your sins” is a form of “good news” only for people who have no self-awareness. This certainly includes Jewish believers in 1275 b.c.e., the first followers of Jesus of Nazareth, and many, many Christians up to the present day. The whole New Testament, except the apostle John, is captured by the shadow of sympathetic magic of Leviticus.
If you do have any self-awareness at all, Good News 1.0 is just plain weird. Another announcement would be valued.
Good News 2.0. Jesus died to demonstrate the non-finality of death for all human beings of all time everywhere.
Jesus died to clarify the meaning of death.
Life is a passage.
Death is a passage.
You will return to exactly where you came from.
This has been clearly demonstrated.
Follow the science.
This requires some explanation.
We are no longer completely lacking in self-awareness. Today we have numerous processes of controlled introspection (what Buddhists call “making friends with yourself” and contemporary trauma treatment calls “the felt sense”). These enable us to track the biology of death, and realize that the most important aspect of the death of Jesus was that he came back from it. This makes his death a demonstration of the relationship between time and eternity and shows that death is not the end of our existence. In fact, it is the fulfillment of our existence.
Focused biological attention can track the complete loss of molecules that takes place in death, and the full restoration of molecules that is required to return from death – this meditation is the only thing that is needed to become aware that no human death ends any human existence.
This conclusion is based on the same raw data that early Christians had, but uses 2,000 years of additional knowledge. The whole life of Jesus illustrated the relationship between time and eternity, and his return from death was the final demonstration.
The benefit is that now, with our vastly more advanced understanding of the universe in its totality compared to the time of Jesus, we can recover the full legacy of Jesus of Nazareth. This legacy specifies completely the end-game of human life, and creates an awareness that does not require a hierarchical organization. It is an awareness designed to be a network, as promised in Jeremiah 31: “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts.”
The Jews in the time of Jesus 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 did not have adequate explanatory information.
So, let us (1) review the tools of contemporary science, (2) summarize the historical account of what Jesus actually did, (3) present early Christian interpretations of his life, and (4) make the case for a revised interpretation.
The Tools of Contemporary Science.
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 nothing 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.
“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.)
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, in The Varieties of Religious Experience, had already identified an In-Between 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 such 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.
The eternity connection is 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.)
Its occurrence is seriously hampered by traumatic injuries sustained by an individual, and its expression is seriously constrained by the cognitive tools of its anbient culture. But for the sensitive investigator, it is there.
(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. Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, Daoism, Confucianism, Zoroastrianism. (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. (E.g., animal sacrifice.)
The Paradoxes of Judaism.
In Judaism we have a hybrid of magical/shamanic beliefs and the prophetic understanding that life is “a brief spark in a vast universe”. It is a religion of paradoxes.
On the one hand it combines magical/shamanic practices and continuous interventions of prophetic awareness. Also, it envisions a grandiose and this-worldly future for its people as well as a global moral idealism. Thirdly, it contains a thoroughly ambiguous Messianism that promises a future leader with world political domination who yet experiences great suffering and rejection. All of these competing themes were well-known to the first followers of Jesus of Nazareth and were the materials from which they had to find his meaning.
Many of the promises made to Israel are cast in a this-worldly framework: sometimes biological and territorial, sometimes social, political and moral. The repetition of this-worldly promises is constant throughout the historical and prophetic books of the Bible.
Genesis 12:1-3 Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go forth from your country, And from your relatives And from your father’s house, To the land which I will show you; And I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing; And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”
Genesis 22:17 Indeed I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies.
Genesis 15:7 And He said to him, “I am the LORD who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess it.”
Genesis 15:18 On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your descendants I have given this land, From the river of Egypt as far as the great river, the river Euphrates:
Genesis 17:8 “I will give to you and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.”
Isaiah 49:6 He says: “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
Isaiah 9:7 Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
Daniel 9:25 Know therefore and understand that from the going out of the word to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of an anointed one, a prince, there shall be seven weeks. Then for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with squares and moat, but in a troubled time.
Psalm 2:1-12 Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying, “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.” He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision. Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury.
The ninth king is King Messiah, who, in the future, will rule from one end of the world to the other, as it is said, “He shall have dominion also from sea to sea” (Ps. lxxii. 8); and another Scripture text says, “And the stone that smote the image became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth” (Dan. ii. 35). The tenth king will restore the sovereignty to its owners. He who was the first king will be the last king, as it is said, “Thus saith the Lord, the King . . . I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God” (Isa. xliv. 6); and it is written, “And the Lord shall be king over all the earth” (Zech. xiv. 9)
During the 2,000 years from Abraham to Jesus, we find the continuous practice of animal sacrifice side by side with prophetic messages from Yahweh. Abraham’s dilemma about sacrificing his son Isaac at the command of God is a powerful example of the two forces at work in that religion.
The two viewpoints are completely joined in the Book of Leviticus, where the command to perform animal sacrifice comes directly from Yahweh through his servant Moses. There can be no more prophetic an intervention in Judaism than that. And yet it was also completely shamanic and magical.
Leviticus 17:11 is the Old Testament’s central statement about the significance of blood in the sacrificial system. God, speaking to Moses, declares: “For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.”
The verse can be made clearer in a contemporary rendering: God said, “I have given it to you (the creature’s life, which is in its blood) to make atonement for yourselves (covering the offense you have committed against me).” In other words, those who are covered by the blood sacrifice are set free from the consequences of sin.
However, divine approval in no way negates the anthropological status of animal sacrifice as a classic shamanic practice of sympathetic magic. In a secular context, anthropologists note that prehistoric humans used pictures of animals to help them bond with their prey for a successful hunt. In a religious context the bonding with animals is an instrument for healing personal pain. The pain of the animal relieves the pain of the human.
The most intimate and painful emotions that human beings experience are from certain common injuries such as childhood trauma, day-to-day hardship in harsh ecological settings such as deserts and mountains, and moral guilt.
Guilt is often regarded as completely abstract, but like all emotions it is inherently physical. (“All emotions are neurological events.”) At bottom it is the perceived loss of parental approval, therefore a loss of protection for the inner child, and a source of fear and vulnerability. Atonement by animal sacrifice is one way to relieve guilt. (Nowadays we know many other methods for making atonement, such as Steps 8 and 9 of the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous: “Make direct amends to people we have harmed wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.”) (Blood is not required.)
The idea of atonement by animal sacrifice looms extremely large in the religion of Israel. Individual sacrifices were a temporary means by which atonements could occur that would “cleanse” people of their personal sins. Besides the day-to-day sacrifices in the temple, the greatest ritual of atonement for the whole people was the feast of Yom Kippur. The Day of Atonement is still the most important Jewish ritual in the annual calendar.
Jewish tradition viewed the Passover sacrifice as being expiatory; that is, the blood of the lambs removed sin from God’s view. During the tenth and final plague in Egypt, the Passover sacrifice literally saved individuals from death (Exodus 12:23). The Passover lambs brought atonement to the believing Jewish households on that night of judgment and redemption.
In spite of its divine approval, sympathetic magic is still primitive. It sympathetically substitutes animal experience for human experience.
It is primitive also because, being historically early, it is completely ignorant of other methods of emotional healing that humanity would eventually discover. (Such as Buddhist meditation, Christian trance, and psychotherapy.)
So, atonement by animal sacrifice in Judaism is a “concession” by God to the developmental limitations of the primitive Israelites, following Origen’s principle of “divine condescension”.
We can also benefit ourselves here by the use of some contemporary sociology. We find two different forms of consciousness in the religion of Israel because there are, as William James detected, two different forms of consciousness in human beings generally. One form is “normal waking rational consciousness” with no introspective self-awareness. The other form is “discontinuous consciousness”. In the prophetic temperament this is a lively introspective awareness of intimate connection with the ultimate ground of human existence, what the religion of Israel called Yahweh.
Indeed, there was constant friction between these two forms of consciousness in the actual history of Israel. The prophets repeatedly criticized the practices of 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.”
This is what the Lord says: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. Where is the house you will build for me? Where will my resting place be? Has not my hand made all these things, and so they came into being?” declares the Lord. “These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word.
But, when we get to the first followers of Jesus, we find the temple tradition as a set of popular beliefs among them. This is the “Jesus died for your sins” that completely permeates all the documents of the New Testament (except the gospel of John). So, that announcement is absolutely a relic of the primitive shamanic/magical paradigm permitted by God at the time of the Exodus.
Another facet of Judaism that engaged these two forms of consciousness is Messianism.
There is a rich tapestry of this-worldly and other-worldly conceptions of a future leader running through the two-thousand years between Abraham and Jesus.
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.
Thus says the Lord, the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One, to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nation, the servant of rulers: “Kings shall see and arise; princes, and they shall prostrate themselves; because of the Lord, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”
He says: “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
Know therefore and understand that from the going out of the word to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of an anointed one, a prince, there shall be seven weeks. Then for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with squares and moat, but in a troubled time.
Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying, “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.” He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision. Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury,
For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
Isaiah 7:14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
The heart of prophetic Messianism 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.
That 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.”
Jews in the time of Jesus were familiar with belief in the Messiah:
The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ).
The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”
In John 6, Martha tells Jesus that she knows her brother Lazarus will be “raised up on the last day”. The response of Jesus was completely dismissive of the “on the last day” part: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.” So, no waiting until some imaginary last day. Right away. Now.
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 exist forever, even though they died. And even though Martha was not aware of it, Jesus’ rising from the dead would make that perfectly clear.
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. For centuries, Western culture in general thought history was about 5000 years old. Darwin’s Origin of Species in 1856 was the first shocking piece of science to dispute that, and geology at that time started to calculate time in millions of years, not thousands.)
17 And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” 19 And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.
Mark 14, 61-62
And the high priest stood up in the midst and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” 61 But he remained silent and made no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” 62 And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.
Jesus candidly admitted that he was the Messiah. On the one hand, he taunted the high priest with language from the traditional prophecies. But when he was talking to Pontius Pilate or his own followers, he took a very different approach. He clearly denied any this-worldly implications of the role.
John, chap 18:
33 Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
34 “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”
35 “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”
36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”
37 “You are a king, then!” said Pilate.
Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
38 “What is truth?” retorted Pilate.
John, Chap. 19:
7 The Jewish leaders insisted, “We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.”
8 When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid, 9 and he went back inside the palace. “Where do you come from?” he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer. 10 “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?”
11 Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from on high. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.”
12 From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free…
What is this “not of this world”. This “on high”, this “other place”? This language only really starts to have meaning when you realize that there are only two states of existence in the universe in its totality. One is time, and the other one is eternity.
Mt., chap 20: Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him.
21 “What is it you want?” he asked.
She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.”
22 “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?”
“We can,” they answered.
23 Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.”
[In Mark, the mother is left out of this story. James and John make the request on their own.]
So, not only is the “kingdom” of Jesus other-worldly, but he is not even in charge of it.
The Basic 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. [It is not possible to actually “prove” the virgin birth, but the numerous day-to-day miracles of Jesus – themselves disturbances in the normal behavior of molecules — all contained their own direct physical verification. Virgin birth is consistent with that pattern.]
Throughout his life, he displayed this 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.
The God Proposition.
Early Christians did not know anything about molecules, but it was still easy for them to come to the conclusion that Jesus was God. However, my modern scientific mind comes to that conclusion simply because of what he did with molecules. To me this is an open and shut case. I really don’t need anything else.
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 (in this case, fermentation). Likewise for the multiplication of food (bread and fish), healing of physical illnesses, and the raising of Lazarus. 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 how the brain, which is material and not eternal, can construct this relationship.
Meditation is a form of introspection. (Introspection explores 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 emotional injury is precisely that: an 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. ________________________________________
THE PROCESS OF TRAUMA RECOVERY
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 is, historically, a Stage One treatment for the pandemic trauma experienced by homo sapiens.
[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.
Accessing Eternity in the Historical Account.
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)
So, these are factual reports.
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”.
Anthropomorphisms are baked into the preaching of St. 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)
And there are clarifications:
“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, a case of the sympathetic magic approved by God in Leviticus. The resurrection was just supporting evidence. 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”, another idea drawn from popular end-time beliefs of Jews at the time.
As for “sin” being an offense against God that causes God to have human emotions, we need to be aware of the continuous stream of prophetic scolding in the Bible. The people of Israel are portrayed as “stiff-necked” and “hard of heart”, and God is portrayed as “angry” and “jealous”. But if you look at the pattern of this scolding on the whole, it is clear that those attributes of God are only pedagogical hyperbole. The central attributes of God in prophecy are love and forgiveness. “I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah)
In Good News 1.0 the facts are real, but the explanations are primitive. Jesus 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. The crucifix was a central symbol of Christianity for centuries (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 offers 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 Gospel of John.
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 my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”
This seems to me to be an obvious case of Origen’s “divine condescension”, whereby Jesus adjusts his language to the cultural limitations of his followers. There was no way that Jesus could use the unvarnished truth to describe the reminder of his physical presence he was giving them. The most logical interpretation of this moment is that it was a warning about the numerous fantasy-driven belief systems his followers would encounter in their preaching in the Roman empire of the time, such as Valentinianism, Mithraism, Manichaeanism and the like, to name but a few.
The unvarnished truth (which Jesus certainly knew) was this: “This bread and wine are reminders of my physical presence in history, bread for my body and wine for “my blood which is poured out for many to demonstrate the true nature of death”. Such a statement would have been completely incomprehensible to the apostles. Hence the adjustment of language.
Only John’s gospel found a way around this dilemma.
[Not to mention the absolutely ridiculous belief that this passage of scripture is “the institution of transubstantiation in the Eucharist”. I will come to that later on.]
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 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 “forgiveness of sin” that they got from their ambient culture.
But the Gospel of John was not drawn from the traditional collection. It was written personally 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, 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 transition from time to eternity. This is the fundamental problem 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 did not understand its meaning. For Paul, the death of Jesus was his salvific achievement. His resurrection was 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 mistakes are 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.
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.”
He invoked “the new and eternal covenant” of Isaiah and Jeremiah. 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 not the experience. His original followers did, but they had no conceptual tools to explain it.
What happened? 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 it 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 (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.
Transforming Good News 1.0.
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. In Good News 2.0, they all 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. There is such a thing as this-worldly salvation. This is simply a loss of anxiety. But there is no such thing as eternal salvation. 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. “Going along with the prevailing cultural mindset”. (See Origen.)
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. Reality harmony. “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.” What then happens to those who do not believe in him? When they die, will they not participate in eternity? Not! Everybody who dies does only the same thing Jesus did when he died. They lose their molecules. But Jesus showed that that is not a problem.
So, the benefit of “faith” is that you have harmony with reality now. If you don’t have faith, the penalty is simply living in illusion. That might seem like fun, but it actually carries with it permanent and constant tension. Deluded people only go around being confused, unhappy, destructive monsters terrified of death. People of faith always have the comfort of existence, which cannot be taken away from them. (This is in fact the import of what we call “The Eight Beatitides”.)
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 |
So, that is how we can repair Good News 1.0.
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.
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 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 derivative 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.
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.
Divine Condescension for Christianity
If the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob could permit Abraham to have several wives, whereas that practice died out in later centuries; if that same God could also command Moses to tell the people to perform animal sacrifice in expiation for their sins, whereas we now know that sympathetic magic is a primitive practice for people who have no self-awareness, then it is also perfectly logical for Jesus of Nazareth (“I and the Father are one.”) to issue instructions to his followers that are of a merely temporary nature. These would be all the instructions pertaining to the creation of a hierarchical organization. This was a social arrangement necessary to establish the institutional presence of ideas and practices that are, in their essence, purely personal “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.”
One set of instructions has to do with encouraging a group of Galileean fisherman to take themselves spiritually seriously.
For example: “Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them.” Etc.
“Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.”[I absolutely LOVE the six-foot-high lettering of the “Tu es Petrus” around the top of the nave of the eponymous basilica in Rome, built with Medici money scammed from millions of gullible believers paying to shorten their time in an absolutely fictitious Purgatory.
“And the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Really! Well that ship sailed with the Borgia and Medici Popes, and Martin Luther launched it.
Then, the Roman Catholic practice of the Mass will have to go, as we have explained above.
The paternalistic authority of clergy has to go.
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 whatever hierarchical organization that goes by the name of “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 that.
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.
Two good meditations.
One is simply to focus attention on the wine at the wedding feast at Cana. Watch those molecules of water transform instantaneously into molecules of win. Who can do that? What does that mean?
Two is to track the loss and recovery of molecules in the body of Jesus after his death.
Pieces of Good News 2.0 already floating around in human consciousness around the world. Some people already get it.
(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.
De-emphasize 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. It artificially tranquillizes.
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.
Make a note 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.”)