exploring self-realization, sacred personhood, and full humanity
Can One's Virtue, Like a Credit
Balance, Be Transferred to Another?
Changing Atonement Theories in Church History
The Man Elected, in a Close Vote, to be God
Truly, I say to you, by no means will you get
out of prison till you have paid the last penny!
Editor's Note: This article is part of a series; see the 8 link-icons below - each is best reviewed within a wide corpus of knowledge. My research, for 50 years, attempts to get at what's real and true. Concerning priority of the topics, there's a song-lyric, "love changes everything" - so it is with the scientific evidence of the afterlife; its reality changes everything.
While visiting a friend, a decades-old graduation photo caught my eye. Two things drew my attention: intense bright eyes, bespeaking an uncommon fury of intelligence; but also, a flash of metal gracing the verdant hue of her sweater, a filigreed gold-cross pendant.
I marveled at this - an anomaly, I thought; a secular high school and a gold cross do not particularly complement. She reminded me of the principled girl of excellent spirit, Jamie Sullivan, in A Walk To Remember...
I think that this bygone high-school grad was aware of her political incorrectness - you don't wear a gold cross for your senior photo by accident. In her own laconic but subtly defiant way, she was making a statement - one that I shall acknowledge here.
Sincere faith, expressed in humility, is a beautiful thing; an allegiance to something larger than self becomes reasonable response to having received the gift of life. Mindful deference, such as this, is not unknown to me, and nothing in this article will diminish such well-placed sentiment. However, as the fisherman Peter once said, faith, mere faith, especially an uninformed, unthinking faith, is but a small virtue; to faith, he said, we must add a measure of knowledge, lest we fall into superstition and illusion.
Too much importance has been assigned to "faith" - often devolving into "believe whatever we teach; believe whatever we tell you to believe" - an anti-intellectual dogmatism posing as knowledge from those who benefit from uncritical assent; with too little importance afforded to Jesus' own teaching,You shall love the Lord your God with all your mind. You might not have noticed, but this New Testament verse is almost never mentioned in most churches.
a prayer shatters the late-night stillness: Dear God, save me from this dreadful good
Yes, the "dreadful good" - a phrase from a dying wife's poem which I've featured elsewhere.
In 1996, after suffering for many years from a sense that something was not right with the traditional salvation-teaching about Jesus, I'd finally had enough of this dreadful good. Doctrines concerning the necessity of a Savior dying for our sins seemed all wrong and made no sense to me:
What kind of miscreant or megalomaniac would God have to be to require blood? - the brutal death of his own son! Why do we bow before this "divine child abuse"? Could he not just simply forgive, like any decent person, as he teaches us to do? Would that really alter some cosmic plan? And what's that you say? You say that "the law" required it of God? Well, I'd always heard that God is omni-this, trans-that, and super-something else, but now you say "the law" is the real power behind the throne, with God as mere figurehead or puppet of "the law"? Is this a "chicken and egg" joke? Which came first, God or the law? Who or what acted as primal creative agent? And if God cannot surmount "the law," and serves as mere pawn to civil procedure, is this the court of Darius of the Persians which promoted this kind of robotic thinking? What kind of obtuse and bizarro-world concept of God has been created here?
And even if God were some kind of Weird Person demanding blood, why should the death of another, in a cosmic bureaucratic bookkeeping transaction, be credited to my ledger? Should money in someone else's checking account pay for my bills? Where's the justice in that? "Cooking the books" regarding moral culpability is one thing, but actually turning me into a good person, from the inside out, is something else entirely. Show me where that's happening for the average true-believer.
Can a person do something bad and then summarily appeal for sanctuary by way of pious legal-loophole in a religious kangaroo-court? Is that the way the universe works? What about Paul's "sowing and reaping"? What about Jesus' warning about "paying the last penny" for every untoward word and thought? What kind of fairy-tale view of life allows one to redistill reality by mere proclamation? But even if, somehow, with a clever ecclesiastical lawyer, this could be technically construed as "moral," where's the dignity, where's the honor, in this sort of evasion of personal responsibility for one's own actions and life?
Is there not educative value in facing the music, by responsibly owning the consequences - good or bad - concerning that which one has made of his or her life? Is not the greater part of the gift of human sentience that of the ability to change one's own thoughts - and, thereby, one's course and destiny? History has shown us that even concentration-camp overlords can turn away from evil and become veritable saints. Why should we rob ourselves of the self-deterministic glory of choosing a better life and making better choices?
Can a magic hand-sign, or magic words, by some wizardry of the Nice Young Man at Church, have anything to do with changing my nature? - I mean, deep down at the core of who I am - that epicenter of malfeasance, which, sadly, often craves to indulge in untoward activity.
We are told in the Bible that creation itself serves as a kind of mirror of the mind of God! Yet, I challenge anyone to point to the smallest atom of evidence anywhere in the universe that supports a pseudo-judicial process of "salvation by say-so." Billions have been served this kind of paganized trinket-god conception of Divinity, a shallow and carnival display of so-called grace, a magic-show atonement. But, in all of this churchy theatrics, is human nature being purified? Is society getting better? Where is the evidence? Is the world a friendlier place with all of this "salvation" served up by Big Religion? We might even tolerate a meretricious ecclesiastical pageantry if it were efficacious. But, as Jesus said, where's the "good fruit"? Where is that resultant better world? Is society becoming less violent, less greedy? less manipulative of the weak? more service-oriented? more sacrificing of private agenda? Is the world becoming more like Joshua-ben-Joseph?
No, you say? But why? So many of us billions are now "saved," are we not? We've been washed clean of our sins, The Nice Young Man at Church assures us. We've been sprinkled, wafered, chorused, confirmed, immersed, blessed, sanctified, redeemed, prayed over - what more do we need? God is now finally appeased, they say; his maniacal wrath and bloodlust stayed. A moment ago he could have burned us forever, and for something as trivial as missing a Sunday morning meeting; but now, after a few more magic words, he officially loves me again. Well, how sweet and comforting, kinda gets ya right here. And, in all of this riot of ritualism, this scripted formulary and staged ceremonial practice, do we experience one particle of inward change? - no, not the passing emotionalism of the moment, but of the permanent kind. We know the answer too well.
Further, what kind of Unbalanced Person would God have to be, what kind of Stoical and Heartless Figure would rule by such egoic arbitrament? What kind of travesty of spirituality, and insult to intelligence, is this religious operatic melodrama, this showbiz parody of reality, which I am commanded to believe under penalty of "mortal sin" and the "fires of hell."
And, most importantly, and tragically, what kind of gargantuan disrespect is this to the Real God, by painting him as some sort of capricious, petulant, venal Deviant; someone bribable and led by flattery; a rigid monster as candidate for a police offenders' list which sociopathic conduct, if displayed by anyone on the street - if he tried that stuff on us - we'd be calling 911 for a SWAT team.
And I remember praying in that night of great darkness...
If there is Anyone who can hear me, please, help me to see how things really work in the kingdom of God! Who was Jesus, really? What is the true benefit of his life to me? If he can help me, how does it work? How can I in fact become spiritual? - no, I mean, really, not just outward civil conduct and good manners - I want to know how I can become a truly good person, in a real sense, way down deep, and not just told I'm suddenly "saved" with some cheap, legal fiction delivered by church-council ritual, offered with empty god-talk and magic hand-signs as religious stagecraft and thespian display. Who can tell me how I can get rid of systemic selfishness; the insanity that always wants "more," craves to be "right," and covets the chief-seat; the inner neediness, the sick little whispering that chants "I am not enough"; the Little Me, the Small Ego, incessantly clamoring for attention, perversely wishing to be important in the eyes of others -- a cluster of pathologies inhering to my almost every thought.
Other than this, I could have a nice day.
the long road home
I will tell you frankly, though lamentations such as these had occasionally flitted through my head for many years, I had never actually asked, never directly prayed, and with ardent desire, to be taught in this area. But now, virtually immediately, seemingly by chance - but, no, it couldn't be chance, I thought! - I would discover books and teachers giving me exactly what I wanted and needed to know.
Editor’s note: Regarding “ardent desire,” see the “creativity research article” which affords focused intention as causally efficacious to the discovery process.
Allow me to share with you some of the major points of instruction, gathered over the years now, that became, for me, evidential to this discussion.
bite-sized packets of information
Providing a certain sequence of thought, the following sub-article writings, it is suggested, are best reviewed in the order presented.
please click on each link-icon
The reason behind the reason for what most people believe.
Why only the virtuous find the truth.
The Day Jesus Became God: How a church-council vote, over 300 years after the birth of Christ, changed the course of history.
The current atonement theory, the purported means by which Jesus saves, is only some hundreds of years old. Before this, the church taught something else.
"Jesus died for our sins" - the problem restated.
"Jesus died for our sins" - the essential problem.
Saved by The Blood? What the passion sayings of Jesus reveal.
The 16 pre-Christian slain saviour-gods believed by their followers to have died for the sins of the world.
Is Jesus a copy-cat savior?
Did Jesus say he was God?
Is Jesus a member of a Trinity?
Are miracles proof of divinity?
Do Old Testament prophecies indicate that Jesus is God?
Truly, I say to you, by no means will you get out of prison till you have paid the last penny!
Why Jesus Died On The Cross: the gospel according to Russell Crowe in 3:10 To Yuma!
Elizabeth Fry: "The first thing a person must learn here, if they are to progress, is to lose this idea of self-importance"
Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his Nazi-prison letters: To be a Christian is not to be religious but simply "to be"!
Why I have a cross on my desk.
Bishop John Shelby Spong: Divinity is not the opposite of humanity but an expression of humanity’s fullness.
Dr. Carl Wickland, Thirty Years Among The Dead, speaks to a religious fanatic spirit-girl who, while calling for Jesus, does not know she's dead.
Edward Randall and Emily French: "I was told He would meet me, but I can't find Him - I am lost."
Did Jesus save the world?
Did Jesus rise from the dead?
The apostle Paul: "Here is God's secret plan! It is 'Christ in you'."
Father Robert Benson: "Jesus today is an immense force upon the earth-plane"
A vast host of afterlife persons, untold millions, are working to "save" the world.
Why Jesus isn't coming back.
How Jesus came to his cross: his death was not preordained from the beginning.
The missing historical Jesus
In search of the historical Jesus
Stigmata, holy relics, healings, visions, weeping and bleeding statues, levitations, rain-making, dreams, shrouds, answered prayer, visitations, and more: Proof of Jesus?
Why Jesus and Socrates did not write books, while we proceed to fill libraries: "A teacher should not mean but be."
I grew up Catholic, and I remember wondering - why is the Church not so fond of Jesus?
Aristotle's perfected friendship and the purpose of life
Eric Hoffer: Mass-movement psychology, the spoiled self, and the frenetic search for substitutes
After a dramatic healing, Jesus was accused of using Satan's power. His stern answer is famously referred to as the "unpardonable sin" teaching. But if Jesus saves from sin, why did he say there is a sin that cannot be forgiven? - in this world or the next.
Turning Jesus into a god dishonors him and us
Turning us into machines to be fixed, denying our capacity to choose our own course, minimizes the dignity of what it means to be human
This world is irredeemable. It cannot be saved, wasn't meant to be saved - only transcended. You can't save a butterfly from its chrysalis.
As a boy, I’d hear pastors speak of the “gospel,” the “good news.” However, a clear perception of what this could mean always escaped me. No one could really tell me exactly what this “good news” was all about and why I should be so happy.
The Great Psychologists Speak: Dr. Viktor Frankl informs us that any program attempting to expunge human guilt must treat people as free human beings - able to make decisions, with the concomitant personal responsibility to rise above, to forge a new life, with new and better choices. We must assume responsibility for our own lives, overcome our own guilt and waywardness.
The Great Psychologists Speak: In Freud's "transference" we see the needy inner-child of a grown person, distorting the world to relieve helplessness and fears, seeing things as he wishes them to be for his own safety.
What would it be like to live without repression? - to stand naked, defenseless, before Life in the open sunny air.
If Jesus lived and taught among us today...
If Jesus lived and taught among us today, he would be branded as a rabid revolutionary, a threat to “good people” and stable society. He would be imprisoned, vilified, a target of fake-news; respectable leaders would line up to offer their outrage and speak against him; and if the paid-for mob got to him first, he would be bludgeoned to death in the streets.
But the greatest outcry of denunciation would come from elites within the Church. They would call him demon possessed, a castaway of God, a tool of Satan, as his teachings would contradict their “infallible doctrines.”
Many, however, would flock to Jesus’ humanitarian ways, his wisdom and keen insight into mysteries, and his dramatic manifestations of spirit-power. This burgeoning popularity, from certain quarters, would infuriate the Church hierarchy all the more, as their monopoly on “godtalk” would be severely challenged.
In secret council, those concerned with losing power, position, and a flow of tithe-monies, would plot how to discredit and marginalize this upstart from nowhere, this arrogant self-appointed teacher, who hadn’t even attended seminary or bible college; and if they could figure out how to get away with it, they would kill him – in God’s service, of course, considering the menace to the unwitting and vulnerable “sheep.”
All this, a replay, as it happened 2000 years ago.
Anyone – you don’t have to be a Jesus – who speaks the truth will be condemned by "party faithful" and materialistic powers-that-be of this world. Anyone who teaches that access to highest wisdom is within you, that God will teach each one of us directly, obviating the need for infallible gurus, will be marked for persecution. Anyone, in childlike openness and humility, without fear and guilt, who follows the truth wherever it may lead, will automatically come to loggerheads with those who insist that privileged ecclesiastical position becomes license to espouse rigid doctrinaire creedalism as final answer.
We – those willing to accept – are all summoned to live a “Christ life” of demonstrating, in the face of adversity, "the truth" by our words and deeds. It wasn’t just for our brother Jesus, and a spectator sport for the rest of us.
See Bill Maher's interview with Latin scholar and senior priest, Father Reginald Foster, at the Vatican.
Maher: Does all of this opulence "look like anything, like anything, Jesus Christ had in mind? When you look at a giant palace like that, does it seem at odds with the message of the Founder?”
Foster: “Well, certainly. That’s obvious.”