Sunday, January 29, 2006

Christian Faith

In reply to a post a wrote a little while back on early Christian history, Goldeneye wrote the following:

I have read critical accounts that put to question things like the virgin birth of Christ, his crucifixion and resurrection. I have also read accounts that purport to confirm these essentials of the Christian faith as historically accurate (see What it comes down to is whether you can say this with conviction: "I confess with my mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in my heart he was raised from the dead." This is what the Bible says is the criteria for salvation. I ask you, BY, do you believe this?It is simply this matter of faith. And when you accept this, you will also accept Christ's principal teachings in the New Testament

To answer Goldeneye directly, no, I do not believe this. But Goldeneye should be aware that I do not believe that the Bible accurately understands or portrays what Jesus' actual teachings probably were. I don't believe that Jesus' primary teaching was that people should believe in him or accept that he rose from the dead. I think that was an imposition on his true teachings developed by people who had not actually been around him when he taught. That is primarily Paul's teaching, not Jesus' own teaching. It is based on Paul's own mystical experiences, not on Jesus' direct instruction. Paul had a vision of Jesus that he claims clarified Jesus' true teachings in ways that the message being given byhis actual followers did not. Paul was at odds with the teachings being promoted by Jesus' brother James, who of course knew Jesus intimately and knew what Jesus thought. Paul's teaching gained greater popularity by appealing to non-Jews and spreading through the gentile world, far away from Israel, and anyone who actually knew what Jesus had actually taught. So what the Christian Bible contains is essentially Paul's teachings superimposed on Jesus.

And what is Paul's teaching about Jesus? It is essentially a form of pagan sacrificial drama, as I described in my earlier post. It's about identifying/believing in the crucified Christ and his ressurrection, and proclaiming the "good news" of this dramatic event. Why would Paul be so drawn to this interpretation of Jesus' teachings? Paul was a violent man, a persecutor of Christians who had killed many of them. He was ridden with guilt and revenge, and his "conversion" was a solution to his own violent nature. However, his solution contains the very violence that he struggled with throughout his life. He incorporated that violent struggle into the very fabric of Christianity, turning the teachings of Jesus into a dramatic purgation of his own violent internal urges. He created Jesus as a God in his own image, as a means to bring peace to his own violent nature. Yet in doing so, he made Christianity itself into a dramatic "therapy" for his own troubled soul, which it was not orginally meant to be. Yet because Paul was such a powerful personality, and so used to imposing his will on others, he imposed his own experience and his own interpretation onto the whole of Christianity, to the point where it has simply been assumed by Christians that this is what Jesus taught.

I simply don't think so. I think Paul's version of Christianity is a deluded mess, just as he was. It really doesn't take scholarship to point this out. Simply look at Christians proclaiming this message, and one can see how deluded it is. Could Jesus really have taught something so delusional? If so, then why take him seriously? If not, then find out what the true teachings really are. I'd suggest you're not going to understand the kind of process Jesus in all probability actually taught by studying the Bible carefully, or accepting it on faith. Nor will one find it by doing biblical scholarship. The best thing to do is study the great non-dual traditions of spirituality, east and west, to get a sense for what the true threads of Christian spirituality actually are. There's a tremendous amount of literature, Christian and non-Christian, which can help you out. But you are not going to find it at propagandistic websites such as the one you referred me to.

One source I'd recommend is A Course In Miracles. I've recommended this to you before, but I don't think you've tried reading it. It seems to me to contain the best expression of what Jesus' teachings probably were really all about. True, it's a rather "new age" book that really has no roots in the historical Christian tradition, and it's source is unsubstantiated, and not even possible to substantiate objectively, yet I'd highly recommend it to anyone of a Christian bent of mind who is looking for an alternative, non-dual view of the teachings of Jesus. You would get a better sense of what Jesus probably taught through this book than anything else you might ever read. But if you are happy with your present Christian teachings, I don't want to unnecessarily upset that applecart.

As for the criteria for salvation, no, I don't believe that accepting Jesus and his ressurrection brings about salvation. Salvation means rejecting the illusions of sin and damnation. Salvation means rejecting the need for salvation. One who is always in need of salvation is one who is bound by damnation. So one cannot be saved unless one rejects the need for salvation. One must reject the very notion of damnation, and all the illusions built upon that. Jesus' teaching is not only about forgiveness from sin, but about the rejection of the very notion that sin occurred. Paul's teaching is that Jesus' death and ressurrection were necessary to deliver us from our original sin. Jesus' teaching is that no such sacrificde is necessary, because we are all sons of God, and have never been damned or sinned at all. We have never been separate from God, but only imagine ourselves to be. Jesus' teaching penetrates that illusion, and restores us to God not by some sacrificial ritual, but by the revelation of our own nature as sons of God. None of that involves belief, but insight and true faith not only in Jesus, but in ourselves.

But Christian faith as it is commonly taught cannot achieve this salvation, because it is always looking for that moment of release from sin, and it looks for it through some dramatic moment of cathartic purgation. But no such drama can take away what was never there in the first place. Illusions don't need to die, they simply fall away. Jesus did not need to die for our illusions to fall away, he simply needed to point to the present truth, in which we are free of sin by our own nature, and not by any magical act of cosmic sacrifice. Faith means faith in the purity and love of the present moment, not in some magical act of the past, or some promised second coming of the future. Nothing needs to happen for this to be so, neither your belief or Jesus' blessing. The blessings of God are already given, and you are already restored to God when you receive them. If Christianity approached Jesus in this manner, there would be no need for a second coming. Why come again when he never left?


Goldeneye said...

Well this certainly is interesting. I wonder how so many (the entire Christian world) got it wrong. Remember Yogananda? He taught that Paul and others knew scientific techniques of meditation, very similar to his own Kriya yoga. Then there's Adi Da? He said Paul was deluded. I wonder which God-realized master was right. Or were they both wrong?

The bottom line is I won't accept anyone's explanation. I will carry my faith in Jesus. And my views will more align with traditional Christianity. But that doesn't mean the other theories aren't true.

Anonymous said...

Paul appears to be an actual historical person, and some of the New Testament books attributed to him are accepted as having been written by Paul according to most scholars. I think it's reasonable to conclude that at least the essence of who Paul was, and what he said and believed, has been preserved in the the NT letters he authored. Therefore, people in our time can discuss Paul's life and teachings without
having to base the conversation solely on myths and fictionalized accounts that grew out of earlier oral histories.

In that regard, I agree with most of what you have to say about Paul and share your negative opinions about the life-negative, pagan teachings he espoused.

As you say, by reading Paul we can't learn much about Jesus at all. Rather, we only come to know
the mystical Christ-figure that Paul worshipped, an image distorted no doubt by the psyche of a neurotic and deeply disturbed religious fanatic. We do learn much, however, about the factionalism, internal politics, and doctrinal disputes of the nascent Jesus movement, as well as its relationship to the Romans and the Jews.

However, even when we set aside Paul and use other sources to try and figure out who and what Jesus "really" was, we are still treading on thin ice. It's a huge stretch to say much of anything at all about Jesus' life or what he might have taught about spirituality. There is so little material to work with, and the material that we do have was written long after his death by people who each had their own agendas and doctrinal axes to grind. On top of that, the cultic
apologist authors of the gospels (including the non-canonical ones) were not only biased, but they lived in a time where hagiographic descriptions of revered religious and political figures were not at all expected to cling closely to the truth in the way a modern biography would.

I think you and I are probably mostly in synch on the ground I've covered so far. However, where I begin to lose a little sympathy for what you've written is when you begin to explain what you think Jesus "probably" said or taught. Here, just like nearly everyone who's written on the "Historical Jesus," you create a Jesus that's little more than a reflection of your own preferences. In your own case, he's a "non-dualist" Jesus. It's not that I don't like
your Jesus, who I have more affinity for than the Jesus the Evangelicals are selling, but he's
purely speculative and you've not derived him from any historical sources. In that sense, you go
perhaps further afield than most of the many theologians and thinkers before you who've also
played the "Jesus as Rorsatch test" game.

I don't think this is an issue of any real importance for you personally, since you have
concluded (quite rightly I believe) that the Biblical tradition doesn't have much to offer in the way of reliable or consistent guidance for spiritual aspirants. There are better sources elsewhere that you are looking at.

Nonetheless, it might be more straightforward for you to just attribute the non-dualist ideas you currently resonate with to yourself or to their actual sources, rather than to try and tie them to Jesus.

JB said...

Anonymous beat me to it, but I was going to say exactly the same thing about your assumptions that Jesus was an Eastern-style non-dualist. I think that, as with evolution, one has to go with what empirical evidence says. And if one's goals are what they are, irrespective of what evidence suggests Jesus's actual teachings may have been, then it makes sense simply to examine those goals on their own merits, and pursue them if they make sense to you. One is on thin ice indeed when one suggests that X historical teacher really taught Y thing based on one's own "revealed" knowledge. One could argue that since everybody's been doing it since Paul, why not put a meme out there that you like? But I'd rather go with the meta-meme of "tolerance" and just say that we all have the right to practice as we choose without having to justify our practices by associating them with venerable teachings.