Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A Few Preliminary Words About Christianity

Since Christianity continues to have such a profound effect on our social and political process, I want to share my perspectives on this fascinating religion. It will take a lot of blog posts to cover this subject, that’s for sure.

I have a unique perspective on Christianity, especially for a liberal. I was raised a Southern Baptist. We went to church and Sunday School almost every Sunday. In fact, I earned my little Sunday School perfect attendance pin, which I proudly wore on the lapel of my suit, where politicians now wear their flag pins. The super hardcore Baptists also went to the evening service on Sunday, as well as the Wednesday evening prayer meeting. We didn’t do that, fortunately. Being a science nerd, I started to view Christianity with a skeptical eye during high school, and attended my last service my first week of college. I turned my back on them and never returned. Starting in the late 60s and continuing through the 70s and the first half of the 80s, I considered myself an Earth Pagan with an interest in spirituality and shamanism.

In 1985 I fully participated with the fundamentalist, “Full Gospel” Christians for a couple of months. Full Gospel Christians believe in healing, speaking in tongues, and other “gifts of the spirit,” such as prophecy, that mainstream Christians tend to ignore. Hence the name “Full” Gospel – the full, unedited version. During this time I ended up being baptized in an irrigation ditch. I was also “baptized in the Holy Spirit” as they call it, which includes the gift of speaking in tongues (which I haven’t done since 1985). (I left them after two months because not only couldn’t I buy their ideology, their worldview rendered my creative spirit (my Muse) irrelevant. I would rather pull a Prometheus routine, and be chained to a rock and have my liver eaten out every day for all eternity, than submit to Zeus. I’m sorry, but I simply cannot compromise my Muse.)

Liberals almost always ridicule this stuff; it’s easy to ridicule what you don’t understand. But having been there done that, I can assure you that (at least for me) it was real, and incomprehensible at any level of intellect. It’s a form of shamanism, obviously.

One flaw of modern science (as a culture, not as a technique) is their limited worldview. Scientists like to perform experiments that are repeatable, and tend to ignore anything that doesn’t fit into their little box. But real life (here and now) is not repeatable; each moment is unique. All you can do is be an honest witness while it’s happening, and later, if possible, draw whatever conclusions you can. In my life I’ve accumulated a file folder full of incomprehensible experiences, which just sit there and grin inexplicably at me.

There is a plethora of anecdotal evidence about shamanism, healing, miracles, “answered prayer,” etc... too much evidence to be ignored. One thing they all have in common: they are low-probability events, and they aren’t repeatable. In other words, life proceeds as “normal” most of the time, and occasionally – wham! – a miracle can happen. (The space/time manifold is more fluid than is commonly supposed.) Miracles are, by definition, low-probability events. If they weren’t, we would take them for granted, like we do everyday miracles like photosynthesis and the beating of our own hearts.

For the purposes of this discussion I’ll assume that Jesus really existed, and that the Bible is at least reasonably accurate about his life. One thing I noticed back in 1985 when I started reading the Bible again after a lapse of 20 years, was that I was reading it with the eyes of an adult, an adult who had already read of lot of spiritual literature, and had already accumulated a number of incomprehensible experiences during my hippie-pagan days. Not only was I able to separate the wheat from the chaff (or so it seemed to me)(unfortunately, the Bible contains a lot of chaff), but the mystical meaning of Christianity fairly leapt off the page at me.

I have no philosophical objection to Jesus’ miracles – the healings, walking on water, turning water into wine, etc. – but as a scientist I’d have to see it to actually believe it. But I witnessed and experienced enough Christian shamanism during my brief Full Gospel sojourn to be very open-minded about this kind of stuff.

What I do have a problem with is his followers forming a cult around Jesus after he had died and was no longer able to ride herd over his motley crew of disciples. This is a cult that definitely got out of hand! The disciples formed a status hierarchy, as males always do, with the ones who had been closest to Jesus being at the top. It evidently enhanced their own power to make Jesus out to be the Son of God (which is to say, different from you and me). And from this error has come a whole world of hurt.

Because in truth, we are all Sons and Daughters of God. In fact our consciousness, which is to say, Consciousness Itself, IS God, for crying out loud! Jesus came right out and told his disciples, “everything I have done, you will do... and more.” So he wasn’t laying out any kind of uniqueness trip.

It would be more accurate to call Jesus “An Awakened One”. “Son of God” implies that God exists “out there” somewhere, and that God magically impregnated Mary, who gave birth in a stable, etc. etc. The whole thing is just too much “Son of Frankenstein” for my taste. Christians have always taken the Bible way too literally, as historical truth, when in actuality Reality is beyond words and thoughts. A lot of the Bible is metaphorical. Like the Zen analogy, all you can do is point at the moon... and people get hung up on the person doing the pointing. “Look he’s pointing with one finger!” “My guru points with two fingers!” “My guru’s right!” “No, mine is!” And so it goes, when the Truth is right here at the center of our existence at along.

Like the Hindu gurus you read about, Jesus was able to bestow enlightenment (or at least a measure of healing power) onto his disciples, who walked the countryside performing miracles of their own. Now, I realize that modern-day Awakened Ones tend to dismiss miracles as trivial diversions from the true task of Awakening, but hey, I’m a primitive, you know? Show me a miracle! Even a little one! Jolt me from my complacency!

The earliest Christians lived communally, sharing their possessions, and sincerely tried to live a holy life. You’ve got to give them a lot of credit. Paul, who never met Jesus, was blinded on the road to Damascus and was never the same thereafter. For one, he could perform miracles. Like he told the Corinthians when he got exasperated at them, “The many miracles and wonders that prove that I am an apostle were performed among you with much patience.” (2 Cor. 12:12)

I have always wanted to write a long essay about Christianity, quoting Scripture and the whole nine yards. But it’s low on my priority list. If I ever write it, I’ll post it here. In the meantime I’ll no doubt have more to say about Christianity as time goes on. There are many false prophets out there who call themselves “Christian” because there’s always a reservoir of would-be followers waiting to be fleeced.

This is a shame because Christianity started out as pure mysticism, and got subverted into “the only Son of God” routine and “the only true religion” routine. There is so much chaff mixed with the wheat. In rejecting the mega-churches with their insufferably Republican pastors, it’s easy to throw the baby out with the bathwater. There are so many mystical gems in the New Testament, such as “To enter the Kingdom of Heaven you must become as a little child.” Such statements abound. I hope to someday spend a little time with my Bible and gather up the nuggets, and write a post about them.


Blogger Jacques said...

Wow.... excellent stuff Gordon!

I guess it's still worthwhile to engage and support consciousness, awareness and a bit of reason. I, as you know, don't have much "faith" that it'll make any difference at all to the conductors of the runaway train to destruction that we call humanity.

Yes... more cheer..... but hey, as you pointed out today, miracles do genuinely happen..... it seems that only something on the order of a true mega-miracle can save us.. I'm all for it..... I'd love to experience it.

Please keep peering with the eye of reason, into the pool of awareness, consciousness and conscience....



10:37 AM  

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