The Mistake Button Or . . .

“Religion, I have come to believe, is designed to be placed on others; relationship is designed to be placed on ourselves. When your religion makes others look like the circus midget cleaning out the monkey cages, but you look like Aundrea the Lion Tamer, then it is nothing more than a shallow understanding of the deeper ways of God. You are truly looking into a mirror darkly, seeing only what you want to see and never questioning the notion that you may be wrong. I wanted to be able to look into the mirror and see me, my face and the face of God looking back at me and through me. I wanted God to be happy at what he saw. I now know God is happy with what he sees in me, and I believe that every second of every day.”
Van Roberts, Rescue Me: Confessions of an Ex-evangelical

“To learn what we fear is to learn who we are. Horror defines our boundaries and illuminates our souls. . . Horror is made of such base material – so easily rejected or dismissed – that it may be hard to accept my postulate that within the genre lies one of the last refuges of spirituality in this, our materialistic world.

I have always been partial to the symbolists and Pre-Raphaelite artists, because they go against the avant-garde. To them, the past was a source of awe and mystery. But unlike the Pre-Raphaelites, the symbolists also cast their gaze inward to find the root of the stain on the human soul: lust, violence, corruption. They connect our human impulses – good and bad – with the mystical, mythical, and supernatural elements that represent them in art (for example, satyrs, skulls, centaurs, demons) and in that they are, in my opinion, truly modern and timeless.”
Guillermo del Toro, Cabinet of Curiosities, from essays Mainstays of Horror and Musings on Symbolist Art

 

In this cartoon implied nuclear war starts because the guy on Mars can’t see Venus because earth is in the way. Talk about the war between the sexes getting out of hand. In many popular cartoons some character hits the wrong button and its all over. Those buttons are everywhere just now: here, for example, and here. There really is no such button. These images are all lies, or more graciously, symbols. Now that we are living cartoon lives, pretending our consumerism can keep eating the earth for our immediate pleasure without dire consequences, this seems an appropriate introduction to this week’s essay.

There is, of course, a more serious set of ‘oops hit the wrong button’ fears that have haunted the dreams and intuitions of most people for quite some time now. I found David Bowie’s work again managed to capture the mood for me. Drifting into nuclear Armageddon on the back of a set of accidents and misunderstandings is exactly what has been most feared by people of goodwill for a very long time now. It is a very reasonable position to take after the revelations of the details of the Cuban Missile Crisis taught the world just how close we had come to starting a nuclear World War III. Documentation of the many, many close calls that those who deal with nuclear weapons systems have had, though mostly still highly classified and unavailable to the targeted citizens, is sufficient for those who can stomach reading about them to bring any number of sleepless nights. I would be remiss if I failed to mention the classic screen treatment of the subject Dr. Strangelove (from a time when we were brave enough to have anything on the screen talking about these satanic weapons at all). The dark comedy uses the spirit of simple-minded patriotism, racism’s fear of corrupting white folk’s purity of essence, and Nazi-like awe at the sadism inherit in such powerful weapons, to sketch a nightmare scenario in which there is a set of misunderstandings and accidents that start a nuclear Armageddon with the “Ruskies.” It is a film from the time of the maverick directors and leaves little doubt in the viewer that we could well be in a meaningless universe.

There have been a few times over the past three plus years of writing these essays that I have asked my readers to set aside some serious contemplative time to try and extend compassion to people traumatized by news events. This is another of those requests. This time the people we need to hold in our hearts are the citizens of Hawaii that, for a time, were sure the nuclear weapons were on their way.

It is a curious thing to see, this “accidental” experiment in sociological terror. One of my college professors had been involved in psychological operations during the Korean War. He taught me an abiding respect for psy-ops, the aimed manipulation of hearts and minds of a target population. These operations generally aim to instill a type of hyper-patriotism in their targets and will use disinformation campaigns to achieve it. During the Korean War saving the world from godless communism was considered an end worthy of a few lies, ambiguities, and downright deceptions. Today when we see an “accident” like the Hawaii event (and now Japan as well, the only country to suffer the nuclear flames) it would be wonderful to trust the official story. Yet we can be sure that only the most naive will accept it without some degree of doubt. People educated in political history will necessarily be wondering if just maybe something more was going on. Something more sinister. For example, if our government were planning on using such weapons soon, it might well need to examine their threat effect on a subject population. Even better if you could gather data on reactions from both those who have and have not suffered from them in the past. I certainly have no idea if this is the case but want to explore a few things.

The day before Hawaiians “jangled nerves” it was reported that Syria used chemical weapons again. Considering Syria has nothing to gain and everything to lose by doing so, it seems quite a coincidence of timing. When the news broke that this nuclear warning was a mistake the exact words used were ‘the wrong button’ had been ‘accidentally’ pushed. We already mentioned the role in our collective psychology that the ‘wrong button’ plays. It might take 20 minutes for missiles launched from North Korea to land on Hawaii as a target. It is interesting that the correction of the mistake took almost exactly that long. That is a long time to have the population of a whole state left stewing in their fears of imminent holocaust. One would think an immediate correction might have occurred to the folks responsible. As a software engineer I find it very hard to believe such correction capability was not built into the system, I’ve seen government technical requirements for software systems. But all of this could really just be coincidences. We are faced with one of those things where the best we can do using our reason is weigh the probabilities for ourselves and remain as comfortable with a serious degree of unknowing as we can. Maybe there is a 5% chance it was actually a planned psy-ops? 20%, 50-50%? Who knows?

It is equally interesting to consider that it was just another dark day filled with unlucky, unplanned goofs. Does that make you feel any better? If that is the fact then the event is even more dismally close to the meaninglessness Stanley Kubrick wove Dr. Strangelove around. In fact, that it really was just a goof is such a dismal possibility that it might be more comforting to weave conspiracy theories around the event, like a planned psy-op as I have alluded to.

There is a third possibility, though not one modern people are likely to consider at all. It is the way most of our ancestors might have thought about what was happening when something like this occurs. They might have evoked the idea that there were demonic forces involved. It could all be accidental for all we can tell, yet unseen the faithful might have discerned the finger of evil entities that are bent on destroying human beings. Or, as Freud once remarked, “there are no accidents.” What a heyday for the demonic, to see so many people traumatized. What a nice way to seed the chances of a real breakthrough with the real weapons someday soon. These funny thoughts occurred to me as I remembered something Joanna Macy, long time Buddhist teacher and anti-nuclear activist, said the last time I saw her. She said that it seemed to her that there must be good spiritual beings watching over our weapons systems to have had as many close calls as we have and not to have had the searing fire unleashed – yet. An image of those compassionate one’s karma bending capacities being worn thin came to my mind. Perhaps electing the poster boy for the seven deadly sins may just have my nerves jangled. Perhaps, dear reader, you can spare a thought to also Anchor Me?

I have not talked much about who I am or why I believe myself qualified at all to talk about this path of Mindful Ecology. I have wanted the value of what I am saying to stand or fall on its own merits. My intention has been to share my experience of truth around the child abuse – spiritual abuse – earth abuse spectrum that confronts us on every side in our times. Not everyone who needs psychological and spiritual healing can afford therapy, so I have given it all freely. I pray, honestly and humbly, that it has been of some benefit to others. I only have a few more things to share before wrapping up this project. The path of Mindful Ecology was never meant to be an end in itself. It is a path. Work the work by staying with the pain your ecological awareness causes you in your life and, I believe from my experience, that it will lead you to where you need to go. In my case this was back to my faith in stories with good endings, my Buddhist-Catholicism-Orthodoxy embrace of brothers and sisters of goodwill from both East and West. Your mileage may differ in its forms but my heart tells me we will share what is essential. I bring this up now because events are quickly moving beyond my pay grade. I mean spiritually. I am a spiritual pygmy among some spiritual giants. If things continue to proceed as I expect them to, it would be good for my readers to find some trustworthy shepherds, people who know something about the role suffering really plays in life and why even the non-theistic Buddhists have hells in their teachings.

Homo Colossus is crashing. What Mindful Ecology insists on is that this is mostly an inner phenomenon involving the modern psyche. That is what remains for us to discuss, this idea that there is a world-soul in which the good and evil we each commit has nowhere to hide because it is all around us everyday. It is in the birdsong, in the pure mountain stream, in the laughter of happy good times – and in the screams of those we torture.

Watch over your soul, or as we say it today, your psyche. The contemplative traditions understand something which I believe we ignore in our headlong rush into next quarter’s profits at our own peril. Just remember using “god” is not a good plan. We do not like to be used by one another, expect the same. Those temptations of the Christ are like soul mirrors showing us ourselves. We want to use “god” to get on Santa’s good list. We want to use “god” to give us what we lack in our vulnerable egos and bodies. It is just the normal way of being homo sapiens. We are tempted to use “god” to gain political power, or as a path to wealth, or, perhaps most insidiously, as a means of becoming workers of miracles filled with magical powers. All these things deeply misunderstand the nature of our nature as creatures. Come to “god” with a contrite heart and indeed miraculous healing can be yours. History testifies that this is true. The difficulty is that in coming to that light, you will necessarily also encounter in your heart your own hidden agendas. Turn the stones to bread, have the nations fall at your feet, or throw yourself off the heights and be sure angels will catch you; one or all of these will be hiding there, corrupting your search for true spirituality. That too is normal. The good news is that these things are not capable of diverting us from the truth if we are willing to discipline our unruly hearts in the school of love, charity, and compassion. That which is in us seeking our fulfillment is greater than that which seeks our destruction. Lead with your heart.

The joy we celebrate together and the tears we shed together, these are sacred. The persons and personalities we encounter are not to be used and abused.

Speaking of, in an earlier post I played with a crude mathematical model to try and shake us from our complacency. It looked at how many pounds of burnt human flesh each citizen in the United States might be karmically responsible for if this country were to again use our nuclear weapons. With this week’s event there is another opportunity to reach into some meaningful work of compassion. We need to imagine that we were one of the citizens that received the message that the bombs were coming. We need to place ourselves in their shoes, try and feel what they felt, think what they thought, smell, taste, touch, hear, and see what they did.

For roughly half an hour some people on our earth were sure nuclear holocaust was going to be the end fate of their lives and, for many, the lives of those they loved. What would you have done that Saturday morning? Would you have run to find your children or parents or beloved partner? Would you have entered the schools and workplaces where they were, and done so at any cost, to be with them? Would you have dropped to your knees? Cut your throat? Would you have dared to look at the Man in the Mirror? Breathe with them in their moments of terror. How many people, people just like you and I and our friends, have now been traumatized and will carry those scars of trauma until the day they die? Does this exercise strike you as silly, pointless, or stupid? Or does it strike you as too hard, without worth, meaningless? Do you understand a crime has been committed? A crime against humanity, our basic, shared human decency which should have the right to live without the constant and continual fear of nuclear war being unleashed by irresponsible leaders with profound psychological problems?

What questions come up in your own heart? This is not a time for filling ourselves with our certainties, our stories that make everything alright and let us get on with our hyper-consumerism unbothered. This is a time to sit with the darkness. Let’s do it before the mass graves are dug this time. The unknowing that brings fear and doubt and sorrow is the guide to trust. When a monkey looks in the mirror, no god looks back out.

Magical Christianity, an Oxymoron

“In the wider Middle East, it undermines and weakens America’s partners, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, and others who have worked with the U.S. on issues relating to Iran, but also were hopeful that there would be a peace plan they could be part of. It weakens and undermines them.
The ones perhaps who are happiest, other than the Israeli government itself, which certainly is very happy, are Iran and its allies and Russia’s President Putin. We saw President Putin immediately take a victory lap, visiting Syria, Egypt, and Turkey all in one day, denouncing the Jerusalem decision, while also declaring victory in Syria and other places.”
The Long Term Global Consequences of Trump’s Jerusalem Move, PBS News

 

The failure of Homo Colossus as laid out in Limits to Growth is evident on every hand.

So what gives? Why is this blog, ostensibly interested in ecology and meditation, spending so much time on Christian teachings, to the point of quoting chapter and verse last week? It is because my studied opinion is that the fault line for the collapse of the Western Consensus runs through the Church. The 1970s saw more than just the publication of Limits to Growth, it also saw the publication of The Late Great Planet Earth and with that, the whole view of magical Christianity began to increase its influence on the culture of the United States.

Mindful Ecology leads each of us where it will. I believe ecology is, if I may put it this way, the current message of the Holy Spirit. That is, it is the communication to the human psyche, both individually and collectively, about what is the most urgent “revelation” for our day. The ecological crisis is a communication coming directly from the earth itself, what theology named the creation. It is a revelation of its creator-ways, or what we today call its molecular laws. There is a place for god-talk if it reminds us that what we are talking about, the earth ecological systems, are so much larger than we puny humans. There is a place for god-talk if it engenders respect.

The relocation of the United States embassy in Israel is an important move for the true believers. I worry that because the Christian message was abused by so many for so long, today many people who call themselves Christian wouldn’t know the actual, historic, mystical Christianity if it jumped up and bit them on the nose. The publishing industry phenomenon The Left Behind series is a good example of the popularity of the doomsday message, the Christian message gone haywire. “They can’t get enough of that doomsday stuff, they can’t get enough of it all,” sang Bowie in the The Next Day. Magical Christianity seeks a real world Armageddon in the Middle East, unable to differentiate wisdom teachings in symbols from rational discourse. The current earthquake changes around the geopolitical balance in the Middle East, the source of the neo-liberal system’s key oil supplies, are not happening in a vacuum. Geology is having a say as the largest oil field in on the planet, Ghawar in Saudi Arabia, quietly peaks behind the headlines. This is the truth that must not be spoken. Peak Oil was banished from our public discourse at just the time when the use of reason requires addressing it. We have been whistling past the graveyard since the 1970s made clear our position, and now the chickens are coming home to roost. It is not as if we never heard from Presidents Carter, Reagan, Bush I, Bush II, Clinton, and Obama or the report from our own armed forces insisting the United States has a serious oil dependency problem. But culturally we made different choices, and now there are consequences.

We are being offered religious packaging over the fundamental ecological problem. On this score, if I am reading the tea leaves right, the manipulation of public relations have only just begun. I think the Tillerson – Pence – Trump team have plans for the Middle East. When those plans are in full swing I expect they will be delivered to the public in a package of fundamentalist Christian faith. The ‘Crusades’ are already justified and meaningful for many folks within such traditional spiritual interpretations of the daily headlines.

In every religion throughout the long ages of the human story there has always been a tension between those who seek the mystical truth of spiritual things, and those who seek the magical power of spooky things. The mystic and the fundamentalist have never seen eye to eye, and from the looks of things, never will. As one of the mystical camp, a person who strongly believes in the value of contemplation and silent meditation, I offer a warning to those singing Onward Christian Soldiers. Things may not work out the way you expect them to, wrapped up in your flag and cross of self-righteousness.

If you were born with Christianity in your mother’s milk, you need to understand what that mythological constellation of symbols is really all about because it does concern you, whether you want it to or not. As it is said, Jesus would have come to earth to save you, and you alone. Christian mythology is the teaching of how the human conscience has an element of the shared collective or social world in it. In our most intimate inner sanctum we find the touch of other hands. Here we find the interests of other sentient beings equal to ours and thereby laying upon us an obligation. The obligation is to respect the life given even to “the least of these.”

What this means is that unscrupulous people can use this feature of the Christian mythology to manipulate others. The encounter with conscience holds a surprise for all people that were raised around the Christian stories. They are talking about, as pointed out last week, your body, your mind etc. Our culture has a practical understanding about this aspect of its symbol-rich inheritance and deals with it fairly well in Christian camps for adolescents and such. The problem comes when the wondrous vulnerability of love, so clearly on display in the Gospel story, is rejected. Then people have no alternatives but to go fishing around for things creature-reason cannot deliver. In the murky waters of a hunt for god-like power, the temptation is ever present to use the most powerful concept of all, namely god. But it is not right to use people, and god, so the Christian story teaches, includes personhood from all eternity. This means god is the ultimate person not to be used. It provokes righteous anger, as it must if any sort of justice and fairness is to exist.

What is revealed in this mythology is the very heart of the “one true god,” the inescapable ground of our being which is “closer to us than we are to ourselves.” The loving kindness human beings share with one another is real, because we really are free to choose otherwise. It is in that freedom that our love is made real. How could it be otherwise? Puppets cannot love one another. Love shows how that which created us, respects us as persons. It is astonishingly good news that love comes directly from the “maker of heaven and earth.” This is what is witnessed by the true man taken up into the true god. The man who is real and honest with himself, particularly his own experiences of emotion that so deeply move us in both our flesh and psyche equally, is the true man, the authentic human being. These wellsprings of consciousness that move us so powerfully and so deeply, they are the witness to us of the mystery of reality. The reality is that the grandeur of the cosmos with its endless galaxies, the starry nurseries, and the explosive creation of black-holes, all of it is also our nursery and the grandeur resides in our chests.

Everyone on this path of ecological awakening arrives at the silence in which conscience speaks. Here the stars, those ancient watchers who record everything that really happens, are not mute. Mystics, like scientists, have long understood that, after a fashion, the stars are on the inside.

Suffer the little child to come to the Christ. This is the innocent one within you that still lives inside the memory of your nervous system. It is the spark of personhood before and after the terrifying abuse children suffer at the hands of those few evil adults that seek them out. The inner child, flesh of your flesh and bone of your bone, is silent when at peace. They are at peace when the adult they have become understands and respects who they are and the truth of what they have experienced. An adult that accepts their creature status finds in Jesus their protector, the one who will plead your case before those who would falsely accuse you. It is he that would, as we say, go to the carpet for you, or in this case, the cross. The old Christmas hymn O Holy Night states that with Jesus “the soul felt its worth.” Finding yourself as the latest generation in a history of countless ancestors, finding yourself as one individual in a world full of people, and finding yourself a victim of evil abuse, this is all a bit overwhelming. Allowing the little child to come to the Christ is, symbolically, how you come to know that your life matters. Jesus would have come to earth to share the teaching of the kingdom and the loving father with you if you were the only human being ever to exist throughout all the ages, to compassionately suffer your pain with you so you would not be alone if yours was the only human pain this universe would ever know, and would come to carry your bruised and broken heart when love dies in the dark night even if your heart were the only one to ever be broken. There is an encounter here with a very real psychological, biological, and social truth about the human condition. Call it what you will, this encounter with the higher should result in a healthy adult pride, one capable of sustaining a person through the trials and challenges of seeing their dreams come true through hard work and a good dose of faith, hope, and love.

Basically real faith is able to quite the mind when it becomes too anxious, and it is able to quite the body when it becomes too fearful. The witness of martyrs self-control is the classical example of faith and it is exactly this. A deep enough belief in a good god becomes a pervasive enough conviction, that persons can withstand assaults far beyond what the ego as a lone individual could endure. We see the same thing in the self-emulation of the Tibetan Buddhist monks in a non-theist framework. Those who mess around with this Christian symbolism in their unscrupulous fundamentalism are messing around with this biological control system in people. Hence so many abused by religion end up with substance abuse issues. They need additional help to maintain the faith.

The mystical teaching is that the human race is one body after a fashion, that we share in the experiences of being one flesh. Any injury or insult to human dignity is a direct assault on us all. The teachings ask only how we treat the poor, in the end there is nothing else. The poor and outcasts we discarded in our selfishness hold the hidden gold we desperately need to find as a species. In our hearts of hearts we judge ourselves by how we treat “the least of these,” not how well we treat the most wealthy and powerful. Now, with the crashing of Homo Colossus, the rich are being made poor. It is both an opportunity and a danger. Whether the lack of loving kindness that touches you with the cold finger of poverty is economic, emotional, intellectual, sexual, or spiritual, they all leave torture’s scars on the body. Our tears do not sleep and then, in our hurt and anger, we become twisted and confused and in need of healing. That this healing does in fact come to individuals, untangling lies and providing the courage to speak the truth, sustains a rational hope that it can also come to our communities. We can swing the tenor of the collective conversation towards real-world issues if enough of us insist on it.

Contemplation is the birthright of everyone, the sweetest gift life has to offer, a love-making with the cosmos and a resting in the arms of creation’s gifts. It pierces the darkness of our lives and finds meaning in their events, often painful and sorrowful but real and lasting and true. Learning to be still in body and mind allows us to sit openly listening to our hearts. Our hearts know what we are. They know our worth.

Nailing Miracles, part two

The altar is where human beings present things to god. The altar is related to the mystery of food, where life feeds off of life, where life must kill to live. The Eucharistic meal is a civilizing force, a feast not of meat but of bread. It is a chance to “lift our hearts to the Lord,” and walk above the fear of death and our daily participation in it. It is the meal of the lamb, that of peace found when our hearts truly understand the gentleness of our creation far exceeds its terror.

Knives, and metal implements generally, are needed and used with hardly a thought to carve the tender flesh of the animals we eat. Yet, at some level of our own awareness, I propose, this terrifies us. The history of torture devices make clear the way metal applied to flesh can cause pain. Metal on naked flesh is the fear the crucifixion captures in the nails forcibly introduced into the body of the Christ. It is also the fear that is captured in the moment of panic in the Christ story when the initiate, wearing only a flimsy white robe, is suddenly surrounded by soldiers in full armor and armed with weapons. As Mk. 14.51,2 states, this initiatory panic causes the disciple to flee in terror. (As said earlier, once the spirit is driven by fear out of the body, that’s it, it is not possible to push a tortured being further.) It is the divine grace that allows the Christ alone to stay with the terror of those nails, to allow them to keep him held in place, fixed in pain, and not panic. Hence, by his blood, it is said, we are saved once we have aligned ourselves with the Christ. After the rooster crow of the bloody dawn, after our three betrayals in seeking the all-powerful Christ of the religious temptations, we too are called to take up our cross, the sliver of the divinity-task that is ours to bear within the mystery of human love, suffering, and redemption. The next time we see the white robe it is in the empty tomb, Mk. 16.5. Seeking god as an answer to death one finds “he is not here.” This which we are dealing with is the god of life. Through the panic, through the encounter with the teacher’s healing exorcism, the initiate has learned we shall not die the death in life that is a life burdened by superstitious fear and meaninglessness, but live even as the Christ did. Though we may bear the marks of our wounds, the flesh as grave was unable to hold us, we have found liberation from the evil that was done to us and that we have done.

Mark’s Gospel is particularly telling in how this resurrection promise is worked out using its shorter ending. The resurrection promise is that by which human hope in goodness is kept alive (some may recall our conversations about Santa and Easter Bunnies). There are no resurrection scenes in Mark, only the word to the ladies. “On entering the tomb they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a white robe, and they were utterly amazed. He said to them, ‘Do not be amazed!’” I emphasize where I think the rich symbolic vein is to be found, one related, in part, to the difference between being child-like and childish. The first words spoken in the empty tomb, ‘Do not be amazed!,’ these are serious. This part of the mystery story is related to the John Barelycorn sacrifices and is not the central point. It’s miraculous reality should not amaze us, that is, it should not enchant us and bewitch us. We should not let the unknowns around death become a wedge by which liars manipulate us through our fears. The seed must die for the crop to arise, but it is not the farmer that makes it grow. The Christ story is not one about the mystery of creation, but of the mystery of redemption within that creation. Those who make a big deal of the ancient phallic-cross and womb-tomb associations are missing it.

The short ending goes on, “But go and tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you.’ Then they went out and fled from the tomb, seized with trembling and bewilderment. They said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” They were just told not to be amazed and here they are, bewildered. What to do, where can we find Jesus on the road to Galilee and learn to properly be a disciple? Back at the start of the Gospel, just after the prologue. “It happened in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John. . .” The terrifying and bloody death of the Crucifixion, when the Shepard was slain and the sheep scattered, this story asks us if this is really the end, are we ultimately left alone to suffer in painful, deluded confusion? Only you as a reader can answer that for yourself. What does your heart tell you? Does it quicken when you hear His words? It is not the end of the story if you take up re-reading it again, and in doing so again and again throughout a long life, encounter there the living one. He is not found among the dead. He has established a feast to which the poor and vulnerable are invited. For those called to this supper, their lives, however long or short they may be, will have seemed in the end to have been good and meaningful lives. What is offered are lives so full of wonder that it is as if they had lasted a thousand years, bringing us the fullness of time. The healed enjoy lives filled with peace and crowned with rest. This is “as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end.”

What has the initiate learned with his encounter with their guardian angel, where the corrupting metal nails have pierced their own flesh? The Book of Revelation gives the inside view, the spiritual view, of the battle on the cross and the resurrected life. Rev. 19.14 “The armies of heaven followed him, mounted on white horses and wearing white linen.” From chapter 20: “Then I saw an angel come down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the abyss and a heavy chain. He seized the dragon, the ancient serpent, which is the Devil or Satan, and tied it up for a thousand years and threw it into the abyss, which he locked over it and sealed, so that it could no longer lead the nations astray until the thousand years are completed. After this, it is to be released for a short time.” How short? “Holy Mary, Mother of God, Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.” Christian initiates live their lives abundantly, refusing to bow down in fear and serve the one who rules us no more. We do not fear an hour of judgment from abba, for we have learned to pray to god “lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” Christians have seen through the lies of the accuser, the destroyer that would set itself up as god.

We human beings are all trauma survivors. Wounded people wounding others is a part of our fate. Through long efforts at therapeutic work, our soulful contemplation and prayer, we can cast out the burdens injected into our bodies and psyches by the evil done to us and the terror it evokes. These burdens are often imagined as metallic invaders planted in, or living in, our flesh during, for example, Parts Work with PTSD persons. Other times the burdens are voices or images more personalized, as if alien intelligence were involved. This is particularly the case when the traumatized are bordering on psychosis or schizophrenia. Satanic nails and devilish demons, these things populate the human-world soul and seek to destroy personalities, whole nations at a time if they can. It is not superstition to admit these factors exist. They are inherent to our “psychological” experience when that experience tends towards the extreme. For example, intravenous drug users refer to their syringe as a nail, murders nail people, and when we succeed against a tough challenge we say we nailed it, as if we had banished something once and for all by, as we say, nailing the bastard to the wall. The war zones we create outside ourselves are, mercifully, small reflections of the ones within us, the ones which are created when we abuse one another. Peace on earth, in fact, starts within us as individuals. It can start nowhere else.

It is a real shame to let religious ideas steal the possibility of an abundant life from a human being. They do so by feeding the fear of death inherent in our mammalian physiology and inferential reasoning. The Christ story is designed to be a corrective to that misunderstanding of what religion and religious imagery is for. The poets had to write, the message of redemption is too important not to pass on. They had to pass it on even as they had received it from those who had passed it on to them. In their wisdom they knew the dangers involved in misunderstanding what they were teaching, and they prepared for that. In their compassion they were inspired to teach us of the new heaven and the new earth that awaits those who are healed by the Christ. This is the story of what the true creator of the universe would look like if he / she / it / X were to look as a man. The point is not the miracles, all wiz-bang and powerful. The point is the care and concern for the people Jesus meets and how he meets them as an individual. What has moved countless millions of faithful believers for centuries is the love this sacred heart displays.

But so much of the dogma seems to contradict rational thought. Faith’s cords of dogma are the poets means of speaking. It is a language at once of reason and emotion when both are touched by the visionary spirit. Dogma is meant to protect the inner coherence of the symbol system it attends. It is a faith that in the inspiration of our poets and prophets, there is a true element of the divine. The assumed authorial authority spoke of earlier, will at times seem to take on an authority beyond what the poet would claim for themselves. It is the most profound mystery of the creative inspiration, the power of the muse, the guardian angel. Over the years it has lead to the building of our so-called Holy Books. The fire of god speaks, darkly but insistently, as tongues of flame touching the heads of those in the upper room.

The Gospel story teaches that the creator is a loving father-architect. It asserts a faith that things are what they seem: that the universe in all its vast mystery, was formed to allow life and consciousness to arise. Not as a pantheistic ocean of awareness, but always and everywhere only through individuals. This is the Christ light. It is the loving creator concept taken beyond concept, to where it matters to you personally. Here is the mystery of the true god = true man. It is your death, your life, your conscience that is being talked about. This Christ light is not owned by any church, though the Catholic rites, both East and West, have protected the coherence of the symbolism through the poetics of dogma. The teaching of abba is a gift to show the Way to the lost, the Light to the blind, and the Truth to the confused.

The Myth of Pure Evil

There is not a single aspect of the Christian message that is not in part an answer to the question of evil.”
Catechism of the Catholic Church, 309, italics in the original

“The difference boils down to whether one views the perpetrators as evil or merely stupid. Are they evil enough to knowingly commit horrible crimes and then lie about it with feeble rationalizations? Or are they gullible enough to believe those justifications?”
Roy F. Baumeister, Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty

 

In the icon of the crucifixion captures evil at its worst. It causes those who see it to ask their heart what they truly believe is more powerful: the evil that men do, or the power that created all things and raises them up?

It amazes me that those who wrote the Gospels about the teacher who always taught in parables are not understood to be presenting a parable themselves. I do not see how the Church Fathers could have been any clearer about what they were doing. It amazes me that so few understand that the temptations of Christ by the devil (Mt. 4.1-11) are the temptations humans need to be wary of, less they use the Christ as the devil. In the temptations the devil offers the Christ all the kingdoms of the world, the ability to turn stones to bread, and the power of magic and miracles that would save his body from harm if he were to jump off the heights of the temple. In this late stage of the collapse of Western civility Christianity needs to ask itself questions about its faith, as should each believer. Is the Christ really believed in the one that is going to deliver into your hands worldly power, wealth, and miraculous protection? Which one of these is the reason you are seeking out the Christ? It is not easy to follow the thread of loving the mystery, god if you will, for its own sake.

Last week’s essay discussed those who are tortured. Some were said to have been guilty of terrible crimes and the crucifixion for them was seen as a step in seeking justice through revenge. Others who have been tortured were innocent but cast into the role of the scapegoat by their community. Now we can get to the very heart of the matter: What if the guilty were also scapegoats?

What if the idea of a human being, any human being, actually being pure evil is a lie? Did not the person who abused others also suffer once at the hands of one who had themselves been abused? Might it be that only fools seek to nail the devil, this pure evil, to a tree? We know from the recent history of lynch mobs that when they torture human beings thinking they are solving issues they are in fact acting foolish in the extreme. How can we not understand what this man hanging on the cross, suffering torture, is teaching us? God, in reality, humbles himself to dwell among us. That is one way the Church Fathers found to say it some two thousand years ago. You cannot stop violence with greater violence; you cannot nail the devil to the tree. What you nail there when you try – always resurrects.

As I said when we started this investigation, Christianity is a very dangerous religion to misunderstand. It is a direct confrontation with evil. The teaching is a trap for those who would misuse god talk. The destroyer is not going to show up all cloven-hoofed and smelling of sulfur. We would recognize the beast right away and easily steer clear. The Rolling Stones, whose album Their Satanic Majesties Request received its anniversary remake this year, sang a telling line when the star of the album title speaks, “Allow me to introduce myself, I am a man of wealth and taste.” The devil, it seems, comes looking like a type of Christ. It comes looking like a type of Jesus. It comes as an anti-Christ.

Who killed that man hanging there still? A few short decades ago Germany blamed the Jews for all the evil in the world. In doing so they were bringing to a head thousands of years of European misunderstanding of the cross and its trap and message. In WWII they tried to nail pure evil to the tree. They tried to bring about the kingdom, the Third Reich, through the elimination of evil in historical time. Notice how whenever this happens the evil is always located, conveniently enough, in people other than those in one’s own “chosen” tribe. The Bible as the tale of a “chosen” people has much to teach us on this score.

Those who want a magically powered god are drawn to the image of the Christ as it is portrayed in the apocalyptic genre. Here he rides a horse through rivers of his enemies blood and overcomes the beast and his Empire once for all time. This, too, has been very dangerous when misunderstood. The Catholic traditions East and West universally reject any millennialism reading of the Book of Revelations. I don’t think this is quite as well known as it should be just now, as the war machines are being warmed up and the blessings over the bombs begin. This is what the Catechism states about it:

“The anti-Christ’s deception already begins to take shape in the world every time the claim is made to realize within history that messianic hope which can only be realized beyond history through the eschatological judgment. The church has rejected even modified forms of this falsification of the kingdom to come under the name of millenarianism, especially the “intrinsically perverse” political form of a secular messianism.”
Catechism of the Catholic Church, 676

So is the Christ the god of war or of peace?

One of the rhetorical tricks bully-Christians use is to ask people who they think Jesus was. Who was this man who claimed to be god? In my experience such people do not seem to be sincerely trying to enlighten their listeners, only to bully them into their own narrow interpretation of Christianity. They lay a trap in a play on words where they assert Jesus is uniquely the one and only man-god, or a crazy person since he claimed to be so. It makes the whole edifice of faith rest on a kind of word play more worthy of Kabalistic ruminations than solid, rational foundations. I see faith resting on what is real and must always be honoring my intellect and common sense.

Fundamentalists are ignoring how we know the written documents came to be and what role they are meant to serve. They were not written to record history as we understand that term today. These readings of the Christ story are too small. They ignore the anthropological fact that the man-god myth is found everywhere throughout the world and throughout time. The ancient world was filled with stories of the dying and rising man-god. It is not the magic and miracles that have been drawing hearts to the story of Jesus for millennia. It is the personality of he who is said to have taken up the cross. This is what has made it the culmination of all such stories. The Gospels reache out across time, or from beyond time, presenting a recognizable core sketch of a real flesh and blood human being. We could say it is in the linking of the man who spoke the Beatitudes with the mysteries of the solstice and John Barely Corn that was the new thing, the Good News.

It is worth noting, as Joseph Campbell remarked in Mythos, that the only point in the Apostolic Creed that has any historical reference is the mention of suffering under Pontius Pilate. By having that as the only historical kernel in the whole of the creed, it is as if the teaching were saying that the suffering under Empires is where the real kernel of what is historically real about the story takes place. Empires and religions are still torturing human flesh as Amnesty International documents. Here is the hook where the events of human history, and the timelessness of the creator of humans and history, are united. On the cross our creaturely flesh and blood is married to god.

No, the question about who is this man Jesus is important but leads to the personality revealed, not a super powered magician-god. But that is not the first question Christianity poses. The first thing we need to know, when we see the man nailed there and bleeding, is who would kill a man in this barbaric way? Who would have done this, could have done this? Why? That is what scares us when we see an act of torture so explicitly displayed. Our bodies see that image and instinctively react to the symbol par excellence of what none of us want to have to have happen to us. The Good News is that we personally do not need to hang there. The voices saying we are so guilty we should kill ourselves to please god, are themselves killed here on Golgotha, the place of the skull. Here we learn that killing in the name of god is a lie. It is the revelation of abba, a loving god. Here we learn that many of the acts we have committed and hold ourselves guilty of are not actually our fault but were instead reactions to the abuses we had suffered. Such is the power of sin. The core of choices that remain, those are our true will. Those are the one’s we answer for before the one who made us and knows all things.

This killing of another human being is perhaps the most ancient of religious acts. It is done to either please the gods or cut out evil. The shaman’s pointy bones and the witch’s evil eye have always been, in the end, means of murder through psychological operations (the first psych-ops). Out of fear of an uncontrollable fate, a person offers the invisible world what they claim is most precious to them: their king, priest, husband, wife or, most commonly, their children. Note that the offerings these “faithful” people are making cost them, in fact, very little. It is not their skin and sanity that is on the line. But it all seems so dramatic, such a perfect sacrifice. It’s just trying to trick god.

To understand what this man is doing on that cross we need to understand what the whole Biblical tradition was teaching beyond the use of religion for justifying the status quo and conferring social status. It is a message rather hard to miss once one allows common sense to rule the interpretations. The Bible is the story of mixing politics and religion. It covers many kinds of politics and many kinds of religion. It is often brutal in its honesty, showing the “chosen” in a particularly bad light. This makes the books collected in it somewhat unique since the general tendency of ancient writings is to kowtow to the semi-divine leaders of various civilizations. The history it captures teaches us that politics and religion are the two most dangerous aspects of the human experience. Both can bring about untold suffering if not harnessed to the visionary goal of peace on earth. What if they are, basically, a form of madness we as a species are prone to? What if our complex brains can become so caught up in chasing abstractions, like say the GDP or holiness, that they fail to deal with the real and present danger threatening us in our day to day world, the world of our day consciousness? What if our role as individuals, caught up in the larger powers of history as we are, is to take responsibility for our own will and intentions; wouldn’t this necessarily entail turning away from the Priest and Emperor who would be god?

Abraham is said to be the father of faith. All three monotheisms respect Abraham the patriarch, whose story comes from one of the most ancient layers of Hebrew writings. His faith is proven in the story about sacrificing his son Isaac. At the last minute the real god, aka the one behind all of creation’s existence, stays his hand. The act of faith, as I read this, was not in his willingness to sacrifice his son. That was just following the dictates of what all the “religious” people around him in these ancient times were saying. Tossing the kid into the fires of Moloch was pretty much the most faithful act a man could make. Faith was not found in being driven by fears of invisible forces to the point of being willing to murder even close kin. Faith was listening to the still small voice, the one of conscience and common sense. It reasons something along these lines: that if god made me and made my son, and made me to love my son and hate the idea of killing him, and to have made him to love me and hate the idea of dying at my hand, then it would be a sin to ignore all these witnesses to god’s inscrutable plans he has carved into our flesh. Evidently this is how “god” wants things. I will trust in what I experience as real, as real. I will trust my direct revelation, the one written in my flesh, instead of the voices all around me telling me what I should believe and not believe, do and not do.

This was the beginning of faith. It was the beginning of faith for Abraham and is the beginning of faith for people the world over still today. This faith dares to turn against the inner pressures of nightmare that would confuse the mind with fear. Those inner pressures are what the New Testament will call demons. These inner critics cannot believe in a god who wants acts of kindness and not sacrifice. The demonic voices are the ones that teach our minds that this earth is hell, its creator god is the devil, and so we must destroy the village to save it. It is the same Gnostic teaching we have seen before, that old enemy of the Church Fathers. It is also the faith that the modern world has signed up for when it fails to stop the ecological madness that is destroying our one and only home. Our angels may arrive on spaceships and our kingdom to come might be found on Mars, but we are just as dismissive of the real world under our feet as the most superstitious people that ever lived. We have lost our faith.

If we had faith we would have the courage to admit what the real problems are. We would then have a chance to deal with them best we might. This would be to use our day consciousness correctly. Instead what we find is that the day consciousness of most people, most days, is fed by electronic entertainments. Some of these entertainments are packaged as news. For the most part they stick with strictly human concerns about love and shopping, while feeding viewers an endless stream of revenge fantasies as evil people get paid back in violence by our action heroes who turn death and torture to supposed good ends. These “entertainments” are actually mind training and they take a great deal of the psychic energy we each have to face the challenges of our lives. The imagery keeps us stunned, in shock. The minds of most people are kept too harassed and busy, overloaded and under-educated; to even begin to recognize the outlines of the reality we are enmeshed in through our total, addictive dependence on fossil fuels, corporate institutional structures, and limitless economic growth supporting fiat currencies. There is much that could be done in the daytime world to soften the blows that science assures us are heading our way. It is a question of will; do we have what it takes to wake, fully, into the day?

Kids not to be born or not to have progeny, and species going extinct forever at our hands, can you see how these living things are getting nailed to crosses every single day, their futures taken away from them by our shortsightedness, selfishness and cowardice? These things might be invisible in so far as you cannot see them or touch them. But they are real, as real as CO2. They have an existence in our molecular world, one that is inherent to its nature. Those other invisibles like the GDP, the ones that have us so entranced that we cannot even honestly speak of what ails us, maybe its time to betray them. I think it is what love is asking us to do. There is already a crisis of legitimacy in existing institutions. Neither churches nor governments are immune. In order to thrive we need these institutions and we need them to be strong in serving human beings. Faith holds out a hope of reform, no matter how radical it might need to be. A too cavalier approach to our real problems by the leaders of our churches and governments, one that sees in these problems only opportunities for using nuclear weapons and establishing dominion theology’s theocracy, might well perform acts that undermine whatever legitimacy in the eyes of the normal citizen of earth these institutions still have. I fear the existing generation of leaders may not appreciate just how devastating it is to lose honor in the eyes of the people who are, as Jimmy Stewart said in It’s a Wonderful Life, “doing the living and dying around here.” It is like the abused child who no longer denies that they were not at fault and they see their abuser in a new, cold and harsh light. A few nuclear bombs used in a Middle East war could be the stick that breaks the camel’s back and reveals those who dared to ride their hubris this far in a very harsh light indeed. The people in those times without faith in the day will surely be swept up in the madness of the night. We have an opportunity, today, to prepare for triage conditions. Now is the time to learn to talk sense and think straight.

We need to be really clear about this. If nuclear weapons begin to be tossed around, Jesus is not going to appear out of the sky and catch them, nor will the righteous disappear from cars and airplanes like a Hollywood special effect. No divine magic trick is going to save us from the consequences of cause and effect. If nuclear weapons begin to be tossed around people will burn. Most likely, given the nature of the modern arsenal, people will burn on a massive scale. Nuclear poisons will spread into the land, water and air, mutating the genetic code wherever it reaches. The level of fear and terror everyone in the world wakes up to each day will have gone up a notch, will have gone up considerably. Sadly, frightened minds do not make good decisions. That is what will happen if nuclear weapons are used. That is what will happen if “god” is the vulnerable lover shown on the cross and not the super power magician of the Christian apocalyptic cults.

There are two very different Jesuses here. One is a lying spirit.

Who Tortures Man?

Who killed Christ? When you see the image of the man nailed painfully to the cross, the worldwide image of Christianity, it provokes that question in the viewer. In this icon human violence and cruelty are not hidden but placed where they cannot be ignored. Christian teaching is a teaching about evil. It is about the power of evil and how that power is broken.

Love and rationality are vulnerable. Those we love can be tortured and the truth of what is real can be hid behind lies. Though often we are able to exercise our will to love and to truth in their defense, there are limits to what we can achieve. These are  hard sayings. We want to be able to say god is love and god is superman, that love conquers all. We want to be able to say that in the end the truth always wins out, that truth will always have its day in court. We want these things but this is not the way it is in the experience of life as it is actually found.

Teachings are our ancestors gifts to us, giving us what they could about what they learned about the life a human being is fated to experience. Christianity is one of those teachings. It was an opening of the mysteries to the masses at a time when the global crossroads of the ancient Roman Empire had brought the formerly isolated pagan communities together. Priests and scribes from literally hundreds and hundreds of traditions were finding themselves talking past one another. Eventually thoughtful people began recognizing similarities in the midst of their better teachings. The marketplace of ideas was offering a welter of confusion for the very real needs of the Jewish people going through the collapse of their way of life with the fall of the temple. Eventually the whole Roman Empire would collapse and sweep away the gentiles as well. It is in this context of social collapse and upheaval that the Gospels at the heart of Christianity were written. That “writing” process took place over a century or more.

The Gospel of Mark is the earliest of the Gospels with an authorship date of maybe 70 CE. Mark provides much of the source material for Matthew and Luke. The Gospel of Mark is actually a very carefully crafted literary document. It uses numerous stylistic techniques to channel readers attention towards what is most important, even as clues to how the reader should be interpreting what they are reading. It uses numerous terms and images that would have been immediately understood by its initial audiences but leave us with little more than a fairy tale for children if we do not understand them today. For example, in Mark when Jesus casts demons into swine, the word used for the demonic horde is ‘legion,’ an extremely odd use of a Roman word. That word has no precedent in the Judaic texts nor is it an idea in use among temple or synagogue. Still, the readers of Mark would not have been at a loss to understand what he was talking about. No literate person would have missed the allusion to the soldiers of the Empire, the Roman Legions. Another very pertinent example is the use of the white robe at key places within the narrative. Readers in the ancient world would have recognized the allusion to the initiate of the mystery religions who was said to wear a white robe in their initiation. Both of these images, the robe and the Empire and its martial powers would be taken up in the book of Revelations. That apocalyptic book gives a view into the drama of Mark’s story as if it were seen from the inside, as it were. We will be looking at Mark and Revelation a bit later as this investigation into the mythology of the West proceeds.

This might be a good time to remind my readers what we are doing and why. It is my position that there is a rampant abuse of Christianity in the modern world. It runs a spectrum from sexual abuse in churches to magical thinking in the halls of governmental power. The time is late and the guilt of our generation is weighing heavily on us, more so than we consciously seem capable of admitting. Look at our actions – we are not resisting that which is seeking to kill us. There is a disconnect, something has gone wrong in the evolutionary imperative to survive and protect our children. There are undoubtedly many reasons for this but one stands out. In our pride we invented the corporation as a way to privatize profits and dilute financial risk by spreading it among the public. Thinking we were so clever inventing these personal wealth maximizing machinations, we find today that these corporate entities are powers no individuals are able to control. They do things that no human being can stop. Or so it seems. So far. We are in a fight against the “principalities and powers,” not a few evil men here and there. This is the lesson of the scapegoat, the mystery the Christ revealed openly to the world.

Christianity’s teachings include how to effectively go about fighting exactly these kinds of Empire powers. It finds they are fed through the desire human beings have for god-like magical skills. Christianity is said to have separated religion from magic. It is about how seeking a magic god, one all-powerful to grant you your wishes, leads to an anti-god. That superman god cannot be found because that god does not exist. Love and truth are vulnerable, at least for a time, at least for the “three hours of darkness” in which the crucifixion is said to take place, or the “hour of our death” for which Catholics ask Mary to pray “for us.” Us, all of us together. What we, the human species, the whole human family, have to work with is what we see in our day consciousness. The rise and fall of civilizations and our species ongoing cultural evolution has all taken place in this part of our psychology. We do not control dreams. We are not responsible to try and evolve or improve the unconscious, the night consciousness that is also a part of the psyche. In the great mythic theme of night and day we are meant to be creatures of the day. In Christian terms we live in the resurrected life after “coming to Jesus.”

What does this mean? I am going to suggest that it means accepting that the world is already “saved” or, to say the same thing from another point of view, that you personally are not responsible for all the evil in the world – and dealing with it. What is it this Christ is said to accomplish with his dying on the cross? He tears the veil of the sanctuary, revealing to all, and in public everyday in the ritual of the Eucharist, the contents of the Holy of Holies, the innermost altar in the innermost room of the temple. Not the temples made by human hands in our various religions but the temple of the human body. What is accomplished on the cross, what is this revelation? It was said to be the defeat of the devil and the harrowing of hell. The Christ kills the devil and frees those under his power to become children of god. To believe in this is to be able to pray the Our Father. This is the central teaching of the Christ, this prayer (along with the Beatitudes). One of the most telling characteristics of this prayer gives the whole show away. Have we heard it too many times to really hear what it is saying? It is addressed to god, not the devil, and asks god “not to lead us into temptation.” Wait, isn’t that the role of the devil? What is going on here?

There is an understanding BC, before Christ, that is not the same as the understanding AD, after death. The Western world enshrined this comprehension of its own mythology in the calendar with its use of BC and AD dividing all of human time into the before and after of this encounter. It was a collective symbol of what individuals also have a chance to encounter in the Christ. Jesus was a Jewish teacher, the Christ is an anointing, not a last name. The Christ is a light of truth larger than what could be captured exclusively by any story, including the Jesus story. It’s the star that guides the wise men from the East, the grace of truth in all the poetic myth and prosaic prose of all people of goodwill throughout all times. It still guides us today. It is the living logos: the ability of our words to carry truth and meaning. It is exactly this power of the Word that is now suffering at the hands of PR, spin, sales, fake news, and magical preaching. It is also the cause of the suffering of most dysfunctional families who use language to tell lies about that-which-shall-not-be-spoken. Just as healing comes to the abused once they are able to speak, so healing comes to the broken soul when it is able to accept that it really is vulnerable and depends on the kindness and goodwill of others. Coming to the cross involves struggling with how love and truth have died in your own life.

As the Roman Empire gave up its hundreds of cults, and the whole menagerie of con-men that accompanied them, for Christianity it seemed, for a time, that the age of living under the destructive power of superstitious thinking had ended and mankind had entered a new era, a new eon, in which day consciousness would have its proper place. We were to live no longer driven and haunted by nightmares of our own imaginations and all the visions of gods, devils, angels, demons, heavens and hells that formerly lead us to dismiss the value of earth life just as it is. It was a blow to the whole Gnostic idea that this earth is hell and spirituality is all about escape. The revelation of god as love, not as a satanic destroyer, was to put an end to all that. That what the teaching of the calendar was meant to convey.

One objection to the whole Christian mythology is, of course, that the world does not at all look like one in which the powers of nightmare are defeated. If Jesus was actually the Christ, how could that be? That, however, might very much depend on one’s own point of view, be it BC or AD. There are two truths here, just as we find in Buddhism. The Christ was said to have removed the fear of death, the devil and hell for those who found in him the truth. Buddha was said to have removed the burden of the caste system and reincarnation for those who found in him the truth. The Buddha was said to have taught us how to be a genuine human being. The Christ is said to have taught us how to be genuine creatures, children of god. Both had a message that the other paths being offered, the ones that claim to lead to men becoming gods, are lies. The divine pharaoh and his attendant priests does not like that message. They did not like it then and they do not like it now.

Jesus is a personality. That is what the Gospels are sharing, the story of a person in enough detail that an image of an individual comes through. That individual is one that countless people over centuries have come to love and in that love established a “personal relationship with Jesus.” American religion is so overwhelmingly evangelical that phrase tends to invoke the idea of a true believer talking with Jesus in their heads all the time. Quite a special person to be getting constant advice from the creator of existence for their every doubt and decision… That is not the type of relationship I think the Gospel stories offer. The stories were here before you were born and will be here long after you have gone. You as an individual confronting these collective stories have a choice about what they are going to mean to you. That is the relationship. If you were born in a country that has a Christian past, of necessity you will establish some sort of a relationship with the myth of your people. This becomes your “personal relationship with Jesus.”

This is not to say you must become a believer in any sense a preacher might use. It is pointing out that there is no real choice in the matter. Once you see the crucifix and hear the story, you are confronted with the question: who killed this man? Why has he hung there over the centuries, as Bowie sang in Next Day, “not quite dying”?

One answer to this question of who killed the Christ is that the devil did it. This is the scapegoat role for the torture victim. Frazier’s Golden Bough is a study in the slaying of kings or priests, or very often their substitutes, for the good of the crops and the community. Rene Girard’s anthropological study Violence and the Sacred adds important insights into what these actions meant to the communities that took part in them. He explains how the external enemy unites a fractioned society. Leaders have long known how an external threat quiets domestic squabbles (something I expect we will be seeing here again soon in this fractured America). The concept of the devil is the ultimate outsider and the ultimate threat.

Beside the scapegoat answer there is another possibility. The scapegoat is innocent but bears the weight of the community’s trespasses. The cross was used for killing criminals of the worst sort. Perhaps that man is hanging there because he deserves it. This is closer, I think, to the truth of it. Here is the one that “takes on the sins of the world.” To believe that, doesn’t that mean to see there fallen human flesh and blood? The evil that has caused people so much suffering is finally getting its due. That corpus on the cross is representing the serial rapist killer, the sadistic death camp officer, and all the other human beings whose lives have inflicted the most viciously cruel violence on other people. God’s justice is being served. We would all gladly pay our thirty pieces of silver to get our revenge. This interpretive door opens the way into the war that lives in the human heart. For the believer, faith brings peace to that war. Something happens when the divine love comes and sweeps a human heart away into the embrace of the mystical marriage. The archetypal rearrangement, if you will, lasts for the rest of the believer’s life. It involves an act of the will accomplished through intention and accomplished once and for all. These believers know they will have the ordeal of their “hour of death” still to deal with, but an hour is a light burden to shoulder compared to a lifetime of living ruled by shadows and fears.

The day and night mythology has guided humans since before the time of Stonehenge. The solstice return of the increasing sun at the very nadir of the dark season has been celebrated universally since time out of mind. Merry Christmas indeed. What the mono-myth of Christianity, as the culmination of the mysteries, is offering is this same ancient teaching distilled into the most inspired form our ancestors were able to create. The path to psychological maturity and the accumulated wisdom of the elderly are here. The maturity, however, is complex and is only found by embracing our painful vulnerability on the one hand, and forgiving those who blew out our flickering light of faith on the other. Those who brought us to the dark night, those in our own hearts who hurt us when we loved them the most, how are we to truly forgive them and end the war inside? To forgive is not the same as to forget. It is not to believe that there is some magical ‘I’m sorry’ spell that makes everything all better. Forgiveness is not simple, it never has been.