Site project: Combating alarmism, turning “falling skies” back to “acorns”, going after the foundational ideas that incite alarmism. No mythical idea has been more prominent for inciting alarmism over history than the perception of some great metaphysical Threat, whether the angry, punitive gods of religion, or the revenge of Gaia/angry planet in “secular” systems of thought.
Changes coming soon in the new year to make it easier to access material on this site.
Recent comment: “Distortion and Deception”- the full version of the Christian Contradiction (posted just below Page Content Lists and Terror in Mumbai). This material covers the central breakthrough of Historical Jesus (a stunning new unconditional theology) and the subsequent Christian denial and burial of that discovery with highly conditional atonement theology (Paul’s Christ myth).
List of contents for this opening section: Getting to the point; The Big Picture (Historical descent of mythical/religious pathology); Defending unconditional; Islamic violence; Introduction; Herman on Declinism; The Christian Contradiction (brief version); Page Content Lists; Terror in Mumbai; Distortion and Deception (Full version of the Christian Contradiction); Ancient Alarmism; Calming religious concerns; It Stands on Its Own (Who needs Jesus?); Muhammad affirms Jewish/Christian influence; The real battle against terror, and more.
Getting to the point… (a project to counter alarmism of all forms, religious and secular)
There has never been some great metaphysical Threat behind life. There have never been angry, punishing gods, and there is no vengeful Gaia, angry planet, or payback Karma (some greater metaphysical intention behind the common natural consequences of life). The idea of some great retributive force or punitive spirit behind life has been the greatest fraud ever beaten into human consciousness. The result of this pathology has been millennia of wasted human endeavor on Salvationism, whether religious or secular. Think of the blood that has been shed in the sacrifice industry starting in prehistory, and the endless time wasted in religious ritual to appease threatening gods (also include modern anti-development appeasement efforts and the trillions that this has cost humanity in hindered, blocked, or abandoned development projects). Add the emotional distress and despair from this mental pathology, and more. Time and effort that could have been better spent on improving the human condition from the healthy standpoint of “rational optimism”.
I continue…There is no need to make a payment for human imperfection, an atonement of some sort. There has never been any “broken relationship” with Ultimate Reality/God. There has been no loss of an original paradise and decline of life toward something worse. There is no such thing as fallen, sinful humanity that deserves punishment. There is no cosmic dualism and there should be no related oppositional dualism in the human family (i.e. true gods versus false gods, and the consequent battle of true believers versus unbelievers). There is no coming apocalyptic end to history, and no future judgment or ultimate destruction. Hell is simply the most psychopathic perversion ever conceived by human minds. These things have never been located in any kind of truth or reality. They are distorting fictions derived from humanity’s original great error- that the imperfection of life was punishment from the gods. Humanity’s original great fail.
The above denials of pathology (no this, no that) are some of the liberating conclusions that are derived from the single greatest human discovery ever- that there is only an “absolutely no conditions Love” behind all. Despite the inevitable imperfection that life hands everyone (bad things happening to good people), there is only incomprehensible Love behind reality and life. And everyone is ultimately safe. This is the foundational argument of this site and it involves the single most profound shift in human consciousness ever- from viewing some grand retribution/payback behind life, to understanding that there is only an unconditional reality behind all.
This is about hope that is based on good evidence and the finest historical insights of humanity. Its also about the Daddy in me telling others- don’t be afraid, don’t worry, its going to be all right.
My further argument here- despite centuries of good reform effort, and the moderation projects of religious traditions, these horrific ideas of ultimate Threat, are still preserved at the core of our great religious traditions, and in secular systems of thought like contemporary environmental alarmism.
While these perceptions of Ultimate Threat provide diversionary entertainment as in modern apocalyptic story-telling, it should be recognized that they are entirely false perceptions of reality. There is no evidence to support them. They have too long distorted human perception of reality and hindered the full liberation of human consciousness and the human spirit.
Note: Two lines of “evidence” (quotations marks for the skeptics) affirm the rational optimism on this site. They affirm the argument that there is an ultimate Goodness behind all things. I refer to the long-terms trends of improvement in the cosmos, life, and human civilization (i.e. developing organization, complexity). And I refer to the highest reach of human imagination, that the unconditional treatment of all is our highest understanding of what it means to be authentically human or humane (e.g. Nelson Mandela). What is ultimately humane then gets us closest to the discovery of ultimate truth and reality. This is what unconditional is all about.
Further evidence: You could add the majority status of goodness in life- such as ordered, predictable reality (natural law), abundant energy and other resources, stability and peace as dominant features of life, versus the minority or aberrational status of disaster, accident, and cruelty. Again, evidence of foundational goodness behind all. In arguing this line of thought, I am embracing here the reasoning of the Palestinian wisdom sage quoted often on this site (i.e. his appeal to the sun and rain that is given to all as evidence of Ultimate Goodness behind all). That wisdom sage is someone entirely opposite to the Christian Jesus.
(Note: The great question is not- Why is there so much misery and suffering in life?, but- Why is there so much beauty and goodness in life?)
I venture beyond conventional approaches to evidence (i.e. science) because we need to respond to the most profound impulses of human consciousness- the impulses for meaning and purpose. Science will never get us to the ultimate truth about all things with any finality and it should not be expected to do so (note also the general scientific fear of purpose and the potential spiritual implications of this). Science has a limited mandate and a limiting methodology but this works fine for the scientific venture. For the bigger issues of meaning we need projects like philosophy, theology, and general spirituality. Areas of knowing that, if engaged properly, will get us to the authentically humane, which is the ultimate desire of the human spirit.
The Big Picture
(Intro: The following material comments on how mental pathology begins and develops over history. See further below for more comment on the logic behind the ancient misread of the natural realm and its imperfection. We (i.e. humanity across history) have always had a hard time embracing imperfection. We just do not appreciate its role in promoting struggle, learning, and our development as human. For example, what about the role of inhuman behavior in the struggle to learn how to love? Opposites that provide opportunity to exhibit the better human qualities. Again, I would point to Joseph Campbell’s comment on human story- that our struggle with “monsters” has the outcome that we gain insights that can then benefit others. Julian Simon also affirms the role of struggling with problems, and how such struggle then produces personal solutions and better results for others. But still… Yechh, eh.)
Our ancestors tried to understand and explain the big question- the presence of imperfection in life. Why natural disaster, disease, cruelty and violence, and death? They wrongly concluded that such things were punishment from angry gods, gods that were pissed at human failure to honor and obey the gods, failure to offer sacrifice, or failure to live according to the dictates of religious taboos and commands. The result of their misread of human suffering was the profound mental and emotional pathology that is still lodged at the core of most myth and religion. All those “bad religious ideas” (Sam Harris’ term).
Here is a long-term historical view of the origin and descent of some of the main ideas that are explored on this site. I have focused quite intensely on the pathological ideas that have caused more damage to human consciousness and life than anything else. Across the millennia these themes have become hardwired in human subconscious where they work in concert with our inherited animal impulses to incite, inspire, guide, and validate the worst behavior. These themes have long shaped how people see the world, how they feel, and how they respond to life.
The cohering central theme behind the bad religious ideas listed below is that of a threatening deity (the worst of all bad ideas), a God that uses violence to resolve problems. Further, I have gathered these ideas under the umbrella framework of apocalyptic. Ernst Kaseman called apocalyptic the “Mother of Christian theology”. I would expand that out to argue that apocalyptic is the Mother of most mythology, most religion, and much ideology. Its just that prominent and persistent across history (the pessimistic belief that life is declining toward some catastrophic ending where this imperfect historical process will be abandoned). Many of the other bad ideas noted below relate intensely to apocalyptic. They are part of the larger template of tightly inter-connected apocalyptic mythology.
Note how these ideas descend down through history, being absorbed into ever new systems of thought or belief. Subsequent systems (i.e. religions) make changes and revisions to adapt these inherited ideas to their local situations and cultures. But it is important to note that the core themes remain the same. It is always the same old, same old being repeated, whether in religious or later secular systems of belief.
Historically, apocalyptic has been mainly about a divine intervention to punish bad people for ruining an original paradise, and to purge the world of that evil so that paradise can be restored. It is the destruction and removal of fallen, corrupted people. That would be most of us. Except for the “true believers” in the destroying God. They are exempted. Saved.
This summary is incomplete because brevity was the goal (see rest of site for detail). I am posting this because it is helpful to keep an overall historical picture in mind, a greater background template in which to locate things. For brevity, I am only touching on some major nodes down through history and I am tracing mainly down through to our Western tradition. One also finds similar bad ideas moving down through the Eastern tradition (Mircea Eliade, and others, on apocalyptic themes in Hinduism, Buddhism, and elsewhere).
Lets start in prehistory. Pre-historians John Pfieffer and Jacquetta Hawkes state that what we find in the first human writing (i.e. Sumerian cuneiform tablets) we can assume represents what was believed in the pre-literature or prehistory era.
Pfieffer suggests, for instance, that people in prehistory may have already held an original golden age myth (the cornerstone myth of apocalyptic). The belief that life began in some early paradise. Is he on to something? Well, consider that our line of humanity emerged about 150,000 years ago. And consider that evidence of developing consciousness also begins far back (i.e. ancient people burying their dead, artistic beauty in tool-making, sacrifice to appease spirits, and so on). Prehistory people were already engaging their impulse for meaning and purpose, the fundamental impulses of human consciousness. They were trying to understand and explain life (especially the bad parts), the world, and the cosmos, and what it all meant.
Some checking of the natural history of the more ancient past shows that the previous interglacial- the Eemian Interglacial Period- occurred from about 130,000 to 115,000 years ago, well within the span of developing human consciousness. And some research shows that the Eemian Interglacial may have ended abruptly (within several centuries). The ancients would have considered that loss of better interglacial conditions in terms of the loss of a paradise (the warmer interglacial) and descent toward something worse (the colder glaciation that followed). That severe downturn/decline in climate may have prompted the belief in early apocalyptic. Such is how myth originates and develops.
Note on following: Early myths of apocalyptic floods may originate from varied natural events such as Mediterranean tsunamis or the great Black Sea Deluge of 5600 BCE.
Sumerian mythology- Here we find the first human writing and literature. Writing begins roughly around 3000 BCE (noun lists of temple produce, and kings lists) and then more expressive literature (words as verbs, adjectives, etc.) develops around 2600 BCE. Then we start getting early poems, stories, epics, and related material. The Sumerian cuneiform tablets are broken and scattered but later Akkadian and Babylonian versions are more complete and are quite identical to the earlier Sumerian versions of the same myths.
Apocalyptic is not found in any formal statement of theology in that first writing. It is more a scattering of themes throughout the epics. For instance, we find an original paradise theme in the story of the city of Dilmun where there is no sickness, death, predation, or corruption. We then find a loss of paradise and “fall of man” mythology in the story of the god/man Enki eating the 8 forbidden original plants and becoming ill. The paradise of Dilmun is then corrupted and lost.
A statement of early proto-apocalypse is also found in the Sumerian Flood myth. In this myth the waterworks god, Enlil, becomes enraged at people. There are too many people and they have become too noisy and he is sleep-deprived. So he plans a great flood to wipe out humanity and end human history. Some “nicer gods”, arguing against drowning, suggest that they could destroy people by having wild beasts tear them apart. Ah, such mercy.
Again, this is not formal apocalyptic theology but the core themes are detectable in this mythology, right at the beginning of human writing.
Skipping over to another major node along the way- Zoroaster is dated around 1500 BCE. He is credited with shaping ancient apocalyptic themes into a more formal statement of apocalyptic theology. He claims that there is a great cosmic dualism, a cosmic battle between a good God (Ahura Mazda) and an evil power (Angra Mainyu). Zoroastrian cosmic conflict is similar to early combat mythology. The cosmic battle is played out through humanity, with the followers of the good religion set in opposition to the unbelievers, the “bad people”. The good God eventually destroys the world in an apocalypse of fiery molten metal that purges the world of corruption (note that Zoroaster shifts from a water apocalypse to an apocalypse by fire). Then after the final purging, the lost original paradise can be restored.
Note also that Zoroaster makes revisions and changes to the myths that he adopts, but he preserves the core themes of previous apocalyptic in his “new” religion. Zoroaster is then credited with shaping Jewish thinking and belief. Varied routes to this line of descent are suggested- e.g. Jewish exile in Babylon, or Jewish descent from the Sumerian/Mesopotamian region, or the usual exchange of ideas over centuries of mutual contact and trade.
Jewish apocalyptic belief is stated more formally around the second to first century BCE in books like Daniel (written roughly around 175 BCE). See Walter Schmittals’ “The Apocalyptic Movement” for more detail.
The next historical node is a major one- Christianity. Christianity is a religion created by Jewish people within Jewish culture. Paul, the main creator of the version of Christianity that came down to us, was a Jew. His apocalyptic Christianity has shaped Western consciousness and society more than any other body of thought (see James Tabor, Mary Boyce below). Tabor says that apocalyptic shapes all that Paul said and did.
In the Christian scriptures we find all the main themes of apocalyptic- original paradise, early human sin and the loss of paradise, the corruption of life, the decline of life toward something worse, toward some great catastrophic end where evil people will be punished and purged from the world, and then the original paradise will be restored, or a new utopia created. In the meantime, the true believers exist in opposition to unbelievers (Zoroastrian dualism- good versus bad, truth versus falsehood).
Note that Salvationism, often thought of as the basic Christian message (i.e. Jesus died for our sins in order to save us from Hell), is a sub-category of the larger apocalyptic system of belief. Salvationism derives from the myth that humanity suffered an early Fall into sin when paradise was lost and people must subsequently find salvation from the apocalyptic wrath to come (punishment for sin, for ruining paradise). The threat of future punishment pushes people to find some atonement scheme- a payment for sin in order to escape the coming apocalyptic wrath of God (Romans 5:9).
(Side note: The Jewish/Christian movement also gave us one of the best expressions of the new insight into absolutely no conditions reality, though this Christian movement then immediately buried that insight in highly conditional reality)
And with this template of pathological ideas the Western world entered the Dark Ages- very much a consequence of such irrational and damaging mythology. However, the humanizing influence of Jesus’ core teaching (i.e. Matthew 5:38-48) also remained within the Christian tradition. That central theme of no conditions love helped to blunt the harsher impacts of the Christian teaching.
Then, continuing the Western line of descent, we have the stepchild of Christianity- Islam. The early revelations of Muhammad begin roughly around 610 CE when Muhammad was about 40 years old. And yes, as Joseph Azzi’s The Priest and the Prophet shows, Muhammad borrows Jewish/Christian ideas from his Jewish Christian mentor Waraqa (Ebionite Christian) and shapes Islam around those ideas. Islamic apocalyptic also believes that an angry, vengeful God will destroy all unbelievers, purging them from the world and will then restore a lost caliphate (Islamic paradise) across the world. See, for instance, David Cook’s books on Islamic apocalyptic belief.
Islamic historian Abbas Amanat adds that Islamic apocalyptic includes the beliefs in the advent of the Mahdi (Islamic Messiah) to be followed by a great resurrection and Day of Judgment. This will include the restoration of the utopian Islamic community (see “Apocalyptic Islam and Iranian Shi’ism”).
And then the next major historical node- The Enlightenment and scientific age from roughly the 1600s on to the present. From this time, in a more widespread manner, people begin to think more critically, scientifically, or secularly. Less mythically, or at least they believe so. They shift toward a more rational way of viewing life and reality. Again, so they think. And much is good in this shift. Empiricism emerges more widely (observing natural evidence and making rational conclusions based on evidence) and is developed further. The empirical/observational approach actually began initially with the Greeks but never became as widespread as during the Enlightenment.
But something else happened in the shift toward the more widely accepted scientific worldview. People also brought along the themes of primitive apocalyptic mythology into their new scientific worldviews. They actually “secularized” ancient mythical themes, giving them new secular expression. Thus the same old, same old continued into modern consciousness. How so?
Arthur Herman (The Idea of Decline) details some of the transformation of mythology into secular ideology. But he notes only a few themes from apocalyptic mythology. For instance, he states that 19th Century Declinism (also known as Cultural Pessimism, or Degeneration theory) borrowed ideas of an original golden age that was lost (a pristine natural paradise before humanity). He also notes the Declinist belief in the violent purging of the corrupting element from the world (i.e. removing the destructive human technological, industrial society). This purging myth is derived from the similar Christian belief that God will violently purge the world of corruption (the present “evil” world system) in the final apocalypse. Despite Herman’s limited references to previous apocalyptic mythology, the full template of primitive apocalyptic is still visible in 19th Century Declinism. Herman then rightly concludes his book showing that Declinism has subsequently shaped contemporary Environmental Alarmism.
And this brings us to today. As Herman and others have noted, the environmental alarmist movement repeatedly voices the themes of primitive apocalyptic. Environmental alarmists believe that the world was an original paradise before humanity emerged to engage, use, and change nature. They believe that corrupt, greedy humans have destroyed the original paradise and all is now in decline toward some catastrophic collapse and ending. The salvation scheme? We must purge the world of the corrupting element (greedy, destructive humanity in industrial society) in order to restore the lost paradise.
Apocalyptic despair infects more than just environmental extremism. Its core theme of violent, punishing deity finds expression in such widely embraced myths as vengeful Gaia, punishing Karma, or angry planet.
I detail this below.
And I am now verklempt. Discuss this mental pathology- these bad religious ideas- amongst yourselves.
Explaining and Defending the focus here on Unconditional reality
Orienting ourselves to the unconditional treatment of every human being is about finding and maintaining our humanity in an imperfect world. It is about trying to live and respond as authentically human, despite the traumatizing horror of violence from others.
But being human, as in treating all others unconditionally, is not inconsistent with protecting the innocent. Any common sense understanding of love will grasp that love involves robust action against evil of all forms- restraining, imprisoning where necessary, and eliminating if other options fail. You cannot make peace agreements with irrational psychopathy, as in ISIS and similar groups or persons. Often, your only option is to press the trigger and vaporize.
But even the worst failures in the human family deserve an unconditional, restorative approach, where possible. And we widely recognize this humane treatment of “enemies” in our international policies on the decent treatment of prisoners of war.
However, no matter how we are obligated to act in the midst of outbreaks of violence, nothing weakens or diminishes the truth of a core reality that is Unconditional Love. There is simply no more humane understanding or explanation of ultimate Goodness (deity), despite how we struggle to live and express such an ideal in an imperfect world.
I return repeatedly to figures like the Chinese sage Laozi who advised that sometimes we must regrettably use force to defend ourselves but we should not then engage triumphalism when defeating “enemies” (Karen Armstrong, The Great Transformation). We should employ force non-aggressively, unassertively, not in a spirit of vengeance, retaliation, or harsh punishment.
Its about maintaining our humanity no matter what we experience in life. Maintaining the attitude of restorative justice toward even the worst people. It is about recognizing that grotesque outbreaks of violence can stir our basest impulses to respond in kind with hateful vengeance and thereby drag us down into cycles of further dehumanizing violence. (Note Nelson Mandela for a recent contemporary example of humane response to violent abuse and endeavor to lift a society toward something better.)
We act more humanely when we take our horror at violence and direct it toward lessening future outbreaks of violence. James Payne urged this in his book “History of Force”. He argued that we should find ways to lessen cycles of violence in the future and thereby help contribute to the long-term decline in violence across history. Using their revulsion at violence is how people began to decrease religious violence over the past.
Our very humanity is at stake in our response to violence in all forms and at all scales.
Careful expression of distinctions is required when pointing to a problem like the religious violence incited, or validated, by Islamic teaching. One needs to re-assure moderate Muslims that one is not damning all members of the Islamic community.
But it also means being clear that part of the violence problem derives from the religion itself and its holy book. It is very much about core Islamic teaching or ideas (again, those “bad religious ideas”) that incite and validate violence. Religious violence has long sought validation from such bad ideas as an angry, punishing God that uses violence to solve problems. This is the same problem that has been experienced in the histories of Christianity and Judaism, where violence is also advocated in their sacred scriptures. Remember also that Islam directly borrowed Jewish/Christian beliefs. Fortunately, many members of all three Western religions have learned to ignore those bad ideas and to moderate their approach to their religion and to life. That moderation must be affirmed while at the same time helping those people to see the remaining pathology that is still embedded at the very heart of their religious systems, in their ultimate ideals and authorities. The core pathology has to be completely removed in order to fully and properly ensure our progress toward a safer and more humane world.
Note: Some express tiredness at all the talk of “root causes of violence”. But if we are ever to thoroughly and properly solve violence for the long term future then we must understand its historical origins and development (i.e. the inherited animal drives and the mythical/religious validation of this animal inheritance). Problem solving means dealing fully with root causes and then offering potent alternatives. This is all part of the complex mix of things necessary to solve violence, along with social, political, economic, and personal elements.
Mythologist Joseph Campbell outlined human story as a struggle with monsters, overcoming and defeating monsters, and in the process gaining insights that benefit others.
The argument of this site is that the greatest monsters of all are the gods of mythology and religion. These are the Master Terrorists that have terrorized more people than anything else.
My personal struggle has long been with the monstrosity embedded in the Christian God, with the pathological features associated with that deity- myths of fallen/sinful humanity, separation from and abandonment by that deity, condemnation of human imperfection, demand for violent appeasement (blood sacrifice), exclusion and opposition toward other members of the human family (true believers versus unbelievers), and the threat of coming catastrophe and destruction (violent apocalypse and Hell), and more.
This site explores, among other things, humanity’s ultimate ideals and authorities (i.e. the gods) and their impact on human consciousness and life, particularly the damaging impact from pathology in deity. Note, for instance, the history of human appeal to violent gods to validate violence toward others. See Terror In Mumbai below for a recent example. Remember also ISIS exhibiting this pathology today. Judaism and Christianity also have well-documented histories of violence incited and validated by deity.
Beginning back in prehistory, people have appealed to ultimate ideals and authorities to guide, inspire, and validate human behavior (the belief/behavior linkage). Unfortunately, the ancients projected some pathetically inhumane features onto early gods that have remained embedded at the core of most versions of deity ever since.
In response, a central project on this page is to fully humanize theology (as in human perception of greater ideals and authorities); to purge deity of subhuman features such as animal-like vengeance, tribal exclusion and opposition, payback punishment, or violent destruction of outsiders. We already have the stunning discovery that points us in the right direction- the radical redefinition of deity with the ideal of absolutely no conditions love. A discovery that liberates entirely from the pathology of so much past mythology and religion.
I repeatedly employ the Jesus/Paul contradiction to illustrate the deformity in Western religion and how to correct that. That contradiction illustrates the very heart of what is wrong in the larger human story (i.e. the impact of our animal inheritance with its features of vengeance, tribal exclusion, and violent destruction of enemies, and how these features are validated in Paul’s Christ myth with its similar themes of retaliation, exclusion, and destruction of unbelievers). The Jesus/Paul contradiction also tells us how to make things right (i.e. the exodus out of animal existence and toward an authentic human existence, a truly unconditional existence, as outlined in the breakthrough insight of Historical Jesus). The Jesus/Paul contradiction is about how we get to the better future that we all want- a more humane world. And its about the ongoing resistance to that liberation and progress, often religious resistance. Christianity, with its Christ myth, has played a major historical role in resisting and blocking progress toward a more humane world (i.e. the widespread impact of Christian ideas on human consciousness and society).
So the Christian influence is mixed. There is that core Jesus tradition (mainly the Matthew 5:38-48 rejection of ‘eye for eye’ justice), a humane influence that has been seriously blunted by the overall Christian framework of ‘eye for eye’ atonement.
Note: Christianity is in the same pathology basket as Judaism and Islam. They comprise the Western religious tradition, all descendants of Zoroastrian apocalyptic. The pathology they share? As noted above and more thoroughly below- Zoroastrian dualism (saved insiders, damned outsiders), payback vengeance as justice, and the final exclusion and destruction of unbelievers (apocalypse and Hell), and more. Foundational to this pathology is the core myth of violent deity, a God that solves problems using coercive violence. This is the heart of Christian atonement theology.
Further Introductory comment:
The unconditional treatment of every human person, both good and bad, is the single most profound ideal ever discovered by humanity. This stunningly humane ethic is based on the related discovery that there is an “absolutely no conditions love” at the core of reality and life.
(Note: Religious traditions have missed this insight entirely over history. Early Christianity included it but then set about burying it with Paul’s highly conditional Christ myth.)
The belief/behavior link in the above two things is critical to get a grip on. People act according to what they believe. Note also that I am using unconditional across the entire spectrum of human ideals and ethics- unconditional inclusion of all, unconditional forgiveness of offenses, unconditional generosity toward all, to name a few features. Remember also that unconditional orients consciousness toward scandal in that it offends conventional views of justice as payback- i.e. reward the good, punish the bad. Authentic unconditional means “Absolutely no conditions. None”.
Religious use of the term unconditional tends to drag it toward the distorting direction of religious conditions. For instance, when you try to explain unconditional in terms of a supreme condition- e.g. the sacrifice of Jesus- then you are talking oxymoronic nonsense. Christian use of unconditional in relation to their atonement belief- God now loves unconditionally after demanding the conditional sacrifice of Jesus- shows that Christianity has never understood the core teaching of Jesus. His unconditional discovery has long been buried in highly conditional Christian theology.
The absolutely no conditions love at the core of reality robustly counters the “worst idea” to have ever infected human consciousness- that there is some great threatening force/spirit behind reality and life, something that will condemn, exclude, retaliate, punish, and destroy imperfect humanity. See material below on the ancient logic that led to this error. Our ancestors reasoned from natural disaster, disease, and human violence to explain ultimate realities. A huge fail. Ever since, people both religious and secular have never fully let go of that original pathology.
People who believe in violent, punitive gods have too often treated others in the same harsh manner. The belief/behavior link again. Note ISIS today in this regard. People shouting “God is great” as they kill others are acting according to a horrifically pathological view of God that deforms human consciousness and life. See comment just below on “Terror in Mumbai”.
(Clarification: Before you conclude that I am picking on Islam let me place Islam in its proper historical context as a descendent of the Western religious tradition. Islam shares the common heritage of bad religious ideas- apocalyptic- that have descended from Sumerian mythology to Zoroastrianism, to Judaism and Christianity, and even down into Declinism and Environmental Alarmism. Note also the research below which shows that Jewish Christianity shaped early Islam- i.e. Joseph Azzi’s The Priest and The Prophet. It will be disorienting for many religious people to embrace, but Islam adopted the violent deity of Christianity. Using Azzi’s research, among others, I have traced the historical linkages- from the hellfire threat in the gospel of Matthew, and the Ebionite gospel to the Hebrews that was roughly similar to Matthew, and then to the Quran which absorbed the Hebrew gospel. See Section Three below.)
This myth of threatening and violent deity is probably responsible for more human misery than anything else that humanity has created. It is the foundational idea behind multiple millennia of apocalyptic alarmism and salvation religion. It has been at the basis of far too much inhumane treatment of others (inciting, guiding, validating). In its more extremist expression it has been employed to validate outright murderous violence. But it also finds expression in varied forms of punitive justice.
The threat of divine violence against human imperfection is found in the earliest writing (e.g. the Sumerian Flood myth). This core idea of divine violence then continued into most subsequent mythology/religion and was supported by a developing complex of similarly “bad religious ideas”. These include the following: that early humanity had ruined an originally perfect world (original paradise, Eden); that humanity had “fallen” and become corrupt or sinful; that humanity had become separated from deity (“broken relationship”); that humanity consequently deserved punishment; that life was in decline toward some catastrophic ending; that humanity must appease the threatening deities with some sacrifice (i.e. the conditions of the salvation industry); that unbelievers will eventually be excluded and destroyed; and that, in the future, the world will be instantaneously purged of imperfection (escapism- apocalypse as the abandonment of the slow historical process); and the original paradise will be restored (utopia- escape to some mythical realm).
(For more detail, see “Top Ten Bad Religious Ideas” in Section 2 below)
These primitive and terrorizing ideas have darkened and deformed human consciousness for millennia, permeating all areas of human thought, both religious and secular. They have enslaved people in subhuman stages of development (see psychotherapist Lotufo below), and have often incited violence between people. Zoroastrian dualism has added the burden that “true believers”- the chosen people- are obligated to affirm that their God will dominate and destroy unbelievers or outsiders to the “true religion”. True believers are obligated to help their God purge the world of evil.
This site repeatedly isolates the main features in the pathology of some great Threat behind life- features such as retaliation, vengeance, exclusion, punishment, domination/control, and violence. These harsh elements have long defined the core of the great Monsters that people have lodged at the foundations of their mythologies, religions, and ideologies (e.g. vengeful Gaia). Monsters that have terrorized humanity with unnecessary fear, anxiety, depression, despair, defensiveness, and aggression. Bad ideas have always stirred the worst impulses in people.
(Note: Having created those ultimate monsters to terrorize others, is it any wonder that subsequent generations of people have suffered varied emotional and mental pathologies? See Lotufo, Nelson-Pallmeyer, Ellens, and others below)
The fear engendered by such monsters drives people to embrace irrational salvation schemes, schemes to save themselves, their communities, or to save the world. Salvationist responses, motivated by fear, have always led to horrific waste, even destructiveness. Look at the damage to both people and the environment from environmental alarmism (e.g. Carson’s chemical alarm and the ban on DDT, or the bio-fuels fiasco).
This site exists to counter and to bring down these threatening monsters, whether religious or secular. The project to counter alarmism is not a denial of the serious problems that exist in life. It is more about going after the exaggeration and distortion of problems to apocalyptic scale- from an acorn falling to the sky is falling (i.e. the Chicken Little hysteria syndrome). It is about countering the mental and emotional terrorism from alarmists.
Important to emphasize here- the bad ideas listed above have also descended into contemporary secular versions where they continue to damage human consciousness and retard human development and progress. I have traced the line of descent often below- from Sumerian gods threatening to destroy humanity in a great flood, to following Akkadian and Babylonian versions, to the Zoroastrian God threatening a great fiery destruction of the world, to this very same God adopted into the Western traditions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, to the 19th Century Declinist threat of looming catastrophe, to the threatening deity of Green religion today- vengeful Gaia, or angry nature, angry planet.
Herman on Declinism
Arthur Herman’s book The Idea of Decline in Western History is critical to understand the shift that humanity made over roughly the past four centuries, from the mythical expression of our past to the more secular expression of our present “scientific” era. Despite an apparently fundamental shift in human worldview, Herman helps us see that humanity preserved the defining mythical themes of the past but simply restated them in new secular versions in the ideology of Declinism, or Cultural Pessimism (also known as Degeneration theory). Nothing really changed at the core of human thinking. You can see this continuity of mythical themes in environmental alarmism.
Add to Herman
All systems of thought/belief develop in relation to previous systems of thought. Nothing develops in total isolation. Succeeding systems borrow and absorb ideas from previous systems. Yes, they revise and restate the borrowed ideas, but often retain the essential core themes. To detect the borrowed ideas, do not look for some exact restatement of any given idea, but look for the core theme that is embodied in the new expression.
The Christian contradiction (brief version- see full version below)
(Note: I embrace the view that there was a historical person called Jesus and that he presented a core message of unconditional love, in both ethic and theology. But the Christian scriptures, while including his core teaching of Matthew 5:38-48 and Luke 6:27-36, then rejected the theme of unconditional and developed the myth of the Christ. The Christ myth is all about the demand that a supreme condition must be met- a blood sacrifice- before any forgiveness is offered. The central difference between the historical Jesus and the Christian Christ is this difference between absolute unconditional and highly conditional. Note also that Paul, the creator of the version of Christianity that we have today, ignored the actual teaching of Jesus and formed Christianity around his personal visions of Christ.)
Christianity is vital to understanding the unconditional ideal, and the intense opposition to this ideal. Both elements are found in the Christian religion. Christianity therefore embodies the best and the worst of human thought and practice. To use Thomas Jefferson’s colorful description, Christianity presents the situation where you have the diamonds of Jesus’ teaching (i.e. Matthew 5:38-48) but they are buried in the “dunghill” of a less humane context.
Jefferson did not clarify the unconditional feature at the core of Jesus’ teaching, but he sensed something profoundly human in the “sublimely moral” sayings of Jesus. He also recognized that “inferior minds” had written the rest of the gospels.
I have framed the Christian situation this way (peripherally using Historical Jesus research, and Q Sayings Gospel research- neither of which clearly present the points that I am making below): The original ‘Historical Jesus’ presented an entirely new theology that centered on the unconditional treatment of all people, both good and bad (Matthew 5 and Luke 6). According to Historical Jesus, God was absolutely no conditions love. That meant no required payment for human imperfection (i.e. no sacrifice), no exclusion of anyone (no saved versus unsaved, no Zoroastrian dualism of true believers in opposition to unbelievers), no final judgment or punishment, and no final destruction (no Hell).
Paul, the creator of the Christian religion that we have today, out-rightly rejected and then buried the unconditional breakthrough of Jesus in his highly conditional Christian theology. See, for instance, his formal statement of atonement theology in Romans (i.e. the supreme condition of a human sacrifice). This ranks as one of history’s greatest contradictions and scandals. The very religion that claims to represent Jesus, actually opposes his central teaching on the unconditional treatment of all, an ethic that he based on the unconditional God at the core of all. Essentially, Jesus said, act like this because God does this.
Paul created the Christian Jesus, known as “Jesus Christ” or just “Christ”, a mythical person entirely opposite to Historical Jesus (again, the difference between highly conditional reality and unconditional reality). The gospel writers- notably Matthew and Luke- adopted Paul’s Christ myth. They then wrote all sorts of conditional things in their gospels (i.e. threats of divine vengeance and punishment, statements of Jesus coming to make a payment for sin, a sacrifice) and they put these statements in the mouth of Jesus, claiming that he taught these conditional things. But this added gospel material contradicts Jesus’ core teaching in Matthew 5:38-48 and Luke 6:27-36. The gospel writers tried to bury the actual teaching of Jesus with their conditional Christ mythology that they had received mainly from Paul.
(Note: In 1 Corinthians 1-3, Paul, in a general manner, opposed the wisdom tradition of sages like Jesus. See for instance, Stephen Patterson’s “The Lost Way”. Then, in Romans 12 he more specifically rejected the core ethical/theological breakthrough of Jesus. In the Romans 12 passage he appeared to get the ethic of non-retaliation but in an entirely contradictory conclusion, he based it on a theology of retaliation. Pure oxymoron. Closer inspection shows that he also missed the ethic of Jesus in that he urged non-retaliation in order to assure divine retaliation on offenders- to “heap burning coals on their heads”. He missed the core unconditional message of Jesus on both counts- ethical and theological. Retaliation, or eye for eye justice, was the central theme in Paul’s thinking.)
There are varied other elements in Christianity that can be affirmed as decently humane and I would certainly affirm the general contribution of Christian believers to society. Over the past few centuries, most Christians have learned to moderate the practice of their religion despite retaining its darker features. But it is inexcusable to continue to protect the larger theological framework of Christianity that distorts and buries the unconditional ideal that was taught by Jesus. That larger framework is based on the pathological myth of an angry, punishing God that demands a blood payment before he will forgive anyone. That God demands that a supreme condition be met first before he will show mercy to anyone. This conditional gospel of Paul is entirely opposite to the unconditional theology of Jesus. For two millennia Paul’s theology has tried to bury the no conditions discovery of Jesus.
Paul’s Christ myth- the sacrifice of Christ to appease an angry God (Romans 5:9)- is the great anti-Jesus myth. It is about a supreme condition that negates entirely the no conditions teaching of Jesus. Meditate on this for a while, and check the varied New Testament passages listed below that set forth this stunning contradiction at the heart of Christianity. See, for instance, the comparison of Jesus and Paul in List of Topics, Section Two.
(To reduce the need to search below I will include here the following 7-8 paragraphs that are a quote pulled from the List of Topics further below on the contrast between Jesus and Paul)
“The stunning contrast between the core teaching of the historical Jesus and the entirely opposite teaching of Christianity: Jesus rejected retaliation and punishment and instead introduced a new ethic and theology of non-retaliation or the unconditional treatment of all persons. That was his core theme, his gospel. Do not retaliate because God does not retaliate. Love your enemies because God loves all enemies.
(Note: Some Jesus Seminar Fellows respond that unconditional is not the core theme of Historical Jesus. Ultimately, it matters not if we can establish unconditional from the Jesus tradition. We take what is useful from such traditions and then make our own conclusions for today. We do not need to appeal to religious authority to establish the validity of unconditional for defining authentic humanity.)
“Jesus’ new theology blew away the foundations of conditional religion. It over-turned entirely all previous belief in the required conditions of sacrifice, atonement, and salvation. He stated clearly that God was unconditional love and did not demand that people meet any conditions at all in order to be forgiven and accepted. (Note: He did not dismiss human responsibility to counter wrong and promote right; to be accountable for one’s actions)
“Paul reversed the new theology of Jesus and retreated back to a primitive retaliation/punishment view of God. He re-established the divine demand for blood sacrifice, atonement, and highly conditional salvation religion. He made divine conditions the foundation of Christianity (See Romans 1-5). He rejected outright the greatest liberation movement ever offered to humanity and took the opposite view to that of Jesus. His Christian religion was based on his stunning reversal of Jesus’ teaching. This is history’s greatest scandal because it is an outright rejection of history’s single greatest discovery.
“Paul buried the unconditional theme of Jesus, the core theme of his gospel.
“Summary contrast of Jesus’ gospel compared to Paul’s opposite gospel:
“Ethic and Theology of Jesus (Matthew 5:38-48, Luke 6)- Do not retaliate against evil, but instead, love others unconditionally and you will be like God (this bases the non-retaliating ethic on the identical non-retaliating theology). God loves enemies, is kind, merciful, and compassionate to the evil and gives good things to all alike (unconditionally), both just and unjust.
“Ethic and Theology of Paul (Romans 12)- Do not repay any one evil for evil, do not take revenge but… (he then bases the non-retaliating ethic on the absolutely contradicting retaliatory theology)… leave room for God’s wrath…for ”Vengeance is mine, I will repay says the Lord”. Paul reverts back to a retaliating, punishing God.
“Note in regard to the above- theology determines ethics. What people believe (i.e. their highest ideals and authorities) will determine how they act. This helps explain why people holding high ethical standards will still treat others inhumanely. Note, for instance, how harsh Paul was toward all who disagreed with his views. Paul did not love his enemies, not even his fellow believers that differed from him (see, for example, Galatians 1:8-9). He damned them to eternal destruction. Despite his comments on the noble ideals of love and non-retaliation, when others disagreed with him, he then responded just like his vengeful, punishing God.
“Also note that Paul, while advocating non-retaliation toward offenders, urged this response in a spiteful manner, to ensure punishment of the offender (“to heap burning coals on his head”, Romans 12). He missed the main point of the unconditional ethic of Jesus as well as his unconditional theology.” (End of quote from List of Topics)
Keep in mind also that Christianity has shaped Western consciousness and life more than any other body of ideas (Tabor, Boyce, and others). While some of that influence has been positive, those bad religious ideas are still present at the heart of Christian theology and they continue to undermine and cloud the more positive Christian influence. Most significant, Christian theology continues to hinder any broader human appreciation of unconditional reality. Basic Christian beliefs, whether viewed literally or metaphorically, orient consciousness and identity to overall exclusion, separation, punishment, and destruction of outsiders to the religion (unbelievers).
The breakthrough discovery of Historical Jesus orients consciousness to authentic hope, to true liberation at the depths of human consciousness and spirit, and to the highest form of love ever known, an unconditional love that defines us as truly human or humane. Unconditional means absolutely no conditions. None. The central unconditional theme of Historical Jesus is a death blow to all conditional religion.
Again, the main point here is the discovery of absolutely no conditions love at the core of all and the related ethic of the unconditional treatment of all people- the single greatest discovery of humanity, ever. Explore with us the liberating and humanizing potential of this supremely humane ideal.
Added note: The “spiritual insight” that “no conditions love defines ultimate reality” is necessary to engage in order to properly counter the original error- a mythological/religious error- that some threatening, retaliatory spirit defines ultimate reality. Ultimately, the spiritual is critical to fully meet the human impulse for meaning and purpose.
Insert: Posing some oppositional dualism between religion and atheism, as humanity’s only choice, is simple-minded dogmatism, on both sides of this debate. We can do much better, with more diverse alternatives. Let seven billion (plus) flowers bloom. See further comment below on religious/atheist issues.
Another note: There is growing public recognition that we must deal with the ideology behind terrorism if we are going to win the long-term war against terror. You can militarily defeat a group like ISIS but, absent a plan to deal with the inciting/validating belief system, you still lose the overall war against terror. Another group with the same ideology will just take its place. You have to deal with the root causes (the disease) behind religious terrorism and not just the repeated symptoms, such as groups like Al Queda or ISIS.
So there is growing recognition that we have to engage the “battle of ideas”. Some have stated more directly that the problem behind terrorism is “bad religious ideas” (e.g. Sam Harris). It is more than just an “ideological” issue; it is more of a theological/religious problem. But few have stated exactly what those bad ideas are. I have set forth the basic template of bad religious ideas in such comments below as “Top Ten Bad Religious Ideas”, and other comment on grand narrative themes.
But more important, I have repeatedly set forth the worst of all bad ideas- that of a violent deity/God. This is the core bad idea behind violence. This is the real monster that we face- the Master Terrorist. A violent, threatening God has long been at the root of human religious violence, inciting and validating the worst impulses in people. We are talking about a primitive mythical theme that was long ago embedded in human subconscious where it works a damaging influence with inherited animal drives. (See more detail further below on how bad religious ideas incite and validate our inherited animal impulses to harm others.)
Consequently, a violent, vengeful God has long provided the ultimate model for human existence, the ultimate ideal and authority for people to commit violence against others.
Page Content Lists
(The lists below are only a partial listing of each section’s comments, but they cover most of the material on this page.)
Site Comment: Section One
The true state of life- It gets better; Anti-science alarmism; CO2 alarmism; Plimer and Moore quotes on the benefits of CO2; Grappling with imperfection; Human narrative- Old story versus new story; Rethinking justice; Dogmatic meaninglessness; Defining the core of ultimate reality (some theological musing); Noble savage mythology; Authentic liberalism- its all about freedom; Alleviating irresponsible alarmism; Karma as payback myth.
Site Comment: Section Two
The foundational error in human thought- that there are punishing, violent forces or spirits behind life; A potent response to the original pathology- the discovery of absolutely no conditions love; List of Topics; Challenging the Greek view that retribution is at the core of reality; Main indicators of the true state of life- the status of forests, fisheries, soil, species; Confronting alarmism with hope based on the best available evidence; The problem of conditional religion; Top Ten Bad Religious Ideas; Theism/Atheism debate; A model of religion and violence; Countering the holiness distortion in Western theology; Inoculate children against religious pathology; Garcia on Alpha God and animal-like subservience; Pessimism as mental masturbation; Moore- Celebrate CO2.
Site Comment: Section Three
Violence- Getting ultimate inspiration and validation from bad religious ideas; Bad ideas promoting bad behavior; Christianity and violence in the Western tradition; Jewish Christianity shapes Islam; The great Contradiction- the unconditional theology of Historical Jesus contrasted with the supremely conditional theology of Paul/Christianity (or non-retaliation versus retaliation); The great scandal at the heart of Christianity; Chronology of the contradiction; James Robinson quotes on the contradiction.
Site Comment: Section Four
Disorienting historical evidence- Richard Landes on Christian apocalyptic shaping mass-death movements, Marxism and Nazism; Bad religious ideas; Zenon Lotufo quotes (Cruel God, Kind God- violence in God as psychopathic); Nelson-Pallmeyer (Is Religion Killing Us?); Ellens (The Destructive Power of Religion); Discussion group comment.
Site Comment: Section Five
Roots of apocalyptic/alarmist thinking; A thought breakthrough; Grand narrative core themes (humanizing worldviews); The futility of reforming religion (the stunning contrast between the unconditional teaching of Jesus and the conditional atonement of Paul); Standing up to bully gods- the monsters of the metaphysical; History’s greatest terrorist- the pathology of violence in God.
Site Comment: Section Six
A brief history of punishment; Tackling Paul; Ethics and theology contrasted- Jesus versus Paul; Maccoby on Paul inventing his Christ myth; Paul’s great reversal/retreat from Jesus; Eliminating Zoroastrian dualism; Solving the root causes of violence; The wonder of being human; The most potent force against evil; CO2 or natural variation?; Secularized mythology- apocalyptic in modern ideology.
Site Comment: Section Seven
The problem of deity- defining and describing God; Punishment thinking; Reason for this page- leaving conditional religion for unconditional freedom; I am a dreamer (my list of greatest things); Unconditional as the cohering theme of Historical Jesus; Dating the New Testament books (watching the great contradiction unfold); Mandela’s example; Unconditional is impractical?; Unconditional and the use of force- advice of the Chinese sage; Brinsmead on non-retaliation in relationships; Humanity’s greatest mistake.
Site Comment: Section Eight
Humanity’s greatest discovery; Post to Jesus Seminar Fellows; Grand narrative context; Paul’s dominant themes; The benefits of blasphemy; Two grand narratives of the cosmos, life, and humanity; The Ultimate Resource- Julian Simon; Stephen Pinker on the decline of violence over history; Remembering Nelson Mandela; Environmentalist/Environmentalism; The ultimate insight; The Mennonite solution- Lipstick on a pig.
Site Comment: Section Nine
Unconditional goodness; Big picture approach; No Hell beneath us; Climate change alarmism; Decline or Rise- What is the actual trajectory of life?; Nothing to fear behind life; Retaliation/non-retaliation; The apocalyptic error and the real nature of life as unconditional; Creating divine monsters; Excerpts from Near-Death Experiences (unconditional love at the core of reality); The historical trend from retaliation to the unconditional treatment of all (leaving animal existence to engage human existence); Entirely opposite: Jesus versus Paul, An unconditional TOE; Depression and bad theology.
Site Comment: Section Ten
Dense complexity (causes of violence); Mimetic Mennonites; Ellen’s Destructive Power of Religion; It all gets better; History’s greatest liberation movement; Celebrating more CO2; Hitchens on violence; The longing for perfection; Brinsmead on imperfection; God as psychopath; The pathology in Western religion; Zenon Lotufo quotes (the psychopath behind atonement theology- finding satisfaction in the suffering of others); A model of religion and violence; review of Armstrong’s Fields of Blood, Love and freedom- understanding suffering.
Terror in Mumbai
Fareed Zakaria narrates the CNN documentary ‘Terror in Mumbai’ on the attacks that killed 170 people there in 2008. The documentary includes taped telephone conversations between the man in Pakistan controlling the shooters, and the shooter’s responses to the controller. In the back and forth between the controller and the shooters, note the repeated appeal to God.
The controller encouraged his protégés to start killing, stating, “This is a struggle between Islam and unbelievers… God chose you to kill unbelievers”.
The controller repeatedly appealed to the promise of heaven if his shooters would kill unbelievers, “You must kill people in order to get your reward in heaven… (then as the death toll mounted and the shooters faced death themselves)…you are close to heaven”.
The controller insisted that God was assisting the shooters with success, “With God’s blessing you’ve done a great job”.
After one of the shooters was killed by police, either the controller or another shooter said, “May God accept his martyrdom”.
The controller at another point affirmed to the shooters, “God is waiting for you in heaven”.
When the shooters were hesitant about killing hostages, the controller impatiently urged, “Do it in God’s name”. Then as the shooters continued to kill, the controller encouraged them with, “Praise God. God keep you”.
As one of the shooters, already wounded, faced his own death, he told the controller, “May God accept my martyrdom”.
And so it went, a violent episode of mass murder, drenched in God-talk and appeal to God. Much like the Christian Crusaders of previous millennia appealed to God (i.e. seeking God’s blessing, thanking God) as they slaughtered Jews and Muslims.
If you want to win the war on terror then, among other things, you must confront and correct the pathological theology at the heart of this madness. And recognize that you are not dealing with some aberrational theology that is just unique to the terrorists. You are dealing with a core element in the foundational theology of all Western religion- violence in the ultimate ideal and authority of deity.
Religiously inspired terrorism is not just an Islamic problem. The inciting idea of violent deity goes back to the very beginning of human mythology/religion. And this core bad religious idea has long dominated Western thought, producing an endless “river of blood” in all three Western religions. The idea of violent deity descended from Zoroastrianism to Judaism, to Christianity, and then to Islam. It is a direct line of succession to the religious violence of today. And Christianity bears major responsibility for bringing this Master Terrorist into Western consciousness.
If you are going to deal thoroughly and fundamentally with violence, then you must purge this worst of all bad ideas (the divine ideal of vengeful violence) from human systems of thought. This is what the “humanization” project on this site is all about. Slay the real beast, the Master Terrorist behind human terrorism.
The Christian Contradiction (full version)
(Note: The following comment is related to sound historical research, namely Q Sayings research which is a subsection of general Historical Jesus research)
A significant historical misunderstanding, distortion, and consequent scandal. That refers to the Jesus/Paul contradiction noted below, and its recognizable impact on public consciousness and general human existence. Varied historians have stated that Paul has been the single greatest influence on Western consciousness and society. Some of that influence has been good. Some has been harmful. Note the difference because it is important. This contradiction between Jesus and Paul encompasses significant validating ideas that have shaped human existence for better and for worse.
Qualifier: A note on the Jesus tradition and Historical Jesus research. Ultimately it does not matter what Jesus said, or did not say. Historical Jesus research shows that we will never know his actual original teaching with finality. It is more important to get the insight on unconditional reality that is found on the Jesus side of the tradition, and pull that out of the highly conditional Christian context where it has been severely distorted by Paul’s atonement theology (i.e. the demanded payment for sin- the fulfillment of an ultimate condition). Jesus’ unconditional insight is better understood in new contexts aside from conditional religion. As he said, put the new wine in new wineskins. The diamond of unconditional has too long been buried by the overwhelmingly dominant Christ myth of Christianity. That is Thomas Jefferson’s point that the diamonds of Jesus- “his sublimely moral teaching”- were buried among the other inferior teaching of the gospel writers. He used a stronger term to describe the inferior teaching in the New Testament, but I am trying to be nice.
Further, unconditional does not need validation by a religious authority figure like Jesus. It is self-validating as the ultimate definition of authentic humanity. Therefore, I am advocating that we get the unconditional insight clear, pull it out of the Jesus tradition, and then create a better context aside from the conditional features of a religion like Christianity. Jesus points us in the right direction on unconditional. Now we need to move on further.
One more: I am not claiming below that Paul set out to intentionally deceive people. I assume that he actually believed that his Christ myth explained what Jesus was all about. But the outcome is the same- whether just serious misunderstanding or intentional deception. Paul proclaimed something that was not true. His Christ mistake has harmed people more than is commonly recognized. (See comment below on Paul’s influence on Western consciousness and society, and the psychological impact of his ideas)
Distortion and Deception (propagating belief in things that are not true)
This is about the claim to represent someone, but then distorting and burying entirely that person’s central theme. The very name Christianity expresses the basic problem. It is not Jesus-ianity. It is Christ-ianity. Its all about the Christ myth of Paul, a myth that contradicts the original message of Jesus entirely.
(I recognize that the ideas that Paul used to shape his Christology were also common in Judaism and other traditions- i.e. Messiah myths. See, for instance, Daniel Boyarin’s The Jewish Gospels)
It ranks high as probably the greatest deception and scandal in the history of mythology and religion- that Christianity rejected and then buried the earliest gospel of Jesus. This is much more consequential than the discovery of the ossuary of Jesus. Or the pedophile priest scandals. Or any other scandal/deception. The distortion and burial of Jesus’ teaching within Christianity has resulted in the “spiritual abuse” of countless people over the past two millennia (see psychotherapist Zenon Lotufo’s comment at bottom of this article).
Christianity as spiritual abuse? That’s an extravagant and unsettling claim to make. But take into account the widespread influence of Christianity and the nature of its foundational ideas. To get this abuse issue fully, note, for instance, Lotufo’s comments on the harmful impacts from atonement theology (i.e. the belief in divine anger that demands suffering and death as payment for imperfection). He wrote an entire book outlining the damage to human personality from these ideas (see Cruel God, Kind God).
There are two sides to this claim of abuse. There is the Christian denial of something that could powerfully liberate and heal human consciousness and life- i.e. the proper knowledge of the highest expression of authentic humanity ever presented. I refer to the Jesus breakthrough on the unconditional treatment of all people. Christianity’s contrary retaliation themes have denied people the full understanding of this supremely humane ethic. And just as important, Christianity has denied people the healing impact of Jesus’ theological breakthrough- the discovery of a God that treats everyone with absolutely no conditions love. The new Jesus theology points us toward “the single most profound shift in human consciousness ever- from viewing some grand retribution or payback behind reality, to understanding that there is only an absolutely no conditions Love behind all”. See the implications of denying this wonder below.
The other side of this abuse claim is that, aside from denying people the proper presentation of history’s most liberating insight, Christianity has promoted contrary ideas that have proven harmful in all other contexts. It is no longer responsible to protect these bad ideas in religious contexts like Christianity, no matter how sacred we feel them to be.
The proper presentation and full understanding of the stunning unconditional insight of Jesus could have produced the greatest liberation movement ever- freeing human consciousness from all kinds of unnecessary threat, guilt/shame, fear, anxiety, depression and despair that arise from atonement theology. The clear presentation of the unconditional insight could have also removed a central historical validation for violence- i.e. the ideal of violent, punitive deity that has long been used to validate similar violent treatment of others (see, for example, Terror in Mumbai). We have been denied so much, to our detriment, over the past two millennia.
This Christian denial is about an original teaching and a religion that claims to represent the original teacher but has contradicted entirely his core theme. Yes, much of the content of Jesus’ original teaching has been included in the New Testament but it has been tampered with by gospel writers like Matthew. Most of the rest of the New Testament then ignores Jesus’ teaching outright and instead promotes the Christ mythology of Paul (i.e. Paul’s Christology- his personal visions of Christ). The Christ of Paul embodies an atonement myth- a supreme condition- that contradicts entirely the Jesus breakthrough on unconditional.
The basic outline of the scandal:
The closest that we can get to the original teaching of Jesus is a collection of wisdom sayings, called the Q Sayings Gospel (see, for instance, the research of James Robinson, among others). That teaching encompasses basically Matthew chapters 5 to 7, the Sermon on the Mount, and a few other passages/stories. Luke 6 covers similar material. Q research (short for Quelle, the German word for Source) is part of the larger multi-century search to discover the Historical Jesus- what he actually said and did. Historical Jesus research recognizes that the later gospel and epistle writers put a lot of additional things in the mouth of Jesus, things that contradict his original teaching. Hence, the understanding that there are notable “dissimilarities” or contradictions in the New Testament. The latest phase of this search involves the Jesus Seminar, which began around 1985. These scholars have done excellent work trying to decipher what the original Jesus actually said and did. Unfortunately, they have never made fully clear the shocking nature of the Christian denial of Jesus’ core theme, and what this means for Christianity and other belief systems.
Again, Matthew 5-7 comprises Jesus’ core teaching or message, his gospel, though Matthew has altered that teaching in various places. But within this core teaching there is a core theme that is stated in Matthew 5:38-48, which Robinson calls the “core of the core”. There, Jesus introduced something entirely new- a stunning theology of a non-retaliatory God. He said that there should be no more ‘eye for eye’ vengeance but instead we should love our enemies and we would then be the children of God, we would be like God. Because God gives the good things of life- sun and rain- to all, both good and bad. God does not exclude or discriminate but treats all the same, with unconditional generosity and love. God does not exercise payback or ‘eye for eye’ justice- i.e. reward the good and punish the bad. God treats all the same. This was something uniquely new and unprecedented in history. A God that did not retaliate, punish, or destroy but instead exhibited absolutely no conditions love toward everyone.
Here is a summarized/paraphrased statement of the Matthew 5 insight combined with parts of the same Luke 6 teaching: “You have heard that it was said, Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth. But I tell you, Do not take vengeance on an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also…You have heard that it was said, Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I tell you: Love your enemies…do good to those that hate you, that you may be the sons of your Father in heaven (i.e. if you do that you will be like God). He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and unrighteous, he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked…Be merciful therefore just as your heavenly Father is merciful”.
(Side note: As with all comment on unconditional, one feels obligated to qualify to doubters that common sense understands that love is responsible to restrain evil in order to protect the innocent. Unconditional is very much about the spirit in which we treat all others, despite what we might have to do to protect people and to restrain bad behavior.)
The ethic of non-retaliation (no more eye for eye, no getting even with those who harm us) had been voiced repeatedly over previous millennia in such writing as the Akkadian Father’s advice to his son, roughly around 2000 BCE. Other ancient traditions- e.g. Hinduism, Buddhism- had similar statements. But never before had anyone presented the related theology of a non-retaliating God. Jesus took theology somewhere entirely new.
James Robinson calls Jesus’ new theology “his most important contribution to the history of ideas” (Jesus According to the Earliest Witnesses, p.17). It was a vision of God that was more humane than anything ever stated before, a God that exhibited impartial love for both good and bad people. All previous deities, despite embracing new features like mercy and compassion, had also maintained the traditional harsher features of gods, such as anger, vengeance, punishment, tribal favoritism and exclusion, and destruction of enemies. Jesus’ new Q theology had none of that.
(Note: Robinson gets the closest to grasping the unconditional theme of Jesus’ theology but does not seem to get the full nature of this discovery and its profound implications for Christianity. He continues to roam around in the confusing Christian context. For example, in several places he says that doing Jesus’ words is “what counts in the day of judgment”. The unconditional treatment of all and judgment? Huh? But Robinson gets further with his grasp of Jesus’ core theme than most Jesus Seminar scholars.)
My point in this discussion…
Non-retaliation is one element in the larger theme of unconditional love- the unconditional treatment of all people. This unconditional theme, though Jesus never used exactly that term, is visible all through the teaching and behavior of Jesus. We find unconditional in his advocating for unlimited forgiveness (i.e. seventy seven times, Matthew 18: 21-22); in his advocating for non-discrimination toward all people, or the unconditional inclusion of all (i.e. he did this at meals and elsewhere- inviting “sinners” to table fellowship, without condition); and in his advocating unconditional generosity toward all (“give to whoever asks, especially enemies, and expect nothing in return”, Luke 6:35). The absolutely no conditions treatment of all people was the new kingdom of God (the new humane existence) that he spoke about.
Unconditional is also evident in the short stories that Jesus told. Note, for instance, that in the Prodigal story the father (representing God) demands no sacrifice to pay for the sins of the wayward son. He demands no repentance or payback of any kind. He exhibits an unconditional welcome and celebration toward the bad son. The generosity of the father offends the older son, the good son. It offends his sense of proper morality or justice. The unconditional treatment of all is offensive to traditional religious/payback understanding of justice.
The no conditions treatment of all is a “cohering theme” throughout the teaching and life of Jesus. There are more detailed outlines of this below- see, for instance, “Unconditional as the cohering theme of Historical Jesus” (formerly Unconditional in the Jesus Tradition), section 7.
Again, there were two parts to the statement of Jesus’ core theme in Matthew 5:38-48. First, there was the ethic that was then based on the exact same theological belief. That has been a critical relationship all through human history- to base behavior on beliefs. We act according to how we think. And for the first time ever Jesus got both the behavior and the belief right in that he stated them in terms of the highest understanding of authentic love- unconditional. He took our understanding of being authentically human, of the great ideal of love, to new heights with the absolutely no conditions ideal.
To enhance appreciation for what he discovered, I have stated repeatedly here that Jesus’ statement of the unconditional insight competes as humanity’s greatest discovery ever. It is the finest statement of authentically humane ethics and the ultimate definition of a supremely humane God. There is no more comparably humane insight anywhere in human thought or literature.
Consider its two parts- an ethic that Jefferson called “sublime”. And then a theological foundation that takes perception of ultimate reality to absolute new heights of the humane. And I do not know if Jesus had any clue about what he was doing with these two elements, but when he combined them, he responded in the best possible manner to the fundamental human need to base behavior on validating beliefs, ideals, or higher authorities. He responded sublimely to the human need to think about and validate what we do. And he attained the highest possible reach of the authentically humane on both features.
Some anthropologists have treated this important behavior/belief linkage. See, for instance, Clifford Geertz below.
But again, it matters not whether Jesus actually taught unconditional as I have stated it, or not. We know it today as the highest expression of authentic humanity. It is right and true in itself and needs no religious authority to validate it. And again, I would advocate pulling this insight out of the confusing Christian context (i.e. highly conditional atonement theology) in order to see it more clearly. Create a new ‘no conditions’ context for it.
The misunderstanding and consequent deception: Burying unconditional in a highly conditional theology and Christology (i.e. the teaching about the Christ).
When Paul composed the theology of Christianity a few decades after Jesus died, he outright rejected the central unconditional theme of Jesus. He created a Christ myth as a message that was entirely opposite to what Jesus had taught. His Christ myth became the heart of the new Christian religion. It was about a Savior that had to come to meet the ultimate condition ever conceived- to become a sacrifice to pay for sin in order to save us from the wrath of God (Romans 5:9), to save us from a God that would retaliate with horrific punishment and destruction of unbelievers. The myth of the Christ was about the supreme condition of a Savior sent to make a supreme payment for sin, a human blood sacrifice in order to save people from the rage of Paul’s retaliating/punishing God. I am stating these beliefs as plainly and coarsely as possible in order to make their essential nature clear. (For Paul’s statements of these ideas see the early chapters of Romans, and the wrath/retaliation theme all through Paul’s letters)
When Paul presented the Christ myth in his letters, he included almost nothing from the actual teaching of Jesus, except in one place where he apparently engaged Jesus’ teaching, but only in order to contradict its main discovery and theme.
Jesus, in his original wisdom sayings, had said nothing about traditional religious conditions or salvation conditions. And he said nothing about his coming as a Savior to become a sacrifice to pay for sin. He also said nothing about bringing the world to an end in a great apocalyptic punishment and destruction. To the contrary, he had repeatedly emphasized the themes of unconditional forgiveness, inclusion, and generosity toward all. Because that is what God does. His teaching was mainly a body of ethical statements on how to live as authentically human. How to love unconditionally.
Paul outright rejected that absolutely no conditions message, especially the new Jesus theology of a non-retaliating God. Paul then reversed back to primitive eye for eye justice, and to the entire opposite theology- that of a punishing, retaliating, and destroying God. Paul retreated into highly conditional salvation religion.
Robinson says that Jesus’ basic insight was then lost and early Christianity returned to a retaliatory God. Christianity, he says, returned to Matthew’s vengefulness. Jesus’ view of God was replaced by the reverse view of God (see Jesus According to the First Witnesses, p.134, 137). Robinson concludes that Jesus’ shocking new view of God has since been largely ignored. Buried, forgotten.
Does this give you some sense of the profound deception that has actually occurred in Christianity?
Paul states his outright rejection of Jesus’ new teaching in several places in his letters. For instance, in 1 Corinthians 1-3, he more generally opposes and dismisses the wisdom tradition of sages like Jesus (see Stephen Patterson’s The Lost Way for detail). But then in Romans 12 he appears to more directly engage and oppose the main ethical/belief breakthrough of Jesus (i.e. Matthew 5:38-48). He especially reverses its stunning new theological insight. Taking an entirely contrary position to Jesus, Paul advocates for a vengeful, retaliating God (“Vengeance is mine… I will repay”). At first glance, this appears to be quite nonsensical for a supposedly bright man, to base a non-retaliatory ethic on a retaliatory belief (i.e. you should not retaliate because God will retaliate- Romans 12:17-20).
Here is the Romans 12 statement combining the non-retaliation ethic with the contrary retaliation theology: “Do not repay anyone evil for evil… Do not take revenge but leave room for God’s wrath for it is written, ‘It is mine to avenge. I will repay’. Instead, treat your enemy well and in doing this you will heap burning coals on his head”.
A side note: Imagine- Paul asks us to act in a more humane manner than God does. We are not to engage the “evil” of retaliation (“Do not return evil for evil”) because God will do that evil, and to much worse degree. We are to be more humane than God. That is a nonsensical argument.
While Paul appears to at least embrace the non-retaliation ethic of Jesus, closer examination shows that he also misunderstands the very spirit of Jesus’ ethic on non-retaliation. So Paul is actually being consistent by making his ethic similar to the belief that it is based upon. Both are retaliatory in essence.
Paul urges his non-retaliation ethic as a temporary this-world stance that will ensure ultimate divine retaliation. Do not retaliate, he urges, but he then relates this to the outcome that it will “pour coals of fire” on your enemy’s head. Some scholars claim that this comment shows that we should engage non-retaliation in order to then ensure that God will retaliate. Hence, the ethic is also retaliatory in intent and outcome. It will ensure a much worse future retaliation against your enemies. Hence, Paul appears to be consistent in rejecting the spirit of the ethic of Jesus, as well as rejecting outright the core theology of Jesus.
Paul creates Christianity on this foundational myth of divine retaliation (eye for eye justice).
The theme of divine retaliation runs all through Paul’s writing. Note just for example the following statements from Paul’s first two letters written to the Thessalonians around 50 CE. “Coming wrath…the wrath of God…the Lord will punish… (they will) suffer wrath… destruction will come…he will pay back trouble… Lord Jesus revealed in blazing fire…he will punish…they will be punished with everlasting destruction…doomed to destruction…Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth…they will perish…”. And that is just from two short early epistles. The man was grounded in retaliation theology. So it goes throughout his letters. Urging believers to trust in a retaliatory God who will destroy their enemies when the great apocalypse and end-time judgment comes.
Paul was significantly influential in shaping the rest of early Christian thought and writing. His views dominated the Christian movement and the rest of the Christian scriptures. He set the retaliatory tone for the rest of the Christian religion.
The outcome was that his retaliatory Christianity has distorted and buried Jesus’ original gospel teaching on non-retaliation.
The other New Testament writers, under Paul’s dominating influence, also promoted Paul’s retaliation-oriented Christ myth, known as the Christian “Jesus Christ”.
Writers like Matthew (or whoever actually wrote that book) felt obligated to include the unconditional teaching of Jesus as it was too well known by the early Christian movement to ignore. But Matthew then immediately set about contradicting that non-retaliatory teaching, burying it in retaliatory and conditional comment. He starts in the Sermon on the Mount, putting all sorts of retaliatory/conditional statements in the mouth of Jesus. For instance, Matthew has Jesus stating that anyone who breaks the least of the commandments would be punished with diminished status (Matt.5:19). He then threatens that unless a person’s righteousness exceeded that of the Pharisees they would not enter the kingdom of heaven (5:20). He continues stating that expressing anger would subject people to judgment (5:22), that calling another person a fool would get people into Hell (5:22), that lustful thoughts would get people into Hell (5:30- that means all men), that people would only be forgiven on condition that they first forgave others (e.g. “If you forgive men when they sin against you, your Father will also forgive you”, Matthew 6:14), and that judging others would result in eye for eye retributive judgment (Matt.7:1). And so on throughout the sermon. Matthew’s tampered version of Jesus’ original gospel is full of retaliatory ‘eye for eye’ comment, in startling contradiction to the core theme of Jesus in Matthew 5:38-48.
Matthew in later chapters then goes nuclear with threats of divine retaliation and Hell, repeatedly warning people that they will be cast into outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, among other threats (see for example Matthew 10:15, 10:20, 11:21-22, 13:42, 18:9, 18:35, 22:13, 23:33, 25:30, and other verses). He even claims that some sins will never be forgiven (12:31). Matthew is just following Paul’s lead on a retaliating God with threats of divine anger and punishment. He contradicts entirely the clear statement of Jesus that God did not retaliate against anyone, not even the bad. So it goes with much of the New Testament, ending in that orgy of grotesque Christ-fueled retaliation of Revelation.
Consequent to this harsh teaching, billions of people have never been clearly told the full wonder and the liberating implications of the absolutely no conditions news that Jesus taught. They have been denied the profoundly liberating news that there is only an absolutely no conditions love behind all. They have never been clearly told that there never was an angry God threatening punishment and damnation in Hell. There never was a Fall into sin and separation from God (i.e. ruptured relationship). There never was an exclusion from paradise. There is no need for some sacrifice to pay for sin, for some plan of salvation. There is no need for faith in some Savior. There is no need to be saved from anything. There is no division of humanity into the special saved children of God (true believers) and damned outsiders (unbelievers). There will be no apocalypse or judgment or hell. There is no need for mediating religion and priesthoods. We are free indeed and we are all safe in unconditional love. We always have been. Unconditional means absolutely no conditions. None at all.
But instead of liberating humanity into an authentically unconditional understanding and existence, Christianity has re-enforced the old threatening, retaliation view of reality and existence. This religion has subsequently shaped our justice systems, our ethics, and our overall societies (again, see comments by Tabor, Boyce, the Mennonites, and others below). As writers like Zenon Lotufo state (Cruel God, Kind God), this harshly inhumane teaching has retarded many people in subhuman states of development. It has darkened and enslaved human consciousness and the human spirit for two millennia.
Despite these nasty influences and outcomes, many Christians have learned to focus on the more humane themes in the Bible and ignore the larger context of retaliation. They are to be applauded for this. But the larger background context continues to undermine, weaken, distort, and bury the better Christian ideals like love. Unconditional love has no relationship at all to atonement conditions. Jefferson was right that the diamonds are buried. The only reasonable conclusion then? Pull the diamonds out and clean them off properly. Or to use another statement from Jesus- the new wine needs new wineskins.
This deception/scandal has been ignored and downplayed for two millennia now. It needs to be exposed widely. It is one of history’s greatest frauds and scams. Yet it lies there plainly visible in the New Testament. Why have so many missed it? I would suggest because of the cognitive dissonance that Christianity has promoted, the great contradictions that people are pushed to hold in their minds. Christian believers are told that all of the ideas in the Bible are sacred ideas- ideas given by God in holy books (i.e. the fallacy of Biblicism). So they are not to be questioned or challenged. They are all from God. So submit, believe, and obey.
That unquestioning subservience has to end. But I understand the fear that a fundamental challenge and reform project will evoke in Christian believers and leadership. If you embrace the original teaching of Jesus, if you take it seriously, it then represents the greatest threat to the Christian religion, ever. If people start to take his unconditional theme seriously then that will spell the end of all conditional religion. It spells the end of Christian conditional atonement, the foundational belief of Christianity. My suggestion to alleviate concern- rather than fear the unconditional core theme of Jesus, and its implications, get a good grip on unconditional itself and appreciate the liberation that it brings. Look at the positive outcomes. It also fully humanizes Jesus. Something the Christ myth could never do.
And at least recognize, without bias, what any superficial understanding of unconditional really means. Conditional religions like Christianity cannot properly present the unconditional discovery of Historical Jesus. To try and merge unconditional with conditional atonement, as Christianity does, only confuses things. It weakens unconditional. Jesus and Christ cannot be merged as they are entire opposites. They represent unconditional reality versus highly conditional reality. Absolutely contradictory. And while it is true that there are the ideals of love, mercy, forgiveness and more in the Christian teaching, it is what you maintain in the larger context (i.e. divine wrath, vengeance, punishment) that defines and distorts these other ideals. The result of trying to merge opposites in the same system of belief, as Lotufo notes, is cognitive dissonance (contradiction) and the obstruction of healthy personality development. Note his discussion of the cognitive dissonance in the lives of John Stott and J.I. Packer, two Evangelical theologians.
Brief summary of the development of early Christian thinking…
Jesus taught his new theology somewhere between CE 27-36. Paul wrote his first letters to the Thessalonians around the 50s CE. Mark wrote around the 70s CE. Matthew wrote around 80s CE. An aside: Robinson notes the 70 CE event- the Second Temple destruction- that may have turned early Christians away from Jesus’ non-retaliatory theology and back to a retaliating God. But Paul had already been teaching a retaliatory deity before this (again, around 50 CE in Thessalonians). John wrote around 90s CE. Luke/Acts was written early in the second century.
Further comment on the claim of ‘spiritual abuse’ by Christian teaching: Psychotherapist Zenon Lotufo (Cruel God, Kind God) details the harmful consequences from “Cruel God” religion (i.e. angry deity threatening punishment for human imperfection, and demanding blood sacrifice). Aside from producing fanaticism and violence, violent deity religion also produces psychological outcomes like “fear that infantilizes, guilt and anxiety, shame, feeling of rejection and condemnation, depression, and impoverished personalities… the inhibition of the full development of personality” (p.1-5). He argues that the God of atonement and hell-fire threat does “not surpass the least evolved moral levels” (p.101). Such a God hinders the full development of personality and spiritual life. This ‘violent God’ religion leads to “paralysis of moral development in stages typical of young children… the greatest damage done by doctrines that include the ‘plan of salvation’ lies in producing …atrophy of the personality… similar to what happens to those who undergo surgical lobotomies” (p.138). And more. Lotufo rightly notes that the atonement belief is the heart of the problem- an angry God demanding violent punishment and payment. That belief is the foundation of Paul’s Christian religion.
He adds that these Christian ideas permeate Western culture (p.5).
Follow-up note: Isn’t it somewhat callous to challenge a religion that has provided hope for billions of people over two millennia? To “attack” beliefs that provide people the comfort of salvation, beliefs that many consider to be the supreme expression of divine love and compassion? Christians embrace their salvation religion as an expression of love and grace from God. So again, how can anyone be so callous to challenge such love and hope? Well no. That is not the point of what is being done here. My argument is that Christian hope has too long been based on an entirely fraudulent foundation. It is therefore a seriously deformed hope and it leads to “retardation of people in subhuman stages of development” (the psychological description- again, see Lotufo comment on spiritual abuse).
The “comfort” that Christians derive from their tradition stems from that fact that they have first been traumatized by such things as the belief that there is some threat of divine wrath that must be appeased with blood sacrifice, in order for people to be “saved”. Add the horrific myth that they need to be saved from Hell. Of course, a salvation plan that promises to rescue from such threat will provide hope and comfort. But the foundational beliefs are all wrong in the first place. And you must confront this issue- What do such perverse ideas do to human consciousness, emotion, and life?
The question is legitimate: What kind of hope is based on a foundation of traumatizing ideas, fraudulent ideas such as angry deity and Hell? Such ideas do not promote healthy human development but are actually damaging to human personality.
Christian hope is wrongly grounded in a fraudulent and harmful mythology. There has never been an angry God threatening to exclude, punish and destroy people, and demanding payment for human imperfection. There has never been any need to be saved from anything. And the related conditions, such as the requirement to believe and follow the Christian religion correctly, those conditions have left many uncertain if they really are among the saved. Have they met all the conditions properly and fully?
The infinitely better news comes from the unconditional insight of Jesus. That is a much better foundation on which to base authentic hope- that God has always and only been absolutely no conditions love. That provides real security and safety. Unconditional states unequivocally that all are safe. There is no discrimination or exclusion of anyone. That alone generates authentic hope and comfort. Keep this in mind as you read the challenge here to the Christian God and religion.
So to the Christian argument that I should look at the love and hope in their Salvationism, I respond that it begs the question of what kind of love would kill and torture people in Hell? What kind of hope wishes for the destruction of its enemies in Hell (i.e. the Christian hope as expressed in books like Revelation).
I would urge Christian believers: Do not miss the best thing in your tradition- the core unconditional theme of historical Jesus. Recognize how that theme has been distorted by Paul’s Christ myth. And start taking your Jesus seriously (i.e. his original gospel of wisdom sayings). You cannot understand and communicate the wonder of his unconditional theme through conditional ideas and myths such as atonement theology. You only distort and bury unconditional through such concepts. The result is beyond oxymoronic. And you then deny people true liberation, real hope and love, and authentic “salvation”.
This explains my advocating that you take the supremely humane insight of Jesus (Matthew 5:38-48, and related material) out of the New Testament and leave the rest. The rest cannot be salvaged. I have read too many books that get lost in arguing what is valid or not in the Jesus tradition. What might have been added to some original teaching. And the endless debates over which interpretation is right, or not. Endless haggling over words and phrases, jots and tittles. At times it all seems such a waste of time and effort. And it so often misses the main point- is the content humane or not? Is the content promoting the best of human ideals like unconditional?
Remember the old maxim- Do not miss the forest for the trees. Don’t miss the supreme insight and get lost in endless detail that does nothing to enhance human understanding of the most important human insight ever. Like Thomas Jefferson, it seems better to get your scissors and cut out what is best and then throw the rest away. Quit wasting time parsing, defending, and promoting material that is recognizably subhuman or outright inhuman in many cases (according to basic standards of common human rights today).
Take the Matthew 5:38-48 section and spend your life meditating on that. There is no better guide to thinking and acting in the most humane manner possible. That takes human understanding of ultimate reality (God) and human existence to the absolute heights of the authentically humane.
Another: I get the defensive Christian response to the Jesus’ ideal of the unconditional treatment of enemies. Christians argue, to the contrary, that God is holy and therefore “must punish all sin”. But no, love does not have to punish wrong. It can just forgive. Exactly as Jesus advocated (the claimed founder of Christianity). And remember 1 Corinthians 13, the love chapter. That hymn states that love keeps no record of wrongs. It just forgives and forgets all wrongs. Most spouses and parents get this unconditional love and exercise it toward their imperfect spouses and children. Do you think that a God that is Love cannot get such unconditional love? See “Countering the Holiness Distortion in Christianity” further below.
Finally: While initially offensive for the religious mind to even consider, the Jesus/Paul contradiction illustrates the struggle of humanity to leave animal existence (our origin with its dominant features of small band or tribal relating, domination and exclusion of enemies, retaliation and the destruction of outsiders). It illustrates our struggle to become fully human. Unfortunately, our history has too often also exhibited intense opposition to becoming fully human. Religious traditions like Christianity have used the myths of the sacred to validate the animal and to keep it alive, to protect and preserve the animal under the canopy of the sacred. For detail on how people have embedded animal-like features in sacred ideals see, for example, Alex Garcia’s “Alpha God”. This may be upsetting for religious minds to contemplate, but evidence supports the existence of this animal/sacred relationship in religions like Christianity. That relationship has deformed human consciousness and hindered the proper development of human society. Yes, I know… Ouch. But Lotufo, Ellens, and others affirm this conclusion.
Note: My paraphrase of a well-known statement by Jesus- “You will know the truth about unconditional and this truth will set you free”.
Pre-historian John Pfieffer (Explosion: An Inquiry Into the Origins of Art and Religion) suggests that fear was central to the earliest religion. He claims that the ancients used religious forms of fear-mongering (early alarmism) to control people. He states that early people painted drawings on cave walls deep within the earth, some 25,000 years ago, partly so the darkness would disorient people. Further, it was “anamorphic art”- drawings that appeared to move in flickering candle-light. More to scare people. Also, the shaman claimed special knowledge of the “invisible” realm, and could use their claimed knowledge of religious secrets to manipulate others. Add here that sacrifice (appeasing, placating threatening deities) has also been discovered far back in prehistory…. A variety of facts that suggest the early use of fear or alarm in relation to religion. It appears that religion may have begun, among other reasons, as an early social institution to create fear and to enable early elites (shaman, priests) to control others. Some information to ponder.
Further note on religious alarmism: Much alarmism is based on the primitive mentality that you have to threaten and scare people in order to get them to behave properly. The discipline of psychology has largely rejected this thinking because research shows that most people respond better to affirmative or restorative approaches, and not to punitive approaches (see detail below, e.g. Australian Psychology Association paper).
Calming Religious Concerns
This site is not anti-religion. I am not advocating that people leave their religious traditions. And I am carefully affirming all reformation of religion, all endeavor to make religion more moderate, inclusive, and peaceful.
But as you try to reform any religion, be fully aware of what you are doing if you decide to preserve the larger context/framework of religious beliefs. Too much reformation of religion retains the core mythical ideas- concepts such as corrupted humanity deserves punishment, atonement (required payment for sin, appeasement of angry deity), or gods as punitive, judgmental, retaliatory, and destructive. These features only cloud and bury the better ideals of a religious tradition.
Any reform of religion must critically evaluate all “bad ideas” and understand how such ideas influence the better elements of the tradition. The influence of bad ideas is about weakening, undermining, distorting, and even burying the more humane ideals that people are trying to promote via religion.
My argument is that you need to fully humanize religion, especially the core ideal of deity.
We understand what is authentically humane today. We know better. And take the Historical Jesus seriously when he says, “Do not put new wine into old rotten wineskins”. And take seriously his central breakthrough insight- that there is no Threat behind life, but only an inexpressible Love.
Sorting out the issue of religious violence
It is as simple as the basic human discernment between good and bad. Most of the rest of human thought and life has had to face this project of separating the bad from the good, and then abandoning the agreed-upon bad. Unfortunately, some serious bad stuff was long ago placed in the realm of the sacred and since then humanity has had a hard time questioning that religious bad. Religious people, in particular, have had a difficult time re-evaluating, questioning, purging, and then abandoning the nastier elements of their systems. The result has been cognitive dissonance in religious minds- the felt obligation to maintain or merge a mixture of severely contradicting bad and good ideas in one system of belief.
The ongoing protection of bad religious ideas has now become inexcusable as the general human understanding of bad and good has progressed further and further. Religion must now do the same as all other areas of life- quit defending what is clearly pathological just because it has long been considered sacred. Things like violence in deity are no longer defensible in any common sense manner. So also, apply this discernment between good and bad to atonement theology which is plainly the belief in human sacrifice as payment for human imperfection. This barbaric belief in blood sacrifice to appease gods was long ago abandoned by most rational people.
Religious traditions must also engage the project of distinguishing bad from good, and then purge the bad. This is what it means to humanize all of thought and life.
Added note: For the health of Western consciousness, it is critical that we overcome the cognitive dissonance (the great contradiction) of good and bad at the heart of Christianity. You cannot merge in any common sense manner the belief that “God is love” with the belief that “God will punish and destroy unbelievers in Hell”. Both are ultimate statements of opposite extremes at the core of Christian belief. The expression of ultimate love in deity, and the expression of ultimate hate in the myth of Hell. The myth of a threatening, punishing God perverts entirely the ideal of ultimate love. To attribute such hate to a God of love is to defile the ideal of deity entirely. It certainly defiles and distorts the ideal of love.
There is no greater statement of hatred toward another human being than to claim that they are going to Hell, to be rejected by their Creator, punished, and tortured forever in fire. This barbaric belief in Hell involves the related belief in primitive tribal dualism, that the human family is divided into factions of true believers set in opposition against unbelievers. And the unbelievers deserve condemnation and punishment. It also involves the belief that violence is required to deal with the unbelievers. Add to this the belief that unbelievers are a dangerous threat to the true religion (i.e. the requirement to aggressively protect oneself against a threatening enemy, the sense of victimhood).
It is a small step then to feel that you must send the unbelievers on their way to their fate by killing them in the name of your God. If your God hates others that much then surely you will find favor with your God if you help to finish the enemy off, to remove “the dangerous threat”.
Look at the holy books of all three Western faiths and note how densely repetitious this note of hatred actually is (verses on angry deity, threats of rejection, punishment, destruction, violence, Hell). Count the verses. Others have counted them, and they number in the multiple hundreds for each holy book. For instance, 1214 verses advocate cruelty or violence out of a total of 31173 verses in the Bible; 527 verses advocate cruelty or violence out of a total of 6236 verses in the Quran (see ‘Dwindling in Unbelief’ site, among others).
And sure, there are many other verses advocating mercy, love, forgiveness, and other human ideals. But these better themes are often overwhelmed, distorted, and buried by the nastier stuff.
Religions of peace and love? You tell me.
Added note to “Calming fears”…
Most Christians do just as Thomas Jefferson did and differentiate between the sublime moral teachings of Jesus and the other inferior material in the gospels. More generally, they pick and choose between the good stuff in their Bibles, and the nastier stuff. They may not act as blatantly as Jefferson did and actually cut out the bad stuff from their holy book, keeping only the good material in a much reduced booklet (i.e. Jefferson’s personal gospel that was published in his day).
Instead, many Christians will just ignore the darker stuff and focus more on the better material. For instance, they no longer heed the Old Testament commands to stone disobedient children or put adulterers to death. And they do not demand that women cover their heads or be silent in church. They do not push women to submit to their husbands, and they certainly do not advocate that slaves should be subject to masters (a command from Paul).
Added Note: Due to the common human spirit and common human consciousness, people have an amazing capacity to find the human thing in all sorts of less-than-human contexts, a capacity to hold on to the more human elements. Despite larger inhumane and distorting contexts. But the question remains- Why do that? Why not just start with the authentically human and create entirely new contexts without the distorting and dehumanizing features of the old religious frameworks? Why not create new wineskins for the new wine?
It is difficult, even disorienting, for the religious mind to embrace, but there is one foundational idea behind religious violence that has incited and validated more harm over history than any other idea. It is the idea of a violent God, a God that employs violence to solve problems.
Many religious people believe that God punishes people with violence in natural disaster, accident, disease, war and death. They believe that God demands violent sacrifice as payment for human imperfection. For instance, the New Testament teaches that “without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sin” (Hebrews 9:25). Religious people also believe that God threatens to end the world with a violent destruction of humanity in an apocalypse. And that God promises unbelievers will suffer eternal violence in Hell.
The religious ideal of violent deity has been the foundational belief in Western religion. It is the single worst idea ever conceived, and it has long been protected as sacred and unquestionable in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. And adding insult to injury, people who refuse to believe this ideal of divine violence are subject to condemnation as heretics and are threatened with eternal punishment.
If we are ever going to properly solve the curse of human violence then we must purge all deity of any trace of violence. We must fully humanize the ultimate ideal and authority of humanity- God.
This site exists to counter this religious pathology with the greatest human insight ever- that absolutely no conditions love defines ultimate reality. This discovery takes human consciousness to the height of the authentically humane. It liberates consciousness entirely from the darkening, enslaving influence of divine violence.
It stands on its own (or Who needs Jesus?)
Even if Jesus had never existed, or if he had never taught the unconditional treatment of all people, unconditional would still stand on its own as the most humane ideal ever conceived. It would have eventually emerged somewhere as our ultimate ideal, the ultimate definition of authentic humanity. It is true in itself, not because some religious authority figure taught it. It stands on its own as the highest form of love. It needs no validating authority from anyone. And because it is the highest expression of authentic humanity, it is the most true and the most real thing that we can imagine.
Qualifiers to no conditions love
Below are some responses to the common complaints that an unconditional ethic is a “weak response to evil”, that it will result in chaos, that it is not a robust enough form of justice (i.e. the felt need for justice as payback punishment), and so on. Further to this, note the comment of Bob Brinsmead below that the most severe punishment that any person can endure is the self-judgment (self-punishment) for the inhuman deeds that they commit.
Responses to complaints
Everyone without exception is safe, ultimately. This does not deny the fact that life will offer up sickness, disaster, accident, and the cruelty of others. Bad things happen even to good people. And there will always be an element of mystery to evil and suffering. “Natural consequences” also helps explain much human suffering.
Everyone without exception is equal by virtue of being human and possessing human consciousness. Every human being is an equal member of the one united human family. But this does not then mean equality of outcomes in life. Differing inputs produce differing outputs. And there is, for example, a legitimate difference between such things as good forms of economic inequality and bad forms of economic inequality. For helpful explanation of this issue see William Watson’s new book “The Inequality Trap: Fighting Capitalism instead of poverty”.
Everyone without exception deserves unconditional treatment from others but we all live with the natural consequences of our words and actions. For instance, people who do not control their worst impulses (e.g. violent assault) must be restrained by others in order to protect innocent victims. So we have prisons for repetitively violent people and we employ military force to stop terrorists and protect the innocent. Unconditional love embraces common sense and is not dogmatically pacifist.
But these and other qualifiers do not lessen the wonder of absolutely no conditions love at the core of reality and life. They do not lessen the fact that everyone, both decent and inhumane, deserves unconditional treatment.
And as Bob Brinsmead argues, there is no worse punishment than the self-judgment for wrong deeds committed. Bad acts that are committed, will punish the one who does wrong with personal guilt, shame, and regret. To realize that one has “wasted” too much of one’s life acting inhumanely is the greatest regret of all. Self-punishment for the failure to live as human, at any level, is the worst form of punishment. So also, reward is experienced in good behavior (i.e. the satisfaction from acting as truly human).
But unconditional at the core of reality means no ultimate threat of punishment.
Muhammad affirms Jewish/Christian influence (Again, see Joseph Azzi’s The Priest and The Prophet)
Muhammad does not deny the Jewish/Christian influence on his religion. In the Quran he repeatedly refers to “the previous books, or gospel”. His argument, of course, is that Islam fulfills and completes the previous teaching. But he admits that he does embrace that teaching (i.e. the Jewish Christian strain of early Christian thought- monotheistic, not Trinitarian, among other adopted Jewish/Christian themes).
The real battle against terror
The real battle against terror takes place inside each of us. I am talking about our personal impulses to vengeance, exclusion, domination, opposition to some “enemy”, and destruction of our enemies. These impulses arise from our animal inheritance, or core animal brain. We all have to struggle to overcome these base impulses, and to encourage the expression of the unconditional human spirit in our unique personal story. This is our greatest personal contribution to the overall battle against violence and terror. Our only real enemy is the animal inside each of us. Unfortunately, the animal has long been incited and validated by religious myths of vengeance, punishment, exclusion, and violent destruction.
One of the central lines of comment on this page: To properly solve the problem of violence/terrorism for the long-term we need to radically humanize our ideas of deity, purging this ideal of all elements of violence. Any “reform of religion”, or endeavor to moderate religion, must engage this core issue. Violent gods have incited or validated human violence endlessly across history, and violence in God remains deeply embedded as the foundational idea in the great Western religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Consequently, this ideal continues to work its damaging influence on human consciousness and life. Detail below. Further, the belief in God has always served as humanity’s highest ideal and authority, the supreme model for human life (note, for instance, comment below on research of anthropologist Clifford Geertz).
Further Intro: This site is a project to bring down humanity’s greatest monster- the myth of ultimate Threat, as in religious myths of divine vengeance, exclusion, condemnation/judgment, punishment, or violent destruction. This site offers a humane alternative to define ultimate reality, something non-religious, but also non-materialist (i.e. as in “philosophical materialism”). We can do much better than the traditional explanations of dogmatic religion or dogmatic atheism.
Further: It is unquestionably the most radical re-orientation of human thought ever- the shift from viewing retribution at the core of reality (e.g. the Greek view) to understanding that non-retaliation, or no conditions love, defines the core of reality. The shift to non-retaliation, or a core love, is the outcome of insights such as the stunning new theology of Q Sayings Jesus (“the secular sage”), someone entirely opposite to the Christian Jesus.
The expression of unconditional in the Historical Jesus breakthrough of Matthew 5:38-48 is the first ever statement of authentic universalism, the first ever expression of the genuinely humane inclusion of all, and the first clear expression of the full equality of all people. I emphasize that his unconditional breakthrough was “the first ever” because he was the first person in history to get the ethical/theological linkage right. He argued that people should love their enemies because God loved enemies (humane behavior based on humane belief). Unfortunately, even though his breakthrough was included in the gospels of Matthew and Luke, Paul had previously rejected and buried that breakthrough in the highly conditional theology of Christian payback atonement (detail below). Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians are the earliest Christian writings, at least in the version of Christianity that we inherited.
More: Unconditional is the ultimate humanization of the ideals of mercy, kindness, compassion, forgiveness, generosity, inclusion, and love. Unconditional takes these ideals to new heights of authentically humane meaning and expression. It lifts these features out of the stingy realm of limited payback thinking. It therefore fully liberates human consciousness from the retribution orientation of our animal past as nothing ever before. The common tendency is to limit these ideals with payback qualifiers and conditions. Most religious thought does this. We all share the tendency to be somewhat harsh and stingy toward others and their failings, especially toward outsiders to our groups (i.e. the animal-like tribal orientation to “us versus our enemies” thinking).
Qualifier: Unconditional forgiveness and mercy is not a call for some form of mushy feel-good hugginess toward evil. Unconditional can embrace the present imperfect human condition; it can even embrace rage at cruelty and violent inhumanity. But it recognizes that there is a greater reality behind all, where all is swallowed up in an incomprehensible love, including even the worst failures in the human family.
More: This site is about the great mythical/religious themes of human history, themes now revised and absorbed into secular systems of thought. I am interested in the impacts of these themes on human consciousness and life. Hence my focus especially on the impact of “bad religious ideas” that represent the very highest of traditional human ideals and authorities. And I give an intense focus to “the worst of all bad ideas” ever conceived by humanity- that of punitive, violent deity. The Monster of the metaphysical. This site exists to slay that greatest-ever monster.
One more: I have combed through human thought and literature across history and I have not found any more humane insights than the following two, noted just below. These are by far the most robust responses to the worst pathology of the past- i.e. the myth of some great Threat behind reality and life that will punish human imperfection, whether the angry God of religious belief or the vengeful Gaia of more secular belief systems. I refer- one- to the discovery that there is “absolutely no conditions Love” at the core of reality, and- two- the equally important discovery that the essence of the human spirit and human consciousness (the authentic human self that is each of us) is that very same Love. We are inseparably one with That Love. Despite our experience of suffering with imperfection in this life.
A mindfulness suggestion: If we embrace the reality that our essential self is love, it would transform life for the better as nothing else ever has. It would grant a new laser focus to the meaning and purpose of human life- as existing to learn and express something of the love that is our essence. And it will transform human self-image away from “fallen humanity mythology” to a more healthy valuation based on the wonder of being human.