Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org copyright Wendell Krossa
See new comment on “The Most Potent Force Against Evil” just below The Wonder of Being Human.
As we try to abandon the primitive error of punishing deity, and as we try to move toward the liberation of unconditional ultimate reality, it is important to uncover and break all the varied chains that keep the old punishment theology firmly in place. Here is another bit of related mythology that supports retaliation/punishment thinking- holiness mythology.
The Wonder of Being Human: Countering the religious devaluation of humanity
One of the darker strands of thought in punishment mythology is the idea of human sinfulness. This element re-enforces the need for deity to punish humanity. The ancients also projected holiness onto God (purity and perfection) to further intensify the contrast with imperfect humanity and enforce the need for deity to separate from humanity and punish humanity. Human sinfulness and divine holiness were tightly pair-bonded as supporting pillars of punishment theology.
The human family has been devalued and traumatized by multiple millennia of this profoundly anti-human mythology of sinfulness. In our Western Christian tradition we have been told that we ruined an original paradise, that our ancestors intentionally committed an original error, and therefore “fell” into sinfulness , and that all people now inherit an essentially sinful nature or self. We are also, according to human sinfulness mythology, to be finally destroyed if we do not engage some salvation scheme.
Human sinfulness has become foundational to the fraudulent myth of human separation from God (i.e. excluded, rejected, condemned). This separation mythology claims that we have broken or ruptured a formerly close relationship. We are now told that we need to reconcile with our offended deity, and heal the ruined relationship. This separation perspective further supports appeasement mythology and the belief that a blood sacrifice is required to satisfy the deity that we have offended and angered. That will bring about reconciliation. Thus, we are urged to clean up the mess that we have made of things.
I am simply outlining here the Christian version of this mythology of sinfulness (fallen and corrupt humanity), which is also found in many other religious traditions. Christian sin mythology has darkened human consciousness with intensely damaging psychological impacts.
As now corrupt creatures we are told that we are continuing to ruin things to the extent that life is now in decline toward some great catastrophic ending as punishment for our sins, something that we deserve because our original parents sinned.
Human sinfulness mythology has re-emerged in contemporary ideologies such as environmental alarmism. Green alarmists push the fraud of our essential evil or corruptness by telling us that we are a virus on the planet, a cancer on life, or a curse. All of our successful endeavor to improve our lives and our families is regularly condemned by the anti-human alarmists as greed and selfishness. Not exactly helpful stuff on which to build healthy self-esteem.
This human sinfulness mythology has engendered immeasurable misery for people- endless guilt, shame, fear, self-loathing and self-hate, depression, and despair over our history. And it is all a horrific distortion of the actual human condition and story.
We now have a more rational alternative to this pathological myth of fallen humanity. The real story of humanity is about the wonder of being human and possessing human consciousness. This evidence-based narrative reveals that rather than beginning in some imagined perfection or innocence and then falling into sinfulness, we began in a more primitive and brutal condition in a distant past. That past was defined by much higher rates of violence, along with overall miserable living conditions. We have since gradually developed and risen toward an ever-improving condition. Researchers like Stephen Pinker (The Better Angels of Our Nature) and James Payne (History of Force) present sound evidence of our long term trajectory of progress, a trajectory that rises irreversibly from a more violent past and toward a more peaceful present. We have become a notably more empathic and gentle species.
This progress toward something better, or more humane, reveals the true nature of our consciousness, the essence of our authentic human selves.
Somewhere in the distant past the greatest wonder in the cosmos began to emerge and develop in our species, the wonder of human or humane consciousness. Human consciousness came with basic impulses to feel compassion for others and for all for life, to include all as equals, to forgive, and to treat all with unconditional generosity. Though often embryonic in expression over history, these fundamental human impulses have grown steadily stronger over time, till today we see evidence of their widespread influence in our societies, and in civilization overall. See again Pinker, Julian Simon (Ultimate Resource), and others for detail. We are indeed now more creators than destroyers (Simon) and this becomes ever more evident as history progresses. See also my comment on the actual trajectory of life (Rise or Decline?) in an essay that I did for the Global Warming Policy Foundation, available on their website under GWPF Reports, or on the topic bar above.
We now understand that the highest human ideal- what we summarize in the term love- defines our most essential nature or authentic self. Along with our core nature as love, we have an unlimited creative potential. We create ever more useful technology, better medicine and health conditions, and ever more comfortable living conditions. And our compassion and creativity (expressed in our desire for a better life) have enabled us to produce immense wealth by which we are also able to improve conditions for all life on Earth.
Our ongoing and irreversible progress toward something better is evidence, not of essential sinfulness, but of essential love and creativity at our core. There should be no guilt over our original imperfection, and our subsequent gradual progress and development toward our full destiny as something more humane. Our history is a grand story of exodus, of leaving brutal animal existence to create a new authentically humane existence in civilization. This is profound evidence of the love that defines our core human self.
So we are not a curse on the Earth but with our creative and compassionate minds we have improved life on earth. Remember also that mindless nature by itself has destroyed about 99 percent of all species. We now endeavor to preserve all species. Again, this is evidence of the compassion and creativity that define our consciousness.
Also, disciplines like quantum mechanics and related research tell us that our consciousness is not just a by-product of the hamburger in our heads (mind from meat) but is at the very core of reality as a creating element (the inseparable observer/observed relationship- see, for instance, Quantum by Manjit Kumar). Human consciousness may be the most fundamentally real thing, or the only “real” thing in all the cosmos. Information like this ought to help us value being human and to appreciate the wonder of conscious human experience.
Whatever the ongoing discovery that emerges from the varied disciplines of science, we know enough today to conclude that we have never fallen from a mythical better past state (Eden) into some imagined worse present state. The exact opposite is true- that we have steadily risen from a worse state to our presently better condition. We can therefore rationally reject the sinfulness myths that were created to devalue humanity over most of history.
And we can confidently conclude that we have never been separated from the greater Unconditional Love at the core of all reality. That greater reality of Unconditional Love also defines our essential nature (the human self or person) and consciousness as a similar love. You could argue that the greater Consciousness that we call God has incarnated in all humanity as human consciousness. That would indeed then make us the wonder of the cosmos. It would explain why we have endlessly matured and developed toward something better than before.
Add to the above that no sinfulness means no separation from our creating Source, no need for atonement, no need to get right with God, no need to appease deity, no need to engage some salvation religion, and much more. The only “salvation” that we need to engage is the ongoing improvement of life through our ever-developing compassion and creativity.
Its time to end this distorting devaluation of humanity as sinful and to recognize the wonder of our conscious human selves.
Note: How then do we explain the darker side of humanity? Many have offered the insight that we have inherited base drives in a core animal brain, drives to fear, hate, retaliate, punish, and destroy, among others. But these drives do not define our essential human self. Researchers like Jeffrey Schwartz (You Are Not Your Brain) argue for distinguishing between these darker elements and our authentic self which is something much better. Theological types like Albert Nolan and Karen Armstrong have also written that our essential self is love. The NDE movement further offers numerous accounts of people discovering that our essential person is love, just as Ultimate Reality is Love (our real self being inseparable from the Ultimate Love).
Further note on the holiness idea: A Mind that creates all and sustains all in existence is obviously present in every atom of the material reality that it creates and sustains. It is not put off by the decay and death of life. It does not “separate” itself from the less pleasant aspects of physical reality and life. I was raised in an Evangelical tradition where people discussed how an omnipresent God that was holy could possibly be present where there was defilement or impurity. Much like silly discussions of how many angels could balance on the head of a pin. But in such argument you can see how holiness thinking perverts understanding of deity.
And yes, religious people will respond that the human separation from deity is about moral issues (i.e. divine holiness as separation from sin). In Evangelicalism, they claimed that holiness was God’s most essential attribute and it defined everything else about divinity. Divine holiness then formed the solid foundation that re-enforced atonement mythology. Holiness meant offense at any imperfection (“sin”) and the obligation to punish all sin, the need to demand a payment for sin. It was all about the divine requirements or conditions necessary to satisfy or appease the offended holiness.
The historical Jesus responded to this separation distortion consistently with his new theology of unconditional deity. We now understand that purity and perfection in God has nothing to do with holiness and its supreme conditions. Rather, purity and perfection in God has to do with unconditional love, the unconditional inclusion of all, both good and bad, unconditional forgiveness of all without pre-condition, and unconditional generosity toward all. This is quite opposite to religious holiness teaching that defines God’s purity and perfection with its punishment orientation.
Note that religious holiness, with its offense at the faults of imperfect others, also has similarities to such things as barbaric honor practices. Landes (Heaven on Earth) writes that this offense and revenge thinking is found in traditional societies even across the world today. Someone takes offense at something another person does. Offenses include such things as a daughter not heeding parent’s wishes regarding marriage partners, or even just some verbal insult. The offended family then claims the obligation to kill the daughter in order to “restore” their offended honor, or to retaliate severely against whatever other offense was committed. This is primitive thinking and practice. But it is very much like religious holiness teaching (once again, validating offense at wrong and obligation to retaliate).
There is another element to holiness theology, usually termed the “numinous”, which refers to the glory or majesty of the divine. But this numinous element is overwhelmed and defined by the exclusion, separation, wrath, and punishment that dominates traditional holiness theology. This is why any purity, perfection, glory, or majesty of deity must be founded on and defined by the Unconditional Love that is the very essence of God. Unconditional Love keeps everything oriented to authentic humanity or humaneness.
I am dealing with these religious issues because I want to provide a thorough exposure of the fundamental ideas supporting punishment theology. If we are ever going to find liberation from the darkness and enslavement of atonement mythology then we need to confront all these related features that validate the monster of punishing deity.
Also, note my preference for the term “imperfection” to describe human failure, instead of the religious term “sin”. Pronouncing something as sin communicates the connotation of all-knowing or ultimate judgment and condemnation, something none of us has the right to exercise. We simply cannot fully know why each of us fail to be fully human in the infinitely varied ways that we all do. We ought to be very cautious about judging the motivations, behavior, and culpability of any other person.
The most potent force against evil
Bob Brinsmead suggested the need to develop the case that a non-retaliation/unconditional ethic and theology is the strongest defence against evil. Unconditional treatment of people does not promote indifference to evil or encourage people to take evil lightly.
Bob’s comment- “For those who may stumble, we should develop the case that the unconditional/non-retaliation ethic and theology is the strongest ethic and the greatest defence against evil. We have to show that it is not indifference toward evil, and we need to develop this from a number of angles. We need to respond to those who stumble on the point of taking evil lightly.”
“We must be liberated from an ethic that is tied to the fear of punishment. This is poor motivation for children and it has even been shown to be poor motivation for animals. As soon as the fear of the punishment fades from view (in the old worldview), the bad behaviour returns. The motivation for good human development and acts must come from within, from ourselves, from a real understanding that by wrongdoing we punish ourselves by diminishing the greatness of who we really are – it reduces and demeans us. Perhaps this is why someone quoted a certain atheist, whom he described as one of the most holy, upright men he had ever encountered. How is the notion “God is watching” different from “Big Brother is watching.” I am reminded of going into a roadside fruit stall where no one was in attendance, only an honesty box, with a statement exhibited which said, ‘You are what you are when no one is watching’. We are all too prone to be angry when we think wrong doers or cheats are getting away with it. They are not. They never do. I used to have a high school teacher that used to tell us kids as we faced examinations, ‘You can cheat if you want to, but you will only hurt yourselves if you do’.” Robert Brinsmead
My response to Bob on this issue:
Yes Bob. Its about that Jesus ethic/theology linkage. Theology determines ethics. Our views of the ultimate good, the ultimate ideal, do shape our emotions, responses, and behavior.
The realization of unconditional love for what it really is…provides a whole new motivation for human behavior. A new theological basis for ethics. There are many strands to follow here- e.g. that human beings have always mimicked their ultimate ideals and authorities. They try to live up to that greater reason that they believe they exist for.
And recognizing unconditional love behind all blows away the basis of guilt, fear, shame, despair and related emotions, all debilitating emotions, especially when employed in evaluating one’s personal failure.
To recognize that there is no condemnation, no threat, no punishment, and especially in any ultimate sense, this does not open the flood gates to evil but quite the opposite. It releases the desire to be the same, to do the same, to experience that same unconditional love. Near-Death Experience accounts affirm this positive response when people experience unconditional love.
People realize that the unconditional love at the core of all reality is who we really are, it is our essential nature and consciousness, and therefore it is our purpose for being here, the meaning of human life. So they return fired with desire to live this love in the details of life. Everything less than this love is viewed as a waste of life, a tragic failure of our very reason for being.
The Australian Psychological Society paper (one example of a lot of similar research) also affirmed the point- that retaliation/punishment responses do not work and only reinforce further bad behavior, both in criminals and in children. Positive affirming responses are more effective in changing behavior for the better. Non-punishing or unconditional approaches teach proper alternative behaviors.
Mandela also discovered that unconditional love brought out the best in former enemies, and changed them for the better. He employed unconditional treatment of others to avoid civil war in South Africa. At the same time others used punishment approaches and unleashed horror on entire societies- e.g. Uganda, Bosnia, and the ongoing cycle of violence in the Mid-East.
Unconditional is the most potent and effective response to counter the evil of retaliation and punishment, the responses that are behind so much violence and misery in the world.
Yes, there are a lot of angles here… such as that unconditional is the most potent thing to deal with guilt and shame, both of which diminish personal understanding of ourselves and our power to oppose evil, to be something better.
There is some interesting comment (noted above) on how unconditional love impacts human behavior in NDEs that might help here. Those who taste the unconditional love of God realize that there is no condemnation, no threat from God. They then experience this interesting new motivation to want to love like that Love. To not disappoint that Love. It becomes the new driving motivation in their lives. To love in all the details of life and to love in a new unconditional manner. We have done some work on this but yes, it needs a lot more. I have some comment on unconditional being at the root of peace and order, trade and commerce, all vital to humans leaving a brutal past to enter more peaceful civilization.
See new comment below on “A Thought Breakthrough” and “The Mennonite Solution- Lipstick on a Pig” (just below “Environmentalist/Environmentalism”) and some new material under the Quotes section in Site Introduction.
The Mennonites illustrate the central mistake made by Paul, a mistake still made today by many Christians. They embrace only part of Jesus’ great breakthrough- his non-retaliation ethic (i.e. no more eye for eye justice, no more payback or punishment). But they then reject the more important theological breakthrough that Jesus made- that God does not retaliate or punish. They do not fully understand that theology determines ethics, that belief shapes behavior. No matter how elevated your ethical ideals are, they can be overwhelmed by the contrary ideas that you hold regarding ultimate realities or authorities.
So embracing only part of the Jesus solution just does not work. The theological breakthrough is critical to support the ethical breakthrough. Paul’s approach is then entirely contrary to Jesus’ solution of combining both a non-punishment ethic and a non-punishment theology. Paul, in an completely contradictory move, accepted non-retaliation as an ethical ideal but then embraced a primitive view of God as retaliatory or punishing (Romans 12).
And it is understood, to embrace the non-punishment theology of Jesus spells the end of atonement mythology, the very foundation of Christianity (i.e. God punishing human sin in Jesus’ death). That is just too frightening an option for most Christians to even envision. So they turn away from the historical Jesus (the actual person who lived) to embrace Paul’s Christ myth.
List of topics covered on this page: See full comment below, or detail in essays listed on the topic bar at top of page
Unconditional reality corrects the most damaging error in the history of human thought- that there are threatening and punishing forces/gods behind life. The early belief in punishing gods sparked the emergence of religion as the institution that would set forth the conditions to appease the divine threats (i.e. the atonement/sacrifice/salvation industry). The idea of divine threat continues to erupt over history in ever new versions- vengeful Gaia, angry planet, or punitive nature and natural law.
Countering environmental alarmism and general apocalyptic alarms with the good evidence that life is not declining toward something worse but is actually rising toward an overall improving future. Notes the research of Julian Simon, Bjorn Lomborg, Greg Easterbrook, Matt Ridley, Stephen Pinker, and others.
The Jesus versus Christianity contradiction illustrates the greater human story of primitive error (punishing gods), endeavor to correct that error, and retreat from that advance. (Note: the repeated reference to the historical Jesus on this page is not about appeal to some religious authority figure for validation. The historical Jesus is useful simply for his breakthrough insight on unconditional reality. But our ultimate authority is our own personal consciousness of the authentically humane, whatever examples we employ to illustrate that)
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 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.
Jesus’ new theology blew away the foundations of all religion. It over-turned entirely all previous belief in the necessary 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.
Paul reversed the new theology of Jesus and retreated back to a primitive retaliation/punishment view of God. He re-established the demand for blood sacrifice, atonement, and highly conditional salvation religion. He made divine conditions the foundation of Christianity. 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/gospel.
Paul buried the unconditional theme of Jesus, the core theme of his gospel.
Here is a summary contrast of Jesus’ gospel compared to Paul’s 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 connects the non-retaliating ethic to the 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 (this connects the non-retaliating ethic with the absolutely contradicting retaliatory theology) leave room for God’s wrath…for ”Vengeance is mine, I will repay says the Lord”.
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.
Unconditional in the life of Nelson Mandela. Responding to the argument that unconditional treatment of others is impractical. This site argues, to the contrary, that unconditional treatment of others is highly practical. It is, in fact, at the heart of peace and order, trade and commerce, and the general progress of human civilization. Mandela’s response in South Africa illustrates this well.
Hyam Maccoby on the varied religious traditions that Paul used to create his Christ myth (Christianity). Maccoby notes the influence of Gnosticism (a savior from the world above descends to impart secret knowledge), Greek mystery religion (a dying and rising god offers himself as a sacrifice for sin), and Judaism (Jewish history as the framework for Paul’s salvation story). But Maccoby misses the most dominant influence on Paul- that of Zoroastrianism with its dualism of good and evil (good conquering and destroying evil at the apocalypse- i.e. Christ returning in anger to destroy his enemies). Also, the possible mental and emotional breakdown in the Damascus Road experience.
Grand Narrative Core Themes: the old mythical/religious meta-story contrasted with the new scientific/rational narrative.
Paul’s dominant themes- the wrath of God, human sacrifice to pay for sin, punishing justice (i.e. Paul returned to eye for eye or payback justice, and even worse, he argued for insanely excessive punishment for the pettiest of “sins”), the judgment of Christ, blood atonement, domination/submission in relationships (i.e. the submission of women and slaves), and more.
Jesus rejects the Zoroastrian dualism of true believers versus unbelievers. He eliminates all opposing categories of good/bad people, friend/enemy, insider/outsider, or true believer/infidel. All are to be included as family, all will receive the mercy and generosity of a non-punishing God.
I am a dreamer: my list of “greatest” things. The greatest error is belief in some threatening, punishing force or god. This becomes humanity’s greatest monster. The greatest fraud (wasted detour up a blind alley) that results from such belief is that of salvation religion. Our greatest battle now is overcoming the greatest monster of a punishing God. The greatest discovery is the Jesus insight that unconditional love defines God (ultimate reality). This results in the greatest liberation movement ever- that of mind, emotion, and spirit at the deepest levels of consciousness. And the greatest retreat ever was Paul’s reversal back to retaliating and punishing deity. Extravagant claims? See for yourself.
The Liberating Power of Blasphemy: Liberation from the fear of the sacred, viewing pathological mythology for what it really is. Offering a summary of Stephen Mitchell’s book on the gospels (i.e. his elaboration on Jefferson’s “diamonds in the dunghill” comment).
The Problem of deity: the human/God relationship and projecting inhumanity onto deity. Contrary to the belief of the ancients, we were not “created to serve the gods”.
Defining and Describing God: creative exploration and expression of the concept of Ultimate Reality- part of the humanizing trend away from retaliation and toward unconditional. Tired of the term God and God-talk? How about Ultimate Goodness, Ultimate Ideal, Ultimate Consciousness, or Ultimate Humanity/Humaneness.
Post to Jesus Seminar Fellows: Getting to the root issue behind the apocalyptic Jesus debate. Jesus’ core theme was non-retaliation or unconditional treatment of others. Apocalypse is a grand, divine retaliation. Therefore- plain and simple- Jesus was not apocalyptic. See for example- “Unconditional in the Jesus Tradition”, posted below.
Secularized mythology: Tracing the line of descent of apocalyptic mythology down through history. From primitive myth to modern ideology (i.e. environmental alarmism). We have the spectacle today of a lot of people considering themselves to be secularists, even atheist, yet mouthing the core themes of the most primitive mythology, that of apocalyptic beliefs.
Reason for this page: My personal journey out of conditional religion and toward unconditional freedom.
Grand Narrative core themes: Old story themes compared to new story themes. Clean up your worldview thoroughly and properly.
Unconditional defines the core of reality and life. It is the ultimate humane ideal.
More on the stunning contradiction between the historical Jesus and Christianity, variously understood as non-retaliation versus retaliation, or unconditional inclusion versus conditional atonement. The contradiction between the core message of the historical Jesus and the entirely opposite Christian message illustrates the larger human struggle for liberation from a primitive past defined by retaliation.
Humanity’s greatest mistake- the myth of punitive forces/spirits behind life (retaliatory deity). Humanity’s greatest discovery- unconditional defines the core of all reality. It encompasses both theological and ethical elements.
Contrasting history’s two great macro-stories- apocalyptic/decline and exodus/rise.
The ultimate insight- non-retaliation as authentic human response and relating.
Environmental alarmism- the apocalyptic mythology behind alarmism and its historical line of descent through religious and secular movements. The complete template of apocalyptic myth includes the following ideas- original paradise, corrupted humanity destroys paradise, subsequent decline of life, looming apocalyptic ending, atonement/salvation scheme, purged world and restored paradise.
CO2 or Natural Variation?: Climate change update. Countering the distorting exaggeration of environmental alarmism.
Unlimited resource essays- forests, fisheries, soils, species. Countering the myth of limits to human creative potential.
Decline or rise?- the fundamental trajectory of life.
The apocalyptic error and corrective to that error.
No hell beneath us- eliminating pathological mythology.
Creating divine monsters. Countering myths of retaliating, punitive gods.
An unconditional TOE (my theory of everything- unconditional best explains reality and life).
Christianity got the wrong gospel (Q research). Christianity took up Paul’s gospel of retaliating deity that is a complete denial of Jesus’ gospel of non-retaliating deity.
And much more below.
Note to readers from a religious background: One of the take homes from the varied topics on this page is that everyone is ultimately safe. There is nothing to fear behind life. No looming judgment, no threat of punishment, and no final exclusion. And no matter what a person’s belief system or lifestyle may be, all will be included in the end. By engaging these basic metaphysical themes I am aiming at the deepest levels of the human subconscious to counter those embedded ideas from the old mythical narratives, ideas that have long caused unnecessary fear and anxiety.
And of course, this universal inclusion assumes that the point of our existence is to be human. We are all responsible to learn what it means to be human and accountable to become as fully human/humane as we can. This, surely, is the main point of our personal stories. But no matter how imperfectly we accomplish that, in the end we are all included, all forgiven entirely, and are all safe, in the ultimate sense. Everyone- none excluded- will receive the full generosity of the universe. Such is the scandal of the historical Jesus who advocated unconditional treatment of all people in contrast to the Christian Jesus who embodies conditional treatment of people- reward the good, punish the bad.
The sum of unconditional is that everything is going to be all right, for everyone. Unconditional means absolutely no conditions. None.
Is this unconditional ideal scandalous to our conventional perspectives on justice as proper payback? Of course it is. And is it just too impractical for orderly human society? Not at all. See comment further below… “Is Unconditional Too Impractical?” It was the most practical approach of all for avoiding civil war in South Africa. See comment on Nelson Mandela also below.
One of the central themes of this page- unconditional reality- is presented as a potent corrective to the most damaging error in the history of human thought: the pathological notion that there is some threatening, retaliatory, or punishing force behind life. This theme is found all through ancient mythology (i.e. human sickness or catastrophic flood as divine punishment) and it has infected all the great religious traditions.
The mistaken perception of ultimate threat long ago sparked the emergence of religion as the social institution that would set forth the conditions for appeasement of ultimate threats. We see that in the development of atonement/sacrifice mythology and practice- the salvation industry. Also, the belief in greater punitive forces or authorities has served to validate a similar punishment emphasis in human society.
(Note: there is more to religion than just appease/please theology, but this is a prominent and damaging theme that has long hindered human ability to see the wonder of unconditional reality)
This error of divine threat has been deeply lodged in human outlook and it keeps erupting over history in new systems of belief or thought such as perceptions of vengeful Gaia, angry planet, punitive nature, or callous and cruel natural law. Until it is properly confronted and thoroughly rooted out, it will continue to damage public consciousness and human society with unnecessary fear, anxiety, depression, violence, and despair. It will continue to spawn harmful appeasement and salvation responses- religious and secular- such as we have seen from the environmental movement (i.e. anti-development schemes to appease a vengeful Gaia or angry planet).
Related to this, note the new comment further below on The Mother of All Monsters, the early human development of the mythology of judgmental and punitive deity. This particular comment looks further at the linkage between fear and aggression/violence. It also notes how unconditional reality liberates from this pathological belief in ultimate threat.
This page is devoted to understanding the fundamental causes/roots of alarmist and apocalyptic thinking. For the past two centuries there has been excessive negativity toward human industrial civilization and far too much doom and gloom over the widely assumed decline of nature. Much good evidence shows that while in the past we have made mistakes in our engagement of nature, we have learned from that past, corrected our approach, and are now doing much better in our treatment of the natural world. The result is that we are not heading for some catastrophic collapse but are actually improving life on all fronts. When you look closely at the narrative of contemporary alarmism you discover that it has far more to do with ideology/mythology than with actual evidence (see for instance, Arthur Herman’s The Idea of Decline in Western History). In response, this site engages the good research done on environmental issues by people like Julian Simon, Bjorn Lomborg, Greg Easterbrook, and Matt Ridley, among others. The evidence noted by these researchers points away from despair and toward a narrative of hope. Life is not declining toward something worse but is rising toward something better.
This page also makes frequent reference to the Historical Jesus and especially to the stunning contrast between the historical person and the Christian Jesus. I do this because that contradiction illustrates well the greater human story and our struggle for freedom from a primitive past defined by retaliatory violence and our liberation toward a future of non-retaliation. The Jesus/Christianity contradiction also illustrates the ongoing resistance to the liberation that Jesus promoted. He advocated for non-retaliatory existence but Christianity opted for a return to retaliatory thinking and existence. This is notable in Paul’s resistance to Jesus’ teaching and endeavor to maintain eye for eye or punitive justice in his view of deity. More importantly, Christianity has played the major role in bringing apocalyptic mythology, with its retaliatory punishment emphasis, into Western consciousness. See further explanation below.
Quotes and summaries from comments below: “Correct humanity’s greatest error- the perception of punishing forces/spirits behind life- and you begin to resolve the felt need to appease ultimate threats. This then raises a stunning challenge to the entire institution of religion in human society, as a mediating/atonement/salvation institution”.
“The conditional nature and context of religion cannot properly communicate the unconditional nature of ultimate reality. Religion emerged as a conditional institution- how to appease and please the gods- and cannot express the true nature of unconditional love”.
“Atonement, no matter how you try to dress it up as an expression of love or grace, has always been fundamentally about punishing human failure in order to appease an offended and angry God. Atonement is not an expression of authentic love or mercy. Authentic love forgives freely without demanding some condition be met first.”
“Apocalyptic retaliation mythology reaches its most intense expression ever in Paul’s Christ myth. Paul takes the error of punishing deity to its most extreme expression in his teaching that Christ will finally destroy humanity and the world”.
“You will never solve the problem of apocalyptic alarmism in Western consciousness until you deal with the Christian role in promoting this damaging pathology”.
“Paul is the most influential person in human history, and realize it or not, he has shaped practically all we think about everything…the foundations of Western civilization- from our assumptions about reality to our societal and personal ethics- rest in a singular way upon the heavenly visions and apparitions of the apostle Paul” (James Tabor in Paul and Jesus).
“Christianity, under Paul’s dominating control, developed as a rejection of the most profound liberation movement ever presented to human consciousness”.
(Note: One of the Jesus Seminar scholars feels that I have been a bit tough on Paul. Let me then qualify that I do appreciate Paul’s efforts at such things as inclusivity- i.e. his Gentile mission- and his generous statements on love. But his larger theological context ruins such efforts with ultimate exclusion and a very tribal version of love- saved believers, damned unbelievers). Theology overrules and determines ethics.
“The entire history of atonement/salvation religion is based on a major error in primitive thinking. It has all been a great fraud and horrific waste of time and resources because there is no threatening or punishing deity to appease”.
“Environmental alarmism often comes across as another reincarnation of primitive apocalyptic/salvation mythology”.
“The CO2 warming effect is overwhelmed and even lost among the stronger influence of other natural factors in climate (i.e. the cosmic ray/sun interaction, the multi-decadal shifts in ocean currents)”.
“There is no higher human ideal or better definition of authentic humanity than unconditional love. It is natural to then define God in the same manner but to infinitely transcendent degree. Unconditional love lifts human theological understanding to the highest pinnacle of goodness, love, or perfection”.
“Unconditional treatment of all people offers the authentic way to peace on earth (see the comment on Mandela)”.
“The Near-Death Experience movement offers valuable insight to understanding that unconditional love defines ultimate reality”.
“There is an interesting line of development in human mythology/religion over history. The dominant linkage and line of historical descent is as follows: The early belief that there were punishing spirits behind life, manifest in disaster, disease, or accident. This theme of punishment is already dominant in the earliest writing (Sumerian mythology). The follow-up belief was that the punishing spirits would cause a great final punishment- the apocalypse. The subsequent development of atonement/salvation religion was the appeasement response to the threat of punishing gods. Christianity then added the further development of punishing an innocent victim, which Stephen Mitchell referred to as ‘ghastly paganism’. Punishment is the driving idea behind all this development over history”.
“The Old Testament feature of holiness was another human construct projected onto deity to affirm the need for divine punishment. Holiness was about purity, separation, and the obligation to exact some payment for offenses committed. Holiness reasoning violates unconditional reality entirely. It also supports the idea of some separation of the perfect divine from the fallen human, that there exists a broken relationship, and the need to repair the imagined breach. It enforces intense guilt over human imperfection”.
This from a comment further below: “What has been the outcome of the Christian influence? Apocalyptic mythology, with its core theme of punitive deity, has caused more misery and damage to human consciousness and society than anything else in history. That sounds excessive until you trace out the relationships and look at the details of varied examples. For instance, note Rachel Carson’s use of apocalyptic imagery to create chemical alarm and the harmful consequences to millions of people denied the protection of DDT”.
“The myth of a punishing God has been the foundational concept behind the development of Western systems of justice as systems oriented to payback punishment. The myth of a punishing deity thereby keeps cycles of violence alive in human society and ultimately undergirds the inhumane prison system (Note: This is not an argument for abandoning all restraint of violence. The existence of pathologies like psychopathy demand confinement programs in order to protect others)”
“Question: Why cannot God just forgive as we are urged to just forgive without demanding that some condition first be met (i.e. some payment, punishment, or apology)? Why should God expect that a payment or punishment be required first before God will forgive? If a debt or offense is paid/punished then no forgiveness is required. Demanding that conditions be met first is not authentic forgiveness. Jesus said, just give without expecting payment in return. And just forgive unconditionally and endlessly. It appears that we are held to a higher standard of humane behavior than God. This is nonsense. It is just as ridiculous as Paul urging that we should not repay evil with evil (i.e. engage eye for eye justice) but God will repay with far worse than just eye for eye payback. And please don’t avoid the point here by falling back on the human construct of holiness that has been projected onto deity. As many Christians respond- God is holy and must punish sin. That just avoids the critical point here- the nature of authentic unconditional forgiveness”.
“The myth of dying and rising gods (life-death-rebirth deities) has deep historical roots (useful for appreciating the “pagan” or “primitive” nature of such myth). This myth has been found in many ancient cultures such as that of the Aztecs, Sumerians, Egyptians, and Japanese (see Wikipedia on dying/rising god myth). This myth was not original to Paul and his Christ myth. As research on Christianity has shown, Paul derived this death-resurrected god idea from Greek mystery religions and applied it to Jesus. The Greeks most likely got it from the ancient Egyptians and their myth of the dying and rising Osiris (Isis/Osiris myth) that was related to Egyptian agricultural cycles- planting and harvesting, and the cyclical rise and fall of the Nile. Joseph Campbell writes that early agriculturalists of around 7000 BCE had beliefs in the necessity of seed to die in order to bring forth new life (i.e. the Earth goddess as receiver of the dead for rebirth). So this line of myth has primitive, pagan roots and was eventually given expression in Paul’s Christ myth.”
“Apocalyptic mythology is the larger framework for salvation beliefs and religion. Salvation thinking is a subset of the larger template of tightly related apocalyptic myths. The full template is as follows: there was an original paradise, paradise was lost due to human failure/fall, angry gods threatened a final punishment for human sin, a punishment by apocalypse (originally flood, then fire in Zoroaster). The human response born of fear and guilt was to appease the angry, punishing gods by offering sacrifice to atone, to pay for sin. This became the “plan of salvation”, the way of escaping the final apocalyptic punishment. After the apocalypse to end life and the world, a renewed paradise would be inaugurated for true believers in the salvation scheme (salvation only for privileged insiders, tribal love).
“Apocalypse is the original threat of punishment that sparks the appeasement response, the salvation response and the creation of salvation religion.”
“Why is there such strong Christian/religious resistance to the breakthrough discovery of Jesus that God was unconditional love? Why does Christianity reject the Jesus offer of ultimate mercy and generosity toward all humanity? For one- it challenges the common perception of justice as payback. It challenges the base human urge to punish others for their failures. Look at the characters in the short stories of Jesus for illustrations of this base and harsh urge to punish others.
“The vineyard workers are angered that the owner rewards all with the same payment. They received the amount that they had agreed to work for but they were offended that the generous owner also gave the latecomers the same amount. It was not fair according to conventional understanding of fair and just. Similarly, note the older brother in the prodigal parable. He was upset that the father did not act fairly and justly, but generously refused to punish the careless younger brother. The older son, oriented to justice as proper and full payback, and to proper conventional fairness, did not understand the love and generosity of the father toward the undeserving, toward human failure.
“There is an ugly and narrow-spirited harshness when we are oriented toward the punishment of others. We want people to go easy on us and treat our failures generously, but we are too often not so generous toward others who we believe have failed more grievously than we have.”
Using a few strands from Joseph Campbell’s story framework and my own paraphrasing- this site is tackling the greatest monster ever in the history of human perception/thought. Slaying this monster of punitive deity is our greatest battle (a battle in the mind and heart), and it results in the greatest liberation of human consciousness ever, the greatest advance in human perception/thought. Are these repeated claims of “greatest” too extravagant? See for yourself.
A Thought Breakthrough
There is a theological breakthrough (better- a human thought breakthrough) presented here that you will not find anywhere else, not even in Jesus Seminar research, not anywhere else in research on Christian theology or history, nor in religious research in general. It has to do with the central theme of the historical Jesus and the debate over whether he was an apocalyptic messenger or not. And let me be especially clear that I am referring to the historical Jesus as someone entirely opposite to the Christian Jesus, entirely opposite to Paul’s Christ myth.
My argument is based on the core theme of the historical Jesus that is found in Matthew 5:38-48.This is his statement of a non-retaliatory ethic based on a non-retaliatory theology (Note: non-retaliation is the negative side of the positive response of unconditional love- this is a critical linkage to make). Jesus’ central ethical/theological breakthrough is the most striking breakthrough insight in the history of human thought. It is the most advanced and potent statement of ethics and theology anywhere in human literature. It takes the understanding of authentic humanity to new heights. It takes human understanding of ultimate reality into the realm of the truly transcendent. And it is a consistent theme throughout Jesus’ teaching (see Unconditional in the Jesus Tradition further below). It is also a scandalous threat to the very foundations of Christianity and all religion as atonement or Salvationism. Unconditional means absolutely no conditions. None. (Note: Unconditional as taught by Jesus is quite entirely different from the oxymoronic Christian use of unconditional to describe the highly conditional Christian religion with its demand for full payment or punishment of sin before offering forgiveness)
Jesus stated emphatically that we should not engage in eye for eye treatment of others. We should not respond with payback, take revenge, or punish others because God does not payback, take revenge, or punish others. Instead, we should unconditionally love offenders/enemies because this is what God does. God does not retaliate or punish anyone, but loves all equally, both good and bad. God is merciful, compassionate, and generous toward all alike, both just and unjust. Matthew 5 is very clear on this. This is a stunning new view of deity- a theological breakthrough- that is entirely different from all previous mythology, theology, and religious thought. There is no more liberating and elevating insight than this in the entire history and realm of human understanding. This is supreme liberation from all threat, guilt, shame, fear, depression, and despair at the deepest levels of human consciousness.
(Note: Again, to respond to those who will immediately claim that such unconditional treatment of all is a weak response to evil, I would point out that, to the contrary, it is the most potent response to evil ever discovered. Look carefully at Nelson Mandela’s use of unconditional to defuse potential violence in South Africa and around the same time, the devastation in Bosnia and Rwanda where unconditional was abandoned. Further, unconditional does not equate with dogmatic pacifism. Love is always responsible to restrain evil and protect the innocent. It is responsible to argue for accountability. See detailed comment further below on this page)
Now the main point in Jesus’ Matthew 5 unconditional statement, especially as it relates to apocalyptic mythology or religion, is plain and simple. If Jesus believed that God did not retaliate but forgave all unconditionally, then he could not have been an apocalyptic messenger or prophet. Apocalyptic is a grand divine act of retaliation against human sin. It is an act of divine vengeance or punishment. Paul- intensely oriented to apocalyptic thought- is clear on this in his varied statements that God will repay (retaliate), take vengeance, and finally punish and destroy all those who do not obey his gospel. But Paul was entirely wrong about God because Jesus had stated the exact opposite- that we should not retaliate because God does not retaliate. A God that does not retaliate cannot therefore engage in the grand retaliation of apocalypse. And therefore, Jesus was not an apocalyptic messenger. Because God was not a retaliatory or apocalyptic God. Can it be more clear?
Jesus’ core theme of non-retaliation then overturns the foundations of most religious thought because apocalyptic mythology is the larger framework of atonement and salvation mythology. So this is much more than just correcting the error of apocalyptic mythology.
Jesus’ statement on non-retaliation in God (i.e. non-punishing deity) goes right to the foundational error of all primitive thought. His statement is the most potent response ever to the worst error of the ancients- their belief that the gods were retaliatory and punishing spirits. That error had formed the foundation of all subsequent religion as appeasement, atonement, and salvation. That error has shaped much human perception for the worse ever since. It has had profoundly damaging impacts on human behavior and society for millennia (remember- theology determines ethics).
To place this in its full historical context, here, once again, is a brief history of punishment thinking: As noted repeatedly on this site, it begins with the early error that there were punishing spirits behind life, manifest in disease, disaster, and accident. This theme of punishing spirits/gods is already present in the earliest writing (i.e. Sumerian mythology). The belief in retaliatory spirits was followed by the belief that the punitive gods would cause a great final punishment- the apocalypse (originally by flood, later apocalypse by fire in Zoroaster). This threat, and the guilt and fear that it roused, sparked the survival/appeasement response in humanity- that people must offer some sacrifice to placate the angry gods. Punishment in deity then shaped the formation of religion as Salvationism (sacrifice, atonement, payback justice). Later features like holiness (Old Testament) were projected onto deity to re-enforce the demand to punish human failure and imperfection. Christianity added the further development of punishing an innocent victim, a god-man sent from heaven, which Stephen Mitchell has called “ghastly paganism”. Punishment is the driving idea behind all this development of myth and religion over history. And punishment continues into varied secularized versions in the modern era (i.e. revenge of Gaia, angry planet/nature mythology).
Jesus’ breakthrough insight on ethics and theology blows punishment mythology and religion apart entirely. His discovery that God does not retaliate or punish, overturns the entire history of human ethics and theology like nothing ever stated before. It spells the end of not just Christianity but all religion that is oriented to punishment or atonement theology.
Here again to emphasize and clarify: God does not retaliate or punish anyone. Therefore, God will not retaliate with an apocalypse. Apocalypse is an act of grand final retaliation or punishment. Jesus taught non-retaliation and therefore Jesus could not be apocalyptic.
And if there is no punishment in God then there is no demand for any atonement (the demand for punishment of sin in a sacrifice, a payment for sin). And if there is no punishment in God, then there is no condemnation/judgment looming and no need for any salvation plan. You see how this Jesus discovery of unconditional love at the core of ultimate reality blows away the very foundations of most historical religion.
And you can now see how contrary Pauline or Christian belief is to the theology of Jesus. In Christian atonement God demands infinitely more than just another blood sacrifice as payment/punishment for human sin. The Christian God demands the sacrifice of a god-man, an infinitely valuable sacrifice to pay for infinite offense against infinite holiness. This is the highest condition ever conceived. It is conditional atonement religion taken to an ultimate extreme.
The discovery of Jesus that God is non-retaliatory or unconditional love is then a threat to the entire history of mythology, theology, and religion itself. It blows away the very foundations of all atonement and apocalyptic thinking completely.
Get a grip on that core unconditional theme of Jesus (again, unconditional is the positive side of non-retaliation or non-punishing). And get a clear grasp that the unconditional love that is God is of a quality infinitely beyond the best that can be imagined or expressed. Understand that this unconditional love is at the core of reality and life. It is the only authentically humane foundation for theology and ethics. It is the new baseline for evaluating everything in life. And it is a profound scandal to all previous mythology, theology, and religious thinking in general, most of which has been oriented to conditional or payback thinking.
To get some sense of the profound importance of Jesus’ breakthrough on non-punishing deity, consider how punishment thinking has affected people over history. It has shaped their mythologies and religions, their social institutions and behavior toward one another, their law and justice systems, and political policy and response. The belief in punishing deity has been at the foundation of much of this and more (note the Mennonite comment on this, as well as the comment by Tabor and others).
Then, by way of comparison, consider carefully the implications that flow out or reverberate from this profound discovery of unconditional at the core of all. Most significantly, as noted above, it powerfully counters the worst error of ancient minds, the error that became the foundation of the entire history of religion and much of human perception and behavior- that the forces or spirits behind life were punishing.
In the above comparisons we are noting history’s worst enslavement and history’s potentially greatest liberation movement (that of mind, consciousness, emotions, and spirit). Ahh, I tend to get extravagant in my expression of this, but the reality that I am pointing toward is far more extravagant and scandalous than anyone can express.
Paul’s myth of a punishing Christ and his Christian religion, in particular, have been the most influential set of myths ever created to promote conditional reality and existence, conditions oriented to punishment. They have shaped the consciousness of the Western world, and through the West to the entire world. Again, as James Tabor, Stephen Mitchell, Hyam Maccoby, and others have stated, Paul has been the most influential person in all history. He has shaped how we think, how we act and treat one another, and how we have shaped our societies (i.e. our justice systems as punitive or payback justice).
And Paul, with his Christ myth, has been singularly responsible for burying the unconditional discovery of historical Jesus. Paul created the great anti-Jesus myth of Christ, and its supporting framework- the Christian religion. Paul’s Christ and his Christian religion have been the most potent force ever to bury the core unconditional theme of Jesus.
Admittedly, Paul got the non-retaliatory ethic of Jesus right (Romans 12) but he rejected Jesus’ theological basis for his new non-retaliatory ethic. Paul did not understand that theology determines ethics. Ultimate ideals and authorities override human ethical standards. Hence, Christians in following generations have too often treated others brutally with punishing vengeance. This has a lot to do with the fact that they have adopted the punishing and vengeful theology of Paul- a God who takes vengeance, who repays with punishing violence and destruction (see Revelation for more gruesome detail on the historical culmination of the Christian ideal of punishment. Note also in other religious traditions how belief in a vengeful, punishing God fuels the human drive to punish and destroy others. We see this daily on our TV screens.).
So get a sense of the wonder of the Jesus discovery of unconditional reality. It is a scandal to most conventional thinking. It is a discovery to blow away the foundations of much human perception, thought, and action. It overturns the Christ myth of Paul and his religion entirely. It takes human consciousness in an entirely new and liberating direction.
And join the ongoing discussion regarding the application of this unconditional ideal to the messy reality of imperfect human existence. Note the innovative endeavors to change our justice systems away from a punitive orientation toward a more restorative emphasis. Note also the research in psychology on the failure of punitive approaches to reform offenders and the harm these punitive approaches cause to children. Unconditional treatment of all people provides the most potent means of confronting and defeating evil, and fostering peace and order, trade and commerce, and a more humane civilization.
Grand Narrative Core Themes
This page repeatedly and thoroughly explores the themes of a new grand narrative of life. Why? To get to the root of what went wrong in the past and to robustly correct that with an authentically human alternative.
I have summarized here the core themes of the old narrative/story of life, rightly called a narrative of despair. It is also a grand fraud and a lie. Overwhelming evidence points to an entirely opposite story of life, a narrative that is repeatedly summarized throughout this site, and is emphatically a narrative of hope.
Here’s an added challenge in regard to this grand narrative exploration- take a good look at your own beliefs, assumptions, and overall worldview (and the worldviews of people you know) to see if any of the old story themes are still lodged in the core of your/their thinking or outlook. You will be surprised to discover how many people, often considering themselves to be modern secularists, still hold to some of the most primitive themes of the old mythical understanding of life.
Just below is a summary list of the more dominant themes of the mythical/religious narratives that have shaped human worldviews and consciousness over history. These themes often reside in the background (human subconscious) but still powerfully shape how people view life and respond to life. They continue to stick around because, when people shift positions on various views they hold, they don’t thoroughly re-evaluate the basic themes at the foundation of their worldviews, often just assuming some things are undoubtedly true and beyond question.
Over more recent history, notably the last few centuries of the scientific movement, these mythical themes have undergone a secularizing process. They have been reformulated in new secular versions but the newer versions are still strikingly similar to the older versions. Thus, these ideas continue to linger in human worldviews and belief systems, both religious and now secular. They continue to darken and enslave minds with unnecessary fear and anxiety.
Here is an oversimplified summary to clarify some of the dominant old story themes.
1. The past was better. There was an original paradise.
2. Corrupted humans have ruined life and it now declines toward something worse. Both humanity and life are in decline toward something worse (this is found in both Western and Eastern traditions- e.g. Buddhism- decreasing life-span, Hinduism- decline toward catastrophe).
3. The divine has separated from humanity and threatens to punish humanity. No single theme in all the history of thought has been more destructive than this myth of threatening, punishing forces/spirits behind life.
4. Some apocalyptic catastrophe will end civilization and life. Life is fragile, stingy, and ready to collapse.
5. A sacrifice is required to appease the punitive forces/spirits that are threatening to punish humanity and end life. In secular versions the sacrifice is to placate the threatened revenge of GAIA or angry planet.
6. Atonement logic (full punishment of all wrong) shapes human justice systems and much of overall human existence.
7. Lost paradise will be restored in a utopian future for the enlightened or elect few.
These ideas have been beaten into human consciousness for multiple millennia. They are some of the most frightening and traumatizing ideas ever conceived by human minds. Ideas that have been imprinted deeply in our subconscious, in our outlook and worldviews. Hence, even when appearing to radically change worldviews, people simply reformulate these primitive ideas in modernized versions. They are ideas that endlessly stir fear, and fear is often behind anger and violence in life.
Note, in particular, the belief in punishing forces/spirits behind life, spirits that threaten to retaliate and destroy people with great disasters. This has been so incessantly beaten into public consciousness over past millennia that it is now almost hardwired in human subconscious. Therefore, even after leaving their religions to adopt newer more scientific viewpoints, it appears that many people still cannot let go of the belief in some threatening force or spirit. This belief in a punishing force then keeps erupting even in what are widely considered to be secular systems of thought. Because this idea of ultimate threat has not been properly re-evaluated and rooted out, people automatically respond to new expressions of threat (i.e. revenge of GAIA or angry planet) without even questioning the validity or reality of what they are frightened by. They continue to assume that some great threat must exist and they then instinctively support the proffered salvation schemes of those who have alarmed them with such threats (i.e. the anti-development schemes of environmental alarmists).
The best of human insight and evidence now points to an entirely new grand story of life- a narrative of valid hope. The core themes are quite entirely opposite to the old narrative themes. Again, this is a simplified summary to focus on some of the more prominent themes. These ideas are about enlightening and liberating consciousness- about getting us to a more humane future.
1. Life began imperfectly. There was no better past or original paradise.
2. Ever-improving humanity has become an increasingly creative force that makes life something ever better than before. There was no human “Fall” into corruption/sin but, rather, over our history we have endlessly risen toward something ever better, toward something more humane. Life itself continues to rise and progress toward something ever better.
3. The divine has never separated from humanity but has incarnated in all humanity as human consciousness. We are inseparable from the Unconditional Love that is our Source and Life.
4. There is no end to life but rather life rises toward an open and unlimited future. Life is resilient, durable, and infinitely generous. This counters the dominant alarmist theme of limits in nature.
5. There are no punitive forces/spirits behind life that need to be appeased. To the contrary, ultimate reality is best understood as unconditional love. Consequently, no sacrifice or salvation is required. There are absolutely no conditions to be met- none. “Salvation” is to be found in creative and improving humanity solving all problems that arise and making life ever better.
6. The great impulse behind life and the overall trajectory of life is to humanize all things, to make more humane. This gives profound meaning and purpose to all things.
7. Based on the nature of ultimate reality as unconditional love, authentic human relating and existence should be oriented to unconditional treatment of all.
To robustly respond, for instance, to the myth of threatening, punishing forces/spirits, try to get a hold of what unconditional means in the new story and then imagine how this unconditional love will liberate human consciousness from all elements of the old mythology. Unconditional blows apart entirely those primitive beliefs in some punishing force or God. It undermines entirely a variety of related themes of the old narrative (i.e. required atonement). Once again, unconditional means absolutely no conditions or requirements. None.
(Note: If this sounds utopian or impractical see comments below on “Unconditional is Impractical?” Unconditional treatment of people has long been at the root of most things that we value in civilization, such as peace and order, trade and commerce, and civilization in general.)
Speaking directly to the religious or mythical mind- unconditional treatment of all means that there is no judgment to fear, no required appeasement scheme to engage, and no hell beneath us. Unconditional proclaims that there is the fullest acceptance for everyone and no separation from our creating Source, however you perceive that.
All salvation religion has been based on this error that some cosmic separation occurred between God and humanity. In secular/environmental versions it is the separation of humanity from “sacred nature”, now rendering both to a state of opposition or enmity. Unconditional renders that myth of separateness to be nonsense. Therefore, because there has never been any separation, there is no need for any salvation, or sacrifice to “pay for sin”, and there is no need to restore some broken or severed relationship. There is no requirement to appease some upset force or deity. All are safe and secure in the ultimate sense. This goes to the root of human anxiety, depression, and fear (existential fear, subconscious fear).
Stated positively- All are fully included, and all receive the fullest love and generosity from the Universe.
So unconditional gets to the most deeply rooted beliefs in human subconscious- and it challenges all that residual primitivism of despair. It then enlightens, liberates and humanizes our core thinking more than anything else that we have ever discovered in history. Unconditional is indeed our greatest insight ever. It potently counters all the old darkening mythology that has terrorized humanity for millennia.
Watch this unconditional reality cleanse and liberate human consciousness like nothing ever before and liberate the human spirit to new creative heights. It frees us from the basest drives to hate, to take revenge, to hurt others, and to destroy differing others. It inspires toward authentic humanity and authentic human existence like nothing else can.
The unconditional treatment of all people presents an authentic way to peace on Earth. It goes to the root of the human tendency to violence and war- the impulse to retaliate and punish. And it challenges the foundational beliefs that have long validated retaliation and punishment.
Is it practical today? Look at how Nelson Mandela used the unconditional treatment of others in a variety of situations and successfully defused what could have become a potentially violent conflict in South Africa (see comment below on Mandela). Also, I would argue that unconditional treatment of others is at the foundation of peace and order, trade and commerce, and civilization in general. See comment on this below.
A Brief History of Punishment
In the earliest human writing (Sumerian) we find that ancient people already believed that the gods were punishing spirits. Note, for instance, that Enki was punished with illness for eating forbidden fruit (Epic of Enki and Ninhursag). The theme of punishment then developed into the myth of an apocalypse as a great final punishment of all people (Sumerian Flood myth).The god Enlil wanted to destroy all humanity with a great deluge. The threat of divine punishment, in turn, sparked the appeasement response among people- how to avoid punishment by offering sacrifice to the threatening gods (i.e. salvation religion). We can argue that religion emerged as the social institution to tell people how to appease and please threatening and punitive deity. Christianity later introduced the innovation of punishing an innocent victim in place of guilty people (reviving the idea of human sacrifice). This orientation to punishment has remained dominant in human society over history in such things as punitive justice. And it is all built on a horrific error in early human thinking and mythology.
Some linkages under consideration- theology determines ethics (the linkage between belief and behavior)
This site argues that the greatest error in human perception is that there is some punitive force/spirit behind life. Punishment is the most destructive feature that has ever been projected onto ultimate ideals or authorities. Why should that concern us? Because people have always appealed to higher ideals and authorities to validate their lives. Consequently, the belief in punishing gods has long supported punishing violence in human society. Vengeful gods have long validated vengeful response among people. Theology (how we view the gods) has always been used to validate ethics or human behavior. The way we view ultimate ideals and authorities (i.e. gods) very much determines how we behave and how we live our lives.
To see this in operation visit religious sites or read religious literature and note how people repeatedly validate their behavior by appeal to the “will of God” or the “law of God”. Or just look across the world today at people claiming that they are killing their enemies because that is the will of their vengeful and violent God. And note the same punishing treatment of others in a variety of less extreme situations such as engaging justice as punishment (i.e. notably the US, a significantly Christian nation, that imprisons more people than any other nation on Earth). Note also in relation to this, that punishment responses do not work with children or criminal offenders in general (see report by Australian Psychological Society).
Now why include the historical Jesus in this discussion? Because the historical Jesus made the critical breakthrough that directly and potently countered the destructive ideas of punishment, retaliation, and revenge. His stunning breakthrough was that God does not retaliate or punish. The central point of Matthew 5:38-48 is “Do not retaliate against offenders but, instead, love your enemies because God does not retaliate but is merciful and compassionate to all, giving good things (i.e. sun, rain) to all alike, both good and bad”.
That was the first clear challenge to the primitive error of punishing deity. It was a radical challenge to all previous human perception of deity. It went to the heart of the problem, to the highest of human ideals- that of God- and especially to the idea of retaliating gods that had long supported inhuman practices of punishment. His insight then demolished the foundation of most religion which had claimed that people needed to appease the threatening gods in some manner, to pay for sin (i.e. that people were required to engage some salvation or atonement). In doing this Jesus offered humanity the greatest liberation movement ever- the liberation of mind, consciousness, and spirit. It was liberation from the fear of ultimate threat, ultimate retaliation, and ultimate obligation.
I will repeat for emphasis: the historical Jesus challenged and overturned the distorted perception embedded in the highest of human ideals and authorities- the perception of God as punitive, vengeful, and destructive. In doing that he made the most fundamental and radical change to human perception of ultimate realities in the entire history of human thought.
Paul, unfortunately, reversed the brilliant insight of Jesus and returned to primitive retaliation theology (a punishing God). Paul re-established that pagan error of punitive deity at the foundation of his new religion, Christianity. Note his comment in Romans 12 that people should leave room for the wrath of God because primitive people claimed that God said, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay”. The profundity of Jesus’ theological breakthrough makes Paul’s retreat all the more stunning and shameful. When he embedded punishment at the center of his Christ myth (i.e. a sacrifice of atonement, a god punished for sin) he contradicted entirely the central theme of Jesus. In doing that he missed an unparalleled opportunity to profoundly change the belief/behavior linkage for the better. It was a huge blunder and tragedy for Christianity to make that retreat to pagan mythology. Like many others Paul probably felt that Jesus’ new theology of non-punishment was just too scandalous and impractical. It violated his sense of fairness and right, his belief in justice as proper payback. Just like those characters in the stories of Jesus that were upset with the scandalous generosity being exhibited (i.e. the Father of the Prodigal son and the vineyard owner).
It is critically important to once again recover the key insight of the historical Jesus (that God does not punish), an insight that has long been buried under the Christian theology of retaliating deity. That insight is vital to the full liberation of human consciousness and to our progress toward a more humane future.
This explains why I have included some fairly intense focus here on the historical Jesus.
Note: Advocating for the unconditional treatment of every human person is not advocacy for pacifism. It has a lot to do with the attitudes that shape us as human (note comment below from Karen Armstrong on the Chinese sage). And it has to do with the ideals that we strive toward, and our personal responses to others, as we try to make a better world. Also, any common sense understanding of love embraces the responsibility to protect the innocent (including the active use of force to stop violent offenders). However, in all our qualifying of unconditional (i.e. how we actually apply it in the messy reality of life) we need to be careful that we do not diminish the scandalous wonder of the core reality that we are talking about.
New: See just below “List of topics covered on this page” the new summary of the central theme of the Historical Jesus (i.e. non-retaliation/unconditional love) compared with the entirely opposing central theme of Christianity (i.e. retaliatory, punitive deity). This comment is titled “Ethics and Theology compared and contrasted”, along with “Central Theme Repeat” just below that. The breakthrough insight of the Historical Jesus- unconditional ethics and theology- goes to the heart of what went wrong in early human thought (see Site Introduction below), and offers a powerful corrective response to that primitive error of punishing deity.
And another New…Note the summary of Hyam Maccoby’s research on the varied religions that shaped Paul’s thinking and visions (i.e. Gnosticism, Hellenistic mystery cults). There are some surprising things to learn about how Paul may have invented Christianity. This is not just a Christian or religious issue but a larger human society issue. Christianity, with its vengeful, punishing theology, has been largely responsible for re-enforcing the punishment/revenge perspective in public consciousness. This comment is just below “Tackling Paul”.
Note also new comment on the punishment impulse as the main driver behind human myth-making and religion (just below “Former Page Introduction”). Also, some new comment on Paul’s great reversal to the “insanely disproportionate punishment of a punitive father” (Stephen Mitchell referring to Paul’s theological views), and then some new comment on Paul’s main themes (i.e. divine wrath, blood appeasement, payback justice, oppositional dualism- election and rejection, and so on). This is located just below “Tackling Paul”. And then, my view of “greatest” things also in the mix below.
See further below the new comment directed to the Jesus Seminar regarding the apocalyptic debate. Also, see the recent post “CO2 or Natural Variation?” More detailed comment on unconditional reality is further below. Unconditional in the Nelson Mandela story is also below.
Clarification: non-retaliation is tightly pair-bonded with unconditional love, both being aspects of the same reality (negative/positive).
Why go after Paul, as I do on this page, and possibly offend many good Christians who venerate the apostle so highly? I do it because of Paul’s still outsize influence on how we think today, on how we shape our worldviews, our personal responses, our treatment of others, and our overall societies. His influence has been, and still is, profound on Western consciousness and culture, and through the West to the entire world. Paul’s Christ myth has been the singularly most influential myth in all history (Bob Brinsmead). More than anything else, it is responsible for bringing the damaging apocalyptic perspective into our modern world. Correspondingly, Paul’s religion (Christianity), with its sharply contrasting theology of supreme conditional atonement, has done more than anything else to bury the core unconditional theme of the historical Jesus. You can sum up the stunning contrast between Jesus and Paul in the following oppositional terms- non-retaliation vs. retaliation, non-punishment vs. punishment, non-destruction vs. destruction, or unconditional vs. conditional.
James Tabor, among many others, has also arrived at the conclusion that Christianity is quite entirely opposite to what Jesus taught. He makes the following statements on Paul (in his book “Paul and Jesus”, Preface): “I maintain there was a version of Christianity before Paul, affirmed both by Jesus and his original followers, with tenets and affirmations quite opposite to these of Paul…the message of Paul, which created Christianity as we know it, and the message of the historical Jesus and his earliest followers, were not the same. In fact, they were sharply opposed to one another…” Tabor adds, “Paul’s strongly apocalyptic perspective…influenced all he said and did…Christianity, as we came to know it, is Paul and Paul is Christianity. The bulk of the New Testament is dominated by his theological vision…”. He then notes the significant influence of Paul on modern Western thinking: “Paul is the most influential person in human history, and realize it or not, he has shaped practically all we think about everything….the foundations of Western civilization- from our assumptions about reality to our societal and personal ethics- rest in a singular way upon the heavenly visions and apparitions of the apostle Paul. We are all cultural heirs of Paul, with the well-established doctrines and traditions of mainstream Christianity deeply entrenched in our culture. In contrast, Jesus as a historical figure… has been largely lost to our culture…” And much more. See full comment on Tackling Paul further below, just above “The Benefits of Blasphemy”.
Note: Tabor does not explain the Zoroastrian influence on Paul (i.e. apocalyptic dualism) and he does not clearly set forth the nature of the contradiction between Paul and Jesus.
Ethics and Theology Contrasted- Jesus vs. Paul
This site repeatedly sets forth the stunning contradiction between the message of the historical Jesus and the entirely opposing message of Paul and Christianity. The historical Jesus presented a new ethic and theology oriented to unconditional forgiveness, unconditional inclusion of all, and unconditional generosity toward all. Paul and his Christian religion retreated back to a pagan view of God as excluding, punishing, and vengefully destroying disagreeing outsiders. Paul’s theology embodied the worst error of primitive minds- that there was some punishing force behind life. The contradiction between Jesus and Paul illustrates the greater human story of our struggle to leave a brutal past for a more human future. And it illustrates the ongoing resistance of many people, like Paul, to that liberation and advance.
Look, once again, at the essence of the contradiction in these summary statements of the core themes of Jesus and Paul, noting particularly their starkly opposing views of God.
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 connects the non-retaliating ethic to the 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 (this connects the non-retaliating ethic with the absolutely contradicting retaliatory theology) leave room for God’s wrath…for ”Vengeance is mine, I will repay says the Lord”.
Paul rejects and reverses the theological insight of Jesus, entirely. And his primitive retaliatory theology became Christianity.
The historical Jesus, with his non-retaliation insight, offered humanity the greatest potential liberation ever. He went to the heart of what was wrong in human thought and corrected it. He went to the very root of primitive mythology that was oriented to revenge, punishment, and destruction of differing others. He rejected that outright (no more eye for eye) and stated that God was unconditional love. But Paul reverted back to primitive myth by reviving the pagan view of God as punishing and vengeful.
The Christian message could have been about Jesus’ new insight- the wonder of unconditional love in deity. But instead, it became about Paul’s opposite view- the horror of divine vengeance and conditional atonement and salvation.
This is an unprecedented scandal (and opportunity) waiting to explode in human consciousness, waiting to go nuclear. Jesus’ new theology contradicts the very heart of Christianity and its salvation message. It goes to the heart of all religion and challenges the foundational ideas of punishment, revenge, judgment, payment, payback justice, atonement, and many related ideas that make up historical religion, and shape much of human culture and civilization. The Jesus insight on God exposes all such concepts and ideas as based on a great fraud and lie- that of a punishing ultimate reality. It is a fraud because there is no threat behind life, no punishing, vengeful deity that demands blood atonement or any form of appeasement. This is a devastating challenge to the entire salvation industry. There are no required conditions to meet, or salvation scheme to engage.
This is not just a Christian or religious issue but a wider human society issue. Christianity, with its vengeful, punishing theology, is largely responsible for re-enforcing the punishment/vengeance perspective in public consciousness. As Hyam Maccoby says, Paul created a myth that became the basis of Western culture. His view of Jesus has influenced the imagination of all Western civilization.
So look carefully at the stunning difference between the theology of Jesus and the theology of Paul. Jesus was not Christian (Maccoby) by any stretch of understanding. And again, remember that Paul has been the most influential person in all history (James Tabor) with his punishing Christ myth, a myth that buries the non-retaliation/unconditional message of historical Jesus. Paul’s Christ myth, not the core message of Jesus, has shaped Western thought and culture more than anything else (Tabor again), and through the West to the rest of the world. See more detail on this below.
Jesus offered humanity a turning point like none other, a liberation for consciousness like nothing ever conceived before. It was an offer of freedom from the primitive outlook of the past, with its pathetic orientation to punishment, revenge, and atonement. He presented the freedom to engage an authentic human future oriented to unconditional existence. Christianity aborted that human future and retreated to the primitive views of pagan cults like the Hellenistic mystery religions that shaped Paul’s thinking. See the research of people like Hyam Maccoby (The Myth-Maker: Paul and the Invention of Christianity), Stephen Mitchell (The Gospel According to Jesus), and James Tabor (Paul and Jesus: How the Apostle Transformed Christianity), among many others. They have been pointing to these issues for decades.
The Jesus breakthrough on theology (from retaliation to non-retaliation) pointed to a potential radical shift in human consciousness like nothing ever before in history. Read on…this site covers this scandalous story thoroughly.
Maccoby on Paul Inventing his Christ myth
(Note: Some people feel that researchers like Maccoby are a bit rough on Paul. But Maccoby brings an over-idolized man back down to earth. And he does his homework well on the Pharisee issue and what influenced Paul’s thinking. At any rate, you have to explain how Paul departed so fundamentally from Jesus, especially on theology. Maccoby offers some insight on that. Also, to balance Maccoby’s presentation on Paul- Paul did offer some advanced thinking on inclusion, such as his welcoming treatment of Gentiles. He also offered some good comment on the generally more humane treatment of people. Unfortunately, his overall context of exclusionary and punitive deity undermined his more humane stuff. His version of love was very tribal. It favored insiders and damned outsiders/unbelievers.)
Below, according to Hyam Macccoby (The Myth-Maker: Paul and the Invention of Christianity), are the three main ingredients in Paul’s Christ myth (paraphrased and quoted). Paul’s genius, says Maccoby, was in how he combined the elements of these disparate mythologies to make a new powerful myth.
Further below I will note that Maccoby misses the most important influence of all on Paul- Zoroastrian apocalyptic mythology. But first let Maccoby present his perspective on the three major influences on Paul’s thinking and writing.
1. Gnosticism- Teaches that the world is in the grip of evil and therefore it is necessary for a visitor from the world of Light to descend and impart the secret knowledge (gnosis) by which some privileged souls may escape from their enslavement to this world. The world was created by an evil power that enslaves people and fights the Good God. In Gnosticism a radical anti-Semitism emerged with the view that the Jews were the representatives of the cosmic evil, the Devil. Paul’s Christ myth- a Savior murdered by the Jews- intensified the anti-Semitism already present in Gnosticism. And in Paul’s mythology this belief in a present evil world led Paul to argue for the abandonment of this evil world in favor of an other-worldly Salvationism.
Clarification- the descending Gnostic savior, however, does not come as a sacrifice for sin.
So from Gnosticism comes the picture of a world in hellish darkness, yearning for salvation, into which a figure descends from the world of light. This figure dispenses saving wisdom, but is surrounded by the forces of evil.
2. Hellenistic or Greek Mystery religions- From this strain of mythology Paul derived the idea of a dying and resurrected god, a common theme in mystery religion. He then portrayed Jesus in that way. The elevation of Jesus to divine status was part of the reversion to paganism (Lord is a common term for such salvation deities). The historical Jesus never considered himself a deity.
As in the mystery religions, Paul’s divine Christ confers salvation and immortality through a mystic sharing in his death and resurrection. Here, the gnosis that the savior brings is knowledge of the saving power of his death.
And the dying god functions as a sacrifice for sin. Maccoby writes that Paul’s mind was full of sacrificial imagery, and he held the conviction of the saving power of the shedding of blood and undergoing torture (a cosmic agony to answer to his own agony of soul?). Thus Paul added his pagan human sacrifice to the intellectuality of the Gnostics, says Maccoby. Maccoby repeatedly emphasizes the pagan origins and nature of bloody human sacrifice.
So from mystery religion comes the story of the death of a savior god. Overwhelmed by the forces of evil he suffers a cruel death, but this very death is the source of salvation. Without death there would be no atonement, no salvation.
3. Judaism- This adds the dimension of history. Paul took over the Jewish scheme of history (from Adam to the last days) as a framework for his story of salvation. The connection with Jewish scripture and tradition gives Paul’s myth a historical context and an air of authority, says Maccoby.
Paul also adds such things as obedience and acquiescence to authority, which resonates with Roman rule and ensures more success for his new religion.
Maccoby often presents a somewhat rosy view of his Jewish religion and Torah, and that is a weakness in his work. But it is minor compared to the overall valuable material that he offers.
Zoroastrianism- Let me add this as not just the fourth main influence on Paul’s Christ myth but as the dominant influence (see related comment on apocalyptic throughout this site). Maccoby barely touches on this Iranian element – the idea of a Good God and an opposing evil force which is essential Zoroastrian theology. And he does not give it the prominence that it deserves. In fact, he neglects it almost entirely. Zoroaster predates Gnosticism and is most certainly the source of Gnostic dualism (good vs. evil) and Jewish dualism. James Tabor (Paul and Jesus) is more helpful on the significant influence of apocalyptic on Paul’s thinking and theology, an apocalyptic element that derives from Zoroastrianism. Apocalyptic gives us the idea of an end to history and a great final judgment and punishment of sin. This is prominent in Paul’s Christ myth, the idea of Christ returning in vengeful wrath to destroy all his enemies and end this world.
Another interesting aspect to the formation of Paul’s pagan myth of Christ- Maccoby notes that Paul did not think through his myth in some formal manner but rather it all fell together during his traumatic Damascus Road conversion experience. As Maccoby points out, this may explain the sometimes illogical way that Paul combined ideas in his arguments. Paul’s tortured mind apparently collapsed under the burden of his sense of failure at not achieving the status of respected Pharisee. And he suffered intense guilt for his role as brutal round-up cop for the High Priest (arresting and persecuting Christians). Maccoby also shares an Ebionite account of Paul pursuing the daughter of a priest but being rejected. Female rejection has sent many a male to Bonkersville. While that Ebionite story may not be accurate history, says Maccoby, it may be more truthful than Paul’s self-serving portrayal of himself.
Joseph Campbell has also noted the experience of primitive shaman, which may have been a schizophrenic breakdown, the disintegration and losing touch with reality, and then re-integrating in some new manner. That experience led to their elevation as sages and myth-makers for their societies. Their strange ideas then became sacred truth. And remember that one of the key elements of schizophrenic breakdown is the delusional belief that God is speaking to you (see The Origin of Consciousness by Julian Jaynes). As Maccoby says, these types of experiences have this element of people believing that the divine was involved in revealing something to the tortured soul, that they have received a divine revelation, some special insight from God.
Overall, Maccoby presents a picture of a frustrated and vengeful man, sometimes devious (if not outright lying) and vacillating for convenience. That man brought in pagan ideas to form his new religion (“deluded visions”), ideas entirely contrary to the humanizing teaching of Jesus. What a story. And it has shaped human thought and belief throughout the world more profoundly than any other system of myth ever conceived. Imagine, the deluded ideas that emerged out of the experiences of a tortured mind may have been the source of what became a great force to shape human consciousness over history. Billions have believed this Christ myth and lived their lives according to it, often to very harmful consequences. And yes, there have also been good things in the mix but too often the good has been overwhelmed by the larger pagan context.
The above is all part of understanding what may have contributed to the invention of Christianity.
Ethics and Theology compared and contrasted: repeat of similar comment just above but with additional points…
I refer repeatedly to the stunning contradiction between the historical Jesus and the Christian Jesus (the contradiction between the message of Jesus and Paul’s opposing message). Here, once again, is a shortened summary comparison to set forth as clearly as possible the stunning contrast between the theology of Jesus (his view of God) and that of Paul. This is followed by my paraphrase of Bob Brinsmead’s point that theology determines ethics.
I want readers to see clearly the stark contrast between the two theologies and note the important ethical/theological connection. All through history people have appealed to higher authorities and ideals to validate their behavior, their treatment of others. It is a natural human impulse to do so.
The insight of the historical Jesus that non-retaliation defined an authentically humane ethic and an authentically humane God was an apex point in the history of human consciousness. It was potentially the greatest turning point in the history of human thought. It offered the key to an unprecedented human liberation in that it countered the worst features of primitive ideals and ultimate authorities (i.e. retaliation, punishment), as nothing ever had. Tragically, Christianity rejected Jesus’ central insight and aborted his liberation endeavor.
Ethic and Theology of Jesus
Do not retaliate against evil, but instead, do good to others and you will be like God (this connects the ethic to the theology). God loves enemies, is kind, merciful, and compassionate to the evil and gives good things to all alike, both just and unjust (Matthew 5:38-48, Luke 6).
Ethic and Theology of Paul
Do not repay any one evil for evil, do not take revenge but (this connects the ethic with the absolutely contradicting theology) leave room for God’s wrath…for ”Vengeance is mine, I will repay says the Lord” (Romans 12).
Christianity attempted to embrace the non-retaliation ethic of Jesus, intuitively recognizing that it is authentic human response. But Christianity rejected the theology of Jesus. This is a serious disconnect. What inevitably happens is that theology determines ethics (our view of ultimate Good, of ultimate meaning, our ultimate ideal, determines how we replicate that good or ideal). Consequently, Christianity over its history has often treated disagreeing others with punishing vengeance, in harmony with the Christian view of God as desiring punishment.
Central Theme Repeat
(Here is the full statement of the central theme of the historical Jesus. It is repeated several times on this site to keep it in focus and to provide a stunning contrast with Paul’s opposing central theme of divine retaliation.)
Non-retaliation or unconditional love was the core theme of the historical Jesus, the foundational element in his worldview. This was his main insight into the meaning of ethics and theology. And note below that he tied ethics tightly to theology as the validating basis of human action (ethics based on theology has a long history in human thought and behavior). Act like this because God is like this. Do not retaliate against offenders because God does not retaliate. Do not take revenge (engage eye for eye justice) or punish because God does not take revenge or punish. Instead, include all and love all in the same universally generous manner. Be unconditionally merciful and compassionate as God is unconditionally merciful and compassionate. Love your enemies because God loves enemies.
This striking new theology contrasts entirely with the God of Paul and Christianity, a God that retaliates, takes revenge, and punishes (see Paul’s Dominant Themes further below).
Here is the full statement of Jesus’ core theme combining the elements of both the Matthew 5 and Luke 6 summaries.
“You have heard that it was said, an eye for eye, and a tooth for a tooth. But I tell you, Don’t resist or retaliate against an evil person.
“If someone slaps you on the cheek, offer your other cheek as well. If anyone grabs your coat, let him have your shirt as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.
“Give to everyone who asks you, and if someone takes away your belongings, do not demand to have them back. Do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
“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 who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who mistreat you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good; he sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
“If you love those who love you, that credit is that to you? Even tax collectors love those who love them, do they not? And if you embrace only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Doesn’t everybody do that? And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? If you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even wrongdoers lend to their kind because they expect to be repaid in full.
“Instead, love your enemies, do good to them, and lend without expecting to get anything back. Do to others what you would have them do to you.
“Then your reward will be great, and you will be the children of God (or better, you will be like God) because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful even as your Father is merciful. Be compassionate in the same manner that God is compassionate.”
This brief statement turns everything upside down- both ethically and theologically. It was without historical precedent, absolutely unique and explosive in its meaning.
Since the earliest time, human understanding of deity had concluded that the gods were threatening, quick to anger, judgmental, punitive, and agents of ultimate destruction. And the gods represented ultimate realities. They were creators, sustainers and controllers of all things, law-givers, ultimate authorities, and ultimate sources of human meaning and purpose.
Over history, various religious traditions had also introduced the more humane features of compassion and kindness into their versions of deity but that humanity was often conditional, reserved for believing insiders. It was a limited tribal love. Those gods would still punish and destroy outsiders/enemies. Overall, deity as ultimate reality embodied the harshest primitive features of retaliation, tribal exclusion (privileged insiders, threatened outsiders), judgment/condemnation, conditional salvation, and ultimate destruction. People had long projected their very worst features onto their gods.
But in this stunning presentation of a new ethic and theology Jesus stated that all previous understanding of gods was completely wrong. God did not retaliate (no eye for eye), did not punish the bad, and did not exclude or destroy anyone. Instead, God loved all the same and included all with the same unconditional generosity (the good things of life- sun and rain- were given generously to all alike, both good and bad). The historical Jesus took his breakthrough unconditional insight to the core of human meaning and purpose, to the highest of ideals, the highest source of authority and focus of human faith- deity.
That unconditional treatment of all was simply too scandalous for many people to wrap their minds around and so, like Paul, they retreated back to views of retaliating, punishing gods. That suited better their views of justice as full payment for wrong done. And in that shameful retreat, they missed the greatest breakthrough insight in all history.
To get some sense of the profound nature of what the Historical Jesus was actually saying, try this imagination exercise. Imagine if all that terrorizing mythology of historical religion were actually true. Imagine that the gods that created and sustained all things were real beings that threatened, judged, condemned human failure, and then exhibited anger by excluding, punishing, and destroying people. Imagine that myths like Hell were true, that it was a real place. That there was some great, cosmic threat behind all things, divine punishment, ultimate domination/subservience, and realities like eternal torture in a lake of fire. What a horror this universe and life would be. No wonder some people have gone insane contemplating such things. I know of a man at an Evangelical college that jumped to his death because he believed that he had committed an unpardonable sin and was eternally damned. Human consciousness is profoundly traumatized by such ultimate horrors.
But in this profound statement of non-retaliation or unconditional love, the historical Jesus declares emphatically… “No”. There is no retaliating, judging/condemning, punishing, or destroying God. There is no divine threat against imperfect human existence. Instead, to the absolute contrary, the ultimate reality behind all is love. Let this stunning discovery blow through your consciousness. And stunner of all stunners, the ultimate reality is love of a nature that is beyond the best that anyone could imagine. It is unconditional. Scandalously unconditional. What a liberation for fearful, anxious, troubled minds intensely aware of their failures and living under the terrifying threats of their religious traditions. The contemporaries of Jesus were told of an Abba Father who was merciful, compassionate, forgiving without pre-condition, inclusive of all alike, and who showered infinite generosity on all alike. Well, no wonder the chains began to fall away in the consciousness of many who heard that message.
The scandalous wonder of this Jesus insight would be the foundation of the greatest liberation movement in all history. It would go to the heart of human mind and consciousness to profoundly change the deeply embedded perceptions of primitive thinking, perceptions that had darkened and enslaved spirits and minds for millennia.
And what a profound liberation movement that could have sparked if the followers of Jesus had continued to develop his theme on non-retaliation/unconditional love. But instead, Paul and his Christian religion buried that brilliant discovery under highly conditional atonement mythology. Christianity aborted the greatest liberation movement in history.
Think of what the historical Jesus was actually saying: That everyone is safe in the ultimate sense because unconditional love is at the core of all reality and life. To get some feel of what this means listen to people who have had some firsthand experience of it. Numbers of the Near-Death Experience people have had a glimpse and taste of this love. They tell us that the Light that they encountered is absolute unconditional love. It is a love that is overwhelming and inexpressible. NDErs often express frustration that they cannot find words to fully communicate what they felt. And they come back disillusioned at the things that their religions have taught them about God judging, punishing, or sending people to Hell. They realize that such things are simply not true and, in fact, are entirely contrary to the unconditional love that they experienced.
They also discover that love is everything. It is the basis of all, the energizing life of all, the very essence and substance of all things. It is the permeating atmosphere of all. And again, it is of a quality that is unimaginably wondrous.
Someone stated that light is the essential nature and basis of all reality. Then add this further insight: that, more than anything else, unconditional love defines the nature of the light that is at the core of all. Light and love are one and the same reality.
This creating and sustaining ultimate love that we are speaking about is something that is infinitely better than the best that can be imagined (the real meaning of transcendent in deity). Such love is not tainted by any hint of threat, exclusion, condemnation, or punishment. As Joseph Campbell said of God- the actual reality is beyond categories, beyond terms or definitions, and beyond words or thought. The best that we can think only points in the general direction of something that is infinitely better and infinitely beyond. The terms God or love are only penultimate terms, pointing to things transcendently better and beyond.
And the center of this light and love is immediately inside us. We are not separate from this wonder, nor far from it. It is the very core of our true self or authentic person.
Jesus’ discovery of unconditional love stands in stunning contrast to the perception of deity over history as threat, retaliation, condemnation, punishment, and ultimate destruction. With his breakthrough insight, Jesus sparked a new trend of emerging insight that tells us that deity is unconditional love beyond understanding. This is absolutely explosive in terms of human perception and worldviews. It takes human consciousness in an entirely new direction. It challenges the entire conditional framework of past theology, mythology, and religion. The Jesus theological breakthrough takes things nuclear.
Think of the multiple millennia that those primitive ideas of punitive gods were beaten into public consciousness in endless variations. And think of the traumatizing impact of that on human emotion and life. And think of the outcomes in wasted time and resources as billions of people have tried to appease and please such threatening gods via salvation religion.
And then we discover that the very opposite is true. What a great release and relief to discover that retaliation/punishment mythology has all along been entirely false. And something entirely opposite and of infinite goodness is actually true. Something scandalously opposite to all the dark, frightening things that shaman, priests, and theologians have concocted and terrorized people with over history.
The reality of unconditional love engenders in human consciousness an unprecedented liberation and peace. It liberates consciousness at the deepest levels of subconscious fear, anxiety, depression, and despair.
This new insight on unconditional love as the foundational reality of all now becomes a new baseline for evaluating truth, right, and authentic humanity. And conversely, anything less, or anything other than this unconditional love, is ultimately false, not real, not true, and should be challenged as not right.
Shamefully, Paul dragged Christianity backwards into the primitive pathology of angry, punishing gods, gods that demanded violent bloody sacrifice as appeasement. He aborted the greatest liberation movement in history.
Eliminating Zoroastrian Dualism
When Jesus included the bad with the good (all persons treated the same with unconditional divine generosity) he cut to the root of the Zoroastrian dualism that had long before set the good (true believers) in opposition to the bad (unbelievers). In Zoroastrianism the good were obligated to fight and destroy the bad. Zoroastrian dualism subsequently shaped Jewish thinking, then Christianity, and Western consciousness. That dualistic opposition, exclusion, punishment, and destruction of the disagreeing or offending other, it all ended with Jesus’ unconditional inclusion of all persons in all the good things that God gives (i.e. sun and rain). Jesus’ statement spelled the end of that Zoroastrian dualism that had so prominently dominated previous human thought and had validated so much violent retaliation and fighting among people at all levels of existence. In his Matthew 5 statement the historical Jesus eliminated the foundational categories of good/bad, friend/enemy, and insider/outsider- all forms of limiting tribal thinking. Those categories had profoundly shaped human perspective for the worse over history. Now, all persons were to be viewed and included as intimate family.
CO2 or Natural Variation? (or Relax about using fossil fuels)
The narrative has been relentlessly beaten into public consciousness over the past few decades- that the rising level of CO2 in the atmosphere is causing catastrophic climate warming. But with the halt of warming for the past 17 years the alarmist claim has changed. Rising CO2, alarmists argue, is now causing more general “climate change” with “extreme weather events” (as if both of these have not been common all throughout climate history).
Note carefully how alarmist scientists and media have focused intensely on these two particular things- rising temperatures and rising CO2 levels. They have persistently tried to create fear over these two trends as a great threat to life. This is the central theme of the alarmist narrative today. And it is not supported by good scientific evidence.
This narrative is not just unproven. It is backwards (both rising CO2 and warmer temperatures are a significant benefit to life). And the dogmatic manner in which it has been presented is entirely unscientific. There is no clear, final evidence that rising levels of CO2 are causing any notable climate change. CO2 cannot be isolated out as the dominant cause of climate warming or climate change in general. Other natural elements show stronger causal relationships to the climate change periods that we have observed over the past. These other natural climate drivers appear to be the main causes of climate change.
To clarify further, the debate is not whether CO2 has a warming effect or influence. That is not questioned and there is consensus on that- CO2 does have a warming effect or influence. Both alarmists and skeptics agree on this.
But other natural factors show stronger correlations (and causal relationships) to all the notable climate change periods that we have seen, especially in the past few hundred years. The CO2 warming effect appears to be a minor player in the mix of natural factors.
Note for instance, the cosmic ray/solar flux interaction and its correlation with climate change periods of the past few centuries (for detail see Henrik Svensmark’s The Chilling Stars). This cosmic ray/solar flux phenomenon works as follows: Incoming cosmic rays (from exploding stars) release electrons in the air which encourages the clumping of molecules to make micro-specks, capable of gathering into larger specks of cloud condensation nuclei on which water droplets can form. In brief, cosmic rays cause more cloud formation, especially low clouds (below 3000 meters above the surface) that have a stronger effect in keeping the earth cool. These clouds reflect back sunlight that would otherwise warm the earth.
The other side of this interaction- an active sun provides a barrier to incoming cosmic rays by providing a magnetic shield that prevents cosmic rays from arriving at the Earth. But this shield fluctuates according to whether the sun is active (solar maximums) or not active (solar minimums).
So in summary, cosmic rays cause more cloud which cools the earth. But an active sun prevents incoming cosmic rays (less cloud) and this results in the Earth warming.
Once again: Cosmic rays = cloud = cooling climate. Active sun = less cloud = warming climate.
The sun was notably inactive/dead during the Little Ice Age of roughly 1675-1715. That was an abnormally cold time on Earth and climate has since been rebounding over the past centuries, back toward a more normal warmer world. But the rebound has not been a straight line of rise toward warmer averages. It has been a series of warming/cooling periods of roughly 20-30 years length in a larger overall warming trend (see Dr. Akasofu’s research at http://www.mdpi.com/2225-1154/1/1/4). This interspersing of warming and cooling periods correlates with such things as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation- large shifts in Pacific currents from cooling to warming phases every 20-30 years (i.e. roughly 1880-1910 cooling, 1910-1940 warming, 1940-1975 cooling, 1975-1995 warming, 1995- present flat trend).
Also, the sun was quite active during the warming of 1975-95, and then went dead after that (solar minimum). This correlates to the cessation of warming since 1995 (http://www.thegwpf.org/climate-change-and-the-quiet-sun/, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-25743806 ).
The CO2 warming effect gets lost or overwhelmed by the stronger influence of these other natural factors. This is notably evident when we recognize that while CO2 levels continue to rise, there has been no further warming for the past 17 years.
The result is that there is no clear evidence that CO2 is dominantly related (the sole cause or dominant cause) to such climate changes as we have noted over the past centuries. It certainly plays a part in any warming but is not primarily responsible for the changes in climate noted above. And then the human contribution to CO2 levels, and warming effect, is much smaller yet (it amounts to “a fart in a hurricane”, according to one scientist).
Others have given some further perspective on CO2 by pointing out the tiny amount that humans contribute and the miniscule size of CO2 in relation to other natural factors. For instance, CO2 is only about 3.6% of all greenhouse gases. And the human contribution to CO2 is about 3% of the total amount of CO2 in the atmosphere (1 molecule of every 100,000 molecules). Other natural sources of CO2 are immense, the two largest sources being oceans and soils (i.e. bacteria). Also volcanoes, and notably submarine volcanoes (some 3 million), contribute CO2 but these sources are hard to measure.
The overall conclusion then is that we cannot claim that CO2 in general has caused any of the climate change that we know about over the past. And it is certainly not proven that CO2 is now causing any “catastrophic” climate change. And with the human contribution to CO2 being much tinier, then we certainly cannot claim that human emissions of CO2 are causing catastrophic climate change. They have not been proven responsible for causing any of the mild climate change events of the recent past (i.e. the 1975-1995 mild warming). We cannot then argue for reducing human emissions of CO2 because they pose some threat. There is no clear evidence for such a claim. As German meteorologist Klaus-Echart Puls has said, “There is nothing we can do to stop climate change. Scientifically, it is sheer absurdity to think we can get a nice climate by turning a CO2 adjustment knob” (Climate Science, May 10, 2012).
So it is time to end all these panicky calls to stop human use of fossil fuels, fuels that have been a huge benefit to human progress and civilization.
Also, it is time to cease this unscientific nonsense that CO2 is a pollutant or poison, a threat to life. It is the food of all life. And to paraphrase the Oregon Institute of Medicine’s Protest Petition, there is no evidence that rising CO2 is bad for earth while there is much good evidence that more CO2 in the atmosphere is good for earth. For instance, since 1980 there has been a 14% increase in plant productivity from more CO2 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4v86K5awl_s , see comment at the 34-35 minute mark). The Earth is greener and healthier due to more CO2 in the atmosphere. The biosphere has become more robust.
Pre-industrial age levels of CO2, which are viewed by alarmists as optimal (roughly 250 ppm), were so low that they stressed plant life. Plants prefer levels of 1000 to 1500 ppm as in farmer’s greenhouses.
Also, paleo-climate studies show no evidence that much higher levels of CO2 in the past caused any catastrophic climate change. In the past it was often much warmer with the higher levels of CO2 and life benefitted from such conditions (see Ian Plimer’s Heaven And Earth). For long stretches of time CO2 levels were 1500 ppm, and sometimes as high as 7000 ppm. During the Cambrian era, with its higher CO2 levels, the Earth experienced a great flourishing of plant and animal life (http://www.geocraft.com/WVFossils/Carboniferous_climate.html).
Other points: As noted above, since 1980 with the 14% increase in plant productivity, and major greening of the Earth, the result has been a healthier biosphere. With more CO2, plants can tolerate drought better and experience more efficient water uptake. Animals and humans benefit from more plant growth (i.e. higher crop yields).
Another important point to understand from paleo-climate research is the basic causal relationship of warming climate to CO2. Research such as the Vostok ice cores show that increasing atmospheric CO2 tends to follow rising temperatures (warming climate). The relationship here is as follows: Rising temperature warms the oceans. Warming oceans then release CO2 into the atmosphere, causing levels to rise. This relationship occurs over centuries with the CO2 rise lagging the climate warming by up to 800 years. Note the data on this site http://joannenova.com.au/global-warming-2/ice-core-graph/ and their conclusion, “The bottom line is that rising temperatures cause carbon levels to rise. Carbon may still influence temperatures, but these ice cores are neutral on that. If both factors caused each other to rise significantly, positive feedback would become exponential. We’d see a runaway greenhouse effect. It hasn’t happened. Some other factor is more important than carbon dioxide, or carbon’s role is minor.”
Conclusion: The unscientific narrative of the alarmists is not supported with good evidence. They have insistently argued that the colder past with lower CO2 levels was optimal for Earth. And that rising temperatures and rising CO2 levels are now a threat to life. No. That is backwards. Rising temperatures (warming) and rising CO2 is part of a natural return to more normal and healthier conditions for life. And over recent history (past few centuries), rising CO2 and rising temperatures are part of the natural rebound from the Little Ice Age which was an abnormally cold time on Earth.
We need to reverse entirely the alarmist CO2 narrative of the past few decades that rising CO2 and warmer temperatures are a threat to life. CO2 levels have risen to much higher levels over the past and then fallen again. Such is the regular change in a dynamic system like climate. Climate change is the very nature of climate. And with all the massive changes over the past there were no “catastrophic” outcomes for life because with all change there are feedbacks both positive and negative. The result, according to climate scientist Roy Spencer, is that climate acts like a self-regulating system that keeps its varied elements within ranges that support life (despite significant fluctuations or changes, despite endless natural climate change).
And critical to note is the fact that there is no optimal past state in climate that remains in stasis (unchanging). And certainly, the cold temperatures and low CO2 of the pre-industrial past were not optimal for life. So trying to stir fear over “climate change” is not just unscientific but positively irrational and borders on some form of hysteria at times.
Note also in the larger context that these past few million years have been an abnormally cold ice age era with both colder temperatures and lower levels of CO2. This is due to our position on one of the spiral arms of the Milky Way where there is a lot of star activity (i.e. exploding stars emitting cosmic rays). Remember also that for 75% of its history Earth has been entirely ice free. That is a more normal and healthy state for life.
Note further Ian Plimer’s argument that it is during climate cooling that Earth experiences more drought, not during climate warming. Again, the alarmists, like Al Gore, have the science all backwards. Plimer explains that during warmer periods life flourishes while during colder periods life suffers (i.e. more extinctions, more human fatalities). A warmer world with higher levels of CO2 is a healthier world, a more normal world when compared to the long-term context of life on Earth.
Getting the basic science of CO2 and carbon right is vital to end this current alarm over rising CO2 levels. As noted above, alarmists have been trying to portray CO2 as a pollutant and even poison. This is irrational. It is a complete abandonment of sound science. CO2 is the very food of all life. It is vital to a healthy biosphere.
When the evidence does not support the alarmist narrative we then must ask what is really behind all this climate alarmism? This takes us to ideological issues. And further behind that we find mythological issues. Ideology is often just secularized mythology anyway, rooted in a primitive alarmist worldview.
This site is devoted to understanding these deeper roots of alarmist movements, whether religious or secular.
Secularized Mythology- Apocalyptic in modern ideology Wendell Krossa
Opening qualifier: Not all alarmism is an expression of apocalyptic mythology. But much doomsterism/alarmism does touch base with core apocalyptic themes. Apocalyptic is a unique set of primitive and damaging ideas.
Another qualifier: I argue repeatedly on this page that the worst error in all history (i.e. punitive forces/spirits behind life) spawned the most distorting and damaging set of ideas in all history- apocalyptic mythology. The outcome of apocalyptic has been atonement religion- the appeasement or salvation industry. This apocalyptic set of ideas/themes has darkened and enslaved human consciousness for millennia. It still dominates much public consciousness today (note public story-telling media such as movies, TV, and literature).
Now to the main point…
Various strains in contemporary ideology (notably environmental alarmism) are little more than secularized mythology. It is always surprising to discover some of the most primitive mythology still present in modern secular viewpoints. To illustrate this I will trace in brief summary form the main apocalyptic themes as they descend from primitive thinking down into the present. I will employ broad strokes and over-simplify in order to make the point clear and to show the linkages between major historical periods and systems of ideas. The core themes of apocalyptic are not always held up front in daily consciousness or conversation but tend to reside more in the background (subconscious even) where they are often not properly confronted, rooted out, and replaced with more evidence-based and rational alternatives.
The line of descent of apocalyptic mythology is from primitive mythology to Zoroaster, then to Jewish religion, merged into Christianity, and then into 19th Century Declinism or Cultural Pessimism, and then to Environmentalism (we could also include Marxism and Nazism). The thing to note in this lineage is not exact correspondence of statements or expression but the core theme behind any given statement or expression.
Apocalyptic mythology is much more than just the apocalypse myth. Apocalypse by itself (aside from its full context) makes little sense. It is part of a full template of tightly related ideas or myths that includes:
1. The myth of original paradise (or a generally better past)
2. The ruin of paradise by corrupted humanity (Fall). Corrupt humanity now deserves some punishment.
3. The subsequent decline of life toward something worse (i.e. in contemporary expression the world is getting worse, threat from over-population, fragile nature is ready to collapse).
4. A dualism between good and evil. Oppositional dualism affirms the need to exclude and punish some enemy.
5. A salvation scheme- this is atonement thinking, the felt need to make a sacrifice in order to save something (oneself, humanity, or the world) from the final punishment. Salvationism is about placating some angry, punitive force/spirit in order to avoid the end-time grand retaliation from an angry God or revenge of Gaia.
6. A final punishment of evil. This is the actual apocalypse- some catastrophic ending- where the good triumph over the evil (a final retaliation against one’s enemies).
7. The purging of the world (removing the old corrupt order of things- i.e. population reduction, and slowing or reversing industrial civilization), and the restoration of paradise or inauguration of the new kingdom/utopia.
Behind this template of apocalyptic is that core error of the ancients- that behind life there is some threatening, punishing spirit or god. This explains the final punishment of all wrong, the purging of the old corrupt order (purging of all evil), and the restoration of the original good.
Note especially below that it was Zoroaster who introduced a strong dualism into ancient apocalyptic mythology, a clear opposition between good and bad. This would affirm the exclusion of unbelievers or bad people (the disagreeing other). It would affirm the need to punish such people. That dualism would reinforce primitive tribalism and the right to retaliate against and destroy one’s enemies. It would affirm the impulse to exclude and ultimately destroy outsiders in an apocalyptic punishment.
Primitive (Sumerian) mythology
In the earliest human writing (i.e. Sumerian cuneiform tablets) we already find the core themes of apocalyptic mythology. Apocalyptic is not yet assembled into a coherent theology but is more of a scattering of themes here and there. These themes may be noted in such material as the Sumerian or Gilgamesh Flood myth (roughly 2100 BCE though it refers to earlier events). The Sumerian tablets contain fragmentary accounts and a fuller version of the Gilgamesh epic appears somewhere between 1600-1300 BCE in Babylonian mythology.
The core themes: The city of Dilmun was presented as an original paradise. The god/man Enki committed an original error that resulted in his punishment with illness and the degrading of paradise (an early version of the Fall of man theme). And then there was the myth of a great Flood as punishment for human sin (too many people being too noisy). The god Enlil decided to punish the boisterous people with a great deluge. That was the earliest apocalypse scenario. For detail see sites such as http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sumerian_creation_myth
In these early myths we see the barebones outline of primitive apocalyptic thinking.
The earliest expressions of Salvationism or salvation mythology are also found in the earliest human writing, in the Sumerian Flood myth and later related versions such as the Epic of Gilgamesh. In the varied versions of the flood myth there are different flood heroes- Utnapishtim, Atra-Hasis, and Zi-ud-sura. The flood hero builds an ark and rescues the animals and then, along with his wife in Utnapishtim’s case, is granted eternal life by the gods. This is the earliest recorded mythology of Salvationism and immortality.
There are also conditions to meet in order to gain salvation and this is noted in the case of Gilgamesh, who fails to meet the conditions. For one condition he is required to stay awake but fails. Another condition requires him to obtain an ocean plant which he does, but then while he is busy bathing, a serpent steals the plant that would have given him renewed youthfulness. He then loses his bid for immortality.
And in these same epics (notably that of Zi-ud-sura) there is also the required sacrifice made to the gods, another element of Salvationism. After the flood Ziusudra offers a sacrifice of an ox and a sheep. He is then given “eternal breath” and dwells in the paradise of Dilmun.
So, once again, the core elements of salvation and related mythology are all there in these ancient epics- retaliatory or punishing deity, the original paradise and fall of man (i.e. the paradise of Dilmun and the “sin” of Enki, who becomes ill after eating forbidden fruit), the grand punishment or retaliation of apocalypse (flood), and the subsequent salvation/sacrifice scheme with its conditions.
Zoroastrian apocalyptic mythology
Zoroaster takes up the scattered themes of primitive myth and brings them together to present a more formal and coherent theology of apocalyptic and salvationism.
Zoroaster appears to be the first to introduce into his apocalyptic theology the idea of a dualism between good and evil. He speaks of a good Creator God, Ahura Mazda, and an evil hostile spirit, Angra Mainyu. These two are set in cosmic conflict. This opposition forms the basis of Zoroaster’s pronounced dualism, a dualism between good and bad that obligates people to make a choice of which they will follow.
This dualism results in life in this world becoming a battleground for the conflict between good and evil. According to Zoroaster, the world had originally been created perfect but Angra Mainyu had ruined that perfection, bringing decay and death into the world. This was a formal statement of a Fall (paradise lost). But this world and history would be brought to a final end when evil would be destroyed. A great apocalypse would occur, a final judgment in which good would be separated from evil, when good would conquer evil. A great fire of molten metal would burn the world carrying the unrighteous into Hell. This would purge the world and then its original perfection would be restored for the righteous who would spend eternity in bliss.
In the grand end-time apocalypse, a justice of rigid payback would be fulfilled. The righteous would be rewarded for good done and the wicked would be punished for evil done. Zoroaster’s dualism affirmed the need for opposition and exclusion of one’s enemies or opponents. There was to be a clear demarcation between the good and the bad, with the requirement to punish and annihilate the bad.
Zoroaster was the first to introduce these ideas of a final end to history and the world, a final judgment, Heaven and Hell as payment for deeds done, eternal life, and a great apocalypse by fire (no longer by flood). With these ideas Zoroaster offers a more complete and coherent presentation of apocalyptic and salvation mythology.
See for example http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/apocalyptic-that-which-has-been-rcvealed (sic) and Mary Boyce’s Zoroastrians: Their religious beliefs and practices.
Jewish apocalyptic theology
Apocalyptic mythology is developed in Jewish culture in the post-exile period (the Jews were exiled in 605 BCE and returned in 536 BCE). There is first the development of proto-apocalyptic theology in the writing of Isaiah (chapters 33-35, circa 163 BCE; chapters 24-27, circa 128 BCE), Jeremiah (chapter 33), Ezekiel (chapters 38-39), Joel chapter 3, and Zechariah chapters 12-14 (160 BCE). This is transitional thinking on apocalyptic mythology. Then there is the development of a full-blown apocalyptic theology in Daniel (chapters 7-12) during the Maccabean period (160-60 BCE).
Jewish apocalyptic exhibits the themes of a strong dualism (two kingdoms), the conquering and elimination of evil, a final judgment and divine victory over evil, and the complete reformation of all things (a renewed Golden Age). The good God will triumph over evil and chaos. Salvation is promised though in Jewish thought it had more to do with a this-world restored political kingdom and not some other-worldly individual salvation as in Paul’s thought.
See for example http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apocalyptic_literature
Christian apocalyptic teaching
The Christian apocalyptic template inherits the Jewish perspective but is more fleshed out and contains the following main themes: an original paradise (Eden), a Fall into corruption due to human failure, the subsequent decline of life toward something worse, toward a catastrophic ending, and the great Apocalypse often referred to in terms such as “the Day of the Lord”. This will be a fiery purging of the world and the ending of the current corrupt world order. It will be a great divine judgment and punishment. After this there will be the restoration of all things in a renewed world (a new Eden), or a kingdom of God. This set of themes is also referred to as Christian salvation theology.
One can find these themes throughout the Christian Bible, but notably summarized in the writing of Paul and John (Revelation). See for instance, Paul’s writing in the letters to the Thessalonians, also in Romans and Hebrews (authorship uncertain).
Apocalyptic in 19th Century Declinism or Cultural Pessimism
In the development of 19th century Declinism theory we find a significant shift occurring in the historical descent of apocalyptic mythology. Apocalyptic is now secularized, or given a more secular expression. Myth is stated as ideology. Hence, my repeated statement that much contemporary ideology is just secularized mythology. Declinism is primitive apocalyptic myth re-emerging in modern thought and expression.
I am indebted to historians like Arthur Herman for the material in this section, notably his excellent study titled “The Idea of Decline In Western History”. Herman illustrates a pivotal point in the history of human thought or perception- how primitive mythology is secularized for the new thinking of the scientific era.
Herman notes the influence of a variety of Christian themes on the thinking of the Decline theorists (see also Richard Landes’ Heaven on Earth: The Varieties of the Millennial Experience for more historical detail on the influence of Christian apocalyptic on modern political ideologies like Marxism and Nazism).
Herman writes that Declinism assumes the common belief in an original golden age in the past, and that there has been a subsequent decline of life from that better past. The Declinists of the 19th Century refused to accept that modern industrial society was progress. Instead, in that very progress they saw the forces of decline and decadence. Human industrial civilization was making things worse. They saw in industrialization an emerging hell.
Declinists also held a belief in the Fall of man or the corruption of an originally pure humanity. Declinists believed that primitive people were a superior people. But modern civilization had corrupted the pure native soul and society, and they had subsequently lost their original vitality, their purity and strength. Technological and scientific society had degraded the human spirit. Racial degeneration had occurred. Civilization made people soft and corrupt.
(Note: see Stephen Pinker’s “Better Angels of Our Nature” for good counter evidence that shows the actual progress of humanity over history toward something ever better)
So now life was declining toward something worse than before. This Herman refers to as “Degeneration theory” which claims that there has been a deviation from an original pure and strong type. Modern technological and industrial society has produced this decline in humanity and in life generally. It was all heading for a grand collapse and ending (the apocalypse).
Salvation is to be found in purging this corrupt human civilization and restoring the primitive order or society. There must be a grand purifying, and it should be a violent overthrow, a violent and fiery purging of the old order so that a new order of life, or a new society, may be installed. This new world is to be a return to primitive vitality, and the assumed innocence of the original pure beginning. Herman also notes the Christian belief that salvation required the violent and catastrophic destruction of the old order so that the new order or kingdom could be inaugurated (see Revelation for graphic detail on the brutal violence of the Christian apocalyptic vision).
One can see the core Christian apocalyptic themes all through Declinism. This is the secularization of primitive mythology for the modern age.
Apocalyptic in Environmentalism
Herman in his chapter 12 then shows how Declinism thinking emerged in modern environmentalism. Contemporary environmentalism proclaims that the original Golden Age was found in pure and undisturbed nature, in pristine wilderness. But modern technological society has led to the corrupting of nature, it has degraded the natural paradise. Industrial society has threatened vital nature. Modern technological progress is destroying life, exhausting resources.
And all is now in decline toward some catastrophic collapse and ending. Salvation is to be found in returning to some post-industrial order. Declinists argue that we need to purge this corrupting order and bring in a new world order, or a new civilization, in order to save the planet. And this new order is actually viewed as a return back to nature, back to the original Golden Age. This will mean the renunciation of Western capitalist society for a return to a pure natural existence, to a primitive, pre-capitalist society. This is the new kingdom- a return to primitive society. It is a return to the mythical original vitality (pristine natural paradise) before the fall into modern civilization.
For the environmental declinist, or alarmist, the looming collapse of civilization is then something to look forward to. The catastrophic destruction of technological civilization is an opportunity to bring in the new order. Western civilization is a corrupting evil, and modern civilized humanity is an evil. But Gaia will retaliate and punish this human cancer and remove it, so that the old primitive natural order can be restored.
In all these historical phases of apocalyptic mythology we find the same core themes, no matter the differences of expression over time. The basic template re-emerges endlessly over history from primitive mythology to equally primitive theology to contemporary ideology- original paradise or better past, paradise ruined by corrupting humanity, a Fall into worsening corruption, the decline of humanity and life toward something worse, the looming catastrophic ending (apocalypse), the need to purge the old corrupt order and install a new order (or re-install the original primitive paradise).
From Sumerian myth to contemporary environmentalism, apocalyptic mythology has continued to darken consciousness and alarm humanity. Apocalyptic thinking has always held the dismal view of humanity as corrupt and destructive. It has therefore consistently opposed human development and progress. It has endlessly proposed anti-human salvation schemes that harm people and hinder progress toward a better future (and cause unnecessary damage to nature). It even urges ridding the planet of most of humanity. It is a profoundly anti-human mythology.
Apocalyptic always presents the potential to not only stir alarm but also violence with its oppositional dualism and sense of threat from some enemy (i.e. employing a sense of victimhood to validate violence toward perceived enemies).
Some additional points on the secularization of primitive mythology:
It is important to respond to alarmism with good scientific evidence. Rational science is the anti-dote to hysterical primitivism. And I have argued repeatedly that overwhelming evidence on all the major trends/elements of life affirms a narrative of hope, not alarm. We are not heading toward some catastrophic end of nature, life, or civilization.
But there is this interesting thing going on regarding evidence. You will get two equally bright scientists looking at the same data/evidence and coming to very contrary conclusions. You then realize that there might be ideology at play and influencing the conclusions about the evidence. One way of understanding this has been called “confirmation bias”, where people will accept only the evidence that affirms their views on something, and downplay or dismiss outright the contrary evidence that does not affirm their views. When this occurs then you recognize that it is important to look into ideological issues in order to better understand alarmism. And surprise, surprise because looking even deeper you will often find primitive mythology behind the ideology. Too much contemporary ideology is little more than secularized mythology.
Just for example. I was in a grad program at the University of BC back in the early 90s (School of Community and Regional Planning). Bill Rees was the director of the school and a lecturer (I took most of his courses). He is widely known as the originator or father of the Ecological Footprint model which argues that too many people are consuming too many resources and all is heading for some catastrophic collapse. We need another Earth or two to support our levels of consumption. Our footprint on nature is too large. We are in “overshoot”. Bill was developing this EF during the years I was in his school.
Now to illustrate this thing of mythology at the root of much contemporary ideology- Bill travelled a lot and when absent would invite others to lecture for him. He once had one of his PhD students lecture us on Mother Earth or the earth goddess. And he offered to us in lectures the perspective of Gaia. In a personal conversation, he once affirmed to me that apocalyptic was true. After all, according to Bill, it had happened in the past.
Other leaders of the environmental movement have also appealed to mythology to make their case for alarm over the state of nature. Notable in this regard is Rachel Carson and her appeal to an apocalyptic narrative in the first chapter of her book Silent Spring. Al Gore sometimes refers to his Christian beliefs to back his case for alarm. These are some of the thought leaders of alarmist environmentalism and it is evident that mythology plays some role in their approach. This is why this page focuses so much on understanding the deeper mythical roots behind alarmism.
It is not that any given alarmist will make a clear statement of mythology, tying her/his approach to traditional apocalyptic themes. It is more that they will employ a theme that is indistinguishable from the core themes of ancient mythology.
And thus primitive mythology, now often secularized, still clouds and damages modern outlook and society. It continues to darken public consciousness and enslave the human spirit and human society (notably the alarmist response of anti-development activism, the endeavor to oppose and halt human economic development and overall progress).
Fortunately, the human impulse for authentic liberation will persistently confront the residual influence of this primitive apocalyptic perspective and seek to replace these dark themes with a new narrative of hope based on the increasing evidence of human creative influence on life.
To further note the historical lines of descent and linkages see sites such as http://op-ed.the-environmentalist.org/2007/04/zoroastrianisms-influence-on-judaism.html, http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/15283-zoroastrianism, or http://www.westminster.edu/staff/brennie/RennieC55R36.1.pdf (Iranian roots of Christianity)
Another ‘additional’ point in relation to apocalyptic mythology: There is a dense complexity in human thought over history. However, throughout history some strains in human thought have played a more dominant role, influencing people and their lives more powerfully than other ideas. And some of these ideas/beliefs have caused immense damage to people and their societies. Hence, my more limited focus at times on a certain themes.
To get right to my point- nothing has caused more grief and damage to humanity than the core human myth of some threatening, retaliatory, or punitive reality. This idea/belief then spawned apocalyptic mythology and its twin- Salvationism theology (i.e. how to escape the punishment of the apocalypse).
My interest in these ideas has to do with getting to the foundational beliefs/ideas in human worldviews and noting their impact on human consciousness and existence. To this end I have repeatedly referred, for instance, to the example of people like Rachel Carson and her use of apocalyptic imagery and the consequence of her alarmism for millions of people, mainly children (i.e. her alarmism over chemicals played a significant role in the ban of DDT which then resulted in tens of millions of unnecessary deaths in the following decades).
Now I am sure that she was a good person and never intended such an outcome from her apocalyptic alarmism. But such outcomes litter the brutal history of apocalyptic thinking. Its potential to alarm excessively has led repeatedly to such damaging outcomes in human societies. Note, for instance, that Hitler bought into Spengler’s apocalyptic/millennial alarmism and then remember the outcome in German society and the larger world.
Note also how environmental alarmism today inspires opposition to human economic development and progress which is vital to protecting the environment. Many have detailed the destructive consequences of this alarmism on humanity and nature (e.g. bio-fuels fiasco, general opposition to fossil fuels).
The Problem of Deity
Over history an interesting relationship has developed between humanity and deity. People have long taken human features and projected them out to define deity, to shape their understanding of greater reality. We see this in ancient mythology- gods that fight, punish, destroy, and often in the pettiest manner and over the pettiest things. Primitive gods that were very much like the primitive people that created them.
But as we have become more humane so we have updated our conceptions of deity, making gods more humane also. We see this early on in the Pharaoh-gods beginning to exhibit kindness and mercy. We find it later in the Hebrews presenting God as compassionate. Over history we humanize our gods as we become more humane and as we come to understand better the core features of authentic humanity.
This human/god relationship has also worked in a feedback loop manner. People create their perceptions of gods and then use those gods to justify their own actions and existence. As anthropologists note (e.g. Clifford Geertz), people have long appealed to the divine to validate their own lives and societies. This can be seen in the BCE-era Israelites believing that God gave them detailed instructions on how to build their first temple, how to arrange their camps around that temple, and a vast array of other detailed instructions on things like clothing, diet, care and consumption of animals, sexuality, and more.
And there is a dark side to this appeal to deity, or ultimate authority, for validation. As the gods people created were often primitively violent, so those gods were then employed to validate similar violence among people. We see this even today where people appeal to their God to validate the killing of outsiders/unbelievers. People employ ultimate reality as an ultimate authority and then obligate themselves to replicate that ideal for good or evil.
This is why some have argued that the idea of God has been one of the most dangerous ideas ever conceived (i.e. Bob Brinsmead). Deity has far too often embodied the very worst of primitive humanity- things like tribal exclusion and opposition, domination, and destruction of others. In addition to this, far too often the engagement of deity has resulted in the abandonment of responsibility to improve the human condition here and now (i.e. time and resources wasted on appeasing and pleasing invisible reality). Because of this dark and debilitating side to deity, many have argued that we need to get rid of the concept of deity entirely. As one disgusted atheist blurted, “Let’s get rid of all this metaphysical bullshit”.
While I understand his concerns, that is not likely to ever happen. Consciousness has made us aware that we belong to something greater, that we are part of some greater ultimate reality. And our basic impulse for meaning and purpose pushes us to understand that reality more. We have always been intensely curious to understand and explain the greater forces that give rise to our existence. We want to explain our origins, our existence, and our destination in terms of a greater reality. This has to do with our most fundamental desires, questions, and curiosities. We want to understand how we should live and why, and we seek answers in relation to ultimate reality, meaning, and purpose. This is all foundational to being consciously human.
Also, because so much pathological inhumanity has already been projected onto deity, that needs to be countered properly with more humane alternatives. And, as noted above, the inhumanity already projected onto deity has caused much misery over history. Further, you cannot just cede explanatory ground to philosophies like materialism with its belief in essential meaninglessness. That definition of ultimate reality violates our most basic human impulses for meaning and purpose, and it answers none of our most basic questions and concerns.
There have been a variety of approaches to understanding ultimate realities. A dominant one over the past few centuries has been philosophical materialism. And of course for millennia we have had the mythical/religious approach. Others suggest another alternative- the still developing approach that seeks to combine the discoveries of science with a new understanding of spiritual reality. This may prove to be helpful in the quest for ultimate understanding and explanation (note, for example, the theological discipline of panentheism and books like “In Whom We Live And Move and Have Our Being: Panentheistic Reflections on God’s Presence in a Scientific World”).
And in one sense (tipping one’s hat just a bit to the materialists) we could all benefit from a good dose of atheism. I refer to the healthy atheism that Karen Armstrong spoke about, where over history people have always rejected gods that no longer work, for new ones more suited to the times- more humane gods. And fortunately, the gods have become more humane over history as we have come to understand what authentic human existence is about.
This trend of developing humaneness in our understanding of deity is part of the greater historical process of humanizing all things. This is a core impulse of human consciousness. It includes our perceptions of ultimate realities. And this humanizing process culminates in the ultimate expression of authentic humanity- unconditional love. This feature/ideal takes us to the heights of ultimate meaning and purpose. We have now discovered that unconditional is the pinnacle of what it means to be authentically human or humane. And we correctly understand all other things in light of this core theme (e.g. Schillebeeckx, “God is more human/humane than any human being”).
I would clarify here that ultimate reality/deity has always been unconditional love but it has just taken humanity a long time to fully recognize this truth. And unfortunately, while admirably humanizing our gods (our perceptions of deity), too many religious traditions still retain the features of the primitive deities and this results in a distortion of the new human features like unconditional love. Unconditional love then becomes limited by the conditional beliefs of religion (i.e. required atonement, required rituals and lifestyle to please some conditionally oriented deity). This is what Thomas Jefferson referred to as placing “diamonds in a dunghill”.
Further, in the process of humanizing our understanding of deity we need to recognize that there is no “Word from God” handed down from the heavens to tell us what deity is all about. That is the fallacy of Biblicism- the belief in some inspired holy book or Word of God that is an authority that tells us what to think/believe and how to live (i.e. inspired scriptures given to priestly elites to control the lives of others). Nonsense. We all know the divine as much as anyone else by understanding what is best in our own humanity. God is known primarily in all humanity and in all diverse human goodness. And each one of us holds the responsibility to know and explain ultimate reality according to the best features that we find in our humanity. We are all responsible for the greater humanizing project. There is no higher religious authority or mediating priesthood with superior insider knowledge of such things.
And it is unconditional love that now takes us to the absolute height of what it means to be authentically human or humane. This is a human discovery and not a “divine revelation”. We see its gradual development over history from early compassion and kindness to the great ideal of human love and then the further development of our understanding of love as unconditional. This takes love beyond limited tribal perceptions (love family, hate enemies) to an authentic universalism. The unconditional treatment of all people is our greatest insight and ideal (i.e. unconditional forgiveness, unconditional inclusion, and unconditional generosity).
Related to this- we need to purge ourselves of any sense of subservience to higher authorities, of any felt need to appease or serve some greater reality. Contrary to the claim of the ancients, we were not “created to serve the gods”. We are not obligated to subject ourselves to any higher authority, whether political, religious, or other. We have ultimate authority (and ultimate freedom) in our own human consciousness and our personal awareness of what it means to be human.
So there is no divinely-inspired obligation to serve or please some invisible deity, to re-establish or have a relationship with some invisible entity up in the heavens or in the future. The felt obligation to “get right with God” has always been founded on the distorting myth of some cosmic separation of humanity from deity at some time in the past. That never happened. There was no “Fall” of humanity into sin. There was never any fall from something originally better into something worse. To the contrary, the endlessly improving trajectory that is human emergence and development has always been a trajectory from something originally worse and toward something ever better.
Also, we live in the here and now and ought to be focused on loving and serving one another in real time and real life, and not focused on serving some invisible reality. And consider this: a God of authentic love would not be concerned about being praised and served but would ignore Godself to serve the other. Such is the nature of true love. Genuine love frees the other. It does not manipulate and control others with guilt, threat, or fear of punishment. It does not demand dehumanizing subservience. Love and freedom are tightly pair-bonded realities. You cannot have one without the other.
So yes, I am one with the critics on this point- worshipping some God up above in the heavens or up ahead in some future afterlife has long brought out the worst in humans: subservience, guilt, shame, fear, neglect of present life, and worse. The problem with loyalty/service to God is that it often takes precedence over our responsibility to meet the needs of real people. Seeking to know and serving something outside of humanity, or above humanity, has too often led to neglect and abuse of humanity.
We know better now. With the discovery of unconditional love it is no longer plausible to project any sort of inhumanity onto deity or ultimate reality of any kind. Unconditional eliminates all such projects. Unconditional takes us to the ultimate in human conception, ideals, and meaning. And understanding ultimate reality in terms of unconditional love liberates from all concerns about appeasing and pleasing some greater reality. It liberates humanity to embrace life fully in the here and now. It liberates from fear of death and whatever might follow (Near-Death Experience research affirms this outcome). The result is that it liberates from ultimate fears, anxieties, or concerns and orients us to humanity, and to improving the human condition here and now. It orients us to serving humanity and not something above humanity (again, this focus on serving something other than humanity has always led to neglect or abuse of real people). Unconditional love gives us the safest way to conceive of and handle the great reality and ideal of deity. Unconditional alone can properly respond to our most fundamental impulses and concerns.
Defining and Describing God
When you probe the root causes of things like historical alarmism or apocalyptic it is necessary to go back in the history of ideas/thought and that inevitably gets you back into religion and mythology and the human perception of gods/God. That requires using the term God frequently as is done on this page. So here is some explanation of the ever-changing human understanding and description of God.
The religious use of the term God has rendered it almost a dead word in that it has become so covered with accreted and distorting baggage that any use of the term by others requires all sorts of qualifiers. Over the history of religion some inhumane features have been projected onto religious gods- e.g. male gender (and sometimes female), the concept of judgment (vengeance, punishment, payback), the feature of king/ruler (with its consequent domination/submission, control), anger and related appeasement, and so on. People, in projecting such base features onto deity, have created grotesque monsters that are divine replicas of the worst monsters on earth. For instance, atheist Charles Templeton (Farewell To God) correctly noted that a God demanding to be the center of attention and demanding constant praise of his greatness, at the threat of severe punishment, is no different than an Idi Amin.
Nothing is more pagan than the idea of anger or wrath in deity, along with the accompanying threat of punishment and demand for appeasement by blood sacrifice (i.e. the human sacrifice of an innocent victim).
Many now prefer alternative descriptions of Ultimate Reality, with alternate definitions and meanings. So we hear people today referring to such things as the Universe, or universal Mind, Self, or Consciousness, Source, or Ground of Being, and so on. Others will only go as far as Energy or Natural Law as ultimate explanations.
Some thoughts in relation to this creative search for better alternatives: Roy Varghese (The Wonder of the World) notes that our perceptions of ultimate Reality usually understand there to be intelligence involved. If so, then you cannot have intelligence without personality or personhood also. Even Richard Dawkins, while not straightforwardly admitting it, appears to bend in this direction of some intelligence, even if only just a little. Taking the sum of his, along with other’s, comments on natural selection (i.e. it develops, learns, chooses, wills, etc.) you find the growing perception of something with almost some form of intelligence. Hence, Dawkins’ comment that natural selection is the “source of all enlightenment”. Sometimes almost god-like, or creative, in its capabilities and having an element of intelligence, though this will be denied by most proponents of this view.
Others prefer the concept of ultimate Good or Goodness, a sort of catchall concept for atheists and theists. Our ultimate ideal or authority. That which we base our behavior or morality upon (see, for instance, the area of thought known as Moral theology).
Joseph Campbell says that the term God is only penultimate, in that it points to something incomprehensibly beyond. Something beyond words, terms, categories, or understanding. Something truly transcendent. Even Dawkins suggested that he could live with something like this and just below is a beautiful statement by him making this point (from TIME debate with Francis Collins).
DAWKINS: My mind is not closed, as you have occasionally suggested, Francis. My mind is open to the most wonderful range of future possibilities, which I cannot even dream about, nor can you, nor can anybody else. What I am skeptical about is the idea that whatever wonderful revelation does come in the science of the future, it will turn out to be one of the particular historical religions that people happen to have dreamed up. When we started out and we were talking about the origins of the universe and the physical constants, I provided what I thought were cogent arguments against a supernatural intelligent designer. But it does seem to me to be a worthy idea. Refutable–but nevertheless grand and big enough to be worthy of respect. I don’t see the Olympian gods or Jesus coming down and dying on the Cross as worthy of that grandeur. They strike me as parochial. If there is a God, it’s going to be a whole lot bigger and a whole lot more incomprehensible than anything that any theologian of any religion has ever proposed (TIME, God vs. Science, Nov.5, 2006).
As noted above, this site argues that Ultimate Reality or Ultimate Being (however you perceive that) is best understood in terms of Unconditional Love (and yes, that would include personality or personhood because love is a relational thing). This feature best defines or describes the core of reality and life, the Creating Source of all. And this Love gives profound meaning and purpose to life. It also offers the safest direction for conception of what we call the “spiritual”. It offers the most humane direction for ultimate Ideals, Realities, or Goodness.
Unconditional Love is entirely non-religious and, in fact, it undermines completely all religion as a conditional social movement or institution. Remember that religion emerged in human society as the movement/institution that would tell people the conditions necessary to appease or please threatening and punishing gods. And there was nothing of unconditional love in such conditionally oriented realities. Consequently, religion has buried unconditional reality entirely. By its very nature as an institution of conditions, religion cannot communicate unconditional reality.
This is all to say- there is still a lot of room for creative exploration and expression of ultimate realities.
Reason for this page
This page arose out of my experience growing up in a religious environment, that of Evangelical Christianity, a fundamentalist form of religion. That religion never felt right to me at the time but I did not know exactly why. I struggled against it for much of my younger life, trying to distance myself from it. But under family pressure, during my late teens, I gave in and tried to fulfill the sense of obligation to that religion. I did not yet possess the mental tools to rethink it all properly. And then for a few years in my early twenties I became somewhat of a religious zealot. And that was perhaps the best thing that I could have done- I took my religion seriously for several years and felt personally just what religion was really all about.
During those years I graduated from an Evangelical Bible college, served overseas as a missionary successfully starting Evangelical churches in another culture and language (upland Manobo groups of Mindanao). I went to the heart of Christianity and experienced fully what it meant to be fundamentally religious. So yes, I get religion.
But while I was engaged in that religious phase I felt that something was not quite right. I felt intensely uncomfortable with being religious.
Gradually, I came to understand that Christianity, like most religion across the planet, embraces and propagates the most powerful ideas ever conceived by human minds- ideas like divine anger and threat, divine domination, tribal exclusion (believing insiders, unbelieving outsiders), judgment, guilt, shame, eternal punishment, and destruction, among others. These can be traumatizing in the extreme, especially when projected onto deity, and given ultimate expression in that form.
Then in my mid-twenties I began to rethink the core themes of Christianity and began a long, slow process of disentangling myself from my religion. In subsequent years, having left my particular religion and religion in general, I have tried to understand the broader social phenomenon of religion and especially its too often dehumanizing influence on societies- its divisiveness, and promotion of often violent tribalism (oppositional dualism between good and bad, between insiders and outsiders, believers and infidels). What is religion really all about? Why does religion so often violate our basic sense of humanity?
Now defenders/adherents of religion will claim that the bad outcomes of religion are not due in some way to the core religious beliefs but are just aberrations due to a few bad apples in the group (people who do not have “true faith”, or extremist elements on the fringe). After all, they argue, look at all the good that religion has done over history. Religious people have started hospitals, schools, charity organizations, and so on. And look at all the good things that religions teach about the great ideals of forgiveness, love, and generosity. And so many people find great comfort in their religious beliefs, it helps them to face the difficulties of life and the fear of death. It gives them hope. I grant all this, and more power to people if they can find such things in their religious traditions and still remain decently human at the same time.
But most religious traditions have created what Thomas Jefferson called a “diamonds in the dunghill” situation. They contain sublime moral teaching but in a larger context that horrifically distorts and even buries the more humane themes. Christianity is notable here for maintaining the core teaching of Jesus on non-retaliation but almost burying that teaching in a larger retaliation context. The Jesus/Christianity contradiction was the very situation Jefferson was referring to with his diamonds in a dunghill comment. The Christian gospels contain noble human ideals that have been lodged in a larger context that profoundly contradicts those ideals. This page deals extensively with this great contradiction between Jesus and Christianity.
So let me disagree with the Christian defense of their core beliefs as generally benign or good. To the contrary, those beliefs embody some of the most inhumane themes of primitive thought.
Fortunately, many religious people have learned to ignore the darker themes of their religions and focus more exclusively on the more humane themes. But unfortunately, the larger context of most religious belief still often overwhelms the diamonds making it hard for many religious devotees to understand clearly the more humane parts. Once again, theology determines ethics.
Other religious people will respond that their religion provides them with hope, the hope of redemption which we all desire and need. Yes, but at what cost in terms of unnecessary guilt, shame, and fear? And what about the burdensome cost of the felt obligation to adopt and fulfill some elaborate salvation scheme. I would counter that we need to question if we ever needed redemption in the first place or if it was all a great fraud and lie from the very beginning. It is legitimate to question if there ever was any threat of anger from the gods, or any threat of punishment and damnation. We need to go back to the very roots of all this religious Salvationism and challenge the original threats to see if they ever actually existed as any sort of credible reality. And when you look carefully at the ancient logic that started the human appeasement movement that we know as religion, then you can see the horrific error that most religion has been founded on (i.e. the error that there is some great threatening and punishing reality behind life).
And what about the fact that most religion has to do with fear as the foundational motivation? John Pfeiffer in his excellent book Explosion: An Inquiry into the Origins of Art and Religion notes that the earliest religious practice was grounded in fear (i.e. shaman scaring early people with frightening myths of the invisible). And religious fear has always extended beyond the normal fears of life. It embraces the element of fear that extends beyond life and death into ultimate realms and realities. Ernst Becker in Denial of Death rightly argues that the fear of death is the primary human motivation that influences all of our thinking and acting in life. Then how much more powerful a motivation is religiously-inspired fear, fear of such things as eternal punishment and destruction. This may explain the damaging influence of religion on human behavior over history, shaping it too often into the most grotesque expressions of inhumanity. We see this even today in religious zealots claiming they must kill others (outsiders, infidels) in order to please their threatening God, to obey their vengeful God. There is a striking linkage between fear and violence, noted in psychology, and this deserves more research and exploration.
But even after confronting the above relationships between religious belief and human behavior, let me add that I hold no hostile or rancorous feelings toward religious people. I understand the human struggle with fundamental religious themes- the long-held desire to understand some greater reality, the human impulse for meaning and purpose, the desire for some better existence, the struggle with guilt, shame, and fear, and the longing for some ultimate redemption and perfection. However, I do not believe that religion over history has dealt properly or successfully with such basic human feelings and desires. In fact, religion has often only exacerbated and distorted such things in the most horrific manner. Religious belief has often been the root cause generating all this pathology in human consciousness and life.
In my own experience of leaving religion I have found it helpful to take a good look at how the core themes of religion have developed over history (see for instance, the research of Joseph Campbell, Mircea Eliade, and other mythologists). This history exposes the base human origins of these themes. Since the beginning people have endlessly projected the basest features onto greater realities/gods. And yes, admittedly, religious traditions have also adopted more humane elements over time but they have maintained the larger belief contexts that continue to distort and bury the more humane features they have added along the way. The context is everything.
For myself, I had to leave it all, entirely. Reforming my religion was not an option. I came to see that my religion was just too inhumane at core and I needed entirely new wineskins for the new wine of unconditional reality. The conditional context of religion cannot communicate the unconditional nature of ultimate reality. So I needed to start afresh from scratch. Rebuilding an entirely new approach to understanding and to life. My journey has subsequently been an endeavor to find authentic liberation at the deepest levels of thought, subconscious, and spirit.
One hiccup during the disentangling process- years after leaving Christianity I found myself becoming caught up in environmental alarmism (i.e. deforestation, global warming catastrophe, and other alarms). It was quite a shock to then discover that while I had divested myself of the forms of religion, I was still holding at the core, of what I believed was my new secular worldview, a very religious set of ideas- that of apocalyptic mythology. I was therefore still fundamentally religious in my outlook (apocalyptic mythology is the defining core of Christianity and also shapes much of basic environmental ideology). This is why I urge people to look carefully at the core themes of their worldviews, whether religious or secular, to detect and rethink the basic themes of their grand narratives. It is surprising how much primitive mythology still resides at the heart of many so-called secularized and materialist worldviews.
I would also add that the highest human ideals contained within religious traditions are common human ideals and not religious in origin or nature. And as I have argued repeatedly above and elsewhere, religious contexts too often distort and bury these human ideals.
Such ideals as forgiveness, inclusion, love and generosity are common to all human consciousness or the common human spirit. They are ideals that do not originate with religion but with all common humanity. And remember that religion is most essentially about conditions (how to appease and please the gods). This then contradicts entirely the highest human ideal of unconditional love which is the core feature of authentic humanity. Religion distorts our highest ideals with conditional limitations. Love then becomes a tribal and excluding reality, limited to insiders, something judgmental and highly conditional. A religious context thus undermines a proper understanding of authentic humanity.
So I understand much better now why my religion never felt right. It violated my basic sense of humanity as unconditional, by defining all things with dehumanizing conditions.
Former Page Introduction
This page focuses somewhat intensely on the ideal of unconditional reality- sometimes referred to as unconditional love or unconditional goodness. Unconditional meaning just what it says- absolutely no conditions. None. And no apologies here for sometimes extravagant repetition of this theme. Why? Because it is simply the greatest discovery in all history. It takes us to the heights of human enlightenment, to truly humane existence, and to the fullest liberation of human consciousness. It is to be prized as history’s singular exceptional insight because it counters the worst errors of early human mythical perception, errors that continue to haunt human minds in the present (i.e. beliefs in conditional and punishing forces/spirits behind life- angry gods, revenge of GAIA, angry planet mythology).
Unconditional breaks the bonds that enslave people at the deepest levels, at the very core of our minds, emotions, and thinking. Unconditional takes us to the heart of true liberation and frees us from all that has degraded and enslaved humanity over history such as the drives to hate, revenge, and punishment.
Unfortunately, this supremely humane ideal is regularly distorted in religious contexts, hence my repeated exposure, for example, of the Christian contradictory use of unconditional love to describe highly conditional atonement theology (i.e. a God that demands the full payment of a blood sacrifice before forgiving anyone). All religion is essentially about conditions- how to appease and please gods. Religion is about conditional thinking and existence. It cannot be otherwise because that is its essential viewpoint and reason for emerging in human society- to tell people the conditions that must be fulfilled in order to attain some salvation. Religion therefore distorts and buries the true meaning of unconditional reality.
It is only in relatively recent historical time that people have come to understand how unconditional redefines the great human ideals of forgiveness, inclusion, generosity, and love. Too often in the past these ideals have been limited and distorted by tribal and religious mentality. Love, for instance, has often been employed as an insider ideal, something that focuses on family and friends or co-religionists but excludes enemies. It has been a very conditional reality.
But activists like the secular sage from Palestine (i.e. the historical Jesus- the non-Christian, non-religious Jesus) urged us to do better. He said, do not just love those who love you. That is what most people settle for. Even thugs and gangsters do that. You can do much better. You can be something much better, something authentically human. Love your enemies too. Love all without discrimination or exclusion. Love unconditionally because God does (Matthew 5:38-48). He tied his new unconditional ethic to his new theological breakthrough- that God was unconditional love.
So unconditional takes our human ideals and lifts them to new heights of clarity and humanity. It reveals with a new intensity just what it really means to be authentically human. What love really means. It eliminates all categories of friend/enemy or insider/outsider. It urges us to treat all as intimate family. Include everyone equally, even your enemies. Just like Nelson Mandela.
And rather than viewing the unconditional treatment of others as a hard saying, or a drudgery, note the positive in that it liberates us from all that darkens and enslaves. It liberates from those old drives to hate, seek vengeance, punish offenders, and in general to exercise stinginess and tight-fistedness about showing mercy. Unconditional breaks the grip of all such inhumanity. It liberates and enlightens and humanizes like nothing else can.
The primitive impulse to punish has long been a dominant driver behind mythology or myth making. One of the foundational ideas of early mythology was that of punishing spirits (i.e. gods causing sickness, disasters, great flood). That theme of punishment then sparked the creation of apocalyptic mythology- the idea of a grand, final punishment. That threat, in turn, sparked salvation/atonement thinking as a response to the fear of punishment (how to appease the angry gods, how to escape the threat of punishment). Atonement/salvation mythology became the central element of religion over history.
The Christian refinement to the punishment stream of thought was to suggest the punishment of an innocent substitute. This is what Stephen Mitchell called, in The Gospel According to Jesus, the most barbaric idea of all (“ghastly paganism”).
The theme of punishment runs through all such mythmaking and religious belief. And it has a traumatizing impact on human thought, emotion, behavior, and relationships.
Once again to summarize and focus- punishing gods sparked the apocalyptic myth of a grand, final punishment, which in turn sparked the human desire to escape such terrifying punishment, and this resulted in the creation of atonement/appeasement religion.
There is nothing of authentic and universal forgiveness, mercy, or unconditional love in this pathological line of punishment thinking.
Think of it- how that one major error in primitive minds (punishing gods) shaped so much of subsequent human mythology and religion. That error then became the foundation of most religious belief and practice. Fear of punishment has long stirred the felt need to appease the threat of punishment with costly and wasteful salvation schemes. The error of punishing gods then formed the foundation of atonement/salvation religion.
So much of the subsequent religious superstructure in human society (religious perception, belief, practice) has been built on that grotesque error in primitive minds. Consider the related unnecessary fear and anxiety, the horrific waste of human time and resources over the millennia invested in appeasement or salvation schemes, all because of that major error in primitive thinking. It has all been a huge fraud and such waste because there has never been any threat of divine punishment behind life.
Further, what do you think all this punishment emphasis does to people and how they treat others? Ultimate authorities or ideals powerfully influence human thought and behavior. Punishment or violence enshrined in God has long inspired and validated punishment and violence in human societies (for example, see James Carroll’s Constantine’s Sword).
Certainly, there is much more to religion, such as the awe and wonder at life and mystery, or the search for meaning and purpose, but the threat of punishment has been a major theme of religion over history. It has infected the rest with distortion, darkness, and unnecessary fear. It has burdened people already suffering from tragedy with added psychic pain. Remember the woman in Japan after the tsunami (2001) who said, “Are we being punished for enjoying life too much?”
Further note: The growing conclusion today is that punishment approaches simply do not work. For instance, they do not properly rehabilitate criminals because they only re-enforce the response of retaliation and violence. Punishment approaches do not teach more appropriate alternative responses (i.e. forgiveness, non-retaliation, non-violence). And these approaches do not work with children, either. See the Australian Psychological Society report entitled ‘Punishment and Behavior Change’ (http://www.psychology.org.au/Assets/Files/punishment_position_paper.pdf)
I am a dreamer
I am a dreamer and Joseph Campbell gave my dreaming some focus long ago. He suggested that human story was about going out into life, facing monsters/problems, struggling to overcome/slay the monsters, and in this process of struggle discovering solutions/insights that would benefit others. So here is my take on this story framework, my dreaming. And let me speak a bit extravagantly here with the repeated use of “greatest” to make an emphasized point- that the ancient error that there is some threatening, retaliatory, punitive force/spirit behind all has caused more misery to humanity than anything else over history. You decide for yourself if my use of the hyperbolic “greatest” is excessive or not. And sorry Stephen Mitchell, but the misery caused by the religious myth of unpardonable sin is nothing compared with this monstrous error of punishing gods (though they are related ideas).
Early belief in a punitive/retaliatory deity (i.e. the gods were behind disease, natural disasters, and accidents as punishment for human failures) then sparked the creation of the apocalyptic set of myths- the belief that there would be some great retaliation/punishment from the punitive spirits (i.e. the punishing gods would destroy humanity with an apocalypse- a flood in the earliest versions and then changed to fire in Zoroaster’s apocalyptic theology). That belief in some great threatened catastrophe in turn sparked the salvation/sacrifice industry, or what we know as religion. The Christian refinement in this punishment stream of mythology was to suggest the punishment of an innocent victim, what Mitchell terms the most repulsive, most barbaric idea of all (“ghastly paganism”, The Gospel According to Jesus). Punitive deity is the ultimate monster behind all this myth-making. Threatening, retaliatory deity is the “greatest” monster that people have ever created to terrorize one another.
The core theme of punishment runs all through this traumatizing mythology. Punishing gods then produced the belief in a grand final punishment, and that sparked the drive to find salvation from punishment (i.e. the development of atonement or appeasement religion).
And when it sparked the sacrifice/salvation response in humanity, this grotesque monster of punishing deity sparked the creation of the “greatest fraud and scam” of all history. Retaliation and punishment in deity generated atonement thinking- how to appease and please the angry, threatening gods. Punishing deity then became the foundation of the entire sacrifice/salvation industry (religion). But it is all a huge scam or fraud, not to say waste of time and effort, because there is no punishing god behind life. It is all a great lie built on a primitive error. There is no ultimate threat to fear, no ultimate anger to appease. There never has been any such thing.
Overcoming this ancient error is then humanity’s “greatest struggle or battle”. This is not some physical battle against material enemies. It is an interior battle waged in human consciousness and mind but a far greater struggle than any other battle. The fight is not so much with violence in others but with our own residual drives to fear, hate, exclude, take vengeance, punish, and exhibit violence.
But into all this primitive darkness there emerged the “greatest discovery ever”, the “greatest human insight”- the wonder of unconditional reality and existence. This discovery was given its most humane statement ever in the non-retaliation theme of the historical Jesus (non-retaliation being the negative side of unconditional love- do not retaliate but, instead, love your enemies). That was the greatest breakthrough insight toward understanding authentic humanity, authentic human relating and authentic human existence. Unconditional treatment of all takes the meaning of authentic humanity to new heights. It takes the supreme human ideal of love to a higher plane altogether, that of authentic universal inclusion and generosity. There is no greater expression of love.
The consequences of this discovery are immense. Conquering the monster of punishing deity with the wonder of unconditional love liberates human consciousness as nothing ever before. Unconditional reality points toward humanity’s “greatest liberation movement ever”. Engaging unconditional is about releasing human consciousness to fully appreciate the wonder of Love behind all reality. This is about getting to the very deepest roots of so much religiously-inspired and enslaving fear, guilt, anxiety, worry, angst, depression, and despair. Unconditional free humanity from all those dark emotions and the related drives to hate, retaliate, punish, exclude, destroy, dominate, and more. Unconditional liberates human minds, perceptions, and feelings as nothing else can. This unconditional breakthrough holds the potential for the greatest liberation and advance ever in the history of human perception, emotion, or thought.
But then there was the “greatest retreat from liberation” ever. The “greatest reverse” back to primitive apocalyptic mythology and retaliation thinking occurred with the development of Paul’s theology. Paul rejected the breakthrough insight of Jesus that God was non-retaliatory and reverted back to a primitive view of God as retaliatory. This was a reversal of a magnitude previously unknown in all human history.
And nothing has been more powerful for validating the continuing darkness of retaliation thinking and existence than Paul’s Christ myth (his Christology). This is the historical epitome of retaliatory thinking, the apex expression, concentrated in history’s most potent statement of apocalyptic retaliation ever (ultimate and eternal divine retaliation). Yes, I am talking about Paul’s Christ myth, that more than any other single myth in history has affirmed apocalyptic and retaliation, and especially in Western consciousness. This has darkened and enslaved human consciousness as nothing else ever has.
So we now face the “greatest challenge” in all history- to bravely take on this greatest monster of retaliatory deity and slay it for the liberation of human consciousness and perception.
Ahh, I’m such a dreamer. But a growing number of people get this greatest insight ever, especially many of those NDErs (Near- Death Experiencers) discovering the wonder of unconditional love in the Light they encounter. And slaying the monster of retaliating/punishing deity is really about this ultimate goal- to open the way to see the light of incomprehensible unconditional love at the core of all, as the new understanding of authentic humanity, and authentic human existence.
So yes, I am a dreamer. I have seen something of unconditional reality, something of a love that is infinitely better than the best that we can imagine. I have had a glimpse of the incomprehensibly “greatest” reality of all, even though still through a dark glass. It is humanity’s greatest insight ever, the greatest truth and reality of all- the Unconditional Love that is at the heart and core of all reality. We need to get some sense of the real nature of such unconditional love and the fact that in God it is incomprehensible, transcendent, and inexpressible. It is infinitely better than the best that anyone can imagine (this is the real meaning of transcendence in God). And equally important is to realize that anything less than such a scandalous wonder is ultimately not real, ultimately not true, and ultimately not right. It is false or wrong. It is error. Unconditional is the baseline from which to evaluate all ultimate reality and truth.
This is my dreaming of “greatest” things, and my hyperbolic expression to make a point.
Additional note: Richard Gere once responded in an interview, when asked about fighting terrorism (post 9/11)…he said something to the effect that the real battle is not only with violent people, but more-so it was an inner battle with our own personal tendency to such things as violence. The real battle was inside us, in our minds and hearts.
We glory in the great military battles of history but Gere got it right that the greatest battles were those of mind and thought and emotion. Simply because as a person thinks so they will be and act in life. To effectively end violence in life you must go to the heart of the problem- to our residual impulses to retaliate and punish others.
Using Campbell’s framework again- the greatest monsters are not our so-called enemies in humanity, but the monsters that we create in our belief systems and ideologies. So to effect the greatest liberation and progress in human society, it is critical to get to the root of problems, to the most fundamental causes behind the varied issues in life. Because so many people do not get to the root perceptions and assumptions of their worldviews, hence, the same problems keep arising repeatedly over history in new forms. This is all I am saying.
Go after and slay the real monsters facing humanity. This is most critical to improving the human condition and to lifting consciousness to a new plane of liberation. And that liberation will free human creativity like nothing ever before.
Search for the Real Deal (Non-retaliation/Unconditional)
It has long been recognized that there is a historical Jesus whose authentic message can be found among the contradictory and distorting accounts contained in the New Testament gospels. Many have recognized that not all that is contained in the gospels is authentic to the historical person and in fact much contradicts the core message of the man.
This recognition has been expressed in a centuries-long search for the authentic sayings of Jesus, for the authentic gospel. This search begins with people like H. S. Reimarus in the 1700s (he starts the modern critical study of Jesus that challenges the long-held Christian teaching on Jesus), and moves to David Strauss in the 1800s (he recognized that the historical Jesus was buried underneath layers of Christian myth), and on to Albert Schweitzer’s apocalyptic Jesus of the early 1900s, and then into the later 20th Century “New Quest” for the Historical Jesus. The Jesus Seminar is one part of this new quest and recognizes that there are notable “dissimilarities” (differences) between the historical person and the gospel accounts. The Seminar researchers note, for instance, the difference between the exhortation of Jesus to love enemies in Matt.5 and the later condemnation of towns (Matt.11) that rejected his followers. They conclude, “He would not have told Capernaum to go to hell after instructing his disciples to love their enemies” (The Five Gospels, Funk and Hoover).
Researchers like Stephen Mitchell argue that the historical Jesus was wise and forgiving in contrast to the punitive and self-centered Christian Jesus (i.e. John’s gospel). Mitchell then tries to “extricate the authentic sayings of Jesus from the morass of false, imputed statements found in the gospels”. People like Mitchell state that Christianity has created a New Testament that almost buries the authentic teaching of Jesus. Thomas Jefferson referred to this larger NT context as a situation where Jesus’ authentic words were like “diamonds in a dunghill”. This expresses well the point of stark difference between the message of the authentic person and the later contradictory additions to his teaching.
Another aspect of the quest for the historical Jesus was the recognition that the gospel writers (i.e. Matthew and Luke) used another source called Q Sayings Gospel when they wrote their gospels. Q research- or Quelle, the German word for “source”- recognizes that there was a stunning shift from the earliest version of this Sayings gospel that was non-apocalyptic (sapiential or wisdom sayings) to later versions that were strongly apocalyptic. And we are grateful for Q researchers like James Robinson that have noted this difference between an original Jesus gospel and the later Christian gospel. But you do not need Q research to see the striking difference between the authentic message of the historical Jesus and the Christian message about him, the Christ myth.
To appreciate the profound nature of this difference it is useful to get a grip on his core teaching. This will help to evaluate what is authentic among the rest of the material that has been attributed to him. We can engage here what some have referred to as “thematic coherence”, that there is often an organizing theme that consistently shapes the thinking, teaching, and acting of a person.
A summary of the core teaching of Jesus is found in the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew chapters 5-7. A similar assembling of his core teaching is found in Luke 6. Within this larger body of core teaching there is a brief statement of his central theme (the core of the core). This is set forth in Matt.5:38-48. It is a clear and profound statement of non-retaliation as related to both ethics and theology. In fact, the ethical ideal is based on the theological truth.
Jesus’ statement on non-retaliation is arguably the clearest and most potent such statement in all history. Others had argued long before him for the principle of non-retaliation in human relating (e.g. the Akkadian Father’s advice to his son, Wikipedia). But Jesus took things to new heights of clarification by opening his statement on non-retaliation with a clear rejection of traditional retaliatory justice (eye for eye) as an ethical standard. And then he offered a new theological element in his statement, something that no one else in antiquity had ever done. He broke with all past perception of gods as retaliatory, judgmental, and punitive for a new theology of God as non-retaliating.
To summarize this core theme of Jesus as stated in Matt.5: First, he straightforwardly rejects eye for eye justice or ethics (payback, retaliation, vengeance, punishment) in favor of non-retaliation. This is a clear rejection of tit for tat response or relating. A rejection of “getting even”. While non-retaliation is the negative aspect (the passive aspect), today we state this type of response or relating positively in the term unconditional love, or unconditional treatment of all people.
After stating that we should not retaliate, Jesus then moved on to emphasize this positive element of unlimited goodness and generosity toward others. This is a call to unconditional forgiveness, unconditional inclusion of all, and the expression of unconditional generosity toward all. And the emphasis is on unconditional or unlimited. Absolutely no conditions before loving all. None.
Jesus then illustrates with varied common life situations how we should respond with unlimited generosity. We are to freely and generously love our enemies. And in stating these situations he lifted love out of the constricted realm of tribal or group thinking. Thugs and primitives restrict their love just to those who love them, to family and friends. You, Jesus urges, can do much better and love universally, including everyone, even enemies. He was eliminating all the divisive and discriminating categories of friend/enemy, insider/outsider, or good/bad people. There should be no limiting discrimination with authentic love.
And he added that people should not let their unconditional treatment of others depend on a similar response from others (Luke 6). Do not let your good treatment of others depend on how they respond to you or treat you. Do not expect others to respond in kind with similar goodness. Just love them anyway. He called for a full liberation from all tit for tat expectation and relating. These were uniquely new insights into unconditional treatment of others. His insights took human perception of love to a new height of humane response and relating.
And then he states the reason why we are to love in such a manner. We are to love enemies unconditionally because God does. We are to forgive all unconditionally, include all unconditionally, and express unlimited generosity toward all unconditionally, because this is what God does. God forgives all, and includes all. God does not discriminate between good and bad but is generous toward all alike. He sends rain and sun on all without discrimination. God loves universally, including the bad, or enemies. So be compassionate in the same manner that God is compassionate. Be merciful just as your father is merciful (note: the use of “he/father” is not an affirmation of gender in deity). It is a tight pair-bonding of ethics with theological ideal.
We find this core theme of unconditional treatment of all people throughout the teaching of Jesus, whether in parables or sayings or other statements. There is thematic coherence throughout his teaching. We see it in the parable of the vineyard workers (unconditional generosity), the prodigal son (no payback conditions), in his statements on unlimited forgiveness, and in his meal-time practice of embracing “sinners” without conditions or exclusion. For more detail, see the added summary posted below, “Unconditional In The Jesus Tradition”.
And this central theme of non-retaliation is critical to resolving the debate over whether he was an apocalyptic prophet/messiah (like his mentor John), or not.
The point is straightforward- if Jesus’ core theme was non-retaliation then he could not have been an apocalyptic messenger. And this gets us to the greatest of all contradictions between the historical Jesus and Christianity (the Christian or Pauline gospel).
Apocalyptic is most essentially a statement of retaliation. It is a grand divine retaliation against sinful humanity. It is a grand punishment, an act of divine vengeance, an exacting of revenge for sin. Paul is clear on this- note his comments, for example, in Thessalonians on God finally acting to repay (see also Romans and Hebrews for similar statements of divine retaliation). Apocalyptic is God intervening to retaliate in a grand final act of punishment of sin.
But Jesus, in his statement of his core theme, had clearly said that God does not retaliate. That core theme of his teaching then contradicts the entire structure of Christian belief or theology. Paul’s Christian system is built on the foundation of divine apocalyptic retaliation (Tabor- Apocalyptic influenced all Paul said and did, and Christianity is Paul’s religion). Paul’s Christian atonement theology is a subset of the larger apocalyptic framework (i.e. paradise, original sin, Fall, coming judgment, punishment of sin in Christ’s death, salvation, final retribution against all sin, consummation, transformation). His Christ myth is all about retaliatory apocalyptic through and through. His retaliating God emphasizes the profound contradiction between Jesus and Christianity.
So the core issue in the difference between Jesus and Christianity is that of retaliation versus non-retaliation, and not just apocalyptic versus non-apocalyptic. Once again, apocalyptic is most essentially retaliation, divine retaliation. This is the key point. And this is the most significant contradiction of all between the historical Jesus and the Christian myth of Christ. One is about non-retaliation and the other is about a supreme and final retaliation.
This difference can be emphasized in a variety of ways- as that between authentic unconditional love and conditional atonement. Or between authentic forgiveness and the demand for atonement or payment. Or, as I have argued above, the difference between non-retaliation, and vengeance or payback retaliation.
You simply cannot mix and merge these opposites, as Paul/Christianity has done, or you eviscerate the true meaning of the unconditional element in the process. With the conditional atonement of Christianity you distort and bury the unconditional insight of Jesus. As Jefferson said, the diamonds have been buried in the dunghill.
Conclusion: To summarize again this issue of thematic coherence- the historical Jesus consistently and coherently taught a message of non-retaliation or unconditional treatment of all. This unconditional treatment of others is a baseline from which to evaluate all of the other teaching attributed to Jesus. Much of that teaching in the gospels contradicts the tenor of this unconditional theme and therefore should be challenged as not authentic or consistent with his core theme.
Once again, as Jesus’ core teaching is coherently and consistently non-retaliatory, we can then conclude that he was unquestionably non-apocalyptic. Apocalypse is a grand divine punishment, a divine retaliation against sinful humanity. As Jesus was consistently non-retaliatory in his core message, then he could not have advocated for divine apocalyptic retaliation, or apocalyptic in any form. This is especially clear in his Matt. 5:38-48 statements, where he says that God does not retaliate but offers unconditional goodness to all without discrimination. God is therefore not behind apocalyptic in any way, shape or form.
Note: We do not need to refer to Jesus as some special authority to validate the ideal of unconditional treatment of others. Our own sense of the authentically humane tells us today what it means to be truly human. But we do benefit from the varied breakthrough insights of past historical figures.
Summary of the Core Teaching: Matt.5:38-48 and Luke 6:27-36
Another compilation of Jesus’ core teaching below that combines the features of both the Matt.5 and Luke 6 summaries.
“You have heard that it was said, an eye for eye, and a tooth for a tooth. But I tell you, Don’t resist or retaliate against an evil person.
“If someone slaps you on the cheek, offer your other cheek as well. If anyone grabs your coat, let him have your shirt as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.
“Give to everyone who asks you, and if someone takes away your belongings, do not demand to have them back. Do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
“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 who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who mistreat you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good; he sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
“If you love those who love you, that credit is that to you? Even tax collectors love those who love them, do they not? And if you embrace only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Doesn’t everybody do that? And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? If you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even wrongdoers lend to their kind because they expect to be repaid in full.
“Instead, love your enemies, do good to them, and lend without expecting to get anything back. Do to others what you would have them do to you.
“Then your reward will be great, and you will be the children of God (or better, you will be like God) because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful even as your Father is merciful. Be compassionate in the same manner that God is compassionate.”
Note in the above summary of Jesus’ core message these key points: He starts with a clear rejection of retaliation (tit for tat relating) and advocates for non-retaliation. And then he moves on from this negative aspect to a full positive statement of universal and unlimited love toward all people, good and bad. It is not just: Do not retaliate against your enemies, but far more, love your enemies with unlimited forgiveness, inclusion, and generosity. He does not leave his new ethic at passive non-retaliation. No. It is lifted into the elevated humanity of unconditional goodness toward all people. There is no grudging generosity in his message.
And he takes pains to emphasize the scope of authentic love, that this love must be universal, including all, even the worst of people, one’s offending enemies. Love must not be limited in any way by insider favoritism, or family and group loyalties. It must be universal, and not tribal or insider love. There must be no more discriminating categories of friend/enemy, insider/outsider, or good/bad people.
And then he takes further pains to explain the spirit of authentic love. It too must be unlimited, not stingy or restricted in any manner. Love must not be dependent on like response from others (tit for tat expectation). Only shown to those willing to return the same love. No, everyone does that. That is the constricted and primitive tit for tat relating that most people have engaged throughout history. We can do much better.
In this summary of his central theme Jesus takes the human understanding of love to entirely new heights. He urges us to be just like God, to do what God does. To be god-like or supremely humane.
And for those who will view this unconditional ideal as some sort of new law or burdensome requirement to be fulfilled, let me remind them that the God who inspires this ideal is infinite Unconditional Love. There is no threat of judgment, retaliation, or punishment from that Love. Only unconditional forgiveness, acceptance, inclusion, and generosity. So relax while enjoying the human endeavor to be more humane. The very nature of the ideal- unconditional- ensures safety and security for all, no matter how imperfectly we play at exhibiting it.
Unconditional in the Jesus Tradition
(Note: This summary includes passages that are believed to be later additions by the gospel authors and are therefore likely not authentic to the historical Jesus- e.g. the John 9 statement on the blind man, or the woman taken in adultery. I have included these anyway as they exhibit the same spirit as his core theme. Also, this not about seeking validation from some religious authority. I view the historical Jesus as a non-religious person, a “secular sage”, according to one of the Jesus Seminar scholars. What is useful to note in his teaching is his consistent focus on the theme of unconditional treatment of all people. That was a great advance for human consciousness. It provided something for us to build on and take further)
This site refers repeatedly to the historical Jesus tradition and his core theme of unconditional treatment of all people. Further below are some passages from the New Testament gospels that highlight this unconditional theme in sayings, parables, and encounters with people.
Just to clarify, my understanding of the historical Jesus is that of a person that is quite entirely opposite to the Christian Jesus. I conclude this from such things as the research on “dissimilarities” noted by the Jesus Seminar (differences between the historical person and the Christian version). I would argue, however, that the Seminar does not clearly and thoroughly set forth the centrality of this key issue of non-retaliation or unconditional love. It is the defining core of Jesus’ message and the main dissimilarity between the historical Jesus and the Christian Jesus.
But before going to those passages in Jesus’ teaching, note that he was not the first to understand that retaliation/punishment was inhumane and that unconditional treatment of all people was the foundational feature of authentic humanity. Others long before him had also begun to see that unconditional response illuminated the meaning of love like nothing before in history.
One of the first expressions of non-retaliation or unconditional response is found in what is called the “Akkadian father’s advice to his son” (circa 2200 BCE). It states, “Do not return evil to your adversary, requite with kindness the one who does evil to you”. A similar call for non-retaliation comes from Egyptian literature circa 1500-1300 BCE.
The Hebrew prophets (800-600 BCE) then added their own insights on non-retaliation. They stated in various places that God did not want sacrifice (payment, penalty, retaliation, atonement) but rather mercy. See, for example, Hosea 6:6, Micah 6:7-8, and Amos 5:21-24. Jeremiah 7:21-22 also says, “When I brought your forefathers out of Egypt I did not give commands about offerings and sacrifices”. Isaiah says, “I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs, and goats”. In all these utterances of the prophets there is no demand for payment for sin, no call for atonement, and no threat of retaliation or punishment. The prophets introduced a radical new understanding of God’s justice as forgiveness, mercy, and liberation, not punishment. They were advocating views that were radically opposed to the primitive atonement theology of the Jewish priesthood. So even in the Old Testament there was a prophet/priesthood contradiction that foreshadowed the Jesus/Christianity contradiction.
Buddhist literature in the pre-Jesus era also urged non-retaliation and overcoming evil with goodness. Confucius told his followers, “Do not engage revenge or anger”. The Hindus urged people to not render evil for evil. Socrates said, “We ought not to retaliate or render evil to anyone, whatever evil we may have suffered from him”. And so on. Even Paul later stated that retaliation or payback was evil (Romans 12).
But in the Christian tradition it has been hard for people to see the wonder of unconditional treatment of others as it was presented by the Historical Jesus. His teaching on unconditional love has been buried for two millennia in the larger retaliation/punishment context of Christian theology, a context that has distorted entirely the meaning of unconditional. Christianity, even today, continues to validate a view of justice as payback punishment (note that while Paul admitted that retaliation was evil for people to engage, in a supreme contradiction he claimed that God would eventually retaliate- again, Romans 12).
Here are Jesus’ main statements and examples of non-retaliation or unconditional response. These represent what is known as “thematic coherence”:
Matt.5:38-48, Luke 6: These two passages offer key summaries that set forth the core theme of Jesus’ teaching. They emphasize a clear rejection of eye for eye or payback justice in favor of non-retaliation. They also present a firm rejection of limited tribal love (love neighbors/family, but hate enemies) for a new inclusive/universalistic ethic of “love your enemies”. Treat everyone, including enemies, as intimate family. This takes the meaning of love to an entirely new height of humaneness.
This new inclusive and unconditional ethic is tightly pair-bonded to a striking new view of God as non-retaliating, and universalistic (God includes all equally whether good or bad, God showers all with the same generosity and love). To use a summary term- God expresses unconditional love toward all. Emphasizing this ethical/theological relationship, Jesus said, “Be merciful as your Father is merciful”. Be just like God- do not retaliate because God does not retaliate. Love your enemies because God loves all enemies.
In this teaching unconditional is not appealed to as some flighty, pacifist ideal plucked out of a new age dream. It is appealed to as the very essential nature of ultimate reality, the fundamental nature of that which is the very core of all reality and life. You cannot get more central to the very meaning and purpose of all things. Unconditional love as the defining core of reality becomes the basis of a new human ethic of unconditional treatment of all people.
Note also, this new theological insight in Matt. 5 contrasts entirely with all previous historical understanding of deity as retaliatory and punitive. It is a unique historical breakthrough.
Look carefully at what the man actually said in this statement of his core theme: No more retaliatory ethic or justice (eye for eye). No more retaliation. Because if you do not retaliate then you will be just like God who does not retaliate (you will be the children of God). What a powerful and comprehensive rejection of retaliation at all levels.
Luke 6 approaches unconditional with the same insights about not just loving those who love you but going further to also love those who do not return the love. Here Jesus urges people to give generously and to not expect anything in return. Don’t expect repayment. Don’t let your unconditional treatment of others be short-circuited by their refusal to respond in kind. Love unconditionally anyway, no matter what the response of others might be. He was advocating the ending of all tit for tat thinking or conditional treatment of others.
John 8: the woman caught in adultery, according to Jewish law/scripture she should be condemned and stoned to death. But Jesus refuses to judge, condemn, or punish her. He rejects conventional payback justice responses and offers unconditional mercy.
Matthew 9: When asked why he exhibited unconditional inclusion toward so-called “bad” people, Jesus replied by quoting the Old Testament statement, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice”. God, he claimed, was not interested in rigid adherence to discriminating or excluding standards/practices/laws. God desired simple human compassion toward all alike. The inclusion and humane treatment of all people. This was a consistent emphasis in the Historical Jesus tradition- treating everyone according to human compassion and mercy, and not according to some legal standard or dehumanizing social standard/practice (especially not according to some punitive legal precept).
Matt.20: the vineyard workers were royally upset with the liberality of the owner who treats all the workers with the same generosity. Some had worked harder and longer and felt that it was only fair that they received more while the latecomers received less. They held a strict payback or eye for eye mindset (reward good according to conventional fairness conditions, and punish bad according to similar conventional conditions). And note that the full-day guys received the exact amount that they had agreed to work for. But they were upset that the owner also gave the same amount to the latecomers. They could not comprehend the scandalous generosity of the owner toward all, a generosity that comes from an unconditional mindset.
(Note: this is not advocating for running a business or the general economy according to this ideal. It is simply showing the freedom of people to be generous as they choose with their own goods. It is not an argument for some sort of coercive redistributionist policy.)
Luke 15: the story of the prodigal also includes another character (the older brother) that reacts with upset at the generosity of his father toward the unworthy or undeserving son, toward the bad or evil. The generous father is not interested in judgment, condemnation, or punishment. He is not interested in fair treatment according to conventional standards of reward and punishment. He wants to express generosity and a spirit of celebration, toward even the worst of people, no matter what they have done. Hence his unconditional inclusion and generosity, without any demand for some required payment or payback before forgiving and including (i.e. meeting prerequisite conditions). The father is not interested at all in demanding that conventional payback conditions be met first. And he says that he is willing to extend this generosity to both the good son and the bad son, to the careful and thrifty older son as well as to the careless waster son. There is no discrimination between good and bad in his generous response. He would treat all the very same- with unconditional love.
The older brother, like many good, moral and religious people, just does not get the merciful and generous spirit of his father. He cannot comprehend the unconditional spirit that forgives evil without demanding some payback condition be met first, the generous spirit that does not demand punishment for wrong done. Is this offensive to our sense of justice as fairness and rightness? Of course it is. But this scandalous unconditional treatment of all is getting us to what God is actually like.
Luke 11- Here Jesus states that just as we fallible and imperfect people know how to do good and give good gifts, how much more the perfectly good God will give good gifts. God is infinitely more loving and humane than we are, infinitely more than the best of people (Schillibeekx- God is much more human, more humane than any human being, again, infinitely so). We fallible humans know that non-retaliation is a more humane response, the way to peace, cooperation, and humane existence. How much more then does God know and act accordingly.
This is an especially difficult aspect of unconditional love for many good, moral people to accept. Their orientation to eye for eye justice leads them to hope that God will ultimately and finally exact justice for the many situations where “proper” payback justice was not exacted here in this world. But this is a profound misunderstanding of the unconditional goodness that is at the core of all reality. Ultimate unconditional love means that the very opposite of our hope for payback justice will be true. God is ultimate unconditional love, and infinitely more merciful and generous than we can even imagine. God is unconditional goodness to infinite and scandalous degree, infinitely more than the most scandalous generosity that we exhibit here (e.g. the vineyard owner, the father of the prodigal, or someone like Nelson Mandela). So Jesus’ argument is this: if you imperfect people know how to give good gifts, then how much more will the perfect and good father give good gifts. How much more loving, humane, merciful, and generous is God. Therefore, a proper grasp of deity as ultimate humaneness cannot expect some final and ultimate payback or punishment (final punitive justice). It cannot hope for retaliation from a God that is unconditional love to infinite degree.
We cannot then reserve any hope that some element of residual retaliation is lodged somewhere in some ultimate reality (i.e. God) for future fulfillment. Non-retaliation or unconditional love in God eliminates any such payback hope entirely.
John 9: Jesus denies the ancient and long-held belief that the gods punished people’s sin with disease, deformity, or disaster. All sickness and calamity in primitive time, and often still today, was viewed as punishment from the retaliating gods. As a Japanese woman said after the tsunami a few years back, “Are we being punished for enjoying life too much?”
Matthew 18:21-22: When asked how many times we should forgive an offender, Jesus replies, “Seventy-seven times”. Which is to say, unlimited. Unconditionally.
Luke 10: the Samaritan exhibits no tribal exclusion or favoritism, based on tribal or insider loyalties. He is open, inclusive, generous, and caring toward even traditional enemies.
Luke 7: Jesus accepts anointing by a “sinful” woman without judgment, condemnation, demand for exclusion, or punishment. He refused to express conditional treatment of people according to conventional views of right or wrong, bad or good, insider or outsider.
Luke 19: Jesus is non-judgmental and welcoming (inclusive universalism) toward another “sinner”, Zacchaeus. Again, no conditions are demanded before acceptance and inclusion.
We also find the unconditional treatment of all people expressed in Jesus’ consistent habit of eating with the most despised and excluded people of his time- the tax collectors, prostitutes, and other “sinners” or lawbreakers. He gave intense practical expression to his belief that all should be included equally without condition of any kind. It was an expression of generosity to all alike without discrimination between good or bad.
Another critical element to the expression of unconditional love is the embracing of the absolute freedom of others, the freedom to express themselves as uniquely different and original. Authentic love will not try to control or manipulate others, with guilt or any form of coercion. It will embrace the uniqueness of the other, the freedom to be different, even if annoyingly so.
Matthew 20: Jesus illustrates his orientation to unconditional human freedom by telling his followers that they should not exercise authority over others (not lord over others), but should instead serve others. He further emphasized this in his healing, telling people that their own faith had healed them, not God or himself (i.e. he refused to engender a sense of indebtedness or dehumanizing obligation in people). He then urged people to return to their homes and own lives, and not follow or subject themselves to him.
This new unconditional response and treatment of people, as expressed and taught by Jesus, is a baseline from which to evaluate all of the other teaching attributed to the man. Much of that teaching in the gospels contradicts the tenor of this unconditional theme and therefore should be challenged as not authentic or consistent with his core theme.
And as Jesus’ core teaching is coherently and consistently non-retaliatory, we can then conclude that he was non-apocalyptic. Apocalypse is a grand divine punishment, a divine retaliation against sinful humanity. As Jesus was consistently non-retaliatory in his core message, then he could not have advocated for divine apocalyptic retaliation, or apocalyptic in any form. This is especially clear in his Matt.5:38-48 statements, where he says that God does not retaliate. God is therefore not behind apocalyptic in any way, shape or form.
Whether we believe that Jesus was as consistent as we would like to conclude from the above passages, it does not ultimately matter. We understand unconditional reality much better today, and we ought to know by now that it is authentically humane response.
Once again, this consideration of the historical Jesus is not about appeal to authority but about illustration. Jesus is not authoritative on the ideal of unconditional, but illustrative. We possess our own authority- our personal human consciousness- regarding what is authentically human or humane. And that gets us to what an authentically humane God is about.
Dating the New Testament and related sources
The dating below is to provide more context for understanding the insight on unconditional and how Christianity rejected that and retreated to a primitive retaliation viewpoint.
The following are approximate dates for the original publication of the various New Testament books and related sources. Mark was the first New Testament gospel to be written. Matthew and Luke borrowed common material from Mark. They also used common material from some other source, known as Q (from Quelle, German for “source”). Q is considered to be the very first gospel of Jesus and it went through several subsequent revisions. Note carefully that the later revisions introduced a “stunning shift” away from Jesus’ original non-retaliation message.
The point of a stunning shift or contradiction still stands even if there was no Q. Jesus’ core theme of non-retaliation is clear in his Matt.5:38-48 summary. It stands in striking contrast to Christian retaliatory theology.
50s CE (Common Era)
The dating of the original Q source (the very earliest gospel of Jesus, serene and hopeful in tone, non-retaliatory, non-apocalyptic) is early 50s CE. Some researchers suggest 40-50 CE, others 30-70 CE. This original gospel of Jesus contains his core message of non-retaliation or unconditional treatment of all people, both good and bad (the statements of Matthew 5:38-48, similar to the material in Luke 6 that contain a clear rejection of eye for eye justice, and any form of payback or punishment).
Paul wrote Thessalonians also in the early 50s CE and this begins the “stunning shift” away from the original non-retaliation message of Jesus and back to a strong retaliation perspective. In Thessalonians Paul speaks repeatedly of the coming of the Lord, of people heaping up sins to the limit, of the Lord punishing men for sin, of destruction coming on people, there being no escape, of unbelievers suffering wrath, and so on. His views on apocalyptic retaliation and punishment were already well developed. And Paul strongly condemned anyone who held to any other gospel that differed from his Christ mythology. He may have been condemning those who held to the original Q source, the original gospel of Jesus himself.
Paul also wrote I Corinthians somewhere in the mid to late 50s CE (53-57). Galatians was written in the late 50s CE (56-57), 2 Corinthians somewhere between 53-57 CE, Romans between 56-58 CE.
Q2 (threatening and vengeful) was written in the 60s CE, perhaps before the Jewish War of 66 CE. This stunning shift from the original Q (non-retaliatory, non-apocalyptic in tone) to this later revision of Q, now strongly retaliatory and apocalyptic in tone, may have resulted from the destruction of the Jewish Temple. Some have suggested that the Jews viewed that temple destruction as an act of vengeance from God and therefore abandoned Jesus’ new insight on God as non-retaliatory. They then returned to their traditional view of God as retaliatory and punitive. This was a retreat to primitive eye for eye justice, a retreat to views of payback/punishment justice, and atonement theology. Also, the shift back to retaliation may have been due to Paul’s dominant influence on early Christian thought and theology.
Paul wrote Ephesians somewhere between 58-62 CE, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon between 61-63 CE. 1 Timothy was written between 64-65 CE, Titus was written in the same time frame. 2 Timothy was written between 66-67 CE (note also that there are challenges to Paul’s authorship of these books). Some say Mark was written between 60-70 CE, others say in the 70s. Further, it has been questioned whether Timothy was written in Paul’s time or later in the “proto-orthodox” age (Bob Brinsmead).
Q3 was apparently written around 75 CE, and in this revision Jesus is viewed as near deity. This shows the progressive development of the Christ myth or Paul’s Christology, his view of Jesus as approaching the status of a God-man. This is all part of the larger shift away from the actual teaching of Jesus to a message that focuses on Jesus himself, a message that deifies the man. It is part of the overall shift away from the original non-retaliation message of Jesus to the strong retaliation message of Paul’s Christ myth.
80s CE and beyond
Matthew was written in the 80s CE, John in the 90s CE, and Luke/Acts was written in the early 2nd Century. The Gospel of Thomas is up for debate, one credible scholar arguing that it was written before 90 CE, others (most) arguing it was written in the 2nd Century, maybe somewhere between 140-180 CE.
Note: Paul was a forceful person and he is primarily responsible for shaping the teaching of Christianity. His views dominated all others and he is largely responsible for the rejection of the original gospel of Jesus (non-apocalyptic, non-retaliatory) for his own gospel of Christ that is strongly apocalyptic and retaliatory. The New Testament is mostly Paul’s writing or the writing of those who supported his views. Christianity is Paul’s religion, not the religion of Jesus.
The Great Contradiction
Let me summarize further the problem with religion trying to embrace and express unconditional reality: the central problem with most religion is that it is an essentially conditional reality. As noted above, religion developed as a social institution of conditions (how to appease and please gods, how to live the right life and engage the right practices/rituals, and varied other religious conditions).
The stunning discovery about ultimate reality or authentically humane deity is that it is unconditional. People have come to understand that God demands no conditions at all but freely includes all, scandalously loves all, and pours forth unlimited generosity toward all. This is the very opposite of what religion teaches.
So you have these two opposing realities- stunningly contradictory. Religion as all about conditions. But Ultimate Reality or God is unconditional. Conditional religion cannot represent such unconditional reality. Religion therefore generally distorts ultimate reality entirely.
And religion, with a theology (view of God) that is conditional, then influences its adherents to treat others conditionally. Religious love becomes conditional love, reserved more for true believer insiders and not so much for unbelieving outsiders, who are ultimately to be rejected if they do not become true believers.
Another Great Contradiction
This page repeatedly presents the “stunning” contradiction between the historical Jesus and Christianity. This is arguably the greatest theological contradiction in all history.
Here is some background to this contradiction.
The story of human life on this planet is about human consciousness emerging in early humans and that sparks a great exodus out of animal reality and existence. This is not the exodus of modern humans out of Africa some 100,000 years ago. It is a far more profound exodus, the exodus out of animal existence and toward authentic human existence. This is the grandest liberation movement in all history. It is the most ennobling advance and progress in the entire history of life. It is progress from the inhumane toward the humane.
To simplify what is involved in this exodus I would suggest that there is one feature that defines animal and primitive human existence more comprehensively than any other. It is the feature of retaliation with its complementary elements of offense, fear, rage, revenge, and fighting against or destroying the competing enemy. Animals and primitives retaliate against and dominate one another in endless cycles of destructive payback rage.
To the contrary, the essential feature that defines authentic humanity or human existence would be non-retaliation, or to state it positively, unconditional response and treatment of others (i.e. unconditional forgiveness, unconditional inclusion of all, unconditional generosity toward all). This feature is at the very foundation of peaceful and orderly human society. Unconditional response and relating is the basis of trade, commerce, urbanization (more dense forms of relating and existence), and overall civilization. See further comment below on this foundational principle of human progress and existence.
So these two features- retaliation and non-retaliation- define the essential difference between primitive animal-like existence and authentic human existence. And the grand narrative of humanity has been our exodus out from animal existence and toward a new human existence or civilization. The defining element of this story is that we are leaving a past of retaliation for a future of non-retaliation, or unconditional response and treatment of one another.
Unfortunately, many people still resist the full liberation from our primitive past and try to maintain or preserve features of that retaliatory past in our new human civilization. We find this in systems of justice oriented to punishment (eye for eye), in much small-scale human response based on getting even, and at the international level in the cycles of blow-for-blow retaliation between groups and nations (note, for instance, Israel/Palestine history over the past half century).
Now, more than any other phase of human history, the Jesus/Christianity contradiction illustrates this larger human story of exodus from retaliatory existence toward non-retaliatory existence. It also illustrates the endeavor of many people to resist and fight this liberation and progress. The historical Jesus, in a unique new manner, advocated for a new existence that would be defined by non-retaliation. He advocated the unconditional forgiving of all enemies, and the unconditional loving of enemies (including and treating enemies as intimate family). He taught that we should not get even or pay back wrong with more wrong. And to validate this new humane behavior he made a striking new breakthrough in theology with his argument that we should not retaliate because God did not retaliate against enemies. We should love enemies because God loved enemies. He appealed to the essential nature of Ultimate Reality for validation of this new humane ethic of non-retaliation.
But Paul, the chief architect of Christianity (see Tabor’s “Paul and Jesus”), rejected Jesus’ new breakthrough insight that God did not retaliate and instead advocated for the primitive view that God would retaliate and punish enemies (see, for example, his earliest writing in 1st and 2nd Thessalonians and his main statement of theology, Romans). Paul rejected Jesus’ endeavor to liberate from a primitive past and instead preserved the feature of retaliation in his new religion, Christianity. He embedded the feature of retaliation in the highest authority, in divinity (God will repay or retaliate). He thereby reversed entirely the discovery of Jesus. Paul retreated from the liberation movement that Jesus had promoted. Paul thus created a completely opposite gospel to the gospel of Jesus. This made Christianity a stunning contradiction of what Jesus had actually taught. Remember, non-retaliation was the very core of Jesus’ gospel (Matt.5:38-48). Yet Christianity, with its retaliatory/punitive deity, claims to represent Jesus. Go figure, eh.
So the Jesus/Christianity contradiction potently illustrates the greater human story. The historical Jesus had inaugurated a new surge away from retaliation existence and toward non-retaliation. But Paul and Christianity resisted that new surge forward and retreated to primitive retaliation thinking and existence.
With the historical Jesus we have history’s most striking advance toward authentic human understanding and existence. With Paul and Christianity we have history’s most stunning retreat to primitive perception and belief (primitive because all past tribal perception of gods was oriented to retaliatory and punitive deities).
Note: Evidence for this Pauline or Christian reversal can be seen in Q (Quelle) research which is a sub-branch of historical Jesus research. Q research notes the “stunning shift” from an early non-apocalyptic gospel to a later version that is apocalyptic (e.g. Burton Mack, The Lost Gospel). The important thing to note in this research is that apocalyptic is most essentially about retaliation, divine retaliation toward imperfect humanity. Jesus Seminar and Q research does not make this element clear. They play around the real issue but lose it in apocalyptic generalities.
Many people have argued that non-retaliation is a weak response to evil. What is needed, they claim, is the iron fist response that countries like Israel use so effectively against their neighbors. But what has been the outcome of that eye for eye or payback response? More of the same old, same old ongoing violence. To the contrary, Nelson Mandela has given humanity a powerful example that non-retaliation or unconditional treatment of all, including enemies (i.e. unconditional forgiveness, unconditional inclusion, unconditional generosity) is the most potent and practical way to defeat the evil of cyclical retaliation. And the outcome of his approach? He was able to lead his country away from a potentially violent civil war and toward his vision of a peaceful, non-racial democracy. How contrary to situations like Bosnia or Rwanda where people chose retaliation with its horrific violence and disruption/destruction of life. See further comment on Mandela below.
Non-retaliation is not the same as dogmatic pacifism in the face of evil. Any common sense understanding of the human ideal of love (i.e. unconditional love) will accept that love is responsible to protect the innocent from those who will not or cannot restrain their own worst impulses to violence and harm. But while love will act to restrain evil and protect the innocent, it will at the same time try to avoid the hate and lust for vengeance that fuels ongoing punitive retaliatory responses. It will try to act with the best interests and well being of even offenders in mind. It will act to protect the innocent from violence but while doing so it will maintain the spirit of unconditional love and seek to express scandalous mercy, inclusion, and restoration toward the offenders.
Life with all its imperfection presents often challenging and frustrating situations that severely test the highest of human ideals. But again and again over history good people seeking to live authentic human lives have found ways to overcome the basest human impulses to hate and retaliate, and to inspire one another toward more humane ways of responding and relating. They have found ways to break patterns of tit for tat response and to promote new ways of relating with forgiveness, inclusion, and generous cooperation. These people have given us the widely desired outcomes of more peaceful and cooperative societies. That’s the future we all want.
Related to the above is some new comment from Bob Brinsmead on the practicality of non-retaliation, or unconditional response, in personal relationships.
Unconditional Is Impractical?
People react to the ideal of unconditional treatment of others as simply too impractical an ideal for our societies. They feel that it is too mushy for maintaining order and discipline among people. It is viewed as a weak response to evil. They believe that we need to maintain some stiff payback justice and punishment in order to keep people in line.
It may help to reassure such people that with unconditional you are not arguing for abandoning the responsibility to protect the innocent and the need to restrain violent people. What you are arguing for is a generally more humane treatment of all people. Our responses to others are too often shaped by retaliation and punishment and they don’t get us anywhere, except to more payback in return. More suffering. Note how, at smaller scales, so much human relating is governed by getting even. This endlessly messes up life, whether by fighting among family members, tit for tat practices in workplaces, and other similar response and relating. There is nothing practical or useful that comes from such conditional payback response.
I have argued in material below that unconditional treatment of others is actually the very basis of human civilization and progress. It is, for instance, at the foundation of the commerce that improves all of our lives. Unconditional response and treatment of others is therefore a robust response to the violence and evil of primitive life.
Look carefully at how unconditional treatment of others became the very foundation of our civilization. It is clearly the most practical thing in life. When early people began to restrain their urges to retaliate and destroy one another (early forgiveness and tolerance) they were then able to stop the cycles of blow for blow revenge that had previously governed tribal societies. This enabled them to start trading with one another (early commerce) and to start living together more peacefully (early urbanization). That new practice of unconditional cooperation back then was the beginning of modern civilization. Sure, it was rudimentary or embryonic but it was still authentic unconditional response and relating.
And yes, there is still selfishness, greed, and payback abuse throughout our existence but such things do not define our civilization or commerce in general. More common everywhere is the increasingly humane treatment of one another, the unconditional forgiving, the unconditional inclusion, and the unconditional generosity that lifts us all higher and higher. And so we progress in human society toward an ever better future. See Stephen Pinker’s comments below on the improvement in humanity over the millennia. People have become more empathic and forgiving and tolerant.
If we had continued to treat one another conditionally, according to primitive payback response (tit for tat), then we would still be destroying one another as some people are in varied parts of the world even today.
So the complaint again- is unconditional treatment of others too impractical for our societies? Not at all. To the contrary, it is the very foundation of our civilized life today. Far from being a mushy response to evil, it leads to a robust decrease in the retaliatory evil of primitive life. It enables the commerce that undergirds all the progress that we value in life (the “moralizing influence of gentle commerce”). Unconditional love also responds to all our profoundly human impulses, longings and needs, better than anything else can. It responds to the deeply felt need for justice as liberation, deliverance, and mercy. It responds to our deepest impulses for meaning, purpose, truth, and right. It answers all the erroneous punishment anxiety stirred by atonement mythology (the ancient and still deeply embedded felt obligation to appease angry spirits). The new perception that unconditional love defines ultimate reality, responds to atonement anxiety with unconditional security and safety for all. Punishment mythology is simply too mushy and sentimental to deal with such profound human longing and needs. Punishment thinking is not human enough, not robust enough, not practical enough to meet our most deeply felt needs and desires.
Unconditional then is the most practical of all things no matter what one looks at in human existence. It is the most enlightening, most liberating, and most humanizing of all realities in the cosmos and life. Unconditional is all about the courage to be fully human, to robustly counter the evil of retaliation, and to live as authentically human.
Additional note: Someone recently commented generally on the human desire for enduring peace. OK, ask yourself- what is at the heart of peace?, if not one courageous party (or both) in any potential conflict, choosing to forgive, to include without condition, and to open themselves to generosity toward the other? Unconditional response and treatment of others, as with so many other areas of life, is at the root of peace.
More on the potency and practicality of unconditional response and relating…
Consistently, just like the characters in Jesus’ short stories, good and moral people react to the ideal of unconditional love with offense. They claim that it is just too impractical an ideal for contemporary society and it is a weak response to evil. This was the very reaction of the older brother in the Prodigal Son parable, and similar to the reaction of the vineyard workers toward the unconditional generosity of the owner. All these good, moral people believed in tit for tat treatment of offenders.
But the entire world has just celebrated a profound illustration of unconditional love (a rejection of tit for tat response) in the life of Nelson Mandela. This one man gave us a stunning example of just how practical and powerful unconditional love is for improving life and bettering human society, in our contemporary world. Unconditional is indeed the most potent and practical response to the evil and violence of retaliation. It spared South Africa the horrors of violent civil war.
Early in his life Mandela rejected the non-violent policy of the ANC and argued that violence was a proper response for some situations. But later in life he realized how wrong and irrational his youthful zeal had been. He came to believe that treating others unconditionally would bring out the best in them and turn enemies into friends. This would produce the best outcomes for all. By forgiving and forgetting and including without conditions, Mandela repeatedly turned foes into colleagues and defused potential conflicts.
When he first left prison the South African situation was ripe for civil war. Young leaders like Chris Hani and Bantu Holomisa appealed to the more impulsive sectors of the population and catered to the widespread lust for revenge. “There were untold millions of blacks in South Africa for whom vengeance was more appealing than reconciliation, who could not and did not want to forget the past as Mandela urged them to do”, (Richard Stengel in Mandela’s Way). Stengel says that another leader, the Zulu Mangosuthu Buthelezi, was also willing to lead the country to civil war to achieve his own ends. Mandela included these men in his circle of colleagues and convinced them that there was a better way for the good of the country- to forgive, to reconcile, and to include all in a democratic non-racial society.
Mandela chose to exhibit unconditional love toward everyone and successfully led his country away from the violence of retaliation and toward a more peaceful society and future. He was rightly celebrated worldwide for this striking example of humanity.
And the South African situation stands in such contrast with other areas like Rwanda or Serbia where hundreds of thousands of people were slaughtered and entire societies ruined for years by civil war. All because people gave way to the lust for retaliatory vengeance. It was said that in Serbia hatreds had been passed down over centuries from generation to generation till finally the opportunity for retaliation appeared and vengeance then erupted in the horror of violent bloodshed and mass death.
Now tell me seriously…is unconditional treatment of others still impractical or a weak response to evil? There is no more potent response to the evil of retaliation.
Unconditional and the use of force: Karen Armstrong in her book The Great Transformation, makes this comment on the Chinese sage Laozi. Laozi believed that force and coercion were inherently self-destructive. He maintained that force should only be used when there was no alternative. Armstrong then writes the following, “Sometimes war was a regrettable necessity, but if (the sage) was forced to fight, the sage must always take up his weapons with regret. There must be no egotistic triumphalism, no cruel chauvinism, no facile patriotism. The sage must not intimidate the world with a show of arms, because this belligerence would almost certainly recoil on him. The sage must always try to bring the military expedition to an end. ‘Bring it to a conclusion, but do not boast; bring it to a conclusion, but do not brag; bring it to a conclusion, but do not be arrogant; bring it to a conclusion, but only where there is no choice; bring it to a conclusion, but do not intimidate’…therefore (not being aggressive) did not mean total abstinence from action, but an unaggressive, unassertive attitude that prevented the escalation of hatred….’The good leader in war is not warlike’… It was our attitude, not our action, that determined the outcome of what we did. People were always able to sense the feeling and motivation that lay behind our words and deeds” (p.412).
Discussion group comment on Mandela…
On what authority do we advocate for unconditional treatment of others as the authentically human approach? Do we need to appeal to the Jesus tradition or some religious authority (i.e. a holy book)?
“Bob, in the end it comes down to an enlightened human consciousness as you state below. It comes down to our own consciousness of the human or humane thing.
So setting aside Jesus- pretending that no such tradition ever existed- how would we then present the case for unconditional response and relating, or existence?
“Mandela offers a fascinating new example. He makes no appeal to any Jesus tradition but argues such things as… it (unconditional forgiveness and inclusion of enemies) helps turn enemies into friends. It brings out the best in others. It resolves potential conflicts. He appeals to his own thoughts on this and his own experience. He highlights it with his own stories. He even has more powerful stories than the ones that Jesus presented. For instance, the blacks at the rugby game were angry and venting hate toward the white team, their own South African team. It could have turned ugly. Mandela in a surprising display of generosity donned a white and green team uniform and shook the hands of the white team, identifying with them as his team, the team of all South Africans. That changed the mood in the stadium from divisive hate to acceptance and inclusion. And so with various other similar displays such as inviting his former guards home for meals and calling them his friends. These are all new parables of unconditional treatment of others, with no appeal to any Jesus. And they may even be more powerful examples as they impacted millions of people, defusing lust for vengeance, and turning it into forgiveness, inclusion of all, and movement toward a non-racial democratic society.
“And so with all these people who lose a loved one to some horrible tragic crime and then step forward to say that they forgive the offender. These are new parables of unconditional for today. New illustrations of what we know with our enlightened consciousness to be the truly humane, the authentically human way to be. And this can all be done without any Bible or Jesus. Mandela appealed to no such thing at all. And the man appeared at times to be atheist. He spoke of “the creation” bringing him to be an illustration of a very ordinary person accomplishing something unique.
“Also, in the Mandela story you get a very humanized person. Full of all the inconsistencies and imperfections of people that we know who are just like ourselves. This is no saintly Madonna-smile Jesus glowing from church pictures. Mandela often got real angry with his guards and wardens and this comes out in his letters and complaints. And he could be vain and put on a good show. But when it came to the crunch he did that unconditional thing so powerfully. So history (or “creation” as he called it) has given us a fresh “Jesus” for today, to illustrate this thing that we sense/know defines authentic humanity. That is authority enough. But even a Mandela is no more authoritative than our own personal understanding and experience of these things. Unconditional stands on its own and is validated by each human person or consciousness.
“Just another comment on this thing of authority and Mandela. Mandela’s unconditional resonated with most of humanity, with all common human consciousness everywhere. There was no legitimate complaint against the spirit of the man. We all got it. His expression of unconditional treatment of enemies was right and true. And so also in contrast, what happened in Bosnia was universally viewed as wrong. Our common human consciousness gets it. That is the basis of our authority. Jesus or no Jesus. Holy book or no holy book.
“Lately, I have been thinking of what orients me to unconditional. And, even if everyone else in the world disagreed, I would still center myself on this as the ultimate truth of ultimate reality. My personal sense of the truly human thing. My own authority.
“But fortunately, over history we have so much evidence that human consciousness has generally learned to rethink ultimate reality as ever more humane ( I use the term ultimate reality in its all-encompassing meaning here- God and humanity and all things). It is part of our ongoing humanization of all things, all perception and all existence. This comes from our fundamental human impulse, the impulse to be truly human, part of the growth over history of human compassion or love. Even someone like atheist Pinker can see the amazing growth in empathy and humanity over history (the move away from retaliation/vengeance and violence).
“All life has been on this trajectory, toward something better, something more humane. It arises from human consciousness and our basic human impulses that we see all through life. Impulses for meaning, for understanding and explanation. For something more human.
“And yes, we take what we can from whoever said such things as in the NT gospels. But ultimately we make our own judgments and conclusions today on our own authority.
“And in the NT there is still that profound contradiction between those Matt. statements and the rest of the NT., Q or no Q. And we arrived at our own conclusions on unconditional, not through any Q.
“So people can seek to disprove something like Q and that is fine (there is debate among biblical scholars about the actual existence of Q)…let the debate rage freely. Q is not any final authority that we need to appeal to. Just as Jesus is not any final divine authority to appeal to. We have our own personal authority, our own personal sense of the truly human thing.
“The human future is non-retaliation or unconditional love. This is the purpose of the cosmos, life on this planet and this purpose is evident in the humanization of civilization or the humanizing process in civilization. It is an unstoppable trajectory that can be traced from the beginning to now and into the future.
“So the ethic and theology on this are clear and right. It needs no defense but is self-validating just as people like Jesus presented it.
“And think of that Akkadian father. What possessed him to say that (i.e. comments on non-retaliation) out of the blue (as far as we know it was out of the blue)? What authority led him to think and speak thus? What scripture did he have to fall back on? Not likely much of anything. Not likely much of any unconditional tradition before him. But his humanity, his human consciousness led him to such a conclusion. It felt more human, or whatever he thought it was. So he did it. And he was right. It is self-validating as the right thing to think and the right way to act. The more human way.
“And that is how all humane features have developed over the past. Our origins were brutal and animal like. But compassion arose in that brutal past and has grown and developed endlessly to the more human world we have today. It started somewhere, against the grain of more prominent ways of existing, more brutal ways of existing (again, the research of Payne on force and Pinker on violence and the decrease of such over history). So someone started it all and it has grown and grown more and more toward unconditional as the ultimate in human existence. And naturally that leads us to rethink divinity in similar but even more transcendent terms. And such is right and true.”
Bob Brinsmead on Non-retaliation in relationships
Non-retaliation in human relationships is extremely down to earth. It starts with ordinary, everyday relating, with those closest to us. Since love is about respecting and accepting the freedom of the other, we have to conclude that the tendency to control and manipulate others is inhuman, contrary to love (evil). It is also part of the hierarchical way of relating which is essentially the way of the animal kingdom.
To love unconditionally means that there will be no retaliation in a relationship. Yet retaliation is generally at the heart of all personal friction. For instance, if one party (partner) feels neglected, ignored, and not accorded one’s rights in any given situation, the other party may seek justice, fairness, or balance through some subtle kind of retaliation. It can take many forms- like an attitude which says, “It is only fair that I should neglect your needs just as you have neglected my needs”, or, “I will make you feel offended/miserable/peeved, just as you have made me feel offended/miserable/peeved”. Or, “I will give you back the same kind of medicine/treatment”. Or perhaps worst of all, use guilt as a lever to change/control/manipulate the other person. These (and we could add a legion more) are just examples of retaliation.
Retaliation can only perpetuate strife rather than end it.
Retaliation is the act of withholding love until the offending other changes and repays the debt you perceive is owed to you. Retaliation is the opposite of forgiveness. It is the declaration of war rather than the cessation of hostilities. On the other hand, the truly human way of relating- a thing which Jesus calls the rule of God- is not to retaliate, that is, not to seek justice by treating others as they have treated us. As Mandela said regarding the hostile others, “Let us surprise them with our generosity”. Bob Brinsmead
Thinking of a new grand narrative (macro-story, meta-narrative) Wendell Krossa
Basic features of any grand narrative must include insight from the scientific discovery of the past few centuries. But science, valuable as it is, has a limited mandate and cannot (should not) suggest the spiritual elements so vital to a fully-orbed human impulse for meaning and purpose.
And for those tired of religious and irrational mythical explanation but desiring some spiritual meaning to reality and life, there can still be a healthy spiritual component that fits the overall scientific story of reality and life (Panentheism theology does some interesting work on this- see, for instance, “In Whom We Live And Move And Have Our Being: Panentheistic Reflections on God’s Presence in a Scientific World”). Some of the spiritual element may be derived from areas of experience/insight such as the Near-Death Experience movement.
I would argue that the ultimate reality behind all is Unconditional Love and this best explains the humanizing impulse evident behind all the great emergences and trends in reality. Note, for instance, the trend of the cosmos toward more habitability for biological and conscious life (more ordered, more complex, more developed). Note the development of life toward the supreme complexity of the human brain able to mediate consciousness. And note the supreme expression of human consciousness in creating human civilization with its core trend toward something more humane (e.g. decreasing violence, more empathic and peaceful people- e.g. Stephen Pinker, Better Angels of Our Nature). In human civilization we have the suitable arena where we can struggle and learn to become more authentically human.
In all reality and life we find evidence of a great humanizing impulse being expressed and Unconditional Love best explains this impulse. This spiritual element takes us further in resolving the primary human impulse for meaning and purpose, further than more purely materialist explanations of reality and life.
So to summarize again, here are some the most basic features of a new grand narrative of reality and life.
Life rises toward something ever better and does not decline toward something worse.
Life is wide open with infinite potential for the creation of something better, and not closed or ending any time soon (i.e. always facing “imminent” collapse in apocalyptic and alarmist narratives).
Humanity is an essentially creative and good force in life, not a fallen and corrupting force.
No salvation or sacrifice is required to resolve life problems for there are no angry, punitive forces/spirits to appease or placate. The “salvation” of the world is seen in the gradual development of conscious humanity as an increasingly creative force in life, resolving all problems that arise and finding solutions that make life better and more humane for all. In that gradual historical development and progress we see the expression of the ultimate reality that is Unconditional Love.
The new narrative posits core goodness (unconditional love at the heart of all reality), a long-term trajectory of improvement and advance into an unlimited future, with a goal of more humane existence (the humanization of all things). This is entirely contrary to the old narrative of core threat, long-term trajectory of decline toward worsening future, with the goal of catastrophic ending.
Two Essay Summary
Two essays of particular interest on this site (see topic bar above):
“Decline or Rise?”- Contrary to endless apocalyptic speculation, civilization is not declining toward something worse but is actually rising toward something ever better (so also life in general). This is due to the fact that there are no limits to human creativity and therefore no limits in the natural world (i.e. the fallacy of limited resources). Nature is not fragile and on the verge of collapse. Rather, the fundamental truth about the natural world is tenacious resilience and infinite generosity (note the shale gas/oil revolution, methane hydrate discoveries, and looming breakthroughs in dark energy).
Also, the rise and progress of life and civilization speaks to underlying realities and how that relates to human meaning and purpose. The most profound element in all this progress is the trend toward a more humane existence (e.g. the decrease in violence over history, the increasing development of humane features such as empathy across the human population).
“Retaliation/Unconditional”- This essay deals with the two dominant themes that have shaped human thought and behavior more than others. It looks at their lines of descent through history, and outcomes in human society. Retaliation summarizes all that was wrong with the human past, including the major error of the ancients in projecting this feature onto ultimate realities (i.e. onto forces/spirits/gods). Unconditional response and relating summarizes the grand liberation into a truly human future. It defines the essential nature of authentic humanity and authentic human existence.
Comment From Discussion Group
“A critical part of what we are trying to do here with unconditional has to do with how this insight corrects the deeply embedded errors in human narratives, things that have become deeply rooted in human subconscious and impact human thinking, feeling, and response in a negative manner. Errors that reinforce the worst of inherited drives, guilt, shame, fear, and violence. Unconditional cleanses human subconscious of all such things. It reshapes the deepest themes of our worldviews, our outlook or perspective. And then it leavens human consciousness with a new ideal, a humanizing ideal, an enlightening ideal. Unconditional is the most humanizing, most robust, most courageous thing ever discovered. The most liberating ideal (liberating from the basest features of our primitive past).”
“There is a good thought in this comment from Hank, ‘Love cannot generate fear’. Some things in human thought and life are just better than others for generating good in life. I was thinking of environmental alarmism and the damage it causes to life. The fear, angst, waste, anti-human sentiment, and anti-progress activism. And so over history- people have said things and done things that deflate hope, undermine love (e.g. the tribal love of most religion), and so much more that is less than fully human. So many ideas, actions, and movements that have not contributed the best for humanity and life. So what things to say and do that will contribute good to life. Remembering that we are always in a position of imperfect knowledge, always learning and growing. But something like unconditional love is an absolute pinnacle of safety. You cannot go wrong with such an ideal. It cannot generate any evil. It keeps you safe in a place of generating only good for life and humanity”.
“Regarding my argument that unconditional love is the very foundation of civilization and commerce…Remember how it all began, with trading. The ancients learned to overcome those tribal urges to retaliate and get even with enemies/others over all sorts of slights and offenses. They recognized that if they forgave and cooperated then all would benefit. That was the beginning of trade, domestication, urbanization, and commerce in general, and hence, human civilization. It was all based fundamentally on unconditional response and relating, no matter how embryonic or primitive at the time”.
Humanity’s greatest mistake
One error in early human beliefs stands above all others- the creation of retaliating and punitive gods (see, for example, Sumerian Flood mythology, Wikipedia). That profoundly mistaken perception of deity has infected and poisoned human understanding, belief, and consciousness in general, throughout subsequent history. It has endlessly burdened people with unnecessary fear, anxiety, and despair.
Also noteworthy in regard to this angry gods mythology is the fact that inhumanity projected onto deity has long been used to validate the same inhumanity toward other people. Deity is the highest authority that people appeal to for validation of their behavior.
The error of retaliatory/punitive deity then led to the creation of apocalyptic mythology- the belief in an ultimate act of divine retaliation or punishment that would end the world. Apocalyptic subsequently shaped the belief systems of most religions in both Western and Eastern traditions (see Mircea Eliade’s History of Religious Ideas and related research). It became the fundamental framework of Christianity (see James Tabor’s “Paul and Jesus”, notably the statements that Christianity is Paul’s religion and that apocalyptic shaped everything that Paul said and did).
Myths of punishing gods also sparked the creation of Salvationism- religious schemes to appease and please the angry gods, often by the offering of sacrifice. Salvationism views people as fallen or sinful, and claims that this human imperfection angers the gods and some atonement must be made. With their dismal view of humanity as corrupted, salvation religions then promote shame and guilt over being human. They engage endless effort to control and restrain flawed people who they believe cannot be trusted with freedom. We also see this today in the anti-development activism of environmentalism, a movement that similarly views people as corrupt and in need of top down restraint.
Environmentalism embodies an apocalyptic orientation in its views that life was more pristine before humanity (original golden age), corrupt people have ruined the original paradise, and now we face a looming environmental collapse or apocalypse. Apocalyptic mythology finds endless new expression in varied scenarios of looming chaos, catastrophe, or disaster, whether environmental, economic, political, or social.
Humanity’s greatest discovery
There is no greater discovery in history than the discovery of unconditional at the very heart of all reality. This liberating insight counters entirely humanity’s worst error- that retaliation and punishment defined the core of reality (i.e. ultimate forces/spirits that were punitive).
Unconditional also revolutionizes our views of humanity. We can now apprehend that humanity shares the same unconditional essence as that of ultimate reality (variously referred to as Universal Mind, Consciousness, Spirit, Intelligence, Self, Universe, Being of Light, or God).
And here is the great contradiction between unconditional ultimate reality and religion. Historically, all religion has been about conditional reality- the correct beliefs, sacrifices, rituals, life style, taboos, and rules to appease and please the gods. Religion has always affirmed the orientation to conditional thinking and existence in society (i.e. justice as payback, eye for eye).
This is entirely contrary to the discovery that ultimate reality is unconditional in its essential nature. Religion, therefore, does not and cannot correctly represent the unconditional love that is ultimate reality or God (unconditional meaning absolutely no conditions, none). Religion, as conditional existence, is completely opposite to that. And this is especially true of a religion like Christianity that advocates a supreme condition in its Christ myth. That myth is about the demand for an infinite sacrifice- that of a God-man- to meet the demand for infinite punishment for human sin. This is the height of conditional thinking/reality. Christianity’s theology is also entirely opposite to the original unconditional gospel of Jesus (see essay “Retaliation/Unconditional”).
Admittedly, religions like Christianity have tried to embrace something of unconditional (as in the teaching of the historical Jesus) but they have only ended up distorting the liberating power of authentic unconditional love and burying its wonder in their larger conditional framework.
Further, any discussion of unconditional reality or existence needs to acknowledge the responsibility of people to fulfill commonly agreed on social obligations and to protect the full range of rights of all people. Unconditional is not an advocacy for extremist pacifism of any sort. Nonetheless, unconditional can still freely permeate all of human response and relating.
The above themes are part of a larger endeavor to understand grand narratives and their impacts on human consciousness and human societies. In the material below and in listed essays I have isolated out core ideas in our narratives (e.g. retaliation, punishment, unconditional) and traced their lines of descent and varied expressions over history. Historical research shows that many primitive religious ideas are endlessly revised and reformulated in newer versions, and given expression even in contemporary secular systems of thought like environmentalism.
Note: There is a repetitive focus here on Christian apocalyptic that has to do with more than just a bout of OCD. It has to do with the larger project of understanding the historical roots of alarmism (i.e. as in environmental alarmism) and the alarmist’s repeated appeal to apocalyptic themes. This is not about “picking on” religion but more about blowing away the clutter in order to see more clearly the full wonder of unconditional reality and its liberating potential in life. In the midst of the critique of religion don’t lose sight of this positive side.
Christianity has played the central role in bringing apocalyptic/alarmist thinking into modern Western consciousness and into secular ideologies. For detail see Herman’s The Idea of Decline or Landes’ Heaven on Earth: Varieties of the Millennial Experience. Note my summary of the historical lines of descent in “Secularized Mythology- Apocalyptic in modern ideology”. You will never solve the problem of apocalyptic in human thinking until you deal with the Christian contribution to this pathology.
What has been the outcome of the Christian influence? Apocalyptic mythology, with its core theme of punitive deity, has caused more misery and damage to human consciousness and society than anything else in history. That sounds extravagant until you trace out the relationships and look at the details of varied examples. For example, note Rachel Carson’s use of apocalyptic imagery to create chemical alarm and the harmful consequences to millions of people denied the protection of DDT.
Look further across history at the outcomes of these threats of some ultimate retaliation and the felt obligation to engage some sacrifice/salvation response. Look at the unnecessary fear, guilt, anxiety, depression, and even despair that accompanies alarmist threats and salvation schemes. And consider the damage of the salvation schemes in terms of wasted time and resources (i.e. contemporary anti-development activism and the estimated costs now in the trillions of dollars). Pascal Bruckner- “The Fanaticism of the Apocalypse”- notes something of the link between Christian apocalyptic belief and harmful environmental Salvationism- the new religion he terms “Ecologism”.
Julian Simon has further noted the debilitating impact of alarmism on human motivation (see Ultimate Resource, pages 264 and 588). It spawns fatalism and resignation.
My emphasis on the Christian role is not about just pointing out what went wrong in human outlook but more importantly about how to get things right. And this has to do with understanding the liberating potential of unconditional reality. Christianity with its “diamonds in the dunghill” situation has played a considerable role on both counts, bringing us the diamonds of the core historical Jesus themes and the dunghill of Pauline Christology. Thomas Jefferson gave us that “diamonds/dunghill” statement.
Fortunately, out of the tussle with the negative of retaliatory theology comes the discovery of the positive of unconditional reality and its potential to liberate human consciousness in the most profound ways. Few have made a breakthrough on this like the historical Jesus, an entirely opposite person to the Christian Jesus. But it takes some effort to pull his diamonds out of the dunghill.
See also comment further below on unconditional at the root of peace and order, at the root of early commerce and civilization (Is Unconditional Impractical?). Also Bob Brinsmead’s varied comments on unconditional/non-retaliation in human relationships.
The “open letter” to the Jesus Seminar is posted a bit further below.
Note to visitors to this page: Below is some new comment focused especially toward the scholars of the Jesus Seminar (“Fellows”- researchers associated with the Seminar). As I understand it, the Seminar exists to research and set forth the “dissimilarities” (i.e. differences) between the historical Jesus and the Christian Jesus. But I have not found in the Seminar material- at least that I have read- a clear presentation of the essential nature of the most fundamental and important dissimilarity of all and the profound issues related to it. I am referring to the core non-retaliation theme of Jesus (i.e. unconditional treatment of all people), contrasted with the core retaliation theology of Paul/Christianity. This is about much more than just the debate over whether Jesus was an apocalyptic messenger or not. Key to understanding and resolving the apocalyptic issue is to recognize that Jesus clearly and consistently advocated for non-retaliation, both ethically and theologically. And in sharp contrast to his non-retaliation view, remember that apocalyptic is most essentially an act of divine retaliation (“Vengeance is mine, I will repay”).
This is the stunning contradiction between Jesus’ viewpoint and Paul’s apocalyptic theology. The point is plain and simple- the non-retaliatory deity of Jesus is a non-apocalyptic deity. Jesus was emphatically non-retaliatory (Matt.5:38-48) and therefore non-apocalyptic. Paul took an entirely opposite position with his retaliatory theology (see for instance, his Thessalonians statements). The core teaching of Jesus on non-retaliation is then a foundation-challenging blow to the entire structure of Paul’s theology- his punitive atonement views and his general retaliatory apocalyptic framework- both embodied in his Christ mythology. Jesus is indeed the greatest threat to Christianity.
Bob Brinsmead and myself have tried to laser in on this point that atonement is retaliation and Jesus’ insight on non-retaliation therefore explodes atonement mythology entirely. Non-retaliation at the most foundational level means no apocalyptic, no payback punishment and therefore clearly no atonement.
See further detail below in comment such as “Search for the Real Deal” or “Unconditional in the Jesus Tradition”.
It is also absolutely critical for Christianity to face this issue of apocalyptic/retaliation because of the immense damage this primitive mythology has caused to human consciousness and society. To illustrate, note these few examples:
1. Spengler’s influence, and Declinist theory in general, on Hitler and the outcomes from that madness. For detail see Herman’s The Idea of Decline and Landes’ Heaven on Earth (Landes writes of Hitler’s appeal to Christian themes). James Carrol (Constantine’s Sword) adds another facet here. This has to do with the relationship of violence in deity validating violence in humanity. It also has to do with the fear/violence relationship.
2. Then note Rachel Carson’s use of apocalyptic narrative and the horrific outcomes of that (i.e. the ban on DDT and subsequent millions of unnecessary deaths). Note also the general apocalyptic emphasis throughout environmental alarmism with its harmful anti-development activism.
3. And note the impact of apocalyptic on Marxism. Landes again on the apocalyptic millennialism influencing this ideology.
The fingerprints of Christian apocalyptic mythology are all over these examples, via 19th Century Declinism or Cultural Pessimism. And at a broader scale: this has to do with some of the most fundamental issues in human existence- such as what it means to be authentically human, the very nature of religion over history as an institution oriented to appeasing and pleasing retaliatory gods (atonement or salvation theology), full liberation from primitive retaliatory thinking/existence, and advance into an authentically human future. Also, with apocalyptic you are dealing with the fear/violence relationship, noted above, and its destructive impact on life.
Post to the Jesus Seminar Fellows:
Dear Seminar Fellow,
My appreciation to you and the other Seminar Fellows for your valued research on the Historical Jesus. But I have one quibble to put to the Jesus Seminar fellows. It seems that the Seminar has not presented clearly enough (unless I am missing something here- if so, then let me know) the single most important dissimilarity between the Historical Jesus and the Christian Jesus. James Robinson is the one person that I am aware of who seemed to grasp something of this in relation to his Q research.
It has to do with Jesus’ comments in his “core of the core” statements in Matt. 5:38-48- his view of deity as non-retaliatory. This was a strikingly unique breakthrough unheard of anywhere before in antiquity. All previous human perception of deity was oriented to retaliation/punishment. And few have noted clearly enough the profound contradiction that Paul introduced in retreating from Jesus’ gospel to a primitive view of deity as retaliatory.
One of my points in relation to this is that it speaks directly to the debate over whether Jesus was an apocalyptic messenger or not. I have argued that he could not have been apocalyptic. Based on his core theme, as per Matt.5, he was clearly oriented to non-retaliation, both in ethics and theology. He therefore could not have been apocalyptic. Apocalyptic is a grand divine retaliation, a payback punishment for humanity’s sins. If, as Jesus stated, God was non-retaliatory, then God could not be behind apocalyptic retaliation or atonement theology/religion.
Even Robinson did not appear to get the full implications of this- the liberating wonder of unconditional reality- despite his varied clear statements in his writings. At the end of one of his books (Jesus According to the Earliest Witness) he says, “…what acquits in the day of judgment”, belying a belief in some final reckoning or payback.
This Jesus/Christianity contradiction- non-retaliation, retaliation- speaks to something bigger and more profound, a far more important issue in regard to the history of religion. At the very core of much religion over history is that major error of the ancients- that there was some retaliatory or punitive reality behind all (i.e. punishing forces/spirits). One could argue that the very institution of religion in society was created to deal with this error. Religion was a response to that primitive perspective- how to appease and please the threatening spirits. Such was Salvationism or atonement thinking.
The historical Jesus made the most striking breakthrough of all to counter that ancient error with his insight that God was non-retaliatory, or “unconditional love” in contemporary terms. Others long before him had gotten parts of the corrective response right (non-retaliation), notably the Akkadian father (see Akkadian Father’s advice to his son, Wikipedia, that advice dating from roughly 2200 BCE). But his was only an ethical breakthrough, without the related theological basis. Even the Hebrew prophets had offered some insights on God’s justice as non-retaliatory but then also presented elements of judgment in their message. They did not see the full picture on unconditional, not to the extent that the historical Jesus got it. And there is “thematic coherence” all through Jesus’ teaching on unconditional reality. I have a section detailing this, titled “Unconditional in the Jesus Tradition”.
This is about history’s greatest liberation movement- liberation at the deepest levels of human thought, perspective, feeling, and response (i.e. liberation from those primitive drives to hate, exclude, seek revenge, punish, and destroy others). And how Christianity under Paul’s dominating influence, rejected that liberation and retreated to a primitive retaliatory theology. Romans 12 shows that Paul appears to have gotten the ethical element right, that retaliation was evil, but then reversed to the primitive theology of retaliating deity- God will do the evil business of retaliation. The Jesus/Paul contradiction is a sort of apex point in history, or a grand illustration of the core struggle at the heart of the greater human story- the struggle to leave a primitive past very much defined by retaliation, and the endeavor to enter a more human future very much defined by non-retaliation.
Again, the contradiction is about non-retaliation versus retaliation. This is the core issue behind the non-apocalyptic versus apocalyptic debate. This is the greatest “dissimilarity” between Historical Jesus and Christian Jesus. And the consequence of historical Jesus’ message is devastating to the heart of the Christian gospel. No retaliation in God means no atonement is required. No salvation is necessary. With non-retaliation there is no threat of condemnatory judgment or divine punishment.
This is all about discovering the scandalous wonder of unconditional reality, something that conditional religious thinking has never been able to appreciate.
The importance of dealing with apocalyptic in the Christian tradition relates to its horrific impact, notably Christianity’s role in bringing apocalyptic alarmism into the modern world, via Declinism and into contemporary ideologies such as Marxism and environmentalism. See, for example, Arthur Herman’s The Idea of Decline in Western History and Richard Landes’ Heaven on Earth: The Varieties of the Millennial Experience. Paul, the main author of Christianity, has been called the most influential person in all history (James Tabor) and his retaliation/punishment theology continues to burden human consciousness and society.
I have a variety of comment on this on my site- www.wendellkrossa.com – along with the grand narrative context of it all.
Regards, Wendell Krossa
The following sections are comment from a discussion group:
Seminar Appreciation… but its about the atonement/salvation industry
“Atonement is retaliation”
Bob Brinsmead has reminded me again of the overall valuable contribution of the Jesus Seminar to Historical Jesus research. See his comments below. And it was good to recently discover that Bob Miller also emphasizes that the apocalyptic issue may be the most important thing about the historical Jesus. Bob shared an article of his with us (“Is the Apocalyptic Jesus History?”) that was much appreciated, especially the non-apocalyptic approach to varied parables of Jesus. That has been passed around to the discussion group. Bob Miller, along with others, is pointing in the same overall direction that we are coming to understand better (non-violence in deity, non-retaliation). So I want to affirm my appreciation for all that the Seminar scholars have done.
Bob Brinsmead and I have been wrestling with this apocalyptic issue over the past few decades, coming at it via such avenues as historical Jesus research, the history of mythology/religion, and grand narrative research (meta-story).
In the pursuit of further clarity let me laser in a bit more on our point. At the core of the apocalyptic debate is the non-retaliation or unconditional relating insight of Jesus. This is the absolute key to everything. It demands clarity and emphasis above all else because of the ramifications that flow from it. If I may state it thus- this is about much more than non-violence in ethics. Or even non-violence in God.
Again, as Bob also notes below the non-retaliation ethic is based on the theological breakthrough of Jesus, absolutely unique in all history. Many before had got the ethical element right- i.e. non-retaliation. I have detailed that in essays such as “From Retaliation to Unconditional”. The non-retaliation ethic is found in BCE-era Eastern traditions like Buddhism, Hinduism, and others. But Jesus also made the critically important theological breakthrough and it is magnitudes of order beyond explosive. Non-retaliation in deity takes us far beyond to broader, bigger issues. It takes things nuclear.
First, just a note that non-retaliation is the negative side of Jesus’ core theme (Matt.5:38-48) in his core teaching (Matt.5-7). It is about the clear rejection of eye for eye ethics or justice. The rejection of payback, getting even, punishment, revenge, and atonement thinking. He then moves on to emphasize the positive side, the scandal of unconditional treatment of all- i.e. unconditional forgiveness, unconditional inclusion, and unconditional generosity toward all. What we call unconditional love, but of a species far beyond what most conventional religious use of the term implies. Absolutely scandalous because it points to absolutely no conditions. None. It is a scandal to conventional perspective on justice/ethics as fairness, proper punishment, proper recompense, and so on. Most importantly, it is a powerful rejection of atonement thinking.
Jesus’ new perspective on non-retaliation in God goes to the very foundations of mythical and religious thinking on atonement. It powerfully counters the salvation orientation of so much historical religion.
A brief overview of the history of mythology and religion shows why his insight is so profoundly scandalous. From Pfeiffer’s comment on early shaman scaring their fellow tribesmen down in the caves (“Explosion: an inquiry into the origin of art and religion”), to the earliest human writing showing us threatening, punitive gods (i.e. Sumerian Flood myth), to Zoroaster’s more complete theology of apocalyptic threat, to the Jewish and then Christian traditions- human perception of ultimate forces/spirits had believed that the gods were threatening, retaliatory, or punitive.
This perception in antiquity sparked the emergence of religion as the social institution that would tell people the conditions necessary to appease and please the threatening gods (and yes, there is much more to religion as a social institution, but this aspect is prominent, foundational). This is the sacrifice/salvation industry that has caused such misery to humanity with such things as the felt obligation (think fear, guilt, shame) to repair some imagined great separation from God, to restore some imagined broken relationship, and to atone for human “sinfulness”. But such separation never happened because God has always been non-retaliatory, or unconditional Love.
So Jesus’ breakthrough insight came as an astoundingly liberating insight. No retaliation in God means no threat of judgment, no punishment, no exclusion, and no hell beneath us. The implications pour forth even more scandalously. Then no atonement is required, no sacrifice or Salvationism, things that have sapped human time and resources immensely over history. This insight on non-retaliatory deity threatens the very foundations of religion. It goes to the heart of mythical and religious thinking over the previous millennia. It renders much of it meaningless. Non-retaliation, or unconditional love, demands the most radical rethinking of basic worldviews in the history of human consciousness and perception. This is way beyond just non-apocalyptic or non-violence.
And to add- apocalyptic is the larger framework for atonement thinking (grand threat= response to that threat= appeasement of the threat). Apocalypse in primitive myth is the expression of retaliatory deity. Apocalypse is the grand divine retaliation, the grand payback or punishment for sin. Then Salvationism is the response to that threat, to that view of retaliatory deity. The entire salvation industry over history has been founded on this primitive view of retaliatory deity and subsequent buttressing belief in the grand retaliation of apocalyptic mythology. The Jesus breakthrough on non-retaliatory deity then goes to the very heart of apocalyptic and atonement, or salvation thinking. It goes to the heart of mythical or religious thinking as we have known it over history. This is beyond revolutionary.
This debate over apocalyptic in historical Jesus has profound implications that are much broader than just non-violent ethics. One can see in his breakthrough the challenge to the entire apocalyptic and salvation framework of Paul/Christianity. But rather than view this as a threat to something dearly valued by many, we need to see the liberation that this insight provides, from all the damage that apocalyptic/salvationism has caused over history. It liberates consciousness toward an entirely new level of understanding- toward the wonder of unconditional reality and existence. It proposes a radical new perception of ultimate reality, ultimate meaning and purpose.
So yes, this is about a whole new level of liberation, into the wonder of unconditional reality that is incomprehensible. This unconditional insight is coherently and consistently found throughout the historical Jesus tradition, in stories, sayings, and actions (e.g. unconditional inclusion in table fellowship).Unconditional as the positive aspect to non-retaliation gets us to the meaning of authentic humanity and authentic human existence (how to respond and relate as truly human). It takes us to a whole new understanding of the human ideal of love, beyond limiting tribal perceptions (i.e. love friends, hate enemies). As Jesus challenged in Matthew 5, you can do better than that. We can then reason from this to authentically humane deity (Schillebeeckx- “God is more human/humane than any human being”). Unconditional is about liberation from the dark perceptions and drives that enslave human consciousness and the human spirit- i.e. the drives to hate, exclude, abuse, take vengeance against, or punish the offending other.
Let me hone it a bit further to intensify the laser beam- the non-retaliation breakthrough of Jesus explodes something- the sacrifice/salvation industry- that has cursed and burdened humanity more than anything else over the millennia. It liberates utterly from the worst set of ideas/myths/perceptions ever created by darkened primitive minds- apocalyptic and atonement theology. Apocalyptic/atonement thinking is a body of traumatizing ideas- it contains the idea of ultimate threat and ultimate punishment from a Creating Source (all for being imperfectly human), and the dualism refinement of Zoroaster, a dualism that reinforces the primitive tribalism and inhuman exclusion of ‘us insiders versus some opposing outsider’ (our evil enemy). And apocalyptic thinking reinforces the domination and exclusion of the enemy other- our God will beat you into submission at the Apocalypse and then cast you out forever. And as noted above, it reinforces payback or punitive justice among people. In all its varied facets apocalyptic/atonement thinking has brought incalculable misery to humanity. The non-retaliation/unconditional insight of Jesus liberates from that misery. The chains begin to fall away.
Bob Brinsmead comment from discussion group:
The essential contribution of the Jesus Seminar was their finding that Jesus was a sapiental teacher rather than an apocalyptic one – in this it broke the stranglehold that Schweitzer had over Christian scholarship for 100 years. But for all this, the Jesus Seminar failed to zero in on the core reason Jesus was not apocalyptic. From beginning to end, apocalyptic is all about a divine retaliation (“Vengeance is mine. I will repay”). Paul of course took this up in a big way. The whole context of his gospel is apocalyptic and is set against the background of the wrath of God – a wrath that is suspended in respect to “believers” on account of Christ enduring the wrath of God on their behalf, but make no mistake, his Christ will come in flaming fire to take vengeance on them that obey not his gospel.
This is in stark contrast to Jesus teaching us not to retaliate – to not return evil for evil (turn the other cheek, love for enemies, etc.) on the grounds that this is how God acts. But my main point here is to point out that the Jesus Seminar failed to clinch their case for a non-apocalyptic Jesus because they did not appeal to the core of his teaching to support their argument. When the core of his teaching is considered, the point is clinched. Wendell is to be commended for holding their feet to the fire on this point – he is going to keep saying this over and over until the penny drops and the aha moment arrives on this important issue of whether or not Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet.
When I wrote my series The Scandal of JBA, Chapter 3, I dealt with Apocalyptic and I was like the Jesus Seminar – I missed the main argument. I actually did this series section by section, writing a new chapter as I thought it through. The next chapter was on No Atonement, and here I quoted those ten core verses in Matthew 5 and I dealt with this issue of no pay back/retaliation. But then I failed utterly to relate the point back to the matter of No Apocalyptic. I had missed the point until Wendell beat me over the head with my own stick.
Note also how Wendell has sharpened this point by pointing out the two aspects of non-retaliatory thinking – there is an ethic of non-retaliation which Paul and other Christians seem to acknowledge (see Romans 12).
But Jesus ties this ethic of non-retaliation into the theology of non-retaliation. I.e. don’t retaliate because God does not retaliate. This is the new broom of a new theology – but Paul denies it completely, specifically in Romans 12, and generally in his doctrine of the blood atonement.
The argument is much the same on the meaning of the “son of man” sayings of Jesus. Geza Vermes has argued persuasively that this is not titular, and demonstrated that in the original Aramaic is simply meant “this man” as an ordinary human being. But in view of what it says about the son of man in Daniel 7 and other Jewish apocalyptic literature, it was not hard to the apocalyptically minded followers of Jesus to give the term an apocalyptic meaning. R. Brinsmead
Another from Bob:
Encouraging response. But I think you need to press the point of the relationship to the ethical and theological. Jesus’ teaching on the ethical side is not wholly original. That too is Christian ethics which many Christians believe in and Paul certainly does in Romans 12. He urges an ethic of non-retaliation on our part, but this is wholly out of whack with the theological part. Atonement is retaliation. Coming again to take vengeance on them that know not God and obey not the gospel is retaliation. Hell is about divine retaliation. R. Brinsmead
Grand Narrative Context- a larger narrative framework to help trace the linkages, Wendell Krossa
Here is an over-simplified summary framework to show the lines of descent of retaliatory apocalyptic thinking, the descent of atonement thinking in human consciousness and worldviews. And the Jesus breakthrough that sets human consciousness in an entirely new direction.
You have the perception of threatening gods in the earliest human writing (i.e. Sumerian cuneiform tablets and Flood apocalypse mythology). The retaliatory gods will punish human failure (sickness, natural disaster). Apocalypse is the ultimate expression of that retaliation, a grand final punishment. And of course Hell mythology takes this divine retaliation even further.
The obvious question in antiquity is then- How to appease and please the angry and threatening gods? Hence, religion develops with its conditions of sacrifice and general atonement thinking. Blood sacrifice has a long history in relation to this (life for life?). Religion then emerges as a conditional institution, promoting conditional thinking in human society.
But developing human consciousness also inspires radically new perspectives, new directions in human understanding. Some of the ancients saw new alternatives to primitive retaliatory mythology. For instance, the Akkadian father, in some of the earliest human literature, offers a clear non-retaliatory insight. But his insight was only in regard to the ethical element. The Hebrew prophets also challenged primitive views of justice as eye for eye with new insights into God’s justice as liberation, mercy, or forgiveness. But such breakthroughs were still fragmentary in understanding. People were still struggling to understand authentic unconditional reality.
Historical Jesus then takes it up to another plane altogether. He makes the breakthrough insight in regard to the theological basis of non-retaliation. This is the fullest and most consistent, coherent statement of non-retaliation anywhere (Matt.5:38-48, also Luke 6). This is humanity’s first great breakthrough liberation from atonement/salvation mythology. It goes to the very heart of the issue.
But then there is the great reversal, retreat, or abandonment- the great contradiction. Paul rejects Jesus’ theological breakthrough and reverses back to the primitive perception of retaliatory deity. Christianity then becomes a retreat from Jesus’ radical new breakthrough. Paul re-affirms primitive atonement/salvation thinking.
Jesus had presented a new liberation into authentically human thinking and existence- into unconditional treatment of all and the theological basis of such treatment (because God does this). But Paul, with his conditional treatment of unbelievers (damning those who obey not his gospel, his Christ myth), Paul then rejected the core of the gospel of Jesus. Yet, Christianity claims to be the authoritative representative of Jesus. This has to be the greatest contradiction in all of human history. Christianity became a rejection of the most profound liberation movement ever presented to human consciousness.
The Jesus/Paul contradiction is an apex moment in the grand narrative of human existence- and illustrates the greater story of human exodus from primitive retaliatory existence toward authentically unconditional existence, and the continuing opposition to that exodus.
Again, as Bob Brinsmead has repeatedly emphasized- atonement is retaliation. W. Krossa
More from Bob Brinsmead (discussion group):
Well ___, I read your post on the God of Paradise Lost, Noah’s Flood and all that… and of course I agree with your right to send that out, so I hope that you agree with my right not to concur with those images of God which are so out of sync with the real teachings of the Historical Jesus.
Is your mind open enough to consider the possibility of a new thought pathway? I would not say a thing unless I believed you were.
Just consider for a moment the core teaching of Jesus found in just ten verses in Matthew 5:38-48. There are two aspects to his teaching here: the ethical and the theological.
First, the ethical where you and I will agree. Jesus tells us never to retaliate – not to practice any payback, getting even, etc., but to love and forgive unconditionally. This has long been recognized as the good Christian ethic and generally we encounter no objection to it because the words of Jesus about turning the other cheek and loving actions toward those who ill-treat us are quite clear.
So let’s then move to the second aspect of Jesus’ teaching, the theological. Jesus tells us to behave in this non-retaliatory way on the grounds that this is how God behaves, and acting like this means that we are children of God. Now let the force of this sink in! We are to love our enemies because God does. We are not to retaliate because God does not retaliate, does not demand payback, or demand atonement (all the same thing). No wonder that Jesus took a different tack than the apocalyptic John the Baptist! No wonder when he read that famous Isaiah passage to his home “church”, he left off that vital bit announcing “the day of vengeance of our God” – and for that was frog-marched out of town in murderous rage. Patricia Williams points out that it was this non-retaliatory/non-violent theology (not just ethics!), this non-apocalyptic teaching that got Jesus killed. Apocalyptic teaching is a narrative of violence wherein God becomes that kind of parent who finally responds to wrongdoing and human violence by an even greater display of violence.
Now I challenge you to have the guts to take Matthew 5 and compare it with Paul’s teaching in Romans 12:14-19. It is clear that in this passage Paul follows the ethic of Jesus which is an ethic of non-retaliation against evil. But it is just as clear that he does not follow the theology of non-retaliation. Paul puts these words into God’s mouth: “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” That’s why he can in another place talk about Christ’s coming again “in flaming fire to take VENGEANCE on them that know not God and who obey not the gospel…”. Amazing disparity between Paul and Jesus!
Have you not wondered why the church, having an ethic of the Sermon on the Mount, was for the most part during its history so murderously violent as James Carroll, the Irish American priest, documents so thoroughly in his Constantine’s Sword? At its heart, the church has had a theology of retaliation and a God of apocalyptic violence. So in the outworking of history, the theology of retaliation and the violent response to evil was more determinative on how Christians behaved in response to their perceived enemies than the ethical teaching of the Sermon on the Mount. It proves that at the end of the day, the kind of God we believe in (or our concept of what is the Ultimate Good) has a lot to do with determining our real ethical response to the differing, even hostile others we encounter. Our ethics will inevitably be joined at the hip to our theology. As even Voltaire pointed out, if we believe God will violently punish those who do not believe what we believe, we will end up being willing to assassinate those who do not believe what we believe. It is not possible to consistently hold together an ethic of loving non-retaliation and a theology of apocalyptic retaliation. Despite what our lips may profess, we will always be ethically driven by our concept of God or whatever we conceive as the Ultimate Good.
As one illustration of what I am talking about, see below my comments on corporeal punishment.
With my kindest regards as ever, R.D. Brinsmead
More from Robert Brinsmead (discussion group):
I suggest that ours is a generation more ready to accept the view of a non-punitive Deity, of an Abba Father that does not correct by coercion and violent retaliation against evil. God treats violent rebellion with non-violence.
When there was this view of a punitive Deity, parents naturally assumed that the rod was good for children. E.g., “Mischief is bound in the heart of a child, but the rod shall drive it from him.” From this we got the maxim, ‘Spare the rod and spoil the child’. Physical punishment was dished out to children at home and at school. Then things began to change. Rod and strap have been banned in school, along with slapping or flogging. Some countries have made it an offense to use corporal punishment with children. Parents who beat their children in the old fashioned way can now be charged with assault, and rightly so. If physical assault is not acceptable to inflict on an adult, it is doubly offensive to inflict on a child.
I listened to a wise counsellor who sought to correct parents who felt corporal punishment is necessary for children. How can we correct them if this is no longer acceptable, he was asked. He replied (tongue in cheek of course), “Just spit in their face.” When the parents were horrified with his counter suggestion, he said, “Well… just a little spit.” Of course he was joking so as to draw attention to a wrong attitude. Children are people, and as people they are equally human. As I wrote a few years ago, any vertical authority or attitude does not work in human relationships. It may work in the Army, in teacher/student matters, but all personal relationships (even with God) can only be horizontal. That’s why we often kneel down to a child’s level to talk to them – it is to place ourselves as equals in value and in human relating. So beating a child in response to wrong doing is far worse than beating an adult for wrong doing. Hollywood may often give the impression that wrongs can be settled with one good punch to the jaw of an offender. But now even the police are forbidden to retaliate on an offender with violence. We no longer accept the flogging of law breakers. And rightly so!
So our culture has improved vastly on this point, and in our lifetime. Any parent who resorts to physical punishment (even moderate violence) to correct a child advertises a failed methodology. This new way of complete non-violence (spanking, slapping) in correctional response is moving in the right direction. People should also be more ready to accept that God does not correct his children with any form of violence.
The Apocalyptic mentality is doomed because it is a narrative of divine violence. No kind of a violent response to evil is evidence of taking evil seriously. A more developed human consciousness knows better than this. Even the worst criminals are not subjected to brutal treatment as a part of their rehabilitation – and even prisoners of war are not to be inhumanely treated. Give humanity a lot of credit for great advancements on some of these things – we have come a long way since the flogging days of the British penal colony in Norfolk Island and Port Arthur in Tasmania only 200 years ago. As for the Bible, it says that it is OK to flog a slave just as long as he able to get up within three days after the flogging. The Law of Moses (called the law of God) is sometimes very inhumane. Even the Fourth commandment is inhumane in its comments about slaves. The God of the OT imagination is very often inhumane, and Jesus clearly never subscribed to that kind of God as Bob Miller pointed out in his essay on the non-apocalyptic Jesus. R. Brinsmead
Now to continue main page comment…
Now why go after Paul and possibly offend many good Christians who venerate the apostle so highly? I do it because of Paul’s still outsize influence on how we think today, on how we shape our worldviews, our personal responses, our treatment of others, and our overall societies. His influence has been, and still is, profound on Western consciousness and culture, and through the West to the entire world. Paul’s Christ myth has been the singularly most influential myth in all history (Bob Brinsmead). More than anything else, it is responsible for bringing the damaging apocalyptic perspective into our modern world. Correspondingly, Paul’s religion (Christianity), with its sharply contrasting theology of supreme conditional atonement, has done more than anything else to bury the core unconditional theme of the historical Jesus. You can sum up the stunning contrast between Jesus and Paul in the following oppositional terms- non-retaliation vs. retaliation, non-punishment vs. punishment, non-destruction vs. destruction, or unconditional vs. conditional.
James Tabor (Paul and Jesus), among many others, has also affirmed the conclusion that Christianity is entirely opposite to what Jesus taught, an argument that is made thoroughly on this page. Tabor makes the following summary statements on Paul: “I maintain that there was a version of Christianity before Paul, affirmed both by Jesus and his original followers, with tenets and affirmations quite opposite to these of Paul. This is the lost and forgotten Christianity of James the brother of Jesus…In other words, the message of Paul, which created Christianity as we know it, and the message of the historical Jesus and his earliest followers, were not the same. In fact, they were sharply opposed to one another with little in common beyond the name of Jesus itself…(in) the early stages of the Jesus movement….there were rival and competing versions of emerging Christianity…each taking Jesus as their reference point but with distinct and irreconcilable differences” (p. Xvi, 29).
He also writes that Paul’s “strongly apocalyptic perspective….influenced all he said or did” (p.15). He adds that the New Testament is “largely a post-Paul and pro-Paul production…the form of Christianity that subsequently developed as a thriving religion in the late Roman Empire was heavily based upon the ecstatic and visionary experiences of Paul. Christianity, as we came to know it, is Paul and Paul is Christianity. The bulk of the New Testament is dominated by his theological vision” (p.24).
Tabor then adds this comment on Paul’s influence: “Paul is the most influential person in human history, and realize it or not, he has shaped practically all we think about everything. I have in mind, of course, the West in particular, but since Christian culture has had such a global spread, I think my somewhat extravagant language about human history can be justified… the foundations of Western civilization- from our assumptions about reality to our societal and personal ethics- rest in a singular way upon the heavenly visions and apparitions of the apostle Paul. We are all cultural heirs of Paul, with the well-established doctrines and traditions of mainstream Christianity deeply entrenched in our culture. In contrast, Jesus as a historical figure…has been largely lost to our culture” (Paul and Jesus, p. xvii).
As Tabor argues, if you want to understand the deeper roots of our culture, then you need to understand Paul’s thinking and influence. And it is not overstating anything to note the link that Paul creates from primitive thought to contemporary consciousness. That linkage extends from Zoroastrian apocalyptic through Paul to 19th Century Declinism (Arthur Herman, The Idea of Decline in Western History or Richard Landes, Heaven on Earth: The Varieties of the Millennial Experience) and then to modern environmental alarmism. Contemporary secular materialists, mouthing environmental alarmist views, may be mouthing Paul’s primitive mythology more than they are aware of (what Pascal Bruckner in his book “The Fanaticism of the Apocalypse” calls the new religion of “Ecologism”).
I would add that if you want to avoid Paul’s mistake and his lingering harmful influence via apocalyptic then get a grip on Jesus’ core theme of unconditional. Most people sense the authentic humanity in that theme (the “diamonds in a dunghill” according to Thomas Jefferson) and have responded positively to it (e.g. Ghandi, Mandela, notable atheists, and many others). Unconditional gets you closest to right, truth, authentic humanity and all those things that enhance a humane consciousness. It protects you from all those inhumane things that harm consciousness and life.
The apostle Paul makes one of the greatest ever retreats or reversals in history on the issue of retaliation. He rejects the striking advance made by Jesus regarding non-retaliation. Some larger context will help illustrate how severe Paul’s retreat actually was. People over history had made significant progress in their thinking regarding retaliation and punishment. They had also gradually learned to get the theological basis of authentically humane response right (i.e. non-retaliatory deity). And yes, even Paul got the ethical element right regarding retaliation (Romans 12: Do not repay evil for evil, do not take revenge), but then he messed up entirely on the critical theological basis and theological advances that others were making. His theological retreat to a retaliatory deity undermined entirely his ethical advances on non-retaliation.
Let me explain: Primitive people had long engaged excessively retaliatory responses toward offenders. In primitive societies injury such as causing the loss of an eye could result in the loss of the life of the offender. Rage at offense, even just some minor verbal offense could result in death to offenders. I have witnessed this in tribal society (upland Manobo groups in Mindanao, Philippines) where a man’s sense of honor and right to retaliate will lead to killing someone who just verbally offends him. Note how similar forms of extreme punishment response are still engaged in large areas of the world even today (i.e. honor killing where a girl wanting to engage modern life or marry by personal free choice will be put to death by close relatives).
So the Old Testament Jewish legal prescription of an eye for an eye was a great advance over such harsh paganism. You were not allowed to go beyond exactly the offense that was committed against you. If someone had caused you to lose an eye, then you could respond by causing them to lose an eye. This was an advance over the excessive punishment response of primitive people. And of course, the historical Jesus took this much higher and further into the authentically human response of no retaliation at all. He urged people to stop the cycles of retaliatory violence and punishment all together. That was history’s greatest advance away from retaliatory punishment and toward authentic humanity, or authentic human response and existence. But the most striking element in Jesus’ advance was to also get the theological element correct- that non-retaliation in ethics was based on the greater truth of non-retaliation in God. This was absolutely scandalous to all primitive thinking that the gods were ultimate enforcers of justice as retaliation and punishment. Jesus rejected that primitive eye for eye view of justice and argued that God treated all people, both good and bad, with unconditional forgiveness, inclusion, and generosity. His new non-retaliatory theology was a breakthrough insight unparalleled in the history of human perception. It was like a brilliant light had finally been turned on in human consciousness.
Now what about Paul? Stunningly, he reverted backwards from the breakthrough of Jesus, not just back to Jewish eye for eye response, and not even just further back to the pagan response of a life for an eye, or a life for verbal offense, horribly excessive as such vengeful response is. No, Paul reverses much further back into pagan barbarity, even further than the insanely disproportionate punishment for the mildest of offenses that is seen in the myths of the pathetic gods of antiquity. Those gods punished people with destruction/annihilation for such petty things as being too noisy (i.e. the Sumerian flood myth) or too curious (Adam punished with death for all humanity just for wanting to know the difference between right and wrong). But Paul takes all such primitive insanity magnitudes of order further. His insanely retaliatory God would damn people to eternal death and torture in hell for all sorts of petty offenses or “sins”. That is more than just a retreat from Jesus, or reversal from the Jewish advance, or even falling back into paganism. That is over-the-top insanity of lust for vengeful punishment. That is a reversal to paganism, a retreat from human advance, and a rejection of humane understanding on a scale unprecedented in history. It is a profound rejection of the core non-retaliation teaching of Jesus. It is a profound retreat from the great liberation that Jesus offered. Shame on Paul.
Here is Stephen Mitchell’s comment on this excessive severity of punishment in Paul’s teaching: “The narrow-minded, fire-breathing, self-tormenting Saul was still alive and kicking inside (Paul). He didn’t understand Jesus at all. He wasn’t even interested in Jesus; just in his own idea of the Christ, ‘Even though we once knew Christ according to the flesh, we no longer regard him in this way’. In other words, it isn’t relevant to know Jesus as a person of flesh and blood or to hear, much less do, what he taught; the only thing necessary for a Christian is to believe that Jesus was the Son of God and that he died in atonement for our sins (the ‘ghastly pagan’ idea). Like the writer of Revelation, Paul harbored a great deal of violence in his mind, which he projected onto visions of cosmic warfare, and onto an image of God as punitive father…”
And then this powerful statement from Mitchell, “This teaching about hell, which the church took over from a fierce, apocalyptic strand of Judaism, and which it put here into Jesus’ mouth, proceeds from a very impure consciousness, filled with fantasies of hatred and revenge and of an unforgiving, unjust god whose punishments are insanely disproportionate to the offenses” (The Gospel According to Jesus).
Note: the “sins” that Paul lists as worthy of God’s wrath (also found in other New Testament writings) include the following- envy, greed, strife, discord, deceit, gossip, slander, insolence, boasting, disobeying parents, impure thoughts, drinking too much beer, road rage, selfish ambition, lukewarm religious practice, telling fibs, and further exhibitions of imperfect human response and existence.
Paul’s dominant themes
It is helpful to sort through some of Paul’s main themes to try and see what resonated so widely with the larger Greek-Roman world of Paul’s time, to understand why Christianity succeeded so well in pagan culture. These themes express the thinking and teaching of the man who created Christianity (Tabor- Christianity is Paul’s religion).
Divine wrath at human imperfection is the threatening background of Paul’s atonement approach. This theme resurfaces again and again throughout his writing, in direct statements and proxy statements: Romans 2 is the core statement of this theme- “God’s judgment against…do you think you will escape God’s judgment…you are storing up wrath against yourself…God’s wrath… will be revealed…there will be wrath and anger…God will judge men…”. Then it is repeated in 1Cor.10- “God was not pleased”, 2Cor.- “those who are perishing”, Gal.6- “God cannot be mocked”, Ephesians 5- “God’s wrath”, Philippians 1, 3- “they will be destroyed”, 1Thess.1:10, 2:16- “the coming wrath”, 4:6- “the Lord will punish”, 5:3 “destruction will come”, 5:9 “they will suffer wrath”, 2Thess. 1:6-9- “he will pay back trouble… in blazing fire…He will punish…they will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out”, 2:4 “doomed to destruction”, and 2:8 “Lord Jesus will destroy”.
(Note: try to square Paul’s angry deity with Jesus’ views on God as a non-retaliating and merciful Father who treats all with scandalous generosity, who accepts all unconditionally, honoring both good and bad, no matter how disgracefully they have acted- see Matt.5:38-48, or the story of the Prodigal Son for an example)
In response to divine wrath and the threat of severe punishment, Paul everywhere maintains the primitive theme of blood sacrifice to atone for sin. This is the center piece of his gospel of payback punishment (i.e. he claims to “know nothing aside from Christ crucified”). Some have suggested that part of the ancient understanding of the meaning of sacrifice was that of a substitute life offered for another life. Taking contemporary tribal thinking as a proxy for ancient thinking (anthropologists do this), tribal people today state that blood sacrifice is offered so that the angry spirits will eat the sacrifice in place of eating the sinning person. Manobo tribal people have told me that angry spirits will eat the blood of the chicken or pig and will not then eat the sinner’s soul. Thus, a substitute is punished or destroyed in place of the sinner (e.g. Col.2:14). Mitchell rightly called this view of substitutionary atonement (punishing an innocent victim in place of a guilty person) “ghastly paganism”.
Paul takes this atonement mythology in further directions. We must believe in this bloody sacrifice of Jesus in order to be saved from the wrath of God, from eternal destruction or punishment. If we believe the Jesus sacrifice then the righteousness of the perfect Christ will be imputed to us. We will be united with that Christ and his supposed perfect righteousness will become ours (imputed to us). We are then justified (made right before God) by such faith or belief. This is all part of Paul’s theology on union with the divine. Faith in Christ creates union with Christ and that brings all sorts of benefits, all sorts of properties of the Christ- Romans 6, Col.2, etc.. Redemption in Christ is another facet of this line of theology.
Another similar line of thought from Paul is that of reconciliation. The supposedly broken relationship with God is restored by Jesus’ blood sacrifice and our faith in that sacrifice. The great cosmic separation between God and humanity is repaired. We are reconciled or brought back together.
But Paul is very clear that his salvation is highly conditional, conditioned on continuing in faith in his atonement gospel and following a lifestyle that he sets forth as exhibiting that faith (i.e. Col.1:23).
And the outcome of faith in Jesus’ blood offering is the promise of resurrection. First, the resurrection of Jesus validates his sacrifice. And then we also are raised to paradise, to eternal life with him, if we believe. This responds to the great human fear of death. It tries to resolve the death issue or problem (Ernst Becker- the death fear is the primary human fear). This theme of resurrection would hold strong appeal to a wide audience.
Through all his teaching Paul also maintains his dominant theme of payback or punishing justice. Romans 2, 1Cor.10, 2Cor.9, Gal.6, Eph.6:8, Col.3:24-25, and 2Tim.2:12 all speak of reward and punishment according to deeds done, according to works done. There is no unconditional element in this theology but rather extreme conditionality. Related to this, all suffering of the elect has meaning and will be rewarded, again, according to the effort or suffering put in. This theme of strict payback according to deeds done appeals to the human sense of justice as fairness- reward good, punish bad.
Also, Paul makes sure that the judgment of Christ looms large in the believer’s thinking as the great threat to motivate them to do good deeds. He repeatedly emphasizes that reward will be there, as well as punishment for wrong. All will be made right at the great end-time judgment. Eye for eye justice will be meted out and people will be saved, rewarded, or punished and destroyed, forever, according to their faith and deeds. Divine wrath at sin/wrong dominates all this thought. Justice will ultimately be meted out as exact payback. Or rather, more than exact. As Mitchell said (The Gospel According to Jesus), God’s justice is an insanely excessive punishment for minor human failure. It is a retreat from the Jewish eye for eye advance, back to pagan life for eye, and even far worse in Paul- to justice as eternal destruction or punishment for minor faults.
Paul’s advance in this, if you can call it advance, is that a Messiah would take all our punishment on himself. He would suffer in our place and pay our debts (substitution). This would free us of any obligation to be punished or to “pay for our sins”. All we need to do is to have faith in this Messiah figure and we are “saved”. But this atonement thinking and reasoning is based on history’s greatest fraud and lie. There has never been an angry God demanding bloody payment for human imperfection. Such a reality has never existed anywhere.
Paul also includes various elevated ideals all through his teaching. For instance, he advocates the great human ideals of love, though his version is distinctly an insider or tribal form of love (i.e. primarily love for fellow believers or stating it more crassly- devotion to one’s fellow tribe members). He also advocates for ideals like kindness, generosity, forgiveness, and many more. And he offers the hope of believers attaining new immortal spiritual bodies, and so on. But these human ideals are very much diamonds buried in the dunghill context of Paul’s conditional atonement theology.
He also presents the theme of election, of a specially chosen people or children of God, with all the great privileges that such election brings. This appeals to the human need to feel special, above others, specially chosen and favored over the mass of ordinary people. This theme of election also re-enforces Paul’s belief in tribal exclusion (i.e. Zoroastrian dualism) and his strong opposition to the unconditional acceptance of all people. There is clearly the oppositional dualism of sheep (the blessed, the saved) and goats (the cursed, the damned) all through Paul’s writing. This theme of election satisfies the primitive urge to exclude and get even with one’s enemies.
Paul further employs the elevated theme of freedom- freedom from law, from sin, and from satanic powers. Again, this is introduced in the larger context of atonement, and submission of people to one another (i.e. slaves submit to masters), and all submitting to God. Freedom in Paul means, in his larger context, enslavement to some dominating power such as the Christ.
Domination is the other side of this submission issue, and another strong theme throughout Paul- the domination of God-appointed political authority, the domination of men over women, the domination of masters over slaves, and the ultimate domination of Christ over all. All this talk of domination and submission renders Paul’s discussion of freedom to be utterly meaningless and nonsensical, utterly contradictory.
Paul’s theology resonated widely with people because he re-enforced primitive thinking on such things as punishing justice (i.e. fairness as rewarding good, punishing evil). He affirmed such common myths as necessary atonement to placate angry gods, and so on. His primitive audience would have clearly understood just where he was coming from and accepted that he was validating their traditional views. And Paul took all this primitive perception much further in his Christ myth, enhancing it with things as hope of resurrection and eternal salvation, and bliss for special insiders (i.e. appeal to tribal instincts), and re-enforcing it with horrific punishment for one’s enemies (i.e. satisfying the age-old revenge impulse and giving it ultimate meaning). He did all this with an advanced mode of thinking and arguing, and with an elaborately thought out theology or Christology. He was restating primitive mythology in new form, with new lines of argument, and with an enhanced mode of thought and presentation. This explains in part the success of his religion- Christianity- in pagan culture.
Along with his teaching on advanced or more humane ways of human relating- i.e. treating one another with love, kindness, and harmony- this was an attractive way of life to many people tired of the violence and inhumanity around them. Christian communities offered a new and more human manner of existence. But unfortunately, the more humane elements in Paul were embedded within a brutally primitive theology that would undermine it all with tribal exclusion, threat of damnation, ideals of revenge and domination, a strong punishment orientation, and more. The theological basis was completely out of whack with the ethical ideals.
So yes, the overall context is everything. It explains exactly what you mean in your use of varied ideals and terms. I refer repeatedly to the Christian use of unconditional love as an example. Christians render the meaning of this term something absolutely opposite to what Jesus intended by their larger conditional atonement context.
Comment from Discussion Group
The Benefits of Blasphemy (or The Liberating Power of Blasphemy)
(First, a qualifier: Just to alleviate any feeling that this is excessively harsh comment toward Christianity, let me affirm that Christianity is to be commended for bringing us the diamonds of the core theme of the historical Jesus. This is more about how we can see more clearly the original gospel of Jesus and recover his presentation of the wonder of unconditional love. That wonder needs to be recovered from the larger Christian context that has almost buried it)
Critical to full human liberation is the response of blasphemy. Bob Brinsmead has an essay on this (Dare to Blaspheme and Dare to be Free) and one of the National Post columnists (i.e. Robert Fulford) once did a good article on the importance and value of blasphemy. Blasphemy is, among other things, challenging dogma or authority, making fun of such (comedians have a valuable role here), not taking the sacred seriously (over history barbaric things have been often been placed under the canopy of the sacred), or pointing out some mythology for what it really is (irrational or inhumane primitivism).
And the priesthoods, authoritarians, and others don’t like blasphemy at all. Paul threatened severely those who refused to take seriously his new Christ myth. His God would damn and destroy any who doubted or refused to kowtow to his new Christology, called Christianity. He uttered the strongest threats against even fellow Christians who disagreed with his gospel. The threat of blasphemy has long been employed by priesthoods and authorities to prevent any doubt of the ruling dogma, to prevent even healthy questioning of the truthfulness of something.
And the worst of blasphemy in the Christian tradition is to dare to challenge Paul’s Christ myth. To dare to challenge things like the blood sacrifice of Christ, the primitive atonement theology of Paul (violent human sacrifice to placate angry gods).
But thank God for brave spirits that saw through all this damaging mythology and put it in its proper place. Stephen Mitchell in The Gospel According to Jesus does exactly this, and blasphemously so. He describes the Christian distortion of Jesus in the bluntest of terms and quotes notable historical personages (e.g. Jefferson, Tolstoy, and others) that use startling blunt language in reference to the Christian mythology.
Part of the value of a good dose of blasphemy is that it liberates from the threat that backs up religious myth and authority, especially any form of divine threat that keeps people kowtowing in frightened subservience.
Bob has long referred to Mitchell and I finally got around to reading him. It has been a refreshing look at his unique take on all this historical Jesus research. He does an excellent job of highlighting the stunning contradiction between the Historical Jesus and the Christian Jesus.
Here are some quotes and summaries from Mitchell (this first is a quote from Thomas Jefferson): “In the New Testament there is internal evidence that parts of it have proceeded from an extraordinary man, and that other parts are of the fabric of very inferior minds. It is easy to separate those parts, as to pick out diamonds from dunghills”. Mitchell offers quite a bit from Jefferson who stated clearly that he was not opposed to the genuine precepts of Jesus but was opposed to the “corruptions of Christianity”. He was shocked by the deletions, tampering, and alterations done by the gospel writers.
Mitchell notes that there is a voice in the authentic sayings that exhibits a large-heartedness, generosity, compassion, impartiality, and serenity, the purest morality and benevolence and this stands in stark contrast with “the bitter, badgering tone of some of the passages added by the early church”. He notes that there are two very different versions of Jesus, the authentic one and the Christian one. I will use the term “Christ” in place of Mitchell’s quotation marks referral to Christian Jesus (“Jesus”) in order to make the contrast easier to read in this following section:
“Jesus teaches us not to judge (in the sense of not to condemn), but to keep our hearts open to all people, the later Christ is the archetypical judge, who will float down terribly on the clouds for the world’s final rewards and condemnations. Jesus cautions against anger and teaches the love of enemies, Christ calls his enemies children of the devil and attacks them with the utmost vituperation and contempt. Jesus talks of God as a loving Father, even to the wicked, Christ preaches a god who will cast the disobedient into everlasting flames…
“Jesus includes all people when he calls God your Father in heaven, Christ says ‘my father in heaven’. Jesus teaches that all those who make peace, and all those who love their enemies are sons of God, Christ refers to himself as ‘the son of God’. Jesus isn’t interested in defining who he is, Christ talks on and on about himself (i.e. John’s gospel). Jesus teaches God’s absolute forgiveness, Christ utters the horrifying statement that ‘whosoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness but is guilty of an eternal sin’…
“The epitome of this narrow-headed, sectarian consciousness is a saying which the second-century Christian scribe put into the mouth of the resurrected Savior at the end of Mark: ‘Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever doesn’t believe will be damned’. No wonder Jefferson said, with barely contained indignation, ‘among the sayings and discourses imputed to him by his biographers I find many passages of fine imagination, correct morality, and of the most lovely benevolence and others again of so much ignorance, so much absurdity, so much untruth, charlatanism, and imposture, as to pronounce it impossible that such contradictions should have proceeded from the same being’“.
Mitchell then does one of the better treatments of the illegitimacy of Jesus (one theory is that perhaps he was born of a military rape- note the repeated comments in the gospels from others asking “who is this man’s father”). He points out well how horribly shameful this was in the Jewish culture of Jesus. It was considered the most shameful of human conditions. Illegitimate people were considered the “excrement of the community”. This would have produced overwhelming problems in a small provincial town with harsh and moralistic attitudes. But out of such an experience would have arisen a profound appreciation for grace, love, and acceptance (the Abba insights of Jesus- “you are my beloved son with whom I am well pleased”).
But the path to such understanding was probably a very human one, from “son of a whore” to “son of God”. And this is where Mitchell’s treatment of all this gets quite interesting. He argues that it would be childish to think the Historical Jesus never caused suffering or made mistakes. And the gospel records contain comments on the failure of Jesus to deal with this early childhood bitterness over his shameful illegitimacy (i.e. his statements about rejecting family). As Mitchell notes, Jesus also died quite young and had little time to resolve such issues. Though it appears at his death he may have come to some resolution when he urged John to look after his mother. And his story of the woman taken in adultery shows, if authentic, that he may have found a way to forgive his mother over this shame. That story may have been a very personal reference.
Numerous passages show that Jesus held a quite stunningly negative attitude toward his mother and family. “His teaching about loyalty to parents is uniformly negative, and is so shockingly”. He quite bluntly rejected his mother and brothers. And to one man who wanted to properly bury his father, Jesus responded, “let the dead bury the dead”. It was, says Mitchell, a slap in the face to a grieving man. And he even calls people to hate their parents. All in the so-called service of God, or call to serve God. Now Christianity has interpreted all this as necessary commitment, as freedom from entanglements, to properly serve God. That puts a noble slant on it all. “Bent into an appropriately pious shape”, says Mitchell.
But there is a notable contradiction here from Jesus himself. He had bluntly condemned anyone who claimed that they could not help their parents because whatever gift they could give to their parents was devoted to God (Matthew 15). Jesus had reproached the Pharisees for not honouring their parents by this use of the appeal that something was devoted to God. But then in the gospels he does exactly that, calling for neglect, and even hate of family, in order to serve God, to put God first. Mitchell stated that for what it really was- irresponsible and callous neglect of normal human responsibility.
Mitchell summarizes Jesus’ neglect of his family in the following comment- “His rejection of his mother seems to me an early, inadequate response to what he must have felt as her rejection of him, her incomprehension of who he had become. Or perhaps it goes back further, to his childhood. Perhaps it contains an unconscious or half-conscious element of blame for the stigma of his birth, and was part of his distancing himself from his shame and everything connected to it… (i.e. Mary’s bastard)”.
In the end Mitchell says we don’t really know, “It is possible that Jesus was able to see her with a nonjudgmental love (i.e. referring to the parable of the adulterous woman) and still, in some hidden corner of his heart, keep holding on to his rejection of his mother (the many other passages where he neglected her or refused to see her)”. But other statements show that maybe he was able to forgive. But it certainly humanizes the man and removes the mythology that Paul and others tried to bury him under- the “dung”, “slime”, or “garbage”, according to Jefferson and others (i.e. the mythology of his being some perfect God-man as in Paul’s Christ myth).
Mitchell notes how Tolstoy used language similar to Jefferson to describe the contrast between authentic Jesus and Christian mythology. “When I first began to study the Gospels I found in them the spirit that animates all who are truly alive. But along with the flow of that pure, life-giving water, I perceived much mire and slime mingled with it, and this prevented me from seeing the true, more pure water. I found that along with the lofty teaching of Jesus there were teachings bound up which are repugnant and contrary to it…I discovered among the garbage a number of infinitely precious pearls”.
And a lot more…
I will put up some further comments from Mitchell that are useful in the service of a healthy and liberating blasphemy. Those still frightened by some of this, please stand back a suitable distance in case lightning strikes… <:
Here from his follow-up notes, “This teaching about hell, which the church took over from a fierce apocalyptic strand of Judaism, and which it put into the mouth of Jesus, proceeds from a very impure consciousness, filled with fantasies of hatred and revenge and of an unforgiving, unjust god whose punishments are insanely disproportionate to the offenses”.
Mitchell then comments on the statement about the sin against the Holy Spirit being unforgiveable, “This sentence is probably responsible for more mental anguish than any other sentence in world literature”. Just an aside here: The Prairie Bible Institute (Alberta) had a staff member back in the 70s who committed suicide because he believed that he had committed the unpardonable sin. He jumped out of a hospital window to his death, from a room where they were trying to treat him.
Mitchell says later, “As for sin against God, there is no such thing”.
And this comment of Mitchell on Paul, “The narrow-minded, fire-breathing self-tormenting Saul was still alive and kicking inside him. He didn’t understand Jesus at all. He wasn’t even interested in Jesus, just in his own idea of the Christ…It isn’t even relevant to know Jesus, much less do what he taught, the only necessary thing for a Christian is to believe…that he died in atonement for our sins…Paul harbored a great deal of violence in his mind, which he projected onto visions of cosmic warfare, and onto an image of God as a punitive Father…and he, most ignorantly believed… (in a Devil)”.
Interesting note later about Paul’s letters where there is evidence of how “fiercely opposed to his teaching some of Jesus’ original disciples were. They say that Paul ‘distorts the word of God’…Peter says, ‘why do you teach precisely the opposite of what (Jesus) taught?”
Also, this…”It is sometimes hard to tell the devils from the angels in Paul’s writings, they are all so vindictive. Here, for example, is Jesus looking for all the world like Satan…’when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, taking vengeance on those who do not obey the gospel who will pay the penalty of eternal destruction”. I have summarized some of this, leaving bits out to shorten it.
And then there are passages where Jesus admits that even he is capable of error.
One final one from his comments on what he believes were the authentic teachings of Jesus- he is dealing with the death of Jesus and the disciples struggling to make sense of this horrible action by the Romans- “Now an absurd problem arose; how could God have allowed this to happen? To this, the disturbed reason of the little community found a terrifyingly absurd answer: God gave his son for the forgiveness of sins, as a sacrifice. All at once the gospel was done for. The guilt sacrifice, and this in its most repulsive, most barbaric form, the sacrifice of the guiltless for the sins of the guilty. What ghastly paganism. For Jesus had abolished the very concept of guilt- he had denied any separation between God and man, he lived this unity of God and man…”. And so on.
I will add later some of the quotes Mitchell puts at the end from a variety of well known people on the “barbarism, ignorance” and what not found in the gospels and elsewhere in the New Testament. “The whole history of these books is so defective and doubtful…”
Further comment from Discussion Group
Summary of Unconditional- Pumping Unconditional More
(Note: The term unconditional- unconditional forgiveness, inclusion, generosity, mercy, or compassion- is the best that we have come up with to describe the incomprehensible love at the core of reality and life. What unconditional points to is beyond words, definitions, or conceptions but unconditional at least points us in the right direction of something supremely and infinitely humane. Something perhaps better felt than described)
Just a summary of this unconditional wonder in a sort of grand narrative context….
Unconditional response, relating, or treatment of others is arguably history’s greatest discovery. By magnitudes of order. The argument can be made that this reality is at the foundation of peace and order (i.e. opposing parties in some potential conflict choosing not to retaliate and continue payback cycles, defusing potential conflict as Mandela did). It is at the foundation of trade and commerce, at the foundation of urbanization (living together peacefully in larger settlements, which benefits nature also), and hence at the foundation of civilization in general. Yes, it was rudimentary or embryonic at the beginning but still unconditional response and relating. The beginning of unconditional treatment of others is the basis of all that we value as humans, including our very civilization. Civilization is fundamentally about rising above the cyclical violence of primitive blow for blow or retaliatory existence (demanding vengeance or getting even).
Unconditional defines authentic humanity more than anything we have discovered before. It takes the human to new heights. It liberates as nothing ever before from all that enslaves the human spirit- the drives to hate, revenge, and punish others. It liberates us from the worst features of our past.
It is the height of human enlightenment, defining a new elevation of human existence.
And it revolutionizes our understanding of the metaphysical. It defines and humanizes ultimate reality as nothing else ever has. Our understanding of what defines the very best of humanity now also gets us to a new direction for understanding deity, for taking this greatest of human ideals in entirely new and more humane directions (human features, of course, having always been projected out to define deity, for better, or often worse). This then gets us to answering the most profound human questions, those questions relating to ultimate meaning and purpose.
We can now intuit and grasp that the Core of all, the Source of all, the End of all, that which creates, sustains, and receives all in the end, is infinitely better than the best that can be imagined. So we now have the means of understanding better the cosmos, life, and consciousness, what it is all about and where it came from and where it is heading. Unconditional Love takes our perceptions to new heights and advances in all areas.
And naturally this is a scandal to the payback mindset so deeply ingrained in public consciousness over the millennia. It is a potent blow to punitive atonement thinking which has been at the root of all mythological and religious perception. Unconditional undermines all that entirely. Religion emerged as a social institution of condition, or conditional thinking and existence. Religion emerged as the institution oriented to setting forth the conditions required for appeasing and pleasing the gods. It emerged to set forth the conditions to be fulfilled in regard to the spiritual- to understand, to access, to be part of the spiritual. Religion is all about conditional existence. And that conditional orientation undergirds, even today, retaliatory justice and ethics.
Therefore, religion cannot embrace properly or represent correctly ultimate reality as unconditional. It is just too much of a contradiction to handle without distorting unconditional. Note the problem in Christianity with the Jesus’ non-retaliation tradition and the overall atonement framework of Paul (retaliating deity).
Unconditional is the foundational impulse of human consciousness and is evident behind all life and the cosmos in general. That great trajectory to humanize all things. The grand trend toward unconditional existence in life on this planet.
So this wonder of unconditional provides an entirely new framework of hope, safety, security in which to evaluate anything in life, or in reality in general. It responds to all the fears, anxieties, and despair (the roots of human violence and other bad behavior) built up in public consciousness over the millennia. Unconditional so potently corrects those horrible errors in early human perception and therefore provides corrections to all the mess that followed, the sacrifice/salvation industry for one.
Even taking this from a more material point of view- overwhelming evidence supports this conclusion of unconditional behind all things. The three great emergences and their trajectories toward something better, toward something more humane. This points to the inspiring impulse behind these as something infinitely good, infinitely loving. And unconditional takes this understanding to new heights as to what that goodness and love actually means.
If the rudimentary forms of this reality of unconditional made civilization possible, and all the liberation and creative progress in civilization, then what might be the future if all of us really engaged this reality more fully? What further liberation and creativity might be possible? Dream on.
Another comment from the discussion group (Wendell Krossa): “Angry God has become revenge of Gaia and angry planet (quite widely influential views), but still the same old threatening forces/spirits model. People evolve in their thinking but if not careful to clean out the old, they then adopt some new version that appears fresh and different but may be just more of the same old, same old. And did you not see this past summer’s (2013) story-telling binge from major public story media that was almost entirely apocalyptic? Commentators were regularly pointing this out. As others point out the new trend in literature- post-apocalyptic writing.
“But to get back to your comment on obsessions: you missed the full picture. There are two sides to this obsession with unconditional, what went wrong and what makes it right. Apocalyptic and unconditional. Historical Jesus encouraged ‘obsession’ or better- passion or enthusiasm or however one views such things. Getting carried away, especially by something good, great, ennobling. Sell all you have and purchase the diamond or pearl.
“So with unconditional….try to get even just a smidgeon of this wonder as you see in the Historical Jesus tradition. Do what (Ken) Ring advocated and slowly read some good account (i.e. Near-Death Experience, especially the ones focused on unconditional love) and try to feel what the person is communicating. Get some sense of it and see if it will break those remaining bonds of conditional thinking, feeling, and response.
“At a broader scale, passion for this rises from its implications for human consciousness and progress… it unlocks all the secrets, answers all the great human questions, lightens all the darkness, liberates from all the chains/fears/worries deeply embedded in subconscious. It explains the why of existence, goes to the heart of the human impulse for meaning and purpose. It takes you way past Hawking and his TOE meanderings. It tells us what authentic humanity is all about, what ultimate reality is about, what the Core of all is, the goal of all. What life is to be all about. So yes, a lot to get passionate about, a lot to explore.”
Another comment: “So if you want to really liberate humanity and encourage human progress, then help clear up this core error of the ancients, an error that still enslaves modern consciousness. Unconditional goes to this deepest root (threatening, upset forces/spirits, punitive or retaliatory spirits), this core error behind all the rest of atonement logic and thinking, and the related damage this has caused humanity over the millennia. Unconditional love challenges and corrects that error like nothing else in history”.
Some fun for the day
Three dogs were sitting in the waiting room at the vet’s when they struck up a conversation. The Black Labrador turned to the yellow Labrador and said, “So why are you here?” The yellow Lab replied, “I’m a pisser. I piss on everything….the sofa, the curtains, the cat, the kids. But the final straw was last night when I pissed in the middle of my owner’s bed.” The black Lab said, ” So what’s the vet going to do ?” “Gonna cut my nuts off,” came the reply from the yellow Lab. “They reckon it’ll calm me down.”
The Yellow Lab then turned to the Black Lab and asked, “Why are you here?” The Black Lab said, “I’m a digger. I dig under fences, dig up flowers and trees, I dig just for the hell of it. When I’m inside, I dig up the carpets. But I went over the line last night when I dug a great big hole in my owners’ couch.” “So what are they going to do to you?” the Yellow Lab inquired. “Looks like I’m losing my nuts too,” the dejected Black Lab said.
The Black Lab then turned to the Great Dane and asked, “Why are you here? “I’m a humper,” said the Great Dane. “I’ll hump anything. I’ll hump the cat, a pillow, the table, fence posts, whatever. I want to hump everything I see.” Yesterday my owner had just got out of the shower and she was bending down to dry her toes, and I just couldn’t help myself. I hopped on her back and started hammering away.” The Black and the Yellow Labs exchanged a sad glance and said, “So, it’s nuts off for you too, huh?”
The Great Dane said, “No, apparently I’m here to get my nails clipped! ”
Two Grand Narratives of Cosmos/Life/Humanity
Humanity has produced two especially notable grand narratives of reality/life over history. The following points to several prominent themes that illustrate the profound contrast between these two meta-narratives. This is not to oversimplify the complexity of human belief systems or worldviews. This is intended to focus attention and clarify the more dominant elements and their impact on human consciousness over the millennia. This is necessary because the themes of the old narrative have become deeply embedded in human worldviews and subconscious. They continue to re-emerge in contemporary secular systems of thought like environmental alarmism. They continue to darken and enslave consciousness even in the present.
The old mythical/religious story:
It set forth the fundamental trajectory of life as beginning with paradise/perfection and then declining toward something worse than before. It claims that the future ends with an apocalyptic punishment, a grand retaliation toward humanity for failure (in secularized versions- the revenge of GAIA).
It views humanity as essentially corrupt, as destroyers, and as creatures degrading toward something more corrupt with time. It views human relating too often in terms of retaliation and punishment (eye for eye justice).
It claims that the resolution to the decline of life and threatened final punishment is to be found in religious myths of violent blood sacrifice required to appease the angry and punitive forces/spirits behind life (atonement Salvationism). The retaliatory forces/spirits are sending history toward an apocalyptic ending so some salvation response must be engaged.
Key themes- corrupt humanity, divine retaliation and punishment, decline and ending of life.
The new scientifically-informed universe story:
It sets forth the fundamental trajectory of life as beginning with something more chaotic and undeveloped but rising toward something better than before (more organized, more complex, more advanced). It sees the future as wide open and continually developing or progressing toward an ever-improving existence.
It views humanity as essentially good, as creators, and as creatures developing toward something more humane with time (Payne, Pinker- overwhelming evidence affirms human improvement). It views human relating in terms of non-retaliation and unlimited forgiveness/inclusion/generosity.
It does not propose any salvation scheme but rather the appreciation that creative and good humanity will solve all problems that arise and pass on something ever better to future generations. It views the forces/spirits behind life as defined by unconditional love (not threatening any punishment, not demanding any appeasement or payment).
Key themes- improving humanity, no retaliation or punishment, rise and endless improvement of life.
The Ultimate Resource- Sample quotes from the life-changing optimism of Julian Simon
“You will find that just about every single indicator of the quality of life shows improvement rather than the deterioration that the doomsayers claim has occurred. And things have gotten better for the poor as well as the rich, … humanity is in a much better state than ever before…
“The world’s problem is not too many people but lack of political and economic freedom…the key idea of the book…is this: Greater consumption due to an increase in population and growth of income heightens scarcity and induces price run-ups. A higher price represents an opportunity that leads inventors and business-people to seek new ways to satisfy the shortages. Some fail, at cost to themselves. A few succeed, and the final result is that we end up better off than if the original shortage problems had never arisen…
“Every forecast of the doomsayers has turned out flat wrong. Metals, foods, and other natural resources have become more available rather than more scarce throughout the centuries…But the content of everyday newspaper and television reporting on these matters remain almost one-sidedly doom-saying with urgent calls for government intervention…
“Freeman Dyson writes, ‘Boiled down to one sentence, my message is the unboundedness of life and the consequent unboundedness of human destiny’…the ultimate constraint is not energy but rather information. Because we can increase the stock of information without limit, there is no need to consider our existence finite…
“The vision which underlies and unifies the various topics is that of human beings who create more than they destroy…
“The longer run is a very different story than the shorter run. The standard of living has risen along with the size of the world’s population since the beginning of recorded time. And with increases in income and population have come less severe shortages, lower costs, and an increased availability of resources, including a cleaner environment and greater access to natural recreation areas. And there is no convincing economic reason why these trends toward a better life… should not continue indefinitely…Contrary to common rhetoric, there are no meaningful limits to the continuation of this process…There is no physical or economic reason why human resourcefulness and enterprise cannot forever continue to respond to impending shortages and existing problems with new expedients that, after an adjustment period, leave us better off than before the problem arose…
“The new scientific worldview…assures us that there are no limits to what we and our descendants can hope to achieve and become.”
Simon’s genius- to find the true state of something look at the longest term trends and the entirety of that thing, the complete picture. And why bother finding out the true state of life? “I part company with the doomsayers in that they expect us to come to a bad end despite the efforts we make, whereas I expect a continuation of humanity’s successful efforts. And I believe that their message is self-fulfilling, because if you expect your efforts to fail because of inexorable natural limits, then you are likely to feel resigned, and therefore to literally resign. But if you recognize the possibility- in fact the probability- of success, you can tap large reservoirs of energy and enthusiasm… The ultimate resource is people- skilled, spirited, and hopeful people- who will exert their wills and imaginations for their own benefit as well as in a spirit of faith and social concern”.
I would add that Simon challenged the fear over population growth (i.e. population “explosion”, population “bomb”) as unwarranted. He argued that more minds meant more creative solutions to problems. Population growth was overall a benefit to the world and not a threat to life.
Steven Pinker’s Research on the Amazing Decline in Violence Over History: A sampling of quotes and summaries from his book “The Better Angels of Our Nature”
“This book is about what may be the most important thing that has ever happened in human history. Believe it or not…violence has declined over long stretches of time, and today we may be living in the most peaceable era in our species existence…we started off nasty and the artifices of civilization have moved us in a noble direction, one in which we can hope to continue…”
Popular media do little to help us appreciate the decline in violence. “Our cognitive faculties predispose us to believe that we live in violent times, especially when they are stoked by media that follow the watchword ‘If it bleeds, it leads’…a large swath of our intellectual culture is loath to admit that there could be anything good about civilization, modernity, and Western society”.
Comparing the more violent past with today, he notes data from a variety of past societies- rates of violent death- and says, “The death rates range from 0 to 60 percent, with an average of 15 percent”. He then notes that the rate of death from war (violent death) was 3 percent for the first half of the 20th Century, and less than 1 percent for the last half of the 20th Century. Most of the violent death in the 20th Century was due to a few people (Hitler, Stalin, Mao) and does not reflect the rate of violence among general populations. Average people have experienced remarkable declines in all types of violence. Western societies in particular have seen a notable decline in annual homicide rates, from about 20 per 100,000 in 1300 CE to about 1 per 100,000 today (see research of Manuel Eisner).
Pinker then states, “Beginning in the 11th or 12th Centuries and maturing in the 17th and 18th, Europeans increasingly inhibited their impulses, anticipated the long-term consequences of their actions, and took other people’s thoughts and feelings into consideration. A culture of honor- the readiness to take revenge- gave way to a culture of dignity- the readiness to control one’s emotions…Western and Central Europe make up the least violent region in the world today. Among the other states with credible low rates of homicide are those carved out of the British Empire, such as Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Canada, the Maldives, and Bermuda”.
He details such things as the role of commerce in humanizing people more. This is entirely contrary to popular perceptions that commerce dehumanizes us with a dog-eat-dog approach. Evidence reveals that when we engage in commercial activity with one another we learn to inhibit our more violent impulses and behave more cooperatively. The reason is simple enough, “If you’re trading favors or surpluses with someone, your trading partner suddenly becomes more valuable to you alive than dead…Though many intellectuals, following in the footsteps of Saints Augustine and Jerome, hold businesspeople in contempt for their selfishness and greed, in fact a free market puts a premium on empathy. A good businessperson has to keep the customers satisfied or a competitor will woo them away…(quoting an economist of the past) ‘Commerce attaches people to one another through mutual utility…through commerce man learns to be deliberate, to be honest, to acquire manners, to be prudent and reserved in both talk and actions. Sensing the necessity to be wise and honest in order to succeed, he flees vice’”. This is known as the moralizing influence of gentle commerce.
The historical decline in violence, called the Humanitarian Revolution by Pinker, is marked by a change in human sensibilities, notably by the increase in empathy. “People began to sympathize with more of their fellow humans, and were no longer indifferent to their suffering…People started to place a higher value on human life. Part of this newfound appreciation was an emotional change; a habit of identifying with the pains and pleasures of others”. Pinker notes that this new empathy was probably due to the wide spread circulation and reading of books/novels that set forth in detail the lives and experiences of people in far away places. This “created an illusion of first-person immediacy, encouraging people to empathize with the suffering of others…seeing the world through another person’s eyes expands empathy and concern…the reading of fiction is an empathy expander and a force toward humanitarian progress”.
Various other factors play a role in the historical decline of violence: “Cultures that are classified as more individualistic, where people feel they are individuals with the right to pursue their own goals, have relatively less domestic violence against women than the cultures classified as collectivist, where people feel they are part of a community whose interests take precedence over their own…the decline of violence against women in the West has been pushed along by a humanist mindset that elevates the rights of individual people over the traditions of the community, and that increasingly embraces the vantage point of women”.
The ongoing development of empathy in humanity has also spread to our treatment of animals and rights for animals.
Overcoming the impulse to revenge is another critical element in declining violence. “The act of unconditional forgiveness can flick a duo that has been trapped in a cycle of mutual defection back onto the path of cooperation”.
He also notes how destructive the commitment to ideology has been, “with an ideology, the end is idealistic, a conception of the greater good…its ideology that drive many of the worst things that people have ever done to each other”. Noting the Crusades, Wars of Religion, French Revolution, Russian and Chinese civil wars, the Holocaust, Vietnam, the genocides of Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot, Pinker states regarding ideology, “the infinite good it promises prevents its true believers from cutting a deal. It allows any number of eggs to be broken to make the utopian omelet. And it renders opponents of the ideology infinitely evil and hence deserving of infinite punishment”.
Classic liberalism is praised by Pinker for its humanizing values and practices- “freedom of individuals from tribal and authoritarian force, and a tolerance of personal choices as long as they do not infringe on the autonomy and well-being of others”. This liberalism has also encouraged more openness to immigration, free trade, less protectionism, less make-work policies, and less government intervention in business. It opposes populist, nationalist and communist mindsets that “see the world’s wealth as zero-sum and infer that the enrichment of one group must come at the expense of another…The idea that an exchange of benefits can turn zero-sum warfare into positive-sum mutual profit was one of the key ideas of the Enlightenment”.
Pinker closes with these comments, “The decline of violence may be the most significant and least appreciated development in the history of our species”. He then notes that “the loathing of modernity is one of the great constants of contemporary social criticism”. The critics of modernity claim that technology has given us alienation, despoliation, social pathology, the loss of meaning, and a consumer culture that is destroying the planet. These critics ignore the positives of modernity that include “transformation of human life by science, technology and reason, with the attendant diminishment of custom, faith, community, traditional authority”. These people, says Pinker, “show that nostalgia for a peaceable past is the biggest delusion of all”.
Baby Boomer Interlude
Baby boomers were intensely focused on their emerging virility in the 60s and hence the vaunted sexual revolution of that time. But that led to a notable loss of balance over what matters in life. Now as Baby Boomers age, they have maintained this concern over their virility but have again neglected to maintain a sense of balance. So they have invested a lot of their money in discoveries like Viagra in order to maintain sexual prowess but have neglected other important things like dementia research.
The result today is the horrifying spectacle of aging Baby Boomers walking around with huge erections but having no clue what to do with them.
Example…Baby Boomer pleading with wife, “Honey, what is this?”
Exasperated wife responding, “Oh, go take a cold shower and go to bed and leave me alone. I have my bowl of chocolates and I’m busy watching my favorite shows”.
Site Focus: The Most Fundamental Questions We Can Ask
What does it mean to be human? What is the nature of authentic human existence? And what themes remain embedded in our contemporary worldviews that are less than human… ideas that darken, distort, and enslave human consciousness?
I have responded to these questions and concerns by focusing on the following themes:
1. Understanding and Re-Defining Ultimate Realities (Retaliation or Unconditional?): Ancient people projected the features of retaliation and punishment onto their gods. That was the worst error made by early humanity. That perverse perception of threatening and punitive deity has shaped the theology of most religion over history and has even infected contemporary secular systems of thought (e.g. revenge of GAIA or angry planet mythology). The myth of punishing gods stirs primal human fear and pushes people to adopt irrational salvation schemes that cause immense harm to populations and societies. I have engaged thoroughly the corrective response of unconditional love as defining the core of reality and life. This presents a powerful challenge to most religion and religious theology. Unconditional liberates human consciousness from all that is less than fully human.
2. Grand Historical Narratives and Their Impacts: Apocalyptic mythology- i.e. the decline of life from a better past and the looming catastrophic ending of life as the ultimate punishment from punitive gods- has been one of the most dominant and damaging narratives in human history. But there is a mass of research supporting the counter narrative of ongoing progress in life, which is evidence of unconditional goodness behind all things.
3. The Actual Trajectory of Life- Decline or Rise?: Environmental alarmism is a contemporary secularized version of primitive apocalyptic and has had an immensely damaging impact on human progress. Fortunately, we have some excellent response to this alarmism from progress researchers like Julian Simon (Ultimate Resource), Greg Easterbrook (Moment on the Earth), Bjorn Lomborg (Skeptical Environmentalist), Matt Ridley (Rational Optimist), James Payne (History of Force), Stephen Pinker (The Better Angels of Our Nature), and others.
4. Corruptors or Creators?: Join me also in taking a closer look at the distorting belief that humanity is a corrupting force in life, and the counter narrative that affirms the wonder of being consciously human and views humanity as a creative force in life. And much more.
Overall, this site presents evidence that affirms optimism regarding humanity and our future. This contrasts with the too often anti-science orientation of alarmist and apocalyptic narratives of despair. On this site you will get some of the best and latest information and insights from the history of human research, discovery, and ideas. There is no greater discovery in all of history than the discovery of unconditional goodness at the core of reality (see below). This is also a stunning new advance in understanding the nature of authentic human being and existence.
Borrowing the story framework of Joseph Campbell (going out, facing monsters/problems, learning lessons) I am tackling some of the more grotesque monsters in history (i.e. threatening or punishing forces/gods) in order to promote liberation at the deepest possible levels of mind, emotion, and spirit. We can be physically and socially free yet still enslaved to ideas and perceptions at the core of our subconscious and worldviews, ideas that are less than authentically human. And how we think about or perceive reality (the ideas or beliefs that we hold) powerfully impacts how we feel, how we respond, and the societies that we create.
So in response to the primary human impulse for meaning and purpose, I pose the question to you- What does it really mean to be authentically human?
Two essays in particular contain more pertinent detail in response to the issues listed above- “Decline or Rise?” and “Retaliation and Unconditional” (see topic bar above).
Further, let me affirm that the best evidence and insights point conclusively to one thing- everything is going to be all right, ultimately, for everyone.
Remembering Nelson Mandela: the South African ambassador said the other day on CNN, “He set people free to be human”. Free from bitterness, hate, and the drive to revenge. Free to forgive, include, and love. What a great human spirit.
This from another columnist: “In his jailhouse memoirs, Mandela wrote that even after spending so many years in a spartan cell on Robben Island – with one visitor a year and one letter every six months – he still had faith in human nature.
“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion,” he wrote in “Long Walk to Freedom.”
“People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
The Personal Cost of Unconditional Forgiveness
Nelson Mandela did a profoundly human thing. He could have come out of prison a bitter man at losing the best years of his life, years having not been able to see his children grow up. He could have sought revenge against his enemies and taken his country into violent civil war. But instead he chose to forgive his enemies and to include them in a new society. How contrary to the response of the Serbs, Croats, and Muslims (around that same time) who turned to hate, revenge, and bloody slaughter following the breakup of their country. As did the people of Rwanda, and far too many others that have given way to vengeance and violence.
The forgiveness that Mandela chose was at great personal cost to many people. If you can find it somewhere, take a look at the documentary Bill Moyers did years ago on the Truth and Reconciliation Committee set up by Mandela. It was not an endeavor to dismiss the atrocities committed under apartheid but to allow offenders to come forward, admit to their actions, and find reconciliation with their new society (a sort of restorative justice approach).
There is one scene in the documentary that is absolutely emotionally wrenching. White policemen are appearing at the front of a room to take responsibility for their excessive violence toward demonstrators. African mothers are at the back of the room crying, and waiting to hear their former oppressors admit to wrong for having killed their children as they fled a demonstration. The policemen refuse to admit to any wrong, arguing that they were just following orders and doing their jobs. In response to their stubborn refusal to admit to unnecessary cruelty toward the children, the mothers begin wailing. It is an expression of heart-broken human pain almost unbearable to watch. Their young children were shot in the back as they fled a demonstration, unarmed.
The film crew let one of the mothers speak directly to the camera after the hearing had ended. She cried something to this effect, as I remember, “We know we must forgive because it is what God expects of us. But it is so hard”. Especially when the offenders will not admit to having committed any wrong.
But what a gift those women have given to their families and to the memory of their departed children. What a gift to all of humanity. They embraced the authentic humanity of unconditional treatment of others, even enemies. They were willing to forgive the worst of crimes against their own children. And they have made the world a better place and lifted us all toward a better existence. Unconditional treatment of others, despite their actions, liberates us all toward something more humane. It liberates us from the endless dead-end cycles of tit for tat violence that have plagued human existence. We owe those brave mothers more than can ever be repaid for their courageous examples. Their inexpressible pain inspires the rest of us to embrace the cost of choosing a more humane way of life.
(And again, as noted repeatedly in the material below, unconditional response toward others does not diminish the responsibility to protect the innocent, hold one another accountable for actions and consequences, and to restrain those unable or unwilling to control their own worst impulses, especially to violence)
The Ultimate Insight
It is the most profound and liberating insight/ideal ever expressed in all the history of human thought and discovery. “Love your enemies because God does”. This is the core message of the historical Jesus (the non-Christian Jesus).
“Love your enemies because God does”. This statement summarizes the fuller version found in Matthew 5:38-48. It is an ethical challenge based on a stunning theological breakthrough. The historical Jesus was the first in history to repudiate entirely the old view of retaliating/punishing gods for a new view of God as non-retaliating, non-punitive. This is a stunning change in perspective to inspire a stunning change in human behavior. And it is entirely opposite to Christianity’s retaliatory deity.
His statement, “Love your enemies”, has been called a “hard saying”. Perhaps the hardest of all sayings found anywhere in human ethical teaching. However, it takes thought, theology, and ethics to entirely new heights of humanity or humaneness. It opens the way to authentic human response, relating, and existence as nothing else does. It gets us to the very core meaning of unconditional love. It then liberates human consciousness as nothing else ever has from the darkness of enslaving drives to hate, retaliate, and punish, drives that have brought so much misery and suffering to life.
Love your enemies is simply the greatest insight and ideal in all history. It is a courageous expression of the essential meaning of life, to treat every person with unconditional acceptance and generosity. This is something that religion has always derailed with its conditional and retaliatory treatment of enemies (forgiveness and inclusion for believers, rejection and hell for unbelievers).
Someone recently left a bag in a shopping mall and sparked a bomb scare. Mall security cautiously approached the bag and discovered that it contained burritos. They were then able to calm shoppers by reminding them that burritos were only explosive after they were eaten.
One can be scientific if it tries. The other is primitive religion- too often what we have come to know as “green” extremism and fanaticism.
Let me state it another way…
There is a healthy concern for the environment that every human being possesses naturally. Every person is an environmentalist (see environmental transition comment below).
And then there is environmental alarmism (known commonly as environmentalism), a state of agitated extremism that sees crisis and catastrophe everywhere in “fragile” nature. This panicky state of fear-mongering reminds one of Chicken Little’s hysteria over every rattle and squeak in the acorn tree (her global wind alarmism over falling acorns).
Environmental alarmism now has a solid resume of repeated exaggeration and distortion of the state of nature. The latest addition to the CV (resume) is alarmism over climate change, the most natural thing on the earth, with a history now of some 4 billion plus years.
Note some of the more notorious exaggerated scares of the past few decades:
Rachel Carson’s alarmism over chemicals and DDT (see DDT FAQS at the Junkscience.org website).
Global cooling panic in the 70s. Yes. It was just more natural climate change which has been occurring for over four billion years.
Population explosion and mass famine panic. Not to panic. More minds means more creative solutions to problems that arise.
Deforestation and denuded planet alarm. 70 years of data show this was never a crisis issue (Skeptical Environmentalist, p. 111).
Ocean fisheries exhausted and collapsing by 2048 panic. Former leading fisheries alarmist, Boris Worm, has backed off this one.
Species holocaust with half of all species extinct by 2100. Ultimate Resource, ch. 31. There never was a species holocaust caused by humanity.
Agricultural land degradation and food crisis. Another exaggerated crisis. And more.
Welcome to the world of endless apocalyptic nuttiness.
Most media love the alarmist narrative because it suits perfectly their own primary orientation to creating fear (see David Altheide’s Creating Fear: media and the manufacture of crisis). As Altheide notes, media are not truth seekers but entertainers lusting for market share. They love alarmism just as comedians love the walking disaster called Rob Ford.
Now admit it- didn’t environmentalists play a useful role over the past few decades in warning the public about problems in varied areas of nature? Yes they did. But so did market forces and businesses play a useful role in environmental improvement. It has been shown, for instance, that air quality in US cities was already improving before the enactment of the Clean Air Act. That is because all people want clean air and businesses will take action to ensure they meet such demands. If they don’t, they won’t be around for long.
And what about markets and businesses notably reducing CO2 emissions in the US over the past few years by transitioning to shale gas, via fracking? Environmentalists have actually opposed this transition. Go figure. And of course, the reduction in CO2 is only to be viewed as a benefit if you accept the theory that rising CO2 is a problem in the first place (see Climate Change update above).
But let me continue this line of thought that we are all environmentalists now.
Whenever you skeptically challenge environmental alarmism you open yourself to the dismissive putdown of being called a “denier”, something akin to holocaust deniers. That is the pathetic anti-science state that environmental alarmism has come to. Remember, modern science actually began with skepticism- the honorable skepticism of people like Galileo and Copernicus.
Environmental alarmists would also like the public to believe that they alone hold authentic concern for nature and they alone speak authoritatively on environmental issues.
Nonsense. Every human on the planet is an environmentalist. Everyone is genuinely concerned about our world, nature, or our environment. The proof that we are all natural environmentalists comes from things like the “environmental transition” research (similar to Environmental Kuznets Curve research, see, for instance, http://www.spiked-online.com/newsite/article/2714#.UqjHkDh3uM8 ). This research shows that when people are wealthy enough to meet their basic needs they then automatically turn to improving their environments (the “tipping point” figure on this used to be around $8,000 annual income). Trying to halt economic growth and development, as environmentalists regularly do, will maintain poverty which is the greatest destroyer of the environment.
And nobody denies that there are environmental issues and problems that need ongoing attention and resolution. All of us can see that. Protecting the environment is a widespread and legitimate social concern that should have the attention of everyone.
What needs to be challenged more specifically is environmental alarmism and it’s all too common unscientific exaggeration and distortion regarding the varied elements of nature. Environmental alarmism has consistently denied masses of good evidence that show another side to environmental issues, that of ongoing improvement and progress in all the major elements of life. Environmental alarmism has too often been a rejection of science for apocalyptic mythology, with its consistent 100% historical failure rate.
To get at the true state of the world (or any particular element of the world) we must embrace so-called skeptical viewpoints and remain open to all evidence, from all sides. That is fundamental to good, basic science. As noted above, environmental alarmists have too often tried to shut down contrary evidence and discussion, labelling skeptics and their counter positions as “deniers” unworthy of inclusion in public debate. This is a shameful denial of basic science. For detail on the shoddy anti-science methodology of alarmism see the essay Rise or Decline and specifically note the chapter on apocalyptic methodology. The unscientific alarmist approach focuses on isolated examples that do not represent larger populations or situations, and aberrational short term reversals to long term trends. This is not only shoddy science but at times borders on the deceptive or fraudulent.
Alarmists have repetitively expressed their views on varied issues in the excessively exaggerated terms of apocalyptic mythology, distorting environmental situations as portents of looming collapse (“tipping points”) and the end of all. This is done to frighten the public into adopting solutions that have been consistently harmful, not only to economies and people, but also to the environment. Note, for example, the bio-fuels fiasco built on alarm over the use of fossil fuels. Alarmists tried to shift people away from fossil fuels to bio-fuels and ended up causing immense suffering to the poorest people across the world (unnecessary rise in food prices), and this alarm also set in motion forces that led to more unnecessary deforestation.
And as noted above, and repeatedly below, take a good look at Rachel Carson’s chemical alarmism and the horrific consequence in the unnecessary deaths of multiple millions of people, mostly children.
Too many elements of political ideology have tainted environmental alarmism and undermined good science. And more importantly, there is that mind-darkening influence of primitive mythology- apocalyptic mythology- that has shaped environmental alarmism into the unscientific and distorting movement that it has now become. This page details a lot of this background mythology behind historical alarmist movements like environmentalism.
To summarize- the public narrative of environmental alarmism has been that too many people are consuming too many resources (human economic growth and development) and this is leading to the collapse of nature and the looming end of civilization. But masses of good evidence reveal a counter narrative that shows something quite different (e.g. Simon’s Ultimate Resource, Easterbrook’s A Moment on the Earth, Lomborg’s Skeptical Environmentalist, Goklany’s The Improving State of the World, and others). The evidence shows that growing populations offer life a growing number of intelligent minds that come up with unlimited creative solutions to all problems and the result is that life improves for all. And as humanity is freed from poverty by economic growth and development, people are then able to care more for their environment and so nature benefits specifically from human economic growth and development. Again, see Rise or Decline for detail.
Qualifier time: something for everyone.
To readers tired of God-talk, Christian-talk, Jesus-talk, and religion in general, let me offer that if you are going to solve a problem properly (and the biggest of all problems is the problem of punishment in human thought and society) then you need to get to the root cause of the problem. Even the Mennonites, a more traditional Christian group, get this point somewhat. See the new comment below on their endeavor to change justice systems from a punitive emphasis to a more restorative focus. They understand that Christian punishment theology is at the root of the problem of punishing justice and ongoing violence in Western societies. They peripherally make the point- others quoted below do it more directly- that Paul/Christianity has had immense influence on Western consciousness and society. And while I appreciate some of the Mennonite insights, I reject their solution of “reframing” Christian atonement (i.e. divine punishment of sin) as something nice. That is simply putting more lipstick on a pig. In doing that, they are trying to make something inherently nasty, appear to be virtuous. To change metaphors, they are using leaky old atonement wineskins and thereby wasting the new wine of Jesus’ non-punishing insights.
(Note: any reference to the historical Jesus on this page is not an appeal to an authority figure or appeal to some symbol of divine authority. The historical Jesus is useful to illustrate the concept of unconditional love but we are responsible to take past insights, refine them further, and continue the project of understanding authentic humanity. Each of us has ultimate authority in our personal human consciousness and personal experience)
To religious/Christian readers- don’t take offense at my straightforward comment on the problems of Christianity and religion in general. I am not engaged in “attacking” your religion but, rather, I am trying to understand the problem of punishment/vengeance, its devastating impact on human consciousness and existence, what contributes to this problem, and how to properly correct it. When doing this, one becomes aware that Christianity and its Christ myth have been shamefully and inexcusably responsible for burying the central insight of Jesus, that God is non-punishing. Jesus’ discovery was the ultimate solution to the horrible mistake of the ancients in projecting punishment onto deity.
This scandal of Christianity opposing Jesus’ breakthrough insight that God is unconditional, non-retaliatory, or non-punishing, and then burying this insight under primitive conditional theology (deity demanding atonement and threatening punishment), is a scandal not yet fully exposed and dealt with. It is a scandal with nuclear-level repercussions because Christianity claims to represent the historical Jesus.
The Mennonite Solution- putting lipstick on a pig, patching old leaky wineskins
(Note: the Mennonites are to be applauded for their work on reforming justice from a punitive orientation toward a more restorative emphasis. They also make some useful insights that punishing justice is rooted in views of the Christian God as punishing. But they offer only half-measure solutions. They insist on maintaining the old leaky wineskins of Christian atonement thinking. This does not ultimately work to solve the root problem as atonement is based on the concept of punitive deity demanding blood sacrifice- i.e. God punishing sin in the death of Jesus. Just as theology determines ethics, so old terms and frameworks will distort and undermine reformist or reframing efforts.)
Ted Grimsrud, a Mennonite theologian and advocate of Peace Theology presents something of the general Mennonite approach to reforming Western justice systems away from the current punitive emphasis and toward a more restorative emphasis. I appreciate this basic thrust. These Mennonite theologians are to be commended for their cutting edge work in this regard. Grimsrud offers some thoughtful insights in his essays such as noting that the root issue behind punishment and its violence is the theological issue. People act punitively because they hold views of ultimate reality (i.e. God) as a punitive reality. Our views of deity can lead us to override our more humane impulses to mercy and compassion, says Grimsrud. You also see this influence of views of ultimate reality on human behavior in other religions.
Grimsrud clearly gets the point that views of a punishing God have undergirded the development of Western justice as retribution or punishment. This view of punishing deity has subsequently caused immense damage and misery over Christian and Western history in keeping cycles of violence going.
These Mennonites get something of this basic linkage that was also made by Jesus, though they do not point out the real nature of the linkage in the summary of Jesus’ core theme (Matt.5:38-48), how a truly humane theology should determine an authentically humane ethic (i.e. that non-retaliatory ethics are based on a new view of God as entirely non-retaliatory). Unfortunately, they miss Jesus’ radical solution in that link, his getting rid of the view of punitive deity entirely and thereby blowing away the foundations of punishment thinking and related atonement response that is at the heart of most historical religion. Jesus view of non-punitive deity (unconditional love) is what the Mennonites are actually looking for, but completely miss. It is the diamond in the dunghill.
Paul also missed (or intentionally dismissed) the new theology and critical linkage to ethics that was made by Jesus and ended up making his illogical linkage of non-retaliatory ethics to retaliatory deity (Rom.12). The Mennonites do essentially the same thing as Paul (trying to promote non-punishing ethics but retaining a punishing God) by maintaining elements of the atonement framework in their explanation.
So the Mennonite solution to the problem of punishment and violence ultimately runs aground on their failure to properly confront and fully resolve the root issue of punishment as embedded in God. What they actually end up doing is merely putting lipstick on a pig.
Let me explain by outlining Grimsrud’s basic approach in his essay Rethinking God, Justice, and the Treatment of Offenders. Dennis Weaver takes a similar reformist approach in his essays.
Grimsrud begins noting that it is natural for humans to avoid violence and love others. When we go against this natural inclination there is usually some reason. We act violently toward others “because some other value, commitment or instinct overrides the inclination not to be violent” (again- theology determines ethics). He explains this in terms of Western justice systems and their orientation to punishment (inflicting pain or violence on offenders, even to the death penalty). The justification for inflicting punishment via justice is tied to an understanding of ultimate reality (God). He refers here to the traditional view of God as holy and demanding punishment for violating his laws that set forth right and good, as well as wrong or evil. God demands punishment for any offense against his law. This theology is at the root of punishment and our systems of Western justice as punishment.
(Note: Holiness is a human construct projected onto deity. It is about purity and separation from the unclean- i.e. defiled/fallen humanity- and the need to punish offense. Holiness is behind the myth of a supposed separation of humanity from deity and the need to repair the severed relationship, to engage some salvation plan. This is all distorting mythology. Humanity has never been separated from God, and there is no need to “get right with God” or heal/restore some imagined broken relationship. This sin/salvation thinking violates entirely the unconditional theology of Jesus).
Grimsrud continues: When Western justice systems were developed during the Middle Ages they were based on Christian punishment theology and newly emerging concepts of law. This reinforced in Western culture a retributive view of justice. Again, in this system God was viewed as holy and not able to countenance any form of sin. The Christian teaching on atonement was also part of this picture. The only way that God could forgive people was if some payment for sin (atonement) was made. And hence the death of his son Jesus as a sacrifice to pay for sin. So God’s holiness was satisfied through the ultimate act of violence- the death of Jesus. Roman legal philosophy was also part of this development of Western justice, as were the writings of early church theologians like Augustine and Anselm who emphasized legal/punitive categories for expressing Christian justice and atonement. Grimsrud also notes that the primary instrument for applying punishment came to be the prison system (the US now imprisons more people than any other country on Earth). This is all good traditional grasp and summary of Christian and Western history, as far as it goes.
(Note: it helps to remember that this belief in violent divine punishment goes back to antiquity and predates Christian and even Jewish thinking on atonement. It is original human mythology, found even in the Sumerian epics. Focusing on the later church theologians as responsible for the nasty punitive emphasis in theology misses the real root of this emphasis in pagan mythology. The original error of punishment in deity began with the primitive belief that there were punitive forces behind the elements of nature and hence they needed to be appeased with blood sacrifice. That sparked all subsequent salvation religion- I have detailed this history at www.wendellkrossa.com ).
Grimsrud notes further that the death of Jesus reinforced the need for punitive violence- the idea of pain and suffering to satisfy justice. Hence, argues Grimsrud, “Retributive theology, which emphasized legalism and punishment, deeply influenced western culture through rituals, hymns, and symbols. An image ‘of judicial murder, the cross, bestrode Western culture from the eleventh to the eighteenth century’, with huge impact on the western psyche. It entered the ‘structures of affect’ of western Europe and ‘in doing so…pumped retributivism into the legal bloodstream, reinforcing the retributive tendencies of the law’”. Again, they are well on track in this summary, though the image of the cross as a symbol of divine violence came to prominence in Christianity much earlier under the influence of Constantine (see Constantine’s Sword by James Carroll).
The real problem, as the Mennonite theologians see it, is that there has been an obsession with retributive themes in the Bible and a neglect of restorative themes in the same Bible (again, among other things, the early church theologians are blamed for this emphasis). The result is the theology of a retributive God who desires violence. The root problem is theological. And the result of our punitive views of deity are justice systems that are punitive and only alienate offenders even more with punitive practices and soul-destroying prisons.
So the solution according to Grimsrud? First, understand that our views of God are just human constructs. We create our views of God- they are “human imaginative constructions”. So how to correct this root problem of views of a punishing God? Go back to the Bible and look for an alternative understanding of God and justice. And then construct a new better alternative basis for a more humane justice system, a more restorative-oriented system. He argues for an alternative reading of the Bible, focusing more on the kinder and gentler features. Weaver (see bottom) argues for using the non-violence of Jesus as his baseline alternative approach. The Mennonite solution is basically an issue of focus or emphasis. Keep the old wineskin in place (the larger atonement framework) but just patch it up better.
Here Grimsrud suggests such things as seeing that God’s compassion should take precedence over God’s wrath (however, the wrath is still there). But we should view God’s justice more in terms of mercy and healing, not just punishment (however, the punishment is still there). And he again returns to blaming the later Christian theologians for wrongly emphasizing the nastier parts of the Bible to construct their theology of punishment. To correct that, we should focus more on the nicer bits in the Bible that speak of mercy and compassion. Go easy on the old book and blame later interpreters for missing its “real message”.
While doing this, Grimsrud acknowledges that the nasty bits are still there- i.e. judgment and punishment. But we just need to look at them more through the lens of mercy and compassion and the nicer bits. God’s justice is not just punishment but also compassion “which effects salvation”. God punishing his son Jesus with a violent death is about destroying evil through suffering love. You see what Grimsrud is doing. He feels obligated to preserve the basic structure of atonement as somehow valid and sacred- it is never really in question as fundamentally wrong. The atonement sacrifice of Jesus must not be fundamentally challenged but still honored. So just reframe it, reconstruct it in a gentler and kinder manner. Make it seem nicer, not nasty as the Church theologians did (e.g. Augustine and Anselm). Grimsrud is rehashing Paul’s error and ignoring the solution offered by Jesus. Paul tried to make it all seem nice by couching atonement in terms of grace, love, and such. But that only distorts these human ideals.
This patching/reformist approach leaves the basic background structure of the atonement perspective in place. It retains and protects the fundamental understanding in theology of the need to punish. No matter how much lipstick you put on it, atonement is still the giant pig in the room. And just as theology determines ethics, so traditional meanings will override and shape the new explanations that we may try to apply to the old punishment concepts like atonement. Traditional atonement understanding will still determine in some manner the new meanings that we try to give to atonement (this is what also ruins Weaver’s reframing efforts).
This retention of some atonement framework short-circuits the Mennonite endeavor to really solve the problem of violence and punishment in our justice systems. God is still fundamentally viewed as punishing and violent, no matter how much lipstick you have applied to that God.
There is a proper solution to this problem of punitive deity that undergirds our punitive systems of justice. And it is also located in the Christian bible. It concerns the central insight and theme of the historical Jesus- that God was not violent and punitive. That insight contradicted the entire history of human understanding of deity as about judgment and punishment. Jesus rejected that old view in his Matt.5 statement that there should be no more eye for eye treatment of others, no more retaliation, punishment, payback, or revenge because God does not do such things. Instead, we should love even offending enemies because God does. We should include all the same and exhibit unconditional generosity toward all because God does. And this non-punishing theology also meant no demand for ultimate punishment as in atonement.
Just to be very clear, here is a summary version of the actual statement of Jesus: “Do not retaliate against evil (i.e. engage eye for eye) but instead, love others without conditions and you will be like God (this connects the non-retaliating ethic to the non-retaliating theology). God loves enemies, is kind, merciful, and compassionate to the bad as well as the good, and God gives good things to all alike (unconditionally), both to the just and unjust”. There is no discrimination or exclusion, no insider/outsider tribalism (believer/unbeliever dualism) in the unconditional love of God. As Jesus added, do not be like the pagans who only love fellow insiders. That was the tribal love that Paul retreated back to (discriminating exclusively between saved believers and damned unbelievers).
The central insight and theme of Jesus presented a radical new understanding of God as non-retaliatory, non-punishing. It was a foundational new view of God as entirely unconditional love. A God that had never demanded conditions before he would forgive, include, or offer generosity. A God of no conditions at all. None. Jesus’ God just forgave and included all, and was generous to all, both just and unjust, good and bad, without preconditions or prerequisites. There was no paying of a debt first, no atonement demanded. Look at parables like the wasteful son for an example of what Jesus meant. Happy to see his son again, the father did not demand a sacrificial payment but rather called for a feast and unconditionally refused even an apology. This theme runs all through the teaching of Jesus as his dominant theme- unconditional treatment of all because this is how God treats all. God was always unconditional love. He was never a God of punishment, demanding atonement. That was the error of the ancients and all subsequent salvation religion was built on that error- the need to appease and please threatening gods with violent atonement (blood sacrifice).
But tragically for Western consciousness and society, Paul rejected Jesus’ breakthrough and reverted back to a view of God as punitive and violent. Note his basic theological statement in Rom.12- Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord. That punishment theology of Paul became Christianity and the basis of violent Christian atonement. The demand to violently punish an innocent victim in order to pay for sin. Violence and punishment as the solution to all the wrong in life and history. But there was no such demand for punishment in Jesus. His theology of no retaliation in God, no punishment in God, meant no atonement was needed, no apocalyptic judgment or hellfire was looming, and no salvation plan was necessary.
The real solution is to recognize and embrace seriously the fundamental contradiction between Jesus and Paul/Christianity. Take the historical Jesus seriously. But that, of course, spells death to the atonement foundation of the Christian religion, and therefore death to Christianity itself, as well as most of the rest of historical religion. This is just too scary a solution for most Christians.
Also, part of the solution here is the rejection of Biblicism- the belief that the Bible is all inspired by God and so we are obligated to maintain all of its basic elements somehow. Instead, we need to embrace the issue of obvious “dissimilarities” or differences noted in the search for the historical Jesus, a search that argues there was a real historical person that was quite different from the Christian Jesus, and entirely opposite to Paul’s Christ myth. Scholars recognize that the gospel writers claimed that Jesus had said a lot of things that are obviously not original to him. These are things that I would argue contradict entirely his core theme of unconditional treatment of all people.
Until the Mennonites are willing to do this they will continue the struggle to properly and thoroughly change the very basis of punitive justice systems, and will end up defending and reaffirming the pagan definition of God as violent and punitive. That is the only outcome of their refusing to let go of the felt need for some form of atonement, for defending atonement theology in Christianity. Anyway you frame it- nasty or nice- historically atonement has been about punishing violence in God. The demand for blood sacrifice to pay for sin is a demand for violent punishment of an innocent victim, what Stephen Mitchell rightly calls “ghastly paganism” (The Gospel According to Jesus). Going in defensively-driven circles (feeling the need to maintain some form of atonement) the Mennonites end up right back at the beginning with the old atonement framework, the foundation of punitive justice.
(Note: Christian theologian, J.I. Packer, says that “penal substitution is the mainstream, historic view of Christianity and the essential meaning of the atonement”- see Wikipedia on Christian atonement. The penal substitution view of the atonement states that Christ was punished in the place of sinners in order to appease an angry and offended God so that God could forgive sin. This view of atonement is what Stephen Mitchell rightly calls “ghastly paganism”. It is founded on the base impulses to revenge, punish, and destroy. There is nothing of authentic love, mercy, forgiveness, or grace in such views)
The solution is much more than what the Mennonites are suggesting. It is more than just seeing another nicer side to God’s justice as in the Old Testament prophets. Sure, the prophets did speak of justice as liberation of the oppressed and protection of the fatherless and widowed. They got something of the mercy and compassion part. But they only made partial breakthroughs toward understanding the true nature of deity as unconditional love. They still retained the elements of judgment and punishment in deity. Consequently, they created a “diamonds in a dunghill” situation (Thomas Jefferson’s comment). And that larger context of punishing deity determined the meaning of the nicer elements that they tried to introduce. The OT writers kept in place the basic understanding of the pagans long before- that deity was about violent punishment and the demand for appeasement by sacrifice.
If you are going to analyze and correct a problem such as violence and punitive justice then you must go to the root of the problem and understand it fully and set if forth clearly. Only then can you properly correct it. There is too much wasted effort putting new wine into partially patched and still leaky wineskins. The Mennonite effort is still a patching effort and in the end it wastes the wine.
The Jesus’ solution is just too radical for most Christians because it spells the death of all atonement thinking, nasty or nice. As I noted above, the unconditional, non-punishing deity of Jesus blows away the foundations of the Christian religion quite entirely, and most of the rest of historical religion. That is simply too radical for most religious people to embrace, just as Jesus’ own followers had trouble embracing it, and others like Paul simply rejected it outright. It offended his sense of justice as proper payback, as some form of necessary ultimate vengeance and punishment.
Note: Dennis Weaver, the other Mennonite theologian, rejects what he calls classic Christian theories of atonement (violent, punitive satisfaction) for his Christus Victor approach to atonement, interpreting atonement in terms of Jesus’ non-violent teaching, what he calls oxomoronically “non-violent atonement”- victory by non-violence. Unfortunately, he also leaves in place the larger Christian context of atonement belief, no matter that he believes that he has fundamentally altered it. He misses the essential breakthrough insight of Jesus that there is no atonement of any form required by a God that is unconditional love. The old atonement wineskin must be thrown away entirely, not endlessly patched with creative new versions of the old Christus Victor.
(Note: The Christus Victor theory of the atonement viewed Christ’s death as the means by which the powers of evil were defeated. This view is related to the ransom theory of atonement which argues that the death of Christ was a ransom sacrifice paid to Satan or God to pay the debt of human sin, and free humanity. This has not been the mainstream, historic Christian view of the atonement)
Weaver appears to offer a more radical approach in that he guts the old satisfaction theories and replaces them with his new non-violence theme. But he insists on describing his theme in terms of atonement and thereby he preserves the overall atonement framework. His project founders on his insistence on maintaining the old framework and terms. It is still patching torn wineskins or putting lipstick on a pig. And then most strangely, he goes to Revelation to explain his new approach about the non-violent Jesus. Revelation is the vilest piece of human literature ever concocted by a hate-filled mind. It presents an orgy of gory violence, hate, and destruction unlike anything else ever written. The Christ of Revelation is presented as a grotesque monster with eyes afire with rage, a sword projecting out of his mouth to kill and destroy, and his robes dripping with blood from victims. This Christian Jesus makes a suicide bomber look like a Sunday School picnicker. Revelation is also full of primitive Zoroastrian dualism (good opposing bad), along with cosmic warfare and apocalyptic ending.
These reformist efforts ultimately founder as they continue to bury their diamonds in dunghills. They try to spray perfume over the dunghill to make it something more acceptable. They continue to put new wine in torn wineskins. They continue to waste effort putting lipstick on pigs. Weaver tries to put new guts into the pig, but it is still the same old pig of atonement thinking. The historical meaning of atonement remains- the demand for bloody sacrifice as punishment for sin, as payment for sin. Placing great human ideals in these old contexts only distorts the new humane ideals. The proper solution was offered by Jesus. Get a hold of the wonder of unconditional love in God and make that your baseline for understanding and expressing everything else.
Unconditional Goodness: A liberating new ethical and theological perspective (part of a larger trend to humanize all of human understanding, that is, to make it more humane)
There is an emerging and still developing discovery spreading through public consciousness that is absolutely the most profound perception or insight in all the history of human thought. It is the discovery that unconditional goodness is at the very core of all reality and life. Unconditional goodness defines everything in the most essential manner.
Now why not use the adjective unconditional as it is commonly paired with love (i.e. unconditional love)? I prefer unconditional goodness with the understanding that it encompasses the full range of meanings related to unconditional, including such things as unconditional forgiveness, unconditional inclusion of all, unconditional mercy, and unconditional generosity, etc. But even more than this I want to focus in more exclusively on the word unconditional itself with the intention to clarify what it actually means. You would think that it explains itself, but unfortunately there is a lot of distorting religious use of this term in contexts that include religious conditions. That only confuses the real meaning of unconditional.
The insight of unconditional, when simply taken for what it says, revolutionizes entirely the human perception of ultimate reality. All past understanding of ultimate forces/spirits viewed those gods as threatening and punishing beings that demanded payment for wrongs committed (i.e. the condition of blood sacrifice to pay for sin/failure). The gods were oriented to conditions or demands that humans had to fulfill in order to be forgiven, accepted, or to be assisted by the gods. But unconditional overturns all such perceptions with the affirmation that ultimate reality is entirely unconditional. And unconditional means just what it says- absolutely no conditions. None.
In addition to ultimate reality, unconditional also revolutionizes other areas of thought, perception, meaning, ethics, and even justice as nothing else has ever done. For instance, most of past human understanding of justice has been oriented to payback conditions- reward the good, punish the bad. However, an Akkadian father (2200 BCE) made a breakthrough in arguing for no payback toward enemies that had done wrong (do not return evil to your enemy). Later Hebrew thinkers, along with other traditions (e.g. Hindu), also rejected payback conditions, arguing that God did not want sacrifice, but rather mercy. So over antiquity there was scattered opposition to conventional views of justice as payback.
This non-retaliation response was then taken further by the historical Jesus, an entirely different person from the Christian conditionally oriented Christ. Jesus was the first to clearly establish the linkage of unconditional ethics to unconditional theology. He advocated that there should be no more eye for eye response but rather love for enemies because God loves enemies. Treat all unconditionally, he stated, because God treats all unconditionally. This message is entirely opposite to the teaching of Christianity which advocates conditional atonement and conditional treatment of people (i.e. love and inclusion for believers who meet the conditions of the Christian gospel, but exclusion or hell for non-believers who refuse to meet the Christian conditions).
Unconditional elevates human response and relating as nothing else ever has. It ends all exclusion of the bad, all insider or in-group favoritism, all tribal separation and exclusion. All persons are to be treated as intimate family. All are to be fully included, fully forgiven, and offered the same full generosity. Unconditional eliminates entirely the concept of enemy, outsider, or other, along with the dualism of good and bad people.
My extravagant use of “all” above is necessary to even get close to the scandalous wonder that is unconditional. An infinitely extravagant and scandalous reality demands extravagant and scandalous expression.
Unconditional then liberates as nothing else can. It liberates from the basest features of our animal past- the encouraged sense of offense when wronged, the subsequent felt rage, hate, vengeance, the desire to punish, and the intention to destroy enemies.
Unconditional is the most brilliant light ever to dispel the darkness in the deepest recesses of consciousness and subconscious. It cleanses human perception from any residual darkening inhumanity. It flushes out the deepest human fears, anxieties, and embedded despair. It touches and inspires the most profound human impulses for meaning and purpose. It promises ultimate acceptance, safety, and bliss to everyone as nothing else ever has.
Once again, unconditional needs to be taken just for what it is- absolutely no conditions, none. This revolutionary insight overturns the core themes of traditional mythology, religion, and justice. It blows the foundations out from under religious and mythological thinking which has always been conditional (i.e. how to appease and please the gods). It lifts the meaning of authentic humanity to entirely new heights. It impacts with a brilliant and liberating light all areas of human thought, understanding, meaning, and purpose.
So much contradictory religious use of this term has dulled the wonder that it naturally engenders when embraced for what it is. Fortunately, things like the NDE movement of the past few decades have brought us a new appreciation of its meaning and profundity. Unconditional love in ultimate reality (God) is something infinitely better than the best that we can imagine or express. It inspires us to be scandalously merciful and generous in our treatment of others and it overturns completely our understanding of conventional justice.
Unconditional love gets us to new heights of authentic humanity or humaneness. It defines the very core or essence of ultimate reality in a stunning new manner. You could safely conclude that anything less is not truly humane and therefore not ultimately true or ultimately real.
And if you find yourself offended by the real nature of unconditional then you are getting some sense of what it actually means. It does offend conventional perception of things like justice and the felt right to get even, to pay back and hurt offenders. And to those who argue that unconditional is a weak and mushy response to evil, I would argue that it stirs the most powerful human impulses, impulses to act as authentically human, including the most powerful of all urges, the empathic impulse to protect the innocent. It is therefore a potent response to evil. Also, traditional payback or punishing responses to wrong have not worked as expected (see the Australian Psychological Society paper in the essay “Retaliation and Unconditional”). They only perpetuate the endless degenerating cycles of tit for tat misery.
And with any discussion of such an unconventional ideal it may be helpful to qualify that unconditional does not entail irrational pacifism. And it does not mean abandoning our normal responsibilities as members of society. But all of this may be permeated by the fresh approach of unconditional treatment of one another.
Also, see further below for more detail on how unconditional goodness counters the root error behind apocalyptic mythology and alarmism. Humanity’s greatest insight robustly corrects humanity’s greatest error.
Some Lighter Theology This may change your mind on re-incarnation.
A couple made a deal that whoever died first would come back and inform the other if there is sex after death.
Their biggest fear was that there was no after-life at all.
After a long life together, the husband was the first to die. True to his word, he made the first contact:
” Marion …. Marion… ”
“Is that you, Bob?”
“Yes, I’ve come back like we agreed.”
“That’s wonderful! What’s it like?”
“Well, I get up in the morning, I have sex. I have breakfast and then it’s off to the golf course.
“Then I have sex again, bathe in the warm sun and then have sex a couple of more times.
“Then I have lunch (you’d be proud – lots of greens). Another romp around the golf course, then pretty much have sex the rest of the afternoon. After supper, it’s back to golf course again.
“Then it’s more sex until late at night. I catch some much needed sleep and then the next day it starts all over again”
“Oh, Bob! Are you in Heaven?”
“No. I’m a rabbit in Kent.”
A Big Picture Approach: Getting to the very root of things- retaliation and unconditional
I am interested in the big picture of the development of human consciousness across history. This is about the larger human story and what themes have shaped human belief systems, mythologies, grand narratives, worldviews, systems of thought, religions, and ideologies. Some themes/ideas (hate, revenge, punishment) have darkened, burdened, and enslaved human minds. The consequent damage to society has been immense. Other ideas or ideals (forgiveness, inclusion, generosity, love) have liberated, inspired, and humanized our minds, and thereby humanized and lifted our societies to a better place. In one sense our history is about learning how to discern between what is human and what is inhuman, how to think correctly, or more humanely.
How we think profoundly impacts how we feel and behave. Our ideas impact the actions that we take or the public movements and policies that we will support. And any study of human history will reveal that certain ideas have been more prominent than others in public narratives (had more profound impacts) and have persisted over time, re-emerging again and again in new or revised versions. For varied reasons they resonate with many people.
I have tried to understand some of the more prominent and damaging of such ideas, along with finding better alternatives, and to trace their evolution down through history.
There is also a personal element to this endeavor. I was brought up in Christianity and took it seriously for several years during my early life. I experienced what it means to be devoutly Christian. And I “suffered” under the yoke of Christianity. So I get religion, fundamentalist Evangelical religion, and its use of the most powerful ideas in history- good, evil, dark, light, God, Satan, heaven, hell, salvation, damnation, and more. Such ideas have profoundly shaped human thought, emotion, and related behavior. I know what those ideas can do to the human psyche and life. I have since spent a lifetime trying to understand what that is all about, how to find freedom from the darker elements of religion, and where to go now. I have tried to answer for myself the big questions- what are more humane alternatives to our religious traditions? What does it mean to be authentically human?
So this gets my juices flowing- what are the most influential themes in our grand narratives (the stories that we live our lives by) and what are their impacts on us and our societies? What is this all about- this ongoing endeavor to distinguish between inhumanity and humanity, between right and wrong, or good and evil?
Now, to help clarify things for people (and for myself, being an ordinary and unsophisticated sort of person) I have isolated out a few of the more prominent themes and their lines of historical descent and linkages down through time. This is not to distort a more complex history but to focus clarity on some very important things.
In the past year or so I have been focusing mainly on two critically prominent themes- retaliation and unconditional. I would suggest that if you get these two clear, and their place in the history of thought/myth/belief, then it will help to understand human history, the human story, life over the millennia, religion, violence, suffering, liberation, progress, and much more. These two get to the essential nature of inhumanity in contrast to authentic humanity. These two themes have battled one another in human consciousness to influence human outlook and behavior and have had immense impact for better or worse in society.
And this also explains to the repeated inclusion here of the Jesus/Christianity contradiction. The contradiction between the original message of the historical Jesus and the very opposite message of Christianity is a sort of historical climax point in the battle between retaliation and unconditional. It illustrates well the larger human story of struggle between retaliation and unconditional response. Our origins were in a violent and retaliatory past. We have over history been making an exodus out of that violent past and toward a more human existence, an existence of unconditional response and relating. Toward a more authentically human world.
Along the way the historical Jesus made a critical breakthrough with his insight that ultimate reality was unconditional love and we should treat others with that same unconditional love (i.e. his statement, Love your enemies because God does). It was a unique theological breakthrough that inspired a unique ethical breakthrough. He rejected retaliation or punitive responses to human imperfection and opted instead for unconditional forgiveness, acceptance, and generosity toward everyone. No exceptions.
But then something astounding happened. His own followers rejected his core message and retreated to a primitive retaliatory position. They chose a retaliatory view of deity and a conditional love that favored insiders and damned outsiders to hell. Paul is most notable here as he was the chief architect of Christianity and he shaped his new religion into a blunt expression of apocalyptic punishment. It was a religion of conditions, conditional love and forgiveness, and conditional treatment of others. His religion has had profound influence in subsequent history, notably in Western consciousness. Christianity has played a major role in maintaining the orientation toward conditional treatment of people in human societies.
So that brave Palestinian peasant (a secular or non-religious sage according to the Jesus Seminar) saw clearly a way of liberation from a primitive past and coherently presented it in core statements and short stories or parables. But his own followers rejected his message and retreated to primitive payback thinking and existence. It is a stunning contradiction at the very heart of Christianity. And yet Christians still insist that they represent the historical Jesus. Go figure, eh.
None of this is to deny that many people find comfort and guidance from their religious beliefs. Many gain such benefit by ignoring the nastier themes of their religion and by focusing on the nicer or more positive elements. In other words, they do not take their religion seriously. They pick and choose. More power to them.
What I am noting however, is that the darker themes that linger in the background of most religious belief systems are often prominent ideas that distort the nicer elements, rendering them less human than they could otherwise be. Those darker ideas then hinder the fullest liberation and expression of the human spirit. And be very clear that the nicer elements in any religion do not originate with religion itself but are common to the general human consciousness that is found everywhere in humanity, whether inside religion or outside. Ideals like unconditional forgiveness, love, and inclusion are human ideals and not exclusively religious ideals or inventions. They originate from human consciousness not from religion which has always been a conditional social institution.
The Mother of all Monsters : some further comment on getting to the fundamental roots of things (a project to humanize all facets of life, and most importantly, the core perceptions at the root of mythological, theological, and ideological systems, or general worldviews)
I have a theory about something that went horribly wrong in early human perception and has distorted public consciousness ever since. Fortunately, we now have the breakthrough insight to correct that error in human thinking.
Taking a cue from Joseph Campbell’s framework for human story (i.e. going out into life, facing and conquering monsters/problems, gaining insights, and returning to benefit others) I would argue that the greatest monster that humanity has ever faced is the primitive perception of ultimate reality/deity as judgmental, tribal and exclusionary, vengeful, and punitive. In other words: the human-created monster of angry, punishing gods. Over history, this belief has shaped the great background template and narrative of public understanding and has influenced all other human fears and anxieties. It sparked the debilitating appeasement response among people (i.e. how to placate the threatening forces/spirits). It has also affirmed other degrading mythology such as the belief in human sinfulness and the widespread guilt over being imperfectly human.
How did early people arrive at such a monstrous theological belief? They believed that there were spiritual forces behind all the elements of life. They then misread the destructiveness of the forces of nature and concluded that these were threatening and retaliatory spirits. This perception was then formed into mythologies of angry gods seeking to punish imperfect and failing humanity through natural disaster, deformity, or disease. We see this perception at the very beginning of human literature in such things as the Sumerian Flood Myth (i.e. a flood as divine punishment for human failings) and the account of Enki being punished with illness (see the Sumerian myth of Dilmun, Wikipedia).
This monstrosity of angry and retaliating gods then became the foundation of all religion as conditional response and existence. Religion emerged as a social institution that would spell out the conditions that were necessary to appease and please the easily upset gods. So the human response to the fear of retaliating spirits was to create conditional religions that would tell people how to think and behave so as not to upset the gods (also known as Salvationism- how to save oneself, humanity, or the world from divine threat). This fear-driven appeasement response is behind all the varied human systems of atonement (the religious belief in required payment for sin or errors). We see this in practices of blood sacrifice and offerings to placate angry gods and gain their favor. This entire salvation/sacrifice industry has been a great burden on humanity in terms of wasted time and resources that could have been better spent on more productive activities. This is especially regrettable when one recognizes that all this religious belief and practice is founded on a horrific error in early human perception.
This monster of a threatening God has long darkened human consciousness and has had incalculable impact on humanity in terms of promoting unnecessary fear, anxiety, and despair. It has enslaved the human spirit and held back creative progress. It has also fostered endless violence as the outcome of punitive justice systems (eye for eye justice) and retaliation/punishment oriented societies. Anthropology has noted that people have long tried to replicate in their lives and societies what they believe is the divine model. For instance, if their understanding of the divine being is oriented to punishment then so also will their lives and society be oriented to punishment.
There is another important issue here in relation to threatening models of deity. Psychology has established the linkage between fear and anger/violence, that anger and aggression is often the expression of fear. Frightened people, like the cornered animal baring its teeth defensively, will often turn violent in order to defend themselves from perceived threats. And we have numerous historical examples of fear evoking defensiveness which creates the environment conducive to aggression and violence toward others. Note, for instance, how Hitler stirred fear over the Jewish threat to Aryan culture and heritage. Or how Hutus stirred fear over Tutsis in Rwanda. Or how the Serb leaders stirred fear over the threat from Muslims. These leaders created a sense of victimhood, of being under apocalyptic-like threat, and the need to take “defensive” action to stop or eliminate the threat (for detail see, for example, Richard Landes’ Heaven on Earth).
Angry/punitive God mythology continues to re-emerge in new secularized versions in the modern era such as the revenge of GAIA, angry planet, threatening and punishing nature, and so on. In response, modern populations frightened by angry nature mythology seek to appease that threat by anti-development sacrifices. They seek to appease a vengeful GAIA by constraining human growth and progress which is a kind of self-flagellation, self-denial, or self-punishment (again, blame “fallen, sinful” humanity and seek to punish).
The liberation from these ultimate monsters is found in the human discovery of unconditional reality or the ideal of unconditional love. Many have come to realize that unconditional response and relating is the essential nature of authentic humanity. This has subsequently led to the recognition that unconditional love also defines the essential nature of authentically humane deity (Edward Schillebeeckx- “God is more human/humane than any human being”). With the discovery of unconditional love the real liberation of human minds and spirits has now begun. We now have the singular insight and reality that gets us to the deepest roots of human fears, anxieties, and despair.
Unconditional tells us that there is no threat of retaliation, vengeance, or punishment at the core of reality or life. Over the millennia those threats have been deeply embedded in human outlook and have long shaped all forms of human worldviews and belief systems. But we now have the most powerful remedy to counter those embedded fears and anxieties at the very deepest levels. We have the means to liberate human consciousness as never before.
And with the understanding- noted above- that fear is so often behind anger/violence, unconditional now helps us get to the deepest roots of the human propensity to retaliatory violence. I have often wondered, as I noted above, how the incessant traumatizing of public consciousness with religious or other threats (i.e. environmental alarmism) may keep aggression heightened in societies. For multiple millennia human consciousness has been brutalized by these threats of angry forces/spirits/gods that will destroy. This is the stirring of endless fear and more than just normal death fear. Threatening forces/spirits stir existential fears, with the threat of eternal consequences and punishment. How much of this fear is behind human anxiety and depression at other levels of human consciousness? Human fear of mythological monsters has become part of the foundational background of human understanding or belief. It is a fundamental part of the way that we view the cosmos and life (i.e. even the way we view destructive natural forces). Few even question that there may be no threatening force, spiritual or natural. How does this generalized assumption that some such threat exists then influence other fears and anxieties?
And again, how much does all this larger background fear reinforce in people the impulse to act defensively, aggressively, to hit back at others? Fear keeps people on edge and defensive (see Ernst Becker’s The Denial of Death). But fortunately, we now have this unconditional insight that liberates from fear at the deepest levels of our consciousness. It liberates from any residual sense of ultimate threat or punishment, and the guilt associated with such threat. Unconditional goes to the deepest roots of human fear, to the deepest core of that ancient human error (threatening, retaliatory or punitive forces/spirits) and exposes it for the grand fraud that it is. This is the liberation of mind and spirit at the most profound levels.
The unconditional love that defines ultimate reality (i.e. Universe, Ground, Mind, or God) is of a transcendently scandalous quality that is better than the best that we can conceive. This is the truth that frees utterly, the insight that slays entirely the threatening, punitive God. This profound unconditional love penetrates to the deepest recesses of human subconscious to radically change the core themes of human worldviews (archetypes) and re-orient consciousness to hope and love (humanizing our most fundamental perceptions, beliefs). It can then purge and cleanse human subconscious from all the defiling residue of the long history of primitive threat, fear, and the entire related mythology of despair, such as apocalyptic mythology.
This humanizing project is about getting to ultimate roots and eliminating or radically changing the deeply embedded perceptions, ideas, and beliefs that have shaped the foundations of our worldviews and stirred all the endless unnecessary fear, anxiety, and despair of human experience (see comments below on Grand Narrative Themes). Unconditional will also challenge the core impulse to retaliate that has shaped and supported so much misery in human existence.
Unfortunately, too often people do not get to their root perceptions and correct them properly. The result is that the old monsters only keep re-emerging in new forms to continue darkening consciousness and enslaving human spirits. It is time to slay the very heart of the old monster once and for all. With unconditional reality we have the weapon to do so.
Site Summary (contact: email@example.com)
This site has focused on apocalyptic mythology over the past years because this mythology has had a notably damaging impact on human consciousness and society. It is hard to think of a more damaging set of ideas in all history. Among other examples, I have repeatedly pointed to such things as Rachel Carson’s use of an apocalyptic narrative to stir fear over chemicals and the unnecessary deaths of millions of people that resulted from the subsequent ban on DDT (http://www.forbes.com/sites/henrymiller/2012/09/05/rachel-carsons-deadly-fantasies/ ).
Apocalyptic is the myth that life was better in the past but corrupt people have ruined that paradise. Life is now declining toward some grand life-ending catastrophe. These beliefs of looming threat stir fear and panic in populations.
Unfortunately, these primitive beliefs are still widely held in both religious and secular systems of thought. One notable contemporary expression of apocalyptic threat is found in environmental alarmism. This movement advocates the belief in some imminent environmental collapse, perhaps through catastrophic global warming.
Apocalyptic beliefs persistently linger in the background of public consciousness, darkening life with unnecessary fear, anxiety, and even despair. And they spark irrational responses that cause immense harm to people and societies (see Decline or Rise essay).
Apocalyptic is a profound distortion of life and its fundamental trajectory. Apocalyptic devotees claim that life is declining toward something worse in the future. But a mass of good evidence shows that is not true. Life is not declining but is actually rising toward something ever better.
Like many others, I have wondered why so many people continue to believe that life is declining when evidence shows the very opposite. While there are problems everywhere, the overall state of the planet is good and the major trends of life show improvement (for detail see Simon’s Ultimate Resource, Lomborg’s Skeptical Environmentalist, Easterbrook’s Moment on the Earth, Pinker’s Better Angels of Our Nature, and others).
In response to the contradiction between apocalyptic myth and reality I have looked closely at the underlying root ideas behind apocalyptic mythology. And I have isolated out what I believe is the key error made by ancient people, an error in perception that led them to view life in terms of apocalyptic myths. I will put this forward as the worst mistake ever made by humanity.
The error they made was to believe that there were angry, punishing forces or spirits behind life. They therefore viewed natural disasters as the gods punishing them for their sins. They also concluded that there would be a grand final punishment from the gods that would end life and the world (see Retaliation and Unconditional essay).
This primitive and distorting perception has long infected the major world religions and now infects modern secular systems of thought, notably environmentalism or green religion. Apocalyptic environmentalism is expressed in terms of a better past (pristine original nature), corrupt people ruining the natural paradise, and life now declining toward environmental collapse and even ending.
Fortunately humanity has been developing an insight that powerfully counters the core error behind apocalyptic. It is the emerging discovery that there is unconditional goodness at the core of reality (unconditional love). The core impulse behind all things is unconditional in nature. This core impulse is evident in the rising and improving trajectories of the cosmos, life, and civilization (increasing organization, complexity and development despite imperfections, setbacks and disasters along the way).
This developing perception of unconditional goodness behind all things overturns the fundamental themes of most mythology and religion throughout history. It also overturns elements of thought in contemporary secular philosophy and even science (e.g. the more dismal views of the Second Law of Thermodynamics that have been used to define the overall trajectory of the cosmos as one of decline).
There are no punishing or destroying forces behind life but rather the core of reality is unconditional goodness and generosity.
This insight presents humanity with an entirely new centering focus for thought, perception, belief, narratives, worldviews, theology, and ethics. It is a core insight (insight into core reality) that ignites hope and liberates consciousness like nothing else in the history of human thought. It presents us with a new center, a new core perception for disciplines like theology.
To clarify further- the unconditional that I am referring to is not the unconditional that is advocated by many religious people who define the term with their religious conditions thereby distorting it entirely. It only causes confusion when people use a term and then define it with an opposite meaning. Note the Christian use of unconditional love with the added qualification that divine forgiveness is subject to the prerequisite payment of an atonement. Nonsense. Unconditional means just what it says- absolutely no conditions. None.
Also, in affirming that the core of reality is absolutely unconditional I am not denying the horror of natural disaster and consequent tragedy. But it is important to correct this perverse idea that forces/gods use natural disaster to punish people. Such a belief adds horrific mental and emotional suffering (fear and guilt) to already unbearable physical suffering. It is one of the most harmful and cruel perceptions ever created.
Like the Japanese woman wondered after the tsunami there, “Are we being punished for enjoying life too much?” And the many others who claim that natural disasters are punishment from God. Natural disaster is not punishment from any greater force and it is not a portent of something worse to come. Despite natural disasters the overall state of life improves.
And we- humanity- have learned over history to understand life and its randomness better, and how to prepare for disasters, and how to adapt to them. This is good evidence for hope that our lives will improve even more over the long term. Understanding the disasters of life in terms of this greater context of long term improvement can liberate from unnecessary despair.
Below is a summary in point form of the linkages or lines of descent of apocalyptic mythology down through the history of human thought.
1. The ancients believed that there were forces/spirits behind all the elements of life.
2. As those elements were often destructive, the ancients logically concluded that the gods must be angry (wind/storm, rain/flood, earthquake/tsunami, sun/drought, etc.).
3. The ancients believed that the gods were punishing people for their sins and for ruining the original paradise (Sumerian paradise of Dilmun- see Wikipedia).
4. They believed that the gods could be appeased by blood sacrifice. Thus begins the sacrifice/salvation industry- how to appease and please the gods. With the development of this belief in Salvationism we have the development of religion as a social institution of conditions. Religion tells people how to gain favor with the gods, how to gain forgiveness, and how to become an insider. Religion tells people the correct beliefs they are to hold and what is the right lifestyle to follow- i.e. what are the rules and taboos to honor. Religion more formally begins to promote conditional belief and existence as something validated by the sacred. Religion then pushes overall human perception toward this conditional outlook and we find the emergence of such things as views of justice as conditional treatment of people (i.e. reward good, punish wrong, eye for eye). All the great human ideals then become conditional- love, forgiveness, inclusion, etc. (let me add a spoiler alert here that the discovery of unconditional reality challenges entirely all this development of conditional reality)
5. The ancients also believed that the gods would cause a grand final punishment or apocalypse (a great flood in Sumerian and Babylonian myth).
6. Zoroaster later formalized this apocalyptic mythology and changed the final apocalypse from flood to fire. He also introduced the element of strong dualism to apocalyptic mythology- the battle between light and darkness or true religion versus false religion, a dualism that would end in the final apocalyptic defeat of wrong.
7. Zoroaster influenced Jewish thinking and apocalyptic belief (Hebrew exile in Persia or Semitic origins in Persia).
8. Christianity adopted and continued Jewish apocalyptic and further filled out this template of ideas. Apocalyptic myth shaped the entire Christian framework of belief. See James Tabor’s “Jesus and Paul” where he notes that apocalyptic influenced all that Paul said and that Christianity is Paul’s religion. And Paul has been the most influential person in history.
9. Christianity shapes Western consciousness more than any other system of thought.
10. Eastern traditions also adopt apocalyptic views (Mircea Eliade, History of Religious Ideas).
11. 19th Century Declinism (Arthur Herman, The Idea of Decline) develops a secularized version of apocalyptic belief (influenced by Christian belief).
12. Environmentalism adopts the main themes of Declinism (as did Marxism).
Hence, apocalyptic myth has been passed down through history and is still dominant in modern thought, in both religious and secular systems of ideas.
Note: People do progress and gain new insights over history. But far too often while making advances in thought, many also hang onto older deeply embedded themes like apocalyptic. This then distorts the new discoveries and undermines them. Much like the Christian endeavor to adopt unconditional love but to define this in terms of its salvation conditions. This hopelessly distorts unconditional and renders it meaningless. When creating new worldviews or narratives we must be careful to clean out the old, the residual primitive. It is only common sense to put new wine into new wineskins. This is about fully humanizing our worldviews, removing all inhumane elements.
See further below some updated comment on the continuing climate change alarmism and response to that.
No Hell Beneath Us
I might as well quit toying around and get right to the root of what went wrong in human thought and how to correct that. Let me summarize in point form…
No threatening, punishing gods. There is no looming future judgment or punishment from some greater force/spirit. And there is no hell beneath us, Johnny. Do I really need to state this? Well yes, because apparently some 70% of Americans still believe such myths. And many others, more secular types, also still believe that there are punishing forces behind life (e.g. revenge of GAIA, or angry planet). These beliefs are at the root of all religious thinking and religion itself.
No conditions to meet. None. Absolutely none. There are no conditions to fulfill in order to gain full forgiveness, inclusion, and generosity from ultimate reality, however you define that (Universe, Mind, Consciousness, Self, Intelligence, Spirit, Source, Ground, God). Conditional existence is what religion is about, conditions to appease and please threatening deities. Religion is about conditions to be included, forgiven, or to receive benefits from the gods. Its all a horribly distorting assumption/belief to base one’s life upon.
I will add here- spoiler alert- that the discovery of unconditional reality (i.e. unconditional love at the core of reality) has eviscerated entirely the need for conditional response to ultimate forces/gods.
No apocalypse. Apocalypse is the ultimate expression of punishment from the gods. It is the ultimate expression of judgment. Apocalyptic mythology shapes entirely the belief system of Christianity (a great transformation or consummation in Paul’s theology). Let me be blunt on the best and highest authority- there is no future, looming apocalypse. Sorry to spoil your zombie expectations.
No salvation required. There are no judging, punishing gods to appease or please. No such entities have ever existed. Salvationism (the salvation industry) arises from the primitive and distorting belief in punishing deities that demand payment or atonement for sin.
Now why is it important to tackle and correct these fundamental mythical or religious themes? Why possibly offend so many good religious people? Well, its important to risk this because these ideas have not only shaped all religion over history but also continue to infect many secular systems of thought in the present. Its a case of the same old, same old repeating itself endlessly, though in ever new and evolving versions. Some of the most primitive themes from ancient mythology have become deeply embedded in human worldviews and subconscious. If we don’t get to these very root themes in our perspectives and beliefs then the correction of problems in life tends to be at superficial levels and the core problems keep re-emerging and repeating themselves over history.
Look at Europe, for example, considered to be the most secular place on the planet yet the most zealously Green place on Earth (i.e. stronghold of Environmentalism or Green religion). Europeans have rejected one form of religion only to adopt another version with the same basic themes. Many others have similarly tried to leave their traditional religions only to take up other more secular versions that hold to the same themes of their old religions. When making transitions to new worldviews, people often do not thoroughly rethink and change the fundamentally religious ideas that are so deeply rooted in human subconscious and at the core of their worldviews.
Do modern secularists really believe these primitive myths of retaliating gods? Yes they do. They fear, for instance, an angry and vengeful GAIA, or angry planet, and feel the need to come up with salvation schemes to appease and please these newer, but still old school deities. The salvation schemes? Anti-development activism with all the damaging outcomes to humanity that result from such activism. The Salvationism that arises from myths of punishing forces/spirits has always destructively hindered human growth and progress (note, for example, the unscientific anti-GM hysteria, a particularly strong movement in Europe, and the case of Rachel Carson and the DDT ban noted further below). This anti-development, anti-progress activism is often a form of sacrifice or self-flagellation (the felt need for punishment for being corrupt or bad).
Fortunately, along with the development of this retaliatory mythology over history (judging, punishing gods) there was also the development of the insight into unconditional reality. This is a uniquely potent response to the profound error that is retaliatory mythology. Unconditional may be the most important insight in the entire history of human thought.
Unconditional reality redefines love, taking it to new heights of humaneness. It gets us to the very essence of authentic humanity and authentic human relating and existence. It is the most liberating insight ever discovered because it frees us from the basest impulses of our animal past. It effectively counters the entire history of human mythology and religion as conditional reality and existence. It is therefore absolutely vital to the fullest liberation of human consciousness. It liberates from fear and anxiety at the deepest levels of mind, emotion, and spirit.
So yes, it is worth the risk of offending some in order to get to the root of what went wrong in human thought and to try and correct that. The impact of those ancient errors (judging, punishing gods) has continued to reverberate through contemporary public consciousness, hindering human freedom and progress with irresponsible salvation schemes that endlessly block human development and advance.
Explore the material below and the essays listed for more detail- notably the essays “Retaliation and Unconditional” (under button Retaliation/Unconditional in bar above) and “Decline or Rise” (under button Decline or Rise in bar above).
Climate Change Alarmism Continues
Environmental alarmists continue to stir public fear over two particular things related to climate- rising levels of atmospheric CO2 and warming temperatures (i.e. the slight warming period from roughly 1975-1995). They have done this with the help of a panic-oriented media (see David Altheide’s Creating Fear: News and the Manufacture of Crisis).
As the warming has stopped for the past 17 years, alarmists have since shifted their efforts to creating alarm over “climate change”. They heatedly claim that 97% of scientists now agree that humanity is responsible for increasingly dangerous climate change. And any who disagree are still demonized and dismissed as “deniers”.
There is a twisted bundle of distorting, and even false, claims in the alarmist narrative.
No informed person and certainly no credible scientist has denied that climate change is taking place. Climate has always changed and always will. It is misleading for alarmists to create fear over change in a dynamic system that always changes. The alarm over change stems partly from the wrong assumption by alarmists that there is stasis in nature (unchanging) and some past state is optimal and must be preserved (i.e. the low CO2 levels of the pre-industrial past and the cooler temperatures of the past, neither of which are optimal for life).
The key area of disagreement between alarmists and skeptics is around the claim that humanity is responsible for global warming and now climate change. We simply do not know this to be true or how much it may be true. There is no 97% consensus among scientists on this issue of human input or level of responsibility.
There are significant natural elements that affect climate and that appear to overwhelm the human contribution of CO2. The natural elements (influx and muting of cosmic rays, cloud cover, sunspot activity, ocean decadal oscillations, etc.) show stronger or more clear correlations with climate change periods over the past (see for instance, http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/lawrence-solomon/global-cooling_b_4413833.html).
Lets start by stating what we do know. CO2 has a warming effect on the atmosphere or climate but this is small compared to other natural elements (e.g. water vapour or cloud cover). Humans do contribute to natural CO2 cycles and levels and hence contribute to the warming effect but the human part is tiny (a “fart in a hurricane” according to one scientist who tried to put it in perspective). See http://www.climatedepot.com/2013/05/14/co2-nears-400-ppm-relax-its-not-global-warming-end-times-but-only-a-big-yawn-climate-depot-special-report/ .
While CO2 contributes to the warming effect there is no clear evidence that CO2 alone has caused any past notable period of warming. Other natural elements show stronger correlations to warming and cooling periods. Note especially here that while CO2 continues to rise, the recent mild warming has stopped. This challenges the alarmist assumption that rising CO2 was mainly responsible for the 1975-1995 warming. And this has alarmed the alarmists and they are seeking alternative explanations such as aerosol contributions by nations like China as responsible for causing a temporary blocking effect in the atmosphere.
To properly understand what is happening with climate it helps to look at the bigger picture and the longer term trends. This will help us get to the true state of things.
Over the past century and a half there has been a more general long term warming trend. This longer term warming is related to the Little Ice Age of roughly 1675-1715. That was an abnormally cold time on earth. Since that descent into cold, the earth has been rebounding and returning to more natural and normal warmer conditions.
A scientist at the International Arctic Research Center, Dr. Akasofu, has noted that this natural rebound from the Little Ice Age has occurred over the past several centuries with a series of interspersed warming and cooling periods. Warming, then cooling, and then warming again. He notes there is a correlation of these periods with such things as shifts in ocean decadal oscillations (e.g. the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, a large shift in ocean currents that occurs every 20-30 years). Since the Pacific has shifted into a cooling phase over the past few decades, so climate has cooled (http://wattsupwiththat.com/2013/09/09/syun-akasofus-work-provokes-journal-resignation/ ).
Others note the relationship of cosmic and solar activity to climate change, notably Henrik Svensmark in his book The Chilling Stars. We had an active sun in the later part of the last century and that relates to the warming period of 1975-1995. The sun then went dead and so the warming ceased and has been flat for some 17 years now. Russian scientists argue that we could be entering an extended cooling period now, similar to the Maunder Minimum of the Little Ice Age.
In the larger paleo-climate picture we find other things that help to understand climate and climate change. We are currently in an ice age era of some several million years with repeated cycles of glaciation interspersed with warmer inter-glacial periods. This ice age era is an abnormally cold time on earth with abnormally low levels of CO2. Compare this to previous extended periods on earth when CO2 levels were much higher (some periods averaging 1500 ppm and even rising to 7000 ppm). Average temperatures were also much warmer over the past. Remember that for 75% of its history Earth has been ice free, including the poles.
So we are currently in an “abnormally” cold time on earth. And with cold climate oceans become cold and reabsorb CO2, leaving lower levels of atmospheric CO2. Plant life then suffers. The pre-industrial levels of 200-250 ppm were not healthy for plant life and in the past plants had to make an evolutionary adaptation just to survive. Plants prefer much higher levels and flourish in greenhouses where farmers supply levels of 1000-1500 ppm. With higher levels of CO2, the food of all plant life, plants have more efficient water uptake and can handle things like drought conditions better.
Because of the recent rise in CO2, one study noted that from 1982-1999 the earth become notably greener and healthier. Net Primary Production increased by 6.17% over this short period. Others note that from 1981 to the present there has been an overall 14% increase in plant productivity, across all vegetation types (Matt Ridley, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4v86K5awl_s). More plant biomass means more food for more animals and more food for people. This is why the almost 32,000 scientists who signed the Oregon Institute of Medicine Protest Petition declared in their opening statement that there is no evidence that more CO2 is bad for earth but lots of evidence that more CO2 is good for earth.
So currently rising CO2 levels are not to be feared. There is no real danger to human life till CO2 rises to about 5,000 ppm and some studies suggest even higher (see sites like CO2science.org for detailed studies on CO2 and climate history).
And there is no reason to fear a warmer earth. Ian Plimer has detailed past climate and shown that a warmer world is overall better for life. It has been much warmer in past times and this was not disastrous for life but rather life has flourished during warmer periods. Warm climate is a benefit to life. Certainly there may be some negatives but the positives appear to be also significant. Currently, annual deaths from cold far exceed deaths from heat.
Others have noted that in a warming world there is redistribution of heat energy across the world so that seasons become less pronounced (warmer winters), and daily oscillations become less pronounced (warmer nights), and the poles become warmer. Earth’s climate is efficient at distributing heat energy across the planet and life benefits. As Roy Spencer argues, it appears that climate has a built-in thermostat with varied feedback mechanisms that seek more optimal outcomes in climate.
And contrary to Al Gore’s alarmism, during warmer times there are less droughts (warm oceans evaporate more water). People like Ian Plimer (Heaven and Earth: global warming the missing science) have provided a mass of good evidence from past climate to help understand what is happening with climate change and it appears there is little reason to fear ongoing climate change or warming, or rising levels of CO2.
On the claim of consensus among scientists that humanity is responsible for looming dangerous global warming or climate change, well, there never has been any such consensus. First, consensus is not automatically evidence of sound conclusions or good science. Climate alarmists have appealed to consensus to shut down opposing evidence and opinions. This is anti-democratic and anti-freedom. Skepticism and contrary evidence must be encouraged as vital to any good scientific process.
And if people wish to play the numbers game then what about the 32,000 scientists that signed the Protest Petition? They were almost completely ignored by the media.
Also, the claim that 97% of scientists have concluded that humans are responsible for dangerous climate change is a distorting, if not fraudulent, claim. Lawrence Solomon has traced the route from where that 97% figure was derived and that is a stunning misrepresentation of scientific opinion but is endlessly repeated in the media (http://opinion.financialpost.com/2011/01/03/lawrence-solomon-97-cooked-stats/).
There is an irrationality in all this unscientific and insistent alarmism over rising CO2 and slight warming. CO2 is not a poison or pollutant. It is the food of all life and life has responded to rising levels with increased plant production and biomass. We have today a greener and healthier earth as a consequence of more CO2.
And as we have always done, we will adapt to climate change, whether warmer or cooler in the future.
Note also that with a free market shift to natural gas the US has lowered its CO2 emissions over the past years. Yet environmental alarmists have irrationally reacted to this news with endeavors to shut down exploration and extraction of natural gas (notably in Europe).
Also, we need to keep an eye on the continuing inactivity of the sun. The Russian scientists are suggesting this may become an extended cold period similar to the Maunder Minimum of the Little Ice Age. Will Paul Ehrlich then shift again to global cooling alarmism? He tried to stir panic over cooling in the 70s but then shifted to warming panic.
With all this evidence alarmists still refuse to back off from activism to stir panic over climate change. One then wonders what is really behind their scare-mongering. At a deeper level there are clear elements of anti-development ideology and anti-human ideology. But what is really behind all this at an even deeper level? Here we get to primitive religious or mythical thinking that is deeply embedded in human worldviews, both religious and secular (in public subconscious). See below for more detail.
Some Scottish Theology(Contributed by Avril Spencer)
How to get to heaven from Scotland.
I was testing children in my Glasgow Sunday school class to see if they understood the concept of getting into heaven. I asked them, “If I sold my house and my car, hard a big yard sale and gave all my money to the church, would that get me into heaven?”
“No!” the children answered.
“If I cleaned the church every day, mowed the garden and kept everything tidy, would that get me into heaven?”
Again, the answer was “No!”.
By now I was starting to smile.
“Well, then, if I was kind to animals and gave sweets to all the children and loved my husband, would that get me into heaven?”
Again, they all answered “No!”.
I was just bursting with pride for them.
I continued, “Then how can I get into heaven?”
A six year old boy shouted, “Yuv got tae be fuckin dead”.
Kinda brings a wee tear tae yir eye…
A Fresh Look At Unconditional
You will find a lot of comment here on unconditional reality (unconditional response and relating, ultimate reality as unconditional goodness, unconditional love). It is the single most important and potent response to the worst errors of human mythology and religion- notably the belief that there are threatening or punishing forces/spirits behind life. That mythological error has infected both religious and secular systems of thought (e.g. the revenge of GAIA or angry planet beliefs).
Advocating for unconditional reality sparks some very strong resistance. For many people unconditional response does not meet their felt need for “proper justice”, defined according to traditional payback terms (reward the good, punish the bad). Unconditional love just seems too weak and mushy in the face of evil, and too impractical for our societies.
I would respond to this by first pointing out that unconditional love has already long been the very basis of commerce, orderly and peaceful society, and civilization in general. Civilization began when early people, instead of continuing to kill one another as they had done over all previous history, began to tolerate differences, mistakes and offenses, and learned to forgive and to cooperate for mutual advantage. They were then able to trade and live together (early urbanization) without destroying one another. They learned to practice early forms of unconditional love and hence we have civilization today. So unconditional love, far from being impractical, is the very basis of society, commerce, and civilization.
And to the contrary, traditional payback (tit for tat, eye for eye) disrupts the order and peace of society and in general ruins life. Just note the disruption that getting even causes at all levels, whether in the workplace, in home relationships (e.g. the damaging impacts on children), and of course, in its worst large-scale expression- war and its all out destructiveness.
Further, a payback approach does not properly restrain wrong behavior. The discipline of psychology has shown that most people respond better to positive affirmation than to threat and fear. See the Australian Psychological Society paper (noted in my essay Retaliation and Unconditional) which argues “that recent trends towards increased reliance on punishment as a primary response to crime” do not work as expected. Punitive approaches do not rehabilitate or deter criminal offenders. They don’t teach “alternative acceptable behaviors”. Also, punitive parenting approaches are linked to higher levels of aggression in children. The paper recommends approaches that promote empathy, such as explaining other people’s perspectives and feelings. This is known as restorative justice, a form of unconditional response.
And then I would urge skeptics of unconditional to recognize that tit for tat retaliation is animal and not human. Ancient Roman philosopher Musonius Rufus expressed this well in stating, “For to scheme to bite back the biter and to return evil for evil is the act not of a human being but of a wild beast”. And on the other hand, unconditional response and relating gets us to the very essence of authentic humanity. It defines better than anything else what it means to be truly human (endless forgiveness, unconditional inclusion of all, limitless generosity toward all, treating all as intimate family). This ideal of unconditional love has been summed up best in the saying of Jesus, “Love your enemies”. He also added, “because this is what God does”. Yes, you heard him right. He stated clearly that there is no punishing God. And no judgment. No divine threat of any kind. Only unconditional goodness and generosity toward all alike.
Perhaps some confusion arises in regard to the practicality of this unconditional ideal because some people have mistakenly understood it as advocating pacifist extremism. It does not promote any such thing. While we should approach every human being in the same way or with the same attitude of respect, some people are simply unable or unwilling to control their worst impulses, notably impulses to violence. Such people need restraint in order to protect others. So whatever you think unconditional love means it does not mean pacifist extremism in the face of evil. Any basic understanding of love will include a robust responsibility to protect the innocent.
No matter how we dissect and explain it, many will still find unconditional love to be just too scandalous and will prefer to maintain some sort of payback response in life. But that is a retreat to animal-like existence. It is a refusal to fully embrace authentic human existence.
Some aging humor. This one sags a bit at the punch line.
An elderly lady was secretly planning to commit suicide by shooting herself in the heart. But she wanted to make sure that everything went according to plan. So she went to her doctor and asked him, “Where exactly is my heart?”.
Puzzled, the doctor replied, “Just below your left breast”.
She left to return home.
The next day the doctor arrived at the hospital and was told, “The elderly lady you saw yesterday is down in emergency. She shot herself in her left knee”.
More On Site Content
Join us in exploring some of the latest and best insights from the history of human thought. This site covers topics such as the nature of ultimate reality as unconditional goodness, in pronounced contrast to the basic theme of mythology and religion that the forces/spirits behind life are threatening or punitive. This is part of an endeavor to get to the root of what went wrong in ancient human thought and how to correct that. The misunderstanding of the core nature of reality persists today in both religious and secular systems of thought.
This site also looks at grand public narratives and their impact on societies. It covers the historical descent and evolution of apocalyptic mythology from Sumeria to Zoroaster and Jewish religion and then into Christianity, 19th Century Declinism, and contemporary environmental alarmism. We also explore the fallacy of a limited resources world, the wonder of being creatively human (no fallen, corrupt humanity), and much more. See introductory explanations below or topic bar above.
A qualifying note: the use of the term “environmental alarmism” upsets some people. In response I will affirm that I am strongly pro-environment but quite skeptical of most of the unscientific and irresponsible exaggeration (yes, Chicken Little alarmism) that comes out of the environmental movement. The material below explains why such alarmism is exaggerated and irresponsible.
Decline or Rise- What is the actual trajectory of life?
Does life decline/deteriorate toward some catastrophic ending as in apocalyptic mythology? Or does life rise and progress toward something better? What is the fundamental impulse behind life and what is the fundamental trend of life? The correct answers to these questions are vital to human understanding and the grand narratives that shape our societies.
This site explores the origins and development of apocalyptic mythology, a dominant historical belief that has distorted the fundamental nature of life in both religious and secular systems of thought. This site also explores the new and emerging insight that unconditional goodness (something entirely non-religious) is the basic impulse behind reality and life. See A New TOE (Theory of Everything) further below. Unconditional reality offers a potent response to apocalyptic mythologies.
Have a look at the essays and summaries below for more detail on the developing history of apocalyptic thinking, both ancient and modern versions (e.g. environmental alarmism or apocalyptic). Stating it as diplomatically and nicely as possible, apocalyptic mythology gets the fundamental trends of reality and life entirely wrong. Backwards, upside down, and reversed. Life does not decline toward some catastrophic ending. To the contrary, life rises endlessly toward a better future (see, for instance, the Decline or Rise essay under the same button above).
“On what principle is it that when we see nothing but improvement behind us, we are to expect nothing but deterioration before us”, Thomas Macaulay, 1830
Admittedly, apocalyptic belief could be entertaining as just ridiculous and distorting mythology, if it were not taken seriously (e.g. Halloween Hysteria or October Madness). Unfortunately, too many people do take it seriously. And apocalyptic belief then causes reverberations all through society, in the form of modern alarmism and subsequent public policy response, notably environmental alarmism and its anti-development responses.
(Note: Yes, there are direct links from primitive apocalyptic mythology to movements such as contemporary environmental alarmism. Apocalyptic mythology descends from the earliest Sumerian versions to Zoroaster and Jewish religion and then down through Christian apocalyptic into 19th Century Declinism or “cultural pessimism”- see Arthur Herman’s The Idea of Decline- and then into modern Environmentalism or Green religion. Is this hard for environmental alarmists to acknowledge? Certainly. Just as modern Socialists had a hard time acknowledging that their Marxist heroes were essentially religious fanatics, millennialists. See chapters 10 and 11 of Richard Landes’ Heaven on Earth- Egalitarian Millennialism and Totalitarian Millennialism- for historical detail. We are never as secular as we like to think we have become)
See also the essay Retaliation and Unconditional (under Retaliation/Unconditional button above) for more detail on the primitive mistake that sparked the apocalyptic outlook among early people. That mistake continues to re-affirm apocalyptic thinking today and has become deeply embedded in human worldviews. The mistake was to believe that the forces/gods behind life were retaliatory and punitive.
A complex of related ideas was developed to flesh out apocalyptic mythology and its view of punishing deity. This included a notable devaluation of humanity. People were viewed as corrupt, fallen, and destroyers. They deserved punishment. This sinful humanity myth misses entirely the wonder of human development and progress over history (see, for instance, James Payne’s The History of Force, or Stephen Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature).
The above myths then led to the development of Salvationism. People were obligated to make some sacrifice in order to appease the gods and save the world (in contemporary environmental apocalyptic, anti-development schemes are claimed to be necessary to appease a vengeful GAIA or angry planet). The damage to humanity from this Salvationism has been incalculable.
These primitive myths have burdened human consciousness for millennia and hindered the full expression and creativity of the human spirit. They continue to darken and dampen human subconscious. There will never be a full liberation of humanity (i.e. mind and emotions) till these myths are isolated and rooted out of human worldviews. I am talking about the complete humanization of thought and outlook at the deepest levels.
The ongoing exploration of unconditional reality is key to an authentic liberation of human consciousness and life. See essays and summaries below for more detail. Unconditional goodness defines the very core of the universe and life. Consequently, everything rises toward something better, though not without freedom and its related randomness (an important pair-bonding to note here- love and freedom).
Some fun with accents
An Asian lady frequently went to her money changer to purchase currency. One day she noticed that the rate had changed. She asked the trader why. He replied, “Currency fluctuations”.
The next time the rate had changed again. She again asked why and was told, “Fluctuations”.
This happened repeatedly in the following days and in response to her questions as to why, the trader repeatedly responded, “Fluctuations”.
Finally, one day, exasperated at his responses, the lady fired back, “Well, fluck you white people too”.
Hey, don’t get your politically correct undies all tied in a knot. Lots of people used to laugh at my excessively nasal intonation and other errors as I learned Philippine languages (Tagalog, Cebuano, and Manobo). I’m just enjoying a bit of payback. <:
There is Nothing to Fear Behind Life (Where religion went wrong and the nature of ultimate reality)
One notable belief takes top spot as, arguably, the most destructive belief ever conceived by humanity. It has been lodged in human worldviews for millennia, darkening consciousness with fear, insecurity, despair, nihilism, and worse. This belief in its varied expressions has been responsible for validating endless violence between people (see, for instance, James Carrol’s “Constantine’s Sword”). Properly challenging and correcting this belief will get us to the deepest possible levels of human liberation… that of mind, emotion, and spirit.
What is the belief? That there are threatening, retaliatory, or punishing forces/gods behind life.
Now there is no diplomatic or conciliatory way of stating this but the great world religions, like Christianity, were entirely wrong to develop their theologies of vengeful, punishing gods, and required systems of salvation to appease such deities. Secular systems with their perceptions of an angry planet or vengeful GAIA, and their anti-development appeasement schemes, have been equally wrong.
There is no angry force or deity behind life. There is no threat of retaliation or punishment behind life. To the contrary, over our history we have discovered that the ultimate reality behind life is of the nature of incomprehensible unconditional love with all the generosity, inclusion, forgiveness, and goodness that such love entails. (For detail on the historical development of this new perspective on deity see “Retaliation and Unconditional” under the Retaliation/Unconditional button in the bar above)
The outcome of this discovery is that there is absolutely no need to fear the cosmos, the world, life, or death. Contrary to much religious teaching, everyone is safe and included in the end. So there is no valid reason to believe or adhere to some religious salvation plan in order to appease some threatening deity. My apologies, but that knocks the foundations right out from under most religion.
The discovery of unconditional love at the core of reality needs to reverberate through human consciousness and subconscious, both religious and secular, and liberate the human spirit at the deepest levels.
There is nothing, ultimately, to fear in the world or life. This is not to deny that horrible things will sometimes happen in life. But despite the imperfections of life- whether accident, disease, or whatever form of suffering- there is no ultimate destroyer or destructive force behind life. No one is punished for being imperfectly human.
I have isolated out and countered this belief of retaliating deity because properly humanizing our views of deity is critical to human progress toward a better world. The search for complete human liberation requires us to counter this most debilitating of ideas in the history of human thought, this perception of ultimate threat, retaliation, or punishment. It is simply wrong and it has held back humanity far too long.
The proper response to this belief- unconditional reality- is a stunningly humane reality that inspires the best in humanity.
Note: Further below I have included excerpts/quotes on unconditional love from Near-Death Experience accounts. These illustrate the developing human insight that the true nature of ultimate reality is unconditional goodness. This is a powerful corrective to the errors of apocalyptic mythology.
Here is a sample quote from these accounts, this one from a lady named Lisa on the NDERF site- “I remember feeling the most profound and utter sense of peace I have ever felt in my life. Suddenly, I was feeling completely safe, being enveloped and protected by something I can only describe as complete unconditional love. This love was all around me, it was everywhere but at the same time it was also me, the one I was, my innermost essence. There was no longer any fear, no worries, no struggle for anything…”.
This brief summary statement effectively counters the two most fundamental errors in mythology and religion- that the gods are nasty (retaliatory, punitive) and that humanity is essentially nasty (fallen, corrupt). These two basic errors still widely infect human thought and outlook. The comment of Lisa, and many other similar NDE statements, does more to correct those two errors than anything religion, science, or philosophy has ever offered. Anita Moorjani, another near-death experiencer, has described her discovery of the “magnificence of being human”. That people are most essentially beings of love and light.
And regarding the credibility of the NDEs, and the movement in general, see the research of Pim van Lommel- e.g. “Consciousness Beyond Life”- as well as the work of researchers such as Jeffrey Long, Ken Ring, and others.
Another accent incident(and a true story)
Two Australian men went to South Korea for a visit, arriving on the day that national elections were being held. They were greeted at the airport by a Korean friend who spoke heavily accented English. They asked their Korean friend how he was doing. Grinning broadly, the man responded, “Everybody happy. Everybody having erection today”.
Retaliation….Non-retaliation (or unconditional response)…in the big picture.
(see essay “Retaliation and Unconditional”)
“For to scheme to bite back the biter and to return evil for evil is the act not of a human being but of a wild beast”, Musonius Rufus, Roman philosopher, circa 30-100 AD.
Retaliation and non-retaliation are the two features of life that help us to understand the heart of the human story as few other things do. This is not to oversimplify the complexity of life but to draw attention to some of the most prominent features of life and their influence on human consciousness and the human journey.
Retaliation illustrates the worst of our past. It is what is wrong with life- the tit for tat or eye for eye cycles of payback that destroy relationships between people, groups, and nations. Unfortunately, retaliation has shaped the core of human mythology, religion, and justice systems for millennia, causing immense misery. It is part of a dark past that we are leaving.
Non-retaliation, or unconditional love, summarizes the best of our human experience and future. It presents us with the highest ideal for authentic human response and existence. It liberates us as nothing else can.
These two features are, arguably, two of the most important things to understand in life. Think of the big picture. The human story is about beginnings in animal reality and then the emergence of human consciousness, which sparks a subsequent exodus or liberation from animal existence, and subsequent progress toward the creation of a truly human existence or human society. But what exactly are we leaving and where are we going? What does it mean to be authentically human and to live as human? What is the meaning and purpose of life? Retaliation and non-retaliation are two features that help to answer such questions.
Much of the material on this site points to such issues in the greater overall human story or narrative. And in dealing with the big questions and the grand human narrative we are also highlighting the same issues at the level of each personal story. Each human life is a microcosm of the larger human story- the endeavor to overcome the animal (our baser inherited drives) in order to live as truly human.
In the sections below I have outlined some history of retaliation in human thought and life, its damaging consequences, and how humanity has learned to successfully counter that brutality with the emerging wonder of unconditional reality. See the listed essays for more detail.
The Apocalyptic Error and The Nature of Reality and Life as Unconditional
(see essay “Decline or Rise”)
Apocalyptic alarmism has surged and receded repeatedly in the post-WW2 era. Note some of the main alarms of the past 60 years- population explosion and mass famine (Paul Ehrlich), global cooling disaster (Ehrlich again), chemical pollution and poisoning (Rachel Carson), acid rain destroying forests, ocean fisheries collapsing by 2048, deforestation and a denuded planet, species holocaust with up to half of all species extinct by 2100, agricultural land degradation and food crisis, catastrophic global warming destroying life, Y2K and planes dropping out of the sky, bird flu wiping out millions, swine flu competing for similar destructive impact, economic collapse and ruin, Mayan end-of-world horrors, religious end-of-world scenarios, and on and on. One alarm barely fades before another is whipped up and public consciousness is assaulted afresh and traumatized all over again. “Crisis”, “catastrophe”, “looming disaster”, and other terms constitute the all-too-common verbal currency of a media industry that is not oriented solely to truth telling but too often to creating fear (see David Altheide’s research on media in Creating Fear: News and the Construction of Crisis). This repeated apocalyptic alarmism keeps people at high alert and results in many viewing the world as a more and more frightening place.
Note also the numerous apocalypse movies that have come out this year (2013) from the story-telling centers of the entertainment industry (see, for instance, List of Apocalyptic films at Wikipedia). In literature there is now a sub-genre of “post-apocalyptic” writing that unquestioningly assumes there will be an apocalypse and therefore focuses on rebuilding in the post-apocalypse world. Note also that while not all alarmism assumes apocalyptic proportions of world-ending catastrophe, much does point in the direction of some super-catastrophe that ends life as we know it.
Populations frightened by apocalyptic alarmism are more easily manipulated to accept salvation schemes to avoid disaster and “save the world”. As Altheide notes, fear enables social control. Fear-mongering is then a direct attack on human freedom. Pose some threat, scare people, and they will do anything… they will respond to the looniest salvation schemes, in order to save themselves and the world. These salvation schemes have now cost humanity trillions in wasted funds (recent estimate from CCNet of GWPF.com) and have hindered economic growth and overall human progress. And the cost of alarmism to human life has been estimated in the multiple millions. Note, for instance, the tens of millions of unnecessary deaths, mostly children, that resulted from the banning of DDT in the wake of Rachel Carson’s chemical alarmism (see http://junksciencearchive.com/ddtfaq.html and http://www.forbes.com/sites/henrymiller/2012/09/05/rachel-carsons-deadly-fantasies/ ). Like most irresponsible alarmism the outcomes of these panic crusades are devastatingly inhumane.
And all for what? Apocalyptic has a 100% historical failure rate. It distorts entirely the actual state of the world and the trajectory of life. Overwhelming evidence shows that we are not declining toward some life-ending catastrophe. To the contrary, despite occasional disasters and setbacks, life continues to improve and rises endlessly toward something better than before (see Julian Simon’s Ultimate Resource, Stephen Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature, and Bjorn Lomborg’s Skeptical Environmentalist, among other similar studies of the state of the world). This is not to deny that real problems exist throughout life but to challenge the alarmist exaggeration of problems to life-ending proportions and unnecessarily terrorizing people.
Let me be blunt in order to be clear- apocalyptic is a fraud and a lie. Yet since the beginning of recorded history (i.e. Sumerian cuneiform tablets) apocalyptic has defined the core of human mythology and it has shaped the belief systems of the major world religions and has now infected modern secular systems of thought also, such as environmentalism.
I have traced in various essays here the historical lines of descent of apocalyptic mythology, from early Sumerian Flood myths (the gods punishing early humanity with a great flood apocalypse), down through Zoroaster and his shift to a fiery world-ending apocalypse, and the descent of this belief into Jewish religion, and then into Christianity which brought apocalyptic mythology into the modern Western world and also into the wider world consciousness.
Creating Divine Monsters
Most important to note in all this research is that apocalyptic mythology is rooted in a major error in early human perception- the belief that there were threatening, retaliatory, and punitive forces (spirits, gods) behind life. That perception of divine retaliation was expressed in early beliefs that the gods were angry and would punish humanity. In historically recent secular systems this has been expressed in terms of an angry planet or “the revenge of GAIA”, or in more general views of some nasty outcome for life or the universe.
This primitive myth of ultimate retaliatory forces lingers like a dark residue staining the background of human subconscious. It spoils our perception and our enjoyment of the wonder of life and it hinders human creative potential. It fosters unnecessary guilt and shame over human progress.
Joseph Campbell viewed human life as story. We go out and confront monsters/problems, struggle to conquer them and learn lessons or gain insights in the process, and then bring these insights back to benefit others. Taking Campbell’s story framework I would argue there is no greater monster that humanity has ever faced than this primitive belief in retaliatory or punishing deity. There is no greater fear than the fear of some super-monster out to get you, to punish you. This is beyond normal fear in life. It is about ultimate fear, existential fear, supreme fear- some monster that cannot just kill your body but also your spirit. This is the great background fear that has far too long lurked just out of sight, but so potently keeps fear, despair, nihilism, and other destructive emotions aroused in public subconscious.
We need to confront and slay this grotesque monster, the worst tyrant ever created. It has dominated the core of human mythology for millennia and it has been at the foundation of all religion (religion as conditional existence- the conditions required to appease and please retaliatory gods). Slay this monster and you liberate humanity at the deepest levels in human consciousness and spirit.
The lesson learned in struggling to conquer this monster?
Unconditional Reality: The Corrective to the Apocalyptic Myth
Over the millennia humanity has uncovered a powerful corrective to this distorting apocalyptic and retaliatory mythology. It is the discovery that there is infinite goodness at the heart of all reality and this gets to the single most important insight in the history of humanity.
This insight into ultimate goodness derives from the early perception that non-retaliation or unconditional love defined authentic human relating and existence. See, for instance, the early piece of literature titled “Advice of an Akkadian Father to his son”, circa 2200 BCE (Wikipedia). People then extended this discovery of the authentic nature of humanity as unconditional love out to define ultimate reality or deity. The general humanization of our understanding of humanity inevitably leads to the humanization of our views of deity. We then recognize that God is more humane than any human; infinitely more so.
We now have access to the insight that inexpressible unconditional Love is at the heart of all reality and life. The historical Jesus (entirely opposite to the Christian Jesus) made a notable breakthrough here in stating clearly that God did not retaliate or punish but treated everyone with unconditional generosity (e.g. Matthew 5:38-48). He based his claim that unconditional love was the ideal for authentic humanity on his view that God was unconditional love. The human ethic and the theology were tightly pair-bonded. “Be merciful as your Father in heaven is merciful”. Do not retaliate because God does not retaliate.
Affirming his insight, let me state his conclusion plainly- there is nothing threatening, retaliatory, or punitive behind life. And this conclusion helps us to understand why the overall long-term trajectory of life rises endlessly toward something better.
We can now tell people, especially children, do not be afraid of the universe or life.
Come in and look around for yourself. This site is exploring some of the foundational errors in human mythical perception and the insights that counter those errors. I would argue that there is no more critical error to confront than apocalyptic and its root idea of retaliating and punishing deity. This single idea has had a more devastating impact on human understanding, response, and society than any other idea. It has distorted entirely our perception of the state of the world, viewing it as a fallen or lost paradise. It has promoted a profound devaluation of the status of humanity, wrongly concluding that people are corrupt and destructive, and deserve punishment for being imperfectly human. And it has distorted entirely our perception of the direction of life, claiming that it is declining toward something worse or catastrophic. Apocalyptic has rightly been described as a mythology of despair.
To robustly counter this error it is important to engage the exploration of unconditional reality. Unconditional response and relating gets us to the essence of authentic humanity and the true meaning of ultimate reality. There is nothing more liberating to human consciousness or the human spirit than the embrace of unconditional love. The actual nature of this reality, as with any element of ultimate reality, is infinitely better than the best that we can imagine. This is what transcendence in deity means.
And whatever you may think about how unconditional love should or should not be applied in human society, be clear that it is the nature of ultimate reality. Unconditional love is the very core of all reality, the true nature of the Ground or Source. There is a notable hesitancy and even resistance from many people to the idea of eliminating retaliation and punishment entirely from human relating and existence. We have had the obligation to revenge drilled into our subconscious for so many millennia, via mythology, religion, and now secular systems of thought, that it is simply unimaginable to many people that authentic human existence entails the elimination of all retaliation. Unconditional forgiveness, inclusion, and generosity appear to be just too impractical to a properly functioning society in the opinion of many people. Unconditional love violates their sense of justice as including some form of payback or punishment.
(Note: Religious people have developed the contradictory approach of acknowledging that it is wrong to retaliate and harm those who have harmed us. But then they claim that God will retaliate. This is an endeavor to retain some form of revenge somewhere. Paul is notable here for claiming that to repay harm with harm was evil- e.g. Romans 12. Yet he stated that God would repay with far greater harm in the future. God will do far greater harm or evil a future judgment or apocalypse. This contradictory and nonsensical argument results from the felt need to retain some form of retaliation. And so the most barbaric features of our inhuman past are embedded in deity and protected there in succeeding generations of gods)
But however you view the application of unconditional response in human society, be clear that unconditional love must replace the horrific error of the ancient’s that threat, retaliation, and punishment defined the forces behind life (i.e. the gods). What humanity has long termed God (or the Universe, Mind, Consciousness, Self) is authentically human or humane, and to infinite or transcendent degree. God is not just love, but inexpressible unconditional love. Ultimate Reality is infinite goodness. The Ground or Source or Foundation of all must be entirely humanized and cleansed of any residual and defiling inhumanity such as retaliation. We start with getting that basic perception right (fully humanizing our views of deity) and then move to working that out in human ethics or society.
Let me add here that this insight on unconditional defining ultimate reality is not dependent on Q (Quelle) research or even on the statements of the historical Jesus. It is an insight that would have eventually been discovered as part of the inevitable growth and progress of humanity and human understanding. You do not need to appeal to any authority figure to validate such an insight. We rely ultimately on our own personal sense of the human thing no matter what anyone else has said, or not said, about such realities.
Excerpts from Near-Death Experience accounts on unconditional love at the core of all reality
The following statements are from people that have had near-death experiences and reveal something of the incomprehensible love behind all life. As Ken Ring has said, these people can only “stammer hyperbole” in their attempts to describe the inexpressible nature of this love. Enjoy and take time to feel something of what they are trying to communicate.
“(It) was so incredibly powerful and intensely deep that I was astounded and even in a state of shock as it went through me. I never knew such a love existed…it was the strongest force in existence. It was the energy of pure love….everything was love….it was literally everything…the light loved everyone equally without any conditions…pure, undiluted, concentrated unconditional love…a realm of pure, unconditional love and acceptance, a primordial womb of light blazing with beauty and glory beyond measure…the love was like an energy that connected every molecule in the universe” (from Ken Ring’s Lessons from the Light).
“This love is the purest, truest, deepest, totally unconditional love that you could ever imagine”, Bobbi D on NDERF site.
“That being was composed of love, it created love, it emitted love, it directed love. It lived on love. It was love. Love the Power. Pure love came from that being”, DW on NDERF site.
“The Creator is love…perfect, unconditional love is what that being gave me. Love is what the Creator is composed of. It is the skin, the blood, the body of him… God is love”, DW on NDERF site.
“Standing in the presence of divinity I saw the pure love in all of it. There was no judgment… I was surrounded by a tangible light so thick I could feel it. It was pure, unconditional love…Love is all there is…no judgment…only love, unconditional”, Jeffrey O on NDERF site.
“This light had a singular property that is utterly indescribable in the extent and scope of its sheer magnitude. The singular property of this light was one of absolute love. This love was utterly unreserved, completely unbounded, and utterly infinite in its scope…This being, this light, was total love…it was sheer unalloyed love absolute…Love, at the very essence of existence, is what everything is about. It all comes to love”, Peter N on the NDERF site.
“I was also flooded in an all encompassing unconditionally loving energy. It was an energy of unconditional love, an energy that does not discriminate or judge”, Anita M on NDERF site.
“Love is…the basis of everything…In its purest and most powerful form this love… is unconditional. This is the reality of realities, the incomprehensible glorious truth of truths that lives and breathes at the core of everything that exists or that will ever exist and no remotely accurate understanding of who and what we are can be achieved by anyone who does not know it…this is not only the single most important emotional truth in the universe but also the single most important scientific truth as well”, Eben Alexander in Proof of Heaven.
“The light was everywhere and everything…the loving Source of all that exists, the God of truth and unconditional love….the light was love and love was God…I came to the rapturous awareness of the infinite nature of God’s love…God is only love, nothing other than love. The only reality is God and God is love”, Linda Stewart on NDERF site.
“Only love was real”, unknown.
“God does not judge, he just loves us with unconditional love, this love is indescribable, it is not like what we feel on earth. This is rather a force-love”, Leonard on NDERF site.
“It is all about love…God is only love”, Mary W on NDERF site.
“It is a true experience of inexpressible love. It is a love that can never be adequately described with words…there is no death, there is no judgment, there is no punishment, there is no fear”, Andrew P on NDERF site.
“I now know that there is no hell”, Bolette L on NDERF site.
“All was love…I was able to perceive all the energy that creates physical reality. I could see the sparkling particles connecting and webbing all things together. I felt totally embraced in pure unconditional love…all is connected, all is one and all is love…love is kind of like gravity, but it encompasses all things”, Robyn on NDERF site.
The following excerpts are from Dr. Jeffery Long’s personal research on unconditional love as expressed in NDE accounts.
“I felt so loved, greater than is possible in our earthly life…(love) it was everywhere…I knew love was the greatest force around us and that we are all love and love is the only thing that is real…Love was everywhere. It permeated the afterlife. It was incredible…I was loved unconditionally despite my faults and fears…the paramount element of reality…
“I knew the being I met was composed in its very atoms of a substance I can only call love and that substance created or was a force or power, like electricity is here. Love is the only word I have….It was total love, everything is love…I felt pure love and the feeling of safety…Everything was love…Love is the root of all. It is the alpha and omega…
“Love is everything…All of it was unconditional…no judgments whatsoever attached…I was loved and it was unconditional….We on earth have no concept of true love…A love so great and peaceful as it enveloped my whole being…Oh God, it was all love. Unbelievable love everywhere….Love and energy is what the other side is based on…
“The void is unconditional love…the void was love. It was the source of love…The bright white light was complete and total unconditional perfect love…unconditional love. Absolutely no fear at all…The entire experience was one of unfathomable love…We are loved, not in the human love definition…in a universal way…
“Love is all that is…the word ‘love’ is only the closest word we have- its not really accurate but I can’t do any better with our language…Love was everywhere…everything was love….I was enveloped with unconditional love and knew that was to be how I should live. It is our essence…Unconditional love and forgiveness is what the universe and life are all about….
“All is love and everything is love…Love was the most powerful, permeating feeling. I feel that I learned that love is everything, the oneness that binds us together…God is in everyone of us as love…love is what life is all about…I felt the love of God is in each of us and that it is unconditional…I felt as if I had found the eternal fountain of love and I was splashing around in it…
“The overwhelming vibe from the light beings was love. It almost felt like love was the glue holding everything together…it is all consuming, all forgiving…everything is love…God’s love is pure and unconditional. This came through very clearly…I was safe and surrounded by love that I couldn’t even fathom…
“I was simply wrapped up in the indescribable bliss I felt from head to toe. It wasn’t like love on earth…out of this world love… intensified by a trillion…makes you happy, times a trillion…I felt the warmth of love all around me…God is love…It is beyond words. I have not seen that kind of love in this lifetime…complete love and acceptance…
“Love is all there is….Yes, yes, yes. It was all pure love. God is love and everything exists because of the pure unconditional love. I was surrounded by pure love…a feeling of overwhelming love…”. There is much more throughout near-death experience literature and research.
This site is dedicated to understanding the fundamental themes of our grand narratives (the great stories or worldviews that we live by) and how these themes impact our lives for better or worse. We are committed to the discovery and outline of an authentically humane narrative to replace the less-than-human narratives that we have inherited from past generations. We value an authentically humane story because of the recognized fact that how we think- meaning the fundamental ideas and stories that we hold- profoundly shapes how we feel and act, and shapes the societies that we create. Our foundational ideas play a significant role in making life better or worse.
Decades of research have led some of us to conclude that two fundamental themes in particular have had overwhelmingly significant impact on our grand narratives. These themes are apocalyptic (a grand retaliation or punishment) and unconditional response (non-retaliation or authentic human relating and existence). Get these two fundamental themes clear (retaliation and non-retaliation), and their lines of historical descent, and you will get to the root of what went wrong in human understanding and life, and how to correct that.
Welcome also to the endeavor to explore the positive side of non-retaliation, the ever-unfolding wonder of unconditional reality. Unconditional love now gets us to the root of human meaning and purpose. Unconditional response and relating is the very heart and soul of authentic humanity. It is the very essence of the new human narrative which is about liberation from our animal past and our journey toward a future of truly human understanding and existence. It also answers our most basic questions about ultimate meaning and ultimate realities.
Recent Essays- “Decline or Rise?: The actual trajectory of life (see Decline or Rise in the topic bar above) and “From Retaliation to Unconditional Love” (see Retaliation/Unconditional in the topic bar above). Further below are two new essays on the Christian rejection of the original gospel of Jesus (unconditional love) for the entirely opposite gospel of retaliation theology (see “Entirely Opposite: A Shift Into Reverse” and “Christianity Got the Wrong Gospel”). These essays trace the fundamental error in ancient perception that there were retaliatory or punishing forces behind life. That distortion in ancient human understanding became deeply embedded in human mythologies, religions, and later in secularized systems of belief/thought (e.g. angry planet or revenge of GAIA).
Christianity is especially notable for taking up that ancient error of retaliatory deity and making that central to its belief system. This is expressed in the common New Testament teaching that God will punish humanity with a final apocalypse and judgment. With that emphasis Christianity has played a major historical role in affirming the ancient error that retaliation/punishment defined deity. Christianity is largely responsible for bringing this ancient retaliation error into modern Western consciousness and hence into contemporary world consciousness. The Christian version of retaliatory apocalypse extends beyond religious circles to influence secular systems of thought such as 19th Century Declinism and its stepchild environmentalism.
The fact that Christianity is most essentially a religion of apocalyptic retaliation has been noted by religious historians like James Tabor (see his Paul and Jesus: How the Apostle Transformed Christianity). Tabor argues that Christianity is Paul’s religion and apocalyptic influenced all that Paul said and did (e.g. his repeated theme of end-time consummation or transformation). The apocalyptic retaliation emphasis of Christianity is a profound contradiction of the central message of the historical Jesus.
Note also the autobiographical material (Leaving My Religion located in the “Autobiography” button above) is being updated as it was originally written over two decades ago. A new summarizing chapter (ch. 16) covers recent breakthroughs on unconditional response and relating.
Decline or Rise?- this essay tackles the most harmful narrative created by primitive minds, a template of themes that has persisted down into the present in both religious and secular versions (e.g. environmental alarmism). It includes the following perceptions- things were better in a past natural paradise, that paradise has been ruined by fallen/corrupted humanity, life is now declining toward some catastrophic apocalypse, and life needs to be purged of the corrupting element so that paradise can be restored. I am arguing in this essay that overwhelming evidence falsifies this narrative of apocalyptic despair and shows that life is not declining toward catastrophic ending, but, to the contrary, is rising toward something ever better. Some of that evidence can be found in material such as Julian Simon’s Ultimate Resource, Bjorn Lomborg’s Skeptical Environmentalist, Greg Easterbrook’s A Moment on the Earth, James Payne’s History of Force, and Stephen Pinker’s Better Angels of Our Nature, among others.
This apocalyptic narrative has caused immense damage to life by frightening people into salvation schemes that oppose and obstruct human progress (anti-development movements) when it is our very progress that enables us to properly care for life.
I have contrasted these two grand narratives of life- the narrative of apocalyptic decline and the narrative of progress- with some detail on their historical development and their impacts on life, and I have focused somewhat more on the latest version of apocalyptic declinism: environmentalism. The subject can be summed up in a quote from Thomas Macaulay (1830), “On what principle is it that when we see nothing but improvement behind us, we are to expect nothing but deterioration before us”.
From Retaliation to Unconditional This essay details the most fundamental mistake made in the history of human perception- the ancient belief that there were threatening and punitive gods behind life. Ancient people believed that the spirits/gods were retaliatory and would punish people for their imperfections and faults. This distorted perception is evident in the earliest written records of human thought, the mythological themes found on Sumerian cuneiform tablets (e.g. Flood apocalypse). When those early people projected retaliation onto deity they created super-monsters beyond any previously known monsters in life.
There is no more fundamental distortion in human understanding to correct than this belief in ultimate retaliatory forces.
Retaliation then became deeply embedded in human mythology and religious systems. It became buried in the wider public subconscious and it became part of the larger worldview or grand narrative of humanity. And this has caused immense damage to human consciousness and societies. We can trace the development of retaliation thinking down through history. It sparked the creation of apocalyptic mythology- the belief that retaliating gods would cause a final end to all life, a final retaliation or punishment known as the apocalypse.
This perception that there is a retaliating or punishing ultimate reality behind all life is a powerful religious belief that is still widely present in secular movements. We see it in the belief in an angry planet or the revenge of GAIA (and the great environmental collapse or apocalypse). For millennia now retaliation has shaped the very core of the narratives and belief systems of people and has thus presented to humanity a horrific distortion of reality and life.
This myth of monstrous threatening and retaliating entities has darkened human consciousness and held back the human spirit for millennia. It arouses the primal human fear of death, our most fundamental psychological motivation (Ernst Becker, The Denial of Death), and this pushes people into irrational responses to life. Fear of some grand end of life (apocalypse) has always stirred fear and panicked people to seek salvation schemes, no matter how irrational, to avoid the prophesied catastrophes. The aroused death fear also reverberates out to inflame other fears, anxieties, despair, depression, nihilism, and even violence toward others.
Retaliation also became central to human perceptions of justice as punishment. We see the consequence of this in the prison system- the punishment of people by locking them up (and this is not to deny the necessity of restraining violent people who cannot or will not control their worst impulses).
The fear of retaliatory deities is also behind the creation of all religion as systems of sacrifice and salvation. It is behind all religion as conditional existence- traditions that present the conditions necessary to appease and please the threatening and retaliatory gods. Religion as a condition oriented approach to God violates entirely the central teaching of the historical Jesus on unconditional love.
Fortunately, early people also initiated the discovery of a stunning new reality that counters entirely the retaliation error (see for instance, the 2200 BCE statement of the Akkadian Father’s advice to his son- Wikipedia). Those people began to discover that non-retaliation defined authentic humanity. They discovered that truly human relating and existence would involve no retaliation, no punishment, no threat, but rather unlimited forgiveness and generosity, unconditional inclusion and love. As well as being the supreme ideal for human response and existence, early people then realized that non-retaliation (unconditional love) also defined the basic nature of ultimate reality. This meant that behind all life there was no threat of retaliation but rather infinite goodness and generosity. The historical Jesus (entirely opposite to the Christian Jesus) expressed this new insight most coherently in his core gospel statement in Matthew 5:38-48, as well as elsewhere in his teaching. He stated that God did not retaliate against enemies but included all equally (sun and rain given generously to all alike, both just and unjust). He presented a radical new view of deity that broke entirely with all past perceptions of gods.
Early Christianity dismissed this message of its founding hero and opted instead for a retreat to primitive payback mythology, the retaliation and punishment of the apocalyptic template of ideas. This essay details this profound failure of Christianity. And while the Jesus Seminar points out numerous “dissimilarities” between the historical Jesus and the Christian Jesus it does not offer much on distinguishing his central theme of unconditional response and relating, in contrast to Christian payback theology.
What is the outcome of this new discovery that unconditional love is at the core of all reality? Most importantly, there is nothing to fear in the cosmos or life. There is no threat of ultimate retaliation, revenge, or punishment. Everything will be all right for everyone, ultimately. This is the most liberating insight to have ever entered human consciousness and it powerfully counters the ancient error that retaliation defined the gods. It is an insight that counters entirely the perceptions of threat, retaliation, or punishment with the new understanding that behind all reality there is Unconditional Love. Give this insight some space in human consciousness and watch it liberate the human spirit in potent new ways.
The Christian movement has rejected this great insight of the historical Jesus and has blocked the full liberation of human consciousness ever since. Christianity has been the main forum reinforcing the darkness and despair of apocalyptic mythology and Salvationism in modern consciousness, and Western consciousness in particular.
For more on the Christian rejection of unconditional response see the new collection of posts and short essays titled “Christianity Got the Wrong Gospel” under the Retaliation/Unconditional button in the title bar above.
And the latest is titled Entirely Opposite: A Shift Into Reverse (listed as Entirely Opposite, A Shift) also under the Retaliation/Unconditional button. This brief essay focuses on the Q gospel research, the earliest collections of Jesus’ sayings or gospel. That research has revealed a “stunning” shift from an original gospel that was non-apocalyptic (Q1) to a later apocalyptic version (Q2).
But this shift reveals something far more profound- it was actually a shift away from the non-retaliation theology of Jesus to the retaliation theology of Paul and Christianity. There is no more stunning contradiction between basic worldviews in one movement anywhere in history.
Jesus presented his radical new view of God clearly in Matthew 5:38-48. This is a direct statement that God does not retaliate, does not take revenge, or punish. This is argued first in the ethical ideal that we should not engage eye for eye (payback) justice but should instead love our enemies. Do not try to get even with others who have offended or wronged you. If we do this, says Jesus, then we will be just like God who does not retaliate but shows equal generosity to everyone alike, whether good or bad (e.g. sends sun and rain on the just and unjust). Every person is unconditionally forgiven, included, and loved. This is a striking new view of deity. All previous primitive belief held that the gods were angry, retaliatory, vengeful, and punishing and very much tribally oriented (favoring insiders, excluding outsiders).
Paul, and Christianity in general, rejected the new theology of Jesus and retreated to the opposite view that God does retaliate and punish. Paul’s God does not include all equally, nor love all unconditionally. His God first demands payment before forgiving (blood sacrifice), and then only includes those who believe the divine act of retaliation (the death of Jesus as a blood payment). Anyone who refuses to believe this myth will be punished and destroyed ultimately in hell. There is no inclusive love for enemies in Paul’s gospel.
This is the stunning conclusion from the Q shift- the theology of Paul and Christianity is entirely opposite to that of Jesus. Yet Paul tried to merge some of Jesus’ non-retaliatory teaching with his own beliefs. He did this by stating that we are not to take revenge (Romans 12) but should leave it to God to repay or avenge. Christians today continue to argue the same- we must not engage payback as Jesus taught but must let God take revenge for us. This oxymoronic mixing of complete opposites nullifies Jesus’ core message entirely.
So the Q shift from non-apocalyptic to apocalyptic is really a shift from non-retaliation back to retaliation. How so? Apocalyptic is all about retaliation, grand and ultimate retaliation by God. The shift to apocalyptic is most essentially a shift to retaliation. This is a stunning rejection of the original gospel of Jesus. You simply cannot merge and mix these two opposing views as Christianity has tried to do.
When we get the true nature of the Q shift clear, then it also becomes clear that Jesus could not have been an apocalyptic prophet as the New Testament and many biblical scholars claim. Remember, as noted just above, apocalyptic is most essentially about divine retaliation- grand and final retaliation by God. Jesus clearly taught that God did not retaliate so he could not have advocated for apocalyptic retaliation. To claim that he did so is absolute nonsense. He could not have been an apocalyptic prophet.
I am repeating myself here because this issue is just that important.
What are the larger ramifications of this? The Christian rejection of the original gospel of Jesus is illustrative of the larger human story. This narrative is about our liberation from an animal past (notably defined by retaliation) and our search for a more human future. Unfortunately, many have opposed this grand liberation and opted instead to maintain primitive payback response and existence. Christianity, with its maintenance of retaliation theology, has played a significant historical role in blocking the liberation into a more human world by advocating primitive payback thinking.
This is a greater scandal than the discovery of Jesus’ bones (i.e. the Jesus ossuary). It is one of history’s great blunders. You cannot find a greater contradiction anywhere in all of the Historical Jesus research (e.g. Jesus Seminar research that notes the dissimilarities between the historical Jesus and the Christian Jesus). The evidence is clear that Christianity developed a message that is entirely opposite to the teaching of the historical Jesus. Christianity outright rejected the non-retaliation gospel of Jesus. It refused to accept the core breakthrough insight of Jesus that God was authentic unconditional love. The outcome of this has been significant in terms of impact on human consciousness and behavior. It was an abandonment of a unique and fresh opportunity for liberation from our animal past and into a more humane existence.
I would further add that understanding the above contradiction does not depend on some Q Source or shift. It is clear from a simple look at the central teaching of Jesus in Matthew 5:38-48. Compare his comments there with the rest of the New Testament teaching on God as a retaliatory deity.
More detail: Let me further summarize the above essays and give some more concentrated focus to a central point:
For those interested in ultimate root causes or foundational issues I will summarize some very fundamental things that went wrong in the early construction of mythologies and belief systems that have continued to darken and debilitate human consciousness into the present.
I would point to two ideas/perceptions in particular that need to be isolated out and probed further. People ponder, for instance, questions such as why people today still believe life is getting worse when all evidence shows the opposite to be true. And it is helpful at one level to understand the role of the apocalyptic viewpoint behind this perception that life is declining. But as noted in the essay “From Retaliation to Unconditional” there is something even more fundamental that spawns apocalyptic mythology. And yes, understanding the primal human fear of death (Becker, Denial of Death) is part of this search for root causes.
To focus thinking and to go as fundamental as possible I would isolate the following two perceptions as the deeper root cause of apocalyptic/declinist thinking and at the basis of much related darkness, fear, and despair in human consciousness. These two perceptions have fueled the creation of a lot of harmful mythology over history.
Let me state it this way: the two worst mistakes made by early people in shaping human belief systems, mythologies, and religions were the perceptions that there was something threatening and punitive behind life and, second, that there was something fundamentally wrong with humanity. Mircea Eliade (History of Religious Ideas), for instance, notes the early belief that humanity was created from a partly demonic substance and humans were therefore fallen and corrupt.
In both of these perceptions there is the belief that something is fundamentally wrong at the core of things. At the core of some greater creating reality there is darkness, anger, or something retaliatory and punishing. And at the core of humanity there is something dark and destructive, something fundamentally wrong with being human. These are related perceptions (nasty gods, nasty people).
As noted in the essays, these two beliefs or perceptions are behind the creation of apocalyptic mythology and its twin, salvation mythology, and I would argue that they have done more damage to human consciousness over history than any other core beliefs or ideas.
Apocalyptic mythology is the result of the early endeavor to explain why there is catastrophe, suffering, and death in life. It claims that life was originally perfect but people have become corrupt and have ruined the original paradise. So the gods have punished people for their sin with catastrophe, suffering, and death. And the gods will deliver a final, grand punishment in the future in order to rectify all wrong and to clean up the mess that people have made, and then restore the original paradise.
But creative and meaning-seeking humanity has not taken the stance of passive resignation in the face of these horrific distortions in early worldviews. In the earliest human literature we find people searching for and giving expression to alternative insights that counter these dark myths and point toward entirely new directions for human understanding.
Note, for instance, the breakthrough insight into unconditional response toward others. There is an early expression of this in the Akkadian father’s advice to his son (circa 2000 BCE). This led to the developing understanding that supremely humane existence or life involved unconditional forgiveness, unconditional acceptance and inclusion of all, unconditional generosity toward undeserving others, and non-retaliation- in a word unconditional love.
This developing insight into unconditional relating points to a new height of what it means to be human and counters entirely the old beliefs in nasty gods and nasty people. From this emerging insight many people have now come to the entirely opposite perception that unconditional love defines ultimate reality (its true essence or nature or character). And unconditional love also defines the essential consciousness of humanity (our true self, our essential personhood- Karen Armstrong and Albert Nolan, among others, speak to something similar in arguing that the true nature of our essential self is love). Unconditional points to entirely new ways of perceiving the very essence of things.
The evidence that our essential consciousness is love (something fundamentally right with humanity) is seen in the fact that over history we have been rising endlessly toward something better than before. We are gradually learning to express and live our true nature as something good and creative. Julian Simon (Ultimate Resource) and Stephen Pinker (The Better Angels of Our Nature), among others, offer detailed evidence here of this human progress.
So this perception of something wrong in ultimate reality and something wrong with humanity, these are the two worst mistakes ever made concerning the core nature of things, and unconditional is the corrective response that points to entirely new and opposite realities at the heart of all things.
I see these root perceptions of some core nastiness still present all through contemporary thought and expression. We used to see it, for instance, in dark perceptions of the cosmological future- ideas of a degenerating universe (looming cosmological apocalypse under the dominating Second Law- something to worry yourself about now even though it may occur, as one person noted, many billions or even trillions of years in the future, or it may never occur at all in an eternally expanding cosmos). We have also seen it in beliefs regarding environmental collapse, or declinist beliefs in degenerating human civilization, or people getting worse, and on and on.
Overwhelming evidence falsifies this declinist belief in degenerating reality or history and points, instead, to endless progress into an open future, an infinitely unlimited future that develops toward something ever better. There is indeed evidence all around of something very Good at the core of all reality, life, and consciousness.
More “further” detail on above essays…
I have repeatedly argued that the contemporary movement of environmental alarmism is the current historical embodiment of apocalyptic mythology. This movement ramped up apocalyptic alarmism in the Post-WW2 era with repeated claims of looming catastrophe- disappearance of forests (a denuded planet), global cooling alarms of the 70s, mass starvation scares (Paul Erhlich- hundreds of millions would die), ocean fisheries collapse by 2048, agricultural soil degradation and looming food crisis, species holocaust with over half of all species extinct by the end of this century, and for decades now the alarm over global warming destroying life on the planet. And there were a variety of other alarms.
(Note: Pointing out the alarmist exaggeration of environmental issues is not to deny that real problems exist in many areas)
The impact of this environmental alarmism has been devastating to many people, and especially to children (the new condition of eco-anxiety). It has resulted in widespread endeavor to slow and even halt human economic development and growth which then perpetuates the misery and suffering of poverty. Environmental alarmism led Rachel Carson to advocate for a ban on DDT which subsequently resulted in the needless deaths of tens of millions of people, mostly children, over following decades. Environmental alarmism has led to opposition to GM foods (e.g. Golden Rice) and the unnecessary blindness of 8 million children over a recent 12 year period (see Bjorn Lomborg’s article “The unintended consequence of the anti-GMO movement: Blind Children” at the National Post website or at Slate.com). Note also the widespread suffering from fuel poverty in places like Britain and Germany due to alarmism over fossil fuels (see, for instance, the Global Warming Policy Foundation site and its newsletter CCNet).
The evidence on all the main indicators of life on Earth show that, yes, there are problems in varied areas that need attention and solving, but overall things are improving and life has never been better on the planet. There is no need to exaggerate environmental problems all out of proportion to reality and irresponsibly promote panic over the state of life on Earth. We are not exhausting resources and destroying nature. Earth is doing well.
If the facts do not support the alarmist’s viewpoint, what then motivates these people to repeatedly push a panic agenda? I would argue that it has to do with deeply rooted ideas inherited from an ancient past, notably primitive ideas such as are found in apocalyptic mythology that expresses the following basic themes- the past was better in an original golden age; corrupt people have destroyed that better past; life is now declining toward some catastropic collapse and ending known as the apocalypse; after which the world will be purged and a new utopia installed. This narrative is evident in contemporary secular ideologies such as environmentalism.
Evidence clearly shows that this alarmist narrative is entirely wrong.
But, as noted above, there is an even more powerful idea behind contemporary environmental alarmism. This gets even further into the root causes of apocalyptic alarmism. In the essay above- From Retaliation to Unconditional Love (again, see the button Retaliation/Unconditional)- I have traced the historical development of the distorted perception in primitive mythology that there is something threatening, something vengeful and punishing behind life, whether the spirits behind the forces of nature such as storm gods, or a council of gods threatening a great flood as in early Sumerian legends. This perception of retaliatory deity has been expressed in Western religious traditions as an angry, punitive God. More recently in history this perception has been given a more secularized outfitting and has been expressed in terms of an angry planet or an angry and vengeful GAIA (see, for example, James Lovelock’s The Revenge of GAIA).
The perception of something threatening and punishing behind life has done immense damage to human consciousness and society over history. The belief in punishing gods sparked the emergence of the salvation/sacrifice industry which has resulted in an incalculable waste of human time, energy, and resources. Note even today how environmental perceptions of an angry planet have led to major efforts to slow and halt human progress (e.g. making a sacrifice in the form of halting such things as fossil fuel use in order to “save the planet”). This is just more of the same old appeasement and sacrifice approach that has long hindered human liberation and progress.
But enough introduction- read the essay for more detail on the historical development of this idea of divine retaliation and the development of the counter theme of unconditional response that entirely invalidates the old retaliation mythology. These two themes- retaliation and unconditional love- came to a unique historical climax in the contrast between the historical Jesus (unconditional treatment of all people) and Christianity (highly conditional treatment of humanity and payback/salvation theology).
Other related essays available in the topic bar under Unconditional also point out that the core belief of Christianity in the death of Jesus as a sacrifice for sin nullifies the core message of Jesus regarding unconditional love. This central Christian belief has held many in bondage to the darkness of payback thinking for two millennia. The mistake made by early Christians was to create a new conditional payback message about the man that nullified the actual unconditional message of the man.
This contradiction is a more significant scandal than the discovery of the Jesus ossuary and the bones of his wife (see the James Cameron documentary aired on Discovery). This Christian distortion of the message of Jesus has far more damaging consequences for human freedom and progress.
Also, James Tabor has a new book out- Paul and Jesus- that makes the case that Christianity is Paul’s religion and Paul paid no attention to what Jesus actually said. He is among many (e.g. Jesus Seminar) that are affirming the notable contradiction between the historical Jesus and Christianity.
So the essays above under the tab titled Unconditional are statements of the plain meaning of unconditional. These essays offer some detail on how Christianity missed a great historical opportunity to liberate human consciousness from enslavement to payback thinking. See also the summary below for some further idea of the content of these essays.
Overall, what is this page about? Let me explain:
The most fundamental trend of all reality is to organize toward something better. The three great emergences of physical reality- the universe, biological life, and human civilization- overwhelmingly affirm this overall long-term trend of all things to improve, advance, develop, grow, and progress toward something better than what existed before. This is true despite aberrational setbacks, downturns, and disasters along the way.
But one of the dominant narratives that has governed public consciousness for most of human history, missed this rising trajectory entirely. That old narrative stated that all things originated in a Golden Age of perfection and power. Then the original people committed an error and this corrupted life and resulted in the subsequent decline of life, which, according to the old narrative, is supposedly now worsening and heading toward some catastrophic collapse and ending. This is known as apocalyptic mythology. It devalues humanity as a curse on the earth and it rails against the human embrace and enjoyment of life. It is a mythology that has produced endless guilt, fear, and despair over the future of life and civilization. Its most recent incarnation has been in the modern environmental movement which envisions coming ecological and civilizational collapse due to human engagement and use of the world. But this narrative of decline is an entirely wrong-headed perspective and it distorts completely the actual trajectory of life which is to endlessly progress toward something better.
This site will present evidence from varied sources that affirm the fundamental direction of life is toward progress, not decline. It will engage information and facts to inform a new grand narrative of hope, a narrative that will inspire public consciousness to embrace life with the knowledge that, despite aberrational setbacks and problems along the way, all things will continue to get better in the long run. Everything will get better, for everyone. The entire histories of the cosmos, life, and civilization are evidence of this trend. Progress toward something better is the core impulse behind all reality, life, and consciousness.
Affirming that life progresses does not mean denying or minimizing the suffering experienced in life and especially the suffering of conscious creatures. Accidents, setbacks, disease, and varied disasters are part of the progress of life and each presents its own problems. This page will also try to explore the mystery and meaning of such imperfection and its damaging consequences within the larger context of overall progress.
One foundational thing that we can build into a new narrative is that this basic trajectory of life to endlessly improve, speaks to the fact that the Ultimate Reality behind all things is not malicious, threatening, punishing, or vengeful as was the angry God of the old apocalyptic narrative. Rather, however one views ultimate explanations- spirit, Mind, universal consciousness, universe, Organizing Principle, Cosmic Self, or God- all the evidence points to ultimate reality being scandalously generous, forgiving, inclusive, and compassionate- in a word: Love. My own conclusion from all the evidence available is that Love, indeed, defines the ultimate reality behind everything. And it is a form of love that transcendently surpasses our common experience of love in this world. It is absolutely unconditional (unlimited, unqualified, unrestricted, unreserved, and unearned).
With this incomprehensible love at the core of all reality, there is nothing to be afraid of in this universe or world. As the old shaman said, “Do not be afraid of the universe”. Life is meant to be something that we embrace fully as an opportunity to live out our unique stories with all their diverse experiences, both positive and negative. Knowing that everything will get better in the long run and that everything will eventually be all right for everyone, this truth liberates us to live and to fulfill the purpose for which we have been born. A new grand narrative centered on love and hope, liberates us to explore and to fulfill our creative potential, whatever we might discover that to be.
Wendell Krossa firstname.lastname@example.org
A New Unconditional TOE (Theory of Everything)
(This is part of an ongoing effort to counter and correct the worst mistake made by early people, a mistake that continues to darken human consciousness in both religious and secular systems of thought/belief. The mistake?- that there are threatening, retaliatory, or punitive forces/spirits behind life)
I have a theory of everything but its not exactly like the TOEs of physics or cosmology. I draw on a variety of areas of human insight to inform my theory. And, as much as I appreciate science, I do not consider science to be the sole valid source of all truth or approach to attaining all truth. The mandate and method of science limits it to certain areas of exploration and it has done humanity well in focusing on its limited mandate. But to gain a full understanding of reality we need to include approaches like philosophy and theology, along with general human intuition and insight.
For my personal TOE, I draw on such things as the grand trajectories of the cosmos, life, and civilization. I see each of these great trajectories or emergences developing toward more order and complexity. I see them moving from something less developed toward something more developed, something more organized, something more advanced, something better than before. I see progress toward something better as the fundamental impulse operating in all these grand trends. There is overall improvement over the long term. That speaks to a fundamental goodness behind reality and life.
I also take note of how humanity has matured over history in understanding what it means to be authentically human. I find this in the insights of a wide variety of people over history. I see the Akkadian Father (circa 2200 BCE) encouraging his son to forgive his enemies and not retaliate against them. I see this same maturing understanding of more human response in many diverse traditions (see my essay Retaliation and Unconditional for detail).
I then see the historical Jesus (an entirely different person than the Christian Jesus) making his striking breakthrough in regard to theology. No one before him had ever stated such a stunning thing- that God did not retaliate or punish anyone. God was of the nature of unconditional love. God included all equally, forgave all endlessly, and was equally generous toward all, whether good or bad. And in many other sayings and short stories the historical Jesus expressed his view that there was unconditional goodness behind all things. He pointed to sun and rain given freely to all alike, to flowers clothed in beauty, to worthless birds fed and cared for. He consistently stated that there was no malice or threat or destructive force behind life. This contradicted all previous human understanding of divinity or gods.
And I read widely in near-death experiences of the similar discovery of an astounding love at the core of reality. It is not just love but a startling new perception of love. It is exactly what the historical Jesus tried to communicate. That God is of the nature of unconditional love, but of a quality that is infinitely and incomprehensibly better than the best that we can imagine. It is unconditional to inexpressible depth and profundity. People having experienced it can only “stammer hyperbole” (Ken Ring) in their efforts to express it. Words simply fail to communicate its full wonder and overwhelming intensity.
Some of the elements that define the incomprehensible nature of unconditional love include such things as endless forgiveness of all wrongs, unconditional inclusion/acceptance of all alike, and unlimited generosity toward all alike. “Give and do not expect anything in return” is another element of unconditional. And this is just getting started in understanding the real nature of unconditional love. At the center of it all is the scandalous wonder that is “unconditional” (absolutely no conditions).
Theology and religion in general have not fully engaged this NDE phenomenon and particularly the discovery of God as unconditional love. We can understand why. Unconditional love poses a direct threat to the very existence of religion as a tradition of conditions- the conditions required to appease and please threatening deities.
All these varied sources of information above lead me to affirm my TOE- that at the very core of all reality and life there is the infinite and incomprehensible wonder of unconditional Love. This Love creates all, sustains all in existence, permeates all, grants profound meaning and purpose to all, and warmly welcomes and embraces all in the end. And this means that all are safe, and everything will be all right for everyone, ultimately.
This is why some of us relentlessly go after the dark theology of apocalyptic. It distorts so entirely the nature of reality and life with its mythology of threatening, retaliatory, and punitive forces/gods. This sorry and primitive mythology has dominated human outlook over history, embedding itself in all of the main religious traditions, and now in most of our modern secular systems of thought/belief. This mythology of despair has terrorized human consciousness far too long with the fear of looming threat, punishment, and destruction. It has ruined the party of life and dragged down the human spirit with gloom over the future. It is entirely wrong and it has horribly distorted the true nature of reality and missed the fundamental trajectory of life to progress toward something better.
Unconditional love is central to any complete TOE. It is the ultimate explanation of reality and life. It is at the very heart of understanding human meaning and purpose.
I am presenting the basic structure of my TOE just to say with the ancient shaman, “Do not fear the universe”. Do not fear life, or anything.
But just a bit more- there is a sometimes intense reaction from people to the ideal of unconditional love. They claim that it is just too impractical to implement in our societies. They say that it violates the human sense of fairness and justice (justice as payback, getting what you deserve- this belief is deeply lodged in human subconscious). And they claim that it shows weakness, especially in the face of evil. It will only lead to more unnecessary suffering.
I would respond to such concerns by affirming first that an authentically humane God does not return harm to those who have caused harm (not in any future or ultimate sense). So at a minimum do not try to validate retaliation or payback justice by appeal to deity. It is just not there. A God of love, notably unconditional love, forgives all alike and endlessly, accepts all, and is generous toward all, both good and bad. Absolutely unconditional.
I would also affirm that a God of love sets people free and this may untie some mental knots for some. Freedom is tightly pair-bonded to genuine love. Both are sides of the same coin. You do not have love without freedom. But the risks of such freedom are significant. Humanity has been set free to learn what it means to be human and to grow and develop as authentically human. And our history shows how terrible the consequences of such freedom can be at times, the brutal manner in which we have treated one another on our journey to becoming more human. But that is the risk that love takes in granting true freedom. There is no other way to gain genuine human growth and response than by granting true freedom of choice.
Add here the element of natural freedom or freedom in nature. Despite the randomness of this element, and its terrifying consequences, this is still the best possible world (see for instance, William Hasker’s The Triumph of God Over Evil for detail).
The freedom in nature and human existence has caused endless confusion with people who expect God to intervene in life to change things, to prevent evil, and save the innocent. But a God of love does not do that. A God of love does not overrule human choice nor overwhelm human learning processes. Love respects the freedom of the other. It is up to us to make the choices to prevent evil, to protect the weak and helpless, and to make life something better. It is up to us to learn how to do the right thing, the human thing. This personal responsibility is absolutely necessary for authentic learning and growth.
So any basic understanding of love includes the responsibility to protect, to stop those who cannot or will not control their own worst impulses. And this will even include the imprisonment of those who engage repeated violence. But, as someone noted, in the spirit of unconditional love we do such things out of concern for the well-being of the offender. We are speaking here of restorative justice, not justice as punishment.
And for those who still consider the practice of unconditional love as exhibiting weakness, try practicing it for a week. Nothing takes more courage. Nothing is more difficult. Jesus’ statement “Love your enemies” is called a hard saying for good reason. It perplexes, inspires, and it frustrates but it is the most sublime thing ever thought or uttered by any person. It takes human ethics to entirely new heights. It takes the meaning of love magnitudes of order higher than ever conceived before. It liberates us from our brutal past like nothing else can. And it reveals the nature of ultimate reality (God) more profoundly than any other statement or definition. It is simply the greatest human insight ever. It gets to the real essence of things. Of what it means to be authentically human, and what God or the core of reality is all about. It is at the heart of any complete TOE.
And as I have argued with a friend, unconditional love is at the very basis of civilization and foundational things like commerce. Civilization began when early people, instead of killing one another as they had over all previous history, began to tolerate differences and mistakes, and learned to forgive and to cooperate for mutual advantage. They were then able to trade and live together (early urbanization) without destroying one another. They were practicing early forms of unconditional love and hence we have civilization today. Unconditional love, far from being impractical, is at the very basis of civilization and society and commerce.
Further note: regarding the idea of a TOE, some physicists will admit that a theory of everything will not provide answers to everything, especially a theory that is focused on all the relationships among physical reality. My TOE does not relate to anything like theoretical physics and the linking of all physical phenomena. A material TOE, like the proposed TOEs of physics, does not explain human consciousness and the fundamental human impulses for meaning and purpose. It does not explain some of the most basic and important things in reality and life.
When I employ the term TOE I am referring to something broader than just the material elements of reality. I am thinking more of the larger picture of reality and life. I am trying to understand the place of the supreme ideal of love in the cosmos and life. And humanity has been intuiting this over our history- the centrality and supremacy of love as our highest ideal. Our discovery of the supremacy of love in our own existence has led to the recognition that love also defines the creating Source of all reality. It defines deity, but to infinitely higher degree, to transcendent heights of the meaning of this ideal. To scandalous extent.
So I would suggest finally that to really understand reality and life in the most complete sense, and to fully understand what it means to be human, or the point of conscious human existence, then explore unconditional love for all you are worth. And note especially that defining word unconditional. Absolutely no conditions. Feel the scandal of this element. The offensiveness of it. How it upsets conventional perception of justice as payback, or punishment, or fairness.
There is nothing more important to get clear at the very core of all meaning or understanding than unconditional love. All else will be distorted or less than complete if you miss this core feature of reality.
Unconditional love is essential to any authentically humane worldview.
Brief Summary of Essays on Unconditional (a bit of comment on theology/spirituality)
Two millennia ago humanity was offered a unique new opportunity to exodus from the slavery of payback existence. An unprecedented discovery had been made that all reality was grounded in unconditional love and therefore every person was the beneficiary of an incomprehensible unconditional love and every person deserved to be treated with unconditional love. None excluded. This was the core message of the Palestinian secular sage Jesus, notably different from the Christian Jesus. His message was a direct counter to the impulses and responses that had prevented people from embracing the freedom to live as authentically human; primitive impulses to retaliate, exclude, dominate, and punish or destroy.
These impulses had long been embedded in systems of payback justice with its elements of wrongs committed, offended parties, deserved revenge, and just punishment. In place of this payback, unconditional love urged unconditional forgiveness, acceptance, and generosity toward all (and no, this was not a call to irresponsibly abandon the obligation to prevent abuse and protect the innocent). Unconditional love would include and honour every person equally, no matter what their status, reputation, or lifestyle.
The main precepts of the historical Jesus presented the first complete template of what unconditional relating meant. It was a love that generously gave to others without expecting repayment. It forgave endlessly (70 times 7, or unlimited) even without the offender seeking forgiveness or making amends first. It did not judge or condemn others. It did not dominate or control others. It was merciful and kind to the ungrateful and evil. After all, said Jesus, a God of love sent rain and sun on good and evil alike. Unconditional was summarized in the comprehensive statement to love your enemies and treat them as intimate family.
Unconditional meant that instead of payback thinking and responses, no conditions were to be set that would impinge on the full acceptance of anyone. No pre-requisite demands were to be made of anyone before offering full forgiveness and treating them with full generosity, mercy and kindness. No payment was to be demanded of anyone for any wrong committed. It meant absolutely no conditions in our treatment of others. Unconditional relating or love summarizes what have been called the ‘hard sayings’ of Jesus and they have been easier to deny or ignore than to implement. And once again, taking these sayings seriously does not mean that we abdicate our responsibility to prevent abuse and protect the innocent. This is not in question. We do not abandon common sense in the endeavor to practice love. Unconditional is more about how we view and treat offenders, even when restraint is required for people unable or unwilling to control their own worst impulses.
Unconditional was to be extended to the deepest recesses of human mental and emotional life, to the rooting out of any ideas that maintained payback in human worldviews, thereby darkening consciousness with unnecessary fear, anxiety, shame and despair. Such ideas include the still widespread beliefs in such things as divine retribution, divine judgment, and punishment in hell.
Unconditional, according to the historical Jesus, stated that God was not a God of get even or payback. God was not a God of vengeance that punishes enemies. As Jesus said, the God behind all reality sends sun and rain to the so-called good and evil alike. God is generous to all, not vengeful, exclusionary, or discriminatory.
We can safely conclude from such statements that there is no coming divine judgement, no divine retaliation, no punishment, and most importantly no Hell (still a widely held belief- 70% of Americans still believe in Hell). It is no longer tolerable to allow such barbaric myths to haunt human consciousness.
What happened to this great offer of liberation into unconditional thinking and existence?
The earliest Christians immediately reverted to payback views and interpreted Jesus’ teaching and life in these pagan terms after he died. How, exactly, did they do this? They claimed that the death of Jesus was a great divine sacrifice to pay for sin, that God first had to send his son to die for sin before he could forgive anyone. This teaching of sacrifice or payment introduces a supreme payback condition that distorts entirely the message of Jesus about unconditional forgiveness and love. It obliterates entirely the meaning of unconditional love as taught by Jesus. The payback theology of Christianity declares that God is not a God of unconditional love but a God of conditions, of full payment, vengeance, and punishment.
Reason it out for yourself: If the debt first had to be paid in full, then unconditional forgiveness is rendered unnecessary and meaningless. The debt has been paid. Forgiveness of any form is no longer needed. You cannot claim that God demanded full payment and at the same time say that God forgives and loves unconditionally. It is an irredeemable contradiction.
Authentic unconditional love, to the contrary, does not demand any payment first. A God who would demand payment first would know nothing of authentic unconditional forgiveness. A God who demanded any conditions be met first would also be held to a lower standard of behaviour and response than we imperfect humans are held to (we are clearly told to treat others unconditionally). Let’s not wrongly conclude that a supremely human God (Edward Schillebeeckx, “God is more human than any human being”) meets a lower standard of forgiveness and love than we do. That makes no sense at all.
Christianity, by creating this belief in divine payment, has inexcusably rejected the truth of unconditional love as taught by Jesus. By introducing a supreme prerequisite condition, Christianity has denied and nullified the core message of Jesus. It thereby missed the greatest opportunity in history to liberate humanity from the darkness of payback thinking and missed a singular opportunity to lead the human exodus into a truly humane existence.
The conclusion that the belief system of Christianity is a direct contradiction and distortion of the message of Jesus can be arrived at by employing such things as the good logic of the Jesus Seminar. They note, for instance, the statements attributed to Jesus in Matthew 11, where he apparently curses Capernaum. These statements, say the Seminar scholars, are not from the historical Jesus but are later additions put in his mouth by others advocating payback and trying to present him in such terms. To quote the Seminar scholars, “Jesus would not have condemned the towns that did not accept him. He would not have told Capernaum to go to Hell after instructing his disciples to love their enemies…the reference to the destruction of Sodom is inimical to someone who taught his disciples to love their enemies” (The Five Gospels, p.320). The logical point I take from this is that anything that contradicts the core message of Jesus to show unconditional love to all, is simply wrong and should be rejected as not authentic to his central message. That’s a great little rule of thumb when sorting out what is authentic to the historical Jesus and what is not.
Let me add that early Christians were not the first to miss an opportunity to liberate human consciousness. The Old Testament prophets had declared centuries earlier that God was not interested in sacrifice (conditions, payment, or punishment) but instead wanted mercy and the liberation of oppressed people. This was a striking new message of justice as liberation, not retaliation. But the message of the prophets was no more welcomed than Jesus’ message was, and it was subsequently buried under the priestly system of payback sacrifice. So Jesus’ emphasis on unconditional and the rejection of that unconditional insight was not without historical precedent.
There is no better insight into what that ultimate reality is than unconditional love. There is no higher point of enlightenment or more clear view of deity than this. This is the essence of the light behind all that is God. So if you want to know ultimate reality or God, as many claim, then explore unconditional love for all you are worth. Christianity has distorted entirely this essential nature of ultimate reality upon which we base all our other perceptions of material reality and life.
Now, is everyone waiting to embrace liberation into an existence of unconditional love and enter a new world of unconditional treatment of all people, no matter what they have done or not done?
Not so much. Authentic unconditional love has always been offensive to people who have invested their lives in the advocacy of systems of payback justice. They take offense at unconditional forgiveness just as Jonah took offense when God forgave his enemies. They respond like the older brother in the Prodigal Son parable who was offended when the father turned away the wasteful son’s offer of repentance and instead freely welcomed him home. The older brother felt the wasteful son should have been reprimanded and suffered some punishment. But the father would have none of it. He was moved by unconditional love.
For those willing to accept it, unconditional love liberates utterly from all fear of retaliation, exclusion, and punishment. It declares that there is nothing to fear in ultimate reality (God) because God does not retaliate against anyone or punish anyone. Unconditional love declares that every person is as fully forgiven, and accepted, and as loved as every other person. Everyone is ultimately safe in unconditional love. Unconditional liberates people in the depths of their consciousness from all forms of fear, anxiety, and darkness. It points to a genuinely humane existence of no barriers, no pre-requisites, unconditional forgiveness and acceptance, and unlimited generosity toward all. There is no obligation to believe something, join something, or to convert to something. Unconditional undermines religion entirely.
All that unconditional love urges is that we extend the same unconditional love to all others that has been extended to us.
Christianity has missed history’s greatest opportunity to liberate humanity and continues to block that liberation with a primitive belief system of conditions and payback. But despite this obstructionism, many people continue to find their way into the liberation of an unconditional humanity.
Let me add this for those who will try to dismiss this central theme of Jesus as too idealistic, impractical, or unworkable in real life. An embrace of unconditional love is not at all incompatible with the growing sensibility to all forms of inhumanity and a robust defense of people from the inhumanity of others who cannot or will not control their worst impulses.
(for more detail see essays above under ‘Unconditional’ and especially the essay From Retaliation to Unconditional Love) Contact: email@example.com
The Two Greatest Things
This page will unabashedly tell you the two most important things you can ever know about life. Those two things can be summed up in these two words- retaliation and unconditional.
What went wrong- humanity’s greatest mistake.
Retaliation epitomizes all that is wrong with life. Retaliation is about the endeavor to vent rage at another, to punish or get even, to dominate and destroy. Our mistake was to legitimize this ugly feature of our past, to embrace it in human existence (e.g. justice as payback), and to try to protect it under the sacred (to project it onto gods and thereby define gods as retaliatory/punitive entities). Retaliation thinking then became the essence of religion- how to appease angry, punishing gods (Salvationism) and the way to exact ultimate vengeance on enemies (e.g. the religious belief in ultimate apocalyptic punishment). Retaliation has darkened human consciousness like nothing else.
What went right- humanity’s greatest discovery.
Unconditional is the epitome of all that is right in life. We have come to the emerging and developing understanding that this feature defines the very essence of ultimate reality. It also defines authentic human response and existence- to treat every person with unconditional forgiveness, inclusion, and generosity, including our enemies. Unconditional is enlightenment, freedom and progress. It established the foundation of civilization when early people halted the cycles of payback violence to start trading, living together in larger groups (urbanization and domestication), and started cooperating to improve their lives and societies (the humanization of all life).
Unconditional also answers the fundamental human impulse for meaning and purpose (what does it mean to be truly human). It tells us why we are here and what is the most important thing that we can ever learn in life.
Copyright @ Wendell Krossa
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Everything Is Going To Be All Right
Posted on May 27, 2011 by Wendell Krossa
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged environmental, everything gets better, hope, human spirit, human story, new narrative, progress | 2 Comments