New material just below: Some stunning insights; “Reflecting” with Noel- how I arrived at unconditional as defining the core of reality (a “stunning new theology”); Decline to despair.
Section topics further below: Some opening qualifiers; The transformation and liberation of consciousness: The pathology of punitive, destroying God has long dominated mythology, religion, and is now given expression in “secular ideology” (i.e. vengeful Gaia, angry planet, retributive Universe, karma); The overdue replacement- unconditional deity; Climate insert- natural trumps human; The never-ending ending- Stephen Hawking joins the Chicken Little parade; Imperfection; Degenerating public discourse?; The story of improving life- hope overcoming fear; There is no monster; Bad ideas and their outcomes; A qualifier to calm religious nerves- affirming the good from religious traditions; The unconditional treatment of all and justice issues; Environmental alarmism; Bob Brinsmead’s posts and my responses.
Stunning stuff for the New Year
(Apocalyptic alarmism: Engage some ‘reverse engineering’. Trace ideas back to their historical roots. What incites and affirms harmful alarmism in Western consciousness?)
Environmental alarmism continues as a dominant note in contemporary world consciousness. And like all irresponsible alarmism it exaggerates and distorts the true state of things in life. The outcomes of alarmism have been devastatingly harmful to both humanity and life in general.
Alarmism incites people to embrace “salvation” schemes (i.e. save the world, save something) that too often unleash the old totalitarian impulse that is then expressed in “coercive purification” approaches. We saw this outcome with Marxism, Nazism, and we are now seeing it in environmentalism. And yes, also in Islamic extremism and terrorism. These apocalyptic purging movements are driven by the same core themes. (see Campbell below on common themes repeated across history and cultures)
Why does environmental alarmism continue to dominate human consciousness? Because it is based on the ideology of 19th Century Declinism that has become “the most dominant and influential theme in the twentieth century” (see full Herman quote below). Declinism promotes the view that life is degenerating/declining toward some disastrous collapse and ending. (“Each present historical moment is a degradation from previous historical moments”, Mircea Eliade)
And what shaped Declinism? Here we get to some more stunning and disorienting information. Declinism is a “secular” version of primitive apocalyptic themes (see Arthur Herman’s ‘The Idea of Decline in Western History’). How did those apocalyptic features get into the mix? Here is the disorienting stuff. They were borrowed from basic Christian ideas/themes.
Paul’s apocalyptic Christ myth has been primarily responsible for re-enforcing apocalyptic alarmist themes in Western consciousness (see the full Tabor quotes just below). How did this happen? Paul brought primitive apocalyptic mythology into Christianity as a central theme in his Christ myth. And there is an element of huge scandal here- he did that in direct contradiction to the central teaching of Historical Jesus that had finally broken the grip of apocalyptic mythology on human minds. Jesus had rejected the foundational pathology of a punitive, destroying God, a God who destroys the world in an apocalypse. See my post “Reflecting” just below.
If we are to “win the battle of ideas” with alarmist thinking, then we must confront the core themes/ideas that have long incited alarmism. Liberation from apocalyptic alarmism must include “winning the battle of ideas” at the level of the deeply embedded mythical and religious themes that are behind such alarmism.
It is not an unreasonably difficult project to trace the descent of bad religious ideas down through history and see how they have shaped diverse belief systems. Notable in this regard, the basic themes of primitive apocalyptic mythology have been given “secular” expression in the worldviews and ideologies of our modern era (again- note Declinism and its offspring, environmentalism). See the comments of mythologist Joseph Campbell below on the persistence of common basic themes in human worldviews over history.
And where are the news media with this information? They are supposed to be fact-checkers and truth-tellers. David Altheide isolated the general media agenda in “Creating Fear: News and the manufacture of crisis”. Many in news media are alarmists competing with the rest of the entertainment industry. What dominates the entertainment industry? Apocalyptic alarmism. Media love the ongoing alarmist hysteria with its endless “imminent end of days” scenarios.
(This material below skips a broad swath of pre-CE history to focus mainly on our Western tradition over the past two millennia. See “The Descent of Bad Ideas” in other sections below for more detail on pre-CE history.)
Getting right to the point...
Apocalyptic is the heart of Paul’s Christ myth. “Lord Jesus will come in blazing fire to punish and destroy those who do not believe our gospel” (my paraphrased summary of the prominent apocalyptic theme in his first letters, the brief missives to the Thessalonians). Paul’s apocalyptic Christ embodied some of the most primitive of ancient apocalyptic themes and his Christ myth then shaped the views of all the other New Testament writers that followed him, including the gospel writers. Paul wrote Thessalonians and his other letters in the 50s CE. Mark wrote his gospel around 70 CE. Luke and Matthew wrote their gospels around 80 CE. The book of Revelation wraps up the apocalyptic New Testament with an epitome statement of divine violence.
Paul’s Christ has shaped modern Western consciousness more than any other single idea or myth.
“Paul is the most influential person in human history, and realize it or not, he has shaped practically all we think about everything… (he has shaped) the West in particular… 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…” (James Tabor in Paul and Jesus, Preface).
Historical Jesus is not the Christian Christ
Jesus had introduced “a stunning new theology of a non-retaliatory God” (James Robinson). He had stated, “Do not engage eye for eye retaliation but instead love your enemy… because God does. God sends sun and rain on all alike, both good and bad”. The God of Jesus did not retaliate against bad people. And because his God did not retaliate, then that God would not engage the ultimate act of retaliation in an apocalypse (see “Reflecting” post below).
But Paul rejected that new theology of Jesus outright and retreated to the same old retaliatory God of all past mythology and religion. Paul stated his theology in quotes like this, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord” (Romans 12:17-20). Paul’s God/Christ was entirely contrary to the God of Jesus. Paul’s God would retaliate against bad people.
Tabor continues, “The message of Paul, which created Christianity as we know it, and the message of 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… (Further) Paul operated with a strongly apocalyptic perspective that influenced all he said or did” (James Tabor in Paul and Jesus, Preface, p.15). Tabor adds that Paul and others “deliberately obscured the original message of Jesus”.
Christian apocalyptic themes then eventually shaped 19th Century Declinism, which states that life is declining toward some disastrous collapse and ending. Declinism then “became arguably the single most dominant and influential theme in culture and politics in the twentieth century” (Arthur Herman in ‘The Idea of Decline in Western History’, Introduction). Declinism is the modern “secular” expression of apocalyptic mythology.
“Apocalyptic millennial” mythology embraces the millennial feature, stating that the apocalypse will purge corruption from the world so that the lost paradise can be restored, or a new utopia installed. Apocalyptic millennialism, as expressed in ideologies like Declinism, has been “the most violent and destructive idea in history” (Arthur Mendel in Vision and Violence). How so? Apocalyptic millennialism urges “coercive purification” approaches, and those have played a significant role in the mass-death movements of the past century (i.e. in Marxism- 100 million deaths, in Nazism- 50-60 million deaths, and in Rachel Carson’s apocalyptic narrative that led to tens of millions of deaths from 1970-2000 following the bad on DDT). For historical detail, see research of Arthur Herman, Richard Landes, Arthur Mendel, David Redles, and David Cook.
Apocalyptic millennial themes incite, guide, and validate the destruction of enemy others.
Apocalyptic millennialism continues to shape environmental alarmism today and continues to incite and validate the harmful outcomes of this primitive anti-human mythology. Again, apocalyptic millennialism has always incited “coercive purification” approaches (Richard Landes in Heaven On Earth). These alarmist-inspired movements try to save something that is believed to be under imminent threat. The manufactured threat demands immediate violent action to save the threatened thing (i.e. save Germany in Nazism, and in Marxism save civilization from capitalism). Today environmental alarmists urge the coercive purification of corrupt humanity itself which they view as a virus or cancer on the earth. They seek to “save the world” by blocking or purging human industrial civilization (i.e. hinder and prevent economic development and growth) so that the lost paradise of a wilderness world can be restored.
Apocalyptic millennial ideas also influence Islamic extremism and terrorism. See research of David Cook- e.g. Contemporary Muslim Apocalyptic Literature.
Why are news media not onto this incredible story of these bad ideas inciting such horrific movements of bad behavior? The violence experts keep telling us that we “must win the battle of ideas” if we are to achieve a more peaceful future. Well, here are the most damaging ideas of all. And detailed research has been done on the devastating outcomes of these ideas in varied movements over recent history.
The single most harmful idea at the core of the apocalyptic complex is the myth of an angry deity that threatens to punish and destroy bad people. This pathology has dominated and deformed human consciousness and worldviews in both religious and secular worldviews- i.e. punitive, destroying deity is now expressed in the myths of vengeful Gaia, angry planet, retributive Universe, and punishing karma.
Is it any wonder that with such an ultimate ideal and authority- i.e. punishing, destroying deity- many have committed violence toward others? People become just like the God/gods that they believe in. Where Mendel said that apocalyptic was the most destructive idea in history, I would further isolate and focus on the punitive deity at the core of apocalyptic as the most destructive idea/theme in history.
Note: Pointing out the dark side of Paul’s Christ is not denying that there are also some good features in the Christ. But when you mix good features with some of the worst of bad ideas like apocalyptic, you create problems like “cognitive dissonance” where the bad features overshadow, redefine, weaken, and even bury the better features. As a wisdom sage said, you cannot put new wine in rotten, leaky wineskins. You just ruin the good wine.
The prominent features of the Christ myth embody the worst of past mythology.
For example, in Paul’s Christ myth you have the feature of Zoroastrian dualism which is a form of primitive tribalism- i.e. the mythology of a cosmic good battling a cosmic evil. The cosmic dualism is played out in this-world dualisms and the demand for true believers to stand in opposition to differing others as unbelievers or enemies. Human dualisms are expressed in all sorts of religious, political, national, social, and racial divides. Such dualism buries the truth that the human family is one family.
You also have features like alpha domination in the claim that the Christ is a ruling Lord that demands subservience and worship (see also Alex Garcia’s Alpha God). The Christian Lord will eventually exclude and destroy unbelievers in an apocalypse and then hell. See the book of Revelation for graphic detail.
This oxymoronic mixture of good features with bad features was the point that Thomas Jefferson and Leo Tolstoy made. They said there was the brilliant insight of Jesus on non-retaliatory deity (i.e. a diamond/pearl) that was buried in Paul’s message of ultimate retaliation and destruction. Note also Zenon Lotufo’s good comment on this mixing of good ideas with bad ideas in ‘Cruel God, Kind God’.
Even more critical, the central insight of Jesus that God was no conditions Love was buried by the highly conditional God of Paul. This is the great scandal of Christianity. Paul’s God demanded that a supreme condition of an ultimate sacrifice must be met before he would forgive human imperfection. See Romans 1-5 for detail. The “no conditions God” of Jesus did not demand any sacrifice or conditions to be met. Note how Jesus made this no conditions point clear in parables like the Prodigal Son.
If we are to properly prevent the destructive outcomes from apocalyptic alarmism then we need to get busy and purge the deeply embedded themes of this mythology from human worldviews. We have the potent alternative in the profound discovery of historical Jesus- that God did not retaliate and punish/destroy, certainly not in an apocalypse. God was no conditions love that sends sun and rain on all alike, both good and bad. It is irresponsible to leave this diamond of an unconditional deity buried in a highly conditional atonement and apocalyptic context.
This Christ myth of Paul (retaliatory apocalyptic) continues to incite and affirm harmful alarmism in Western consciousness. It buries the single most profound insight in all history- the statement by Historical Jesus that there is no retaliating, apocalyptic God. There is only unconditional love and generosity behind life. See more detail in “Reflections” just below.
Reflecting (post to online discussion group):
(Note: I approach this “spiritual” material as a fierce Independent, sort of “spiritual but not religious”. I am not obligated to defend any religious tradition. However, I affirm with Thomas Jefferson and Leo Tolstoy that there is a “diamond/pearl” in the Christian New Testament, but it has been buried by the surrounding context. I have spent years trying to pull it out and clean it off. It is the diamond of unconditional, buried in the highly conditional religious context of Paul’s Christ myth, a myth that dominates all the New Testament writings, including the gospels.)
Noel, I have been reflecting on the journey of past decades and how I came to my conclusion that ultimate Reality, and ultimate truth, is unconditional. Unconditional is the core of my TOE (Theory of Everything). Unconditional is the foundational theme of a new grand narrative (master-story) that I would offer.
Let me outline how I made my personal breakthrough.
Over previous decades I had taken some provoking comment from varied sources. Bob Brinsmead, for instance, made a brief comment in the early 90s that he did not accept environmental apocalyptic and he urged us to read Julian Simon’s Ultimate Resource. I had also read James Robinson in the 1990s and must have had his comment in the back of my mind somewhere- i.e. “the stunning new non-retaliatory theology of Jesus”.
Then in the late Oughts, Benny Peiser urged me to do that Decline or Rise report and I wrestled again with the apocalyptic issue, as expressed in 19th Century Declinism and environmental alarmism. I then revisited the mythical/religious roots of apocalyptic, and I wrestled especially with Matthew 5:38-48. I read extensively the “Q Wisdom Sayings Gospel” research, some of which makes the argument that Matthew 5:38-48, and the similar Luke 6:27-36 statement, expressed the core teaching of Historical Jesus. It presented the cohering center of his message, his main theme.
I would argue that this hard saying to “love enemies as God does” is one of the most profound statements of authentic love in all of human literature. It presents a devastating blow to the apocalyptic pathology.
I also had Clifford Geertz’s work in mind from an Asian Studies course that I did at UBC in the late 80s or early 90s. Geertz outlined the behavior/belief relationship that has been so dominant to humanity across history. People across the world have always tried to model their behavior and societies according to some divine ideal or pattern. Note the Israelites in the Old Testament, for example. They believed that they were following a law or word of God in all the details of their lives.
Matt.5 then became clear. Jesus said, “Do not retaliate (no more ‘eye for eye’, no hitting back) but, instead, love your enemies”. And then- this is my critical point- he went on to base this non-retaliatory behavior on a new theology of a non-retaliatory God (relating a behavior to an identical belief). He basically said, “Do this (no more eye for eye)…because God does this. This is what God is like”. God does not retaliate against God’s enemies. God does not “get even” with bad people. Be non-retaliatory because God is non-retaliatory. Love even your enemy because God loves all (both friends and enemies) the same.
But more than just Robinson’s point about a “stunning new non-retaliatory theology”, the Matthew 5 passage pointed to something much more profound and revolutionary- to the broader reality that God was “absolutely no conditions love”.
How did Jesus make this broader unconditional point? He added other statements such as- “God sends sun and rain on all alike, both good and bad”. With an unconditional God there was no discrimination between good and bad people, and no exclusion of the bad guys. We can safely conclude this means that there is no punishment or destruction of anyone, which is what retaliation/retribution theology had always argued across history (i.e. bad guys will get their just deserts somewhere, sometime). All historical religion had affirmed some form of ultimate payback theology, long arguing that God was the ultimate source of final reckoning, judgment, exclusion of unbelievers, and punishment/destruction of bad people.
Jesus was repudiating that retaliatory theology entirely and stating more broadly that God loved universally, with unlimited forgiveness and generosity. Which is also to say- there were absolutely no conditions to meet in order to be included in God’s mercy, forgiveness, or generosity. God was, indeed, authentic unconditional Love. Bad people were also freely included in the unconditional love and generosity of God.
In this potent Matthew 5 statement, Jesus overturned of the entire history of bad religious ideas by going directly to the foundational bad idea of punitive, destroying God and rejecting that outright.
Once again, make all the obvious logical conclusions from this stunning new theology. Jesus was saying that there was no ultimate judgment, no ultimate punishment, and no ultimate destruction of anyone. Just as important, he was saying that there was no “here and now” punishment or destruction. This was evident in the common fact that the goodness and generosity of life- sun and rain- was given to all alike. The natural world was evidence of the goodness and generosity of God toward all people.
We can certainly conclude that Jesus’ new non-retaliatory theology means no apocalypse or hell- the epitome expressions of divine retaliation, punishment, and destruction. If Jesus taught that God does not retaliate, then God will not engage the ultimate act of retaliation in a world-destroying apocalypse.
Paul missed this essential point in the gospel of Jesus and, instead, embraced the primitive view of a punitive deity that would engage ultimate retaliation in apocalyptic destruction. See his Thessalonians letters for the presentation of his retaliatory, apocalyptic Christ, and Romans 12:17-20 for the direct statement of his retaliatory theology (i.e. “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord”). Paul shaped the thinking of the rest of the New Testament writers. He created the apocalyptic Christian religion that we have today (see James Tabor’s summary statements in “Paul and Jesus”).
That section in Matthew 5 (similar to Luke 6) was pointing clearly to much more than just the feature of non-retaliation. It was pointing to the greater scandal and wonder of “unconditional” love. Absolutely no conditions Love. And that was the single greatest breakthrough in human thought ever. Never before in history had anyone made such a breakthrough in God theory- concluding that there was no punishing, destroying deity behind life. There was only “no conditions Love” at the core of reality. While all previous gods had nicer features projected onto them (i.e. kindness, mercy), the core of historical deity theory was still defined by the elements of punishment and ultimate destruction.
Just to refresh visitor’s minds, here is my paraphrased summary of the Matt.5:38-48 and Luke 6:27-36 statements, the single most profound statement on love to be found anywhere in human literature.
“You have heard it said, ‘An eye for an eye’… but I tell you ‘Love your enemies’… (because God does this)… God causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you only love those who love you back, then what good is such limited and conditional tribal love? Even the primitives love like that, lending only to those who repay back. Be something much better. Bless those who curse you. Give to those who will not pay back. Pray for those who mistreat you, that you may be the true children of your divine Parent (i.e. be like God). Be unconditionally merciful and loving like your divine Parent is unconditionally merciful and loving”.
The other statements in the Matt.5 and Luke 6 sections further explain the unconditional nature of God. They add detail as to how we should behave because that is what God is like. For instance, Jesus said that we should “give and expect nothing in return”. There should be no expectation of payment for good done, which is to say- no sense of tit for tat obligation. I would argue that this works both ways, whether expectation of good returned for good done, or bad returned for bad done.
Jesus rejected that natural expectation of fair return. He urged people to just love disinterestedly, without any expectation of some return in kind. He argued that God just loved without expectation of return payment. This feature overturned entirely the essence of atonement thinking that had always been based on the belief that there must be some proper payment or payback, like all expectation of equal exchange in any relating (i.e. good for good, bad for bad). This belief in payback had always stirred expectation for fair or just payment (i.e. just return or consequence).
I am arguing that this expectation of just and fair response applies to the negative side also, that just as most people expect some good response for good shown, so there must also be some payment or punishment for wrong done (i.e. a sacrifice). There is no free and unlimited generosity in traditional atonement thinking.
This expectation of tit for tat return is deeply ingrained in human consciousness. Most people across history have embraced the expectation of some fair and equal return- i.e. good for good, and bad for bad. We accept as a fundamental given that good must be rewarded and bad must be punished, somehow, somewhere. We cannot just forgive entirely and let bad go without some form of payment, some form of tit for tat. Yet these statements of Jesus affirm that authentic love is entirely unconditional. It just gives expecting nothing in return- no conventional “just” outcome or return. We are to love anyway with no expectation of reward for good or punishment for bad.
Most people instinctively reject this radical teaching of Jesus because it offends all common sense of proper justice and right. Most cannot embrace the idea of expressing absolutely no conditions love toward the unresponsive. And this rejection of the unconditional treatment of all others is felt even more intensely against the thought of unconditional mercy and forgiveness for wrong done.
Yet, most parents and spouses express such unconditional love toward human imperfection and failure on a daily basis (i.e. but yes, safely within the confines of some “tribal”, family, or friendship grouping).
(Again, qualifiers throughout this site note that in this world, people are held responsible for bad behavior as part of the normal functioning of a society- i.e. natural and social consequences as part of normal human development and to protect others. But we argue that all enforcement of accountability for bad behavior should be done with unconditionally restorative intent toward all people.)
A further element in these Matthew and Luke statements: Jesus argued that authentic love- the love of God- was not tribal. It was not limited by tribal considerations. God does not just love those who love in return, as family and friends do, as the primitive tribal people do toward one another. No, God does not love in that tribally-limited manner. God loves in an unlimited manner, not just favoring or loving fellow in-group members that return love in kind. God loves all in the one human family, both good and bad (i.e. in religious parlance- both believers and unbelievers). That is, again, pointing to a genuinely universal love, an absolutely unconditional love. Non-tribal love.
All the statements in Matthew 5:38-48 are pointing to an unconditionally loving God as the basis for the unconditional treatment of all people, whether good or bad.
This is the single greatest statement on authentic love anywhere in human literature.
Common elements in nature affirming the new unconditional deity
Once again, the core teaching of Historical Jesus pointed to a stunning new theology that was something far more profound than just non-retaliation, as Robinson said. Jesus pointed to a scandalous love that is absolutely unconditional. He stated that God was an absolutely unconditional reality. And he understood the sense of scandal that this evoked in most people who embraced the common understanding of justice as some form of payback or fairness (i.e. reward the good, punish the bad).
Jesus understood that his new non-retaliatory, unconditional theology scandalized the conventional human sense of justice. He illustrated this scandal and offended sense of justice in his vineyard workers and prodigal son stories. Note the response of the all-day vineyard workers to the unlimited generosity of the owner- arguing with him that his generosity was not fair or just. Note the response of the older son to the unconditional forgiveness and generosity of the father toward the prodigal son, with no call for repentance or restitution. The Father called only for a celebration with no thought of punishment or demanded payment.
That unconditional generosity scandalized and offended the sense of justice and fairness of the good, moral people in those stories (i.e. the all-day workers and the older son).
If you are not disoriented and offended by the scandalous nature of unconditional love then you have not fully grasped it’s truly radical nature. It overturns entirely our age-old and deeply ingrained sense of justice and fairness in life.
Then note carefully the apparently peripheral comment near the end of the Matthew 5:38-48 passage where Jesus said, “God gives sun and rain to all alike, both good and bad”. That statement is nuclear in scale and impact. It goes to the core of all previous mythology and religion, to the very foundations of historical religion as Salvationism.
Religion across history has been built around the foundational idea of some punitive Force or Spirit- i.e. a punishing, destroying God. A God that metes out ultimate justice as some form of payback- i.e. rewarding the good, punishing the bad (e.g. “Vengeance is mine, I will repay”, Romans 12:17-20, and “I will give to everyone according to what he has done”, Revelation 22:12). All religion has been consistent in teaching a God that makes sure that all is ultimately made right in the cosmos and life, and that no bad deed goes unpunished (e.g. the Greek mythological theme of a “core Retribution” behind reality). Religions like Christianity present a God who remembers and punishes every fault even though that contradicts the love ideal of 1 Corinthians 13- i.e. “authentic Love keeps no record of wrongs”.
The Original Fail
The idea of a punishing God at the core or reality and life began with the original error in early human logic. How did that error first occur? The ancients believed that there were spirits or gods behind all the elements of the natural world. Gods of storm and thunder, sun gods, gods of trees, plants, and animals, gods of streams and rocks, and more. And because nature was often destructive- i.e. storm/flood, sun/drought, earthquake/tsunami, accident and disease- so the ancients concluded that the gods were angry and were punishing people for their sins, for human failure to obey taboos, or failure to make required offerings and sacrifices, and failure to worship as the gods demanded.
Ancient people had concluded that the gods punished people through nature. That was a fundamental given in primitive understanding. We see that in the earliest human writing, in the Sumerian Flood myth which states that a great flood would be punishment for the sins of early people.
That early logic became foundational to all religion- the belief that nature gave evidence of punitive, destroying deity behind all things. Also, religion as the institution of salvation grew out of that early error. From the beginning, the early shaman argued that they knew the secrets of the invisible spirit world and would tell their fellow tribe members how to appease the angry gods with blood sacrifice, how to make payment for wrong, or how to endure punishment for wrong against the gods (see John Pfeiffer’s Explosion: An inquiry into the origins of art and religion).
The belief that the gods ensured retribution then became fundamental to salvation thinking- i.e. that wrong had to be corrected, and things had to be made right again by some payment or punishment. The early shaman and priests would tell people how to be “saved” from punishment and destruction by making things right again. The conditions of sacrifice/payment had to be met. Debt had to be paid. There was nothing of authentically free mercy and forgiveness in Salvationism thinking. It was all about appeasing and pleasing highly conditional deity with required payment.
The idea of retribution and payment also became central to human understanding of justice. Payback shaped justice systems with an orientation to punishment.
In the Matthew 5 section Jesus rejected that thinking outright. He overturned the very foundation of all previous religion that was based on the core idea of punitive, retributive deity. He rejected all previous understanding of justice as the right to get even (eye for eye). He rejected the very basis of atonement theology- the myth of an offended God that demanded some necessary payment or punishment, some return for love shown or something given. Most critically, he rejected the basis for this payback or retributive thinking- that gods punished people through the varied elements and events of the natural world.
Jesus said, “No, nature does not affirm a punitive God. It affirms the exact opposite- unconditional or no conditions love”.
He appealed to two main features of nature, critical to human existence- i.e. sun and rain for crops. He stated that these two basic features of the natural world affirmed a core unconditional love. A God that loves all the same- both good and bad. Unconditionally. A God that does not discriminate, and does not separate, between good and bad. With an unconditional God there is no exclusion and punishment of the bad. There is only universal generosity and goodness toward all in the one human family. An unconditional God treats the bad in this world just the same as the good, with forgiveness, inclusion, and generous love. And apply this unconditional generosity even more to the next life.
Follow these core Jesus statements with the correct logical conclusions. His stunning new view of nature as exhibiting all-inclusive love means that there is no punishment of human sin or failure through nature. There is no exclusion or destruction of the bad. And Matt.7:1 adds to this new theology of non-retaliation with the admonition- “Do not judge”. There is no judgment of the bad. God does not judge the bad people, so do likewise. Treat them just as God does with no conditions love.
(Again, a note on a balancing qualifier: This site repeatedly deals with the need to hold people responsible for their behavior, to restrain violence and promote accountability, as vital to human development and maturity. It evokes a huge “Duh”, but we live in an imperfect world with natural and social consequences. But this does not weaken the point that every person is to be treated with unconditional respect, and with a restorative justice approach.)
The foundational historical understanding of deity as punitive and destructive, continues widely today. And the fundamental belief that God punishes bad people through nature and natural disaster still dominates human worldviews. Remember the response of American Christians after the hurricane Katrina- i.e. the argument that it was punishment for America’s sins. Other similar versions of this belief are seen in the widespread belief in the vengeance of Gaia, or the angry planet myth. Many today believe that global warming and projected destruction from environmental disasters are punishment for human greed and bad behavior in industrial society (i.e. human guilt for ruining the natural paradise). The global warming alarm, and environmental alarmism in general, illustrate the widespread persistence of this primal human fear of punishing gods venting anger and retributive justice through nature.
We saw this primitive belief expressed by the Japanese woman after the 2011 tsunami. She asked, “Are we being punished?” This belief continues today in the common street-level embrace of punishing karma. It is the same old error.
The Jesus insight affirms that there is no vengeful Gaia, no angry planet, no retributive Universe, and no punitive karma. There never has been any such ultimate payback reality behind nature.
Christianity embraces a Core Retribution
Unfortunately, Paul rejected the stunning new non-retaliatory theology of Jesus and, in a shameful retreat, embraced the primitive view that God punished sin through features of the natural world and life. He embraced the primitive myth that disease/sickness was punishment from God. All through his first Corinthian letter he warns Christians that God is destroying them through sickness and death as punishment for their immorality and other sins. He claimed that they were being judged and punished with sickness and death for such things as improper protocol when eating the Lord’s Supper. He even referred to the ancient Israelite situation and stated that God punished the Israelite’s immorality with poisonous snakes that killed thousands. Paul promoted the primitive belief that God punished people through nature- through natural disaster, disease, accident, or animal attack.
Paul, in general, embraced a theology of ultimate retaliation, ultimate conditionalism. See his Thessalonian and Roman letters (e.g. Romans 12:17-20).
Jesus had rejected this primitive mythology of ultimate retribution or punishment. Note also his comment that the man born blind was not evidence of God punishing sin through nature (i.e. he was not blind as punishment for his parent’s sin).
The belief that nature offers evidence of punishing deity has added an immense burden of guilt, shame, and fear to human physical suffering across the millennia. The sense of being punished for being bad has further traumatized already suffering people. It has all been a great lie. There has never been any such reality as a punitive God behind the natural world.
Thematic Coherence in the Jesus Tradition
This theme of unconditional love is evident all through the Jesus tradition. Unconditional love gives “thematic coherence” to Jesus’ teaching (a cohering central theme). And non-retaliation is just one negative feature in the mix of his unconditional teaching.
Note, once again, his comment in Matthew 7:1- “Do not judge”. Authentic love does not engage condemnatory judgment of imperfect others. It recognizes the speck in other’s eyes, but then focuses more on dealing with the beam in it’s own eye.
Note also Jesus’ comment to forgive “seventy times seven”, or in an unlimited, unconditional manner. And note his unrestricted, non-discriminatory inclusion of the “bad folk” (“sinners”) at table fellowship, and in other situations. Consider his non-condemnatory, no punishment statement to the woman caught in adultery (and yes, he also urged her to be responsible for her bad behavior, to stop her bad behavior). And again, remember his two parables of the vineyard owner/workers, and the Prodigal son, where he points to unconditional forgiveness and generosity. He consistently advocated a mercy and love that was unlimited, unconditional toward both the good and the bad.
Further affirmation of unconditional theology
I later read the Near-Death Experience material and that added graphic detail to this theme of unconditional. Numbers of those accounts stated that there was no future judgment, no Hell, no condemnation, and that no salvation was needed for acceptance by God (i.e. atonement, payment, or punishment). All people were ultimately included and safe in love. The NDE accounts stated that the defining core of God was unconditional love of an inexpressibly wondrous nature.
(Just an aside- I had to poke Bob for months on this point, from the Fall of one year into the Spring/Summer of the next. Then the penny dropped, on the no-apocalyptic thing in particular, as one important element in this. To me, it was critical to seeing the overall picture of unconditional clearly. If, as Jesus said, do not retaliate because God does not retaliate, then there will be no apocalypse which is a great act of divine retaliation. God as unconditional love will not do that.)
And to qualify- it is important to not view the Jesus material as authoritative for establishing unconditional at the core of meaning/reality. The Jesus tradition is simply illustrative and useful because you can touch on it as respected by so many people (i.e. a great religious icon). But beware the Biblicist mind that views Jesus and the Christian Bible as some final authority. No, it’s better to appeal to common parenting, spousal relating, human friendship, common human rights codes, and many familiar examples of unconditional love from history (e.g. Mandela, the Railway man). Unconditional in common humanity is the authoritative basis for establishing the truth of unconditional love. We then project out from humanity to establish that God is unconditional love, but to transcendent degree in deity. We do theology from common humanity and then project the best in humanity out to deity. We do not do theology primarily from some religious holy book or religious icon.
From this baseline of unconditional I rethought everything- the meaning of the cosmos and life in this world. And the imperfection problem. I came to view life as a learning arena for human experience and development, where we come to learn how to love unconditionally, how to be god-like, or better, how to become authentically human. And we develop and learn to be human by struggling with imperfection and inhumanity. We develop empathy and compassion from suffering in an imperfect world, by struggling with imperfection and trying to create something better.
Then, taking Joseph Campbell’s story outline further, I would argue that the real enemy and monster that we face in life is our common animal inheritance. Unconditional is the sword to slay the impulses of the animal most effectively. Unconditional counters the animal drives to tribal exclusion, to domination, and to destruction of the outsider. Unconditional inspires our human impulses to include all, to forgive all, to treat all restoratively.
Unconditional makes the best sense of this world and its imperfection and suffering. It offers a potent new center or core for a new human grand narrative. The original error that deformed early human consciousness was the myth of a punitive, destroying God at the core of reality and life. That became the foundational idea behind all religion as Salvationism- how to appease and please God. Unconditional guts and overturns that central pathology entirely.
This is the most critical point- unconditional goes to the taproot- the worst idea ever- to the primitive center of historical mythology, religion, and ideology- and overturns that pathology of a punitive, destroying God, whether in religious versions, or Gaia, angry planet, retributive Universe, or karma.
Unconditional offers the greatest liberation and transformation of consciousness and life ever imagined. It deals potently with the primal human fear of death and after-life harm (Michael Grosso). There is no ultimate threat.
And then you include all the qualifiers on how to engage unconditional respect for all in this imperfect world. You note that love is responsible to protect, to restrain violence/evil, to hold accountable/responsible, but to do so restoratively. Justice as restorative, rehabilitative. We do this as much as is possible given pathologies like psychopathy (also treated restoratively even if you have to throw the key away).
Add to this- the most humane thing you can think of in human attitude and behavior. That points to Ultimate Goodness.
I urge- let unconditional explode in your consciousness. Let it offend your sense of justice and fairness just like it offended the all-day vineyard workers and the older son in the Prodigal parable. Let it disorient your understanding of justice as righteous payback- reward the good, punish the bad. Let it scandalize your sense of right. Mostly, let it stir some sense of the wonder of an inexpressible love behind all reality and life.
Decline to despair
19th Century Declinism “is arguably the single most dominant and influential theme in culture and politics in the twentieth century”, (Arthur Herman in The Idea of Decline in Western History). Declinism states that life is degenerating toward some disastrous collapse and ending due to human excess in industrial society. Declinism is the mother of environmental alarmism and climate change alarmism.
Declinism, as expressed in climate alarmism, is just the latest expression of primitive “end of days” apocalyptic mythology. Apocalyptic appears in the earliest human writing- in the Sumerian Flood myth. Apocalyptic then lodged itself at the core of human consciousness and has been given endless prominence in human worldviews across history and cultures.
Despite its persistence in human worldviews, there has never been an apocalyptic ending to the world and there never will be. James Hansen’s 2008 prophesy- “It’s all over in five years”- was just one more failed prediction of the end of days. Apocalyptic is a great fraud and lie that distorts entirely the actual long-term trajectory of life to improve gradually toward something better than before. Life has risen endlessly toward something better and has not declined toward something worse.
Yet the primitive myth of apocalyptic persists in dominating and enslaving human consciousness with fear and despair. It feeds the tendency to self-fulfilling prophecy, pushing people toward fatalism and resignation in the face of problems. Much like Paul Ehrlich stated in the face of potential widespread starvation, “Let India go down the drain”.
But if apocalyptic serves the purpose of providing good fright night entertainment, why get our undies tied in knots over it?
Because the outcomes of apocalyptic have been horrifically destructive to both people and nature. Apocalyptic has been “the most violent and destructive idea in history” (Arthur Mendel in Vision and violence). “Apocalyptic millennialism” was a critical inciting force behind the 100 million deaths from Marxism (see Richard Landes’ Heaven on Earth). Apocalyptic millennialism was behind Nazism and its 50-60 million deaths (see David Redles’ Hitler’s Millennial Reich). Rachel Carson’s apocalyptic narrative in Silent Spring resulted in tens of millions of unnecessary deaths from the subsequent ban on DDT. Apocalyptic continues to wreak damage in the trillions of dollars from environmental alarmist crusade against fossil fuels and general blockage of economic development.
Yes, apocalyptic is the most violent and destructive idea in history.
Now a disorienting fact: Apocalyptic mythology entered our Western tradition via Paul’s apocalyptic Christ myth (see his first writing- the Thessalonian letters). James Tabor notes this in his book ‘Paul and Jesus’, “Apocalyptic influenced all that Paul said and did”.
If we are to win the battle of ideas with those bad ideas that have incited so much bad behavior over history then apocalyptic is one foundational bad idea that must be challenged and purged.
Certainly, go after the shoddy science that embraces apocalyptic declinism. And go after the bad ideology behind science that also embraces apocalyptic themes (see Michael Hart’s ‘Hubris: the troubling science, economics, and politics of climate change’, also Jeffrey Foss’s ‘Beyond Environmentalism’). And get a good grip on the true state of life on earth from researchers like Julian Simon (Ultimate Resource), Greg Easterbrook (A Moment on the Earth), Bjorn Lomborg (Skeptical Environmentalist), Ronald Bailey (The End of Doom), Indur Goklany (The Improving State of the World), Matt Ridley (Rational Optimist), and many others.
Understand the great trajectories of improvement that have dominated the cosmos, life, and civilization (James Payne- History of Force, Stephen Pinker- The Better Angels of Our Nature). Life has progressed endlessly from something initially worse, and toward something better.
Masses of good evidence expose the lie of apocalyptic decline toward disaster.
This site goes to the root themes behind apocalyptic mythology and offers a potent alternative. At the heart of apocalyptic is the primal fear of an angry deity that threatens to punish people for being bad. This myth still dominates the world religions and is also given “secular” expression in versions like the revenge of Gaia, angry planet, retributive Universe, or karma. It is the same old, same old pathology of some punitive, destroying Force or Spirit that will take vengeance on humanity, the “virus”, the “cancer” on the planet.
There has never been any such punitive, destroying deity. There has always been only Love at the core of reality- the scandal and wonder of “absolutely no conditions Love”. Let this explode in your consciousness and watch the chains fall away, the chains of primal fears and anxieties.
New Years project: A series of “stunning” insights/ideas. To spark new neuronal synapses and stave off declining brain performance. For your spare-time musing.
Countering the deep roots of anxiety, fear, depression, resignation, and despair in contemporary public consciousness.
The following ideas challenge deeply embedded bad ideas (subconscious even) that have deformed human consciousness for millennia. Notable here is the apocalyptic millennial complex of ideas- i.e. that life is declining toward disastrous ending where the world will be instantaneously purged of corruption and utopia installed.
These ideas have incited and validated too much bad behavior over history (“coercive purification” responses), even playing a significant role in the mass-death movements of the last century (e.g. Marxism, Nazism, environmental alarmism- see research of Arthur Herman, Richard Landes, Arthur Mendel, David Redles, David Cook, and others). As Arthur Mendel says, “Apocalyptic is the most violent and destructive idea in history”.
The key idea at the core of the apocalyptic complex is that of punitive, destroying deity. And people have always become just like the God that they believe in.
While varied other factors contribute to any incident of inhuman behavior- i.e. political, economic, social, and personal issues- do not ignore the role that is played by deeply embedded mythical themes (bad religious ideas) that continue to incite and validate human behavior.
“The fundamental themes of mythological thought have remained constant and universal, not only throughout history but also over the whole extent of mankind’s occupation of the earth”, Joseph Campbell in Myths To Live By.
Contrary to the endless alarmist narrative of imminent apocalypse, evidence is overwhelming that life is not declining toward something worse, toward some disaster and “end of days”. To the contrary, despite continuing problems across the world, the main elements of life have shown improvement over the long-term. Life, in general, has improved for most people. Read Julian Simon’s Ultimate Resource, and many similar studies, and build a good foundation for rational hope in your personal worldview.
Also challenge the anti-humanism in much contemporary religion and ideology. Recognize that people are not essentially evil and destructive, despite the awful behavior of some (those who do not know who they really are). All of us are most essentially beings of love. Love is the core nature of our authentic human self. This common love is evident in all ordinary human endeavor to improve life in diverse ways, and in all effort to promote common decency and goodness, to resolve conflict and foster peace and inclusion among people.
Most liberating for consciousness: There is no punitive, destroying Force or Spirit behind life. I would capitalize every word of this previous sentence. There has never been any retaliatory deity. Also, for you more “secular” types- reject contemporary “secular” versions of punitive deity mythology. There is no vengeful Gaia, no angry planet, no retributive Universe, and no punishing karma. There has never been any such reality behind life. These primitive myths continue to dominate and deform human consciousness in the modern world.
Most transformative for consciousness and for a new master story of life: Embrace the insight that there is only Love at the core of reality. Stunning, inexpressible “no conditions Love”. Everyone is ultimately safe in this Love. This ought to be the foundational idea for a new grand narrative of life.
This “spiritual” insight that scandalous unconditional Love is the true definition of deity, this resolves humanity’s two primal fears. (Note: Religious traditions muddle this unconditional feature by claiming that their deity loves unconditionally, but only after some supreme condition of sacrificial death is fulfilled. That is oxymoronic nonsense and it has produced endless “cognitive dissonance” in such traditions.)
First, an unconditional deity resolves the still widespread human fear of punishment through the natural world (i.e. the primitive belief that angry gods punished bad people through natural disaster, accident, or disease). Just as the Japanese woman asked after the 2011 tsunami, “Are we being punished?”
Second, a core unconditional Love resolves the primal human fear of some after-life exclusion, punishment, or harm. There is no such ultimate Threat. We are all ultimately safe in Love. Embrace the profound liberation this brings.
Leftover from 2017
“That awkward moment when it hits you that your life won’t last forever and you think about the people who you love deeply and thinking about it aches, and you don’t know if it’s because sometimes you love people so much it strangely hurts, or because you wonder if you missed opportunities to love them or could have loved them better… and you are reminded once again that there is nothing more important than love…
“The best that I know to say is- don’t leave love left undone. There may be things you don’t accomplish in this world… or attain… or achieve. But don’t let shrinking back from love be one of them. If you’re fortunate, what you discover in your life is that love is the only thing that really matters and love is all there is. On your way out of this world you’ll look back and see it was always about that… it was always love.” Jim Palmer
Section topics: Some opening qualifiers; The transformation and liberation of consciousness: The pathology of punitive, destroying God has long dominated mythology, religion, and is now given expression in “secular ideology” (i.e. vengeful Gaia, angry planet, retributive Universe, karma); The overdue replacement- unconditional deity; Climate insert- natural trumps human; The never-ending ending- Stephen Hawking joins the Chicken Little parade; Imperfection; Degenerating public discourse?; The story of improving life- hope overcoming fear; There is no monster; Bad ideas and their outcomes; A qualifier to calm religious nerves- affirming the good from religious traditions; The unconditional treatment of all and justice issues; Environmental alarmism; Bob Brinsmead’s posts and my responses. Read the rest of the opening comment here