18 of the worst, and 18 better alternatives- What shapes your narrative?

A reposting… Feel free to share this list anywhere… Revised, updated.

Humanity’s worst ideas, better alternatives, Old Story Themes, New Story Alternatives: Rethinking 18 of the most fundamental bad ideas from across human history, and presenting 18 alternative ideas to transform narratives, human consciousness/subconscious, and liberate the human spirit, Wendell Krossa

“Worst” because of the deforming influence of bad ideas on human thought, emotion, motivation, and response/behavior, notably in inciting and validating the base impulses to tribalism, domination, and punitive destruction of “enemies” or differing others (See comments of psychologists/theologians Harold Ellens and Zenon Lotufo in “Cruel God, Kind God” on the potent influence of “threat theology” beliefs in deforming human consciousness and personality).

(1) Old story theme: The myth of deity as a judging, punishing, and destroying reality that metes out final justice- i.e. rewarding the good, punishing the bad (i.e. threat theology affirming retributive justice). The myth of a “wrathful violent God” continues as the cohering center of the world religions and is now also given expression in “secular” versions such as “vengeful Gaia, angry planet, pissed Mother Earth, retributive Universe, and payback karma”- the new retaliatory, destroying gods of environmental alarmism, history’s latest apocalyptic movement. (Note: Western religious traditions have always affirmed violence in deities. Eastern traditions have similarly affirmed violence in deity as in “Lord Shiva the Destroyer”.)

The myth of God as a retaliating, punishing reality has long under-girded human justice systems as retaliatory and punitive. From early human beginnings, belief in a punitive deity has incited and validated the demand for punitive response to human imperfection and failure.

The primitive view of deity as punitive, i.e. God as the Ultimate Destroyer (via apocalypse, hell), is the single most important “bad idea” to engage and overturn. All other bad religious ideas are anchored to this foundational pathology in human thought, because deity has long functioned as the cohering center of human belief systems and narratives, and continues to do so today, even in “secularized, materialist” versions of theology/ultimate realities.

New story alternative: The “stunning new theology” that God (Ultimate Consciousness, Mind, Intelligence, Self/Personhood, Source, Transcendent Mystery) is an inexpressible “no conditions love”, a non-retaliatory Reality. The adjective “unconditional” points to our highest understanding of love. It is simply the best of being human and is therefore most critical for defining deity as transcendent “Goodness”.

Takeaway? There is no ultimate judgment, no ultimate exclusion of anyone, no demand for payment or sacrifice to appease angry deity, no need for redemption or salvation, and no ultimate punishment or destruction of anyone (no such mind-perverting horror as “hell”).

Why bother with these speculative metaphysical corrections? Concern for human well-being should include a response to humanity’s “primal fear of after-life harm” that is the personality-deforming outcome of millennia of shaman/priests/pastors beating bad religious ideas into human consciousness/subconscious. Fear of after-life harm adds intolerable sting to the already unbearable fear of death that many people suffer.

Also, we need to sever the age-old relationship of “bad beliefs validating bad behavior”. However you may try to affirm justice as punitive treatment of the failures of others, know that deity as unconditional reality does not validate such endeavors. See “The Christian Contradiction” below (Historical Jesus versus Paul’s Christ myth). http://www.wendellkrossa.com/?p=9533

None of the great world religions has ever presented the reality of an unconditional deity. All religion across history has been essentially about conditional reality- i.e. the required conditions to appease and please religious deities (i.e. conditions of correct belief, religious rituals required of insiders, demanded sacrifices/payment for wrong, and proper religious lifestyle as the identity marker of a true believer in the “true religion”, etc.).

Further, the new theology of God as unconditional Love overturns the singularly most psychologically damaging myth that has burdened and enslaved humanity from the beginning- the myth of divine retribution/punishment exhibited through the nastier elements of life. While there are natural and social consequences to living in this world, and to our choices and behavior, there is no punitive Force or Spirit behind natural world events and consequent suffering (i.e. no punitive God behind natural disasters, disease, accidents, or the predatory cruelty of others). The myth of punitive deity behind such things, whether angry God, vengeful Gaia, angry Planet, pissed Mother Earth, retributive Universe, or payback karma, has long burdened people with unnecessary guilt, shame, fear, and anxiety. Like the distressed Japanese woman who asked after the 2011 tsunami, “Are we being punished for enjoying life too much?”

Paul tormented the Corinthians with this psychic curse of threat theology, claiming that their sicknesses and deaths were punishment from God for their sins. He illustrated his point with an Old Testament claim that God had similarly punished the sin of the early Hebrews with snake bites.

(Note: To reject the myth of ultimate divine judgment and punishment, is not to deny the critical need in this life to hold people accountable for their behavior, the need to restrain bad behavior, as critical to promote responsible human maturing and growth that takes responsibility for failures. All necessary for healthy human development. But the rejection of the divine ideal of punitive justice is an advocacy for restorative justice approaches as the humane response to human failure. As in- “Love your enemy because God does”.)

2. Old story theme: The myth of a “perfect beginning” and that God is obsessed with perfection in the world and life, that God creates perfection (e.g. Eden, original paradise world, previous “golden age” Earth), that God is enraged at the subsequent loss of perfection, and God now threatens to punish imperfection. This idea of deity obsessed with perfection originated with the misunderstanding that any good and all-powerful deity would only create a perfect world, and if things are not perfect now then blame corrupt humanity for mucking things up that were once perfect. It can’t be God’s fault.

We- humanity- have always had difficulty understanding and embracing imperfection in life and in ourselves. Imperfection, and fear of divine rage at imperfection, has long deformed human consciousness with fear, anxiety, shame, guilt, depression, and fatalism/nihilism. We rightly struggle to improve ourselves and others, to improve life in general, and we ought to do so without the added psychic burden of fear of angry deity or divine threat over our remaining imperfection. (Balancing note: There are healthy forms of guilt over personal failure and the damaging outcomes of bad religious ideas.)

New story alternative: Life began in the “chaotic imperfection” of a brutal early earth, but has gradually evolved toward something more complex and organized. Life on this planet is never perfect, but with a lot of hard work and struggle, humanity has learned how to gradually improve life. Over history, humanity has created something better out of the original imperfect, wilderness world.

In this new story theme, God has no problem with imperfection but intentionally includes it in the original creation. Imperfection, in a new story, serves the important purpose of providing an arena where humanity struggles with a messy wilderness situation, and with human imperfection/failure, in order to learn to solve problems and create something better.

And we learn the most important lessons of life in our struggle with our own imperfection. For example, we learn how to choose love in our struggle with the animal inheritance in ourselves. We struggle and learn to win our personal battle with the base drives to tribally exclude, to dominate, to punish and destroy differing others. We learn what it means to be authentically humane in our “righteous struggle against evil” (Joseph Campbell), the battle of good against evil that runs through the center of every human heart (Alexander Solzhenitsyn).

Add here the philosophical points that we cannot know authentic good aside from the contrast with its opposite- evil. There can be no genuine moral good in life aside from the free choice against its opposite- evil.

Further, perfection, aside from being boring, does not bring forth the best of the human spirit. To the contrary, struggle with imperfection in life, and in others, brings forth the best in humanity. See Julian Simon’s argument (Ultimate Resource) that our struggle with problems in the world results in creative solutions that benefit others. See also the comment below on Joseph Campbell’s outline of human story (link) and our struggle with a personal monster or enemy (i.e. some life problem that may be physical, mental/emotional, interpersonal, financial, social, etc.). That struggle is where we gain insights and learn lessons that can subsequently help others. Personal suffering also promotes the development of empathy with others that similarly suffer. Empathy is fundamental to developing authentic and mature love.


(Note: The use of the term “imperfection” is not meant to generalize and diminish the horror and trauma that people suffer from natural disaster, disease, and the cruelty of others. But ‘old story’ explanations of the imperfection of the world as a fall from original perfection due to human corruption/sin, and subsequent imperfection introduced as punishment for that original sin… such myths tend to affirm deity as cruel, punitive, and destructive- i.e. God as the great obsessive-compulsive Punisher of imperfection. That only adds unnecessary psychic suffering to already unbearable human suffering- i.e. the added burden of unnecessary mental, emotional suffering. We can do better and find alternative explanations for original imperfection. This is the impulse to “theodicy”, as roughly a defense of the belief there is Ultimate Good/Love behind all. Add here the view that the world was purposefully created as an arena for human experience or learning.)

3. Old story theme (related to previous): The myth that humanity began as a more perfect species but then became corrupted/sinful (the “fall of man” myth). The idea of original human perfection, and subsequent human degeneration toward something worse today, is still common in the “noble savage” mythology that dominates throughout academia- i.e. the myth that original hunter/gatherer people were more pure, strong, noble, and more “connected to nature”, but humanity has since degenerated in civilization. See, for instance, Arthur Herman’s ‘The Idea of Decline”, or Steven LeBlanc’s “Constant Battles”.

Contemporary versions of “fallen humanity” mythology include the Green religion belief that humanity is a “virus” or “cancer” on the Earth. These are pathologically anti-human views.

New story alternative: Humanity has emerged from the brutality of animal reality (original imperfection) but has gradually become less violent, more humane, and overall more civilized. See James Payne’s “History of Force”, and Stephen Pinker’s “The Better Angels of Our Nature” on the long-term trajectory of improving humanity. Further, the amassed evidence that humanity has improved life in general over the long-term also affirms that “we are more creators than destroyers” (Julian Simon in “Ultimate Resource”).

A new alternative to “fallen humanity” myths will recognize that humanity, with human spirit and human consciousness, is intimately united with the greater Consciousness at the core of reality, the creating Consciousness that is Love. This “union with deity” is more than relationship. It is more about essential nature. This means that the same Love that is God, is also the essential nature of our human spirit or human self. We can then re-imagine ourselves as most essentially “beings of Love”. We are fundamentally good. This radically transforms human self-imaging. We are not the “fallen humans possessing sinful natures” as we have long been taught by mythological and religious traditions.

The real issue is not “how far humanity has fallen” (the mythical perspective) but the real wonder is how far we have risen (the evidence-based perspective) from our brutal animal and primitive human past. Our improvement over history is evidence of the essential goodness of humanity naturally emerging over time.

(Note: How to explain continuing bad human behavior? We have inherited a core animal brain with its base impulses to tribalism and exclusion of differing others (small band mentality), to domination of others (alpha male/female), and to retaliatory and destructive response to others viewed as “enemies”. Our human consciousness/spirit, existing alongside our inherited animal side, explains the great “battle between good and evil that takes place in every human heart”, (Alexander Solzhenitsyn). The bad side in humanity is not “inherited sin” but is better understood in terms of the complex of inherited animal impulses in us. See, for example, Lyall Watson’s “Dark Nature”. Fortunately, to paraphrase Jeffrey Schwartz, “We are not our brains”.)

4. Old story theme: The myth that consequent to the imagined loss of an original paradise (“Fall of man” myth) the overall trajectory of life has subsequently been “declining” or degenerating toward something worse (“Each present moment is a degeneration from previous moments”, Mircea Eliade).

The trajectory of life as a “decline toward something worse” is a core feature of apocalyptic mythology.

New story alternative: Life has not declined overall. Evidence on the long-term trajectory of life shows that life actually “improves/rises” toward something ever better. Humanity, as essentially good and creative, has matured across millennia and has become more responsible for the ongoing improvement of life and the world. Note again Julian Simon’s conclusion that we- humanity- over the millennia have become “more creators than destroyers”.

Evidence of life improving over past millennia and strikingly so over recent centuries: Julian Simon’s “Ultimate Resource”, Greg Easterbrook’s “A Moment on the Earth”, Bjorn Lomborg’s “Skeptical Environmentalist”, Indur Goklany’s “The Improving State of the World”, Matt Ridley’s “Rational Optimist”, Ronald Bailey’s “The End of Doom”, Desrocher and Szurmak’s “Population Bombed”, Bailey and Tupy’s “Ten Global Trends”, Hans Rosling’s “Factfulness”, James Payne’s ”History of Force”, Stephen Pinker’s “The Better Angels of Our Nature”, “Humanprogress.org”, and other sources.

Brian Green’s “The Universe Story” and Harold Morowitz’s “The Emergence of Everything” offer more evidence on the much longer “improving” trend of the overall cosmos. The cosmos emerged from chaotic super heat beginnings and developed toward a state that was amenable for carbon-based life to emerge. And over the long history of this planet, the trajectory of life has similarly developed toward more complexity, organization, and suitability to mediate human consciousness through complex multi-cellular biological forms. Further, even Darwin affirmed that evolution trended over the long term toward something more “perfect”.

This theme of long-term improvement, of a fundamental and purposeful direction toward something better, is critical for countering apocalyptic nihilism/despair and affirming hope as critical to human motivation to continue the hard work of gradually improving life.

5. Old story theme: The myth that natural disasters, disease, human cruelty, accidents, and death are expressions of divine punishment. This pathology of threat theology adds the unnecessary psychic burden of fear, anxiety, guilt, and shame to already unbearable physical suffering. Paul tormented the Corinthians with this argument that their sickness and deaths were punishment from God for their sins.

New story alternative: While there are natural and social consequences all through life, there is no punitive, destroying deity venting divine wrath through the imperfections of life. Ultimately, there is only Love at the core of reality (see alternatives below on the relationship of Love to the elements of freedom and randomness in nature and human life as helpful in understanding the presence of evil in this world).

6. Old story theme: The myth that humanity has been rejected by the Creator, that we are separated from our Source, and we need to be reconciled, we need to restore the broken relationship with God, and the psychopathology that restoration has to come by means of a violent blood sacrifice as punishment for sin.

New story alternative: No one has ever been separated from the unconditional Love at the core of reality- God. That Love has incarnated in all humanity as inseparable from the human spirit and consciousness. That Love is also the essence of the human self or person, though its expression is often hindered and buried by the free choice of people to act inhumanely.

But be assured that no one has ever been separated from the indwelling love that is God, no matter their failure to live as human. God as love is always closer than our breath or atoms. God as love is inseparable from our common human spirit and consciousness.

Note: The alternative idea that God is “incarnated” in all humanity demands a radical rethink of theology or God theory. There has never been any such reality as a separated ‘Sky God’ up in some distant heaven who comes down at times to intervene in events, to overrule the natural world/natural law.

God has always been intensely and immediately present in all humanity and this is evident in the best of humanity, in all human goodness. Conclusion? The reality that we call “God” is present in all human raging against evil and suffering. God is present in all human effort to make life better. There has never been any such thing as a separated, absent, or silent God. Just listen to and observe the common goodness in people all around you.

Again, as stated similarly in number 3 above, this new alternative overturns entirely the historically persistent anti-human myths of “fallen”, “essentially sinful”, or “bad-to-the-bone” humanity.

Further, the idea of God incarnated equally in every person presents a new metaphysical element for affirming equality among people, and equal respect for all. God incarnated in humanity offers a stunning new element to defining the essential core of being human- what we really are as human persons and that every human person ought to be highly esteemed as an embodiment of deity, no matter their failures to live as fully human. The Near-Death Experiences also repeatedly note this feature of the astounding human unity with deity- of inseparable oneness with the divine and of essential human goodness (NDE accounts of light emanating from the core of people).

7. Old story theme: The myth of a cosmic dualism, of a Good spirit (Ahura Mazda) that exists in opposition to a bad spirit (Angra Mainyu) , a demonic entity or Satan. Deity is thereby portrayed as embodying an essentially dualistic tribal reality- a good God that wars against evil opponents, a God that favors/saves believers and hates/punishes unbelievers. This ultimate ideal and validation by a fundamental cosmic dualism is embraced and exhibited through endless varied human dualisms- i.e. as in the tribal mindset of “us versus our enemies”, true believers versus unbelievers, or other racial, national, religious, or ideological divisions (include the appeal to gender as an oppositional divide). Dualism thinking deforms human identity and buries the fact of our essential oneness in the human family.

Dualism mythology affirms the inherited animal impulse that orients people to small-band thinking and behavior (the tribal exclusion of differing others). Embracing dualism as a divine reality and ideal then orients people to excluding, opposing, dominating, and fighting/destroying others as ‘enemies’.

New story alternative: We all come from the same Oneness and we are all equals in the one human family. We are not essentially defined by the tribal categories and divisions that we create to set ourselves apart from one another, to devalue one another. We are most essentially defined by our common human spirit and human consciousness that is rooted in the same Ultimate Consciousness that is God. And the essential nature of our human spirit is universal or unconditional love. That love is the expression of our true core humanity.

We base our oneness on the pretty much consensus view that all humans on earth today are descendants of an East African Eve (“Mitochondrial Eve”). Meaning we are one family descended from a common mother. Add here the quantum discovery of a fundamental oneness (“Quantum entanglement”). And the common discovery of the Near-Death Experience movement of human oneness with deity.

Added note: Most modern story-telling (e.g. movies) continues to re-enforce the primitive themes of dualism and tribalism. Note the all-too-common movie theme of good guy versus bad guy, and “justice” as the good guy beating and destroying the bad guy. There is nothing in such narratives affirming the oneness of the human family and the primary responsibility to “love one another”.

To the contrary, in contemporary story-telling we find commonly the endless affirmation of infantile tribalism and “justice” as punitive, violent retaliation toward offending others. The dualism that we ought to be concerned about is that of “the battle line between good and evil that runs through the heart of every person”, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. This is the dualism that exists between our true human spirit or self and our inherited animal impulses.

Caution: The above comment on essential oneness is not intended to diminish the urgency to fight evil and affirm good in this world. However, some have suggested that dualism, and the apparent separation related to dualism- i.e. the division between good and bad- is only a temporal feature of this material realm. This world with its dualism provides an arena for us to live out our stories and engage our varied “righteous battles against evil”.

Others have argued that we only experience and learn what good means in our struggle with the opposites of good- i.e. the bad in others, and in life. Bad/evil in this realm provides a contrasting context in which we experience and learn good. Joseph Campbell suggests that this dualistic realm is where “we act out our differing roles on God’s stage” (some playing bad guy, some playing good guy). He and others suggest that the dualism between good and bad exists only here in this world. It is temporal and not part of any greater timeless reality. See also Natalie Sudman’s ‘The Application of Impossible Things” for personal illustration of these things.

Further note on oneness: The oneness of all, along with the unconditional nature of deity, counters the myth of some people as especially chosen of God and favored by God, more special than others. There are no “elect people”, or special “children of God”. The people who see themselves as “true believers”, more so than others, are not closer to God than any other people.

Essential oneness means that all humanity, that is every person, has God within them, equally. All people have equal access to the immediacy of God that is everywhere present as the sustaining Core or Source of all reality. Further, there are no special “holy places”- i.e. temples, churches- where religious groups limited to true believers gain more access to God than is available in the ordinary lives and daily mundane spaces of all people. Essential oneness of all with deity is a more humane theological basis for human equality in all aspects.

8. Old story theme: The myth of a looming/imminent apocalypse as the final judgment, punishment, and destruction of all things. The myth of an apocalyptic ending to the world embraces the pathological theology of God as the destroyer of all things. This divine ideal has incited endless destructive violence among the followers of such an ideal. Arthur Mendel called apocalyptic “the most violent and destructive idea in history” (Vision and Violence).

If you embrace and advocate apocalyptic mythology you embrace and advocate the epitome expression of nihilism- i.e. the complete and final destruction of life and the world.

Apocalyptic mythology still dominates much of modern story-telling, whether movies, TV, literature (the sub-genre of “post-apocalyptic”), and environmental alarmism or Green religion.

New story alternative: There are problems all through this imperfect world but there is no looming threat of a final destruction and ending of the world (the religious understanding of apocalypse since Zoroaster). The apocalyptic alarmist exaggerates problems in the world out to “end of days” scenarios, thereby distorting the true state of things, and that incites fear (the survival impulse), resignation/fatalism, nihilism, and even destructive violence in populations. The inciting of violence is evident in the consequent felt need of people to “coercively purge” what is believed to be some great threat to life, something that blocks the onset of their hoped-for new paradise. See the notes in other sections on the Marxist, Nazi, and Green apocalyptic movements and their mass-harm and even mass-death outcomes (detailed by Richard Landes in “Heaven On Earth” and by fellow historians Arthur Mendel, David Redles, Arthur Herman in their research).

In the new story alternative theme there is no destroying Force or Spirit behind the harsher elements of this world. Ultimately, there is only creating and sustaining Love. And again, how then do we understand the imperfection of this world? Theodicy scholars and philosophical types suggest that this imperfect world serves the purpose of providing a learning arena for humanity to struggle with in order to create something ever better. Even atheist Julian Simon suggested something similar in arguing that our problems are good for us because they push us to find solutions that benefit others. Much like Joseph Campbell’s more metaphysical argument re the hero’s quest- that in our struggle to conquer some monster/problem, we gain insights and learn lessons that we can then benefit others with.

Further, the destructive elements in the cosmos and world exist as part of the ongoing creative process (i.e. death as entirely natural and serving the purpose of making room for new life), just as Second Law dissipation of energy is “virtuous waste” that serves the creation of more order (e.g. Huber and Mills in “Bottomless Well”). Again, the element of destruction in the natural world is not evidence of some punitive deity threatening a final punishment and ending of all things. (See also the notes below on “natural consequences”.)

Further helpful here- In response to the theodicy question “Is this the best possible world?”, some have made the argument that there are also beneficial outcomes from the elements of nature that produce destructive outcomes. For example, the movement of tectonic plates generates destructive earthquakes but also generates mountain-building, which creates differences in regional climate and that contributes to the development of diversity in emerging life (i.e. different environmental pressures on populations and the changes that brings forth). Our project is to adapt to the destruction from plate tectonics, and we have done better over time. Our success is evident across history in the decreasing loss of life from natural disasters (i.e. a stunning 99% decline in human deaths from natural disasters over the past century).

9. Old story theme: The urgency of “imminence”. The myth of imminent apocalypse incites people to embrace the totalitarian push for “instantaneous transformation”, an immediate transformation of life that must be accomplished with coercion and violence. That is an abandonment of the approach that works through cooperative democracy and results in “gradualism” in the trajectory of history and life.

The always “imminent” element in apocalyptic proclamations (i.e. the “end is nigh”) demands urgent action to “save” something, to save the world or life. The exaggerated threat of immediately looming apocalyptic ending then incites the survival/salvation impulse in people. They feel intensely the need to take immediate and sometimes violent action to purge what is presented to them as the life-threatening thing. Alarmed populations are then more easily manipulated to embrace policies that will abandon the democratic process and will instead support “coercive purification” schemes directed at purported threats from opponents/enemies. “End-of-life” or “end-of-world” claims incite populations to embrace policies that will coercively and instantaneously install their version of salvation and security in some promised paradise.

Apocalyptic alarmism that exaggerates and distorts the true state of things has repeatedly unleashed the totalitarian impulse across history. Totalitarians using the threat of imminent danger will then convince people to embrace solutions that involve “exterminate or be exterminated” approaches. And the result can lead to mass-death outcomes.

We saw the mass violence of instantaneous transformation movements in the 100 million deaths that stemmed from Marxist urgency to coercively purge the world of the purported threat from “destructive capitalism”. Marxism advocated for “coercive transformation of societies”, to immediately install its salvation vision of communal utopia. We also saw apocalyptic urgency and totalitarianism in the 50-60 million deaths from Nazi alarmism and consequent action to violently purge Germany of the imagined threat from “destructive Jewish Bolshevism”. Nazis then coercively pushed to establish the millennial paradise of the Third Reich. And we are seeing “coercive purification” again today in the environmental alarmist push to save the world from “destructive humanity in industrial civilization” and to restore the lost paradise of a more wilderness world (Arthur Mendel in “Vision and Violence”, and Arthur Herman in “The Idea of Decline”).

The mass-harm, even mass-death outcomes of climate alarmism are from the salvation scheme (“save the world”) of decarbonization which is a front for more radical “de-development, de-industrialization, de-growth” as in a return to the primitivism of the supposedly “morally superior” noble savages of humanity’s ancient past, living low-consumption lives in communal utopia.

New story alternative: There is no “end of days” just over the horizon. Rather, life is improving gradually as creative humanity solves problems. The escapist desire for a coercive and immediately installed utopia misses the point of the human story as the struggle with imperfection throughout the world, a struggle that is gradually succeeding. Such struggle is essential to human development, learning, and growth. Mendel in “Vision and Violence” is good on this issue of “gradualism” versus the violence of “instantaneous transformation” movements. Humanity is learning to patiently improve life through democratic approaches that do not coercively overwhelm the freedom of differing others.

The search for instantaneous salvation resonates with the irresponsible escapist mindset of apocalyptic types who cannot endure the struggle to gradually and democratically improve an imperfect world. Such people irresponsibly seek to escape the boredom of gradual improvement of life through projects that promise instant and massive transformation into some quickly installed utopia, even if coercively and violently established. Imminence, and its related policy of instantaneous coercive purification, responds to the totalitarian’s impatience and lust to control others and all of life, right now.

10. Old story theme: The demand for a salvation plan- a required sacrifice or atonement (debt payment, punishment) as necessary to appease a threatening reality, whether a religious God or vengeful Gaia, angry planet, upset Mother Earth, punitive Universe, or payback karma.

New story alternative: In a stunning rejection of atonement mythology, Jesus rejected the payment of debt or punishment of wrong as the prerequisite demand before God would forgive. Jesus stated that the highest expression of love, or goodness, would forgive freely, give freely to everyone, love freely and inclusively or universally, without expecting any payment in return. He stated in Luke 6:30-36:

“Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. If you love only those who love you, what credit is that to you? Everyone finds it easy to love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Everyone can do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Most will lend to others, expecting to be repaid in full.

“But do something more heroic, more humane. Live on a higher plane of human experience. Love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then you will be just like God, because God is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. God causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. Be unconditionally loving, just as your God is unconditionally loving”. (My paraphrase of Luke 6:32-36.)

Jesus’ argument was that loving in this manner- i.e. exhibiting ‘no conditions love’ (not expecting payment) would enable people to be like God who was similarly no conditions love. The argument of Luke 6 is that if we do this- if we give without expecting payment in return- then we will be like God who similarly does not expect payment (again, the “behavior based on the same theological belief” shapes the context of Jesus’ arguments).

(Insert note: Again, see below the qualifiers denoting the obligation of love to view all others unconditionally, to treat all with unconditional humaneness and this is not incompatible with holding others responsible for their behavior and its consequences. Unconditional, universal love of all is not incompatible with the responsibility to obligate all to pay debts and make restitution for wrongs done. It grants, however, the freedom of choice to creditors to freely forgive debts and other obligations.)


The God of Jesus loves, gives, and does not expect anything in return. The above statement of Jesus overthrows the age-old religious belief that God demands retributive payment as reward for good done or punishment for wrongs committed, that God demands atonement or sacrifice in order for God to forgive and love. Read it again and again till the point that Jesus makes is clear. It is a time-bomb waiting to explode the shackles of distorting atonement mythology that has long enslaved human consciousness with strict conditions of payment and punishment as true justice.

The fundamental nature of God as unconditional love means absolutely no conditions. None. To affirm as pointedly as possible- there is no divine demand for ultimate payment, sacrifice, no conditions to fulfil in order to be forgiven, accepted, “saved”, or loved by God. With ultimate safety secured, the only “salvation” that we need to engage in this life is the ongoing and gradual struggle to make life better in this world.

The reality of God as “no conditions Love” liberates us to make further logical conclusions that arise from such a stunning new theology. Again, the critically important one is that an authentically unconditional God will not demand any conditions of payment or sacrifice before forgiving, accepting fully, and generously loving. God does not demand a balancing response to goodness or love that has been initially shown. God loves freely without any expectation of similar response. Jesus clearly argued this in these Matthew 5 and Luke 6 statements where he taught that an authentic universal love will not just love those who love in return (i.e. family, friends, or fellow tribe members).

Unconditional love will also love those who do not love in return. Unconditional love will freely give to all and not demand any return payment. Payment of debt is not required to earn forgiveness and love. Again, this is not prescriptive of creditors responsible for running businesses but has more to do with their free choice to do what they choose with what they own, similar to the vineyard owner who freely chose to pay all the workers the same wage despite differing hours worked.

This argument to dismiss conditions of demanded similar response to generosity shown, is overturning the age-old mythology of a necessary cosmic rebalancing of justice. That for truth, right, and justice to exist and flourish there must be a punishment of all wrong, a repayment of all debt. There can be no such thing as unconditionally free forgiveness and love. Wrong has to be punished somewhere, if not in this life, then in the next at some great final judgment and day of reckoning. Justice must be fully rebalanced somewhere in the cosmos.

But in these Matthew 5 and Luke 6 passages Jesus is arguing the opposite- that unconditional love does good to everyone without expecting a similar response, without expecting similar payback as in equal love returned for love shown. Get the point that this overturns the larger historical principle that atoning sacrifice is required to appease offended, holy deities who are responsible for upholding justice in life.

The rejection of the principle of rebalancing justice is how Jesus further defined a God that “loved enemies” and freely showered sun and rain on good and bad alike.

In the above statements, Jesus rejected outright the principle of debt payment as a fundamental requirement for divine love. Again, the overturning of the principle of “rebalanced cosmic justice” is clearly expressed in the statement to “give/love expecting nothing in return”. Keep in mind the “behavior based on similar belief” relationship that structures these passages (Matt.5 and Luke 6). Jesus urged people to love in a new unconditional manner because that was how God loved. He was arguing for a new standard of unconditional love among people that would show what God was like, that would enable people to do just what God did, to be just like God (i.e. “Love your enemy unconditionally because God does” summarizes the entirety of these passages).

Debt payment, or more generally the righting of wrongs, has always been the fundamental human understanding of justice- i.e. payment/punishment of some kind as the foundational requirement for forgiveness. Full payment or punishment of wrong had been the basis of atonement thinking from the beginning. That was based on the archaic belief that God, as holy, must punish all wrongs properly and fully, and must rectify all wrongs by demanding payment or retribution of some sort. God must right all wrong, and thereby rebalance the scales of justice in the cosmos. Wrong done had to be rebalanced by compensatory right done. God could not just forgive, accept, and love without somewhere, somehow making all wrongs right. That was necessary to restore divine honor. The God of that old atonement/sacrifice mythology could not just “freely” forgive and love.

But as Bob Brinsmead says, a God that demands full payment of debt and punishment of wrong, is a God who knows nothing of true forgiveness.

To modern sensibilities that old theology no longer makes sense because it argued that the love of God, based on prerequisite payment/punishment/atonement, was something less than the best of human love. We are expected to just forgive in an unlimited manner (“seventy times seven”), to accept all people universally, and to love without demanding prerequisite conditions or similar response. Again, that statement- “give without expecting payment in return, love without expecting love in return”.

Parents, spouses, and friends have all learned that no conditions love for imperfect, failing others is the best and highest form of love for daily relationships. Surely God as Ultimate Goodness and Love would, at the least, love as well as we are expected to love- that is, unconditionally.

In his parables, Jesus further illustrated and challenged the traditional religious belief that divine love was conditional and demanded full payment or punishment. His short stories illustrated the ‘no conditions’ love that defined his new theology. In his stories he stressed the point that divine love did not require the payment of debt, or more generally the righting of wrongs, before forgiving, accepting, and loving an offender.

Note this element in his Prodigal Son story where the father does not demand a sacrifice, restitution, or repayment before forgiving and fully accepting/loving the wayward son. All such conditions were brushed aside by the father. No conditions love meant no conditions at all. This teaching is a stunning rejection of the long history of sacrifice/payment as required to appease demanding deity that is responsible to uphold justice in the cosmos.

I reject, as Jesus did, the old theology that God as ultimate Goodness and Love is held to a lesser standard of love than we are held to. I reject the belief that God remembers all wrongs and can demand conditions before forgiving, while we are told that authentic love, for us, means “keeping no record of wrongs” for some future making-of-things-right. Our love is to be without condition because that is actually how God loves. And it is the unconditional nature of forgiveness and love that constitute the greatness and glory of these principles, not the conditions of religious holiness or honor mythology with its prerequisite demands that offenders make things right somehow as part of the forgiveness, acceptance, and love package.

Unfortunately, Paul refused the new theology of Jesus and retreated back to the traditional conditional theology of a punitive God that demanded full payment for sin as a basic requirement for offering forgiveness to anyone. We inherited Paul’s version of Christianity with its orientation to punitive and conditional justice. Note the clear New Testament statements that requisite payment is essential to the Christian gospel. The book of Hebrews (chapter 9), for example, states that “without the shedding of blood (sacrifice) there is no forgiveness”. The book of Romans (chapters 3-5) states that salvation (“saved from wrath”) is based the condition of a blood payment/sacrifice that has been fulfilled.

And of course, in this life people should learn to be responsible for their behavior, to make amends for wrongs done, and to pay their debts. That is all part of normal human development and growth. This is never in question, but such conditional behavior has no part in the new unconditional theology of Jesus. It does not define divine love. Our love, as with God’s love, is not to be conditional on anything done, or not done, by others. We are to treat others with unconditional humaneness and this unconditional love for all is not incompatible with holding others responsible for their behavior and its consequences.

Note: The theology of Jesus is not a prescriptive model for economic/commercial relationships in this world. Jesus was speaking to ultimate realities and the atonement mythology of his era. Further, my reference to “Historical Jesus” is not an appeal to him as some special religious authority on these issues. I refer to him simply because he continues to be revered as a notable religious icon. The unconditional love being argued here is a “self-validating” reality. It is good in and of itself.

And I would emphasize the larger religious context to these themes- for example, the profound contradiction that exists between the core message of Historical Jesus in the “Q Wisdom Sayings gospel”, and Paul’s Christ myth (the oxymoronic Christian “Jesus Christ”). These two contrary gospels illustrate the profound contradiction between the themes of unconditional and conditional, non-retaliation and retaliation, non-punitive/non-destructive and punitive/destructive, among other contrasting features. See “The Christian Contradiction” in sections below.

Bob Brinsmead has posted some excellent research on the anti-sacrifice message and ministry of Historical Jesus.


11. Old story theme (related to the above point): The belief that retribution or payback is true justice (i.e. eye for eye), based on the myth that God is a retributive reality that demands the reward of the good and the punishment of the bad. The myth that a retributive God demands full punishment of sin. This hurt for hurt theology, or pain returned for pain caused, still under-girds much thinking on justice today. It is often framed as the practical need to present the punishment of offenders as a warning to others, to serve as a deterrence example for the general public. Psychology now recognizes that such punitive approaches do not work with criminal offenders or children. Punitive response to human imperfection and failure “does not teach alternative humane behaviors”. Instead, punitive justice re-enforces retaliatory cycles.

New story alternative: Again, unconditional love keeps no record of wrongs, it does not obsess over imperfection, and it forgives all freely and without limit (“seventy times seven” which is to say- unlimited). But yes, there are natural and social consequences to bad behavior in this world. All of us are to be accountable and responsible for our choices and actions. This is essential to human development in this life. But all justice in response to human failure should be restorative or rehabilitative.

As Leo Tolstoy wrote regarding the criminal justice system, “The whole trouble is that people think there are circumstances when one may deal with human beings without love, but no such circumstances ever exist. Human beings cannot be handled without love. It cannot be otherwise, because mutual love is the fundamental law of human life.”

Added note: Yes, there is value in remembering past bad behavior, and the outcomes of such behavior, as a warning to others. The Holocaust is a signature example of this value. But we remember the bad behavior of others in a larger context of consciously forgiving, with an orientation to restorative justice that is victim-centered (i.e. fully deals with restitution issues). Simon Wiesenthal’s “Justice, Not Vengeance” illustrates the struggle for balance regarding these concerns.

12. Old story theme: The myth of future or “after-life” judgment, tribal exclusion (divine rejection of the “damned”), punishment, and destruction (Hell). The fear of after-life harm is the “primal human fear” (Michael Grosso). Myths of after-life harm have added a magnitude-of-order intensification of fear to the already burdensome fear of death that many people suffer under.

(Insert: Why bother with speculation about such unknowable realities as after-life reality? Why not just dismiss or ignore these unprovable metaphysical issues? Well, because the speculation has already been done by major belief systems and religions across history and across all the cultures of the world. Psycho-pathology- i.e. bad mythology such as the horrific myth of hell- already exists in human consciousness and ignoring it does nothing to solve the problems that the pathology contributes to- i.e. unnecessary fear, anxiety, guilt, shame, despair, etc. While after-life theorizing may be considered speculative, we can at least offer more humane alternatives with healthier insights that eliminate unnecessary worry regarding death, while at the same time focusing human orientation toward full involvement with here-and-now reality.)

New story alternative: Again, keep in mind the baseline ideal- that authentic love is unconditional and does not demand the fulfilment of conditions. Meaning- Unconditional love does not threaten ultimate exclusion or punishment. It embraces everyone with the same scandalous mercy and unlimited generosity. It gives sun and rain to all, to both good and bad. All- both good and evil- are ultimately safe and included in the love of an unconditional God. Such love scandalizes, offends, and even outrages minds that are oriented to ultimate (or after-life) conditional payback justice, or “deserved” punishment.

Illustration: Note again the stories that Jesus told of good, moral people who were offended by the unconditional generosity and love that was shown by, for example, the vineyard owner (Matthew 20: 8-15) and the father of the prodigal son (Luke 15: 11-32). The all-day vineyard workers and the older brother in the prodigal story were pissed because, in their view, such unconditional mercy and generosity was not “fair or moral”. It was not proper justice, in their eyes. Other “righteous” people were also offended and scandalized by Jesus when he invited local outcasts and scoundrels to meals with them. He did not respect the proper tribal boundaries between good and bad people, between true believers and unbelievers. He was too scandalously universal and unconditional and that enraged good, moral people.

Jesus’ illustrating stories affirm the conclusion that God is unconditional love and hence there will be no after-life harm. We all die as a transition and return back into the stunning “no conditions Love” that is our origin and final home. We are all safe in that Love (i.e. again, sun and rain are indiscriminately and generously given to all alike, to both good and bad people). We are never separated from that Love, no matter what we experience or suffer in this life.

Insert: It may help some to maintain the important distinction between Ultimate Reality and life in this imperfect world. We can recognize the ultimate reality of God as absolutely no conditions Love but at the same time not deny the reality of natural and social consequences in this life. The need to take personal responsibility for behavior is critical to human learning and development. Love here and now is responsible to restrain violence and to protect the innocent, even with force.

But our embrace of the ideal of ultimate unconditional love will orient our treatment of human failure and offense away from punitive approaches and toward restorative approaches. An unconditional attitude will recognize that, no matter how unconditional reality offends and scandalizes common views of required payback justice, all of us return safely to the same no conditions Love that birthed us and is our final home. We are all one family, and return safely to that Oneness, despite our diverse failures to live as fully human in this world.

Add here the insight that self-judgment and self-punishment are the most devastating experiences that human persons can embrace and endure (Note: We recognize exceptions to this such as psychopathy which may also result from genetic deformity, as well as early life trauma). Most people recognize their failures to live as human and take corrective steps to improve themselves, including apologies and restitution to offended others, and do not need further threat of ultimate judgment and punishment from some greater reality.

13. Old story theme: The myth of a hero messiah that will, in a totalitarian manner, use superior force (“coercive purification”) to overthrow enemies, to purge the world of evil, and to instantaneously install a promised utopia/salvation. This psychopathology validates the human impulse to abandon the historical process of gradual improvement (via creative human freedom and endeavor) and to opt for coercive totalitarian approaches. Hero messiah mythology that idealizes a coercive, dominating Messiah archetype, affirms the totalitarian demand for overwhelming revolutionary violence that seeks to instantly purge some “corrupt” entity that is viewed as the threat to others or to life, and then to instantaneously re-install some lost paradise.

Note again these quotes from Zenon Lotufo and Harold Ellens on how images of deity influence human behavior, again an affirmation of the potency of the “behavior based on similar belief” principle that has governed human life and societies since the beginning:

“There is in Western culture a psychological archetype, a metaphor that has to do with the image of a violent and wrathful God (see Romans, Revelation)….

“Ellens goes on by stating that the crucifixion, a hugely violent act of infanticide or child sacrifice, has been…. ‘right at the center of the Master Story of the Western world for the last 2,000 years. And the unavoidable consequence for the human mind is a strong tendency to use violence’.

“’With that kind of metaphor at our center, and associated with the essential behavior of God, how could we possibly hold, in the deep structure of our unconscious motivations, any other notion of ultimate solutions to ultimate questions or crises than violence- human solutions that are equivalent to God’s kind of violence’…

“Hence, in our culture we have a powerful element that impels us to violence…”.

As Harold Ellens says, “If your God uses force, then so may you, to get your way against your ‘enemies’”(“Cruel God, Kind God).

We saw the resort to “violent force against an enemy”, backed by appeal to an all-powerful warrior deity, recently with ISIS in Syria (i.e. the struggle to bring on the final annihilation/Armageddon battle and then in the name of God coercively spread the caliphate across the world- 2014 in Syria). We have also seen the same violence in the name of a crusading hero God throughout Jewish history (Old Testament) and Christian history (Crusades, Inquisitions, persecution of heretics, all appealed to forceful, violent deity for affirmation). Richard Landes (Heaven On Earth) presents evidence that the same religious ideas have also shaped the totalitarian violence in the so-called “secular” movements of Marxism, Nazism, and environmentalism.

Again, the ideals that we embrace, notably those projected onto deity, will potently shape our thinking, influence our feelings, our motivations, and our responses/behavior. We become just like the God that we believe in. Bad myths like coercive, destroying deity have repeatedly incited people to violent, destructive action, to act as the agents of their violent, destructive God to destroy some enemy and save something that was believed to be under dire and imminent threat from that enemy. Far too often across history, the belief in the divine use of violent force has been misappropriated to validate similar brutality and cruelty toward fellow human beings.

The myth of an intervening, over-powering deity is hard to dislodge from people’s minds. Even notable atheists fall back on this idea, as Larry King said to Norm MacDonald years ago, “I can no longer believe in God because of the horrible things that happen to innocent children and God is omnipotent, isn’t he?”. Meaning that King believed that God should have intervened with intervening, overwhelming power to prevent such things.

New story alternative (see also “16th bad idea” below): A God of authentic love does not intervene with overwhelming force that overrides human freedom and choice. Further, a non-intervening deity helps to understand the gradualism that has always been necessary for improving life. It is entirely up to humanity to make the world a better place, in all ways, and to do so while respecting the freedom of others to differ.

This is to say that there is no hero messiah, no tribal deity that will intervene with superior force to conquer some enemy of ours and grant us our vision of a paradise with our enemies excluded as per the vision of Revelation where unbelievers are violently cast out to suffer eternal rejection and punishment.

Note: This point on a general non-intervention in the freedom of differing others, recognizes the valid need at times for police/military to use legal force to restrain irrational violence. The legitimate use of force is to be distinguished from illegitimate uses of force based on inhumane mythology, notably the use of force by religious extremists and other varieties of totalitarian overreach. Examples include ISIS and the sorry history of Christian violence against fellow Christians that disagreed over theological issues, often very minor disagreements.

Add here the point that freedom is inseparable from authentic love. Where there is no freedom there is no love. Authentic love will not interfere and override the freedom of others. Hence, the wisdom encapsulated in the Classic Liberal/Libertarian maxim- “Live and let live”.

14. Old story theme: The fallacy of Biblicism, the myth that religious holy books are more special and authoritative than ordinary human literature, and that people are obligated to live according to the holy book as the will, law, or word of God. This myth argues that people must submit to divine conditions, or some heavenly model, as outlined by their holy book.

New story alternative: We evaluate all human thought and writing according to basic criteria of right and wrong, good and bad, or humane and inhumane, as agreed upon in common human rights codes, constitutions, or commonly embraced moral codes. Holy books are not exempted from this process of discernment between good and bad.

Further, our highest authority is our own personal consciousness of right and wrong as tuned by, again, common understanding of such things in widely adopted human rights codes and constitutions that are embraced by the entire human family. For example, “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights”,

15. Old story theme: The myth of God as King, Ruler, Lord, or Judge. The idea that God relates vertically to humanity in domination/submission forms of relating.

New story alternative: There is no domination/subservience relationship of humanity to God. Jesus expressed the divine ideal when he said, “Whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant”. True greatness is to serve the other and not to dominate or control others. The greatness of God is exhibited in serving, not in taking position above others to rule or dominate.

Further, God is not “above” humanity but has incarnated in all people as equals. God relates horizontally to humanity. God is not a sky God existing in heaven above. God is a street-level deity present in all common humanity and “working” through mundane daily human activity. The God of boring daily details, evident/revealed in the hidden, forgotten acts of human goodness.
This is another stunning correction to traditional God theories.

We see the presence of this street-level God in all daily, mundane human goodness and love expressed toward others, especially toward enemies, which is the highest expression of authentic love or goodness. When we love unconditionally, we tower in stature as maturely human. We become the hero of our story and conquer our real monster and enemy, the animal inheritance that is within each of us- the drives to tribalism, domination of others, and punitive destruction of differing others. See the story outline of Joseph Campbell in sections below.

This portrayal of God as an egalitarian or equality advocate, and not a superior controlling entity, is more of the “stunning new theology” of Jesus, the radically new way of viewing ultimate ideals and authorities. Jesus is saying in effect, if you think that I am an incarnation of God, a “son of God”, then I will tell you just what God is like. God does not dominate people like a traditional lord, king, or ruler. God relates to all as equals, serving others, and not lording over them. That is the true greatness of God, or anyone else- to serve. As an equal.

This comment of Jesus overturns the entire history of human perspective on gods as dominating realities, lords, kings, rulers. One of the earliest and most primitive of all myths was that “humans were created to serve the gods”, to do their will and work, to provide food for them. Jesus overturned that primitive outlook that divine/human relationships were domination/subservience relationships. He said that type of thinking belonged to primitive, ignorant people (“the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them”). But if you want to be a great human being, heroically great, then you should not dominate or control others. Service to others is the secret to true greatness- i.e. to honor the freedom and self-determination of all others as true equals.

Added note:

The hierarchical institutions and organizations of our societies should operate fundamentally to embody and express the division of labor/work/responsibilities in our societies. They should not function to abuse the essential principles of Classic Liberalism or liberal democracy, notably they should never function to abuse rights of all to be treated as free equals. Threats from superiors, intimidation, domination, abuse… that is not democracy. It is anti-democratic. Note the research on behavior in human organizations and human well-being within the differing strata of organizations.

As with all true liberal democracy, those in government or occupying the supervisory roles of organizations, should exist to serve the will of the populace that elected them to serve (serve by the “consent of the governed”).

16. Old story theme: The idea that humanity is obligated to know, serve, and have some relationship with an invisible reality (deity), to give primary loyalty to something outside of and above people (i.e. primary loyalty to some law, will, or word of God). The loyalty to something other than real people has often led to neglect, abuse, and serious harm of people.

New story alternative: Our primary loyalty is to love and serve people around us. Their needs, here and now, take highest priority in life.

(17) A 17th Old Story theme: Absent deity (related to the earlier theme of a hero-messiah who will coercively intervene to save)

One of humanity’s greatest frustrations has been the apparent “the silence of God” across history. The Holocaust is the iconic example of this traumatizing silence of God.

Where was God when natural disasters took hundreds of thousands of lives? Where was God when human cruelty went unhindered during mass-death movements? That apparent absence should put to rest the common religious myth of a miraculously intervening God. The evidence has long been final that there never was any such reality as a supernaturally intervening deity that would, for example, violate natural law or overrule human choice and action, in order to protect or rescue people.

What then should we conclude? God is good but powerless to help humanity? Or the atheists are right that there is no God? No. I would offer that the evidence simply urges us to rethink the great question of how God relates to this world. Theologies like “Panentheism” (not Pantheism) are wrestling with this issue (i.e. God “works” through the natural laws of material reality).
And some versions of the Deist’s alternative are not much better than atheism. God is not the absent Creator who starts the whole thing running and then disappears off to some far away heaven to wait and watch as natural law works throughout life.

A new theory or theology is emerging that argues that God has incarnated in all humanity. God did not incarnate only in special ‘holy’ persons like the Christian Jesus. Rather, God has incarnated in all humanity in an inseparable oneness with the common human spirit or human consciousness. The human spirit has gradually emerged and developed toward something more humane across history. This maturing of humanity is evident in the long-term trends to decreasing violence, more democratic societies, and generally improved human well-being (the improvement of all areas of life).

And as Bob Brinsmead notes, the improvement in life has been a long, slow process of gradually developing understanding, growing problem-solving ability, and gradual implementation of practical solutions. It has, for instance, taken millennia for us to understand disease and come up with medical cures. See also the gradualism arguments in Arthur Mendel’s “Vision and Violence”.

We see the common human spirit, or God spirit, emerging and developing in all human goodness, whether expressed in commerce, art, sports, medicine, agriculture, entertainment, and all areas where people contribute to making life better and just having fun while doing so.

As some have stated, we are the voice, hands, and feet of the invisible God in this world.

Conclusion? God has never been silent or absent. There has never been a ‘Sky God’ up above the world in some heaven, above and outside of humanity, doing things to the world and to people from outside (the “yoyo God”, coming down to intervene in some way and then returning to heaven). To the contrary, God has always been within all things as the Creator and Sustainer of all reality, and especially this God is most prominently within the human family (“The kingdom of God is among and within you”).

Meaning that God is immediately present in all human misery and all human raging against suffering and evil. God is present in all human action to prevent evil, to solve problems, and to improve life. God has always been present in humanity and expressed in all good and useful human endeavor across history. The corollary to this is that it has always been our responsibility to prevent wrong and to promote good/right in our world. Yes, it is up to us. We must stop looking to the heavens for what is right here and now, in us.

Add this insight to your theology- God is at our very core, present as the human impulse to love, to be something better. God is inseparably united with the love that defines us at our best. God is at the core of the true or authentic human self and is evident in the human impulse to be more humane as expressed in all diverse human goodness.

Conclusion? God has always been closer to us than our own breath or atoms. God has never been absent or silent when people have suffered from natural disaster or human cruelty. Religious mythology has never framed this immanent feature properly. The immanence of deity speaks to the fundamental “oneness” behind all things. Even quantum mechanics points to this foundational oneness feature of reality.

The confusion over purportedly silent deity also has to do with the element of freedom or the inseparable relationship of love and freedom. God, as love, does not coercively overwhelm the independence, self-determination, and freedom of others. Better, God respects human freedom profoundly and influences with gentle, quiet impulses to do the right thing, what we “feel” is right (i.e. divine “persuasion”, not coercion. God not expressed in the storm, thunder and violence but presenting as the “still, small voice”).

Part of the confusion over how God relates to this world has to do with our inability to grasp that authentic divine Love prizes freedom highly and will not overwhelm or violate it. This is because true moral goodness emerges only from genuine freedom of choice. Such love entails great risk as authentically free people may choose wrongly. The upside is that nothing in life is pre-planned or predestined. We are free to create our own unique stories, to become the heroes of our own life adventures. And there is nothing more heroic than choosing no conditions love, even love of the enemy, as the supreme height of human achievement. Then we tower in stature like a Nelson Mandela.

Note: The above comments relate to one of the options offered in Jewish “Protest Theology” that emerged after the Holocaust (i.e. the idea of God willing/choosing to not intervene and override human freedom). Others have suggested that, as spirit, God cannot intervene in material reality, aside from gentle suasion on the human spirit and consciousness.

And of course, balancing the above points, there are still the myriad unexplainable and fascinating “coincidences/synchronicity” scattered through personal human stories that we may either view as just random, or the work of Providence. Interesting that people tend to explain good coincidences as Providence, but not so much the bad ones.

Added discussion group post from Bob Brinsmead: “____, many thanks for sending the link to this great Wikipedia article on Process Theology. I would have to say that I agree with the main thrust of the thesis.

“To say that God could have stopped the Holocaust but refrained from stopping it is very unsatisfactory to me. I agree with the argument of the PROCESS theologians here. If God is committed to love, then God is committed to human freedom. God can use persuasion but not coercion of the human will. Love would not allow God to do something that was inhuman (interfere, coerce, etc.). If you look at history and daily experience, there is no other conclusion that seems to be either logically or ethically possible. It is also hard to see God acting contrary to the laws of nature or the laws of physics.” This is similar to the insights of “panentheism”.

18. One more Old Story Theme, New Story Alternative to add to the list.

While human selfishness and greed are present in any approach to life, both left and right, these base features do not most essentially define the Classic Liberal industrial civilization and its outcomes. Collectivists have argued that the “free individuals” model that was developed over past centuries in England (i.e. the “Classic Liberalism” that protects the individual rights and freedom of all citizens, equally), this approach to organizing societies orients populations to destructive selfishness, greed, disconnect from nature, and violence, among other pathologies. But that is not generally true. More importantly, with the fundamental protection of private property rights, the free individual model has unleashed human creativity as never before to achieve unimaginable new heights in the improvement of all aspects of our lives, and improvement of the world in general (i.e. increased environmental improvement).

Now the Old story theme related to this: The myth of the moral and spiritual superiority of the simple, low-consumption lifestyle (i.e. self-produced, using only local resources- bioregionalism). This revering of low-consumption lifestyles relates to “noble savage” mythology, the belief that primitive hunter/gatherers were more pure and environmentally conservative before humanity “fell” and became corrupted in developing civilization, falling even further in the last few centuries of industrial civilization with its ever-growing abundance. This myth fosters endless guilt and shame over resource consumption and the enjoyment of the good life. “Small is Beautiful” by Schumacher was an affirmation of this mythology. Note that it is most often wealthy Western elites that advocate this “morally superior primitivism” lifestyle for poorer people in developing areas (more “Rules for thee but not for me”). That is due in part to the “zero-sum” or “limited-good, limited resources” ideologies of elites.

New story alternative: The search for a better life is the fundamental urge of love- to responsibly improve one’s life and the conditions of one’s family. And it is essential to freedom that people have the free choice to enjoy what they wish to use and enjoy. The abundance that most people enjoy today, with an ever-increasing proportion of humanity moving into middle class status, is part of the larger trajectory of developing technological, industrial civilization that is also lessening environmental impacts while it endlessly improves human well-being.

For example, the trend of continuing world urbanization is concentrating more people in smaller spaces (smaller environmental footprint) that can then better employ economies of scale that lessen pressure on natural areas (see population expert Julian Simon’s “Ultimate Resource” for detail). Industrial society further decreases per capita consumption of varied resources with ongoing technological development in the process of “de-materialization”. Thus, the general creation of wealth has also enabled more developed areas to better care for and improve their environments. This overturns the environmental alarmist argument that industrial society is “destroying the world”. See “Environmental transition” research, for example, by Indur Goklany. Also, Desrocher and Szurmak’s “Population Bombed”. Humanprogress.org is another good source of information on these issues.
Added note:

There is no finalized consensus on how much of the natural world humans can engage, use, and change. We are a legitimate species and not an intruding “virus or cancer” as per the view of those who demand a mostly untouched wilderness world. And from today’s progressing industrial civilization note the emerging trends like ‘peak agriculture’ and the return of agricultural lands to nature because, with safe GM crop inputs, we produce more crops on the same or less land.

Note also the improving status of world forests over the past seven decades (FAO reports on increasing world forest cover), and the strengthening of conservation and restoration trends in world fisheries (Ray Hilborn research, University of Washington). Further, there is no species holocaust occurring. It appears the “responsible stewardship” approach of the early 20th Century conservationists is working well (see Alston Chase’s “In A Dark Wood”).

As Julian Simon said, “Evidence on the big picture and long-term trends of life shows that we are more creators than destroyers”.

Added notes:

There is a long history of belief in the moral/spiritual superiority of the monkish ascetic lifestyle and engendering guilt over enjoying the good life too much (the good life condemned as selfishness, greed, the “base” obsession with materialism). Note past history’s cloistered mystics inflicting themselves with varied forms of denial and self-abuse in order to squelch worldly desires, enduring fasting, withdrawing from societies. Also, the revered naked or loin-clothed wandering holy men, and sages/monks begging for their daily needs. Those “holiness exhibited in simple living” cults are found in Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, and other movements.

Varied other beliefs play into the fear of consumption such as the fallacy of “limited good” that anthropology notes in hunter/gatherer societies where people believe that if some people in the group get more goods, then others must be getting less, as there are limited resources to go around (zero sum). But the evidence, while at first seeming counter-intuitive, comes down on the side of ever-expanding human resources across history. “Cornucopians” like Julian Simon were right.

Simon (Ultimate Resource) has outlined the steps in the process that results in the expansion or increase in resource stocks: Within traditional production there may emerge an apparent scarcity of some resource. This leads to increasing prices for that resource. That prompts the search for more reserves of the resource, the innovative creation of new technology that leads to discovery of more of a resource and more efficient production and use of the resource, or a search for alternatives to the resource (i.e. the shift from whale oil to fossil fuels). And ultimately there is a return to the trajectory of lowering the price of the resource. We saw the process above operating with the discovery of fracking technology and the opening of vast new sources of fossil fuels in the US.

Note how prominent this belief in full punishment of wrong (shame and restored honor) has been in human narratives, consciousness and hence in justice systems and throughout life
Movies beat this theme endlessly- wrong is done and full and harsh vengeance is the right, good, just response. No questions asked or allowed. This theme dominates modern story-telling as per Hollywood. Bad guy offends good guy so for the rest of the movie, bad guy goes about slaughtering all who offended him.

Its humanity acting as animal in the basest sense… Retaliation that renders us petty and like our offenders, not maintaining our humanity…

Added note to Old Story themes: Another critical old story theme- Holiness mythology

One of the most common responses from religious people to the idea of God as no conditions love is the claim that God is also holy and just and therefore must punish all wrong. God’s honor is tarnished by the wrongdoing of people so he must be just (exhibit strict eye for eye retaliation/retribution) and punish all sin. God cannot just freely forgive and love. This divine holiness myth is primitivism at its worst. How so? It is the very same reasoning that is behind practices like “honor killing”.

People in varied cultures today still reason that, for example, a daughter embracing modern habits has dishonored her family and their traditional culture. So the males of the family, feeling dishonored and shamed, are required to punish the “evil” daughter in order to restore their tarnished honor. Holiness theology is embracing this very same primitive reasoning that wrongs must be punished thoroughly and severely or justice and honor are not restored properly. Just another version of “eye for eye” retaliation.

I would counter that, contrary to holiness with its demand for punishment, unconditional forgiveness and love constitute the true glory of God, the highest goodness and love. Authentic goodness and love will just freely forgive without demanding payment or righting of wrongs first.

The holiness feature in theology affirms the myth of a God obsessed with perfection and punishing imperfection, hence the creation of a supporting complex of myths- i.e. original paradise/Eden (perfect creation), Fall of humanity and ruin of paradise (loss of perfection), and the subsequent need for an atonement (sacrifice/payment/punishment for ruining perfection) in order for God to restore the lost perfection.

And on another note (more on the holiness myth and shame-honor culture):

During recent demonstrations in the US people chanted “Death to America”. That has stirred recognition of the failures of a multi-culturalism that just welcomes immigrants without requirement that they leave some of the more barbaric values of their home cultures and embrace the values of Western Classic Liberalism or liberal democracy.

“Honor Killing” is one illustrative example of a barbaric home country value that must be rejected entirely. This belief is rooted in the ancient mythology of “shame/honor” thinking. That if someone feels their honor has been besmirched, that they have been offended and shamed in some manner, then they claim the right to retaliate, to punish the offender, even to use punitive violence to restore their offended honor. And hold your horses, this is not a “racist” discrediting of other cultures. Keep reading as I take this barbaric belief closer to home.

We had a notable Canadian example of this imported barbarity, in a family where the 3 daughters began to enjoy Western dress and dating. That enraged the father, wife, and elder son. It offended their sense of honor. So they killed the second wife and three daughters in a canal drowning. That was the outcome of the shame/honor mythology of that home culture. And the parents and older son went into prison adamant that they had done the right and just thing, according to the value of their home culture. They had to “cleanse shame and restore their offended honor”.


And now my point goes wider…

Most of us feel revulsion at such barbaric ideas and behavior. But then take that revulsion closer to home, perhaps uncomfortably close. That same shame/honor belief dominates our Western religions as a central feature of the God of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. This is the belief in the “holiness of God” and that this feature in deity takes precedence over the feature of love in deity. Christians will argue in defense of “holiness in deity as the supreme attribute of God”, stating that God, as holy, must punish all sin. Human sin offends the holiness of God, it shames God’s honor, and so God must rightly cleanse that shame and restore his honor by punishing someone.

As Harold Ellens so graphically expresses it- God is enraged at human imperfection and in response must kill someone, either us or his son. So he murders his son in a bloody human sacrifice. And this mythology has dominated the Master Story of Wester civilization for millennia.

Zenon Lotufo (Cruel God, Kind God) quotes Ellens: “There is in Western culture a psychological archetype, a metaphor that has to do with the image of a violent and wrathful God (see Romans, Revelation). Crystallized in Anselm’s juridical atonement theory, this image represents God sufficiently disturbed by the sinfulness of humanity that God had only two options: destroy us or substitute a sacrifice to pay for our sins. He did the latter. He killed Christ.

“Ellens goes on by stating that the crucifixion, a hugely violent act of infanticide or child sacrifice, has been disguised by Christian conservative theologians as a ‘remarkable act of grace’. Such a metaphor of an angry God, who cannot forgive unless appeased by a bloody sacrifice, has been ‘right at the center of the Master Story of the Western world for the last 2,000 years. And the unavoidable consequence for the human mind is a strong tendency to use violence’.

“’With that kind of metaphor at our center, and associated with the essential behavior of God, how could we possibly hold, in the deep structure of our unconscious motivations, any other notion of ultimate solutions to ultimate questions or crises than violence- human solutions that are equivalent to God’s kind of violence’…”. (See full Ellen’s statement below)

The Christian argument in defense of holiness (shame/honor) is that God cannot just freely forgive sin but must first rebalance an upset and offended justice in the cosmos. God, as holy, is obligated to make all wrongs right by punishment.

But why can’t God just forgive freely as Jesus advocated- unconditionally forgive, as argued in the Matthew 5:38-48 or Luke 6: 27-36 summaries of the teaching of Jesus? Just refuse to engage “eye for eye” retaliatory, punitive justice?

Note also how Jesus illustrated this free forgiveness and free acceptance in his story of the Prodigal Father as representing his “stunning new theology of a non-retaliatory, unconditionally loving God” (paraphrase of James Robinson with my additions). That Father did not demand a sacrifice first before forgiving and welcoming the wasteful son back. He ordered a free celebration banquet with no prerequisite demands. Unconditional love.

So many similarly bad similar ideas as punitive justice still dominate our narratives and continue to incite and validate bad behavior. The root of the problem is that too many bad ideas have been projected onto deity, given the protection of the untouchable “sacred”, along with barriers to questioning or challenging, such as threats for blasphemy. Hence, bad ideas remain untouched and honored as ultimate truth and right. Hence, humanity’s long-standing ultimate ideal and authority- i.e. deity- has long validated similar thinking and behavior in people.

So go to the real root of the problem and solve it there thoroughly and for the long-term future.

Note also the Mennonite theologians point that punitive Christian theology was the basis for punitive Western justice systems and Ellens’ point that punitive justice in deity influences the same response and behavior in humanity- i.e. punitive justice.

And a bit more

“Metaphysical bullshit”? Yes, years ago some pissed atheist responded to someone in a public discussion, “Let’s get rid of all this metaphysical bullshit”. I get his frustration and point, but it ain’t gonna happen. Its that primal human impulse to meaning and the role that has always played in human consciousness and narratives. Hence, both the mythical/religious versions of theology across history and today, and the still emerging “secular/ideological” versions of the same across contemporary modern history.

Moving along…. This site takes seriously the statement of the military person who advised, during the outbreak of ISIS violence in Syria years ago (the spread of the Caliphate), that you can swat down these eruptions of insanity with military force, but they will keep breaking forth to curse life until you go after the ideas that incite, guide, and validate them.

I take that advice more widely to apply to all similar crusades, both religious and “secular”, because it is the same basic complex of themes that has shaped many notable mass-harm movements- i.e. the ”lost paradise, threat of apocalyptic ending, demand for coercive purging of threatening ‘enemies’, and promise of salvation in restored paradise” complex. Some historians term this the “apocalyptic millennialism” belief system and detail how this religious mythology shaped Marxism, Nazism, and now drives the climate alarmism crusade.

We do not have to continue suffering this psychopathology. We have better alternative insights to shape entirely new narratives, insights to liberate our consciousness and spirits toward a better future. So yes, one answer to the age-old problem of violence urges that we go to root contributing factors like the bad ideas that incite, guide, and validate bad behavior. Notably, tackle the inhumane mythical/religious themes in our narratives, themes that resonate with deeply embedded archetypes in our subconscious.

Once again, these insights from psychologists/theologians Harold Ellens and Zenon Lotufo (“Cruel God, Kind God”):

“There is in Western culture a psychological archetype, a metaphor that has to do with the image of a violent and wrathful God (see Romans, Revelation). Crystallized in Anselm’s juridical atonement theory, this image represents God sufficiently disturbed by the sinfulness of humanity that God had only two options: destroy us or substitute a sacrifice to pay for our sins. He did the latter. He killed Christ.

“Ellens goes on by stating that the crucifixion, a hugely violent act of infanticide or child sacrifice, has been disguised by Christian conservative theologians as a ‘remarkable act of grace’. Such a metaphor of an angry God, who cannot forgive unless appeased by a bloody sacrifice, has been ‘right at the center of the Master Story of the Western world for the last 2,000 years. And the unavoidable consequence for the human mind is a strong tendency to use violence’.

“’With that kind of metaphor at our center, and associated with the essential behavior of God, how could we possibly hold, in the deep structure of our unconscious motivations, any other notion of ultimate solutions to ultimate questions or crises than violence- human solutions that are equivalent to God’s kind of violence’…

“Hence, in our culture we have a powerful element that impels us to violence, a Cruel God Image… that also contributes to guilt, shame, and the impoverishment of personality…”.

Note: The reference to metaphysical reality here, as in “God”, is not about something outside and above humanity- i.e. a “sky God” in heaven, something separate from us and otherworldly. No, references to God on this site are about something inseparable from the human spirit right now, and something that epitomizes our highest ideal- love, something transcendently better than us that inspires us to be better persons.

While deity exists as real in itself, we do best to think of such mysterious reality in terms of the best of being human (i.e. doing theology from the best in humanity and projecting that onto our understanding of “God” as ultimate Good). Nothing more definitively and potently expresses God than love.

Mind, Consciousness, Intelligence, Spirit, etc. are all used to define deity, and of course with all this, Self- as in personhood. And with all that intimately and intensely present in us as inseparable from the human spirit (“The kingdom of God is within you”). So in the best of humanity, in all human goodness, we see God the Ultimate Good. In this sense we are the feet, hands, and voice of invisible deity. Hence, there is no such thing as an absent God. God is evident in all human suffering, all human raging against evil, all human effort to fight evil and to make life something better. Immediately present, always. And most powerfully manifested in human love. “Love your enemies because God does”. To love is to be most like God.

Be clear that the above are not religious terms, definitions, or categories. A materialist/atheist in showing love is exhibiting God as purely and powerfully as anyone else. This is to counter the natural tendency on hearing the term “God” to automatically orient most people to religious categories and definitions (e.g. the common religious view of deity as an exclusionary tribal reality- favoring true believers, excluding unbelievers). On alternative views of deity- let 8 billion flowers bloom.

Further- Ideas related to deity have dominated human narratives from the beginning, functioning as the cohering center of people’s worldviews, both in religious and “secular/materialist” versions (as in ultimate realities, ideals, authorities).

Added note: Some interesting contemporary alternatives to traditional deity theories and terms- “punitive Universe, angry Mother Earth, vengeful Gaia, payback karma, Self-Organizing Principle, Natural Law, ‘Natural Selection Is The Source Of All Enlightenment’ (Richard Dawkin’s all-capitals term for a reality-explaining Force)”, and others. Most lack the feature of personhood but point to some ultimate creating/influencing reality. Again, let 8 billion flowers bloom.

Why the dominating persistence of theology in human narratives (both in religious and “secular” versions)? Because, from the very earliest emergence of human consciousness, we have been powerfully influenced by our primal impulse to meaning. And if this material realm that we inhabit was created by some greater Consciousness, Mind, Intelligence, Spirit… then it only makes sense for us to try to understand why it was created, what was the purpose… and then for us to fulfill that purpose in order to give meaning to our lives in terms of the suffering that we endure, and the beauty that we experience.

Another way of putting this would be to consider- What embodies our highest ideals, the features that orient us toward becoming better persons, toward working to make life better for ourselves and others? What inspires us to become more loving, more humane? What is our highest ideal and authority? What is the true nature of that reality? Let the projection of 8 billion free creators continue in the public marketplace of ideas…. a Classic Liberal would say.

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