Humanity’s greatest discovery; Post to the Jesus Seminar Fellows; Seminar appreciation; Bob Brinsmead comment; Grand narrative context; Paul’s dominant themes; The benefits of blasphemy; Summary of unconditional; Two grand narratives of cosmos/life/humanity; The Ultimate Resource- Julian Simon quotes; Stephen Pinker on decline of violence; The most fundamental questions; Remembering Nelson Mandela; The ultimate insight; Environmentalist/environmentalism; The Mennonite solution (lipstick on a pig)
Humanity’s greatest discovery
There is no greater discovery in history than the discovery of unconditional at the very heart of all reality. This liberating insight counters entirely humanity’s worst error- that retaliation and punishment defined the core of reality (i.e. ultimate forces/spirits that were punitive).
Unconditional also revolutionizes our views of humanity. We can now apprehend that humanity shares the same unconditional essence as that of ultimate reality, variously referred to as Universal Mind, Consciousness, Spirit, Intelligence, Self, Universe, Being of Light, or God.
And here is the great contradiction between unconditional ultimate reality and religion. Historically, all religion has been about conditional reality- the correct beliefs, sacrifices, rituals, life style, taboos, and rules to appease and please the gods. Religion, in general, has long affirmed the orientation to conditional thinking and existence in society (i.e. justice as payback, eye for eye).
This conditional orientation of religion is entirely contrary to the discovery that ultimate reality is unconditional in its essential nature. Religion, therefore, does not and cannot correctly represent the unconditional love that is ultimate reality or God (unconditional meaning absolutely no conditions, none). Religion, as conditional existence, is entirely opposite to that. And this is especially true of a religion like Christianity that advocates a supreme condition in its Christ myth. That myth is about the demand for an infinite sacrifice- that of a God-man- to meet the demand for infinite punishment for human sin. This is the height of conditional thinking/reality. Christianity’s theology is completely opposite to the original unconditional gospel of Jesus (see essay “Retaliation/Unconditional”).
Admittedly, religions like Christianity have tried to embrace something of unconditional (as in the teaching of the historical Jesus) but they have only ended up distorting the liberating power of authentic unconditional love and burying its wonder in their larger conditional framework.
Further, any discussion of unconditional reality or existence needs to acknowledge the responsibility of people to fulfill commonly agreed on social obligations and to protect the full range of rights of all people. Unconditional is not an advocacy for extremist pacifism of any sort. Nonetheless, unconditional can still freely permeate all of human response and relating.
The above themes are part of a larger endeavor to understand grand narratives and their impacts on human consciousness and human societies. In the material below and in listed essays I have isolated out core ideas in our narratives (e.g. retaliation, punishment, unconditional) and traced their lines of descent and varied expressions over history. Historical research shows that many primitive religious ideas are endlessly revised and reformulated in newer versions, and given expression even in contemporary secular systems of thought like environmentalism.
Note: There is a repetitive focus here on Christian apocalyptic (and other themes) that has to do with more than just a bout of OCD. It has to do with the larger project of understanding the historical roots of alarmism (i.e. as in environmental alarmism) and the alarmist’s repeated appeal to apocalyptic themes. This is not about “picking on” religion but more about blowing away the clutter in order to see more clearly the full wonder of unconditional reality and its liberating potential in life. In the midst of the critique of religion don’t lose sight of this positive intention.
Christianity has played the central role in bringing apocalyptic/alarmist thinking into modern Western consciousness and into secular ideologies. For detail see Herman’s The Idea of Decline or Landes’ Heaven on Earth: Varieties of the Millennial Experience. Note my summary of the historical lines of descent in “Secularized Mythology- Apocalyptic in modern ideology”. You will never solve the problem of apocalyptic in human thinking until you deal with the Christian contribution to this pathology.
What has been the outcome of the Christian influence? Apocalyptic mythology, with its core theme of punitive deity, has caused more misery and damage to human consciousness and society than anything else in history. That sounds extravagant until you trace out the relationships and look at the details of varied examples. For example, note Rachel Carson’s use of apocalyptic imagery to create chemical alarm and the harmful consequences to millions of people denied the protection of DDT.
Look further across history at the outcomes of these threats of some ultimate retaliation and the felt obligation to engage some sacrifice/salvation response. Look at the unnecessary fear, guilt, anxiety, depression, and even despair that accompanies alarmist threats and salvation schemes. And consider the damage of the salvation schemes in terms of wasted time and resources (i.e. contemporary anti-development activism and the estimated costs now in the trillions of dollars). Pascal Bruckner- “The Fanaticism of the Apocalypse”- notes something of the link between Christian apocalyptic belief and harmful environmental Salvationism- the new religion he terms “Ecologism”.
Julian Simon has further noted the debilitating impact of alarmism on human motivation (see Ultimate Resource, pages 264 and 588). It spawns fatalism and resignation.
My emphasis on the Christian role is not about just pointing out what went wrong in human outlook but more importantly about how to get things right. And this has to do with understanding the liberating potential of unconditional reality. Christianity with its “diamonds in the dunghill” situation has played a considerable role on both counts, bringing us the diamonds of the core historical Jesus themes and the dunghill of Pauline Christology. Thomas Jefferson gave us that “diamonds/dunghill” statement.
Fortunately, out of the tussle with the negative of retaliatory theology comes the discovery of the positive of unconditional reality and its potential to liberate human consciousness in the most profound ways. Few have made a breakthrough on this like the historical Jesus, an entirely opposite person to the Christian Jesus. But it takes some effort to pull his diamonds out of the dunghill.
See also comment on unconditional at the root of peace and order, at the root of early commerce and civilization (Is Unconditional Impractical?). Also Bob Brinsmead’s varied comments on unconditional/non-retaliation in human relationships.
The “open letter” to the Jesus Seminar is posted a bit further below.
Note to visitors to this page: Below is some new comment focused especially toward the scholars of the Jesus Seminar (“Fellows”- researchers associated with the Seminar). As I understand it, the Seminar exists to research and set forth the “dissimilarities” (i.e. differences) between the historical Jesus and the Christian Jesus. But I have not found in the Seminar material- at least that I have read- a clear presentation of the essential nature of the most fundamental and important dissimilarity of all and the profound issues related to it. I am referring to the core non-retaliation theme of Jesus (i.e. unconditional treatment of all people), contrasted with the core retaliation theology of Paul/Christianity. This is about much more than just the debate over whether Jesus was an apocalyptic messenger or not. Key to understanding and resolving the apocalyptic issue is to recognize that Jesus clearly and consistently advocated for non-retaliation, both ethically and theologically. And in sharp contrast to his non-retaliation view, remember that apocalyptic is most essentially an act of divine retaliation (“Vengeance is mine, I will repay”).
This is the stunning contradiction between Jesus’ viewpoint and Paul’s apocalyptic theology. The point is plain and simple- the non-retaliatory deity of Jesus is a non-apocalyptic deity. Jesus was emphatically non-retaliatory (Matt.5:38-48) and therefore non-apocalyptic. Paul took an entirely opposite position with his retaliatory theology (see for instance, his Thessalonians statements). The core teaching of Jesus on non-retaliation is then a foundation-challenging blow to the entire structure of Paul’s theology- his punitive atonement views and his general retaliatory apocalyptic framework- both embodied in his Christ mythology. Jesus is indeed the greatest threat to Christianity.
Bob Brinsmead and myself have tried to laser in on this point that atonement is retaliation and Jesus’ insight on non-retaliation therefore explodes atonement mythology entirely. Non-retaliation at the most foundational level means no apocalyptic, no payback punishment and therefore clearly no atonement.
See further detail in comment such as “Search for the Real Deal” or “Unconditional in the Jesus Tradition”.
It is also absolutely critical for Christianity to face this issue of apocalyptic/retaliation because of the immense damage this primitive mythology has caused to human consciousness and society. To illustrate, note these few examples:
1. Spengler’s influence, and Declinist theory in general, on Hitler and the outcomes from that madness. For detail see Herman’s The Idea of Decline and Landes’ Heaven on Earth (Landes writes of Hitler’s appeal to Christian themes). James Carrol (Constantine’s Sword) adds another facet here. This has to do with the relationship of violence in deity validating violence in humanity. It also has to do with the fear/violence relationship.
2. Then note Rachel Carson’s use of apocalyptic narrative and the horrific outcomes of that (i.e. the ban on DDT and subsequent millions of unnecessary deaths). Note also the general apocalyptic emphasis throughout environmental alarmism with its harmful anti-development activism.
3. And note the impact of apocalyptic on Marxism. Landes again on the apocalyptic millennialism influencing this ideology.
The fingerprints of Christian apocalyptic mythology are all over these examples, via 19th Century Declinism or Cultural Pessimism. And at a broader scale: this has to do with some of the most fundamental issues in human existence- such as what it means to be authentically human, the very nature of religion over history as an institution oriented to appeasing and pleasing retaliatory gods (atonement or salvation theology), full liberation from primitive retaliatory thinking/existence, and advance into an authentically human future. Also, with apocalyptic you are dealing with the fear/violence relationship, noted above, and its destructive impact on life.
Post to the Jesus Seminar Fellows:
Dear Seminar Fellow,
My appreciation to you and the other Seminar Fellows for your valued research on the Historical Jesus. But I have one quibble to put to the Jesus Seminar fellows. It seems that the Seminar has not presented clearly enough (unless I am missing something here- if so, then let me know) the single most important dissimilarity between the Historical Jesus and the Christian Jesus. James Robinson is the one person that I am aware of who seemed to grasp something of this in relation to his Q research.
It has to do with Jesus’ comments in his “core of the core” statements in Matt. 5:38-48- his view of deity as non-retaliatory. This was a strikingly unique breakthrough unheard of anywhere before in antiquity. All previous human perception of deity was oriented to retaliation/punishment. And few have noted clearly enough the profound contradiction that Paul introduced in retreating from Jesus’ gospel to a primitive view of deity as retaliatory.
One of my points in relation to this is that it speaks directly to the debate over whether Jesus was an apocalyptic messenger or not. I have argued that he could not have been apocalyptic. Based on his core theme, as per Matt.5, he was clearly oriented to non-retaliation, both in ethics and theology. He therefore could not have been apocalyptic. Apocalyptic is a grand divine retaliation, a payback punishment for humanity’s sins. If, as Jesus stated, God was non-retaliatory, then God could not be behind apocalyptic retaliation or atonement theology/religion.
Even Robinson did not appear to get the full implications of this- the liberating wonder of unconditional reality- despite his varied clear statements in his writings. At the end of one of his books (Jesus According to the Earliest Witness) he says, “…what acquits in the day of judgment”, belying a belief in some final reckoning or payback.
This Jesus/Christianity contradiction- non-retaliation, retaliation- speaks to something bigger and more profound, a far more important issue in regard to the history of religion. At the very core of much religion over history is that major error of the ancients- that there was some retaliatory or punitive reality behind all (i.e. punishing forces/spirits). One could argue that the very institution of religion in society was created to deal with this error. Religion was a response to that primitive perspective- how to appease and please the threatening spirits. Such was Salvationism or atonement thinking.
The historical Jesus made the most striking breakthrough of all to counter that ancient error with his insight that God was non-retaliatory, or “unconditional love” in contemporary terms. Others long before him had gotten parts of the corrective response right (non-retaliation), notably the Akkadian father (see Akkadian Father’s advice to his son, Wikipedia, that advice dating from roughly 2200 BCE). But his was only an ethical breakthrough, without the related theological basis. Even the Hebrew prophets had offered some insights on God’s justice as non-retaliatory but then also presented elements of judgment in their message. They did not see the full picture on unconditional, not to the extent that the historical Jesus got it. And there is “thematic coherence” all through Jesus’ teaching on unconditional reality. I have a section detailing this, titled “Unconditional in the Jesus Tradition”.
This is about history’s greatest liberation movement- liberation at the deepest levels of human thought, perspective, feeling, and response (i.e. liberation from those primitive drives to hate, exclude, seek revenge, punish, and destroy others). And how Christianity under Paul’s dominating influence, rejected that liberation and retreated to a primitive retaliatory theology. Romans 12 shows that Paul appears to have gotten the ethical element right, that retaliation was evil, but then reversed to the primitive theology of retaliating deity- God will do the evil business of retaliation. The Jesus/Paul contradiction is a sort of apex point in history, or a grand illustration of the core struggle at the heart of the greater human story- the struggle to leave a primitive past very much defined by retaliation, and the endeavor to enter a more human future very much defined by non-retaliation.
Again, the contradiction is about non-retaliation versus retaliation. This is the core issue behind the non-apocalyptic versus apocalyptic debate. This is the greatest “dissimilarity” between Historical Jesus and Christian Jesus. And the consequence of historical Jesus’ message is devastating to the heart of the Christian gospel. No retaliation in God means no atonement is required. No salvation is necessary. With non-retaliation there is no threat of condemnatory judgment or divine punishment.
This is all about discovering the scandalous wonder of unconditional reality, something that conditional religious thinking has never been able to appreciate.
The importance of dealing with apocalyptic in the Christian tradition relates to its horrific impact, notably Christianity’s role in bringing apocalyptic alarmism into the modern world, via Declinism and into contemporary ideologies such as Marxism and environmentalism. See, for example, Arthur Herman’s The Idea of Decline in Western History and Richard Landes’ Heaven on Earth: The Varieties of the Millennial Experience. Paul, the main author of Christianity, has been called the most influential person in all history (James Tabor) and his retaliation/punishment theology continues to burden human consciousness and society.
I have a variety of comment on this on my site- www.wendellkrossa.com – along with the grand narrative context of it all.
Regards, Wendell Krossa
The following sections are comment from a discussion group:
Seminar Appreciation… but its about the atonement/salvation industry
“Atonement is retaliation”
Bob Brinsmead has reminded me again of the overall valuable contribution of the Jesus Seminar to Historical Jesus research. See his comments below. And it was good to recently discover that Bob Miller also emphasizes that the apocalyptic issue may be the most important thing about the historical Jesus. Bob shared an article of his with us (“Is the Apocalyptic Jesus History?”) that was much appreciated, especially the non-apocalyptic approach to varied parables of Jesus. That has been passed around to the discussion group. Bob Miller, along with others, is pointing in the same overall direction that we are coming to understand better (non-violence in deity, non-retaliation). So I want to affirm my appreciation for all that the Seminar scholars have done.
Bob Brinsmead and I have been wrestling with this apocalyptic issue over the past few decades, coming at it via such avenues as historical Jesus research, the history of mythology/religion, and grand narrative research (meta-story).
In the pursuit of further clarity let me laser in a bit more on our point. At the core of the apocalyptic debate is the non-retaliation or unconditional relating insight of Jesus. This is the absolute key to everything. It demands clarity and emphasis above all else because of the ramifications that flow from it. If I may state it thus- this is about much more than non-violence in ethics. Or even non-violence in God.
Again, as Bob also notes, the non-retaliation ethic is based on the theological breakthrough of Jesus, absolutely unique in all history. Many before had got the ethical element right- i.e. non-retaliation. I have detailed that in essays such as “From Retaliation to Unconditional”. The non-retaliation ethic is found in BCE-era Eastern traditions like Buddhism, Hinduism, and others. But Jesus also made the critically important theological breakthrough and it is magnitudes of order beyond explosive. Non-retaliation in deity takes us far beyond to broader, bigger issues. It takes things nuclear.
First, just a note that non-retaliation is the negative side of Jesus’ core theme (Matt.5:38-48) in his core teaching (Matt.5-7). It is about the clear rejection of eye for eye ethics or justice. The rejection of payback, getting even, punishment, revenge, and atonement thinking. He then moves on to emphasize the positive side, the scandal of unconditional treatment of all- i.e. unconditional forgiveness, unconditional inclusion, and unconditional generosity toward all. What we call unconditional love, but of a species far beyond what most conventional religious use of the term implies. Absolutely scandalous because it points to absolutely no conditions. None. It is a scandal to conventional perspective on justice/ethics as fairness, proper punishment, proper recompense, and so on. Most importantly, it is a powerful rejection of atonement thinking.
Jesus’ new perspective on non-retaliation in God goes to the very foundations of mythical and religious thinking on atonement. It powerfully counters the salvation orientation of so much historical religion.
A brief overview of the history of mythology and religion shows why his insight is so profoundly scandalous. From Pfeiffer’s comment on early shaman scaring their fellow tribesmen down in the caves (“Explosion: an inquiry into the origin of art and religion”), to the earliest human writing showing us threatening, punitive gods (i.e. Sumerian Flood myth), to Zoroaster’s more complete theology of apocalyptic threat, to the Jewish and then Christian traditions- human perception of ultimate forces/spirits had believed that the gods were threatening, retaliatory, or punitive.
This perception in antiquity sparked the emergence of religion as the social institution that would tell people the conditions necessary to appease and please the threatening gods (and yes, there is much more to religion as a social institution, but this aspect is prominent, foundational). This is the sacrifice/salvation industry that has caused such misery to humanity with such things as the felt obligation (think fear, guilt, shame) to repair some imagined great separation from God, to restore some imagined broken relationship, and to atone for human “sinfulness”. But such separation never happened because God has always been non-retaliatory, or unconditional Love.
So Jesus’ breakthrough insight came as an astoundingly liberating insight. No retaliation in God means no threat of judgment, no punishment, no exclusion, and no hell beneath us. The implications pour forth even more scandalously. Then no atonement is required, no sacrifice or Salvationism, things that have sapped human time and resources immensely over history. This insight on non-retaliatory deity threatens the very foundations of religion. It goes to the heart of mythical and religious thinking over the previous millennia. It renders much of it meaningless. Non-retaliation, or unconditional love, demands the most radical rethinking of basic worldviews in the history of human consciousness and perception. This is way beyond just non-apocalyptic or non-violence.
And to add- apocalyptic is the larger framework for atonement thinking (grand threat= response to that threat= appeasement of the threat). Apocalypse in primitive myth is the expression of retaliatory deity. Apocalypse is the grand divine retaliation, the grand payback or punishment for sin. Then Salvationism is the response to that threat, to that view of retaliatory deity. The entire salvation industry over history has been founded on this primitive view of retaliatory deity and subsequent buttressing belief in the grand retaliation of apocalyptic mythology. The Jesus breakthrough on non-retaliatory deity then goes to the very heart of apocalyptic and atonement, or salvation thinking. It goes to the heart of mythical or religious thinking as we have known it over history. This is beyond revolutionary.
This debate over apocalyptic in historical Jesus has profound implications that are much broader than just non-violent ethics. One can see in his breakthrough the challenge to the entire apocalyptic and salvation framework of Paul/Christianity. But rather than view this as a threat to something dearly valued by many, we need to see the liberation that this insight provides, from all the damage that apocalyptic/salvationism has caused over history. It liberates consciousness toward an entirely new level of understanding- toward the wonder of unconditional reality and existence. It proposes a radical new perception of ultimate reality, ultimate meaning and purpose.
So yes, this is about a whole new level of liberation, into the wonder of unconditional reality that is incomprehensible. This unconditional insight is coherently and consistently found throughout the historical Jesus tradition, in stories, sayings, and actions (e.g. unconditional inclusion in table fellowship).Unconditional as the positive aspect to non-retaliation gets us to the meaning of authentic humanity and authentic human existence (how to respond and relate as truly human). It takes us to a whole new understanding of the human ideal of love, beyond limiting tribal perceptions (i.e. love friends, hate enemies). As Jesus challenged in Matthew 5, you can do better than that. We can then reason from this to authentically humane deity (Schillebeeckx- “God is more human/humane than any human being”). Unconditional is about liberation from the dark perceptions and drives that enslave human consciousness and the human spirit- i.e. the drives to hate, exclude, abuse, take vengeance against, or punish the offending other.
Let me hone it a bit further to intensify the laser beam- the non-retaliation breakthrough of Jesus explodes something- the sacrifice/salvation industry- that has cursed and burdened humanity more than anything else over the millennia. It liberates utterly from the worst set of ideas/myths/perceptions ever created by darkened primitive minds- apocalyptic and atonement theology. Apocalyptic/atonement thinking is a body of traumatizing ideas- it contains the idea of ultimate threat and ultimate punishment from a Creating Source (all for being imperfectly human), and the dualism refinement of Zoroaster, a dualism that reinforces the primitive tribalism and inhuman exclusion of ‘us insiders versus some opposing outsider’ (our evil enemy). And apocalyptic thinking reinforces the domination and exclusion of the enemy other- our God will beat you into submission at the Apocalypse and then cast you out forever. And as noted above, it reinforces payback or punitive justice among people. In all its varied facets apocalyptic/atonement thinking has brought incalculable misery to humanity. The non-retaliation/unconditional insight of Jesus liberates from that misery. The chains begin to fall away.
Bob Brinsmead comment from discussion group:
The essential contribution of the Jesus Seminar was their finding that Jesus was a sapiental teacher rather than an apocalyptic one – in this it broke the stranglehold that Schweitzer had over Christian scholarship for 100 years. But for all this, the Jesus Seminar failed to zero in on the core reason Jesus was not apocalyptic. From beginning to end, apocalyptic is all about a divine retaliation (“Vengeance is mine. I will repay”). Paul of course took this up in a big way. The whole context of his gospel is apocalyptic and is set against the background of the wrath of God – a wrath that is suspended in respect to “believers” on account of Christ enduring the wrath of God on their behalf, but make no mistake, his Christ will come in flaming fire to take vengeance on them that obey not his gospel.
This is in stark contrast to Jesus teaching us not to retaliate – to not return evil for evil (turn the other cheek, love for enemies, etc.) on the grounds that this is how God acts. But my main point here is to point out that the Jesus Seminar failed to clinch their case for a non-apocalyptic Jesus because they did not appeal to the core of his teaching to support their argument. When the core of his teaching is considered, the point is clinched. Wendell is to be commended for holding their feet to the fire on this point – he is going to keep saying this over and over until the penny drops and the aha moment arrives on this important issue of whether or not Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet.
When I wrote my series The Scandal of JBA, Chapter 3, I dealt with Apocalyptic and I was like the Jesus Seminar – I missed the main argument. I actually did this series section by section, writing a new chapter as I thought it through. The next chapter was on No Atonement, and here I quoted those ten core verses in Matthew 5 and I dealt with this issue of no pay back/retaliation. But then I failed utterly to relate the point back to the matter of No Apocalyptic. I had missed the point until Wendell beat me over the head with my own stick.
Note also how Wendell has sharpened this point by pointing out the two aspects of non-retaliatory thinking – there is an ethic of non-retaliation which Paul and other Christians seem to acknowledge (see Romans 12).
But Jesus ties this ethic of non-retaliation into the theology of non-retaliation. I.e. don’t retaliate because God does not retaliate. This is the new broom of a new theology – but Paul denies it completely, specifically in Romans 12, and generally in his doctrine of the blood atonement.
The argument is much the same on the meaning of the “son of man” sayings of Jesus. Geza Vermes has argued persuasively that this is not titular, and demonstrated that in the original Aramaic is simply meant “this man” as an ordinary human being. But in view of what it says about the son of man in Daniel 7 and other Jewish apocalyptic literature, it was not hard to the apocalyptically minded followers of Jesus to give the term an apocalyptic meaning. R. Brinsmead
Another from Bob:
Encouraging response. But I think you need to press the point of the relationship to the ethical and theological. Jesus’ teaching on the ethical side is not wholly original. That too is Christian ethics which many Christians believe in and Paul certainly does in Romans 12. He urges an ethic of non-retaliation on our part, but this is wholly out of whack with the theological part. Atonement is retaliation. Coming again to take vengeance on them that know not God and obey not the gospel is retaliation. Hell is about divine retaliation. R. Brinsmead
Grand Narrative Context– a larger narrative framework to help trace the linkages, Wendell Krossa
Here is an over-simplified summary framework to show the lines of descent of retaliatory apocalyptic thinking, the descent of atonement thinking in human consciousness and worldviews. And the Jesus breakthrough that sets human consciousness in an entirely new direction.
You have the perception of threatening gods in the earliest human writing (i.e. Sumerian cuneiform tablets and Flood apocalypse mythology). The retaliatory gods will punish human failure (sickness, natural disaster). Apocalypse is the ultimate expression of that retaliation, a grand final punishment. And of course Hell mythology takes this divine retaliation even further.
The obvious question in antiquity is then- How to appease and please the angry and threatening gods? Hence, religion develops with its conditions of sacrifice and general atonement thinking. Blood sacrifice has a long history in relation to this (life for life?). Religion then emerges as a conditional institution, promoting conditional thinking in human society.
But developing human consciousness also inspires radically new perspectives, new directions in human understanding. Some of the ancients saw new alternatives to primitive retaliatory mythology. For instance, the Akkadian father, in some of the earliest human literature, offers a clear non-retaliatory insight. But his insight was only in regard to the ethical element. The Hebrew prophets also challenged primitive views of justice as eye for eye with new insights into God’s justice as liberation, mercy, or forgiveness. But such breakthroughs were still fragmentary in understanding. People were still struggling to understand authentic unconditional reality.
Historical Jesus then takes it up to another plane altogether. He makes the breakthrough insight in regard to the theological basis of non-retaliation. This is the fullest and most consistent, coherent statement of non-retaliation anywhere (Matt.5:38-48, also Luke 6). This is humanity’s first great breakthrough liberation from atonement/salvation mythology. It goes to the very heart of the issue.
But then there is the great reversal, retreat, or abandonment- the great contradiction. Paul rejects Jesus’ theological breakthrough and reverses back to the primitive perception of retaliatory deity. Christianity then becomes a retreat from Jesus’ radical new breakthrough. Paul re-affirms primitive atonement/salvation thinking.
Jesus had presented a new liberation into authentically human thinking and existence- into unconditional treatment of all and the theological basis of such treatment (because God does this). But Paul, with his conditional treatment of unbelievers (damning those who obey not his gospel, his Christ myth), Paul then rejected the core of the gospel of Jesus. Yet, Christianity claims to be the authoritative representative of Jesus. This has to be the greatest contradiction in all of human history. Christianity became a rejection of the most profound liberation movement ever presented to human consciousness.
The Jesus/Paul contradiction is an apex moment in the grand narrative of human existence- and illustrates the greater story of human exodus from primitive retaliatory existence toward authentically unconditional existence, and the continuing opposition to that exodus.
Again, as Bob Brinsmead has repeatedly emphasized- atonement is retaliation. W. Krossa
More from Bob Brinsmead (discussion group, Bob’s response below is to an acquaintance of his):
Well ___, I read your post on the God of Paradise Lost, Noah’s Flood and all that… and of course I agree with your right to send that out, so I hope that you agree with my right not to concur with those images of God which are so out of sync with the real teachings of the Historical Jesus.
Is your mind open enough to consider the possibility of a new thought pathway? I would not say a thing unless I believed you were.
Just consider for a moment the core teaching of Jesus found in just ten verses in Matthew 5:38-48. There are two aspects to his teaching here: the ethical and the theological.
First, the ethical where you and I will agree. Jesus tells us never to retaliate – not to practice any payback, getting even, etc., but to love and forgive unconditionally. This has long been recognized as the good Christian ethic and generally we encounter no objection to it because the words of Jesus about turning the other cheek and loving actions toward those who ill-treat us are quite clear.
So let’s then move to the second aspect of Jesus’ teaching, the theological. Jesus tells us to behave in this non-retaliatory way on the grounds that this is how God behaves, and acting like this means that we are children of God. Now let the force of this sink in! We are to love our enemies because God does. We are not to retaliate because God does not retaliate, does not demand payback, or demand atonement (all the same thing). No wonder that Jesus took a different tack than the apocalyptic John the Baptist! No wonder when he read that famous Isaiah passage to his home “church”, he left off that vital bit announcing “the day of vengeance of our God” – and for that was frog-marched out of town in murderous rage. Patricia Williams points out that it was this non-retaliatory/non-violent theology (not just ethics!), this non-apocalyptic teaching that got Jesus killed. Apocalyptic teaching is a narrative of violence wherein God becomes that kind of parent who finally responds to wrongdoing and human violence by an even greater display of violence.
Now I challenge you to have the guts to take Matthew 5 and compare it with Paul’s teaching in Romans 12:14-19. It is clear that in this passage Paul follows the ethic of Jesus which is an ethic of non-retaliation against evil. But it is just as clear that he does not follow the theology of non-retaliation. Paul puts these words into God’s mouth: “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” That’s why he can in another place talk about Christ’s coming again “in flaming fire to take VENGEANCE on them that know not God and who obey not the gospel…”. Amazing disparity between Paul and Jesus!
Have you not wondered why the church, even while having an ethic of the Sermon on the Mount, was for the most part during its history so murderously violent as James Carroll, the Irish American priest, documents so thoroughly in his Constantine’s Sword? Because at its heart, the church has had a theology of retaliation and a God of apocalyptic violence. So in the outworking of history, the theology of retaliation and the violent response to evil was more determinative on how Christians behaved in response to their perceived enemies than the ethical teaching of the Sermon on the Mount. It proves that at the end of the day, the kind of God we believe in (or our concept of what is the Ultimate Good) has a lot to do with determining our real ethical response to the differing, even hostile others we encounter. Our ethics will inevitably be joined at the hip to our theology. As even Voltaire pointed out, if we believe God will violently punish those who do not believe what we believe, we will end up being willing to assassinate those who do not believe what we believe. It is not possible to consistently hold together an ethic of loving non-retaliation and a theology of apocalyptic retaliation. Despite what our lips may profess, we will always be ethically driven by our concept of God or whatever we conceive as the Ultimate Good.
As one illustration of what I am talking about, see below my comments on corporeal punishment.
With my kindest regards as ever, R.D. Brinsmead
More from Robert Brinsmead (discussion group):
I suggest that ours is a generation more ready to accept the view of a non-punitive Deity, of an Abba Father that does not correct by coercion and violent retaliation against evil. God treats violent rebellion with non-violence.
When there was this view of a punitive Deity, parents naturally assumed that the rod was good for children. E.g., “Mischief is bound in the heart of a child, but the rod shall drive it from him.” From this we got the maxim, ‘Spare the rod and spoil the child’. Physical punishment was dished out to children at home and at school. Then things began to change. Rod and strap have been banned in school, along with slapping or flogging. Some countries have made it an offense to use corporal punishment with children. Parents who beat their children in the old fashioned way can now be charged with assault, and rightly so. If physical assault is not acceptable to inflict on an adult, it is doubly offensive to inflict on a child.
I listened to a wise counsellor who sought to correct parents who felt corporal punishment is necessary for children. How can we correct them if this is no longer acceptable, he was asked. He replied (tongue in cheek of course), “Just spit in their face.” When the parents were horrified with his counter suggestion, he said, “Well… just a little spit.” Of course he was joking so as to draw attention to a wrong attitude. Children are people, and as people they are equally human. As I wrote a few years ago, any vertical authority or attitude does not work in human relationships. It may work in the Army, in teacher/student matters, but all personal relationships (even with God) can only be horizontal. That’s why we often kneel down to a child’s level to talk to them – it is to place ourselves as equals in value and in human relating. So beating a child in response to wrong doing is far worse than beating an adult for wrong doing. Hollywood may often give the impression that wrongs can be settled with one good punch to the jaw of an offender. But now even the police are forbidden to retaliate on an offender with violence. We no longer accept the flogging of law breakers. And rightly so!
So our culture has improved vastly on this point, and in our lifetime. Any parent who resorts to physical punishment (even moderate violence) to correct a child advertises a failed methodology. This new way of complete non-violence (spanking, slapping) in correctional response is moving in the right direction. People should also be more ready to accept that God does not correct his children with any form of violence.
The Apocalyptic mentality is doomed because it is a narrative of divine violence. No kind of a violent response to evil is evidence of taking evil seriously. A more developed human consciousness knows better than this. Even the worst criminals are not subjected to brutal treatment as a part of their rehabilitation – and even prisoners of war are not to be inhumanely treated. Give humanity a lot of credit for great advancements on some of these things – we have come a long way since the flogging days of the British penal colony in Norfolk Island and Port Arthur in Tasmania only 200 years ago. As for the Bible, it says that it is OK to flog a slave just as long as he able to get up within three days after the flogging. The Law of Moses (called the law of God) is sometimes very inhumane. Even the Fourth commandment is inhumane in its comments about slaves. The God of the OT imagination is very often inhumane, and Jesus clearly never subscribed to that kind of God as Bob Miller pointed out in his essay on the non-apocalyptic Jesus. R. Brinsmead
Now to continue main page comment…
Paul’s dominant themes
It is helpful to sort through some of Paul’s main themes to try and see what resonated so widely with the larger Greek-Roman world of Paul’s time, to understand why Christianity succeeded so well in pagan culture. These themes express the thinking and teaching of the man who created Christianity (Tabor- Christianity is Paul’s religion).
Divine wrath at human imperfection is the threatening background of Paul’s atonement approach. This theme resurfaces again and again throughout his writing, in direct statements and proxy statements: Romans 2 is the core statement of this theme- “God’s judgment against…do you think you will escape God’s judgment…you are storing up wrath against yourself…God’s wrath… will be revealed…there will be wrath and anger…God will judge men…”. Then it is repeated in 1Cor.10- “God was not pleased”, 2Cor.- “those who are perishing”, Gal.6- “God cannot be mocked”, Ephesians 5- “God’s wrath”, Philippians 1, 3- “they will be destroyed”, 1Thess.1:10, 2:16- “the coming wrath”, 4:6- “the Lord will punish”, 5:3 “destruction will come”, 5:9 “they will suffer wrath”, 2Thess. 1:6-9- “he will pay back trouble… in blazing fire…He will punish…they will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out”, 2:4 “doomed to destruction”, and 2:8 “Lord Jesus will destroy”.
(Note: try to square Paul’s angry deity with Jesus’ views on God as a non-retaliating and merciful Father who treats all with scandalous generosity, who accepts all unconditionally, honoring both good and bad, no matter how disgracefully they have acted- see Matt.5:38-48, or the story of the Prodigal Son for an example)
In response to divine wrath and the threat of severe punishment, Paul everywhere maintains the primitive theme of blood sacrifice to atone for sin. This is the center piece of his gospel of payback punishment (i.e. he claims to “know nothing aside from Christ crucified”). Some have suggested that part of the ancient understanding of the meaning of sacrifice was that of a substitute life offered for another life. Taking contemporary tribal thinking as a proxy for ancient thinking (anthropologists do this), tribal people today state that blood sacrifice is offered so that the angry spirits will eat the sacrifice in place of eating the sinning person. Manobo tribal people have told me that angry spirits will eat the blood of the chicken or pig and will not then eat the sinner’s soul. Thus, a substitute is punished or destroyed in place of the sinner (e.g. Col.2:14). Mitchell rightly called this view of substitutionary atonement (punishing an innocent victim in place of a guilty person) “ghastly paganism”.
Paul takes this atonement mythology in further directions. We must believe in this bloody sacrifice of Jesus in order to be saved from the wrath of God, from eternal destruction or punishment. If we believe the Jesus sacrifice then the righteousness of the perfect Christ will be imputed to us. We will be united with that Christ and his supposed perfect righteousness will become ours (imputed to us). We are then justified (made right before God) by such faith or belief. This is all part of Paul’s theology on union with the divine. Faith in Christ creates union with Christ and that brings all sorts of benefits, all sorts of properties of the Christ- Romans 6, Col.2, etc.. Redemption in Christ is another facet of this line of theology.
Another similar line of thought from Paul is that of reconciliation. The supposedly broken relationship with God is restored by Jesus’ blood sacrifice and our faith in that sacrifice. The great cosmic separation between God and humanity is repaired. We are reconciled or brought back together.
But Paul is very clear that his salvation is highly conditional, conditioned on continuing in faith in his atonement gospel and following a lifestyle that he sets forth as exhibiting that faith (i.e. Col.1:23).
And the outcome of faith in Jesus’ blood offering is the promise of resurrection. First, the resurrection of Jesus validates his sacrifice. And then we also are raised to paradise, to eternal life with him, if we believe. This responds to the great human fear of death. It tries to resolve the death issue or problem (Ernst Becker- the death fear is the primary human fear). This theme of resurrection would hold strong appeal to a wide audience.
Through all his teaching Paul also maintains his dominant theme of payback or punishing justice. Romans 2, 1Cor.10, 2Cor.9, Gal.6, Eph.6:8, Col.3:24-25, and 2Tim.2:12 all speak of reward and punishment according to deeds done, according to works done. There is no unconditional element in this theology but rather extreme conditionality. Related to this, all suffering of the elect has meaning and will be rewarded, again, according to the effort or suffering put in. This theme of strict payback according to deeds done appeals to the human sense of justice as fairness- reward good, punish bad.
Also, Paul makes sure that the judgment of Christ looms large in the believer’s thinking as the great threat to motivate them to do good deeds. He repeatedly emphasizes that reward will be there, as well as punishment for wrong. All will be made right at the great end-time judgment. Eye for eye justice will be meted out and people will be saved, rewarded, or punished and destroyed, forever, according to their faith and deeds. Divine wrath at sin/wrong dominates all this thought. Justice will ultimately be meted out as exact payback. Or rather, more than exact. As Mitchell said (The Gospel According to Jesus), God’s justice is an insanely excessive punishment for minor human failure. It is a retreat from the Jewish eye for eye advance, back to pagan life for eye, and even far worse in Paul- to justice as eternal destruction or punishment for minor faults.
Paul’s advance in this, if you can call it advance, is that a Messiah would take all our punishment on himself. He would suffer in our place and pay our debts (substitution). This would free us of any obligation to be punished or to “pay for our sins”. All we need to do is to have faith in this Messiah figure and we are “saved”. But this atonement thinking and reasoning is based on history’s greatest fraud and lie. There has never been an angry God demanding bloody payment for human imperfection. Such a reality has never existed anywhere.
Paul also includes various elevated ideals all through his teaching. For instance, he advocates the great human ideals of love, though his version is distinctly an insider or tribal form of love (i.e. primarily love for fellow believers or stating it more crassly- devotion to one’s fellow tribe members). He also advocates for ideals like kindness, generosity, forgiveness, and many more. And he offers the hope of believers attaining new immortal spiritual bodies, and so on. But these human ideals are very much diamonds buried in the dunghill context of Paul’s conditional atonement theology.
He also presents the theme of election, of a specially chosen people or children of God, with all the great privileges that such election brings. This appeals to the human need to feel special, above others, specially chosen and favored over the mass of ordinary people. This theme of election also re-enforces Paul’s belief in tribal exclusion (i.e. Zoroastrian dualism) and his strong opposition to the unconditional acceptance of all people. There is clearly the oppositional dualism of sheep (the blessed, the saved) and goats (the cursed, the damned) all through Paul’s writing. This theme of election satisfies the primitive urge to exclude and get even with one’s enemies.
Paul further employs the elevated theme of freedom- freedom from law, from sin, and from satanic powers. Again, this is introduced in the larger context of atonement, and submission of people to one another (i.e. slaves submit to masters), and all submitting to God. Freedom in Paul means, in his larger context, enslavement to some dominating power such as the Christ.
Domination is the other side of this submission issue, and another strong theme throughout Paul- the domination of God-appointed political authority, the domination of men over women, the domination of masters over slaves, and the ultimate domination of Christ over all. All this talk of domination and submission renders Paul’s discussion of freedom to be utterly meaningless and nonsensical, utterly contradictory.
Paul’s theology resonated widely with people because he re-enforced primitive thinking on such things as punishing justice (i.e. fairness as rewarding good, punishing evil). He affirmed such common myths as necessary atonement to placate angry gods, and so on. His primitive audience would have clearly understood just where he was coming from and accepted that he was validating their traditional views. And Paul took all this primitive perception much further in his Christ myth, enhancing it with things as hope of resurrection and eternal salvation, and bliss for special insiders (i.e. appeal to tribal instincts), and re-enforcing it with horrific punishment for one’s enemies (i.e. satisfying the age-old revenge impulse and giving it ultimate meaning). He did all this with an advanced mode of thinking and arguing, and with an elaborately thought out theology or Christology. He was restating primitive mythology in new form, with new lines of argument, and with an enhanced mode of thought and presentation. This explains in part the success of his religion- Christianity- in pagan culture.
Along with his teaching on advanced or more humane ways of human relating- i.e. treating one another with love, kindness, and harmony- this was an attractive way of life to many people tired of the violence and inhumanity around them. Christian communities offered a new and more human manner of existence. But unfortunately, the more humane elements in Paul were embedded within a brutally primitive theology that would undermine it all with tribal exclusion, threat of damnation, ideals of revenge and domination, a strong punishment orientation, and more. The theological basis was completely out of whack with the ethical ideals.
So yes, the overall context is everything. It explains exactly what you mean in your use of varied ideals and terms. I refer repeatedly to the Christian use of unconditional love as an example. Christians render the meaning of this term something absolutely opposite to what Jesus intended by their larger conditional atonement context.
Comment from Discussion Group
The Benefits of Blasphemy (or The Liberating Power of Blasphemy)
(First, a qualifier: Just to alleviate any feeling that this is excessively harsh comment toward Christianity, let me affirm that Christianity is to be commended for bringing us the diamonds of the core theme of the historical Jesus. This is more about how we can see more clearly the original gospel of Jesus and recover his presentation of the wonder of unconditional love. That wonder needs to be recovered from the larger Christian context that has almost buried it)
Critical to full human liberation is the response of blasphemy. Bob Brinsmead has an essay on this (Dare to Blaspheme and Dare to be Free) and one of the National Post columnists (i.e. Robert Fulford) once did a good article on the importance and value of blasphemy. Blasphemy is, among other things, challenging dogma or authority, making fun of such (comedians have a valuable role here), not taking the sacred seriously (over history barbaric things have been often been placed under the canopy of the sacred), or pointing out some mythology for what it really is (irrational or inhumane primitivism).
And the priesthoods, authoritarians, and others don’t like blasphemy at all. Paul threatened severely those who refused to take seriously his new Christ myth. His God would damn and destroy any who doubted or refused to kowtow to his new Christology, called Christianity. He uttered the strongest threats against even fellow Christians who disagreed with his gospel. The threat of blasphemy has long been employed by priesthoods and authorities to prevent any doubt of the ruling dogma, to prevent even healthy questioning of the truthfulness of something.
And the worst of blasphemy in the Christian tradition is to dare to challenge Paul’s Christ myth. To dare to challenge things like the blood sacrifice of Christ, the primitive atonement theology of Paul (violent human sacrifice to placate angry gods).
But thank God for brave spirits that saw through all this damaging mythology and put it in its proper place. Stephen Mitchell in The Gospel According to Jesus does exactly this, and blasphemously so. He describes the Christian distortion of Jesus in the bluntest of terms and quotes notable historical personages (e.g. Jefferson, Tolstoy, and others) that use startling blunt language in reference to the Christian mythology.
Part of the value of a good dose of blasphemy is that it liberates from the threat that backs up religious myth and authority, especially any form of divine threat that keeps people kowtowing in frightened subservience.
Bob has long referred to Mitchell and I finally got around to reading him. It has been a refreshing look at his unique take on all this historical Jesus research. He does an excellent job of highlighting the stunning contradiction between the Historical Jesus and the Christian Jesus.
Here are some quotes and summaries from Mitchell (this first is a quote from Thomas Jefferson): “In the New Testament there is internal evidence that parts of it have proceeded from an extraordinary man, and that other parts are of the fabric of very inferior minds. It is easy to separate those parts, as to pick out diamonds from dunghills”. Mitchell offers quite a bit from Jefferson who stated clearly that he was not opposed to the genuine precepts of Jesus but was opposed to the “corruptions of Christianity”. He was shocked by the deletions, tampering, and alterations done by the gospel writers.
Mitchell notes that there is a voice in the authentic sayings that exhibits a large-heartedness, generosity, compassion, impartiality, and serenity, the purest morality and benevolence and this stands in stark contrast with “the bitter, badgering tone of some of the passages added by the early church”. He notes that there are two very different versions of Jesus, the authentic one and the Christian one. I will use the term “Christ” in place of Mitchell’s quotation marks referral to Christian Jesus (“Jesus”) in order to make the contrast easier to read in this following section:
“Jesus teaches us not to judge (in the sense of not to condemn), but to keep our hearts open to all people, the later Christ is the archetypical judge, who will float down terribly on the clouds for the world’s final rewards and condemnations. Jesus cautions against anger and teaches the love of enemies, Christ calls his enemies children of the devil and attacks them with the utmost vituperation and contempt. Jesus talks of God as a loving Father, even to the wicked, Christ preaches a god who will cast the disobedient into everlasting flames…
“Jesus includes all people when he calls God your Father in heaven, Christ says ‘my father in heaven’. Jesus teaches that all those who make peace, and all those who love their enemies are sons of God, Christ refers to himself as ‘the son of God’. Jesus isn’t interested in defining who he is, Christ talks on and on about himself (i.e. John’s gospel). Jesus teaches God’s absolute forgiveness, Christ utters the horrifying statement that ‘whosoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness but is guilty of an eternal sin’…
“The epitome of this narrow-headed, sectarian consciousness is a saying which the second-century Christian scribe put into the mouth of the resurrected Savior at the end of Mark: ‘Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever doesn’t believe will be damned’. No wonder Jefferson said, with barely contained indignation, ‘among the sayings and discourses imputed to him by his biographers I find many passages of fine imagination, correct morality, and of the most lovely benevolence and others again of so much ignorance, so much absurdity, so much untruth, charlatanism, and imposture, as to pronounce it impossible that such contradictions should have proceeded from the same being’“.
Mitchell then does one of the better treatments of the illegitimacy of Jesus (one theory is that perhaps he was born of a military rape- note the repeated comments in the gospels from others asking “who is this man’s father”). He points out well how horribly shameful this was in the Jewish culture of Jesus. It was considered the most shameful of human conditions. Illegitimate people were considered the “excrement of the community”. This would have produced overwhelming problems in a small provincial town with harsh and moralistic attitudes. But out of such an experience would have arisen a profound appreciation for grace, love, and acceptance (the Abba insights of Jesus- “you are my beloved son with whom I am well pleased”).
But the path to such understanding was probably a very human one, from “son of a whore” to “son of God”. And this is where Mitchell’s treatment of all this gets quite interesting. He argues that it would be childish to think the Historical Jesus never caused suffering or made mistakes. And the gospel records contain comments on the failure of Jesus to deal with this early childhood bitterness over his shameful illegitimacy (i.e. his statements about rejecting family). As Mitchell notes, Jesus also died quite young and had little time to resolve such issues. Though it appears at his death he may have come to some resolution when he urged John to look after his mother. And his story of the woman taken in adultery shows, if authentic, that he may have found a way to forgive his mother over this shame. That story may have been a very personal reference.
Numerous passages show that Jesus held a quite stunningly negative attitude toward his mother and family. “His teaching about loyalty to parents is uniformly negative, and is so shockingly”. He quite bluntly rejected his mother and brothers. And to one man who wanted to properly bury his father, Jesus responded, “let the dead bury the dead”. It was, says Mitchell, a slap in the face to a grieving man. And he even calls people to hate their parents. All in the so-called service of God, or call to serve God. Now Christianity has interpreted all this as necessary commitment, as freedom from entanglements, to properly serve God. That puts a noble slant on it all. “Bent into an appropriately pious shape”, says Mitchell.
But there is a notable contradiction here from Jesus himself. He had bluntly condemned anyone who claimed that they could not help their parents because whatever gift they could give to their parents was devoted to God (Matthew 15). Jesus had reproached the Pharisees for not honouring their parents by this use of the appeal that something was devoted to God. But then in the gospels he does exactly that, calling for neglect, and even hate of family, in order to serve God, to put God first. Mitchell stated that for what it really was- irresponsible and callous neglect of normal human responsibility.
Mitchell summarizes Jesus’ neglect of his family in the following comment- “His rejection of his mother seems to me an early, inadequate response to what he must have felt as her rejection of him, her incomprehension of who he had become. Or perhaps it goes back further, to his childhood. Perhaps it contains an unconscious or half-conscious element of blame for the stigma of his birth, and was part of his distancing himself from his shame and everything connected to it… (i.e. Mary’s bastard)”.
In the end Mitchell says we don’t really know, “It is possible that Jesus was able to see her with a nonjudgmental love (i.e. referring to the parable of the adulterous woman) and still, in some hidden corner of his heart, keep holding on to his rejection of his mother (the many other passages where he neglected her or refused to see her)”. But other statements show that maybe he was able to forgive. But it certainly humanizes the man and removes the mythology that Paul and others tried to bury him under- the “dung”, “slime”, or “garbage”, according to Jefferson and others (i.e. the mythology of his being some perfect God-man as in Paul’s Christ myth).
Mitchell notes how Tolstoy used language similar to Jefferson to describe the contrast between authentic Jesus and Christian mythology. “When I first began to study the Gospels I found in them the spirit that animates all who are truly alive. But along with the flow of that pure, life-giving water, I perceived much mire and slime mingled with it, and this prevented me from seeing the true, more pure water. I found that along with the lofty teaching of Jesus there were teachings bound up which are repugnant and contrary to it…I discovered among the garbage a number of infinitely precious pearls”.
And a lot more…
I will put up some further comments from Mitchell that are useful in the service of a healthy and liberating blasphemy. Those still frightened by some of this, please stand back a suitable distance in case lightning strikes… <:
Here from his follow-up notes, “This teaching about hell, which the church took over from a fierce apocalyptic strand of Judaism, and which it put into the mouth of Jesus, proceeds from a very impure consciousness, filled with fantasies of hatred and revenge and of an unforgiving, unjust god whose punishments are insanely disproportionate to the offenses”.
Mitchell then comments on the statement about the sin against the Holy Spirit being unforgiveable, “This sentence is probably responsible for more mental anguish than any other sentence in world literature”. Just an aside here: The Prairie Bible Institute (Alberta) had a staff member back in the 70s who committed suicide because he believed that he had committed the unpardonable sin. He jumped out of a hospital window to his death, from a room where they were trying to treat him.
Mitchell says later, “As for sin against God, there is no such thing”.
And this comment of Mitchell on Paul, “The narrow-minded, fire-breathing self-tormenting Saul was still alive and kicking inside him. He didn’t understand Jesus at all. He wasn’t even interested in Jesus, just in his own idea of the Christ…It isn’t even relevant to know Jesus, much less do what he taught, the only necessary thing for a Christian is to believe…that he died in atonement for our sins…Paul harbored a great deal of violence in his mind, which he projected onto visions of cosmic warfare, and onto an image of God as a punitive Father…and he, most ignorantly believed… (in a Devil)”.
Interesting note later about Paul’s letters where there is evidence of how “fiercely opposed to his teaching some of Jesus’ original disciples were. They say that Paul ‘distorts the word of God’…Peter says, ‘why do you teach precisely the opposite of what (Jesus) taught?”
Also, this…”It is sometimes hard to tell the devils from the angels in Paul’s writings, they are all so vindictive. Here, for example, is Jesus looking for all the world like Satan…’when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, taking vengeance on those who do not obey the gospel who will pay the penalty of eternal destruction”. I have summarized some of this, leaving bits out to shorten it.
And then there are passages where Jesus admits that even he is capable of error.
One final one from his comments on what he believes were the authentic teachings of Jesus- he is dealing with the death of Jesus and the disciples struggling to make sense of this horrible action by the Romans- “Now an absurd problem arose; how could God have allowed this to happen? To this, the disturbed reason of the little community found a terrifyingly absurd answer: God gave his son for the forgiveness of sins, as a sacrifice. All at once the gospel was done for. The guilt sacrifice, and this in its most repulsive, most barbaric form, the sacrifice of the guiltless for the sins of the guilty. What ghastly paganism. For Jesus had abolished the very concept of guilt- he had denied any separation between God and man, he lived this unity of God and man…”. And so on.
I will add later some of the quotes Mitchell puts at the end from a variety of well known people on the “barbarism, ignorance” and what not found in the gospels and elsewhere in the New Testament. “The whole history of these books is so defective and doubtful…”
Further comment from Discussion Group
Summary of Unconditional– Pumping Unconditional More
(Note: The term unconditional- unconditional forgiveness, inclusion, generosity, mercy, or compassion- is the best that we have come up with to describe the incomprehensible love at the core of reality and life. What unconditional points to is beyond words, definitions, or conceptions but unconditional at least points us in the right direction of something supremely and infinitely humane. Something perhaps better felt than described)
Just a summary of this unconditional wonder in a sort of grand narrative context….
Unconditional response, relating, or treatment of others is arguably history’s greatest discovery. By magnitudes of order. The argument can be made that this reality is at the foundation of peace and order (i.e. opposing parties in some potential conflict choosing not to retaliate and continue payback cycles, defusing potential conflict as Mandela did). It is at the foundation of trade and commerce, at the foundation of urbanization (living together peacefully in larger settlements, which benefits nature also), and hence at the foundation of civilization in general. Yes, it was rudimentary or embryonic at the beginning but still unconditional response and relating. The beginning of unconditional treatment of others is the basis of all that we value as humans, including our very civilization. Civilization is fundamentally about rising above the cyclical violence of primitive blow for blow or retaliatory existence (demanding vengeance or getting even).
Unconditional defines authentic humanity more than anything we have discovered before. It takes the human to new heights. It liberates as nothing ever before from all that enslaves the human spirit- the drives to hate, revenge, and punish others. It liberates us from the worst features of our past.
It is the height of human enlightenment, defining a new elevation of human existence.
And it revolutionizes our understanding of the metaphysical. It defines and humanizes ultimate reality as nothing else ever has. Our understanding of what defines the very best of humanity now also gets us to a new direction for understanding deity, for taking this greatest of human ideals in entirely new and more humane directions (human features, of course, having always been projected out to define deity, for better, or often worse). This then gets us to answering the most profound human questions, those questions relating to ultimate meaning and purpose.
We can now intuit and grasp that the Core of all, the Source of all, the End of all, that which creates, sustains, and receives all in the end, is infinitely better than the best that can be imagined. So we now have the means of understanding better the cosmos, life, and consciousness, what it is all about and where it came from and where it is heading. Unconditional Love takes our perceptions to new heights and advances in all areas.
And naturally this is a scandal to the payback mindset so deeply ingrained in public consciousness over the millennia. It is a potent blow to punitive atonement thinking which has been at the root of mythological and religious perception. Unconditional undermines that entirely. Religion emerged as a social institution of condition, or conditional thinking and existence. Religion emerged as the institution oriented to setting forth the conditions required for appeasing and pleasing the gods. It emerged to set forth the conditions to be fulfilled in regard to the spiritual- to understand, to access, to be part of the spiritual. Religion is about conditional existence. And that conditional orientation undergirds, even today, retaliatory justice and ethics.
Therefore, religion cannot embrace properly or represent correctly ultimate reality as unconditional. It is just too much of a contradiction to handle without distorting unconditional. Note the problem in Christianity with the Jesus’ non-retaliation tradition and the overall atonement framework of Paul (retaliating deity).
Unconditional is the foundational impulse of human consciousness and is evident behind life and the cosmos in general. That great trajectory to humanize all things. The grand trend toward unconditional existence in life on this planet.
So this wonder of unconditional provides an entirely new framework of hope, safety, security in which to evaluate anything in life, or in reality in general. It responds to the fears, anxieties, and despair (the roots of human violence and other bad behavior) built up in public consciousness over the millennia. Unconditional so potently corrects those horrible errors in early human perception and therefore provides corrections to the mess that followed, the sacrifice/salvation industry for one.
Even taking this from a more material point of view- overwhelming evidence supports this conclusion of unconditional behind all things. The three great emergences and their trajectories toward something better, toward something more humane. This points to the inspiring impulse behind these as something infinitely good, infinitely loving. And unconditional takes this understanding to new heights as to what that goodness and love actually means.
If the rudimentary forms of this reality of unconditional made civilization possible, and the liberation and creative progress in civilization, then what might be the future if we really engaged this reality more fully? What further liberation and creativity might be possible? Dream on.
Another comment from the discussion group (Wendell Krossa): “Angry God has become revenge of Gaia and angry planet (quite widely influential views), but still the same old threatening forces/spirits model. People evolve in their thinking but if not careful to clean out the old, they then adopt some new version that appears fresh and different but may be just more of the same old, same old. And did you not see this past summer’s (2013) story-telling binge from major public story media that was almost entirely apocalyptic? Commentators were regularly pointing this out. As others point out the new trend in literature- post-apocalyptic writing.
“But to get back to your comment on obsessions: you missed the full picture. There are two sides to this obsession with unconditional, what went wrong and what makes it right. Apocalyptic and unconditional. Historical Jesus encouraged ‘obsession’ or better- passion or enthusiasm or however one views such things. Getting carried away, especially by something good, great, ennobling. Sell all you have and purchase the diamond or pearl.
“So with unconditional….try to get even just a smidgeon of this wonder as you see in the Historical Jesus tradition. Do what (Ken) Ring advocated and slowly read some good account (i.e. Near-Death Experience, especially the ones focused on unconditional love) and try to feel what the person is communicating. Get some sense of it and see if it will break those remaining bonds of conditional thinking, feeling, and response.
“At a broader scale, passion for this rises from its implications for human consciousness and progress… it unlocks the secrets, answers the great human questions, lightens the darkness, liberates from the chains/fears/worries deeply embedded in subconscious. It explains the why of existence, goes to the heart of the human impulse for meaning and purpose. It takes you way past Hawking and his TOE meanderings. It tells us what authentic humanity is all about, what ultimate reality is about, what the Core of all is, the goal of all. What life is to be all about. So yes, a lot to get passionate about, a lot to explore.”
Another comment: “So if you want to really liberate humanity and encourage human progress, then help clear up this core error of the ancients, an error that still enslaves modern consciousness. Unconditional goes to this deepest root (threatening, upset forces/spirits, punitive or retaliatory spirits), this core error behind all the rest of atonement logic and thinking, and the related damage this has caused humanity over the millennia. Unconditional love challenges and corrects that error like nothing else in history”.
Two Grand Narratives of Cosmos/Life/Humanity
Humanity has produced two especially notable grand narratives of reality/life over history. The following points to several prominent themes that illustrate the profound contrast between these two meta-narratives. This is not to oversimplify the complexity of human belief systems or worldviews. This is intended to focus attention and clarify the more dominant elements and their impact on human consciousness over the millennia. This is necessary because the themes of the old narrative have become deeply embedded in human worldviews and subconscious. They continue to re-emerge in contemporary secular systems of thought like environmental alarmism. They continue to darken and enslave consciousness even in the present.
The old mythical/religious story:
It set forth the fundamental trajectory of life as beginning with paradise/perfection and then declining toward something worse than before. It claims that the future ends with an apocalyptic punishment, a grand retaliation toward humanity for failure (in secularized versions- the revenge of GAIA).
It views humanity as essentially corrupt, as destroyers, and as creatures degrading toward something more corrupt with time. It views human relating too often in terms of retaliation and punishment (eye for eye justice).
It claims that the resolution to the decline of life and threatened final punishment is to be found in the practice of violent blood sacrifice that is required to appease the angry and punitive forces/spirits behind life (atonement Salvationism). The retaliatory forces/spirits are sending history toward an apocalyptic ending so some salvation response must be engaged.
Key themes- corrupt humanity, divine retaliation and punishment, decline and ending of life.
The new scientifically-informed universe story:
It sets forth the fundamental trajectory of life as beginning with something more chaotic and undeveloped but rising toward something better than before (more organized, more complex, more advanced). It sees the future as wide open and continually developing or progressing toward an ever-improving existence.
It views humanity as essentially good, as creators, and as creatures developing toward something more humane with time (Payne, Pinker- overwhelming evidence affirms human improvement). It views human relating in terms of non-retaliation and unlimited forgiveness/inclusion/generosity.
It does not propose any salvation scheme but rather the appreciation that creative and good humanity will solve all problems that arise and pass on something ever better to future generations. It views the forces/spirits behind life as defined by unconditional love (not threatening any punishment, not demanding any appeasement or payment).
Key themes- improving humanity, no retaliation or punishment, rise and endless improvement of life.
The Ultimate Resource- Sample quotes from the life-changing optimism of Julian Simon
“You will find that just about every single indicator of the quality of life shows improvement rather than the deterioration that the doomsayers claim has occurred. And things have gotten better for the poor as well as the rich, … humanity is in a much better state than ever before…
“The world’s problem is not too many people but lack of political and economic freedom…the key idea of the book…is this: Greater consumption due to an increase in population and growth of income heightens scarcity and induces price run-ups. A higher price represents an opportunity that leads inventors and business-people to seek new ways to satisfy the shortages. Some fail, at cost to themselves. A few succeed, and the final result is that we end up better off than if the original shortage problems had never arisen…
“Every forecast of the doomsayers has turned out flat wrong. Metals, foods, and other natural resources have become more available rather than more scarce throughout the centuries…But the content of everyday newspaper and television reporting on these matters remain almost one-sidedly doom-saying with urgent calls for government intervention…
“Freeman Dyson writes, ‘Boiled down to one sentence, my message is the unboundedness of life and the consequent unboundedness of human destiny’…the ultimate constraint is not energy but rather information. Because we can increase the stock of information without limit, there is no need to consider our existence finite…
“The vision which underlies and unifies the various topics is that of human beings who create more than they destroy…
“The longer run is a very different story than the shorter run. The standard of living has risen along with the size of the world’s population since the beginning of recorded time. And with increases in income and population have come less severe shortages, lower costs, and an increased availability of resources, including a cleaner environment and greater access to natural recreation areas. And there is no convincing economic reason why these trends toward a better life… should not continue indefinitely…Contrary to common rhetoric, there are no meaningful limits to the continuation of this process…There is no physical or economic reason why human resourcefulness and enterprise cannot forever continue to respond to impending shortages and existing problems with new expedients that, after an adjustment period, leave us better off than before the problem arose…
“The new scientific worldview…assures us that there are no limits to what we and our descendants can hope to achieve and become.”
Simon’s genius- to find the true state of something look at the longest term trends and the entirety of that thing, the complete picture. And why bother finding out the true state of life? “I part company with the doomsayers in that they expect us to come to a bad end despite the efforts we make, whereas I expect a continuation of humanity’s successful efforts. And I believe that their message is self-fulfilling, because if you expect your efforts to fail because of inexorable natural limits, then you are likely to feel resigned, and therefore to literally resign. But if you recognize the possibility- in fact the probability- of success, you can tap large reservoirs of energy and enthusiasm… The ultimate resource is people- skilled, spirited, and hopeful people- who will exert their wills and imaginations for their own benefit as well as in a spirit of faith and social concern”.
I would add that Simon challenged the fear over population growth (i.e. population “explosion”, population “bomb”) as unwarranted. He argued that more minds meant more creative solutions to problems. Population growth was overall a benefit to the world and not a threat to life.
Steven Pinker’s Research on the Amazing Decline in Violence Over History: A sampling of quotes and summaries from his book “The Better Angels of Our Nature”
“This book is about what may be the most important thing that has ever happened in human history. Believe it or not…violence has declined over long stretches of time, and today we may be living in the most peaceable era in our species existence…we started off nasty and the artifices of civilization have moved us in a noble direction, one in which we can hope to continue…”
Popular media do little to help us appreciate the decline in violence. “Our cognitive faculties predispose us to believe that we live in violent times, especially when they are stoked by media that follow the watchword ‘If it bleeds, it leads’…a large swath of our intellectual culture is loath to admit that there could be anything good about civilization, modernity, and Western society”.
Comparing the more violent past with today, he notes data from a variety of past societies- rates of violent death- and says, “The death rates range from 0 to 60 percent, with an average of 15 percent”. He then notes that the rate of death from war (violent death) was 3 percent for the first half of the 20th Century, and less than 1 percent for the last half of the 20th Century. Most of the violent death in the 20th Century was due to a few people (Hitler, Stalin, Mao) and does not reflect the rate of violence among general populations. Average people have experienced remarkable declines in all types of violence. Western societies in particular have seen a notable decline in annual homicide rates, from about 20 per 100,000 in 1300 CE to about 1 per 100,000 today (see research of Manuel Eisner).
Pinker then states, “Beginning in the 11th or 12th Centuries and maturing in the 17th and 18th, Europeans increasingly inhibited their impulses, anticipated the long-term consequences of their actions, and took other people’s thoughts and feelings into consideration. A culture of honor- the readiness to take revenge- gave way to a culture of dignity- the readiness to control one’s emotions…Western and Central Europe make up the least violent region in the world today. Among the other states with credible low rates of homicide are those carved out of the British Empire, such as Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Canada, the Maldives, and Bermuda”.
He details such things as the role of commerce in humanizing people more. This is entirely contrary to popular perceptions that commerce dehumanizes us with a dog-eat-dog approach. Evidence reveals that when we engage in commercial activity with one another we learn to inhibit our more violent impulses and behave more cooperatively. The reason is simple enough, “If you’re trading favors or surpluses with someone, your trading partner suddenly becomes more valuable to you alive than dead…Though many intellectuals, following in the footsteps of Saints Augustine and Jerome, hold businesspeople in contempt for their selfishness and greed, in fact a free market puts a premium on empathy. A good businessperson has to keep the customers satisfied or a competitor will woo them away…(quoting an economist of the past) ‘Commerce attaches people to one another through mutual utility…through commerce man learns to be deliberate, to be honest, to acquire manners, to be prudent and reserved in both talk and actions. Sensing the necessity to be wise and honest in order to succeed, he flees vice’”. This is known as the moralizing influence of gentle commerce.
The historical decline in violence, called the Humanitarian Revolution by Pinker, is marked by a change in human sensibilities, notably by the increase in empathy. “People began to sympathize with more of their fellow humans, and were no longer indifferent to their suffering…People started to place a higher value on human life. Part of this newfound appreciation was an emotional change; a habit of identifying with the pains and pleasures of others”. Pinker notes that this new empathy was probably due to the wide spread circulation and reading of books/novels that set forth in detail the lives and experiences of people in far away places. This “created an illusion of first-person immediacy, encouraging people to empathize with the suffering of others…seeing the world through another person’s eyes expands empathy and concern…the reading of fiction is an empathy expander and a force toward humanitarian progress”.
Various other factors play a role in the historical decline of violence: “Cultures that are classified as more individualistic, where people feel they are individuals with the right to pursue their own goals, have relatively less domestic violence against women than the cultures classified as collectivist, where people feel they are part of a community whose interests take precedence over their own…the decline of violence against women in the West has been pushed along by a humanist mindset that elevates the rights of individual people over the traditions of the community, and that increasingly embraces the vantage point of women”.
The ongoing development of empathy in humanity has also spread to our treatment of animals and rights for animals.
Overcoming the impulse to revenge is another critical element in declining violence. “The act of unconditional forgiveness can flick a duo that has been trapped in a cycle of mutual defection back onto the path of cooperation”.
He also notes how destructive the commitment to ideology has been, “with an ideology, the end is idealistic, a conception of the greater good…its ideology that drive many of the worst things that people have ever done to each other”. Noting the Crusades, Wars of Religion, French Revolution, Russian and Chinese civil wars, the Holocaust, Vietnam, the genocides of Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot, Pinker states regarding ideology, “the infinite good it promises prevents its true believers from cutting a deal. It allows any number of eggs to be broken to make the utopian omelet. And it renders opponents of the ideology infinitely evil and hence deserving of infinite punishment”.
Classic liberalism is praised by Pinker for its humanizing values and practices- “freedom of individuals from tribal and authoritarian force, and a tolerance of personal choices as long as they do not infringe on the autonomy and well-being of others”. This liberalism has also encouraged more openness to immigration, free trade, less protectionism, less make-work policies, and less government intervention in business. It opposes populist, nationalist and communist mindsets that “see the world’s wealth as zero-sum and infer that the enrichment of one group must come at the expense of another…The idea that an exchange of benefits can turn zero-sum warfare into positive-sum mutual profit was one of the key ideas of the Enlightenment”.
Pinker closes with these comments, “The decline of violence may be the most significant and least appreciated development in the history of our species”. He then notes that “the loathing of modernity is one of the great constants of contemporary social criticism”. The critics of modernity claim that technology has given us alienation, despoliation, social pathology, the loss of meaning, and a consumer culture that is destroying the planet. These critics ignore the positives of modernity that include “transformation of human life by science, technology and reason, with the attendant diminishment of custom, faith, community, traditional authority”. These people, says Pinker, “show that nostalgia for a peaceable past is the biggest delusion of all”.
Site Focus: The Most Fundamental Questions We Can Ask
What does it mean to be human? What is the nature of authentic human existence? And what themes remain embedded in our contemporary worldviews that are less than human… ideas that darken, distort, and enslave human consciousness?
I have responded to these questions and concerns by focusing on the following themes:
1. Understanding and Re-Defining Ultimate Realities (Retaliation or Unconditional?): Ancient people projected the features of retaliation and punishment onto their gods. That was the worst error made by early humanity. That perverse perception of threatening and punitive deity has shaped the theology of most religion over history and has even infected contemporary secular systems of thought (e.g. revenge of GAIA or angry planet mythology). The myth of punishing gods stirs primal human fear and pushes people to adopt irrational salvation schemes that cause immense harm to populations and societies. I have engaged thoroughly the corrective response of unconditional love as defining the core of reality and life. This presents a powerful challenge to most religion and religious theology. Unconditional liberates human consciousness from all that is less than fully human.
2. Grand Historical Narratives and Their Impacts: Apocalyptic mythology- i.e. the decline of life from a better past and the looming catastrophic ending of life as the ultimate punishment from punitive gods- has been one of the most dominant and damaging narratives in human history. But there is a mass of research supporting the counter narrative of ongoing progress in life, which is evidence of unconditional goodness behind all things.
3. The Actual Trajectory of Life- Decline or Rise?: Environmental alarmism is a contemporary secularized version of primitive apocalyptic and has had an immensely damaging impact on human progress. Fortunately, we have some excellent response to this alarmism from progress researchers like Julian Simon (Ultimate Resource), Greg Easterbrook (Moment on the Earth), Bjorn Lomborg (Skeptical Environmentalist), Matt Ridley (Rational Optimist), James Payne (History of Force), Stephen Pinker (The Better Angels of Our Nature), and others.
4. Corruptors or Creators?: Join me also in taking a closer look at the distorting belief that humanity is a corrupting force in life, and the counter narrative that affirms the wonder of being consciously human and views humanity as a creative force in life. And much more.
Overall, this site presents evidence that affirms optimism regarding humanity and our future. This contrasts with the too often anti-science orientation of alarmist and apocalyptic narratives of despair. On this site you will get some of the best and latest information and insights from the history of human research, discovery, and ideas. There is no greater discovery in all of history than the discovery of unconditional goodness at the core of reality (see below). This is also a stunning new advance in understanding the nature of authentic human being and existence.
Borrowing the story framework of Joseph Campbell (going out, facing monsters/problems, learning lessons) I am tackling some of the more grotesque monsters in history (i.e. threatening or punishing forces/gods) in order to promote liberation at the deepest possible levels of mind, emotion, and spirit. We can be physically and socially free yet still enslaved to ideas and perceptions at the core of our subconscious and worldviews, ideas that are less than authentically human. And how we think about or perceive reality (the ideas or beliefs that we hold) powerfully impacts how we feel, how we respond, and the societies that we create.
So in response to the primary human impulse for meaning and purpose, I pose the question to you- What does it really mean to be authentically human?
Two essays in particular contain more pertinent detail in response to the issues listed above- “Decline or Rise?” and “Retaliation and Unconditional” (see topic bar above).
Further, let me affirm that the best evidence and insights point conclusively to one thing- everything is going to be all right, ultimately, for everyone.
Remembering Nelson Mandela: the South African ambassador said the other day on CNN, “He set people free to be human”. Free from bitterness, hate, and the drive to revenge. Free to forgive, include, and love. What a great human spirit.
This from another columnist: “In his jailhouse memoirs, Mandela wrote that even after spending so many years in a spartan cell on Robben Island – with one visitor a year and one letter every six months – he still had faith in human nature.
“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion,” he wrote in “Long Walk to Freedom.”
“People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
The Personal Cost of Unconditional Forgiveness
Nelson Mandela did a profoundly human thing. He could have come out of prison a bitter man at losing the best years of his life, years having not been able to see his children grow up. He could have sought revenge against his enemies and taken his country into violent civil war. But instead he chose to forgive his enemies and to include them in a new society. How contrary to the response of the Serbs, Croats, and Muslims (around that same time) who turned to hate, revenge, and bloody slaughter following the breakup of their country. As did the people of Rwanda, and far too many others that have given way to vengeance and violence.
The forgiveness that Mandela chose was at great personal cost to many people. If you can find it somewhere, take a look at the documentary Bill Moyers did years ago on the Truth and Reconciliation Committee set up by Mandela. It was not an endeavor to dismiss the atrocities committed under apartheid but to allow offenders to come forward, admit to their actions, and find reconciliation with their new society (a sort of restorative justice approach).
There is one scene in the documentary that is absolutely emotionally wrenching. White policemen are appearing at the front of a room to take responsibility for their excessive violence toward demonstrators. African mothers are at the back of the room crying, and waiting to hear their former oppressors admit to wrong for having killed their children as they fled a demonstration. The policemen refuse to admit to any wrong, arguing that they were just following orders and doing their jobs. In response to their stubborn refusal to admit to unnecessary cruelty toward the children, the mothers begin wailing. It is an expression of heart-broken human pain almost unbearable to watch. Their young children were shot in the back as they fled a demonstration, unarmed.
The film crew let one of the mothers speak directly to the camera after the hearing had ended. She cried something to this effect, as I remember, “We know we must forgive because it is what God expects of us. But it is so hard”. Especially when the offenders will not admit to having committed any wrong.
But what a gift those women have given to their families and to the memory of their departed children. What a gift to all of humanity. They embraced the authentic humanity of unconditional treatment of others, even enemies. They were willing to forgive the worst of crimes against their own children. And they have made the world a better place and lifted us all toward a better existence. Unconditional treatment of others, despite their actions, liberates us all toward something more humane. It liberates us from the endless dead-end cycles of tit for tat violence that have plagued human existence. We owe those brave mothers more than can ever be repaid for their courageous examples. Their inexpressible pain inspires the rest of us to embrace the cost of choosing a more humane way of life.
(And again, as noted repeatedly in the material throughout this site, unconditional response toward others does not diminish the responsibility to protect the innocent, hold one another accountable for actions and consequences, and to restrain those unable or unwilling to control their own worst impulses, especially to violence)
The Ultimate Insight
It is the most profound and liberating insight/ideal ever expressed in all the history of human thought and discovery. “Love your enemies because God does”. This is the core message of the historical Jesus (the non-Christian Jesus).
“Love your enemies because God does”. This statement summarizes the fuller version found in Matthew 5:38-48. It is an ethical challenge based on a stunning theological breakthrough. The historical Jesus was the first in history to repudiate entirely the old view of retaliating/punishing gods for a new view of God as non-retaliating, non-punitive. This is a stunning change in perspective to inspire a stunning change in human behavior. And it is entirely opposite to Christianity’s retaliatory deity.
His statement, “Love your enemies”, has been called a “hard saying”. Perhaps the hardest of all sayings found anywhere in human ethical teaching. However, it takes thought, theology, and ethics to entirely new heights of humanity or humaneness. It opens the way to authentic human response, relating, and existence as nothing else does. It gets us to the very core meaning of unconditional love. It then liberates human consciousness as nothing else ever has from the darkness of enslaving drives to hate, retaliate, and punish, drives that have brought so much misery and suffering to life.
Love your enemies is simply the greatest insight and ideal in all history. It is a courageous expression of the essential meaning of life, to treat every person with unconditional acceptance and generosity. This is something that religion has always derailed with its conditional and retaliatory treatment of enemies (forgiveness and inclusion for believers, rejection and hell for unbelievers).
Someone recently left a bag in a shopping mall and sparked a bomb scare. Mall security cautiously approached the bag and discovered that it contained burritos. They were then able to calm shoppers by reminding them that burritos were only explosive after they were eaten.
One can be scientific if it tries. The other is primitive religion- too often what we have come to know as “green” extremism and fanaticism.
Let me state it another way…
There is a healthy concern for the environment that every human being possesses naturally. Every person is an environmentalist (see environmental transition comment below).
And then there is environmental alarmism (known commonly as environmentalism), a state of agitated extremism that sees crisis and catastrophe everywhere in “fragile” nature. This panicky state of fear-mongering reminds one of Chicken Little’s hysteria over every rattle and squeak in the acorn tree (her global wind alarmism over falling acorns).
Environmental alarmism now has a solid resume of repeated exaggeration and distortion of the state of nature. The latest addition to the CV (resume) is alarmism over climate change, the most natural thing on the earth, with a history now of some 4 billion plus years.
Note some of the more notorious exaggerated scares of the past few decades:
Rachel Carson’s alarmism over chemicals and DDT (see DDT FAQS at the Junkscience.org website).
Global cooling panic in the 70s. Yes. It was just more natural climate change which has been occurring for over four billion years.
Population explosion and mass famine panic. Not to panic. More minds means more creative solutions to problems that arise.
Deforestation and denuded planet alarm. 70 years of data show this was never a crisis issue (Skeptical Environmentalist, p. 111).
Ocean fisheries exhausted and collapsing by 2048 panic. Former leading fisheries alarmist, Boris Worm, has backed off this one.
Species holocaust with half of all species extinct by 2100. Ultimate Resource, ch. 31. There never was a species holocaust caused by humanity.
Agricultural land degradation and food crisis. Another exaggerated crisis. And more.
Welcome to the world of endless apocalyptic nuttiness.
Most media love the alarmist narrative because it suits perfectly their own primary orientation to creating fear (see David Altheide’s Creating Fear: media and the manufacture of crisis). As Altheide notes, media are not truth seekers but entertainers lusting for market share. They love alarmism just as comedians love the walking disaster called Rob Ford.
Now admit it- didn’t environmentalists play a useful role over the past few decades in warning the public about problems in varied areas of nature? Yes they did. But so did market forces and businesses play a useful role in environmental improvement. It has been shown, for instance, that air quality in US cities was already improving before the enactment of the Clean Air Act. That is because all people want clean air and businesses will take action to ensure they meet such demands. If they don’t, they won’t be around for long.
And what about markets and businesses notably reducing CO2 emissions in the US over the past few years by transitioning to shale gas, via fracking? Environmentalists have actually opposed this transition. Go figure. And of course, the reduction in CO2 is only to be viewed as a benefit if you accept the theory that rising CO2 is a problem in the first place (see Climate Change update below).
But let me continue this line of thought that we are all environmentalists now.
Whenever you skeptically challenge environmental alarmism you open yourself to the dismissive putdown of being called a “denier”, something akin to holocaust deniers. That is the pathetic anti-science state that environmental alarmism has come to. Remember, modern science actually began with skepticism- the honorable skepticism of people like Galileo and Copernicus.
Environmental alarmists would also like the public to believe that they alone hold authentic concern for nature and they alone speak authoritatively on environmental issues.
Nonsense. Every human on the planet is an environmentalist. Everyone is genuinely concerned about our world, nature, or our environment. The proof that we are all natural environmentalists comes from things like the “environmental transition” research (similar to Environmental Kuznets Curve research, see, for instance, http://www.spiked-online.com/newsite/article/2714#.UqjHkDh3uM8 ). This research shows that when people are wealthy enough to meet their basic needs they then automatically turn to improving their environments (the “tipping point” figure on this used to be around $8,000 annual income). Trying to halt economic growth and development, as environmentalists regularly do, will maintain poverty which is the greatest destroyer of the environment.
And nobody denies that there are environmental issues and problems that need ongoing attention and resolution. All of us can see that. Protecting the environment is a widespread and legitimate social concern that should have the attention of everyone.
What needs to be challenged more specifically is environmental alarmism and it’s all too common unscientific exaggeration and distortion regarding the varied elements of nature. Environmental alarmism has consistently denied masses of good evidence that show another side to environmental issues, that of ongoing improvement and progress in all the major elements of life. Environmental alarmism has too often been a rejection of science for apocalyptic mythology, with its consistent 100% historical failure rate.
To get at the true state of the world (or any particular element of the world) we must embrace so-called skeptical viewpoints and remain open to all evidence, from all sides. That is fundamental to good, basic science. As noted above, environmental alarmists have too often tried to shut down contrary evidence and discussion, labelling skeptics and their counter positions as “deniers” unworthy of inclusion in public debate. This is a shameful denial of basic science. For detail on the shoddy anti-science methodology of alarmism see the essay Rise or Decline and specifically note the chapter on apocalyptic methodology. The unscientific alarmist approach focuses on isolated examples that do not represent larger populations or situations, and aberrational short term reversals to long term trends. This is not only shoddy science but at times borders on the deceptive or fraudulent.
Alarmists have repetitively expressed their views on varied issues in the excessively exaggerated terms of apocalyptic mythology, distorting environmental situations as portents of looming collapse (“tipping points”) and the end of all. This is done to frighten the public into adopting solutions that have been consistently harmful, not only to economies and people, but also to the environment. Note, for example, the bio-fuels fiasco built on alarm over the use of fossil fuels. Alarmists tried to shift people away from fossil fuels to bio-fuels and ended up causing immense suffering to the poorest people across the world (unnecessary rise in food prices), and this alarm also set in motion forces that led to more unnecessary deforestation.
And as noted above, and repeatedly below, take a good look at Rachel Carson’s chemical alarmism and the horrific consequence in the unnecessary deaths of multiple millions of people, mostly children.
Too many elements of political ideology have tainted environmental alarmism and undermined good science. And more importantly, there is that mind-darkening influence of primitive mythology- apocalyptic mythology- that has shaped environmental alarmism into the unscientific and distorting movement that it has now become. This page details a lot of this background mythology behind historical alarmist movements like environmentalism.
To summarize- the public narrative of environmental alarmism has been that too many people are consuming too many resources (human economic growth and development) and this is leading to the collapse of nature and the looming end of civilization. But masses of good evidence reveal a counter narrative that shows something quite different (e.g. Simon’s Ultimate Resource, Easterbrook’s A Moment on the Earth, Lomborg’s Skeptical Environmentalist, Goklany’s The Improving State of the World, and others). The evidence shows that growing populations offer life a growing number of intelligent minds that come up with unlimited creative solutions to all problems and the result is that life improves for all. And as humanity is freed from poverty by economic growth and development, people are then able to care more for their environment and so nature benefits specifically from human economic growth and development. Again, see Rise or Decline for detail.
Qualifier time: something for everyone.
To readers tired of God-talk, Christian-talk, Jesus-talk, and religion in general, let me offer that if you are going to solve a problem properly (and the biggest of all problems is the problem of punishment in human thought and society) then you need to get to the root cause of the problem. Even the Mennonites, a more traditional Christian group, get this point somewhat. See the new comment below on their endeavor to change justice systems from a punitive emphasis to a more restorative focus. They understand that Christian punishment theology is at the root of the problem of punishing justice and ongoing violence in Western societies. They peripherally make the point- others quoted below do it more directly- that Paul/Christianity has had immense influence on Western consciousness and society. And while I appreciate some of the Mennonite insights, I reject their solution of “reframing” Christian atonement (i.e. divine punishment of sin) as something nice. That is simply putting more lipstick on a pig. In doing that, they are trying to make something inherently nasty, appear to be virtuous. To change metaphors, they are using leaky old atonement wineskins and thereby wasting the new wine of Jesus’ non-punishing insights.
(Note: any reference to the historical Jesus on this page is not an appeal to an authority figure or appeal to some symbol of divine authority. The historical Jesus is useful to illustrate the concept of unconditional love but we are responsible to take past insights, refine them further, and continue the project of understanding authentic humanity. Each of us has ultimate authority in our personal human consciousness and personal experience)
To religious/Christian readers- don’t take offense at my straightforward comment on the problems of Christianity and religion in general. I am not engaged in “attacking” your religion but, rather, I am trying to understand the problem of punishment/vengeance, its devastating impact on human consciousness and existence, what contributes to this problem, and how to properly correct it. When doing this, one becomes aware that Christianity and its Christ myth have been shamefully and inexcusably responsible for burying the central insight of Jesus, that God is non-punishing. Jesus’ discovery was the ultimate solution to the horrible mistake of the ancients in projecting punishment onto deity.
This scandal of Christianity opposing Jesus’ breakthrough insight that God is unconditional, non-retaliatory, or non-punishing, and then burying this insight under primitive conditional theology (deity demanding atonement and threatening punishment), is a scandal not yet fully exposed and dealt with. It is a scandal with nuclear-level repercussions because Christianity claims to represent the historical Jesus.
The Mennonite Solution– putting lipstick on a pig, patching old leaky wineskins
(Note: the Mennonites are to be applauded for their work on reforming justice from a punitive orientation toward a more restorative emphasis. They also make some useful insights that punishing justice is rooted in views of the Christian God as punishing. But they offer only half-measure solutions. They insist on maintaining the old leaky wineskins of Christian atonement thinking. This does not ultimately work to solve the root problem as atonement is based on the concept of punitive deity demanding blood sacrifice- i.e. God punishing sin in the death of Jesus. Just as theology determines ethics, so old terms and frameworks will distort and undermine reformist or reframing efforts.)
Ted Grimsrud, a Mennonite theologian and advocate of Peace Theology presents something of the general Mennonite approach to reforming Western justice systems away from the current punitive emphasis and toward a more restorative emphasis. I appreciate this basic thrust. These Mennonite theologians are to be commended for their cutting edge work in this regard. Grimsrud offers some thoughtful insights in his essays such as noting that the root issue behind punishment and its violence is the theological issue. People act punitively because they hold views of ultimate reality (i.e. God) as a punitive reality. Our views of deity can lead us to override our more humane impulses to mercy and compassion, says Grimsrud. You also see this influence of views of ultimate reality on human behavior in other religions.
Grimsrud clearly gets the point that views of a punishing God have undergirded the development of Western justice as retribution or punishment. This view of punishing deity has subsequently caused immense damage and misery over Christian and Western history in keeping cycles of violence going.
These Mennonites get something of this basic linkage that was also made by Jesus, though they do not point out the real nature of the linkage in the summary of Jesus’ core theme (Matt.5:38-48), how a truly humane theology should determine an authentically humane ethic (i.e. that non-retaliatory ethics are based on a new view of God as entirely non-retaliatory). Unfortunately, they miss Jesus’ radical solution in that link, his getting rid of the view of punitive deity entirely and thereby blowing away the foundations of punishment thinking and related atonement response that is at the heart of most historical religion. Jesus view of non-punitive deity (unconditional love) is what the Mennonites are actually looking for, but completely miss. It is the diamond in the dunghill.
Paul also missed (or intentionally dismissed) the new theology and critical linkage to ethics that was made by Jesus and ended up making his illogical linkage of non-retaliatory ethics to retaliatory deity (Rom.12). The Mennonites do essentially the same thing as Paul (trying to promote non-punishing ethics but retaining a punishing God) by maintaining elements of the atonement framework in their explanation.
So the Mennonite solution to the problem of punishment and violence ultimately runs aground on their failure to properly confront and fully resolve the root issue of punishment as embedded in God. What they actually end up doing is merely putting lipstick on a pig.
Let me explain by outlining Grimsrud’s basic approach in his essay Rethinking God, Justice, and the Treatment of Offenders. Dennis Weaver takes a similar reformist approach in his essays.
Grimsrud begins noting that it is natural for humans to avoid violence and love others. When we go against this natural inclination there is usually some reason. We act violently toward others “because some other value, commitment or instinct overrides the inclination not to be violent” (again- theology determines ethics). He explains this in terms of Western justice systems and their orientation to punishment (inflicting pain or violence on offenders, even to the death penalty). The justification for inflicting punishment via justice is tied to an understanding of ultimate reality (God). He refers here to the traditional view of God as holy and demanding punishment for violating his laws that set forth right and good, as well as wrong or evil. God demands punishment for any offense against his law. This theology is at the root of punishment and our systems of Western justice as punishment.
(Note: Holiness is a human construct projected onto deity. It is about purity and separation from the unclean- i.e. defiled/fallen humanity- and the need to punish offense. Holiness is behind the myth of a supposed separation of humanity from deity and the need to repair the severed relationship, to engage some salvation plan. This is all distorting mythology. Humanity has never been separated from God, and there is no need to “get right with God” or heal/restore some imagined broken relationship. This sin/salvation thinking violates entirely the unconditional theology of Jesus).
Grimsrud continues: When Western justice systems were developed during the Middle Ages they were based on Christian punishment theology and newly emerging concepts of law. This reinforced in Western culture a retributive view of justice. Again, in this system God was viewed as holy and not able to countenance any form of sin. The Christian teaching on atonement was also part of this picture. The only way that God could forgive people was if some payment for sin (atonement) was made. And hence the death of his son Jesus as a sacrifice to pay for sin. So God’s holiness was satisfied through the ultimate act of violence- the death of Jesus. Roman legal philosophy was also part of this development of Western justice, as were the writings of early church theologians like Augustine and Anselm who emphasized legal/punitive categories for expressing Christian justice and atonement. Grimsrud also notes that the primary instrument for applying punishment came to be the prison system (the US now imprisons more people than any other country on Earth). This is all good traditional grasp and summary of Christian and Western history, as far as it goes.
(Note: it helps to remember that this belief in violent divine punishment goes back to antiquity and predates Christian and even Jewish thinking on atonement. It is original human mythology, found even in the Sumerian epics. Focusing on the later church theologians as responsible for the nasty punitive emphasis in theology misses the real root of this emphasis in pagan mythology. The original error of punishment in deity began with the primitive belief that there were punitive forces behind the elements of nature and hence they needed to be appeased with blood sacrifice. That sparked all subsequent salvation religion- I have detailed this history at www.wendellkrossa.com ).
Grimsrud notes further that the death of Jesus reinforced the need for punitive violence- the idea of pain and suffering to satisfy justice. Hence, argues Grimsrud, “Retributive theology, which emphasized legalism and punishment, deeply influenced western culture through rituals, hymns, and symbols. An image ‘of judicial murder, the cross, bestrode Western culture from the eleventh to the eighteenth century’, with huge impact on the western psyche. It entered the ‘structures of affect’ of western Europe and ‘in doing so…pumped retributivism into the legal bloodstream, reinforcing the retributive tendencies of the law’”. Again, they are well on track in this summary, though the image of the cross as a symbol of divine violence came to prominence in Christianity much earlier under the influence of Constantine (see Constantine’s Sword by James Carroll).
The real problem, as the Mennonite theologians see it, is that there has been an obsession with retributive themes in the Bible and a neglect of restorative themes in the same Bible (again, among other things, the early church theologians are blamed for this emphasis). The result is the theology of a retributive God who desires violence. The root problem is theological. And the result of our punitive views of deity are justice systems that are punitive and only alienate offenders even more with punitive practices and soul-destroying prisons.
So the solution according to Grimsrud? First, understand that our views of God are just human constructs. We create our views of God- they are “human imaginative constructions”. So how to correct this root problem of views of a punishing God? Go back to the Bible and look for an alternative understanding of God and justice. And then construct a new better alternative basis for a more humane justice system, a more restorative-oriented system. He argues for an alternative reading of the Bible, focusing more on the kinder and gentler features. Weaver (see bottom) argues for using the non-violence of Jesus as his baseline alternative approach. The Mennonite solution is basically an issue of focus or emphasis. Keep the old wineskin in place (the larger atonement framework) but just patch it up better.
Here Grimsrud suggests such things as seeing that God’s compassion should take precedence over God’s wrath (however, the wrath is still there). But we should view God’s justice more in terms of mercy and healing, not just punishment (however, the punishment is still there). And he again returns to blaming the later Christian theologians for wrongly emphasizing the nastier parts of the Bible to construct their theology of punishment. To correct that, we should focus more on the nicer bits in the Bible that speak of mercy and compassion. Go easy on the old book and blame later interpreters for missing its “real message”.
While doing this, Grimsrud acknowledges that the nasty bits are still there- i.e. judgment and punishment. But we just need to look at them more through the lens of mercy and compassion and the nicer bits. God’s justice is not just punishment but also compassion “which effects salvation”. God punishing his son Jesus with a violent death is about destroying evil through suffering love. You see what Grimsrud is doing. He feels obligated to preserve the basic structure of atonement as somehow valid and sacred- it is never really in question as fundamentally wrong. The atonement sacrifice of Jesus must not be fundamentally challenged but still honored. So just reframe it, reconstruct it in a gentler and kinder manner. Make it seem nicer, not nasty as the Church theologians did (e.g. Augustine and Anselm). Grimsrud is rehashing Paul’s error and ignoring the solution offered by Jesus. Paul tried to make it all seem nice by couching atonement in terms of grace, love, and such. But that only distorts these human ideals.
This patching/reformist approach leaves the basic background structure of the atonement perspective in place. It retains and protects the fundamental understanding in theology of the need to punish. No matter how much lipstick you put on it, atonement is still the giant pig in the room. And just as theology determines ethics, so traditional meanings will override and shape the new explanations that we may try to apply to the old punishment concepts like atonement. Traditional atonement understanding will still determine in some manner the new meanings that we try to give to atonement (this is what also ruins Weaver’s reframing efforts).
This retention of some atonement framework short-circuits the Mennonite endeavor to really solve the problem of violence and punishment in our justice systems. God is still fundamentally viewed as punishing and violent, no matter how much lipstick you have applied to that God.
There is a proper solution to this problem of punitive deity that undergirds our punitive systems of justice. And it is also located in the Christian bible. It concerns the central insight and theme of the historical Jesus- that God was not violent and punitive. That insight contradicted the entire history of human understanding of deity as about judgment and punishment. Jesus rejected that old view in his Matt.5 statement that there should be no more eye for eye treatment of others, no more retaliation, punishment, payback, or revenge because God does not do such things. Instead, we should love even offending enemies because God does. We should include all the same and exhibit unconditional generosity toward all because God does. And this non-punishing theology also meant no demand for ultimate punishment as in atonement.
Just to be very clear, here is a summary version of the actual statement of Jesus: “Do not retaliate against evil (i.e. engage eye for eye) but instead, love others without conditions and you will be like God (this connects the non-retaliating ethic to the non-retaliating theology). God loves enemies, is kind, merciful, and compassionate to the bad as well as the good, and God gives good things to all alike (unconditionally), both to the just and unjust”. There is no discrimination or exclusion, no insider/outsider tribalism (believer/unbeliever dualism) in the unconditional love of God. As Jesus added, do not be like the pagans who only love fellow insiders. That was the tribal love that Paul retreated back to (discriminating exclusively between saved believers and damned unbelievers).
The central insight and theme of Jesus presented a radical new understanding of God as non-retaliatory, non-punishing. It was a foundational new view of God as entirely unconditional love. A God that had never demanded conditions before he would forgive, include, or offer generosity. A God of no conditions at all. None. Jesus’ God just forgave and included all, and was generous to all, both just and unjust, good and bad, without preconditions or prerequisites. There was no paying of a debt first, no atonement demanded. Look at parables like the wasteful son for an example of what Jesus meant. Happy to see his son again, the father did not demand a sacrificial payment but rather called for a feast and unconditionally refused even an apology. This theme runs all through the teaching of Jesus as his dominant theme- unconditional treatment of all because this is how God treats all. God was always unconditional love. He was never a God of punishment, demanding atonement. That was the error of the ancients and all subsequent salvation religion was built on that error- the need to appease and please threatening gods with violent atonement (blood sacrifice).
But tragically for Western consciousness and society, Paul rejected Jesus’ breakthrough and reverted back to a view of God as punitive and violent. Note his basic theological statement in Rom.12- Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord. That punishment theology of Paul became Christianity and the basis of violent Christian atonement. The demand to violently punish an innocent victim in order to pay for sin. Violence and punishment as the solution to all the wrong in life and history. But there was no such demand for punishment in Jesus. His theology of no retaliation in God, no punishment in God, meant no atonement was needed, no apocalyptic judgment or hellfire was looming, and no salvation plan was necessary.
The real solution is to recognize and embrace seriously the fundamental contradiction between Jesus and Paul/Christianity. Take the historical Jesus seriously. But that, of course, spells death to the atonement foundation of the Christian religion, and therefore death to Christianity itself, as well as most of the rest of historical religion. This is just too scary a solution for most Christians.
Also, part of the solution here is the rejection of Biblicism- the belief that the Bible is all inspired by God and so we are obligated to maintain all of its basic elements somehow. Instead, we need to embrace the issue of obvious “dissimilarities” or differences noted in the search for the historical Jesus, a search that argues there was a real historical person that was quite different from the Christian Jesus, and entirely opposite to Paul’s Christ myth. Scholars recognize that the gospel writers claimed that Jesus had said a lot of things that are obviously not original to him. These are things that I would argue contradict entirely his core theme of unconditional treatment of all people.
Until the Mennonites are willing to do this they will continue the struggle to properly and thoroughly change the very basis of punitive justice systems, and will end up defending and reaffirming the pagan definition of God as violent and punitive. That is the only outcome of their refusing to let go of the felt need for some form of atonement, for defending atonement theology in Christianity. Anyway you frame it- nasty or nice- historically atonement has been about payment and punishment (i.e. violence in God). The demand for blood sacrifice to pay for sin is a demand for violent punishment of an innocent victim, what Stephen Mitchell rightly calls “ghastly paganism” (The Gospel According to Jesus). Going in defensively-driven circles (feeling the need to maintain some form of atonement) the Mennonites end up right back at the beginning with the old atonement framework, the foundation of punitive justice.
(Note: Christian theologian, J.I. Packer, says that “penal substitution is the mainstream, historic view of Christianity and the essential meaning of the atonement”- see Wikipedia on Christian atonement. The penal substitution view of the atonement states that Christ was punished in the place of sinners in order to appease an angry and offended God so that God could forgive sin. This view of atonement is what Stephen Mitchell rightly calls “ghastly paganism”. This mythology is founded on the base impulses to revenge, punish, and destroy. There is nothing of authentic love, mercy, forgiveness, or grace in such views)
The solution is much more than what the Mennonites are suggesting. It is more than just seeing another nicer side to God’s justice as in the Old Testament prophets. Sure, the prophets did speak of justice as liberation of the oppressed and protection of the fatherless and widowed. They got something of the mercy and compassion part. But they only made partial breakthroughs toward understanding the true nature of deity as unconditional love. They still retained the elements of judgment and punishment in deity. Consequently, they created a “diamonds in a dunghill” situation (Thomas Jefferson’s comment). And that larger context of punishing deity determined the meaning of the nicer elements that they tried to introduce. The OT writers kept in place the basic understanding of the pagans long before- that deity was about violent punishment and the demand for appeasement by sacrifice.
If you are going to analyze and correct a problem such as violence and punitive justice then you must go to the root of the problem and understand it fully and set if forth clearly. Only then can you properly correct it. There is too much wasted effort putting new wine into partially patched and still leaky wineskins. The Mennonite effort is still a patching effort and in the end it wastes the wine.
The Jesus’ solution is just too radical for most Christians because it spells the death of all atonement thinking, nasty or nice. As I noted above, the unconditional, non-punishing deity of Jesus blows away the foundations of the Christian religion quite entirely, and most of the rest of historical religion. That is simply too radical for most religious people to embrace, just as Jesus’ own followers had trouble embracing it, and others like Paul simply rejected it outright. It offended his sense of justice as proper payback, as some form of necessary ultimate vengeance and punishment.
Note: Dennis Weaver, the other Mennonite theologian, rejects what he calls classic Christian theories of atonement (violent, punitive satisfaction) for his Christus Victor approach to atonement, interpreting atonement in terms of Jesus’ non-violent teaching, what he calls oxomoronically “non-violent atonement”- victory by non-violence. Unfortunately, he also leaves in place the larger Christian context of atonement belief, no matter that he believes that he has fundamentally altered it. He misses the essential breakthrough insight of Jesus that there is no atonement of any form required by a God that is unconditional love. The old atonement wineskin must be thrown away entirely, not endlessly patched with creative new versions of the old Christus Victor.
(Note: The Christus Victor theory of the atonement viewed Christ’s death as the means by which the powers of evil were defeated. This view is related to the ransom theory of atonement which argues that the death of Christ was a ransom sacrifice paid to Satan or God to pay the debt of human sin, and free humanity. This has not been the mainstream, historic Christian view of the atonement)
Weaver appears to offer a more radical approach in that he guts the old satisfaction theories and replaces them with his new non-violence theme. But he insists on describing his theme in terms of atonement and thereby he preserves the overall atonement framework. His project founders on his insistence on maintaining the old framework and terms. It is still patching torn wineskins or putting lipstick on a pig. And then most strangely, he goes to Revelation to explain his new approach about the non-violent Jesus. Revelation is the vilest piece of human literature ever concocted by a hate-filled mind. It presents an orgy of divine violence, hate, and destruction unlike anything else ever written. The Christ of Revelation is presented as a grotesque monster with eyes afire with rage, a sword projecting out of his mouth to kill and destroy, and his robes dripping with blood from victims. This Christian Jesus makes a suicide bomber look like a Sunday School picnicker. Revelation is also full of primitive Zoroastrian dualism (good opposing bad), along with cosmic warfare and apocalyptic ending.
These reformist efforts ultimately founder as they continue to bury their diamonds in dunghills. They try to spray perfume over the dunghill to make it something more acceptable. They continue to put new wine in torn wineskins. They continue to waste effort putting lipstick on pigs. Weaver tries to put new guts into the pig, but it is still the same old pig of atonement thinking. The historical meaning of atonement remains- the demand for bloody sacrifice as punishment for sin, as payment for sin. Placing great human ideals in these old contexts only distorts the new humane ideals. The proper solution was offered by Jesus. Get a hold of the wonder of unconditional love in God and make that your baseline for understanding and expressing everything else.