A brief history of punishment; Tackling Paul; Ethics and theology contrasted- Jesus versus Paul; Maccoby on Paul inventing his Christ myth; Ethics and theology compared; Central theme repeat; Paul’s reversal/retreat; Eliminating Zoroastrian dualism; Solving the root causes of violence; The wonder of being human; The most potent force against evil; CO2 or natural variation?; Secularized mythology- apocalyptic myth in modern ideology
The unconditional treatment of all people presents an authentic way to peace on Earth. It goes to the root of the human tendency to violence and war- the impulse to retaliate and punish. And it challenges the foundational beliefs that have long validated retaliation and punishment.
Also, here is my review of Simon Joseph’s new book The Nonviolent Messiah read my review here . Simon argues convincingly that the new theology of Jesus- a nonviolent, non-punishing God- demands a radical rethinking of core Christian beliefs.
And here is an essay by Robert Perry on the unconditional theme of historical Jesus (Click here to read essay) . Perry expresses well the spirit of unconditional as found in the core teaching of the Palestinian sage.
New material at bottom just above the Joke Bin…includes comment on Harold Ellens’ “The Destructive Power of Religion: Violence in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam”. Ellens is helpful in pointing to the destructive impact of religious ideas but weak on the solution to this root cause of violence. He, and his contributors, get bogged down in endeavor to reform religion. My response- a conditionally oriented institution cannot properly communicate unconditional reality. New wine needs new wineskins.
See also “The Futility of Reform” that comments on the endeavor to reform Christianity and the confusion that is created by claiming that the teaching of Jesus is foundational Christianity. Not true. The teaching of Paul is original, foundational Christianity. Jesus, to the contrary, advocated a new unconditional theology that was entirely opposite to Paul’s highly conditional theology.
In my response to the Ellens material I have outlined the brief history of how our basest impulses to exclude and harm others are incited and validated by our highest ideals and authorities (often religious ideals and authorities). I note how ancient people projected their worst features onto their gods (i.e. violence as in atonement theology, us versus them tribalism, domination, and destruction of enemies), and then subsequently they used those gods to validate the inhuman treatment of others. To solve this root cause of inhumanity we need to thoroughly re-evaluate our most fundamental ideas and beliefs, especially religious ideas and beliefs, and discard those that do not fully express unconditional reality. We need to build unconditional into the very foundations of our thinking or worldviews, as the highest expression of authentic humanity.
A Brief History of Punishment
In the earliest human writing (Sumerian) we find that ancient people already believed that the gods were punishing spirits. Note, for instance, that Enki was punished with illness for eating forbidden fruit (Epic of Enki and Ninhursag). The theme of punishment then developed into the myth of an apocalypse as a great final punishment of all people (Sumerian Flood myth).The god Enlil wanted to destroy all humanity with a great deluge. The threat of divine punishment, in turn, sparked the appeasement response among people- how to avoid punishment by offering sacrifice to the threatening gods (i.e. salvation religion). We can argue that religion emerged as the social institution to tell people how to appease and please threatening and punitive deity. Christianity later introduced the innovation of punishing an innocent victim in place of guilty people (reviving the idea of human sacrifice). This orientation to punishment has remained dominant in human society over history in such things as punitive justice. And it is all built on a horrific error in early human thinking and mythology.
Some linkages under consideration- theology determines ethics (the linkage between belief and behavior)
This site argues that the greatest error in human perception is that there is some punitive force/spirit behind life. Punishment is the most destructive feature that has ever been projected onto ultimate ideals or authorities. Why should that concern us? Because people have always appealed to higher ideals and authorities to validate their lives. Consequently, the belief in punishing gods has long supported punishing violence in human society. Vengeful gods have long validated vengeful response among people. Theology (how we view the gods) has always been used to validate ethics or human behavior. The way we view ultimate ideals and authorities (i.e. gods) very much determines how we behave and how we live our lives.
To see this in operation visit religious sites or read religious literature and note how people repeatedly validate their behavior by appeal to the “will of God” or the “law of God”. Or just look across the world today at people claiming that they are killing their enemies because that is the will of their vengeful and violent God. And note the same punishing treatment of others in a variety of less extreme situations such as engaging justice as punishment (i.e. notably the US, a significantly Christian nation, that imprisons more people than any other nation on Earth). Note also in relation to this, that punishment responses do not work with children or criminal offenders in general (see report by Australian Psychological Society).
Now why include the historical Jesus in this discussion? Because the historical Jesus made the critical breakthrough that directly and potently countered the destructive ideas of punishment, retaliation, and revenge. His stunning breakthrough was that God does not retaliate or punish. The central point of Matthew 5:38-48 is “Do not retaliate against offenders but, instead, love your enemies because God does not retaliate but is merciful and compassionate to all, giving good things (i.e. sun, rain) to all alike, both good and bad”.
That was the first clear challenge to the primitive error of punishing deity. It was a radical challenge to all previous human perception of deity. It went to the heart of the problem, to the highest of human ideals- that of God- and especially to the idea of retaliating gods that had long supported inhuman practices of punishment. His insight then demolished the foundation of most religion which had claimed that people needed to appease the threatening gods in some manner, to pay for sin (i.e. that people were required to engage some salvation or atonement). In doing this Jesus offered humanity the greatest liberation movement ever- the liberation of mind, consciousness, and spirit. It was liberation from the fear of ultimate threat, ultimate retaliation, and ultimate conditions.
I will repeat for emphasis: the historical Jesus challenged and overturned the distorted perception embedded in the highest of human ideals and authorities- the perception of God as punitive, vengeful, and destructive. In doing that he made the most fundamental and radical change to human perception of ultimate realities in the entire history of human thought.
Paul, unfortunately, reversed the brilliant insight of Jesus and returned to primitive retaliation theology (a punishing God). Paul re-established that pagan error of punitive deity at the foundation of his new religion, Christianity. Note his comment in Romans 12 that people should leave room for the wrath of God because primitive people claimed that God said, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay”. The profundity of Jesus’ theological breakthrough makes Paul’s retreat all the more stunning and shameful. When he embedded punishment at the center of his Christ myth (i.e. a sacrifice of atonement, a god punished for sin) he contradicted entirely the central theme of Jesus. In doing that he missed an unparalleled opportunity to profoundly change the belief/behavior linkage for the better. It was a huge blunder and tragedy for Christianity to make that retreat to pagan mythology. Like many others Paul probably felt that Jesus’ new theology of non-punishment was just too scandalous and impractical. It violated his sense of fairness and right, his belief in justice as proper payback. Just like those characters in the stories of Jesus that were upset with the scandalous generosity being exhibited (i.e. the Father of the Prodigal son and the vineyard owner).
It is critically important to once again recover the key insight of the historical Jesus (that God does not punish), an insight that has long been buried under the Christian theology of retaliating deity. That insight is vital to the full liberation of human consciousness and to our progress toward a more humane future.
This explains why I have included some fairly intense focus here on the historical Jesus.
Note: Advocating for the unconditional treatment of every human person is not advocacy for pacifism. It has a lot to do with the attitudes that shape us as human (note comment below from Karen Armstrong on the Chinese sage). And it has to do with the ideals that we strive toward, and our personal responses to others, as we try to make a better world. Also, any common sense understanding of love embraces the responsibility to protect the innocent (including the active use of force to stop violent offenders). However, in all our qualifying of unconditional (i.e. how we actually apply it in the messy reality of life) we need to be careful that we do not diminish the scandalous wonder of the core reality that we are talking about.
New: See new comment further below on “The Mennonite Solution- Lipstick on a Pig” (just below “Environmentalist/Environmentalism”). Also, the comment on “Mimetic Mennonites” points to the Mennonite project to restate/reframe core Christian themes. This illustrates a wider Christian approach to moderating the harsher themes of Christianity. Ultimately, this does not work to resolve the root causes of violence. Hanging on to some form of atonement (even a lipstick-covered version) causes people to instinctively revert to the perception of required conditions (i.e. threat, punishment, and salvation thinking). The Mennonites, like Paul, miss the unconditional insight of Jesus and insist on maintaining primitive conditional theology (i.e. atonement, Salvationism).The breakthrough insight of the Historical Jesus- unconditional ethics and theology- goes to the heart of what went wrong in early human thought and offers a powerful corrective response to that primitive error of punishing deity.
And another New…There are some surprising things to learn about how Paul may have invented Christianity. This is not just a Christian or religious issue but a larger human society issue. Christianity, with its vengeful, punishing theology, has been largely responsible for re-enforcing the punishment/revenge perspective in public consciousness. This comment is just below “Tackling Paul”.
Note also new comment on the punishment impulse as the main driver behind human myth-making and religion. Also, some new comment on Paul’s great reversal to the “insanely disproportionate punishment of a punitive father” (Stephen Mitchell referring to Paul’s theological views), and then some new comment on Paul’s main themes (i.e. divine wrath, blood appeasement, payback justice, oppositional dualism- election and rejection, and so on). And then, my view of “greatest” things also in the mix below.
See further below the new comment directed to the Jesus Seminar regarding the apocalyptic debate. Also, see the recent post “CO2 or Natural Variation?” More detailed comment on unconditional reality is further below. Unconditional in the Nelson Mandela story is also below.
Clarification: non-retaliation is tightly pair-bonded with unconditional love, both being aspects of the same reality (negative/positive).
Why go after Paul, as I do on this page, and possibly offend many good Christians who venerate the apostle so highly? I do it because of Paul’s still outsize influence on how we think today, on how we shape our worldviews, our personal responses, our treatment of others, and our overall societies. His influence has been, and still is, profound on Western consciousness and culture, and through the West to the entire world. Paul’s Christ myth has been the singularly most influential myth in all history (Bob Brinsmead). More than anything else, it is responsible for bringing the damaging apocalyptic perspective into our modern world. Correspondingly, Paul’s religion (Christianity), with its sharply contrasting theology of supreme conditional atonement, has done more than anything else to bury the core unconditional theme of the historical Jesus. You can sum up the stunning contrast between Jesus and Paul in the following oppositional terms- non-retaliation vs. retaliation, non-punishment vs. punishment, non-destruction vs. destruction, or unconditional vs. conditional.
James Tabor, among many others, has also arrived at the conclusion that Christianity is quite entirely opposite to what Jesus taught. He makes the following statements on Paul (in his book “Paul and Jesus”, Preface): “I maintain there was a version of Christianity before Paul, affirmed both by Jesus and his original followers, with tenets and affirmations quite opposite to these of Paul…the message of Paul, which created Christianity as we know it, and the message of the historical Jesus and his earliest followers, were not the same. In fact, they were sharply opposed to one another…” Tabor adds, “Paul’s strongly apocalyptic perspective…influenced all he said and did…Christianity, as we came to know it, is Paul and Paul is Christianity. The bulk of the New Testament is dominated by his theological vision…”. He then notes the significant influence of Paul on modern Western thinking: “Paul is the most influential person in human history, and realize it or not, he has shaped practically all we think about everything….the foundations of Western civilization- from our assumptions about reality to our societal and personal ethics- rest in a singular way upon the heavenly visions and apparitions of the apostle Paul. We are all cultural heirs of Paul, with the well-established doctrines and traditions of mainstream Christianity deeply entrenched in our culture. In contrast, Jesus as a historical figure… has been largely lost to our culture…” And much more.
Note: Tabor does not fully explain the Zoroastrian influence on Paul (i.e. apocalyptic dualism) and he does not clearly set forth the nature of the contradiction between Paul and Jesus.
Ethics and Theology Contrasted- Jesus vs. Paul
This site repeatedly sets forth the stunning contradiction between the message of the historical Jesus and the entirely opposing message of Paul and Christianity. The historical Jesus presented a new ethic and theology oriented to unconditional forgiveness, unconditional inclusion of all, and unconditional generosity toward all. Paul and his Christian religion retreated back to a pagan view of God as excluding, punishing, and vengefully destroying disagreeing outsiders. Paul’s theology embodied the worst error of primitive minds- that there was some punishing force behind life. The contradiction between Jesus and Paul illustrates the greater human story of our struggle to leave a brutal past for a more human future. And it illustrates the ongoing resistance of many people, like Paul, to that liberation and advance.
Look, once again, at the essence of the contradiction in these summary statements of the core themes of Jesus and Paul, noting particularly their starkly opposing views of God.
Ethic and Theology of Jesus (Matthew 5:38-48, Luke 6)
Do not retaliate against evil, but instead, love others unconditionally and you will be like God (this connects the non-retaliating ethic to the non-retaliating theology). God loves enemies, is kind, merciful, and compassionate to the evil and gives good things to all alike (unconditionally), both just and unjust.
(Note: Jesus does not say- “Do not defend yourselves”, but rather, “Do not retaliate in kind, with eye for eye, with getting even”. This is a notable distinction)
Ethic and Theology of Paul (Romans 12)
Do not repay any one evil for evil, do not take revenge but (this connects the non-retaliating ethic with the absolutely contradicting retaliatory theology) leave room for God’s wrath…for ”Vengeance is mine, I will repay says the Lord”.
Paul rejects and reverses the theological insight of Jesus, entirely. And his primitive retaliatory theology became Christianity.
The historical Jesus, with his non-retaliation insight, offered humanity the greatest potential liberation ever. He went to the heart of what was wrong in human thought and corrected it. He went to the very root of primitive mythology that was oriented to revenge, punishment, and destruction of differing others. He rejected that outright (no more eye for eye) and stated that God was unconditional love. But Paul reverted back to primitive myth by reviving the pagan view of God as punishing and vengeful.
The Christian message could have been about Jesus’ new insight- the wonder of unconditional love in deity. But instead, it became about Paul’s opposite view- the horror of divine vengeance and conditional atonement and salvation.
This is an unprecedented scandal (and opportunity) waiting to explode in human consciousness, waiting to go nuclear. Jesus’ new theology contradicts the very heart of Christianity and its salvation message. It goes to the heart of all religion and challenges the foundational ideas of punishment, revenge, judgment, payment, payback justice, atonement, and many related ideas that make up historical religion, and shape much of human culture and civilization. The Jesus insight on God exposes all such concepts and ideas as based on a great fraud and lie- that of a punishing ultimate reality. It is a fraud because there is no threat behind life, no punishing, vengeful deity that demands blood atonement or any form of appeasement. This is a devastating challenge to the entire salvation industry. There are no required conditions to meet, or salvation scheme to engage.
This is not just a Christian or religious issue but a wider human society issue. Christianity, with its vengeful, punishing theology, is largely responsible for re-enforcing the punishment/vengeance perspective in public consciousness. As Hyam Maccoby says, Paul created a myth that became the basis of Western culture. His view of Jesus has influenced the imagination of all Western civilization.
So look carefully at the stunning difference between the theology of Jesus and the theology of Paul. Jesus was not Christian (Maccoby) by any stretch of understanding. And again, remember that Paul has been the most influential person in all history (James Tabor) with his punishing Christ myth, a myth that buries the non-retaliation/unconditional message of historical Jesus. Paul’s Christ myth, not the core message of Jesus, has shaped Western thought and culture more than anything else (Tabor again), and through the West to the rest of the world. See more detail on this below.
Jesus offered humanity a turning point like none other, a liberation for consciousness like nothing ever conceived before. It was an offer of freedom from the primitive outlook of the past, with its pathetic orientation to punishment, revenge, and atonement. He presented the freedom to engage an authentic human future oriented to unconditional existence. Christianity aborted that human future and retreated to the primitive views of pagan cults like the Hellenistic mystery religions that shaped Paul’s thinking. See the research of people like Hyam Maccoby (The Myth-Maker: Paul and the Invention of Christianity), Stephen Mitchell (The Gospel According to Jesus), and James Tabor (Paul and Jesus: How the Apostle Transformed Christianity), among many others. They have been pointing to these issues for decades.
The Jesus breakthrough on theology (from retaliation to non-retaliation) pointed to a potential radical shift in human consciousness like nothing ever before in history. Read on…this site covers this scandalous story thoroughly.
Ethics and Theology compared and contrasted: repeat of similar comment just above but with additional points…
I refer repeatedly to the stunning contradiction between the historical Jesus and the Christian Jesus (the contradiction between the message of Jesus and Paul’s opposing message). Here, once again, is a shortened summary comparison to set forth as clearly as possible the stunning contrast between the theology of Jesus (his view of God) and that of Paul. This is followed by my paraphrase of Bob Brinsmead’s point that theology determines ethics.
I want readers to see clearly the stark contrast between the two theologies and note the important ethical/theological connection. All through history people have appealed to higher authorities and ideals to validate their behavior, their treatment of others. It is a natural human impulse to do so.
The insight of the historical Jesus that non-retaliation defined an authentically humane ethic and an authentically humane God was an apex point in the history of human consciousness. It was potentially the greatest turning point in the history of human thought. It offered the key to an unprecedented human liberation in that it countered the worst features of primitive ideals and ultimate authorities (i.e. retaliation, punishment), as nothing ever had. Tragically, Christianity rejected Jesus’ central insight and aborted his liberation endeavor.
Ethic and Theology of Jesus
Do not retaliate against evil, but instead, do good to others and you will be like God (this connects the ethic to the theology). God loves enemies, is kind, merciful, and compassionate to the evil and gives good things to all alike, both just and unjust (Matthew 5:38-48, Luke 6).
Ethic and Theology of Paul
Do not repay any one evil for evil, do not take revenge but (this connects the ethic with the absolutely contradicting theology) leave room for God’s wrath…for ”Vengeance is mine, I will repay says the Lord” (Romans 12).
Christianity attempted to embrace the non-retaliation ethic of Jesus, intuitively recognizing that it is authentic human response. But Christianity rejected the theology of Jesus. This is a serious disconnect. What inevitably happens is that theology determines ethics (our view of ultimate Good, of ultimate meaning, our ultimate ideal, determines how we replicate that good or ideal). Consequently, Christianity over its history has often treated disagreeing others with punishing vengeance, in harmony with the Christian view of God as desiring punishment.
Central Theme Repeat
(Here is the full statement of the central theme of the historical Jesus. It is repeated several times on this site to keep it in focus and to provide a stunning contrast with Paul’s opposing central theme of divine retaliation.)
Non-retaliation or unconditional love was the core theme of the historical Jesus, the foundational element in his worldview. This was his main insight into the meaning of ethics and theology. And note below that he tied ethics tightly to theology as the validating basis of human action (ethics based on theology has a long history in human thought and behavior). Act like this because God is like this. Do not retaliate against offenders because God does not retaliate. Do not take revenge (engage eye for eye justice) or punish because God does not take revenge or punish. Instead, include all and love all in the same universally generous manner. Be unconditionally merciful and compassionate as God is unconditionally merciful and compassionate. Love your enemies because God loves enemies.
This striking new theology contrasts entirely with the God of Paul and Christianity, a God that retaliates, takes revenge, and punishes (see Paul’s Dominant Themes further below).
Here is the full statement of Jesus’ core theme combining the elements of both the Matthew 5 and Luke 6 summaries.
“You have heard that it was said, an eye for eye, and a tooth for a tooth. But I tell you, Don’t resist or retaliate against an evil person.
“If someone slaps you on the cheek, offer your other cheek as well. If anyone grabs your coat, let him have your shirt as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.
“Give to everyone who asks you, and if someone takes away your belongings, do not demand to have them back. Do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
“You have heard that it was said, Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I tell you: Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who mistreat you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good; he sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
“If you love those who love you, that credit is that to you? Even tax collectors love those who love them, do they not? And if you embrace only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Doesn’t everybody do that? And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? If you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even wrongdoers lend to their kind because they expect to be repaid in full.
“Instead, love your enemies, do good to them, and lend without expecting to get anything back. Do to others what you would have them do to you.
“Then your reward will be great, and you will be the children of God (or better, you will be like God) because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful even as your Father is merciful. Be compassionate in the same manner that God is compassionate.”
This brief statement turns everything upside down- both ethically and theologically. It was without historical precedent, absolutely unique and explosive in its meaning.
Since the earliest time, human understanding of deity had concluded that the gods were threatening, quick to anger, judgmental, punitive, and agents of ultimate destruction. And the gods represented ultimate realities. They were creators, sustainers and controllers of all things, law-givers, ultimate authorities, and ultimate sources of human meaning and purpose.
Over history, various religious traditions had also introduced the more humane features of compassion and kindness into their versions of deity but that humanity was often conditional, reserved for believing insiders. It was a limited tribal love. Those gods would still punish and destroy outsiders/enemies. Overall, deity as ultimate reality embodied the harshest primitive features of retaliation, tribal exclusion (privileged insiders, threatened outsiders), judgment/condemnation, conditional salvation, and ultimate destruction. People had long projected their very worst features onto their gods.
But in this stunning presentation of a new ethic and theology Jesus stated that all previous understanding of gods was completely wrong. God did not retaliate (no eye for eye), did not punish the bad, and did not exclude or destroy anyone. Instead, God loved all the same and included all with the same unconditional generosity (the good things of life- sun and rain- were given generously to all alike, both good and bad). The historical Jesus took his breakthrough unconditional insight to the core of human meaning and purpose, to the highest of ideals, the highest source of authority and focus of human faith- deity.
That unconditional treatment of all was simply too scandalous for many people to wrap their minds around and so, like Paul, they retreated back to views of retaliating, punishing gods. That suited better their views of justice as full payment for wrong done. And in that shameful retreat, they missed the greatest breakthrough insight in all history.
To get some sense of the profound nature of what the Historical Jesus was actually saying, try this imagination exercise. Imagine if all that terrorizing mythology of historical religion were actually true. Imagine that the gods that created and sustained all things were real beings that threatened, judged, condemned human failure, and then exhibited anger by excluding, punishing, and destroying people. Imagine that myths like Hell were true, that it was a real place. That there was some great, cosmic threat behind all things, divine punishment, ultimate domination/subservience, and realities like eternal torture in a lake of fire. What a horror this universe and life would be. No wonder some people have gone insane contemplating such things. I know of a man at an Evangelical college that jumped to his death because he believed that he had committed an unpardonable sin and was eternally damned. Human consciousness is profoundly traumatized by such ultimate horrors.
But in this statement of non-retaliation or unconditional love, the historical Jesus declares emphatically… “No”. There is no retaliating, judging/condemning, punishing, or destroying God. There is no divine threat against imperfect human existence. Instead, to the absolute contrary, the ultimate reality behind all is love. Let this stunning discovery blow through your consciousness. And stunner of all stunners, the ultimate reality is love of a nature that is beyond the best that anyone could imagine. It is unconditional. Scandalously unconditional. What a liberation for fearful, anxious, troubled minds intensely aware of their failures and living under the terrifying threats of their religious traditions. The contemporaries of Jesus were told of an Abba Father who was merciful, compassionate, forgiving without pre-condition, inclusive of all alike, and who showered infinite generosity on all alike. Well, no wonder the chains began to fall away in the consciousness of many who heard that message.
The scandalous wonder of this Jesus insight would be the foundation of the greatest liberation movement in all history. It would go to the heart of human mind and consciousness to profoundly change the deeply embedded perceptions of primitive thinking, perceptions that had darkened and enslaved spirits and minds for millennia.
And what a profound liberation movement that could have sparked if the followers of Jesus had continued to develop his theme on non-retaliation/unconditional love. But instead, Paul and his Christian religion buried that brilliant discovery under highly conditional atonement mythology. Christianity aborted the greatest liberation movement in history.
Think of what the historical Jesus was actually saying: That everyone is safe in the ultimate sense because unconditional love is at the core of all reality and life. To get some feel of what this means listen to people who have had some firsthand experience of it. Numbers of the Near-Death Experience people have had a glimpse and taste of this love. They tell us that the Light that they encountered is absolute unconditional love. It is a love that is overwhelming and inexpressible. NDErs often express frustration that they cannot find words to fully communicate what they felt. And they come back disillusioned at the things that their religions have taught them about God judging, punishing, or sending people to Hell. They realize that such things are simply not true and, in fact, are entirely contrary to the unconditional love that they experienced.
They also discover that love is everything. It is the basis of all, the energizing life of all, the very essence and substance of all things. It is the permeating atmosphere of all. And again, it is of a quality that is unimaginably wondrous.
Someone stated that light is the essential nature and basis of all reality. Then add this further insight: that, more than anything else, unconditional love defines the nature of the light that is at the core of all. Light and love are one and the same reality.
This creating and sustaining ultimate love that we are speaking about is something that is infinitely better than the best that can be imagined (the real meaning of transcendent in deity). Such love is not tainted by any hint of threat, exclusion, condemnation, or punishment. As Joseph Campbell said of God- the actual reality is beyond categories, beyond terms or definitions, and beyond words or thought. The best that we can think only points in the general direction of something that is infinitely better and infinitely beyond. The terms God or love are only penultimate terms, pointing to things transcendently better and beyond.
And the center of this light and love is immediately inside us. We are not separate from this wonder, nor far from it. It is the very core of our true self or authentic person.
Jesus’ discovery of unconditional love stands in stunning contrast to the perception of deity over history as threat, retaliation, condemnation, punishment, and ultimate destruction. With his breakthrough insight, Jesus sparked a new trend of emerging insight that tells us that deity is unconditional love beyond understanding. This is absolutely explosive in terms of human perception and worldviews. It takes human consciousness in an entirely new direction. It challenges the entire conditional framework of past theology, mythology, and religion. The Jesus theological breakthrough takes things nuclear.
Think of the multiple millennia that those primitive ideas of punitive gods were beaten into public consciousness in endless variations. And think of the traumatizing impact of that on human emotion and life. And think of the outcomes in wasted time and resources as billions of people have tried to appease and please such threatening gods via salvation religion.
And then we discover that the very opposite is true. What a great release and relief to discover that retaliation/punishment mythology has all along been entirely false. And something entirely opposite and of infinite goodness is actually true. Something scandalously opposite to all the dark, frightening things that shaman, priests, and theologians have concocted and terrorized people with over history.
The reality of unconditional love engenders in human consciousness an unprecedented liberation and peace. It liberates consciousness at the deepest levels of subconscious fear, anxiety, depression, and despair.
This new insight on unconditional love as the foundational reality of all now becomes a new baseline for evaluating truth, right, and authentic humanity. And conversely, anything less, or anything other than this unconditional love, is ultimately false, not real, not true, and should be challenged as not right.
Shamefully, Paul dragged Christianity backwards into the primitive pathology of angry, punishing gods, gods that demanded violent bloody sacrifice as appeasement. He aborted the greatest liberation movement in history.
Paul’s Reversal/Retreat– Further comment, providing some sense of how profoundly Paul contradicted Jesus’ core theme of non-retaliation.
The apostle Paul makes one of the most stunning retreats or reversals in history on the issue of retaliation. He rejects the striking advance made by Jesus regarding non-retaliation. Some larger context will help illustrate how severe Paul’s retreat actually was. People over history had made significant progress in their thinking regarding retaliation and punishment. Some had also gradually learned to get the theological basis of authentically humane response right (i.e. non-retaliating deity).
And yes, even Paul got the ethical element right on the issue of retaliation (Romans 12: Do not repay evil for evil, do not take revenge), but then he messed up entirely on the critical theological basis and theological advances that others were making. His theological retreat to a retaliatory deity undermined entirely his ethical advances on non-retaliation (theology determines ethics).
Some background: Primitive people had long engaged excessively retaliatory responses toward offenders. In primitive societies injury, such as causing the loss of an eye, could result in the loss of the life of the offender. Rage at offense, even just some minor verbal offense could result in death to offenders. I have witnessed this in contemporary tribal society (upland Manobo groups in Mindanao, Philippines) where a man’s sense of honor and right to retaliate could lead to killing someone who just verbally offends him. Note how similar forms of extreme punishment response are still engaged in large areas of the world even today (i.e. honor killing where a girl wanting to engage modern life or marry by personal choice will be put to death by close relatives). And these brutal practices of vengeance have long been supported by equally vengeful views of deity.
So the Old Testament/Jewish legal prescription of an eye for an eye was an advance over such harsh paganism. You were not allowed to go beyond exactly the offense that was committed against you. If someone had caused you to lose an eye, then you could retaliate by causing them to also lose an eye. This was an advance over the excessive punishment response of primitive people. But the historical Jesus took this magnitudes of order higher and further into the authentically human response of no retaliation at all. He urged people to stop the cycles of retaliatory violence and punishment all together (Matthew 5:38-48). That was history’s greatest advance away from retaliatory punishment and toward authentic humanity, or authentic human response and existence.
The most striking element in Jesus’ advance was to also get the theological element correct- that non-retaliation in ethics was based on the greater truth of non-retaliation in God. This was absolutely scandalous to all primitive thinking that claimed the gods were ultimate enforcers of justice, as retaliation and punishment. Jesus rejected that primitive eye for eye view of justice and argued that God treated all people, both good and bad, with unconditional forgiveness, inclusion, and generosity. Jesus stated that God does not retaliate or get even with enemies but rather loves enemies. He treats enemies generously- inclusively gives everyone the good gifts of life such as sun and rain. He treats the bad just the same as he treats the good. Jesus’ new non-retaliatory theology was a breakthrough insight unparalleled in the history of human perception. It was like a brilliant light had finally been turned on in human consciousness.
Now what about Paul? Stunningly, he retreated backwards from the brilliant breakthrough of Jesus, not just back to Jewish eye for eye response, and not even just further back to the pagan response of a life for an eye, or a life for verbal offense, horribly excessive as such vengeful response is. No, Paul reverses much further back into pagan barbarity, even further than the insanely disproportionate punishment for the mildest of offenses that is seen in the myths of the pathetic gods of antiquity. Those gods punished people with destruction/annihilation for such petty things as being too noisy (i.e. the Sumerian flood myth) or too curious (Adam punished with death for all humanity just for wanting to know the difference between right and wrong).
But Paul takes such primitive insanity a magnitude of order further. His insanely retaliatory God would damn people to ultimate and eternal destruction for all sorts of petty offenses or “sins”. That is more than just a retreat from Jesus, or reversal from the Jewish advance, or even falling back into paganism. That is over-the-top insanity of lust for vengeful punishment. That is a reversal to paganism, a retreat from human advance, and a rejection of humane understanding on a scale unprecedented in history. It is a profound rejection of the core non-retaliation teaching of Jesus. It is a profound retreat from the great liberation that Jesus offered. Shame on Paul. And John in Revelation simply fills out in graphic detail the vision of Paul’s retaliatory Christ myth.
Here is Stephen Mitchell’s comment on this excessive severity of punishment in Paul’s teaching: “The narrow-minded, fire-breathing, self-tormenting Saul was still alive and kicking inside Paul. He didn’t understand Jesus at all. He wasn’t even interested in Jesus; just in his own idea of the Christ, ‘Even though we once knew Christ according to the flesh, we no longer regard him in this way’. In other words, it isn’t relevant to know Jesus as a person of flesh and blood or to hear, much less do, what he taught; the only thing necessary for a Christian is to believe that Jesus was the Son of God and that he died in atonement for our sins (the ‘ghastly pagan’ idea). Like the writer of Revelation, Paul harbored a great deal of violence in his mind, which he projected onto visions of cosmic warfare, and onto an image of God as punitive father…”
And then this powerful statement from Mitchell, “This teaching about hell, which the church took over from a fierce, apocalyptic strand of Judaism, and which it put here into Jesus’ mouth, proceeds from a very impure consciousness, filled with fantasies of hatred and revenge and of an unforgiving, unjust god whose punishments are insanely disproportionate to the offenses” (The Gospel According to Jesus).
Note: the “sins” that Paul includes in his various lists as worthy of God’s destroying wrath (also found in other New Testament writings). They include the following- envy, greed, strife, discord, deceit, gossip, slander, insolence, boasting, disobeying parents, impure thoughts, drinking too much beer, road rage, selfish ambition, lukewarm religious practice, telling fibs, and further exhibitions of imperfect human response and behavior.
Further note: Do not be fooled by the attempts of Christian theologians to ignore this dark side in Paul’s theology and just focus on the nice bits, the diamonds in the dunghill (i.e. love, grace, mercy). Theologians, such as in the Mennonite tradition, have been endeavoring to reframe the foundations of Christianity in terms of the more humane ideals found scattered throughout the Bible. That is denial and evasion of what Christianity has traditionally promoted in its core teaching.
Eliminating Zoroastrian Dualism
When Jesus included the bad with the good (all persons treated the same with unconditional divine generosity) he cut to the root of the Zoroastrian dualism that had long before set the good (true believers) in opposition to the bad (unbelievers). In Zoroastrianism the good were obligated to fight and destroy the bad. Zoroastrian dualism subsequently shaped Jewish thinking, then Christianity, and Western consciousness. That dualistic opposition, exclusion, punishment, and destruction of the disagreeing or offending other, it all ended with Jesus’ unconditional inclusion of all persons in all the good things that God gives (i.e. sun and rain). Jesus’ statement spelled the end of that Zoroastrian dualism that had so prominently dominated previous human thought and had validated so much violent retaliation and fighting among people at all levels of existence. In his Matthew 5 statement the historical Jesus eliminated the foundational categories of good/bad, friend/enemy, and insider/outsider- all forms of limiting tribal thinking. Those categories had profoundly shaped human perspective for the worse over history. Now, all persons were to be viewed and included as intimate family.
Recent material focuses on one of history’s great scandals. Jesus presented the stunning new insight that God did not retaliate or punish. That overturned all previous human understanding of deity. Paul rejected that breakthrough insight and reversed back to traditional historical views of God as vengeful and punitive. Understanding this profound difference between the theology of Jesus and the theology of Paul, and how views of God impact people, is critical to solving the problem of violence in human society. Theological perceptions powerfully determine ethical outcomes. Belief shapes behavior. And, as various scholars note, Paul has shaped Western consciousness and society more than any other single person.
There is a lot more to come on these subjects. We are just beginning to explore the implications of embracing unconditional reality and unconditional existence (i.e. treating all with the same unconditional forgiveness, inclusion, and generosity). There is, arguably, no greater or more liberating discovery in all human history. Unconditional takes us to the height of authentic humanity. It redefines human perception of ultimate reality (i.e. the spiritual, God) more radically than any other single insight in history. It was the great breakthrough discovery of the historical Jesus. However, embracing such an ideal and applying it to the often messy reality of daily life requires a good dose of common sense. There is a dense complexity to the widely varying situations across our world.
Solving the ultimate root causes of violence
On this site I have focused intensely on the foundational ideas that validate the varied forms of inhumanity. My argument is based on this plainly obvious relationship- that our ideas and beliefs (how we think) powerfully influence how we act and treat others. And nothing is more powerful for influencing human behavior than views of deity and associated religious beliefs. Over history, theologies (views of God) have embodied humanity’s highest ideals and authorities. They have provided the highest sources of meaning and purpose, and inspired people more than anything else, for better and for worse.
For an example of inspiration for the worse, note how a terrorist group in Nigeria recently appealed to God as they cut off the heads of innocent people (http://www.newsweek.com/2014/07/18/boko-haram-terrors-insidious-new-face-257935.html ). They claimed that killing their “enemies” would make God happy. They urged children to perform every act of violence they could so that God would smile on them. They said, “Let’s thank God and give him more bodies” and then proceeded to viciously hack off the heads of 3 people. That is just one disgusting example of a similar pattern (appeal to God to validate inhumanity) that has erupted endlessly over history and is still far too common today.
Such violence repulses and traumatizes the rest of us but also pushes us to seek ways to fully resolve hate and find a more humane and peaceful world. And while there are many elements that need to be tackled to promote peace, one of the most important is to go to the very foundations of our worldviews, our religions especially, and confront those inhumane ideas that promote inhuman treatment of others. Far too long, and across most religious traditions, some of the most primitive and brutal features have been embedded in people’s core beliefs, in their gods, features that bring out the worst in humanity.
Part of the violence problem is that we have inherited a core animal brain with drives to retaliate, dominate, and destroy others. Religions call this inherited sinfulness or the sinful fallen self.
We have learned over our history that certain ideas that we hold can re-enforce these brutal drives, while other ideas can effectively counter them and inspire the expression of our better selves.
This is a fundamental linkage or relationship that is critically important to understand. Again, grasp the above point that how we think- the ideas that we hold- influences how we feel and then how we respond or act. Our ideas and beliefs shape our behavior. Beliefs determine behavior. Most importantly, theology determines ethics. Views of a punishing, vengeful God have influenced many people to commit heinous acts of terror against others, including members of their own religion. The highest of all ideals and authorities- human views of deity- still determines behavior more than any other single influence. And yes, there is a feedback loop thing operating here in that people also initially project features onto higher authorities like deities, features that then, in turn, validate how they choose to act. That is how views of deity have developed over history.
This theological influence applies not just to terrorist violence, but also across the board to many other lesser expressions of violence. For example, theological beliefs have influenced justice systems toward a punitive emphasis and the barbaric practice of imprisonment (see Mennonite comment on this below regarding our Western tradition of justice). Theological beliefs have also influenced parents to dominate and punish children despite the evidence from psychology that such punitive approaches do not work and cause more harm than good.
Most of the great religious traditions have histories of violent deity or ultimate ideals that have influenced violence among followers of the religion. This has been true in Jewish religion, Christianity, Hinduism, and other traditions. The early error of punitive deity infected all the great religions. Again, nothing has been more powerful over history for influencing human behavior than views of God or related religious beliefs.
Making a foundational solution more difficult, things considered sacred are often the hardest to challenge and change. Some of the most pathological features have been projected onto gods, safely ensconced under the canopy of the sacred where they are never properly confronted and cleaned out. This is due to the long-ingrained human respect for deity as ultimate truth and authority. Admittedly, over the millennia more humane features have also been added to religious traditions but these are too often overwhelmed, distorted, and buried by the other more brutal elements that remain in theologies.
The long term and ultimate solution to violence must include the project of going to our root ideas/ideals and making fundamental changes there. You will never properly solve the problem of violence in human society until you thoroughly root out the inhumane features in human worldviews and then radically humanize the ultimate ideals and authorities that inspire and validate human emotion and behavior.
We know better today exactly what ideas or features have caused the most damage to human minds and behavior. Inhumane ideals such as retaliation (the dehumanizing pathology of getting even), exclusion (us versus them tribalism), domination and control of others, and punishment/destruction. Retaliation embedded in gods has done more to keep cycles of violence going than any other single feature. This feature has been brought down through history via mythology, religion, and even into modern ideology. I have traced these lines of descent on this site (i.e. retaliation theology promoting the development of atonement/salvation religion). The ultimate expression of retaliation is apocalyptic mythology, which finds continued expression in religions like Christianity, and in secularized versions like environmental alarmism.
Fortunately, we have a brilliant discovery- history’s greatest breakthrough insight- that enables us to fully humanize our core ideals and beliefs. We know that the unconditional treatment of all people is the most powerful corrective to counter violence and promote authentic human emotion and behavior. This ideal embedded in our highest ideals and authorities can liberate as nothing else from those base drives that we have inherited. It can inspire humanity, as nothing else can, to achieve authentic human feeling and treatment of others.
I would offer again that the root of the human problem with violence can be summed up in the idea and practice of retaliation. And the solution to this foundational cause of violence is found in non-retaliation, or the unconditional treatment of all people. Humanity can find true liberation from its worst impulses by countering retaliation with unconditional forgiveness, unconditional inclusion, and unconditional generosity. In a word- unconditional love.
But this new humane ethic must be grounded in an equally humane theology of unconditional love. Only then are we properly dealing with the deepest roots of violence. This has not happened yet in the major world religious traditions which continue to maintain the great error of the ancients, that deity was to be defined by retaliation, exclusion, and punishment.
Each of us is responsible to examine the foundations of our worldview, our way of viewing life, and confront any elements that are less than authentically humane and root these out. Our number one responsibility in life is to learn what it means to be truly human, how to think and act as authentically human.
Once again to summarize: ideas/beliefs influence emotions, which then shape response/behavior. The common contemporary example is all too familiar- a vengeful, punishing deity inspiring violent action toward others. Belief shapes behavior. Theology determines ethics.
If you are really serious about changing life for the better and getting rid of violence, and achieving real peace, then directly tackle the religious ideas/beliefs still embedded in the foundations of so many human worldviews, and especially views of deity that are less than authentically humane. Theology embodies the highest human ideal and authority. So join the project to radically humanize views of ultimate reality.
We have a great example of someone who actually did humanize the highest human ideal as never before in history. But tragically, Christianity rejected his breakthrough discovery and retreated back to the theology of a violent God and associated beliefs in violent atonement. I refer of course to the historical Jesus and Paul’s Christian reversal of Jesus’ breakthrough insights.
Nothing has been more potent for countering the root causes of violence, and liberating from evil in general, than Jesus’ new theology of unconditional deity. Nothing has ever been more effective for ending violence in human society than his insight on the unconditional treatment of all people. Explore this with us.
More on site reason: dealing with the ultimate roots of violence…
I am tackling the fraud and lie that there is some great threat behind life, some ultimate cause of punishment because we have sinned. You see examples of this thinking everywhere. After the Japanese tsunami a Japanese woman asked, “Are we being punished because we are enjoying life too much?” Or the well-known American singer who said that she believed her later-in-life miscarriage was punishment for having an abortion earlier in life. You find this perception everywhere and throughout history, whenever someone has suffered some accident, sickness, or misfortune. Even secular materialist types voice this belief in their view that destructive disruptions in nature are punishment for human sin or greed (i.e. the revenge of Gaia, angry nature, or karma).
Just to remind readers again, this pathological belief in some greater threat of punishment behind life began with an ancient misread of the misfortunes of life. Early people believed that there were spirits behind all the elements of life. Natural disaster, accident, war, or disease were then evidence that the spirits were angry and punishing people. How do I know that this is how ancient people thought? I have lived among contemporary tribal people (Manobo tribal groups of Mindanao) who endlessly voiced this perspective as their explanation for natural disaster, accident, and disease. Anthropologists note that we can gain some understanding of historically primitive perspectives by studying contemporary tribal groups further removed from modern Western culture. Going further out from the urban centers of modern culture is a rough proxy for going back in time. (Note: As mentioned repeatedly on this site, there is also abundant evidence of this belief in punishing spirits found in the earliest human writing and mythology, both Sumerian and following traditions)
The idea of punishing spirits has darkened and enslaved human consciousness as nothing else ever has. This pathological idea of some great punishing force or spirit is at the core of much historical religion (i.e. atonement or salvation mythology). Salvation religion was very much an institution developed over history to appease and please some greater threatening reality. It would prescribe the conditions necessary to placate some upset deity- how to live, or what sacrifice to make in order to appease the divine threat. The salvationist solution and response was more violence (i.e. blood sacrifice) to solve the problem of initial violent threat from deity. Trying to solve violence with more violence only locks human consciousness into the dead-end of cycles of violence.
And then there was that stunning breakthrough of historical Jesus that there is no threat behind life, but only Unconditional Love of a scandalous nature. Something infinitely beyond the best that we can imagine. Something that blows away the foundations of any felt need to appease, to get right, or to seek some salvation.
Now let me take this back to the issue of solving violence in human society. You can engage all sorts of peace agreements, and these are necessary, but if you do not get to the real root of violence, peace will not be foundationally or properly established. You have to go to the very core foundational ideas and beliefs that shape our ultimate ideals and authorities. If you do not fully humanize the core ideals and authorities then these deeper causes of violence will continue to fester and erupt in subsequent history.
And this comment from Bob Brinsmead, from a discussion group response to the Bridgette Gabriel videos (e.g. http://blogs.news.com.au/dailytelegraph/timblair/index.php/dailytelegraph/comments/peaceful_majority_irrelevant/ ). These are available on Youtube.
Bob’s comment; “It seems to me that the Muslim lady asked a fair question. Where is the ideological response to the jihadist ideology? The invasion of Iraq and intervention in Afghanistan was a military response. Where is the ideological response? The battle is for the mind and that can’t be won with guns and knives. Israel responds to the Palestinians also by way of massive military retaliation. This may win a battle, but it can never win the war”. Bob Brinsmead.
As we try to abandon the primitive error of punishing deity, and as we try to move toward the liberation of unconditional ultimate reality, it is important to uncover and break all the varied chains that keep the old punishment theology firmly in place. Here is another bit of related mythology that supports retaliation/punishment thinking- holiness mythology.
The Wonder of Being Human: Countering the religious devaluation of humanity (i.e. holiness mythology)
One of the darker strands of thought in punishment mythology is the idea of human sinfulness. This element re-enforces the need for deity to punish humanity. The ancients also projected holiness onto God (purity and perfection) to further intensify the contrast with imperfect humanity and enforce the need for deity to separate from humanity and punish humanity. Human sinfulness and divine holiness were tightly pair-bonded as supporting pillars of punishment theology.
The human family has been devalued and traumatized by multiple millennia of this profoundly anti-human mythology of sinfulness. In our Western Christian tradition we have been told that we ruined an original paradise, that our ancestors intentionally committed an original error, and therefore “fell” into sinfulness , and that all people now inherit an essentially sinful nature or self. We are also, according to human sinfulness mythology, to be finally destroyed if we do not engage some salvation scheme.
Human sinfulness has become foundational to the fraudulent myth of human separation from God (i.e. excluded, rejected, condemned- holiness as purity and perfection demands separation from impurity, imperfection). This separation mythology claims that we have broken or ruptured a formerly close relationship. We are now told that we need to reconcile with our offended deity, and heal the ruined relationship. This separation perspective further supports appeasement mythology and the belief that a blood sacrifice is required to satisfy the deity that we have offended and angered. That will bring about reconciliation. Thus, we are urged to embrace more violence in order to clean up the mess that we have made of things.
I am simply outlining here the Christian version of this mythology of sinfulness (fallen and corrupt humanity), which is also found in many other religious traditions. Christian sin mythology has darkened human consciousness with intensely damaging psychological impacts.
As now corrupt creatures we are told that we are continuing to ruin things to the extent that life is now in decline toward some great catastrophic ending as punishment for our sins, something that we deserve because our original parents sinned.
Human sinfulness mythology has re-emerged in contemporary ideologies such as environmental alarmism. Green alarmists push the fraud of our essential evil or corruptness by telling us that we are a virus on the planet, a cancer on life, or a curse. All of our successful endeavor to improve our lives and our families is regularly condemned by the anti-human alarmists as greed and selfishness. Not exactly helpful stuff on which to build healthy self-esteem.
This human sinfulness mythology has engendered immeasurable misery for people- endless guilt, shame, fear, self-loathing and self-hate, depression, and despair over our history. And it is all a horrific distortion of the actual human condition and story.
We now have a more rational alternative to this pathological myth of fallen humanity. The real story of humanity is about the wonder of being human and possessing human consciousness. This evidence-based narrative reveals that rather than beginning in some imagined perfection or innocence and then falling into sinfulness, we began in a more primitive and brutal condition in a distant past. That past was defined by much higher rates of violence, along with overall miserable living conditions. We have since gradually developed and risen toward an ever-improving condition. Researchers like Stephen Pinker (The Better Angels of Our Nature) and James Payne (History of Force) present sound evidence of our long term trajectory of progress, a trajectory that rises irreversibly from a more violent past and toward a more peaceful present. We have become a notably more empathic and gentle species.
This progress toward something better, or more humane, reveals the true nature of our consciousness, the essence of our authentic human selves.
Somewhere in the distant past the greatest wonder in the cosmos began to emerge and develop in our species, the wonder of human or humane consciousness. Human consciousness came with basic impulses to feel compassion for others and for all for life, to include all as equals, to forgive, and to treat all with unconditional generosity. Though often embryonic in expression over history, these fundamental human impulses have grown steadily stronger over time, till today we see evidence of their widespread influence in our societies, and in civilization overall. See again Pinker, Julian Simon (Ultimate Resource), and others for detail. We are indeed now more creators than destroyers (Simon) and this becomes ever more evident as history progresses. See also my comment on the actual trajectory of life (Rise or Decline?) in an essay that I did for the Global Warming Policy Foundation, available on their website under GWPF Reports, or on the topic bar above.
We now understand that the highest human ideal- what we summarize in the term love- defines our most essential nature or authentic self. Along with our core nature as love, we have an unlimited creative potential. We create ever more useful technology, better medicine and health conditions, and ever more comfortable living conditions. And our compassion and creativity (expressed in our desire for a better life) have enabled us to produce immense wealth by which we are also able to improve conditions for all life on Earth.
Our ongoing and irreversible progress toward something better is evidence, not of essential sinfulness, but of essential love and creativity at our core. There should be no guilt over our original imperfection, and our subsequent gradual progress and development toward our full destiny as something more humane. Our history is a grand story of exodus, of leaving brutal animal existence to create a new authentically humane existence in civilization. This is profound evidence of the love that defines our core human self.
So we are not a curse on the Earth but with our creative and compassionate minds we have improved life on earth. Remember also that mindless nature by itself has destroyed about 99 percent of all species. We now endeavor to preserve all species. Again, this is evidence of the compassion and creativity that define our consciousness.
Also, disciplines like quantum mechanics and related research tell us that our consciousness is not just a by-product of the hamburger in our heads (mind from meat) but is at the very core of reality as a creating element (the inseparable observer/observed relationship- see, for instance, Quantum by Manjit Kumar). Human consciousness may be the most fundamentally real thing, or the only “real” thing in all the cosmos. Information like this ought to help us value being human and to appreciate the wonder of conscious human experience.
Whatever the ongoing discovery that emerges from the varied disciplines of science, we know enough today to conclude that we have never fallen from a mythical better past state (Eden) into some imagined worse present state. The exact opposite is true- that we have steadily risen from a worse state to our presently better condition. We can therefore rationally reject the sinfulness myths that were created to devalue humanity over most of history.
And we can confidently conclude that we have never been separated from the greater Unconditional Love at the core of all reality. That greater reality of Unconditional Love also defines our essential nature (the human self or person) and consciousness as a similar love. You could argue that the greater Consciousness that we call God has incarnated in all humanity as human consciousness. That would indeed then make us the wonder of the cosmos. It would explain why we have endlessly matured and developed toward something better than before.
Add to the above that no sinfulness means no separation from our creating Source, no need for atonement, no need to get right with God, no need to appease deity, no need to engage some salvation religion, and much more. The only “salvation” that we need to engage is the ongoing improvement of life through our ever-developing compassion and creativity.
Its time to end this distorting devaluation of humanity as sinful and to recognize the wonder of our conscious human selves.
Note: How then do we explain the darker side of humanity? Many have offered the insight that we have inherited base drives in a core animal brain, drives to fear, hate, retaliate, punish, and destroy, among others. But these drives do not define our essential human self. Researchers like Jeffrey Schwartz (You Are Not Your Brain) argue for distinguishing between these darker elements and our authentic self which is something much better. Theological types like Albert Nolan and Karen Armstrong have also written that our essential self is love. The NDE movement further offers numerous accounts of people discovering that our essential person is love, just as Ultimate Reality is Love (our real self being inseparable from the Ultimate Love).
Further note on the holiness idea: A Mind that creates all and sustains all in existence is obviously present in every atom of the material reality that it creates and sustains. It is not put off by the decay and death of life. It does not “separate” itself from the less pleasant aspects of physical reality and life. I was raised in an Evangelical tradition where people discussed how an omnipresent God that was holy could possibly be present where there was defilement or impurity. Much like silly discussions of how many angels could balance on the head of a pin. But in such argument you can see how holiness thinking perverts understanding of deity.
And yes, religious people will respond that the human separation from deity is about moral issues (i.e. divine holiness as separation from sin). In Evangelicalism, they claimed that holiness was God’s most essential attribute and it defined everything else about divinity. Divine holiness then formed the solid foundation that re-enforced atonement mythology. Holiness meant offense at any imperfection (“sin”) and the obligation to punish all sin, the need to demand a payment for sin. It was all about the divine requirements or conditions necessary to satisfy or appease the offended holiness.
The historical Jesus responded to this separation distortion consistently with his new theology of unconditional deity. We now understand that purity and perfection in God has nothing to do with holiness and its supreme conditions. Rather, purity and perfection in God has to do with unconditional love, the unconditional inclusion of all, both good and bad, unconditional forgiveness of all without pre-condition, and unconditional generosity toward all. This is quite opposite to religious holiness teaching that defines God’s purity and perfection with its separation and punishment orientation.
Note that religious holiness, with its offense at the faults of imperfect others, also has similarities to such things as barbaric honor practices. Landes (Heaven on Earth) writes that this offense and revenge thinking is found in traditional societies even across the world today. Someone takes offense at something another person does. Offenses include such things as a daughter not heeding parent’s wishes regarding marriage partners, or even just some verbal insult. The offended family then claims the obligation to kill the daughter in order to “restore” their offended honor, or to retaliate severely against whatever other offense was committed. This is primitive thinking and practice. But it is very much like religious holiness teaching (holiness as the feature that validates taking offense at wrong and exercising the obligation to retaliate).
There is another element to holiness theology, usually termed the “numinous”, which refers to the glory or majesty of the divine. But this numinous element is overwhelmed and defined by the exclusion, separation, wrath, and punishment that dominates traditional holiness theology. This is why any purity, perfection, glory, or majesty of deity must be founded on and defined by the Unconditional Love that is the very essence of God. Unconditional Love keeps everything oriented to authentic humanity or humaneness.
I am dealing with these religious issues because I want to provide a thorough exposure of the fundamental ideas supporting punishment theology. If we are ever going to find liberation from the darkness and enslavement of atonement mythology then we need to confront all these related features that validate the monster of punishing deity.
Also, note my preference for the term “imperfection” to describe human failure, instead of the religious term “sin”. Pronouncing something as sin communicates the connotation of all-knowing or ultimate judgment and condemnation, something none of us has the right to exercise. We simply cannot fully know why each of us fail to be fully human in the infinitely varied ways that we all do. We ought to be very cautious about judging the motivations, behavior, and culpability of any other person.
The most potent force against evil
Bob Brinsmead suggested the need to develop the case that a non-retaliation/unconditional ethic and theology is the strongest defence against evil. Unconditional treatment of people does not promote indifference to evil or encourage people to take evil lightly.
Bob’s comment- “For those who may stumble, we should develop the case that the unconditional/non-retaliation ethic and theology is the strongest ethic and the greatest defence against evil. We have to show that it is not indifference toward evil, and we need to develop this from a number of angles. We need to respond to those who stumble on the point of taking evil lightly.”
“We must be liberated from an ethic that is tied to the fear of punishment. This is poor motivation for children and it has even been shown to be poor motivation for animals. As soon as the fear of the punishment fades from view (in the old worldview), the bad behaviour returns. The motivation for good human development and acts must come from within, from ourselves, from a real understanding that by wrongdoing we punish ourselves by diminishing the greatness of who we really are – it reduces and demeans us. Perhaps this is why someone quoted a certain atheist, whom he described as one of the most holy, upright men he had ever encountered. How is the notion “God is watching” different from “Big Brother is watching.” I am reminded of going into a roadside fruit stall where no one was in attendance, only an honesty box, with a statement exhibited which said, ‘You are what you are when no one is watching’. We are all too prone to be angry when we think wrong doers or cheats are getting away with it. They are not. They never do. I used to have a high school teacher that used to tell us kids as we faced examinations, ‘You can cheat if you want to, but you will only hurt yourselves if you do’.” Robert Brinsmead
My response to Bob on this issue:
Yes Bob. Its about that Jesus ethic/theology linkage. Theology determines ethics. Our views of the ultimate good, the ultimate ideal, do shape our emotions, responses, and behavior.
The realization of unconditional love for what it really is…provides a whole new motivation for human behavior. A new theological basis for ethics. There are many strands to follow here- e.g. that human beings have always mimicked their ultimate ideals and authorities. They try to live up to that greater reason that they believe they exist for.
And recognizing unconditional love behind all blows away the basis of guilt, fear, shame, despair and related emotions, all debilitating emotions, especially when employed in evaluating one’s personal failure.
To recognize that there is no condemnation, no threat, no punishment, and especially in any ultimate sense, this does not open the flood gates to evil but quite the opposite. It releases the desire to be the same, to do the same, to experience that same unconditional love. Near-Death Experience accounts affirm this positive response when people experience unconditional love.
People realize that the unconditional love at the core of all reality is who we really are, it is our essential nature and consciousness, and therefore it is our purpose for being here, the meaning of human life. So they return fired with desire to live this love in the details of life. Everything less than this love is viewed as a waste of life, a tragic failure of our very reason for being.
The Australian Psychological Society paper (one example of a lot of similar research) also affirmed the point- that retaliation/punishment responses do not work and only reinforce further bad behavior, both in criminals and in children. Positive affirming responses are more effective in changing behavior for the better. Non-punishing or unconditional approaches teach proper alternative behaviors.
Mandela also discovered that unconditional love brought out the best in former enemies, and changed them for the better. He employed unconditional treatment of others to avoid civil war in South Africa. At the same time others used punishment approaches and unleashed horror on entire societies- e.g. Uganda, Bosnia, and the ongoing cycle of violence in the Mid-East.
Unconditional is the most potent and effective response to counter the evil of retaliation and punishment, the responses that are behind so much violence and misery in the world.
Yes, there are a lot of angles here… such as that unconditional is the most potent thing to deal with guilt and shame, both of which diminish personal understanding of ourselves and our power to oppose evil, to be something better.
There is some interesting comment (noted above) on how unconditional love impacts human behavior in NDEs that might help here. Those who taste the unconditional love of God realize that there is no condemnation, no threat from God. They then experience this interesting new motivation to want to love like that Love. To not disappoint that Love. It becomes the new driving motivation in their lives. To love in all the details of life and to love in a new unconditional manner. We have done some work on this but yes, it needs a lot more. I have some comment on unconditional being at the root of peace and order, trade and commerce, all vital to humans leaving a brutal past to enter more peaceful civilization.
CO2 or Natural Variation? (or Relax about using fossil fuels)
The narrative has been relentlessly beaten into public consciousness over the past few decades- that the rising level of CO2 in the atmosphere is causing catastrophic climate warming. But with the halt of warming for the past 17 years the alarmist claim has changed. Rising CO2, alarmists argue, is now causing more general “climate change” with “extreme weather events” (as if both of these have not been common all throughout climate history).
Note carefully how alarmist scientists and media have focused intensely on these two particular things- rising temperatures and rising CO2 levels. They have persistently tried to create fear over these two trends as a great threat to life. This is the central theme of the alarmist narrative today. And it is not supported by good scientific evidence.
This narrative is not just unproven. It is backwards (both rising CO2 and warmer temperatures are a significant benefit to life). And the dogmatic manner in which it has been presented is entirely unscientific. There is no clear, final evidence that rising levels of CO2 are causing any notable climate change. CO2 cannot be isolated out as the dominant cause of climate warming or climate change in general. Other natural elements show stronger causal relationships to the climate change periods that we have observed over the past. These other natural climate drivers appear to be the main causes of climate change.
To clarify further, the debate is not whether CO2 has a warming effect or influence. That is not questioned and there is consensus on that- CO2 does have a warming effect or influence. Both alarmists and skeptics agree on this.
But other natural factors show stronger correlations (and causal relationships) to all the notable climate change periods that we have seen, especially in the past few hundred years. The CO2 warming effect appears to be a minor player in the mix of natural factors.
Note for instance, the cosmic ray/solar flux interaction and its correlation with climate change periods of the past few centuries (for detail see Henrik Svensmark’s The Chilling Stars). This cosmic ray/solar flux phenomenon works as follows: Incoming cosmic rays (from exploding stars) release electrons in the air which encourages the clumping of molecules to make micro-specks, capable of gathering into larger specks of cloud condensation nuclei on which water droplets can form. In brief, cosmic rays cause more cloud formation, especially low clouds (below 3000 meters above the surface) that have a stronger effect in keeping the earth cool. These clouds reflect back sunlight that would otherwise warm the earth.
The other side of this interaction- an active sun provides a barrier to incoming cosmic rays by providing a magnetic shield that prevents cosmic rays from arriving at the Earth. But this shield fluctuates according to whether the sun is active (solar maximums) or not active (solar minimums).
So in summary, cosmic rays cause more cloud which cools the earth. But an active sun prevents incoming cosmic rays (less cloud) and this results in the Earth warming.
Once again: Cosmic rays = cloud = cooling climate. Active sun = less cloud = warming climate.
The sun was notably inactive/dead during the Little Ice Age of roughly 1645-1715. That was an abnormally cold time on Earth and climate has since been rebounding over the past centuries, back toward a more normal warmer world. But the rebound has not been a straight line of rise toward warmer averages. It has been a series of warming/cooling periods of roughly 20-30 years length in a larger overall warming trend (see Dr. Akasofu’s research at http://www.mdpi.com/2225-1154/1/1/4). This interspersing of warming and cooling periods correlates with such things as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation- large shifts in Pacific currents from cooling to warming phases every 20-30 years (i.e. roughly 1880-1910 cooling, 1910-1940 warming, 1940-1975 cooling, 1975-1995 warming, 1995- present flat trend).
Also, the sun was quite active during the warming of 1975-95, and then went dead after that (solar minimum). This correlates to the cessation of warming since 1995 (http://www.thegwpf.org/climate-change-and-the-quiet-sun/, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-25743806 ).
The CO2 warming effect gets lost or overwhelmed by the stronger influence of these other natural factors. This is notably evident when we recognize that while CO2 levels continue to rise, there has been no further warming for the past 17 years.
The result is that there is no clear evidence that CO2 is dominantly related (the sole cause or dominant cause) to such climate changes as we have noted over the past centuries. It certainly plays a part in any warming but is not primarily responsible for the changes in climate noted above. And then the human contribution to CO2 levels, and warming effect, is much smaller yet (it amounts to “a fart in a hurricane”, according to one scientist).
Others have given some further perspective on CO2 by pointing out the tiny amount that humans contribute and the miniscule size of CO2 in relation to other natural factors. For instance, CO2 is only about 3.6% of all greenhouse gases. And the human contribution to CO2 is about 3% of the total amount of CO2 in the atmosphere (1 molecule of every 100,000 molecules). Other natural sources of CO2 are immense, the two largest sources being oceans and soils (i.e. bacteria). Also volcanoes, and notably submarine volcanoes (some 3 million), contribute CO2 but these sources are hard to measure.
The overall conclusion then is that we cannot claim that CO2 in general has caused any of the climate change that we know about over the past. And it is certainly not proven that CO2 is now causing any “catastrophic” climate change. And with the human contribution to CO2 being much tinier, then we certainly cannot claim that human emissions of CO2 are causing catastrophic climate change. They have not been proven responsible for causing any of the mild climate change events of the recent past (i.e. the 1975-1995 mild warming). We cannot then argue for reducing human emissions of CO2 because they pose some threat. There is no clear evidence for such a claim. As German meteorologist Klaus-Echart Puls has said, “There is nothing we can do to stop climate change. Scientifically, it is sheer absurdity to think we can get a nice climate by turning a CO2 adjustment knob” (Climate Science, May 10, 2012).
So it is time to end all these panicky calls to stop human use of fossil fuels, fuels that have been a huge benefit to human progress and civilization.
Also, it is time to cease this unscientific nonsense that CO2 is a pollutant or poison, a threat to life. It is the food of all life. And to paraphrase the Oregon Institute of Medicine’s Protest Petition, there is no evidence that rising CO2 is bad for earth while there is much good evidence that more CO2 in the atmosphere is good for earth. For instance, since 1980 there has been a 14% increase in plant productivity from more CO2 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4v86K5awl_s , see comment at the 34-35 minute mark). The Earth is greener and healthier due to more CO2 in the atmosphere. The biosphere has become more robust.
Pre-industrial age levels of CO2, which are viewed by alarmists as optimal (roughly 250 ppm), were so low that they stressed plant life. Plants prefer levels of 1000 to 1500 ppm as in farmer’s greenhouses.
Also, paleo-climate studies show no evidence that much higher levels of CO2 in the past caused any catastrophic climate change. In the past it was often much warmer with the higher levels of CO2 and life benefitted from such conditions (see Ian Plimer’s Heaven And Earth). For long stretches of time CO2 levels were 1500 ppm, and sometimes as high as 7000 ppm. During the Cambrian era, with its higher CO2 levels, the Earth experienced a great flourishing of plant and animal life (http://www.geocraft.com/WVFossils/Carboniferous_climate.html).
Other points: As noted above, since 1980 with the 14% increase in plant productivity, and major greening of the Earth, the result has been a healthier biosphere. With more CO2, plants can tolerate drought better and experience more efficient water uptake. Animals and humans benefit from more plant growth (i.e. higher crop yields).
Another important point to understand from paleo-climate research is the basic causal relationship of warming climate to CO2. Research such as the Vostok ice cores show that increasing atmospheric CO2 tends to follow rising temperatures (warming climate). The relationship here is as follows: Rising temperature warms the oceans. Warming oceans then release CO2 into the atmosphere, causing levels to rise. This relationship occurs over centuries with the CO2 rise lagging the climate warming by up to 800 years. Note the data on this site http://joannenova.com.au/global-warming-2/ice-core-graph/ and their conclusion, “The bottom line is that rising temperatures cause carbon levels to rise. Carbon may still influence temperatures, but these ice cores are neutral on that. If both factors caused each other to rise significantly, positive feedback would become exponential. We’d see a runaway greenhouse effect. It hasn’t happened. Some other factor is more important than carbon dioxide, or carbon’s role is minor.”
Conclusion: The unscientific narrative of the alarmists is not supported with good evidence. They have insistently argued that the colder past with lower CO2 levels was optimal for Earth. And that rising temperatures and rising CO2 levels are now a threat to life. No. That is backwards. Rising temperatures (warming) and rising CO2 is part of a natural return to more normal and healthier conditions for life. And over recent history (past few centuries), rising CO2 and rising temperatures are part of the natural rebound from the Little Ice Age which was an abnormally cold time on Earth.
We need to reverse entirely the alarmist CO2 narrative of the past few decades that rising CO2 and warmer temperatures are a threat to life. CO2 levels have risen to much higher levels over the past and then fallen again. Such is the regular change in a dynamic system like climate. Climate change is the very nature of climate. And with all the massive changes over the past there were no “catastrophic” outcomes for life because with all change there are feedbacks both positive and negative. The result, according to climate scientist Roy Spencer, is that climate acts like a self-regulating system that keeps its varied elements within ranges that support life (despite significant fluctuations or changes, despite endless natural climate change).
And critical to note is the fact that there is no optimal past state in climate that remains in stasis (unchanging). And certainly, the cold temperatures and low CO2 of the pre-industrial past were not optimal for life. So trying to stir fear over “climate change” is not just unscientific but positively irrational and borders on some form of hysteria at times.
Note also in the larger context that these past few million years have been an abnormally cold ice age era with both colder temperatures and lower levels of CO2. This is due to our position on one of the spiral arms of the Milky Way where there is a lot of star activity (i.e. exploding stars emitting cosmic rays). Remember also that for 75% of its history Earth has been entirely ice free. That is a more normal and healthy state for life.
Note further Ian Plimer’s argument that it is during climate cooling that Earth experiences more drought, not during climate warming. Again, the alarmists, like Al Gore, have the science all backwards. Plimer explains that during warmer periods life flourishes while during colder periods life suffers (i.e. more extinctions, more human fatalities). A warmer world with higher levels of CO2 is a healthier world, a more normal world when compared to the long-term context of life on Earth.
Getting the basic science of CO2 and carbon right is vital to end this current alarm over rising CO2 levels. As noted above, alarmists have been trying to portray CO2 as a pollutant and even poison. This is irrational. It is a complete abandonment of sound science. CO2 is the very food of all life. It is vital to a healthy biosphere.
When the evidence does not support the alarmist narrative we then must ask what is really behind all this climate alarmism? This takes us to ideological issues. And further behind that we find mythological issues. Ideology is often just secularized mythology anyway, rooted in a primitive alarmist worldview.
This site is devoted to understanding these deeper roots of alarmist movements, whether religious or secular.
Secularized Mythology- Apocalyptic in modern ideology Wendell Krossa
Opening qualifier: Not all alarmism is an expression of apocalyptic mythology. But much doomsterism/alarmism does touch base with core apocalyptic themes. Apocalyptic is a unique set of primitive and damaging ideas.
Another qualifier: I argue repeatedly on this page that the worst error in all history (i.e. punitive forces/spirits behind life) spawned the most distorting and damaging set of ideas in all history- apocalyptic mythology. The outcome of apocalyptic has been atonement religion- the appeasement or salvation industry. This apocalyptic set of ideas/themes has darkened and enslaved human consciousness for millennia. It still dominates much public consciousness today (note public story-telling media such as movies, TV, and literature).
Now to the main point…
Various strains in contemporary ideology (notably environmental alarmism) are little more than secularized mythology. It is always surprising to discover some of the most primitive mythology still present in modern secular viewpoints. To illustrate this I will trace in brief summary form the main apocalyptic themes as they descend from primitive thinking down into the present. I will employ broad strokes and over-simplify in order to make the point clear and to show the linkages between major historical periods and systems of ideas. The core themes of apocalyptic are not always held up front in daily consciousness or conversation but tend to reside more in the background (subconscious even) where they are often not properly confronted, rooted out, and replaced with more evidence-based and rational alternatives.
The line of descent of apocalyptic mythology, in our Western tradition, is from primitive mythology to Zoroaster, then to Jewish religion, merged into Christianity, and then into 19th Century Declinism or Cultural Pessimism, and then to Environmentalism (we could also include Marxism and Nazism). The thing to note in this lineage is not exact correspondence of statements or expression but the core theme behind any given statement or expression.
Apocalyptic mythology is much more than just the apocalypse myth. Apocalypse by itself (aside from its full context) makes little sense. It is part of a full template of tightly related ideas or myths that includes:
1. The myth of original paradise (or a generally better past)
2. The ruin of paradise by corrupted humanity (Fall). Corrupt humanity now deserves some punishment.
3. The subsequent decline of life toward something worse (i.e. in contemporary expression the world is getting worse, threat from over-population, fragile nature is ready to collapse).
4. A dualism between good and evil. Oppositional dualism affirms the need to exclude and punish some enemy.
5. A salvation scheme- this is atonement thinking, the felt need to make a sacrifice in order to save something (oneself, humanity, or the world) from the final punishment. Salvationism is about placating some angry, punitive force/spirit in order to avoid the end-time grand retaliation from an angry God or revenge of Gaia.
6. A final punishment of evil. This is the actual apocalypse- some catastrophic ending- where the good triumph over the evil (a final retaliation against one’s enemies).
7. The purging of the world (removing the old corrupt order of things- i.e. population reduction, and slowing or reversing industrial civilization), and the restoration of paradise or inauguration of the new kingdom/utopia.
Behind this template of apocalyptic is that core error of the ancients- that behind life there is some threatening, punishing spirit or god. This explains the final punishment of all wrong and the purging of the old corrupt order (the purging of all evil).
Note especially below that it was Zoroaster who introduced a strong dualism into ancient apocalyptic mythology, a clear opposition between good and bad. This would affirm the exclusion of unbelievers or bad people (the disagreeing other). It would affirm the need to punish such people. That dualism would reinforce primitive tribalism and the right to retaliate against and destroy one’s enemies. It would affirm the impulse to exclude and ultimately destroy outsiders in an apocalyptic punishment.
Primitive (Sumerian) mythology
In the earliest human writing (i.e. Sumerian cuneiform tablets) we already find the core themes of apocalyptic mythology. Apocalyptic is not yet assembled into a coherent theology but is more of a scattering of themes here and there. These themes may be noted in such material as the Sumerian or Gilgamesh Flood myth (roughly 2100 BCE though it refers to earlier events). The Sumerian tablets contain fragmentary accounts and a fuller version of the Gilgamesh epic appears somewhere between 1600-1300 BCE in Babylonian mythology.
The core themes: The city of Dilmun was presented as an original paradise. The god/man Enki committed an original error that resulted in his punishment with illness and the degrading of paradise (an early version of the Fall of man theme). And then there was the myth of a great Flood as punishment for human sin (too many people being too noisy). The god Enlil decided to punish the boisterous people with a great deluge. That was the earliest apocalypse scenario. For detail see sites such as http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sumerian_creation_myth
In these early myths we see the barebones outline of primitive apocalyptic thinking.
The earliest expressions of Salvationism or salvation mythology are also found in the earliest human writing, in the Sumerian Flood myth and later related versions such as the Epic of Gilgamesh. In the varied versions of the flood myth there are different flood heroes- Utnapishtim, Atra-Hasis, and Zi-ud-sura. The flood hero builds an ark and rescues the animals and then, along with his wife in Utnapishtim’s case, is granted eternal life by the gods. This is the earliest recorded mythology of Salvationism and immortality.
There are also conditions to meet in order to gain salvation and this is noted in the case of Gilgamesh, who fails to meet the conditions. For one condition he is required to stay awake but fails. Another condition requires him to obtain an ocean plant which he does, but then while he is busy bathing, a serpent steals the plant that would have given him renewed youthfulness. He then loses his bid for immortality.
And in these same epics (notably that of Zi-ud-sura) there is also the required sacrifice made to the gods, another element of Salvationism. After the flood Ziusudra offers a sacrifice of an ox and a sheep. He is then given “eternal breath” and dwells in the paradise of Dilmun.
So, once again, the core elements of salvation and related mythology are all there in these ancient epics- retaliatory or punishing deity, the original paradise and fall of man (i.e. the paradise of Dilmun and the “sin” of Enki, who becomes ill after eating forbidden fruit), the grand punishment or retaliation of apocalypse (flood), and the subsequent salvation/sacrifice scheme with its conditions.
Zoroastrian apocalyptic mythology
Zoroaster takes up the scattered themes of primitive myth and brings them together to present a more formal and coherent theology of apocalyptic and salvationism.
Zoroaster appears to be the first to introduce into his apocalyptic theology the idea of a dualism between good and evil. He speaks of a good Creator God, Ahura Mazda, and an evil hostile spirit, Angra Mainyu. These two are set in cosmic conflict. This opposition forms the basis of Zoroaster’s pronounced dualism, a dualism between good and bad that obligates people to make a choice of which they will follow.
This dualism results in life in this world becoming a battleground for the conflict between good and evil. According to Zoroaster, the world had originally been created perfect but Angra Mainyu had ruined that perfection, bringing decay and death into the world. This was a formal statement of a Fall (paradise lost). But this world and history would be brought to a final end when evil would be destroyed. A great apocalypse would occur, a final judgment in which good would be separated from evil, when good would conquer evil. A great fire of molten metal would burn the world carrying the unrighteous into Hell. This would purge the world and then its original perfection would be restored for the righteous who would spend eternity in bliss.
In the grand end-time apocalypse, a justice of rigid payback would be fulfilled. The righteous would be rewarded for good done and the wicked would be punished for evil done. Zoroaster’s dualism affirmed the need for opposition and exclusion of one’s enemies or opponents. There was to be a clear demarcation between the good and the bad, with the requirement to punish and annihilate the bad.
Zoroaster was the first to introduce these ideas of a final end to history and the world, a final judgment, Heaven and Hell as payment for deeds done, eternal life, and a great apocalypse by fire (no longer by flood). With these ideas Zoroaster offers a more complete and coherent presentation of apocalyptic and salvation mythology.
See for example http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/apocalyptic-that-which-has-been-rcvealed (sic) and Mary Boyce’s Zoroastrians: Their religious beliefs and practices.
Jewish apocalyptic theology
Apocalyptic mythology is developed in Jewish culture in the post-exile period (the Jews were exiled in 605 BCE and returned in 536 BCE). There is first the development of proto-apocalyptic theology in the writing of Isaiah (chapters 33-35, circa 163 BCE; chapters 24-27, circa 128 BCE), Jeremiah (chapter 33), Ezekiel (chapters 38-39), Joel chapter 3, and Zechariah chapters 12-14 (160 BCE). This is transitional thinking on apocalyptic mythology. Then there is the development of a full-blown apocalyptic theology in Daniel (chapters 7-12) during the Maccabean period (160-60 BCE).
Jewish apocalyptic exhibits the themes of a strong dualism (two kingdoms), the conquering and elimination of evil, a final judgment and divine victory over evil, and the complete reformation of all things (a renewed Golden Age). The good God will triumph over evil and chaos. Salvation is promised though in Jewish thought it had more to do with a this-world restored political kingdom and not some other-worldly individual salvation as in Paul’s thought.
See for example http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apocalyptic_literature
Christian apocalyptic teaching
The Christian apocalyptic template inherits the Jewish perspective but is more fleshed out and contains the following main themes: an original paradise (Eden), a Fall into corruption due to human failure, the subsequent decline of life toward something worse, toward a catastrophic ending, and the great Apocalypse often referred to in terms such as “the Day of the Lord”. This will be a fiery purging of the world and the ending of the current corrupt world order. It will be a great divine judgment and punishment. After this there will be the restoration of all things in a renewed world (a new Eden), or a kingdom of God. This set of themes is also referred to as Christian salvation theology.
One can find these themes throughout the Christian Bible, but notably summarized in the writing of Paul and John (Revelation). See for instance, Paul’s writing in the letters to the Thessalonians, also in Romans and Hebrews (authorship uncertain).
Apocalyptic in 19th Century Declinism or Cultural Pessimism
In the development of 19th century Declinism theory we find a significant shift occurring in the historical descent of apocalyptic mythology. Apocalyptic is now secularized, or given a more secular expression. Myth is stated as ideology. Hence, my repeated statement that much contemporary ideology is just secularized mythology. Declinism is primitive apocalyptic myth re-emerging in modern thought and expression.
I am indebted to historians like Arthur Herman for the material in this section, notably his excellent study titled “The Idea of Decline In Western History”. Herman illustrates a pivotal point in the history of human thought or perception- how primitive mythology is secularized for the new thinking of the scientific era.
Herman notes the influence of a variety of Christian themes on the thinking of the Decline theorists (see also Richard Landes’ Heaven on Earth: The Varieties of the Millennial Experience for more historical detail on the influence of Christian apocalyptic on modern political ideologies like Marxism and Nazism).
Herman writes that Declinism assumes the common belief in an original golden age in the past, and that there has been a subsequent decline of life from that better past. The Declinists of the 19th Century refused to accept that modern industrial society was progress. Instead, in that very progress they saw the forces of decline and decadence. Human industrial civilization was making things worse. They saw in industrialization an emerging hell.
Declinists also held a belief in the Fall of man or the corruption of an originally pure humanity. Declinists believed that primitive people were a superior people. But modern civilization had corrupted the pure native soul and society, and they had subsequently lost their original vitality, their purity and strength. Technological and scientific society had degraded the human spirit. Racial degeneration had occurred. Civilization made people soft and corrupt.
(Note: see Stephen Pinker’s “Better Angels of Our Nature” for good counter evidence that shows the actual progress of humanity over history toward something ever better)
So now life was declining toward something worse than before. This Herman refers to as “Degeneration theory” which claims that there has been a deviation from an original pure and strong type. Modern technological and industrial society has produced this decline in humanity and in life generally. It was all heading for a grand collapse and ending (the apocalypse).
Salvation is to be found in purging this corrupt human civilization and restoring the primitive order or society. There must be a grand purifying, and it should be a violent overthrow, a violent and fiery purging of the old order so that a new order of life, or a new society, may be installed. This new world is to be a return to primitive vitality, and the assumed innocence of the original pure beginning. Herman also notes the Christian belief that salvation required the violent and catastrophic destruction of the old order so that the new order or kingdom could be inaugurated (see Revelation for graphic detail on the brutal violence of the Christian apocalyptic vision).
One can see the core Christian apocalyptic themes all through Declinism. This is the secularization of primitive mythology for the modern age.
Apocalyptic in Environmentalism
Herman in his chapter 12 then shows how Declinism thinking emerged in modern environmentalism. Contemporary environmentalism proclaims that the original Golden Age was found in pure and undisturbed nature, in pristine wilderness. But modern technological society has led to the corrupting of nature, it has degraded the natural paradise. Industrial society has threatened vital nature. Modern technological progress is destroying life, exhausting resources.
And all is now in decline toward some catastrophic collapse and ending. Salvation is to be found in returning to some post-industrial order. Declinists argue that we need to purge this corrupting order and bring in a new world order, or a new civilization, in order to save the planet. And this new order is actually viewed as a return back to nature, back to the original Golden Age. This will mean the renunciation of Western capitalist society for a return to a pure natural existence, to a primitive, pre-capitalist society. This is the new kingdom- a return to primitive society. It is a return to the mythical original vitality (pristine natural paradise) before the fall into modern civilization.
For the environmental declinist, or alarmist, the looming collapse of civilization is then something to look forward to. The catastrophic destruction of technological civilization is an opportunity to bring in the new order. Western civilization is a corrupting evil, and modern civilized humanity is an evil. But Gaia will retaliate and punish this human cancer and remove it, so that the old primitive natural order can be restored.
In all these historical phases of apocalyptic mythology we find the same core themes, no matter the differences of expression over time. The basic template re-emerges endlessly over history from primitive mythology to equally primitive theology to contemporary ideology- original paradise or better past, paradise ruined by corrupting humanity, a Fall into worsening corruption, the decline of humanity and life toward something worse, the looming catastrophic ending (apocalypse), the need to purge the old corrupt order and install a new order (or re-install the original primitive paradise).
From Sumerian myth to contemporary environmentalism, apocalyptic mythology has continued to darken consciousness and alarm humanity. Apocalyptic thinking has always held the dismal view of humanity as corrupt and destructive. It has therefore consistently opposed human development and progress. It has endlessly proposed anti-human salvation schemes that harm people and hinder progress toward a better future (and cause unnecessary damage to nature). It even urges ridding the planet of most of humanity. It is a profoundly anti-human mythology.
Apocalyptic always presents the potential to not only stir alarm but also violence with its oppositional dualism and sense of threat from some enemy (i.e. employing a sense of victimhood to validate violence toward perceived enemies).
Some additional points on the secularization of primitive mythology:
It is important to respond to alarmism with good scientific evidence. Rational science is the anti-dote to hysterical primitivism. And I have argued repeatedly that overwhelming evidence on all the major trends/elements of life affirms a narrative of hope, not alarm. We are not heading toward some catastrophic end of nature, life, or civilization.
But there is this interesting thing going on regarding evidence. You will get two equally bright scientists looking at the same data/evidence and coming to very contrary conclusions. You then realize that there might be ideology at play and influencing the conclusions about the evidence. One way of understanding this has been called “confirmation bias”, where people will accept only the evidence that affirms their views on something, and downplay or dismiss outright the contrary evidence that does not affirm their views. When this occurs then you recognize that it is important to look into ideological issues in order to better understand alarmism. And surprise, surprise because looking even deeper you will often find primitive mythology behind the ideology. Too much contemporary ideology is little more than secularized mythology.
Just for example. I was in a grad program at the University of BC back in the early 90s (School of Community and Regional Planning). Bill Rees was the director of the school and a lecturer (I took most of his courses). He is widely known as the originator or father of the Ecological Footprint model which argues that too many people are consuming too many resources and all is heading for some catastrophic collapse. We need another Earth or two to support our levels of consumption. Our footprint on nature is too large. We are in “overshoot”. Bill was developing this EF during the years I was in his school.
Now to illustrate this thing of mythology at the root of much contemporary ideology- Bill travelled a lot and when absent would invite others to lecture for him. He once had one of his PhD students lecture us on Mother Earth or the earth goddess. And he offered to us in lectures the perspective of Gaia. In a personal conversation, he once affirmed to me that apocalyptic was true. After all, according to Bill, it had happened in the past.
Other leaders of the environmental movement have also appealed to mythology to make their case for alarm over the state of nature. Notable in this regard is Rachel Carson and her appeal to an apocalyptic narrative in the first chapter of her book Silent Spring. Al Gore sometimes refers to his Christian beliefs to back his case for alarm. These are some of the thought leaders of alarmist environmentalism and it is evident that mythology plays some role in their approach. This is why this page focuses so much on understanding the deeper mythical roots behind alarmism.
It is not that any given alarmist will make a clear statement of mythology, tying her/his approach to traditional apocalyptic themes. It is more that they will employ a theme that is indistinguishable from the core themes of ancient mythology.
And thus primitive mythology, now often secularized, still clouds and damages modern outlook and society. It continues to darken public consciousness and enslave the human spirit and human society (notably the alarmist response of anti-development activism, the endeavor to oppose and halt human economic development and overall progress).
Fortunately, the human impulse for authentic liberation will persistently confront the residual influence of this primitive apocalyptic perspective and seek to replace these dark themes with a new narrative of hope based on the increasing evidence of human creative influence on life.
To further note the historical lines of descent and linkages see sites such as http://op-ed.the-environmentalist.org/2007/04/zoroastrianisms-influence-on-judaism.html, http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/15283-zoroastrianism, or http://www.westminster.edu/staff/brennie/RennieC55R36.1.pdf (Iranian roots of Christianity)
Another ‘additional’ point in relation to apocalyptic mythology: There is a dense complexity in human thought over history. However, throughout history some strains in human thought have played a more dominant role, influencing people and their lives more powerfully than other ideas. And some of these ideas/beliefs have caused immense damage to people and their societies. Hence, my more limited focus at times on a certain themes.
To get right to my point- nothing has caused more grief and damage to humanity than the core human myth of some threatening, retaliatory, or punitive reality. This idea/belief then spawned apocalyptic mythology and its twin- Salvationism theology (i.e. how to escape the punishment of the apocalypse).
My interest in these ideas has to do with getting to the foundational beliefs/ideas in human worldviews and noting their impact on human consciousness and existence. To this end I have repeatedly referred, for instance, to the example of people like Rachel Carson and her use of apocalyptic imagery and the consequence of her alarmism for millions of people, mainly children (i.e. her alarmism over chemicals played a significant role in the ban of DDT which then resulted in tens of millions of unnecessary deaths in the following decades).
Now I am sure that she was a good person and never intended such an outcome from her apocalyptic alarmism. But such outcomes litter the brutal history of apocalyptic thinking. Its potential to alarm excessively has led repeatedly to such damaging outcomes in human societies. Note, for instance, that Hitler bought into Spengler’s apocalyptic/millennial alarmism and then remember the outcome in German society and the larger world.
Note also how environmental alarmism today inspires opposition to human economic development and progress which is vital to protecting the environment. Many have detailed the destructive consequences of this alarmism on humanity and nature (e.g. bio-fuels fiasco, general opposition to fossil fuels).