Comment in this section: The journey starts hot; The “stunning” new view of ultimate reality (also- evaluating the NDE movement); Reframing Campbell’s outline of human story (the Hero’s journey); What are we, really?; The humanizing project; News cycles; Christ myth; Embracing Imperfection; Irresponsible environmental alarmism; Scattered Notes; Climate deniers.
The journey starts hot:
Dad called my sisters and I into the kitchen to stand in front of an early 1950s wood-burning stove. It had white enamel sides with a black iron surface. A pipe to vent the smoke exited the back and up through the ceiling. Dad stood beside the stove. He then tapped the tip of his finger on the hot iron surface for a micro-second and sternly warned us, “Just like that burns your finger, so your whole body will burn in Hell”. Yikes.
They say that we forget most of our experiences before six years of age. But some memories are so traumatizing that they permanently scar our consciousness. It happened when I was three or four, but that sermon-in-a-second was not forgotten. And it was supplemented in following years with repeated warnings that “God was gonna get us” for any bad behavior, for any unchristian behavior. Because we deserved to be punished.
I did not have the mental tools through my early life to think myself free of those “bad religious ideas” (Sam Harris’ term). Finding those tools took a lifetime of search and struggle. And before I scare off the religious readers, let me affirm that some version of atheism/materialism was never a serious alternative.
Sparked by those early years of religious trauma, I have spent my life trying to understand it all- religion, atheism, the spiritual, science, mythology, meaning, purpose, suffering, evil, good, love, exclusion/inclusion, domination/equality, life, and death, and more. What does it mean to be human? To be consciously human in an imperfect world? To see and feel beauty, goodness, love, but also randomness and accident, hatred and violence, sickness and suffering, and the rest that is life. Is there a better way to understand and explain all this to ourselves?
And the “curse” of being born into a religious family, a fundamentalist Christian family. Oh, I am being a bit facetious now. It wasn’t all that cursed. There was also love, kindness, fun and generosity in our family and Christian circles. My Dad was a basically compassionate man. But his problem was that he took his religion seriously and that got all of us into trouble. It would have been better if he had just loosely appreciated the useful insights in his religion and ignored the bad stuff. Many Christians do this today and lead quite normal lives.
But belonging to a religious family does entail some experiences of severe suffering. Example: At 14 in 1964, the very night that the Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan, my Dad took us off to the evening church service. I don’t think it is ever possible to recover from such trauma. To have missed a defining moment in world history. Shit. I’ve mostly buried that experience but I can still get mad at the memory of it. Dad (he’s gone now, but if he’s listening)- How could you?
Beyond the kidding, bad religious ideas do deform human personality and hinder normal development. I have included comment on this in other sections below. Note, for instance, the excellent book by Brazilian psychotherapist Zenon Lotufo (Cruel God, Kind God). He details the deforming psychological impact of bad religious ideas such as the Christian atonement belief that Jesus had to die to pay for our sins. That is the foundational idea of the Christian religion. And this is where I usually upset religious people by challenging these ideas. You can hear them clicking out of this site right now. Others make the same point as Lotufo. See Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer’s book ‘Is Religion Killing Us?’. Or Harold Ellens in ‘The Destructive Power of Religion’, among others. These are Christian theologians and writers. They are not atheists or outsiders to Christianity. But they recognize that there are some really bad ideas in Christianity. This site details these bad ideas.
And no, I am no longer Christian. God saved me from Christianity. Seriously. I am now with the 15% of humanity classified as “Unaffiliated”, but not atheist. Or “not religious but spiritual” is another way of defining such positions.
To balance things for religious visitors, I also recognize the good insights and ideals in the Christian system, none more valuable than the Historical Jesus tradition. My argument is that the larger framework of basic Christian belief overwhelms, distorts, and undermines the better ideas and ideals.
And because it is still widely believed across the human family, I would emphasize that there is no more psychopathic perversion ever created by overheated religious minds than the lie that there is a Hell. That is an expression of hatred intensified by magnitudes of order. You cannot merge such barbarity with love in any manner, as religious systems do.
At 19, after years of teen irrationality, waste, and getting into delinquency issues, I gave in to family pressure and went off to attend a Christian Bible college. Four years of Christian theology and Christian living. There I learned the core ideas of Christianity. Like my Dad, my problem was that for a few initial years I took Christianity seriously. That got me into a lot of trouble.
We were taught to embrace, without questioning, the worst of all bad ideas- the foundational religious idea of a violent, punishing God. A God that uses violence to solve problems. A God that demands violent solutions like a human blood sacrifice to appease his anger (e.g. see Romans 5:9). A God that requires a supreme condition must be met before he will forgive anyone. We were told that if we did not believe these ideas then we would be sent to Hell, where we would feel the “terror of the Lord… the wrath of God”, as Paul states it.
I have detailed these bad ideas in the sections below. It took me following decades to find the mental tools to think myself free of this religious horror and its deforming power. I hope to spare others such misery.
I have also detailed in other sections how bad religious ideas (i.e. the full template of apocalyptic myths) have been transformed into secular versions over the past few centuries where their distorting/damaging impact continues. Look carefully at environmental alarmism today and its harmful impact on human consciousness (i.e. causing “eco-anxiety” in children), and its subsequent negative impact on human freedom and creative advance. Apocalyptic mythology does that to the human spirit and human life.
Joseph Campbell outlined human story as going out and facing monsters. In our struggle to conquer those monsters we gain insights that can help others. But we may also be wounded in our struggle. I was wounded from engaging my monster, the Christian God and Christ.
My wound came from believing such myths as the lie that we are “sinful”, “fallen”, or essentially bad. I believed the myth that we all fell into sin when Adam disobeyed long ago (i.e. inherited sinfulness). That myth of the “Fall of man” has caused endless devaluation of humanity over subsequent millennia. And after the Fall, we were kicked out of the early paradise to be separated from our Creator, rejected and abandoned by the biggest Daddy or Parent of all. The consequence of our sin is the punishment of living in pain and misery ever since.
What pathological ideas to teach young people- that they are essentially corrupt, lost, and deserve punishment- just as they are trying to form some sense of themselves, some healthy sense of self-identity in their late teens.
Because we are essentially bad, reasons Christianity, so we deserve the ultimate punishment. Even to be destroyed in Hell if we do not repent and get right with God, and accept Jesus into our hearts (believe in Jesus), and join the Christian religion, and faithfully attend a Christian church. To be really safe and sure about being “saved” you better attend both Sunday morning and evening services, and the Wednesday prayer meeting too. Then you are a good Christian and God will bless you with a happy, accident-free life. Make sure though, that you pray before going for a drive in your car. Just to be extra sure. Or run your fingers over prayer beads, if you are Catholic.
In all those years of listening to Christian teaching I was never given a clear sense of the stunning Love at the core of all reality. Oh, there was love in the Christian God but it was highly conditional love. It demanded that a supreme sacrifice must be made before there would be forgiveness. And then it was very much a tribal love, reserved especially for true believers, not so much for unbelievers who stubbornly refused to accept Jesus and join a Christian church. They were the “children of Satan”. And Hell was their future. In Australianese, they would be tossed on the big “Barbie” Down Under.
Authentic universal love, the unconditional love that Jesus tried to teach, was buried by the conditional love of Paul and his atonement message.
Bad religious ideas will wear you down and crush your spirit. That Christian teaching eventually brought my life to a kind of inner breakdown of discouragement and disillusionment. And that was a good and necessary thing. It forced me to rethink my religion and what it was all about. And no, once again, atheism was never a serious alternative. That was too much just a shrug of the shoulders and walking away from the profound human impulse for meaning and purpose.
I eventually discovered the most potent weapon to bring down my monster and transform all life for the better. It was the radical redefinition of deity as absolutely no conditions Love, and the corollary treatment of every human being with the same unconditional love. That supreme understanding of love should be the central guiding ethic for human existence.
I see a more authentically humane future now, a future of real liberation, of creative exploration. The options are far more diverse than some simple-minded opposition between religion and atheism.
Each of us is responsible for our own life story and how we create that. Each of us can offer something unique and creative to the overall. We bring our own personal experiences and insights to the greater whole that we are all part of. We can each offer something innovative and fresh to the adventure of the “spiritual”, and to life in general, to bettering the human condition. So take that question seriously- What do you want? What interests you? What do you find to be fun? Go for it. That is God in you. Even Jesus said, “You are gods”. “Your faith heals you.” It’s all up to you. He got the personal freedom and responsibility thing right.
You do not need any guru, pastor, or priest to enlighten you or to guide you. Your own unique impulse to be decently human in the mundane details of daily life is enough. That is the highest and the best of being human. It is the ultimate truth, right, and good.
I would suggest one basic thing- make absolutely no conditions Love the foundational core of your worldview. And embrace the corollary truth that your essential person or self is that very same Love. You are never separated from it. Consequently, you are not bad or evil at core. Your most authentic and real self is that same Love that is God. As the Hindus say regarding atman and Brahman, “You are That”.
And let me add- a good Near-Death Experience will give you more insight into this unconditional Core than all the mythology, theology, and religion of the past. Seriously, one short NDE, clearly focused on unconditional love, is worth more than all the religious books of the past. But make sure that you get a good NDE and not one of the distorting or confusing ones (detail below).
I found liberation in the absolutely no conditions Love that I discovered at the core of all reality. And the discovery that I was that very same love. That changed my perception of being human, entirely. We have never been fallen, corrupted beings. That no conditions love has liberated me from religion and the deforming bad religious ideas of my past.
I offer these two- the Core of all is Love and we are that same Love- as the two most basic insights of all, the ultimate baselines, potent for inoculating children against bad religious ideas, and against bad ideas in general. These two basic truths offer the best content for cognitive therapy, as changing your thinking for the better.
There is no greater discovery or liberation than to realize that Love really is all. And that we are all free to express that love in our unique, individual, and creative ways in our own stories. What do you want? Go for it. Add something new to the great adventure of humanity in this world.
I have repeated throughout this site that there is no greater discovery that any human person can make than to discover that there is only Love behind all. The outcomes of this foundational truth? All are safe, all are included. There is no judgment, no coming punishment, no exclusion, and no ultimate destruction. There is no need for some salvation scheme. This discovery liberates entirely from the bad religious ideas that have been so deeply embedded in human consciousness over the millennia. Ideas that have caused immense and endless fear, anxiety, depression and despair. The sense of some great Threat behind all.
I have offered NDEs as one possible affirmation of this Love behind all. The essence of all things. Are NDEs proper evidence as defined by science? No. But they are something just as valid as any other form of human knowing. They are conscious human experience and that is the most real thing that we know. And yes, we apply proper criteria to evaluate the truthfulness of everything in life. My main criterion is unconditional love. That defines what is most authentically human, what is most supremely humane. It gets us to the ultimate understanding of true goodness. It therefore defines Ultimate Goodness- God- better than anything else. And that is the creating and sustaining Source of all reality. So my summary conclusion is that what is most humane- absolutely no conditions love- is also most true and therefore most real.
But as with all things, come to NDEs with skepticism and a critical mind. A lot of hooey has attached itself to the NDE movement. Some people claim that NDEs affirm their conditional religious beliefs, and even affirm the existence of a Hell. Unconditional Love at the core affirms religious conditions and Hell? Huh? What the fuck?
As some helpfully point out in this regard, our beliefs shape our understanding and experiences. Our beliefs even create the reality that we experience. So be careful what you believe as it can distort the experience that you undergo or create, and your interpretation of your experience.
For example, I once read a Mormon NDE. The author briefly noted encountering an unconditional Light but then went on to describe a reality that was more like a North Korean gulag than any kind of authentic unconditional reality. It detailed another realm with threatening “angel guards” preventing lower class persons from entering special areas reserved for only the more enlightened beings. Ultimate inequality and tribalism in the name of God. Pathetic. Such is the power of belief to shape experience.
Again, make a strong unconditional love (absolutely no conditions, none) your baseline for evaluating all else. Some NDEs do not communicate this basic understanding of love.
See NDE quotes just below in “The stunning new view of ultimate reality”.
NDE defense (new insert)
There is a continuing movement today that offers some of the most profound insight into theology, the spiritual, philosophy, psychology, and human ethics. This movement offers insights unheard of anywhere in past history from mythical or religious traditions. I am referring to the Near-Death Experience movement. It presents some of the most amazing insights and explanation of Ultimate Reality that we have ever heard- notably, the discovery of an astounding unconditional Love at the core of all reality.
The NDE movement also presents some of the most stunning comment on the nature of human beings, insights not found anywhere else in human thought or literature. Some NDEs offer the highest possible valuation of the wonder of being human- i.e. that we are “magnificent beings” of love and light at core (our real self), inseparable from the transcendent Love at the core of all.
Unfortunately, as NDE researcher Mark Fox says, much contemporary religion has ignored the NDE movement and this is understandable. If the central discovery of the NDE is true, that God is unconditional Love, then all the conditions of historical religion are undermined. To be blunt but clear, the conditions of religion are simply wrong. That would be all the conditions related to appeasing and pleasing gods, whether sacrifice, or religious belief, or required ritual, and practice. If God is unconditional love then there is certainly no need for the supreme condition of atonement, the demanded payment for sin or punishment of sin. This atonement belief is the very foundation and heart of Christianity. Oops and Yikes.
This discovery of an unconditional Love at the core of all reality has been too disorienting for most Christians to embrace. Therefore, some have tried to drag the NDE in the direction of validating conditional religious belief, to re-affirm the Christian belief in the supreme condition of a human sacrifice to pay for sin before forgiveness can be offered. Christians having NDEs have tried to re-establish the need for a savior Jesus, and the consequent condition of the need to believe and practice the Christian religion. But such religious conditions are in direct contradiction to the discovery of a core Unconditional Love.
I would offer this caution- some in the NDE movement have tried to attach some very questionable elements to the NDE and then use it to affirm traditional religious beliefs, such as Hell. That is an absolute contradiction of the central discovery of the NDE movement.
NDE of a lady who had a degree in Christian theology:
This lady said that her Christian parents did not want to hear about her NDE because it contradicted what they had been taught by their church. But she had experienced a place of absolute Love. Consequently, she “knew that religions had it all wrong, all religions. There is no way rules and judgment could flow from This….There is only Love and we’re all part of it. There is no way we cannot be loved- no matter what… We’ve been focusing on rules, on suffering, on trying to ‘get right with God’ when we’ve always been ‘right’….It wasn’t just Christianity that I felt had it wrong but all religions…It is not possible to be separated from God, because we are all part of God…We are Love, we are part of God and we cannot ever be separated from God.”
Simon on hope
This site has long been a project to counter the darkness, fear, and despair generated by apocalyptic mythology- the fraudulent belief that life is declining toward a catastrophic collapse or ending. The Post-WW2 decades of environmental alarmism have further beaten this unscientific myth into public consciousness where it has done immeasurable harm.
Researchers like Julian Simon have presented sound evidence to the contrary that life is improving on all fronts (i.e. Ultimate Resource). Simon rightly concludes that humanity should hold a party to end all parties to celebrate how well we are doing. There are problems everywhere in life, but there is sound reason for hope because good evidence affirms that we are solving the problems and gradually making life something ever better. And to the contrary, there is no credible evidence of decline toward looming, imminent catastrophe.
I have given intense focus here to the “bad religious ideas” that make up apocalyptic mythology. The central foundational idea around which the rest of apocalyptic belief coheres is that of an angry God that will punish human imperfection, and ultimately exclude and destroy the “bad” people. That punishing deity has long been the greatest monster that humanity has ever faced, generating endless fear and alarm throughout consciousness and life.
Below are some comments on a liberating alternative view of Core reality. This includes some of the best insight from ancient and modern wisdom sages. It offers a potent alternative to the enslaving darkness of mythological and religious belief.
Another note: Behind much contemporary science you will find the warping influence of ideological belief. Hence, the widespread presence of “confirmation bias” in science today, where people accept only evidence that supports their beliefs and dismiss or deny evidence that challenges their dogma.
But look even further and behind ideology you will find primitive mythological themes, none more primitive and distorting than apocalyptic mythology.
The “stunning” new view of ultimate reality. The discovery of an absolutely no conditions Core Reality, an Ultimate Reality that is entirely undiluted love- insights from Joseph Campbell, NDEs, and related points…
No conditions love at the core: It involves the single most profound shift in human consciousness, ever. It is also the greatest discovery that humanity has ever made. The implications that flow from it revolutionize life like nothing else can. See detail throughout this site.
It was the original central theme of the historical Jesus, before early Christianity buried it in Paul’s Christ myth with its supreme condition of atonement- i.e. that Jesus had to die to pay for sin so God could forgive. Conditional Christianity then denied the Jesus discovery entirely.
I came to the conclusion that the Core of all reality was a transcendent unconditional love by getting Jesus’ central theme clear as he stated it in Matthew 5:38-48 and Luke 6:27-36. He said that God was Love of an entirely new kind- an astounding “absolutely no conditions” love. How so? Because God loved enemies, as well as family and friends. No one was excluded from the unlimited mercy and generosity of God. Not even the “worst” members of the human family. And no, Jesus did not use the term unconditional, but that was exactly the point that he made.
I was never able to grasp this central theme of Jesus from the teaching of my former Christian religion, even though I finished four years of theology and general Christian study at an Evangelical Bible College. In fact, Christianity taught the exact opposite of an unconditional God. It taught that God demanded that a supreme condition must first be met, in the bloody human sacrifice of an innocent victim. That highly conditional teaching buried the unconditional teaching of Jesus entirely. As Thomas Jefferson said, “the diamonds of Jesus (Matthew 5:38-48) were buried in the dunghill” of the atonement theology of the rest of the New Testament. He used highly offensive terms but he wanted to make clear the stunning contradiction between Jesus and Christianity.
And I did not acquire my discovery of unconditional deity from reading Near-Death Experiences. Though in later years, those experiences affirmed my earlier conclusion that unconditional was Jesus’ original teaching and central theme.
Someone might ask- How credible is the NDE as “evidence” of the nature of Ultimate Reality? Well, like anything in life NDEs need to be critically evaluated. But generally, I take conscious human experience seriously. Especially when it is “hyper-lucid” (more real than waking consciousness) and it is oriented to the most humane thing that we have ever discovered- absolutely no conditions love.
And on the other side, dogmatic materialism offers nothing to help us arrive at the discovery of a core unconditional reality. It does nothing to help answer our ultimate questions or enable us to respond properly and fully to our profound impulse for meaning. The meandering of materialism in meaninglessness does not satiate our intense desire for something more humane- what Plato called “the soul’s desire for perfection”.
(My point here- Contemporary science, dominated by ‘philosophical materialism’, limits human knowing on ultimate issues. While this works fine for most things in material reality, it does not help answer our ultimate questions.)
Unconditional takes our ethical ideals to the height of authentic love and truly humane existence. It points to that better future and existence that we all want. And it offers a profoundly healing focus for cognitive therapy. It orients our thinking to the highest goodness possible. It is enlightenment and liberation like nothing else. It liberates from the darkest themes of our past, from the psychic fears, anxieties, depression, and despair promoted by the metaphysical monsters of past mythology and religion.
Note: The central discovery of the Near-Death Experience is that the Creating Source of all is unconditional love. And I would emphasize the adjective “unconditional” to infinity and beyond. Start with a basic definition of unconditional as absolutely no conditions. None. Unfortunately, many in the NDE movement seem to miss the profundity of this core feature. Especially, those that try to take their NDEs in the direction of affirming conditional religious beliefs. That is entirely contradictory.
Further, unconditional as the foundational definition of deity is not something historically new or unique to NDEs. Jesus had discovered it two millennia ago.
People who have had Near-Death Experiences often state their frustration that human language and words cannot communicate the wonder of what they experienced. They say that the unconditional love that they felt was infinitely better than the best love that we experience here. It is “trillions of times better”, according to some NDErs. It simply cannot be put into words. And they add- that love is the very core of all things. It defines God as nothing else does (see quotes below).
In relation to this point about deity as infinitely better, Joseph Campbell said that the term God is itself a penultimate term. It points to something infinitely, transcendently beyond. Something that cannot be described by words, definitions, or concepts. The God infinitely beyond God.
Yes, I get the problems with using the term God, as it often limits our understanding of Ultimate Reality with distorting religious belief, conditional belief. It is a term that comes with millennia of historical baggage and hence the need for endless qualifiers to properly redefine it for contemporary use.
But back to love and the point of this line of comment…
One person that had an NDE said that she discovered that the very essence of God was love, inexpressible unconditional love. She stated that God’s very substance, God’s very “atoms”, were composed of love.
She says, “That Being (God) was composed of love, it created love, it emitted love, it directed love, it lived on love, it was love, Love the Power. There was nothing in that Divine Loving Being that was not totally good and powered by love…(she continued) the entire universe is composed of unconditional love. Every atom, molecule, quark, tetra-quark, is made of love. Even things that seem negative are all part of the infinite, unconditional spectrum of love. I felt no fear of it at all”.
To further enhance the profound nature of this discovery that love is the core reality behind all else, contrast it with the long and widespread historical understanding of ultimate reality (gods) in terms of features like anger, vengeance, punishment, domination/subservience, violence, exclusion and destruction of outsiders, and so on. Human consciousness has long been darkened by subhuman ideas that distort and bury the real nature of deity as undiluted love. Do an overview of the history of human thought- all mythical and religious traditions- and note the inhuman features that people have always used to describe their gods. Unconditional is so entirely contrary to historical views of gods/God. Conditional religious systems- all religion- have never communicated this unconditional wonder at the core of all.
The related discovery that many of these NDE people make is that we are also the very same love that is God. Our essence is the same unconditional love. We are “one with that greater Unconditional Love”. We are not separate from that. We are also ‘That’, as the Hindu’s say. This revolutionizes our understanding of ourselves and our self-worth.
To quote the same lady above, “That Being said, ‘As I made you, I did you perfectly’. With joy it loved me as I was…That Being loved me just as I was. I did not need to change one thing in order to be perfect. I was perfect to it. I knew it felt true joy in being with me. I felt it was bursting with happiness just because I was there. It was beyond glad to see me. It loved me. It thought I was perfectly made. I was giving it joy just by being there. I was so loved. I was loved completely just as I was. I was precious to it…. (she continues) Our self is made of love. We both (God and us) are of Love. Realizing we are made of love means that we do not have to try to be someone else in order to be worthy. We do not have to work at being loving or worthy. We must value ourselves.”
Another defining feature of God that is intensely related to Love, is Light. Light beyond anything that we know in this realm. That Light is also our core essence. To summarize- We are essentially beings of light and love just as God is. We are not the “fallen, sinful” creatures of religious belief.
These NDE comments affirm my conclusion that the most stunning and profound discovery that any person can make is that the Core of all is Love. The Creating Mind is love. And this Creator encompasses the entire cosmos and penetrates all reality as its sustaining Essence, as its very Life and Being, a reality that is pure Love and Light.
The Core Love is not something out there in some distant heaven, like the primitive sky gods in religious heavens. Joseph Campbell adds something to this distance and immanence point. He states that the Center is here and everywhere. Inside each of us. This is critical to grasp- that God is primarily present in humanity, in our consciousness with its foundational features of love, goodness, kindness, forgiveness, mercy, and generosity. God is present in all human goodness with all its variety, diversity, and unique freedom of expression. God as Love is present in the common human impulse to create something better, in all areas of life and existence.
You could even argue that God as Love is our core essence, our truest and most authentic self. That mysterious and never-separable union of the human with the divine. The oneness of all things that many speak of.
When we realize exactly what we are, the question then is- How can we violate this Love that is our true self?
Other statements on love from a variety of NDE accounts. These are from Ken Ring’s personal research on NDEs:
“Love was everywhere. It permeated the afterlife…the paramount element of reality…It was total love…the feeling of safety…Everything was love…Unbelievable love…unconditional love…The bright white Light was complete and total unconditional love…Absolutely no fear at all…unfathomable love…It is within us, all of us… Love is all that is…We are here for this purpose. Life is love…unconditional love- that was how I should live. It is our essence… Unconditional love and forgiveness is what the universe and life are all about… Love is everything. God is in every one of us as love…God’s love is pure and unconditional. This came through very clearly… I was safe and surrounded by Love that I couldn’t even fathom… Simply wrapped up in the indescribable bliss I felt from head to toe. It wasn’t love like love on Earth… intensified by a trillion…God is love…It is beyond words… Love is all there is…God is love and everything exists because of the pure unconditional love. I was surrounded by love…a feeling of overwhelming love…”
Heads up: I am going to reframe Joseph Campbell’s story outline in terms of unconditional love as the central issue in the transformation from human infancy to adulthood. I will suggest that this is the “something forgotten” that Campbell refers to below, the great discovery, the liberation toward something new and reviving, the life-giving boon, the critical point in the death/rebirth element of human story. The unconditional treatment of all is the highest understanding of what it means to be authentically human, to be humane, to be adult.
Joseph Campbell on personal story: From his outline of human story in The Hero With A Thousand Faces, notably chapter one- “The Monomyth” (p.1-18). Campbell draws on the long history of human mythology, across all cultures, to summarize the story of human development.
Every human being is the hero of a personal story and engages the hero’s journey or adventure. Each one of us is living a unique version of the hero’s story. This is true of the “least of people”, the most forgotten or devalued human persons in our societies.
Campbell speaks of the hero’s journey as the life-development of a human being. It is about “the desired and feared adventure of the discovery of the self.” He states that our journey involves a “threat to the security that we have built for ourselves, the destruction of the world that we have built”, sometimes as traumatic as a death and rebirth. But this process of development then offers “the reconstruction of a bolder, cleaner, more spacious, and fully human life”. He also details the varied subconscious drives and desires that fuel our crises of self-development (his comments on archetypes).
The hero’s adventure of development can also be viewed as confronting a Monster that must be slain.
Campbell adds that across history and human cultures a Wise Man has appeared to help the hero through the trials and terrors of “this weird adventure of self-development”. The Wise Man points to the “shining sword” that will kill the dragon-terror (i.e. the monster) and apply healing balm to the hero’s wounds, wounds suffered while battling the monster.
Most ancient societies had initiation rites to help conduct people through the periods of transformation that would change their conscious and unconscious life as they moved to adulthood, what are called “rites of passage”. These rites orient the hero away from attitudes, attachments, and patterns of the life that is left behind.
In the journey of self-development, the person is beginning to “abandon his infantile fixations and to progress into the future”. The varied rites and myths of cultures are employed to carry the human spirit forward through its stages of development. But there is intense struggle against the hero’s journey as many people remain “fixated to the unexercised images of our infancy, and hence disinclined to the necessary passages of our adulthood”.
Campbell explains that the passage from infancy to adulthood is necessary for “the individual to die to the past and be reborn to the future”. Death to the past (to the old) and rebirth to the future (to the new) are central themes of all human story. This includes the death of infantile ideas/beliefs and worldviews, and the discovery of more adult views, something more universal, more human.
During this transition from our infantile past to an adult future, we face the “tyrant-monster…this may be no more than (the hero’s) own household, his own tortured psyche… or it may amount to the extent of his civilization… (The tyrant-monster) is avid for the greedy rights of ‘my and mine’…the inflated ego of the tyrant is a curse to himself and his world… but within every heart (there is also) a cry for the redeeming hero, the carrier of the shining blade, whose blow, whose touch, whose existence, will (slay the monster) and liberate the land”.
Campbell says that the hero must embrace the death of this old tyrant and a rebirth to something new. This will involve some crisis to attain a higher spiritual dimension that “makes possible the resumption of the work of creation”. There must be a “death to the infantile consciousness, to all the magic of childhood, in order to bring forth the potentialities of adulthood”. Campbell says that we are looking “to experience a marvelous expansion of our powers, a vivid renewal of life. We should tower in stature”.
He expands further on this, “If we could dredge up something forgotten, not only by ourselves, but by our whole generation or our entire civilization, we should indeed become the boon-bringer, the culture hero of the day”. In his other books Campbell has also noted that in our struggle to conquer our personal monsters we gain insights that benefit ourselves and others. We can then bring some boon or blessing to others.
I have repeatedly noted throughout this site that the central discovery of the Historical Jesus was his statement that unconditional love toward all was the supreme ethic of true humanity, it was the height of what it means to be authentically humane (i.e. “love your enemy” too, not just family and friends- Matthew 5:38-48, Luke 6:27-36). Jesus added that this ethic was based upon the truth that there was only unconditional love at the core of reality (i.e. “be like your Father in heaven”, or God). That discovery of authentic humanity was later buried and forgotten in Christianity. So the Jesus discovery fits perfectly Campbell’s comment above on “something forgotten” that will refresh and revive human society. It was a discovery that, better than any other, defines the meaning of mature humanity, of adult thinking and behavior.
(Note on “buried and forgotten in Christianity”- Paul could not get beyond the infantile mythology of retaliation, punishment, and the destruction of his enemies. He embodied/epitomized these childish themes in his Christ myth.)
Further note: I have inserted some bracketed additions among the Campbell quotes below in order to more pointedly focus my paraphrase of Campbell’s points. I want to emphasize that, beyond Campbell’s points, embracing “the unconditional treatment of all” is the central issue in our transformation to adulthood.
I would then reframe Campbell’s comments on human infancy in terms of our inherited animal brain and its base drives that orient us to primitive tribal thinking- i.e. the tendency to favor family and friends and to exclude our “enemies”, the outsiders to our group. I would further define human infancy in terms of the drives to dominate/control others (Alpha behavior), and to retaliate and destroy the competing other. These are prominent features of animal or primitive tribal mentality, the infantile stage of humanity.
From the earliest human writing (Sumerian), we see that people created authorities to validate this tribally oriented infancy of humanity. They projected their primitive tribal-like features onto their gods and then used those highest authorities to validate the continuing expression of that infantile behavior (creating infancy-affirming gods). The sacred has long been used in this manner, to retard people in the primitive behaviors of our human infancy, our tantrum stage. Note this sacred retardation, for example, in primitive and childish “offense and retaliation” response. Someone offends me, so I retaliate and hurt back, I get even, I get my tit for tat “justice”, and punish the offender, like fighting kids in a sandbox.
(Another note: Commentators have rightly stated that Donald Trump’s argument for getting even, or hitting back- i.e. “He started it”, is childish.)
(Note: I would include here Zenon Lotufo’s excellent book, Cruel God, Kind God, where he argues that bad religious ideas like atonement- punishment of wrong, demanded blood payment- inhibit proper human development. Such ideas, and the violent God that they are based on, retard people at childhood stages of development, according to Lotufo. They deform human personality.)
Campbell continues that the first work of the hero is to “retreat from the world scene of secondary effects (i.e. our outer battles with others) to those causal zones of the psyche where the difficulties really reside (i.e. our inner battles with our inherited animal brain and its base drives), and there to clarify the difficulties, eradicate them in (our) own case, give battle to the nursery demons of (our) local culture, and break through to the (unconditional treatment of all as the new adult human ethic)”. These bracketed parts are my interpretive inserts of Campbell’s points.
Campbell is arguing that the hero’s story is really about personal psychological battles, and not outward physical battles with others. The hero’s journey is about battling to overcome the infantile ego and its infantile drives and views. What he called the “nursery demons”- that I would again define in terms of those primitive religious ideas that retard people in childish stages of development. Especially, the historically childish view of violent deity (retaliating, striking out to hurt and destroy) that supports the rest of our historically infantile mythical thinking. That mythology of humanity’s childhood has been embedded deeply in the causal zones of the psyche where those ideas still shape human perspective, emotion/feeling, motivation, desire, and behavior, often for the worse.
So Campbell urges that “the difficulty must be clarified and eradicated and a break through made…”.
The hero then brings “fresh visions, ideas, and inspirations to human life and thought. This contributes to the rebirth of society.” The hero breaks through personal and cultural limitations to the authentically human, to the adult human, and to unlimited love. Think of unconditional love as the central discovery to be made by the hero on the way to adulthood. Unconditional alone takes us beyond the childishness of ancient tribal exclusion and domination of others, the endless fighting with others as “enemies”, the tribal mentality that prevents our transformation toward the mature inclusion of all as equal members of one human family. Our past infantile tribalism prevents our transformation into the ultimate maturity of human love as the universal, and unlimited “love of the enemy”.
Thus runs my paraphrase of Campbell, adding the detail of unconditional to his more general points on human development. Unconditional is the “marvelous expansion”, the “vivid renewal”, enabling us to “tower in stature”, just as Mandela did when he set aside the infantile hatred and tribalism of his past and embraced a universal inclusion of all groups for the future of South Africa. Unconditional is the “fresh vision, idea, and inspiration”.
Again, two central things make up my definition of human adulthood- the unconditional treatment of all people- i.e. no conditions thinking and behavior- based on belief in an unconditional God.
Campbell also refers to the hero as the dreamer, who has chosen to follow, “not the safely marked general highways of the day, but the adventure of the special, dimly audible call that comes to those whose ears are open within as well as without”. This person passes through the dark night of the soul, through the sorrows of the pits of hell, through slime and mud to find the clear waters on the other side. The sustaining virtue of the hero is hope. He/she- the dreamer- crosses to the other shore, across the difficult, dangerous ocean of life, enduring the task of self-discovery and self-development.
(Note on Campbell’s comment that the hero breaks through “slime and mud to find the clear waters”- Leo Tolstoy also said that he found the life-giving water of non-retaliating, unconditional love in the gospels- i.e. “love your enemies”- but that it was like a pearl “buried in the slime and muck” of the larger gospel context with its themes of retaliation, exclusion of unbelievers, punishment, and destruction. Jesus’ statements on unconditional love is the forgotten thing, the buried or lost thing, that is to be rediscovered. Campbell himself may be referring to Jefferson and Tolstoy’s earlier comments on slime and muck.)
Read your own personal struggles and development into this life story framework of Campbell.
And we eventually find our way to freedom by slaying the monster, our personal monster- our infantile ego, and the supporting religious beliefs that retard us at infantile stages of development.
So the real enemy, the real monster that we all face is our inner animal inheritance and the religious validation of that inheritance- our animal drives and the supporting animal-like features that have long been projected onto gods who then act as validation of those same drives. I have offered detail on this sacred/animal relationship all through this site.
Campbell ends with the comment that the courageous hero is full of faith that the truth that he finds will make us free. Where the hero thought to slay “another” (his enemy), instead, he slays himself, his own infantile, animal-like self. In his journey, he has come to the center of his own existence.
Try this as a thought exercise- again, think of the hero’s journey in terms of the discovery of unconditional love as humanity’s most profound insight into what it means to be authentically human, to be a mature human person. This fills out Campbell’s vision and focuses the details.
Humanity’s journey away from infancy to adult maturity is best understood in terms of our supreme understanding of love. This is the journey from the infantile ideals of tribal insularity and exclusion, from domination and destruction of the other as an enemy, to the mature inclusion of all as family, to the treating of all as equal members of one human family.
Unconditional love takes our greatest ideal- love- to new heights of maturity and adulthood, away from the infancy of tribal mentality. Note again Mandela as a good public example of someone conquering personal childishness (hatred of the other, revenge) and breaking free of personal and cultural limitations (“us versus them” tribalism) to the authentically human, to a new universal vision and civilization. Mandela maturely chose to include all in the new South Africa.
Campbell said that the journey or adventure of the hero was a journey to the deepest levels of human consciousness to fight our inner monsters and win battles there, to confront and change the deeply embedded impulses and the related ideas that shape human emotion, perception, thought, desire, and response/behavior- my take on ‘archetypes’. (Note: Campbell did not actually advocate for ‘changing’ the archetypes. That is my addition.)
Again, I would define the “tyrant-monster” that we face- what he calls the selfish, infantile inner ego- I would define that more specifically as the inner monster of our inherited animal brain with its full range of base impulses to anger, hate, retaliation/vengeance, exclusion of others, and domination, or destruction of others. These are the deeply embedded impulses along with the related ideas at the deepest levels of our consciousness that retard us in human infancy. The hero’s journey is about all of us making that profound transformation from the infant to the adult.
Our struggle is to conquer and slay this inner monster and our shining sword to slay our monster is the discovery of no conditions love- the historically forgotten thing. This supreme understanding of love as the absolutely no conditions treatment of all, takes us beyond excluding and limiting forms of cultural love, or infantile tribal love. And in doing that, in making unconditional our new ethical center, we gain insights, none more important than to discover what it means to be truly human or humane. Unconditional enables us to achieve the highest (most mature) understanding of being human or humane. It enables us to achieve “marvelous expansion”, a “vivid renewal”, and we then “tower in stature”, and we “break through and contribute to the rebirth of ourselves and our society”. We achieve the transformation to adult maturity. Unconditional takes us out to the liberation of universal love. It is the highest reach of human imagination, spirit and life.
(Note again: When a recent- 2016- political figure said that his guiding ethic was “eye for eye”, varied commentators countered that this “getting even” was childish.)
This sword of unconditional love then slays all the features of those inherited infantile animal drives that orient us to tribal exclusion of others, to dominate, punish, and destroy the “enemy” other.
Unconditional is the truest liberation of ourselves and others. It is freedom from the real monster that resides deeply inside us, freedom from all those base animal drives, freedom to be truly and fully human. Unconditional takes us to the height of mature adulthood.
This reframes Campbell’s point that we die to the infantile past- those childish themes across history, in our cultures and in ourselves- themes that orient us to hate, retaliation, tribal exclusion (love limited to my family, my ethnic group, my nation), and to domination and destruction of the other. Embracing unconditional is our rebirth to adult maturity, with its inclusion of all, its treatment of all as equal, as intimate family. Unconditional orients us to mature restorative intent, to embracing the good of all.
So, once again, the monster that we slay consists of these features of the infantile, animal past, including the infantile religious gods that embody these same features, the “sacred” that is employed to incite, inspire, guide, and validate these same infantile features in us- rage, hate, retaliation, vengeance, exclusion, punishment, and destruction of the other. Religious gods have long embodied these very features and promoted them in people.
The real death and rebirth of the hero is to discover authentic love as universal, to die to the old tribal worldview and create an entirely new worldview and existence with unconditional at its core.
Note: I would add that the breakthrough to adult maturity is not about some other-worldly “spiritual” insight or experience. It is a breakthrough to embracing unconditional in the ordinary and mundane of daily life. It is the common discovery that “loving one’s enemies” in the details of life is to attain the height of being maturely human. This puts the hero’s journey within the reach of everyone in their daily existence.
Added note: Elsewhere (i.e. Myth To Live By) Campbell has also acknowledged that we make the transition to adulthood when we discover the meaning of our life in love, in service to others.
And friends would balance this emphasis on love with the qualifier that we are not just talking about Ma Teresa-type love, but about love that is as diverse as all human endeavor. A businessman friend argues rightly that people like J. Paul Getty did a lot more good for humanity than Ma Teresa, by creating companies that created jobs for people. So also farmers growing food to feed others, or tailors stitching clothes for people to wear, or construction workers building houses for people to live in, and on and on. Love is a many-splendored thing.
More Campbell on love as the goal of human story
Campbell deals with the development of human life as a “maturing into love” in other books also, notably in Myths To Live By (roughly pages 201 to 232), and in another book on the mythological hero journey. In these accounts he details the struggle of young people to make the transition to adulthood. To explain the general development of a human life, he also uses the larger framework of the shamanic experience of breakdown/disintegration, then re-integrating around something new and life-affirming. The experience of the shaman is similar to the schizophrenic experience of collapse/separation, initiation, and return.
To sum up our life stories in terms of Campbell’s general framework, “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow men”.
Campbell presents the first stage of human development in his comment on the universal archetypes of all human mythology, archetypes that are common to all mankind. He explains archetypes as the foundational layer of our consciousness, where the instincts of our species exist- the inherited biology of the animal that we all share. This archetypal layer (in the human subconscious) is about stimuli that trigger responses and actions that are common to all animal and human life. These base animal impulses and drives can foster the sense of “splitting” (disintegration), of being an outsider, and can lead to a sense of regression, of slipping back to animal consciousness. This is notable in the confusion that many young men suffer in their teens from difficult to control urges and passions. Who said that the most dangerous people on earth are young men from 15 to 20 years old? Some reports suggest that up to 80% of young men fall into some form of delinquency during these years.
These instinctual responses that we all feel are expressed in diverse ways in local cultures. Every culture develops a mythology that guides people in their unique manner of controlling and expressing these instincts, to help young people to learn to live productive lives in their culture, to help them to mature into adults in their society. The myths of a society- the way people think- will guide them in expressing these instincts properly and enable them to mature to productive adulthood.
Campbell then focuses on the critical discovery that helps young people to deal with their instinctual foundation and to make the successful transition to adulthood. He states that the transition is successfully accomplished when the young person reorients and centers their life in love. The culmination of the hero’s journey “will be a discovery of a center in his own heart of tenderness and of love in which he can rest. That will have been the aim and meaning of his entire… quest” (p.220). He adds, “The ultimate aim of the quest, if one is to return from disintegration and collapse (the death of the old, the infantile), must be neither release nor ecstasy for oneself, but the wisdom and power to serve others” (p.227). Love guides and helps the young person to meet the dangers of his hero’s quest, and to overcome the monster, the dangerous forces that he encounters within himself- the inherited animal instincts. Love helps him to not get sidetracked or overwhelmed by those animal instincts, to not let them destroy him, but to come out with the power to bestow boons on others.
Again, I would focus Campbell’s points more and take them further by clarifying that it is not just love in general, but more specifically unconditional love, that helps us to make the transition to adulthood successful and complete. Unconditional takes the human person to the ultimate in human thinking, feeling and existence, to the supreme expression of love, to the authentically humane and mature. It takes us to human maturity, to authentic liberation- the freedom to be truly human.
What are we, really?
It took me a lifetime to discover the “wonder of being human”. To realize that the human self, our core consciousness, consists of a pure love and light that is inseparable from the creating Source that is Love and Light. As some have suggested, we are all incarnations of Ultimate Good, or God. Evidence? Yes, it comes from a contemporary “spiritual” tradition. See below.
I had to battle through the distortion of my family religion (Evangelical Christianity) which taught that we were “sinful” creatures that deserved divine punishment and even destruction. As an Evangelical preacher from England once told us, we were “despicable worms deserving to be crushed under the foot of an angry God”.
We were taught that our ancestors had ruined a perfect world (the lost paradise, Eden), and now as fallen, corrupted beings we have since continued to ruin the world and contribute to the supposed decline of life toward something worse. Soon we would be judged and punished for our corrupting influence.
We were not taught that the imperfection of human life could be explained in terms of our inherited animal brain with its base drives to tribalism (us versus others mentality), exclusion, domination, and destruction of others. Religious traditions mistakenly call this the inherited “sinful nature” and claim that it defines our core self. Our animal inheritance infects much of human experience, and it prompts us to do many petty things, and even inhumane things to one another. But it is not the real us. It does not define our core self. See, for instance, Jeffrey Schwartz’s ‘You Are Not Your Brain’. Our true self is something much better than we can even imagine.
I had no idea through the earlier part of my life that, in reality, we were actually magnificent beings of love and light.
Recognizing the true nature of our core self will act as a preventative check on bad behavior. It prompts the question- How can we violate what we really are? How can we engage any behavior that is less than our true status as love and light? We are most essentially good, so we ought to act accordingly. This is a more healthy and self-affirming way to deal with our continuing animal inheritance.
Realizing what, and who we really are, will liberate from the deforming mythology that we are fallen and corrupt creatures. That has resulted in endless devaluation of humanity across history. That fraudulent mythology has contributed to excessive and unnecessary fear, anxiety, self-hate, depression, and despair. It is an entirely fraudulent basis on which to build human self-identity. It is simply wrong.
Every parent would love for their children to understand this early in life and thereby spare them the misery of suffering self-devaluation under distorting myth and religious belief. We would like to spare our kids from the slow and miserable process of self-discovery that many of us had to endure.
What we really are will liberate us to value ourselves as creatures with unlimited potential to make ourselves better and to make life better. Our true nature as love will fuel hope and positive dreams to create a better future. As Freeman Dyson has said, “our future is infinite in all directions”.
The Humanizing Project (to make humane)
Bring up the ideal of the unconditional treatment of all people and you get interesting responses. Some react with outright rejection of such an ideal- “Its just not practical”, or “Its a mushy, weak response to evil”, or “Are you saying that we should just let all the psychopaths go free?”. And more in similar vein.
What then? Should we just give up and go back to the old ‘eye for eye’ of so much past human response and relating? Go back to the miserable outcomes of tit for tat relating in daily life? Go back to what took us to the horrific violence of Serbia and Rwanda in the 90s?
And yes, as with any ideal in life, there is need for a balancing approach when applying this.
First and foremost, our struggle with the messy imperfection of life in this world changes nothing in our understanding of the nature of Ultimate Reality, or God, our highest ideal of Good. We embrace our ultimate understanding of authentic humaneness, of good or love, as best defined by “absolutely no conditions love”. The ideal does not change no matter how difficult our struggle with engaging it in a world of imperfection. The core reality remains the same. Most of us get this ultimate form of love as spouses and parents, and practice it all the time in our own imperfect ways. The struggle is extending this out to “enemies” just as God does.
And contrary to much conventional belief, the unconditional treatment of all, including enemies, works in very practical ways to lessen cycles of vengeance and violence over the long term. See comment below on Mandela and how practical his unconditional approach was in South Africa for avoiding potential civil war. Unconditional does work in an imperfect world. Certainly better than the old vengeance and punishment approaches of most past history.
But again, for the doubters, the unconditional treatment of all does not diminish the responsibility of love to protect the innocent, to restrain evil, to imprison where necessary, and to eliminate where other options fail (i.e. psychopathic religious violence). Love does not automatically and only equate with pacifism. A full view of love understands that it embraces the responsibility and courage to actively defend and protect others.
Others continue to insist that love cannot be unconditional. Bob Brinsmead responds to this, “I find that this questioning or argumentation against unconditional love is lacking a reasonable logic – and this is true whether the unconditional is applied to human love or divine love.
“First with reference to humanity: Love is the highest human attribute. A failure in love is a failure to be truly human. Again, love fulfils the law, the human moral obligation, fully. Even Paul, whom we critique on some things, says this clearly. To act in any sphere without love is to act inhumanly. It is a failure to fulfil the law- “you shall love your neighbour as yourself.” To act without love is not just a falling short of one’s obligation to another person, or persons, it is falling short of one’s obligation to one’s self because it dehumanizes one’s self. We cannot logically argue that we could ever be justified to act without regard to love, that is, without respect and reverence for life.
“To propose a conditional love is nonsense, a logical fallacy. It could be argued that the Old Testament made “love your neighbour” conditional by placing alongside that moral imperative, “hate your enemy.” That was the OT’s flaw or logical fallacy. But Jesus explicitly rules that out in teaching that we should love our neighbour whether he is good or bad, peaceful in respect to us, or hostile in respect to us. The passage in Matthew 5 concludes with a better translation of the “be perfect” in the NEB. Better, “let your goodness know no bounds” – in context, Let your love be like God’s love and have no bounds – or no conditions.
“Now in reference to God: Love is also the highest and most essential attribute of God. At this point, as I have on occasion reasoned the ethics and theology of this out with an atheist, I don’t mind saying, “Don’t be put off by the term God at this point, for God is not a proper name, but only a label we give to our concept or what must be the Supreme Good.” Whether one wants to be Biblical or not, if one will accept that love is the supreme human attribute, one has to accept that love has to remain at the centre of what we recognize as the Supreme Good. So I can say, even to the atheist, let’s call our reference point to this Supreme Good… “God.” I have found this approach to be quite disarming.
“Anyhow, if we can accept that God is love and love is of God, then it must follow that God cannot become unloving, because by definition that would be ungodly, meaning, that as some point or under some conditions/circumstances, God ceases to be God. To repeat, if God can cease to be love, then God can cease to be God. This is the same as saying that the living God cannot die or the true God cannot lie. To say that God is unconditional love is the same as saying God is unconditionally God. If we humans under some conditions are justified in abandoning love and thereby becoming inhuman, then by the same logic God can under some circumstances abandon love and become ungod – no God.
“The logic of conditional love (a blatant oxymoron) is on the one hand a rejection of any viable humanism and on the other any viable theism.”
From another post by Bob: “There is never a circumstance when acting in a way that does not respect and reverence life is justified. Not even in war…An unloving act is never justified. This is the same as saying, ‘An inhumane act is never justified’. To argue against unconditional love as the only real love, or to argue that unconditional love is not always practical or possible, is to propose that we should not always be humane. Or to suggest that there are times when we need to be inhumane. Or we should sometimes cease to be human…It is not logical.”
Whenever a new eruption of Islamic violence occurs, we want to avoid isolating it in terms of Islam alone. Place Islamic terrorism immediately in its full context in order to keep the overall picture clear and to avoid the charge of Islamaphobia. Place Islam in its full context as the latest expression of the Western religious tradition, the latest stepchild of the Zoroastrian godfather and its apocalyptic mythology. We always understand the true state of anything by viewing the larger, full context.
Islamic violence today has direct historical links to the violent deity of Christianity that it inherited via Waraqa, Muhammad’s Jewish Christian mentor. Waraqa filled Muhammad’s head with the bad ideas of violent deity, taught from his translation of the Gospel to the Hebrews that he translated into Arabic. That gospel was roughly similar to the gospel of Matthew with its violent deity mythology.
Note carefully that the core pathology in the Western religious tradition- violent, punitive God- goes right back to the earliest human writing. Islam is the Johnny-come-lately that has taken up that pathology of bad religious ideas that have long incited and validated violence in human history.
Again, these bad religious ideas are part of the complex of issues that must be engaged to solve the problem of violence for the long-term. Confronting and purging these ideas must be part of the most foundational solution to this problem of religious violence.
Paul’s Christ myth has been called the greatest myth ever created. Unfortunately, it sums up the worst features of previous bad mythology- i.e. anger in deity, vengeance and punishment of imperfection, and ultimate violent destruction of the unbeliever. See Paul’s Thessalonians letter for detail, and the graphic illustration of the violence of Christ in John’s Revelation.
Certainly, the Christ myth also includes some of the highest human ideals- love, forgiveness, hope for a better future, and deliverance from evil and suffering. But these ideals are merged with some of the worst features of historical deity and embedded within a mythology of conditional salvation. There must be a supreme payment first before any forgiveness or mercy can be offered, and there will be exclusion and destruction of unbelievers, those who refuse the salvation plan.
The darker features of Paul’s Christ myth distort and undermine the better human features. Paul’s Christ must be subjected to the same humanizing project that most of the rest of human thought and life have undergone. It is simply about discerning between good and bad, human or inhuman, and then purging the bad or inhuman.
Pay careful attention to what I am arguing here. Overall, I am not just “trashing” the Christian system. I am separating the best of this religion from its larger, defiling context. The original gospel of Jesus, his central teaching on unconditional, is the best thing in the religion. I am affirming that original gospel (see detail below on the Search for the Historical Jesus, and Q research). Try to get this positive thrust in the comment here.
The early human misunderstanding of imperfection has caused endless confusion. Early people saw disaster, disease, and death and wrongly concluded that humanity had ruined an originally perfect world and had sent life downward on a declining trajectory from the original perfection. Therefore, humanity deserved to be punished by the gods. And thus began the human creation of metaphysical monsters- Ultimate Threats, gods- that would punish us.
Stating the obvious- imperfection has always been part of the cosmos and life, from the very beginning. There was never any such thing as an original perfection that was lost. That original paradise or Eden myth unfortunately infected all the religious traditions and still surges throughout public consciousness today. We hear it expressed in the environmental myth of pristine original nature before corrupting humanity emerged to ruin things, by engaging and using natural resources.
Even Aristotle assumed that the gods had created a perfect cosmos. But when Galileo peered through his telescope he discovered the imperfections of craters on the moon, and the “imperfect” orbits of the planets (i.e. not circular but elliptical), and other imperfections.
Original perfection mythology distorts the narrative of life entirely. As noted above, it misstates the grand trajectory of life as a decline from some original perfection. This has the narrative of life entirely backwards. The story of life is about original imperfection but then improvement and progress toward something better ever since. It is a grand rising trajectory that really began to take off with the emergence of conscious humanity. We did not emerge to screw things up, but instead, we have been doing an ever-better job of improving life and the world (see material by Julian Simon in sections below). We are learning how to make life better. And of course, not without mistakes along the way. But, as Simon says, in net terms we have been more creators than destroyers.
Turning to the metaphysical- there is a reason why God created life as imperfect. Imperfection is vital to human struggle, development, and growth. Bob Brinsmead says that we get this messy bit of real estate- the imperfect world- and we struggle with it in order to create something better. And we learn lessons and mature through our struggle with the imperfections of life. In the struggle with problems we learn how to develop as human. Imperfection is vital to our development and growth. Both Joseph Campbell and Julian Simon offer good explanations on the role of problems/monsters in human development and progress.
And as Brinsmead highlights, imperfection provides us with endless material to laugh at. So embrace the imperfection of life, and especially your own imperfection, and do your best to make it something better. And relax about the never-perfect outcomes of all our endeavors. Let’s quit blaming ourselves and beating ourselves up over imperfection.
Quote from Bob:
“Lately I have been musing a lot on the implications of accepting that God has made and has given us an imperfect earth in an imperfect universe. If what God has given humanity is to be seen as a Promised Land, it is a Promised Land only in potential. That is a goal that we are to embrace and work toward- making this imperfect world a Promised Land. And we were also given an imperfect humanity. If we allow this reality to sink down into our consciousness, it makes a tremendous difference to the way that we view our imperfections and the imperfections of others.
“Human imperfection is not something that should produce constant shame and guilt and self-flagellation, as in religious preoccupation. All human beings are flawed beings. And this we need to accept as for our own good and proper development. Why get into a lather of guilt about our flawed status? If God expected us to be perfect, he would have made us perfect. This should be basic- not only accepting that we are flawed beings, but accepting that everyone else that we have to relate to is also flawed – and start treating them as “beautifully flawed.” I remember reading that a certain woman made a wonderful funeral speech about her husband David whom she deeply loved. David was flawed, she said, but “beautifully flawed.” Humanity is a creative wonder, always a potential genius whose essential nature is to love and be loved. But it is given to humanity to discover the wonder of what humanity is, even as we struggle with this piece of “challenging real estate” of our own nature.
“Sometimes we need to be more forgiving of ourselves, and especially we need to be more forgiving of others. Flawed humanity in a flawed world – an endless source of humour, indeed! We would not have anything to laugh about, or at, in the perfect world of religious imagination. Perhaps that’s why hell has become a more interesting than heaven.”
Irresponsible environmental alarmism
Alarmism is the highly irresponsible traumatizing of public consciousness. It persistently exaggerates problems to apocalyptic scale. That is shoddy science. The problems of our world are serious but it does not help to engage exaggeration and distortion that cloud proper understanding of what exactly defines any problem. Much like James Hansen telling the public in 2009, “We have only four years to save the Earth”. Or Obama scientific advisor John Holdren stating that one billion people could die from the weather by 2020. Others have hysterically claimed that ocean fisheries would collapse by 2048, or that half of all species would be extinct by 2100. And on and on. Chicken Little squawkers claiming that the sky was falling. You can multiply examples to fill books.
Green alarmists have become expert at crisis creation, a form of psychological terrorism. How pathetic that children today must suffer from “eco-anxiety”. Alarmists first terrorize the public with exaggerated catastrophe scenarios and then push their salvation schemes on the frightened population. Much like the priests of old terrorizing congregations with Hell-fire, then offering salvation if people would submit to their religious systems and authority. And they laughed all the way to the bank.
The consequence of such hysterical exaggeration and alarmism is reactive fear-based public policy that produces solutions that are harmful to humanity and harmful to the environment. Note Rachel Carson’s chemical fear-mongering that resulted in the irresponsible ban on DDT and the related malarial deaths of 50 million people, mostly children, over a subsequent 25 year period following that ban. Rather than being honored as the Mother of modern environmentalism, some have argued that she should be classed with the other mass murderers of the Twentieth Century. Of course, her intentions were good, but by abandoning good science for hysterical alarmism, the unintended consequences of her crusade were horrific for real people.
Global warming fear-mongering produced the bio-fuels fiasco that harmed the poorest people the most with higher food prices, and resulted in more deforestation for palm oil plantations. Further, 8 million children were blinded over a recent 12 year period due to GMO fear-mongering- i.e. alarmists blocking production and use of Golden Rice. See Bjorn Lomborg’s comment on this in “Trashing Rice, Killing Children”, National Post.
(Note that 2,000 published studies have affirmed the safety and other benefits of GM crops, including beneficial environmental impacts. See “Genetically modified to be sustainable”, by Bob Bartley.)
And what about the millions of birds and bats slaughtered by wind-farms? Who speaks for this wildlife?
Apocalyptic-type hysteria has endlessly made fools of otherwise intelligent people. And it has repeatedly harmed humanity and the environment. It is highly irresponsible and unscientific. The destructive consequences of this alarmism demands a return to a more responsible and scientific approach. We do best when we include all evidence on the big picture of any element of nature, including evidence from the so-called skeptics of the alarmist scenarios. And we do the best science when we maintain a full and clear view of the longest-term trends that define any feature of life (e.g. the paleo-climate records as in Ian Plimer’s Heaven and Earth).
And do not believe that government or corporate appeasement endeavors will actually result in common sense solutions that will be supported by extremist Greens. Committed Greens hold a core anti-human philosophy, and they believe that the only legitimate project to express that anti-humanism is to shut down human economic growth and development. Bill Rees, a leading alarmist theorist (father of the Ecological Footprint), actually stated in a class at UBC that he would not just slow economic development, he would reverse it.
Hysterical environmental fear-mongering not only exaggerates problems but it distorts entirely our ability to find rational and life-affirming solutions that are good for humanity and for the environment. More careful and skeptical examination of all evidence would prevent the exaggeration and distortion of problems, and the damage that does to life.
Alarmism also pushes us back toward the worst situations of an oppressive and totalitarian past. The new high priests and popes of extremist Green religion- the Al Gores and James Hansens- argue for banning all dissent and contrary evidence. Some- e.g. David Suzuki- would even imprison contrarians to the climate change dogma. Just as the Medieval Church leaders threatened to imprison and persecute Copernicus and Galileo.
Good science rejects all such authoritarianism, any appeal to authority or consensus. To the contrary, it embraces all evidence in an open and ongoing discussion of all sides of any issue or problem. It is never closed, final, or consensus. Credible scientists will welcome the evidence of skeptics, and will even embrace the falsification of their own research (e.g. reviving such things as the almost ignored “null hypothesis”).
Who is really in denial?
It is quite confounding to observe the persistence of the public narrative that human use of fossil fuels is mainly responsible for the climate change event that we experienced over the two decades from 1975-1995 (i.e. the slight warming of .3 degree C, followed by the halt in warming over the last two decades of 1996-2016), and to hear repeatedly the hysterical claims that this mild climate change event foreshadows some great catastrophic disaster for the planet. And it is quite unsettling to watch climate alarmists now trying to prosecute and prevent any further challenge to their unscientific narrative (i.e. US Attorney General considering legal action against skeptics). The climate alarm movement gives one the feel of living in an Alice In Wonderland world where all is turned upside down, and black is considered white.
Despite alarmists incessantly beating this claim into public consciousness, there has never been a broad and final consensus on the climate alarm issue (i.e. the claim of a 97% consensus that has now been debunked- see Lawrence Solomon’s “97% Cooked Stats” at http://business.financialpost.com/fp-comment/lawrence-solomon-97-cooked-stats ). Good science is never shut down around some dogmatic consensus and a refusal to accept contrary evidence. That is the shoddiest of science. It approaches a form of religious extremism just as harmful as the Medieval church trying to persecute and silence Galileo and Copernicus, with Al Gore and James Hansen playing the new popes.
This site details the primitive mythical themes that shape movements like environmental alarmism.
It is only in the past few decades that we have discovered significant natural elements responsible for the climate change that we have seen. For instance, note the cosmic ray/sun/cloud interaction as detailed in Henrik Svensmark’s “The Chilling Stars”. Note also the research on the multi-decadal shifts in ocean currents (http://people.iarc.uaf.edu/~sakasofu/pdf/two_natural_components_recent_climate_change.pdf), and such things as the evidence of a hot mantle melting glaciers in Greenland, among other discoveries. These natural causes consistently overwhelm any warming influence of CO2.
And be very clear that no one denies the CO2 influence. If there is climate warming then CO2 is contributing. No credible scientist on the “skeptical” side has ever denied this. But the CO2 warming influence is consistently overwhelmed by other natural elements that affect climate.
The actual denial today is from alarmists who refuse to accept the strong evidence of natural causes that show the strongest correlations to the climate change that we have seen. So again, who are the real deniers?
And where is the supposedly “objective, truth-telling” media in all this? Media have largely played a propaganda role for the climate alarmists. Shoddy science + shoddy media = alarmist hysteria and bad policy outcomes that harm humanity and nature. Read more below. See also David Altheide’s “Creating Fear: News and the Manufacture of Crisis”.
Yes, this issue of climate alarmism is vitally related to the main themes of this page and the general endeavor to get to the ultimate roots of all alarmism. Again, its all about going after those mythical monsters.
There is repetitive reference to deity on this site and here are some helpful cautions to consider in relation to deity. I embrace the fact that deity (gods/God) have always been humanity’s highest ideal and authority. People since the beginning have exhibited the felt need to base their behavior on their beliefs about deity. The problem is that we have long projected our worst features, along with some of our best features, onto deity and then we have used our human creations of gods to incite, guide, and validate some of our worst behavior, as well as some of our best behavior.
Some people caution that we cannot know invisible realities so it’s best to leave the subject alone entirely. Joseph Campbell, the mythologist, argued that all terms, definitions, and categories could not express something incomprehensible, transcendent, and inexpressible. In fact, terms, names, and categories only diminished and confused the actual Ultimate Reality that existed. God was simply beyond knowing. Campbell added that even the term God was penultimate. It pointed to something infinitely beyond. To the God beyond God.
Others have argued that we cannot just give up on deity and exist in some mental vacuum of not defining. We cannot leave deity entirely without description or definition. Others will continue to define deity anyway and perhaps incorrectly and harmfully, as people have done across history. So we might as well engage some minimal defining ourselves.
Even the materialist/atheist gets the need to define ultimate realities in some manner. And just as religious people have always done, the materialist also pushes beyond present evidence to find some explanation for all that exists. The materialist then assigns creative-like properties to materialist gods. We all feel the need to explain what exists (physical reality) in terms of some greater reality that is yet unknown. So the materialist appeals to things like invisible force fields, multi-verse theory, or to natural law, but pushes such things beyond what is known, and assigns creative levels of ability to these not-yet-fully-known realities. The Self-Organizing Principle is one example of this. A sort of natural law or invisible force field god with creative abilities.
As noted above, much human defining of greater reality has been subhuman or inhuman, and often even animal-like. The history of religion exhibits the human tendency to project base features out to define ultimate realities- features like tribal band mentality (my group against my enemies), Alpha domination (God as judge or king), and the exclusion and destruction of competing others (heretics, unbelievers). This is known as using the sacred to validate the animal.
The history of religion has been very much about projecting inhuman features onto deity. While that needs to be corrected, it does not mean abandoning the reality of deity altogether, as a dogmatic materialist would advocate. Throwing out the baby with the dirty bathwater.
In light of the above problem, I would suggest that the safest route to take when defining deity is to use absolutely no conditions love as the foundational feature of God. Unconditional points to the ultimate understanding of authentic humanity. It is the highest reach of human thought and ethics. I would urge that you make unconditional the baseline for evaluating all things in life, especially for defining ultimate realities such as God. Unconditional is the highest reach of human imagination as to what is most humane, what is ultimate goodness, or ultimate love. We can find no higher or better definition of God than authentic unconditional love.
A critical conclusion from this- unconditional as the baseline or core definition of deity then prevents people from using deity to validate inhuman behavior which is what much religion has done across history. It is hard to treat others inhumanely if you adhere to the ultimate ideal that all people should be unconditionally forgiven, unconditionally included, and shown unconditional generosity. If unconditional love is what God is, then you can no longer appeal to anything inhuman in ultimate reality to validate inhuman behavior. You are on your own with bad behavior if God has nothing to do with it.
Unconditional creates the safest God possible. And of course, I am referring to our views of deity. The actual reality that is God has always been the ultimate Good, the ultimate Love as unconditional. It has just taken us a long time to get things right, to fully humanize our gods.
Deity has always been humanity’s most prominent validating ideal. We will never replace it with something else so we might as well engage the project of humanizing it fully and properly.