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Section content: Why they Hate us (Fareed Zakaria documentary); Nowhere left to hide; What we are trying to do; Rethinking justice as unconditional; Tolstoy and Jefferson on the contradiction between Jesus and the gospels; Attack? Nah; Changing our thinking; Religion and violence; Sam Harris on bad religious ideas; The Jesus/Paul contradiction; Complaint re conditional religion; Pathology of Alarmism; Wealth creation enables environmental improvement; Sanders on climate hoax; Chronology argument for Christian contradiction; New comment from Bob Brinsmead; Notes on love (Can we find a better term than unconditional?); Large Hadron Collider documentary.
(Note: This site affirms all endeavor to reform religion, to make religious traditions more moderate. And when I point out the harmful elements in religious beliefs, I also recognize that it is important to re-assure religious people of the good features in their traditions. But my argument is that too much religious reform does not get to the root of the problem and slay the real monster. It does not eliminate the Master Terrorist. This is where humanity’s greatest battle takes place- conquering the metaphysical monsters that are humanity’s highest ideals and authorities. It is a battle in the depths of human consciousness with bad ideas that powerfully influence human perception, feeling, and response.)
“You become just like the God that you believe in”, Bob Brinsmead.
Much religious reform continues to protect “bad religious ideas” (Sam Harris’ term) at the core of religion. The humanizing project (making more humane) that has impacted much of the rest of thought and life must be taken to the very heart of religion- to deity. Religious gods must be fully humanized if we are to properly solve violence for the long term future. Anything inhumane or subhuman must be purged from humanity’s highest ideal and authority- deity. Pathological views of God have long been used as the ultimate validation for pathological human behavior- to incite, inspire, guide, and validate such behavior. See comment on the belief/behavior relationship below. People have always tried to model their lives and societies according to some greater reality or ideal.
This site is a project to combat alarmism in all its perverse forms- religious or secular. Alarmism generates fear and fear plays a central role inciting aggression and even violence (i.e. defense against perceived “threat”). Note carefully the role that theology- threatening, fear-inciting gods- has historically played in religious violence. This is one critical element to explore when trying to resolve the problem of religious violence.
Quote from below: “A central project on this page is to fully humanize theology (as in human perception of greater ideals and authorities); to purge deity of subhuman features such as animal-like vengeance, tribal exclusion and opposition, payback punishment, or violent destruction of outsiders. We already have the stunning discovery that points us in the right direction- the radical redefinition of deity with the ideal of absolutely no conditions love. A discovery that liberates entirely from the pathology of so much past mythology and religion.”
See Top Ten Bad Religious Ideas in next section just below, “Site Project: Conquering metaphysical monsters”. Immediately following this, note how these bad ideas descend down through history in “The Big Picture: Historical descent of mythical/religious pathology”. This helps to understand the never-ending eruption of religious violence across history.
I refer repeatedly on this site to the contradiction between Historical Jesus and Paul because this contradiction illustrates well the overall human story. It illustrates our emergence out of an animal past defined very much by attack and defense responses, later refined in the offense and retaliate responses of human existence and human views of justice as payback punishment. Contrast this with our struggle to become more human, more loving. Here we find people (i.e. Akkadian Father, circa 2200 BCE) advocating that we should respond to offense by forgiving offenders (“Do not return evil to your adversary, requite with kindness the one who does evil to you… be friendly to your enemy”). This new ethic of non-retaliation was further refined in the no revenge teaching of Historical Jesus (no more eye for eye), and people like Nelson Mandela.
To calm religious nerves- yes, I appear to go after Paul a lot, and especially his Christ myth, or Christian religion. Remember, we have Christ-ianity, not Jesus-ianity. Christianity is Paul’s religion, not a religion centered on the main message of Jesus. My complaint with Paul is that he rejected and buried the central unconditional discovery of Historical Jesus. He rejected Jesus’ view of a non-retaliating God (Matthew 5:38-48) and opted instead for the primitive retaliating God of all previous mythology and religion (note his theology in Romans 12- “Vengeance is mine, I will repay”). Paul then became the single most dominant influence on Western consciousness and society (noted by James Tabor, among others). For example, his views have shaped our justice systems as more punitive than restorative (see comment below by Mennonites).
My challenge to Paul’s retaliation theology is not intended to “trash” Christianity. It is more about pointing to the best thing in that tradition- the unconditional discovery of Jesus. He was the first person in history to fully humanize God with “absolutely no conditions love”. Recover that central theme of Jesus and you have the best of the Christian tradition. And yes, that discovery overturns entirely the atonement theology of Paul (i.e. meeting the supreme condition of sacrifice to appease a God that demands retaliation, payment, punishment- see Romans 1-5). But I get it, that if you radically reframe Christianity around Jesus’ discovery that God is absolutely no conditions Love (no payment, no punishment, no sacrifice) that would be too disorienting for most Christians to embrace.
“Why They Hate Us” (Fareed Zakaria, CNN, May 24, 2016)
Fareed Zakaria took a look at what might be behind Islamic violence across the world today. Some of the participants in his documentary rightly cautioned that Islamic violence comes from a minority in the Muslim world and does not represent the attitudes of most Muslims, who are moderates. I would add to this caution that any discussion of Islamic violence needs to be placed within the larger context of Western religion. The bad religious ideas (Sam Harris’ term) that promote Islamic violence today have descended down from Zoroastrianism, to Judaism (see Old Testament), to Christianity, and from there into Islam. And of course, we can trace bad religious ideas back even further to the very first human literature (i.e. the Sumerian, Akkadian, and Babylonian mythologies).
I have traced this line of descent of bad ideas below in other sections (see, for instance, “Islamic violence”). There is startling evidence- i.e. The Priest and the Prophet, Joseph Azzi- that Muhammad’s mentor was a Jewish Christian priest (Ebionite). The mentor, Waraqa, taught Muhammad from the “Gospel to the Hebrews” which was roughly similar to the Christian Gospel of Matthew. He filled Muhammad’s head with ideas of a violent God, threatening violent punishment for unbelievers. Note the repetition in the Quran of an ever-watching and threatening God who will send people to Hell, just as Matthew repeatedly warns people of being “cast into outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth”. (Consider also the fear/aggression link noted in psychological research)
Also, Muhammad affirms throughout the Quran that he accepted and absorbed the “other scriptures” (i.e. the Jewish scriptures and the gospel to the Hebrews). Islam is very much the direct offspring of Jewish religion and Christianity.
Additional note on Muhammad’s borrowing Christian themes:
Matthew’s gospel repeatedly warns those people who do not believe the message of God and receive God’s messengers or prophets. The “disbelievers” or “unbelievers” anger God by rejecting God’s prophets. Consequently, they will be cast into outer darkness- hellfire- where there will be” weeping and gnashing of teeth” (see chapters like Matthew 11, 23-24, and others for detail). Muhammad in the Quran repeatedly recites this same warning- that those who do not believe the message and receive the messenger or prophet (i.e. Muhammad) will be punished in Hell. This highly similar warning, regarding believing the message and receiving the messenger, is further confirmation that Muhammad relied on the Christian gospels for his views of a punitive, destroying God.
So yes, let’s not just point the finger at Islam.
But Zakaria appears hesitant to fully embrace the influence of this violent deity mythology. At the end of Why They Hate Us, he said that the root of the Islamic problem was not the theology but that it was political. And of course, the political element is present. So are the elements of economics, the claim of “Western social corruption”, and the personal histories of Islamic extremists (i.e. the criminal pasts of many jihadists). But do not dismiss the critical theological issue in this mix. We are talking about the myth of a violent, punishing God that is used to incite, inspire, guide, and validate violence toward unbelievers. You find the very same theological influence and violent outcomes throughout the histories of Judaism and Christianity.
Just before jihadists press their buttons to blow themselves up, or squeeze their triggers to slaughter innocents, they are not shouting “political oppression”, or “economic disparity”, or “Western social corruption”, or “my personal criminal past”. No. They are shouting “God is great”. Theology is the dominant inciting, inspiring, guiding, and validating idea on their minds. Why is this so hard for most people to admit? When a jihadist is ready to kill, his mind is focused intensely on theology and nothing else. As he prepares to commit terror, he is appealing to the ultimate validation in divine violence theology to help him push past any remaining sense of restraining humanity. This is why it has been said that the worst crimes are committed in the name of God.
It’s not only that “we must win the battle for ideas”, or “the ideological battle”. Let’s be more specific and clear on what is involved to properly solve this problem of religious violence.
It’s the theology, Fareed, the theology. Listen carefully to the phone discussions in “Terror in Mumbai”, also narrated by Zakaria. I’ve put up transcripts of those conversations in the next section below. That murderous violence was drenched with reference to God. (Note: To calm religious nerves- the problem in focus is not God as a generally accepted reality, but pathological views of God as tribal, vengeful, punitive, violent, and destroying.)
If you are ever going to solve this problem thoroughly and for the long-term future, then you must clean up the theology at the very heart of these religions, in their holy books. See comment below on Top Ten Bad Religious Ideas. These ideas must be purged from the Western religions. These religions must not just be reformed but must be fully humanized, and that humanizing endeavor must be applied most especially to the Western God.
Nothing humanizes God like absolutely no conditions love.
(Affirming qualifier: God as a reality that is Love, exists. That God has always been supremely humane. When I speak of pathology in deity, I am talking about human views of God, pathological views that have been projected onto God over history and have become embedded at the core of our religions- those bad religious ideas.)
Nowhere left to hide
When you fully humanize God, taking all judgment, retaliation, violence, punishment, tribal opposition, and other subhuman features out of deity, then people are stranded with their choice to act inhumanely. They can no longer appeal to the higher authority of God to validate their actions. They are left on their own with the stark ugliness of their choice to do the inhuman thing. They are left to wrestle with the sense of violating their humanity, with the uncomfortable feeling of violating all common sense understanding of love. They can no longer hide their choice for the inhumane thing behind religion or God. This is part of the reason that I argue to purge all the inhumane features from deity, in order to undermine the practice of appealing to inhumanity in God (e.g. violence, punishment) as validation for subhuman behavior.
Join the project to fully humanize the gods. This is something far beyond just reforming religion.
What we are trying to do
(Note: In discussions of the unconditional treatment of others you will get people suggesting that we are advocating “letting psychopaths go free”. No, that is not what we are advocating. And we are not suggesting that you can sit around a campfire and sing “Kumbayah” with ISIS and that will somehow transform inhumanity into humanity. Taking a “no punishment” stance as more humane does not mean neglecting the importance of personal responsibility or accountability. Just as Nelson Mandela was willing to forgive past crimes, but still authorized the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to hold people accountable for past atrocities. Our embrace of unconditional is more about the struggle to maintain our humanity in the face of evil and suffering. It is about our spirit and intention even as we use force to restrain evil/violence. Humane intention motivates us to seek ways to lessen violence in the future, to find long-term solutions that are restorative.)
We (members of a discussion group) have made the choice to embrace unconditional as the height of authentic humanity, as the supreme definition of what it means to be authentically humane, as the ultimate expression of the highest human ideal of love. A variety of things lead us to this conclusion, mainly the discovery of this love in humanity. We then reason from the best in humanity to all other areas, including theology.
Unconditional relates to varied other human ideals. For instance, putting on unconditional lenses, we then choose to see humanity as one family, not divided by race, religion, ideology, nationality, or whatever other tribal divisions and oppositions that some choose to embrace. With unconditional there is no exclusion of anyone.
Based on this truth of unconditional love- that all are ultimately included in the Love of God (i.e. Matthew 5:38-48- God sends sun and rain on all alike, both good and bad)- we make this absolutely no conditions love a foundational baseline for evaluating all things in life. No matter what happens when we try to apply this ideal to the messy imperfection of life, we choose to hold firmly to absolutely universal love as the ultimate reality behind all. We choose to maintain this outlook toward every human person, despite the horrific failure of some to live as human (note ISIS as a contemporary example).
We understand, offensive as it may seem to some, that there is no ultimate punishment of even the most horrific human failure. Any punishment is only here and now, in the sense of people having to live with their failure to act as human, their failure to love. All of us have experienced that continuum of failure somewhere, though we may point the condemning finger at others further out in extremes of brutality. Also, Google “natural consequences” for further discussion of self-punishment outcomes.
And with all other sensitive human beings, we see the more severe failure of those that choose to engage revolting forms of inhumanity, and we feel the horrific outcomes of their behavior. We feel intensely the common human rage against such “evil”.
But still, we choose to hold to the highest human ideal expressed by wisdom sages like Jesus- “Love your enemies, because God does”. Again- God gives the good gifts of life, sun and rain, to all. God is generous to all, both good and bad. So be merciful just as God is merciful. And as we have qualified repeatedly, this does not mean “liking” others and what they do. And it does mean holding others responsible for their actions (see comment below on restraining violence).
We do not reason backward from the imperfection of life to explain ultimate realities (deity), or ultimate Love. That was the mistake of the ancients- that the imperfection of the world was evidence of divine punishment. They then created threat myths- that the gods/God raged against human imperfection and planned to punish and destroy imperfect humanity. That mistaken logic then permeated all human consciousness and shaped our religions over history. It is still rampant everywhere, notably in contemporary myths of vengeful Gaia, angry planet, or punishing karma. This punishment thinking has always buried the truth that God is absolutely no conditions love. And punishment projected onto deity provides ultimate validation for people to engage in punishing justice toward others.
We also qualify our understanding of love and how it should be applied to the messy reality of life. Holding a view of ultimate Reality as absolutely no conditions love does not weaken the obligation of love to protect the innocent in the here and now. That means a robust love will restrain the violent, it will even imprison repeatedly violent offenders, while being careful to distinguish between those unable to restrain themselves from repeated violence and others falling into once in a life-time “crimes of passion”. Our systems of law make such distinctions. That distinction should have been applied to the Dr. Tarnower murder by Jean Harris, who did not need imprisonment for public safety. Unconditional leads us to argue for restorative justice that does not engage a punitive approach, and is not about pursuing the need to “teach people lessons”, and it does not embrace excessive punishment toward non-violent offenders. Another example, it was senseless to imprison the non-violent Martha Stewart for a financial infraction. Apply this also to the excessive imprisonment of many others for non-violent offenses.
Unconditional love will also embrace the difficulty of assigning full culpability to offenders, because of the horrific early childhood deformity that often ruins the proper life-development of so many offenders. This is not an argument to abandon the importance of personal responsibility or accountability, but it is to temper law with mercy while still protecting the public from those unable to control their worst impulses (i.e. the necessary imprisonment of repeat violent offenders).
A full understanding of robust love will even embrace the need to eliminate some offenders that have fallen into movements of irrational violence (e.g. ISIS). Military defense and lethal force may be the only option in such cases. But even that force should always be employed with the attitude of the Chinese sages- not to humiliate and crush offenders (the larger supporting populations related to violent offenders) but with an eye to lessen future cycles of violence and to seek ultimate restoration for all.
Again, none of this qualifying of love in an imperfect world weakens the truth of an unconditional Love at the core of all as the ultimate Reality.
And above and beyond the struggle to apply love in the messy reality of daily life, we focus our ire on the systems that incite, inspire, guide, and validate inhumanity. We recognize especially, the sacred/animal relationship across history- the use of the sacred (mythology, religion) to validate inhumane ideas and practices.
The above may appear to be distinctions without a difference to some, but they are vital to the full understanding and expression of unconditional love. They are essential to our struggle to maintain our humanity in the face of evil.
Rethinking Justice as unconditional– more on slaying the greatest Monster ever (liberating consciousness from threat theology)
This site argues for a new justice of the unconditional treatment of all people, based on a new theology of unconditional Love at the core of all. Let me state this in a string of denials that counter the prominent themes of most historical mythology and religion.
There is no ultimate Threat. No ultimate condemnation or judgment, and no punishment, no ultimate exclusion of anyone, no separation of anyone from our Source, no ultimate destruction, and no ultimate death. Contrary to the prominent themes of mythology/religion across history, God is only Love, an absolutely no conditions Love. “Trillions of times better than the best that we can imagine”, according to NDE accounts.
But to see that unconditional Love at the core of Ultimate Reality, we have to think past the long history of humanity being taught that justice means retaliation, retribution, or payback (reward the good, punish the bad). We have been endlessly assured that justice means getting even with an offender and the punishment of all offenses. It is hard to unlearn such a dominant perspective across history. But it is necessary to do this in order to see God as unconditional love of a scandalous and wondrous nature. This was Leo Tolstoy’s argument that the pearl of Jesus was buried in garbage that had to first be removed in order to see the pearl properly (see Tolstoy quotes below).
This payback view of justice has been so thoroughly beaten into consciousness over multiple millennia of mythology and religion, and even into modern era of ideology and science.
Here is a brief summary of the possible origins of payback thinking. Animal existence is very much about being attacked and engaging defensive responses. Attacked animals respond with similarly aggressive defense to survive. This evolves into human existence as the felt “natural right” to retaliate when suffering some offense. Offense and retaliate then develops into the human view of justice as payback, stated variously as getting even, punishing offense, or getting justice. But I would suggest that such retaliation is more animal behavior than truly human behavior.
People long ago projected this offense/retaliate view onto their gods. In theological terms- God must punish all sin/offense. God must retaliate in order to maintain or fulfill justice. Add to this the beliefs that retribution is necessary to make things right, to balance things again in the cosmos, and to restore order and prevent chaos. Divine justice is expressed in the theological phrase that “God is holy and therefore must punish sin”. God cannot just forgive and love unconditionally as many people do (i.e. parents, spouses). See “Countering the holiness distortion in Western theology” (Section Two below).
Our belief that payback justice is divine justice, is also buttressed by a notable failure in early human logic. The ancients concluded that any suffering in life (i.e. natural disaster, disease, cruelty of others) was evidence that the gods were punishing people. Payback punishment was then embedded in humanity’s highest ideals and authorities- the gods. And that retaliation view has been embraced across human mythologies, religions, and societies. The Greeks stated that retribution was the core of reality. More recent versions of this payback justice belief include the myths of the revenge of Gaia, or angry planet, and punishing karma. Payback justice is a deeply ingrained belief, hardwired even in the human subconscious.
The prophets in ancient Jewish history tried to present a new understanding of justice as liberation of the oppressed, deliverance of the captive, and generosity toward the orphan and widow (see Old Testament). They were probing a new vision of justice as mercy and forgiveness but they could not let go of the elemental themes of payback. Their message also included the features of divine judgment and destruction.
The great breakthrough finally came from the Historical Jesus, someone entirely opposite to Paul’s Christian Jesus (Paul’s Christ was grounded in retaliation theology).
Historical Jesus directly confronted the old eye for eye justice, rejected it as subhuman, and then presented his entirely new view of God and justice as unconditional love, in his statement “Love your enemies”. This core “hard saying” is expressed the varied features of his unconditional message- forgive all offenses (how many times?- seven times seventy, or without limit), include all whether good or bad (God gave the good gifts of life- sun and rain- to all alike, with no tribal limitations), and express unlimited generosity toward all (give expecting nothing in return).This was a striking new view of justice as unconditional love.
His parables also affirmed this new justice as unlimited forgiveness and generosity. Note the woman caught in adultery, the vineyard owner, and the father of the prodigal.
To get some sense of the absolutely no conditions love that is God, start by challenging the long history of payback thinking that has been so deeply ingrained in our consciousness, worldviews, and systems of justice.
Further note on rethinking justice as payback, punishment or payment in order to get a more clear view of unconditional love in God.
Also remember that the OT prophets tried to challenge the idea of blood payment to appease God (i.e. that God demanded the condition of sacrifice). In this regard, note Hosea 6:6 who stated that God said, “I desire mercy not sacrifice”, or Isaiah 1:11, “I have had enough of burnt offerings…I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs, or goats”, and Jeremiah 7:22, “I did not speak to your fathers or command them…concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices”.
But the Old Testament prophets never fully succeeded in eliminating the myth of a God that demanded blood sacrifice. Their early probing of a better understanding of love as unconditional was eventually aborted. Paul then took the primitive mythology of blood sacrifice to appease angry gods and elevated it to new heights in the greatest-ever statement of sacrifice to appease deity- the death of Jesus as an atonement for all sin.
Paul embedded that sacrifice at the heart of his Christ myth. His myth of human sacrifice (atonement), the supreme sacrifice of a god-man, became the foundational idea of Christianity. See Romans and other comment by Paul that the crucified Christ was the center of his gospel. Paul oriented Christian imagination to supreme punishment, payment, and condition before forgiveness, love or mercy could be shown. With his atonement theology, he effectively buried the absolutely no conditions Love that is God.
Quotes from Leo Tolstoy on the core teaching of Jesus (Matthew 5:38-48) and the larger contradicting context of the gospels and the New Testament. Tolstoy and Jefferson took a thematic approach to the gospels. That led them to appreciate that there was a profound contradiction between the core teaching of Jesus and the rest of the gospel material.
“The true Christian teaching is very simple, clear, and obvious to all, as Jesus said. But it is simple and accessible only when man is freed from that falsehood in which we were all educated, and which is passed off upon us as God’s truth. Nothing needful can be poured into a vessel full of what is useless. We must first empty out what is useless. So it is with the acquirement of true Christian teaching. We must first understand that all the stories telling how God made the world six thousand years ago, how Adam sinned and the human race fell, and how the Son of God, a God born of a virgin, came on earth and redeemed mankind… are nothing but a gross hash of superstitions and priestly frauds.
“Only to someone free from this deception can the clear and simple teaching of Jesus, which needs no explanation, be accessible and comprehensible… ‘It is only necessary to treat others as we wish them to treat us’. In that is all the Law and the Prophets…to act that way, we need neither icons, nor relics, nor church services, nor priests, nor catechisms, nor governments, but on the contrary, we need perfect freedom from all that, for to treat others as we wish them to treat us is possible only when a man is free from the fables which the priests give out as truth…
“The belief that the gospels are the inspired Word of God is not only a profound error but a very harmful deception.
“When at the age of fifty, I first began to study the Gospels seriously, I found in them the spirit that animates all who are truly alive. But along with the flow of that pure, life-giving water, I perceived much mire and slime mingled with it, and this had prevented me from seeing the true, pure water. I found that, along with the lofty teaching of Jesus, there are teachings bound up which are repugnant and contrary to it. I thus felt myself in the position of a man to whom a sack of garbage is given, who, after long struggle and wearisome labor, discovers among the garbage a number of infinitely precious pearls.
“When I perceived the only light that enables men to live, I sought the source of this light. I found it in the gospels, despite the false teachings of the church. And when I reached this source of light, I was dazzled by its splendour, and I found in it answers to all my questions about life.”
Thomas Jefferson on Jesus and the gospels:
“The whole history of these books is so defective and doubtful that it seems vain to attempt minute inquiry into it; and such tricks have been played with their text, and with the texts of other books relating to them, that we have a right, from that cause, to entertain much doubt what parts of them are genuine. In the New Testament there is internal evidence that parts of it have proceeded from an extraordinary man; and that other parts are the fabric of very inferior minds. It is as easy to separate those parts, as to pick out diamonds from dunghills.
“We must reduce our volume to the simple words… select, even from them, the very words only of Jesus…There will be found remaining the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man. I have performed this operation for my own use, by cutting verse by verse out of the printed book, and arranging the matter which is evidently his, and which is as easily distinguishable as diamonds in a dunghill…Do not be frightened from this inquiry by any fear of its consequences…Your own reason is the only oracle given you by heaven…
“The greatest enemies to the doctrines of Jesus are those calling themselves the expositors of them, who have perverted them for the structure of a system of fantasy absolutely incomprehensible and without any foundation in his genuine words…The doctrines which he really delivered…fragments only of what he did deliver have come to us, mutilated, misstated, and often unintelligible. They have been still more disfigured by the corruptions of schismatizing followers, who have found an interest in sophisticating and perverting the simple doctrines he taught, by engrafting on them the mysticisms of a Grecian sophist… obscuring them with jargon, until they have caused good men to reject the whole in disgust. Notwithstanding these disadvantages, a system of morals is presented to us, which, if filled up in the true style and spirit of the rich fragments he left us, would be the most perfect and sublime that has ever been taught by man.
“Among the sayings and discourses imputed to him by his biographers, I find many passages of fine imagination, correct morality, and of the most lovely benevolence, and others again of so much ignorance, so much absurdity, so much untruth, charlatanism, and imposture, as to pronounce it impossible that such contradictions should have proceeded from the same being. I separate therefore the gold from the dross, restore to him the former, and leave the latter to the stupidity of some, and roguery of others of his disciples. Of this band of dupes and imposters, Paul was the great coryphaeus and first corrupter of the doctrines of Jesus.”
Despite careful effort to make qualifications and distinctions, some still insist that we are “attacking religion”. I have repeated my response that the project of this site is about being clear on the difference between good ideas and bad ideas and the need to purge bad elements from religious traditions, to fully and properly humanize religious ideas and ideals.
The problem that religion must deal with is the larger inherited context of bad ideas that distort and undermine the better ideas in their systems. Religious adherents have trouble making distinctions between bad and good features because their traditions are considered sacred and therefore not to be subjected to challenge or questioning. The sacred is untouchable, not to be doubted. Hence, the humanizing project that has impacted the rest of life has not yet fully entered the realm of most religion. Some very nasty stuff continues to hide under “the canopy of the sacred”.
Across history much of humanity has embraced this fundamental project to distinguish good from bad and to purge the bad. We see this in common human rights codes today. But this distinguishing project has not yet fully entered and cleaned up the religious realm. You still find the most horrible beliefs (e.g. Hell, blood sacrifice) and practices (violence toward unbelievers) advocated in religious holy books. The result is “cognitive dissonance”- holding contradicting things in the same system. Note in Christianity, the belief that God is love but will send people to Hell if they do not “believe in Jesus”.
Psychotherapist Zenon Lotufo points out this cognitive dissonance in regard to the Christian atonement belief- that a person is not satisfied until an innocent person suffers and is killed. He says that, in psychological terms, such a belief is psychopathic. Yet Christians claim that this demand for human sacrifice is an expression of God’s love. Such harmonizing of contradicting opposites is common in religious traditions.
Getting over the fallacy of Biblicism is important here- the myth that all scriptures come from God.
Changing our thinking– healing consciousness with the ultimately humane.
There is some good comment out there on changing our thinking for the better, on developing a more optimistic outlook. As the experts note, all of us are subject to dark, negative thought patterns at times. They call this “negative self-talk”. It can even become debilitating to some people (i.e. fear, anxiety disorder, depression).
Negative self-talk is stimulated by input from a variety of places- from family, from friends or peers, from authority figures (teachers, priests), and from larger public narratives like religion- e.g. divine threat mythology, human sinfulness mythology.
Some general helpful response to counter negative thinking…
Psychologist Martin Seligman has offered a set of steps to counter negative thoughts, particularly when you experience some form of failure in life (see his books Learned Optimism and The Optimistic Child). He urges people to respond to failure with the affirmation that any failure is not pervasive (it does not influence everything in your life), it is not permanent (it will pass), and most important- it is not personal, it does not define who you are.
Jeffrey Schwartz, in You Are Not Your Brain, notes that negative thoughts will come and you cannot stop them or prevent them from arising in your head. So don’t fight them. He also offers some steps to confront these negative thoughts (i.e. accept their presence) but then turn toward something more positive, something better. He says that we should “restate or reframe” the negative- identify it as from our old animal brain and not essential to what we really are. It is not from our authentic self which is something higher and better.
Claire Weekes, writing in the 1960s (see her book Hope and Help for Your Nerves), focused more on anxiety disorders. She argued that we should face our negative emotions and thoughts, accept them fully, then “float” above and beyond them, look beyond to something better. And she cautions that such response will take time to heal the negative emotions and experiences. But given practice and time, the bad feelings (i.e. fear, anxiety) will subside. She says that fear and related anxiety come from over-active adrenalin glands.
There are many more helpful details in the above books.
I pull a number of things from the above insights. First, we need to recognize that the negative things that we feel and think about ourselves do not define our essence. They are not the “real us”. So also the negative things that we experience in life do not define anything about our true self or our existence, as somehow negative. As Schwartz noted, much of that negative stuff comes from our old brain and faulty programming. It may come from bad experiences in our personal life history. And it may come from the larger narratives that we have been exposed to, or raised within, whether religious or ideological (e.g. the self-hating “corrupt humanity” themes of environmental mythology).
And here is where I would take all this insight further. Schwartz speaks of a better us, a higher self. More specifically, I would identify this better self in terms of the insights from contemporary spiritual traditions that state that we are most essentially beings of “light and love” (i.e. from Near-Death Experience accounts). This focuses us on the best alternative possible- that the real, authentic human self is pure light and love. Why is this important or useful? Because we need to properly counter the long history of mythical and religious traditions that have devalued humanity as fallen, sinful, and corrupted. Absolutely not. We have never been the fallen, sinful creatures that religious mythology has so long beaten into public consciousness. So when the negative self-talk begins, counter with this powerful response- that you are most essentially a being of love, despite your imperfections. Your actual core self, or consciousness, is pure light and love. The cleansing and liberating potential of this truth is immense. (Note: And of course, we acknowledge the “imperfection” of our inherited animal brain and our life-long struggle to conquer this, to express our true self as human.)
Then there are those larger public narratives that contribute to negative thoughts and feelings (fear, anxiety, despair, depression). Apocalyptic narratives in particular present the gloomy view that life is in decline toward some catastrophic ending. To counter this, we recognize that we are not separate from the greater Unconditional Love at the core of all reality and life, the creating Source of all, the sustaining Life and Energy in all. That core Love is not about looming threat or catastrophe but is about something ultimately and infinitely better- absolutely no conditions Love. Again, the NDE accounts give some sense of the scandal and wonder of this core Love. This Love is evident in many good things throughout life- in natural beauty, in the generous resources for life, the regularity of natural law, the general improvement of life over history, the improving human condition, and in the small details of daily life. Goodness and love are everywhere and increasingly so (see research on the decline of violence over past millennia).
So I would suggest that we do not just turn to something else, to something better in some general sense as the above experts have advised. When confronted with negative self-talk, we can embrace something that is more pointedly oriented to the best that we can imagine. Too much “mindfulness” comment does not offer truly humane content. And it has been discovered that a general emptying of the mind in meditation can actually open consciousness to harmful outcomes. It is safer and more healing to focus specifically on love as the highest and most humanizing ideal.
Elsewhere on this site I have offered these two summarizing statements as the most potent responses to the sources of so much negativity in human consciousness. These two things re-center and orient human consciousness to the best possible ideas or ideals, to the most humane content of all. First, there is an “absolutely no conditions Love” at the core of all reality and life. And, second, we are that very same Love. We are never separate from it. It is our very core, our authentic self or consciousness. These two summarizing insights will inoculate children against bad ideas for life.
The ideal of love counters the worst and most dehumanizing themes of past human thought and narratives- the bad religious ideas that I have repeatedly identified on this site. Others have noted the damaging impacts of these bad ideas (e.g. Lotufo in Cruel God, Kind God, Ellens in The Destructive Power of Religion, Nelson-Pallmeyer in Is Religion Killing Us?, and Garcia in Alpha God- see below). They detail how bad religious ideas deform consciousness, retard human development, and promote physical harm (i.e. inciting aggression and violence).
Unconditional love at the core, as the centering focus of human thought or mindfulness, liberates effectively from that old animal brain or inheritance and its dark negativity. Unconditional love opens the future to the most liberating hope- that there is no ultimate threat, no judgment, no punishment, and no looming destruction. Unconditional frees us to embrace our imperfection without anxiety or fear of retribution, to grow and develop as human without threat. It opens hope to infinity in all directions.
Also, a vital part of the healing potency of love is that it directs our consciousness out toward others and their needs, to helping others. This self-forgetfulness is vital to healing as it releases the healthy expression of our true self as love. This is about the discovery of what we really are as conscious humans and what is the reason for our existence.
Therefore, I would advocate not just some general change in thinking toward “something better”, as helpful as that may be. I would orient thought to the best possible content of all- to love as the height of authentic humanity. Love is the most healing of all things. Love potently responds to the primary human impulse for meaning and purpose.
This site is one extended exploration of that better thinking, that more humane narrative for healthy human consciousness. This site is an exploration of the greatest human ideal- love as absolutely no conditions.
Religion and violence
Religious violence is very much about the link between beliefs and behaviors. The beliefs that we hold will incite, inspire, guide, or validate our behavior.
This site explores the core bad ideas that have incited or validated endless violence in the name of God. I detail these ideas in comment on Top Ten Bad Religious Ideas in the sections below. The single worst of all bad religious ideas is that of a violent, punishing God- the old threat theology (the real Master Terrorist). All the other bad religious ideas cohere around this foundational idea. They all derive their existence and meaning from this worst of bad religious ideas. Note the extended comment below that traces the origin and descent of these ideas down through the history of mythology and religion, and even into the imagined “secular” beliefs of the present (i.e. revenge of Gaia, angry planet, punishing karma).
But even more- this site offers potent alternatives to bad religious ideas. First, to calm religious nerves, I do not embrace atheism as a coherent or rational alternative. My alternative pushes beyond natural law explanations, as helpful as those are for living in a material world. A robust alternative is about the full humanization of all of life, including deity. It is about responding to the profound impulse in humanity for not just meaning, but for meaning in terms of the ultimately humane, in terms of love.
This gets us to the greatest discovery ever, to the most profound shift possible in human consciousness. The shift away from all threat theology and toward the height of authentic humanity or humaneness, as defined by absolutely no conditions love. We find ultimate meaning in love and unconditional gets us to the ultimate height of love.
I affirm that the alternative to bad religious ideas lies in some form of what we call the “spiritual”. That is a baggage-laden term, almost a “dead word” (i.e. a word so distorted with historical religious baggage that we need to bury it and find alternatives). But “spiritual” points to some greater ultimate reality and so it remains useful for doing such. We just need to carefully re-define it with truly humane qualifiers.
More power to those that find their understanding of ultimate meaning limited to and satisfied by energy field and natural law explanations, or some general concept like the Universe. That works for some. But many others still prefer to embrace some greater Mind, Intelligence, or Consciousness, some spiritual Source, Creator, or Being. Dogmatic materialism or atheism tends to dismiss greater reality as defined in terms of consciousness (despite the discoveries of quantum theory and consciousness research) and this misses something critical to the human impulse for meaning and purpose. Dogmatic materialists do not fully understand this profound human impulse for meaning and purpose and that this impulse is not satisfied with only natural law or other material explanations. Our impulse for meaning is only fully satiated in something ultimately humane, in absolutely no conditions love.
But yes, I get the materialist/atheist reaction to the long-term religious practice of projecting inhumane features out to define religious gods. While ancient people understood there was more to reality than meets the eye, they too often projected their worst features out to describe the greater realities (gods). That is what bad religious ideas are all about.
Whatever our conclusions about these things, I offer the baseline of Love, and more emphatically “absolutely no conditions love”, as the best feature to define ultimate Reality. It creates the safest God possible. Unconditional takes us to the height of authentic humanity, to the supreme understanding of the authentically humane. It counters the worst features of our animal inheritance- fear, defensive rage, aggressive response, alpha domination, tribal exclusion and domination, and destruction of the competing other.
Unconditional goes to the deepest tap root to cut the single most powerful historical validation of religious violence- the fraudulent myth of violent, vengeful, or punishing deity. Make unconditional your baseline for defining and evaluating things all through reality and life. I offer my little insight mechanism for any who want to play with it- that what is ultimately humane will get us to what is ultimately true and ultimately real.
Harris on bad religious ideas
Sam Harris offers some good comment on religion and violence at his blog, and in his books. He notes the “bad religious ideas” that incite, inspire, guide, or validate violence. I appreciate his contribution very much. But I have some quibbles with his comment on religious moderation endeavors (see his article “Reason in Exile”). I think he misunderstands the full picture here. In religious reform efforts I see a genuine attempt by religious people to humanize their traditions, to find something better, something more humane. Yes, cognitive dissonance runs all through such reform efforts- the continued protection of bad or contradicting ideas in moderated versions of religion. Most religious people just cannot let go of the worst of all bad ideas- that of a violent, punishing God, and other related bad ideas.
Religious believers do not want to let go of their sense that there is some greater reality that we are part of and that gives profound meaning to our lives. Unfortunately, views of that greater reality have been profoundly deformed by inhumane features like retaliation, violence, and punishment. These features have long been projected out onto gods and remain deeply embedded there in humanity’s highest ideals and authorities. Religious people do not seem able to fully embrace the project to purge the nasty features in their traditions. But that project is vital in order to fully humanize their gods.
While I appreciate the materialist/atheist critique of religious deformity, there are other, better alternatives to the common atheism versus religion opposition. Harris appears too locked into this. We can do better. I find the Jesus versus Paul contradiction offers a better alternative solution for understanding what went wrong in religion and how to correct it.
But Harris is right that what we do with words like God will determine our future. I would advocate the full humanization of all theology with absolutely no conditions love.
The Jesus/Paul thing
The contradiction between Jesus and Paul offers a great illustration of the larger human story and our struggle to emerge from past animal existence in order to live as more fully human. To make this point, I would summarize animal existence in terms of its attack and defend/retaliate responses. Add here alpha domination and destruction of the competing other. This is about primitive tribal or small band mentality and feeling. Insider versus outsider. That attack (fear) and consequent defend or retaliate response (aggressive defense) is central to the animal.
The emerging human is very much about finding a more humane existence and getting past the endless dead-end cycles of offense and revenge. It is very much about the Jesus discovery of non-retaliation (no more eye for eye, but love your enemies). What we saw in the celebrated life of Nelson Mandela. Also, the long history of commerce is very much about getting past offense and revenge patterns (i.e. “the moralizing influence of gentle commerce”, not retaliating but learning to cooperate for mutual benefit).
Historical Jesus advocated this new humane existence of non-retaliation and he based it on a stunning new non-retaliatory theology. He said, do not engage eye for eye, but love your enemies, because God does. God sends the good things of life, sun and rain to all alike, both good and bad. The God that is authentic unconditional Love does not discriminate or exclude but is generous and merciful to all. God does not judge, punish, or destroy anyone.
But then, in one of history’s great scandals, Paul and his Christian religion reversed back to a retaliating, punishing, and destroying God. Back to the old animal-like response of offense and revenge. Paul got all mixed up with his apparently non-retaliating ethic (Romans 12) that he based on a contradicting theology of a retaliating God. He embraced cognitive dissonance to the extreme. See comment in “Christian Contradiction” below.
Stephen Patterson in The Lost Way also notes the above point in Romans 12 that Paul encouraged Christians to love their enemies, but with the follow-up qualifier that they would be loving them into God’s vengeance, into eternal destruction. Wonderful version of love, eh.
Complaint re religion
My complaint regarding religion in general is that it has never communicated to humanity the wonder of unconditional reality and existence. It cannot do so. Why? Because religion across history has been essentially conditional by its very nature. Historically, religion has been about how to appease and please the gods. The required rituals, sacrifices/offerings, practices, beliefs, lifestyle- the conditions that had to be met in order to please the gods and get the goods/blessings from the divinities. Note also how religions like Christianity have affirmed views of justice as payback- i.e. reward the good, punish the bad.
Religion has never been a social institution that can communicate the true nature of spiritual reality as supremely unconditional Love. Historical Jesus tried to do this, but his breakthrough insight was subsequently buried by Paul and the other New Testament writers in highly conditional atonement religion. Atonement mythology argues that a supreme condition of a human blood sacrifice had to be first met before God would forgive anyone. (See Paul’s outline of this in Romans 1-5).
The Pathology of Alarmism
This site is devoted to combating alarmism. I make the careful distinction that there are legitimate things to fear throughout life, but alarmism exaggerates and distorts the actual state of varied problems to catastrophic proportions, without sound evidence. Examples- predictions that 80% of animal species would be extinct by 1995, key mineral resources would be exhausted by the 1980s, and many more (see Ronald Bailey’s The End of Doom, among others noted below- Julian Simon, Greg Easterbrook, Bjorn Lomborg, etc.).
This site probes the foundational ideas that have incited and driven alarmist movements across history, notably the angry, punishing gods of mythology and religion. Those ancient alarm-inciting beliefs have descended into the present and have now been secularized for the modern era in vengeful Gaia, angry planet, or punishing karma mythologies. Others use nothing more than natural world threats but exaggerate those with alarmist hysteria.
The interesting thing to note in the pathology of alarmism is the persistence of a similar set of core mythical themes (i.e. apocalyptic myths) that can be traced from the earliest historical records (i.e. Sumerian Flood myth) and down into the more secular versions of today. Differing expressions, same themes.
(Note also the distorting influence of financial incentives in alarmist movements. As Bailey says, “Environmentalist organizations raise money to support themselves by scaring people”.)
I give significant space to one of the central drivers of alarmism in the Western tradition, the Christian retaliatory deity (for example, see Landes’ Heaven on Earth and how Christian apocalyptic millennialism has influenced a variety of movements, including environmental alarmism). The historical Jesus had overturned this myth of punitive deity, but his message was rejected by the founder of Christianity- Paul. Paul reverted back to the retaliating, punishing God of past primitive myth and his theology has continued to drive alarmism throughout Western consciousness (see James Tabor and others on Paul’s influence on Western consciousness, also Arthur Herman on the Christian influence on 19th Century Declinism). Note, in particular, how Paul’s theology influenced Islam, via Matthew and the gospel to the Hebrews (see Joseph Azzi’s The Priest and the Prophet). Detail is provided below, and throughout the site.
My counter message- despite the nasty things that life throws at us, ultimately everything is going to be all right, for everyone. We are all safe in Love. That is what unconditional means. That is the central theme of the Historical Jesus, a person quite opposite to the Christian Christ.
And yes, the problem of hysterical alarmism is more complex than just the religious component. My point in going after the mythical/religious element is that it helps to explain the ancient origins of excessive alarmism. Also, the mythical/religious component still persists today, it is still foundational to human worldviews, and it is still potent for inciting unnecessary alarm in human consciousness, even if it resides more in the background of human worldviews (those subconscious hardwired themes).
The mythical/religious component of alarmism expresses its pathology through people endlessly creating metaphysical monsters that intensify normal fear and suffering. It is bad enough that we face the horrors of natural disaster, disease, and the cruelty of others. Adding a metaphysical element (divine threat, punitive gods) further increases the already unbearable burden of human fear, anxiety, depression, and despair. Remember the Japanese lady rhetorically asking after the tsunami there years ago, “Are we being punished?” There is enough to fear in the natural world. Why add metaphysical threat to further darken and deform consciousness?
This site goes after all forms of alarmism, both secular and religious. There is an irresponsibility in alarmist exaggeration and it has traumatized too many people for far too long.
Intro note to Sanders comment: While countering the exaggeration and distortion in environmental alarmism, let me affirm any and all human concern and care for nature. I am not decrying balanced conservation efforts.
I would strongly affirm with researchers like Ronald Bailey (The End of Doom) that ongoing wealth creation- economic growth- enables humanity to properly resolve environmental problems and to tread more lightly on the natural world. This conclusion is quite contrary to environmental alarmist narratives that oppose further economic growth and development as harmful to nature.
In this regard, see research on the Environmental Kuznets Curve or Environmental Transition research done by authors such as Indur Goklany. This evidence supports the conclusion that wealth creation leads to environmental improvement.
Further note: Watch news media and the endless presentation of some “extreme weather event” as the “worst on record”. Remember that the record is only about 150 years long. In the larger paleo-climate context there have been far more extreme weather events (note glaciation for one example) and we are not now experiencing anything out of the norm for the longer historical period.
Bernie Sanders has repeated this silly, distorting mantra (April/May 2016) that those opposing his climate alarmism views are believers that “climate change is a hoax”. Sanders reveals a profound ignorance of the basic issues and science behind climate change.
No credible skeptic denies that CO2 has a warming influence on climate. And no credible skeptic of the alarmist hysteria denies that climate change is taking place. The obvious but often ignored fact is that climate has always changed and always will. Climate is never static. The central issue is and has always been- how much human influence is there on the climate change that we are observing? The anthropogenic factor. And how much actual climate change is occurring? All the wildly exaggerated alarmist models (ignoring natural elements and focusing too much on the human contribution) have now been proven wrong by actual observed data on climate.
Mounting evidence, admitted by even the leading climate alarmists (e.g. James Hansen, Phil Jones), now shows that the mild climate warming of 1975 to roughly 1995 has stopped and surface temperatures have been roughly flat since, except for an abnormally strong El Nino event of last year (2015). Such ‘aberrations’ do not define a trend. Credible evidence also shows that natural influences have had the strongest correlations to the climate change that we have seen over recent centuries (i.e. the cosmic ray/sun/cloud relationship- see Henrik Svensmark’s The Chilling Stars; or multi-decadal ocean oscillations- see Syun-Ichi Akasofu’s research). While the CO2 influence is always present, it is consistently overwhelmed by natural factors.
You cannot then finger CO2 as solely, or even dominantly, responsible for any notable climate change over the centuries. This undermines the hysterical argument of alarmists to stop climate change by forcing people to stop emitting CO2. As one scientist said, it is absurd to think that you can change climate by adjusting a CO2 knob.
Further, there has never been an “almost complete consensus” (Sanders again) among scientists that humans are solely or mainly responsible for climate change or that some catastrophic outcome is looming. To the contrary, almost 32,000 scientists signed the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine’s Protest Petition. They stated as follows:
“There is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane, or other greenhouse gasses is causing or will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the Earth’s atmosphere and disruption of the Earth’s climate. Moreover, there is substantial scientific evidence that increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide produce many beneficial effects upon the natural plant and animal environments of the Earth.”
See also the follow-up studies that have exposed the fallacious claim that there is a 97% consensus among scientists on the climate alarm narrative (e.g. Lawrence Solomon at National Post). Where is the supposedly objective and truth-seeking media on this issue?
The endeavor by climate alarmists to shut down contrary opinion on what causes climate change, and to scream “consensus, consensus”, is evidence of the same old totalitarian impulse that has always demanded conformity and submission to dogma. It is not science. We have alarmists threatening to legally prosecute and even imprison those who hold contrary opinions (see David Suzuki on CEOs of oil companies, and US Attorney General trying to prosecute skeptical science).
Labelling those who disagree with you as heretics and deniers, and threatening to imprison them, is to return to the darkness and terrorism of the Medieval Church persecuting Copernicus and Galileo for their contrary opinions. That is all about extremist, totalitarian religion and not science.
Critical to note: See Patrick Moore’s “Celebrating CO2” for a balanced understanding of the benefits of more CO2. One of his videos is available at the Global Warming Policy Foundation site, or see briefer versions on Youtube. Moore includes the overall paleo-climate context, and that helps to understand better the CO2/temperature relationship across history. He also counters well the fallacy that CO2 is a threat to life, a pollutant or poison. CO2 is the basic food of all life and the planet is much greener today (14% increase in plant productivity since 1980) thanks to more CO2 in the atmosphere. This healthier, greener planet should be celebrated by the Greens. Instead, they continue to arouse alarm and terrorize public consciousness with the apocalyptic myth that life is headed to hell in a hand-basket. Such unscientific nonsense.
Further note: Beware of the alarm and hysteria that is generated by the distortion of “presentism”. This is the belief that our present time is the worst ever, because we are experiencing it first hand. Hence, people feel that things have never been so bad or so threatening. Apocalypse is imminent. Not true. Step back and keep in view the larger context of things like climate change. Note the longer-term trends with their mountains and valleys, showing how much more pronounced climate change has been over past history. Much more severe than anything that we are currently experiencing.
Chronology argument for those that value the Christian tradition and its scriptures
I would argue that the Wisdom Sayings Gospel, the original teaching of Jesus (known by scholars as the Q Sayings Gospel), should be right at the beginning of the New Testament. That would be the correct chronological order for the entire New Testament. Everything else in the NT was written after that original teaching of Jesus- an oral tradition from around 27-36 CE (see dates below in Christian Contradiction). Scholars note that the Wisdom Sayings gospel of Jesus is basically the teaching that is found in Matthew 5-7, in what is known as the Sermon on the Mount.
(Insert note: The scandal in my suggestion is that Jesus’ original teaching overturns entirely the main atonement message of the rest of the New Testament. It exposes the profound contradiction between Jesus and Paul, who wrote most of the rest of the NT and influenced the other NT writers with his retaliatory theology.)
Continuing… I would add a huge qualifier regarding Matthew’s version of this Sayings gospel. Matthew’s version in his chapters 5-7 is a horribly deformed version of Jesus’ original teaching. Matthew has thoroughly messed up the wisdom sayings gospel of Jesus.
But first- the 5:38-48 section of chapters 5-7 presents the cohering theme or center of Jesus’ message. It focuses on the central unconditional theme of Jesus and that central theme, more than anything else, defines his message or gospel. In 5:38-48, as in the same material in Luke 6:27-36, Jesus stated that love would not retaliate or demand that conditions be met (i.e. there should be no eye for eye punishment, payback justice, or retribution). Further, authentically humane love would not be excluding tribal love- loving only friends and family (as the barbarians do) and excluding enemies. To the contrary, Jesus said that authentically humane love would also include and love enemies. It would be fully universal. Jesus pushed us beyond the tribal to engage the authentically human thing.
And most important on the negative side- there is nothing in the original Wisdom Sayings material about Jesus coming as a Savior to become a human blood sacrifice in order to meet a supreme condition demanded by a God that was angry at human imperfection. Jesus in his original gospel said nothing at all about fulfilling some divine condition. Instead, he spoke directly to what love really meant, and he took human understanding of love to new heights of the humane in the entirely no conditions treatment of all people, both good and bad. He argued that we should do this because this is what God does. We should love enemies because God loves enemies without conditions.
This statement of his core theme in 5:38-48 should then determine the authenticity of any other teaching that people claim came from Jesus. It should determine the authenticity of the rest of the material that Matthew included in his chapters 5-7 version of Jesus’ wisdom sayings. It should also determine the authenticity of the rest of the New Testament teaching on divine conditions like atonement.
Note carefully that Matthew’s chapters 5-7, his version of the Wisdom Sayings Gospel, contradicts entirely the core theme of Jesus. How so? Matthew’s version is full of threat of divine retaliation and conditions. He states that people would be judged, they would not enter the kingdom of heaven, they would be sent to Hell, they would only forgiven if they first forgave others, and their judging of others would result in similar eye for eye retributive judgment, among other similar comments.
While Matthew included the central unconditional theme of Jesus in 5:38-48- the core of the core- he contradicted this central theme in the other parts of chapters 5-7 by putting in various conditions and threatening retaliatory statements (see also the “Christian Contradiction” below for more detail on Matthew’s changes). With his changes and additions, he contradicted the central theme of Jesus in 5:38-48 that there should be no retaliation and no conditions.
The Matt.5:38-48 material (and Luke 6:27-36) should be used as the foundational baseline by which to evaluate all the rest, including the rest of Matthew’s material in chapters 5-7. Then you see clearly the changes and contradictions that Matthew has added. His version of the Sayings gospel is entirely contradictory to the core statement of 5:38-48.
So I would refine my argument in other sections below that the Q Sayings Gospel should be at the very beginning of the New Testament, to state more clearly that, actually, to be more faithful to the central message of Jesus, the Matthew 5:38-48 section should be the starting point of the New Testament and the standard for evaluating all the rest.
And as always, one more key qualifier- in my use of Historical Jesus and Q research I am not affirming Jesus as some authority on unconditional love. I simply embrace his central insight as helpful and then move on to create my own further definitions and explanations on unconditional.
Across history, too many theologians and historians have spent their lives trying to discern what might be authentic to the historical Jesus or not. Arguing whether this word or phrase might be authentic or not, often with no sense of some cohering theme, such as in Matt.5:38-48, to guide such research.
Does it really matter if we ever discover exactly what Jesus said? I would suggest that it is more useful to just take the insight that we find in Matthew 5:38-48, refine the unconditional theme that you see there and then restate it in the language of today, and move on. Leave Jesus behind to the endless scholarly squabbles. Do what Thomas Jefferson did- get your scissors out, cut out the best material in the Jesus sayings, and then throw the rest away.
Unconditional is the most valuable defining feature of love and it does not need validation by Jesus to affirm its importance. It stands on its own as our highest understanding of love, our most advanced understanding of what it means to be authentically humane.
Follow-up note: Let me commit a further bit of blasphemy in order to emphasize the point above. You don’t need Jesus anymore to affirm the validity of unconditional love as the supreme definition of authentic humanity. It does not matter if we can establish that unconditional love was the central theme of Jesus, or not. Jesus does not matter in this regard, nor does it ultimately matter if we ever finalize what he actually said or did not say. What matters is that unconditional is simply the best definition of love that we have ever discovered. It gives us the fullest insight into the best theology that we can possibly imagine- that God is love of such a scandalous and wondrous nature that it potently quells all the unnecessary fear, worry, anxiety, and despair generated by threatening deities across history. God as unconditional Love undermines entirely the salvation industry and all conditional religion. And it takes human ethics to supreme heights of the humane.
On every level- whether ethical or theological- unconditional is simply the most profound discovery ever made by humanity.
And as with other comment below- it is the message that matters, not the messenger (i.e. Jesus). Paul missed this entirely and created a new message about the messenger (his Christ myth) and he ignored the actual message or teaching of Jesus. The result has been the profound contradiction between Jesus and Paul’s Christ. For example, where Jesus taught a non-retaliatory God (no more eye for eye because God does not engage eye for eye), Paul taught the very opposite- a retaliatory God (“Vengeance is mine, I will repay”- Romans 12). And where Jesus taught no conditions, Paul taught a supreme condition (i.e. atonement). Jesus and Christ are therefore entirely opposite realities. The term Jesus Christ is the greatest religious oxymoron ever.
Comment from Bob Brinsmead (writing to someone else in a discussion group):
“Your whole point about finding a theology of the cross illustrates where the early Christians lost sight of the teaching of Jesus by putting in its place a teaching about Jesus. This is the issue– Christology replaces the teaching of Jesus. The messenger becomes the message. The Gospel of Jesus morphs into the Gospel about Jesus. We have far less access to the historical Jesus than we have to William Shakespeare– and scholars are agreed that it is impossible to write a life of Shakespeare. But as one recent commentator on this issue observed, this means that this obscure person steps off the stage, he disappears into the fog of history, and the only thing we have of any substance are the words of Shakespeare. But this fact only serves to makes us concentrate and appreciate all the more the genius of his literary art…”
“More so with Jesus. He is a shadowy historical figure. We have no access to information to reconstruct a life of the man. It is just as Sheehan points out in his brilliant First Coming of the Kingdom, Jesus steps off the stage and disappears– really disappears. All that we are left with that matters are his words. This means that all this telling a story of the life of Jesus in the New Testament, beginning with the nativity story (as you well know) is for the most part just a pious, religious fiction that created a man, nay, a god, that people could worship, a theology that took the place of his teaching, more than that, contradicted his teaching– demonstrated in all the great Creeds of Church that together say zilch about what Jesus said. They created a faith not only to die for but a faith to kill for, in principle no different from Islam. It created the most violent and bloody religious system in the history of mankind. How could the church have justified all the killing of heretics, Jews, Muslims, Cathars and the rest, if its major teaching was the teaching of Jesus instead of its teaching about the mythical Christ? How could the teaching of Jesus– “love your enemies”– have created all this killing of those suspected of being enemies of the cult of Christ?”
Another post from Bob:
“I doubt that the ones that Paul attacks in Corinthians are some elites as you say. I am inclined to think that they were the Jerusalem Christians, among them Apollos who was pushing the teaching of the sapiential Jesus (wisdom sayings). Jesus was a wisdom teacher rather than apocalyptic. These people whom Paul attacks are promoting the wisdom teaching of Jesus. Paul wanted none of that. He wanted none of the historical Jesus (2Cor 5). The super apostles (the real ones) were those who had heard the teachings of Jesus. They were against the theology of Paul. Paul did not know the historical Jesus, did not want to know, because he had his own visions. He got his Gospel direct from heaven in his visionary experience (same as Muhammad) and in contest over his authority, only wanted to know his visionary Christ.”
Another from Bob:
“There are two issues raised in this statement “God was in Christ, reconciling…”. The first is the person of Christ, and the second is the work of Christ. These two things make up what is called Christology. Before we even get to the objectionable doctrine of atonement, there is the objectionable claim that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ. The whole concept of Jesus being the Christ is contrary to what Jesus was on about. Jesus Christ is an oxymoron. The two names are inherently incompatible. I would say that Jesus rejected this whole notion of a Messiah, including the expectations of his own followers, all of this looking for a Messiah. He rejected this as much as he rejected retaliatory violence and apocalyptic expectations, because it is all part and parcel of the same thing. I would even say that he rejected the idea of having followers. His teaching demanded that we call no man Messiah. The Gospel of Thomas correctly captured this right when it has Jesus say, “I am not your teacher”– or Father, or Good Master, or Guru or Messiah. Jesus saw all this as contrary to the prophesied “new covenant.” It devalues man and the immediate accessibility of God to every person without brokers, mediators, priests or messiah’s of any stripe or kind. It is totally inimical to the dignity of man/woman.”
“The teaching of Jesus was so radically new that he warned against trying to put it back into the old wineskins of any Messianic and apocalyptic expectations. If you try to do that, he warned, you will ruin or lose the new wine. But that is exactly what the early Jesus movement did. They were already going down the wrong road when they conceived of themselves as “followers.” That itself is a part of the old wineskin of an infantile religious outlook.”
“I have turned my back on Christology as a whole, not just on the matter of what the atonement might mean. Forget what the Christ did, because the Christ thing itself is a wrong premise on which to start building anything.” (End of comment from Brinsmead)
Notes on love:
Love and law
Love is the highest of human ideals. It defines us as authentically human, more than anything else can. And it encompasses most of our related defining ideals- it is the mainspring behind forgiveness, inclusion, generosity, kindness, and other humane qualities.
In this regard, I think of the Jewish sage Hillel (110 BCE to 10 CE), famous for arguing that love of others was the “kernel of Jewish teaching”. He recognized that love of others was the fundamental principle of the Jewish moral law. We see this in his version of the Golden Rule, “What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow. This is the whole Torah, the rest is explanation”. We today summarize this in the maxim: “Love is the fulfilling of all law”. Love tempers the legalistic mind and approach to others with mercy and restorative intent and action. Love is not oriented to retaliation and punishment. Love prompts such actions as healing others on the Sabbath even when that was religiously prohibited (illustrated in Mark 2).
Sometimes doing the human thing (the loving thing) may conflict with the legal thing, or the conventional social rule/practice. To illustrate, once a US police officer refused to arrest a woman for canvassing for prostitution on a city street, even though the law clearly stated that she should be arrested and prosecuted. He let her go with just a warning because he knew that she had young children at home needing a parent.
It would make life more bearable for everyone if such mercy tempered all our use of law. As someone said (my paraphrase), “Law is made to serve humanity, not humanity to serve law”.
This applies especially in the face of the common pathology to place something above people and to then mistreat or abuse people out of loyalty to the object that has been placed above or before them. It might be loyalty to law, a rule, some belief, an institution or state, an insider group, or whatever. Object loyalists then claim that they are obligated to neglect or mistreat others because they must first be loyal to the object that they have pledged allegiance to. That often leads to inhumane treatment of others. Our priority loyalty should always be to people around us and their needs and wants before loyalty to some other abstract thing that we might want to place before the needs of real people. Again, note how Jesus came into conflict with this on various occasions- e.g. forgiving the woman caught in adultery even though the “law” of the day (Jewish) said that she should be punished. Or his healing sick people on the Sabbath in violation of religious law.
The adjective “unconditional” takes our understanding of love to the absolute height of what it means to be human or humane. Contrary to much religious use of this term, it means absolutely no conditions, none. You cannot say, as many Christians do, that God loves unconditionally because Jesus died to pay for sin (i.e. he had to meet a supreme condition first before God would forgive). That makes no sense at all. It is oxymoronic and contradictory in the extreme. Religious conditionalism always undermines the scandalous meaning of unconditional as absolutely no conditions.
Unconditional is also scandalous and offensive to a payback-oriented mind. Note the parables of the prodigal and the vineyard workers, all scandalized by the unconditional generosity toward the “unworthy”.
Unconditional often appears to be too generous toward horrific offenders. But it offers the only ultimate safety for all of us. No one can ever be sure of ultimate safety if there are conditions for anyone. No one is safe if God is less than absolute unconditional love. If you start setting conditions and excluding some, then all are left uncertain. See comment further below from discussion group on “a thought experiment”.
Love as strength and the courage to protect:
You get people who automatically associate love with weakness, mushy pacifist ethics, and being impractical in the face of evil. These people claim that there are times when you just have to act in an unloving manner to properly stop offenders, to defend yourself in the face of violence. That is a distorted understanding of love. I refer repeatedly to the Chinese sages who advocate a robust love that will defend against violence but will do so with humane intent and action. Action shaped by a core love. That will mean not retaliating in a vengeful, punitive spirit, seeking to crush, humiliate and destroy one’s “enemies”. Instead, love will act with restorative intent, understanding that even violent offenders deserve some compassion for their failure to act as human, even as we have to restrain them. And love will resist violence with the intention to lessen future cycles of violence.
It is about thinking and acting as human even while restraining, imprisoning, and even eliminating violent offenders (i.e. ISIS). We are always obligated to act in love, which is to say, to always act as human.
Introductory qualifiers…I don’t like unconditional
I use the term unconditional a lot on this site, but I have a gut discomfort about using it. Perhaps because of associations with religious use of the term and the baggage that comes with such use. As noted above, Christians use the term unconditional love to state that God now loves unconditionally because Christ has fulfilled the supreme condition of offering himself as a human sacrifice to pay for sin. That is entirely contradictory.
I would prefer an alternative like “the no conditions treatment of all people”, or “absolutely no conditions love”. Many people just use the standard term love or something related, like kindness or generosity. The usefulness of adding the adjective unconditional is that it points toward the element of scandal and excess in love. It points toward new heights of love such as the non-tribal aspect of love- i.e. love even for enemies.
But I get the point that you have to start with something familiar to most people, and relate to where common human understanding is, and then move on from there. You can then redefine your use of unconditional for the point that you are making, moving forward from the familiar toward what you want to emphasize with your own definitions and qualifiers.
Basic to unconditional is the element of non-retaliation, no more tit for tat, getting even, hurting back, or payback justice. At its most scandalous unconditional forgives the worst, and seeks a restorative response toward all offenders.
However you view this term, however you choose to approach it, make certain that you get some sense of the scandal of absolutely no conditions love (non-vengeful, non-retaliatory, non-punitive, non-payback justice). And make certain that you get something of the wonder that it points to (i.e. the “trillions of times better love” that the NDErs speak about). Getting a proper grasp on unconditional will involve challenging the multiple millennia of human orientation to justice as some form of payback (i.e. reward the good, punish the bad).
Unconditional is also very much about a spirit, an intention or attitude, no matter how it expresses itself in the messy reality of imperfect life. It is about fulfilling a supremely humane impulse despite the difficulty of applying such in an imperfect world. And it is about ultimate safety for all, no matter how much we fail to live as fully human.
So once again, I prefer something like the “no conditions treatment of all people” to state the ethic of unconditional love. Or that God is “absolutely no conditions reality or Love” to use an alternative theological definition of unconditional love.
This site affirms a general hopefulness about life while not denying the horror and trauma that life gives to many people. Some people are so severely wounded (physically, mentally, emotionally) that they will never find “closure” or comfort of any sort in this life. But even so, if we can appreciate that unconditional defines ultimate reality and outcomes, then that may help to liberate people somewhat to ultimate hope and security, despite what we suffer here.
And in any discussion of balance it is critical to maintain some proportion, an overall perspective, or full context in order to fully understand the true state of something (I am using Julian Simon’s excellent approach here). Fundamental to life is the struggle for something better and the motivating hope that is supported by the good evidence that, overall, life across history has improved. The struggle of humanity for something better- to improve life- does work and it has been successful. Just one example- we have expanded the human lifespan by more than double in just the past century or so (from a world average of 35 years a century ago, to 70 years today).
But imperfection still remains. We never get to utopia or perfection in this historical process. Even so, in the experience of life we need to balance the negatives and positives properly. I would argue that the positives outweigh the negatives for most people. I would urge people to see the prominence of good throughout their experience of life. And look at things like the predictable regularity of natural law and order. Look at the abundance of basic resources. Look at the long and growing periods of peace (decline of violence over history). Look at the decline of poverty and growth of prosperity for an ever-growing proportion of the human family. This speaks to something better behind all.
Large Hadron Collider documentary
I just watched a documentary on the Large Hadron Collider at CERN (“Particle Fever”, Netflix). The producers interviewed top physicists regarding their theories. One noted that there are really only two basic theories. Taking the Cosmological Constant, with its infinite exactitude that makes existence possible, you could easily conclude that some great Intelligence has dialed the knobs. But, he said, many physicists refuse this explanation of some caring, loving Creator.
It is more fashionable to embrace theories of chaotic origin and random accident. Multi-verse, an entirely unproven theory, has been developed to support this random accident view. It argues that infinite tries will finally get to one that falls together just right, for no reason at all. It is utterly meaningless.
This is a reverse take on the old design argument that billions of monkeys typing eternally will never produce a Shakespearean sonnet. Or a wind blowing through a junkyard will never assemble a 747. And those are simple bits of ordering compared to the complexity and fine-tuning numbers of the cosmos (see for example Martin Rees’ Just Six Numbers). Contrary to the argument that Intelligence was involved in creating the universe, multi-verse mythology argues that infinite tries will eventually get it right by accident. Randomness is the ultimate reality and meaning of all.
Interesting in the documentary was how scientists of all views are responding to the human impulse for meaning- to answer the question Why?
As I watched the documentary, I was thinking that a simple Near-Death Experience looks more rational and coherent now. Unconditional Love at the core explains so much. But that is going way beyond religion and science, way beyond.
It was quite fascinating to watch the reaction of some well-known physicists to the early data on the Higgs boson, when it appeared to spike at 140 GEV. Some claimed that was the end of particle physics, and some lamented that they had wasted their lives, investing 40 years (e.g. Ricardo Barbieri), or 30 years of research, for nothing. (And please don’t ask me to explain these Higgs numbers.)
Another responded, “We jump from failure to failure, with undiminished enthusiasm”.
I could not help but wonder if some simple-minded citizen who gets to love and gets that right, has gotten to the highest knowledge, has got everything right that really matters. In so many of these physicists one detects elements of the savant- brilliance in one area of knowledge, but inability to get some simple basic human ideal right. So is there something to that maxim, “The first shall be last and the last first”?
In the end Higgs spiked at around 125 GEV which is a middle ground area that does not confirm super-symmetry, nor multi-verse theory. Nothing is confirmed and no one knows where to go next.
But all agree that we must pursue knowledge. We must explore, we must discover something, they said. This is what science and art are all about. They are the least important things to our survival but they are what make us human, according to one physicist.
Again, in this documentary you see the dead-ends that people get themselves into when they simple-mindedly posit only two opposing extremes- either a dogmatic materialism (meaningless randomness) or a religious Creator. We can do much better if we open up exploration to entirely new alternatives and new discoveries, taking the best of science and the best of human philosophy/spirituality. I would offer that unconditional Love at the core of all offers one unlimited way forward. It is something entirely non-religious. But as it points us to the ultimately humane, it also points us to the ultimately true and the ultimately real.