Coming topics: Engage the real battle in life, against bad ideas that incite and validate bad behavior. Using Joseph Campbell’s story outline I would argue that bad ideas are the real enemy of humanity, the real monster that we face in life and must conquer.
And what exactly are these bad ideas? There has been no more damaging set of ideas across history than the apocalyptic template of ideas with its central theme of a retaliatory, punishing God that threatens a great final destruction in an apocalypse. That deity also demands that a supreme salvation condition must be met- there must be a sacrifice to appease the angry deity, in order to escape the coming horror. This template of bad ideas has dominated the Western tradition for millennia- from Zoroastrianism to Judaism to Christianity and Islam, and even into contemporary ideology (i.e. 19th Century Declinism and environmental alarmism with the themes of vengeful Gaia, angry planet, and karma).
The myth of some great threat incites fear and pushes scared people to embrace what have been endlessly harmful salvation schemes. The outcomes of Threat theology and its Salvationism have been devastating to humanity (detail below- e.g. the consequences of Rachel Carson’s alarmism). Historians Richard Landes (Heaven on Earth) and Arthur Herman (The Idea of Decline) have detailed the influence of ‘apocalyptic millennialism’ on the mass-death movements of Marxism, Nazism, and environmental alarmism. Include here the influence of apocalyptic mythology on violent religious movements like ISIS (see David Cook’s Contemporary Muslim Apocalyptic Literature).
This site traces the descent of primitive apocalyptic ideas from ancient mythology (Sumerian) to world religions and then into modern ideology where we find the “secularization” of mythical ideas. Apocalyptic is given new expression in contemporary ideological systems like 19th Century Declinism. The common themes persist. It is always just more of the same old, same old, whether in religious or secular versions.
The root of apocalyptic is an original theological error in early human thought. The ancients believed that natural disaster, accident, and disease were expressions of angry gods punishing bad people. That primal error became deeply lodged in human consciousness and worldviews. It has never been fully corrected or purged, and it continues to dominate much human perception. It needs a theological response that goes to the heart of the problem.
To properly counter the pathology of apocalyptic myth, I urge people to embrace the insight that radically overturns the idea of punitive deity threatening apocalypse- i.e. the discovery of an ancient wisdom sage that there is only “no conditions love” at the core of reality. This discovery liberates entirely from the deeply embedded apocalyptic themes that have long shaped the fundamental levels of human mind, spirit, and emotion. “No conditions love” (unconditional love) provides the foundational theme for authentically humane narratives of reality and life. Unconditional provides a new baseline to redefine human understanding of Ultimate Reality or deity. Unconditional cuts the taproot of the primal human fear of Ultimate Harm, whether from an angry God, a vengeful Gaia, an angry planet, or from karma (see my take on the Grosso article below).
Mythology and religion across history have persistently embraced ideas of punitive deity threatening punishment. This worst of all bad ideas has had an immensely damaging impact on human consciousness, subconscious, and life. Mythology and religion have failed humanity on this critical issue of understanding Ultimate Reality or God as authentically humane (unconditional love). They have unrelentingly represented God to humanity as something that is threatening and highly conditional- i.e. demanding salvation conditions (i.e. some form of sacrifice).
Granted, contemporary religious reform movements have tried to downplay the nastier features in their traditions (e.g. claiming that the nastier features, like Hell, are just “metaphor” and not real), but those features remain in the background and continue to define the overall tradition. The result is “cognitive dissonance” (the endeavor to hold contradicting things together, to harmonize opposing things- see Zenon Lotufo’s Cruel God, Kind God).
A key point- bad ideas incite bad behavior and thereby cause immense harm to life. Historians have traced this relationship (ideas/behavior) and the outcomes in detail (see Landes, Herman, and others below).
Note: Just a qualifier to calm religious nerves- There is some direct exposure here of pathology in respected religious traditions. Our intention is not to ignore or dismiss the better features in such traditions or to downplay the positive outcomes of such features. The exposure of “bad religious ideas” is about comprehensive reform that fully purges the subhuman themes in any religious tradition, themes that weaken, undermine, and distort the better ideals in the tradition.
For instance, this site probes the scandal of Paul’s apocalyptic Christ myth and its prominent influence on Western consciousness and society (see Tabor quote below on Paul’s dominant influence on Western consciousness). In his Christian religion Paul buried the central non-apocalyptic and unconditional message of Historical Jesus. Paul’s religion then shaped 19th Century Declinism (the most ‘dominant political ideology’ today- a secular version of apocalyptic millennialism). Declinism, in turn, has influenced the mass-death movements of Marxism, Nazism and continues to incite contemporary environmental alarmism (historians Arthur Herman and Richard Landes provide detail). Just one example of a mass-death outcome from modern apocalyptic Declinism- Rachel Carson’s use of an apocalyptic narrative in Silent Spring that led directly to the unnecessary deaths of some 50 million people from 1970 to 2000 (due to the ban on DDT).
Again- Bad ideas incite bad behavior and produce bad outcomes.
In all movements of apocalyptic exaggeration and hysteria, note carefully the correlations between distorting threat, unnecessary fear, and the consequent “defensive” embrace of destructive salvation schemes. The apocalyptic mind sincerely believes that he/she is acting decisively and doing something good to save something, no matter the harmful outcome.
Finally… more comment coming on Hope- a battered, depreciated commodity in the face of alarmism (environmental and other forms of alarmism). Also, main climate change points/arguments (update).
This site argues that it is critically important to understand and engage the potent alternative to apocalyptic mythology- the “single greatest-ever discovery” of a core non-threatening and unconditional deity. This site argues for the radical redefinition of humanity’s highest ideal and authority- deity- as unconditional love. This holds the potential to spark the greatest liberation movement ever- the most profound re-orientation or shift in consciousness that is possible (i.e. liberation of mind, spirit, and emotion).
“The most profound re-orientation or shift in consciousness”? Well, that is extravagant language. Not at all, when set against the background of the entire history of bad religious ideas and the current dominance of Declinist ideology. Here is some further extravagance of expression: Using Joseph Campbell’s story framework, I would suggest that humanity’s “biggest monster”, “most dangerous enemy”, and “greatest battle” is with the single worst idea ever- the myth of threatening, punishing, and destroying deity. This is the real ‘Master Terrorist’ behind so much human violence across history. This foundational myth of Threat theology (Ultimate Harm mythology) is still embedded at the core of most religious traditions. Consequently, the ultimate human liberation has still not been fully engaged.
Remember the Japanese lady after the 2011 tsunami, asking, “Are we being punished?” She spoke for most of humanity across history.
The religious pathology of threatening, punishing God continues to deform our understanding of Ultimate Reality, humanity’s highest ideal and authority. This core fallacy of Threat theology continues to inflame apocalyptic alarmism (i.e. in “secular” versions like revenge of Gaia, angry planet, karma) with it’s destructive Salvationist outcomes. And the full humanization of our great human ideal of love has not yet been accomplished. Only unconditional can properly do this, making love fully humane.
This is all part of the project of getting to the root issues behind problems like religious violence.
Note: My appeal to Historical Jesus is not an appeal to religious authority. I refer to him because he is a respected icon to many people. But we do not need Jesus to affirm anything. Our common human consciousness tells us that unconditional is the supreme understanding and definition of authentic love. Most parents get this. Also, the claim that God is unconditional love automatically sparks the comeback question as to why then suffering in life? Theologians and philosophers have wrestled with this for millennia. I think the tight pair-bonding of love with freedom goes furthest to resolving the questions here. Others choose to simply give up and re-affirm the error of the ancients- that the harsh aspects of life mean that God is angry and punishing bad people. Others yet simply deny there can be any ultimate Goodness behind life. There is no God.
One more: While the unconditional insight resolves the mythical/religious element in alarmism, it is important to also deal thoroughly with the natural elements in alarmist narratives. I am talking about the relentless claims by alarmists that life is declining toward some great disaster. Stephen Hawking is one of the latest to join a notable group of apocalyptic prophets that includes the Father of global warming alarmism, James Hansen. Hansen stated in 2008, “It is all over in five years”. Al Gore, Leonardo DiCaprio, and others, offer similar predictions of looming catastrophic ending. I would offer here that masses of sound evidence contradict this Chicken Little Syndrome (“the sky is falling”). Evidence shows that the overall trajectory of life improves toward something better, despite problems all over (the ongoing imperfection of life). See Julian Simon’s Ultimate Resource, Greg Easterbrook’s A Moment on the Earth, Bjorn Lomborg’s Skeptical Environmentalist, Indur Goklany’s The Improving State of the World, Matt Ridley’s Rational Optimist, and Ronald Bailey’s The End of Doom, among others.
Comment topics below: It’s the theology, stupid (paraphrasing Bill Clinton’s “It’s the economy, stupid”); Responding to the meaning impulse in human consciousness- theology; Re-affirming the wonder of being human- challenging the persistence of anti-humanism in mythology, religion, and ideology; More on exploring the full extent of human liberation; Humanity’s old story (grand narrative) and the confusion over imperfection in the world; Brief summary of bad ideas, Brief history of descent of bad ideas; Site projects- Devastating outcomes of apocalyptic exaggeration, The Christian role in this mess, The Christian scandal- burying the diamond of Jesus (yes, Jefferson and Tolstoy again); More on the profound contradiction between Jesus and Paul; and some comment on Grosso’s excellent article on fear of after-life harm- the primal human fear and the atheist response.
Being a generous person, I have included something in the comment below to offend everyone, both religious people and atheists. Just kidding, but perhaps offering a little “trigger warning”. Also, carefully note my response to the potential complaint of Islamophobia. I place Islam within the larger Western religious context, within the theological tradition of Zoroastrianism, Judaism, and Christianity. That theology/mythology is the core issue, not any one isolated version of it. Islam shares the very same theological heritage that has also produced violent outcomes in the other Western traditions that have embraced apocalyptic mythology, notably Judaism and Christianity. (Note: Over the past few centuries Christianity has learned to moderate and abandon the violence of its past- i.e. the Crusades and slaughter of Muslims, the repeated slaughter of Jews, the inquisitions and witch-hunts, and the endless torture and killing of heretics.)
Now a few balancing qualifiers to calm religious nerves and to affirm the majority moderate populations in our major world religious traditions:
First, the Christian tradition holds the “single greatest discovery” in the history of human thought- the statement by Historical Jesus (someone entirely opposite to Christian Jesus) that God is absolutely no conditions Love (i.e. the Matt.5:38-48 and Luke 6:27-36 summaries). James Robinson called the discovery of Jesus “his greatest contribution to the history of ideas”, referring specifically to the non-retaliatory element in Jesus’ theology (“a stunning new non-retaliatory theology”).
Unfortunately, the early Christians buried that discovery in the larger context of the New Testament that presented a God who demanded that supreme conditions be met before forgiveness would be offered (i.e. the death of the Christ to pay for sin, and the demand to believe this conditional gospel). For unbelievers that did not accept the Christian conditions it would be the ultimate retaliation of eternal punishment and destruction. Thomas Jefferson and Leo Tolstoy tried to make this point that the central theme of Jesus- his “diamond/pearl” discovery on unconditional love- had been buried in the wider New Testament teaching on an angry, punitive God demanding a supreme condition as requisite to acceptance and forgiveness.
Another balancing qualifier: Care is exercised here to distinguish between the humane features that people have projected onto their highest ideals and authorities (onto deity), and other subhuman or inhumane features, what some call “bad religious ideas” (Sam Harris). The humane is to be affirmed while the inhumane is to be condemned, anywhere that it is found. Human liberation must include the full liberation from things now broadly considered to be inhuman in any other area of life. The point? It is important to engage and reform/replace subhuman religious ideas as they continue to have a harmful impact on human consciousness and society. The “sacred” cannot be exempted from the project to fully humanize- to make fully humane- all areas of life.
If for no other reason, we should encourage people to fully humanize their views of God because “we become just like the God that we believe in”. This is about the age-old human impulse to base behavior on similar belief, and the outcomes of this practice. Bad ideas can incite or validate bad behavior.
Setting the larger context:
I am puzzled at military officials and other public commentators- experts on violence- that appear unable to directly confront and deal with one of the central elements behind the religious violence from the ISIS and Al Qaeda movements- the element of theology, or God.
Theology (apocalyptic mythology- i.e. ultimate or metaphysical Threat, revenge of Gaia, angry planet, karma) is also one of the core inciting elements behind environmental alarmism and its devastating outcomes, which have been far worse than the damage from religious violence, according to Bob Brinsmead. Numerous people have commented on the apocalyptic theme in contemporary environmentalism (“the end is nigh”) but do not go on to nail the theology at the root of that theme. This site details some of the core myths and historical background of environmental alarmism. I have always understood that in basic problem solving you need to include root causes, all the elements that contribute to any given problem.
Some commentators on religious violence appear to get close when they state that “We must win the battle of ideas, the ideological battle”. But ideology has more to do with economics and politics. It is still not getting to the root issue of theology. Fareed Zakaria in “Why They Hate Us” seemed to be getting close to fingering theology as playing a key inciting role in religious violence but then, confusingly, he backed off at the end of that documentary to conclude that the main culprit behind religious violence was politics, not theology. Huh?
ISIS leaders state clearly that theology is their ultimate motivation to commit terror (see, for example, Sam Harris’ comment “What Do Jihadists Really Want?”). Their primary motivation is not politics, economics, US foreign intervention, personal criminal histories, or Western social corruption. Yes, these elements are also part of the mix of inciting motivations. But do not neglect the central inciting role of theology.
In the final moments just before a suicide bomber presses the button on his/her vest, or opens fire in some crowded theater or market place, he/she does not scream ideology, politics, economics, personal criminal history, Western social corruption, or US intervention in the Mid East. No. Listen carefully- they shout “God” (specifically, “God is great”). They appeal to theology. And they are referring to a particular view of God as vengeful, retaliatory, punishing, and demanding the violent destruction of unbelievers. That view of God enables them to get past the last shreds of human restraint in their consciousness. It is an appeal to the ultimate motivation that enables them to commit terror. You see this appeal to a God that demands violent punishment all through the documentary “Terror in Mumbai”. See also Wafa Sultan’s “A God Who Hates”.
Until we deal with the theological issue at the core of religious violence, and also behind environmental alarmism, we are not fully solving these problems for the long-term future. They will continue to erupt in new versions just as they have in varied traditions across past history. Again, the same core theological themes are found behind religious violence, “secular” mass-death movements like Marxism and Nazism (i.e. apocalyptic millennialism, see Richard Landes’ “Heaven On Earth”), and environmental alarmism. The same “Master Terrorist” plays his inciting role behind all these destructive movements.
Note: The above comment is not to diminish the importance of immediate military and police responses to stop violence, along with ongoing political, economic, social, and personal interventions and processes. The above comment is to emphasize theology as critical to overall long-term approaches to solving violence. Theology must be included in “the battle of ideas, or ideology” if we are to thoroughly win the struggle against violence.
Some further notes: Brief summary responses
The solution to bad theology? Do just what we have already done throughout much of the rest of life. Humanize everything. Get rid of bad ideas/practices and replace them with good ones. Recognize ideas/features in deity that are subhuman or inhumane and replace them with authentically humane ideas/features. This solution is explored in detail here. Fully humanize your highest ideals and authorities.
We already have great humane ideals encoded in our common human rights agreements. There already exists a baseline of common agreement on what is inhumane and what is humane. We simply need to extend this common agreement to all areas of life, including religion/theology. We need to project more humane features onto deity, projecting them out to transcendent degree in Ultimate Goodness or Ultimate Love. We need to fully humanize God.
Another note: The effort to confront and resolve Islamic terrorism will sometimes bring the complaint of “Islamophobia”. In response to this, note further below in following sections that I have carefully set Islam in its larger context as the latest descendent in the Western religious tradition that spans from Zoroastrianism, to Judaism, to Christianity, and then to Islam. The very same violent, apocalyptic God has figured prominently in all these traditions. They have inherited their basic theology from one another. And this helps to understand the religious violence in these traditions.
Another note, and this is an important balancing distinction: Religious traditions like Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, also embrace more humane features in God such as mercy, love, and forgiveness. That is to be affirmed. My point however, is that the harsher features included in their theologies overwhelm the nicer features, undermining and weakening them. Consequently, much comment on this site refers to the need to fully humanize our views of theology, to make God safe for human consumption, to make God authentically humane or good. More than anything else, the feature of unconditional love accomplishes the project to fully humanize God. And of course, we are talking about humanizing people’s views of theology. The reality that is God has always existed as unconditional love, untainted by distorting human projections from human mythology, religion, or ideology.
But embracing an unconditional God will mean letting go of an entire set of bad religious ideas that are deeply embedded at the very foundations of the Western religions. That is just too disorienting for many religious people to accept. However, it has to be done because of the profound influence of Western religions like Christianity on Western consciousness and society. James Tabor sums this up well, “Paul is the most influential person in human history… and he has shaped practically all we think about everything… from our assumptions about reality, to our societal and personal ethics… The foundations of Western civilization… rest in a singular way upon the heavenly visions and apparitions of the apostle Paul… In contrast, Jesus as a historical figure… has been largely lost to our culture…the message of Paul, which created Christianity… and the message of the Historical Jesus… were not the same. In fact, they were sharply opposed to one another with little in common… Paul operated with a strongly apocalyptic perspective that influenced all he said and did… the ‘Jesus’ who most influenced history was the ‘Jesus Christ’ of Paul, not the historical figure of Jesus” (Paul and Jesus, Preface and p.15,21).
To further respond to the charge of Islamophobia, in sections below I have carefully outlined the history which shows Islam to be the direct offspring of Christianity. Remember that Waraqa, the spiritual mentor of Muhammad was a Jewish Christian priest (i.e. Ebionite). Recognize the key “Christian” element in this. Waraqa filled Muhammad’s head with ideas of violent deity from the ‘Gospel to the Hebrews’ and the very similar ‘Gospel of Matthew’ (scholars say that the Hebrew gospel was really an earlier version of Matthew). We do not have copies of the Hebrew gospel, but note the parallels between Matthew and the Quran. Just as Matthew warned the people of Capernaum, Bethsaida, and other villages that they would be cast into outer darkness if they refused the messenger and his signs, so Mohammad in the Quran repeatedly warns that if people refuse the revelations and the messenger, they will be cast into Hell.
Muhammad also states in the Quran that he acknowledges the Jewish scriptures (Torah) and the “other gospel(s)”, no doubt the gospels that Waraqa taught him. The very same violent, punishing God that was used to incite violence in past Jewish and Christian history has also been used to incite violence in Islam.
And to further affirm the correlation of Waraqa’s influence on Muhammad’s thinking, note that just after Waraqa died, Muhammad’s visions immediately ceased. (For historical detail, see for instance, The Priest and the Prophet by Joseph Azzi.)
Why do so many people avoid this central theological element behind religious violence? I would suggest that theology goes to the very heart of these religious traditions, to the core bad ideas, and to the overall apocalyptic framework of Western religions. And to reject apocalyptic mythology is just too threatening to the very nature of these religions. When you reject the myth of an apocalyptic God that will destroy unbelievers, you overturn the most foundational beliefs of Western religions.
Remember also that many people place their identity in their belief system (see, for example, Louis Zurcher’s Mutable Self). Any challenge to the belief system is then viewed as a challenge to the identity of the person. That is felt as a challenge to one’s very existence or survival. So you then get sometimes enraged “survival” reactions from people, very animal-like responses. They feel personally threatened and believe that they are desperately defending their very existence.
One more: Beware the self-fulfilling prophecy element in bad religious ideas. Apocalyptic mythology influences the moods of resignation, despair, and fatalism, inciting a sort of subconscious acquiescence or cooperation to fulfill the apocalyptic consequence, to bring on the apocalypse. David Cook notes some of this in Contemporary Muslim Apocalyptic Literature (i.e. what incites movements like ISIS). Some people have actually engaged violence toward others in the hope of sparking the apocalyptic intervention of God. Again, note Cook on Muslim Apocalyptic Literature.
Why confront theology when trying to solve religious violence?
When you confront and repudiate the pathological theology of violent, punishing deity, you remove the central validating ideal and authority from those wanting to engage religious violence. When you replace that pathology with a more humane version of deity, you radically change the central validating ideal or authority of humanity.
By tackling and radically humanizing theology, you are problem solving at the most fundamental level. You are “winning the battle of ideas”, as the experts say. By engaging this project to fully humanize deity- i.e. to make fully humane- you are taking away the main motivation that terrorists appeal to, that of a God that is violent, punitive, and demands the destruction of enemies.
And this is the reason for confronting and purging bad religious ideas in general. It is the main reason for promoting an entirely new theology of “unconditional love” as the core definition of a new theology. When you remove the “bad religious ideas” element from theology, you take away one of the central validations for bad behavior, for violence.
(See comment in next section below on the age-old human practice of basing behavior on similar belief- “The Impact of theological belief: two profoundly opposite views of God”. Most people try to validate their behavior by appealing to some divine model, ideal, law, or word as in holy books. See Clifford Geertz’s work on Bali, Indonesia. And remember that people become just like the God that they believe in.)
Continuing the previous comment above… When you remove the inhumane features from theology, you then leave the terrorist without divine validation which has always been important to people. Once you fully humanize your God, then if someone wants to act badly they can no longer appeal to inhumane features in that God such as vengeance, punishment and violent destruction of enemies. Such features in God have long been employed as central to understanding and defining deity- the highest ideal and authority for bad behavior. When you remove these features from God, then those who choose to act badly are left on their own, exposed and nakedly without divine backing in their choice to act inhumanely. They are left without divine support or justification.
Take away the central theological validation for human behavior and you take away the main motivation that terrorists appeal to. But yes, this is a project for co-religionists of the terrorists to engage. For the many moderate people in a religion to promote. So let’s get busy folks in our varied traditions. This is more than just peripheral tinkering at the edges of some religion which is what most religious reform does. It is going to the very foundations to make radical changes to core ideas.
Our primary battles in life are not against other people that differ from us in some way, that we describe as offenders, opponents, or enemies. One important element in the Jesus discovery of Matthew 5:38-48 is that we are one human family. God loves all with the same inclusive, forgiving and generous love, both good and bad without discrimination. There is no tribalism with God (“If you love only those who love you in return, you are no better than those primitive tribal people”).
Our real battle in life is with our common animal inheritance, the core animal brain with its impulses to tribalism, to exclude and oppose others, to dominate and destroy others. And our battle is with those bad religious ideas that incite these animal drives- those pathological ideas of God as tribal (favoring true believers and damning unbelievers), the ideas of God as excluding and destroying outsiders to our group. That is the real monster that we all face in life, the Master Terrorist that stirs all sorts of dark impulses and incites people to turn against and harm one another.
Bad religious ideas have caused incalculable damage across history, inciting more harm to humanity and life than anything else. Bad religious ideas have long impacted human consciousness, human understanding, emotions, motivations, and response/behavior. Such ideas have been used to incite bad behavior, to guide bad behavior, or to after-the-fact validate bad behavior. I have traced this in outline form down through history, notably the apocalyptic template of ideas with its core theme of a vengeful, violent God that punishes and destroys “bad” people (unbelievers).
These ideas have descended down into the prominent ideologies of 19th Century Declinism and contemporary Environmentalism. The damage continues. See Richard Landes’ “Heaven on Earth” and Arthur Herman’s “The Idea of Decline” for detail on the modern “secular” or ideological versions of primitive apocalyptic themes.
Islam must do just what many others are doing with the Christian scriptures- confront those passages in the Quran that advocate violence, the many passages that advocate subhuman or inhuman thought and behavior, and engage some radical reform.
All religious traditions need to do this more thoroughly, to go into their holy books and confront those hundreds of passages that advocate divine violence and any form of inhuman behavior and do some thorough purging. But in order to properly do this, religious people must get past the fallacy of Biblicism- the belief that all their scriptures were given by God and therefore must be viewed as sacred and protected unquestioningly from challenge, re-evaluation, and change.
Contrary to the Biblicism approach, we look at the subhuman/inhuman anywhere and everywhere in life, and we understand that it does not come from a God of love, and then we reject the subhuman/inhuman elements as the product of ancient, less-than-fully-human minds. This is exactly what Thomas Jefferson did. He recognized that much of the New Testament material was the “product of inferior minds”. He then cut that material out and threw it away, keeping only the good stuff in a much smaller ‘Jefferson gospel’. Blasphemy? Sacrilege? What does it matter what some people call it? It was the proper, rational, and humane thing to do.
And one on Historical Jesus research:
One important result from Historical Jesus research over the past three centuries has been the recognition that there are major contradictions in the New Testament. I would state these contradictions in this short summary of common Christian belief, “God is love but if you do not believe the Christian gospel then God will send you to Hell”. The New Testament is full of such contradictory teaching. The simple answer to this is to rephrase Thomas Jefferson- “You cannot mix the diamonds with dung”. You cannot affirm and maintain oxymoronic nonsense. There is no common sense understanding of love that advocates eternally torturing, burning, and destroying other human beings. Where is the central theme of Jesus- “love your enemy”- in such teaching on eternal punishment?
The human impulse for meaning… and theology:
Theology (ideas of deity/God) has always been central to human understanding and human explanation of reality/life. It has always been central to the human impulse for meaning and purpose. Unfortunately, theology has been the receptacle of a lot of bad ideas as well as good ones. Theology has also been central to validating inhumane behavior and so must be part of the solution to that problem. Further, one of humanity’s most fundamental fears- the fear of Ultimate Harm- has roots in theology and must be responded to at that level. I always feel a sense of “Duh” when dealing with this issue of theology. To paraphrase Bill Clinton, “It’s the theology, stupid”.
This site engages theology as central to the primary impulse in human consciousness- the impulse for meaning (Victor Frankl). The human impulse for meaning embraces the desire to understand and explain life in this universe and on this planet, with all its imperfection and suffering.
Right out of the chute, I affirm that God as a reality exists, and is the Ultimate Reality behind all other reality. I am using a more general term- “Ultimate Reality”- to encompass all sorts of explanations of “spiritual” reality.
All across history people have tried to explain Ultimate Reality as part of their natural impulse for meaning, their impulse to understand and explain reality. All mythology, religion, ideology, and even science have engaged this basic impulse to understand and explain.
And I affirm the materialist/atheist involvement in this great endeavor, especially to fearlessly counter and expose “bad religious ideas” as pathological explanations or definitions of theology. But atheism misses something profoundly important to humanity when it tries to dismiss entirely the theological element to human understanding and explanation. You cannot just “Get rid of all this metaphysical bullshit” as one pissed atheist urged.
Because we are part of ‘something greater’, an intuitive realization as old as humanity and human consciousness. And that greater reality gives profound meaning and validation to human existence. This is part of the behavior/belief relationship. People have always tried to base their behavior and lives on some greater divine model, plan, law, or will. And this helps to understand why subhuman or inhuman features in God can have destructive outcomes in human lives and societies. Bad beliefs can incite bad behavior.
(Insert note on the intuitive human recognition that we are part of something greater: It has been the common sense conclusion of most of humanity across history, that if we are part of some greater creating/sustaining reality, then it only makes sense that we should try to understand and fulfill the purpose for which this cosmos, world, and life have been created. Unfortunately, people have always projected the worst features onto greater realities, thereby distorting human understanding and explanation of the greater creating/sustaining reality. The result has been serious pathology in humanity’s highest ideals and authorities- the gods. As noted above, inhumanity embedded in deity has long validated inhumanity in people’s behavior and societies. Again, people become just like the God that they believe in.)
Continuing… But to counter the conclusion of materialism- most people across history have intuitively sensed that the Greater Reality behind all things has something to do with Mind, Consciousness, or Personhood. Atheism/materialism, in defining ultimate reality, can only point to things like natural law, energy/force fields, alternative dimensions, multi-verse theories, or Self-Organizing Principle in response to the primal human impulse for meaning. That is too much of a shrug of the shoulders and walking away. Not good enough for most people- i.e. the 85% of the world population that are affiliated with some religion, with many of the remaining 15% that affirm “spiritual but not religious beliefs”.
Even more important, people have always hoped that Ultimate Reality has to do with Ultimate Goodness and Love, with something Ultimately Humane. We seek not just meaning, but meaning in something supremely and authentically humane, in something supremely Good. This is what drives theodicy- the defense of God as good. Ultimate Goodness alone satiates our dreams and desires for something infinitely better than this imperfect world and life, for some ultimate ‘utopia’ or ‘heaven’, for ultimate safety, resolution, conclusion, and existence.
The great religious traditions have tried to point toward such Goodness by projecting more humane features onto their gods, features like love, mercy, grace, patience, and kindness. But the very same religions have also, unfortunately, projected many subhuman and inhuman features onto their deities- features like judgment, retaliation, exclusion, punishment, and destruction. Features that undermine and weaken the more humane characteristics of deities.
Ultimate Love or Goodness, especially as defined by “Unconditional” Love, is the one thing that fully satisfies the human impulse for meaning. Unconditional Love alone properly defines authentic humaneness, or supreme Goodness/Love. Unconditional alone fully humanizes the reality that is God.
And an important distinction to keep in mind- unconditional cannot exist in some sort of merger or combination with the other subhuman features that people have projected onto God. That only produces “cognitive dissonance”- i.e. the contradiction of holding opposites in some distorting harmonization (see Zenon Lotufo’s Cruel God, Kind God). The prime example would be- “God is love but will send people to Hell”. Again- “Huh?”
In relation to this- try this simplifying line of reason: What is most humane, is most true, and most real.
But be clear that unconditional has nothing to do with conditional religion. There is too much oxymoronic thinking around this ideal. (See “Religion and God- the pairing of profound opposites” in the next section below)
Continuing… Atheism has never fully understood or responded to this fundamental human impulse for Ultimate Goodness or Love. Atheism has too often become little more than the mirror image of the dogmatic religious extremism that it reacts to, by rejecting any greater Goodness or Humaneness, and retreating to dogmatic materialism.
However, religion has done no better across history and has generally buried the core reality of Unconditional Love in the conditions of salvation religion, with its threats of judgment, demand for sacrifice, exclusion of unbelievers, and ultimate punishment and destruction of the unbelievers.
In my repeated reference on this site to Historical Jesus (someone entirely opposite to Christian Jesus) I am making the point that the historical person got closest to the true nature of deity as Unconditional Love. But his stunning discovery was then immediately buried by early developing Christianity. As Jefferson and Tolstoy said (trigger warning- please retreat to a safe space as this will be offensive to the Christian mind), the “diamond/pearl of Jesus was buried in the dung, slime, and muck” of the gospels and other New Testament books. Yikes and ouch for my Christian friends.
(Note: My conclusions on Jesus are based on Historical Jesus research as in the Jesus Seminar and Q Sayings Gospel research as per James Robinson, John Kloppenborg, Stephen Patterson, and others.)
It does no good to ignore or dismiss the theological element in human outlook. We do better to engage it, and then fully humanize it. Make it authentically humane. Again, make God (i.e. human views of God) fully safe for human consumption or consideration. Keep in mind Bob Brinsmead’s comment that “You become just like the God that you believe in”.
Religious reform movements try to make God more humane but short-circuit this project by defensively retaining the old features of deity that are found in religious holy books. The salvation conditions, judgment, punishment, and destruction stuff. Religious traditions just can’t let that go due to their embrace of the fallacy of Biblicism- the belief that everything in holy books was given by God and must be preserved as sacred and final truth.
Look at the Mennonite theologians for example. They feel revulsion at the violence in the Bible so they have concocted new theories of God as non-violent. Good for them. But they express this in concepts like “non-violent atonement”. Huh? Ah, it’s often just more lipstick-on-a-pig reformism. And preserving the old categories and definitions in some harmonized oxymoronic term only weakens and distorts the unconditional breakthrough of Jesus. It is putting the new wine of unconditional in the old leaky wineskins of conditional Salvationism. It does not properly and fully present the wonder and scandal of the unconditional discovery of Historical Jesus.
There is no atonement in unconditional.
Religious reformism that tinkers at the edges and protects the old stuff, the bad religious ideas, only weakens the wonder and scandal of unconditional. Why not just take Jesus and his central theme seriously? Paul never did. Paul ignored what Jesus actually taught and instead created his conditional Christ myth to explain Jesus. That myth formed the heart of his new Salvationism religion- Christianity. And that Christ myth taught the exact opposite of what Jesus had taught. Paul’s Christ was all about fulfilling a supreme condition- the sacrifice of a god-man as payment for sin.
Jesus had taught the opposite- that God was absolutely no conditions love and did not demand any payment or punishment of the bad. Jesus said that there was to be no more conditional “eye for eye retaliation” or justice. None. Instead, he advocated for unconditional forgiveness, inclusion, and generosity toward all (“sun and rain given to all, both good and bad”). There must be no demand for payment first, said Jesus, but just “give expecting nothing in return”. That is the attitude that we should exhibit because God does that. Completely free and unlimited generosity toward all.
Added insert note: The discovery that defines the core Ultimate Reality, or God, as unconditional love of an incomprehensible and inexpressible nature, this discovery points to the final and ultimate human liberation. It is liberation from enslavement to a long history of bad religious ideas that have infected the deepest levels of mind and spirit (even the subconscious) with the darkening influence of Threat theology.
Unconditional is simply the single greatest-ever discovery. Inform your TOE with this.
Another: As with similar qualifiers throughout this site, and to calm religious nerves, I have repeatedly noted what an unconditional viewpoint means in the messy reality of imperfect life. It includes the responsibility of love to protect the innocent by restraining violent people. An unconditional viewpoint is not about advocating dogmatic pacifism in the face of human failure to live as human. While unconditional views every person as ultimately included in the generosity of an unconditional God (sun and rain given to all, both good and bad), unconditional also recognizes that there are natural and social consequences in this life. Violent people must be restrained and held accountable. That is part of the responsibility of justice systems and prison systems. But the failure of some to live as human should not weaken the recognition of a core reality that is unconditional Love, and that all are included in that Love. Our understanding of that ultimate reality will impact our treatment of the failure of others- in things like imprisonment without the death penalty, or the humane treatment of prisoners of war (i.e. banning torture), and overall orienting justice systems toward restorative justice, not punitive justice.
Note: While disagreeing with the approach of pacifism, I affirm the spirit of the pacifist that longs for a world without violence.
One more- This site advocates two basic things. I am keeping this simple so that even children can get it. First, there is an astounding unconditional Love at the core of reality and life. This discovery potently counters the entire history of bad theology- the myth of some great Threat of ultimate Harm, and all the rest of the bad ideas in apocalyptic mythology.
And the second thing- we are that same Love in our essential self. This counters the anti-humanism theme at the core of most mythology, religion, and ideology- the devaluation of humanity as fallen, sinful, corrupted, and a destructive force in life (see “Re-affirmation of the wonder of being human” just below).
Lastly, to emphasize once again- In the larger mix of the problems that we are probing, both religious violence and environmental alarmism, there is a theological/spiritual component. And that element must be responded to with theological/spiritual insight. Remember, you are dealing with the 85% of humanity that are affiliated with religion, and many in the remaining 15% that are “spiritual but not religious”, that is to say, unaffiliated.
Re-affirming the wonder of being human. Countering the anti-humanism in mythology, religion, and ideology. Providing a healthy basis for understanding oneself, for self-evaluation.
The history of mythology/religion has made it almost impossible to appreciate “the wonder of being human”. These traditions have endlessly beaten into our consciousness that we are bad to the bone. For instance, in the earliest human writing the Sumerians told the story of the god Enlil becoming angry that there were too many people and they were making too much noise. That was their original sin. Enlil then planned a great Flood to destroy them all. In the Hebrew bible we are told that God was pissed that Adam ate the forbidden fruit, out of curiosity, his original sin. So God cast Adam out of paradise, and subsequently rejected all of humanity as sinful, and promised to eventually destroy most everyone in Hell, except for true believers. And so it continued all down through history. Zoroaster’s God also planned a great end-time destruction that would send fallen, sinful people into Hell.
And this religious anti-humanism continued into modern ideologies like 19th Century Declinism where humans were again portrayed as destroyers of an original paradise. They were greedy destroyers in industrial civilization. The offspring of Declinism- contemporary environmentalism- further damns people as a virus, a cancer on nature, a foreign species that does not belong on the planet. Earth would be better without nature-defiling humans. Again, the old anti-humanism theme of people as bad to the bone.
This anti-humanism mythology has distorted who we really are and it has denied our historical record of improving life. It misses the wonder of the love that we have brought into the world.
The actual evidence on the history of humanity shows that we emerged out of a brutal animal past to become human. We were originally bad but have become something ever better as our true human consciousness and human spirit have emerged and developed. Most striking in our development, we have become less violent over our history. This is good evidence of our true nature as most essentially love, as essentially good.
Further, we have expressed our essential nature as love by endlessly solving all sorts of problems in the world in order to make things better for all life. We have eliminated diseases, drastically reduced infant mortality, and increased the human life span three-fold. With the creation of industrial civilization, we have enabled people to meet their basic needs with less labor, freeing people to engage leisure activities. This economic or livelihood freedom is the basis of all other freedoms.
Also, we have found unlimited supplies of natural resources, we have learned to use resources more efficiently, or we have found and created substitutes (e.g. ceramics). We have learned to care for nature and we have become far less destructive in our engagement of nature. The evidence is seen in the main elements of life- in the improving status of forests, species, ocean fisheries, and agricultural soils.
The list of our creative accomplishments is long and ever-expanding. Read Julian Simon’s Ultimate Resource to get some sense of the evidence that “we are more creators than destroyers”.
With human minds and human creativity we have infinite potential in all directions. And we are always just getting started, just standing at the edge of the ocean barely dipping our toes in. To illustrate this, compare the conditions of life in 1900 with today’s world. This past century has seen an exponential rise toward a better life, all due to human creativity and goodness.
A spiritual response to an original spiritual error on the nature of being human:
To create a proper baseline for evaluating our humanity, for affirming self-esteem, I draw on insights from diverse places such as “spiritual” traditions. I have, for example, found statements in the Near-Death Experience movement that affirm the real nature and wonder of being human more clearly than anything found in psychology or anywhere else.
(Note: Many people question the validity of these “spiritual” or mystical experiences. But remember that history’s great religious traditions- the great systems of meaning/belief- are all founded on the very same personal spiritual experiences. Note the Buddha’s enlightenment, Moses’ mountain top revelations, Paul’s Damascus Road experience revealing the Christ to him, or Muhammad’s cave revelations. Even science is influenced by “serendipitous” personal experiences. As Bob Brinsmead cautions, it is not the experience or the person having the experience, but the content that matters. Does the content reveal authentic love and humaneness or not?)
People who have had the Near-Death experience tell us that there is an inexpressibly wondrous Love at the core of reality, an infinite, incomprehensible unconditional Love. And they state that we are profoundly one with that love. That core Love is also the core of our personhood. We are that same love. It is us, it is in us, it defines our true self, the real or authentic human person.
But yes, we have also inherited animal brains with their nasty animal impulses. This explains the “dark side” of human nature. However, “we are not our brains” (paraphrasing the title of the book by Jeffrey Schwartz). Our real self is Love, goodness, humaneness. Our true self is not something fallen, sinful, corrupt, or defiled. This is a profoundly liberating distinction between the inherited animal in us (not the real us) and our true human self that, at its core, is most essentially love.
And as some have suggested, the real point of life is to discover our true self. We should learn to recognize who we really are as essentially beings of light and love.
A further insight from the NDE movement is that we all come to Earth to share the common purpose of learning how to love, of learning how to express and to receive love. Further, they claim that each person has come here to accomplish some unique mission in life, to fulfil some unique purpose, to make some unique contribution to life and love.
This is not the pop psychology of every kid gets a ribbon, or there is no losing in life. No, this is a much deeper truth about our real nature as human, and on which we base proper self-esteem, and then use as a baseline to do proper self-evaluation. The real nature of humanity as love potently counters the entire history of anti-humanism and the devaluation of humanity that comes down through the religious traditions and continues in the ideologies of today- the pathological myths of corrupt, fallen humanity.
To summarize again: We are most essentially love- that is our true core nature. And we are all here to learn something about love. And we do that through our struggle with imperfection, through suffering in life. Some also suggest that we actually choose our unique life story, our unique experiences and struggles/suffering, and thereby learn the lessons that we chose to come and learn (see for example, Natalie Sudman’s The Application of Impossible Things).
The “spiritual” insight that at the core of all reality there is only unconditional Love, this fundamentally challenges and overturns the primitive religious idea that behind all life there is some Ultimate Threat. That idea of Ultimate Threat has been embedded deeply in human consciousness, even in the subconscious, from where it has shaped human worldviews for millennia. Now the insight that there is only Love at the core of reality overturns entirely the myth of divine threat and relieves the single greatest human fear- that there is some form of Ultimate after-life Harm (see comment on Grosso below).
The related insight that we are one with the core Love, this enhances the liberating realization that no one is separated from that Love, that no one will be ultimately rejected, forgotten, or lost. Everyone is included in the core Love. No one will be judged, punished, or destroyed. Everyone is ultimately safe. As one sage said, all comes from that Love, all exists in that Love, and all returns safely to that Love in the end.
These insights are useful for responding to deeply-rooted human concerns and fears.
More on exploring the full extent of human liberation– physically free but continued enslavement in mind and spirit. Freedom from bad religious ideas is about the foundational freedom that undergirds all other forms of freedom. It is mental and emotional freedom from ancient and still highly regarded religious beliefs that have been embedded deeply in human consciousness and worldviews. Sacred beliefs that people have long used to control and manipulate others (i.e. religious fear-mongering).
Themes below- the darkening, enslaving impact of apocalyptic mythology with its central element of Ultimate or Metaphysical Threat of harm. The liberating potential of unconditional reality. The persistence of apocalyptic over history.
There is a direct historical link from primitive apocalyptic mythology to the two dominant ideologies of today- 19th Century Declinism and environmental alarmism, both promoters of the narrative that life declines toward disaster. Many self-described modern “secularists” walk around mouthing the core themes of this primitive mythology. Even so-called great scientific minds occasionally slip into apocalyptic alarmism, like Stephen Hawking recently (2015-16) predicting the end of all things. Though he pointed far enough up ahead (thousands of years) to permit him to escape the planet before he is humiliated by another of the endless failures to predict the apocalypse (a 100% historical failure rate). And remember the father of modern climate alarmism, James Hansen, predicting in 2008, “It’s all over in five years”. Al Gore stated around 2005 that there were only 10 years left. All these end-time prophets were caught up in hysteria over the looming end, much like Pastor Harold Camping.
Why do the apocalyptic prophets refuse to give up on some form of apocalypse? Why do they never cease the fear-mongering over some imagined catastrophe just up ahead? Because they are instinctively replicating just what primitive minds have done across history, once again giving expression to humanity’s greatest fear- the fear of Ultimate Harm, and that we deserve punishment. That primal fear drove the early Greeks to develop materialist science (see Grosso material below). If you understand this fundamental human fear of some Ultimate Harm then you are in better position to figure out religion across history, the reaction of atheism (yes, atheists are often subconsciously doing theology), environmental alarmism, and even things like religious violence (e.g. David Cook, Contemporary Muslim Apocalyptic Literature).
(Note: This comment does not deny justifiable fear of natural disasters and problems in life but tries to separate out and reject the added sense of metaphysical threat behind such disasters. Remember the Japanese lady asking after the 2011 tsunami, “Are we being punished?” I am pushing back against the pathological tendency to exaggerate the problems of life to apocalyptic scale, to the “end of all things” at the hand of some metaphysical force or spirit, whether God, Gaia, or karma.)
Do a brief historical survey for yourself. I’ve done it below in Descent of Bad Ideas. Start with ancient mythology, then the history of religious ideas, and the descent of those mythical ideas into modern ideologies. The terms that are used to describe the ideas will change over time but the core themes remain the same. The unchanging persistence of bad ideas in human consciousness is astounding to note (i.e. in human stories, worldviews). What is going on?
It all begins with early gods threatening harm (e.g. the Sumerian Flood myth, Egyptian Destruction of Mankind myth, ‘return to chaos’ myths). Ultimate Threat or Ultimate Harm then becomes the core theme of most religion across history (i.e. Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam). Divine threat is seen in ideas of God punishing people through natural disasters, disease, warfare, and ultimately in apocalypse and Hell. This Ultimate Harm myth then shapes modern “secular” thinking also- the ideologies of Declinism and environmental alarmism- with ideas of vengeful Gaia, angry planet, or Mother Earth retaliating against destructive people, and street-level views of karma.
(Insert note: “Natural and social consequences” offers a better way to understand the nasty outcomes of life. But again, we need to remove any element of “metaphysical threat” behind natural or social consequences.)
This site traces the main features of apocalyptic mythology and the historical descent of these ideas from primitive religion to contemporary ideology (correlations), providing the big picture. And I add the critical point that we have had the potent solution to this deepest human fear for two millennia now. But the great scandal is that Christianity, along with other religions, has buried that discovery in a traditional mythological context of bad religious ideas, notably in Paul’s apocalyptic Christ myth. I have quoted Thomas Jefferson and Leo Tolstoy on this, despite the offensive terms they use (“dung, slime, muck, garbage”). I want to make the central issue clear- that the diamonds/pearls of the wisdom sage Jesus have been buried in the Christian New Testament. Jesus himself talked about the damaging outcome of putting new wine in old rotten wineskins. It does not work.
And no, we do not need Jesus as a religious authority to affirm the point that unconditional is the defining word in a stunning new definition of theology as absolutely unconditional love. Common humane consciousness, aside from the teaching of any religious icon, gets the point that unconditional is essential to the meaning of authentic humaneness and Ultimate Goodness. Most parents get this from dealing with their kids- that unconditional love is basic to being truly human. But Jesus is useful because he got the behavior/belief relationship right. He said, “Do this (no more eye for eye, but love your enemies unconditionally) because this is what God is like (unconditional love) and what God does (sends rain and sun on all alike, both good and bad)”. Humane behavior based on humane belief. An unconditional ethic based on an unconditional theology, the height of authentic humaneness.
I also use Joseph Campbell’s basic story framework to illustrate my point. Campbell talks about a wise man who gives the hero (that’s all of us) the sword to slay the monster. This site argues that the single worst idea ever is an idea that still dominates human consciousness today- the monstrous idea of some Threat of Ultimate Harm (i.e. angry, vengeful, punishing, destroying God or vengeful Gaia). This is the core bad idea that drives all other bad religious ideas, ideas that still shape most human worldviews (i.e. the 85% of humanity affiliated with some religion, and the many “spiritual but not religious” in the remaining 15%). Threat theology, or Ultimate Harm mythology, is the greatest monster humanity has ever faced. And Historical Jesus gave us the sword to slay this monster- the sword of a core Unconditional Love. The single greatest discovery ever. This discovery effectively slays the pathological myth of some monstrous Ultimate Harm behind reality.
This is about problem-solving at the most foundational level where core themes shape consciousness/subconscious and worldviews. It is more than the peripheral tinkering that so much religious reformism engages, which only short-circuits full liberation of mind and spirit. Religious reform tries to re-focus on the nicer human ideals like love, mercy, and forgiveness in their systems but then still protects the larger framework of bad ideas which undermine and weaken the better ideals in the system.
This site goes after these bad ideas in order to open the way to clearly see the core unconditional reality.
Added note- here are some quotes on the prominence of Declinist ideologies in our contemporary world. These ideologies are the direct descendants of apocalyptic mythology. They are the “secular” expression of apocalyptic mythology for the modern age.
Arthur Herman stated that 19th Century Declinism has “become arguably the single most dominant and influential theme in culture and politics in the twentieth century” (The Idea of Decline, p.7).
Jeffrey Foss said that “Environmentalism is one of the dominant ideologies of our day… (it) flourishes in all parts of the world… It’s appeal cuts across other systems of belief, making it the most widespread of convictions and giving it the potential to become the dominant ideology of the new millennium” (Beyond Environmentalism, p.50-51).
Grand narrative: Humanity’s old story
We- the human family- have had a hard time with imperfection and we have created a lot of distorting mythology to explain this imperfect world. The ancients claimed that the world was originally perfect (original paradise) but early people committed some sin (e.g. the Sumerians were too noisy, Adam was too curious) and they ruined the paradise. That is how they explained the obviously imperfect world that they lived in. And they added that life was declining toward something worse, toward an apocalyptic ending.
The old story also assumes that we humans were once something better, something perfect, but we became corrupted, bad, sinful, imperfect, even demonic, and we ruined the perfect original world. And now we deserve to be punished for being bad. Early people blamed humanity for ruining perfection. And thus began the anti-human element so prominent in much human story across history, the endless devaluation of humanity. This larger narrative theme of anti-humanism has impacted personal stories across history. It is undoubtedly one element at the subconscious root of bad self-esteem issues.
At the core of the old story is the worst idea ever concocted by people, that there is an angry, retaliating, punishing God behind reality- the primal myth of Ultimate Threat, Ultimate Harm. Theology (the idea of gods/God) is the cohering center of the old story. And while general views of deity across history have also included features like love, kindness, and mercy, most religious belief systems still maintain the primitive features of anger, vengeance, domination, punishment, and violent destruction (apocalypse, Hell). These features have always shaped the gods of mythology, religion, and now ideology. The old features keep re-emerging in new versions, in new expressions that maintain the same core themes.
The old story presents God as someone who demands perfection and is angry at humanity because we ruined his original perfect creation. So now he plans on bringing a violent apocalypse as punishment, to get rid of humanity in order to purge the world of imperfection, so that he can restore the lost original perfection. The mythical/religious God is obsessed with perfection and punishing imperfection. This core bad idea has enslaved human consciousness across history with fear of looming punishment and destruction, with fear of some coming disaster. It creates additional and unnecessary fear, anxiety, and guilt in people.
How did early people come to such dark conclusions about deity? Their original error was to explain the imperfection in life- i.e. natural disasters (storm, flood, earthquake, drought), and disease- as the expressions of angry gods that were punishing bad people. This is still central to human outlook today in myths of Gaia, angry planet, and karma retaliating against humanity. This myth of divine retaliation through nature still dominates human consciousness with the idea of some great Threat, to be expressed in some looming catastrophe, always just up ahead, as punishment for our badness.
And while we wait for the apocalypse we are urged to embrace some salvation scheme to save our souls. We must pay off the angry God with blood sacrifice, or some other form of sacrifice (in modern versions- forsaking the good life for “morally superior low consumption” suffering). Angry gods demand that conditions be met, that there be justice as payback, punishment or destruction. This is primitive, infantile thinking but it is still dominant in the religions and ideologies of today.
Thus, the old story has generated endless fear over imperfection in the world and life. Remember the Japanese lady, after the 2011 tsunami, expressing her sense of being punished for enjoying life too much. Today we make the sacrifice of cutting back our success in human industrial civilization in order to appease a planet upset at our using too much of Earth’s resources, for enjoying the good life too much. We are told that we have been too greedy in seeking a better, more comfortable lifestyle, and now we must punish ourselves with denial and a return to a more primitive lifestyle.
The old vengeful God and apocalypse story is a narrative that utterly distorts reality, life, and God.
The new narrative of life-This world was an imperfect mess from the beginning.
To inform a new story of life I draw from scientific discovery of reality and I take insights from spiritual traditions. Right off the bat, let me offer the spiritual insight that the world was created as a learning arena for human development and growth. Humanity struggles with all sorts of imperfection in nature (i.e. natural disasters), with imperfection in life (disease), and with personal and social imperfection (e.g. opposition, domination, and even violence from fellow humans). In our struggle with imperfection we learn lessons and gain insights that we then pass on to help others. There is a reason why this imperfect world exists just as it does.
I am borrowing Campbell’s basic story outline here, and also using Julian Simon’s insights. Campbell said that we come into life, we face monsters, we struggle to overcome them, to conquer them, and in the process we learn lessons, so that we can help others. Simon said that we struggle with problems in the world and find solutions that benefit others. We then create something better, a better world out of the imperfect world that we have been given. We create a “promised land” out of the wilderness that we have inherited.
We struggle to create the better world that we all want and we have done well. For example, we have become less violent over our history (James Payne- History of Force, Stephen Pinker- The Better Angels of Our Nature). We have conquered many diseases. We have extended the human lifespan three-fold. We have created abundant food supplies for growing populations, we have made human existence much more comfortable, and we have made work less onerous. In the wonder of industrial society, we have freed ourselves from enslavement to basic survival tasks that occupied the days of primitive people. We have learned to adapt to nature with less loss of life. We have improved life in many ways- materially, and ethically/socially.
And if this life is a learning arena, then this raises the important question- what are we supposed to be learning in our personal stories? What is the point or purpose of life, of our life? It seems to be such a waste of life to miss the point and purpose of our existence here, to not figure out at least something of the reason for it all.
I would first offer a new foundational idea, a centering ideal, to shape a new grand narrative of reality and life- my repeated assertion that there is unconditional Love at the core of all and therefore the point of all existence and life is love. This was the discovery of an ancient wisdom sage- Historical Jesus. He taught that there was nothing to fear from the Ultimate Reality behind life, that all were ultimately safe. There was no judgment, no coming punishment, no threat at the core of life, no ultimate looming destruction, and no apocalypse or Hell. There was only Love and it was absolutely unconditional love. There was nothing to fear ultimately, despite the suffering of this world. There was no Ultimate Threat, no matter what we suffered as part of our stories, as part of our learning process in this world. In stating this, Jesus was dealing with the primal human fear of Ultimate Harm. He was saying to everyone- Do not be afraid of ultimate reality.
The reality of a core Love as unconditional then becomes the supreme ideal to inform human meaning and purpose. It points to the highest understanding of authentic humanity or humaneness. Unconditional love defines what it means to be truly human. It is the highest expression of ultimate Goodness. It becomes the new baseline for evaluating all things in life and for guiding human ethics and justice.
This unconditional insight completely liberates human minds and spirits from the distortion of the old narrative. It liberates us to view the imperfection of life in an entirely new way, as an opportunity to work to improve life for all, including natural life. It helps us to understand our personal stories as adventures in learning what it means to be authentically human or humane. That we are here to learn all the facets of love- whether unconditional forgiveness, toleration of difference and diversity, inclusion of all people equally, or respect for freedom. And we learn best in our struggle against opposites- against hate, intolerance, exclusion, domination, and the still-too-common violence in life.
Further, using Campbell’s story outline- in our personal stories we also struggle to overcome personal imperfection, our personal monsters, mainly as embodied in our inherited animal drives. This may be the biggest monster that any of us faces.
An ultimate Unconditional reality provides the background, the under-girding sense of ultimate safety, that re-assures us, despite our failures here. The backdrop of Ultimate Goodness energizes us to engage the imperfection of this world and life, knowing that it all has ultimate meaning and purpose. The recognition of a core Unconditional Love enables us to affirm that there is nothing to fear ultimately. It takes away the sting, the unnecessary psychic burden that comes from the primal fear of ultimate retaliation and punishment. This recognition of a core no conditions Love contributes to great liberation of mind and spirit. It liberates us to relax more and to enjoy this learning process, to have some fun, despite the inevitable imperfection and suffering that life brings to everyone. After all, we are all re-assured that in the end it’s going to be all right, for everyone.
The NDE movement offers some interesting advice on human meaning and purpose in this world. Those accounts state that we are the very same love as God. We are not fallen beings but we are perfect in our essential selves, in our real persons, even while we experience imperfection in these bodies and brains. This insight is important to our learning experience here- that we are here to discover our true selves as essentially love, just as God is love.
Campbell adds that we achieve human maturity when we center our lives on love. We then free ourselves from the infantile stage of humanity and learn to “tower in stature” as authentically and maturely human. Unconditional love most especially takes us to the height of authentic and mature humanity. The old narrative of humanity was centered on the themes of retaliation, domination, tribal exclusion and opposition, and punishment of outsiders/enemies. Those guiding themes rendered us petty, infantile, and inhuman. It was a narrative from the infantile stage of humanity, more animal than human.
Humanity creates great stories (grand narratives) that inform and express human understanding across history- stories that explain the cosmos, the world, life, and human experience. We all draw on the elements of these greater stories of life and humanity to shape our personal stories. Some of the main features of the old narratives are summed up in the “Top Ten Bad Religious Ideas” below.
I am using “grand narrative” loosely, referring to a set of foundational ideas that people have created over history to shape their worldviews.
Some introductory notes: The old story was oriented to foundational features like retaliation and it enslaved human consciousness to an animal past. The new story orients us to non-retaliation, and liberates us to be more fully human.
We have had basically one dominant grand narrative over history. Again, I refer to the template of foundational apocalyptic ideas that have shaped almost all our religious traditions and still dominate thought in our modern ideologies (e.g. 19th Century Declinism).
A new grand narrative is still emerging. It has been informed fundamentally by scientific discovery, and it still needs filling out. I am offering a few foundational ideas for this new narrative, some from spiritual traditions. My interest has to do with those features that inspire us to become more fully human or humane.
Brief Summary of main bad ideas
This is to clear the way to see the single greatest discovery ever, the most liberating insight in all history. These ideas are the “dung, slime, muck, garbage” that Jefferson and Tolstoy spoke of. They are bad ideas that bury the diamond of unconditional.
Top Ten Bad Ideas
1.The myth of an angry, vengeful, violent, and punishing God behind all reality and life. Ultimate Threat, Ultimate Harm. This is the worst of all bad ideas and it is the inciting mainspring of all the other bad ideas. It has even been given modern “secular expression” in things like the “revenge of Gaia”, angry planet, and karma. Behind all these versions is the idea of some great metaphysical Threat of Harm. But this has always been an absolute lie and fraud. Yet it continues to shape the foundations of most religion and much ideology.
2.The original paradise or perfect beginning myth states that there was an original golden age that was ruined by early people and now life is declining toward something worse, toward catastrophe, collapse and ending. This myth creates the basis for the false idea that God desires perfection, is angry at imperfection, and will punish imperfection. This original perfection myth also distorts the true story of life which began imperfectly but has progressed toward something ever more complex, organized, and overall better than before. Life is not a trajectory of decline but instead rises/improves toward something better.
3.The myth that humanity became corrupt or sinful in the past and now deserves punishment for imperfection. Fallen humanity mythology states that we will cause some future catastrophe because we continue to ruin the world. We are also degenerating, degrading toward something worse. This myth distorts the true story of humanity that emerged out of a more brutal past to become ever more human over history (Payne, Pinker). This corrupted humanity myth has always been behind all forms of anti-humanism and devaluation of people. It distorts the truth that we are essentially love, the very same love that is God. It misses the truth that the wonder of Ultimate Love has incarnated in all humanity.
(Both 2 and 3 above feed the myth that life and all things are in decline toward something worse. Life is degenerating, degrading toward some disaster. This expresses the essence of apocalyptic thinking- decline toward something worse, toward catastrophe. This distorts entirely the true state of life and humanity.)
4.The idea that humanity has been rejected by God, separated from God and must heal some broken relationship. Separation from our Source/Creator never happened. Separation mythology misses the profound oneness of humanity with God and that God is incarnated in all diverse humanity. This myth of rejection/separation sets the basis for the demand for some payment/sacrifice to appease the upset deity, to make amends.
5.The myth of cosmic dualism (a great Good Force or Spirit in opposition to a bad Force or Spirit). This cosmic dualism is played out through human dualisms- the good/true believers versus the bad/infidels. We see this dualism in all sorts of human divides- racial, national, religious, and ideological, where people exclude, dominate, and destroy others. This is the essence of tribalism, of us versus them mentality.
6.Looming and always immanent apocalypse. The threat of some great looming collapse and destruction of all, just up ahead. The end is nigh… again, and again, and again….. The Chicken Little syndrome.
7.Violent, overwhelming intervention- the actual apocalypse- to purge the corruption from life- to bring an end to corrupt humanity and human society. This violent intervention/purging (coercive change, overriding human freedom) must take place so that the lost paradise can be restored, or a new utopia installed.
8.The demand for some salvation scheme- some sacrifice, payment, or punishment. That some condition must be met or fulfilled. This bad idea produced the salvation industry that has caused immense waste of human time and resources over history. Salvation religion has locked human consciousness into the view that God is obsessed with conditions, that God demands that conditions must be met- i.e. some payment, punishment, or sacrifice. The consequent result of salvation mythology is to define God as a reality that has to do with conditions. Religion has always been conditional in nature and it can only communicate Ultimate Reality as something that is defined by condition. Religion exists to tell humanity what conditions are necessary to please and appease the gods, to mediate the divine conditions to people. Religion as a conditional institution makes it impossible for people to see the unconditional love that is God. Conditional religion cannot communicate the unconditional nature of God.
Added note: Sacrifice in modern understanding often involves the felt need to return to a low-consumption lifestyle as “morally superior”. In much mythology and religion across history poverty has been associated with piety. You see this even today in the Indian “holy men” wandering and begging, and similarly in the Thai Buddhist priests also begging. But the denial or sacrifice of prosperity misses the evidence that seeking prosperity and the good life leads to further wealth creation and such wealth creation benefits future generations. It enables succeeding generations to more successfully solve any problems they will face.
9.Payback as the true nature of justice, based on the belief in a punishing God. The belief that all imperfection must be punished fully. This payback mentality misses the humane ethic of loving enemies, of unconditionally forgiving imperfection just as all parents do to their children, of unconditionally including all, even enemies, just as Mandela did.
And of course, life here is full of natural consequences, even social consequences. Violent people must be restrained and even imprisoned or eliminated. Love is responsible to protect.
10.The myth of a hero messiah who uses superior force to defeat enemies. Historical Jesus was falsely cast in this role. In his original teaching (Q Wisdom Sayings Gospel) he said nothing about coming as a messiah.
Other bad ideas- Biblicism, the fallacy that religious holy books are uniquely inspired by God and therefore especially valuable, more than all other human literature. This fallacy prevents questioning and challenge of the primitive bad ideas in these books. It produces “cognitive dissonance” in religious minds, the holding of contradicting opposites in the same system because they are in the holy book. For example, God is love but will send people to Hell. This is absolute oxymoronic nuttiness and confusion. Mixing absolutely opposite things.
Another: The primitive idea that humanity was “created to serve the gods” and so must serve, love, and be loyal to some Invisible Reality. This places Something before humanity or above humanity and this devaluing of humanity to subservient status has always led to neglect or abuse of people, often in the name of God. Our only responsibility in life is to real people around us, to love and serve them.
There is more extensive detail on these and other themes in Top Ten Bad Religious Ideas below.
The stunning new theology of Jesus- his discovery that God was unconditional love- completely overthrows all this bad religious thinking. His discovery guts entirely the number one bad idea above, that there is some “angry, vengeful, violent, punishing God behind all reality and life”. No. There is no condemnation of anyone, no judgment, no threat of punishment, no destruction by apocalypse, and no Hell in the future. There is only Love behind all, incomprehensible, scandalously generous unconditional Love. This goes to the root of the deepest human fear- the fear of Ultimate Harm and enslavement to conditions necessary to appease Ultimate Threat, conditions that must be met in order to escape punishment.
Too much religious reform endeavor has been only peripheral tinkering around the edges while protecting the larger framework of ideas, protecting the foundational themes noted above. Consequently, the good human ideals in religious systems are undermined, weakened, distorted by the larger context of bad religious ideas (i.e. divine anger, payback, exclusion, destruction).
A Brief History of the Descent of Bad Ideas
I’ve traced the descent of bad ideas down through history, from mythology to religion to ideology to environmental alarmism, the most destructive movement on Earth today (note: ‘environmental alarmism’ is something quite different from the common environmental concern that all people share). Most belief systems across history have been linked by the same core ideas. They may change terms of expression but the core themes remain persistently the same over history in new systems of belief.
These bad ideas have darkened human consciousness and enslaved human spirits since the beginning.
The core bad idea is that of a threatening God who will retaliate against bad people, a vengeful God that will punish and destroy unbelievers. All other bad ideas cohere around this. This foundational idea becomes the orienting principle for most other fear in human consciousness, or in human subconscious- i.e. the fear of some Ultimate Harm and some great disaster coming. Again, see Grosso comments further below.
The threat of Ultimate Harm is at the root of much other human fear and anxiety over life. This root fear keeps re-emerging in new versions over history- in myths of the ‘revenge of Gaia’, angry planet, retribution from the Universe, or karma. People instinctively feel that some greater Force or God is punishing them through the imperfections of the natural world and life, through illness, accident, or disasters. Remember, again, the Japanese lady who summed up this core belief of humanity after the 2011 tsunami when she asked, “Are we being punished?”
The outcome of this basic fear has always been wasteful salvation schemes- the sacrifice industry to appease divine anger. This has led to massive waste of human time and resources, not to say of human life. Today the sacrifice is the call to abandon the success in industrial society to return to the more simple life as ‘morally superior’ and in harmony with a wilderness world.
We have had the potent liberation from all this pathology for two millennia now. But that liberation was short-circuited and buried by Christianity. The Historical Jesus had discovered that God did not threaten retaliation or punishment. He did not engage eye for eye justice, but instead loved God’s enemies. God was merciful, forgiving, inclusive of all, loving to all, both good and bad. He was unconditional Love. This discovery overthrew entirely all past theology with its core retaliation themes.
But Paul buried that discovery in his Christian religion with its retreat to the old retaliating God, the demand for salvation conditions and exclusion of unbelievers, and apocalypse/Hell as the ultimate act of retaliation.
Site Projects: Full version (descent of bad ideas)
This site explores the most dominant and damaging body of ideas across history- that of apocalyptic mythology. The apocalyptic template embodies the essence of bad religious ideas.
The full template of apocalyptic themes includes: The myth of a better past (original paradise), corrupt humans ruined the paradise; life is now declining toward some catastrophic collapse and ending (God or Gaia will punish and destroy humanity); so humanity must embrace some salvation scheme, some sacrifice (payment or punishment) to appease the angry gods (human sacrifice, or the sacrifice of human success); and there must be a violent purging- apocalyptic destruction- of the corrupting force or system (destructive human civilization) so that the lost paradise can be restored, or a new utopia/millennial paradise be installed once again.
At the heart of these ideas is the retaliating, punishing God myth. A God that uses violence to destroy the bad.
Apocalyptic is found in the earliest human writing- the Sumerian, Akkadian and Babylonian epics such as the paradise of Dilmun where there is no sickness, death, or predation, the ‘fall of man’ when Enki eats the forbidden 8 original plants and becomes ill. And then the proto-apocalypse in the Sumerian Flood myth where all humanity will be destroyed.
Egyptian mythology presents apocalyptic in the Destruction of Mankind myth and the gods plotting to take the ordered world back to chaos. Greek apocalyptic is expressed in the myth of degeneration in the successive stages of humanity and the belief that Zeus would eventually destroy the world. Hindu apocalyptic is seen in the great cycles of rise and then decline toward collapse and ending. In Buddhism the apocalyptic theme of decline is found in the myth of ever-decreasing life spans. All these traditions express various elements of decline from a better past toward a worse future and some catastrophic ending. (“The present moment is a degradation from the past”, Mircea Eliade)
Zoroaster then shapes ancient apocalyptic into a more formal theology. He claims that there is a great cosmic dualism, a battle between a good God (Ahura Mazda) and an evil power (Angra Mainyu). The good God eventually will destroy the world in an apocalypse of fiery molten metal that purges the world of corruption, so the lost original paradise can be restored.
Zoroastrianism then shapes the Western traditions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam with the same themes of original paradise, early human sin and the loss of paradise, the corruption of life, the decline of life toward something worse, toward some catastrophic end where evil people will be punished and purged from the world, and then the original paradise will be restored or a new utopia created. Salvation is a sub-category of the larger apocalyptic system. Salvationism arises from the belief that humanity suffered an early fall into sinfulness and must now find salvation from the wrath to come (apocalypse and Hell).
Christianity then shapes 19th Century Declinism (Cultural Pessimism, Degeneration theory) where apocalyptic mythology is given “secular” expression. Declinism embraces the idea that an original golden age has been lost, a pristine natural paradise before humanity created industrial civilization. Industrial civilization has ruined paradise, and life is now declining toward collapse. Declinism believes that there must be a violent purging of the corrupting element from the world- the removal of destructive technological, industrial civilization and the return of humanity to a more simple life in harmony with a wilderness world. This is the way of salvation, the way to save the world, and to restore the lost original paradise of pristine nature.
Arthur Herman has stated that Declinism has “become arguably the single most dominant and influential theme in culture and politics in the twentieth century” (The Idea of Decline, p.7).
And Declinism then shaped the environmentalism of today. Environmental alarmism voices these same basic apocalyptic themes. There was an original paradise of pristine wilderness before humanity emerged to use and change nature. Environmentalists also believe that corrupt, greedy humans have destroyed the original paradise with industrial civilization and all is now in decline toward some catastrophic collapse and ending. So Mother Nature, Gaia, or angry planet must take revenge, retaliate, and punish humanity. Salvation is found in purging the world of the corrupting element- greedy, destructive humanity in industrial society- in order that the lost paradise can be restored.
Jeffrey Foss also affirms that “Environmentalism is one of the dominant ideologies of our day… (it) flourishes in all parts of the world… Its appeal cuts across other systems of belief, making it the most widespread of convictions and giving it the potential to become the dominant ideology of the new millennium” (Beyond Environmentalism, p.50-51).
The driving force behind this history of diverse apocalyptic expression is often the subconscious human fear of Ultimate Threat and Harm.
The devastating outcomes of apocalyptic exaggeration and hysteria
Apocalyptic exaggeration and distortion (alarm-mongering) has always harmed humanity and nature. Apocalyptic millennialism influenced the mass-death movements of the past century, Marxism and Nazism (Richard Landes, Heaven on Earth, or Arthur Herman in The Idea of Decline). Apocalyptic narrative or emphasis shaped the exaggeration and distortion in Rachel Carson’s crusade against chemicals and that resulted in the ban on DDT that led to some 50 million unnecessary deaths, many children, from 1970 t0 2000.
The apocalyptic orientation of environmental alarmism (that some catastrophic collapse and ending of nature and life is always looming) also fueled things like anti-GM activism that has led to 8 million children dying over a recent decade because they were denied Vitamin A in Golden Rice. Add here the harm to the poorest people from rising food prices due to fossil fuel alarmism and the bio-fuels fiasco. That also led to more forest being cut for palm oil plantations.
And in general, fossil fuel alarmism has led to ongoing obstruction of human use of fossil fuels, to strangling economic growth and keeping people in poverty. This obstructionism has been fueled by apocalyptic exaggeration and fear- mongering, like James Hansen’s statement in 2008, that “It’s all over in five years”.
And add the further outcomes (environmental destruction) of millions of birds/bats being killed by wind turbines.
The Christian role
Christianity is mainly responsible for bringing this pathology of apocalyptic into Western consciousness and then to the rest of the world. James Tabor sums this up well, “Paul is the most influential person in human history… and he has shaped practically all we think about everything… from our assumptions about reality, to our societal and personal ethics… The foundations of Western civilization… rest in a singular way upon the heavenly visions and apparitions of the apostle Paul… In contrast, Jesus as a historical figure… has been largely lost to our culture…the message of Paul, which created Christianity… and the message of the Historical Jesus… were not the same. In fact, they were sharply opposed to one another with little in common… Paul operated with a strongly apocalyptic perspective that influenced all he said and did… the ‘Jesus’ who most influenced history was the ‘Jesus Christ’ of Paul, not the historical figure of Jesus” (Paul and Jesus, Preface and p.15,21).
The scandal here is that two millennia ago the Historical Jesus had rejected apocalyptic. He had offered ultimate, complete and final freedom from the enslaving darkness of that primitive mythology. Historical Jesus tried to slay the monstrosity of apocalyptic mythology with his central teaching on non-retaliation (i.e. no more eye for eye- Matthew 5:38-48). He stated that we should not retaliate because God does not retaliate but is merciful and generous to all (i.e. sun and rain given to all alike, to both good and bad). Get the reasoning here. God does not retaliate. And to the contrary, apocalyptic is a grand retaliation against the bad people, against enemies. But if God does not retaliate against the bad (no more eye for eye but instead love your enemy) then God does not engage apocalyptic retaliation. There will be no apocalypse from the non-retaliatory God of Jesus. Instead the God of Jesus gives the good gifts of life- sun and rain- freely and generously to all, to both good and bad people. There is no exclusion of bad people, no punishment.
A huge “Duh” hangs over this simple relationship- do not engage eye for eye behavior because God does not do this.
Jesus rejected the entire previous history of human belief in the mythology of vengeful, judging, punishing and destroying gods. His new theology of “no more eye for eye but love your enemies” was a complete rejection of such primitive mythology.
(And again, as all through this site- balance this unconditional theology with the fact that love in this imperfect world is always responsible to restrain violence, to imprison and even eliminate some forms of violence, in order to protect the innocent. Such defense is not unloving but only common sense responsibility in an imperfect world. But this defensive action need not be done out of vengeance or the desire to hurt back. It can be done, as it often is, in a spirit of regret, and accompanied by some form of restorative or rehabilitative justice as the ultimate goal.)
The non-retaliation insight of Jesus is as foundational as you can get if you want to counter the pathology of apocalyptic mythology (i.e. “win the battle of ideas”). It goes to the ultimate root of the pathology of divine Threat and contradicts it entirely, fully correcting the core of the problem. Again, the non-retaliating God of Jesus does not threaten humanity with apocalyptic retaliation. The God of Jesus unconditionally includes and loves God’s enemies.
The scandal of Christianity
Paul took up the primitive mythology of apocalyptic and tried to reframe it as something nice by employing the great human ideals of love, grace, mercy, and hope. That was a lipstick-on-a-pig project. The dark dehumanizing core of apocalyptic cannot be humanized. It’s essential message is that there is an angry God threatening to punish and destroy ‘evil’ humanity and the world in a great final conflagration, before sending most of humanity down into the fires of Hell. Apocalyptic is about the base themes of punishing payback, retaliation, and violent destruction.
(Just a note regarding the Christian endeavor to defend apocalyptic as about “hope”. Hope that is based on the destruction of one’s enemies in a fiery conflagration is a profoundly inhumane hope. How does one reconcile hope in such destruction with Jesus’ central advocacy to “love your enemies”?)
Insert: There is endless endeavor to reframe the harsher features of Christianity as something not so bad. Christian theologians claim that the nastier stuff in the New Testament, like the teaching on Hell, is just “metaphor”. It is not real. But that defense does not change the content of those nasty passages. It is still the same message.
(Continuing…) For two millennia Christianity has buried the “stunning new theology” of Jesus (a non-retaliating, unconditionally loving God) in its primitive retaliation theology. Contradicting the theology of Jesus, Paul stated in Romans 12:19 that his Christian God would engage eye for eye retaliation against enemies. He said, “Leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord”. Paul outright rejected this teaching of Jesus that God would not engage vengeance, that God would not retaliate or repay God’s enemies.
Paul gave this apocalyptic pathology new expression in his Christian religion, especially in his Christ myth. Here is a sample of Paul’s retaliating, punishing theology, his belief in apocalyptic threat as expressed through his Christ (excerpts from his Thessalonians letters): “The wrath of God has come upon them at last… The Lord himself will come down… destruction will come on them suddenly… They will not escape… they will suffer wrath… God will pay back trouble for those who trouble you…when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire…He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord… doomed to destruction… the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy… they will perish…”.
The ‘Lord Jesus’ that Paul speaks about- his “Jesus Christ”- has very little to do with the actual Historical Jesus.
Christianity then brought this pathology of apocalyptic threat down into the Western tradition and world to continue its destructive fear-generating impact on humanity and society.
The outcome of Christianity bringing apocalyptic into the Western world has been horrific. Good historians (Arthur Herman, Richard Landes) have traced the Christian influence on the mass-death movements of the past century, and today in environmental alarmism. Those core Christian apocalyptic themes also drive Islamic terrorism just as they drove much Christian brutality across the past 2 millennia (see, for example, David Cook’s Contemporary Muslim Apocalyptic Literature).
It’s time to take Historical Jesus seriously. It’s time to set aside the apocalyptic Christ of Paul and listen to what Jesus actually said. Paul ignored and outright denied what Jesus had taught. He buried the non-apocalyptic, non-retaliation teaching of Jesus with his apocalyptic, retaliation religion. Christianity was his religion, not the religion of Jesus.
Historical Jesus spells the end of all this endless apocalyptic hysteria and destructiveness. Jesus offered humanity full liberation and early Christianity could have presented Jesus’ message and thereby sparked the greatest liberation movement ever, the fullest liberation of human minds and spirits from the ancient fear of Threat of punishment and destruction, from divine revenge. His message could have presented to humanity the full realization that at the core of all reality was unconditional love of a wondrous nature. That message spells the end of all conditional religion and salvation conditions. Paul could have freed human consciousness from its millennia-long enslavement to Threat theology.
Jesus offered the single greatest discovery ever- that God is absolutely unconditional love. Make the obvious conclusions for yourself. That means there is no judgment, no condemnation of anyone, no threat of punishment, no demand for salvation, no apocalyptic ending to life, no destruction in Hell. These fundamental religious myths are horrific distortions of truth and reality. Every person is forgiven, included, and loved. This goes to the heart of the deepest human fears- the primal fear of Ultimate Threat, Ultimate Harm- to set people free in mind and spirit as nothing else can. This is ultimate liberation.
But Paul rejected that liberation and retreated to apocalyptic enslavement.
I am including this “religious” material because I want to properly deal with the deep roots of alarmism, the subconscious level (inherited instincts and related mythical themes that validate base animal drives). I want to properly deal with humanity’s greatest fear- that of Ultimate Harm.
Mar. 10, 2017 opening
More on the profound contradiction between Jesus and Paul/Christianity. Providing foundational solutions to apocalyptic alarmism. Note particularly the devastating mental and emotional impact of “bad religious ideas” on human consciousness and society (i.e. Ultimate Threat, ultimate punishment). Whether in religious violence, environmental alarmism and its horrific outcomes, or the impact on personal lives from unnecessary fear, anxiety, depression, and despair.
Go to the historical root of the problem and solve it properly. It has to do with devastating outcomes and how to properly counter these.
The contradiction between Historical Jesus and Paul/Christianity highlights a fundamental problem in the larger human story. Paul embraces and intensifies the ancient fear of threatening gods, perhaps the single most damaging idea in the mix of bad ideas that incite human fear. He affirms the primitive myth of a God that would retaliate with apocalyptic punishment and destruction- the ultimate expression of divine anger and retaliation. You can smell the smoke from the fires of Hell always burning in the background of Paul’s letters.
Jesus rejected that fundamental source of human fear. He went to the theological root of historical alarmism and rejected the myth of a threatening God. He rejected the idea of a retaliating God that would vent his wrath in the apocalyptic punishment of humanity. His rejection of a retaliating, punishing God was a death blow to apocalyptic mythology and the related bad ideas that support the myth of divine retaliation, punishment, and destruction of humanity. He dealt with the pathology of alarmism at its deepest foundations.
With his new theology Jesus offered ultimate liberation of mind and spirit at the deepest level of human consciousness/subconscious, where threat themes are buried and work in concert with inherited animal impulses. He offered profound liberation from a long history of unnecessary terror.
A brief rehash of the history of theological alarmism, often the root element behind other forms of alarm: We emerged out of an animal past with its features of retaliation, domination, exclusion, and destruction of others. With developing consciousness early people then created ideas to explain and validate their lives. They were expressing their fundamental impulse for meaning. Their highest form of explanation was the understanding that there were gods behind life (spiritual forces or personalities) and those gods became the ultimate human ideals and authorities, the supreme models for life.
The earliest gods were given the very same features that defined the lives of primitive people barely emerged out of their animal past- features like retaliation, vengeance, domination, exclusion of outsiders, punishment and destruction of enemies. The ultimate form of destruction was the myth of apocalypse and Hell. These bad ideas then descended from ancient mythology to form the core of our historical religions, and were also absorbed into secular versions in modern ideology. Yes, you can locate them in 19th Century Declinism which has dominantly shaped modern consciousness. Note also the theme of divine threat (i.e. some looming collapse and ending of life) in such myths as the revenge of Gaia, angry planet (Mother Earth), and contemporary karma, all basic to the ideology of environmental alarmism.
Some ancients tried to break with the primitive elements in such thinking, and moved to embrace more human features. We see this in the Akkadian Father’s advice to his son. He urged his son to not retaliate like an animal but to treat his enemy kindly. That revealed the early struggle of people to think and act more humanely. But the Akkadian father did not extend that same humanity out his gods. He urged his son “to make sacrifice to his god”, to appease his god. The father still embraced the threat of divine retaliation and harm that had to be appeased with sacrifice.
It took a further two millennia until Jesus to deal with that fundamental source of fear- the myth of threatening, retaliating, and punishing deity. Jesus first affirmed the non-retaliating ethic from the past- there should be no more eye for eye retaliation, but instead we should love our enemy. He then went further than anyone before him. He affirmed a “stunning new non-retaliatory theology” to back his non-retaliating ethic. He said, “Do this- do not retaliate but love your enemy… because God does this”. This is what God is really like. God does not retaliate but showers generosity and love on God’s enemies. God sends the good gifts of life- sun and rain- to all alike, both good and bad (enemies). God do not just love those that love him, but also loves God’s enemies.
Jesus was setting forth the scandalous truth that God was unconditional love and would not engage eye for eye retaliation. That was the single most profound correction to theology in all history. There would be no apocalyptic retaliation and destruction. There was nothing to ultimately be alarmed about. All were safe in the unconditional love of a God who included all, forgave all, and loved all the same.
But Paul then outright rejected that new theology and retreated back to the old mythology of a retaliating God. He quoted the Old Testament to express his theology, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord”. He re-affirmed the primitive mythology of punishing deity, and especially punishment in a great final apocalyptic destruction of humanity, before sending people into Hell. Paul based his Christian religion on this foundational theme of a retaliating, punishing God.
Note in this summary from James Tabor that apocalyptic shaped all that Paul said and did: “Paul is the most influential person in human history… and he has shaped practically all we think about everything… from our assumptions about reality, to our societal and personal ethics… The foundations of Western civilization… rest in a singular way upon the heavenly visions and apparitions of the apostle Paul… In contrast, Jesus as a historical figure… has been largely lost to our culture…the message of Paul, which created Christianity… and the message of the Historical Jesus… were not the same. In fact, they were sharply opposed to one another with little in common… Paul operated with a strongly apocalyptic perspective that influenced all he said and did… the ‘Jesus’ who most influenced history was the ‘Jesus Christ’ of Paul, not the historical figure of Jesus” (Paul and Jesus, Preface and p.15,21).
Paul rejected the greatest potential liberation ever, the liberation of mind and spirit that Jesus had offered- liberation from the long history of religious terrorism. The unconditional love that Jesus taught was too scandalous for Paul’s sense of payback justice. Paul reacted just as the older brother in the Prodigal parable or the all-day vineyard workers that were pissed at the generosity of the father and vineyard owner. Paul did not feel the spirit of Nelson Mandela who said, “Let us surprise our enemies with our generosity”, and turn them into friends.
Get the central point of Jesus’ new discovery- God does not retaliate. Then make the related conclusions from this statement. With God there is no more eye for eye justice, no more payback, getting vengeance or getting even, or punishing wrong. The entire suite of bad religious ideas then collapses with this stunning new theology. There is no ultimate getting even, no ultimate punishment. No apocalypse, no judgment and no Hell. Everyone, both good and bad, is safe ultimately. This is liberation at the deepest level from all threat and fear. And make further conclusions- there are no conditions to meet, no sacrifice demanded, and no salvation plan is necessary. This goes to the deepest root of human alarm.
The discovery of Jesus deals fully with the ultimate roots of much human pathology- whether mental, emotional, or behavioral. Note for instance, as Bob Brinsmead does, that when Jesus told the paralytic that his sins were forgiven, the man was immediately healed and jumped up. Jesus dealt with the bad theological beliefs (divine threat of punishment) that lay behind his psychosomatic ‘sickness’. So I also apply this to the outcomes (symptoms) of all forms of alarmism- whether in religious violence or environmental alarmism and its destructive outcomes, or personal stories.
Bad religious ideas have caused all sorts of pathologies in human consciousness and lives. This site traces some of this across history. Religious violence and the outcomes of environmental alarmism are just two contemporary examples. How much personal sickness can be traced to these deeply rooted, even subconscious things? Bad religious ideas remain in the background of human grand narratives and worldviews, systems of belief. The main themes of the old mythical narratives are still dominant in our world religions and secular ideologies. 85% of humanity still affiliated with some religion and many of the remaining 15% holding “spiritual but not religious” views that are similar to core religious views. The nasty themes of the old religious narratives are still there infecting the worldviews of most people.
I have noted the contemporary “secular” versions or expressions of those bad religious themes. It is self-delusion to think you are not influenced by those ideas. We all need to be aware of the continuing damaging impact of these ideas. I see them symptomatically in the intuitive response of many people to Declinist ideology and environmental alarmism. Remember also how the Japanese lady voiced the common feeling of many people about natural catastrophes when she asked after the 2011 tsunami, “Are we being punished for enjoying life too much?” Like many people before her, she feared some retaliating, punishing, destroying force or spirit behind life. Many others assume that Gaia or an angry planet or karma is going to get them. This is the same old, same old threat theology and apocalyptic alarmism as throughout our history.
The scandal and shame in all this is that we have had the liberating solution to this pathology of divine Threat for two millennia now- an entirely new core theology that goes to the root of the pathology.
Here is Michael Grosso’s interesting take on the human fear of death.
(Prelude: Grosso has nailed something that I have been focusing on for past years- the belief in some ultimate Threat. Grosso says that one of our deepest fears is that of “harm after death”. We fear not death itself but harmful spirits or a harmful experience/existence after death. These fundamental fears are why the great fraud of apocalyptic mythology still resonates with so many people, now often through environmental alarmism. These alarmist movements are touching deeply rooted, even subconscious beliefs and fears- that Something will get us imperfect humans and that we “corrupt” creatures deserve retribution. So justice as payback, punishment, and destruction, is coming.)
Michael Grosso starts his article on “Fear of life after death” (in the book ‘What Survives?’) with a comment about a friend who resisted the very thought of even reading about the possibility of ongoing life after death. Grosso found this resistance an interesting phenomenon among materialists. He says that some people are motivated to disbelieve in life after death just as others are motivated to believe.
Grosso then moves into anthropology (i.e. Sir James Frazer), noting that early people spontaneously believed in life after death. Scientific materialists explain this as wishful thinking, Freud’s infantile wish fulfillment, a neurotic rebellion against the harsh tyranny of the reality principle. They say the fear of death inspires people to invent survival myths in denial of personal extinction. But, Grosso says, these explanations do not tally with the evidence of anthropology. To the contrary, the facts show that the first people feared not extinction, but life after death. They feared not death itself, but the dead.
Tribal people all over the Earth believed that the spirits of the dead were capable of inflicting all sorts of mischief on the living, especially on close relatives, says Grosso. So tribal people viewed the dead with fear and apprehension, as a source of harm.
He adds that psychologists also argue that the claim that belief in life after death is just wish fulfillment (survival wish) doesn’t ring true. If the unconscious were just forging a dream world to placate narcissistic ego (i.e. the self desiring to survive), why not forge a more agreeable myth?
He goes on to note that across the world tribal people believe that immediately after death, spirits hover about their former earthly abodes and do their greatest harm. They “stick” to their former possessions. So one strategy is to destroy (e.g. burn) the dead person’s house and belongings. I personally watched Manobo tribal groups on Mindanao burn perfectly good houses of recently dead people and I wondered at the wastefulness of this practice among such poor people. I also saw them, when very sick, leave lowland hospitals because hospitals were places where people died. Such responses do not enhance survival.
Grosso notes that the effects of this belief are economically ruinous. Therefore, to say that this belief in life after death relieves the personal survival anxiety, seems facile, says Grosso. It would be a great more consoling to survival anxiety to not believe in an afterlife. It would be less economically ruinous, something that threatens survival. There would be far less to worry about, and people could settle down and enjoy life.
Grosso argues that this primordial fear of death is probably part of the heritage of our collective psyche. Each of us carries the psychic archeology of our species.
Grosso then says that the invention of scientific materialism was a powerful means for banishing the primordial fear of hostile spirits. The primal mind is hemmed in by a superstitious fear of the other. This is seen in beliefs like the age-old fear of the “evil eye”. We project dark impulses onto other agents of consciousness. We have this innate fear of the other and we project this onto spirits in the after-life.
Therefore, says Grosso, we can understand the appeal of scientific materialism. It de-animates nature, it wipes out mind, soul, and consciousness by reducing them to mere by-products of biochemical processes, doomed to annihilation with the death of the body. Materialist science makes our fear of the other go away. There’s nothing in the dark to frighten us, science reassures us. Nothing at all.
Grosso continues, stating again that the pagan conception of life after death was rooted in the primal fear of the dead. Then in Greek thinking there was a shift from fear of the dead to fear of an unappetizing form of life after death. This is seen, for example, in the Odyssey with its descent into a realm of bodiless phantoms. The frightening depths of Hades. The Greeks were at home in the daylight, but night-time made them sad and uneasy. Hades was a gloomy state of consciousness, a prolonged nightmare of aimless out-of-body wandering.
Plato later presented a more positive conception of the afterlife but Hades continued to dominate the popular Greek mind.
Grosso notes that the Greek philosopher Epicurus then used the materialism of Democritus to argue the case for the dissolution of the soul at death. Epicurus was motivated to disbelieve in life after death and was seen as a benefactor of mankind, a healer offering an expressly therapeutic philosophy. He healed the fear of life after death. According to Lucretius, Epicurus delivered the human race from the dread of Acheron (the river of death) that had troubled mankind from its innermost depths.
Materialism and the denial of life after death in Epicurean philosophy freed people from a peculiar form of anxiety- the anxiety that comes from the thought of having to face our worst fears in the innermost depths of human consciousness. It frees people from the dark side of consciousness, intuitively felt by the ancients to embody what awaits us in the afterlife.
Grosso says that Epicureanism sheds light on the motives behind the rise of classic materialism. Two main motives rise in this worldview, he says, and they seem to involve a contradiction. On the one hand, ancient materialism was a weapon for avoiding contact with the dark side of the afterlife, which Grosso takes as Jung’s Shadow. Hades being the preeminent domain of shades and shadow.
On the other hand, ancient materialism was the attempt to found a new religion which it did by focusing on the sacred and eternal character of matter, says Grosso. The religiosity of classical materialism is clear from its origins in Greek natural philosophy. Starting with Thales, early Greek thinkers concentrated on discovering the Arche- the source, origin, or principle of all things- in the material realm. Greek natural philosophy, which gave birth to modern physics, renounced personal immortality in hope of capturing ultimate meaning in the timeless principles of nature.
The origins of scientific materialism were thus rooted in a quest for the sacred. The arche of the physicists is a sublimation of theos- the divine and the godlike- and the transfer of this ultimate reality to the material realm, says Grosso.
Thus the progress of natural science has been identified with eliminating anything that hints of the shadowy ‘inner depths’ that so frightened Lucretius. Materialism now believes that it would be a sacrilege to destroy the unity of science by validating alien forces like mind or soul, for one would then expose oneself to the Lucretian fear of the inner depths, says Grosso.
Grosso continues to explain that our fears are historically conditioned by past thought and mythology. He adds that the Christian news of resurrection opened the possibility of death’s higher possibilities. But it also raised the specter of an angry God, guilt, judgment, damnation, and hell. So there are good historical reasons why educated people in the West associate belief in life after death with oppressive institutions and cruel practices, says Grosso.
Similar Eastern ideas of karma, caste, and reincarnation raise misgivings and open a can of worms- hell, devils, witchcraft, hags, incubi, elves, demons, and much more that people regard as superstitious and irrational.
Life after death then opens a universe filled with unknown and possibly frightening entities and forces. Grosso says that he does not doubt that the fear of harmful supernatural forces is still alive and well in the unconscious minds of many superficially rational human beings. The study of dreams and behavior of psychotics show how close the ‘shades’ of the unconscious are to our normal mental life. The possibility of life after death, he says, could stir up fear of the harmful in timid rationalists, hence the appeal of the materialism paradigm that can be used as a rationalist shield against such fears.
People invest themselves emotionally as well as intellectually in scientific materialism. Any hint of psychic anomaly (spiritual reality) might awaken in some of us the Lucretian dread of Acheron.
He continues: fear of judgment, guilt, and karmic retribution are other reasons for fearing life after death. We feel intensely the fear of God, of hell, and of judgment. The prospect awakens ideas of sin, guilt, pollution, defilement, punishment, purification, and other unsavory and disturbing things. Scientific rationalists are anxious to rid the world of these unpleasant ideas, especially the ideas of guilt and hell. It thus serves their purpose to invest in disbelief of the afterlife. A primal fear of harm in the afterlife is at the root of this.
Further, Plato says in Phaedo that a bad man would welcome death if it were extinction, for then he would not have to worry about the consequences of his deeds. And, if there is no reincarnation, then he would not have to worry about striving for self-perfection from life to life. Not many of us relish forever struggling with our weaknesses, says Grosso.
Grosso finishes with a few other reasons that people embrace for not believing in an afterlife: the fear of enlightenment, the fear of helplessness in a strange environment, or pessimism- where people believe that evil might be as powerful as ever in an afterlife.
Now, do I really have to say this? The recognition of a core Unconditional Love potently resolves this primal fear of harmful forces or spirits after death. Unconditional Ultimate Reality tells us that the old Threat and Harm mythology was entirely wrong. There is no ultimate threat of retaliation, punishment, exclusion or destruction. Unconditional liberates consciousness to entirely new directions of security and peace about death. The Jesus discovery of infinite Love at the core of reality (Matthew 5:38-48) cuts the foundational root of the deepest human fear- the fear of death. It offers the greatest liberation ever from the darkest and most enslaving of all fears- the fear of death itself and the fear of harm in the after-life. Note carefully that the Jesus discovery also liberates from the fear generated by Christianity. That is the great contradiction between Jesus and Paul that is dealt with all through this site.
This site is a project to counter and purge the pathological ideas in human systems of meaning (i.e. religion) that agitate the deepest fears in human consciousness.