The original error that became the core of humanity’s great religious traditions and the single most damaging idea in history- i.e. angry God punishing imperfect people in an apocalypse (now given “secular” expression in contemporary ideologies like 19th Century Declinism). Ultimate threat provokes the Salvationist response in people- the endeavor to appease or eliminate threat, to engage salvation schemes that have often resulted in mass-death (the “coercive purification” of Marxism, Nazism, ISIS, and environmental alarmism). We win the “battle against bad religious ideas” with a humane alternative. We liberate human consciousness from unnecessary threat and fear by redefining deity as authentic love, as absolutely no conditions love. This cuts the taproot of the damaging Salvationist survival response.
Unconditional offers an authentically humane center for human consciousness, emotion, and personal behavior. Unconditional pushes justice toward restorative approaches, and away from retaliatory or punitive approaches.
Topics: Why probe theology? Because bad theological ideas incite bad behavior. Lotufo and Ellens quotes on the influence of bad theology on human consciousness and behavior. Campbell on human story and conquering monsters, maturing into universal love. The origin of bad ideas; Humanity created to serve the gods? Nah. Rethinking theology (God) as authentic love.
(Note: We are all environmentalists in the sense that we are all concerned about environmental health. The Ecological Kuznets Curve, or Environmental Transition research, affirms this. But ‘environmental alarmism’ is something else- an extremist movement that exaggerates problems to apocalyptic scale, thereby distorting the true state of things.)
Intro: Psychotherapists Lotufo and Ellens (quoted just below) state well the long-term historical problem of “bad theological ideas inciting bad behavior”. A further critical point made by Landes, Herman, and Mendel is that bad religious ideas have been “secularized” over past centuries, and continue to incite harmful response and behavior in the environmental alarmist movement, arguably the most destructive movement on the planet today.
Bad ideas, whether religious or secular, are often presented in a context of affirming something good, as “Salvationism”- i.e. the effort to save something. How can salvation be bad? But look carefully at the devastating outcomes of much Salvationism. Up to 50 million people died unnecessarily from the ban on DDT, a direct consequence of Rachel Carson’s endeavor to “save life” from her apocalyptically exaggerated chemical threat. 8 million children died over a recent 12 year period because they were denied the protection of Vitamin A in Golden Rice, due to anti-GM alarmism (saving life from the “threat” of human technological advances). And so it goes.
We rightly claim that it is irresponsible to shout “fire” in a theatre and possibly cause harm to people. But environmental alarmists are shouting not just “fire” but “the end of life, the end of the world” in public. James Hansen claimed hysterically in 2008 that “It’s all over in five years”. John Holdren stated that one billion people would die from climate warming by 2020. Even Stephen Hawking has become caught up in this Chicken Little apocalyptic madness, and is setting dates for the end of life. He now claims that it’s all over in 100 years.
Alarmed populations are then pushed to embrace policies to save life or save the world. The outcome of such policies has been tens of millions of unnecessarily lost lives, trillions of wasted dollars, and unnecessarily slowed economic development. Alarmist salvation policies harm the most vulnerable people the most- the poor of the world. This is beyond irresponsible. It is immoral.
Where is the “truth-telling, fact-checking” news media on these mass-death outcomes from alarmist exaggeration and distortion?
(Note: There were 200 million deaths in the past century that have been attributed to the same set of bad religious ideas- apocalyptic millennialism.)
Why probe theology (ideas of God)? (Looking at foundational ideas behind bad behavior over history and offering alternatives- i.e. humanizing deity as unconditional reality. No religious tradition has ever communicated this insight of deity as scandalous and wondrous no conditions love. All historical religion has been about the conditions necessary to appease and please the gods.)
From the beginning, theology has been foundational to the human impulse for meaning. Theology has always embodied and expressed humanity’s highest ideals (e.g. ultimate Goodness, ultimate Love). But theology has also been the receptacle of some of humanity’s basest features, such as retaliation/vengeance, tribal exclusion and opposition, and the violent destruction of threatening enemies.
Since the earliest human writing (Sumerian), theological ideas have been embedded as foundational themes in human ‘master stories’ or grand narratives. Theological ideas, now often in the background, still exert a profound impact on human consciousness, emotion, and response (how we treat others). It is no stretch of reason to conclude that freedom from the more inhumane themes in our master stories, or worldviews, is the ultimate liberation because it liberates the depths of consciousness from ideas that harmfully infect mind, spirit, emotion, and behavior.
A key and oft-repeated relationship to note and explore in the following material: Bad theological ideas incite fear and often violent Salvationist responses. An angry God, or other Forces/spirits threatening apocalyptic destruction, has always stirred alarm in populations. Alarmed people then respond with “defensive” action to save themselves, to save their societies, or to save life as a whole (i.e. save the world). The defensive endeavor to save, sometimes involves “coercive purification”, the elimination of some threatening enemy, the purging of some evil that threatens people or life.
These extensive quotes from Brazilian psychotherapist Zenon Lotufo (mixed with quotes from psychotherapist J. Harold Ellens) explain the harmful impact of bad theological ideas on human consciousness, emotion, response, and life. “Cruel God images” retard human development and promote inhuman behavior (for detail, see his book Cruel God, Kind God).
“(Cruel God) theology has resulted in wars, religious oppression, Crusades, inquisitions… In the psychological domain, the consequences of (cruel God theology) are fear, guilt, shame, anxiety, fanaticism, violence, and impoverished personalities (the inhibition of the full development of personality)… These doctrines (original sin, Hell, eternal punishment) prevail in the official systems of the majority of Christian churches…”
Lotufo says that most people are not aware of these ideas because they are often in the background of our consciousness. Yet they powerfully shape us, retarding our development as human. He says, “The idea of God is almost never questioned (God ideas/beliefs are often largely unconscious)…
“The image of God that prevails in Western culture is a ‘monster God’ (J. Harold Ellens)… Ellens proposes a cultural reason for the religious motivation to violence… There is in the Western world a psychological archetype, a metaphor that has to do with the image of a violent and wrathful God. Crystallized in Anselm’s juridical atonement theory, this image represents God as sufficiently disturbed by the sinfulness of humanity that God had only two options: destroy us or substitute a sacrifice to pay for our sins. He did the latter. He killed Christ…
“The crucifixion, a hugely violent act of infanticide or child sacrifice, has been disguised and presented by Christian conservative theologians as a ‘remarkable act of grace’. Such a metaphor of an angry God who cannot forgive unless appeased by a bloody sacrifice has been right in the center of the Master Story of the Western world for the last 2,000 years. These ideas permeate Western culture and inevitably influence those who live in the interior of this culture. And the unavoidable consequence for the human mind is a strong tendency to use violence….
“With that kind of metaphor at our center, and associated with the essential behavior of God, how could we possibly hold, in the deep structure of our unconscious motivations, any other notion of ultimate solutions to ultimate questions or crises than violence- human solutions that are equivalent to God’s kind of violence… This is about the effects that certain kinds of ideas produce in the human psyche… religious ideas can exert remarkable influence on the psychical integrity and well-being of believers…” (Introduction, chapters 1 and 2, from Cruel God, Kind God).
Note also the relationship of Islam to Christianity and Christian theology. Muhammad received his ideas of God from his Jewish Christian mentor, Waraqa, the Ebionite cousin of his first wife (see Joseph Azzi’s The Priest and the Prophet). Waraqa taught Muhammad from the Gospel to the Hebrews and Matthew’s gospel. There are striking similarities between the violent, punitive deity in the gospels and the same themes in the Quran. See further detail in sections below.
Another critically important point made repeatedly on this site: Primitive mythological/theological ideas have been “secularized” or given secular expression in the ideologies of the modern era, notably in ideologies like 19th Century Declinism. Historians have located the same bad theological ideas- i.e. “apocalyptic millennialism”- behind Marxism (100 million deaths over the past century), Nazism (50 million deaths), religious violence (ISIS), and also behind the horrific damage from environmental alarmism. Note again Rachel Carson’s apocalyptic narrative and the mass-death outcomes from the ban on DDT.
Theology is still critical to solving the most basic problems in life. Fortunately, we have long had the potent and humane theological alternative to the bad religious ideas of our past, bad ideas that have long incited bad behavior. I refer to the discovery that redefines ultimate reality as “no conditions Love”, an insight that takes us to the supreme expression of authentic humanity. In response, a main project on this site is to fully humanize, to make fully humane, our highest ideals and authorities- deity- by redefining God as absolutely no conditions love.
We do all that we can at the level of scientific evidence, political interventions, economics, and social issues, to solve problems in life. But we must also go to the core themes related to varied problems and solve the issue of bad ideas that incite bad behavior. We have to properly and thoroughly “win the battle of ideas”, especially the battle with the most foundational ideas of our master stories.
Unconditional radically changes humanity’s highest ideal and authority- deity. Unconditional thoroughly humanizes deity (makes authentically humane) and thereby eliminates one of the main sources of inspiration for bad behavior over history.
Notable research sources frequently cited: Arthur Herman’s The Idea of Decline, Richard Landes Heaven on Earth, Arthur Mendel’s Vision and Violence, David Cook’s books on Islamic apocalyptic, among others.
Once again, my paraphrase of Bill Clinton, “It’s the theology, stupid”.
(Insert: Sections below on this site also note the presence of the inherited animal brain in humanity, with its base drives to domination of others, exclusion of others (tribal mentality), and even the destruction of competing others. It is interesting to note that the sacred has been used across history to validate our animal inheritance- i.e. God as dominating, excluding, and destroying unbelievers.)
Joseph Campbell offers the following basic features to outline human story:
Each one of us comes into life as a “hero” to live out a unique human story. And we all face some monster, some problem that we must fight. In our struggle to conquer our monster, we gain insights, and we learn lessons that we can then bring to others (Campbell- bring a “boon” to others).
Campbell also says that a wise man gives us a sword to slay our monster.
One critical point made by Campbell: We develop into mature humanity when we center our lives on love, on universal love. I would use the synonymous term “unconditional love”. When we focus our lives on universal or unconditional love, we then “tower in stature” as mature humans. Unconditional love takes us away from the childish vengeance of our past and to full human maturity.
I would suggest that the greatest common monster that most people have faced is the monster of threatening, punishing God. This monster has long been at the heart of mythology, religion, and now ideological systems. Secular versions of the punishing God theme are now expressed in the myths of “the revenge of Gaia”, angry planet, or karma.
A wise man long ago gave humanity the sword of unconditional love to slay the threatening monster Gods of religious traditions. That wisdom sage stated that there was no such thing as a punishing, demanding deity. There was only “no conditions love” at the core of reality. The sword of unconditional love liberates us from the threatening mythology of past history, from myths of angry deity demanding sacrifice or punishment. Unconditional core Reality enables us to now maturely center on love, on unconditional love, whether in theology or in our personal treatment of others.
The discovery of unconditional love at the core of reality goes to the root fears of humanity, fears that have often incited violence and the inhumane treatment of others.
More on “Why probe theology?” The background themes in human ‘master stories’ or grand narratives have a profound impact on human consciousness, emotion, and response (how we treat others). Freedom from bad ideas is the ultimate liberation because it goes to the depths of human consciousness, freeing us from ideas that harmfully infect mind, spirit, emotion, and response.
The same bad theology has been located behind problems like religious violence and the horrific damage from environmental alarmism- i.e. Rachel Carson’s apocalyptic narrative and the mass-death outcomes from the ban on DDT.
The origin of bad ideas
Humanity’s original great error was the foundational myth of “angry gods punishing bad people”. That pathology is present in the earliest human writing- the Sumerian Flood myth where gods threatened to destroy humanity with water (the first expression of “apocalypse”). The idea of angry, punitive deity was then passed down as a central theme of all subsequent human systems of belief. It became the single most dominant and damaging idea across history.
The myth of an angry God threatening to punish people was logically followed by the divine demand that people embrace some salvation scheme- that they should meet some condition, make some sacrifice or payment to appease angry gods. Some versions of Salvationism even demanded “coercive purification” movements- i.e. the elimination of threatening enemies as necessary to save something.
The key thing to note- threat/fear incites the natural survival response, the desperate reaction to save oneself or one’s society, to act “defensively”, even if violence is necessary. Salvationism has often embraced violence across history.
A millennium later, Zoroaster reframed the original apocalypse myth. He stated that contrary to the original threat of gods punishing bad people with a water apocalypse, in his new religion God would punish bad people with a heat apocalypse (i.e. fiery molten metal washing over the Earth). His theology of heat apocalypse then dominated the Western religions and consciousness with heat threat.
The idea of a punitive deity threatening apocalypse subsequently shaped modern “secular” systems of belief, notably 19th Century Declinism (see Arthur Herman’s The Idea of Decline). Threat theology continued to shape the offspring of Declinism, mainly contemporary environmental alarmism with its varieties of threatening forces/spirits- e.g. vengeful Gaia, angry planet/Mother Earth, payback karma, or some general collapse and ending of life due to heat threat.
(Note: Richard Landes says regarding apocalyptic millennialism, “Secular is merely another clothing that millennialism has taken- with startling new vigor since ca. 1500 CE… Scientific utopianism, Communism, Zionism, Nazism, Environmentalism… are all forms of millennial thinking, partly secular, partly still profoundly religious”, in Vision and Violence by Arthur Mendel.)
The tragic outcome of apocalyptic terrorizing is that the fear of some great threat pushes people to embrace Salvationism schemes that are often devastatingly harmful. See the research of Richard Landes (Heaven On Earth, also Arthur Herman’s The Idea of Decline) on how apocalyptic millennialism shaped Marxism, Nazism, Islam, and environmentalism (i.e. the mass-death outcome of Rachel Carson’s apocalyptic alarmism). Where are the news media on this mass-death story?
This site explores the alternative to that original error in human thought- the discovery of a core Love, an absolutely no conditions love as a truly humane definition of deity. But why engage a “spiritual” explanation of core reality? Because most people still want a spiritual response to an original human spiritual concern.
Our primary human impulse is the impulse for meaning (Victor Frankl). And our primary impulse is not fully satisfied with explanations of ultimate reality that end in natural law, multi-verses, Self-Organizing Principle, or other material explanations. Our primary impulse for meaning is satiated only with some ideal of Ultimate Goodness or Ultimate Love, and most pointedly, we desire an Ultimate Reality that is absolutely no conditions Love. That gets us to the core of what it means to be truly human. Unconditional love takes us to what is most humane in any reality.
(Note also: Surveys show that 85% of humanity affiliates with a religious tradition. And many of the remaining 15% are “unaffiliated”, that is to say “spiritual, but not religious”. Materialist explanations of ultimate reality hold little attraction for most people.)
The discovery that there is only “no conditions Love” at the core of reality, means that there has never been any such thing as Ultimate Threat or Ultimate Harm. There has never been an angry God threatening to punish imperfect people. The entire history of religion has missed this. Religion was created as an essentially conditional institution (how to appease and please some god) and has never communicated the true wonder and scandal of core reality as “no conditions Love”.
The logical conclusions that flow from a core Love completely overturn the entire suite of bad religious ideas (see Top Ten Bad Religious Ideas below). Some of the conclusions? There is no coming judgment, no separation or exclusion of anyone, and no divine punishment or destruction of unbelievers. Most critical, there is no need to embrace any salvation scheme. Everyone is safe, ultimately.
The discovery that deity has always been no conditions Love goes to the root issues behind problems like religious violence and environmental alarmism. Unconditional love goes to the most deeply embedded human fears and hopes.
Note: When Historical Jesus stated that there should be no more “eye for eye retaliation, but instead love your enemy”, he cut the tap root of the personal survival response, the felt need to defend against all attack, to use violence toward an enemy. That survival response has long fed cycles of tit for tat violence across history. (Further below, distinctions are made between legitimate forms of forceful defense- i.e. the responsibility to restrain violence- and alternative approaches.)
Humanity created to serve the gods? Nah. Rethinking theology as authentic love.
Samuel Kramer (The Sumerians: Their history, culture, and character) notes that the Sumerian epics were concerned primarily with individuals and the exploits of the individual hero. Gilgamesh is notable in this regard. The epics are exaggerated tales of the hero’s powers and deeds, with heroes claiming supernatural aspects to their deeds. The heroes were “extravagantly self-laudatory”, they embraced self-glorification.
Add to this the Sumerian belief that “people were created to serve the gods”. In this Sumerian myth-making we see the beginning of the idea of deity as something elevated above humanity, and the enforcement of domination/subservience in the relationship of deity to humanity. As far as we know, the Sumerians originated the mythology of gods as realities that were elevated above people as dominating lords, kings, rulers, judges, and heroic saviors. That was all part of the ancient practice of creating heroes or gods that would dominate others.
A further related feature- the widespread Sumerian concern with temples, built on ziggurats (elevated platforms at the center of towns), with each town having a reigning god. Again, all part of establishing the belief that gods were special and deserved service, worship, and their place at the center of attention, above all else in society. Again, add here that from the beginning of human myth-making, humanity had been downgraded to serving the gods (i.e. making offerings and sacrifices, feeding the gods).
I would also add here the ancient belief that Kings/priests were God’s appointed representatives to rule over and to judge people. Often both of these roles were combined in the same person- the priest/king. Those elites or power-holders were self-appointed to mediate between God and people. They pushed themselves to prominence above ordinary people, even deifying themselves as gods. That practice affirmed the ancient pattern of associating deity with the rule and domination of people.
Another notable feature of Sumerian culture was the practice of an intense competitiveness. This was part of the education in Sumerian schools, where students would praise themselves while depreciating others. This practice could get real nasty during competitions between two opposites, between two persons, or sometimes posited as between two things, almost like stand-ins for persons. In Sumerian educational competition you elevated yourself and demeaned another person.
That competitive self-elevation, and depreciation of another, carried over into the Sumerian creation of myths that portrayed the gods as doing the same. We remember here that people have always projected their human features onto their gods, to define the gods. Out of human self-elevation we find the feature of gods doing the same, elevating themselves. People have often projected their worst features onto their gods.
So from the beginning, you find the gods elevated above people, praising themselves and demanding similar praise of their greatness and their greatly exaggerated deeds (self-glorification). And just like their human creators, the gods demeaned others, their opponents, even claiming their opponents were satanic. Sumerian competitiveness was about your goodness and greatness being exalted and contrasted with your opponent’s badness and lesser powers.
Does this practice of competitive self-elevation, and depreciation of another, perhaps also explain the later cosmic dualism of Zoroastrianism? A great good God versus an evil force or spirit?
In stunning contrast to the above mythology, Historical Jesus rejected the effort of his friends to make him a heroic messiah figure, a god or ruling king that conquered others by superior force (e.g. the Christ of Revelation). In his original teaching (i.e. Q Wisdom Sayings Gospel) he made no claim to be a messiah hero, a Savior, a lord or god. As Stephen Patterson says, the theology of Jesus poses a challenge to Christian theology. That is putting it mildly. Jesus’ theology blows Christian theology (i.e. Paul’s “Lord Christ” myth) right out of the water.
To the contrary, Jesus said that if you want to lead, then serve others. He was re-affirming his central theme of unconditional love and the self-forgetting nature of authentic love. Such love does not dominate or control anyone, but instead serves the other. Jesus introduced a stunning new theology of deity as servant, lowly, humble, and self-forgetful. We state this today as “God hidden in humanity”, in the ordinary and mundane of daily common life.
In Jesus’ new theology, God was not a great Lord, or judge, that dominated and demanded to be the center of attention, with threat of death to anyone not bowing to him, like an Idi Amin character. God, according to Jesus, was no great hero doing great heroic deeds, exaggerated “supernatural” deeds like the heroes of primitive mythology.
In Jesus’ theology, God was love, no conditions love. And the nature of authentic unconditional love calls for a profound revolution in our conceptions of deity/God.
Added note: Instead of looking for God “up above”, or in some great event, in some grand historical intervention with overwhelming force/power, as in the activity of kings, lords, or heroic saviors, perhaps it is more truthful to see God in all ordinary human goodness (whether religious or atheist), in the mundane activities of daily life, in the small and boring thing. Authentic love is self-forgetful as it serves the other. And that makes love the most common truth of all human beings. Yes, who said- you are all gods?
Further point: Mark’s gospel notes a repeated practice of historical Jesus, that after he had healed someone, he told them that “(their) faith had healed them”, not his power or God. He then told the healed people to return to their lives, and did not urge them to become his followers. He refused to create a sense of indebtedness toward himself, or to take advantage of the natural sense of indebtedness from being healed and thereby encourage subservience to himself.
He also told others not to tell anyone about his healing work, as though rejecting the instinctive response of most people to create a public narrative of some hero’s greatness or his great deeds. In the same gospel Jesus also rebuked people seeking places of honor, and the most important seats in synagogues.
If the above is considered to be subhuman or inhuman behavior, and to be condemned in other people- i.e. demanding the place of honor, the most important position, demanding praise for oneself, creating a sense of indebtedness, and subservience from others- then why would it be proper for deity to be allowed to act in such a subhuman manner, to act so inhumanely? Again, this reveals the stunning contrast between the message of historical Jesus and the rest of the Christian religion.
“Any God is a monster if he cannot behave at least as well as the average human behaves in his or her better moments. Monster gods make monster people”, psychotherapist J. Harold Ellens.
Gods over people- Facebook posts
If you go to some meeting, into a room of people, and some guy gets up and demands to be the center of attention, demanding praise of his greatness, like an Idi Amin or Kim Jong-Un, and threatening punishment or death to any not complying…. what would you do? You would pull out your I-Phone and call 911 and ask SWAT to get there right away. OK, but then why have the religions of the world always projected such inhumanity onto deity, creating realities that demand to be the center of attention and praise? What does such behavior have to do with authentic love?
Atheist Charles Templeton first helped me to see the perversity of self-praise in deity, in his Farewell to God. And no, I don’t agree with his general conclusion about deity overall, but he makes other points that are important. This thing of elevating gods over humanity, and the related devaluation of humanity, has ancient roots. I’ve traced that to Sumerian mythology, the earliest human writing.
Bob Brinsmead has long challenged this- arguing that when you elevate something over people and demand loyalty to that thing set above people and before the needs of real people (i.e. primary loyalty to law, religion, ideology, gods, whatever), you then often end up neglecting or abusing real people.
Note particularly the origin of the elevation of gods over people. And how that violates authentic love. It is always helpful to trace ideas/beliefs to their historical origins. That helps to see the primitiveness of things. It helps to understand why any given thing was started. And remember, all traditions borrow from previous traditions. There is little new under the sun.