Eliminate the primal human fear of punishment. Eliminate the belief in a punishing, destroying God- the single most darkening and enslaving idea in the entire history of human thought and belief. This idea sparked the development of an entire suite of bad religious ideas (see “Top Ten Bad Religious Ideas” below).
The earliest people embraced the myth that angry, retaliating gods punished people through the natural world- i.e. through natural disasters, disease, or the cruelty of others. Note the Sumerian Flood myth, and the Egyptian myths of The Destruction of Mankind, or Return to Chaos. And if not in this life, then punitive deity would get you in the next (i.e. fear of after-life harm).
Getting right to the point: There is no punishing, destroying God. There never has been any such reality. Liberate human consciousness with the “spiritual” insight that there is only a stunning “no conditions Love” at the core of reality and life. This supremely humane definition of love offers an entirely new cohering center for human consciousness and worldviews.
The foundational pathology of divine threat has deformed human consciousness, life, and society from the beginning. The myth of ultimate threat is still embedded at the core of the great world religions in apocalyptic millennial themes. It is even expressed in “secular” versions like 19th Century Declinism (“the most influential theme in politics and society today”, Arthur Herman). Punishing deity (some great retributive Force/Spirit) dominates modern Environmental Alarmism or Green religion (i.e. vengeful Gaia, angry planet, retributive Universe, punishing karma).
Punishing, destroying deity has been a great fraud and lie from the beginning.
The outcomes of this pathology have been horrific for human life across the millennia. See research sources below on the “apocalyptic millennial complex of ideas”. That good research exposes the role these ideas played in the mass-death movements of recent history.
For a full list of the contradictions between Historical Jesus and Paul see the comment below- “Punishing Nature: the original and fundamental human pathology”. These two- Jesus and Paul- continue to have a profound influence on modern human consciousness with their entirely opposing worldviews (i.e. Jesus with his non-apocalyptic God versus Paul with his apocalyptic God/Christ).
Imperfection throughout the natural world, such as natural disasters and disease, led the earliest people to conclude that the gods/God were punishing them for their sins (i.e. Sumerian Flood myth). That belief in a punitive, destroying God became the foundational belief of subsequent world religions. It was given the most intense expression in the ultimate act of punishment- the apocalyptic destruction of the world. Such features have defined the core of humanity’s highest ideal and authority- i.e. deity- from the beginning.
Belief in punitive, destroying God then sparked the felt need to engage wasteful and harmful Salvationism movements of some form (i.e. sacrifice, payment, or violent purging). Fear of divine punishment and “the end of days” has repeatedly pushed populations to embrace “coercive purification” programs to eliminate some threat, some corrupting thing. In Marxism the threatening thing was capitalism. In Nazism the threatening thing was Jewish Bolshevism. And in Environmental Alarmism the threatening thing is greedy humanity in industrial civilization.
And yes, good research has exposed the religious themes (i.e. the apocalyptic millennial complex of ideas) that have played a significant role in these mass-death movements. See Arthur Herman’s The Idea of Decline, Richard Landes’ Heaven On Earth, Arthur Mendel’s Vision and Violence, David Redles’ Hitler’s Millennial Reich, and David Cook’s Contemporary Muslim Apocalyptic Literature, among others.
Note new material below on the profound contradictions between Historical Jesus and Paul over how we should define humanity’s highest ideal and authority- deity. The differing themes that they advocated, point to entirely different narratives/worldviews with very different outcomes over history (e.g. punitive versus restorative justice systems).
People across history have always tried to become just like the gods that they have believed in (see anthropologist Clifford Geertz below). Cruel God theories have often incited inhumane treatment of others (religious wars, Crusades, Inquisitions and murder of heretics, witch hunts). Ultimate ideals and authorities influence human thought, emotion, motivation, and response/behavior. Note psychologists Harold Ellens and Zenon Lotufo on the impact of religious ideas on human personality and life.
Brief summary of notable contradictions between the theology of Jesus and that of Paul (for those interested only in a quick overview):
The God of Jesus: Non-retaliatory (no eye for eye but love the enemy); unconditional (no payment, no sacrifice- “love without expecting anything in return”); non-tribal (include all as family-“sun and rain on all alike, both good and bad”); non-dominating (“the rulers of the world lord over others… but not you… great people serve others”); non-punitive (forgive all freely and without limit, do not keep a record of wrongs); non-judging (“judge not”); and non-destroying (no apocalypse, no hell). From these themes emerged such things as the modern movement for justice as mercy and restoration/rehabilitation.
(Note on comment above- “no apocalypse, no hell”: Jesus rejected an apocalyptic God. He stated that there should be no eye for eye retaliation but only love for enemies, because that is what God does. The God of Jesus did not retaliate but instead gave sun and rain to all alike, to both friends and enemies. That God will not then engage the ultimate act of eye for eye retaliation in an apocalypse, or hell.)
The God/Christ of Paul: Retaliatory (“Vengeance is mine, I will repay”); conditional (demands a sacrifice, a payment, before forgiving- see book of Romans); dominating Lord/King; tribal (excludes unbelievers); judges and punishes (Romans again); and destroys (Paul embraced apocalypse and hell- see his Thessalonians letters- “Lord Christ will return to punish and destroy all who do not believe Paul’s gospel”, also John’s Revelation). From these themes we inherited the tradition of justice as punitive and destroying (i.e. death penalty).
Win “the battle of ideas”. Go directly to the foundational themes in human consciousness/subconscious. Correct and transform one of history’s critical influences on human behavior- i.e. humanity’s ideal of deity that has always been used to guide and validate human behavior. Fully humanize- i.e. make fully humane- your God (or Gaia, Planet, Universe), with unconditional.
Additional Note: From the beginning the punitive God myth has been tightly pair-bonded with the “fallen humanity” myth. That myth states that people are essentially corrupt, fallen/sinful, bad to the bone, and therefore deserve to be punished. This primitive anti-humanism continues today in the Green religion devaluation of humanity as a “virus” or “cancer” on the earth, which is no different from the Nazi dehumanization of the Jewish people.
But our multiple-millennia history of improving the trajectory of life, notably in civilization, affirms the opposite- that we are essentially good. We see the evidence of long-term improvement in the lessening rates of violence across history and in the improving conditions in every realm of life- i.e. in the medical/health arena (e.g. in decreasing infant mortality and increasing life-spans), in economic conditions, in spreading political rights and freedoms, and in diverse social issues. The overall long term improvement of life shows that “we are more creators than destroyers” (Julian Simon). Our improvement of life reveals our essential goodness and love.
For these and other reasons, I would offer that the core of the human person is the same unconditional love that is the core of all reality (i.e. God). This love most essentially defines the human spirit and consciousness, the authentic human self. We are not our inherited animal brains and drives (see more in comment on Campbell below). Yes, there is a dualism in humanity but it is not about the “sinful nature” of Paul’s Christianity. It is the inherited animal versus our human consciousness.
Main site themes:
The original and fundamental religious myth- punitive deity. This pathology is evident in the earliest human writing, the “Sumerian Flood” myth and the Egyptian myths of “The Destruction of Mankind” and “Return to Chaos”.
The great contradiction in the Western religious tradition: Historical Jesus rejected the punitive deity myth and replaced it with his “stunning new non-retaliatory, unconditional deity”. Here is my paraphrase of his statement of his central theme: “There should be no more eye for eye retaliation but instead love your enemies because God loves enemies, sending sun and rain on all alike, both good and bad”. He also advocated an unconditional God (i.e. no demand for sacrifice/payment before forgiveness would be offered). In his original teaching (i.e. Q Wisdom Sayings gospel) he said nothing about coming to offer himself as a sacrifice in order to fulfil a divine condition, or that he intended to become a messiah.
(Insert note: Historical Jesus presented the single most profound insight anywhere in human thought or literature. He was the first to get the complete picture right. He fully humanized both behavior and the supreme guiding ideal for behavior- deity. He got the behavior/belief pairing right. Others, long before, had made similar but partial breakthroughs on the nature of authentic love. The Akkadian Father, two millennia earlier, had presented the same non-retaliation ethic to his son (i.e. “befriend your enemy”) but later said, “make sacrifice to your god”. He continued to embrace the ideal of a threatening, punitive deity that had to be appeased. Jesus presented not only the supremely humane ethic of non-retaliation/unconditional love, but also the supremely humane guiding ideal of a non-retaliatory/unconditionally loving God. Unfortunately, Matthew immediately mucked things up in his larger context, reverting to the mythology of retaliatory, punitive deity- i.e. “unbelievers would be cast into outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth”. Matthew thereby undermined and distorted the earlier non-retaliatory statements of Jesus.)
Paul, the main creator of the Christianity that we have today, rejected the central discovery of Jesus on a non-retaliatory God (“deliberately obscured”, James Tabor). Paul retreated to the same old retaliatory, conditional deity of all past mythology and religion. He established retaliation at the core of his Christ theology (e.g. “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord”). He thus made retaliatory threat the heart of Christianity. See his first letters to the Thessalonians on the Christ returning to destroy those who did not believe Paul’s gospel, and his Romans letter that presents the “wrath of God” against all who do not believe. Also, Paul’s gospel of the Christ was all about supreme condition (i.e. that Christ must suffer a violent death as the demanded payment for wrong, before forgiveness would be offered).
(Insert note: In the earliest human writing- i.e. Sumerian, Akkadian, Babylonian, Egyptian- people had already embraced the features of punishment and violent destruction as essential to defining deity. Paul also embraced those primitive features to define his Christ. The Christ of Paul then became history’s epitome expression of divine punishment and destruction. Note this punitive, destructive emphasis in the writing of Paul, and others (e.g. John in Revelation), “Lord Jesus will return in blazing fire and wrath to punish and destroy all who do not believe Paul’s gospel… Christ will bring the fury of the wrath of God… throwing unbelievers into the fiery lake of burning sulfur…” The impact of Paul’s Christ on human consciousness and life has been horrific as much research has now exposed- e.g. Ellens, Lotufo, Landes, Mendel, Redles, Cook, and others noted below.)
The features that shape our understanding of reality and life
The options for defining humanity’s highest ideal and authority are varied and often strikingly opposite in nature. People across history have used entirely contrary features to define their gods, features like judgment/non-judgmental, retaliatory/non-retaliatory, merciless/merciful, conditional/unconditional, punitive/non-punitive, violent/non-violent, tribally limited (only true believers) or universal (including all), Lord/servant, and more. Consider these opposites and ask yourself: What features point to a reality that is authentically humane? What is the nature of authentic love or goodness?
And note the outcomes of these features on human life and society. For instance, psychotherapists have shown that beliefs like punitive, destroying deity (cruel God theory) have impacted human thought, feeling, motivation, response and behavior for the worse (e.g. see Harold Ellens and Zenon Lotufo below). Harsh features in God deform human personality with fear, shame, guilt, and violence.
When you define humanity’s highest ideal and authority with subhuman or inhumane features, you will get the same inhumane behavior in the followers of that ideal and authority. People have always become just like the God that they believe in. Monstrous gods produce monstrous human behavior.
Note also the stunning research on the destructive outcomes from the punitive, retaliatory deity myth over Western history. Arthur Herman, James Carroll, Richard Landes, Arthur Mendel, and David Redles, among others, have exposed the presence of apocalyptic millennial themes (i.e. punitive, destroying God) behind the mass-death movements of the recent past- i.e. Marxism, Nazism, and environmental alarmism. Bad religious ideas have always incited bad behavior in populations.
This evidence affirms Mendel’s comment in Vision and Violence that apocalyptic has been the most violent and destructive idea in history. Apocalyptic alarm incites fear and pushes populations to embrace salvation schemes to eliminate some threat (violent purging of corrupting elements) in order to save something (i.e. save civilization, save the world).
The above historians affirm the argument that we need to win “the battle of ideas” at the level of the foundational themes that shape human worldviews and powerfully impact human life. If you remove the punitive, violent themes from humanity’s supreme ideal of deity and replace those themes with “no conditions love”, then you take away people’s main validation for bad behavior and replace it with an ideal that inspires more humane behavior. Remember, that people across history have always tried to pattern their lives according to what they believed was the divine model/law/will (see anthropologist Clifford Geertz on Bali, Indonesia). If you take the inhumane features out of God then the person wishing to act inhumanely will be left on their own without excuse for bad behavior. They are left alone without the supreme validation of a similarly inhumane God.
This site focuses in on the fundamental contradiction between Historical Jesus and Paul because that great contradiction illustrates the basic disagreement among people over the features that should shape our highest ideals and authorities, such as deity and justice.
More from the psychotherapists…
Zenon Lotufo (Cruel God, Kind God) notes that there are two sides to God theory in Christianity. One is that of a vengeful, punishing God (the wrathful God of Romans, Revelation, and other New Testament passages). This God is associated with metaphors of “monarch” and “judge”. The distinctive doctrine associated with this God is “penal satisfaction” (“an angry God who cannot forgive unless appeased by a bloody sacrifice”). Lotufo calls this “cruel God Christianity”. This view deforms human personality with fear, guilt, shame and leads to wars, religious oppression, Crusades, and elimination of heretics.
The other side of the Christian God is that of a good God with the corresponding metaphors of “Father” and “Shepherd”. The distinctive doctrine associated with this God is grace. He calls this “Kind God Christianity”. This belief has promoted acts of compassion and general human goodness.
Lotufo’s book notes the problems of combining these two sets of opposing features in one reality- the “cognitive dissonance” that results (i.e. the confusion from trying to merge two contradictory things in one reality).
Over past centuries, many in Christianity have learned to downplay or ignore the nastier features of the cruel God image in their religion and to focus more on the love side in their deity theory. They are to be applauded for this. But the problem is that the nasty features of the vengeful, punitive God are still there at the core of the Christian deity, and still dominate in the background. And the effect of those nasty features is to weaken, undermine, and even bury the features of the better side.
For example, Christian love is then defined, not as authentic non-retaliatory, unconditional love, but as a form of love that embraces ultimate retaliation, tribal limits, and supreme conditions (i.e. the condition of a god-man offered to pay for the world’s sin). Only true believers in the Christian Christ will get into the Christian heaven after meeting to condition of faith in Paul’s Christ myth. The rest are rejected and punished in Hell. Destroyed.
I would urge that the better approach is to take Historical Jesus seriously. Pull his diamond of non-retaliatory, unconditional deity out of the dunghill of opposite themes (Jefferson and Tolstoy’s comment that the surrounding context of retaliation and conditions was “dung, slime, muck” that buried the diamond of Jesus).
Quotes from Zenon Lotufo on the Western view of deity and justice…
“There is in the Western world a psychological archetype, a metaphor that has to do with the image of a violent and wrathful God (see Paul’s letter to the Romans, also Thessalonians)… the image of God that prevails in Western culture is a ‘monster God’ (Harold Ellens)… Religion that is built around the assumption…. that God is cruel… from this has resulted wars, religious oppression, the Crusades, and the Holy Inquisition…”
“In the psychological domain, its consequences are fear, guilt, shame, and impoverished personalities. All these things are fully coherent with and dependent on a cruel and vengeful God image… an angry God who cannot forgive unless appeased by bloody sacrifice, has been right at the center of the Master Story of the Western world for the last 2000 years… The idea that to take revenge by causing the offender pain, and this can compensate for damages suffered…. where painful punishment… is a compensation for what was lost (i.e. Western justice)… this goes to the psychological mechanism by which one starts perceiving the pain of others as a source of (satisfaction)…”
“This (perspective) sheds light on the factors that lead so many to accept explanations such as Anselm’s that the Christian God reaps pleasure from human suffering… These ideas permeate Western culture and inevitably influence those who live in the interior of this culture …This is how we explain the psychopathic personality…And the unavoidable consequence for the human mind is a strong tendency to use violence…”(psychotherapist Zenon Lotufo in Cruel God, Kind God).
Now moving on….
New topics: Pull the diamond out of the dung (Thomas Jefferson, Leo Tolstoy). Expose and purge the bad religious ideas that bury the unconditional wonder at the core of reality and life.
The fundamental religious myth is the myth of a God punishing bad people through the destructive elements of the natural world. This myth was already present in the earliest human writing- the Sumerian Flood myth (i.e. a pissed Enlil threatening to destroy humanity). The ancients claimed that the gods also punished bad people through the full range of natural destructiveness- i.e. storm, drought, earthquake, disease, and the cruelty of others. The epitome expression of punitive, destroying deity is the myth of the apocalyptic destruction of the natural world.
This original pathology of punitive deity has been given “secular” expression over recent centuries in 19th Century Declinism and it’s offspring- environmental alarmism. Note the diverse expressions of punitive, destroying deity today in “the revenge of Gaia”, “angry planet”, “retributive Universe”, and “punishing karma”- the widespread belief that Something is punishing corrupt, greedy people through natural things like climate warming or climate change. This primitive apocalyptic mythology is endlessly repeated in predictions of the imminent collapse of nature.
The Japanese lady expressed this primal myth of deity punishing people through nature following the 2011 tsunami when she asked, “Are we being punished for enjoying life too much?”
(Insert note: Overwhelming evidence affirms that life, overall, is not declining toward disastrous collapse or ending, but is gradually improving toward something better.)
The great contradiction- Historical Jesus went to the ultimate root of bad ideas and rejected the fundamental religious myth of punitive, destroying deity (see “Punishing nature: the most fundamental human myth” just below). But Paul re-affirmed this pathology of punitive, destroying God in his apocalyptic Christ theology (his Christian religion). Paul and his apocalyptic Christ have shaped Western consciousness more than any other person or myth (see James Tabor quotes below).
Site project– expanding on the above: I would paraphrase Thomas Jefferson and Leo Tolstoy that we need to clear away the “dung” of bad ideas in order to clearly see the “diamond”, that diamond being the inexpressible and scandalous nature of unconditional deity. Unconditional in deity humanizes and transforms the core of human Master Stories as nothing else can. It offers the potential for the greatest liberation movement ever, liberating human consciousness from the darkening and enslaving impact of bad ideas, liberating from all sense of ultimate threat. And most important, unconditional liberates from the horrific outcomes of bad ideas in human societies (detail and research sources in sections below- i.e. Ellens, Lotufo, Herman, Landes, Mendel, Redles, Cook, and others).
Unconditional “scandalizes” because it overturns the theme of punitive retaliation (eye for eye) that has long defined human understanding of justice (notably, ultimate or divine justice). The Historical Jesus rejected that dominant view of justice in his most famous statement that “There should be no more eye for eye retaliation but instead, love your enemies because God does. God gives sun and rain to all alike, both good and bad” (Matthew 5). In that one brief statement he overturned all previous human understanding of deity and justice.
Historical Jesus rejected outright the main features of past Threat Theology (i.e. divine judgment, rejection, domination, punishment, and destruction). These base features had always dominated human perception of our highest ideal and authority- God. Jesus stated that, to the contrary, God was only Love, an inexpressibly wondrous “no conditions Love”. Consequently, all- both good and bad people- were ultimately safe. No one would be excluded from the universal and unlimited generosity of divine Love. This was a “stunning new view of a non-retaliatory God” (James Robinson).
Note, in particular, the critical point that Jesus made when he stated that “sun and rain are given to all alike, both good and bad”. He stated directly that nature did not evidence a punitive God but rather nature revealed a deity that exhibited unconditional love for all. He rejected outright the original religious myth of punitive deity as revealed through the destructive elements of nature (again, see “Punishing nature” below).
The new theology of Jesus was too scandalous for most people.
Tragically, Paul rejected this breakthrough insight from Jesus and retreated to the retaliatory, destroying God of all past mythology and religion. He stated his theology in places like Romans 12: “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord”. This original error has profoundly shaped Western consciousness with horrifically damaging outcomes. Paul then detailed his belief in a retaliatory God that punished bad people through nature in his Corinthians letter. He claimed that the Corinthians were sick and dying because of their sin. They were being punished by God through the natural world.
The fundamental contradiction between the theology of Historical Jesus and the entirely opposite theology of Paul, helps to understand what is fundamentally wrong in human consciousness and life, and how to make it right (how to “win the battle of ideas” at the deepest levels of perception- i.e. the spiritual beliefs and ideals that shape human thought, feeling, motivation, and behavior).
Consider the full complex of bad ideas that have defined ultimate reality or deity. These themes have dominated human narratives across history. The single worst idea in human belief systems has been the idea of a punitive, destroying God that threatens to harm people. The entire complex of bad ideas take their meaning from this core pathology of an “angry God punishing bad people”.
Here is another brief summary of the main bad ideas:
First in the mix is the myth that God created a perfect original world but corrupt, fallen people ruined that paradise. Subsequent to the “fall”, or loss of paradise, life has been cursed and is in decline toward some looming collapse and ending where God will punish people in a great apocalypse. After violently purging corrupt people from the world, God will then restore the lost paradise for his chosen true believers.
Notable in this mix is the belief that God that is obsessed with perfection and is committed to punishing imperfection. People are devalued as essentially corrupt, fallen, sinful and deserving punishment for being imperfect. Life is viewed as in decline and heading for a great final punishment and destruction. And with such things defining reality and life, we wonder why humanity has suffered so much unnecessary fear, anxiety, guilt, shame, despair, and depression.
The theme of divine retaliation and punishment has been embedded at the core of humanity’s highest ideal and authority- deity- from the very beginning of human writing (i.e. angry Enlil and the Sumerian Flood myth). Retaliation/punishing destruction has also defined human understanding of justice from the beginning. Once embedded in deity, our highest ideal and authority, these ideas were firmly ensconced at the core of human beliefs, worldviews, and consciousness, where they have remained, even into the modern world. From their core place in human consciousness/subconscious, these ideas have harmfully influenced human understanding, feeling, motivation, and behavior.
Add to the mix of bad ideas the themes of primitive tribalism- i.e. that God favors his chosen followers, his true believers, but threatens woe to outsiders or unbelievers. Also add the theme of alpha domination- that God is a king/lord that rules subservient people, with people “created to serve the gods”, and subject to mediating priesthoods.
Just a side note: Love is deformed by the feature of domination. Where there is no authentic freedom there is no authentic love. These two- love and freedom- are inseparably pair-bonded. You can not have one without the other. And an interfering, intervening, or over-ruling God (i.e. overruling the natural world or natural law) is not a God of love. Ideas of divine Kingship or Lordship deform real love. The God advocated by historical Jesus did not rule others but instead served. That was another radical redefinition of deity. Divine Love as service to others. God as an equal. Humanity as authentically free and self-determining.
Other themes in the mix of bad ideas include- judgment, exclusion/separation, punishment and violent ultimate destruction (i.e. apocalypse, hell). Salvationism (the demand for payment, sacrifice) is the fear-driven response to the central threat of punishing, destroying God. Messiah mythology (a savior) is also a major part of the salvation mythology.
The outcomes of bad ideas over history has been horrific. Notably, bad religious ideas have been used to affirm things like tribal division and violence between differing groups. Historians note the “rivers of blood” that have been shed as a consequence. In our Western tradition we have seen the horrific outcomes of bad ideas in the violence of the early church Councils and the later Crusades, in the repeated slaughters of Jews, and the endless murder of heretics (those free, skeptical, and questioning spirits who disagree with dogma).
Many moderns now like to think that they have left their religions behind. But often they have only abandoned the outer trappings of their religious traditions. They still hold to the core themes of primitive mythology. Those core themes have been given “secular” expression (“secularized”) in the ideologies of the modern world. Punitive, destroying deity as a core ideal is now expressed in new theologies as the “revenge of Gaia”, “angry planet”, “retributive Universe”, or “punishing karma”. Eden or original paradise myths are now expressed in the idea of a better past (original pristine natural world) that has been ruined by corrupt people in human civilizatio, and particularly in industrial society (i.e. the fall from primitive hunter-gatherer communalism into human civilization).
The myth of apocalypse has been given contemporary expression in the ideology of 19th Century Declinism (“the most influential theme in modern politics and culture”- Arthur Herman in The Idea of Decline). Modern apocalyptic prophets like James Hansen have continued the traditions of past apocalyptic prophets, warning moderns that the end of days is always imminent. He prophesied in 2008 that “It’s all over in five years”. Never-ending predictions of the end. Even Stephen Hawking has recently (2016-17) joined this Chicken Little brigade, prophesying the end of days in 100 years.
So primitive apocalyptic is now expressed in the myth of life declining toward some disastrous collapse and ending. Millennial mythology is expressed in the belief there must be a great purging of the corrupting element (industrial society) so that the lost paradise can be restored (a new millennial paradise installed).
These ideas have long deformed human personality with fear, anxiety, shame, guilt, despair/depression, and have often incited cruelty and violence in populations (see Zenon Lotufo’s Cruel God, Kind God, along with research of Landes, Mendel, Redles and others noted below).
Unconditional as the new core definition of deity overturns entirely this complex of bad ideas.
Unconditional is the most authentically humane thing that we have discovered. It points to the highest form of love. It expresses the best of being human.
Unconditional is then the potent new theme to humanize and transform the very core of human Master Stories. Unconditional offers the greatest possible liberation of human consciousness and spirit, liberation from the darkening and enslaving influence of bad ideas that have long defined human gods and worldviews.
While our religious traditions have also embraced more humane ideals/ideas over history, they have also retained the above noted bad ideas. Lotufo details the “cognitive dissonance” from holding bad ideas along with good ideas in confusing mixtures or mergers (e.g. God is love but will send you to hell if you do not believe the Christian message).
Mixing the “diamonds with dung” results in undermining and even burying the better ideals. For example, love in religion is not authentically unconditional but often tribal (reserved especially for fellow true believers). Religious love is often limited, and highly conditional. There must be a sacrifice, a payment before the religious God will forgive and “save” anyone (see Romans 1-5).
Many religious people engage reform endeavors that are little more than peripheral tinkering at the edges of their religious systems. They are fearful of confronting and exposing the pathology at the core of religion- in deity.
This site traces the historical descent of the same core themes from ancient mythology, to world religions, and now to the “secular” ideologies of the modern era (see Joseph Campbell quote below).
We have long had the powerful unconditional alternative to the myth of punitive, destroying deity- i.e. the insight that the core Reality (Consciousness, Mind, Self, God) is absolutely unconditional Love. This “spiritual” insight holds the potential to liberate human consciousness from the entire complex of bad ideas with one monster-slaying blow. An unconditional deity brings down the central fallacy of threatening deity, along with the related myths of ultimate judgment, exclusion, domination, punishment and Hell (i.e. humanity’s primal fear of after-life harm). Unconditional guts the demands of Salvationism and tells us that no one needs to be “saved”. We are all safe in love (we always have been safe), and we all return safely to love in the end.
Unconditional also effectively counters our worst animal passions (i.e. tribal division, separation/exclusion, domination of others, violent destruction). It points us toward authentically human impulses and behaviors (i.e. unconditional inclusion, treatment of all as equals, forgiving endlessly, and engaging restorative justice toward all).
The point of this material? When you confront the diverse elements that influence bad human behavior, do not neglect the foundational ideas/beliefs that play a significant role in guiding, inciting, and validating human behavior. This is how we ultimately win the battle of ideas behind bad behavior.
Further, none of the great world religions have ever communicated to humanity the nature of deity as inexpressibly wondrous unconditional love. Religion by its very nature has always been a conditional institution, claiming to present the conditions necessary to appease and please the threatening gods (i.e. salvation conditions). Religion has always buried the core diamond truth of God as authentically no conditions Love.
Finally, note carefully the contradiction between Historical Jesus (his discovery of a non-retaliatory, unconditional God), and Paul’s Christ (his re-affirmation of a retaliatory and conditional God). This contradiction offers a notable illustration of the contradictory themes that people have embraced to shape their worldviews.
Also note the historical outcomes from Paul’s apocalyptic ideas. I refer readers to the stunning research of Arthur Herman (The Idea of Decline), Richard Landes (Heaven on Earth), Arthur Mendel (Vision and Violence), and David Redles (Hitler’s Millennial Reich). The apocalyptic millennial complex of ideas that we have inherited from Paul, this complex has played a significant role in the mass-death movements of past history, especially the mass-death of the twentieth century (Marxism, Nazism, environmental alarmism).
Note on justice: While retaliation, punishment, and violent destruction must be purged from our ultimate ideals, in an imperfect world love is responsible to restrain evil. Unconditional love will orient us to the restorative treatment of all people (rehabilitation) but we are still responsible to restrain violence. And I would argue that we already broadly engage unconditional approaches- in our human rights codes and the humane treatment of prisoners of war, and in common parenting and spousal relating (unconditional forgiveness of the imperfections of others). Unconditional love has been emerging and developing broadly across human societies.
Punishing nature- the most fundamental human myth.
The earliest people believed that the destructive elements of the natural world were evidence that the gods were angry and were punishing people for their sins. That original error became the basis of the human belief in a punishing, destroying God. Deity punishing people through the natural world became the foundational theme of mythology and religion over history, and it has now descended into “secular” or ideological versions (Gaia taking revenge, angry planet, punishing karma). Punitive, destructive deity is the cohering center of all “bad religious ideas”. It is the oldest and most fundamental of religious pathologies.
Two notable people have shaped Western consciousness in regard this basic human error. One opposed the myth of punitive deity expressed via nature (i.e. Jesus), and the other affirmed the belief that God punished people via the natural world (i.e. Paul).
Opposing views on punitive nature- Jesus versus Paul
Scholars have isolated varied elements in the New Testament that point to major contradictions between the message of Historical Jesus and Paul’s Christian gospel (his Christian religion). Yes, the Christian religion that we have today is the religion of Paul, not the religion of Jesus. The following material draws on the Search for the Historical Jesus (i.e. Jesus Seminar material) and more specifically the research on the Q Wisdom Sayings gospel.
James Tabor says that Paul and the gospel writers “deliberately obscured” the message of Jesus (Paul and Jesus).
The main contradictions between Jesus and Paul/Christianity:
First, Paul intentionally rejected the new theology of Jesus. James Robinson said that a generation after Jesus, the Christian movement had rejected the central theme of Jesus- his “stunning new theology of a non-retaliatory God”.
Jesus had made his “greatest contribution to the history of ideas” when he stated that God did not retaliate against bad people. Jesus taught, to the contrary, that God exhibited unconditional love toward all, both good and bad. Paul outright rejected that new God of Jesus. This becomes clear when you compare the central theological statement of Jesus (Matthew 5:38-48) with Paul’s statement of his theology in passages like Romans 12:17-20.
Jesus used a behavior/belief pairing to state his central theme of non-retaliation or unconditional love. He based a behavior on a similar belief. Here is my paraphrase of his statement: “There should be no more eye for eye retaliation but instead love your enemies because God loves enemies, sending sun and rain on all alike, both good and bad”. In other words, do this (non-retaliation, unconditional love of all) because God does this (non-retaliation, unconditional love of all). In that statement, Jesus presented a non-retaliatory ethic based on a stunning new non-retaliatory theology. That was a radical redefinition of God. A non-retaliating, unconditionally loving God was unknown in all the previous history of God theories (i.e. mythologies, religions).
Paul appeared to embrace the behavior/ethical part of the Jesus statement- i.e. his ethic of non-retaliation. He said in Romans 12:17-20, “Do not return evil for evil”. But, confusingly, Paul then rejected the theological basis of that non-retaliatory ethic, reverting back to a retaliatory view of God (i.e. “Vengeance is mine, I will repay”). He contradicted outright the “most important theological contribution of Jesus to the history of human ideas” (Robinson, Jesus According to the Earliest Witness). It makes no sense to base an ethic/behavior on a contrary belief/theology.
Paul’s argument was basically- you back off on retaliation against your offenders (it’s evil), because God will do that for you. If you are nice to your enemies then that will ensure that they will be punished/destroyed ultimately (i.e. your niceness will “heap coals of fire on their heads”).
Others (e.g. Stephen Patterson) have noted that Paul rejected, more generally, the wisdom sayings tradition of Jesus in his first Corinthians letter. It has been established that Jesus was a wisdom sage (see research on the Q Wisdom Sayings gospel). Paul rejected that wisdom tradition in 1 Corinthians 1-3.
Another point of disagreement would be Paul’s sometimes harsh stance toward Jewish Christianity. Some point to this in the apparent Galatian’s curse of Peter and James (Gal.1:8-9). That points to the larger issue of Paul’s hostility toward Jewish Christians (notably, toward Peter and James- the “super apostles” and leaders of the Jewish Christian movement). Charles Freeman in The Closing of the Western Mind also pulls statements from Paul’s letters that show he was an intolerant man that damned/cursed all who disagreed with him and his Christ myth.
Other researchers note that Jesus would have likely been more oriented to the early Jewish Christian movement.
Further, Jesus appeared to have opposed the varied features of messiah mythology that his generation had inherited from previous Greek and Jewish traditions. He would not have affirmed the Christology that was developed later in Paul’s Christianity. Scholars note that in his original teaching (i.e. Q Wisdom Sayings Gospel and the earliest version of Q) Jesus said nothing about his coming as a messiah to die and thereby pay for the sin of humanity. His anti-messiah stance is also evident in a variety of his sayings that counter the mythology of a messiah coming as a conquering Deliverer or Lord: i.e. “Call no one Lord/Master… no one is good but God… if you want to lead, then serve…”.
The point that Jesus made in such comments? The God of Jesus does not dominate as some Lord or King. As authentic unconditional Love, the God of Jesus serves others. This points to the inseparable bond between authentic love and authentic freedom, with love respecting the freedom of the equal other. Authentic love does not overwhelm or dominate the other. Only tyrants do that, violating the freedom of others. The serving God of Jesus is another radical new take on theology. All other historical gods had been dominating lords and kings.
This non-dominating feature points to the fact that Historical Jesus would have been against the process of developing Christology in emerging Christianity and he would have especially been against the Christ myth of Paul, an epitome expression of dominating Lord/King theology. Yes, we could say that Jesus was anti-Christ (against Christology or messiah mythology). Just as Paul’s Christ was anti-Jesus.
Another critical point of disagreement between Historical Jesus and Paul would be in how they viewed Jesus’ death. Jesus endured his death as another opportunity to express the unconditional love theme of his entire life – i.e. “Father forgive them because they do not know what they are doing” (his final statement of love for enemies- i.e. forgiving the Roman soldiers that tortured and killed him). But Paul, to the contrary, viewed the death of Jesus as the fulfillment of the supreme condition of a divine sacrifice to appease a wrathful God (see Romans 1-5). Again, the difference of views between these two, highlights the basic contradiction between their core messages of non-retaliation/unconditional and retaliation/conditional.
And one more contradiction:
I would add one further critical element where Paul intentionally rejected the message of Jesus (again, “deliberately obscures”). This element points to the fact that Paul rejected a core theme in Jesus’ teaching and reverted back to the very opposite mythical themes that Jesus had tried to overturn.
This point of contradiction between Jesus and Paul deals with one of the most fundamental of all religious beliefs- i.e. the belief that the gods/spirits used the destructive elements of the natural world to punish human imperfection/sin. This is one of the more fundamental points of contradiction because this myth has been so central to all mythology or religious belief across history.
James Robinson touches briefly on this myth of a punishing God revealed in nature in “The Gospel of Jesus” and “Jesus According to the Earliest Witness”. I would argue that this is a critical line of argument from Jesus and foundational to his push for an entirely new view of God. Jesus rejected this central plank in primitive mythology- that deity embodied eye for eye justice or retaliation (i.e. judgment, exclusion/rejection, punishment, and destruction of bad people). He rejected the idea that this divine retaliation/punishment was exhibited through the destructive elements of the natural world.
Angry deity punishing bad people (in all its diverse expressions) has been at the heart of religion across history. It is the cohering center of the entire complex of bad religious ideas- i.e. that God creates an original paradise, bad people subsequently ruin that paradise, life is now declining toward the great final judgment and punishment of bad people in an apocalypse, where bad people will be purged from the world so the lost paradise can be restored for God’s chosen people, the true believers. Salvationism is the human response to this complex of bad ideas- that people must embrace some proffered salvation scheme to avoid the threatened ultimate punishment and destruction. In Paul’s version of this, people could be “saved from wrath through the blood payment of Paul’s Christ” (see Romans 1-5).
The entire history of Salvationist religion (i.e. sacrifices, offerings, messiah mythology) is the human response to the threat of retaliatory deity punishing bad people, as revealed in nature. Salvationism has been a horrific waste of human time and resources, not to say a horrific burden of psychic misery- adding unnecessary fear, anxiety, shame, guilt, and depression to already unbearable human physical suffering. Remember the Japanese lady, standing amidst the ruins from the 2011 tsunami and asking, “Are we being punished?” She summarized the common belief that has dominated human consciousness across history and across all cultures.
Let me rehearse something of the historical prominence of this myth of angry gods punishing bad people through nature.
The foundational error in ancient logic was to believe there were controlling gods behind all the elements of nature- i.e. spirits behind animal life, gods of sun and moon, gods of storm/rain/thunder, gods of trees and streams, and even rocks. If nature was destructive- i.e. natural disaster as in sun/drought, storm/flood, earthquake/tsunami, or disease- then the ancients logically concluded that the gods were angry and were punishing them for their sins. We see this in the earliest human writing- the great Sumerian Flood myth where an angry Enlil threatened to punish people for being too noisy. He threatened to destroy them with a flood.
Gods using elements of the natural world to punish bad people became a foundational element in primitive mythology/religion. The Israelites also embraced this theme to explain the poisonous snakes that killed them. That was divine punishment for their sins. They offered the same explanation to explain their defeat at the hands of enemies.
The belief in gods punishing bad people through the varied elements of the natural world has remained firmly embedded in human religious traditions down through history. We saw it in Egyptian Destruction of Mankind and Return to Chaos myths. We saw it in Zoroaster’s Ahura Mazda destroying the natural world with molten metal (volcanism?). The Greek belief in some principle of “core Retribution” behind the cosmos is another version of this. Punishing deity exhibited via nature has always been a central element in human understanding.
As Joseph Campbell noted, the themes of primitive mythology have remained constant across history and across the world, even into the modern era. We find the same theme of angry deity punishing bad people expressed today in the “secular” versions of Green religion. Punitive deity is variously expressed today as vengeful Gaia/Mother Earth, angry planet, retributive Universe, or punishing karma. Contemporary belief in gods punishing people through nature is evident in the common belief that global warming, and other environmental alarms, reveals nature taking revenge against sinful people (i.e. greedy, selfish humanity in industrial civilization). Note Al Gore standing ankle-deep in water in Florida trying to revive alarm over a coming apocalyptic Flood as punishment for human sins. The Sumerian priests would have embraced the alarmism of this fellow apocalyptic prophet.
Jesus had rejected this central theme of past religion when he stated that nature did not reveal punishing deity, but instead, the main features of the natural world-i.e. sun and rain- revealed the unconditional generosity and love of God toward all people, both good and bad. Rain for crops, to an ancient mind, was a central sign of favor, mercy and goodness (blessing) from the gods. Jesus said that these elements of nature were evidence of a deity that loved universally (not excluding anyone). Sun and rain for all was evidence of a God that was non-discriminating (not tribal in orientation- favoring only the good), a God that exercised unlimited love.
Another intimation of this new view of nature as not exhibiting punishing deity is seen in the incident of the man born blind. Jesus said that the man’s blindness (whether from disease or accident) was not punishment for his parent’s sin. Again, the point was made that people were not being punished through nature for being bad.
But Paul rejected outright that core statement of Jesus that nature did not affirm a punishing deity and instead revealed unconditional love. Paul reverted back to the primitive myth of nature as revealing retaliatory, punishing deity. He did this in his first Corinthian letter were he scolded the Corinthian Christians, telling them that they were sick and dying because God was punishing their sin through disease and death. And he then pointed to the ancient Israelite situation to affirm this primitive belief that angry deity punished human sin through nature (i.e. via snakes). That was another plank in Paul’s overall “intentional rejection” of the Jesus message of non-retaliatory, unconditional deity.
This disagreement over what nature expressed, adds another critical feature to the growing understanding of major contradictions between the message of historical Jesus and Paul’s Christ or Christian religion.
How should we then view nature? Life is full of natural consequences. But there is no punishing force or spirit behind the disasters and damaging consequences of nature (i.e. disease). For example, if you jump off a too-high platform, you will sprain your ankle. If you contact bacteria or a virus, you will become sick. But there is no punishing force or spirit behind such natural consequences. We do not need the added psychic burden that we are being punished for the natural outcomes that we experience all through life (natural disaster or disease). Job, for example, did not need the extra burden of being told that his physical suffering was divine punishment for his sins.
Again, the Japanese woman summed up this primitive mythology and its unnecessary psychic burden (added guilt, shame, fear) in her statement after the 2011 tsunami, “Are we being punished?”
This primitive pathology of gods punishing through nature was given an exaggerated expression in Egyptian ‘Return to Chaos’ myths. The ancients felt obligated to counter their terror of the natural world, and the possibility that it could all go to hell (i.e. return to chaos), by engaging annual New Year’s rituals to ensure that the natural order was preserved (see Mircea Eliade’s The Eternal Return).
But the epitome expression of gods punishing through nature is the myth of apocalypse. Apocalyptic is the myth that God will finally destroy the entire natural world in a great act of violent punishment. The supreme act of deity punishing through the natural world will be the total destruction of the natural world in an apocalypse. Apocalyptic is therefore the epitome statement of the myth of God punishing through nature or the natural world.
Jesus rejected the fundamental religious belief of destructive nature as evidence of divine punishment and offered the stunning new view of nature as expressing unconditional generosity and non-discriminating love. He rejected the primitive themes of retaliation (Matthew 5:38-48) and conditional Salvationism, and embraced unconditional love as the central theme of his teaching.
Paul, in turn, rejected the Jesus discovery and retreated back to primitive pathology of nature revealing punishing deity. Overall, Paul embraced the primitive themes of retaliation (“Vengeance is mine, I will repay”, Romans 12) and conditional Salvationism (Romans 1-5) as central to his Christ myth and Christian religion.
These are striking points of disagreement or contradiction between Jesus and Paul.
The comment by Jesus that “sun and rain were given to all alike, both good and bad” appears to be just a peripheral add-on in a larger set of statements, but it may be the most central thing in Jesus’ attempt to overturn the core plank of all past mythology/religion. It is a stunning, scandalous rejection of the core theme of punitive, destroying deity (ultimate divine judgment, destruction). Jesus’ rejection of the myth of deity punishing bad people through nature, opens the way for human consciousness to appreciate the unconditional love that defines God.
Again, the liberating potential of the Jesus’ statements on unconditional deity is profound. They go to the very foundational ideas/beliefs that shape human consciousness and spirit.
Joseph Campbell has given us a good basic outline of human story, human life. I have used his outline below, filling in with my own paraphrases and additions.
We come to earth, into a unique human body, to live a unique human story. I would argue that the main point of this human experience is to become human, that is, to discover what it means to be authentically human. And that centers on the ideal of love- our highest human ideal. Love defines us as human more than any other feature. I would take that further to argue that love is actually the essential nature of our authentic human self or person. It is the fundamental impulse of human consciousness and the human spirit. Human being and life is all about love, in all the diversity that is individual human experience.
So, among all the other things that people do or accomplish in life, human life has to do with learning what love is, and practicing love. If we miss this central reason for being human, then what is/was the point of our lives?
But yes, we have an inherited animal brain from our gradual emergence out of an animal past. We still have the residual elements of an animal core brain that emotes base animal impulses- i.e. the drives to tribal separation and exclusion, to alpha domination of others, and to destroy competing others (enemies). But, important to note- we are not our brains.
Now as Campbell says, we all face some monster in life that we have to fight and conquer. Our monster might be some physical problem, or it might be mental/emotional in nature, or social, financial, or some other problem. But one common monster that all people face is this animal inheritance with its drives to tribalism, to domination of others, and to punishing and destroying others.
Over history, religious ideas have been created to validate the animal in us. We have inherited religious beliefs that validate tribal division, separation, and exclusion among people (i.e. true believers versus unbelievers). We find the base feature of alpha animal domination in the myth that people were created to serve the gods, and must be subservient to gods and their priesthoods. We see this domination impulse in the many forms of vertical relating where some people will dominate, demean and devalue others, not treating them as free equals. And we find the animal expressed in beliefs in the punishment and destruction of the differing other (i.e. eliminating the competing outsider, unbeliever, or enemy).
But the real monster and enemy that we all face is not other people. It is inside us- this base animal inheritance and the bad religious ideas that people create to validate the impulses of this animal inheritance. People have created the greatest monster/enemy of all by projecting their basest animal features onto deity. The ancients projected features like tribalism (God favoring his followers), alpha domination (God ruling over people as a King/Lord), and the punishing destruction of outsiders/unbelievers. With these and other features, early people embedded some of the basest features of their animal past in human conceptions of deity. Those features have continued to define deity into the present. They express a monster God. (see, for example, Alex Garcia’s Alpha God)
Fortunately, as Campbell notes, a wise man gives us a sword to slay our monsters. I would suggest the most potent sword is the discovery of unconditional love. This highest definition of love takes us to what is most human or humane. It tells us what our essence is. Unconditional enables us to “tower in stature as maturely human”. It orients us away from animal impulses (tribally limited love for family and friends) and toward universal love (including enemies), to unlimited love, and that makes us authentically human. It inspires us to be our true self.
And when we project unconditional out to define God, we then overturn entirely the pathology of a retaliatory, punitive, dominating, excluding, and conditional God. Defining God with unconditional love, effectively slays the core idea that has long incited and validated the base animal impulses in people. Unconditional fully humanizes God. An unconditional God- our highest ideal and authority- orients us away from animal impulses and toward the expression of unconditional love. Unconditional in deity (our greatest inspiring ideal) brings out the best in human consciousness, and the human spirit.
Yes, people become just like the God that they believe in.
Added quote: “Until we have met the monster in ourselves, we keep trying to slay them in the world. And we find we cannot. For all darkness in the world stems from darkness in the heart. And it is there we must do our work”, Marianne Williamson.
Note: The “battle of the sexes” also confuses this essential animal/human dichotomy (the animal inheritance with the human side). People speak of “feminine” qualities as a special side in women. But men also have those same features and they are better understood as basic human features, not exclusive to women. And both sexes exhibit the harsher animal features. Marija Gimbutas notes, in her admittedly controversial research, that past matriarchies were as brutal as any patriarchy (Golda Meir?, Margaret Thatcher?). So rather than basing some battle of the sexes on these imagined feminine versus masculine features in people, it is better to reframe this as our common battle against our common animal inheritance, and our shared human features.
Natalie Sudman (The Application of Impossible Things)
I would add Natalie Sudman’s comments on human story to further fill out Campbell’s outline. Like varied other NDEs, she suggests that people choose to come here to engage difficult life experiences in order to learn and grow. The basic thing to be learned, of course, is love. These NDE accounts are not for everyone, but I would offer them for those who want to benefit from these insights on the possible meaning of suffering in life.
Some will respond that Sudman is presenting a personal experience. Well, so was Paul’s vision of his Christ a personal experience. And that personal experience/vision is the heart and core of the Christian religion. So also Moses, Buddha, and Muhammad, and many others presented their personal experiences that became the foundations of major world belief systems. The point is not the personal experience but the features or content of the experience- i.e. are those features communicating something good or bad, something humane or inhumane?
Sudman offers some helpful insights to understand the imperfections, failures, accidents, and cruelties of life, and the consequent suffering. She fills in the big picture framework or background of human experience/story. What suffering might mean in a larger context.
Intro note: Do people today still hold to the mythological and religious themes of the past? Mostly yes. As the world religion survey showed, 85% of humanity affiliates with some major religious tradition, and many of the remaining 15% are still “spiritual but not religious”.
And then do a quick check of proxy evidence to gauge what people really believe. Note that many moderns continue to mouth the same old themes of primitive mythology but express that mythology in contemporary “secular” terms. We hear endless versions of mythical themes like: The past was better (Dilmun, Eden), but corrupt people have ruined the original paradise (the “Fall of mankind” myth), and life is now in decline toward some disastrous collapse and ending (apocalypse). The punitive, destroying gods of “vengeful Gaia”, “angry planet”, or “punishing karma” will soon get us for our sins. So we must make some sacrifice, engage some salvation scheme, in order to “save the world” and restore the lost paradise (millennialism).
These modern versions of primitive themes would been embraced unquestioningly by populations on the streets of ancient Sumeria, where they were first expressed in the earliest human writing some 5000 years ago.
A growing segment of our populations claim that they have left their religious traditions (i.e. “unaffiliated” status). But they have only abandoned the outer trappings of their religions. They are still profoundly religious at the core of their thinking. So also, much religious reformism only tinkers at the periphery with minor issues of little consequence. Most religious people are afraid to confront the deity at the core of their religion, where some of the worst features of our subhuman past remain firmly embedded.
Site project and core themes (How religious themes shape “secular” thought. How ideas descend across history.)
Basic problem solving requires going to the fundamental root of a problem (“winning the battle of ideas”).
This site probes core themes in worldviews, foundational ideas/beliefs that have inspired, incited, guided, and validated human behavior across history. These ideas are critical to engage because the ideas/beliefs that we hold in our minds and worldviews will shape what we become in life. They influence our feelings, our responses, and our actions in daily life. People have always tried to order their lives according to the ideas/beliefs that they hold, whether they are religious or “secular” ideas. (See anthropologist Clifford Geertz’s work on the human impulse to replicate divine models, or ultimate realities/ideals, in human societies.)
Now there are good ideas and bad ideas, and basic to the human adventure is to differentiate between the two. One significant drag on human progress toward a better future has been the tendency to preserve our better insights in old inherited contexts. For example, some of the best human insights are embedded in religious holy books that also contain “bad religious ideas”- subhuman themes (e.g. “God is love but will send you to Hell if you do not believe all that is in this book”). These pathological myths of punitive, destroying deity still shape the core of our inherited belief systems, notably our great religious traditions. Why? Because people are reluctant to let go of inherited religious ideas that have long been presented to the public as “sacred”, and therefore untouchable or unchangeable. They are believed to be “divinely inspired”. Therefore, people feel obligated to maintain the good with the bad in contradictory mergers- i.e. harmonizing bad ideas with good insights. The result is cognitive dissonance. See Zenon Lotufo’s Cruel God, Kind God.
Joseph Campbell: “The fundamental themes of mythological thought have remained constant and universal, not only throughout history, but also over the whole extent of mankind’s occupation of the earth… the common themes have been there all the while… from the first emergence of ancestral man from the animal levels of existence, and are with us still…”, Myths To Live By.
This site isolates the central complex of bad ideas (Top Ten Bad Religious Ideas in sections below) that have infected human consciousness across history- ideas that have long incited the worst of human behavior, notably primitive animal-like ideas related to the tribal exclusion of others, the domination of others, or punishing violence toward others. This site focuses especially on the core bad idea of a retaliating, destroying deity that punishes people. This punitive deity myth is the cohering center for the other bad ideas, notably the apocalyptic millennial complex. Punitive, destroying deity has been the great Lie at the core of human worldviews from the beginning. It persists today in both religious and secular versions- i.e. revenge of Gaia, angry planet, retributive Universe, or punishing karma.
Punitive, destroying deity was present in the earliest human writing, the Sumerian Apocalyptic Flood myth. That ancient Threat Theology has descended down through all subsequent religious traditions and into the secular apocalyptic myths of the modern world.
A summary list of the more notable bad ideas:
The starting point of the bad ideas complex is the myth of an original paradise that was ruined by corrupt people (the devaluation of humanity begins early). That myth sets the background for the distorting belief in the subsequent decline of life toward something worse, toward collapse and ending. An apocalypse will be the final punishment and destruction, the great purging of imperfection from the world so the lost paradise can be restored for the favored true believers (God expressing tribal or limited love toward his chosen people). The apocalyptic threat produced the demand for salvation conditions and sacrifice/payment as the proper human response to the divine threat of punishment/destruction. Religion emerged in history as the social institution that communicated the required conditions to appease and please threatening deity.
(Note: Salvationism has been horrific waste of human time and resources in response to a mythical fraud, the great Lie of punishing deity. There has never been any such reality.)
Ancient people projected their worst features onto their gods, beginning with the features of past animal existence and then later plant societies. Campbell notes, for instance, that plant-based societies gave us the insight that death brings life (i.e. rotting vegetation giving rise to new green shoots, the seed dies in order to give life). This says Campbell, inspired the mythology of death as the giver of life, “Hence, the hideous idea followed that the way to increase life is to increase death”. The result was “a general rage of sacrifice through the whole tropical belt of our planet”. Later people added “the mythic theme of the Willing Victim… some primordial being that offered itself to be slain, dismembered and buried, and from whose buried parts then arose the food plants by which the lives of people are sustained”.
Note, this mythology predates Christian theology by millennia and shows where Christianity got its basic themes of a divine being offering himself as a sacrifice to appease divine wrath and to bring salvation and life to people. “The same fundamental themes have remained constant and universal… sacrificial death increases life…”.
Campbell adds that later human orientation to the cosmic realm added beliefs in gods as cosmic ruling realities that provided the model for life on earth (i.e. the divine law, word, will, or plan for people to follow).
These ancient bad ideas have caused immense damage across history. Apocalyptic threat has always incited fear and pushed populations to embrace “coercive purification” approaches in order to prevent or eliminate some threat, in order to save something (see Richard Landes below).
In Sumerian mythology the gods threatened to eliminate badly behaving humanity by a great apocalyptic Flood. In Zoroastrianism, Ahura Mazda would use an apocalypse to purge corrupt, sinful humanity from the world in order to restore the lost paradise. So also in Judaism, Christianity and Islam- sinful humanity had to be purged from the world in an apocalypse, so that paradise could be restored.
(Insert: Stunning research has established that the mass-death movements of the twentieth century were shaped by the apocalyptic millennial themes that were borrowed from Christianity)
In Marxism the apocalyptic threat to the world was corrupt humanity in capitalist industrial society that had ruined the original hunter/gatherer communal paradise. In Nazism the apocalyptic threat was expressed as the annihilation of the Aryan race and society by Jewish Bolshevism and industrial civilization. In environmentalism, greedy humanity in industrial society is once again the great threat that must be coercively stopped or purged from the world so that the lost paradise of a wilderness world can be restored.
These primitive themes have descended down through history from religion to the “secular” versions of the modern world. Again, we have the myth of some core threat expressed today in the diverse “secular” versions of deity- i.e. revenge of Gaia, angry planet, retributive Universe, and punishing karma.
“The same fundamental themes have remained constant and universal…”
Paraphrasing another point from Campbell’s outline of human story: The myth of some Ultimate Threat is the great monster in life that we have to conquer and slay.
Further, bad religious ideas have always worked to validate our inherited animal impulses, notably the impulses to limited tribalism (our band versus others), to alpha domination of weaker others, and to exclude and destroy the “enemy” other. In religious versions of the ‘animal passions’, people divide tribally into true believers versus non-believers. They embrace their God as a dominating Lord or King (alpha male). And they believe that their God will ultimately exclude and destroy the unbelievers. These base animal features are prominent features of the monster gods of historical religious traditions.
Bad ideas in religious or secular versions continue to incite the worst impulses in people.
The breakthrough to the wonder of unconditional reality
I take insights on unconditional reality from diverse traditions to affirm that the creating Mind or Consciousness behind all reality is absolutely no conditions Love. Most parents, spouses, and friends/neighbors get unconditional as the highest form of goodness or love, and practice it in daily life. Most average people get unconditional forgiveness/mercy as the most humane response to imperfect people around them. We take the best in humanity and project that out to define deity, but to transcendent degree. This is the proper way to do theology. “If you imperfect people know how to love unconditionally, then how much more does God, as ultimate Goodness, love unconditionally”.
Unconditional radically redefines the most foundational ideal in human worldviews- the idea of deity. It overturns the entire complex of bad ideas, but most importantly it overturns the worst of all bad ideas- that of angry, punitive God. There never was any wrathful God, any divine threat, or any punitive deity. Related ideas of divine judgment, separation, exclusion, and destruction were always great mythical frauds/lies based on the greatest Lie of all.
There is only Love behind all- a stunning no conditions Love. That also means- get this stunner- there is no divine demand for blood sacrifice as payment for wrong. The salvation industry (sacrifice as payment for wrong) has been a great waste of time and resources.
An unconditional God also radically redefines the human person. We are not the fallen, corrupt, sinful beings of primitive mythology. At our core we are the same unconditional love that is God. The God that is no conditions love has incarnated in all humanity equally, not just in special religious people like Jesus or Buddha.
Yes, we still have an animal inheritance in the form of a core animal brain with its base animal impulses. But we are not our brains. Our animal brain is not our essential self or person.
Our struggle with the animal inheritance is how we learn to become human. Human goodness emerges from the struggle against its opposite- the “animal passions” (Campbell). We develop and grow as human in our struggle with the animal, our only real enemy in life. As Campbell noted- in our struggle with our monster we gain insights and learn lessons that we can then pass on to benefit others.
Our real enemy is not some other imperfect person but the inherited animal that is inside us. We are therefore told- “Do not judge the other, do not worry about the speck in the other person’s eye, but pay attention to the beam in your own eye, your own imperfections, your own animal passions”. Our real enemy in life is inside each of us. That is the real monster that we face and must conquer.
And as Campbell suggested, a wise man gives us a sword to slay our monster.
Unconditional, as our core ideal, potently counters all the basic features of the inherited animal. Unconditional counters the tribal impulse by urging us to embrace all people as family. It counters the impulse to dominate others by telling us to respect all as equals. And it counters the impulse to exclude, punish and destroy the differing other by inspiring us to engage unlimited forgiveness and restorative justice toward all.
Unconditional tells us what it means to be authentically human. It points us to human responses and behaviors that are strikingly different from the animal responses to retaliate, to hurt and to destroy differing others. Unconditional liberates us from the debasing, dehumanizing slavery to animal impulses. It sets us free to be authentically human or humane. It orients us to universal love, unlimited love that is the most ennobling of all ideals. Unconditional enables us to “tower in stature as maturely human” (Campbell).
Unconditional revolutionizes ethics, relationships, and justice systems. Nelson Mandela was a powerful recent example of the unconditional treatment of enemies that resolved situations of potential violence and pointed an entire society toward something better.
Unconditional core Reality also resolves humanity’s primal fear of after-life harm. There is no coming judgment, punishment, or destruction in some Hell. All are ultimately safe in inexpressible Love. All will be liberated from the animal and return to Love in the end. Inexpressible unconditional Love greets us all at the end of our life stories. There is no Grim Reaper. There is only Love.
Jesus and Paul illustrate these two great opposing traditions: non-punitive, unconditional reality in Jesus, versus punitive, conditional religion in Paul.
Jesus introduced the stunning new theology of a non-retaliatory, unconditional God. But that was too scandalous and offensive to many good, moral people. It did not affirm traditional justice as some form of punishment or fair payment (eye for eye). The vineyard and prodigal parables of Jesus illustrate the offense that this unconditional reality caused to good, moral people. The all-day workers and the older brother were offended at an unconditional love that did not punish others or demand that conditions be met (i.e. “Love without expecting anything in return”). They were offended by the unconditional mercy shown to failing, imperfect offenders.
Unconditional love especially offended Paul.
Paul then intentionally rejected the theology of Jesus and retreated to the old complex of bad ideas in his Christ myth and Christian religion. He created his Christ myth and Christian religion based on the primitive mythology of a retaliatory God. His retaliatory theology was entirely opposite to the non-retaliatory message of Jesus (compare Matthew 5:38-48 with Romans 12:17-20). Most damaging in Paul’s Christ myth was that he buried the unconditional nature of the God of Jesus with the demand for a supreme condition- the sacrifice of a cosmic Savior to pay for all sin (see Paul/Jesus contradiction below).
Christianity then brought the complex of bad ideas into Western consciousness and society. Islam absorbed most of it’s bad ideas from Jewish Christianity (via Waraqa the Ebionite priest). The correlations between these systems of belief is striking. As Campbell said, the core themes are endlessly repeated.
19th Century Declinism then offered a “secular” version of the Christian ideas, notably the myth of apocalypse.
The bad ideas complex (notably apocalyptic millennialism) then shaped Marxism and Nazism. Today those same bad themes have been embraced by environmental alarmism, and continue in the great world religions and extremist movements like ISIS.
Remember that you can kill off ISIS and you will still get eruptions of the same ideology, so the experts tell us- “You must win the battle of ideas”. ISIS is just one striking example of the same complex of ideas that have incited other similar mass-death movements to violence (i.e. Marxism, Nazism, and Carsonism- i.e. Carson’s apocalyptic alarmism in Silent Spring).
To “win the battle of ideas”, go to these core themes and overturn them with unconditional. And especially overturn the core bad idea of punitive Force or Deity. That will offer the greatest liberation and transformation ever, at the most foundational levels of human consciousness.
See comment in sections below on unconditional restorative approaches in an imperfect world. Qualifiers on restorative justice approaches. Love is always responsible to restrain bad behavior, while doing so with restorative intent and approaches.
Paul’s Christianity embraced the worst of historical bad ideas, notably the core theme of human sacrifice to appease angry deity. You cannot gussy up that core theme with apparent humanizing terms like love (i.e. “God so loved the world”), redemption, salvation, hope, mercy, grace, and so on. That is still lipstick on a pig. The core themes remain the same- human blood sacrifice, a human victim suffering a violent death to appease a raging deity. Zenon Lotufo exposes the true nature of a person that finds pleasure in the suffering of others (in Cruel God, Kind God).
Two key New Testament sections that note Paul contradicted Jesus: He intentionally rejected the non-retaliatory theology of Jesus in Romans 12:17-20 (see also Thessalonians and the early chapters of Romans). And Paul rejected the wisdom saying tradition of Jesus in his first Corinthian letter. Jesus was a wisdom sage.
Liberating human consciousness at the most fundamental level– core themes in worldviews.
Two people have influenced us more than any others. They presented two entirely opposite views of the core ideal in human thought- ultimate reality or deity. One affirmed all that was wrong in human thought and the other pointed out how to correct that.
Historical Jesus pointed to the nature of authentic love as non-retaliatory and unconditional. He offered the greatest liberation ever- from all those bad religious ideas that have darkened and enslaved human consciousness from the beginning, most critically the horrific idea of divine punishment and destruction.
Paul and his Christian religion re-enforced the pathology of divine punishment and destruction and short-circuited that potential greatest liberation ever. His Christ myth re-affirmed the worst of past mythology, notably the core myth of divine punishment and destruction.
If we are going to “win the battle of ideas” at the most fundamental and important level, then engage it here at the level of foundational themes in human worldviews.
The Jesus/Paul contradiction (again)
(Main point: Jesus tried to liberate human consciousness from retaliation by radically redefining the ultimate human ideal- deity. He presented the new theology of a “non-retaliating God”. Paul rejected that and re-enforced divine retaliation at the core of human consciousness. Paul’s views dominate public consciousness today via his retaliatory Christ and retaliation-based Christian religion. See Romans 12:17-20 for detail on his basic theology.)
Whatever happened to the “stunning new theology” of a no conditions God? Two millennia later that “greatest contribution of Jesus to the history of ideas” is still buried in highly conditional Christianity. The oceanic difference between unconditional reality and conditional religion is the essence of the contradiction between Historical Jesus and the Christ of Paul, his Christian “Jesus Christ”. That contradiction, and the burial of the Jesus message in Christianity, is the mother of all scandals and a central theme on this site.
The Jesus/Paul contradiction illustrates a critical problem with religion across history. The Jesus message of an unconditional deity points humanity to a new authentically humane ultimate ideal (i.e. God as ultimate love or goodness). To the contrary, Paul’s conditional Christ re-affirms the basic nature of religion as an essentially conditional institution that has never been able to reveal the wonder of unconditional reality to humanity. Religion has always buried the unconditional God in religious salvation conditions (i.e. how to appease and please God).
Joseph Campbell has said that the old systems of belief are in disarray (the old mythical/religious traditions) and in the scientific age humanity has been moving irreversibly toward a new era that requires new master stories. I would argue that the stunning insight of Hist. Jesus is one critical element for new grand narratives. It is a foundational theme that responds to human “spiritual” concerns and the human desire for ultimate goodness or love (i.e. issues of ultimate meaning).
The Contradiction between the core message of Jesus and the entirely opposite message of Christianity
Again, there is a profound contradiction between the central message of Historical Jesus, and Paul’s Christian myth of ‘Jesus Christ’. The irreconcilable contradiction, on Paul’s side, highlights a fundamental pathology in human worldviews. Paul created his Christ myth to affirm the primitive belief that there was some divine threat behind life (a punitive, destroying God). He stated this threat theology in his ‘apocalyptic’ Christ. On the Historical Jesus side, humanity was offered the liberating alternative of an unconditional core Reality (i.e. no apocalyptic threat, no demanded conditions).
Two key aspects help to focus the difference between Paul and Jesus. First, there is the central theme of non-retaliation on Jesus’ side. His statement that there should be “no more eye for eye, but only love for enemies, because that is what God does, sending sun and rain on all alike both good and bad”. And then there is ultimate retaliation on Paul’s side. He quotes God as stating, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay… to every person according to what they have done”.
Further, on the Jesus side there is the foundational theme of unconditional. Again, note the Jesus statement that sun and rain are given to all alike, both good and bad, and without the condition of some expected return. Jesus adds, “Do not just love those who love you in return. If you exercise that limited and conditional love, then what credit is that to you?” Authentic divine love makes no demand for payment or prerequisite condition of any kind. Divine love is genuinely unlimited and free, no matter how people respond.
And on Paul’s side there is the supreme condition of a blood sacrifice as payment before God will forgive or save. Further, there is the related condition that only those who believe Paul’s Christ myth will be ‘saved’. Paul says, “People are saved by faith in Paul’s Christ… Paul’s God saves those who believe in Paul’s Christ”, (my paraphrase of Paul’s statements in Romans 1-3).
Keep these contrasts in mind. The unconditional God of Jesus versus the conditional God of Paul- this constitutes the main contradiction between Jesus and Paul/Christianity.
Humanity has not yet begun to explore the liberating and humanizing potential of embracing an unconditional deity as our highest ideal and authority, as the centering ideal of a new master story. For one, this revolutionary insight powerfully resolves humanity’s primal fear of after-life harm. There is no such thing as a God that threatens to punish and destroy people. There never has been any such reality. Tragically, religions across history have embraced this pathological myth of punitive, destroying deity as their foundational theme.
Conclusion: Paul’s Christ myth has buried the unconditional discovery of Jesus for two millennia (see James Tabor quotes in sections below on Paul and his Christian religion as the most influential myth in history). Surely, this is the greatest scandal in history, to deny humanity the relief and assurance of an absolutely no conditions Love behind all.
Note: My appeal to the Jesus material is not from a Biblicist perspective that views Jesus or the bible as some special authority. No. Unconditional is self-validating as true, right, and good. It does not need validation from any religious authority. It stands on its own. I use Jesus just to illustrate unconditional because he is a familiar religious icon and makes some useful statements on the topic.
Added note: How do I establish unconditional as the central theme of Historical Jesus? I use research such as the Q Wisdom Sayings research. The earliest versions of Q contain the Matthew 5:38-48 passage (similar to the Luke 6:27-36 passage). I take that as the statement of the main theme of Jesus because it stands above the rest of the Q material with its “stunning new theology of a non-retaliatory God”. It is the most striking insight in the original Jesus material. And other material in the Jesus tradition affirms this non-retaliatory or unconditional theme as a “cohering center”.
But again, I do not need Jesus to validate unconditional. It is simply the most humane thing that we have discovered. It tells us what authentic love really is, what ultimate goodness is. It is the best of being human. And we take the best of humanity and project that out to deity, but to transcendent degree. If we know how to do good, then how much more God does.
One more: What about my disorienting statement that Paul’s retaliatory Christ re-enforces our animal inheritance? Yes. I summarize that inheritance in the features of tribal mentality (our band versus outsiders/differing others), domination of others (alpha), and the exclusion, punishment, and destruction of the differing other.
Paul’s Christ affirms tribal love (favoring true believers), domination of people (Lord, every knee shall bow), and ultimate exclusion, punishment, and destruction of the differing other, the unbeliever.
The unconditional of Jesus overturned the animal with unlimited, universal love for all, the embrace of all as equals in the one family of God (sun and rain on all alike, both good and bad). And no ultimate exclusion, punishment, or destruction.
Retribution, retaliation, punishment
Across history people have always believed that there is some form of retribution at the core of reality, expressed in myths of angry deity, divine judgment and punishment, exclusion of the bad (unbelievers), and ultimate destruction (i.e. myths of apocalypse and hell). These themes have been so deeply embedded in human consciousness that it appears disorienting to many people to even question their validity as truth. Some form of payback has always been viewed as essential to justice.
The core myth of punitive, destroying deity has been tightly paired with the belief that certain conditions must be met to appease and please the upset gods- conditions of payment and sacrifice, correct beliefs to hold, taboos to obey, and rituals to follow (i.e. religious lifestyle).
Historical Jesus offered an entirely liberating alternative- the truth of a non-retaliating, unconditional God at the core of reality. A God that demanded no payment for forgiveness, and required no conditions to fulfill in order to be included in the family of God. The God of Jesus freely embraced all, both good and bad, as the inseparable heirs of divine generosity and love. No one would be excluded from the all-embracing and unlimited love of God that was expressed in sun and rain given to all alike.
This “stunning new theology of Jesus” presented a powerful new centering ideal for human worldviews- the ideal of absolutely no conditions love. The ultimate expression of authentic love. But this unconditional message scandalized and offended most people. It was just too disorienting to traditional understanding of proper justice and fairness in life as some form of reward the good and punish the bad. See Jesus’ vineyard and prodigal parables for illustration of how unconditional generosity offended good, moral people.
Consequently, this unconditional “diamond of Jesus was buried in the dung” of a contrary New Testament message that re-affirmed proper justice as some form of retribution (Thomas Jefferson). The “pearl of Jesus was buried in the slime and muck” of Paul’s opposite message of the conditional Christ (Leo Tolstoy).
Paul intentionally and directly rejected the Jesus breakthrough on theology and retreated to the same old retaliatory theology of all past religion. He began to present his retaliatory, apocalyptic Christ myth in his first letters to the Thessalonians: “When the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire he will punish and destroy those who did not believe Paul’s gospel” (my paraphrased summary).
The Christ of Paul has been the single most influential myth ever conceived, history’s single most prominent icon of ultimate retribution, or Threat theology. His Christ myth is also the epitome expression of highly conditional religion. Central to his Christ myth is the demand to meet a supreme condition- i.e. the sacrifice of a god-man to appease the wrath of God. Again, see the full statement of this wrathful deity, and the demanded sacrifice/payment to appease divine anger, in Romans 1-5.
These contrasting beliefs are not just peripheral matters to tickle elite minds in esoteric scholarly debate. Bad religious ideas have had a horrific impact on humanity across history, inciting endless misery and abusive treatment of others. Religions of threat and conditions have promoted endless unnecessary guilt, shame, fear, anxiety, and depression among people. Not to forget the huge waste of time and resources on the sacrifice/salvation industry over history.
Further, the core beliefs of Christianity- i.e. the “apocalyptic millennial” complex of myths- have been a significant force behind the mass-death movements of the past century. See the stunning research of Richard Landes, Arthur Herman, Arthur Mendel, David Redles, and David Cook (Islamic apocalyptic), among others noted below.
The nature of our highest human ideals and authorities (i.e. deity) are critical to inspiring, inciting, guiding, and validating human behavior. People have always become just like the God that they believe in.
One illustration: People have used the ideal of divine retaliation and punishment to validate endless tribal retaliation and punishment of opponents/enemies. Note how apocalyptic threat has incited alarm in populations and that alarm has then pushed people to embrace salvation schemes that have often involved “coercive purification” of some threat or enemy. We saw this played out with devastating consequences in Marxism and Nazism (see again the research of Herman, Landes, Mendel, Redles, and Cook).
The totalitarian demand for instantaneously-purged society and immediately-installed utopia now continues in environmental alarmism. We see this in the environmental project to coercively stop greedy/corrupt humanity in industrial civilization as the contemporary apocalyptic threat to life. The apocalyptic claim that some threat is “imminent” is used to justify coercive “Salvationist” action (i.e. “save the world”). Arthur Mendel (Vision and Violence) has done an excellent job detailing the horrific outcomes of apocalyptic alarmism that seeks the “instantaneous transformation” of societies, in contrast with the actual “gradualism” of history and life.
The non-retaliatory, unconditional deity of Jesus severs the taproot of apocalyptic threat- overturning the core myth of punitive, destroying deity that is behind apocalyptic alarmism. The unconditional theology of Jesus revolutionizes entirely (i.e. humanizes) the highest human ideal- deity.
His insight offers a way forward into true liberation of consciousness from deeply embedded ideas that have long darkened and enslaved human consciousness with fear (i.e. most importantly, the primal fear of after-life harm).
As noted above, unconditional core Reality offers the potential for resolving issues like religious violence that is incited by bad religious ideas like divine violence (i.e. a violent God that validates human violence). Unconditional counters bad behavior in general by orienting consciousness to universal forgiveness and inclusion of all. And it potently counters alarmist movements by rejecting the myth of a God that threatens to retaliate in an apocalypse.
The embrace of unconditional deity as our core human ideal will revolutionize ethics by pointing to something authentically humane. It will transform justice systems by urging movement toward restorative justice approaches. And it will humanize relationships between people and groups by ending tribal exclusion for more unconditional or inclusive forms of relating. Nelson Mandela offered us a powerful example of how the unconditional treatment of others defuses situations of potential violence and brings healing to societies.
This idea of divine vengeance/punishment has dominated mythology from the beginning. It became foundational to all religion, and has even moved into the “secular” ideologies of the modern era- i.e. revenge of Gaia, angry planet, retributive Universe, and punishing karma. This worst of all bad ideas persists at the heart of human consciousness and worldviews even today. It continues to incite tribal division and exclusion of differing others, domination of unbelievers, and the drive to punish and destroy the differing other.
Qualifier: Christian people naturally prefer to ignore the darker side of their Christ myth and to focus on the better features of the Christ- the good side. They describe the Christ in terms of high ideals like grace, mercy, and love. But such “confirmation bias” focus ignores or downplays the foundational features in Paul’s Christ- those background elements of divine anger, vengeance, and ultimate destruction (see, for example, Romans 12:17-20, the Thessalonian letters, or Revelation). Those darker features undermine the more humane elements like love.
Yet, Christians also recognize the undeniable importance of unconditional, and have tried to embrace this feature in expressions such as, “God now loves unconditionally because Jesus died to pay for all sin”. That is oxyomoronic in the extreme. God cannot be unconditional because his demand for a supreme condition has been met. Unconditional does not demand some condition be met first before it forgives or loves. That violates all common sense. Authentic love is not conditional.
Brief overview of punitive, destroying deity in major belief systems
Begin with the earliest writing- the Sumerian Flood myth to destroy humanity, then the Egyptian Destruction of Mankind and Return to Chaos myths, and Zoroaster’s Ahura Mazda destroying the world with molten metal and washing all down into hell (Zoroastrianism shaped the Western religions). Add the Hindu Lord Shiva- destroyer of the world, and Greek belief in a core Retribution. Also Jewish, Christian and Islamic belief in divine judgment and punishment. The core themes of divine vengeance, punishment, and destruction have dominated human thought like no other ideas.
Let your mind comprehend for a moment just how prominent these features have been in shaping human consciousness and worldviews across history. The Japanese lady summarized this for all humanity after the 2011 tsunami when she asked, “Are we being punished?” Today an angry planet (i.e. Mother Earth) is threatening vengeance on humanity.
The profound contradiction between Historical Jesus and Paul’s Christ myth is critical to understand because of the immense influence these two icons have had on humanity over the past two millennia. The new humane ideal of unconditional that was introduced by Jesus was subsequently distorted by Paul’s Christ in the Christian religion. Note Jefferson and Tolstoy’s comments on this.
The Christian merger of Jesus in the Christ has caused endless confusion- cognitive dissonance- and the consequent burial of the Jesus theology.
The stunning “non-Christian” breakthrough
Two millennia ago the wisdom sage, Historical Jesus, someone entirely contrary to Christian Jesus, overturned that idea of core retribution/punishment. He said there was no such reality as a punishing, destroying deity and offered the “stunning new theology of a non-retaliating God” (James Robinson). He stated in Matthew 5:38-48 (my paraphrase), “There should be no more ‘eye for eye’ retaliation, but instead, love your enemy because God loves God’s enemies, sending sun and rain on all alike, both good and bad”. That meant no discrimination, no exclusion, and no ultimate punishment for the bad guys.
Or Luke’s version (6:27-36) “Love your enemies… If you love only those who love you, then what credit is that to you… Love your enemies and you will be the children of the Most High (i.e. you will be just like God)… for God showers kindness on the ungrateful and evil. So be unconditionally merciful just as God is unconditionally merciful”.
Note that he based a behavior on a belief. He first stated the non-retaliating ethic and then based that ethic on a similar non-retaliating theology (do this because this is what God is like). Be like God. Act like God.
And his new view of God as non-retaliating offended good, moral people. Jesus spoke of this offense notably in two of his parables- i.e. the all-day vineyard workers that were upset with the owner being equally generous with the latecomers who had not earned an equal wage. That offended their sense of fairness. And he noted the older brother in the Prodigal who was offended with the Father’s unconditional mercy and love for the badly behaving younger brother. Both were offended, scandalized by the absence of proper justice and fairness. To them, justice should mean the proper and fair reward of the good and the punishment of the bad.
If you are not offended or scandalized by the unconditional God of Jesus then you have not fully grasped the radical nature of how he overturned conventional views of justice.
The larger point that Jesus made was that God was unconditional love. With an unconditional God there was no demand for proper ultimate justice. That meant there would be no ultimate judgment (“Judge not”, Matthew 7), no ultimate tribal exclusion of the bad (sun and rain given to all alike), and no ultimate punishment or destruction. All- both good and bad people- would receive the same mercy, forgiveness, and love. There was no condition of some payment demanded for wrong done (remember the Father in Prodigal). With an unconditional God there was no demand for a blood sacrifice.
The shameful Christian retreat to ultimate retaliation
Paul was also offended by the teaching of Jesus and rejected outright his new unconditionally merciful and generous God. He rejected that theological breakthrough and retreated to the same old punitive, destroying God of all past mythology and religion. He stated his theology clearly in Romans 12:17-20, quoting an Old Testament passage, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord”. Paul then created his Christ myth to embody that ultimate vengeance (see Thessalonians). His Christian religion buried the new theology of Jesus. The diamond of a non-retaliating deity was buried in the larger context of retaliation and punishment. Matthew followed Paul’s lead. After including the statement of Jesus on non-retaliation in Matthew 5-7, Matthew later re-affirms divine retaliation in his warning that unbelievers will be cast into outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.
In his Christ myth Paul also contradicted the unconditional feature in the theology of Jesus. He did this by re-enforcing the idea of a supreme condition of blood sacrifice to pay for wrong.
Compare the core statements of Jesus and Paul to see the stark contradiction between Jesus’ non-retaliation message and Paul’s retaliatory Christ myth. Note that both use the pairing of a behavior that is based on a theological belief.
Matt.5:38-48, “Do not retaliate (no more eye for eye) but love your enemies because God does not retaliate but loves God’s enemies, giving sun and rain to both good and bad”.
Romans 12:17-20, “Do not retaliate because God will retaliate… Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says God”.
Paul appears to embrace the same non-retaliation ethic as Jesus but he then bases that on a contrary theology of divine retaliation. That is a direct contradiction of the theology of Jesus. The gospel writers follow Paul’s theology of retaliatory deity. Yes, they include the wisdom sayings of Jesus as they were too well-known to ignore. But they place those sayings in a surrounding context that contradicts what Jesus taught. That explains the ‘cognitive dissonance’ of the New Testament (Zenon Lotufo, Cruel God, Kind God).
Thomas Jefferson and Leo Tolstoy understood this contradiction between Jesus and Paul and stated it in blunt terms of “diamonds/pearls that were buried in dung, muck, slime, garbage”.
That is the great scandal of Christianity and Paul’s Christ myth. And yes, Paul tries to explain his Christ with features like grace, mercy, and love. But these higher human ideals are conditioned on the greater background theme of a wrathful God that must first be appeased by violent punishment in the death of a human sacrifice. There is nothing authentically unconditional in Paul’s gospel.