Site Project: This site counters the endless alarmist exaggeration and hysteria over the state of the world and life (i.e. the ‘end of days’ always just over the horizon). This project involves a thorough re-evaluation of the primitive themes, notably the apocalyptic complex, that still dominate modern thinking and contribute to unnecessary pessimism and anxiety over life. This involves problem solving at the deepest levels of thought/perception, emotion, and motivation/response.
And yes, there are problems all through life that give cause enough to fret about. But, critical to human mental and emotional health- there is no great Force/Principle/Spirit behind the imperfections of life, that threatens to punish or destroy, and bring life to some catastrophic ending.
Most important, this site confronts the bad theology of a monster deity (i.e. angry, punitive, destroying God, or Retributive Universe, angry Nature or vengeful Gaia, and karma). That bad theology is at the root of too much mental/emotional pathology in humanity… A correlation, perhaps, with depression as the number one illness on the planet?… I’m just sayin.
This site goes to this critical taproot idea of Ultimate Threat, cuts that infected root, and offers alternative themes that affirm authentic hope, notably the foundational theme of a core “no conditions Love” that overturns humanity’s primal fears- i.e. the fears of harm from greater Forces/Spirits behind life, and after-life harm.
Elements of bad theology still dominate the world religions and are now embraced in “secular” versions such as 19th Century Declinism, environmental alarmism or Green religion, and street-level theologies of angry Mother Earth or karma. As psychotherapist Zenon Lotufo has concluded, “Cruel God theology deforms human personality” with unnecessary fear, guilt, shame, and anxiety. (see “Cruel God, Kind God”).
The project on this site is oriented to removing the added, unnecessary psychic burden (i.e. divine threat) that has deformed human consciousness for millennia. It is about liberating/healing consciousness with authentic ‘no conditions’ love.
Insert note (quote from below): “Revenge, payback, karma, eye for eye, getting even- retaliation in all its expressions- is us at our worst. Retaliation is more animal-like than human. It renders us potentially magnificent beings, petty and infantile. The base impulse to retaliate, often masquerading as ‘justice’ or a fight against ‘evil’, is behind too much unnecessary harm and suffering in life. We can be so much better. Remember towering human spirits like Mandela. I would shout this message into the midst of today’s public ‘hurt for hurt’ cycles (hurt repaid for original hurt caused)- ‘Let’s all grow up, eh, and start acting like the great human spirits that we are'”.
Opening section topics: Rethinking 15 fundamental ideas (Old story themes, New story alternatives, rethinking the conditional nature of religion). See further below… Two Stories of Life- Decline or Rise?; Problem solving; “And the lights turned on…” (understanding the behavior/belief relationship as central to history’s single greatest insight); “Framework for human story” (the basic features of human life- Joseph Campbell’s outline); “Re-evaluate history’s most dominant myth- Paul’s Christ myth” (Historical Jesus is not Christ, he was anti-Christology); “Hurt for hurt cycles”, or retaliatory/punitive justice (getting even, payback, and the tribal politics of today…”Let’s all grow up, eh”); and “The basic science of CO2” (climate change update).
Re-thinking fundamental ideas in human worldviews
A set of foundational ideas/themes has dominated human thought across the millennia and across world cultures. These themes continue to dominate today in our religious traditions and they have also been given expression in “secular” versions like 19th Century Declinism (“the most dominant and influential theme in modern politics and society”, Arthur Herman). The offspring of Declinism- i.e. Environmental Alarmism or Green ideology- has also embraced these same themes. This site offers alternatives to help shape new meta-narratives.
The outcomes of the ideas/ideals that we hold are both helpful and harmful. “Specific ideas have specific consequences” (Sam Harris). While good features in the religious mix have brought succour to billions, bad ideas in the religious mix have contributed to incalculable suffering over history. Bad ideas have often incited and affirmed our worst impulses. Bad ideas are most dangerous when they are attributed to deity because they are then given divine validation and protection (“protected under the canopy of the sacred”).
We are responsible for the ideas that we embrace and promote, and for their outcomes in life. We are responsible to engage the basic project of discerning good from bad in all areas of life, including God theory.
Effective long-term problem solving must engage the foundational themes in human worldviews. These themes are the product of our primal impulse for meaning (i.e. explaining ultimate reality). They are vital to the age-old practise of basing human behavior on related belief (ethics based on theology). These themes are fundamental to guiding, inspiring and validating human feeling, motivation, response, behavior, and life in general.
Note that the meta-stories of humanity, whether in mythological, religious, or ideological versions, have all embedded subhuman features like retaliation/retribution, exclusion, domination, punishment, and violent destruction in humanity’s highest ideals and authorities- notably in human God theories or deity.
Old story themes, new story alternatives (15 fundamental ideas to re-evaluate)
1. Old story theme: The myth of deity as a judging, punishing reality that metes out final justice- i.e. rewarding the good, punishing the bad. This myth continues at the foundation of the world religions and is now given expression in secular versions such as vengeful Gaia, angry planet/nature, retributive Universe, and karma. This myth of God as a retaliating, punishing reality has long under-girded human justice as similarly retaliatory and punitive. From the beginning, belief in a punitive deity has incited the demand for punitive response to human imperfection and failure.
This primitive view of deity as punitive and destroying is the single most important “bad idea” to engage and correct. All other bad religious ideas are based on this foundational pathology in human thought.
New story alternative: The “stunning new theology” that God is an inexpressible “no conditions love”, a non-retaliatory Reality. This means that there is no ultimate judgment, no ultimate exclusion of anyone, no demand for payment or sacrifice, no need for redemption or salvation, and no ultimate punishment or destruction of anyone (no such thing as “hell”).
The adjective “unconditional” points to our highest understanding of love and is therefore most critical for defining deity as transcendent “Goodness”.
(Note the qualifiers below on holding people accountable for their behavior, the need to restrain bad behavior, and restorative justice approaches. All necessary for healthy human development, in this world.)
2. Old story theme (Key element- perfection versus imperfection): The myth of a “perfect beginning” and that God is obsessed with perfection in the world and life. God creates perfection, is enraged at the subsequent loss of perfection, and now wants to punish imperfection. (This idea of deity obsessed with perfection originated with the misunderstanding that any good and all-powerful God would only create perfection, and if things are not perfect then blame bad humanity for mucking things up that were once perfect. It can’t be God’s fault.)
We- humanity- have always had a terrible time understanding and embracing imperfection in life and in ourselves. Imperfection, and fear of divine rage at imperfection, has long deformed human consciousness with fear, anxiety, shame, guilt, and depression. Yes, we ought to engage the struggle to improve ourselves and others, and to improve life in general in all ways. But we ought to do so without the added psychic burden of fear of angry deity or divine threat.
New story alternative: The world began in “chaotic imperfection” but has gradually evolved toward something more complex and organized. Life on this planet is never perfect, but it gradually improves. And over history, humanity has created something better out of the original imperfect, wilderness world.
In this new story theme, God has no problem with imperfection but includes it in the original creation. Imperfection (in a new story) serves the important purpose of providing an arena where humanity struggles with a messy wilderness situation in order to learn to create something better. And, most critical, we learn how to love in the process of engaging that struggle with imperfection in others (i.e. we learn more humane values in our “righteous struggle against evil”, Joseph Campbell).
Perfection, aside from being boring, does not bring forth the best of the human spirit. To the contrary, struggle with imperfection in life, and in others, brings forth the best in humanity. See Julian Simon’s comment that our struggle with problems in the world leads to creative solutions that benefit others (i.e. Ultimate Resource). See also the comment below on Joseph Campbell’s outline of human story and our struggle with a monster. That struggle is where we gain insights and learn lessons that can help others (e.g. Personal suffering can lead to empathy with others that similarly suffer).
3. Old story theme (related to previous): The myth that humanity began as a more perfect species but then became corrupted/sinful (i.e. the “fall of man” myth). The idea of original human perfection, and human degeneration toward something worse today, is still common in the “noble savage” mythology that dominates throughout academia (the myth that original hunter/gatherer people were more pure and noble but humanity has degenerated in civilization). See, for instance, Steven LeBlanc’s ‘Constant Battles’. Contemporary versions of “fallen humanity” mythology include Green religion’s belief that humanity is a “virus” or “cancer” on the Earth. These are pathologically anti-human views.
New story alternative: Humanity has emerged from the brutality of animal reality (original imperfection) but has gradually become more humane, less violent, and more civilized. See James Payne’s History of Force, and Stephen Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature.
4. Old story theme, related to previous (key element- life as an overall declining trajectory versus life as an overall rising or improving trajectory): The myth that the world began as an original paradise and that “golden age” has been lost and the trajectory of life is now “declining”, or degenerating, toward something worse (“Each present moment is a degeneration from previous moments”, Mircea Eliade).
New story alternative: Life does not decline overall but the long-term trajectory of life shows that it actually “improves/rises” toward something ever better. Humanity, as essentially good and creative, is now responsible for the ongoing improvement of life and the world. (Note Julian Simon’s conclusion that we- humanity- are “more creators than destroyers”.)
Evidence of life improving over past millennia and recent centuries: Julian Simon’s Ultimate Resource, Greg Easterbrook’s A Moment on the Earth, Bjorn Lomborg’s Skeptical Environmentalist, Indur Goklany’s The Improving State of the World, Matt Ridley’s Rational Optimist, Ronald Bailey’s The End of Doom, James Payne’s History of Force, Stephen Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature, and others.
On the longer “improving” trend of the overall cosmos and the long-term emergence of life (i.e. more complexity, organization, suitability for carbon-based life to mediate human consciousness), see Brian Green’s ‘The Universe Story’ and Harold Morowitz’s ‘The Emergence of Everything’. Further, even Darwin affirmed that evolution trended toward something more “perfect”.
5. Old story theme: The myth that humanity has been rejected by the Creator, that we are separated from our Source and we need to be reconciled, we need to restore the broken relationship with God.
New story alternative: No one has ever been separated from the unconditional Love at the core of reality. That Love has incarnated in all humanity in the human spirit and consciousness. That love is the essence of the human self or person though it’s expression is often hindered and buried by the free choice of people to live inhumanely. But be assured that no one has ever been separated from the indwelling love that is God. God as love is always closer than our breath or atoms. God as love is inseparable from our common human spirit and consciousness.
(Note: God incarnated in all humanity demands a radical rethink of theology or God theory. There has never been any such thing as a Sky God up in some heaven. God has always been intensely present in all humanity and this is evident in the best of humanity, in all human goodness. God is present in all human raging against evil and suffering. God is present in all human effort to make life better. There has never been any such thing as an absent or silent God. Just listen to and watch people all around you.)
6. Old story theme: The myth of a cosmic dualism, a Good spirit in opposition to a bad spirit (i.e. a demonic entity, Satan). Deity is thereby portrayed as an essentially tribal reality- i.e. a God that favors believers and hates/punishes unbelievers. This idea of a fundamental cosmic dualism is played out through varied human dualisms- i.e. the tribal mindset of “us versus our enemies”, true believers versus unbelievers, or other racial, national, religious, or ideological divisions. Dualism thinking deforms human identity and affirms the inherited animal impulse that orients people to small-band thinking and behavior (tribalism), toward opposing and fighting others as enemies.
New story alternative: We all come from the same Oneness and we are all free equals in the one human family. We are not essentially defined by the tribal categories and divisions that we create to set ourselves apart from one another. We are most essentially defined by our common human spirit and human consciousness. And the essential nature of our human spirit is universal or unconditional love. That love makes us authentically human.
(Added note: Most modern story-telling (e.g. movies) continues to re-enforce the primitive themes of dualism and tribalism. Note the all-too-common movie theme of good guy versus bad guy, and ‘justice’ as good guy beating and destroying bad guy in some way. Nothing in this about the oneness of the human family. Instead, only further affirmation of infantile tribalism and retaliation between people. The only dualism that we ought to be concerned about is that of “the battle-line between good and evil that runs through the heart of every person”, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.)
7. Old story theme (key element- deity as violent destroyer, versus non-destructive God): The myth of looming apocalypse as the final judgment, punishment, and destruction of all things. The myth of an apocalyptic ending embraces the core theme of God as the destroyer of all. This ideal has incited endless destructive violence among the followers of such an ideal. That is why Arthur Mendel called apocalyptic “the most violent and destructive idea in history” (Vision and Violence).
To embrace and advocate apocalyptic is to embrace and advocate the epitome expression of nihilism.
New story alternative: There are problems all through this imperfect world but there is no looming threat of final destruction and ending. The apocalyptic alarmist exaggerates problems to “end of days” scenarios, distorting the true state of things, and thereby promotes fear and even destructive violence in populations.
In this new story theme there is no core destroying Force or Spirit behind the violent elements of this world. Ultimately, there is only creating and sustaining Love. And again, the imperfection of this world serves the purpose of providing a learning arena for humanity to struggle with, in order to create something ever better.
Further, the destructive element in the cosmos and world exists as part of the ongoing creative process (i.e. death as entirely natural and serving the purpose of making room for new life), just as Second Law dissipation of energy is “virtuous waste” that serves the creation of more order (Huber and Mills in Bottomless Well). But again, that element of destruction is not evidence of some punitive deity threatening a final punishment and ending of all things. (see notes on “natural consequences” below)
8. Old story theme (key element- imminent, instant transformation of life versus “gradualism” in the trajectory of history and life): The “always imminent” element in apocalyptic (i.e. the “end is nigh”) demands urgent action to “save” something, to save the world or life. The exaggerated threat of apocalyptic ending pushes people to take immediate violent action to purge the threatening thing and to coercively and instantaneously install their version of paradise (“coercive purification”, Richard Landes).
We saw this violence in the 100 million deaths that stemmed from Marxist urgency to purge the world of destructive capitalism and immediately install its vision of utopia. We also saw it in the 50-60 million deaths from Nazi alarmism and consequent action to purge Germany of the imagined threat of “destructive Jewish Bolshevism”, and then coercively initiate the millennial paradise of the Third Reich. And we are seeing “coercive purification” again today in the environmental alarmist push to save the world from “destructive humanity in industrial civilization” and restore the lost paradise of a wilderness world (Mendel in Vision and Violence, and Herman in The Idea of Decline).
New story alternative: There is no “end of days” just over the horizon. Rather, life is improving gradually as creative humanity solves problems. The escapist desire for an instantly-installed utopia misses the point of the human story as the struggle with imperfection throughout the world, a struggle that is gradually succeeding. Such struggle is essential to human development, learning, and growth. Mendel is good on this issue of “gradualism” versus the violence of “instantaneous transformation” movements. Humanity is learning to improve life more democratically without coercively overwhelming the freedom of differing others.
The search for instantaneous salvation stems from the escapist mindset of apocalyptic types who cannot endure the struggle to gradually improve an imperfect world. They irresponsibly seek to escape to some instantly-installed utopia.
9. Old story theme: The demand for a salvation plan- i.e. a required sacrifice or payment (atonement, punishment) to appease some great threat or threatening reality, whether a religious God, Gaia, angry planet, or karma.
New story alternative: The fundamental nature of God as unconditional love means “absolutely no conditions. None.” That means there is no demand for ultimate payment, sacrifice, or conditions to fulfil. The only “salvation” that we need to engage is the ongoing and gradual struggle to make life better in this world.
(Insert: The reality of God as “no conditions Love” requires that we make all the logical conclusions that arise from such a stunning new theology. Again, a critically important one is that such a divine reality- an authentically unconditional God- will not demand any conditions of payment or sacrifice. Jesus himself had argued this in his Matthew 5 and Luke 6 statements where he taught that an authentic universal love will not just love those who love in return (i.e. family, friends, or fellow tribe members). But unconditional love will also love those who do not love in return. Unconditional love will also give to all and not demand any return payment. Unconditional love does good to everyone without expecting a similar response, without expecting any payback (i.e. sacrifice). This is how Jesus further defined a God that “loved enemies”.)
10. Old story theme: The belief that payback is true justice, based on the myth that God is a retributive reality that demands the reward of the good and the punishment of the bad. That retributive God demands full punishment of sin. This primitive theology under-girds much justice today.
New story alternative: Unconditional love keeps no record of wrongs, it does not obsess over imperfection, and it forgives all freely and without limit (“seventy times seven”). But yes, there are natural and social consequences to bad behavior in this world. All of us are to be accountable and responsible for our choices and actions. This is essential to human development in this life. But all justice in response to human failure must be restorative.
As Leo Tolstoy wrote about the criminal justice system, “The whole trouble is that people think there are circumstances when one may deal with human beings without love, but no such circumstances ever exist. Human beings cannot be handled without love. It cannot be otherwise, because mutual love is the fundamental law of human life.”
11. Old story theme: the myth of future or “after-life” judgment, exclusion, punishment, and destruction (i.e. Hell). The fear of after-life harm is the “primal human fear” (Michael Grosso).
New story alternative: Again, authentic love is unconditional and does not demand the fulfillment of conditions. It does not threaten ultimate exclusion or punishment. It embraces all with the same scandalous mercy and unlimited generosity. It gives sun and rain to all, to both good and bad. All- both good and evil- are ultimately safe and included in the love of God. Such love scandalizes the mind that is oriented to ultimate (or after-life) conditional payback justice or “deserved” punishment.
Note the stories that Jesus told of good, moral people who were offended by the unconditional generosity and love that was shown by, for example, the vineyard owner and the father of the prodigal son. The all-day vineyard workers and the older brother of the prodigal were upset because such mercy and generosity was not fair, moral, or just in their eyes. Other “righteous” people were also offended and scandalized by Jesus when he invited local outcasts and scoundrels to meals with them.
Insert: Make the important distinction here between Ultimate Reality and life in this imperfect world. Recognize God as absolutely no conditions Love but do not deny the reality of natural and social consequences in this world; the need for responsibility for behavior as critical to human development. Love here and now is responsible to restrain violence and to protect the innocent, even with force. But our embrace of the ideal of ultimate unconditional love will orient our treatment of human failure and offense away from punitive approaches and toward restorative approaches. An unconditional attitude will recognize that, despite the offense and scandal to conventional payback justice, all of us return safely to the same no conditions Love that birthed us and is our final home. We are all one family, despite our diverse failures to live as fully human in this world.
Add here that self-judgment and self-punishment are the most devastating experiences that human persons can embrace and endure. Most people do not need further threat of judgment and punishment from some greater reality.
12. Old story theme: The myth of a hero messiah that will use superior force (“coercive purification”) to overthrow enemies, to purge the world of evil, and to bring in a promised utopia. This myth argues for the abandonment of historical processes of gradual improvement (via creative human freedom and endeavor) and opts instead for overwhelming revolutionary violence that seeks to instantly purge some corrupt entity that is viewed as the threat, and then re-install the lost paradise.
Again, the great ideals that we embrace will shape our thinking, our feeling, and our responses/behavior. We become just like the God that we believe in. Bad myths like coercive, destroying deity have repeatedly incited people to violent, destructive action, to act as the agents of their violent, destructive God to destroy some enemy and save something that is believed to be under dire and imminent threat.
New story alternative (see also “16th bad idea” below): A God of authentic love does not intervene with overwhelming force that overrides human freedom and choice. Hence, the apparent randomness and related cruelty in a world where there is authentic freedom. Further, a non-intervening deity helps to explain the gradualism of improving life. It is entirely up to humanity to make the world a better place, in all ways.
13. Old story theme: The fallacy of Biblicism, the myth that religious holy books are more special and authoritative than ordinary human literature, and that people are obligated to live according to the holy book as the will, law, or word of God. This myth argues that people must submit to divine conditions, to some heavenly model as outlined by their holy book.
New story alternative: We evaluate all human thought and writing according to basic criteria of right and wrong, good and bad, or humane and inhumane, as agreed upon in common human rights codes or constitutions. Holy books are not exempted from this process of discernment between good and bad.
Further, our highest authority is our own personal consciousness of right and wrong as tuned by common understanding of such things in widely adopted human rights codes and constitutions that are embraced by the entire human family.
14. Old story theme: The myth of God as King, Ruler, Lord, or Judge. The idea that God relates to humanity in domination/submission forms of relating.
New story alternative: There is no domination/subservience relationship of humanity to God. Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant”. True greatness is to serve the other and not to dominate or control others. The greatness of God is exhibited in serving, not existing above to rule or dominate. God is not “above” humanity but has incarnated in all people as equals. God relates horizontally to humanity.
We see the presence of this street-level God in all daily, mundane human goodness and love expressed toward others, especially toward enemies, which is the highest expression of authentic love or goodness. When we love unconditionally, we tower in stature as maturely human. We become the hero of our story and conquer our real monster and enemy, the animal inheritance that is within each of us. See story outline below.
15. Old story theme: The idea that humanity is obligated to know, serve, and have some relationship with an invisible reality (deity), to give primary loyalty to something above people (i.e. a law, will, or word of God). This has often led to neglect and abuse of real people.
New story alternative: Our primary loyalty is to love and serve real people around us. Their needs, here and now, take priority in life.
And a new addition…
The 16th bad idea (related to the earlier theme, in the list above, of a hero-messiah that will intervene to save)
One of humanity’s greatest frustrations has been the apparent “the silence of God” across history. The Holocaust is the iconic example of this traumatizing silence of God.
Where was God when natural disasters took hundreds of thousands of lives? Where was God when human cruelty went unhindered? Such apparent absence should put to rest the common religious myth of a miraculously intervening God. The evidence has long been final that there never was any such thing as a supernaturally intervening deity that would, for example, violate natural law to rescue people.
What then should we conclude? God is good but powerless to help humanity? Or the atheists are right that there is no God? No. I would offer that the evidence simply urges us to rethink the great question of how God relates to this world. Theologies like Panentheism are wrestling with this issue.
And some versions of the Deist’s alternative are not much better than atheism. God is not the absent Creator who starts the whole thing running and then disappears off to some far away heaven to wait and watch as natural law works throughout life.
A new theory or theology is emerging that argues that God has incarnated in all humanity. God did not incarnate only in special holy persons like the Christian Jesus. Rather, God has incarnated in all humanity as the common human spirit or human consciousness. That human spirit has gradually emerged and developed as more humane across history. This is evident in the trends to decreasing violence, more democratic societies, and generally improved human well-being (the improvement of all areas of life).
And as Bob Brinsmead notes, the improvement in life has been a long, slow process of gradually developing understanding and practise. It has, for instance, taken millennia for us to understand disease and come up with medical cures. See the gradualism arguments in Arthur Mendel’s Vision and Violence.
We see this common human spirit, or God spirit, emerging and developing in all human goodness, whether expressed in commerce, art, sports, medicine, agriculture, and all areas where people contribute to making life better.
As some have stated, we are the voice, hands, and feet of God in this world.
So God has never been silent or absent. To the contrary, God has always been evident in all human crying and raging against suffering and evil. God has always been present in all human action to prevent evil and to solve problems and to improve life. God has always been in all humanity and all useful human endeavor. That means it has always been our responsibility to prevent wrong and to promote good/right in our world. Yes, it is all up to us. We must stop looking to the heavens for what is right here and now, in us.
Add this feature to your theology- God is at our very core, as the human impulse to love, to be better. God is inseparably united with the love that defines us at our best. God is at the core of the real or authentic human self and is evident in the human impulse to be more humane as expressed in all human goodness.
This means that God has always been closer than our own breath or atoms. God has never been absent or silent when people have suffered from natural disaster or human cruelty. Religious mythology has never framed this immanent feature properly.
The confusion here over silent deity also has to do with the element of freedom or the inseparable relationship of love and freedom. God as love does not coercively overwhelm the independence, self-determination, and freedom of others. Better, God respects human freedom profoundly and influences with gentle, quiet impulses to do the right thing, what we feel is right (i.e. God persuades and does not coerce).
Part of the human confusion over how God relates to this world has to do with our inability to grasp that divine Love prizes freedom highly and will not overwhelm or violate it. Authentic moral goodness emerges only from authentic freedom of choice. Such love entails great risk as authentically free people may choose wrongly.
Two stories of life: Decline or Rise?
(The ideas/beliefs that we embrace operate to incite/inspire, guide, and validate our impulses both good and bad. In other words- “We become just like the God that we believe in”, whether we view that as a spiritual or materialist reality. The critical issue?: The features/themes that we employ to explain and define our Ultimate Reality or Ideal, and the outcomes of those ideas. We are each responsible for such.)
This site probes two great narrative alternatives to explain the overall trend of life. One- 19th Century Declinism- orients public consciousness to the decline of life toward some coming collapse and ending. This myth of decline “is the most dominant and influential theme in modern society” (Arthur Herman in The Idea of Decline in Western History). Declinism is the direct offspring and contemporary expression of the primitive myth of apocalyptic. Declinism/apocalyptic has always been devastating to hope.
The other narrative of life, a more historically recent one, is that of rise, or the improvement and progress of life toward something better. Abundant evidence on all the main features of the world, and the long-term trends of life, affirm the rise of life as the true story of life (see for example, Julian Simon’s Ultimate Resource). The rise of life affirms hope and effort to improve the world.
(An aside here regarding correlations. I’m just sayin…Depression is fingered as the world’s “Number One Illness”. OK, and Declinism- i.e. the ideology that life is declining toward something worse, toward some great collapse and ending- this ideology has become “the single most dominant and influential theme in modern society”, Arthur Herman in The Idea of Decline in Western History. Note also Simon’s comments on fatalism/resignation in populations that are battered by environmental alarmism, and his own depression due to the Declinist narrative.)
The environmental alarmism movement or Green religion (something different from the environmental concern that most people embrace) is the latest dominant expression of Declinism or apocalyptic mythology. This movement endlessly terrorizes public consciousness that the ‘end of days’ is just over the horizon. That tipping points are continually being reached and passed.
Each new historical version of apocalyptic decline will use different words/terms but the core themes behind those new terms remain the same old, same old. Joseph Campbell was right that the same mythical themes are endlessly repeated across history and across the cultures of the world. This site traces the more harmful themes of the apocalyptic complex, their destructive outcomes in human society, and the potent corrective offered long ago that unfortunately was buried by religions like Christianity.
The core themes of the apocalyptic complex include these mythical ideas: The past was better. That original paradise (Eden) has been ruined by corrupt people, and all is now declining toward some great disaster (apocalyptic collapse and ending). We must immediately purge the corrupting element in order to save the world and restore the lost paradise, or establish a new millennial utopia.
This set of ideas has been the most destructive in history (Arthur Mendel in Vision and Violence). Why? Because apocalyptic incites humanity’s primal fears of chaos, destruction, and death. Frightened people, in response, will embrace irrational salvation schemes that involve coercive violence because some destroying threat is always imminent. Totalitarianism has always been part of the response to apocalyptic threat… e.g.“We must act before it’s too late. There is no more time for skepticism, questioning, or debate.”
Historians have detailed the use of apocalyptic millennial themes and the consequent violence in the great mass-death movements of the Twentieth Century- i.e. Marxism, Nazism, and environmental alarmism. In Marxism the corrupting threat to be purged was industrial capitalism. In Nazism the corrupting threat to purge was Jewish Bolshevism. In environmental alarmism- an ongoing apocalyptic movement- the corrupting thing to purge is too many over-consuming people in industrial civilization.
Thorough problem solving must take note of where this destructive set of ideas originates and why they persist in public narratives even today. In our Western tradition, that takes us to Paul and his apocalyptic Christ myth, the most influential myth in history and most responsible for embedding apocalyptic in Western consciousness and worldviews (i.e. in great world religions like Christianity, and in ideologies or “secular” versions of apocalyptic such as Declinism).
The stunning thing in Christianity is that Historical Jesus (entirely different from Christian Jesus Christ) had finally cut the taproot of the apocalyptic pathology by rejecting the violent, destroying God at the heart of the apocalyptic myth. He presented a new theology of a non-retaliatory, non-destroying God (no more eye for eye but love your enemy because God does). His God was a God of unlimited mercy and inclusive generosity (sun and rain given to all alike, to both friends and enemies). His God would not engage in the ultimate eye for eye retaliation of apocalyptic punishment and destruction.
There is absolutely nothing to fear in the God of Historical Jesus. There is no demand for sacrifice or payment of any kind. There is no threat of exclusion, or ultimate punishment and destruction (i.e. no Hell). With the stunning ‘no conditions’ God of Jesus there is no basis or reason for religious guilt and shame, or for debilitating anxiety.
But Paul rejected the new non-retaliatory God of Jesus and once again re-affirmed the vengeful, destroying God of primitive apocalyptic mythology. Paul’s statement of his theology: “Vengeance is mine, I will repay/destroy says the Lord…. Lord Jesus will return in the blazing fire of apocalyptic destruction to punish and destroy all who do not believe my gospel…” (Romans 12 and Thessalonians).
With his threat theology, Paul re-established the basis of religious fear and the deforming power of religious guilt, shame and anxiety.
Pardon the strength and clarity of language (it is never my intention to offend unnecessarily), but with Thomas Jefferson and Leo Tolstoy I affirm that the non-retaliatory “diamond” theology of Jesus has been buried in the subhuman retaliatory theology of Paul and his Christ.
Summary: Two key ideas to note in the apocalyptic complex of myths- The idea that God is a retaliatory, punitive Destroyer of all things. And the idea that people are essentially bad to the bone and deserve punishment and destruction. Historical Jesus offered the potent corrective to the old “destroying God” idea with his “stunning new theology” that God was not retaliatory (“no more eye for eye but love your enemy because God does, giving sun and rain to all, both good and bad”). He taught that God was ‘No Conditions Love’. Today we add the new psychology that people are essentially good. The long-term evidence across history that life has improved, affirms this essential goodness of humanity. As Julian Simon said, the big-picture evidence shows that we are “more creators than destroyers”. This portends a revolution in human self-imaging. We are not the fallen, sinful creatures of religious mythology that ruined some original paradise and must be punished and purged from the Earth.
(Further note on Campbell’s comment that the same themes repeat across history and across the world: The themes that we embrace- whether mythical, religious, or ideological/scientific- are related to our inherited impulses, both good and bad. Too often our ancestors created themes/myths that have operated to incite and validate our worst animal impulses to tribalism (us versus some other), retaliation (often framed as ‘justice’), domination, and exclusion/destruction of some differing other (framed as the necessary purging of some threat in order to save something). Our history is a caution to us to be careful to embrace themes that counter our worst impulses and affirm the best of our human spirit.)
Related posts from discussion group:
“Consider the deeper roots of all this… the long history of the pathology of apocalyptic thinking. Despite the inclusion of nicer features to gussy it up (i.e. future salvation, deliverance, purification/healing) apocalyptic embraces the darkest idea ever conceived- that of the complete destruction of everything, of the entire world and all life. That is the ultimate, the supreme, the epitome expression of nihilist violence and destruction. Much like Hell is the epitome statement of hatred for another person, to say that they are going to be tortured forever in searing fire. Ah, we should not go easy on such ideas.”
Another post (regarding Paul’s Christ as the central validation of apocalyptic mythology in modern society): “We need to focus on the Christ myth as the real root issue behind the rest. That is taking problem solving to its most fundamental level, that of the “bad ideas” lodged in history’s most influential myth- the Christ of Paul. And the outcomes from that, the endless violence that has been validated across history…”.
“So many comments from others come to mind…James Tabor stating that Paul has been the most influential person in history, shaping Western consciousness and society more than anyone else. And that apocalyptic influenced all that Paul said and did. Paul’s Christ brought apocalyptic into the West, and into the entire modern world. The links and correlations are all there in historical studies. Others have traced the correlations down through Declinism and into the mass-death movements of the modern world, this ongoing influence of apocalyptic… This myth of Paul has been molly coddled too long. Its time to get to work to slay this epitome icon of ultimate retaliation (“Lord Jesus will return in blazing fire to punish and destroy…”) … and yes, it will rile folks to go after this most sacred icon ever.”
Another: “I have repeatedly made the comment that apocalyptic has always made fools of the brightest minds. Including many notable scientists of today. It is not only entirely against the amassed evidence of the long-term trajectory of life to progress toward something better (i.e. the improvement on all the major elements of life) but apocalyptic embraces the single most vile idea ever imagined- the final and complete destruction of all things, of the world, of life, of humanity. Like the vile myth of Hell (eternal violent destruction) apocalyptic also embraces violence and destruction to extremes of imagination. Trying to gussy up something so ugly with more noble features is the epitome project of putting lipstick on a pig. It takes a Mendel to speak clearly… ‘apocalyptic is the most violent and destructive idea in history’ (Vision and Violence)”…
“We continue to experience the mass-death outcomes of apocalyptic mythology even today. Many of the parents of those millions of children who died unnecessarily from Rachel Carson’s apocalyptic narrative in Silent Spring are still alive. Ask them what they feel about that Johnny-come-lately version of apocalyptic. Yes, Arthur Herman in The Idea of Decline noted the Christian influence in shaping Declinism (“The single most dominant and influential theme in modern society”), and subsequently, environmental alarmism. Ah, so many clear correlations. Why continue to protect and defend this prominent contributor to so much misery?”
Another: “The curse of apocalyptic, focused in the Christ, continues to undermine authentic hope, and the liberation such hope could bring to human consciousness. The Christ has buried the single greatest discovery ever, the key to the liberating hope that was offered by Historical Jesus. The key to fully liberating human consciousness from its primal fears of chaos, destruction, punishment and death. “Love your enemy because God does, giving sun and rain to all, to both good and bad people”. There it is in one brief statement. No conditions Love at the core of reality and life. That love means no apocalyptic punishment and destruction… So cure depression and liberate from Declinism? There it is in that Jesus insight. And that contributes to liberating hope and human creative potential. Its all in that great key insight…”
“That is why I go after the Christ myth that contradicted the central message of Jesus”.
Another: “Point? Apocalyptic alarmism has always pushed people to waste time and resources needlessly on false alarms and salvation schemes. Bjorn Lomborg has written books on that waste of public funds and advocates dealing with actual threats.”
Another: “Now do what Jung, Campbell and others have done. What is behind all this, across history? Why do the same themes repeat across history and across the world? The themes behind pessimism psychology? The deeply embedded stuff. Viewpoint or worldview stuff. Ah, then you get to what mythology and religion have embraced and presented to humanity across history. Now taken up by ideology and even science at times. This explains why I go after the Christ of Paul. The epitome embodiment of all this. The great Re-enforcer of these apocalyptic themes in human consciousness”.
Another: “I use the term ‘correlations’ just to be cautious. I think the case is stronger than that. That history by Landes and Co. (e.g. Heaven on Earth). As Landes said, if you dismiss a Hitler as just a madman then you have learned nothing from that history and have not prepared yourself to prevent the problem from recurring. If you don’t understand the power of apocalyptic millennial ideas to carry a society toward mass death.”
Another: “Re the nihilist element in Declinism. I use the term “nihilist” with intention because we have so long played such silly games with these horrifically damaging themes of apocalyptic, mythical themes that have dominated and deformed human consciousness across the millennia. And they persist today in public consciousness. Just listen to the hysteria over “catastrophic climate change” as one example.”
“The embrace of apocalyptic in all its diverse versions is essentially the embrace of nihilism. To even countenance the destruction of all things, of life and the world. Think about it. You are embracing a core theme of the ultimate destruction of all. Is there anything else more nihilist? The ultimate destruction of all.”
“Ah, for clarity in these times, eh.”
One more: “Decline is the pre-apocalypse feature in the mythology of apocalyptic millennialism. It is the imagined worsening trajectory of life (degenerating, deteriorating) that leads to the final apocalyptic collapse and ending.”
Thorough problem solving. Root issues.
Take a mini-refresher survey of the last century. The same old primitive themes of ancient mythology- notably, the apocalyptic millennial complex- erupted again last century to incite people’s worst inherited impulses and contributed to the promotion of public pessimism, anxiety, and fear. That led to mass-death outcomes at a horrific scale (see research of Herman, Landes, Mendel, and Redles noted below). And those mass-death outcomes are still ongoing.
The ‘apocalyptic millennial’ complex of ideas is as old and primitive as the earliest human thought and writing (i.e. Sumerian, Akkadian, Babylonian). Those very themes have shaped Western consciousness mainly via Paul’s Christianity and his apocalyptic Christ myth. They emerged once again, as they have done too often across history, in Marxism, Nazism, Islamic extremism, and then environmental alarmism (Green religion, something quite different from the environmental concern that most of us embrace).
These ideas have the story of life all wrong. We know better now and we have the outline of new themes that tell the true story of life. Themes that promote our better impulses to hope, love, and peace.
What are those primitive old-story themes? A summary list: The past was better (original paradise or golden age, noble savage). But fallen people ruined the original paradise and now life is declining/degenerating toward some great disaster and ending. We must coercively (violently) purge the corrupting element (usually those we view as ‘enemies’) in order to “save the world” that is under imminent threat, so that we can restore the lost paradise and install our utopia.
(Note: In Marxism the corrupting thing to be purged was capitalism, in Nazism the corrupting thing to be purged was Jewish Bolshevism, in environmental alarmism the corrupting thing to be purged is too many over-consuming people in industrial civilization.)
These old-story themes are still the foundational themes in many worldviews today, including “secular” ideologies, and are even advocated by scientific minds (e.g. James Hansen stating in 2008, “It’s all over in five years”).
Regarding this complex of ideas- Joseph Campbell noted that the same themes repeat across history and across all world cultures. My argument: There is no full or ultimate liberation of human consciousness until you root out these bad ideas and replace them with more humane alternatives. That involves, among other things, going to the core themes of the world religions to do some thorough reform of the most basic religious ideas. This is more than just tinkering around the periphery as much religious reform does.
Note: At the core of the apocalyptic millennial complex is the worst of all bad ideas- that of a punitive, destroying God (our ultimate ideal and authority), or some other punitive and destroying Force/Principle. This fundamental theme is now given “secular” expression in things like angry Nature, vengeful Gaia, karma, or retributive Universe. Its great epitome expression is still the apocalyptic Christ of Paul. (“Lord Jesus will return in blazing fire to punish and destroy…”, Thessalonian letters; and “He (Lord Christ) treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty”, Revelation 19)
And the lights turned on...
Anthropologist Clifford Geertz helped me see the importance of the behavior/belief relationship from his research in Bali, Indonesia where people designed their villages and houses according to what they believed to be the divine or heavenly pattern. Another good illustration of this is the Hebrews in the Old Testament who built their Tabernacle to replicate what they believed was the Divine model. So all the details of their lives- i.e. eating, dress, sex- were ordered according to what they believed was the revealed will/word/law of God.
Our fundamental impulse for meaning has always driven us to validate our lives and behavior in relation to some greater reality, some ultimate reality. And this intuition makes good sense. If we are created for some larger reason/purpose then why not understand and fulfil that.
I came to the conclusion that Ultimate Reality, what humanity has always called God, was no conditions love when I saw the connection between behavior and belief that Historical Jesus made in the central statement of his message in Matthew 5:38-48 (and Luke 6:27-36). “Love your enemy because God does, giving sun and rain to all, to both good and bad people”.
Central? Yes, based on things like the Q Wisdom Sayings Gospel research and the prominence of this statement in that material.
Note that “love your enemy” is the height of the human ideal of love. It takes love to its highest meaning and expression and hence is unique for theology, pointing to what the transcendent love of God is really like (non-tribal, inclusive, universal, unlimited, unconditional).
This Matthew 5:38-48 passage provides the “thematic coherence” to all that the original Jesus said and did. It summarizes the “spirit” (the guiding ideal) of the man. Varied parables, teaching (forgive seventy times seven), and practices of the man illustrate this core theme of unconditional love (i.e. the refusal to punish the woman caught in adultery, inviting outcasts to meals, forgiving his torturers at his death). All the rest in the New Testament that contradicts this core theme of Jesus may be discarded just as Thomas Jefferson and Leo Tolstoy argued for picking the diamonds out of the dung.
Note that others long before (e.g. Akkadian Father, approximately 2000 BCE) had stated a similar non-retaliatory ethic.
But Historical Jesus- entirely opposite to Christian Jesus- was the first in history (as far as I have found) to get the theology as well as the ethic right and to connect the two, basing the supreme expression of humane behavior (non-retaliatory, unconditional love) on a similar supreme expression of humane belief (a non-retaliatory, unconditionally loving God). He took the great human ideal of love to its highest expression in no conditions love (love your enemy), and based that on the highest understanding of deity as the same love. He said, basically, treat everyone with no conditions love, even enemies, because that is what God does. God does not retaliate with eye for eye (hurt back for hurt caused, get even, hit back), but generously and unconditionally gives sun and rain (the good gifts of life) to all the same, both to good and bad people. God forgives, loves and includes all the same. Do likewise. Be just like God.
This ethic and belief in unconditional love is illustrated in the parables of Jesus (e.g. Vineyard workers, Prodigal), in his welcoming of the outcasts to meals with “righteous” folk, in his scandalous unlimited forgiveness of offenders, and most striking while he died a torturous death. He prayed for the Roman soldiers that killed him, “Father, forgive them because they don’t know what they are doing”. (See further definition of love at bottom. Love is more than a feeling. It embraces a viewpoint with features that help guide expression in the harshest experiences of life.)
Now Paul in one place appears to confront the central message of Jesus in order to repudiate it and replace it with traditional retaliation (eye for eye) theology. He uses the same ‘behavior based on a belief’ relationship that Jesus used but Paul does so in order to reject the stunning discovery of Jesus and retreat to the old theology of a retaliatory, conditional God. A tribal God who excludes and destroys unbelievers.
Note how Paul contradicts the central message of Jesus in Romans 12:17-20. He says, “Do not return evil for evil… so that you can heap coals of fire on your enemy (i.e. ensure his punishment/destruction by God)… Because God says, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay’”. Initially it appears that Paul, like Jesus, embraces a non-retaliatory ethic, but Paul’s statement of the ethic, contrary to Jesus, is actually a strong statement of retaliation. He argues that we should not retaliate (“you are not to return evil for evil”) because God will retaliate/repay. Your apparent non-retaliation is to be done in order to ensure that God repays. Because if you do not retaliate then you “will heap coals of fire” on your enemy/offender. That is to say that you will ensure his divine punishment. The point of non-retaliatory behavior in Paul is to affirm retaliation by a vengeful God. So both the ethic/behavior and theology/belief of Paul are retaliatory (eye for eye).
Paul knew better. He had the core insights of Jesus from the early oral tradition and the Q Wisdom Sayings gospel tradition. But Paul intentionally rejected that material. Paul blew it. And we have inherited Paul’s ‘eye for eye’ Christianity, and his retaliatory Christ myth.
This conclusion that God is non-retaliatory, no conditions Love cannot be reached via religious traditions. Religion across human history has always been a highly conditional institution, presenting God as a conditional reality that demands conditions of payment, sacrifice, correct belief, proper ritual and religious lifestyle, and retaliatory punishment for all failure to do the “right” thing (often, that is the “religious” thing). That conditionalism has always distorted and buried the unconditional nature of God. Religion by its very nature cannot present the true nature of God to humanity.
Understanding deity as no conditions Love is better reasoned from the best in humanity. This is ‘bottom-up’ theology. We see this no conditions love in great human examples like Nelson Mandela, The Railway Man, and the many ordinary people that treat their spouses and children in this manner. Our common human rights codes also embrace unconditional in such things as treating prisoners of war humanely, and in restorative justice approaches in our penal systems. We know that unconditional love for others is us at our best, at our most humane. Unconditional is the highest form of love. And so we rightly project this out as true of deity, but as infinitely better. That is to say- transcendent in God.
Note: Treating others with unconditional forgiveness, inclusion, and generosity is not antithetical to holding one another responsible for behavior and outcomes of behavior in this life. But holding unconditional in humanity’s highest ideal and authority orients us more to restorative justice approaches. Using Joseph Campbell’s phrasing, embracing unconditional helps us to “maintain our humanity. It helps us to remember our brotherhood with even our enemies, as we engage our righteous struggle against evil”.
Bob Brinsmead: “There are occasions when evildoers have to be restrained, not as an abandonment of the principle of acting humanely, but in the exercise of that principle”. Love is responsible to protect the innocent and to use force if necessary to do so. Such is not an abandonment of the principle of acting with love. It is not against love to use force to restrain irrational violence.
Further: Love is more than just a feeling. Authentic love is not about feeling fuzzy and warm toward those who engage violence or other inhumane forms of behavior. A complete understanding of love involves the embrace of a viewpoint that holds unconditional love as the highest expression of the authentic human spirit. Such a viewpoint will lead, no matter how outraged we feel at times, to responses and choices for the best outcomes (i.e. the most humane) in the worst situations that life gives us.
Site Project: This site counters the endless alarmist exaggeration and hysteria over the state of the world and life (i.e. the ‘end of days’ always just over the horizon). This project involves a thorough re-evaluation of the primitive themes, notably the apocalyptic complex, that still dominate modern thinking and contribute to unnecessary pessimism and anxiety over life. We are about problem solving at the deepest levels of thought/perception, emotion, and motivation/response.
Most important, this site confronts the bad theology of a monster deity (i.e. angry, punitive God, Retributive Universe, angry Nature or vengeful Gaia, and karma). That bad theology is at the root of much mental/emotional pathology in humanity (e.g. correlation with depression as the number one illness on the planet?).
This site offers alternative themes that affirm authentic hope, notably the foundational theme of a core “no conditions Love” that overturns humanity’s primal fears- i.e. the fear of harm from greater Forces/Spirits, and after-life harm.
Elements of bad theology still dominate the world religions and are now embraced in “secular” versions such as 19th Century Declinism, environmental alarmism or Green religion, and street-level theologies of karma. As psychotherapist Zenon Lotufo has concluded, “Cruel God theology deforms human personality”, (Cruel God, Kind God).
Insert note: “Revenge, payback, karma, eye for eye, getting even- retaliation in all its expressions- is us at our worst. Retaliation is more animal-like than human. It renders us potentially magnificent beings, petty and infantile. The base impulse to retaliate, often masquerading as ‘justice’ or a fight against ‘evil’, is behind too much unnecessary harm and suffering in life. We can be so much better. Remember towering human spirits like Mandela. I would shout this message into the midst of today’s public hurt for hurt cycles (hurt repaid for original hurt caused)- ‘Let’s all grow the fuck up, eh, and start acting like the great human spirits that we are'”.
Another note: Paul’s Christ is primarily responsible for bringing the pathology of apocalyptic into modern world consciousness. “Reverse engineer” the line of descent, working back from, for example, Herman’s “The Idea of Decline in Western History”. See also the notes below on the research of Landes, Mendel, and Redles on the destructive outcomes of apocalyptic millennialism. The apocalyptic millennial complex of ideas still dominates world consciousness, now commonly in “secularized” or ideological versions like environmental alarmism or Green religion. The Christ of Paul remains the epitome expression that re-enforces the apocalyptic millennial set of beliefs.
“The idea of decline is the single most dominant and influential theme in modern politics and society”, Arthur Herman in The Idea of Decline in Western History. To the contrary, the great trajectory of life does not decline toward something worse but continues to rise and improve toward something ever better. Evidence on all the important features and trends of life affirm this rising trajectory of progressing improvement. See research of Julian Simon, Greg Easterbrook, Bjorn Lomborg, Indur Goklany, Ronald Bailey, Matt Ridley, James Payne, Stephen Pinker, and others.
More on Site project: “Unconditional”- the adjective that overturns everything in human consciousness. It overturns the foundational themes in the history of mythology/religion. Religion has always been a highly conditional social institution that orients human consciousness to the conditions that it presents as necessary to appease and please deity. It has never communicated the wondrous unconditional nature of deity to humanity. In fact, religion has consistently distorted and buried that reality.
Unconditional, as expressed in the single most profound statement ever uttered- “Love your enemy”- gets us to the true nature of core reality (i.e. deity) as no conditions Love- transcendently universal and unlimited. Unconditional then orients ethics and justice to the truly humane.
Basic definition of unconditional- “Absolutely no conditions. None.”
The full liberation of human consciousness demands the full humanization of our highest ideal (i.e. deity) with the feature of unconditional. Unconditional is simply the highest (most humane) form of love that humanity has discovered.
Note also the qualifiers below regarding an unconditional approach to human imperfection… i.e. holding all responsible for behavior as critical to human development, restraining bad behavior (police, justice, and penal systems), and sometimes necessary war (military forces). An unconditional approach is not about feeling fuzzy or warm toward human brutality that rightly evokes rage. It is not an advocacy for pacifism but is more about an orientation to ‘restorative justice’.
I get that many people are scandalized and offended by the suggestion of merciful generosity toward the more egregious examples of human failure and they demand some form of retaliatory punishment as proper “justice” (hurt repaid for original hurt caused). I would counter that embracing an unconditional approach toward everyone is about maintaining our own humanity in the face of serious human imperfection and failure. Joe Campbell also spoke to this need to maintain our humanity (i.e. “love your enemy”) while engaging “our righteous struggle against evil”. See Simon Wiesenthal’s books for illustrations of this struggle (e.g. Justice, Not Vengeance).
Love is more than just a feeling. It involves the embrace of a viewpoint that holds the most humane ideals to guide emotion, attitude, and choice/response toward the most humane outcomes in the messy imperfection of life.
“Ultimately, we are all safe. There is no monster. There is only an inexpressible ‘no conditions Love’ at the core of reality.”
Let me save you some browsing time. This site is about a thorough rethink of basic themes/ideals in our worldviews. And foremost, this site affirms the “spiritual” insight that the core of reality (deity) is an inexpressible “absolutely no conditions” Love. Beyond the best that can be imagined. “The God infinitely beyond human theories of God” (my paraphrase of Joseph Campbell). This insight on a core ‘no conditions Love’ overturns entirely all theology and religious belief that has never communicated this wonder to humanity. Religion across history has been highly conditional (the conditions required to appease and please demanding deity- i.e. sacrifice, payment, punishment). There is nothing religious about an unconditional God. That one adjective overturns everything that we thought we knew about reality and life.
Unconditional fully humanizes- makes authentically humane- our highest ideals and authorities.
This stunning insight that God is no conditions Love was the central theme of Historical Jesus and his “greatest contribution to the history of ideas”. It was an insight that was subsequently buried by Paul’s Christ and Christianity.
Follow that insight on a core unconditional Love with this related point- the essence of the human spirit and consciousness is that very same no conditions Love. That stunningly humane Love is the true nature of the human self or person, though our true self is often clouded by the sub-human/inhuman impulses of our inherited animal brain. Fortunately, we are not our brains. (Yes, I embrace a John Eccles-type dualism.)
This insight, regarding the core human spirit as love, overturns the long history of mythology that has beaten into our consciousness that we are “fallen” and essentially corrupt/evil. This insight revolutionizes human self-identity.
What then is the central point of conscious human existence and human story in this imperfect world? To be like the unconditional God. To reach for this divine ideal of unconditional and to discover our true nature as unconditionally loving persons in the process of struggling with human imperfection and failure.
As many have suggested, we come into this world to learn what love actually is- as an unconditional, universal, and unlimited ideal. The central purpose of human life, then, is to learn to express that unconditional love toward all the imperfect fellow travellers around us. Yes, Joe Campbell backs me on this. He agrees that we mature as human and become the wise hero of our story when we orient our life to unconditional love. Unconditional enables us to “tower in stature” like a Mandela.
A framework for human story (the essential features of all human lives)
Joe Campbell has personally helped me to develop this outline for human life and human story (Ah… yes, via his comment in his books. I never met the guy). I have added to his basic points, revising, paraphrasing, and changing things.
My version of human experience, or story, in this world is centered around the word “unconditional”. Unconditional gives meaning to everything. It answers all the great questions about “Why existence?”; “Why this cosmos and this world?”, and “Why conscious human life?” Let unconditional define all areas of life- your goals, your mission in life, how you become the hero of your unique story, and how you mature as a human being. Unconditional is how you conquer your monster, your real enemy, and thereby “tower in stature” as a wise person.
First, I would affirm with Campbell that we come from a great Oneness that humanity has long called God (the Ultimate Consciousness, Mind, Intelligence, Spirit, Self, Goodness). And there is one overwhelmingly dominant feature that describes this divine Oneness- Love. Not just love as we know it here, but Love that is inexpressibly, transcendently, infinitely unconditional. Beyond words, terms, definitions, or categories. The God that is infinitely beyond our theories of God. Transcendently beyond the best that we could ever imagine. That love gives meaning to everything. It is the core purpose of the cosmos, the world, and conscious life. It is all.
Our true self is also that same no conditions Love. That love is the very essence of our human spirit and our human consciousness, though our spirit and consciousness are often clouded by the material body and brain that we have come to inhabit. Our core nature as no conditions love is often distorted and buried by the animal brain that we inherit, with its anti-human impulses to exhibit tribalism, domination of others, and the exclusion, punishment, and destruction of others.
Further on our origins in Oneness (i.e. that we are part of a greater Consciousness). Some suggest that only part of our consciousness is expressed through our limiting body and brain, in order to enable us to function in this material realm. Our greater consciousness is limited by the 5 senses and the three/four dimensional reality of this material realm so that we can experience life here. In this view, the brain is a transmitting organism, a limiting mechanism to make a life experience possible in the here and now. (Note: This view is more in line with John Eccles’ “dualist inter-actionism”)
Our origin in the Oneness or Source that is Love, our origin from that Oneness, according to Campbell, is critical to remember as we journey through life so that we do not lose our humanity in this world where we struggle with evil. Our origin in Oneness reminds us that the others that we battle with here- the imperfect others that we view as “enemies”- they are also from that same Oneness. They are still intimate family despite the oppositions/dualisms that we all engage here (i.e. the dualisms of religion, politics, race, nationality, or other). They are still equals with us. They are our brothers and sisters in the same one family. If we forget this oneness with others (our “brotherhood” with all) in our righteous struggle with evil in this world, then we will lose our humanity, says Campbell. We will forget that “love your enemy” is the key to maintaining our humanity.
Others have suggested that we are co-creators with God, that we take part in creating this material reality as a learning arena, a place to come and learn how to be human, to act out a human adventure, story, or quest. We all come as fellow actors in God’s theater, says Campbell.
And others yet suggest that we may even be responsible for choosing our unique life stories and the experiences in our stories, both good and bad. We choose our bodies, families, and lives in order to learn, develop, and grow as human. If this is true in any way, then we cannot blame God for our troubles. I am not affirming these speculative things … just offering them. But they point to some stunningly alternative ways to view the harsher experiences of our lives.
Moving along… Others have suggested that we come into life to fulfil some special mission, that we are called, or sent, to make some unique contribution to improve life, to make the world a better place. And we do this through living a unique life story.
Again, affirming my main point- the core purpose of human life and story is to know and learn love. To learn what authentically humane love is about. To learn how to love, how to receive and to express love. And the expression of love is achieved through all the diversity of human lives- e.g. whether making an economic contribution, a political or social contribution, or something personal. Perhaps as an entertainer. Is there any greater contribution than that made by comedians? Putting suffering in its place. Lightening the dark parts of life.
Our contribution may be small and hidden, or it may be offered in the larger public realm. Again, our contributions to life are as diverse as being human in our individual life stories. There is infinite creative potential in human lives and the freedom to be different, to explore, to create and innovate.
Once again, I would offer that unconditional love is the central point of it all. And that is intensely personal. As we contribute in some area, we should never forget that it’s all about how we relate to others around us in the mundane, ordinary, and private situations of daily life. Success in life is about how we treat others as fellow members of the same one family of God. They are our equals in that family despite their status in this world.
And taking another Campbell point here- We all face some monster in life. We experience some problem, some trial, something that we struggle with and try to overcome. Our monster/problem may be a physical disability, or mental/emotional problems, or some social issue, perhaps economic or political. Our monsters, and struggles/battles, are as diverse as the problems of our complex world, whether public or personal.
Others, Campbell included, have noted that dualism is part of this material realm and there is a point to the dualisms of material reality and life. Whether the male/female dualism, or the good versus evil dualism. Dualism serves the purpose, in the arena of life, of providing a backdrop against which we learn what good is. The experience of evil or bad in life provides the opposite that we struggle against, and through that struggle we gain insights, we discover humane responses, and we find solutions to problems, solutions that will benefit others. In our struggle with the bad or evil we also learn empathy with suffering others.
So struggle and suffering are necessary and even good for us because we would not learn, we would not develop and grow as human aside from struggle and suffering. As Julian Simon said, our problems are good for us because they push us to find solutions and our discovered solutions then benefit others. But still…. Yecchh, eh.
Campbell adds that we will be “wounded” in our struggle with our monster/problem.
Also remember again, we may have chosen our unique problems and experiences of suffering before we came here. We may be more responsible for our lives than we realize. Let your mind toy with this suggestion (see, for example, Natalie Sudman’s The Application of Impossible Things).
I would add something further to Campbell’s good points, though in places he has intimated something similar to this. The greatest monster and the real enemy that we all face and must conquer, the greatest problem that we must all wrestle with and solve, is the inherited animal within each of us (“the animal passions”). Here is where unconditional comes into laser focus. This is where we make our greatest contribution to making the world a better place. It starts within us, with conquering our own animal passions. “Why do you worry about and judge the speck in the other person’s eye (their imperfections) when you have a beam in your own eye (your own imperfections)?”
Revolution, reformation, renewal, change… should all begin as something intensely personal. Within us.
We have all inherited a core animal brain. They used to frame this as the “tri-partite” brain, with the reptilian core (i.e. amygdala), the limbic system, and then the more human cortex.
The animal brain comes with its basic impulses to things like tribalism (small band separation and opposition to outsiders), the impulse to dominate others (Alpha male/female), and the impulse to exclude, punish, and destroy the differing other/enemy.
But a liberating qualifier: We are not our brains (Jeffrey Schwartz). Our core human spirit, our human self or person, our consciousness, is the same Love as our great Source that we have long called God. We are not our inherited material and animal brains. We are something much better in our essential nature, personhood, or being (the “real” us).
(Insert: This is the most important dualism to understand- the human versus the animal. The human in us- i.e. our human spirit and consciousness- is taking us in an entirely new direction from our brutal animal past. It is taking us toward a more humane future.)
And here is where Campbell shines when defining human story. He says that the most critically important thing in human life is when we orient our lives to “universal love”. We then begin to mature as humans. I would use unconditional love as a broader, more inclusive term.
Unconditional potently counters (overcomes, conquers) the animal inside us by pointing us toward the embrace of all others as equals in the same one human family (inclusive not tribal). Unconditional inspires us to treat all others as equals and to not dominate and control the free and equal other (no alpha domination). And unconditional urges us to not destroy the other but to forgive the imperfection that we encounter in others. Our core self, as unconditional love, points us toward the restorative treatment of failure in others.
So our greatest battle/war is inside us.
When we struggle and suffer in life, and then discover unconditional as the way to become authentically human, that is the greatest insight that we can learn, the greatest treasure that we can discover, and the greatest victory that we can achieve. When we orient our lives to unconditional love, then we can offer the greatest benefit or boon to others- to treat them unconditionally. Unconditional points us toward the greatest revolution that we can bring to life, the greatest possible transformation of life, toward the greatest liberation that we can offer to the world (.e. liberation from the inherited animal in all of us). Unconditional treatment of all imperfect humanity (e.g. restorative justice) is the most potent way to make the world a better place.
Another way of putting this… We will all face some struggle, some experience of suffering, something we fear, perhaps opposition from an enemy, or some abuse from an opponent. If we choose to respond to that challenge with love, we then discover our true self as a being of love, and we mature into a heroic person through that experience and choice. See, for example, The Railway Man.
Campbell also says that a “wise man”, or mentor, will give us a sword to slay our monster and help us to achieve our purpose in life. We all know such people among family and friends, people who give us advice from their own life experience. And again, most importantly, unconditional love is that sword to slay our animal monster or enemy.
From our struggle with this imperfect life and learning how to love, we are transformed into a new person, into a better version of our self. When we orient our lives to unconditional love, we then “tower in stature as mature humans”, we become the hero of our story, and we fulfill our destiny, we accomplish our mission. And that is how we help to create a better world, a new world, by first making ourselves better persons, by living the love that is our true self.
Added note: An essential part of the development toward becoming a mature human person is to take responsibility for our failures in life. Personal acknowledgement and embrace of failure is the starting point to personal improvement.
Recap: Unconditional love is the key to the cosmos, this world, and conscious human life. It is the defining essence of our great Source- God. As someone said, “The very atoms of God are made of love, unconditional love”. That love then defines the purpose of the cosmos and life- that all has been created as an arena where we come to learn and experience such love, to receive and express such love. The imperfection of life is the background against which such love shines all the more brightly.
While each of us has some unique thing to contribute to life in economics, politics, work life, social life, sports/entertainment, music, or whatever else we choose to do, the one common factor in all human story is to learn unconditional love, to discover and achieve something of this highest form of love. When we orient our lives to this central ideal, then we have conquered our real monster and enemy, the inherited animal in us. Then we have become the hero of our story.
(Note: “meta-narrative”- those big background stories and themes that shape human worldviews. And to calm religious nerves… I am not advocating some form of atheism. I am oriented to theism but of a quite entirely non-religious variety. Taking my Independent status to all areas. Sort of like the newish category of “ spiritual but not religious”, or “unaffiliated”, as per the world religion survey. Others approach these issues from the endeavor to merge human spiritual insights with scientific understanding. Ah, so much freedom today for unique new approaches and diversity in God theory.)
Change the central theme of the old meta-narratives of mythology/religion (i.e. the myth of retaliatory, punitive deity) and you embrace the potential to transform everything. Make “no conditions love” the foundational theme of your new meta-story and you will liberate consciousness as nothing else can. And it will be the ultimate liberation at the deepest levels of human experience and existence- e.g. liberation from primal fears of ultimate or after-life harm (i.e. ultimate exclusion, punishment, or destruction).
And let’s not kid ourselves- that old core theme of retaliatory, punitive deity still hangs around everywhere in our major world religions and in non-religious contexts. It is even given expression in new “secular” versions like “vengeful Gaia”, “angry planet/nature”, “retributive or punitive Universe”, and street-level versions of karma. The myth of a retaliatory, punitive Force or Spirit is lodged at the center of 19th Century Declinism, the apocalyptic idea that life is declining toward some disastrous collapse and ending.
These “bad religious ideas”, notably Threat theology, have long added an unnecessary psychic burden to human life and suffering. They are ideas that have deformed human personality and life with fear, anxiety, guilt, shame, and violence (see Psychotherapist Zenon Lotufo’s points in ‘Cruel God, Kind God’). The alternative offered on this site is about re-assuring everyone with transcendent unconditional Love, affirming the sense of ultimate acceptance and security, and providing an entirely new and non-religious basis for human hope.
Point in comment below: Be careful about the features that you project onto and then embrace in humanity’s highest ideal and authority- deity. We become just like the God- the ultimate ideal or authority- that we believe in. And the outcomes of bad God theory have been horrific for others across history.
Ideas work in a feedback relationship with behavior. We are most essentially meaning-seeking beings (Victor Frankl). We embrace ideas/ideals to inspire, guide, incite, and validate our behavior and lives. This relationship is as old as humanity- to base our behavior/lives on some greater ideal or reality (See research of anthropologist Clifford Geertz). We want to believe that we are fulfilling some larger purpose, following some greater ideal or model. The issue then becomes- is that greater reality authentically humane or not?
Historical Jesus embraced the central theme of non-retaliation or unconditional love. Paul rejected that and re-affirmed retaliation and conditional love as his central theme (note his overall apocalyptic framework for his Christian religion- apocalypse as the supreme act of retaliation).
Insert note: The inclusion of the non-retaliation theme of Historical Jesus in the New Testament context- i.e. “No more eye for eye justice but instead love your enemy”- this contrary message has exerted a powerful moderating influence on Christianity and, fortunately, that moderation dominates Christianity today.
Unfortunately, moderation has not always characterized past Christian practice. See note on John Calvin just below. If Calvin, and numerous other Christians, had paid attention to Jesus’ central message to “love the enemy” they would not have murdered so many “heretics”, Jews, and other unbelievers across Christian history. The “rivers of blood” that historians have detailed.
I would encourage Christians to take Jesus seriously and further rethink issues such as the punitive orientation of Western justice. A notable outcome of this retaliatory orientation in justice is the US incarceration rate of over 700 per 100,000 population since the 1970s. This has resulted in the “American Gulag”. See Carl Menninger’s ‘The Crime of Punishment’. And yes, Mennonite theologians, among others, have noted that Christian theology is dominantly responsible for shaping Western ethics and justice.
Rethink the Christ myth- Jesus is not, and cannot be, Christ
The Christ of Paul has been the single most dominant myth in human history (see Tabor quotes below). It is the heart and soul of Christianity, the most influential belief system in history. While the Christ of Paul does embrace some admirable human ideals like grace, love, and forgiveness, it also embraces some of the basest features of primitive human mythology.
Notable themes associated with Paul’s Christ include: retaliation (divine retribution or repayment), discrimination or tribal exclusiveness (i.e. true believers favored over unbelievers), domination of others (Paul’s Christ as Lord of all, ruling with an iron fist/scepter), excessively harsh judgment (eternal punishment and torture in Hellfire for minor mistakes like gossiping, boasting, trash talking, disobeying parents, and of course, for not believing Paul’s Christ myth), and the threat of violent world destruction (apocalypse- see Thessalonians, 2 Peter, Revelation).
The Christ of Paul must be humanized just as we humanize everything else in life.
Most influential myth in history? How so? Evidence: Note the prominent influence of Christian apocalyptic on 19th Century Declinism, an ideological or “secular” version of apocalyptic mythology. “Declinism became arguably the single most dominant and influential theme in culture and politics in the twentieth century”, Arthur Herman in The Idea of Decline in Western History. Further, note the influence of Christian apocalyptic millennialism on Marxism, Nazism, and environmental alarmism (Richard Landes in ‘Heaven on Earth’, Arthur Mendel in ‘Vision and Violence’, and David Redles in ‘Hitler’s Millennial Reich’).
Further proxy evidence for the influence of apocalyptic: The public surveys of people’s pessimism about the future. We also see the prevalence of apocalyptic in contemporary story-telling such as in the movie industry and in literature (i.e. the sub-genre of “post-apocalyptic”). And of course the never-ending environmental alarmist theme of the ‘end of days’ looming just over the horizon. Add here the correlation that depression is the world’s number one illness. Julian Simon’s personal experience illustrates this.
The ideals that we embrace give meaning to our lives. They guide how we think and feel. They inspire and motivate our responses and actions. They shape our lives and societies.
So the question is of critical importance: What features should define our highest ideal and authority- deity? This is about the critical issue of distinguishing between what is authentically humane and what is subhuman or inhumane. People have done this from the beginning- learning to make the simple distinction between good and bad, and applying that distinction to all areas of life. Paul’s Christ needs to undergo this same process of reform. The Christ of Paul must be re-evaluated in a rigorous process that affirms what is good/humane, and purges what is bad/inhumane.
My point in this comment is that there are subhuman/inhumane features that are still embedded in our highest ideals. Those inhumane features continue to shape human consciousness and work to harmfully influence us and to incite the worst of human impulses, responses, and behavior. Where Historical Jesus embraced themes that inspired the best of being human, Paul’s Christ embraced features that validate the worst of human thought, emotion, and behavior.
Note: Central to the Christ is the base ideal of punitive retaliation that has often incited and validated the animal-like response of retaliation in the followers of the Christ. Episodes from the darker side of Christian history illustrate this fact. One example would be John Calvin putting his fellow Christian theologian, Servetus, to a tortuous death by slow burning, using green wood for the fire. Calvin’s motive for murder? A disagreement over the Christ myth. Servetus would not move a descriptive adjective to another position three words over in a sentence. So for “the glory of God and Christ” Calvin felt he was justified to punish and destroy the “heretic”.
Other examples would include the early Christian slaughter of Jewish communities as the Christian Crusaders travelled to Jerusalem to massacre Muslims that refused to believe the Christ myth.
These believers in Paul’s Christ embraced the principle of punitive retaliation as central to their great Christ ideal and they behaved accordingly. The Christ epitomizes the principle of retaliation in the great myth of a final apocalyptic punishment and destruction. “Lord Jesus will return in blazing fire to punish and destroy all who do not believe my gospel (i.e. Paul’s Christ)” (see the Thessalonians letters). That retaliatory ideal has too often incited, guided, inspired, and validated the behavior of Christians like Calvin.
If we are going to fully humanize human life and society then we must include the project to fully humanize our highest ideals and authority- notably, God or Christ. This is about going to the root of the problem to solve things at the deepest levels, to “win the battle of ideas” that are often behind the repeating problems of life, such as religiously-motivated violence.
Paul’s Christ has been the foundational myth of Western consciousness and culture for two millennia. His Christ has shaped Western justice and ethics with a punitive, retaliatory orientation. Paul’s Christ is primarily responsible for shaping the Western myth of apocalyptic that is now expressed in the ideology of 19th Century Declinism- again, “the single most dominant and influential theme in culture and politics today”. Apocalyptic Declinism continues to find expression in today’s Environmental Alarmism. And once again, most egregiously, Paul’s apocalyptic millennial themes were behind the mass-death movements of the past century. The historical research has been repeatedly cited here (Landes, Mendel, Herman, Redles).
The lines of descent, and the correlations to historical episodes of bad behavior, are clear.
The original error made by primitive minds was that the gods were retaliatory, punitive. This was the conclusion of early human logic- i.e. there were gods behind all the elements of the world (e.g. spirits or gods of trees, streams, storms/thunder, animal life, and disease) and as those elements of life were often destructive, then the gods were obviously angry and punishing people for their “sins”.
Hence, the myth of retaliatory deity was deeply lodged in human worldviews at the very beginning and has even become embedded in the human subconscious. And that myth of divine retaliation then validated the primal impulse in people to retaliate. Retaliation has long defined human justice as something retributive, punitive.
The theme of retaliation has continued at the core of world religions across history. It has also descended into the dominant ideologies of the modern world (i.e. 19th Century Declinism). The theme of retaliation is pair-bonded with the belief that people are bad and deserve to be punished by some great Force or Spirit. We see continue to see this core retaliatory, punitive theme in the contemporary myths of “the revenge of Gaia”, “angry planet”, “retributive Universe”, and karma.
The argument of this site is that the original error of some core retaliation (punitive, destroying deity) was corrected millennia ago by Jesus (his “stunning new theology of a non-retaliatory God”) but that new theology was subsequently buried by Paul’s Christ myth and the Christian religion. Paul rejected the stunning non-retaliatory discovery of Jesus and retreated to re-affirm the ancient, primitive error of retaliation as the defining feature of deity.
Where non-retaliation was the central principle in the message of Jesus, Paul re-established retaliation as the central principle in his gospel.
Two notable icons and their ideas (Paul and Jesus) have dominated our Western consciousness for the past two millennia, more than any others (see James Tabor’s comment below on Paul’s dominant influence on Western society-“Paul is the most influential person in human history”).
The argument of this site is that Jesus and Paul were entirely opposite to one another. This becomes evident when you isolate their core themes, message, or teaching.
But the religion that they are embedded within- Christianity- has not presented to us that stunning contradiction. And the result has been “cognitive dissonance” of the most serious kind. This dissonance, or disconnect, stems from the oxymoronic merging and mixing of history’s most profoundly humanizing insight (i.e. non-retaliatory, unconditional love in God) with history’s most damaging themes (i.e. divine retaliation and supreme conditionalism/salvationism). This dissonance continues to overshadow our greatest ideal and authority- deity. (See psychotherapist Zenon Lotufo’s treatment of Christian cognitive dissonance in his book “Cruel God, Kind God”.)
The inhumane features in the religious mix have always undermined, weakened, distorted, and even buried the better features in the mix. Consider this summary of Christian belief: “God is love, but will send you to Hell if you do not believe Paul’s Christ myth”? Really? Love and Hell from the same reality? C’mon. Seriously?
Here is the contradiction set forth as simply as possible, even if, at first blush, it seems too blunt and offensive. You cannot merge Historical Jesus with Paul’s Christ. The term “Jesus Christ” is entirely contradictory. Jesus is not, and cannot be, Christ. How so?
1. In his core statement of his theology, Historical Jesus taught non-retaliation. He said that there should be “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 people” (Matthew 5).
To the contrary, Paul’s Christ, and his general theology, embodied supreme retaliation. He affirmatively quotes the Old Testament theology that declares, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord” (Romans 12).
2. Historical Jesus taught a God that was unconditional Love. Again, sun and rain are given to all, to both good and bad people. Or, in the same context, “Give to all, expecting nothing in return. Do good even to even your enemies, expecting nothing in return”- i.e. divine love expects no payment or sacrifice.
Paul’s God, to the contrary, demanded and expected a supreme condition to be met, a payment to be made, before he would do good to his enemies- i.e. the ultimate sacrifice/payment of the death of a god-man (see his book of Romans for detail).
3. Jesus was non-apocalyptic. His non-retaliatory God (no eye for eye) would not engage the ultimate retaliatory act of apocalypse, and would not embrace the ultimate retaliation that is Hell.
Again, to the contrary, Paul’s Christ and God were apocalyptic. See his Thessalonians letters, where Paul states, “Lord Jesus will return in blazing fire (apocalypse) to punish and destroy all who do not believe my gospel”.
If you mix or merge these entirely opposite themes, you then create nonsense. Paul’s endeavor to mix Historical Jesus with his Christ has only distorted, undermined, and buried the true message of Jesus.
Historical Jesus had cut the taproot of the destructive apocalyptic myth. He went directly to the retaliation theology at the core of the apocalyptic pathology and repudiated that “eye for eye” God. But Paul, the apocalypticist, rejected the theological breakthrough of Jesus and retreated back to the punitive, destroying deity that would retaliate (engage eye for eye justice) in a great apocalypse. Paul epitomized these bad religious ideas in his Christ myth.
Further: Opposing messiah mythology
Historical Jesus did not embrace messiah mythology in general and especially not the Christ messiah as presented in Paul’s Christ myth. Jesus made a variety of statements that showed that he stood against messiah and Christ mythology. He was, to be blunt, anti-Christology or anti-Christ.
Q Wisdom Sayings Gospel research affirms that in the original teaching of Jesus (i.e. Q1) he said nothing about coming as a messiah, or coming to offer himself as a sacrifice to pay for sin (see James Robinson, John Kloppenborg, Stephen Patterson, and related Q scholars).
To the contrary, the Christ of Paul was presented as the supreme sacrifice to appease divine anger at human imperfection/sin. Paul’s God threatened to retaliate against all sin and to destroy “sinners” unless a payment of blood was made by a Savior/messiah. But, again, Jesus had taught that there was no such angry, threatening God, threatening to retaliate against enemies or sinners. So logically, no sacrifice or atonement was needed to appease the theological fiction that Paul embraced.
Jesus further stood against messiah mythology as in “Lord Christ ruling all”. He had taught: “The rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, exercise authority over them. But not so with you. Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant” (Matthew 20). The God of Jesus was not a ruling king, but a servant God, humble and lowly, a commoner God. The God of Jesus had nothing to do with ruling elites and domination of others.
I would affirm with Charles Templeton that God was not a self-centered psychopath demanding to be the center of attention and praise like an Idi Amin personality. No. God was authentic love. Such love respects the freedom of others and serves others. It does not control, threaten, coerce or interfere in other’s freedom.
Thomas Jefferson and Leo Tolstoy were right that the diamond/pearl of Jesus has been buried in the Christianity and Christ of Paul.
The Core of the Core
To set forth this contradiction between Jesus and Paul more clearly, note again Jesus’ statement of his central theme in Matt.5:38-48, or the better version in Luke 6:27-36 (Luke’s statement of that same message or theme). Central theme? Yes, it is the notable heart (the “core of the core”) of Jesus’ most original teaching as set forth in the Q Wisdom Sayings Gospel research.
Note that Jesus based his non-retaliatory, unconditional behavior on the related theological belief in a non-retaliatory, unconditional God. Do this because this is what God is like, or this is what God does. This is how God treats all people, including the bad, the unrighteous, or evil people.
Jesus based his non-retaliatory ethic (how we should behave) on a similar, but transcendently better, non-retaliatory theology (how God behaves).
This is about the fundamental relationship of an ethic based on a theology, or a behavior based on a belief. People have engaged this across history, modelling their lives according to what they believed was the divine pattern (i.e. the will, law, or word of God).
Here again is his statement of his main message or theme:
“You have heard it said that justice is eye for eye. But, no. I say, instead, Love your enemies. Do good to those who hurt you. Give to those who will not give in return. If you to this, then you will be the children of your divine Parent. You will be just like God because God does not engage eye for eye retaliation but instead God loves God’s enemies. How so? God sends sun and rain to all, both to good and to bad people. Be unconditionally merciful to the bad people, just like God.”
Later, Paul used the same pattern (i.e. a behavior related to a theological belief) in Romans 12. But he did so in order to intentionally and directly contradict the foundational ethic and theology of Jesus. Paul said, “Do not repay evil for evil. Do not take revenge”. Why? Because God will vent his wrath and vengeance on your enemies. So at first blush it appears that Paul, contradictorily, based his apparently non-retaliatory ethic/behavior on the very opposite view of a retaliatory God.
Paul affirms his theology in a quote from the Old Testament where it claims that God said, “Vengeance is mine. I will repay”. Paul then adds this critical comment, do good to your enemy in order to “heap burning coals on his head” (i.e. to ensure his punishment at the hands of a vengeful, retaliating God).
Aha. So even Paul’s ethic, while appearing non-retaliatory in practice, is retaliatory in spirit. Note that he said “you must not retaliate in order to ensure the divine or ultimate punishment of your enemy”. Paul’s non-retaliatory ethic is actually retaliatory in spirit and intention toward others (i.e. the end point or goal of your doing good to your enemy is to ensure divine retaliation against him- to “heap coals of fire on him”).
There is no authentic unconditional mercy or non-retaliatory love, whether ethical or theological, in that statement of Paul.
In summary, Paul’s statement is an affirmation of retaliation in direct contradiction to Jesus’ central message or gospel of non-retaliation. Paul, once again, embraced the very worst themes of past mythology and religion, the themes that have always deformed human personality and life with fear, anxiety, guilt, and shame; the themes that have too often incited the worst impulses in people to retaliate and harm others.
Apocalyptic millennialism is the overall framework of Paul’s religion. He embraced the mythology of a retaliatory, punishing God that would destroy the world in a final apocalypse and then offer salvation and a millennial paradise for true believers in his Christ.
The outcome (i.e. consequences) of Paul’s retaliatory core themes have been horrific over the past two millennia. For example, look at just the last century and the discovery of apocalyptic millennial themes behind the main mass-death movements of Marxism, Nazism, and environmental alarmism (see research of Richard Landes, Arthur Herman, Arthur Mendel, and David Redles). These movements have resulted in the deaths of 200 million people in just the twentieth century.
Those apocalyptic millennial themes came to us, directly descending from Paul’s Christ myth, and his version of Christianity, then into the 19th Century ideology of Declinism, and then also into contemporary versions of apocalyptic, such as environmental alarmism.
“The initial religious model of apocalyptic transmutation/transformation became the pattern and inspiration for the later secular revolutionary versions” (Arthur Mendel in Vision and Violence). Mendel adds that apocalyptic has been the most violent and destructive idea in history.
Paul’s apocalyptic retaliation theme is still evident throughout Western consciousness and society today. It has shaped Western justice as essentially retributive or punitive (see Mennonite comment further below in “Hurt for hurt cycles”).
Remember, the non-retaliatory God of Jesus cannot be an apocalyptic God because an apocalypse is a great act of supreme retaliation, the final retaliation.
Quotes from Tabor, Mendel
“Paul is the most influential person in human history and realize it or not, he has shaped practically all we think about everything…the foundations of Western civilization, from our assumptions about reality to our societal and personal ethics, rest in a singular way upon the heavenly visions and apparitions of Paul (his Christ vision)… In contrast, Jesus as a historical figure has been largely lost to our culture.” (James Tabor in Paul and Jesus)
“Paul operated with a strongly apocalyptic perspective that influenced all he said or did”. (Tabor)
“Before his conversion Paul was a thorough-going apocalypticist. He did not abandon his apocalyptic thinking; his apocalypticism… formed his framework for understanding his new faith… Paul’s message… was a Jewish apocalyptic proclamation with a Christian twist…”, Bart Ehrman, The Triumph of Christianity.
Again, my point is that the core of apocalyptic mythology is the idea of a retaliating deity that engages the ultimate act of eye for eye justice in an apocalypse (punishing and destroying humanity and the world). Jesus had rejected apocalyptic with his stunning new theology of non-retaliatory God that did not engage eye for eye justice. The God of Jesus would not engage the ultimate “eye for eye” retaliation of apocalyptic punishment and destruction. But, to the contrary, Paul embraced the myth of an apocalyptic God and eye for eye justice.
The full Ehrman quote on Paul’s overall apocalyptic framework: “Even before his conversion Paul was a thoroughgoing apocalypticist. He did not abandon his apocalyptic thinking when he began to follow Jesus; his apocalypticism was instead brought into his new faith and formed his framework for understanding it. This world was controlled by evil forces. That was why there was so much pain and misery here. But God was ultimately sovereign and was about to reestablish his control over the world. He was soon to enter into judgment and overthrow the forces of evil- along with everyone who sided with them- in order to bring about his good kingdom here on earth. The utopia to come was to be preceded by a cataclysmic act of destruction. God’s wrath was about to strike. God would send a cosmic judge of the earth to destroy his enemies and set up his kingdom. And for Paul, that cosmic judge was Jesus. It was Jesus whom the Thessalonians were to “await from heaven” because he was the one who would “save us from the wrath that is coming”. Paul’s message, in a nutshell, was a Jewish apocalyptic proclamation with a seriously Christian twist”. (p.69-70)
And yes, the Jesus material in the Christian mix (Matthew 5:38-48) has been a moderating influence on the more harm-inciting themes in the larger New Testament context. The core Jesus teaching has often inspired the better angels of our human nature.
The scandal in this Christian history is that Jesus offered to humanity the single most liberating and humanizing insight ever- his new unconditional God that overturned the entire theology of past mythology and religion. His was a “stunning new theology of a non-retaliatory deity… His greatest contribution to the history of human ideas” (James Robinson).
But Paul and the gospel writers shamefully buried that profound insight and discovery of a core “no conditions” Love. This site explores this scandalous contradiction in detail. Paul and the other New Testament writers short-circuited history’s potentially greatest liberation movement, the liberation of the human spirit at the deepest levels of human consciousness. The Jesus insight that God was no conditions love would have promoted liberation from humanity’s primal fears of some greater punitive, destroying reality. That mythical pathology has long incited the fear, anxiety, guilt and shame that have fueled the wasteful history of Salvationism.
Where Jesus had fully humanized humanity’s highest ideal and authority with no conditions, no retaliation, Paul re-established retaliation in God. He affirmed condition and retribution in our highest ideal and authority. Jesus had taken our highest ideal toward a fully humane direction, while Paul retreated back to the worst of the past. Paul embraced the basest features of past mythology and religion in his Christ, giving those features extreme and ultimate expression in history’s most influential myth.
The stunner and scandal in this- Christianity claims to represent Jesus to the world. But it doesn’t. It cannot. A highly conditional religion cannot express an essentially unconditional reality and message. Yes, the Christian bible includes the core teaching of Jesus but then immediately sets about changing, distorting, and burying his diamond in the “dung” and “muck” of the rest of the New Testament (Thomas Jefferson and Leo Tolstoy’s blunt conclusion).
Look at how Matthew does this, adding his own interpretive comments to his quote of the central Jesus message. Matthew adds such statements as “your righteousness must exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees if you want to get into heaven”, or “you must forgive if you want to be forgiven”, or “judge not so you will not be judged”. With these added threats and conditions he messed up the core theme of Jesus that there was no divine threat or condition to meet.
Matthew adds his distorting editorial comment, most notably, when he says that unbelievers “will be cast into outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth (Hell)”. Imagine, stating that consciousness-deforming and traumatizing threat just after he had quoted Jesus’ statement to “love the enemy because God does”. Matthew then gave expression to the single most extreme expression of hate ever uttered- “you will go to Hell”. He included the core theme of Jesus on non-retaliation but then messed that up with the threat of the worst imaginable form of retaliation- Hell. Matthew lacked the self-awareness to recognise how contradictory his comments were to the Jesus material that he had just quoted.
We are all responsible for the outcomes to the ideas that we hold and present publicly. Paul embraced apocalyptic and sent that core theme into Western consciousness. The most destructive idea in history (Arthur Mendel, Vision and Violence). As noted above, that apocalyptic Christ myth descended down through Western history to shape “secular” ideologies like 19th Century Declinism and then the apocalyptic millennialism of the twentieth century mass-death movements. Historians have detailed this (again, Herman, Mendel, Landes, Redles, Cook). It is beyond inexcusable and irresponsible to continue to hold such life-deforming and destructive themes.
This is all about what themes should dominate our great ideals. What should dominate human consciousness. What is authentically humane or inhumane? Retaliation or non-retaliation? Conditional or unconditional love? Apocalyptic threat or not?
The “hate for hate” or “hurt for hurt” cycles of contemporary life
Retaliation dehumanizes all of us that take part in such cycles, rendering us potentially magnificent humans just petty caricatures of our true humanity. Where in all the retaliatory frenzy of life is the “magnificence of being human”? Like a Mandela.
First, to set the tone- we are not observing the agonal breathing of a hospiced American democracy. The hysterical media exaggeration and distortion that we are watching some final decline of America is just more “end of days” nonsense that media endlessly propagate (see David Altheide’s “Creating Fear: News and the manufacture of crisis”).
But note the sometimes ugly back and forth in public today where leading representatives on both sides (e.g. Liberal, Conservative) blame one another for making some embarrassing or hurtful comment that then incites rage on the other side and a similar hurtful response in return. These hate for hate or hurt for hurt cycles drag all participants down to the pettiest levels of human interaction. They are embarrassing, at times, to watch. They are expressions of our infantile side.
(Note in material below: I am distinguishing between legitimate public disagreement and debate over common concerns/issues, and the crossing of the line into ad hominem or personal attack, all too common an outcome when people differ over some important issue.)
There are varied threads that can be pulled from the mix: Such as the over-sensitivity of the many that are ready to pounce on the slightest political incorrectness or perceived offense. Who said that this generation was “emotionally fragile” and offended by everything, and needing “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings” to protect from contrary opinion.
There appear to be good numbers of people that are obsessively on the lookout to be offended by anything and everything, and then jump on the slightest thing that remotely permits them to vent their rage at their opponents. This is tribal sensitivity/touchiness and the retaliatory impulse taken to extreme. These people will tackle every comment of an opponent, parsing and twisting even words and how they were pronounced, as evidence of evil beyond evil.
What spirit is this? It is not the human spirit. Where is that basic human spirit of giving the benefit of the doubt to differing others, of toleration of the imperfection of others (i.e. authentic love does not think evil of the other), and of a basic generosity and forgiveness toward one another’s imperfections? Where are the basic human qualities that make us something better than snarling, retaliatory animals?
Further, in much of this we are observing the old totalitarian impulse that tries to shut down and control others and how we think they should express themselves (i.e. the excessive political correctness that most of us recoil from).
There is nothing wrong with robust public disagreement and debate over policies. But we enter the realm of the shoddy and sleazy when we cross lines to demean the disagreeing other person, when we misrepresent their comments (take out of context) with the most extreme distortion (“racist” is a common derogative today), and when we assume and condemn the other’s (invisible to us) motivations as most evil. What happened to “love thinks no evil of the other but assumes the best”? Both sides are guilty of dehumanizing others in these varied ways.
Also, let’s not indulge the self-delusion of the “righteous man” in the temple who looked down his nose at a nearby “sinner”, saying, “I thank God I am not as bad as that person”. Some self-awareness of our own imperfection is a valuable cautionary thing. Remember when Jesus, urging just such self-awareness, asked, “Why do you condemn the speck in the other person’s eye when you have a beam in your own eye?” Consider your own imperfection and failure before criticizing others.
These back and forth retaliatory cycles also include the felt right to “justice” as some form of hurtful payback that should be meted out to those who have committed some perceived offence. This “hurting in return for hurt caused” reminds me of Brazilian psychotherapist Zenon Lotufo’s comment that anyone who finds pleasure in hurting another, well, in psychology that is defined as the psychopathic personality (see his “Cruel God, Kind God”). Is there a bit of this in all of us? Or can we blame it on the old animal inheritance that we all carry in our brains? (i.e. the primal urge to retaliate as “defense against some threat”)
Whatever, the cycles of “hurt returned for hurt given” continue, the downward spirals of putting down the other side, of belittling, and demeaning those who disagree with us. Often, the opponent on the other side is devalued as ‘mentally deficient’ in some way.
And whatever happened to “Not wrong, but just different”?
Note also that our dehumanization of the disagreeing other person, however mildly we do this, puts us on the same continuum with the more egregious Nazis. I say this for shock effect- a kind of slap up the side of the head. The Nazis portrayed the Jews as less than human. Careful about playing with that dehumanization continuum even if only at the “soft” end.
The disagreeing other, our “enemy” or opponent, is still as fully and equally human as we are.
And regarding the more serious forms of bad behavior, well, we all share the same potential for such inhumanity even though, in our estimation, we fail to lesser degree. Consider: We may have just luckily escaped the life conditions that led to the much worse behavior of the serious offenders (i.e. childhood trauma, genetic influences, brain deformity as in psychopathy, or poor childhood training in things like impulse control).
Each side justifies its response as standing for “truth” and “right” against the wrong or “evil” of the other side. But the ongoing back and forth reduces all sides to the petty and infantile. Where is the spirit of a Nelson Mandela? To rise above the pettiness of retaliation and to “tower in stature as maturely human”, where life is oriented to forgiveness, inclusion, and unconditional love for all. Remember Mandela’s signature statement, “Let us surprise them (our opponents) with our generosity”.
Of course we are all right to stand against, or speak out against, what we believe to be inhuman or subhuman conduct or expression, according to commonly agreed understanding of such things. But the best of the human spirit will do so with a merciful, empathic and restorative approach toward all others. It will recognize that the offending other is still a fellow member of the one human family, despite our perception of their failure to live as properly human.
Note also the caution of the Chinese sage Lautzu (sp?) who urged mercy and compassion when we are obligated to take necessary counter-measures of defense against more serious forms of attack (i.e. just war). He said, do not engage triumphalism and add humiliation to your defeated enemy, but seek his restoration.
Related insert: Restorative justice approaches continue to fight opposition from the strong punitive element in US justice and penology. This punitive streak is evident in the record-breaking incarceration rates (the “US Gulag”). US imprisonment rates were about 100 per 100,000 population from the Civil War (1865) up to the 1970s. But since then the incarceration rate has risen to over 700 per 100,000 population, where it continues. Note Karl Menninger’s The Crime of Punishment for detail. Also, the Mennonites remind us that our punitive justice systems historically derive from punitive Christian theology. (See note on theologian Ted Grimsrud just below)
Further note: There is also in the mix of the retaliation cycles the drive to create an ever-expanding category of crimes. This is the perverse effort to criminalize opponents- again, the old totalitarian impulse to shut down opposition. Much like Pres. Obama’s Attorney General tried to criminalize skeptical climate science in 2016. Daniel Hannan (Inventing Freedom) noted this trend in Europe, where bureaucrats want to create new laws to cover every detail of life, especially areas not yet covered by some law or regulation. Whereas in England the argument is that if some area of life is not regulated, then let it remain an area of free choice.
Note also that prohibition movements have repeatedly ended as failed projects that tried to excessively criminalize certain things but caused more problems than they tried to solve (i.e. the increased violence during prohibitions). See Jeffrey Miron’s “Drug War Crimes: The Consequences of Prohibition”.
Also in the mix of these retaliatory cycles we see the tribal impulse operating- us versus our enemies/opponents and the felt need to separate from that other, to exclude the other as bad/evil, and then to dominate or destroy the opposing other. Tribalism leads people to see themselves as good people in opposition to bad others. To see themselves as righteous in opposition to the unrighteous, or as true believers opposed to “unbelievers”.
In the mix of the intense retaliatory cycles of today, where is the love-affirming understanding of the fundamental oneness of the human family? Where is the universal love that most essentially defines us as human?
Countering the retaliation ethic
The single most profound statement anywhere in human writing across history is also the “hardest saying” ever: i.e. “Love your enemy”. Which means- love everyone the same, as intimate family. Embrace “unconditional” love toward all, toward both good and bad people. Don’t just love those who love you back. Anyone can do that. Even thugs love fellow thugs. But be something better- love and do good to those who hate you and mistreat you. Give to those who do not give back. Then you will be just like God. That is what the unconditional God does.
Most people reject this hard saying- “love your enemy”- out of hand, or find some way to discredit, dismiss, or limit its implications and applications. Watch how the older brother in the Prodigal parable reacted to the unconditional treatment of his younger brother. Or how the all-day vineyard workers reacted to the owner’s unlimited generosity. Or how “righteous” guests at meal tables were scandalized when Jesus invited in the local scoundrels and outcasts. Or how the disciples grudgingly questioned Jesus when he told them to forgive all endlessly (i.e. seven times seventy), to keep no record of wrongs. To not think evil of others.
Most of us, when offended or hurt in some way, will then react in kind. We try to hurt back, to get even. We call it payback, getting even, getting revenge, or whatever. We believe that it is our rightful due to get “justice” as some form of punishing the bad that has been done to us or to others. We want to ensure that others get their proper “karma”. We are offended at any suggestion that we should exercise unconditional forgiveness and love because it’s just not fair, right, or just. It’s not moral and we must restore the “moral balance” of life (i.e. reward the good, punish the bad).
While reacting to offense and hurt with a similar response- i.e. hurting back- is a primal human response, it is also very animal-like. Retaliation is us behaving at our worst.
(Insert Note: Retaliation is sometimes done in a passive aggressive manner, such as when one spouse feels that the other has not been showing enough affection, so the hurt party chooses to also limit affection in return. Ah, we are all experts at pettiness, eh.)
When caught in a downward spiralling retaliatory cycle with someone, remember that it takes real courage and maturity to be the initiating person to break such a cycle, to “take one on the chin” and not demand personal “justice” (i.e. the right to get even). But such courage can start a new upward cycle toward something better.
History of retaliatory justice (theology validating the animal response)
Human justice, from the beginning of recorded history some 5000 years ago, has been defined in terms of retaliation. People from the beginning believed that the gods (or God) were retaliatory and they were the enforcers of ultimate justice as retaliation. This belief was based on an original error made by the ancients. They believed that there were gods behind all areas of life.
As the varied features of life were often violent and destructive- i.e. natural disaster, disease, accident- the ancients then logically concluded that the gods were angry and were punishing them for their “sins”. So they reasoned that human justice should do the same. It was simple-minded primitive reasoning. Note, for example, the Sumerian Flood myth where Enlil threatened to punish “noisy people”. Yes, their sin was being too boisterous and vocally so.
Right at the beginning, retaliation was embedded in humanity’s highest ideal and authority as right and good.
Subsequently, people have always felt that it was a basic human right to get even with their offenders. And if not here and now, then God would ensure payback in the future. Paul argued for this in Romans 12:17-20. Do not retaliate here and now, he said, because God will ultimately mete out vengeance in a future final judgment and punishment (i.e. apocalypse and hell).
It was a huge mistake to define justice that way. Why? Because that retaliatory or punitive justice was based on an entirely wrong view of God, a view that was embedded in public consciousness at the very beginning of recorded history.
But God had never retaliated against the bad guys. There had never been any such reality as a punitive, destroying God. To the contrary, God had always been unconditional Love toward all.
Punitive deity has always been bad myth derived from bad logic (See “Punishing Nature: the most fundamental human myth” in the section just below)
Two millennia ago the wisdom sage Jesus corrected the wrong theology at the basis of human justice. Unfortunately, emerging Pauline Christianity immediately buried his insight in its retreat to primitive views of justice as retaliation, based on Paul’s primitive view of God as retaliatory (again- Romans 12:17-20).
Look closely at the most famous statement made by Historical Jesus in Matthew 5:38-48 (the same statement- a better version- is made in Luke 6: 27-36). Jesus said, you have heard that justice was “eye for eye”, that you had the right to get even with your offender, to get recompense, to get “justice”. This view of retaliatory, punitive justice had defined justice all through history because people believed that a retaliatory, punitive God ultimately enforced such justice.
But Historical Jesus (not Christian Jesus, not the “Jesus Christ” of Paul) outright rejected that tradition of retaliatory/punitive justice. Historical Jesus rejected it because he rejected the theological basis of retaliatory/punitive justice as all wrong. He rejected the retaliatory/punitive God behind such justice.
Listen to how he countered that old justice when he stated, “I say, instead of eye for eye response to offenders, love your enemy/offender. Pray for the one who curses you. Give to the one who will not give back to you. Do good to your offender. Why? Because then you will be just like God (“you will be the children of your divine Parent”). God does this. That is what God is like. God does not retaliate against bad people. God loves God’s enemies. God gives the good gifts of life- sun and rain- to all people, to both good and bad people”. God includes all. God loves all the same.
What a stunner, eh. God does not reward the good and punish the bad as per traditional justice approaches. No. God rewards all with the same mercy, goodness, kindness, and generosity. In other words- God is unconditional love toward all.
Push this further: Unconditional deity means that God does not tribally exclude the “bad”, the unrighteous, or unworthy. With an unconditional God there is no tribal division of humanity into true believers versus unbelievers. All get the same unlimited or unconditional love. And hang in there… below is a qualification on how we should treat violent offenders. Unconditional love is not an advocacy for pacifism in the face of bad behavior. But it is advocating for restorative justice toward all, including toward the worst among us.
If we take the central Jesus statement seriously, it tells us that God views all people as full members of the one human family. No one is separated or excluded from God’s mercy and love. No matter how badly they may fail to live as human. Let this scandalize your sense of justice just as it scandalized and offended the older brother of the Prodigal, the all-day vineyard workers, and the guests at meal times when Jesus included the local scoundrels and thugs.
So human justice, with its history-long orientation to punitive responses and approaches, based on the belief that God was punitive, has been all wrong. That fiction of a punishing, retaliating God had always been wrong. No such God had ever existed. Justice should have been restorative from the beginning, based on the truth that God is unconditionally merciful and loving toward all, toward both good and bad people. God had always and only been unconditional Love.
The great world religions had gotten things all wrong. They had embraced the pathology (i.e. the wrong theology) of a punitive, destroying deity. Consequently, all the salvation schemes of the world religions were based on this wrong theology and they have been a horrific waste of human time and resources. There never was any angry deity demanding to be appeased with sacrifice or payment. There never was a retaliating, punishing God to back up retaliatory, punitive justice systems. The theological basis of human justice was all wrong from the start.
Now the promised qualifier: (Intro note: Restorative justice approaches recognize that natural consequences and social consequences are part of life in this world and essential to human growth and healthy development. We are all to be held responsible for our choices and actions, and their outcomes in life.)
The unconditional treatment of all people does not equate with dogmatic pacifism in the face of monstrous inhumanity. The unconditional treatment of all is not advocating to “let all the psychopaths go free” as some thoughtlessly conclude. Love of any variety must restrain violent and abusive people in order to protect others. But an unconditional attitude and approach will then treat offenders restoratively. And yes, even war is sometimes necessary as a response to the irrational religious violence of groups like ISIS. And imprisonment is still necessary to defend the innocent from those with poor or no impulse control (e.g. the mentally ill, the psychopathic). But we then treat prisoners of war and criminal offenders humanely, rehabilitatively.
It also helps to orient our selves toward more empathy with offenders if we try to understand the roots of criminal offense in things like mental illness, childhood trauma (i.e. violence, abuse), or poor training in impulse control. See, for instance, Karl Menninger’s The Crime of Punishment. What does culpability mean in the case of a person that is born with a psychopathic brain where a genetic element may play a role? See Robert Hare’s research on this.
We need to recognize that we are not essentially different from the more criminal offenders among us, except that perhaps we escaped the worst forms of childhood trauma, mental illness, poor training in impulse control, or the random misfortune of inheriting a psychopathic brain. While we rightly share intense rage at the inhumanity and brutality that some people display, we do better to temper that with some understanding of what lies behind criminal personalities and their behavior. (See the Netflix documentaries on death row stories)
For example, I think of the 17 year old man that was put to death in the US for brutally raping and murdering a woman. During his trial it came to light that he had been beaten before being born. His jealous father had beaten his mother’s pregnant belly before his birth. As a baby he was thrown against walls for crying. He was raised in an environment of hatred and violence. No wonder then that as a teenager he started killing neighborhood pets. What is culpability in such situations? And yes, he had to be imprisoned to protect others. Sometimes such people are damaged beyond rehabilitation and may never be safe to release, but where is our humanity in putting them to death?
“Love your enemy” is not asking us to feel warm and fuzzy toward violent people and the inhumanity they commit. But it does ask us to understand all the contributing factors behind criminal behavior and to maintain our own humanity by treating all human failure restoratively, even as we restrain violent people.
A common reaction to advocating restorative justice is that such an approach does not show proper sympathy for the horror that victims have suffered. Restorative justice favors offenders. It is too “easy on criminals”. Not at all. Note the Netflix documentary “Breaking the Cycle” and the comment there by the prison official regarding what actually works best to lower recidivism rates and protect the public. She said that 90% of prisoners will return to society. And punitive approaches do not work to rehabilitate such people. Punitive justice does not teach alternative human behaviors.
Listen to how she responded to her colleague who said that restorative approaches were nice but not workable as they did not consider the feelings of victims and the demand for punishment. She said to him, “We are not in the feeling business. We must prepare prisoners to function properly when they are returned to society and thereby protect the public”. She understood that at a most practical level, evidence affirms that restorative approaches work better to change prisoners, to lower recidivism rates, and to protect the public.
No matter the state of research on these things and current understanding, our response to offenders must be humane, and not return similar hurt to those who have hurt us or others. We make no progress as humans if we continue to embrace retaliatory/punitive approaches toward offenders, aside from the fact that psychology shows such approaches do not work with children or criminal offenders. So again, while we must restrain the violent among us, we should do so restoratively, humanely. This is about maintaining our own humanity in the face of evil. Or as Paul said, not returning “evil” in response to evil done by others.
With Joseph Campbell I would affirm that we mature as human persons, we tower in stature, we become the heroes of our personal stories, when we orient our lives to unconditional love toward all. Then we achieve the point of our existence, the basic reason for our stories. We then learn what love is, what it means to be human and how to love. I would go further and agree with Bob Brinsmead that love must be unconditional or it is not authentic love. Love your enemy gets us to the highest and most humane form of love. It takes us to heroic status like a Mandela. It is us at our most humane.
Leo Tolstoy affirms the humane treatment of offenders: “’The whole trouble’,” Leo Tolstoy wrote about the criminal justice system, ‘is that people think there are circumstances when one may deal with human beings without love, but no such circumstances ever exist. Human beings cannot be handled without love. It cannot be otherwise, because mutual love is the fundamental law of human life.’” (See more in the added note on Ted Grimsrud at the end of this material.)
The broader arena of human meaning: The larger background context to our human experience in this world.
I would also offer what many from the NDE movement suggest- that this world was created as an arena where we come to learn what unconditional love is and how to express it. This is the central point of creation and human existence. Ken Ring noted in his “Lessons From the Light” that God was concerned about only one central thing- “Have you learned what love is? Do you know how to love? Have you learned anything about love?” That sums up well the core meaning of human existence, the central purpose of a human life story.
Joseph Campbell and Natalie Sudman (“The Application of Impossible Things”) have added some interesting comment on the background to human story in this world. We do well to consider their insights. They suggest that we are part of a greater Consciousness- i.e. our Whole and Real Self that exists in surrounding realms. Only part of our consciousness is expressed through our bodies and brains in this limited three-dimensional (or four-dimensional) realm.
And they suggest that the dualism of good and evil is limited to this material realm. Such dualism does not exist in the greater surrounding reality. We come into this world to struggle within that dualism, to struggle with “enemies/opponents” and to learn love within that struggle. Campbell says that as we struggle against evil we gain insights, we learn lessons, that we can then pass on to help others. From our experience we can become wise men/women to help others in their struggles to be more human.
Campbell says that we face some “monster” that we must conquer in order to become the hero of our personal story. I would suggest that the real monster that we all face is the animal inheritance inside us. Those inherited drives to tribalism (us versus others), the drives to dominate others, to exclude, to retaliate against the other, to punish and destroy the other, the enemy. The inherited animal brain, with these baser drives, is the real monster or enemy that we all face. Our only real enemy is inside us.
When we embrace unconditional love toward all others, then we conquer this dark inheritance, this monster or enemy. Unconditional potently counters the animal because it teaches us to include all as family (non-tribal, universal love), to treat all as equals (non-dominating respect for all), and to forgive all (not punitively retaliating or destroying some “enemy” other). As Campbell said, we “tower in stature as maturely human” when we orient our lives to universal love. We become the heroes of our story. We fulfil the purpose for which we came to Earth. We can then bring a “boon” or blessing to others.
Campbell adds that this world is God’s theatre where we come to act out a story and we are all fellow actors in our plays, some as protagonists, and some as antagonists (foils).
Campbell concludes with this: “All of us living beings belong together.. we are all in reality sides or aspects of one single being, which may perhaps in Western terminology be called God while in the Upanishads its name is Brahman… and we are participants in this creation…”. He then adds this critical point: “When life produces what the intellect names evil, we may enter into righteous battle… however, if the principle of love is lost in that struggle (i.e. “love your enemy”) then our humanity too will be lost…we must not disclaim our brotherhood with even the guiltiest” (Myths To Live By). Campbell urges us to remember our essential oneness with all others in the human family, no matter the failure of some to live humanely. They are still family. We are still one with them.
Pretty speculative stuff, eh? But it resonates more with an unconditional core reality than traditional religious spiritual insights that embrace some ultimate tribal dualism that sets true believers in irreconcilable and eternal opposition to unbelievers. Those old narratives continue to affirm the base features of retaliatory, punitive deity.
Ah, we are so much better than all this back and forth “counter-punching” that goes on in public today. People hating, hurting, demeaning, and belittling one another like infants in a sandbox. Childish, more animal-like than human. Remember Mandela’s mature and humanizing comment: “Let us surprise them (our opponents) with our generosity”. The man displayed a greatness of human spirit toward opponents.
Added note on Mennonite Ted Grimsrud’s theology:
Ted Grimsrud: “The connection between religious belief, in particular how people in the West have viewed God, and retributive criminal justice practices runs deep. God has been understood to be the basis for the practices of human beings inflicting severe punitive pain upon other human beings judged guilty of violating community standards. God is understood, most of all, to be “holy” (that is, unable to countenance sin of any kind). God’s holiness “forces” God to act punitively-and justifies God’s agents (either in the church or in society) also acting punitively. This retributive theology dominated Western worldviews in the Middle Ages and formed the bases for criminal justice practices which began to be institutionalized during that time…”
And this article from the Peace Theology site adapted from Ted Grimsrud’s work…. https://peacetheology.net/pacifism/13-theology-and-restorative-justice/
Theology and Restorative Justice
“’The whole trouble,” Leo Tolstoy wrote about the criminal justice system, ‘is that people think there are circumstances when one may deal with human beings without love, but no such circumstances ever exist. Human beings cannot be handled without love. It cannot be otherwise, because mutual love is the fundamental law of human life.’
“Our criminal justice system certainly is troubled by tendencies to treat some people (whether offenders or victims) without love, and the consequences are costly. From a Christian perspective, and simply for the sake of social well-being in our society, we need to challenge those tendencies.
Concepts of God and retributive justice
“In the criminal justice tradition of the Western world, the overriding justifications given for violently punishing offenders, even to the point of death, have and continue to be tied to a certain understanding of ultimate reality. In this view, ultimate reality requires retributive justice when fundamental natural or divine laws are violated. Such “retributive justice” is seen to restore the moral balance.
“’Retributive justice’ has theological roots going far back in the history of Western civilization. Part of the theology underlying retributive justice speaks to how God is understood. Key aspects of the view of God generally characteristic of medieval Europe shaped (and were also shaped by) the emerging punitive practices of criminal justice. These continue to be basic in practices of retributive justice.
“While recognizing older antecedents, we will focus on the Middle Ages in sketching the impact of retributive theology on the criminal justice practices of the West. In the early Middle Ages, the church, as it struggled with the state for dominance of European society, found it helpful to utilize the law of the later Roman empire as an instrument for solidifying its authority. It merged its theology with the newly rediscovered legal system to create canon law. Secular authorities, in their turn, followed suit.
“This theology provided a notion of God’s impersonal holiness and retributive response to violations of that holiness. The Roman legal philosophy also centered on impersonal principles. Instead of being based on custom and history, law in this perspective stood alone. Roman law assumed a central authority, thus providing a basis for “legitimate” initiation of action by a “neutral” centralized dispenser of justice. In the medieval worldview, this centralized authority (church or state) was God’s direct agent.
“Roman law was written law, based on principles that were independent of specific customs (“transcendent,” to use theological language). As embraced by the medieval church in its canon law, it had an accompanying method for testing and developing law. Roman law therefore could not only be systematized and expanded but could be studied and taught transnationally by professionals. This universal character helps explain its appeal and almost immediate spread to universities throughout most of Western Europe.
“From the base of Roman law, the church built the elaborate structure of canon law, the first modern legal system. This was a revolutionary development. It provided the papacy with an important weapon in its struggle for supremacy both within the church and in its relationship to secular political authorities.
“By providing for prosecution by a central authority, it established a basis for attacking both heresy and clerical abuse within the church. The most extreme expression of this new approach was the Inquisition in which representatives of the pope ferreted out heretics and tortured them both to obtain evidence and to settle accounts.
“No longer was the individual the primary victim. In the Inquisition, it was a whole moral order that was the victim, and the central authority was its guardian. Wrongs were no longer simple harms requiring redress. They were sins requiring retribution. God’s holiness understood in terms of retributive theology, necessitates punishment, carried out by the human agents of God’s will.”
(End of Peace Theology article)
One more (a post from online discussion group):
“I’ve said too much today already but hey, cyberspace is unlimited and you all have delete buttons…
“So one more… I pull back to that larger background stuff to better understand this world and life and notably the imperfection or “evil” side. “Evil” being at times like “demonic”, sometimes… careful now… sometimes I said, an exaggeration of things to extreme scale, exaggerating the bad behavior of others to extreme badness. Much like damning someone to Hell is the extreme expression of hatred for another that has harmed us.
“But just a month or so ago I put up that comment by Campbell on oneness and the dualism of good/evil in this realm, this temporary realm that is an arena for human story and learning and development.
“Remember Campbell’s points (so also Sudman) that good and evil are limited to this realm as a dualism for human development and story, God’s theatre where we all, as fellow actors, play out our roles (e.g. antagonist, protagonist, wise man/woman, and so on). But it is all part of some greater purpose to provide an arena where we learn or discover universal love. That is the main point.
“Campbell said that we must recognize this greater background or we may lose our humanity in our “righteous struggle” with evil. We may forget “love your enemy” as the essence of our humanity.
“This is not to excuse evil and the need to counter and fight it here and now. But careful of losing sight of the greater background story. Do not lose your humanity and neglect your brotherhood with all, even your enemy. Again, the essential oneness of all.
“And the NDEs tell us that after learning what we agreed to come and learn, all is swallowed up again in that great Love. Even the Hitlers as temporary fellow actors (foils)?
“Sounds speculative, far-fetched? It’s better than the other narratives that are all oriented to retributive response to the enemy. So Campbell, Sudman and other NDErs are offering a narrative that works better to understand the unconditional at the core of all and how to apply that to this imperfect life.
“Remember, Campbell cautioned that this is hard stuff to wrap our minds around but necessary if we are to get the greater story of life right and not lose our humanity in our righteous struggle against evil.”
Why is it so hard to just forgive entirely and freely? Why must there be a demand for some payment or punishment, somewhere, somehow? Why not just plain old mercy and unconditional forgiveness? No strings attached. Like Jesus telling his followers when they asked, grudgingly, how often they had to forgive, and he said, “Just forgive seven times seventy”. Which is to say, without limit or condition. Just do it.
We already do this daily, anyway, as spouses and parents and with friends. Just forgiving completely and freely. Not keeping a record of wrongs and seeking some future “making of wrongs right”. Now, taking this to the theological basis, why can’t God do the same and even more so? Just forgive entirely and freely, without demand for payment or punishment of some sort. After all, isn’t God ultimate Goodness and Love? Much better than us.
If we do it, then why can’t God do the same and even better?
It’s like Jesus reasoning, if you people being evil (i.e. imperfect) know how to give good gifts, then how much more does God know how to do good, God that is ultimate Goodness. Embrace the reasoning here… If we can forgive and let things go without payment or punishment, then how much more can Ultimate Goodness just forgive and forget without demand for payment or punishment, or recompense. Just like us imperfect humans do. As Jesus said, authentic love will just give without expecting something in return. It will love those who do not love in return.
Why do we think that an ultimately good and loving God will operate at some lesser level of goodness or love than what we are expected to operate at? Just askin.
The Science of CO2: What we know today
Someone please tell Bill Maher that CO2 is not a poison (like Syrian gas) or a pollutant. It is the most basic food of all life on Earth. It is embarrassing to have to remind these people that this is Grade One science. And also question Joe Rogan regarding his “appeal to authority” the other day (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9lD29jqH078). C’mon Joe, you are smarter than that. How often across history has the minority skeptic had to fight the broad flow of group-think and “consensus” authority. Have you ever heard of Copernicus and the consensus that he was skeptical of? Similarly, Galileo? Fighting the authority of the consensus of their day and the threats to silence them, just like Obama’s AG threatening to criminalize skeptical science in 2016.
If appeal to numbers impresses you (i.e. arguing from the authority of some consensus) then what about the long ago Protest Petition signed by almost 32,000 scientists, including many of the best scientific minds on the planet. Media ignored that almost entirely.
Appeal to authority is not how we do good science. Remember the Australian doctor (Barry Marshal) who questioned the cause of stomach ulcers and was roundly trashed by the medical community consensus? Ideological politics dominates climate science today just as in many other disciplines (see Michael Hart’s book “Hubris: the troubling science, economics, and politics of climate change”).
Insert: The Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine Protest Petition statement is as follows and is still valid:
“We urge the United States government to reject the global warming agreement that was written in Kyoto, Japan in December, 1997, and any other similar proposals. The proposed limits on greenhouse gases would harm the environment, hinder the advance of science and technology, and damage the health and welfare of mankind.
“There is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane, or other greenhouse gases is causing or will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the Earth’s atmosphere and disruption of the Earth’s climate. Moreover, there is substantial scientific evidence that increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide produce many beneficial effects upon the natural plant and animal environments of the Earth.”
See CO2science.org for detail on CO2 and its benefits. Also, Patrick Moore’s video clips (Youtube) on “Celebrating CO2”.
Basic points of the climate debate...
We are currently in an “ice-age era” and CO2 levels have been dangerously low over the past few million years due to our place in a spiral arm of the Milky Way (less than 300 ppm in the pre-Industrial period , see Svensmark’s The Chilling Stars). During this ice-age era, plant life has been stressed and starving. Plants prefer CO2 levels in the 1000-1500 ppm range. Over past history when CO2 levels were much higher (5000-7000 ppm range) there was no catastrophic warming and collapse of life, but rather, “life flourished” (Ian Plimer in Heaven and Earth).
World surface temperatures are also low today compared to past historical averages. At just below 15 degrees Centigrade, average surface temperatures today are barely above ice-age conditions of 12 degrees Centigrade. Life flourishes with much higher average temperatures as it has over much of past history. Remember, a few years back they discovered the stumps of tropical trees in the Arctic. An entirely ice-free world has been the norm for 75% of Earth’s history. A warmer world with much higher levels of CO2 is a more healthy, natural, or optimal world. This is entirely opposite to the alarmist narrative.
Insert Note: A warmer world will continue to have extreme weather events/periods (heating and cooling) but will not fry life. Earth has an efficient heat energy distribution system. Hot air rising at the equator is moved in great currents that flow to the poles. The result is less severe gradients between latitudes, and scientists note that generally means less storminess. Remember, with today’s recent mild warming, tornadoes are now at historical lows. So also a warmer world means less severe differences between seasons, and less temperature difference between night and day. Also, a warmer world means less drought (i.e. more evaporation). Again, see Ian Plimer’s Heaven and Earth for detail on paleo-climatology.
Plimer includes a graph of the past 55,000 years of climate change. The swings of climate change from cooling to warming periods, or from warming to cooling, were most severe in the last 30,000 plus years of the previous ice age. Since the onset of this much warmer inter-glacial period some 15-20,000 years ago, climate change has been much less severe in its swings between warming and cooling periods.
Climate is changing today just as it always has. There is never stasis in the dynamic, complex climate system. It is always warming or cooling. We had a warming period from 1910 to 1940. Then a cooling period from 1940 to 1970. It then warmed slightly (0.3 degrees C) from the 1970s to the mid 1990s. The trend has been flat since about 1995, with the interventions of two strong El Nino events (1998 and 2015-16). There has been a notable cooling in the two years since (2017-18).
The warming of the past century and a half (about 1.0 degree Centigrade) is part of a natural rebound from the bitter cold of the Little Ice Age of roughly 1645-1715 (see research of Syun-Ichi Akasofu on the rebound of climate from the Little Ice Age).
Further, CO2 has a warming effect or influence. The many scientists on the skeptical side of the debate have never denied this. And they have never denied that climate change is taking place and that CO2 is playing a minor role. If any warming period is occurring, then CO2 is contributing to that warming. But the influence of CO2 is minor and is repeatedly overwhelmed by other natural influences on climate. The real deniers are the alarmists (psychological projection?) that deny the good evidence on the correlations between natural influences and the climate change that we have seen over the past.
The nub of the debate:
Skeptical scientists disagree with the apocalyptically exaggerated claims of alarmists that CO2 will cause “catastrophic warming” or “catastrophic climate change”. This claim of looming catastrophe from rising CO2 is another in an endless litany of post-WW2 apocalyptic scenarios- from Rachel Carson’s prophesy of the end of birdsong, to Paul Ehrlich’s 1970s prophesy of cooling disaster and mass starvation, to repeated claims of species holocausts (i.e. ocean species gone by 2048), and on and on. To the apocalyptic mind the end is always nigh, just over the horizon. But “tipping points” are endlessly prophesied and passed without “end of days” calamity.
There is no catastrophic warming in sight. The alarmist models were all wrong. They focused mainly on the human CO2 contribution and the positive feedback from clouds. With their “junk in, junk out” virtual world formulas, they predicted somewhere between 3-6 degrees C. warming over the decades that we are now living through. But real world evidence shows a continuing almost flat climate trend since 1995.
Other natural elements show stronger correlations to the climate change that we are observing. Henrik Svensmark’s research shows a correlation between cosmic rays and cloud cover that explains the climate change that we have seen over recent decades. So also the ocean-atmosphere coupling (multi-decadal shifts in ocean currents, e.g. the Pacific Decadal Oscillation) shows a stronger correlation to the climate change of the past few centuries. CO2 is also in the mix but is overwhelmed by these other natural elements.
Svensmark’s research shows that increased cloud cover from cosmic ray activity (especially the low, below 3000 meter clouds) has a negative feedback influence, reflecting heat back out from Earth.
It cannot be stated enough: CO2 is the basic food of all life. Since 1982, with more CO2 in the atmosphere, plant life on earth has increased by 14% (increase in primary plant productivity). The earth is greener today than just a few decades ago. Why are the Greens not celebrating a healthier world? With more food, plants are thicker, stronger, and have better water uptake (see the many CO2 studies on CO2science.org). This increase in world biomass has benefited agriculture- i.e. the increased crop production necessary to feed more people.
Fossil fuels are not a threat to life. And the current alarm-driven rush into renewables, while perhaps holding potential for the future, has been disastrous for poor people, increasing energy costs for the most vulnerable. Renewables (solar and wind) do not work to provide the cheap energy that enables people to escape poverty. Note also the problems with fluctuations in supply (wind not blowing, sun not shining, and storage problems) that require conventional backups for energy grids.
Fossil fuels are foundational to the growth and development of our civilization- our food production, our transportation, the heating of our homes, and all else that we value. And our increasing wealth production in industrial society enables us to take better care of our environment (e.g. Ecological Kuznets Curve research). This outcome is entirely contrary to the Green religion narrative that economic growth and development harms the environment.
Good climate science evidence does not support the alarmist argument that we must stop using fossil fuels because this will result in some catastrophic collapse and ending of life. Again, natural elements show stronger correlations to the climate change that we have seen.
Do some reverse engineering on environmental alarmism (i.e. Green religion) and you will find that it is shaped by the same old themes of primitive apocalyptic mythology that have shaped all religion. Those themes have been given new “secular” expression in things like “revenge of Gaia”, “angry planet”, retributive Universe, or karma. But it is just more of the same old, same old mythology.
The apocalyptic complex includes the myths that the past was better (original paradise of a wilderness world), corrupt greedy people in industrial civilization have ruined the original paradise, and all is now declining toward some catastrophic collapse and ending. Therefore, we must purge the corrupting element (i.e. greedy people in industrial and consumer society) in order to “save the world” and restore the lost paradise. And salvation plans must involve “coercive purification”, or the violent, instantaneous purging of the exaggerated threat (see Arthur Mendel’s Vision and Violence, “Apocalyptic is the most violent and destructive idea in history”).
This apocalyptic narrative has the story of life all wrong. See Julian Simon’s Ultimate Resource for good evidence on the true state of life. See also Greg Easterbrook’s A Moment on the Earth, Bjorn Lomborg’s Skeptical Environmentalist, Indur Goklany’s The Improving State of the World, Ronald Bailey’s The End of Doom, and Matt Ridley’s Rational Optimist, among others. See also the regular newsletters from the Global Warming Policy Foundation.
Good evidence affirms that life continues to gradually rise on a long-term trajectory of improvement, despite problems everywhere (the ‘imperfection’ of life). The skeptical scientist does not deny that there are problems all through life. The skeptic argues that good evidence contradicts the alarmist’s exaggeration of problems to apocalyptic scale, thereby distorting the true state of life. Life does not decline toward some imagined apocalyptic collapse and ending.
Added note: I have searched throughout human knowledge, discovery, and experience across history. I have not found anything in the world, in life and history, or in the overall cosmos that is more profound than the human ideal of love, especially in it’s highest expression as ‘no conditions love’ (“Love your enemy”). Love is something equally accessible and attainable to everyone, to the poorest and least educated. Disability does not hinder access to love or achievement in love. Love is not an elitist privilege. Anyone can become a world expert and highly successful in this most important of all guiding principles for human life. Love defines what it means to be authentically human, to be a hero, to “tower in stature” in your unique life story, like a Mandela. Love is the core meaning and purpose of the cosmos and conscious human story in this world. It is the final and most important piece of the TOE puzzle.