Site project: Go after the real monster and enemy in life- the one inside us all (see story outline below). The “righteous battle against evil”, and making life better, starts inside each of us. As the sage said, “Why do you obsess over the ‘speck’ imperfections of others when you have your own ‘beam’ imperfections?”
See “Rethink Paul’s Christ myth” just below (Jesus is not Christ; he was anti-Christology). Also below- “Framework for human story”, “The persistence of the spiritual (the primary impulse to meaning) in secular society”, and “Love- not the Higgs- defines reality” (Brian Cox on Joe Rogan podcast).
No religion- ancient, contemporary, or “secular/liberal”- has ever communicated the stunning unconditional nature of deity to humanity. All religion is essentially conditional- i.e. the conditions of correct belief, proper ritual, demanded payment/sacrifice, necessary religious lifestyle, mediating religious authorities, and the limited tribalism of believer/unbeliever.
What does an unconditional deity mean/involve? Some obvious conclusions: No ultimate tribal exclusion of anyone (i.e. no such thing as unbelievers rejected). No demand for payment/sacrifice. No need for a salvation scheme or program. No submission/subservience to dominating deity or mediating priesthood. No religious ritual or lifestyle. No obligation to join a limiting religious tradition/organization. No ultimate punishment or destruction (i.e. no torment in any hell). In other words- freedom to be uniquely human, to live a unique, creative human story. Freedom to join the human race. Freedom to embrace restorative justice. And much more…
Most critical- Freedom in the depths of human consciousness/subconscious from the “personality deforming influence”- i.e. the fear, anxiety, guilt, shame, and despair- that bad religious ideas have long incited (Zenon Lotufo in ‘Cruel God, Kind God’).
Qualifier: None of this comment ignores the beneficial impact of the better human ideals included in our great world religious traditions. The issue is that the better ideals in the religious mix have too often been distorted and buried by the nastier features in the mix. This is the problem of “diamonds buried in dung” that was noted by Thomas Jefferson and Leo Tolstoy. Or the “cognitive dissonance” that arises from merging great human ideals (i.e. “love your enemy” Matthew 5) with subhuman elements in the larger context (i.e. the epitome statement of hatred of an enemy that is expressed in wishing that your enemy will be cast into hell- Matthew 11 and following chapters). Religious holy books are full of such contradictions.
“Eye for eye” cycles
(Insert: The point here- We all need to be careful about cloaking our own “struggles against evil” with too much self-deluding self-righteousness. Remember the sage’s comment: “Why do you obsess over the ‘speck’ imperfections of others, when you have your own ‘beam’ imperfections?”)
Observe today’s ugly retaliatory outbursts of hurt for hurt (hate for hate, hit for hit), notably in the political, news media, and entertainment realms. The effect on the wider population is to evoke the response of revulsion in most people. As Dr. Phil said on a Joe Rogan podcast, “I don’t like that guy… because of what I see of myself in him”.
Most of us are embarrassed at the childishness of such retaliatory response and behavior in public figures (i.e. like three year-olds in the playground throwing sand back and forth). It mirrors back to the rest of us, the ugliness of our own retaliatory urges. This revulsion in turn brings out a desire for something better in most people.
And most of us are more subtle in our expression of retaliation. For example, if we feel that our spouse/friend is not showing enough affection, we then diminish/restrain our own expression of affection in response. Ah, we can be so smooth in justifying our subhuman responses to others, eh.
Remember Nelson Mandela. His signature statement, “Let us surprise them (our opponents/enemies) with our generosity”. As he reasoned: forgiving, inclusive love brings out the best in others. It turns enemies into friends. Not in all, but in most.
But it takes special courage to break a retaliatory cycle, to repress the urge to what we feel is our right to “justice” and our obligation to stand up to “evil” in the attacking other. It takes special enlightenment and maturity to squelch the urge to hurt back and to, instead, act like an adult and forgive, and take a relationship in a better direction. But that is how we become the hero of our human story (Joe Campbell’s point that we attain mature humanity when we orient our lives to universal/unconditional love).
One notable element in today’s eye for eye cycles: We all wince at the reactionary quickness of some to harshly condemn others, to ignore or dismiss the full context of their opponent’s arguments/statements and to frame them with extremist language as evil (i.e. a common pejorative is that so and so is “like Hitler”, or “racist”- and not denying such exists). When comedians engage such harsh demonization of their opponents, it is no longer funny. Good comedy is when the object of your humor can laugh with you. Good comedy refuses to engage the impulse to humiliate and hurt back.
In these payback cycles there is too much refusal to give others the benefit of the doubt, too much denial of any good at all in opponents, and instead judgmental haste to criminalize, condemn mercilessly, and then call for severe forms of retribution and punishment. Where is the human spirit in all this? Where is the awareness of our shared oneness in the same human family?
Remember Campbell’s insight that in “our righteous struggle with evil, we maintain our humanity by remembering our brotherhood with even our enemy (our essential oneness), by loving our enemy”.
Too much of today’s harsh condemnation of disagreeing others is not decently human by any standard. If public discourse has “degenerated”, be clear that all sides have contributed to this. And if we feel that ‘the other side’ has taken things to a new low, then respond by taking things to a new high. Do the human thing in response. Be something better. Remember Mandela. “Let us surprise them with our generosity”.
Note: On the felt need for punitive response to some original offense (i.e. hurt returned for original hurt given), an Australian Psychological Society report noted that punitive responses do not work with children or criminal offenders. Punitive response only re-enforces more of the same in offenders (pain for pain). Punitive responses “do not teach alternative human behaviors”.
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.
Our gradual improvement over our history is evidence of our essential goodness emerging. Some have stated that our true self is the same no conditions love that is deity. This is the new theology that God as love has incarnated in all humanity as the common human spirit and human consciousness. The takeaway? We are not the essentially corrupt or fallen beings of religious mythology. This foreshadows a stunning revolution in human identity or self-imaging.
And what of human badness? We have inherited an animal brain, and long past history in animal existence, with the drives to small band tribalism, domination, and destruction of the differing other. These inherited impulses often cloud and bury our essential human self. But we are not our brains (Jeffrey Schwartz).
Yes, I embrace a form of dualism to explain these things. Along the line of John Eccles’ “dualist interaction”.
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, Desrocher and Szurmak’s Population Bombed, Hans Rosling’s Factfulness, 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.
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?
A framework for human story (the essential features of human life and experience, or the meaning of life)
Joseph Campbell has offered a basic outline for understanding human life/ human story. I have added to his basic points, revising, paraphrasing, and changing things.
Where Campbell used the term “universal love” to define “heroic” human story, my version of human experience in this world is centered around the broader term “unconditional” (it includes universal and more). My point: Unconditional, as our highest human ideal (the most humane expression of love), 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 in life, and thereby “tower in stature” as a wise person, as a mature human 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 commonly know it here, but Love that is inexpressibly, transcendently, and infinitely unconditional. Beyond words, terms, definitions, or categories. The God that is infinitely beyond our theories of God (the God infinitely beyond the term God). Transcendently beyond the best that we could ever imagine. That ultimate 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 body and brain that are mechanisms to limit our consciousness in order to enable us to function in this material realm. Our greater consciousness is limited by the 5 senses of our bodies/brains 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 even our enemies”) during 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, our families, and our 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. We may have chosen our life experiences as opportunities for learning and growth.
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. No one else can accomplish the unique mission that we came to fulfil.
Insert: This is not some new take on religious predestination. As freedom is inseparable from love, so freedom remains paramount to our stories. We freely choose and create our stories on the fly, in this world.
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, laughing at it all, and thereby 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.
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 a vital 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 “righteous struggle with evil” we gain insights, we discover humane responses, and we find solutions to problems, solutions that will benefit others. Our struggle with the bad or evil is where 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.
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 the role of unconditional comes into laser focus. And 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 (and our past in millions of years of animal existence) bequeaths us with 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 of all 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. Evolutionary biology/psychology tends to devalue the human by explaining it too much in terms of the animal, by viewing and reducing the human as just another animal.)
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”. Then we 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.
Another critical point: The most important battles in life are not the great historical wars of tribe against tribe, or nation against nation. The greatest battles/wars are those that take place inside us all. And this relates to the real meaning of equality in human life. There can be no outer material equality because life is shaped by hierarchies and pyramids where only a few can reach the upper levels, whether in business, sports, politics, or entertainment. Only an elite few can achieve success in these pyramids of life. But everyone has equal opportunity to achieve the greatest success of all in the most important achievement of all- common love. Love is the most foundational thing to human existence and story. And love is the only lasting achievement in the cosmos. All else will be left behind and forgotten in the material world or realm. Only love lasts forever.
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). The unconditional treatment of all imperfect humanity (e.g. restorative justice) is one of the most potent personal ways 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.
In all that we do, and should do, to make this life better- i.e. in sports, in business and work, in all public or social issues, or entertainment- we should not forget that it is how we treat others in the daily mundane interactions (the ordinary and hidden things) that make us real successes and achievers, or not. Steve Jobs understood this on his death bed when he apologized to his daughter Lisa for how he had treated her sub-humanly at times. He wished that he could have done many things better, and been kinder.
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.
The persistence of the spiritual in human meaning
(Note: This is not an argument to weaken the separation between science and the spiritual. The scientific/empiricism revolution has been critical to countering the long history of irrational religious belief. This is just the recognition of a basic human impulse that intrudes into all areas of thought and life, and how we might better engage and guide that.)
(Further, this is not intended to be unfairly tough on materialists as they have contributed immensely to human understanding of reality. They are often the bravest people, willing to take flack, and even risk life in past eras, for going after religious irrationality. They deserve affirmation and commendation for their contribution.)
Consider: Why has mythology and religion been so prominent across human history? Even today, 85% of humanity affiliates with one of the major religious traditions. And many of the remaining 15% identify as “spiritual but not religious”. The 15% “unaffiliated” also embrace some form of God theory- i.e. Gaia, Mother Earth, Universe, or karma.
Even self-proclaimed secularists and materialists do the “religious” thing and continue to cross the science/philosophy boundary, including in the hardest, most fundamental scientific discipline- i.e. physics. See, for example, Lee Smolin’s The Trouble With Physics, Jim Baggott’s Farewell To Reality, and Sabine Hossenfelder’s Lost In Math. Myth-making goes on in all areas of life. On myth-making in biology see Franklin Harold’s ‘The Way of the Cell’, Lynn Margulis’ ‘Acquiring Genomes’, and Evelyn Keller’s ‘The Century of the Gene’.
As Greg Easterbrook noted in a long ago ‘Wired’ article- materialist scientists today continue to do what religious people have done across history. They appeal to un-provable, invisible realities to explain what exists (e.g. multi-verse theory, multiple invisible dimensions, etc.).
(Insert note just for example: Multi-verse theory suits the belief of philosophical materialism in random, meaningless beginnings. If trillions of universes are continually being birthed, then one was bound to randomly fall into place with the “Just Six Numbers” (Martin Rees) that make our universe possible. Much like those billions of monkeys typing will eventually produce a Shakespearean sonnet. But then those pesky contrarians ask- “But what mechanism births all these universes?” And back to “Duh” we go.)
Also, note carefully how materialist scientists will make “leaps of assumption” (crossing the science/philosophy boundary). They will first state the more provable facts about some issue under discussion but then sometimes take those facts to conclusions that are not proven and cannot be proven. A physicist/cosmologist who long ago wrote an article for Scientific American on chaos theory then concluded that his discovery of chaos in some area “proves there is no God”. This is very similar to what they accuse religious people of doing- i.e. making “leaps of faith”. It takes another expert in any given field of science to point out these things. This is why it is important to read all sides of any issue, like brain/mind research, or consciousness research.
One illustration: A materialist that believes meat produces mind will point to MRI pictures and then assume/claim that those scans/pictures show the brain producing thoughts or mind. Where a scientist on the other side (i.e. transmission theory- the brain transmits mind) will claim those pictures simply show the mind using the brain, inter-acting with the brain.
What is going on with all this appeal to the unknowable invisible? It’s the primary human impulse for meaning. Since the Neanderthals (i.e. their grave site items to accompany the deceased) people have expressed this meaning impulse in terms of some greater invisible reality.
And really, it is only common sense, that if we are part of some greater reality, then… Why? … For what purpose do we exist? It is common sense to try to figure the purpose out and then fulfil it. Hence, the endless human probing of some form of God theory.
The fundamental human impulse for meaning has never been satisfied with the baser materialist explanations alone (i.e. reality as defined/explained ultimately or only in terms of things like natural law, or energy). People have from the beginning intuited that we are part of some greater reality and that reality is more of the nature of Mind, Consciousness, and Self/Personhood, or what religious people refer to as Spirit.
Even Richard Dawkins hints in the direction of something more than just natural law with his reference to “Natural Selection as the Source of All Enlightenment” (all capital letters). Other materialist types have sometimes attributed god-like creating qualities to Natural Selection as their “secular/scientific” version of deity (i.e. natural selection grows, learns, develops, wills, chooses). Dawkins takes his “Source of All Enlightenment” to the cosmic level.
And doesn’t the theory of Quantum Mechanics also point to the fundamental role of consciousness in reality? Perhaps consciousness is more fundamental than the “panpsychism” theory of David Chalmers suggests? Our consciousness is really all that we have. The only thing that we are all really certain of. It is the most real thing about us. We think and feel and because we do so, we know we exist. And the single most critical defining feature of human consciousness is love- the single most intuitively important thing that we know.
Further to this fundamental meaning impulse intruding into all of life in the present: Why do the most basic and primitive mythological themes continue to dominate public consciousness today (i.e. the apocalyptic millennial complex of ideas)? Modern secularists/atheists/materialists continue to mouth these primitive religious themes as expressed in environmental alarmism or Green religion.
Suggestions: The response to the primal human impulse for meaning must be more than some simplistic opposing dualism of religion versus atheism.
We need to continue just what many people have been doing- come up with new God theories that fully embrace the established discoveries of science while incorporating the spiritual as vital to human meaning. An example would be Panentheism- the theory that any God has obviously created and sustains/operates material reality via natural laws (i.e. meaning no divine intervention, no miracles).
And critical to the project of creating new God theories, or theories of Ultimate Realities, must be the endeavor to take the impulse for meaning and point it toward more humane directions than those we have inherited from historical mythology, religion, and philosophy. We need to fully humanize our understanding in all areas and that involves purging subhuman themes from our highest ideals and authorities (i.e. deities). See “ Rethinking 15 Fundamental Ideas: Old Story Themes, New Story Alternatives” below. This humanizing endeavor is necessary to correct the past tradition of projecting subhuman, inhuman features out to explain and define the spiritual or deity.
Unconditional, as a core defining feature, is critical to any project to humanize theories of Ultimate Realities.
Once again, we respect the boundary between science and the spiritual. Science serves to help us understand and function in this material world. But it will never be the final truth-teller about all reality- i.e. the religion of “philosophical materialism” or “scientism”.
Added note: Dogmatic materialism (often the mirror image of the dogmatic religion that it rejects) is too much of a shrug of the shoulders and walking away in the face of the profound human impulse for meaning. We do better to embrace the reality of human spiritual awareness that has existed from our beginnings and work to shape it toward better directions- i.e. purge past pathologies (e.g. punitive, retaliatory deity) and create more humane alternatives (i.e. unconditional deity), along with the proper embrace of credible scientific discovery (much like Panentheism does).
Cox on Rogan
I just listened (March 2019) to cosmologist Brian Cox on a Joe Rogan podcast talking about dark matter and energy. Cox appeared to suggest that research on basic material particles would lead to our understanding the how and why of everything (a kind of reductionism). I dunno Brian. While the material realm offers some insight into the how and why, I would take a different route/approach to understanding the meaning and purpose of the cosmos and life.
We start with the material realm because that appears to be all that we have. It is certainly our starting point to understand things. But it matters how we approach the material (our initial guiding assumptions- the bias thing). After all, we now know that our ancestors went about this in the wrong way, making a horrific early mistake that has dominated human thought ever since. They believed there were spirits behind all the elements of the material world and life- spirits of trees, rocks, storms, animal life, and so on. And because the material/natural world was often violent and destructive (i.e. storm/flood, sun/drought, earthquake/tsunami) so they concluded that the spirits were angry and punitive/destroying. Our ancestors reasoned from the material, including the worst of the material, to explain greater reality and meaning. Their conclusions have defined Ultimate Reality, or deity theories (humanity’s highest ideal and authority), ever since.
So it matters how we approach and reason from the material realm.
In the comment above on meaning, I take the route of reasoning from the best in humanity (i.e. the best of the material realm- love) and then from that out to all else. I take this feature of love- our highest human ideal- as central to the meaning of all things, to all of reality. I take love as foundational to explain the Source of all (i.e. God- as ultimate “no conditions” love, something no conditional religion has ever communicated).
My line of reasoning- What is most humane in us, points to what is most true and most real.
Love is more than just some nice Johnny-come-lately feature that has emerged in our species over our long history. Love is what makes us uniquely human. Therefore, I take love as explaining most completely and profoundly the meaning of our existence and all things.
Materialism must be careful here when probing for the meaning of all from the material alone- in searching for meaning in fundamental material particles like the Higgs Boson. We remember that conscious observers have the central role in all this probing of material reality and what it means. And love is central to us conscious observers. It is not just some nice “feeling” thing. It is most central and fundamental to what and who we are.
Because of the primacy of love to human being or personhood, my argument is that love is the central truth of existence, of this cosmos. It gives meaning to all that would otherwise be meaningless without love. There is no meaning to anything aside from conscious observers. And what is most meaningful to us?
Materialism (the philosophy) tends to dismiss love as something more peripheral to reality and to meaning (e.g. altruism as just another survival strategy, a species survival concern). Love is something to do with the personal and social arenas of reality. Materialism concludes this because it views humanity as more accidental to the cosmos and world- i.e. the chance result from a long history of evolution, and not central or foundational to the whole cosmos story.
I would argue human love is the central key to understanding all things (yes, central to any TOE).
So my pyramid of reality would have Consciousness/Love at bottom (not just consciousness but human consciousness as primarily defined by love, consisting of love), and then above this would come physics, chemistry, biology, sociology, and anthropology/psychology. Not the other way around with material reality or physics at the bottom.
Also, it is no surprise that the NDE people are discovering love at the core of all reality- that is unconditional love of a stunning nature. As they say, love is more than just one nice feature of deity. Rather, they state that “God’s very atoms are made of unconditional love”. That makes love the most basic reality of all.