The full extent of the change involved, or “Truth and consequences”…
An unconditional God spells the end of all religion as conditional institution. Across history our great religious traditions have been all about the conditions of correct beliefs, the demand for some form of conditional salvation (i.e. atonement as required sacrifice, payment, punishment, retribution), and the conditions of proper rituals and uniquely religious lifestyle. No religion has ever presented an “unconditional Ultimate Reality or deity” to humanity. To the contrary, all religion has clouded and buried such reality under myriad religious conditions and the core ideal of a supremely conditional God (i.e. deity demanding sacrifice, payment, excluding unbelievers, and judging, punishing and destroying the bad guys).
The overturning and revolutionizing of a worldview can be frightening to many people. But the truth of unconditional will set people free in ways that are fully humanizing. The fundamental transformation of our worldviews with this “unconditional” ideal liberates us to be more authentically humane in our treatment of other imperfect people. Add to this- there is no greater liberation than freedom from “the primal human fear of after-life harm”, along with freedom from the myth of great punitive Forces/Spirits behind the harmful elements of life- e.g. natural disasters, disease, and the cruelty of others.
There is only a stunningly inexpressible no conditions Love behind all reality and life. And that has always been true. Marinate in that for a while. Detail below in “Old Story Themes, New Story Alternatives”.
The primary human “psychological-spiritual need” (J. Harold Ellens’ term) is for love. But not just love. It has to be love of an inexpressibly wondrous ‘no conditions’ quality. Nothing less will satiate this primary desire/need of conscious beings.
The project of this site is to point toward the features of a new meta-story that will affirm such love.
Definition of unconditional: “Absolutely no conditions. None.” Embrace the scandal and offensiveness of this reality (offensive to traditional justice as some form of deserved payback- i.e. conditions of reward or punishment). But move beyond the sense of offense to see that a no conditions Ultimate Reality, and a life oriented to such love, is profoundly liberating and transforming, as nothing else can possibly be.
The belief/behavior relationship, or theology/ethics relationship, is as old as conscious humanity. People, driven/inspired by their primary impulse for meaning, have always tried to model their lives and societies according to some greater ideal or authority, mainly deity. Plato did this with his argument that the ideal life and society should be shaped according to the invisible Forms or perfect Ideals. The Hebrews followed this pattern in the Old Testament, shaping all aspects of their lives and society according to what they believed was the law, word, and will of their God. Anthropologist Clifford Geertz noted this practice among the Balinese of Indonesia who built their villages and homes according to what they believed was the divine model.
The critical role of belief in shaping human behavior and society (inspiring, validating human behavior) makes it vitally important that our guiding ideals/authorities are fully humane, in line with common humanity’s ever-advancing understanding of the authentically humane in all areas of life.
The 16 “Old story themes” below have been the most dominant and influential ideas in history. They have shaped human consciousness across history via mythical and religious traditions. They continue to shape the worldviews of most moderns in “secular” or ideological versions. The consequences from these subhuman ideas have been, and still are, significantly damaging, both personally and across wider societies. Evidence? On the personal level see psychotherapist Zenon Lotufo’s Cruel God, Kind God. See also the Millennial Studies historians noted in sections below- i.e. Richard Landes, Arthur Mendel, David Redles. They have detailed how the ‘apocalyptic millennial’ complex of ideas contributed to the mass-death movements of the past century (i.e. Marxism, Nazism, environmental alarmism). Mendel (Vision and Violence) was right to conclude that “apocalyptic has been the most violent and destructive idea in history”. Also, Bob Brinsmead has often reminded us that “Men never do greater evil than when they do it in the name of God”.
The project to embrace better alternatives is about the full transformation and liberation of consciousness, and more humane outcomes in human life. The old ideas are no longer credible for defining or explaining reality and life.
Old story themes, new story alternatives (16 fundamental ideas to re-evaluate)
1. Old story theme (threat theology- the core idea): The myth of deity as a judging, punishing, and destroying 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 also given expression in ‘secular’ versions such as vengeful Gaia, angry planet/Mother Earth, retributive Universe, and payback karma, the new gods of movements like environmental alarmism, history’s latest apocalyptic movement.
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 the Ultimate Destroyer (i.e. apocalypse, hell) is the single most important “bad idea” to engage and correct. All other bad religious ideas are anchored to 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. The adjective “unconditional” points to our highest understanding of love and is therefore most critical for defining deity as transcendent “Goodness”. Takeaway? 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”).
This new theology of God as unconditional Love overturns the most psychically damaging myth that has burdened and enslaved humanity from the beginning- the myth of retributive, punitive deity. While there are natural and social consequences to our choices and behaviors, there is no punitive Force or Spirit behind natural world events and suffering (i.e. natural disasters, disease, or the cruelty of others). This myth of punitive deity behind such things (e.g. angry God, vengeful Gaia, angry Planet, retributive Universe, or karma) has long burdened people with unnecessary guilt, shame, fear, and anxiety. Like the distressed Japanese woman who asked after the 2011 tsunami, “Are we being punished for enjoying life too much?”
Paul used this primitive threat theology on the Corinthians, claiming that their sicknesses and deaths were punishment from God for their sins.
(Note the qualifiers below on holding people accountable for their behavior, the need to restrain bad behavior, responsible human maturing and growth, and restorative justice approaches. All necessary for healthy human development, in this world.)
2. Old story theme (notable element- perfection/imperfection, and the belief that the past was better): The myth of a “perfect beginning” and that God is obsessed with perfection in the world and life, that God creates perfection (Eden), 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. We experience and learn human values in the context of the subhuman or inhuman.).
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/enemy (i.e. some life problem that may be physical, mental/emotional, interpersonal, financial, social, etc.). 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).
(Note: The use of the term “imperfection” is not to diminish the horror and trauma that people suffer from natural disaster, disease, and the cruelty of others. But ‘old story’ explanations of the imperfection of the world as a fall from original perfection due to human corruption/sin, and subsequent imperfection introduced as punishment for that original sin… such myths tend to affirm deity as cruel, punitive, and destructive- i.e. God as the great obsessive compulsive Punisher of imperfection. That only adds psychic suffering to general human suffering- i.e. the added burden of unnecessary mental, emotional suffering. We can do better and understand original imperfection in alternative ways. And this is the impulse to theodicy, as roughly the defense of Ultimate Good/Love behind all, and to view the world in a new story as an experience/learning arena.)
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 subsequent 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. Also, amassed evidence on humanity improving all areas of life across long-term history shows that “we are more creators than destroyers” (Julian Simon in Ultimate Resource).
A new alternative to “fallen humanity” myths will recognize that humanity, with human spirit and human consciousness, is intimately and intensely united with the greater Consciousness at the core of reality that is Love. This “union with deity” is more than relationship. It is more about essential nature. This means that the same Love that is God, is also the essential nature of our human spirit or human self. We are most essentially “beings of Love”. We are fundamentally good. We are not evil (i.e. core “sinful nature”), as we have long been told by mythology and religious traditions.
The real issue is not how far humanity has fallen (the mythical perspective) but the real wonder is how far we have risen (the evidence-based perspective) from our brutal animal and primitive human past. Our improvement over history is evidence of the essential goodness of humanity naturally emerging over time.
(Note: How to explain bad human behavior? That inherited animal brain with its base impulses to tribalism and exclusion of differing others, to domination of others, and to retaliatory and destructive response to others/”enemies”. Our human consciousness/spirit, along with our inherited animal side, explains the great “battle between good and evil that takes place in every human heart”, (Alexander Solzhenitsyn). The bad side in humanity is not “inherited sin”, but is better understood in terms of the inherited animal in us. See Lyall Watson’s “Dark Nature”.)
4. Old story theme : 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).
The trajectory of life as a decline toward something worse is a core feature of apocalyptic mythology.
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, Desrocher and Szurmak’s Population Bombed, 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. toward more complexity, organization, and 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”.
This theme of long-term improvement, or fundamental direction toward something better, is critical to countering apocalyptic nihilism and affirming hopefulness.
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, via a violent blood sacrifice.
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 act inhumanely.
But be assured that no one has ever been separated from the indwelling love that is God, no matter their failure to live as human. 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 separate Sky God up in some distant heaven. God has always been intensely and immediately 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.
Again, as stated similarly in number 3 above, this new alternative overturns entirely the historically persistent myths of “fallen”, “essentially sinful”, bad-to-the-bone humanity.
Further, the idea of God incarnated equally in every person presents a new element for affirming equality among all people (and equal respect for all). God incarnated in humanity offers a stunning new element to defining the essential core of being human- i.e. what we really are as human persons. The Near Death Experiences repeatedly note this feature of the astounding human unity with deity- of inseparable oneness.
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 (include gender). Dualism thinking deforms human identity and buries the fact of our essential oneness in the human family. Dualism thinking affirms the inherited animal impulse that orients people to small-band thinking and behavior (i.e. the tribal exclusion of differing others). Embracing dualism as a divine reality and ideal, orients people toward opposing, dominating, and fighting/destroying 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 is the expression of our authentic core humanity.
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. This is the dualism between our true human spirit/self and our inherited animal impulses.
(Caution: Offering the following speculative comment is not intended to diminish the urgency to fight evil and affirm good in this world. But some have suggested that dualism, and the apparent separation related to dualism- i.e. between good and bad- is only a temporal feature of this material realm. This world with its dualism provides an arena for us to live out our stories and engage our varied “righteous struggles against evil”. Others have said that we can only experience and learn to embrace/exhibit the good ideals of human story in our struggle with their opposites- the bad features of others, and life. Joseph Campbell suggests that this dualistic realm is where “we act out our differing roles on God’s stage”. But this dualism between good and bad exists only here in this world. It is temporal and not part of any greater timeless reality. See also Natalie Sudman’s The Application of Impossible Things.)
Further note on oneness conclusions: The oneness of all, along with the core unconditional nature of deity, counters the myth of some people as especially chosen of God and favored by God more than others. There are no “elect people”, or special “children of God”. People who see themselves as “true believers”, more so than others, are not closer to God than any other people. Oneness means that all humanity, that is every person, has God within them, equally. All people have equal access to the immediacy of God that is everywhere present as the sustaining Core or Source of all reality. Further, there are no special “holy places”- i.e. temples, churches- where limited religious members gain more access to God than the ordinary lives and daily mundane spaces of all people.
7. Old story theme: 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 things. 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- i.e. the complete and final destruction of life and the world.
Apocalyptic mythology still dominates much of modern story-telling, whether movies, TV, literature (note the genre of “post-apocalyptic”), and environmental alarmism or Green religion.
New story alternative: There are problems all through this imperfect world but there is no looming threat of final destruction and ending (the religious understanding of apocalypse since Zoroaster). The apocalyptic alarmist exaggerates problems in nature and life to “end of days” scenarios, distorting the true state of things, and thereby promotes fear and even destructive violence in populations. This has been evident in the felt need to “coercively purge” what is believed to be some great threat- see notes in following sections on the Marxist, Nazi, and Green apocalyptic movements (and the mass-death outcomes).
In the new story alternative 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)
Further helpful here, some have made the argument that there are also positive aspects to the destructive elements of nature (In response to the theodicy question: Is this the “best possible world?”). For example, the plate tectonic movement that generates destructive earthquakes also generates mountain-building, which creates differences in climate and that contributes to the development of diversity in emerging life (i.e. different environmental pressures on populations and the change that brings forth). Our project is to adapt to such things and we have done better over time. This is evident in the decreasing loss of life from such natural disasters.
8. Old story theme (key element- instantaneous 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 (the urge for salvation) to take immediate violent action to purge what is presented to them as the threatening thing. Threatened populations are more easily manipulated to embrace policies that will abandon the democratic process to engage “coercive purification” schemes (Richard Landes) directed at perceived opponents/enemies. End-of-life threats incite populations to embrace policies that will coercively and instantaneously install their version of protection and security in some safe paradise.
Alarmism, that exaggerates and distorts the true state of things, has too often unleashed the totalitarian impulse across history.
We saw the violence of instantaneous transformation policies in the 100 million deaths that stemmed from Marxist urgency to coercively purge the world of the threat from “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 violently 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 patiently improve life more democratically without coercively overwhelming the freedom of differing others.
The search for instantaneous salvation also stems from the escapist mindset of apocalyptic types who cannot endure the struggle to gradually and democratically improve an imperfect world. They irresponsibly seek to escape to some instantly installed utopia, often coercively installed.
9. Old story theme: The demand for a salvation plan- i.e. a required sacrifice or payment (atonement, debt payment, punishment) as necessary to appease/satisfy some great threat or threatening reality, whether a religious God or vengeful Gaia, angry planet, upset Mother Earth, punitive Universe, or payback karma.
(Note: Key point to observe here- Jesus rejected debt payment as necessary to divine love. He advocated giving to all without expecting any payment in return. And his argument in Matt.5:38-48, also Luke 6:27-36, was about a new standard of human love- i.e. not requiring debt payment, or appropriate response from others to the goodness that was shown to them. The new ‘no conditions love’ would enable people to express the divine love that was the very same no conditions reality- i.e. do this because God is like this, or God does this.)
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. With ultimate safety secured, the only “salvation” that we need to engage is the ongoing and gradual struggle to make life better in this world.
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 or balancing response to goodness shown. 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 freely 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. include sacrifice here). This is how Jesus further defined a God that “loved enemies”.
Jesus rejected the principle of debt payment as a fundamental requirement of divine love. This is clearly expressed in his statement to “give/love expecting nothing in return”. Keep in mind that in these passages (Matt.5 and Luke 6) he urged people to love in a new unconditional manner because that was how God loved. He was arguing for a new standard of love that would show what God was like, that would do what God did (i.e. “Love your enemy because God does”).
Debt payment, or more generally the righting of wrongs as the required basis for offering forgiveness, had been the basis of atonement thinking from the beginning. That was based on the archaic belief that God, as holy, must punish all wrongs properly and fully, and must rectify all wrongs by demanding payment or retribution of some sort. God could not just forgive, accept, and love without first making all wrongs right. That was necessary to restore divine honor. The God of the old atonement/sacrifice mythology could not just freely forgive and love.
That old theology made no sense because it stated that the atonement love of the religious God, based on a prerequisite payment/punishment, was something lesser than the best of human love. We are expected to just forgive in an unlimited manner (“seventy times seven”), to accept all universally, and to love without demanding prerequisite conditions or similar response (again- “give without expecting payment in return, love without expecting love in return”). Parents, spouses, and friends have all learned that this no conditions love is the best and highest form of love for daily relationships. Surely God as Ultimate Goodness and Love would, at least, love as well as we are expected to love.
Jesus further corrected the old belief that divine love was conditional in his parables. Those short stories further illustrated the point that divine love did not require the payment of debt, or more generally the righting of wrongs, before forgiving, accepting, and loving (i.e. the ‘no conditions’ love that defined his new theology). No conditions love meant “no conditions” at all. Note this element in his Prodigal story where the father does not demand a sacrifice, restitution, or repayment before forgiving and fully accepting/loving the wayward son. All such conditions are brushed aside by the father.
I reject, as Jesus appears to have done, the old theology that God as ultimate Goodness and Love is held to a lesser standard of love than we are held to. I reject the idea that God remembers all wrongs and can demand conditions before forgiving, while we are told that authentic love, for us, means “keeping no record of wrongs” for some future making-of-things-right. Our love is to be without condition because that is actually how God loves. And it is the unconditional nature of forgiveness and love that constitute the greatness and glory of these features, not the conditions of religious holiness/honor mythology with its prerequisite demands.
Unfortunately, Paul refused the new theology of Jesus and retreated back to traditional conditional theology- i.e. a punitive God that demanded full payment for sin before forgiving anyone. We inherited Paul’s version of Christianity with its orientation toward punitive and conditional treatment of others. Note the clear New Testament statements on this essential feature of requisite payment in the Christian gospel. The book of Hebrews (chapter 9) states that “without the shedding of blood (sacrifice) there is no forgiveness”. The book of Romans (e.g. chapter 5) states that there is only salvation (“saved from wrath”) after the condition of a blood payment/sacrifice has been fulfilled.
And of course, in this life people should learn to be responsible for their behavior, to make amends for wrongs done, and to pay their debts. That is all part of normal human development and growth. This is never in question, but it is not the basis of theology and authentic love. Our love, just like God’s love, is not to be conditional on anything done, or not done, by others.
(Note: The theology of Jesus is not a prescriptive model for economic/commercial relationships in this world. Jesus was speaking to ultimate realities and the atonement mythology of his era. Further, my reference to “Historical Jesus” is not an appeal to him as some special religious authority on these issues. I refer to him simply because he continues to be viewed as a notable religious icon. And I would repeatedly emphasize the larger background context to these themes- i.e. the profound contradiction between the core message of Historical Jesus- i.e. the “Q Wisdom Sayings” gospel and Paul’s Christ myth- i.e. the Christian “Jesus Christ”. It is the profound contradiction between the themes of unconditional and conditional, non-retaliation and retaliation, non-punitive/non-destructive and punitive/destructive, among other contrasting features.)
10. Old story theme: The belief that retribution or payback is true justice (i.e. eye for eye), 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 hurt for hurt theology, or pain returned for pain caused, still under-girds much thinking on justice today, though its often framed as the practical need to present the punishment of offenders as a warning to others, to serve as a deterrence example for the general public. Psychology now recognizes that such punitive approaches do not work with criminal offenders or children. Punitive response to human imperfection and failure “does not teach alternative humane behavior”.
New story alternative: Again, 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.”
Added note: Yes, there is value in remembering past bad behavior and the outcomes as a warning to others. The Holocaust is a signature example of this value. But we remember the bad behavior of others in a larger context of consciously forgiving, with an orientation to restorative justice that is victim-centered (i.e. fully deals with restitution issues). Simon Wiesenthal’s “Justice, Not Vengeance” illustrates the struggle for balance on these concerns.
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). Myths of after-life harm have added a magnitude of order increase in fear to the already burdensome fear of death that many people carry.
(Insert: Why bother with speculation about such unknowable realities as after-life reality? Why not just dismiss or ignore such? Well, because the speculation has been done by major belief systems/religions across history and across all the cultures of the world. Pathology- i.e. bad mythology like the horrific myth of hell- already exists in human consciousness and ignoring it does nothing to solve the problems that the pathology causes- i.e. unnecessary fear, anxiety, guilt, shame. While all after-life theorizing may be considered speculative, we can at least offer more humane alternatives with healthier parameters- i.e. eliminate unnecessary worry regarding death while also focusing human orientation to full involvement with here and now reality.)
New story alternative: Again, authentic love is unconditional and does not demand the fulfilment 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 again 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.
All such material points to the safe conclusion that there will be no after-life harm. We die into a stunning no conditions Love that is our origin and final home. We are all safe in that Love (i.e. sun and rain are generously given to all alike, to both good and bad people). We are never separated from that Love.
Insert: Make the important distinction here between Ultimate Reality and life in this imperfect world. We can recognize God as absolutely no conditions Love but not deny the reality of natural and social consequences in this world. The need for personal responsibility for behavior is 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 one’s view of some lost paradise.
We saw this resort to “violent force against the imagined enemy” recently with ISIS in Syria (a struggle to bring on the final annihilation/Armageddon battle and then spread the caliphate across the world). Just as we have seen it in Jewish history (Old Testament) and Christian history (Crusades, Inquisitions, persecution of heretics). The embrace of revolutionary violence has to do with the divine model/human behavior relationship (i.e. our behavior validated by our divine ideas/ideals). As Harold Ellens says, if your God uses force, then so may you, to get your way against your “enemies”.
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 was believed to be under dire and imminent threat from the enemy. Too often this belief in divine violent force has been misappropriated to validate unnecessary harshness and cruelty toward fellow human beings.
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. 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, and to do so while respecting the freedom of others to differ from us.
This is to say that there is no hero messiah, and a tribal deity at that, that will intervene with superior force to conquer some enemy of ours, and grant us our vision of our longed-for paradise with our enemies excluded (i.e. the unbelievers of our ‘truth’), as per the book of Revelation.
Note: This point recognizes the valid need at times (police, military) to use legal force to restrain irrational violence. This legitimate use of force is to be distinguished from the harsh mythology that drives ISIS and drove historical Christian violence against fellow Christians that disagreed over theological issues, often very minor disagreements (e.g. note the incident of Calvin putting his fellow Christian theologian, Servetus, to death over the placement of an adjective in a sentence).
We are seeing this advocacy for coercive force today against fellow citizens, over similarly minor issues of disagreement, such as in the climate debate. The hysterical exaggeration of change in nature to apocalyptic-scale scenarios has clouded the minds of many and has incited the felt need for coercive force (i.e. criminalize skeptical science), and even violence against opponents.
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.
Yes, this is another stunning correction to traditional God theories.
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 in sections 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 in mass-death movements? 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 (not Pantheism) 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 in union with 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 and just having fun while doing so.
As some have stated, we are the voice, hands, and feet of God in this world.
God has never been silent or absent. There has never been a Sky God up above the world in some heaven, above and outside of humanity, doing things to the world and to people from the outside (the “yoyo God”, coming down and going back up, across history). To the contrary, God has always been within all things (the creating Sustainer of all reality), especially within the human family, and 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 good and 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 immanence of deity speaks to the fundamental “oneness” behind all things. Even quantum mechanics points to this foundational reality.
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. The upside is that nothing in life is pre-planned or predestined. We are free to create our own unique story, to become the heroes of our own life adventure. And there is nothing more heroic than choosing no conditions love, for even the enemy, as the supreme height of human achievement. Then we tower in stature like a Mandela.
Note: The above comments relate to one of the options offered in Jewish “Protest Theology” that emerged after the Holocaust (i.e. the idea of God willing/choosing to not intervene in human freedom). Others have suggested that, as spirit, God cannot intervene in material reality, aside from gentle suasion on the human spirit and consciousness.
And of course, aside from all these points in number 16, there are still the myriad unexplainable and fascinating “coincidences” scattered through personal human stories that we may view as just random, or the work of Providence. Interesting that people tend to explain good coincidences as Providence, but not so much the bad ones.
Added discussion group post from Bob Brinsmead: “____, many thanks for sending the link to this great Wikipedia article on Process Theology. I would have to say that I agree with the main thrust of the thesis.
“To say that God could have stopped the Holocaust but refrained from stopping it is very unsatisfactory to me. I agree with the argument of the PROCESS theologians here. If God is committed to love, then God is committed to human freedom. God can use persuasion but not coercion of the human will. Love would not allow God to do something that was inhuman (interfere, coerce, etc.). If you look at history and daily experience, there is no other conclusion that seems to be either logically or ethically possible. It is also hard to see God acting contrary to the laws of nature or the laws of physics.”
J. Harold Ellens quote on the pathology of retaliation from his book “Honest Faith for Our Time”:
After noting the message of vindictiveness, settling scores, and meeting force with force, a message so common to the Old Testament, Ellens says, “These archetypes of fighting fire with fire are products of unconscious metaphors that contend that the world is wired this way, the cosmos is wired this way, God is wired this way. Everything is wired for a cosmic conflict. Have you got a major problem, resort to ultimate force. God does. Why should not we? It’s how things are designed. (Retaliatory archetypes argue that) God was so ticked off that he could not possibly get his head screwed back on straight until he had killed somebody, us or his son Jesus… That’s the familiar way things are set up. But it is not the way of the divine Spirit…
“We will not achieve human wellbeing until we create a world culture of wellbeing. We shall not achieve that until God gets well in our theological constructs. A culture of wellbeing implies a world of psycho-spiritual metaphors that produce healthful unconscious archetypes. To achieve that we must destroy the sick monster God that reigns unconsciously in all our hearts.”
Preface to “Old Story Themes, New Story Alternatives”
The alternative new story themes include a “spiritual” element. This simply affirms what most of humanity across history, and most people today, understand and embrace (the 85% of humanity affiliated with a world religion, with most of the remaining 15% claiming to be “unaffiliated” or “spiritual but not religious”). Humanity in general has always understood that greater or Ultimate Reality (Ultimate meaning) is about more than just energy, natural law, quantum fields, multiple-dimensions, or Self-Organizing Principle (as the creating Force of philosophical materialism).
Most human beings across history have intuitively understood that greater Reality has to do with Mind, Consciousness, Self/Personhood, Spirit, or Intelligence. Note that you do not have Consciousness or Mind without personality. Further, the early quantum theorists recognized this Consciousness/Mind element also in their conclusion that their new science pointed to the universe as more “a great Thought than a machine”.
The problem with mythical and religious explanations of greater or Ultimate reality has been the projection of subhuman/inhuman features to define such reality, features like divine justice as punitive retaliation, ultimate exclusion of some (i.e. unbelievers rejected), domination/subservience (i.e. humanity created to serve the gods via subservience to priesthoods/religious authority), and ultimate destruction (i.e. apocalypse, hell). Those features have long been entrenched in our great religious traditions, and their God theories, and there has been little serious effort to challenge or dislodge that core pathology. Ongoing reform in religion must go to such core ideas/myths as they still influence so much else in life and society. Note, for example, the ongoing destructive influence of the nihilistic apocalyptic pathology (God as violent destroyer of all), now expressed often through environmental alarmist scenarios and their consistently harmful salvation schemes.
There will always be profound mystery to theology, as there is about all reality, and that cautions us against dogmatism in our theological speculations. In addition, any theological speculation must include the framework of the latest discoveries from science.
The long-term and widely embraced conclusion of humanity that there is a spiritual reality is a fully coherent and rational conclusion about reality and life. I do not accept the materialist argument that humanity needs to grow out of, or move past, the spiritual (i.e. the argument of a frustrated atheist, “Let’s get rid of all this metaphysical bullshit”). Our project should be to reframe it all as something more humane as well as affirm the science/philosophy and state/religion boundaries.
(Insert note: While acknowledging that the spiritual plays a crucial role in human meaning/purpose issues, a healthy orientation ought to be to full here and now involvement- i.e. to improving life in this world. The practical, real-world outcome of ideas is the true test of the goodness or usefulness of an idea.)
The human meaning impulse as expressed in spirituality, and spiritual beliefs, has always been something inherent to conscious human awareness. Even the Neanderthals exhibited such awareness as seen in burial site evidence (i.e. items included for an after-life journey).
It has long been the argument of this site that thorough long-term problem solving should also deal with the human meaning impulse and the meta-narrative themes that express/affirm such meaning. Pathology still dominates at this basic level in public consciousness. And while scientific evidence is always crucial in the problem-solving mix, such evidence does not sway many people toward more rational views due to their deeply held spiritual beliefs. This applies to both sides as secularist/materialist types often hold dogmatic philosophical beliefs just as religious people hold their religious beliefs.
(Note: The above is not to discourage our atheist friends who have contributed so much good input to the project of challenging religion. But their alternative, notably the more dogmatic forms of atheism, will never resonate with most of the human population. A better alternative is the more moderate “atheism”, as some call it, that has been more about the exchange of old unworkable/discredited gods for new ones- i.e. new god theories or ultimate meaning theories- that are more attuned to modern sensibilities regarding humane reality.)
Fighting Declinist despair and apocalyptic nihilism
“The idea of decline (that things are getting worse, that life is declining toward some great collapse and ending) is the most dominant and influential theme in (society) today”, Historian Arthur Herman in ‘The Idea of Decline in Western History’. World surveys in recent years have affirmed this widespread pessimism in varied countries that the future will get worse and there might be an end to civilization and even life itself. Declinism is a modern version of primitive apocalyptic mythology.
Stephen Hawking fell for this Chicken Little myth in the final two years of his life, offering his own prophesies of the end-of-days and setting dates just like apocalyptic prophets have done across history. He initially announced the end in a thousand or so years (caused by AI or aliens), then finally settled on the end of days in just 100 years, caused by environmental catastrophe. 100 years reserved enough time for him to vacate the planet and avoid the embarrassment that all apocalyptics eventually face. Smart man. Apocalyptic prophesying has a 100% failure rate.
Add here that many believe that humanity, as essentially corrupt and bad-to-the-bone (i.e. the anti-human myth of “inherited sinful nature”), is the cause of the imagined worsening trajectory of life. People believe that we deserve some horrible future outcome as punishment for our “sins” of corrupting nature by developing industrial civilization, and for our greed- i.e. for enjoying the good life too much. The Japanese lady (post-2011 tsunami) summarized this outlook, affirming the common belief that harmful things from nature are expressions of punitive forces/deities. She asked, “Are we being punished for enjoying life too much?”
Contrary to Declinism ideology, amassed evidence has consistently shown improvement, not degeneration or decline, on all the main features of life. Our creation of industrial civilization has enabled us to create the wealth that enables us to, not only immensely improve the human condition, but to also better care for the natural world. We have done well as Julian Simon said, proving ourselves “to be more creators than destroyers”. For detail on the improving trajectory of life see Simon’s Ultimate Resource, Greg Easterbrook’s A Moment on the Earth, Bjorn Lomborg’s Skeptical Environmentalist, Ronald Bailey’s The End of Doom, Desrocher and Szurmak’s Population Bombed, Indur Goklany’s The Improving State of the World, among others. See also the ‘Ecological Kuznets Curve’ research, or ‘Environmental Transition’ research (Google Indur Goklany on this).
The result of embracing Declinism has been widespread fear of some horrific collapse of life, often environmental collapse scenarios, and the outcome of such alarm is the incited urgency to “save the world”, to purge the world of some imagined threat to life. Today alarmists have isolated the threat as the “curse of fossil fuels” that are the main engine of industrial society, lasering in on the CO2 byproduct.
Note the profound distortion of basic reality here- that the basic food of all life is now widely viewed as a pollutant and poison that threatens life. Also note that there is no “climate emergency”. This quote from a recent GWPF newsletter, “Only last week, a declaration by more than 700 scientists and researchers was presented in the European Parliament, showing that global warming is happening, but is far more gradual and far less detrimental to the wellbeing of people and societies than activists have been claiming.” Further, few point out the many beneficial outcomes of more CO2 and warmer temperatures (i.e. increased plant growth and crop production, expanded habitats, less mortality from cold… overall, more of “life flourishing”).
Apocalyptic has always been a dangerous idea- “the most violent and destructive idea in history” (Arthur Mendel in Vision and Violence). The danger is that of populations being frightened into self-fulfilling prophesy outcomes. As Julian Simon warned, environmental alarmism creates fatalism and resignation in populations. Worse still, alarmed populations will embrace salvation schemes that involve the “coercive purging” of some threat to life that the apocalyptic prophets have advocated against (i.e. “save the world from the threat of CO2”). This has already led to outbreaks of the totalitarian impulse- i.e. projects to criminalize the skeptics of alarmist ideology (e.g. Obama’s AG, Loretta Lynch trying to criminalize skeptical science), and to silence contrary evidence (see the Climategate emails- https://principia-scientific.org/climate-science-proves-scams-dont-die-from-exposure/). These fear-driven projects have been a direct assault on freedom and democracy.
The most dangerous outcome yet of alarmism is the insane push to “decarbonise” societies and the economic collapse that this threatens.
It is an irrational ‘denial’ of good science to claim that CO2 is the dominant variable that influences climate change. CO2, making up 0.04% of the atmosphere, plays a small role but that tiny influence is repeatedly overwhelmed by other natural factors that influence climate change. See, for example, the role of the cosmic ray/sun/cloud interaction on climate in Henrik Svensmark’s ‘The Chilling Stars’. Point? You cannot coercively push public policies to “decarbonise” entire societies, and consequently threaten widespread economic collapse, based on the complex and still unsettled climate science that does not affirm your beliefs or ideology. The harmful outcomes of such policies- i.e. rising energy costs that impact the poorest people, increased death rates from fuel poverty- are already being felt in countries like Germany, England, and even the US (see Global Warming Policy Forum reports).
Declinism is just another Johnny-come-lately version of the same old, same old apocalyptic mythology, one of the earliest and most pathological of all human myths. The earliest versions were expressed in the Sumerian Flood myth, and Egyptian myths of The Destruction of Mankind and Return to Chaos. Zoroaster later embraced apocalyptic in his formal religion that shaped the subsequent Hebrew/Jewish, Christian, and Muslim versions of apocalyptic religion. Apocalyptic decline was also embraced by Hinduism (i.e. great historical cycles of rise and then decline toward disastrous ending) and Buddhism (i.e. the belief that the human life-span was decreasing over time- see Mircea Eliade’s History of Religious Ideas).
We- humanity- have had a hard time letting go of this pathology of apocalyptic, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. It continues to dominate public story-telling in movies, TV, and literature.
This nihilistic idea of apocalyptic is based on the core theological pathology of God as ultimate punisher and destroyer. The latest fad versions of this retributive and apocalyptic deity myth include vengeful Gaia, angry Planet, pissed Mother Earth, retributive Universe, and payback karma. All versions of punitive, destroying Forces/deity at the core of reality and life. These later versions are part of the modern “secularization of primitive mythology” (i.e. giving ancient ideas/themes new “secular” or ideological expression) that has occurred over the past few centuries. Joseph Campbell was right that the same mythical ideas are repeated all across history and across all the cultures of the world.
I would argue that science by itself won’t correct the problem of Declinism. You also have to go to the root ideas in human meta-narratives and deal with the theological pathology at the core of our great belief systems/religious traditions if you want to thoroughly correct the problem of bad ideas that still dominate the wider public consciousness. This is necessary to fully and properly deal with the primal human impulse for meaning. And of course, science is also vital to the project of transforming public consciousness.
This site probes the root ideas behind things like apocalyptic Declinism and offers alternatives to affirm hope, alternatives that are based on our contemporary understanding of reality and life.
Added note: “Post-apocalyptic literature” (a recognized new sub-genre), claims to offer hope in a post-apocalyptic world, but it offers no credible basis for hope because it affirms the pathology of apocalyptic mythology (i.e. total destruction before trying to create a new life in the post-apocalyptic world).
Further added note: News media ignore the larger context and trajectory of improving life, almost entirely. They have embraced an obsessive compulsive orientation to alarmist reporting. Sociologist David Altheide was right in describing news media as “not truth-tellers but entertainers competing with the rest of the entertainment industry” (“Creating Fear: News and the manufacture of crisis”). And what dominates the entertainment industry? Apocalyptic.
The exaggeration of problems, and even natural change (i.e. weather/climate), to apocalyptic scale thereby distorting the true state of things. Then inciting populations to embrace fear-based policy responses/solutions that have repeatedly harmed people and nature. The bio-fuels fiasco is an example. It resulted in rising food prices for the poorest people and led to further deforestation for palm oil plantations. Another example is decarbonisation, a policy that is based on the lunacy of demonizing the basic food of all life- CO2. Decarbonisation is the anti-science crusade to end the use of cheap fossil fuels that have benefited life immensely, lifting billions out of the misery of poverty and enabling humanity, with increased wealth, to better care for the environment.
Discussion group post (response to fellow discussant’s question- “Why be concerned about alarmists?”):
“Mainly because I am concerned about here and now life, about practical daily reality…and the established fact that when you alarm populations with scenarios of disaster/death as alarmists do daily, then you incite the natural self-preservation instinct, the survival instinct, and the felt need to take drastic action to “save” something- i.e. save one’s self, one’s family, or the world. That salvationist activism has had horrifically destructive outcomes over recent history for many others because it has often involved the “coercive purging” of some imagined threat to life.
“I am referring to exaggerated threats, not to real problems in life. Alarmists have a track record of exaggerating problems in our world to apocalyptic-scale thereby distorting the true state of things.
“This is why I so persistently refer to the stunning research of Landes, Herman, Mendel, Redles and like historians that exposed how fear-inciting apocalyptic millennial themes played a role in the Marxist mass-death movement (100 million deaths), in Nazi mass-death (50-60 million deaths), and those themes are today inciting an ongoing mass-death movement in environmental alarmism with its insane battle against the food of all life (i.e. CO2). Alarmists today have demonized fossil fuels that have saved so much human life, enabling humanity to create this industrial civilization (enabling the creation of wealth) that has helped us to also better take care of nature.
“The death totals from environmental alarmism may have already exceeded those of the other two mass-death movements of the past century, though the Marxist one has re-birthed itself in environmental alarmism (a new collectivism movement- the push for centralized control of economies via agencies like the UN), so that last-century movement actually continues.
“Past death totals exceeded in environmental alarmism? Some attribute up to 50 million deaths from Rachel Carson’s anti-DDT alarmism alone. And anti-GM alarmism- Bjorn Lomborg attributed 8 million child deaths to that alarmism, over a recent 12 year period alone. Do the math yourself. As Lomborg said, such alarmism is not only irresponsible. It is immoral.”
Richard Lindzen: “What historians will definitely wonder about in future centuries is how deeply flawed logic, obscured by shrewd and unrelenting propaganda, actually enabled a coalition of powerful special interests to convince nearly everyone in the world that CO2 from human industry was a dangerous, planet-destroying toxin. It will be remembered as the greatest mass delusion in the history of the world – that CO2, the life of plants, was considered for a time to be a deadly poison.”
The exaggeration of problems, and even natural change (i.e. weather/climate), to apocalyptic scale thereby distorting the true state of things. Then inciting populations to embrace fear-based policy responses/solutions that have repeatedly harmed people and nature. The bio-fuels fiasco is an example. It resulted in rising food prices for the poorest people and led to further deforestation for palm oil plantations. Another example is decarbonisation, a policy that is based on the lunacy of demonizing the basic food of all life- CO2. Decarbonisation is the anti-science crusade to end the use of cheap fossil fuels that have benefited life immensely, lifting billions out of the misery of poverty and enabling humanity, with increased wealth, to better care for the environment.
Preface note on the “pathology” of apocalyptic:
Apocalyptic is based on the central fallacy of retaliatory, destroying deity that punishes human imperfection with violent and complete destruction. Note the Sumerian Flood myth for the original template- i.e. angry Enlil proposing to destroy all humanity for the sin of “being too noisy”. This punitive theology/God theory was embraced by Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism- i.e. “Lord Shiva the Destroyer”. Punitive, destroying God theory has also been embraced by “secular” moderns in the theologies of “vengeful Gaia”, “angry Planet/Mother Earth”, “retributive Universe”, and payback karma.
The historical outcome of apocalyptic- “the most violent and destructive idea in history”- has been endless unnecessary human mental/emotional suffering and the incitement to further violence. See Zenon Lotufo’s Cruel God, Kind God for a psychotherapist’s notes on the “personality-deforming” fear, anxiety, shame, and guilt that arise from cruel God theories, as well as the incitement to violence. As the millennial scholars show (Richard Landes, Arthur Herman, Arthur Mendel, David Redles), alarming populations with apocalyptic scenarios pushes people to embrace destructive “coercive purification” solutions/policies- i.e. the coercive purging of imagined threats such as capitalist society in Marxist apocalyptic (100 million deaths), Jewish Bolshevism in Nazi apocalyptic (50-60 million deaths), and industrial/fossil fuel society in environmental alarmist apocalyptic (death tolls still mounting).
A brief history of the root ideas that have long undermined hope, freedom, and love.
How did the lunacy of apocalyptic mythology get from ancient Sumeria (i.e. Sumerian Flood apocalypse) to us today in extremist movements like environmental alarmism? How did the primitive and pathological belief of apocalyptic get into our modern world where public consciousness is constantly battered by prophecies of the end of the world, now mainly from climate alarmism? (Example: James Hansen, the father of global warming alarmism, stating in 2008, “It’s all over in five years”.)
Start with Joseph Campbell’s statement: “The same mythical themes repeat all across history and across all the cultures of the world”. The same themes descend down through history in both the Western and Eastern traditions.
One writer (Douglas Murray- The Madness of Crowds) says that we have abandoned the great narratives of our past, narratives given to us by the great religions that provided meaning and purpose to life. Now in the “post-modern” era we are floundering without those meaning-giving and purpose-providing guides.
No, the great narrative themes have not been abandoned but are still held by the majority of humanity that affiliate with some notable religious tradition (85% of humanity). Close to 4 billion people claim affiliation with the two great apocalyptic religions of Christianity and Islam, with another billion or so affiliated with Hinduism and Buddhism, religions that also embrace the feature of declinism, a central theme of apocalyptic mythology (i.e. great cycles of emergence and then decline toward catastrophic ending in Hinduism, decreasing life spans in Buddhism). And, most critical, those themes are also given new “secular” expression in the ideologies and philosophies of today.
Point? The dominant themes of the past continue to dominate today across all world religions and ideologies. The core themes are always the same old, same old no matter their diverse expression in religious or secular versions. And they cause the same old damage as ever before. What are these core themes that have dominated all past history and all the cultures of the world?
Here is a summary of the most dominant themes in human meta-narratives:
There was an original paradise (e.g. Eden). Bad people (the fallen, sinful humanity myth) ruined the paradise and life is now declining toward some catastrophic collapse and ending (apocalypse). We must embrace some salvation plan, make some demanded sacrifice, and do something radical to purge the evil from the world in order to save ourselves and the world. If we do so- i.e. coercively purge the corrupting force- then we can restore the lost paradise. Include here the tribal dualism of true believers versus unbelievers, true religion/ideology versus false religion/ideology.
Now trace these ideas from the very beginning of human writing some 5000 years ago, in Sumeria. Those first human attempts at writing- the cuneiform tablets of around 3000 BCE- were broken and scattered but complete versions of the same Sumerian myths/stories are found in later Akkadian and Babylonian epics like The Epic of Gilgamesh (dated to around 1650 BCE).
The themes are not yet expressed as a coherent belief system in Sumerian mythology but are all present- i.e. the original paradise city of Dilmun without sickness or death. Then Enki eats the 8 forbidden plants and paradise is lost/ruined and Enki becomes ill. Add here the Sumerian Flood myth as the great original apocalypse- the destruction of all humanity and life. The Egyptians around the same time had their own apocalyptic myths- The Destruction of Mankind and the Return to Chaos myths. Further, the Sumerians also embraced the themes of sacrifice/salvation/immortality.
Roughly a millennium later Zoroaster formulates these earlier themes into his dualist religion where the good God Ahura Mazda created an original good world that was later corrupted by evil. Ahura Mazda then brought a great apocalypse of molten metal to purge and end the world and restore the lost original paradise. Zoroaster’s Persian religion then shaped Jewish/Hebrew beliefs, whether via an exile in Persia or through the usual exchange of ideas via trade relations (or Semitic origins in the Persia/Sumer region).
Judaism subsequently shaped Christianity through people like Paul. And there is an interesting side note here in that this time in history could have experienced the embrace of a major break with ancient apocalyptic mythology and its related themes. The Historical Jesus rejected apocalyptic with “his stunning new theology of a non-retaliatory God” (James Robinson). Jesus stated that there should be “no more eye for eye retaliation but instead love your enemy because God does. God does not retaliate against enemies but inclusively loves all the same, giving the good gifts of life- sun and rain- to both good and bad people”.
A God that does not retaliate will not engage the ultimate act of retaliation that is an apocalypse. But Paul rejected this non-retaliatory, non-apocalyptic theology of Jesus and instead retreated to embrace a retaliatory God. Note his quote of an Old Testament statement in Romans 12 that expresses his view of God, “Vengeance is mine says the Lord. I will repay”. Paul also re-affirmed apocalyptic in his Christ myth- “Lord Jesus will return in blazing fire to punish/destroy all that do not believe my gospel” (Thessalonians letter).
Paul’s retaliatory, apocalyptic theology became the version of Christianity that has dominated Western, and world, consciousness. His Christianity has been mainly responsible for bringing the pathology of apocalyptic into subsequent history.
The Jewish branch of early Christianity (notably Ebionism) later also shaped Islam as an apocalyptic religion (see Joseph Izza’s The Priest and the Prophet, and David Cook on Islamic apocalyptic).
Christianity then shaped the 19th Century ideology of Declinism (i.e. the belief that life declines toward catastrophic ending), the most dominant and influential theme in modern society (Arthur Herman in The Idea of Decline in Western History. See also the research of apocalyptic millennial scholars Richard Landes, Arthur Mendel, and David Redles).
Declinism subsequently shaped Marxism- i.e. the belief that the original communal paradise has been lost in capitalist/industrial society that declines toward destruction. Salvation is to be found in the violent purging of the corrupting force so the lost communal paradise can be restored.
Declinism also shaped Nazism with its belief that the original pure German spirit and culture was being corrupted by Jewish Bolshevism and was declining and in danger of annihilation/apocalypse. There had to be a violent purging of the corrupting force (a great final battle of annihilation between the good and evil) so that the lost paradise could be restored in the Third Reich.
The main offspring of Declinism today is environmental alarmism with its belief that the original paradise of a wilderness world has been ruined by humanity in civilization, especially in industrial society, and the world is now declining toward some great collapse and ending. Salvation is to be found in the coercive purging of the corrupting force so that the lost wilderness paradise can be restored.
Here we are today with majorities of our populations still embracing such primitive mythological themes of some original paradise ruined by bad humanity and declining toward catastrophic ending. The best evidence powerfully contradicts this old narrative because life has improved on all fronts and the overall long-term trajectory of life is one of rise and progress, not decline.
But apocalyptic myth continues to dominate public media- in movies, TV, literature, even science (i.e. climate science), and news media. This pathology creates unnecessary public trauma- fear, anxiety, shame and guilt (i.e. we ‘corrupt’ people have ruined paradise). Apocalyptic also feeds the totalitarian violence of “coercive purification” responses- i.e. the felt need to purge some corrupting force/entity (the enemy in dualist thinking) that threatens life.
We have alternative themes for an entirely new narrative. And they are soundly evidence-based. Themes that orient human consciousness to hope and love.
Preface to comment on “The great Christian contradiction” material below (Historical Jesus or Q Wisdom Sayings research… a bit of explanation for religiously-inclined visitors):
My argument below for unconditional as central to any theology (God theory or Ultimate Reality theory) is not dependent on first establishing the actual message of the original Jesus. I do not view him as an authority and I do not need his actual words (original message) as the critical element to affirm my point re unconditional theology. Nonetheless, I refer to the good comments in the Jesus material (i.e. “love your enemy”) just to illustrate something that stands on its own as authoritative.
Unconditional is the best of being human and holds authority in itself as ultimate goodness without the need for validation by some religious authority. It is “self-validating” as good or true. It does not need any Jesus validation but I do not mind touching base with widely respected icons/symbols for illustrative purposes.
Unconditional love is not a religious insight or discovery. To the contrary, religions across history have been essentially conditional traditions- promoting the religious demand for right belief, correct ritual and religious lifestyle to please religious deities, and necessary conditions for religious salvation (sacrifice, payment). Religion as a conditional institution has never communicated the stunning unconditional nature of deity to humanity.
I would establish the authority of unconditional as supreme goodness by appealing to its discovery and practice by ordinary people all through our societies- i.e. parents, spouses, friends. It is the best behavior that we can engage and hence it should be the basis of any authentic theology of Ultimate Good or Ultimate Love. This is to say- do theology from humanity and then out to deity, not the other way around as religious traditions have long done (i.e. they begin with some holy text as authoritative revealed truth for defining deity and human ethics). First establish the best of being human, and then project that out to define deity, but as transcendently better (Ultimate Good or Love). As Alexander Pope said, “The proper study of mankind is man”.
This is all to say- I am not a Biblicist (i.e. dependent on the texts of religious holy books for authoritative validation of ideas or ethics). My location of ultimate authority is common humanity and the best of common human goodness, whether exhibited by non-religious/atheist or religious persons. I view all such common love as the expression of the God spirit, or god-likeness (that is to say- humaneness) in ordinary people. ( And yes, I am suggesting that all people- both good and bad- are equally incarnated with the God spirit- what we call the human spirit. There has been no special incarnation only in religious heroes like Christian Jesus. The equal incarnation of God in all alike- how’s that for a new metaphysical basis for human equality? Unfortunately, too many deny and bury that core human spirit and choose to exhibit the inherited animal more.)
Continuing the previous point… I do not start my appeal to ultimate meaning and authority with religious gods or religious holy books, as traditionally claimed “revealed truth” or “supreme authorities”. Those traditional sources of validation should be subject to the same evaluating criteria as all other areas of life- i.e. is the content good or bad, humane or inhumane?
And yes, I get it that an unconditional theology will spell the end of all religion. If God is freely accessible to all alike- not a dominating authority, not demanding salvation conditions (sacrifice/payment), not requiring a religious lifestyle or ritual, not making tribal distinctions between believer/unbeliever, not threatening future judgment/punishment/destruction… well, who then needs religion?
A “stunning new theology” buried by Christianity
The great contradiction in Christianity and its holy book, the New Testament.
(The conclusions here are based on Historical Jesus research, notably Q Wisdom Sayings gospel research- i.e. James Robinson, John Kloppenborg, among others.)
First, why go after Paul’s Christ myth, the highly revered icon of a major world religion? Because, even though the Christ represents varied highly valued ideals to the Christian community- i.e. love, forgiveness, salvation, hope- it has also embraced and reinforced some of the worst features from an ancient past- i.e. retaliatory vengeance (see the Thessalonian letters), tribal exclusion (true believers saved, unbelievers excluded), domination/subservience relating (Lord Christ and his mediating priesthood), and angry gods threatening to punish and destroy (John’s Revelation as the epitome statement of this).
You cannot merge and mix contradicting opposites. That only creates “cognitive dissonance” (see Zenon Lotufo’s “Cruel God, Kind God”). Also, the nasty elements in a merger undermine, weaken, and distort the good stuff. It’s like putting new wine in old, rotten wineskins.
Further, the Christ gospel of Paul is mainly responsible for embedding/re-enforcing the myth of apocalypse in Western consciousness and keeping that pathological myth alive. As James Tabor said, “Paul has been the most influential person in history and he has shaped practically all we think about everything”. His Christ myth has shaped much of how we think and act- i.e. our ethics, justice.
Religious icons and beliefs still exert an outsize influence on human thought and behavior (Note the 85% of humanity still affiliated with a major world religion as per the World Religion Survey). A close examination of humanity’s highest ideal and authority- deity- reveals too much residual subhuman/inhuman stuff still in the mix. Religious reformism has to move beyond peripheral tinkering to thoroughly and properly tackle the core reality- e.g. the nature of religious deity.
Fortunately, growing human insight into the true nature of love as unconditional now points us toward a stunning new understanding of the true nature of Ultimate Reality- God. Parents, spouses, friends all get that love should be unconditional from daily relating to imperfect family/people all around them. Now project this highest form of love out to define deity properly as Ultimate Love and Goodness. The best in humanity, as understood from common modern sensibilities, defines the transcendently better in deity. Yes, this is an “audacious” new way of doing theology. But it points to a more humane understanding of deity than what we have inherited from religious traditions and their holy books.
Moving into the issue…
The Search For Historical Jesus, over the past three centuries, has given us the basic outline of what happened in the Christian tradition. The latest phase of this search- the Jesus Seminar- offers more detail on the basic issues involved, i.e. that early Christianity was a diverse movement with major differences, for example, between Jewish Christianity (Jesus as some sort of prophet/king but not God) and Paul’s Gentile Christian movement (Jesus as God-man, cosmic Christ/Savior). Further, there were numerous other gospels that were not accepted into the Christian cannon- e.g. the gospel of Philip, gospel of Mary, Gospel of James, gospel of Thomas, and so on. The victors of the early Christian battles (i.e. Paul’s version of the gospel) got to dictate what was truth and what was heresy. Emperor Constantine also stuck his nose into the truth/heresy fighting among early Christians.
(Note on the four gospels included in the New Testament: Of the many other gospels available when the New Testament canon was assembled, why were only Matthew, Mark, Luke and John included? Historians have noted some of the primitive reasoning behind the centuries-long selection process, such as Irenaeus’ affirmation that “there are four universal winds… animals have four legs…”, etc. Such was ancient ‘theological’ reasoning.)
The Search For Historical Jesus has revealed that there was a real historical person and we believe that we have gotten close to his original message. But that message is much less than what the New Testament gospels have attributed to Jesus. The NT gospel writers put a lot of things in Jesus’ mouth, claiming that he had said such things but many of those things contradict his core theme/message.
Note, for instance, his statement in Matthew 5 to “love your enemy”. The single most profound statement of supreme no-conditions love. But then a few chapters later (Matthew 11) Jesus apparently pivots 180 degrees and threatens “unbelievers/enemies” with the single most intense statement of supreme hatred- enemies should be cast into hell. Matthew claims that Jesus threatened the villages that refused to accept him and his miracles/message, stating that they would be “cast into outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth”. These statements could not have come from the same person because they are statements of irreconcilable opposites.
The core teaching of Jesus has been summarized in the Q Wisdom Sayings gospel, notably the first version of Q (Q1). That teaching is basically Matthew 5-7 with some other comments and parables. Luke 6 is a similar summary but with a different setting- lakeside versus Matthew’s mountain top.
Matthew, obsessed with righteousness, tampers with the core Q Sayings Wisdom teaching in the chapter 5-7 section of his book. He adds his own editorial glosses, such as his condition that people’s righteousness had to exceed that of religious teachers if they wanted to get into heaven. They had to meet the impossible condition to “be perfect just as God is perfect”. That distorts entirely the main point of Jesus that it did not matter how people responded to love, because God generously included all, both good and bad. God was unconditional Love, and universal, unlimited inclusion. Luke in his treatment of the very same message does a better job, summing Jesus’ point as “be unconditionally merciful just like your Father is unconditionally merciful” (Luke 6). That gets the spirit of the passage better than Matthew’s conditional statements.
The central statement or theme in the Q Wisdom Sayings gospel material is a behavior/belief relationship. Note this in the Matthew 5:38-48 section, “Don’t engage the old eye for eye justice toward your enemy/offender. Instead, love your enemy because God does. How so? God does not retaliate against and punish enemies/offenders, but instead generously gives the good gifts of life- sun and rain for crops- inclusively to both good people and bad people alike”. Jesus based a non-retaliatory behavior on a similar validating belief- a “stunning new theology of a non-retaliatory God” (James Robinson).
A critical takeaway here is that a non-retaliating God (no more eye for eye) is a non-apocalyptic God because apocalyptic is about supreme and final retaliation, ultimate eye for eye retaliation. The God of Jesus will not engage the ultimate act of retaliation that is the apocalyptic punishment and destruction of all things (include here the eternal retaliation that is the hell myth). The God of Jesus was non-punitive and non-apocalyptic.
Other common sense conclusions flow from this stunning new theology, from the core theme of a no-conditions God. For instance, the God of Jesus would not ultimately judge or condemn anyone and would not ultimately exclude anyone (again, sun and rain are given to all- to both good and bad people). The God of Jesus is best defined with the adjective “unconditional” and this clearly summarizes the core theme/teaching in Matthew 5 and Luke 6.
This also means that the God of Jesus was non-salvationist (i.e. no need to “be saved” via sacrifice or payment for sin). His God would not demand sacrifice or payment before forgiving, loving, and including even the worst offenders/enemies. He would give, expecting nothing in return. And this point scandalizes the religious/moral mind that is oriented to fairness and justice as proper retribution or punishment, justice as tit for tat, hurt for hurt, demanded payment for wrong. Note Jesus’ parable on the Vineyard workers and the Prodigal Son for illustrations of how good people were offended by the unconditional generosity, forgiveness, and love of the Father and the vineyard owner. Their disregard for the commonly understood norms of fair justice offended the older brother and scandalized the all-day vineyard workers. Also, the unconditional inclusion of local “sinners” at meal tables offended righteous, moral Jews.
There is a “thematic coherence” to the message and behavior of the Historical Jesus and that message/behavior is intensely oriented to unconditional love.
The rest of the New Testament, including the gospels, contradicts this core non-retaliatory, unconditional love theme entirely. A proper setting forth of the correct chronology of the New Testament highlights this profound contradiction at the heart of Christianity.
Jesus taught first, around 27-36 CE. I would offer that the main point/statement in his core message, the Q Wisdom Sayings gospel, would be the behavior/belief relationship noted above: “Do not engage eye for eye retaliation, but instead love your enemy because God does. How so? Just as we are expected to do, God does not engage eye for eye justice against imperfect people. Instead, God gives the good gifts of life- sun and rain for crops- to both good and bad people”. God is a non-retaliatory reality that loves all unconditionally and universally, expecting nothing in return. God’s love is not tit for tat love that is dependent on the response of the person. Further, God does not view humanity as tribally divided (e.g. good people versus bad people) and does not treat some differently from others. All are the favorites of God, including our enemies.
Paul wrote the next material that is in the New Testament- i.e. his Thessalonian letters written around 50 CE (I am passing over the argument re the authenticity of the second Thessalonian letter). His other letters were also written in the 50s CE. Paul contradicts Jesus entirely, notably the core Jesus theme/statement in Matthew 5:38-48. Paul also employs a behavior/belief pairing to state his theology that is the very opposite to that of Jesus. In Romans 12:17-20 he urges Christians to hold their desire for vengeance at bay because God will satisfy it eventually with ultimate eye for eye vengeance.
Here is the stunner- Paul affirms his theology that God is a supremely retaliatory reality by quoting an Old Testament statement, “Vengeance is mine says the Lord. I will repay”. In this, Paul re-affirms eye for eye retaliatory justice and response. There is no ultimate “love your enemy” in Paul’s God or Christ.
In the above section Paul is arguing with the Roman Christians- restrain your vengeance lust, not because God does that (rejecting eye for eye justice as Jesus did), but to the contrary, because God will unleash ultimate vengeance soon enough and satisfy your desire for eye for eye vengeance on your enemies.
I would suggest that Paul used this behavior/belief pairing in Romans 12 intentionally to contradict the same behavior/belief pairing in Jesus’ central message. The similarities are too obvious. Paul rejects the non-retaliatory God of Jesus to fully affirm a retaliatory, punitive God, a tribal God that favors his true believers and rejects the enemies of believers.
Paul also, in other places (again, in contradiction to Jesus), straightforwardly embraced an apocalyptic God/Christ. Once more, note his Thessalonian letters where he states, “Lord Jesus will return in blazing fire to punish/destroy all who do not believe my gospel”. Apocalypse- the supreme act of a retaliatory, destroying God that engages ultimate eye for eye justice.
Further, Paul rejected and trashed in general, the wisdom tradition that Jesus belonged to. See his first Corinthian letter for detail.
All the gospel writers that were later included in the New Testament affirmed Paul’s views and his Christ myth by adding made-up biographical material and statements that they claimed were from Jesus, material that directly contradicted his main theme and message. Mark wrote first around 70 CE. Then Matthew and Luke wrote around 80 CE, John later around 100 CE.
All affirmed Paul’s apocalyptic, destroying Christ myth and Paul’s gospel of that Christ as a great cosmic sacrifice to pay for all sin (supremely conditional love).
Paul and his apocalyptic Christ myth- the most influential person and myth in history- has since shaped Western consciousness more than anything else. His Christ myth also shaped Western justice as punitive and retaliatory- i.e. eye for eye justice (pain for pain, hurt for hurt).
Fortunately, the inclusion of the original Jesus material in the New Testament has served as a moderating force in the Christian mix, countering the harsher elements with mercy. But unfortunately, the mixing and merging of opposites has resulted in the ‘cognitive dissonance’ of a diamonds in dung situation (the conclusion of Thomas Jefferson and Leo Tolstoy). The better stuff- the core Jesus message and his stunning new unconditional theology- has been too often distorted and weakened by the nastier elements. Again, much like new wine put into old, rotten wineskins. (See Zenon Lotufo’s Cruel God, Kind God for a psychotherapist’s view of the cognitive dissonance of mixed God theories, and the damaging impact of including subhuman features in ideals/authorities such as deity.)
Contrary to the unconditional love that Jesus advocated, Christian love too often is a tribally-limited love, reserved more specially for fellow true believers in the Christ myth. Paul advocated such tribal love. Also, note his intolerant rage, in varied places, at his fellow apostles that did not submit to his Christ myth. He cursed them with eternal damnation. John in the early chapters of Revelation similarly curses “lukewarm” Christians with threats of exclusion and eternal destruction. And then how about those later chapters of Revelation?
After the core Q Wisdom Sayings message of Historical Jesus there is nothing of the scandalous generosity of unconditional love in the rest of the New Testament.
The unconditional God of Jesus, and the supremely conditional God/Christ of Paul that dominates the New Testament (demand for cosmic sacrifice before forgiving), are two entirely opposite realities.
Ah, such contradictions, eh.
Here is the main contradiction summarized again:
Jesus’ ethic and the theology/belief that it is based on- “Do not engage eye for eye retaliation but instead love your enemy because God does, sending the beneficial gifts of life, sun and rain for crops, to all alike, to both good and bad people”. Behave like that because God is like that.
Paul’s ethic and the theology/belief that it is based upon. He copies the pattern Jesus used of an ethic/behavior based up a similar theology/belief. I believe Paul set this pattern up deliberately to directly contradict the central theme of Jesus and his stunning new theology. Paul’s argument and reasoning in Romans 12:17-20, “Be nice now to your offenders. Hold your vengeance lust at bay because my God- “Vengeance is mine, I will repay”- shall satisfy it soon enough”.
That is the profound contradiction in the New Testament between Jesus and Paul, between the non-retaliatory theology of Jesus and the opposite retaliatory theology of Paul. These core ideals/authorities- the very core ideals of great human narratives- influence and shape all else in belief/life systems.
Takeaway? The central theme/message of Historical Jesus: “You must not engage ‘eye for eye’ retaliatory justice. Instead, love your enemies/offenders because God does. How so? God does not retaliate and punish God’s enemies. Instead, God gives the good gifts of life- sun and rain for crops- universally and inclusively to both good and bad people”.
Christianity has never taken this central theology of Jesus seriously. It opted instead for the retaliatory and tribally excluding God of Paul. Unbelievers are excluded from Paul’s salvation scheme, and face the threat of ultimate retaliation in apocalypse and hell. Note Paul’s repeated use in his varied letters of the threatening term “destruction” in relation to people who refuse to believe his God/Christ.
Defining Alarmism: The exaggeration of real problems to apocalyptic scale thereby distorting the true state of something and inciting fear-based policy responses. Such responses have been immensely more harmful than helpful in solving some problem. Decarbonisation is one example. It is a policy that is based on the lunacy of demonizing the basic food of all life- CO2- and trying to end the use of cheap fossil fuels that have benefited life immensely, lifting billions out of the misery of poverty and enabling humanity, with increased wealth, to better care for the environment.
The distortions of alarmist argument/ideology
Climate alarmists (e.g. Bill Nye the “anti-science” guy) argue that we must return to the pre-industrial levels of CO2 and average surface temperatures. They see the roughly 1 degree Centigrade of warming over the past 150 years as portending the end of days- a heat apocalypse. This is an unscientific read of climate history.
Pre-industrial levels of CO2- i.e. the basic food of all life, not a pollutant or poison- were around 285 ppm. That is a dangerously low level and plant life was stressed/starving. Paleo-climate history shows that past levels of atmospheric CO2 were often in the multiple-thousands of ppm and plant life flourished during such times (e.g. the Cambrian Explosion). And there was no ‘heat apocalypse’ with those higher levels. Plants prefer optimal levels of around 1000-1500 ppm, which is what horticulturalists/farmers maintain in greenhouses. With just the slight rise to today’s levels of 400 plus ppm, plant life is once again flourishing across the Earth.
And return to the pre-industrial levels of cold temperature? That is madness. The pre-industrial world was the era of the Little Ice Age, with abnormally cold temperatures across the world. Again, paleo-climate evidence (e.g. Ian Plimer’s Heaven and Earth) shows that for over 80 percent of world history the planet has been entirely ice free and life has flourished during such times with vastly expanded habitable areas and massively increased biomass. Animal life then benefits immensely with more food. A much warmer world is a more optimal world for all life.
Note: Current world average temperatures (14.5 degrees C.) are barely above ice age averages (12 degrees C.). This is not optimal, normal, or healthy for life. Life does much better with averages heading more toward 20 degrees C. Will this mean a “fried planet”? No, because Earth has an efficient heat distribution system, notably the great upwellings of warm air at the tropics that take that heat energy to the northern and southern latitudes resulting in less severe gradients between latitudes which lessens the potential for storminess in climate. It also means warmer winters (less severe gradients between seasons), and warmer nights. Overall, this should result in less storminess (hurricanes, tornadoes that depend on severe gradients of temperatures- i.e. cold air fronts meeting warm air.).
Aside: The end of tribalism
All humans alive on Earth today belong to the same one family, the common human family that embraces every person across our planet. We have all descended from the same one ‘great, great, great, … grandmother’. See https://www.northernnews.ca/news/new-genetic-study-pinpoints-the-african-homeland-that-nurtured-humanity-for-70000-years/wcm/9b9c0be1-c419-41cb-aedf-21291a2e7c0e
Note on Problem solving…
Problem solving that is thorough and for the long-term future should include all contributing factors/causes related to any given problem that is under consideration. Consider, for instance, the problem of bad human behavior- i.e. the pathologies of tribal exclusion, domination of others, and the impulse to vengeance/destruction of some “enemy” other. What ideas incite, guide, and validate such behaviors? What narrative themes influence such pathologies?
Bad ideas that have contributed to bad human behavior have descended down through history- from ancient mythology, to world religions, and are now given expression in modern “secular” ideologies.
“The same mythical themes have repeated all across history and across all the cultures of the world”, Joseph Campbell. See Old Story Themes, New Story Alternatives below.
Serious problems across the planet need our attention. But these problems are not helped by exaggerating and distorting their true state. Alarmist distortion of problems (the end of days is nigh) has driven the public adoption of policy responses that are more often harmful than helpful (i.e. the bio-fuels mess). The contemporary endeavor to shut down the use of cheap fossil fuels- the very engine of human industrial/technological civilization and all that we value- will be devastating to humanity.
Quote (a thought-provoking point made by Bob Brinsmead)
“A God that demands full punishment/payment of all sin (i.e. sacrifice) before he will forgive is a God that knows nothing of true unconditional forgiveness or love”. If the debt is fully paid, the wrong fully punished, then forgiveness is not required as there is nothing to forgive, no more debt to be paid. We imperfect humans are held to a higher standard of forgiveness and love (i.e. “authentic love keeps no record of wrongs”). We are expected to just forgive and love without expectation of some equivalent response/return, without demand for payment or sacrifice (Luke 6: 27-36, “Love, do good, and give without expecting anything in return”).
Authentic love is unconditional and not based on the similar response of the other. It is not tit for tat. And it takes a special courage and maturity to break a retaliatory cycle with someone (hurt for hurt, harm for harm) and take the lead to engage such no-conditions love.
The ideas/myths behind alarmist movements across history… new alternatives.
The myth of apocalypse has been one of the most distorting and destructive ideas conceived by primitive minds. Its central theme of decline toward catastrophic ending distorts the overall rising trajectory of life. Further, historians (see notes below on research of Richard Landes, Arthur Herman, Arthur Mendel, David Redles, and others) have traced its role in religious apocalyptic movements and in “secular” apocalyptic mass-death movements such as Marxism, Nazism, and now in environmental alarmism.
Apocalyptic-scale alarmism unleashes the totalitarian impulse… How so?
(And someone said regarding the Extinction Rebellion, that it was a “middle-class death cult that should be laughed out of existence”, hence some of my wording below- i.e. “lunacy gone insane”, a reference to a lot of the environmental alarmism of today.)
Watch the ever-lurking totalitarian impulse in the apocalyptic fear-mongering over environmental problems. When you tell populations that every twitch in nature portends the end of days as imminently nigh, that the situation is at “crisis” levels, or that catastrophe is just up ahead, then alarmist logic reasons that there is no more time for indecisive debate or the critically vital feature of good science- skepticism. We must act now before it is too late (tipping points are being approached and passed) and we must act ‘drastically’ to save ourselves, the world, all life.
This crisis logic unleashes the totalitarian impulse to shut down opponents, to take full control, because the crisis demands decisive action now, and damn the consequences or outcomes. Alarmists appear unaware, or to not care, that this crisis narrative and logic is a direct attack on democracy and freedom. Examples: Pres. Obama’s AG, Loretta Lynch, tried to criminalize skeptical science, and David Suzuki called for oil company CEOs to be imprisoned. Get that: Lock up the executives of the companies that provide the fuel for our transportation, to heat our homes, and to sustain agriculture and all else that we value in life.
Central to this apocalyptic logic is the demand for ‘coercive purging’ of the thing that the alarmist believes threatens the world. In the case of climate alarmists the great threat is industrial civilization that is sustained by fossil fuels. The coercive purging of the threat is part of the larger alarmist call for instantaneous transformation of society. We saw this “instantaneous transmutation” element (Arthur Mendel in Vision and Violence) with “coercive purification” in Marxism (purge the threat of capitalism), in Nazism (purge the threat of Jewish Bolshevism), and we are now watching it in environmentalism (again, purge the threat of technological/industrial civilization). Today the demand for instant transformation is expressed in the call for rapid “decarbonisation” of our societies (the lunacy of claiming that CO2 is a great threat to life).
Contemporary apocalyptic logic is the very same reasoning that was behind the irrational actions of many people across history, caught up in the hysteria of the apocalyptic movements of their era, who then abandoned their crops and normal patterns of life to go wait in caves for the end to come. No wonder Julian Simon (Ultimate Resource) warned that alarmism creates fatalism and resignation in people. Those people often starved as their crops rotted in the fields.
Likewise, today’s environmental alarmists, with their crusades for coercive purging and instant transformation, will devastate populations as we are already seeing in rising energy costs and fuel poverty, and the excess death rates from cold in places like the US (estimated 11,000 additional annual deaths) and Britain (32,000 annual excess deaths from cold).
Do we really want to return to the climate conditions of the pre-industrial era as some kind of optimum? That was the time of the Little Ice Age, a bitterly cold period across the planet, notably in the Northern hemisphere (roughly 1645-1715). Dangerously low pre-industrial levels of CO2 at roughly 285 ppm stressed plant life, and animal life suffered as a consequence. Today, life across Earth is once again flourishing with more basic plant food and a bit more warmth. All life would appreciate even more of both food and warmth, just as life flourished during the last interglacial- the Eemian- with 4 degrees Centigrade higher temperatures than temperature averages of our interglacial today.
The continuing apocalyptic alarmism over changes in nature fueled by hysterical media oriented to Creating Fear is lunacy gone insane (David Altheide nailed media in his book Creating Fear: News and the manufacture of crisis). And environmental alarmism misses the true state of the world by miles.
Julian Simon taught us how to properly view life and how to get to the “true state of the world” (i.e. How to correctly view the varied elements and problems in our world). He argued that we have to look at the complete big picture. That means including all the evidence from all sides of any issue, especially contrary evidence. This will help us to counter our own personal confirmation bias tendencies to shut out contrary evidence that does not affirm our beliefs.
And we have to look at the long-term trends related to the issue we are looking at. This will show, for instance, that climate change today is mild, and mainly beneficial to life, compared to the more severe changes of the longer term past. Look past the repeated claims that some feature in weather is the “worst on record”. The “record” being referred to is only the past century and a half of more formal weather recording.
Up from the section just below…
This site advocates themes for a new meta-narrative that includes the discoveries of the past few centuries of science along with the best of human “spiritual” understanding- i.e. the “ultimate meaning” element. This is about embracing thoroughly a primal human concern as evident in the 85% of humanity still affiliated with a major world religion with many of the remaining “unaffiliated” 15% still “spiritual, but not religious”.
(Note: The ‘spiritual’ being understood in terms of the best in humanity. I do theology by taking the best in humanity as central to meaning and projecting that out to define greater reality/deity- i.e. what is most humane is most true, and most real. See note on unconditional below as the best of human discovery. I make it my baseline criterion for ultimate ideals and authorities like deity. Further, I do not embrace the Biblicism that grants special authority to religious holy books as revelations of ultimate truth from deity, with self-claimed or internal validation.)
An authentically humane narrative will embrace as its cohering center “the stunning theology of a no conditions God”. No religious tradition has ever communicated this ultimate reality to humanity. All religion, to the contrary, is highly conditional- e.g. conditions of right belief, a required salvation scheme (some sacrifice, payment), correct ritual, and detailed religious prescriptions for life, with punishments for wrongs.
A humane narrative will also embrace restorative justice, not punitive. And no, this does not undermine or weaken the need to hold all responsible for their behavior (the natural and social consequences of behavior in this world, with a focus on restitution/healing for victims). Full personal responsibility for our behavior is essential for healthy human development in this life.
Unconditional deity at the center of a system of meaning overturns entirely the Zoroastrian dualist theology that has dominated Western thought for millennia. It overturns the dominant features of Western theology- i.e. themes of deity as Judge (justice as punitive), God as tribally exclusive (true believers in the right religion versus unbelievers), deity as dominating with humanity subservient (i.e. God as King/Lord that mediates authority through priesthoods), and God as violently destructive (apocalypse, hell).
Unconditional theology is liberating in that it states that, whatever we experience in this life, there is nothing to ultimately fear. There is only Love at the core of reality and life, a stunning no conditions Love. That reverberates out to change everything, notably the central punitive orientation of human justice systems.
This unconditional ideal transforms and liberates consciousness as nothing else can. For example, it frees consciousness from humanity’s “primal fear”- the fear of after-life harm (i.e. ultimate judgment, punishment).
Unconditional to define deity? Why? Unconditional is the highest and most humane form of love that we have discovered. Friends, spouses, and parents all get this as the best response to imperfect others. Therefore, unconditional would best define the Ultimate Goodness that humanity has long hoped for in deity- our Ultimate Ideal or Reality. “What is most humane is most true and most real”. This is pretty much my theodicy (i.e. defense of ultimate Good).
See the potential outline of a meta-narrative in “Old Story Themes, New Story Alternatives” (16 dominant ideas) in next section below.
The central climate issue
(Climate alarmism is the latest phase in the long history of excessive human alarm over the natural world. Environmental alarmism is an offspring movement of more general apocalyptic alarm (i.e. end of life, end of world fears). This site probes the mythical roots of such movements.)
Both sides in the climate debate- alarmists and “deniers”/skeptics- agree that climate change is occurring. As it always has. Climate is a complex and dynamic system, not a static system. Pardon the “duh” here.
(Note: Skeptics do not “deny climate change”. They simply disagree with the alarmist claim that human contribution to CO2 is the main cause of climate change and that the scale of climate change will be catastrophic in nature.)
Both sides agree that CO2 has a warming effect or influence. If a warming period is occurring then CO2 is contributing to that warming (but not to cooling).
However, the central disagreement is over the actual role of CO2- how prominent is it? Alarmists argue that CO2 is the dominant or main cause of warming, and some even claim that it is almost entirely the cause of warming periods. They also claim that warming will be catastrophic in outcome.
But other natural factors have consistently overwhelmed the CO2 influence which skeptics point out is small. Note for example, that while CO2 levels continue to rise (now 400 ppm plus), the warming of 1975-95 has turned into the almost flat trend since. Where is the claimed causal relationship here?
Factors like the cosmic ray/sun/cloud interaction and the ocean/atmosphere interaction have shown stronger correlation to the climate change that we have observed over the past few decades and centuries.
Point? You cannot argue for policies to decarbonise societies when the science does not affirm your claim that CO2 is mainly responsible for warming, and that the warming will be catastrophic in nature. The outcome of decarbonisation would be devastating to billions of people depending on cheap fossil fuels to lift them out of poverty.
Further, given the current knowledge of climate science, as one scientist said, it is absurd to think that we can control climate by turning a CO2 knob. You cannot “stop climate change”. But we can adapt to it just as our line of humanity has done across past history with constantly and naturally changing climate, through an ice age and two inter-glacials.
Further, the hard evidence has shown that the climate change we have experienced has been mild compared to past periods of change. The warming since 1975 has been only 0.3 degree Centigrade. Contrary to the inaccurate and discredited climate models, actual evidence shows that there is no “climate emergency”.
Another critical fact in the mix- the lunacy of demonizing CO2 as a pollutant or poison. CO2 is the main food of all life. It has been at starvation levels during the past millions of years of this ice age era. With some small recovery now, life is once again “flourishing” with a 14% increase in plant productivity since 1982. Plant food levels are still low at 400 ppm plus. Plants prefer CO2 in the 1000-1500 ppm range. With those levels in the past there was no climate crisis or catastrophic outcome for life. Instead, life flourished (see Ian Plimer’s Heaven and Earth).
(Note that the previous inter-glacial- the Eemian of 127,000 to 106,000 years ago- was much warmer than our current inter-glacial. Also climate change over the last glacial Maximum- the Wisconsin in North America- was much more severe than the changes over this subsequent inter-glacial and all life on Earth today has survived those natural changes. Glaciations, and cold periods in general, are the most destructive factors to life. Alarmists ignore the beneficial outcomes of warming on life.)
This site advocates themes for a new meta-narrative that includes the discoveries of the past few centuries of science along with the best of human “spiritual” understanding- i.e. the “ultimate meaning” element. This is about embracing thoroughly the primal human concern for meaning as evident in the 85% of humanity still affiliated with a major world religion, with many of the remaining “unaffiliated” 15% still “spiritual, but just not religious” (World Religion survey).
The irrepressible nature of the meaning impulse: Add here the history of philosophy, and that even in the scientific arena many scientists frequently cross the science/philosophy boundary, including in the most basic science of all- physics (Sabine Hossenfelder in ‘Lost In Math’). You cannot suppress or deny this fundamental impulse for meaning. Greg Easterbrook noted long ago in a Wired article that materialist scientists constantly do just what religious people have done across history- i.e. appeal to invisible, unknowable realities to explain what exists (note multi-verse theory, or multiple hidden dimensions, as examples).
It’s understood that some people can find final satisfaction in orienting their meaning impulse to material reality alone but that does not work for most people. It never has and never will. Most people across history have oriented their impulse for meaning to some greater creating, sustaining reality (Ultimate Reality or core Reality) that is of the nature of Mind, Consciousness, Self or Spirit/God, and of course, if we think of Mind/Consciousness/Self then that obviously points to Person or personhood. To conclude that Natural law, or quantum energy/force fields, alone will provide the final explanations about reality, well, that does not suffice for most people.
Add here that scientific rationality has done us a great service in exposing the irrationality of much inherited religious belief. But I am not convinced of the correlation of rationality with scientific discovery alone or material reality alone. Others argue it is entirely rational to conclude there is some greater Mind, Consciousness, or Self behind reality and in fact that may be the most logical conclusion to make regarding many things in this profoundly mysterious Cosmos and life.
The issue is what people project out to explain/define greater reality… i.e. Is it fully humane or not? The 16 new themes below deal with things now understood by most people as more humane realities.
Note also the article in the second section below re the frustrated scientist who argues that scientific evidence alone will not settle the climate debate. There are deeper issues of meaning behind the disagreements over the evidence. This site probes those deeper issues that are often “meaning” issues.
Quotes from sections below…
“The 100% failure rate of apocalyptic to predict the future will continue. It will continue to make fools of otherwise bright and well-intentioned people, Paul Ehrlich being a notable example (i.e. global cooling, mass starvation, exhaustion of mineral resources, United Kingdom will not exist by 2000, species holocaust, and other end-of-days scenarios). Unfortunately, the “world’s most intelligent man”, Stephen Hawking, also threw in his lot with apocalyptic in the final years of his life.”
“There is no ‘climate crisis'”.
(Note on climate change: “Climate is changing just as it has changed endlessly across the history of our planet. The changes of the recent past have been mild. From 1975 till today we had only 0.3 degree Centigrade of warming. The previous interglacial- the Eemian- had temperatures that were 4 degrees Centigrade higher than today, in the Northern latitudes, with much smaller ice sheets and higher ocean levels. All life on Earth today has survived such climate change and done well. The climate changes during the last Glacial Maximum were much more severe than the changes during our current interglacial. Our interglacial has also experienced the Roman and Medieval Warming periods that were as warm as today and life flourished with that increased warmth.”)
“There will be no apocalypse (i.e. end of the world)- environmental or other- because there is no God of apocalyptic (nor vengeful Gaia, angry Planet, retaliatory Universe, or karma). There is no punitive, destroying Force or Spirit behind life”.
“Good research affirms that the overall trajectory of life rises/improves toward something better and does not decline toward something worse”.
Quote from post to discussion group: “People offer the truism to ‘follow the money in science’. I would add- follow the philosophy/belief behind the science. This is especially true of climate science, so corrupted today by both. Read that good statement by Richard Lindzen- that future historians will look back at this time as having experienced perhaps the greatest mass delusion ever- that people across the world believed the food of all life (i.e. CO2) was a poison/pollutant. I keep pushing people to go to those root ideas behind all this- the religious thing.” (see “Old Story Themes” just below)