The 4 most important essays on this site: (1) Old Story Themes, New Story Alternatives (18 alternatives to the primitive mythical ideas that continue to dominate most human narratives today, whether religious or “secular”); (2) Buried under the Christ myth- History’s single most profound insight, the discovery that deity is a non-retaliatory, no conditions reality (no judgment, no exclusion of anyone, no punishment or destruction). This insight has been buried under the retaliatory, highly conditional Christ myth of Paul; (3) Living a human story- some interaction with Joseph Campbell’s points on the ‘Hero’s Journey’; (4) The Two Main Approaches to Organizing Human Societies- Collectivism versus the free individual (Left/Right, with mixed versions, and the immense benefits of Classic Liberalism).
Preface to Old Story/New Story themes
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 18 “Old story themes” below are some of 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- Richard Landes, Arthur Mendel, and David Redles. They have detailed how the ‘apocalyptic millennial’ complex of ideas contributed to the mass-death movements of the past century (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.
(Revised) Old story themes, new story alternatives (rethinking 18 of the most fundamental ideas from across human history)
1. Old story theme: The myth of deity as a judging, punishing, and destroying reality that metes out final justice- rewarding the good, punishing the bad (i.e. threat theology). This myth continues as the cohering center of the world religions and is now also given expression in ‘secular’ versions such as vengeful Gaia, angry planet, pissed Mother Earth, retributive Universe, and payback karma- all the new retaliatory, destroying gods of environmental alarmism, history’s latest apocalyptic movement.
The myth of God as a retaliating, punishing reality has long under-girded human justice as similarly retaliatory and punitive. From early human beginnings, belief in a punitive deity has incited and affirmed the demand for punitive response to human imperfection and failure.
This primitive view of deity as punitive, of God as the Ultimate Destroyer (via 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 (Ultimate Consciousness, Mind, Intelligence, Source) 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 to appease angry deity, no need for redemption or salvation, and no ultimate punishment or destruction of anyone (no such mind-perverting horror as “hell”).
Why bother with these speculative metaphysical corrections? Because we need to counter humanity’s “primal fear of after-life harm” that is the outcome of millennia of shaman/priests/pastors beating bad religious ideas into human consciousness and subconscious. Also, we need to sever the age-old relationship of validating bad behavior with bad beliefs. However you may try to affirm justice as punitive treatment of the failures of others, know that deity as unconditional reality does not validate such efforts. See “The Christian Contradiction (Historical Jesus versus Paul’s Christ myth)”, below.
None of the great world religions has ever presented the reality of an unconditional deity. All religion across history has been essentially about conditional reality- i.e. the required conditions to appease and please religious deities (conditions of right belief, proper religious rituals, religious lifestyle, demanded sacrifices/payment for wrong, etc.).
The new theology of God as unconditional Love also overturns the most psychically damaging myth that has burdened and enslaved humanity from the beginning- the myth of divine retribution/punishment exhibited through the nastier features of life. While there are natural and social consequences to living in this world and to our choices and behavior, there is no punitive Force or Spirit behind natural world events and consequent suffering (i.e. natural disasters, disease, or the cruelty of others). This myth of punitive deity behind such things, whether 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: The myth of a “perfect beginning” and that God is obsessed with perfection in the world and life, that God creates perfection (e.g. Eden), that God 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 deity would only create a perfect world, and if things are not perfect now then blame corrupt humanity for mucking things up that were once perfect. It can’t be God’s fault.
We- humanity- have always had difficulty 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. We rightly struggle to improve ourselves and others, and to improve life in general, but we ought to do so without the added psychic burden of fear of angry deity or divine threat over our remaining imperfection.
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 with a lot of hard work 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 the most important lessons of life in our struggle with our own imperfection. For example, we learn how to love in our struggle with the animal inheritance in ourselves, those base drives to tribally exclude, to dominate, to punish and destroy differing others. We learn what it means to be authentically human in our “righteous struggle against evil” (Joseph Campbell), the battle against evil that runs through the center of every human heart (Solzhenitsyn).
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 argument (Ultimate Resource) that our struggle with problems in the world leads to creative solutions that benefit others. See also the comment below on Joseph Campbell’s outline of human story and our struggle with a personal monster or 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. Personal suffering can also inspire empathy with others that similarly suffer.
(Note: The use of the term “imperfection” is not meant to generalize and 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- 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 belief there is Ultimate Good/Love behind all. Add here the view that the world is an experience or learning arena.)
3. Old story theme (related to previous): The myth that humanity began as a more perfect species but then became corrupted/sinful (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, the 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 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 “fallen humanity possessing a core ‘sinful nature’” as we have long been told by mythological 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 continuing bad human behavior? We have inherited a core animal brain with its base impulses to tribalism and exclusion of differing others (small band mentality), to domination of others (alpha male/female), and to retaliatory and destructive response to others viewed as “enemies”. Our human consciousness/spirit, existing alongside 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”. Fortunately, to paraphrase Jeffrey Schwartz, “We are not our brains”.)
4. Old story theme: The myth that the world began as an original paradise and that ancient “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- have been “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, Bailey and Tupy’s Ten Global Trends, Hans Rosling’s Factfulness, 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 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, of a fundamental direction toward something better, is critical for countering apocalyptic nihilism and affirming hopefulness.
5. Old story theme: The myth that natural disasters, disease, human cruelty, and death are expressions of divine punishment. This adds the unnecessary psychic burden of fear, anxiety, guilt and shame to already unbearable physical suffering. Paul tormented the Corinthians with this argument that their sicknesses and deaths were punishment from God for their sins.
New story alternative: While there are natural and social consequences all through life, there is no punitive, destroying deity behind the imperfections of life. Ultimately there is only Love at the core of reality (see alternatives below on the relationship of Love to the freedom and randomness in life).
6. 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 its 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 observe the goodness in 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”, or “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- 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.
7. Old story theme: The myth of a cosmic dualism, a Good spirit in opposition to a bad spirit- a demonic entity or Satan. Deity is thereby portrayed as embracing an essentially tribal reality- a good God that wars against evil opponents, a God that favors believers and hates/punishes unbelievers. This idea of a fundamental cosmic dualism is played out through varied human dualisms- such as the tribal mindset of “us versus our enemies”, true believers versus unbelievers, or other racial, national, religious, or ideological divisions (include the use of gender as an oppositional divide). 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 (the tribal exclusion of differing others). Embracing dualism as a divine reality and ideal will orient people to 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 the good guy beating and destroying the bad guy in some way. There is nothing in such narratives 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 or self and our inherited animal impulses.
Caution: The above comment on essential oneness 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- the division between good and bad- is only a temporal feature of this material realm. This world with its varied dualisms provides an arena for us to live out our stories and engage our varied “righteous struggles against evil”. Others have said that we only experience and learn what good means in our struggle with the opposites of good- i.e. the bad in others, and in life. Bad/evil in this realm provides a contrasting context in which we experience and learn good. Joseph Campbell suggests that this dualistic realm is where “we act out our differing roles on God’s stage”. But he and others suggest that the 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: 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”. The people who see themselves as “true believers”, more so than others, are not closer to God than any other people. Essential 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”- temples, churches- where limited religious groups gain more access to God than the ordinary lives and daily mundane spaces of all people. Essential oneness is a more humane theological basis for human equality.
8. Old story theme: The myth of a looming apocalypse as the final judgment, punishment, and destruction of all things. The myth of an apocalyptic ending embraces the pathological theology of God as the destroyer of all things. This ideal has incited endless destructive violence among the followers of such an ideal. Arthur Mendel called apocalyptic “the most violent and destructive idea in history” (Vision and Violence).
To embrace and advocate apocalyptic mythology 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 (the sub-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 the world out to “end of days” scenarios, thereby distorting the true state of things, and that promotes fear (the survival impulse) and even destructive violence in populations. The inciting of violence is evident in the consequent felt need of people to “coercively purge” what is believed to be some great threat. See the notes in following sections on the Marxist, Nazi, and Green apocalyptic movements and their mass-death outcomes.
In the new story alternative theme there is no destroying Force or Spirit behind the harsher 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 elements in the cosmos and world exist 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, the element of destruction in the natural world is not evidence of some punitive deity threatening a final punishment and ending of all things. (See also the notes below on “natural consequences”.)
Further helpful here- In response to the theodicy question “Is this the best possible world?” some have made the argument that there are also beneficial outcomes from the destructive elements of nature. 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 across history in the decreasing loss of life from natural disasters.
9. Old story theme (key element- instantaneous transformation of life versus “gradualism” in the trajectory of history and life):
The always “imminent” element in apocalyptic proclamations (i.e. the “end is nigh”) demands urgent action to “save” something, to save the world or life. The exaggerated threat of looming apocalyptic ending incites the survival/salvation urge in people. They feel the need to take immediate and sometimes violent action to purge what is presented to them as the threatening thing. Alarmed populations are then more easily manipulated to embrace policies that will abandon the democratic process and instead will support “coercive purification” schemes directed at purported threats from opponents/enemies. End-of-life or end-of-world claims incite populations to embrace policies that will coercively and instantaneously install their version of salvation 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”. Marxism pushed for “instantaneous transformation of societies”, to immediately install its vision of communal utopia. We also saw apocalyptic urgency and totalitarianism in the 50-60 million deaths from Nazi alarmism and consequent action to violently purge Germany of the imagined threat from “destructive Jewish Bolshevism”. Nazis then coercively pushed to establish 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 to 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 in Vision and Violence is good on this issue of “gradualism” versus the violence of “instantaneous transformation” movements. Humanity is learning to patiently improve life through democratic approaches that do not coercively overwhelm the freedom of differing others.
The search for instantaneous salvation comes from the irresponsible escapist mindset of apocalyptic types who cannot endure the struggle to gradually and democratically improve an imperfect world. Such people irresponsibly seek to escape to some instantly installed utopia, even if coercively and violently established.
10. Old story theme: The demand for a salvation plan- a required sacrifice or 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.
New story alternative: In a stunning rejection of atonement mythology, Jesus rejected the payment of debt as the required demand of God. He advocated the highest form of love, or goodness, as giving to everyone without expecting any payment in return. He stated in Luke 6:30-36, “Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then… you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful”.
Jesus’ argument is that ‘no conditions love’ (not expecting payment) would enable people to be like God who was similarly no conditions love. The argument of Matthew 5 and Luke 6 is that if we do this- give without expecting payment in return- then we will be like God who does not expect payment. God loves and gives, and does not expect anything in return. This overthrows the age-old religious belief that God demands payment or punishment for wrongs, that God demands atonement or sacrifice.
The fundamental nature of God as unconditional love means absolutely no conditions. None. To affirm clearly- there is no divine 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, the critically important one is that an authentically unconditional God will not demand any conditions of payment or sacrifice. God does not demand a balancing response to goodness or love that has been shown. Jesus clearly 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). 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 (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. Again, this is clearly expressed in the 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 enable people to do just what God did, to be just like God (i.e. “Love your enemy because God does”).
Debt payment, or more generally the righting of wrongs had long been the requirement before offering forgiveness. Payment or punishment 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 must right all wrong, rebalance the scales of justice in the cosmos. Wrong done had to be rebalanced by right done. God could not just forgive, accept, and love without first making all wrongs right. That was necessary to restore divine honor. The God of that old atonement/sacrifice mythology could not just freely forgive and love.
That old theology made no sense because it argued that the love of God, based on prerequisite payment/punishment/atonement, was something less than the best of human love. We are expected to just forgive in an unlimited manner (“seventy times seven”), to accept all people universally, and to love without demanding prerequisite conditions or similar response. Again that statement- “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 the least, love as well as we are expected to love- that is, unconditionally.
In his parables Jesus further corrected the old religious belief that divine love was conditional and demanded full payment or punishment. His short stories illustrated the ‘no conditions’ love that defined his new theology. In his stories he stressed the point that divine love did not require the payment of debt, or more generally the righting of wrongs, before forgiving, accepting, and loving. Note this element in his Prodigal Son story where the father does not demand a sacrifice, restitution, or repayment before forgiving and fully accepting/loving the wayward son. All such conditions were brushed aside by the father. No conditions love meant no conditions at all. This teaching is a stunning rejection of the long history of sacrifice/payment as required to appease demanding deity.
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 or honor mythology with its prerequisite demands of offenders first making things right.
Unfortunately, Paul refused the new theology of Jesus and retreated back to traditional conditional theology- 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 feature of requisite payment as essential to the Christian gospel. The book of Hebrews (chapter 9), for example, states that “without the shedding of blood (sacrifice) there is no forgiveness”. The book of Romans (chapters 3-5) 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 has no part of the new unconditional theology of Jesus. It has no place in 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 revered as a notable religious icon.
And I would repeatedly emphasize the larger background context to these themes- the profound contradiction that exists between the core message of Historical Jesus in the “Q Wisdom Sayings gospel”, and Paul’s Christ myth (the oxymoronic Christian “Jesus Christ”). These two contrary gospels illustrate 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.
11. 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. Such hurt for hurt theology, or pain returned for pain caused, still under-girds much thinking on justice today. Though it is 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 behaviors”.
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” or unlimited). 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 should be restorative or rehabilitative.
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 of such behavior, 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 regarding these concerns.
12. Old story theme: The myth of future or “after-life” judgment, exclusion, punishment, and destruction (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 unknowable things? Well, because the speculation has already been done by major belief systems and religions across history and across all the cultures of the world. Pathology- 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 that eliminate unnecessary worry regarding death, while also focusing human orientation toward full involvement with here and now reality.)
New story alternative: Again, remember the baseline ideal- that authentic love is unconditional and does not demand the fulfilment of conditions. Unconditional love 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 an unconditional 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, in their view, such mercy and generosity was not fair or moral. It was not proper justice, in their eyes. Other “righteous” people were also offended and scandalized by Jesus when he invited local outcasts and scoundrels to meals with them. He did not respect the proper tribal boundaries between good and bad people, between true believers and unbelievers. He was too scandalously universal and unconditional.
All such material points to the 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 indiscriminately and 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 the ultimate final reality of God as absolutely no conditions Love but not deny the reality of natural and social consequences in this life. The need to take 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 ultimate judgment and punishment from some greater reality.
13. 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 provides the validation to abandon the historical process of gradual improvement, via creative human freedom and endeavor. Hero messiah mythology affirms the demand for overwhelming revolutionary violence that seeks to instantly purge some “corrupt” entity that is viewed as the threat, and then re-install some lost paradise.
We saw this resort to “violent force against an imagined enemy” recently with ISIS in Syria (the struggle to bring on the final annihilation/Armageddon battle and then spread the caliphate across the world). We have also seen the same violence in Jewish history (Old Testament) and Christian history (Crusades, Inquisitions, persecution of heretics).
The embrace of revolutionary violence in the name of God comes from the behavior/belief relationship- that people across history have based their behavior on their beliefs about deity. 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 that enemy. Far too often across history the 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, no tribal deity that will intervene with superior force to conquer some enemy of ours and grant us our vision of a paradise with our enemies excluded as per the vision of Revelation where unbelievers are cast out to suffer eternal rejection and punishment.
Note: This point recognizes the valid need at times (police, military) to use legal force to restrain irrational violence. The 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. Note, for example, the shameful incident of Calvin putting his fellow Christian theologian, Servetus, to death over the placement of an adjective in a sentence.
We are seeing the advocacy for coercive force today against fellow citizens, over similarly minor issues of disagreement, such as in the climate debate. The hysterical exaggeration of natural change in nature, out to apocalyptic-scale scenarios, has clouded the minds of many and has incited the demand for coercive force (i.e. ban, silence, and even criminalize skeptics).
14. 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, or 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.
15. Old story theme: The myth of God as King, Ruler, Lord, or Judge. The idea that God relates vertically to humanity in domination/submission forms of relating.
New story alternative: There is no domination/subservience relationship of humanity to God. Jesus expressed the divine ideal when he 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 the story outline below.
This portrayal of God as an egalitarian or equality advocate, and not a superior controlling entity, is more of the stunning new theology of Jesus. He is saying in effect, if you think that I am an incarnation of God, a son of God, then I will tell you just what God is like. God does not dominate people like a lord, king, or ruler. God relates to all as equals, serving others, and not lording over them. That is the true greatness of God or anyone- to serve. As an equal.
This comment of Jesus overturns the entire history of human thinking on gods as dominating realities, lords, kings, rulers. One of the earliest and most primitive of all myths is that humans were created to serve the gods, to do their will and work, to provide food for them. Jesus overturned that primitive thinking that divine/human relationships were domination/subservience relationships. He said that thinking belong to primitive people (“the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them”). But if you want to be a great human being, a hero, then you should not dominate or control others. That is the secret to true greatness. To respect/honor the freedom and self-determination of all others as true equals.
16. 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 outside of and 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.
A 17th Old Story theme (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 protect or 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 a oneness with the common human spirit or human consciousness. That human spirit has gradually emerged and developed as more humane across history. This maturing humanity 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.
Conclusion? 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 outside (the “yoyo God”, coming down to intervene in some way and then going back up). To the contrary, God has always been within all things as the creating Sustainer of all reality, and especially within the human family. This means that God is evident in all human misery and raging against suffering and evil. God is always present in all human action to prevent evil and to solve problems and to improve life. Just as God has always been in all humanity and all good and useful human endeavor. This 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 something 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.
Conclusion? God has always been closer to us 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 oneness 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 Nelson 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 these points, there are still the myriad unexplainable and fascinating “coincidences” scattered through personal human stories that we may either 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.”
18. One more Old Story Theme, New Story Alternative to add to the list below…
While human selfishness and greed are present in any approach to life, these features do not most essentially define industrial civilization and its outcomes. Collectivists have argued that the free individual model that developed over past centuries in England (i.e. the “classic Liberalism” that protected the individual rights and freedom of all citizens, equally) orients populations to destructive selfishness, greed, disconnect from nature, and violence, among other pathology. But that is not generally true. More importantly, with the fundamental protection of private property rights, the free individual model has unleashed human creativity as never before, along with environmental concerns, to achieve unimaginable new heights in the improvement of all aspects of our lives, and the world in general.
Now the Old story theme related to this: The myth of the moral and spiritual superiority of the simple lifestyle with low consumption (i.e. self-produced, using only local resources). This is related to “noble savage” mythology, the belief that primitive hunter/gatherers were more pure and environmentally conservative before humanity “fell” in developing civilization, falling even further in the last few centuries of industrial civilization with its ever-growing abundance. This myth fosters endless guilt and shame over consumption and the enjoyment of the good life. ‘Small is Beautiful’ by Schumacher was an affirmation of this mythology. Note that it is most often wealthy Western elites that advocate this “morally superior primitivism” lifestyle for poorer people in developing areas.
New story alternative: The search for a better life is the fundamental urge of love- to responsibly improve one’s life and the state of one’s family. And it is the free choice of people to enjoy what they wish to use and enjoy. The abundance that most people enjoy today, with an ever-increasing proportion of humanity moving into middle class status, is part of the larger trajectory of developing technological, industrial civilization that is also lessening environmental impacts.
For example, the trend of continuing world urbanization is concentrating more people in smaller and more efficient spaces- e.g. economies of scale- that lessen pressure on natural areas (see population expert Julian Simon’s Ultimate Resource). Industrial society further decreases per capita consumption of varied resources with ongoing technological development. Thus, the general creation of wealth has also enabled more developed areas to better care for and improve their environments. This overturns the environmental alarmist argument that industrial society is “destroying the world”. See “Environmental transition” research, for example, by Indur Goklany. Also, Desrocher and Szurmak’s Population Bombed.
Added note: There is no finalized consensus on how much of the natural world humans can engage, use, and change. We are a legitimate species and not an intruding “virus or cancer” in the view of those who want a more untouched wilderness world. And from today’s progressing industrial civilization note the emerging trends like ‘peak agriculture’ and the return of agricultural lands to nature as, with safe GM crop inputs, we produce more crops on the same or less land. Note also the improving status of world forests over the past seven decades (FAO reports on increasing world forest cover), and the strengthening of conservation and restoration trends in world fisheries (Ray Hilborn research, University of Washington). Further, there is no species holocaust occurring. It appears the “responsible stewardship” approach of the early 20th Century conservationists is working (see Alston Chase’s ‘In A Dark Wood’).
As Julian Simon said, “Evidence on the big picture and long-term trends of life shows that we are more creators than destroyers”.
Added notes: There is a long history of belief in the moral/spiritual superiority of the ascetic lifestyle and engendering guilt over enjoying the good life too much (the good life viewed in terms of selfishness, greed, the “base” obsession with materialism). Note past history’s cloistered mystics, wandering holy men, and sages, begging for their daily needs. These “holiness exhibited in simple living” cults are found in Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, and elsewhere.
Varied other beliefs play into the fear of consumption such as the fallacy of “limited good” that anthropology notes in hunter/gatherer societies where people believe that if some people in the group get more, then others must be getting less, as there are limited resources to go around. But the evidence, while at first seeming counter-intuitive, comes down on the side of ever-expanding human resources across history. “Cornucopians” like Julian Simon were right.
Simon (Ultimate Resource) has outlined the steps in the process that results in the expansion or increase in resources: Within traditional production there is an apparent scarcity of some resource. This leads to increasing prices for that resource. That prompts the search for more reserves of the resource, the discovery of technology that leads to more efficient production and use of the resource, or a search for alternatives to the resource (i.e. the shift from whale oil to fossil fuels). And ultimately there is a return to the trajectory of lowering the price of the resource. We saw the process above operating with the discovery of fracking technology and the opening of vast new sources of fossil fuels in the US.
Added note to Old Story themes: Holiness mythology
One of the most common responses from religious people to the idea of God as no conditions love is that God is also holy and just and therefore must punish wrong. God’s honor is tarnished by the wrongdoing of people so he must be just (exhibit strict eye for eye) and punish all sin. God cannot just freely forgive and love. But this divine holiness myth is primitivism at its worst. How so? It is the very same reasoning that is behind practices like “honor killing”. People in varied cultures today still reason that, for example, a daughter embracing modern habits has dishonored her family and their traditional culture. So the dishonored males are required to punish the “evil” daughter in order to restore their tarnished honor. Holiness theology is embracing this very same primitive reasoning that wrongs must be punished or justice and honor are not restored properly. I would counter that unconditional forgiveness and love is the true glory of God, the highest goodness and love. Authentic good and love will just forgive without demanding payment or righting of wrongs first.
The holiness feature in theology affirms the myth of God obsessed with perfection and punishing imperfection, hence the creation of a supporting complex of myths related to original paradise/Eden (perfect creation), Fall of humanity and ruin of paradise (loss of perfection), subsequent need for an atonement (sacrifice/payment/punishment in order to restore the lost perfection).
Added note 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 the foundational 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
Mythical and religious traditions emerged during the childhood era of humanity when human understanding was still quite primitive. The result was the projection of subhuman/inhuman features out to define greater or Ultimate Reality/deity. Early humans projected onto the gods features like (1) tribal exclusion of some (unbelievers rejected), (2) domination/subservience relationships (humanity created to serve the gods via subservience to priesthoods/religious authority), and (3) divine justice as punishment/destruction (apocalypse, hell). But we are now a more mature species and we need to put away childish things.
Those features have long been entrenched in our great religious traditions, and their God theories. There has been little serious effort to challenge or dislodge that core pathology. Ongoing reform in religion must overturn those fundamental 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). This primitive mythology is now expressed through environmental alarmism scenarios with 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, while cautiously noting the persistent tendency of materialist scientists to cross the science-philosophy boundary (Sabine Hossenfelder in ‘Lost in Math’).
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 as with 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 while affirming and guarding 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 toward 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.
The above comments are 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.
Paul’s Christ myth has been the single most influential myth in history. It is primarily responsible for embedding the primitive myth of apocalyptic in Western consciousness. And yes, there is an “anti-Christ” in Christianity but its not who you think it is.
What’s at stake? History’s single most profound insight- that God is a stunning “no conditions” reality- has been buried for two millennia under the highly conditional Christ myth.
The Christ myth- separating diamonds from dung (revised).
The fundamental problem with Paul’s Christ myth was outlined by Thomas Jefferson and Leo Tolstoy. They stated that the Christ of Paul “buries the diamonds” of Historical Jesus. The message of Jesus emphasized the themes of unlimited forgiveness and inclusion of all (sun and rain given to both good and bad), unconditional love (no payment or sacrifice demanded before forgiving- e.g. the Prodigal Father), and non-retaliatory justice (no eye for eye retaliation).
Paul’s Christ buries these diamond themes of unconditional love in the “dung” of highly conditional salvation mythology. The features of conditional salvation include (1) the appeasement of angry deity with the condition of a blood sacrifice as required payment (see Romans, Hebrews), (2) the tribal exclusion of unbelievers (Romans and elsewhere- note the condition of faith in Paul’s Christ for inclusion in salvation), and (3) ultimate retaliation/punishment through apocalypse or hell (see the Thessalonian letters). The conditional religious mythology of Paul buries the unconditional reality that Jesus taught.
Preface to “Christian Contradiction”
Across history people have appealed to deity, as humanity’s highest ideal and authority, to validate their behavior and their treatment of others, notably, to validate justice as the punishment of others for their wrongs. That is the ‘behavior based on similar belief’ relationship. People have long used the features of retaliation and punishment in divinity as the ultimate validation for their exercise of punitive, payback justice toward offending others. But Historical Jesus swept away that basis of divine validation by stating that God did not retaliate (“no more eye for eye”) but, to the contrary, generously forgave, included, and loved all people whether good or bad (“love your enemies… sun and rain is given to both righteous and unrighteous”).
Conclusion? You violate the central message of Historical Jesus if you try to use him or his theology to validate retaliatory, punitive justice. Christian Jesus (Paul’s “Jesus Christ”) of course, is another matter altogether. But that mythical Christ is something entirely opposite to Historical Jesus. Unfortunately, historical Jesus is almost entirely buried in the New Testament books.
“The great Christian Contradiction” (Historical Jesus versus Paul’s Christ myth):
The argument here? The feature of ‘unconditional’ should be central to an authentically humane theology (i.e. God theory or Ultimate Reality theory). Below, I appeal to the Jesus tradition to establish this point. But my argument is not dependent on first establishing the actual message of the original Jesus. I do not view Jesus as an authority figure and I do not need his actual words (the “original message”) as critical to affirm my point regarding an unconditional theology. I simply refer to the useful comments in the Jesus material (e.g. “love your enemy”) to illustrate his central theme of unconditional love, 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. Unconditional does not need validation from Jesus but I do not mind touching base with such a widely respected icon/symbol for illustrative purposes.
Unconditional love is not a religious insight or discovery. To the contrary, religious traditions across history have been essentially conditional traditions- promoting religious demands for right beliefs, correct rituals, required religious lifestyles to please religious deities, and the necessary conditions for religious salvation (i.e. sacrifices, payments). 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 theory of Ultimate Good or Ultimate Love. This is to say- do theology from humanity and then project the ‘best of being human’ out to define deity, not the other way around as religious traditions have long done. Religions begin with some holy text as authoritative ‘revealed truth’ that defines deity and is therefore the authority for human ethics. Better, first establish the best of being human, and then project that out to define deity, but understand deity as something transcendently better (Ultimate Good or Love). Another way of stating this would be to quote Alexander Pope, “Cease from God to scan… 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 in common humanity and the best of common human goodness, whether exhibited by a non-religious person, an atheist, or by a religious person. I view all such common love as the expression of the God spirit, or god-likeness (that is to say- humaneness) that is present in ordinary people. We are all experts on this and do not need affirmation from outside authorities, especially not religious authorities.
And yes, I am affirming that all people are equally incarnated with the God spirit that is indistinguishable from what we call the human spirit. There has been no special incarnation of deity only in religious heroes like Christian Jesus. To the contrary, there has been an equal incarnation of God in all people and that offers a new metaphysical basis for human equality.
What about bad behavior then? Unfortunately, we all have experience with denying our core human spirit and freely choosing to exhibit the baser features of the inherited animal that still resides in all of us. The choice to engage bad behavior is the risk of living with authentic freedom.
Concluding the above point… I do not base my understanding of ultimate reality on traditional religious sources- holy books- that claim to be “revealed truth” or “supreme authorities for thought and practice”. 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, then who needs religion with its endless myth-based conditions? We are all free to create our own unique life stories. And your story is a valuable or good as anyone else’s. Religious or not. You have and know God as much as anyone else does.
A “stunning new theology” buried by Christianity
The great contradiction in Christianity and its holy book, the New Testament.
(Note: The conclusions here are based on Historical Jesus research, notably Q Wisdom Sayings gospel research- i.e. James Robinson, John Kloppenborg, among others. I accept that Q is the closest that we have gotten to the actual teaching of Jesus. The content of Q is much less than the material in the Gospels that is attributed to Jesus. And the single most important statement in Q covers the central theme of Jesus that is reproduced in Luke 6:27-36 and Matthew 5:38-48.)
First, why go after Paul’s Christ myth, the highly revered icon of a major world religion? Because, even though the Christ represents some 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, Revelation), tribal exclusion (true believers saved, unbelievers excluded), domination/subservience relationships (Lord Christ and his mediating priesthood set above others- “Every knee shall bow”), and angry gods threatening to punish and destroy. John’s Revelation as an epitome statement of this retaliatory vengeance.
You cannot merge and mix contradicting opposites in some entity and make any sense- i.e. mixing humane ideals with primitive, subhuman ideas/practices. That promotes “cognitive dissonance” (see psychotherapist Zenon Lotufo’s “Cruel God, Kind God”). Also, the nasty elements in a merger will undermine, weaken, and distort the better features in the mix. It’s like putting new wine in old, rotten wineskins.
The Christ of Paul is mainly responsible for embedding and re-enforcing the myth of apocalypse in Western consciousness and keeping that pathological myth alive. Apocalyptic mythology continues to wreak damage through contemporary alarmism movements like environmental alarmism. As James Tabor said, “Paul has been the most influential person in history and he has shaped practically all that we think about everything… (further) apocalyptic shaped all that Paul said and did”, (Paul and Jesus). Paul’s apocalyptic Christ myth has shaped much of the content of contemporary myth-making as well as our ethics and justice systems.
The historical lines of descent/influence are this- Paul’s Christ brought apocalyptic to prominence in Western consciousness and civilization. That Christian heritage then shaped much of 19th Century Declinism (see Arthur Herman’s ‘The Idea of Decline in Western History’). Declinism, in turn, has shaped contemporary environmental apocalyptic or Green religion.
Therefore, to deal fully and properly with the destructive pathology of apocalyptic we must also deal with the core reality- the Christ myth- that validates and sustains this mythology in our consciousness and societies. Apocalyptic has been rightly exposed as “the most violent and destructive idea in history” (Arthur Mendel in ‘Vision and Violence’).
Overall, religious icons and myths still exert an outsize influence on modern human thought and behavior. Note the 85% of humanity that are still affiliated with a major world religion as per the World Religion Survey. Most of the remaining 15% also embrace “spiritual” beliefs.
A close examination of humanity’s highest ideal and authority- deity- reveals too many residual subhuman/inhuman features still present in religious versions of God. This is the root problem with religious theology or God theories. Once something has been projected onto a religious God, even if it was projected back in the era of human immaturity and primitive thought, those features have become part of the “immutability of deity”- i.e. the belief that religious gods do not change over time.
This means that religious reformism has to move beyond peripheral tinkering at the edges (changing this custom or that ritual) to thoroughly and properly tackle the core reality- the nature of religious deity. This is a project that involves humanizing our highest ideals and authorities with our growing understanding of what is truly humane.
Fortunately, developing 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 or God. Parents, spouses, and friends all know, from daily relating to imperfect family/people all around them, that love at its best should be unconditional. We now project this highest form of love out to define deity properly as Ultimate Love and Goodness.
The best in humanity, as we understand it in terms of our common modern sensibilities, should define what is assumed to be 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, the old sources of authority that are still rooted in primitive views of right and wrong (e.g. punitive justice, exclusion of unbelievers, discrimination of minorities, domination/submission relationships, etc.).
Note on the general tone or spirit of Jesus’ teaching:
Historical Jesus repeatedly upset good, moral, righteous people who believed that justice meant fairness as in proper eye for eye payback- i.e. the good should be rewarded and the bad should be punished, according to what they have done. Jesus overturned that view of justice, scandalizing and offending people with his teaching on unconditional, universal love. Examples: “Forgive seventy times seven… which is to say- endlessly, without limit… sun and rain on all, both good and bad”). And he argued that his new view of God embodied this ‘no conditions love’ to transcendent or infinite degree. Everyone would get the same ultimate good in the end.
Based on the theology of Jesus we can affirm ultimate safety for all, both good and bad, and this should shape how we treat all in this life (i.e. with restorative justice). But in this life there are natural and social consequences to behavior and we accept that as part of healthy human development. However, despite the natural consequences for behavior we can also freely choose to do the Mandela thing and generously forgive and pardon oppressors/offenders and take a restorative approach toward them. Much like the US did, generally, with Japan and Germany after the Second World War. Or as the mother of the murdered daughter did in ‘The Forgiven’. Simon Wiesenthal, also chose to avoid retaliatory vengeance and forgive while seeking to hold Nazis responsible for their crimes.
Now the “Contradiction”
Over the past three centuries, the ‘Search For Historical Jesus’ 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, notably Paul’s version of Christianity, got to dictate what was truth and what was heresy. Emperor Constantine also stuck his nose into the truth/heresy fighting among early Christians (see, for example, Constantine’s Sword by James Carroll).
(Insert 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 for the New Testament canon, 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 got 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 added sayings contradict his core theme/message.
Note, for instance, his statement of his central theme in Matthew 5 to “love your enemy”. That is the single most profound statement of ‘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 hatred- enemies should be cast into hell. Matthew claims that Jesus threatened the villages that refused to accept him and his miracles, 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- 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- a 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 desired the universal, unlimited inclusion of everyone. 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 subsequent addition of conditions to the original statements of Jesus.
The central statement or theme in the Q Wisdom Sayings gospel material is a statement of a behavior/belief relationship. It urges a specific behavior based on a similar validating belief. 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 in a non-retaliatory God. James Robinson calls the statement of Jesus in Matthew 5 a “stunning new theology of a non-retaliatory God”.
Another critical takeaway here is that a non-retaliating God (no more eye for eye) is a non-apocalyptic God because apocalyptic is about a supreme and final act of retaliation, the ultimate act of eye for eye retaliation that is the great final apocalypse to destroy the world. The God of Jesus will not engage that ultimate act of retaliation in the violent punishment and destruction of all things. Include here that a God that rejects eye for eye justice would not promote the pathological belief in hell that is an expression of eternal retaliation. The God of Jesus was entirely non-punitive and non-apocalyptic.
All these common-sense conclusions flow from this stunning new theology, from the core theme of a no-conditions God. The God of Jesus would not ultimately judge or condemn anyone and would not ultimately exclude anyone. Again, note that potent statement on the nature of God- “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 summarizes the core theme or teaching in Matthew 5 and Luke 6.
This also means that the God of Jesus did not demand salvation (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. This is evident in the accompanying statements in Luke 6 that authentic love would “give, expecting nothing in return”. And this point scandalizes the religious or moral mind that is oriented to fairness and justice as proper retribution or punishment, justice as tit for tat, hurt for hurt, or demanded payment for wrong. No more eye for eye means that God’s love is not tit for tat love that is dependent on some similar response from others. Most of us understand and practice this ‘no conditions’ forgiveness and love in our interactions with family, friends, and neighbors. We learn to overlook the many imperfections in those around us and just get on with life, and hope others will be equally merciful with our imperfections. We do not demand payback or reparations for all the wrongs of others. How much more a deity that is transcendent forgiveness and love.
Note also Jesus’ parables 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 who were tribally oriented to the inclusion of similarly law-abiding people but excluded the unlawful people (not practicing Jewish law). Jesus claimed that 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. This is to say that God is a oneness God, and all people are equal members of the one human family.
There is a “thematic coherence” to the message and behavior of the Historical Jesus and that message/behavior is intensely oriented to unconditional, universal 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.
James Robinson has correctly stated that Jesus presented “the stunning new theology of a non-retaliatory God”.
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). In his very first letters Paul is clearly rejecting the non-retaliatory theology of Jesus and advocating for a retaliatory God- “Lord Jesus will return in blazing fire to punish/destroy all who do not obey my gospel”.
His other letters were also written in the 50s CE. In his Romans letter Paul contradicts Jesus directly, notably confronting the core statement and theme of Jesus in Matthew 5:38-48. Paul employs the same behavior/belief pairing that Jesus used to state his theology. But Paul uses that pairing (basing a behavior on a belief) to make the very opposite conclusion to the theology 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. Contrary to Jesus, Paul’s God is a retaliating deity.
Paul affirms his view 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 Romans material Paul is arguing with the Roman Christians- restrain your longing for vengeance, not because God also restrains a lust for vengeance (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 to intentionally contradict the same behavior/belief pairing that Jesus used in his 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.
And while Paul appears to embrace the non-retaliatory ethic of Jesus, note that his ethic is oriented to hope for ultimate retaliation from God and that makes even the apparently non-retaliatory ethic actually retaliatory in intent. Basically, Paul was arguing that the Roman believers should be nice to their offenders in order that God could be really nasty to them in the future. Their being nice was intended to “Pour coals of fire on their heads”, that is, to ensure their harsh judgment at the hands of a wrathful and retaliatory God. So the apparently non-retaliatory ethic of Paul was nothing like the ‘no eye for eye’ ethic of Jesus.
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”. This statement of apocalyptic vengeance is 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 his detailed comments on the wisdom tradition. Stephen Patterson’s ‘The Lost Way’ deals with this anti-wisdom strain in Paul.
The four gospels that were later included in the New Testament all affirmed Paul’s views and his retaliatory and apocalyptic 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 (i.e. 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- eye for eye justice, or punishment in return for harm caused (i.e. 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 tradition and history, countering the harsher elements with unconditional mercy. But unfortunately, the mixing and merging of opposites has resulted in the ‘cognitive dissonance’ of a “diamonds-in-dung” situation which was 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 features in the mix. Again, much like new wine put into old, rotten wine-skins.
(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 the deities of religious traditions.)
Contrary to the unconditional and all-inclusive 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 (e.g. Galatians 1:8-9). 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, at the very heart of Christianity.
Here is the main contradiction summarized again:
Jesus’ ethic and the theology or 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 or belief that it is based upon: Paul copies the pattern that Jesus used of an ethic/behavior that is based upon a similar theology/belief. Again, I believe that 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 states (he quotes an Old Testament statement to affirm his theology of a retaliatory God)- ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay’”. Which is to say- God shall satisfy your longing for vengeance soon enough.
That is the profound contradiction in the New Testament between Jesus and Paul, between the non-retaliatory theology of Jesus and the entirely opposite retaliatory theology of Paul. Theology, or God theory, is the very core ideal and authority of human narratives and the reality that is God influences and shapes all else in religious belief 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 or Christ.
And another version of the Christian contradiction (a related post)…
History’s single greatest contradiction? My candidate: The contradiction between the central message of Historical Jesus, and the central meaning and message of Paul’s Christ myth (his Christology theory). Or, “How history’s single most profound insight was subsequently buried in a major religious tradition”.
A side consideration: Think of the liberation that could have been promoted over the last two millennia if some movement had taken Jesus seriously (i.e. liberation from the unnecessary fear, anxiety, guilt, and shame that come from harsh and threatening God theories- Zenon Lotufo). But no one, not even Jesus’ closest companions, took his scandalous and offensive insights seriously.
The contradiction at the core of Christianity has to do with the following profound opposites- i.e. (1) non-retaliatory behavior versus retaliation, (2) the non-punitive treatment of offenders versus a punitive approach, (3) no conditions versus a supreme condition (sacrifice, Salvationism), (4) unlimited love versus limited tribal love, (5) the universal embrace of humanity versus the restricted inclusion of only true believers, and (6) non-apocalyptic versus total apocalyptic destruction. You can’t get more contrary or contradictory than these entirely opposite realities.
Psychotherapist Zenon Lotufo (Cruel God, Kind God), and others, point to the “cognitive dissonance” that arises when you try to hold opposites in some merger.
“Greatest contradiction?” How so? Because of the historical and current world-wide influence of the Christian religion, and notably the influence of Paul’s Christ myth. This myth has shaped the version of Christianity that has descended down into our contemporary world (compared, for instance, to the prominent Jewish Christianity of the first century CE- i.e. Ebionism- that eventually became absorbed into Islam).
And also, “greatest” due to the very nature of the contradiction itself. It is hard to find a more stark contrast between entirely opposite realities than that between the main message of Jesus and the contrary Christ message of Paul. I use the term “the main message of Jesus” in reference to the Q Wisdom Sayings Gospel, specifically the Q1 version, and the most important statement in that Q gospel as now found in Matthew 5:38-48 and Luke 6:27-36.
Historical Jesus stated that, for him, the era of “eye for eye justice” was over. He rejected retaliatory justice and, instead, he promoted the restorative justice of “love your enemies” (Matthew 5). Why? Because that was what God did. It was what God was. The God of Jesus was love of a stunning new variety never before seen in the long history of God theories. His God did not retaliate with eye for eye justice but instead loved God’s enemies. And the evidence? Jesus illustrated his point with the main features of the natural world. God gave the good gifts of life- i.e. sun and rain for crops- to all, to both good and bad people. There was no discrimination and no exclusion of anyone.
God’s love and generosity was inclusive, universal, and unconditional. Jesus used a behavior/belief pairing to make this point. “Do this… because God does it”. He based his behavior on a similar validating belief. Do this- treat all others with unconditional love- and you will be just like God (you will be acting like the children of God) who treats all with unconditional love.
The God of Jesus was non-retaliatory, non-vengeful, non-punitive, non-excluding, non-destroying and therefore non-apocalyptic. Non-apocalyptic? Yes, because a non-retaliatory God is not an apocalyptic God. Apocalyptic is the ultimate act of eye for eye retaliation, vengeance, punishment, and total destruction.
Further, such a God would not demand payment or punishment for wrong. He would not demand a sacrifice for wrong. The God of Jesus would give to all, including those who do not pay back or respond in a similar manner. His God would not just love those who loved him in return (limited tribal love). His God was authentic universal and no conditions love toward all, without exception.
No sacrifice? Yes, this is intimated clearly in statements such as “Lend, expecting nothing in return (i.e. no payback)”. Expect no payment or reparations. Just love and give anyway. Freely. Unconditionally.
Try to get the “spirit” of the overall section and the central point of the message of the man (i.e. Matthew 5:38-48 and Luke 6:27-36). Too many get sidetracked in what they believe are qualifying details that undermine the core ‘no conditions’ point that Jesus was making. Remember Matthew, obsessed with righteousness, and as the editor of this material from Jesus, added his own distorting qualifications such as “Be perfect as your Father is perfect”. Luke did a better job with this very same material, getting the spirit of Jesus in stating, “Be unconditionally merciful as your Father is unconditionally merciful” (my paraphrase of Luke’s point and spirit).
Note the same unconditional generosity and forgiveness in other Jesus material such as the Prodigal parable and the Vineyard workers story, and in statements on forgiving “seventy times seven” (unlimited). Also, in his inclusion of everyone at meal tables.
Paul outright rejected this central theme of Jesus and retreated to the old retaliatory, punitive theology of all past mythology and religion. His used the same behavior/belief pairing that Jesus had used, but he did this to contradict the central theme of Jesus. I think Paul did this intentionally as he knew he was confronting the central statement and theme of Jesus. So Paul similarly based his behavior on a validating belief.
Further, Paul more generally trashed and rejected the wisdom tradition that Jesus belonged to (see his first letter to the Corinthians).
At first glance, it appears that Paul embraced the behavioral standard of Jesus in stating that it was wrong to repay evil with evil, to retaliate (Romans 12:17-20). But then he contradicted the new non-retaliatory theology of Jesus and stated that, to the contrary, his God was retaliatory. Paul quoted an Old Testament statement to make his point, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord”. Paul re-affirmed eye for eye justice at the center of his belief system. And His God would punish and destroy all in the epitome act of retaliatory punishment and destruction- an apocalypse. “Lord Jesus (Christ) will return in blazing fire to punish and destroy all who do not obey/believe my gospel of the Christ” (Thessalonians). See his other letters for similar statements of the punishment/destruction of unbelievers.
And a closer look at Paul’s ethic in that Romans 12 section shows that his advocacy for non-retaliatory behavior was actually retaliatory in intent. You were supposed to engage such behavior in order to ensure that God would take vengeance on your offenders/enemies. Be nice to your enemies in order to “heap coals of fire on them”- i.e. to ensure that God punishes them harshly. Both the theology and the related ethic of Paul are oriented to retaliation.
There is no greater contradiction in religious history than this one between Jesus and Paul’s Christ. It is the contradiction between non-retaliation and retaliation in deity. Between Jesus’ inclusion of all (sun and rain on all), and Paul’s exclusion and destruction of unbelievers. This is a contradiction between Jesus’ advocacy for no conditions love and Paul’s advocacy for a supreme condition- the demand for a supreme sacrifice to pay for all sin (i.e. the sacrifice of a god-man to pay for the sins of all humanity- see Paul’s letter to the Romans).
Paul’s term “Jesus Christ” then becomes the epitome expression of an oxymoron. You cannot mix and merge these two entire opposites. Jesus is not Christ. He was against Christology or Christ mythology (see “Rethink Paul’s Christ Myth” in sections below). Note, for example Matthew 20:25-28, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.” Jesus condemned the desire to “lord over others” and told his followers that true greatness was to serve others, and that was what he was about. Paul’s Lord Christ, to the contrary, is about absolute domination over others. Jesus was against that vision of a lording ruler or Lord Christ. He is the anti-Christ at the very heart of Christianity.
Paul shaped the version of Christianity that we have today. Christianity is the religion of Paul’s Christ (“Christ-ianity”). It is not the religion of Jesus. It is not “Jesus-ianity”. Christianity does not properly represent Jesus to the world. As Thomas Jefferson and Leo Tolstoy stated so bluntly, “The diamonds/pearls of Jesus have been buried in the subhuman context of the New Testament”. I’ve paraphrased their actual statements to soften the harsh bluntness of their words.
All across history people have appealed to deities to validate their behavior and their treatment of others, notably, to validate the punishment of others for wrongs. People have always used the features of retaliation and punishment in divinity as the ultimate validation for punitive, payback justice toward others. But Historical Jesus swept away that basis of divine validation by stating that God did not retaliate (no more eye for eye) but, to the contrary, generously forgave, included, and loved all people the same, whether good or bad (sun and rain on both good and bad). You violate the central message of Historical Jesus if you try to use him or his theology to validate retaliatory, punitive justice. Christian Jesus (Paul’s “Jesus Christ”), of course, is another matter altogether. But that is something entirely opposite to Historical Jesus.
Controlling fear with rational understanding
Fear is the healthy response to legitimate threats. Fear has enabled us to survive in an imperfect world with varied threats from natural disaster, disease, and human cruelty. But fear must always be subject to rational evaluation of problems/threats. We must know the true state of things in order to keep our fears rationally oriented because out-of-control fear has led to horrific outcomes that have often been far more destructive than original purported threats.
Excessive and irrational fear can incite panic among populations, the human survival impulse, and “madness of crowds” or mob responses. The outcomes of such irrational eruptions of fear have even led to mass-death movements. The Nazi incitement of panic over the purported “Jewish Bolshevik” threat was a recent historical example. We know the horrific outcomes of that movement.
Now we are seeing a similar outcome from a modern alarmism movement- environmental alarmism. Note, for example, how the fear incited by Rachel Carson’s apocalyptic narrative in Silent Spring influenced the ban on DDT. That resulted in millions of unnecessary deaths in following decades (for a detailed history see ‘The Excellent Powder’ by Tren and Roberts).
And what about the millions of children who have unnecessarily died as a result of the irrational fear generated over GM crops- https://nationalpost.com/opinion/bjorn-lomborg-trashing-rice-killing-children or https://nationalpost.com/opinion/bjorn-lomborg-on-the-unintended-consequence-of-the-anti-gmo-movement-dead-children. There is no evidence that GM crops have ever harmed anyone.
But perhaps the greatest damage yet will result from the irrational fear that is being promoted as a result of irrationally demonizing the basic food of all life- CO2. The response of decarbonizing our societies has already led to excessive mortality among the poorest people from fuel poverty due to rising energy costs. https://www.thegwpf.org/green-policies-threaten-poor-nations/
Further, there is a clear correlation now evident between renewables, rising costs of electricity/energy, and harmful consequences for the poorest people in our societies. https://www.thegwpf.org/uk-consumers-face-2-3-billion-annual-bill-to-prevent-green-energy-blackouts/ and https://www.thegwpf.com/the-hidden-costs-of-renewable-energy/
Fear-driven policy responses have an accumulating record of harmful outcomes, often for the most vulnerable people.
Our basic obligation, when any purported threat is presented, must be to demand full effort to understand the true state of that threat. That involves including all evidence related to the issue and not banning the skepticism that is essential to all good science. Because of the danger of groupthink and mindless acquiescence to “consensus” authority, we must demand open and ongoing debate and falsification efforts (replication). Many notable examples from history stood outside the consensus of their day- e.g. Galileo, Copernicus, and others.
Add here the importance of including the longer-term trends (the larger context) associated with the issue that we are concerned about.
On the hope side- look at our history of facing threats/problems and solving them. The long-term outcome of human ingenuity in problem-solving has been the long-term trajectory of life improving on all fronts. The world is not getting worse but rather life gradually progresses toward a better future. See, for example, ‘Ten Global Trends’ by Bailey and Tupy (many other sources are detailed in posts below).
Apocalyptic, and its contemporary version Declinism, is a great lie. The modern environmental alarmism movement has embraced the primitive myth of apocalypse, preaching endless ‘end-of-days’ scenarios, and that has incited ongoing hysteria over natural changes in our world. Alarmists respond to problems with exaggerated scenarios of looming catastrophe, decline, and the collapse of life. Good evidence does not affirm such apocalyptic alarmism. Alarmism is an irrational response that feeds unnecessary fear.
Life getting worse? (a related post)
An all-too common complaint expressed today is that the world is getting worse. Surveys show that majorities of people believe this. On what evidence? And to the contrary, the basic indicators of life show improvement. Life in general is actually getting better.
For example, it has become conventional wisdom that rising levels of atmospheric CO2 is causing dangerous warming that will soon become catastrophic. On what evidence? CO2 is a minor variable in the complex of factors that affect climate. And we do not yet even know how much we are contributing to CO2 levels because of the overwhelming inputs from the ocean/atmosphere CO2 exchange and the land biomass/atmosphere exchange, or the submarine volcanic input to CO2 cycles.
Many have assumed that most or all of the rise in CO2 over the past centuries is “manmade”. But if that were true then why, with the slowdown in human emissions from Covid, did CO2 levels continue their rise? Obvious conclusion- that was from natural sources. But more importantly, atmospheric physicists have shown that the CO2 impact on climate has reached “saturation”. That refers to the ability of CO2 to absorb and re-emit infrared radiation, and thereby warm the atmosphere. That capacity has reached its limit. Conclusion? More CO2 will not cause much more warming.
Further, our current warming period is the coolest of the four major warm periods of our inter-glacial (i.e. the Holocene Optimum, Roman Warming Period, Medieval Warm Period, and today’s warming). We are at the end of a long trend line that has been trending downward toward a cooler future as our inter-glacial comes to an end. There is no clear evidence that “catastrophic” climate warming is coming.
I see the distinct shadow of apocalyptic hysteria and mythology behind these eruptions of panic over natural changes in our world. Apocalyptic has been the most destructive idea in history. It incites widespread panic and irrational action to purge exaggerated and often mythical threats. The outcomes have been horrific for populations of vulnerable people. We have seen this with Marxism, Nazism and now environmentalism and its schemes to decarbonize our societies. The outcomes will devastate the poorest people the most.
A framework for understanding human story: Features of human life and experience based on Joseph Campbell’s points on the hero’s journey. I have added to his basic framework, revising, paraphrasing, and changing some things.
Jumping right in… The point of human life? We are here to love, to learn what love is and how to love. This is the fundamental reason for the cosmos, our world, and conscious human life.
Campbell said that when we embrace “universal love” we become mature human persons. We become the heroes of our story. I would use the broader term “unconditional” or “no conditions” love. It includes universal and more. Unconditional love is the highest form of love and the ideal that makes us most humane. My point: Unconditional, as our highest human ideal (the most humane expression of love), gives meaning to everything. It answers all the great questions: “Why existence?”; “Why this cosmos and this world?”; and “Why conscious human life?”
Unconditional embraces features like unlimited forgiveness of the failures of others, forgiveness that is manifested in restorative justice approaches (non-punitive justice).
Unconditional takes us to the height of being human, shaping our goals, our mission/purpose in life, how we become the hero of our unique story, and how we mature as a human being. Unconditional is how we conquer our personal monster, our real enemy in life, and thereby “tower in stature” as a wise person, as a mature human person.
An insert qualifier: Unconditional does not mean pacifist inaction in the face of injustice, violence, or evil. In discussion groups you sometimes get smart-ass participants who respond to the suggestion of embracing unconditional as an ideal with this extremist dismissal, “Oh, you’re saying that we should let all the psychopaths go free”. No. In advocating for an unconditional mindset, no one is suggesting anything so thoughtlessly irresponsible. Embracing an unconditional ideal to guide life does not entail the abandonment of common sense in an imperfect world.
An unconditional approach to human failure will still hold all responsible for their behavior, including the restraining and imprisoning of people that are not able or not willing to self-control their worst impulses. Unconditional will even regretfully engage war to stop aggression against the innocent. But it will do so with the non-aggressive and non-triumphalist attitude advocated by the Chinese sage Laozi.
No conditions love is not primarily about feeling, as the horrific inhumanity of some offenders rightly evokes rage and disgust. But it is a form of love that determines to treat all offenders humanely, despite their offenses.
Unconditional is a profound redefinition of humanity’s ultimate ideal and authority- deity. It overturns entirely the long history of punitive, retaliatory gods demanding sacrifice. Unconditional purifies humanity’s highest ideal and authority. It makes God safe to use as a source of validation for human behavior and life.
Deities with features like tribal exclusion (true believers vs unbelievers), domination (lord, king), and retaliatory punishment (God as Judge, Punisher) have long validated the same features in people because humans across history have held deity as their highest ideal and authority. That has good and bad outcomes depending on the nature of the God that people have venerated (i.e. “We become just like the God we worship”).
Look at the inhumane treatment of others across history in the name of God. Christian crusaders near the end of the first millennium CE slaughtered Jews and Muslims because they believed their God willed it. ISIS slaughtered people because they believed their God demanded such punishment of infidels. But if God is unconditional love then the nastier features are no longer there to validate inhumane treatment of others. People wanting to act inhumanely are then left on their own without divine validation.
Unconditional deity thereby fundamentally re-orients the age-old human impulse to base behavior on belief- i.e. validating our behavior with our beliefs. Embracing unconditional in our highest ideal and authority will then assist in re-shaping our responses and treatment of human imperfection and failure. Where punitive, retaliatory deities have long validated human punishment and retaliation, so unconditional deity will, for example, orient us away from punitive forms of justice and toward restorative or rehabilitative justice.
Now, those features of human story…
First, I would affirm with Campbell that we come from a great Oneness that humanity has long called God (i.e. the Ultimate Consciousness, Mind, Intelligence, Spirit, Self, Goodness). There is one overwhelmingly dominant feature that describes this divine Oneness- Love. Not just love as we commonly know it here, but Love that is inexpressibly, transcendently, and infinitely unconditional. Beyond words, terms, definitions, or categories. The God that is Love is an Ultimate Reality infinitely beyond our theories of God- the God and Love that are infinitely beyond the term God. Transcendently beyond the best that we could ever imagine. No religion has ever communicated this liberating wonder to humanity.
That ultimate no conditions Love gives meaning to everything. The stunning new theology of ultimate Love defines the core purpose of the cosmos, the world, and conscious life. It is all.
A related stunner: Our true self is also that same no conditions Love. This ought to radically transform and reshape our sense of identity or self-image. We are not the fallen, “originally sinful” beings of religious mythology. The love that is God is the very essence of our human spirit and our human consciousness. However, our spirit and consciousness are often clouded and inhibited by the material body and brain that we have come to inhabit. Our core nature as no conditions love is often distorted and buried by the animal brain that we have inherited, with its anti-human impulses to exhibit tribalism, domination of others, and the exclusion, punishment, and destruction of others.
Further, on our origins in Oneness (i.e. that we are part of a greater Consciousness), some suggest that only part of our consciousness is expressed through our body and brain that are mechanisms to limit our consciousness in order to enable us to function in this material realm. Our greater consciousness when mediated through our body is limited by the 5 senses of our bodies/brains and the three or four-dimensional reality of this material realm so that we can experience life here. In this view, the brain is a transmitting organism, a limiting mechanism to make a life experience possible in the here and now. (Note: This view is more in line with John Eccles’ “dualist inter-action”)
Our origin in the Oneness or the Source that is Love, our inseparable and intense union with that Oneness, according to Campbell, is critical to remember as we journey through life so that we do not lose our humanity in this world where we engage a struggle with evil. Our true home in ultimate Oneness reminds us that the others that we battle with here- the imperfect others that we view as “enemies” or opponents- they are also equally part of that same Oneness that is love. They are still intimate family despite the oppositions/dualisms that we all engage here (i.e. the dualisms of religion, politics, race, nationality, gender, or other). They are still full equals with us. They are our brothers and sisters in the same one family. If we forget this oneness with others during our righteous struggle with evil in this world (“our brotherhood with even our enemies”), then we will lose our humanity, says Campbell. We will forget that “love your enemy” is the key to maintaining our humanity.
Others have suggested that we are co-creators with God, that we take part in creating this material reality as a learning arena, a place to come and learn how to be human, to act out a human adventure, story, or quest. We all come as fellow actors in God’s theater, says Campbell, playing our differing temporary roles, whether good or bad.
And others yet suggest that we may even be responsible for choosing our unique life stories and the experiences of our stories, both good and bad. We may choose our bodies, our families, and our lives, in order to learn, develop, and grow as human. If this is true in any way, then we cannot blame God for our troubles. I am not affirming these speculative things… just offering them for consideration. They point to some alternative ways to view the harsher experiences of our lives. We may have chosen our unique life experiences as opportunities for learning and growth.
Insert: This is not a new take on religious predestination. As freedom is inseparable from love, so freedom remains paramount to our stories. We exercise authentic freedom of choice and create our stories on the fly, during our sojourn in this world. Freedom, with elements of indeterminacy and randomness, is inseparable from love.
Moving along… Others have suggested that we come into life to fulfill some special mission, that we are called, or sent, to make some unique contribution to improve life, to make the world a better place. And we do this through living a unique life story. No one else can accomplish the unique mission that we came to fulfill.
Affirming my main point- the core purpose of human life and story is to know and learn love. To learn what authentically humane love is about. To learn how to love, how to receive and to express the love that is our true self. And the expression of love is achieved through all the diversity of innumerable human lives and experiences- e.g. whether making an economic contribution, a political or social contribution, or something personal. Perhaps as an entertainer. Is there any greater contribution to improving life than that made by comedians? Putting suffering in its place, laughing at it all, and thereby lightening the dark parts of life. And what about the valued contribution of farmers growing food for all of us? Or sanitation workers preventing the spread of disease? There are no “useless” or less important human lives or stories. All contribute to the grand overall venture of humanity learning to love.
Our contribution may be small and hidden, or it may be offered in the larger public realm. Again, our contributions to life are as diverse as being human in our individual life stories. There is infinite creative potential in human lives and the freedom to be different, to explore, to experience, to create and innovate.
I would offer, again, that unconditional love is the central point of it all. And that is intensely personal. As we contribute in some area, we shouldn’t forget that its all about how we relate to others around us in the mundane, ordinary, and private situations of daily life. Success in life is about how we treat others as fellow members of the same one family. They are our equals in that family despite their status or failures in this world.
Taking another Campbell point here: We all face some monster in life. We experience some problem, some trial and form of suffering, something that we struggle with and try to overcome. Our monster/problem may be a physical disability, or mental/emotional problems, or some social issue, perhaps economic or political. Our monsters, and struggles/battles, are as diverse as the problems of our complex world, whether public or personal.
Others, Campbell included, have noted that dualism is a vital part of this material realm and there is a point to the dualisms of material reality and life. Whether the male/female dualism, or the good versus evil dualism. While this requires cautious treatment (i.e. not making light of evil and related suffering), dualism serves the purpose, in this arena of life, of providing a backdrop or contrast against which we learn what good is. We would not know good without its contrasting opposite. The experience of evil or bad in life provides the opposite that we struggle against, and through that “righteous struggle with evil” we gain insights, we discover humane responses, and we find solutions to problems, solutions that will benefit others. Our struggle with the wrongs, injustice, or evil of life is where we also learn empathy with suffering others.
Again, being very cautious with the horrific suffering that people have endured, but others have suggested that some forms of struggle and suffering are necessary and even good for us because we would not learn, we would not develop and grow as human, aside from struggle and suffering. As Julian Simon said, our problems are good for us because they push us to find solutions and our discovered solutions then benefit others. Struggle brings forth the best of the human spirit.
Further, human experience of evil and suffering is never some form of divine punishment. That religious fallacy must be rejected entirely. God does not punish human imperfection. And God does not punish people through the imperfections of the world (i.e. natural disaster, disease, human cruelty).
While no explanation will ever fully satisfy all questions regarding evil and related suffering, it makes more overall sense to view the creation of this imperfect world as fundamentally an experience and learning arena.
Campbell adds that we will be “wounded” in our struggle with our monster/problem. “Wounding” is as diverse as human stories.
To reiterate, we may have chosen our unique problems and experiences of suffering before we came here. We may be more responsible for our lives than we realize. Let your mind toy with this suggestion (see, for example, Natalie Sudman’s The Application of Impossible Things).
I would add something further to Campbell’s good points, though in places he has intimated something similar. The greatest monster and the real enemy that we all face and must conquer, the greatest problem that we must all wrestle with and solve, is the inherited animal within each of us (“the animal passions”). The greatest of all “righteous battles against evil” is the intensely personal inner battle that takes place inside each of us. Here is where the role of unconditional comes into laser focus. And this is where we make our greatest contribution to making the world a better place. It starts within us, with conquering our own animal passions. “Why do you worry about and judge the speck in the other person’s eye (their imperfections) when you have a beam in your own eye (your own imperfections)?”
Revolution, reformation, renewal, change… should all begin as something intensely personal. Within us. As Alexander Solzhenitsyn said, “The great battle-line between good and evil runs through the center of every human heart”. The great battles against evil in life should focus primarily within ourselves.
We have all inherited a core animal brain. They used to frame this as the “tri-partite” brain, with the reptilian core (i.e. amygdala), the limbic system, and then the more human cortex at the surface.
The animal brain (and our past in millions of years of animal existence) bequeaths us with basic impulses to things like tribalism (small band separation and opposition to outsiders), the impulse to dominate others (Alpha male/female), and the impulse to exclude, punish, and destroy the differing other/enemy.
But then embrace a liberating qualifier: To paraphrase Jeffrey Schwartz, we are not our brains. Our core human spirit, our human self or person, our consciousness, is the same Love as our great Source that we have long called God. We are not our inherited physical/animal brains. We are something much better in our essential nature, personhood, or being (the “real” us). We are most essentially beings or persons that are love. Love is our most true inner nature. Love makes us authentically and maturely human.
This is the most important dualism of all to understand- i.e. the human versus the animal. The human in us- our human spirit and consciousness- is taking us in an entirely new direction from our brutal animal past. It is taking us toward a more humane future. Evolutionary biology/psychology tends to devalue the human by explaining it too much in terms of the animal, by viewing and reducing the human to just another form of animal. Evolutionary biology/psychology also devalues our core love as something to be explained mostly in terms of the animal survival impulse- i.e. just another form of “species altruism”. No, it is something far more humane.
And here is where Campbell shines when defining human story. He says that the most critically important transformation in human life is when we orient our lives to “universal love”. Then we begin to mature as humans. We then become the hero of our story. Again, I would use unconditional love as a broader, more inclusive term.
Unconditional potently counters (overcomes, conquers) the animal inside us by pointing us toward the embrace of all others as equals in the same one human family (inclusive not limited tribal love). Unconditional inspires us to treat all others as equals and to not dominate and control the free and equal other (no alpha domination). And unconditional urges us to not destroy the other but to forgive the imperfection that we encounter in others. Our core self, as unconditional love, points us toward the restorative treatment of failure in others (justice not as punishment but as rehabilitation).
Add here Campbell’s comments on the shamanic experience that involves a disintegration 0f the self, and then re-integration around something new, a new worldview and life story. Orienting our worldviews and lives to no conditions, universal love will provide a new cohering center for an entirely new worldview and life story. Unconditional transforms and changes everything. It liberates and transforms consciousness away from the old features of human narratives that were often subhuman, and it orients us to embrace features that are entirely new and humane. See ‘Old Story Themes, New Story Alternatives’ for details on constructing an entirely new worldview oriented to unconditional.
Re-emphasizing critical points:
The most important battles in life are not the great historical wars of tribe against tribe, or nation against nation. The greatest battles/wars are those that take place inside us. And this relates to the deeper meaning of equality in human life. There can be no outer material equality because life is shaped by hierarchies and pyramids where only a few can reach the upper levels, whether in business, sports, politics, or entertainment. Only an elite few can achieve the highest success in those pyramids of life. But everyone has equal opportunity to achieve the greatest success of all in the most important achievement of all- common love. Love is the most foundational thing to human existence and story. It is the defining feature of our human spirit and consciousness, and it gives the most potent meaning to our existence and stories. And love is the only lasting achievement in the cosmos. All else will be left behind and forgotten in the material world or realm. Only what is done in love lasts forever.
When we struggle and suffer in life, and then discover unconditional as the route to an authentically humane life story- that is the greatest insight that we can learn, the greatest treasure that we can discover, and the greatest victory that we can achieve. When we orient our lives to unconditional love, then we can offer the greatest benefit or boon to others- to treat them unconditionally. Unconditional points us toward the greatest revolution that we can bring to life, toward the greatest possible transformation of life, toward the greatest liberation that we can offer to the world (i.e. liberation from the inherited animal in all of us). The unconditional treatment of all the imperfect people around us (e.g. restorative justice) is one of the most potent personal ways to make the world a better place. Include the expression of unconditional toward oneself and one’s own failures and imperfections.
Another way of putting this… We will all face some struggle, some experience of suffering, something we fear, perhaps opposition from an enemy, or some abuse from an opponent. If we choose to respond to that challenge with love, we then discover our true self as a being of love, and we mature into a heroic person through that experience and choice. See, for examples, ‘The Railway Man’, Nelson Mandela, the tortured prisoners in ‘To End All Wars’, or the mother in ‘The Forgiven’.
In all that we do, and should do, to make this life better- i.e. in sports, in business and work, in all public or social issues, or entertainment- we should never forget that it is how we treat others in the daily mundane interactions (the ordinary and hidden things) that make us real successes and achievers, or not. Steve Jobs understood this on his death bed when he apologized to his daughter Lisa for treating her sub-humanly at times. He had great public material success but regretted that he failed in his private life. He wished that he could have been kinder to family when alive and healthy.
Added notes in conclusion:
The embrace of a no-conditions ideal to guide our lives will orient us to (1) the non-tribal inclusion of all others as full equals. It will orient us to (2) respect and protect the full freedom and rights of all others. And it will orient us away from punitive, destructive forms of justice and (3) toward restorative/rehabilitative forms of justice- i.e. treating all human imperfection and failure with forgiveness, mercy, and generosity.
Campbell also says that a “wise man”, or mentor, will give us a sword to slay our monster and help us to achieve our purpose in life. We all know such people among family and friends, people who give us advice from their own life experience. And again, most importantly, unconditional love is that most potent sword to slay our personal monster or enemy- the inherited animal in us.
From our struggle with this imperfect life and our struggle to learn love, we are transformed into a new person, into a better version of our self (or better- learning to love is the unveiling or expression of our true self). When we orient our lives to unconditional love, we then “tower in stature as mature humans”, we become the hero of our story, and we fulfill our destiny, we accomplish our mission. And that is how we help to create a better world, a new world, by first making ourselves better persons, by learning to live out the love that is our true self.
Another: An essential part of the development toward becoming a mature human person is to take responsibility for our failures in life. Personal acknowledgement and embrace of our failures is the starting point of the life trajectory of personal improvement.
Another: Unconditional love is the key to the cosmos, this world, and conscious human life. It is the defining essence of our great Source- God. As someone said, “The very atoms of God are made of love, unconditional love”. That love then defines the purpose of the cosmos and life- that all has been created as an arena where we come to learn and experience such love, to receive and express such love. The imperfection of life is the background against which such love shines all the more brightly.
While each of us has some unique thing to contribute to life in economics, politics, work life, social life, sports/entertainment, music, or whatever else that we choose to do, the one common factor in all human story is to learn unconditional love, to discover and achieve something of this highest form of love. When we orient our lives to this central ideal, then we have conquered our real monster and enemy, the inherited animal in us. Then we have become the hero of our story.
One more: The monster that we face in life is a two-part beast. I noted the basic features of animal reality that we all struggle with- the impulses to tribalism (small band separation and opposition), domination of others (the alpha thing), and the impulse to exclude, punish, and destroy the differing other. Across history, people have also projected these very same features onto deities, onto humanity’s highest ideals and authorities- the gods. They have thereby created ultimate monsters that embody tribalism, domination, and punitive destruction. Consequently, conquering a monster in life is more than just overcoming the monster inside us- the animal inheritance in us.
Our battle in life includes conquering the monsters in our meta-narratives- i.e. the religious God theories that inspire, guide, and validate our emotions, attitudes, motivations, and responses/behavior. Religious gods- humanity’s highest ideals and authorities- have long been monstrous in nature and their features have been employed to validate the same monstrous impulses in people- to tribalism, domination, and punitive destruction.
Unconditional is the sword that potently slays the monster in us and also slays the monstrous pathologies of humanity’s God theories. An unconditional God does not engage dualistic tribalism (believers versus unbelievers), or domination of people (the myth of “humanity created to serve the gods”), and does not punish and destroy “unbelievers” (i.e. apocalypse and hell myths).
The Two Main Approaches to Organizing Human Societies
Left/Right (and the immense benefits of Classic Liberalism)
The comment below comes from a “fiercely Independent” viewpoint. Kinda like Goldilocks- not too far Left, not too far Right. Sort of Libertarianish, or better- Classic Liberalism. Just floating like a butterfly, free to alight wherever, enjoy the nectar, and then move on. A self that is free in an open process and not fixed rigidly on any object (i.e. not finding identity in some fixed ideology, religion, nationality, race/ethnicity, or other objects of human identity) as per The Mutable Self of Louis Zurcher.
Independent because neither side gets it all right. David Boaz, for example, said regarding the US situation that Republicans needed to embrace more freedom in the social realm and Democrats needed to embrace more freedom in the economic realm. Neither side held a monopoly on good. My ‘Free Floating’ stance also keeps me from the dogmatic tribalism that locks into loyalty to one side only and views the other side as an enemy to be cancelled.
While the US Democratic party has previously been more centrist, many on the Liberal side of the US situation now note that US Democrats/Liberals are being pulled further toward Leftist collectivist ideologies. US Republicans continue also to be pulled toward coercive state intervention on social issues (i.e. women’s rights, choices, and freedoms).
Conversation overheard in a home: Mother, “Son, do not talk politics or religion when the guests come. OK. You know how it irks people. So behave yourself, eh”.
Son’s response: “Yes, Ma. I will be good”. (Boy, thinking to himself- “Fuck that, eh”).
The two main approaches to organizing human societies across history:
(1) A primary orientation to the collective, or (2) a primary orientation to the individual. We never get all that we want on either side of these political divides so both sides are obligated out of common decency to make some compromise with, basically, the other half of our societies.
The Left/Right or Liberal/Conservative social opposition often becomes infected with the residual tribal spirit/mind that we have inherited from our animal past and that continues to erupt prominently in today’s societies to the detriment of the necessary cooperation to maintain peace. Fortunately, surveys show that most people on both sides choose more moderate positions.
Is there some healthy balance between the free individual approach and the collectivist approach? Our societies continue the tug back and forth between these two approaches to organizing human societies (see Arthur Herman’s The Cave and The Light for the long-term history of this tug-of-war, from the Greeks on down). It appears that most people will continue to embrace some mixed version of the two approaches that encompasses the concerns of both sides.
We are seeing the latest version of this Collectivist versus ‘Individual freedom’ struggle play out in the arena of the climate debate where climate alarmists advocate for coercive collectivist solutions. Below are some of the basic points regarding the Left/Right dualism in our societies.
I would locate the core issue as this- What primary orientation of a society (i.e. the collective or the individual model) shows evidence of providing the most good for the most people. And then based on such evidence: What is the best approach for organizing human societies?
Protected individual freedom and rights (property rights, freedom to enter private contracts, self-determination and self-government, and other related personal freedoms) such personal freedom uniquely unleashes human motivation and creativity to solve problems and to improve life in all ways, for all humanity, as well as improve nature. The historical outcomes of the orientation to individual freedoms, protections, and rights has produced the most good for the most people across the past two centuries. And most critically, the distribution of power among competing/cooperating individuals prevents the centralization of power that inevitably leads to eruptions of the destructive totalitarian impulse.
Collectivism emphasizes the group and group goals as having priority over the individual and individual rights. The individual is subordinate to some social collective- i.e. the state or nation. Collectivism traditionally advocates for abolishing private property. Collectivism involves the centralization of power under the direction of some guiding/controlling elite and that is its primary failing and danger.
Arthur Herman notes that German philosopher Georg Hegel gave modern collectivism its modern orientation to the state as the embodiment of the Collective or greater good. That became government bureaucrats legislating for all members of a society how to live their lives (i.e. individuals subjected to state elites as in Marxist models). “Teams of bureaucrats become a virtual cadre of Philosopher Rulers who bring order and justice to a needy world… the State acting to protect us from ourselves because the State is our Better and Higher Self” (Cave and Light, p.436). The state or government then became the embodiment or representative of greater good in societies.
Examples of collectives- tribal societies, communes (e.g. Robert Owen’s commune), Communism, socialist states, and the collective element in social democracies or Democratic Socialism, and now Left-leaning Progressivism.
Let it be affirmed- Collectivist concern for greater or common good is to be honored. The issue, however, is how do we best achieve the most good for the most people. What does historical evidence tell us works best to lift the most people out of the misery of poverty and into prosperity and well-being? In other words, which approach has worked best to actually get us to the greater or common good of all. Again- the most good for the most people?
The approach and principles that get us to the broadest possible common or greater good must be understood, honored, and protected above all else.
A Bit of History
One of the articles on the HumanProgress.org site notes the explosion of wealth creation and the consequent improvement of the human condition that began, notably, in the early 1800s (1820 to be more exact- see also William Bernstein’s ‘The Birth of Plenty’). That outburst of progress points to the West’s great contribution to the world that is often discredited/dismissed in the anti-industrial society activism that comes predominantly from environmental alarmism today. The overall anti-capitalism crusade has been taken up more generally by Left-leaning Progressivism.
Many today outright despise and belittle overall Western civilization, claiming that it has mainly been about the excesses of Colonialism, Capitalism, and the initial harmful outcomes of industrialization. Admittedly, early industrialization was damaging to people and to nature. But “Environmental Transition” or “Ecological Kuznets Curve” research shows, that with increasing wealth, developing nations have responsibly turned to cleaning up industry, improving the human condition, and improving their environments. All people are natural environmentalists when they can afford to be such. This has been the history of the developed nations of the West and elsewhere.
The essential nature of the Western tradition is its orientation to individual freedom. The Western approach to organizing society around individual human freedom, protected freedom, has unleashed human creativity as never before through technological industrial society. The Western approach of orienting society to free individuals, via free market principles, has given us all that we value today in improved living conditions and the technological advances of today.
With the immense wealth-creating potential of free individuals, industrial society has also enabled us to protect and improve our natural world as never before. This overturns the relentlessly distorting narrative of environmental alarmists that economic growth and development destroys nature. See Desrochers and Szurmak’s book ‘Population Bombed’ for detail on how human progress in industrial society benefits even nature (e.g. declining rates of per capita resource use). Their book is an update on Julian Simon’s brilliant Ultimate Resource that originally covered the same ground.
England finally got individual equality and freedom right after struggling with the issue over preceding centuries. It all began with documents like Magna Carta that subjected kings/lords to the same laws, rights, and responsibilities that were to govern all others. See Daniel Hannen’s The Invention of Freedom for this history. Such documents were early expressions of how societies could promote and protect the equality of all citizens.
This innovation (Magna Carta and similar earlier documents) eventually developed into institutions like a parliament that represented all citizens equally and ceased being an institution that represented only the interests of ruling elites such as Kings/lords, the “government” or governing elites of the past. English Common Law also affirmed the equality of all via equal freedom, protections, and rights.
Most central to protected individual equality and freedom was the protection of individual private property. Kings/lords could no longer arbitrarily seize the property of commoners, a practice that had long undermined the human motivation to improve one’s private property. Note how powerholder intervention in private property undermined human motivation, and resulted in horrific outcomes, in China under Mao’s great collectivist redistribution experiments that ended in mass poverty, starvation, and death. The same violation of private property rights also resulted in mass misery under Stalin’s collectivism in Russia. We have ongoing examples of the failures of collectivism in states such as Zimbabwe (previously the “breadbasket of Africa”), North Korea, and Venezuela (once one of the richest nations on Earth).
The English protection of private property unleashed human creativity and more widespread endeavor by people to improve their own lives and families, knowing they would get the rewards of personal labor, investment, and achievement. Protected private property is also the most essential element in preventing totalitarianism because it provides the physical basis of dispersed power (Hayek in The Road to Serfdom).
The institutions oriented to individual freedoms and rights all came together with wider public influence in the early 1800s and wealth creation took off as never before. Across previous history GDP had been basically flat with about 95% of populations living in absolute poverty.
You may hate and belittle the institution of private property, and its flaws, but understand that it works better than anything else that humanity has discovered to unleash creativity and improve life overall for most people. Unfortunately, private property remains the primary “evil” to the collectivist mind. Private property is viewed as the main obstacle to greater good, collective good. Socialists have insistently demeaned the human impulse to improve one’s life, one’s property, and the condition of one’s family as the expression of selfishness and greed. I would counter that improving one’s personal situation in life (the condition of one’s family) through private property is the most basic form of love and responsibility, and the most important contribution one makes to greater or collective good.
Consider the outcomes of the private property societies in the ongoing spread of wealth creation that is evident in the stunning and continuing decline of poverty across the world today. Such evidence affirms the importance of private property as fundamental to maintaining human motivation, protecting human freedom, and improving the general well-being of all. Property rights are the best means of achieving the greater or common good as a by-product of individual freedom, responsibility, and creativity.
I would affirm that individual freedom, rights, protections, and equality of opportunity are the foundational elements of the successful model that the West has offered the world. But this model for organizing human society continues to suffer relentless attack from the collectivist approach. Herman in The Cave and The Light traces the long-term history of these two models from the time of the Greeks and their outcomes on human societies across history. The Collectivist approach is traced from Plato and his Ideals/Forms that should shape the ideal society. That approach descended down through Hegel and Marx. The individually oriented model is traced from Aristotle.
Collectivist models for organizing human society have repeatedly and inevitably unleashed the destructive totalitarian impulse, with its intrusive and coercive control of people, and that has consequently harmed both the human condition and nature. Central planning of resource use, nationalization of the business/economic realm, and state distribution of resources and outcomes of production has devastated human populations and environments. Collectivist models concentrate power in governing elites (i.e. the “enlightened vanguards” of collectivism) and that never ends well.
Many in the younger generation, not familiar with the horrific outcomes of the past century’s collectivist experiments, are once again leaning toward collectivist approaches that promise utopian-like outcomes, or the restoration of some lost past paradise.
A central issue
Collectivists/Socialists do not give up on their approach to organizing societies even after a long history of repeated failures of their approach. Why? Because Collectivists sincerely believe that their model for organizing society is “morally superior”. Collectivists sincerely believe that they stand for the “greater or common good” while they caricaturize and misrepresent the individual freedom model as all about selfishness and greed that obstructs and neglects the greater or common good. Consequently, Collectivists believe that their approach is best for all others and that leads them to repeatedly engage projects to coerce others to submit to their model. They cannot let go of the dream for Socialism’s eventual success… somehow.
Side note: Marxist professors at Simon Fraser University (late 1980s) defensively excused Socialism as a noble and good system for organizing society that just needed another chance to exhibit its goodness and purity. They argued that Communism (collapsing around that time) was a perversion of true Socialism. But their defense missed the point that all varieties of Socialism are just differing expressions of collectivism that centralizes power (see former Socialist Joshua Muravchik’s history of Communalism/socialism in ‘Heaven on Earth’).
The collectivist belief in the moral superiority of their system dismisses the evidence that the societal orientation to individual freedom (protecting individual freedom) has lifted more people out of the misery of poverty than any other approach in history. Despite its abuse by some, the Western free market model has done more to enhance the “greater or common good” and to improve nature than any other model. Note, by contrast, the disastrous environmental outcomes of collectivist central planning of resources in the Soviet Union during the last century.
Further, Collectivism has long had comfortable association with Christianity. This is seen in New Testament references to the early Christian movement where, for example, Luke in his Acts history states that early believers “held all things together in common”. That is viewed as an authentic expression of love, to share things in common with one another. And that helps to understand the comfortable fit between Christianity and Socialism over history. But try that communal sharing, especially if coerced, at societal levels (e.g. Communist Russia and China) and watch populations inevitably descend overnight into misery and horror.
The outcome could be different though, if the sharing were voluntary, that is, from a place of personal freedom and choice.
Wealth that is gained legally and fairly under commonly agreed “equal opportunity” free market rules should be subject to the personal choice of the owner as to how to distribute it. Examples here would include Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, and others. It should be the voluntary and free choice of the owner to share legally and fairly gained wealth as they choose. Note that Gates and Buffet are giving their immense wealth away to promote greater or common good in the manner that they choose. Note also that the bulk of taxes in Western societies are often paid by the wealthiest individuals- e.g. in the US the top 10% of earners pay 70% of federal income taxes (the top 1% pay 38%).
Added notes on organizing human societies
Collectivist models- from Owen’s communalism, to socialism, to communism- centralize power/control and then some “enlightened” elite must be responsible to run the collective. The results have been notoriously the same- unleashing the totalitarian impulse even in well-intentioned people. Who said that the most dangerous people in society are those who believe that they are especially enlightened, more than others, and know what is right and good for others, and therefore will coerce others to submit to their vision of what is good for all.
That is why Frederick Hayek argued that the individual model, for all its failings, better prevents totalitarianism and protects freedom because it disperses power among competing individuals and organizations (Road to Serfdom). Individually-oriented models promote self-control, self-responsibility, and self-determination. In systems oriented to protected individual rights, people are free, as much as possible, of state control.
Today we have mixed systems (elements of “democratic socialism” or “social democracy”) with mixed results. For example, we all agree to some limits on personal freedom for the greater or common good (i.e. state legislated taxation for the sharing of common infrastructure costs, and assisting the less fortunate members of our societies, etc.). And our societies go through a repetitive back-and-forth tugging between the two models for organizing society and that tugging is good. There are legitimate concerns on both sides and some form of compromise or balance between them is required.
William Bernstein in The Birth of Plenty speaks to this ongoing tug between state intervention/control and free markets. He probes the issue of what scale of government will lead our societies to operate at their best by generating the most good for the most people? Should the size of Government be at 15% of GDP? Or 20%? Or 30-40%? The bigger that government gets, via increased state intervention and control (i.e. taxation and regulation) the more the individual creative impulse is hindered and undermined, and then all suffer, equally. Greece in past years was an extreme example of this. Greece tried to give everyone everything until the productive business sector collapsed under the burden of overly generous programs for all. One of the best economic minds of the past century, Milton Freidman, argued that the most good for the most people would be a government (all three levels) at around 15% of GDP.
And most people (90% plus) intuitively agree with the ideal of protecting personal freedom from government intrusion, via regulation and taxation, as the test at the back of David Boaz’s book shows (Libertarianism: A Primer). The vast majority of people value personal freedom.
I would conclude that the historical evidence affirms the immense benefits to greater or common good (the most good to the most people) results from giving primacy to personal freedom, versus the historical evidence that shows the inevitable harmful outcomes to greater or common good from the approach that gives primacy to collectivism (subjecting individuals to a controlling collective).
Add to this mix the Collectivist view that populations are engaged in class warfare- i.e. poor against rich, or people fighting for the common good versus selfish individuals in free markets. Collectivists hold the view that individual endeavor to improve oneself is greed and selfishness that is to be unfavorably contrasted with the greater good motivations of Collectivists. But the real issue is how have all sectors of populations done over past centuries. The evidence affirms that the approach that has been oriented to individual freedom has improved the lives of most people, with poverty declining, and middle-class sectors growing across the world. Most people are better off today and this trend of the improving human condition continues to flow mainly from the individually-oriented approach.
Further follow-up notes:
All models for organizing human society are corrupted by excessive selfishness and greed but the more freedom-oriented models have the built-in safety check of institutions such as a free press that exposes such corruption. On the other hand, Collectivist models (centralized power) have a history of suppressing individual freedom, including press freedom and the ability to criticize governing elites or powerholders, and we see the same old harmful results repeatedly. Venezuela is a recent repeat of this history of totalitarian suppression of opposition.
Also, free market organizations exist, to protect against monopoly (note the history of the breakup of Ma Bell, and more recently the challenges to Microsoft). Under collectivist approaches the state becomes the mega-monopoly protecting itself against dispersion of power and control.
The individual-oriented model is most essentially about freedom and the unleashing of human motivation, creativity, and endeavor to improve individual life and family. That is the fundamental human responsibility. And it does not have to be most essentially about selfish greed. Successful achievers can then freely decide how to contribute to greater or common good (the primacy of self-determination to human identity).
Today the pull toward collectivism is re-emerging in Progressivism and the environmental alarmism movements. Modern Liberalism has abandoned the Classic Liberalism of the English tradition that has brought freedom and all its benefits to our modern world.
Bob Brinsmead in a discussion group often reminds us that if you redistribute all the money from wealthier people, then yes, you would have a great party. But the outcome would be all becoming equally poor and unemployed as a society collapsed. How would businesses find the capital that enables them to provide jobs for employees so they can take care of their families? Note the extreme examples of these redistribution schemes in Chinese collectivist experiments under Mao. Again, we all agree to some level of redistribution for common good- i.e. taxation. The disagreement centers around the levels of redistribution and where that begins to cause more harm than good by undermining the motivation and creative output of free individuals.
The issue for our societies is not equality of outcomes, an impossible standard, but rather, how are all sectors of society doing? Evidence shows that life has improved immensely for all sectors of modern societies, whether in realm of health (infant mortality declines, disease control, longer life expectancy for all), calorie intake, technology improvements, etc.
Overall, there are fewer poor people as the populations of many world societies are moving into middle class status. Comparison of poorer sectors of a population with the wealthiest people does not reveal an accurate picture that most people, including the poorest, are doing much better today. And the examples of Jobs and Gates show that not all inequality is wrong. See William Watson’s https://nationalpost.com/opinion/william-watson-inequality-good-bad-and-benign.
The French Revolution tried to include material equality in its Constitution, as something to be guaranteed by the State, and that differed from the American Constitution.
And yes, environmental alarmism pushes for collectivist solutions and policies in its anti-industrial society alarmism. Note the push for centralized control of world economies and lifestyles via institutions like the UN (see Michael Hart’s Hubris: The Troubling Science, Economics, and Politics of Climate Change).
“Capitalism” should be considered a dead word, too burdened by distorting baggage. A better term would focus on the core issue and ideal of freedom and how freedom unleashes human motivation and creativity to improve oneself, and that is the most basic form of human love. So also, consider that Adam Smith’s term “self-interest” is no longer so useful as it instinctively incites images of individual selfishness and greed that affirm Collectivist distortions. That distortion misses the basic love that is at the core of the responsibility of everyone to improve their own lives and their families, and how this motivation leads to cooperation with others (mutual benefit of commerce) and that fosters peace and stability in societies and between nations. See note below on “the moralizing influence of gentle commerce”.
The issue is not the individual pitted against the greater or common good as though these are mutually excluding entities. But rather which approach to organizing society has best achieved the outcomes of maintaining individual freedom as well as improving the greater good? The historical evidence affirms clearly that protecting individual freedom and rights, as well as preventing totalitarianism, has resulted in lifting billions out of poverty and into middle class status. The individual freedom and rights approach has achieved more greater or common good than any other approach to organizing human society (i.e. the most good for the most people).
The fallacy of “limited good” is also important to confront as this primitive myth buttresses the collectivist activism to coercively redistribute the wealth of more successful people. Collectivists believe that if some people get more material good, then others must lose out, as resources are limited. Again, see Desrochers and Szurmak in Population Bombed, also Julian Simon’s Ultimate Resource.
Under the “Simon Project” at HumanProgress.org there is the following statement: “Are we running out of resources? Many scholars, including Thomas Malthus and Paul Ehrlich, believed that population growth would result in the exhaustion of resources and a global catastrophe. University of Maryland economist Julian Simon rejected their ideas. In his 1981 book The Ultimate Resource, Simon argued that humans were intelligent beings, capable of innovating their way out of shortages through greater efficiency, increased supply, and the development of substitutes.”
Jordan Peterson rightly notes the Marxist belief that if some people in our societies get more then that is wrongfully gained wealth that is the result of greed, selfishness, and theft. Such belief justifies action to level things, to coercively redistribute the wealth of others. It justifies redistribution activism as righteous action against evil. The motive behind such redistribution is resentment, says Peterson.
Also, critical to include are the histories that reveal the “moralizing influence of gentle commerce”. How commerce improves general human goodness and helps maintain peace among people. This all began with early specialization of labor and trade. People then gained mutual benefit and learned to cooperate peacefully to maintain that mutual benefit. Domestication of animals/plants, and urbanization (concentrating populations on urban areas thereby lessening pressure on natural areas), were accompanying trends that assisted mutually benefitting trade (see ‘In The Company of Strangers’ for the history of this).
See also https://business.financialpost.com/opinion/philip-cross-capitalism-doesnt-just-make-economies-better-off-it-creates-more-virtuous-people
An example of the moralizing influence of commerce from mutual benefit relationships:
Labor specialization, trade, and mutual benefit: Long, long ago an upland forest dweller, with his specialized experience in making wood implements, learned to trade with the seaside dweller with his specialty in gathering salt, and both benefitted. It worked like this (evidence based on cave drawings). The long-ago cave man once told his wife that he was offended by something that his trading partner- i.e. seaside dweller- had said and he planned to kill him when they next met to trade. The wife of the caveman cautioned him, “Honey, if you don’t come back with salt today for our supper meal, then you ain’t ‘gettin any’ tonight”.
Cave-dweller then thought to himself- “Sheesh, not ‘gettin any’? Yikes.” So he trudged down the mountainside to meet seaside guy, promising himself that he would hold his anger in check, let the offense go, and keep the trade arrangement going. And yes, he then got some that night and all was well as early civilization was able to continue. And because seaside dweller survived and had offspring, so here we are today. Its just that simple, eh.
Now you ask me- Is that a true story? Of course, yes, it is true… that is a story.
And one more…
The envy of other’s private property and wealth
Collectivists, holding strong antipathy to private property, advocate for taking more money from the wealthy as the solution to society’s financial problems. But some cautions present themselves regarding this proposal…
The wealthy pay the bulk of a society’s tax burden. The top 10% of taxpayers in the US already pay 70% of the tax burden.
Generally, if people are wealthy, they are probably good at creating businesses, jobs, and wealth for others as well as themselves.
They may need their wealth to create more business ventures, jobs and wealth for others. Note Elon Musk and Steve Jobs in this regard.
Most wealthy people earn their wealth legally and fairly and many give most of it away. Note Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, among others, in this regard. Why violate their private property rights and their freedom of choice in how they redistribute their wealth?
Watch the distorting stereotypes of wealthy people as greedy, selfish, evil and therefore that becomes justification to take their wealth away via state coercion (i.e. taxation, regulation).
Collectivist models that centralize power in ever-growing governments (via things like government regulation and taxation) chip away at individual freedom and this is always a dangerous direction to take (again, the failed Socialist states of Zimbabwe and Venezuela serve as recent historical examples). We all agree to allow some outside control over our lives (state regulation) and the redistribution of some of our income (state taxation). But great care is needed to not allow this trend to get out of control, to become carried away. Apparently, Europeans have gone further down the road to surrendering personal freedom to central states with more regulation of their lives and more taxation of their income. The English and Americans, more oriented to individual freedom, are hesitant to follow those Social Democracy or Democratic Socialism models.
Societies need to have built-in mechanisms to counter and reverse the trends toward excessive regulation such as the law that was enacted by the British Columbia Liberal party. That law required that one old regulation had to be removed for every new regulation introduced. Others have legislated that two previous regulations should be removed for every new regulation introduced.
Governing elites, infected with the pathological impulse to meddle in and control the lives of others, will persistently do so via excessive regulation and taxation.
Daniel Hannan in “Inventing Freedom”
Hannan on the Western contribution to the world: Personal property rights, personal liberty, and representative government. “There are three irreducible elements… The rule of law… the government of the day doesn’t get to set the rules… they are interpreted by independent magistrates… the law is not an instrument of state control but a mechanism open to any individual seeking redress…
“Personal liberty… freedom to say what you like, to assemble in any configuration you choose with your fellow citizens, to buy and sell without hindrance, to dispose as you wish of your assets, to work for whom you please, and to hire and fire as you will…”
“Representative government… Laws should not be passed, nor taxes levied, except by elected legislators who are answerable to the rest of us…”
“… the individual should be as free as possible from state coercion… (wars for freedom in the last century were between countries that elevated the state over individuals and countries that elevated the individual over the state) …”
“Inconvenient Truth: Climate-related death risk down 99.6% over 100 years, Anthony Watts
“New data shows the global climate-related death risk has dropped by over 99% since 1920.
“Despite the near constant caterwauling from climate alarmists that we are in a “climate emergency”, real-world data, released at the end of 2020 shows that climate related deaths are now approaching zero. The data spans 100 years of “global warming” back to 1920 and shows “climate related” deaths are now approaching zero.
“Back in the 1920s, the death count from climate-related disasters was 485,000 on average every year. In the last full decade, 2010-2019, the average was 18,357 dead per year or 96% lower. In the first year of the new decade, 2020, the preliminary number of dead was even lower at 8,086 — 98% lower than the 1920s average.
“But because the world’s population also quadrupled at the same time, the climate-related *death risk* has dropped even faster. The death risk is the probability of you dying in any one year. In the 1920s, it was 243 out of a million people that would die from climate-related disasters.
“In the 2010s, the risk was just 2.5 per million people — a drop of 99%. Now, in 2020, the preliminary number is 1 per million — 99.6% lower.”
“This is clearly the opposite of what climate alarmists have been screaming about, but that is because we’re been exposed to a constant stream of “disaster TV” on cable news and Internet news outlets telling us daily about yet another new disaster, which invariably gets blamed on “climate change”.
“There’s an important distinction that must be made: increased reports does not equal increased death risk.
“While the number of reported events is increasing, that is mainly due to increased reporting. Called “the CNN effect“, we now have 24 hour news, Internet, and people able to make reports of weather disasters from their cellphones, i.e. storm-chasers.
“30 years ago, we had none of that, and we weren’t exposed to the constant stream of disaster reporting with the climate blame-game attached.
“Despite this good news, it is unlikely to deter climate alarmism, since it has evolved into a belief system, eschewing data and science for “climate justice”.”
Site projects: Bring down humanity’s greatest monster and enemy- the myth of punitive, destroying deity. Liberate human mental and emotional life from unnecessary fears. Understand the true state of things and thereby counter fear and affirm hope.
Prediction (based on good evidence on the true state of life): There will be no apocalypse (decline of life, collapse and ending of life). The mind-deforming myth of apocalypse, and the myth of punitive, destroying deity that it is based on, has been the greatest lie in history. It is endlessly used today by environmental alarmists to promote fear and irrational responses to natural phenomena and problems in life.
There is no “climate crisis” with a looming catastrophic collapse or ending of life due to the mild 1 degree C. warming over the past century. The benefits from rising levels of CO2 far outweigh any possible negatives. CO2 has been at dangerously low levels over the past millions of years. With more of this basic plant food in the atmosphere, plant life is thriving.
Despite problems throughout the world, the main trends and features of life show ongoing improvement. Also important- there is no Ultimate Threat behind life.