A CHURCH IN CRISIS
In Christianity, neither morality nor religion come into contact with reality at any point.
Just who and what is God?
In many circles, that is not even a permissible question, and therein lies the crisis referred to in the title of this chapter. It seems to me that what I will call (with only the slightest irony) the “spiritual-industrial complex” has asked us to abdicate our minds in order to develop our souls. According to that way of thinking, intellect and spirit cannot coexist. They annihilate each other in the same way that water and metallic sodium, when combined, combust instantly and violently. Yet this same spiritual Mason-Dixon Line is also responsible for the bitter divide between science and the world of subjectivity, enlightenment, and consciousness. It is as if we are divided into two armed camps, each defending what it sees as the more important aspect of being human. And as Jesus said and Abraham Lincoln quoted, “a house divided against itself cannot stand.”
Why are we on the spiritual side of this debate so opposed to questioning? Why do we demonize intellectual curiosity, scrutiny, scientific knowledge, and rational thinking? Is it because we fear exposure of our faith as unsupportable by fact in an age when fact occupies the pedestal where God once stood? That should not matter; faith is belief in the unseen, that which cannot be proved. Yet rather than deal with a changing world and the terrible consequences of the rift between faith and reason, many religious communities sequester themselves in an alternate reality where there are no questions, and all media, art, and culture reflect these simple ideas: Fundamentalists teach that God is good, God is everywhere, Jesus died for us, to avoid hell you must accept Him as your personal Lord and Savior, and so on. Many embrace conservative political views because such views stand for turning back the clock; a refusal to embrace unsettling changes in our social fabric, our sexual mores, and our environment. What some call faith is little less than a religion of denial and delusion.
In his Gospel, John is said to have written: “Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.” I define light as “higher consciousness.” Light has not only come, light has always been, but people refuse to acknowledge it, because their deeds or functioning ideologies are not only evil but also awkward and disingenuous.
This withdrawal from the world or reality achieves nothing except to make such faith communities at best irrelevant and at worst corrosive to the idea of bringing the worlds of faith and intellect together for the common good. How did we get here? How did a religion inspired by a man whose very purpose was to question the nature of the political and religious milieu into which He was born turn into something like a parent who doesn’t want to tell his child whether or not there is a Santa Claus? I think such things begin as all movements do: with one question left unanswered and its asker discouraged from asking again. Suppression of inquiry is like a disease. So as I examine the reasons why God is not a Christian, I’m going to ask some heretical questions.
AGAIN, WHO AND WHAT IS GOD?
God is like a mirror. The mirror never changes, but everybody who looks at it sees something different.
—Rabbi Harold Kushner
The God question is a complex one. The question of and the quest for God have existed as long as humankind has had the ability to look at the stars or the lightning and ask, “What does that light mean, and where does it come from?” The concepts of God, divinity, cosmic consciousness as the great mystery make more sense than the increasingly monstrous entity that our imaginations have concocted over the millennia. In fact, the God billions worship is a human creation that, we are taught, gave Its life in order to answer our endless quest for life’s meaning. We have created this child’s God, the white-bearded father living in the sky, in our own image rather than the other way around.
The God to whom I was introduced as a child was basically a Jewish one: male, fatherly, Anglo-European, bearded, angrily loving, judgmental, righteously indignant, and frighteningly powerful, not to mention present everywhere and all-knowing. In trying to make sense of this God, man has continued to manufacture and manipulate images of this perceived deity. The images have changed over the centuries, based on the mood of the times. During kind times when harvests were abundant and peace reigned (admittedly rare in the ancient world), God was benevolent. When plague and famine killed millions, God was portrayed as enraged and vengeful.
To this day, this emotionally infantile God remains in power, a fear-based aberration produced by fevered imaginations, promoted by those who understand how such a deity can be used to gain and consolidate power over believers, and protected by flocks of billions who refuse to question their damning God for fear of their own damnation—or out of an even greater immediate terror of social and cultural isolation. But I argue that it is precisely this image of God—an infantile, simplistic, ridiculous notion of the sublime power that underlies the world—that is destroying civil religion, fueling the rage of the “angry atheist” movement, and pitting science against the spiritual at a time when we should be using every tool within reach to discover what it means to be human—and divinely human at that.
TO SAVE GOD
Interestingly, the Greek word for God, theo, is where we get our English words the, thee, this, thou, and so forth. It is also the source of the word theory. A theory is a speculative idea suggested to explain an observation. Theories must be proven before they can be considered scientific. However, it’s always been my opinion that since we can’t prove scientifically that God exists, then neither can we prove scientifically that He or it doesn’t. That means the question of God doesn’t meet philosopher Karl Popper’s famous requirement that scientific inquiry means an idea can be proven false, so the issue of faith is beyond science. It is a matter of subjective experience and personal revelation, perhaps more than observation. However, science itself is a kind of God and may indeed be proof of divinity, depending how one defines or divines it. It seems to at the very least suggest supreme intelligence or order.
Lately, I’m not sure that proving or disproving God is even important. What seems important to me is that most people— billions of them—believe in a God and that superficial differences in the nature and pronouncements of that God (the content of the “owner’s manual,” as it were) are the spark and gasoline for much of the global conflict that has consumed the planet for thousands of years, before the Crusades and the Hundred Years War to the modern jihadi movement. In his book Conversations with God, Neale Donald Walsch says that all behaviors are based on belief systems and that we can never hope to change behaviors until we understand the beliefs that underlie them. That is my goal with this book.
What you believe or are convinced of, you are convicted by. Both the words convince and convict are derivatives of the Latin word convincere. Vincere means “to conquer” in Latin. In other words, whatever you believe has victory over you. You are conquered by what you are convinced is true. We are all victims of and convicted by what we believe and, in often awkward ways, of what others believe. I say this because our lives are shaped in great part by the core religious beliefs of others; they have much to say about our politics, our morals, our societal institutions, and, of course, whether and why we go to war. Those who say that faith and religion are irrelevant to modern life are mistaken; like it or not, they are extremely relevant, and it is worth spending some time and thought examining the reasons why narrow differences in how religious creeds interpret the reality or edicts of their deities fuel differences that in turn power the wheels of war, terrorism, oppression, and hatred. If we allow them to, they could also spark love, compassion, tolerance, and global brotherhood. Most religions have, somewhere in them, a capacity to inspire human grace and greatness in ways they rarely fully allow.
I take issue with the position of the neoatheist crowd that says faith is an obsolete remnant of mankind’s past that needs to be jettisoned as we would lop off a vestigial tail. However, I agree that the largely unquestioned concepts that underlie most of the world’s faith traditions must be questioned and the fundamental assumptions of our spiritual lives revised if we are to survive this new session of turmoil and global change. Faith must evolve. God must evolve. Man must be the means of its re interpretation. As God saved us, it’s now up to us—as if it were possible—to save God. If you ask, save God from what and for what, my answer is, from superstitious mischaracterization and superficial misrepresentations. God is too important to too many for us to make It out to be something so vengeful, derogatory, and paranoid as many perceive Him to be. We’ll deal with this more throughout the book.
WE HAVE MET THE ENEMY
Albert Einstein once remarked, “No problem can be solved by the same consciousness that created it.” I think he meant that it takes different people to solve a problem created by others, but I believe that once we transform our own consciousnesses, we can indeed gain the perspective so vital to healing the wounds in the body of Christianity and perhaps its sibling faiths, Islam and Judaism, as well as others when and where needed. What is needed is a mutual “stepping back” and a brutal reexamination of the so-called truths of Christianity from the perspective not of a traditional believer but someone encountering faith for the first time. From that clarifying, terrifying, dizzying perch, Christianity, the religion of my birth that I have loved all my life, has some deep, staggering dysfunctions—and in the eyes of millions of Christians themselves, has itself become the problem.
When I say God is not a Christian, I am also implying that Christianity in its present form and function is less godly or virtuous. It has, over the centuries, become increasingly gaudy and ghastly. Racism, bigotry, sexism, elitism, arrogance, and ignorance have become its hallmarks, whether you’re looking at the horrific child abuse scandals of the Roman Catholic Church or the attack politics of the religious right and its obnoxious hypocrisy. As I have moved freely among non-Christians as well as many of the opposing factions within Christianity, I have been confronted with the reality of the statement “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
This is not a new problem. It goes back centuries, yet at the same time has shaped our modern age. The originators of Communism (Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, and Moses Hess) were Jews and were no doubt influenced at least somewhat by their religious and cultural mores. Adolf Hitler was recorded as saying to one of his generals, “I am now as before a Catholic and will always remain so,” and “My feeling as a Christian leads me to be a fighter for my Lord and Savior. It leads me to the man who, at one time lonely and with only a few followers, recognized the Jews for what they were and called on men to fight against them … As a Christian, I owe something to my own people.” Der Führer also used the famous temple scene of Jesus driving out the “brood of vipers” as a motivation for his evil—never mind that his statement was a venomous twisting of Jesus’ words and intentions. Jesus’ opponents were the Romans and the Pharisees, not the devout Jewish laity of the time.
In her book The Christ Conspiracy: The Greatest Story Ever Sold, Acharya S writes, “Whether or not Hitler was a ‘true’ Christian is debatable, as he also reputedly considered Christianity a Jewish invention and part of the conspiracy for world domination. Additionally, his paternal grandmother was allegedly Jewish. But Hitler himself was raised Catholic, and was very much impressed with the power of the church hierarchy. He pandered to it and used it and religion as a weapon. All during his regime, Hitler worked closely with the Catholic Church, quashing thousands of lawsuits against it and exchanging large sums of money with it.”
No, it’s not fair to condemn Christianity on the basis of brutal and inhuman acts committed by a man who, had he not had religion to excuse his crimes, would have found some other jus tification. However, it is a hallmark of the “faith motivated” that many religious zealots use the “will of God” or the “inerrant” proclamations of a sacred book to justify thoughts and acts that range from the embarrassing to the horrifying. Is this a fault inherent in faith or in the faithful? I submit that it is both. On one hand, human beings appear to have a need, at this point in our evolution, to exert power over others using whatever justification they can find that will sway others to their cause. As Hitler did, those who would bend the plowshare of religion into a sword would doubtless do the same with skin color, language differences, ethnic origins, or sexual orientation. The need for power and allies always finds a way. The use of religion always comes in handy in facilitating such viciousness.
But going deeper, religious belief itself, in its current form, breeds separation. We see God as outside of ourselves, and by engaging in different threads of belief, we endorse differing “brands” of God. There’s the God of Christianity, the Allah of Islam, the Yahweh of Judaism, the polytheistic Godhead of Hinduism, and many more. This naturally creates an us-versus-them mentality in what becomes armed religious camps—made worse by what we have already spoken of, that the claims of religion cannot be disproven. If you insist that your God told you to blow yourself up in a Jerusalem marketplace, no one can plausibly gainsay you. How would I know, especially if I believe in the kind of God who does kill, maim, and murder those He doesn’t like or approve of?
Changing human nature is perhaps the only more daunting task than changing the nature of organized religion, and it’s one I will not take on in these pages. However, as we realize that “church in crisis” equals “world in crisis,” we see that we must take action in another essential arena: transforming the global perception of God and faith so that the Divine cannot exist as a context for intolerance, violence, and hatred. Our mission, my friends, is to make it so apparent that God would never condone the evils done today in His name that when a pastor suggests that God wants the congregation to support legislation that denies basic rights to women, homosexuals, or so-called undocumented aliens, even a child would be able to stand up in church and confidently say, “No, He doesn’t want that at all!”
But it’s hard to get there from here. To reach that point, we must radically transform our entire culture’s perception of God, perhaps beginning with gender. Since God is beyond the concept of gender, despite the traditions that insist God is male, I think I will point out the ridiculousness of attaching gender bias to a cosmic being by referring to God as She for a while. If you find that repulsive or unacceptable, then all the more reason for you to labor through it. The problem would be you, not the reference.
THE KINGDOM OF HUMANS
Many Americans and other Westerners equate Christianity with love, compassion, integrity, and generosity, and, in fact, it’s amazing how ecumenical we claim to be regarding other faiths. A Newsweek piece by Steven Waldman presented the evidence for this:
One of the central tenets of evangelical Christianity is that to be saved—to earn admission into heaven—you must accept Jesus Christ as your savior. Yet 68% of “born again” or “evangelical” Christians say that a “good person who isn’t of your religious faith” can gain salvation, according to a new Newsweek/Beliefnet poll.
This is pretty amazing. Evangelicals are among the most churchgoing and religiously attentive people in the United States, and one of the ideas they’re most likely to hear from the minister at church on a given Sunday is that the path to salvation is through Jesus. Apparently, rank-and-file evangelicals have a different view.
Nationally, 79% of those surveyed said the same thing, and the figure is 73% for non-Christians and an astounding 91% among Catholics. The Catholics surveyed seemed more inclined to listen to the catechism’s precept that those who “seek the truth” may gain salvation—rather than, say, St. Augustine’s view that being “separated from the Church” will damn you to hell “no matter how estimable a life he may imagine he is living.”
The question might come to mind: How and why could or would so many Americans who call themselves Christians so easily lay aside such a fundamental element of evangelical doctrine? I submit that the Newsweek story suggests that many Americans are seeking a more uniquely personal concept of spirituality, creating a more focused, unmediated relationship with God that supplants dogma and same-sect exclusionary arrogance. As the old Negro spiritual says, we ain’t gonna study war no more. People the world over are beginning to demand and openly prefer peace and respectful coexistence on the planet.
It seems that both adults and an entire youthful generation are forging a personal relationship with God as opposed to depending on an institution or organization to dictate to them a particular form or formula for worship and piety.
I find the basic premise of the article very exciting, even though I must boast slightly that genuine Pentecostals may respond differently to the questionnaire with regard to the worship experience in particular. However, the survey suggests that Americans are at least beginning to allow themselves to experience the transcendent without the mediation of a church or religious dogma. That is the kind of evolution I think many of the “spiritual but not religious” crowd could and would support. But where is that open-mindedness in practice? Do we claim one brand of belief in public in order to make ourselves feel better while playing up the divisiveness and politics of religion in private?
Christians talk about the kingdom of heaven, but they are often referring to the kingdom of humans. There is a difference. In the kingdom of humans, the rulers control their subjects through manipulation—fear disguised as faith. Christianity Inc. is big business, as are most other institutional religions. Many see these fallacies and ignore them, others protect them, and still others remain oblivious. Some see their religion from an “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” perspective. For them, their religion works, regardless of how painful or pitiful it may be. They’ve grown accustomed and desensitized to it. The New Testament calls this having your conscience seared with a hot iron, suggesting a kind of cauterizing of the conscience (1 Timothy 4:2).
Many Christian doctrinal requirements or prescriptions for salvation, like confessing Christ and being baptized, are all related exclusively to being a Christian and joining one of the most exclusive religious clubs, with its doctrinal disciplines. These rites have nothing to do with saving you, except perhaps from the wrath of those Christians who believe you are damned by God if you don’t do these things. The absurdity of such presumption is something I was guilty of for the first half of my life. I believed it and preached it along with the rest of evangelical fundamentalism. Scripture describes Jesus as being despised and rejected by men, and evangelical Christianity today states that those who are not Christians are despised and rejected by God. Irony is alive in the church I once called my own. I still love its virtue. It is its vice to which I object.
I denounce religious arrogance because its smug discrimination creates the kinds of tensions that support the proliferation of hatred, wars, and horrendous brutalization in the name of the various brands of God. Who is to say that the collective consciousness of such negativity doesn’t somehow contribute to the creation or occurrence of the cataclysmic reactions on the planet that we call “natural disasters”?
MYTHS OF TERROR
Christianity (though not exclusively) has become a kind of survival-of-the-fittest ideology. Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, particularly the hypothesis about the adaptation to environment, in many ways reflects the dynamics of most religions. It is one thing to adapt to a hostile environment by developing webbed feet, as the Galápagos Islands lizards did; and another thing to resist the environment by attempting to change, confront, or retaliate against it. Religion does both. It attempts to adjust to the hostility it encounters (in this case, the perceived attacks of science or the refusal of more enlightened people to tolerate its sanctioning destructive acts) by changing its story (creationism becomes intelligent design, for example), and at the same time, it promotes a virulent theology in which we must placate not only an angry, violent God but also Her equally vicious and sinister devil. The result is predictable: intelligent, open-minded people of a spiritual disposition are driven away by blind extremism, and what remains are the cowed and the clueless, more terrorized and enslaved than ever.
The angry, vindictive, and all-powerful God was not a central concept to ancient Christianity, but it has certainly become so today. It is a doctrine that is psychologically destructive to those who submit to it in a way that those who do not dwell within an immersive, impassioned community of faith cannot understand. That is the world in which I was raised: an alternate reality where every aspect of daily life, the fall of every sparrow, is enmeshed with the spirit and intent of God. God was in and of everything we did, felt, touched, ate, and said, and She could not have been more real, especially to someone raised in that world. For people enveloped by an overpowering evangelical theology, God is behind every door and in every thought. The devil is, too. Imagine the soul-deep terror of being told that this deity was poised like a jungle cat to pounce on you at any time in your life for the slightest infraction and send your soul into the eternal depths of a fiery hell where you would suffer without solace forever. I had nightmares about it. Anyone brought up in that tradition who says he didn’t is probably lying.
Getting past this man-made caricature of God can bring about an element of peace on the planet that all of us desire but are afraid to accept conceptually. It’s as if we are stuck in a pathetic rut of fear, shame, and guilt brought on by the image of a God who sees us as pathetic as well. Many so-called believers don’t believe or know the Gospel, they just believe and know the gossip! They don’t preach Christ, they preach crisis!
In 1 Timothy 4:7, Scripture reads, “Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly.” Notice it said “train yourself.” One of my next books will follow up on this, as a training manual for those who desire to train themselves to be godly. Doing so has nothing to do with being a Christian or any other religious affiliation. It has to do with recovering and then being your authentic self.
The King James Version uses the word fables, which translates to the Greek word for myths, which is muthos . (As in my previous book, I will use the etymology of the Bible in order to reveal its true meaning.) It comes from the Greek word mueo, meaning “to initiate,” and is the base of the word musterion, the source of our word mystery. This is where we get the idea of rites of initiation, secret oaths, and mysterious vows. This is actually one of the definitions of occultism.
Much of Christianity today has deteriorated into a kind of cult of myths and secret rites of initiation rather than a free and open spiritual consciousness of the Christ Principle and Person. Christ has gotten lost in the mix of doctrinal elitism and exclusionary dogma. This is why a great man of God like Gandhi said, “I may have become Christian, were it not for Christians.” Yet have you ever wondered where some of our traditions and orthodoxy come from? Orthos is Greek for “straight” (orthodontists straighten teeth, orthopedic surgeons straighten joints, and so on). Orthodoxy means “to correct [straighten] doctrine or teaching”—presumably truth, not teeth. But correct according to whom? In the days that our Christian doctrines were written, Roman spirituality prevailed. Christianity was not even a half century old when most of the New Testament letters were written and the doctrines were being developed. Some of the alleged writers actually knew the man who was the Rock for the new faith—knew His teachings, knew the touch of His hands, and the compassion of His heart. He was not some abstraction upon which the avarice of our time can be projected. Jesus of Nazareth, called Christ, was physically and forcefully real for these authors.
How then can we pervert what they had to say about Christ’s intent and assume our interpretations are more valid? How can we ignore the simple beauty and truth of Christ Consciousness? I would suggest that we can afford to do so no longer.
GOD OF THE CLOUDS
In the Bible, clouds are always associated with heavenly things or with God. Clouds are also metaphors for sorrows, sufferings, or providential circumstances. Yet it is through these very clouds that the Spirit of God teaches us how to walk by faith. If there were never any clouds in our lives, we would have no need for faith. God cannot be recognized sometimes except by the imprint She makes on the clouds of our lives. She does not always come in clear, shining brightness. She is often foggy and murky and difficult to perceive.
However, it is not presumed true that God only wants to teach us something via our life’s trials. Perhaps God uses clouds to assist us in un learning things. Her purpose is to simplify our beliefs until our relationship with our own divinity is exactly like that of a child—a relationship simply between God and our own souls, and where other people and things are but shadows. Until other people’s opinions, dogmas, and versions of faith become as shadows to us, clouds and darkness will block our vision, not clarify it. Ask yourself, Is your relationship with God becoming more simple or more complicated?
There is a connection between the strange providential circumstances allowed by God and what we know of Her or of the Divine, and we have to learn to interpret the mysteries of life in the light of both our knowledge of God—and our ignorance of Her. Contrary to what some religious leaders would have you believe, we do not know God. We do not comprehend Her thought or know Her mind: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. (Are you hanging in there with the “Her” references?) Scripture supports this premise in Isaiah 55:8. There are numerous interpretations of this presence that we call God:
an anthropomorphic, unitary being who intervenes in each person’s life and judges souls as bound for heaven or hell (the traditional interpretation);
a dispassionate watchmaker who set the universe in motion and now sits back and observes;
a universal Consciousness that underlies all creation but does not have an individual identity, a view known as panpsychism;
a Consciousness that dwells within each conscious being, making each human a sort of “Mini-Me” version of God, also known as pantheism, Greek for “God in or of everything”;
the earth and nature, a pagan view personified as Gaia (a female deity) that comes from Greek mythology.
All of these views may be valid, none of them may be valid, or the answer may lie somewhere in between. The point is that we do not know God, so to assume that She conforms to any mold based on human ignorance, observation, speculation, fear, and self-delusion is to commit an arrogant fiction. Until we can come face-to-face with the deepest, darkest facts of life without viewing God in the evil ways in which we regard Her now, we do not yet know Her, or have not encountered her accurately.
Our view of God and Christ is so clouded by politics, deception, time, and delegated authority that the whole concept of faith becomes a blank canvas upon which anyone can project any version of God that justifies his or her desires or actions. In Mark 9:7–8, we read, “Then a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and a voice came from the cloud: ‘This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!’ Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.” This was on the Mountain of Transfiguration, where Moses, representing the Law, and Elijah, representing the Prophets (sounds like a boxing match or a court battle, doesn’t it?), had appeared along with Jesus. All this happened in a cloud that brought fear and confusion, and after the cloud disappeared, all the disciples were left with was Jesus, the Christ Principle. Jesus is the fulfillment and infusion of both the Law and the Prophecies, and yet most of those claiming to be followers of Christ still hold to the confusion of the Law and Prophecies, neither of which most people have ever fully understood. Perhaps we don’t expect to.
JESUS CHRIST, SUPER … HERO?
Now I’ll go back to referring to God as Him for convenience. How much did it jar your perception to have God referred to as She for a while? What does that say about how hardened your idea of God is? Even I still struggle somewhat with referring to God in the feminine, due to my own preconceived conditioning (and perhaps a little chauvinism to boot).
The purpose of this section is to break through two millennia of confusion about God and Christ—to set you and all of us on the path of understanding and investigation of a presumed more accurate nature of God and man. This is not an easy task, for self-deception about Christ in particular began not long after His death. Jesus is the man; Christ is the mind. We can read in 1 Thessalonians 4:9–13:
Now about brotherly love we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. And in fact, you do love all the brothers throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers, to do so more and more.
Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.
Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words.
This kind of language was used in the first-century church to encourage people who were floundering in their faith and trying to understand why such horrible things were being allowed to happen to followers of Christ. The people were frightened, confused, and losing courage daily. Nothing was making any sense. There was no great emphasis on miracles or preaching or soul-winning crusades. The church leaders were all now in or approaching their seventies and eighties. Jesus had been gone for nearly forty years, and all hell was breaking loose on Christians and Christianity—not so much by resistant Jews but by an entire imperial structure with sword-bearing armies and coliseums full of Roman citizens eager to see the Christians fed to wild beasts and otherwise tortured in a paid public forum. It was the equivalent, in spirit, of today’s “torture porn” movies or cage fighting.
In this insane time, people were looking for Jesus to return and rescue them like some sort of bearded Superman. In my more wicked moments, I can see him swooping in like Mighty Mouse, or Batman, perhaps coming from the Christ Cave with his faithful sidekick Messiah Boy, singing, “Here I come to save the day!”
Blasphemous? Perhaps. But that is how infantile our percep tions of God have become, supported by such pandering spiritual ineptness as the Left Behind series of novels. In the early days of the church, such tales had a purpose: in the face of these unexplainable horrors, all the Apostles could do was emphasize (and perhaps fantasize) the second coming of Christ, when all of this horror would supposedly end and the church would be transported into the glorious, blissful presence of God. Well, it didn’t happen then and it won’t happen now, at least not in the elementary and superstitious, fairy-tale way we have been taught it would. Millions of Christians were reportedly tortured and martyred during those awful years. What grew from that time was an angry and bitter religion, the leaders of which later implemented these same hateful schemes against any who violated or even challenged church dogmas. We became what our tormentors were and remain so, though we dignify our tactics now as patriotism or “defending the faith and preserving Christian morals and values.”
TIME TO GROW UP
We are losing this so-called war because we have fallen into blind dogma and the perpetuation of religious hierarchies rather than the teaching of the fundamental principles of Christ Consciousness. Christ is a principle, a consciousness, a purpose, and finally a person. Christology is an ideology. Jesus was a person, Christ was the principle. Jesus was a man, but He is not a superhero coming to rescue us. That and many of the other simplistic tales underlying today’s deeply divisive Christian culture are nothing more than fabrications that have gained the patina of truth by virtue of being repeated for centuries.
And why should it be different? Why should we want a superhero Christ to come back to earth on a fiery chariot and deliver us from Satan? What is the difference between being subject to the rule of an eternal being versus an infernal being? Either way, we are relegated to eternity as lesser creatures subject to the whims of our betters. We stop evolving and growing. That couldn’t be God’s or creation’s intention for us. Jesus, also called Christ, did not come to mankind to lay the foundation for His rule over us; He came to inspire us to become like Him in spirit and consciousness. That is Christ Consciousness, a grown-up version of belief in which God is a true parent, teaching His children what they need and turning them loose to make mistakes, perhaps suffer injury, but in the end to mature and transform. Jesus didn’t necessarily die to save us from our sins; He was instead killed because we in our religious misinformation are sinful. From Zeus to Jezeus, humankind has forever sought to appease a perceived hostile deity. Jesus’ death was a wake-up call, not a gateway to some mystical dimension. As with Dr. King, sometimes it takes a sacrifice to open the eyes of the world. The Old Testament requirements for blood as atonement are supposed to be replaced by grace and gracious love. Because this was not understood, Jesus was executed. Jews saw it as justifiable retribution, Christians see it as justifiable restitution. Either way, it is at worst senseless and barbaric, and at best, violent and excessive misinterpretation.
It is time to grow up as Christians and as a world community of faithful in whatever brand of God we support. It is time to understand that “God” is simply a concept we use to allow our limited human minds to grasp the oneness and eternity of the presence that dwells in everything—and within us. We cannot continue along our path of religious and cultural elitism. The Christian Church, as well as other ambitious religions, cannot coexist with a vile viciousness of spirit. We must wake up and see what we are becoming and where we are going as a world, a nation, a church, and a people. Albert Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. I know this seems abrupt, and even abrasive, but let’s see if our world can be different by trying some different tactics, even if they seem a bit radical.
Biologist and complex systems expert Stuart Kauffman writes in his book Reinventing the Sacred: A New View of Science, Reason, and Religion, “Shall we use the ‘God’ word? We do not have to, yet it is still our most powerful invented symbol. Our sense of God has evolved from Yahweh in the desert some 4,500 years ago, a jealous, law-giving warrior God, to the God of love that Jesus taught. How many versions have people worshipped in the past 100,000 years? Yet what is more awesome: to believe that God created everything in six days, or to believe that the biosphere came into being on its own, with no creator, and partially lawlessly? I find the latter proposition so stunning, so worthy of awe and respect, that I am happy to accept this natural creativity in the universe as a reinvention of ‘God.’ From it, we can build a sense of the sacred that encompasses all life and the planet itself.”
Whether you accept or reject the idea of God, the sacredness of all life is a goal devoutly to be wished.
© 2010 Bishop Carlton Pearson
God Dwells with Us, in Us, Around Us, as Us
God Is Not a Christian, Nor a Jew, Muslim, Hindu...
God Dwells with Us, in Us, Around Us, as Us
What is God? Where is God? Who is the one true God? Questions such as these have driven a thousand human struggles, through war, terrorism, and oppression. Humanity has responded by branching off into multiple religions, including Christianity, Judaism, Islam—each one pitted against the other. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
In God Is Not a Christian, nor a Jew, Muslim, Hindu . . . , the provocative and acclaimed Bishop Carlton Pearson follows up on his celebrated first book, The Gospel of Inclusion, to tackle these questions and many more, exploring new ideas about God and faith and putting forth the stunning assertion that God belongs to no particular religion but is an ever-loving presence available to all. For these beliefs, Bishop Pearson lost his thriving Pentecostal ministry but was catapulted instead into a greater pulpit. His readership has grown through appearances on national television and an extensive speaking schedule. With the world in the midst of a holy war, there is no better time for the wisdom of Bishop Pearson to reach a global audience.
Bishop Pearson’s many loyal fans, along with new readers, will surely welcome this provocative and eye-opening exploration of a deeper faith, one that goes far beyond any fundamentalist way of thinking, be it Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, etc. Simply put, Bishop Pearson dares to tell the truth so many others are too afraid to face.