PROGRESSIVE RELIGION AND INTEGRAL POLITICS
PART ONE: PROLOGUE
The Devil is in the detail
Ken Wilber has often said he is merely dealing in orienting generalizations. He has said that he is providing the broad outline and that others must fill in the detail. This is a perfectly reasonable position to take. It has one problem. What happens if the detail disproves the generalization? Several critics on this site, including myself, have pointed out that some of Wilber’s generalizations are not supported by the detail, and where he does include detail he sometimes gets it plain wrong.
This is unfortunate, and dangerous for the integrity of the overall theory. It erodes his credibility. I still find much to admire in his work but I also find things to be critical of, even to reject. There is a lesson in this for anyone interested in integral theory, to pay attention to the detail, and above all to pay attention to the facts. The devil is in the detail.
I’ve already covered much of what I find wrong in Wilber. Other writers have done an excellent job in areas of interest to them. My concerns now are about applying integral theory to real problems and in confronting the devils in the detail. What integral theory can least afford is to build an ivory tower for itself and hide away behind a self-made wall of grand theory, generalization and jargon. I’m always suspicious of jargon. It usually serves one main purpose, to create an us and them divide. If you do not use and understand the jargon you are not one of ‘us’.
A perfect example of both the ivory tower syndrome and the use of jargon is Don Beck’s article ‘Hard Truths and a Fresh Start‘. This is an article that promises much and delivers absolutely nothing. I understand this is a harsh criticism but it has to be said. The Israel-Palestine conflict is too serious to be taken lightly and Beck promises a unique solution. And what finally, is that solution? As in most of what he writes it is Spiral Dynamics and closely related ideas. This is simply self-serving (I don’t believe he was seriously offering a solution anyway, just promoting SD). In this particular instance the solution seems to be something called an ‘Integral Sapient Circle.’ Yep, that’s the buzz word amongst Hamas supporters in Gaza – all we need is an ISC. Am I being cruel?
Beck certainly understands the problem is complex but I’m afraid he leaves out one of those devilish details. For an ISC to work it has to have the full support of those it seeks to serve and they must be willing to implement its recommendations fully. If the ISC tells them they are wrong about a particular issue they must be willing to accept their judgment. Furthermore, the ISC must have the power to implement its decisions in the face of inevitable opposition. Now, in writing just those few words I have described the problem in a nutshell. No-one is prepared to admit they are wrong, no-one trusts anyone, let alone a ‘third’ voice, and no-one has the necessary power to enforce a solution. The irony of course is that if the various parties were at a stage to understand and accept an ISC intervention then they would be at a point to compromise and make concessions anyway, which would mean they would already be most of the way there. Or is Beck proposing to impose the ISC?
This is what I mean by the devil being in the detail. If all the parties were at a stage to accept the judgment of the ISC then they would also be able to find their own solution and the ISC would largely be redundant. Beck has offered a ‘big picture’, ivory tower solution that ignores essential detail. It also glosses over the fact that much of the conflict is over detail. The issue of the Temple Mount is central to the conflict and the two extreme positions are irreconcilable. Any compromise solution is a loss for both extremes. How could this then be a ‘win, win,’ solution for either extreme? On some issues there is no win-win for all the sides with a stake in the issue – if the Third Temple is to built the al-Aqsa mosque must be destroyed, if the al-Asqa mosque remains the Third Temple cannot be built.
In many ways Beck is being naïve. He says:
In fact, I personally believe that the Israeli culture, when in a healthy and unthreatened condition, represents the highest First World peak in the Middle East. Legitimate democracy flourishes in the society, as well as a full compendium of human rights, especially with regard to the role of women. I don’t see how anybody can deny this reality.
I happen to agree, but in saying this he has just alienated large sections of the Muslim world. These three sentences destroy any chance of his proposal being taken seriously by Muslims. They will read it as an insult. For, in their worldview, he is imposing decadent Western concepts of Israeli cultural superiority, democracy, human rights and the role of women onto Islam. Islam is the ‘true’ word and intent of God, it is complete in itself and is therefore ‘superior’ to both Judaism and Christianity . This is one of the important details he has missed – a detail that kills his proposal before it even has a heartbeat.
This is what integral theory must be aware of – the devil in the detail.
The two ethical imperatives
Wilber has spoken of the prime directive, a concept I believe has great merit. In fact I believe it is the central driving force behind any integral solution. If I disagree with any solution proposed by an integral theorist it will usually be on the grounds that the prime directive is better served by other solutions. In my writings on political economy I suggest that economic justice is vital to serving the prime directive and that some integral thinkers have not fully understood that capitalism, especially the neo-liberal version, does not lead to economic justice.
But there is also a second and equally important ethical imperative, the need to discover and tell the truth. No-one is served by lies, inaccuracy and incorrect theories. You cannot bake a cake with the wrong recipe. Any integral solution must be based on an accurate analysis – to push the metaphors even further – there’s no point going on a journey through New Zealand with a map of Tolkein’s Middle Earth; it’s a map of a place that doesn’t exist.
I know there’s considerable debate over the nature of truth, in fact I hope to write a future piece on how the integral community sometimes indulges in epistemological relativism and some shady theories about truth and the nature of reality. The truth does exist, even when we are not certain what the truth is precisely. Yes, there are enormous areas of uncertainty but at the same time there is a great deal of certainty and predictability. But even more important, there is falsity. Even if we are not certain about what is true we can be certain about what is false. Even though we may not know how the Kosmos was created we do know that it wasn’t created by the Giant Spaghetti Monster, or by Zeus – or really, seriously, by God in seven days.
When you consider the two primary ethical imperatives together you are compelled to act in a way that protects developmental evolution by honouring what is true. This also leads to the obvious point that developmental evolution cannot be helped by that which is false. To be even more direct, developmental evolution will be blocked and even reversed by that which is false. All ideologies based on falsity will end up causing a developmental pathology. They are false paths that lead to nowhere good.
Wilber has used the terms, the Good, the True and the Beautiful. In philosophy these three are linked, what is True is also Good and Beautiful. In understanding this we need to understand the origin of the word ‘Beautiful’ as perhaps being closer to the Latin concept of beatus, meaning blessed. We are talking here of a divine attribute, a radiance. The authentically spiritual is revealed through what is True, Good and Radiant.
There is a discipline in truth finding and truth telling. It is a contemplative path that cuts harshly through the mind’s tendency toward fantasy. We are story tellers and we like to comfort ourselves with convenient and pleasant lies. In traumatic circumstances the mind will create an alternative reality, sometimes that alternative reality is so far from the truth that we call it madness. At its heart philosophy is the rigorous search for the truth. In the beginning this was also a spiritual quest. Wilber has adequately explained how spirituality was divorced from Western philosophy – a post Aristotelian false direction.
But what has all this got to do with Christianity? Well, precisely this: it turns out that when we get into the devilish detail about Christianity we find out that it’s all lies – all of it, especially the bit about the Devil. I like this twist – when you examine the detail you find there is no devil in the detail– and no Christ, and possibly no Jesus. Everything is up for grabs.
This is important because Christianity, as an ideology based on lies and error, has been perhaps the single most important cause of developmental regress and arrest in the world – yes, the world, the whole planet. Christian missionaries have invaded every corner of the planet spreading a false doctrine. It has devastated many cultures and even today, Western powers pressure non-Western cultures to adopt laws based on Christian concepts, particularly in the area of morality. Christianity’s attempt to control morality has had destructive effects, yet, paradoxically, because of its reliance on lies it ends up being a thoroughly immoral ideology – it consistently breaks the two ethical imperatives mentioned above.
Christian hegemony was an important factor in the decline of spiritual philosophy. By replacing philosophy with a theology based on lies the original teachings of several philosophical schools were distorted, allowing a later materialist reaction to arise. By taking God out of nature and out of man and placing Him in a remote heaven, Christianity created the dualism that allowed science to concentrate exclusively on nature and ignore God. If God was separate from His creation then he could be kept separate and out of mind.
Perhaps the most devastating consequence of Christian theology is its emphasis on faith. As I will argue below the early Christian ideologues struggled against competing ideas about Christ and the nature of God and the Cosmos. They could not argue from evidence because they had none, instead they argued from faith. Today orthodox Christians still defend their beliefs against an ever increasing amount of contrary evidence by arguing from faith. The American fundamentalist responds to the hard evidence contradicting a literal interpretation of the Bible by constructing a rationale based on faith alone – it is so because I believe it is so. We might choose to ridicule such fundamentalist beliefs, however, it is not the specific belief that is the real problem. By raising an argument from faith to the same epistemological status as an argument from facts and reason, Christianity has opened the door for other beliefs to use the same excuse. Thus a whole range of bizarre and contradictory belief systems claim a ‘right’ to exist solely on the basis of a supposed ‘right’ to faith. This diminishes the power of what is true and merely creates a confusing array of false paths based on fantasies and lies – it plunges the world into gobbledygook.
PART TWO: CHRISTIANITY – THE REAL STORY (SO FAR)
One of the most startling and disturbing admissions I have ever heard from a devout Christian came from the mouth of Tim LaHaye, one of the main ideologues of the American Christian right. He has said that growing up his family never read the newspapers. They relied on their pastor to tell them what was important. This has been the pattern for many Christians, especially those aligned to specific sects. They are indoctrinated. They grow up being taught to interpret the world through the lens of the Bible rather than to read the Bible through the lens of the world. They grow up with a completely distorted view of history.
We might easily dismiss this if weren’t also for the fact that in so many ways the average Westerner’s view of history is coloured by the Christian narrative. It has so infiltrated our consciousness that much of it is unconscious. We interpret the Roman empire through the prejudice of the Christian narrative. People still believe the Roman empire collapsed because it was decadent and immoral. We associate orgies with Rome and ignore its substantive technical and political achievements. It is not uncommon to hear people talk about protecting the Judeo-Christian tradition, yet our civilization is actually based on the Greco-Roman tradition. The Judeo-Christian tradition has actually contributed little, and then much of what it has contributed has been regressive. In fact, what is not understood is that Christianity itself is really a form of Greco-Judaism that interpreted the mystery traditions literally. The literalist explanation is so incomplete and incoherent that theologians had to return to Greek philosophy to fill in large gaps and try and make some sense of the absurdities. Aquinas borrowed heavily from Aristotle, particularly the Nichomachean Ethics
To understand Christianity you have to understand the entire period. The Bible only tells a fraction of the story. The New Testament is an edited document that excludes a much larger number of documents vital to understanding the religious issues of the day.
We are inclined to see the Roman empire as tyrannical and oppressive. Indeed, it was ruthless and brutal, but no more ruthless and brutal than other empires. But there is another side to the Roman empire, the Pax Romana allowed periods of stability and abundance that created the conditions in which the developmental spectrum could flourish. Indeed, ‘Rome’ was more a concept of an ideal society and anyone, no matter their ethnic origin, could become a Roman citizen. A part of this was a general tolerance of religion (provided the religion did not question Roman power). This resulted in a syncretic flow of religious ideas throughout the empire. Egyptian, Greek, Persian and Jewish mystery traditions influenced each other to form new religious expressions. Greek philosophical schools thrived and challenged and informed the Egyptian, Jewish, Persian and Roman worldviews. The combination of Greek and Egyptian ideas created the Hermetic tradition, similarly Greek philosophy inspired Jewish thinkers, and the esoteric tradition of Jewish mysticism which had originally been inspired by Sumerian/Chaldean mysticism, mixed with Egyptian motifs. From time to time different sects would gain prominence, sometimes being patronized by influential senators or Caesars.
But, if you had been raised a Christian it is unlikely you would have been told all this. Instead you would have got a rather narrow education in the Biblical narrative where Jesus is the product of a strictly Jewish history, when, in reality, he acted more like a Greek philosopher/mystic preaching a syncretic religion that incorporated some heterodox Jewish elements – if indeed, he existed at all.
It is here however, that we face an insurmountable problem, no-one knows anything for certain. There has been a massive amount of work put into researching the truth of the Bible, from a range of different disciplines. There is much disagreement and very little consensus. The major religions each have their own experts, and then the different Christian denominations also have their experts. The US fundamentalists fund researchers who are determined to prove the literal truth of the Bible, and of course, the Catholic church has had an enormous impact on the field for centuries. There are good, independent scholars and it is these we must rely on, but even then, these scholars are uncertain, cautious and often very conservative in their pronouncements.
Then there is another problem, the work takes time. Between 1902 and 1914 four German expeditions returned from the Silk Road region with a large number of texts in various languages, including the dead languages of Sogdian and Tocharian. They contained texts vital to understanding Manichaeism, especially its influence on Gnosticism. They also revealed the existence of a Jewish-Christian baptizing sect, the Elchasites. However, only one fourth of this collection has been published to date.
Perhaps more well known is the scandal around the research and publication of the Dead Sea Scrolls, with accusations that the Catholic church was trying to suppress damaging information.
So there is a caveat over what follows. It is all disputed. But this is the point. No-one can assert to know what really happened. This means that there is enough credible evidence for us to say to any Christian; you cannot be certain and intellectual honesty demands that you suspend your belief. Faith is no excuse. If independent scholars are honest to admit they are speculating, you should be similarly honest and admit that the entire Bible is speculation.
The other side of the story
So what have the independent scholars discovered? I can only provide some tantalizing snippets.
The Christian Old Testament consists of the Jewish Torah, called the Pentateuch, plus additional writings. Jewish religious literature contains material not usually read by Christians, such as the Midrash, a collection of stories, some of which give alternative versions of well known Biblical stories. In one Midrash Adam first has sex with Lilith, who demands she take the dominant sexual position. Adam gets angry and she leaves. She is then cursed by God and gives birth to demons. Adam then goes onto to marry the much more compliant Eve. In another Midrash John the Baptist is accused of practicing Egyptian rites. All of this makes sense when you understand the highly syncretic nature of religion. Lilith is a version of the Sumerian Belit-ili, worshipped by the Canaanites as Belili – and the Egyptian cult of Isis, which used baptism, was popular throughout the Levant, even reaching Rome. Naturally these variations were a challenge to the Christian narrative.
Most Jews recognize that their tradition is a mixture of real history and myth, even orthodox Jews recognize this. It is therefore somewhat bizarre that Christian fundamentalists take the Bible so literally. There are Jewish literalists, but Jewish orthodoxy is more related to how strictly you observe Jewish religious law. However, recent archaeological discoveries have challenged some of the most cherished parts of Jewish history; Moses and the Passover, the conquest of Canaan by Joshua (the walls of Jericho), the rule of King Solomon and even the rule of King David. Archaeological research however has supported other aspects of the Bible.
So, who were the ancient Hebrews? It is now thought that the Hebrews had always been in Palestine. They shared much with the Canaanites but began to differentiate, perhaps by taking on different beliefs and rituals. Very early diggings show villages of similar construction but some contain the remains of pigs, whilst others do not. There is no evidence of a large Jewish presence in Egypt, however there is overwhelming evidence of a strong Egyptian presence in Palestine. It seems that over a long span of time the border between Egypt and Palestine shifted with Canaanites and Hebrews expanding into Egypt and Egypt expanding into and colonizing Palestine. The Passover narrative and the conquest of Canaan seems to be a mythologized narrative of how the Hebrews differentiated themselves and came to be the dominant cultural group in Palestine (I will use the abbreviated form of the Roman Syria Palaestina for simplicity, at various times modern Israel was divided into different regions, including the twin Jewish states of Judea and Israel).
Part of this differentiation was the overthrow of the goddess Asherah, the consort of Yahweh. At some point, perhaps during the time of the prophet Jeremiah, the priests ordered the destruction of all statues of Asherah and temples devoted to her. However some survived and archaeologists now believe that her worship was quite extensive. It would seem that the worship of the feminine never quite disappeared, despite the efforts of patriarchal monotheists. The goddess reappears in Gnostic narratives, is retained as the Shekinah, the mystical power that fills the Temple and as hokmah, or Wisdom in Kabbalah.
The next big cultural shift came when the Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the first Temple and enslaved the Jews. It is during this period of the Babylonian exile that the Jews absorbed much of the Sumerian mythology (or consolidated aspects already in Judaism), including the Garden of Eden motif, the Flood story and very likely, the story of Abraham as a derivation of the Primal Man motif. Another intriguing suggestion is that Jewish mysticism (Merkabah and Kabbalah) is derived from Sumerian mysticism (a variation on this is that both the Canaanites and Hebrews were a branch of the Sumerian cultural matrix). This opens up the greater possibility of an Indian link because we know that Sumeria traded with India. This cross fertilization caused interesting resonances. As I will explain later there are aspects of Gnosticism that bear close relation to Tantrism. This is not an argument for an original, single source in India, rather an argument for millennia of cultural exchange. It has to be remembered that at one time Rome had a trade deficit with India and Indian diplomats and priests traveled throughout the region (there is even the suggestion that the early Christian monastic tradition in Egypt was inspired by visiting Buddhist emissaries).
Another important cultural shift came with the conquest of Alexander and the subsequent Greek influence. Greek became the second language of Palestine and Jewish thinkers engaged directly with Greek philosophy. All the Greek philosophical schools had a presence in Palestine and Egypt, especially the important cultural centre of Alexandria, which grew to have a large and important Jewish population. There was therefore a vital exchange between Egyptian, Jewish and Greek traditions (Pythagoras is said to have spent time in Egypt). As a result of this exchange there was a vibrant religious debate with numerous teachers and philosophers setting up schools or going from city to city preaching. Some cities in Palestine were predominantly Greek, with sections of the population sympathetic to Greek cults.
At the time of Jesus the Jewish community was divided into three sectarian groups: the Sadducees who were connected to the Temple and the Jewish aristocracy, the Pharisees who were a populist group opposed to the Sadducees and to Greco-Roman influence, and the Essenes. Many regard the term ‘Essene’ as a misnomer, it is a general term used to categorize several heterodox Jewish groups spread throughout the Jewish community. Some scholars identify three main Essene groups: the famous Qumran community of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Theraputae of Egypt (described by Philo), and the Nazoreans who had a major centre at Mount Carmel in Northern Palestine. It seems that there were important sectarian differences between these groups with the Qumran group maintaining a strict, apocalyptic interpretation of Judaism and the Theraputae and Nazoreans being influenced by Pythagorean, Egyptian and Zoroastrian mysticism.
A sidebar – Islam and the Koran
The Koran accepts much of the Biblical narrative as the literal truth. If research has shown that significant portions of the narrative are wrong then the Koran is also wrong. This is a direct challenge to Muslims who believe the Koran to be the word of God.
John the Baptist
John the Baptist is regarded to have had close contact with the Qumran community but it would seem he also acted independently, setting up his own sect. Some have claimed to have seen an Egyptian influence in his particular use of initiation by baptism. John is of such importance that he is included in the Gospels as the spiritual mentor of Jesus. However there is evidence to contradict this. There exist today a religious group called the Mandaeans, they exist mainly in parts of Syria and Iraq, where they face discrimination and persecution. They claim to be descended from the followers of John the Baptist and they do not recognize Jesus at all. According to their history John the Baptist passed the lineage onto Docitheus and it for this reason the Mandaeans are also called Docitheans (mainly in Muslim sources). The Mandaean literature has been useful in understanding to roots of Gnosticism.
Simon Magus was considered the main rival to Jesus. According the Christian narrative he also performed miracles and taught that he was God in human form. Interestingly, there is an argument that Simon inherited the lineage of John the Baptist from Docitheus. In this version Jesus is rejected by John, or dissents from John’s teachings and the lineage passes to Simon.
Of course the church could not accept a rival to Jesus and so it was argued that Simon’s powers were given to him by the devil. There is an account in Acts where Peter causes the death of Simon in Rome by defeating him in a magic contest. As Simon shows his power by levitating above the crowds Peter prays to God and Simon falls to his death.
Simon is closely linked to Gnosticism and unlike Jesus is said to have written several works. Fragments of his work Apophasis Megale (The Great Pronouncement) exist today. It is reported that he believed that God’s first thought was to create the feminine aspect called ennoia (or Sophia/Wisdom). It is ennoia who creates the angels. They then rebel against her and create the earth as her prison. Simon claimed that he was the aspect of God sent to rescue ennoia from her prison and by spiritually reuniting with her he would release her, thus returning her to her full spiritual glory. This bears a remarkable similarity to the Tantric story of Shiva and Shakti.
It is also reported that Simon had a consort called Helena, who he regarded as the reincarnation of Helen of Troy. This is a direct link into the Greek tradition, as Helen of Troy is regarded in her native Sparta as an aspect of the goddess, particularly of Artemis, the twin sister of Apollo.
Simonian churches survived until the time of Constantine, after which they were suppressed as heretical. There were major centres in Syria, Phrygia, Egypt and Rome with the Alexandrian church took on a philosophical outlook and the Syrian church is alleged to have degenerated into libertinism and magical practices (which occurred in Tantrism as well).
James the Just
James is the brother of Jesus. Robert Eisenman, a leading Dead Sea Scrolls scholar has done extensive research into the life of James. He makes the claim that there was more contemporaneous material written about James than Jesus, yet he is virtually ignored in the New Testament. What the New Testament tells us is that James was the leader of the Jerusalem church and that Paul had an important doctrinal dispute with him, particularly over the issue of circumcision. Eisenman however, paints a different picture. According to his reading of all the available material the dispute between Paul and James is far more pronounced and even violent. Paul is regarded by the Jerusalem church as ‘the liar’.
Eisenman’s research also places James as being very closely associated with the Essene community, so much so that understanding the hermeneutics of Essene literature places quite a different interpretation on Jesus’ teachings. When Jesus says ‘the meek shall inherit the earth’ he may in fact have been referring to the Essenes as ‘the meek’, a name they used to refer to themselves. Eisenman concludes his monumental work (of which there is a second volume to come) by saying, “Who and whatever James was, so was Jesus.” That is, Jesus was a leader of an Essene sect that taught a messianic version of Judaism influenced by Zoroastrian ideas of a war between light and dark, good and evil.
Eisenman makes another startling claim, that the New Testament is the work of Gentiles who deliberately reversed many of the Essene doctrines. In the Jamesian version Paul becomes an enemy of the true community, an enemy compromised by his links to the Romans – an agent provocateur of sorts.
Eisenman also covers another point, that Jesus’ entire family was intimately involved. This fact makes a mockery of the idea of Mary as a perpetual virgin. She had five sons; Jesus, James, Judas, Simon and Joses, and two daughters; Salome and one unnamed (perhaps one of the Marys). Judas may be the same Judas Iscariot (and Simon, Simon Iscariot), who Eisenman says preceded James as the leader of the Jerusalem church. The term Iscariot may mean he was a member of a radical wing of the Essenes closely related to the Zealots, the Sicarii. The recently published Gospel of Judas suggests that Jesus asked Judas to betray him, and furthermore, that Jesus gave him secret teachings. If Judas is the brother of Jesus then this suggests that the events surrounding Jesus’ death were part of a sectarian plan, perhaps to instigate an anti-Roman, anti-Sadducee revolt in which the Essenes would come to power.
Saul of Tarsus
Tarsus was a Hellenized town in Asia Minor. It was regarded to have been an important centre for Mithraism, a religion which rivaled early Christianity. Several scholars have pointed out a great number of similarities between the Christ of Saul and the Greco-Persian god Mithra. Later Pauline Christians absorbed many important symbols and dates from Mithraism, the god Mithra was said to have been born of a virgin, to have performed miracles, to have been sacrificed and resurrected and to have been born on December the 25th. There was even an important Mithraic cave-temple complex on Vatican Hill which was seized by Christians in 376 AD – and the term Pater Patrum, which was later condensed to Pope, was the title of the head Mithraic priest. The coincidences are too numerous to mention and even include a shared sacrament of bread and wine.
One explanation for this is that Saul interpreted his vision on the road to Damascus as a conflation of the Essene messiah and the widespread ‘pagan’ concept of the sacrificial God-King, a concept found in several mystery schools, including Egyptian, Greek and Persian variations. Wilber’s writing helps us understand how this might happen. You may recall that Wilber has said that all authentic spiritual experiences are translated into images appropriate to understanding of the person having the experience. Saul interpreted his experience the only way he knew how.
Eisenman however, suggests another possibility, that Saul, as a Roman citizen, was a rival to the growing militancy of the Jerusalem Essenes headed by James. It’s an old tactic, create a wedge and then divide and conquer. What we do know is that Saul successfully created a rival interpretation of the life of Jesus and removed a good portion of Jewish law from his teachings. The Pauline version of the conflict has James accepting Paul’s revelation and modifications made in order to include Gentiles. Eisenman suggests that James never made such concessions. We will never know for sure. The revolt of 66 AD and the subsequent routing of Jewish resistance also saw the defeat of the Jamesian church and much of the Essene movement. The New Testament is the product of the Roman faction of the Pauline church.
Joshua the Nazorean or Jesus Christ?
I’ve been using the name Jesus, but to be accurate his Hebrew name, Yeshua, should be translated directly into English as Joshua, as are all the other Yeshuas in the Bible. Jesus is actually the English translation of the Roman Jesu, which is itself a translation of the Greek for Yeshua, Iesous. The name Jesus is kept primarily to perpetuate a sense of his uniqueness.
There has been some debate over whether or not Jesus of Nazareth actually came from a town called Nazareth. No-one has found such a town recorded in any source outside the New Testament. Many scholars now believe that the term Nazareth is a misreading of the term Nazorean, a word used to describe one of the Essene sects.
So how did Joshua the Nazorean, brother to James the Just and possibly Judas of the Sicarii, get to become Jesus Christ? The term Christ comes from the Greek khristos, which is closest translation of the Aramaic meshiha. This is usually translated as the anointed one, but the Essene concept of the messiah is far more complex than just the anointed one. To understand Joshua’s actions it is necessary to understand Essene eschatology and from what we understand the Essene messiah brings about the violent end of the world and the restoration of a Jewish ‘New World Order’. This is nothing like the Pauline Christ, a personal saviour.
The Pauline Christ looks more like the concept of the First Man, or Primal Adam. A theme found in several mystery traditions (as Osiris/Dionysus/Mithra). In some of the Gnostic writings Christ becomes a specific spiritual energy that enters the world in order to liberate souls from bondage. The scholar Elaine Pagels has argued that Paul showed Gnostic leanings, but this was later edited out by literalists hostile to Gnosticism. (Many scholars regard some of Paul’s letters to be fakes added later).
This leads us to the conclusion that Christianity is really a fusion of the Essene concept of the Messiah and co-existent Pagan ideas of the dying and resurrected God-man.
It is also important to add that Joshua was not the only so-called messiah to have been executed. Before him history has recorded Simon of Peraea in 4 BCE; Athronges the Shepard, again in 4 BCE; Judas the Galilean in 6 CE; and of course, John the Baptist in 28 CE. The difference between Athronges and Joshua would seem to be the adding of myth of the sacrificial and resurrected king/god-man to the story. Mention can also be made of subsequent self-proclaimed prophets such as the Samaritan prophet, Theudas, and the Egyptian prophet. There were also several potential claimants to the title of secular messiah, or ‘king’.
Nor was Joshua executed with two thieves. In the original Greek they are called lestai, (as was Barabbas, who was freed in the place of Joshua) which was the common Greek name for the Zealots. Crucifixion was a punishment set aside for the crime of sedition, religious heretics were stoned to death. So Joshua was punished for a political crime, alongside two Zealots.
The scholar Karen King has argued in her book ‘What is Gnosticism?’ that the term Gnosticism is actually misleading. She says that what we are really looking at is not one tradition but several traditions that influenced each other, particularly Egyptian, Greek and Persian metaphysical traditions.
Christian Gnosticism arose as the Essene concept of the Messiah and the story of Joshua’s crucifixion mixed with the story of Osiris, Dionysus and Mithra. It has been said that there was a Pythagorean influence on the Essenes. Pythagoras was also said to have been born of a virgin and to have performed miracles. So it is conceivable that the Essene concept of the Messiah was open to a Gnostic interpretation.
(There were several prominent Spartan women in the Pythagorean movement and this may help explain how Simon Magus came to adopt the Helen myth).
There are several Gnostic schools, each with particular emphasis. A common theme is a primal division of the Kosmos into a passive masculine deity who creates an active feminine deity who in turn creates the spiritual world. There is an act of betrayal and the material world is created to trap the soul/feminine deity. A God-man is sent to liberate the soul from its bondage. In her recently released ‘The Secret Gospel of John’ Karen King outlines a scheme in which the Divine Father creates a feminine energy (variously called Barbelo, Ennoia, Pronoia or Protonoia). From Pronoia (or ‘first wisdom’) comes Autogenes-Christ, who in turn creates the twelve Aeons. Autogenes of course means ‘self-born’. In this scheme Pronoia can be seen as the Cosmic Virgin and Christ, her son. The ‘Secret Gospel of John’ bares a remarkable similarity to the teaching of Simon Magus. In her analysis of the gospel King reveals a fusion of Platonic and Jewish themes. The twist is that the Jewish god Yahweh is actually a lower god blamed for imprisoning the soul in the material world.
Another important aspect of Gnosticism was its emphasis on grades of initiation and mention of ‘inner’ mysteries. The Gnostic Gospels found at Nag Hammadi make mention of Joshua taking a favoured disciple aside and giving them secret teachings. The controversial Gospel of Mary Magdalene places her as a leading disciple who receives secret teachings. The place of Mary in the scheme of things is an interesting story in itself, as the New Testament says she is the first to see the risen Christ. The Catholic church has recently apologized for depicting her as a common prostitute, a slander that cannot be substantiated.
The recently released Gospel of Judas also has him receiving secret teachings.
Dumbing down Christianity – Irenaeus and the early literalists
It is not unusual for a religious movement to split into factions after the death of the leader. The sect will remain unified if the teacher leaves clear instructions and a clear successor but will scatter if the teacher leaves no instructions, or ambiguous instructions, and no clear successor. The situation with Christianity is different. It seems to have been cobbled together from different sects that co-existed at the time its leader lived, thus creating a degree of confusion during his time. What we do know is that the early Christian movement was diverse and scattered, with different groups apparently taking a Pauline, Gnostic, or Jamesian (Essene) reading of the meaning of Joshua’s life and crucifixion. James continued to challenge the Sadducees until he was condemned to death by stoning. Paul created a Gentile version of the story and Gnostic groups turned Joshua into the incarnation of the Autogenes, or First Man (Son of Man). The Jamesian church died out when the Romans sacked Jerusalem but the Pauline and Gnostic versions thrived in Egypt and Asia Minor.
However, a number of prominent bishops began to voice concern over the disparate nature of the movement and they began to agitate for unification and for doctrinal purity. The idea for creating a catholic (universal) movement began to gain ground.
Christianity always had to compete against other religions. Mithraism remained popular, especially amongst soldiers. Mithraism however, had one important drawback, it was confined to men and required an oath of secrecy. The Christian movement on the other hand was initially open to women and to slaves. It included those the other religions excluded. But there was another problem. The Gnostic sects were hierarchical and had grades of initiation. They could be elitist. This created a tension between a populist reading of the Christ myth which became increasingly literalist and simplistic, and a more complex, elitist and Gnostic reading of the myth. It would seem there was a power shift toward the populist and literalist members of the early church and this then led to them gaining greater influence, with more and more of them becoming bishops.
One of the most influential was Irenaeus, bishop of Lyon (140-202) – but before we discuss him, it is worth relating an anecdote about his mentor, Justin Martyr (100-165). Justin Martyr himself relates how he moved from one philosophy teacher to another, first a Stoic, then a Peripatetic, a Pythagorean, and finally a Platonist. This anecdote reveals just how vital the culture was – he had access to all these teachings. Finally he heard about the Hebrew prophets and Jesus, and was immediately converted. One reading of this might be that Justin Martyr was a somewhat simple man who could not grasp Greek philosophy but could readily accept a literalist reading of the Christ myth. This is a very real possibility because even today the debates of the Greek philosophical schools are of no interest to the majority of people, they are seen an obscure and elitist, and many people prefer a much simpler narrative by which to live.
Irenaeus understood this and he agitated to simplify Christianity. He is regarded as the chief architect of the New Testament canon of the four gospels. He also wrote an influential critique of rival schools of Christianity, the five volume ‘On the Detection and Overthrow of the So-Called Gnosis’ or as it is commonly known ‘Against Heresies’. In this work he describes and condemns a number of rival gospels and Gnostic sects. He claims that many of them are simply fantasists, and one has to admit he has a point. There had been a breakdown of doctrinal discipline and some of the Gnostic sects had degenerated into cultish practices. However, over time some of the gospels and documents he referred to have been recovered and we can now read them for ourselves. What is clear is that Irenaeus was a propagandist for a literalist interpretation of the Christ story. He was anti-elitist and condemned the existence of initiatory grades and secret teachings. In doing so he threw the baby out with the bathwater.
The rest is history. What followed was that the literalists steadily gained in power and influence and by the time of Constantine’s conversion, and backed by his authority, they were able to impose a ‘catholic’ doctrine and actively ban any movement they regarded as heresy. This was often done with some violence. One of the most damning incidents was the murder of Hypatia (355-415), she was a prominent Platonic philosopher and scholar in Alexandria. She was declared a heretic and a mob urged on by Christian monks grabbed her, stripped her naked and dragged her into the street, where they ripped her skin off with shells, pulled her body apart, finally burning some parts of it and tossing the others over the city wall.
It is this incident which would seem to mark the descent into the Dark Ages where the Christians, who had once been persecuted, became the persecutors. What followed were centuries of the violent suppression of ‘heretical’ and pagan sects, the creation of an oppressive ‘catholic’ church and the loss of considerable technical and scientific knowledge, much of which had to be rediscovered almost a thousand years after it was lost.
One of the most useful tools of the literalist Christians was the creation of the Devil. The Devil, some will be surprised to know, does not actually appear in the Old Testament, at least, not as a fully formed character. In a forthcoming book, ‘A Biography of the Devil’, professor Henry Kelly points out that in the Old Testament the work of the Devil is actually the work of several angels working on God’s behalf to test people’s faith.
The Christian concept of the Devil was a creation of the literalists, beginning with Justin Martyr who confused the Gnostic/Zoroastrian concept of a negative force with the serpent in the Garden of Eden.
As the literalists waged their war on paganism and heresy the Devil began to take form. He began to be represented as a distorted Pan-like figure. As the theology of the Devil began to grow it became a useful tool to use to frighten and intimidate people. Christianity used a carrot and stick approach, with some Christians preferring the stick approach. Thus Christianity began to become obsessed with the Devil and to see his work everywhere. This created a Satanic hysteria that led to the truly brutal period of the Inquisition and the Witch trials.
The Devil also became a useful rhetorical device. Any doctrine or person who dared disagree with the literalists were said to have been under the influence of Satan. Thus the rival for Jesus’ fame, Simon Magus, was said to have gained all his power from the Devil. Convenient, no?
But it gets even more absurd than that. The literalists knew of the many similarities between the pagan myths and the myth of the risen Christ. To explain the blatant similarities they invented the doctrine of ‘diabolical mimicry’. Satan was so clever they said, that he planted the story of Jesus in the minds of the pagans and heretics ‘before’ it even happened, just to confuse us later. Yeah, right.
The concept of the Devil is absolutely essential to the literalists. They are no longer required to justify their absurd beliefs, all they need do is accuse their critics of being under the diabolical influence of the Devil. Of course this is a whopping contradiction – if they read the Bible literally then they must accept that the Devil does not exist, it is actually God who tempts man.
The central belief of Christianity is that Jesus was the only Son of God, born of a virgin. He was sent by God to deliver a New Testament. He died on the cross and was resurrected in order to provide redemption. He was sacrificed so we may be saved. All we need do is believe this to be true, obey God’s commands and we will live in heaven for eternity. That’s it in a nutshell. It’s a simple belief that has hypnotized billions of people for over two thousand years – a long dream, or a long nightmare, depending on your perspective.
Is the world a better place? Clearly not. Jerusalem is still the centre of conflict, only it’s not Essene Zealots and Sicarii waging a terrorist/guerilla war against the corrupt Sadducee/Roman alliance and occupation, it’s the Islamist and Palestinian zealots waging a terrorist/guerilla war against the corrupt Jewish/US alliance and occupation. The US is the new Roman empire. What has changed? Despite its Christian clothing the US is as venal, corrupt and oppressive as the Roman empire. Instead of turning their thumbs down in public in the Coliseum the modern presidents turn their thumbs down in private, condemning thousands to death at a time.
The modern narrative of Christianity arose out of a period of competition and synthesis where multiple narratives co-existed in a creative interplay. We can’t be certain about any of it. At the moment I’m leaning toward the idea, as are a growing number of scholars, that the historical Joshua was a leader of a group of Nazorean Essenes. He either believed in the Messiah story or used it to try and inspire a rebellion against the hated Sadducees. The crucifixion narrative can be read as an attempt by Joshua to directly challenge the Temple priests and inspire a popular revolt, bringing the Essene doctrine to prominence – the ‘meek’ (the Essenes) shall inherit the earth. It fails and he is executed. His brother James continues Joshua’s mission until he too is prosecuted by the Sanhedrin and executed by stoning.
This story of a noble, if somewhat politically motivated, sacrifice fits neatly into the common pagan theme of the sacrificial king. It inspired those of a Gnostic bent to equate Joshua with the Gnostic autogenes. The Gnostic Paul has a violent disagreement with James and he takes his mission to the heart of the Roman empire. Roughly a century later those Christians who are not initiated into the inner mysteries gain influence and create a literalist reading of the autogenes myth. They eventually gain power and ruthlessly suppress all rival groups. History is written by the victors and the New Testament is a closely edited document designed to support the literalist narrative, excising the Gnostic aspects of Paul.
But the fabric of the literalist narrative has been falling apart. They didn’t destroy all the heretical texts and couldn’t imagine the extensive forensic powers of archaeology. The heretics have begun to speak again.
It’s interesting how history forms patterns. The literalist narrative was supported by the power of the Roman empire. Today the centre of literalism is the US empire. This is worth serious reflection. How much does the literalist narrative act to create compliant subjects for imperialist ambitions? But that is the subject for another essay.
PART THREE – AN INTEGRAL ANALYSIS
Wilber has provided us with a good way to judge religions. They can be authentic or legitimate. I would suggest that we can add a further distinction. A religion may also be regarded as progressive or regressive. It’s perhaps a subtle distinction but I believe it adds a useful nuance. A religion is authentic if it leads to an authentic spiritual experience. It is legitimate simply if it is a commonly accepted religion. A legitimate religion may not be authentic. I would add that both an authentic and legitimate religion can be either progressive or regressive. Integral theory requires a spiritual path to be both authentic and progressive.
A progressive religion is one that encourages some form of personal development. Ideally it should provide a path of development right up to nondual realization. It can however, be considered partially progressive if it stimulates development along part of the spectrum.
A religion is regressive where it either blocks development or causes a devolutionary move.
For the most part Christianity has been a regressive, albeit legitimate religion. Any authentic component has been accidental and tentative, always on the edge of being labeled a heresy. Any progressive element has in fact, been the result of the influence of outside forces, namely the reintroduction of Greek philosophy, and in recent times, the infusion of Eastern philosophy and the rediscovery of Gnosticism.
I’m afraid I take a rather dark view of the heart of Christianity. Based on a lie it cannot help but be regressive and struggle to discover authenticity. For the majority of believers it offers a fantasy, an easy theology that excuses them from making any real effort at discovering the truth. At its worst it is a dangerous doctrine that seriously misleads and deludes its followers, taking them across the chasm into group psychosis.
Christianity is one of the major obstacles to the realization of an authentic and progressive spirituality. Yet its roots run deep. It will not be easily challenged (and this is a massive understatement). But it must challenged and its authentic and progressive elements rescued and reconfigured.
Mistaking the blue vMeme for Christianity
In several discussions about Christianity members of the integral community have argued that deconstructing Christianity is tantamount to deconstructing the Blue vMeme itself, thus undermining the whole spiral. This is not true and is based on a misunderstanding about the nature of memes and vMemes, and of Christianity.
Beck and Cowan describe the vMemes as like strange attractors drawing the appropriate memes toward them. I have argued that the developmental levels can be regarded as Jungian archetypes. They are structures of the unconscious which are empty of themselves. As with the other archetypes, ‘meaning’, and its symbols and signifiers, are drawn to the appropriate archetype.
Christianity is a collection of symbols, signifiers and memes, that’s all. These memes are drawn to the appropriate level, but are not the level itself. What I am suggesting is that we replace the regressive and redundant memes, the junk DNA, with progressive and more accurate memes. There are many Christians who are simply being fed junk food, junk memes – and it’s bad for their spiritual diet.
These regressive and redundant memes can be drawn to any of the levels, not just Blue. Christianity is so broad that encompasses many levels, at its lowest it can express Purple (Christ as a magical healer) and at its highest it can even reach Turquoise (although this involves a considerable theological act of contortion where Christ is morphed into a Gnostic Cosmic Christ, thus actually, in my view, ceasing to be legitimately Christian; indeed, once you go beyond Green any exclusionist label ought to be redundant). Thus there are Purple, Red, Blue, Orange, Green, Yellow and Turquoise ‘Christians’. That is, Christian memes have gravitated toward most of the levels.
This might make it seem as if Christianity is actually progressive. This is an illusion created by semantics. Christianity as a uniform doctrine that embraces all the levels does not exist. The term Christianity merely refers to all the different sects and people who identify themselves as Christian. The number of Christian sects numbers in the tens of thousands. Each one has its own image of Jesus. There is not one Jesus, but thousands. There is the liberal, social activist Jesus; the mystical Jesus; the cute Jesus as the lamb of God and Shepard of little children; the saccharine Baby Jesus; there is the violent Jesus of the End Times, wielding a sword and ready to toss millions into the fiery pits of Hell; there is the philosophical Jesus; the healing Jesus; the tortured Jesus (the Mel Gibson Jesus); the homoerotic Jesus; the thanatoerotic Jesus; the Aryan Jesus; the Semitic Jesus; the black Jesus; the personal Jesus who answers your most trivial prayers; and the selfish Jesus who favours particular celebrities and sports stars so they can win over their competition (I’d like to thank my mom and Jesus, who made it all possible) – you name it, it’s all there. So many memes, so many signifiers.
However, despite all this apparent diversity each sect guards its memes, its doctrine, carefully. Thus people drawn to these various sects can be caught in a regressive expression of the broader religion. Some sects are extremely regressive, even pathological. Others manage to be at least partially progressive.
At this point the objection many raise is that this is not the fault of the religion itself but of the misguided beliefs of its followers. I disagree. It absolutely is the fault of the religion. Just as Islam is to blame for allowing the concept of jihad to arise, Christianity is also to blame for providing the fertile soil in which diseased plants can grow. A doctrine will be distorted only if it can be distorted and it is the responsibility of the guardians of the doctrine to ensure it isn’t distorted.
A doctrine that is based on a misinterpretation of reality and that is externally and internally incoherent will always falter. It is the fault of the founders for misunderstanding reality and for creating an incoherent framework in the first place. Christianity was born in confusion and even after a considerable effort at purifying the doctrine, it remained a poor model of reality, full of contradictions, impossibilities and absurdities. It is no wonder that it fell apart and splintered into a thousand pieces.
We can understand this principle better if we compare Christianity to Buddhism. No-one disputes the biographical details of the Buddha’s life (though the skeptic will question the supernatural aspects) and he left a clear doctrine and a clear line of succession. He also left a set of injunctions that have proved effective, resulting in a 2,500 year history of generation after generation of enlightened masters. The result has been a remarkably homogenous history. Yes, Buddhism has had sectarian difference and conflict, but even so it remains true to the original teaching and remarkably unified. Instead of tens of thousands of sects there are only dozens of sects. Instead of a history of violent sectarianism, Buddhists have had a relatively calm and polite history. Buddhism has been able to maintain its doctrinal integrity because it is both an authentic and coherent philosophy.
The Buddhist teaching on non-violence has been made absolutely clear and with a few exceptions it has been obeyed (one notable exception is the Japanese Buddhist’s endorsement of both Japan’s war of aggression and the Shinto concept of emperor as god). In contrast both Christianity and Islam, despite claiming to be religions of peace, have engaged in extremely bloody sectarian wars. I do not know of a war fought in the name of Buddhism, but there have been many wars fought in the name of God or Allah. This is because Christianity and Islam are ambiguous and incoherent, and therefore wide open to a belligerent interpretation. This is the fault of the doctrine because it has been constructed in a such a way as to allow and even invite widely divergent readings.
Science and rational inquiry have also shattered many of the central claims of Christianity. This is simply because it is such a poor model of reality. Again, in contrast, the central claims of Buddhism have remained somewhat immune. If anything modern neuroscience is actually supporting some of Buddhism’s claims about meditation and some physicists have been attracted to Eastern metaphysics because it makes claims broadly compatible with recent discoveries in physics (the Big Bang is compatible with some Buddhist and Hindu theories of cosmogenesis). In contrast many Christians still struggle with evolution and cosmology simply because they are in radical conflict with Christian metaphysics. A significant number of Christians feel so threatened by science that they are engaged in a serious regressive political battle to defeat the claims of some scientific disciplines. Again, this is the fault of Christianity because an absurd and anti-reality literalism has always been a part of the doctrine.
The only reason there are such divergent and oppositional interpretations of Christianity and Islam is because the incoherency of the doctrines allows them to arise and to exist, even to prosper.
The lessons for an integral spiritual movement
The reason for the continuing success of Christianity (and the other mainstream religions) would seem to lie not in their truth or authenticity but in the desire of humans to conform. In fact the details of doctrine do not concern most members of any religion. What motivates them is the sense of belonging and meaning that the religion gives them. The average follower is often remarkably uncritical and undemanding. They actually want their faith to be simple. This is why the literalist interpretation of Christianity eventually defeated the more demanding Gnostic version. Who can be bothered with complex inner teachings that deal in difficult abstractions?
Churches, mosques and temples work best as social centres. What matters is not so much the sermon of the priest (which is often ignored and easily forgotten), but the sense of community it creates. The most successful churches develop a range of socially binding institutions; schools, youth centres, extra-church activities and social support networks. The US megachurches take it a step further. Bill McKibben, a liberal Christian highly critical of the Christian right describes the situation thus:
A reporter from the New York Times, who recently visited one booming megachurch outside Phoenix, found a typical scene: a drive through latte stand, Krispy Kreme doughnuts at every service, and sermons about how to discipline your children, how to reach your professional goals, how to invest your money, how to reduce your debt. On Sundays children played with church distributed Xboxes and many congregants signed up for a twice-weekly aerobics class called Firm Believers.
McKibben deplores much of this, arguing that these megachurches actually ignore much of Jesus’ message. Indeed, as they must. Let me digress for a moment. The Christian right focuses a great deal on the family. Yet, if we actually study Joshua’s life and teachings in the New Testament we see he was not family oriented. He actually encouraged his disciples to leave their families and pursue a life of poverty and dedication to God’s will. Many early Christians thought that they were expected to dedicate their lives solely to God, taking vows of celibacy and of poverty, as do Catholic priests and nuns today. But the Christian right has clearly understood the importance of the family and social cohesion to most people, even if they have to distort the core Christian message.
Doctrine is actually unimportant, what matters is that the church provides structure in people’s lives. Doctrine has always been adopted and adapted, particularly Christian doctrine about the family.
The lesson in this for an integral spirituality as an alternative to Christianity is that it must replace Christian doctrine with a progressive, integral doctrine that provides a sense of community and meaning. It must be skillful in doing so, always allowing the steady but gentle encouragement to dig deeper; providing pathways to a higher understanding, whilst not being overbearingly elitist or obscurantist. It must resist elitist jargon and alienating cultish guru worship. I think this is a point Wilber misses. He has often championed the guru-disciple relationship and regrettably championed controversial guru figures. An integral spiritual movement must try and repeat the initial success of the early Christian church (and some later Protestant models) and be democratic and inclusive. Authority should not rest in a single person but in the truth and coherency of the doctrine.
Another way of putting this is to suggest that integral spirituality must define the good life. What is a good life, a good family, a good citizen and a good congregant? It must provide an alternative set of morals that are appealing to the blue vMeme as well as being inherently progressive.
CONCLUSION: THE DAMAGE DONE
Christianity has largely been a monumental disaster. I believe it has actually held back development for close to a thousand years, and still holds it back. It took the West up until the Renaissance to rediscover the technical, scientific, political and philosophical wisdom of the Greco-Roman tradition.
The Greeks had already theorized that the earth was spherical, that it revolved around the sun and that humans had evolved from lower animals. The struggle of science to recover this lost knowledge is well known. It seems extraordinary that this struggle still goes on today. The architect Brunelleschi (1377-1446) had to rediscover how to build a dome. Indeed, as texts on Roman engineering were rediscovered and studied it has been understood how technically advanced they actually were. And why was this knowledge lost? Not, as many believe, because ‘barbarians’ destroyed Rome. The so-called barbarians consisted of waves of different Germanic tribes, many of whom absorbed Roman ways. The main cause seems to have been the contempt and suspicion with which the Church regarded pagan knowledge, considering much of it heretical and finally demonic. There was a devolutionary movement from Greco-Roman reason to a new ‘Christian’ mythos based on faith. The result was that the Greco-Roman world was thrown into a Dark Age. Fortunately a more enlightened Islam (which later descended into its own Dark Age) continued to foster Greco-Roman science and engineering until the Italian Renaissance and the European Enlightenment released the dynamic energy of the Classical tradition.
Indeed, a thorough survey of Western cultural history, including a wide range of disciplines throughout the arts and sciences, reveals that we owe an enormous amount to the Greco-Roman tradition and very little to the Judeo-Christian tradition. In fact, as I explained above, the Christian tradition is really a Greco-Judaic hybrid – a literal reading of what is essentially a pagan ‘mystery’ narrative, with much of the Jewish aspects edited out (due to Christian anti-Semitism). What was left was so incoherent and sparse that early theologians and Christian philosophers had to borrow heavily from Greek philosophy. Why was the Bible written not in Aramaic, the language Joshua spoke (and which has died out), but in Greek? Why did the church adopt Latin? Because the Judeo-Christian tradition has little substance to it.
In assessing the effects of Christianity we have to note one important fact; because of its many internal contradictions and incoherent narrative there are a great many ‘Christianities’. I have already mentioned the enormous number of variations and the correspondingly large number of Jesus Christs. It is therefore impossible to make generalizations or to make almost any claim about what Christians believe. For every statement about what Christians should believe there is, or has been, a Christian who has said exactly the opposite. Many Christians will correctly claim that it was Christian social activism that led to the abolition of slavery. Yet it is also true that many Christians used the Bible to justify slavery. Martin Luther King used Christianity to justify his campaign to end racial segregation in the southern states. Yet many white Christians supported segregation, just as the Dutch Reform Church of South Africa supported apartheid. Many Christians will point to their admirable tradition of charity. All true, yet many churches have been socially conservative and have propped up regimes that created the discrimination and disadvantage that required charitable intervention in the first place. For every radical Jesuit advocate of ‘liberation theology’ helping the peasants there have been dozens of conservative Catholics propping up authoritarian regimes. Many Christians have said that Christianity is responsible for establishing the essential dignity of man, of establishing the principle of equality under God. I would of course, dispute this and argue that for most of its history Christianity was hierarchical and elitist, and an essential part of the European class system. The Christian claim to egalitarianism arose in tandem with the secular revolution of the Enlightenment. The Reformation happened after the Renaissance. It was the Renaissance that weakened the authority of the Catholic church.
In this sense Christianity stands for almost everything (and therefore for almost nothing), so what we are really seeing is the natural evolution of the spiral with Christianity eventually being forced to adapt to that evolutionary pressure. In all cases the overall effect of a specifically Christian doctrine has been to try to block the spiral. Change came slowly due to institutional conservatism and inertia. The great evolutionary impulses occurred when a significant proportion of the population embraced Greco-Roman ideas of humanism and rationalism. If there are progressive Christians arguing for reform then there is also a majority of conservative Christians blocking that reform. The main obstacle to the obvious and necessary reforms of discrimination against homosexuals and women in the West is a large block of conservative Christians using erroneous Christian beliefs as justification. This causes real suffering. In my article ‘Integral Sexology’ I detail how Christianity has been responsible for creating and maintaining a sex negative and sex ignorant culture. Conservative Christians are obsessed by issues of morality, usually sexual morality – whilst conveniently ignoring other moral issues, such as corporate ethics and the morality of war.
All of this damage has been caused for one simple reason. Christianity is based on a lie. It is based a wildly inaccurate and fantastic model of reality, and of human nature, that places a massive ideological burden on the spiral. Many people know this and have rejected Christianity, yet many of the core assumptions still affect resolute humanists and atheists in subtle ways. There is still a pervasive sense that nudity and sex are somehow immoral. Christian dualism has led to scientific reductionism and a harsh anti-spiritual rationalism. And there is a general refusal to face reality because of a nexus of memes around the idea of divine intervention and the future promise of heaven – a disastrous situation given the dire state of the world’s environment. God is NOT going to fix it for us folks. There are no miracles.
One of the most devastating consequence of the Christian lie has been its consistent attack on truth. The Christian demand that faith be given the same epistemological and ethical status as reason has kept millions locked into a mythic worldview – a worldview that even today acts as a millstone around the neck of humanity, dragging us down.
But the most damning consequence of the Great Lie has been to place God outside the reach of humanity. For over two thousand years millions of people have been told that blind faith in a lie is the only path to God. Many Christians have been told that meditation is Satanic and gnosis a heresy. Yet the evidence says the opposite. By misreading the meaning of the dying and resurrected God-man the Christian literalists took humanity down a barren path and prevented millions from discovering the truth. And it continues to this day. Fundamentalist Christians still denounce meditation as demonic and persuade their congregants to follow absurd and dangerous beliefs.
APPENDIX 1 – THE ISRAEL/PALESTINE CONFLICT
After having criticized Don Beck’s proposed solution to this conflict I thought I should say a few words on an integral approach to the problem.
Firstly, I’m not sure there is a meaningful integral solution. The theory has a limit due to its comprehensiveness. It is so broad a theory that it often does not have a great deal to say about the detail, or at least, anything new to say.
The Israel/Palestine conflict is actually a complex of intersecting conflicts, many of which are intra-level and intra-quadrant. In other words, they are conflicts between competing narratives within a level and within a quadrant. It is not really a conflict between different vMemes or different quadrant perspectives. It is a conflict where people who are all primarily at Red/Blue disagree over territory and history, who are all locked into competing, but closed, UL and LL hermeneutic loops. In such a conflict an agreement has to be made to either live with competing narratives or to decide that one narrative is more accurate than the other and should dominate. The Jews claim that Israel is their homeland and cite certain historical facts in support of their claim. Palestinian nationalists dispute Jewish claims and make their own claims to prove that there was a prior Palestinian identity. Which is true? To give an even more precise example: Jews believe that the al-Aqsa mosque sits on the site of the Second Temple, but Muslim Palestinians dispute this. Who is right? Again, the Israelis claim there was massive illegal Arab immigration during the period of the British mandate, meaning that many of the people who claim to be Palestinian are in fact first or second generation immigrants (from Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Egypt – Yasser Arafat was actually born in Egypt) and have no more claim than many Jews. However some Palestinians claim that the Arab population explosion was due to natural birth rates. Again, who is right?
Deciding these issues is a matter of sorting through the facts and it does not necessarily require a ‘superior’ integral theorist to do so. It simply requires someone who is rigorous and independent, and this only has an impact if all sides have given such an arbiter the authority to arbitrate. At the moment there is no such independent arbiter. It will not be any Western power, because according to a combined leftist/Arab conspiracy theory the Western powers have been unduly influenced by ‘the Jewish lobby’. It can’t be the UN because according to a combined rightist/conservative theory the UN is captive to an ‘Arab lobby’. This is where Don Beck has been hopelessly naïve – as soon as any leftist or Arab gets wind of SD’s links to Bush, Rove and the Republicans he will be instantly put into a specific camp and treated with due suspicion.
Despite some preferring to see this conflict as a territorial conflict between competing nationalist ambitions it is fundamentally a religious conflict. I understand that some will want to disagree with me but I’m afraid I can’t separate the deep religious issues from the nationalist issues. The fundamental reason Arabs have tried to frustrate Jewish ambitions is because Islam will not countenance being subservient to either Jews or Christians. It is a central belief for many (but not all) Muslims that Islam must dominate but never be dominated and that they should never surrender Muslim lands. It is therefore impossible to tolerate Muslims living under Jewish or Christian rule, no matter what. The natural order, as Allah decreed, is that Jews and Christians must live under Muslim rule as dhimmi, protected people. Thus, from this perspective, Jewish self-determination was always an insult and an impossibility. To understand this we must look back into the history of Jewish and Christian communities under Islam. Yes, they were allowed the right to worship, but only ever as second-class citizens. They were tolerated, but only if they kept their place. Much has been made of the tolerance of Muslim Spain, but even during the so-called ‘golden’ period Jews and Christians were still subject to special restrictive laws. There was always a system of apartheid. But that was only under more benign rulers. In 1066 there was a pogrom in Granada, where thousands of Jews died. Under the Almohades (1148) Jews were forced to convert or face having their property confiscated and being sold into slavery – all legal under a stricter interpretation of the dhimmi laws. To understand the situation for Christians it is only necessary to look at the situation of the Copts in Egypt, even today.
But it is not just Muslims who make exclusionist and supremacist claims. Christians are just as bad, as are orthodox Jews. It can be easily argued that Christians persecuted Jews even more than Muslims. No-one has a clean record. The two major sources of anti-Semitism come from Christians and Muslims. Christian anti-Semitism dates back to the early church as the literalist Paulinists who blamed the Jews for killing Christ. Muslim anti-Semitism dates back to the Medinite period where Mohammed declared the Jewish tribes had betrayed him. So, Jews are either Christ killers or traitors – and in both circumstances, never to be trusted.
Ironically the Koran states quite clearly that Allah gave the ‘promised land’ to the Jews, stating that they will be twice rejected and then return. The first exile was under the Babylonians and the second under the Romans. But this acceptance of the Jewish claim to Israel has been carefully argued away – the Jews have apparently returned before the right time and under the wrong conditions. Of course, like all religious arguments it is full of contradictions. Allah is supposed to intervene directly in the affairs of the righteous, helping them win battles. Surely then, the Jews are in Israel, having defeated Arab aggression (especially in the Six Day war), because Allah wills it?
This is where we return to the theme of narratives based on lies and absurdity. All three of the Abrahamic faiths are based on lies and they are fighting over who’s lie should dominate. Of course, many have pointed out a simple paradox. If one of the Abrahamic faiths is right the other two are necessarily wrong. Another solution to this paradox is that they all wrong. So we return to the need to rigorously discover and uncover the truth as an ethical imperative. The Israel/Palestine conflict is a prime example of how false doctrines and their propaganda lead us to nowhere good.
Is there an integral solution? If the core cause of the conflict is incompatible religious narratives then the solution has to be transcending those narratives. Theoretically this begins to happen at Green, and certainly at Yellow (in which case, people at these levels are not the problem, it’s the red/blue extremists of all the competing factions, Fatah vs Hamas, Hamas vs militant Jewish settlers, Jewish settlers vs other Jewish factions, etc.). By the time anyone reaches Green they ought to be dropping exclusionist labels, and being either Jewish, Christian or Muslim ought to be irrelevant (as would being Hindu or Buddhist, or any other label). This means that one of the primary strategies of an integral solution would be to negate the exclusionist claims of the disputants.
This is not inter-faith dialogue, which at its foundation means holding onto one’s own faith and learning to merely accept another’s right to co-exist peacefully. Integral theory actually implies something much more radical; the dissolution of exclusionist beliefs altogether and the replacing of faith with spiritual reason. This is a massive task, larger and more complex than the Israeli/Palestine conflict itself.
Is there are a win-win solution? In this case I don’t think so. There is a sense in which win-win becomes yet another integral platitude. It is only possible for there to be a win-win solution between ‘reasonable’ positions. What was the win-win solution between Nazism and Judaism, that only three million Jews be killed? There are some ideologies that are so extreme and so odious that there is no point of compromise. Integral theory has to come to terms with the fact that in some instances an ideology or position is so wrong it has to be radically defeated. This means that those who subscribe to this ideology must necessarily lose. Under the principles of the prime directive and the truth imperative what place is there for regressive religions based on lies? Is there a win-win, or do they have to be defeated?
Finally, I’d like to leave you with a scenario. What would the Middle East be like today if Muslims had been generous and had allowed the Jews to have their own state, even Greater Israel? There are 21 Arab countries, surely the Jews could be allowed just one of their own (it’s actually all they want)? What if Muslims said: ‘Okay, we’ve got exclusive rights to our most holy city, Mecca, and even to our second, Medina. It seems only fair that you have exclusive rights to Jerusalem, and even to build the Third Temple, after all, we have the Ka’aba. Tell you what, if you let us worship at the Third Temple, where Mohammed ascended to heaven (in a dream), we’ll let you worship at the Ka’aba, which was created by Abraham.’
I support the building of the Third Temple, every religion ought to have free access to its most holy site. I particularly like the idea because I’d like to see the look on the faces of ‘End Times’ Christians when the Second Coming doesn’t happen. But of course, I’m being mischievous.
The fact is that a secure Israel would be a prosperous Israel and a boost to the economies of the region. Israel already allows freedom of religion and Christians have not been stopped from visiting sites important to them. The majority of Israeli aggression has been defensive aggression. It seems to me that the majority of Arab/Muslim violence has simply been to deny Jews a country. If Israel had been allowed to exist peacefully it could have absorbed many indigenous Palestinians; already there are Israeli Muslims, Christians and Druze, even Israeli Buddhists.
But I’m dreaming of course. It ain’t gonna happen. The extremists of all sides are determined to hold onto their narratives of lies. Jews worshipping in Mecca? Never.
APPENDIX TWO: AMERICAN CHRISTIANITY
American Christianity is unique. It is one of the most diverse and creative Christian cultures. The major denominations are all well established but there has also been the development of completely new forms of Christianity. The Mormon church for example, is based on a uniquely American revelation.
The two major influences on the American psyche are paradoxical. The first is an early religious theme caused by the immigration of religious sects ostensibly oppressed in Europe. Whilst there was religious intolerance in Europe one might wonder, given the extremism of some of the religious sects who fled to America, if some of the intolerance was simply due to the fact that some of these sects were so weird they were justifiably intolerable to the average European. Whatever the case early American society was peppered with extremist views. The early Puritans carried with them the idea that America was a new ‘promised land’, even calling their land ‘Canaan’. This meme has penetrated deeply into the American consciousness, eventually morphing into the doctrine of ‘manifest destiny’.
The second influence was the Enlightenment, with much of the ideology of the American revolution being influenced by events in France. However, even Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin could not ignore religious sentiment. Jefferson referred to Americans as Israelites throwing off the yoke of the British ‘Pharaohs’ and Franklin suggested that the seal of the new state should be in Hebrew, stating “Rebellion against tyrants is obedience to God”.
Even in revolutionary times we see the conflation of secular and religious ideas. Is it any wonder Americans find it difficult to separate the two today? In fact what has happened is that there has been an even deeper interpenetration of the two ideas with the institutions of the state being accorded an almost religious status, becoming a kind of civil religion, and many Christians believing that God somehow had a hand in founding the USA. Last year the televangelist Benny Hinn was able to pronounce with a perfectly straight face that he saw the work of Jesus in the constitution of the USA – the fifth gospel perhaps?
The critic Bill McKibben, himself a Christian, has argued that this confusion between the state and Christianity is so profound that 75% of Americans believe that the adage ‘God helps those who help themselves’, stated by Benjamin Franklin, appears in the Bible.
In his book ‘God’s Politics: Why the American Right gets it Wrong and the Left doesn’t get it’, Jim Wallis, himself a Christian activist and founder of the Sojourners, explains how George Bush (and his speechwriters) often conflates Christianity and the USA.
On the first anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks, President Bush said at Ellis Island, “This ideal of America is the hope of all mankind…That hope still lights our way. And that light shines in the darkness. And the darkness has not overcome it.” Those last two sentences are straight out of John’s gospel and immediately recognizable to Christians. But again, the light shining in the darkness is the Word of God and the light of Christ. It’s not about America and its values.
Bush seems to make this mistake over and over again of confusing nation, church and God. The resulting theology is more American civil religion than Christian faith.
How has this confusion been allowed to continue? How have large sections of the American population been allowed to seemingly sidestep modernity and retain absurd beliefs? America is now the home of Christian literalism, even creating novel forms of literalism and exporting them to the world. The ‘End Times’ literalists are largely an American phenomenon and it is primarily American sects pushing this dangerous fantasy. How is this possible in a self-defined modern country? We might argue that Islamists wish to return Islam to the Dark Ages, but so too do Christian literalists, who have clearly stated their desire to overthrow all vestiges of secularism in the US.
Paradoxically it is the admirable belief in religious freedom that is responsible. Americans have tolerated and even embraced absurd religious beliefs that no-one else would. It is not just that these sects are allowed to exist and openly seek converts, it is also that they are seemingly exempted from critical examination. Religious freedom means more than the right to practice, it has also become the right to be free of criticism. America is unique in the number of truly bizarre cults that develop and thrive on its soil. It is not just confined to Christian sects. A number of hybrid sects have flourished as well, New Age, UFO, unorthodox Hindu and Jewish sects, etc. Unfortunately, the US is also the home of a number of pathological sects, some of which ended in violence – Jim Jones, David Koresh.
During the 80′s literalist Christians, the so-called Christian right, decided to become politically active. This caught many progressive Americans by surprise. There is a trap in uncritical religious tolerance – it allows dangerous and intolerant ideologies to flourish, and many progressive Americans have accepted this uncritical idea of religious tolerance. All religions are ideologies, a nexus of memes, but unlike communism, fascism or utopianism, religions are afforded as special exempt status. It is deemed impolite to directly criticize them, especially in the US. The situation in Europe is far more intellectually rigorous and divergent sects find it harder to recruit credulous members.
Wallis has argued that the progressives had simply ignored the Christian sentiment of the country and when it became politically influential they were taken by surprise. Religious tolerance had led to a kind of disengagement. Wallis argues that it is time to take the faith back from the literalists, to directly confront them with their distorted theology. In this he is with Bill McKibben who has said:
And therein lies the paradox. America is the most professedly Christian of the developed nations and the least Christian in its behaviour. That paradox illuminates the hollow core of our boastful, careening culture.
In a scathing article ‘The Christian Paradox’ McKibben ruthlessly picks apart the Christian right, accusing it of betraying its Christian heritage and getting into bed with the oligarchs who run America. They are like the Roman church who betrayed the real story of Joshua to join forces with the Roman empire. Incredulous, he points out that the Christian right has ignored Joshua’s teaching on helping the poor to support Republican tax cuts to the rich. How do they get away with it?
The answer is simple. Christianity is so malleable that it can be made into anything. What really, is the difference between one fantasy and another? Indeed, by tolerating a moderate absurdity you allow someone to take another incremental step toward a greater absurdity. McKibben puts it this way:
But their theology is so appealing in that it coincides with what we want to believe. How nice it would have been if Jesus had declared that our income was ours to keep, instead of insisting that we share. How satisfying it would be if we were supposed to hate our enemies.
It’s hard to imagine a con-job more audacious than making Christ the front man for a program of tax cuts for the rich or war in Iraq. If some modest part of the 85 per cent of us who are Christians woke up to this fact, then the world might change.
But it is here that I part with both McKibben and Wallis. The criticism of American Christianity must go much deeper. It must point out that the whole edifice is based on a lie. It must point out a devastating rhetorical trick which goes like this.
- Christ is the Son of God.
- Christ’s word is the word of God.
- Christ said X (fill in whatever you like, ie, Christ supports the Republican tax cuts)
- Therefore X is the word of God (therefore the Republicans are doing God’s work).
They can get away with this because faith is allowed to be sufficient and reason doesn’t matter. They can get away with it because faith allows them to use the authority of a mythical character to excuse all manner of stupidity. David Koresh was able to lead his followers to a horrible death because they had abandoned reason for blind faith in his ridiculous theology (the Branch Davidian were a splinter sect of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, an End Times sect).
The final result of this naïve tolerance and the failure to engage religious absurdity is the triumph of gobbledy-gook – a new age of unreason. This is intellectual negligence of the highest order.
A final note on Revelation
Many scholars regard Revelation to be a message about the Roman empire. An early fragment of the text suggests that the number of the ‘Beast’ is not 666, but 616. A common game of the period was to hide people’s names by converting them to numbers. There are examples of ancient graffiti which say things such as ‘Tacitus loves the girl whose name is 564′. The number 666 has always presented a problem because it does not easily decode to a recognizable name. However, 616 is readily decoded to read ‘Emperor Caligula’ (d 41 CE) and it can be readily understood how this particular emperor could be called a beast, he was notorious for his cruelty, corruption and perversion. Even the Roman historian Seutonius refers to him as a monster. But the reference in Revelation may be because Caligula had made an important shift in the Cult of the Deified Emperor, initiated by Augustus. Augustus had never claimed that he was personally divine but rather, that his ‘genius’ and the ‘genius’ of his family line was divine. Caligula however, claimed that he personally was a god. The ‘beast’ of Revelation then becomes the scandalous idea that a Roman emperor was god, an idea understandably opposed by early Christians who claimed divinity for Christ.
Revelation therefore becomes a simple extension of the apocalyptic tradition of the Essenes, intended for the consumption of the early church, particularly the seven churches it addresses. It is written in a kind of code to hide its clearly seditious agenda. It was never intended to be read as a prophecy about a time far into the future.
It is difficult to understand why it was included in the New Testament. By the time the New Testament was created the prophecy was already redundant. Certainly many mainstream theologians regard it as a curiosity. However, the situation in America has been somewhat different. During the 19th century a few rogue Christians began to read Revelation as a genuine prophecy that was yet to be fulfilled. A number of sects arose around this idea and thrived in the naïve and tolerant religious climate of the US, particularly the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists and a number of Baptist, Pentecostal and evangelical groups. Given that tolerance of absurdity feeds even more absurdity it is not surprising that Revelation theology is a growing movement and regular conferences are held on the most ridiculous of topics, such as debates between the pre-tribulationists, mid-tribulationists and post-tribulationists. The truly frightening aspect of this is that these ‘Revelationists’ are also politically active, particularly in the Israeli/Palestine conflict. Some Revelationists believe that the second coming will only occur when the Third Temple has been built and they are therefore very active in supporting extremist Jews who seek the same objective. What is even more disturbing is that some of these fools seem to look forward with sickening glee at the prospect of Armageddon – a final battle that will take place in the valley of Megiddo. They talk with anticipation at seeing the valley filled with the blood of the unbelievers. It is a sad indictment of Christianity that such a violent and cruel image of Christ should be tolerated at all.
I highly recommend these following experts and their books.
Karen King – Winn Professor of Ecclesiastical History at Divinity School, Harvard University.? What is Gnosticism. Belknap/Harvard Press. ?The Secret Revelation of John. Harvard University Press
Elaine Pagels – Harrington Spear Paine Professor of Religion at Princeton University. Beyond Belief – the Secret Gospel of Thomas. Random House?. Adam, Eve and the Serpent. Random House. ?The Gnostic Paul: Gnostic Exegesis of the Pauline Letters. Random House.
Robert Eisenman – Director of the Institute for the Study of Judeo-Christian Origins and Professor of Middle East Religions and Archaeology at California State University.? James the Brother of Jesus. Watkins (Faber and Faber). ?Co-author of The Facsimile Edition of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Tom Harpur – former Anglican priest and Professor of Greek and the New Testament at the University of Toronto.? The Pagan Christ. Allen and Unwin
Esther Kaplan, With God on their Side. The New Press.
Jim Wallis, God’s Politics. Harper.