Do the many faces of Christian religions truly reflect the theology of Jesus himself?
Or do they more accurately represent a theology created around what unfolded historically as the religion spread into different areas with different points of view?
Jesus’ life and words almost entirely presented the idea that God the Father and humanity are one – that “before Abraham was, I am.” Jewish theology would not permit this and a case can be made that this was the primary reason for Jesus’ referring to himself as the Son of Man.
The early followers of Jesus were first and foremost Jewish. Jesus himself with an understanding of humanity’s truly mystical relationship to God, knew the difficulty of reconciling that relationship to the rigid theology and standards of the Letter-of-the-Law reverence of his culture.
Those who survived the times around Jesus’ death and lived on to spread the Good News would have also had the daunting task of absorbing a new and mystical understanding within the inflexible framework of Jewish cultural assumptions about God.
The overriding assumption for the Chosen People was a supposed monopoly on truth, doctrine and practice.
Is it no wonder that instead of following Jesus’ teachings on a vibrant inner spirituality, his disciples found it more logical to worship him as the promised messiah, an attempt to safely stay within cultural perspective.
Society had killed their Master for declaring the very personal epiphany that He had evoked in them so that the most immediate concern was physical survival in order to spread that Christ-born epiphany.
Alan Watts stated that they worshiped Jesus because “they still felt that for anyone except Jesus it would be pride, presumption and insubordination for a mere creature to be one with the Creator.” Watts continued:
“Christians dare not believe that, as St. John says, they have been given power to ‘become the sons of God,’ remembering that the expression ‘sons of’ means ‘of the nature of.’ The dubious uniqueness of the monarchical religions is that they over-stress the difference between Creator and creature and, by making virtues of feeling guilty and frightened, inculcate a very special terror of death – which Jesus saw as a source of life. …… From this point of view it would seem that the Church has rendered the Gospel ineffective by setting Jesus on a pedestal of excessive reverence and making him so unique that he is virtually isolated from the human condition. By setting itself apart from the worldwide traditions of mystical religion, Christianity appears, not as unique, but as an anomalous oddity with imperious claims. Thus the religion OF Jesus became the religion ABOUT Jesus, lost its essence and appeared more and more ridiculously aggressive as the context of world religion came into view. Inspiring and worshipful as the character of Jesus may be, it was not what inspired Jesus himself, for he was what he was because he knew of himself that ‘I and the Father are one,’ and not – obviously – because he had accepted Jesus as his Savior. But from the beginning, institutional Christianity has hardly contemplated the possibility that the consciousness of Jesus might be the consciousness of the Christian, that the whole point of the Gospel is that everyone may experience union with God in the same way and to the same degree as Jesus himself. On the contrary, one who says, with Eckhart, that ‘the eye with which I see God is the same eye with which God sees me’ is condemned as a heretic. In the context of monarchical monotheism to say, ‘I am God,’ doesn’t seem to carry the implication, ‘and so are you,’ because it has the same ring as saying, ‘I’m the boss around here.’ Within this context the mystic is always in danger of that spiritual megalomania which Jung called ‘psychic inflation’ in which one takes one’s ego for God instead of God for one’s ego – and Christianity has maneuvered Jesus into just that position. Can Christianity abandon the monarchical image of God and still be Christianity? Why should this be of concern? For which is more important – to be a Christian or to be at one with God? Must religion be Christian, Islamic, or Hindu, or could it simply be religion? Certainly there must be the same variety of style in religion as there is culture, but the concern to preserve, validate and propagate Christianity as such is a disastrous confusion of religious style with religion. Indeed, this sectarian fanaticism (shared alike by Judaism and Islam)is all of a piece with the monarchical image and its necessary imperialism.”
Is there any difference between the monarchical autocratic God of contemporary biblically literal religious authoritarians and the God of mystical experience referred to repeatedly by Jesus? Do most modern Christians worship Jesus’ God of compassion and mystery or do they work out their salvation in fear and trembling before, as Watts writes, “a precisely-defined autocrat?”
May I offer an alternative to the existing “traditional” Christian liturgical and protestant theology based on the worship of a monarchical version of Jesus and of God as Father.
Many Christians see the Bible as an inerrant absolute – something Jesus did not teach. There is no evidence, except by self-serving historical inference on the part of early Catholic fathers and later Protestant reformers who had been culturally programmed to accept the idea of an inerrant and absolute Bible. Such an idea reduces scripture to that of mere divine legislation – worse, it seriously obscures the mystical relationship with God that is found there.
Biblical literal-ism misses the point of Jesus most eloquent teachings.
Yet with a conscious intent to resist the cultural programming to see the Bible only as authoritarian, you can see the words of Jesus leaping off the page. You can experience life in the same manner Christ did, in epiphanies of understanding.
Perhaps He was not the Incarnation of a divine and precisely defined autocrat, but the Incarnation of something much more.
A gospel of monarchical laws, ordinances and obedience was not Jesus’ good news. Jesus’ good news was His, and our, innately mortal theology. It is a theology of relationship rather than worship, edified and communicated by ordinances and ritual which formed the basis of symbolism leading to a mystical, epiphanic and on-going relationship with the God of experience.
A mystical God of compassion is as much our right to encounter as we are impelled by tradition and dogma to attempt a fearful relationship with an autocrat who has been always been more imprecisely defined than precisely portrayed.
To see what Jesus saw, to feel what Jesus felt, and to know what Jesus knew is far more precise than to try to extrapolate in our own lives, the conformity-ridden chestnut of “what would Jesus do?”
Jesus on the Kingdom Within
“My views o/ the Christian religion are the result of a life of inquiry and reflection, and very different from that anti-Christian system imputed to me by those who know nothing of my opinions. To the corruptions of Christianity I am, indeed, opposed, but not to the genuine precepts of Jesus himself. I am a Christian in the only sense He wanted anyone to be: sincerely attached to his doctrines, in preference to all others; ascribing to himself every HUMAN excellence; and believing He never claimed any other.”-Thomas Jefferson, as quoted by Stephen Mitchell in THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JESUS
If you are to proceed with me in exploring a New Christianity you must recognize and identify the spiritual assumptions by which you live. These assumptions may be culturally inherited – many usually are – or may be the result of your own personal labors in working out your spiritual inner system. I define that system as something we all have, consciously or unconsciously. It’s how we view the outer world. It’s important to understand the source of your assumptions. Based on that source clarity won’t come until you determine if your assumptions and definitions of reality are yours or someone else’s magic.
Whoever defines your reality dominates your perception of every aspect of reality. We are all experts on Jesus. His impact on our lives is highly personal and individual – a spiritual impact and spiritual impact is felt within – it is the only life you have – your on-going inner experience.
Formal study of Christian doctrine is not needed to experience the influence of Jesus in our lives. Carrying a bible around all the time to seek guidance or answers to questions is not as needed as strengthening your inner experience.
We do not require input from those who have formal study or those who have made a lifetime of informal study. We can profit from such folks only to the degree that we are allowed to reach our own conclusions, have our own experiences and define them for ourselves. There is no outside expert on Jesus who can define what happens inside when we endeavor to emulate Jesus.
Essentially, all we need to do is follow his quite famous advice that is both simple and powerful:
Ask, seek and knock.
You shall be given, you shall find and when you knock it will be opened for you.
Note that Jesus said nothing about asking righteously or worthily, seeking righteously or worthily or knocking righteously or worthily. Personal piety is not as much needed as is personal sincerity and willingness to sense responses that come in the same way they are sent heavenward.
Jesus did not say you have to pass some muster of orthodoxy before the Father will hear your asking, notice your seeking or open to your knocking.
If Isaiah says that the Father’s thoughts are not our thoughts, he does not say that we cannot know the Father’s thoughts. He does not say we cannot come to understand and think the Father’s thoughts.
Begin then this exploration with an inner prayer to know what God knows, see what God sees and understand the intent God has in creating life. These are the only important queries in a quest for a vitalizing and vivifying personal inner spirituality based on the pattern of Jesus.
I cannot tell you what that might look like for you. It is not mine to know. I cannot insist that my own experience is what you will have – again because I do not define your reality.
I can only declare that if we take ownership of our personal definition of reality, what happens when we seek further light and knowledge about ourselves is ours to receive.
Reason is as much a spiritual attribute as prayer. Reason, which is so much more than simply applied logic, includes an intuitive way of thinking and knowing. One does not get a sense of one’s self through pure logic and one cannot get a handle on how one really feels by someone else’s definitions – someone else’s magic.
Reason applied spiritually is prayerful – prayer in its purest sense. Reason is reflection of one’s own experience and, integrated with intuition, is the means by which the inner soul speaks in a voice sufficiently loud to be heard by the outer consciousness.
This is where one senses, feels and hears God whispering.
If one cannot sense one’s inner soul, hearing that voice divine is impossible.
One cannot find answers to spiritual questions are not as much obtained from written sources as much as in pondering and prayer and in sensing inner wisdom of that kingdom of God that exists there.
The most important compilation of personal knowledge and wisdom is lives there and nowhere else. Ignoring inner knowledge and feelings during life’s moments of pause and reflection is a mistake. Focusing merely on external collective values in measuring one’s own current state and status is truly giving away the ability to grow while making needful course corrections in our path of life.
I will be presenting to you my own thoughts for consideration. As I have tried to follow for myself a path around the points already expressed in this article, understand that I am only sharing and not attempting to instruct.
I believe that the purest form of a Christ-like life is not for public display by a presentation of piety, righteousness and evangelizing. As Thomas Jefferson expressed, spirituality is not a matter of public practice to be seen by all.