Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Mystics and scientists

Understanding spiritual concepts can be challenging. It’s not like understanding science or math or a thousand other ideas related to physical reality.

I suspect many readers who begin my book think it’s all about debunking the Christian myth. I often hear Bishop Spong mentioned and confess it slightly disappoints me.

But I savor the comment of the reader who said my book gave him a clear understanding of the distinction between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith. This suggests an understanding of religious myth.

I’d like readers to see that religious myths are not lies, not deliberate deceptions. This is important. Another is the distinction between God and external deities. The mythical figures in religious mythologies are God-IMAGES, not the spiritual reality called God.

Almost all our public discourse in the West muddles this distinction. It speaks of God as an external deity, a separate entity, an individual, a humanlike figure with humanlike thoughts.

Leading-edge science suggests these words as better synonyms for “God”: Force, Energy, Light, Field, Source, Consciousness, Mind. These also are words mystics have used.

Two different persons recommended a book I haven’t read yet, but intend to, because it promises to treat this subject scientifically—The Field by Lynne McTaggart, which describes the zero point quantum energy field. The website is

To understand religious myth, it helps to have a relationship with the nameless Something we call God. This doesn’t have to be religious at all. Many mystics have no religious affiliation.

I hope readers go back to my passages about myth in God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky and use my bibliography to continue their study. I close with a quotation emailed to me, the words of Hassidic teacher Avram Davis, taken from a book called The Zookeeper's Wife by Diane Ackerman.
There is only one God, by which we mean the Oneness that subsumes all categories [the One in the first of the Ten Commandments]. We might call this Oneness the ocean of reality and everything that swims in it.
There is only one "zot," thisness. Zot is a feminine word for "this." The word zot is itself one of the names of God—the thisness of what is.
To some this will seem to be nonsense; to others mystical truth.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Confused teaching? Or correction?

The Doctrine Committee of the U.S. bishop’s conference states that Asian-American theologian Fr. Peter Phan creates “confusion” about Catholic teaching regarding Christ, the Church, and other religions. So reported National Catholic Reporter’s John Allen, writing, “The statement at one point accuses Phan of having left behind a ‘specifically Christian’ framework in favor of ‘a more universal religious perspective.’”

The universal perspective is precisely my theme in God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky. Interpreting Christian doctrine inclusively, I cite the findings of mythologists and scholars of comparative religion, who point to many parallels to Christ.

But the bishops’ Doctrine Committee insists Christ has “no parallel in any other figure in history.” It claims, “salvation is always accomplished in some way through Christ.” Other religions, states the document, are merely “a preparation for the Gospel.”

So I was taught in the Catholic schools of my youth. But Catholic educators in my acquaintance no longer teach this, and the Catholic missionaries I know do not feel obliged to convert people of other faiths to Christ. Meanwhile, historians uncover evidence of the many parallels to Christ in the Hellenistic religions, which, in the official Christian view, were “preparing the way” for the Christian tradition.

While official voices insist “the magisterium” has the responsibility to “safeguard the rule of faith,” while the hierarchy declares the Catholic Church the “one true church founded by Christ,” and while the Vatican censures theologians who dare to teach otherwise, the body of Christians is thinking more and more independently.

This is especially true of theologians and spiritual seers. During the last twenty years, the Vatican has doggedly countered the theological current of opening to the great Asian spiritual traditions. But it has little to say about the obvious parallels of Christ and the Buddha, Christ and Atman. All it can do is to keep thundering that Jesus Christ is “unique” and “absolute.”

Spiritual leaders are correcting the exclusive claims of Christianity’s past. It is wrong to limit the Transcendent Mystery to a specific set of images.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Enlightenment in 2008

The steady theme of the inspirational and brilliant orator Jesus of Nazareth was the Reign of God. In God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky I avoid using the term “Kingdom” because of that word’s misleading connotation. Now I find affirmation of my interpretation in The Hidden Gospel: Decoding the Spiritual Message of the Aramaic Jesus by Neil Douglas-Klotz.

Studying an Aramaic translation of the gospels called the Peshitta, Klotz uncovers meaning that the Aramaic speaker Jesus would have conveyed to his Aramaic listeners. The earliest manuscript of the Peshitta is from the fourth century and its language reveals aspects of Jesus’ message hidden from Western minds by Western translations.

Usually translated “Kingdom” in English, the Aramaic word malkuta, the Hebrew mamlaka, and the Greek basileia all are feminine-gendered nouns. “Queendom” would be a more accurate translation, “quite apart from any considerations of political correctness,” writes Klotz. “As we now know from archeological records, queens historically preceded kings in the Middle East, as in many other parts of the world.”

By delving into the root meanings of the word, Klotz’s alternative translations of Jesus’ sayings often use the word “empowerment” along with “vision.” The most telling Jesus saying, I believe, appears in Luke 17:20 to 21 and the Gospel of Thomas 113:
"You cannot tell by careful watching when the reign of God will come. . . . The reign of God is already in your midst.”
Translating the Aramaic, Klotz writes,
“The reign of empowerment you look for does not come from watching outside, from waiting for it to happen . . . The `I Can' of Oneness that will free you comes from inside out."

In my own translation, I wish for readers in 2008 the vision-empowerment that Jesus of Nazareth promoted as the Reign of God, that is, I wish for you enlightenment.