Saturday, August 23, 2008

Reign of God vs. Kingdom

In God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky, I interpret Christian doctrine inclusively. Because distinctions are a good way of helping us to “get” new concepts, I’ve fashioned this table to contrast the inclusive idea of the Reign of God from the exclusive Kingdom idea.

Exclusive Kingdom of God --- Inclusive Reign of God

“Sudden eruption of God’s rule” (end of the world)--- Eternal Field of consciousness (Ground of being)
Literal interpretation --- Symbolic interpretation
Coming in linear time ---Eternal, timeless
Jesus judge and savior ---Universal ideal in each person
Access limited ---Accessible to all
Inconsistent with science; end of world, of physical law --- Consistent with science, with findings about space/time & consciousness
Territory of a male monarch with power over subjects --- Inner dimension with equal dignity of all
Christian frame of ideas --- Universal frame of ideas

August 4, 2012

The range of responses to the prior post delight me. A person who emailed me numbered them from 1 to 9 and said this:
"Some of these I probably would agree with (3, 5, 6, 7). A couple I don't know what you mean at all (1, 2, 8, 9) and would need an explanation. # 4, I really don't know what you mean."
Books would be needed to adequately answer Tule's comment question and this email set of questions, but I hope to partially answer them here, and I invite further questions. It's clear that, in my zeal to speak to the full spectrum of spiritual beliefs, I assume too large a degree of common understanding.

Here goes.
The historical Jesus often spoke about something that usually is translated “Kingdom of God” and traditionally is envisioned as a heaven reserved for people whom Jesus judged worthy at a cataclysmic end of the world. A respected theologian believed that Jesus preached “a sudden, final eruption of God’s rule into this present world.” Many Christians still imagine this “Kingdom” to be so exclusive that only believers in Jesus get in. This and other exclusive Christian claims are the target of my effort to bridge Christianity with other ways of imagining spiritual reality, religious and non-religious.

As I imagine the Reign that the Nazarene spoke of, it is the cosmic field of consciousness that mystics experience in deep meditation and people like Eckhart Tolle discuss. Mysticism is the direct experience of what’s called “God,” a term that unfortunately conjures up a god. Included in the mystic experience is union with this indefinable Ground of being or Source of all that is or could be. “Eternity” could be another term for it (no words do it justice), because Einstein’s discovery of the space/time continuum separates the timeless Source from timed creation.

I believe Jesus to have been one of the great mystic seers of history, but we don’t have to be mystics to have some experience of the Eternal Source. It is an experience of consciousness that transcends rationality and transcends the physical brain, although instruments can detect something happening. Actually all thought, all consciousness transcends physical activity. Apparently Tule disagrees with this.

Another email comment came from Vincent Smiles, the Professor of Theology who read my manuscript and whose expertise in scripture I depend on.

Dr. Smiles cautions against attributing to Jesus our modern consciousness and separating Jesus too much from his own time, which was saturated with apocalyptic expectation. That makes sense. I reach the conclusion that, whatever the man in Palestine meant 2000 years ago, we have to translate its meaning for us at this stage in the evolution of human consciousness. And Vincent says something similar but much more completely and more nuanced:

"In general, of course, I like and agree with what you are suggesting here, but there are a number of complications. We have to keep clearly in mind the distinction between the ancient voices as enshrined in the texts, and our modern sensitivities and interpretations. This means that we cannot in any sense replace “end of the world,” for instance, with “ground of being,” since the NT (almost certainly including Jesus himself) did understand the “kingdom” (or “reign”) to involve God’s imminent closure of history-as-usual. That is why there is a distinctively political edge to the NT, for all that politics as such was neither Jesus’ nor the early church’s primary concern.

"We, by contrast, have essentially given up on “imminent coming,” even though we still profess “the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” When Jesus preached that “the reign of God is at hand,” he was not saying, “the eternal field of consciousness is timeless” (or the like); the evidence suggests that, in line with the tradition of OT prophecy, he had in mind some definitive action by God to interrupt the current flow of history and to bring it to fulfillment in accordance with the ancient promises to Israel.

"There was an inclusiveness in his vision that was, and remains, of decisive importance, which is why I mostly agree with what you are suggesting, but the issue of the “translation” of the ancient preaching and actions into present meanings is quite complex, I think. I think there has to be some negotiation between the “revelations” enshrined in the Bible, which are articulated in ancient idioms, and those same “revelations” as we receive and understand them in the context of our times and cultures. There is danger, in my view, in allowing either one to dominate the other.

"Specifically, I think it is important to strive for an understanding of God as active in human history not merely in a universal sense (“eternal field” etc) but also in particular times and places. “The Word became flesh” in a specific time, place and culture; if we view God only in terms of an “eternal field,” then, as I see it, we - very ironically - shrink God; she becomes just an amorphous idea, a concept, perhaps even just a “God of the philosophers.” Personally, I’d be just as happy with atheism. So, while I agree with the thrust toward inclusiveness, I think we need to strive for that in ways that do not compromise the specificity of Jesus – or, for that matter, of Buddha, Mohammed and so on."

I look forward to Vincent’s forthcoming book on science and spirituality.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Divinity in all

My purpose being to bridge Christianity with other spiritual traditions, I’m always happy to see common themes. One such is the idea that individual consciousness is part of the One consciousness.

First a word about “consciousness.” For me “Consciousness” can be a synonym for God, similar to Mind or Thought, and I believe Consciousness/Mind/Thought is prior to the material universe.

I’ve read and listened to more than one kind of atheist. Some only disbelieve in the god I don’t believe in either—the humanlike individual. But some atheists apparently don’t believe in immaterial reality, and that makes no sense at all.

We think, and our thoughts cannot be tracked by the brain or attributed to brain processes. They are more than movements of molecules. Furthermore, our scattered and contradictory thoughts are unified by our minds into a unified sense of self. I know that I am I, no matter how the various feelings and ideas in me conflict. Where does this self in me come from? Ken Wilber explores this mystery:
What in you right now is looking at all these objects—looking at nature and its sights, looking at the body and its sensations, looking at the mind and its thoughts? . . . As you push back into this pure Subjectivity, this pure Seer, you won’t see it as an object—you can’t see it as an object, because it’s not an object! . . . the “Seer” in you that is witnessing all these objects is itself just a vast Emptiness.
This is the Void that Buddhists talk about and the Formlessness I talk about in God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky. It is infinitely greater than us but not separate from us. Thich Nhât Hanh, a Buddhist monk living in the West, likens our connection with God to a wave’s relation to the whole ocean.

Yann Martell in Life of Pi says,
The individual soul touches upon the world soul like a well reaches for the water table. That which sustains the universe beyond thought and language, and that which is at the core of us and struggles for expression, is the same thing. The finite within the infinite, the infinite within the finite.
The fourteenth century German mystic Meister Eckhart approached this mystery with Christian language:
The Father gives birth to me his Son.
When the Father begets his Son in me, I am that Son and no other. . . . Thus, we are all in the Son and are the Son.
The Father gives birth to his Son without cease, and I say more: he gives birth to me his Son and the same Son.
God and I we are one.
If we translate Eckhart’s patriarchal symbolism—his father/son language—to apply it universally, we hear him saying that the Source is continually begetting, and each of us is equally an offspring of the Source called God. Eckhart essentially says,
I’m just as divine as Jesus is.
His insight is that of all mystics. Whatever their tradition, mystics are transported into a state of communion with the One so complete that they lose their separateness from It, realizing full union with Divinity. I believe Jesus attained this state, but I do not believe his communion with what we call God was unique and unrepeatable.

Eckhart was excommunicated shortly after he died, but since then his preaching has been received with awe and gratitude by Catholics and others on a spiritual quest, whatever their tradition. One Christian writer said,
To go where Eckhart went is to come close to Lao Tzu [author of the Tao te Ching] and Buddha, and certainly Jesus Christ.
Now to the breathtaking revision in Connie’s comment to my post “God is not supernatural.” An extraordinary ordinary Catholic, she wrote,
I reverse the consecration prayer at Mass by saying, "in ME, through ME, and with ME.
The penetrating insight and courage in that!

My final quotation addresses the consequences of this insight. Andrew Cohen in What Is Enlightenment? writes,
You realize "I am the creator" in the midst of the fact that there are six or seven billion other creators. . . . It means within my own means, I’m going to take absolute responsibility for creating the future. It means we’re no longer deferring responsibility, no longer making excuses.
This theme implicitly gives an answer to one reader’s comment that I cannot “claim to be a Catholic Christian and then reject the divinity of Christ.” I do not reject the divinity of Christ but, as I say in God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky, the term "Christ" does not refer exclusively to one man who lived two thousand years ago. Divinity infuses the entire universe, and Christian doctrinal terms allude to this: "cosmic Christ" and "Incarnation."

Lincoln on myth (August 12, 2008)
Abraham Lincoln was no mythologist or theologian but he understood the human need for myth. During a discussion questioning whether George Washington was perfect, Lincoln said there was merit in having people believe it.
It makes human nature better to believe that one human being was perfect, that human perfection is possible.
I haven’t seen a better explanation of the need for and power in the mythical Jesus.

I’m reading Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. Reading the book has become a spiritual exercise as I follow Lincoln and his contemporaries combining politics with their moral revulsion over slavery. Lincoln was an astute as well as compassionate politician and, while he advanced the realization of his ambition with canny skill, he absorbed defeats with magnanimity, despite the hurt.

He was not religious; he could not believe there is anything that survives death except being held in memory by others. But he supported his wife’s faith and remains a spiritual model for Americans and the world, prompting Edwin M. Stanton to proclaim at his death, “Now he belongs to the ages.” Lincoln is a clear example of the difference between religion and spirituality.

Florian commented:
Good beliefs are ones that are actually true. It is not good to believe what isn't true. To request belief in what is not true is an affront to our intelligence.

I think you have completely missed the fact that the power of the Christian "myth" comes from the gospel claim that it is not myth but (factual) truth. If you take away the factual truth aspect of it, I guarantee you that the power that the Christian message has displayed throughout history will fizzle out.

You don't even realize that you are a prime example of this. By giving up on literal belief, the Christian message has fizzled out of you.