Sunday, August 28, 2005

Spirituality versus Spiritualizing the World

Since I'm often very clear and explicit that Paul turned Jesus's teachings upside down, I get occasional emails from Paul fans, and I thought it was time to clarify something. Saul/Paul and the Christian theology he founded are extremely useful as teaching examples of how the ego reinterprets Jesus (and we all do it!), once you understand the differences. But like anything else if we don't look at it, the learning opportunity is lost on us, and the critical difference is in looking at it with Jesus, so that indeed we can see in Paul merely a brother who dramatizes for us our own mistakes in pulling Jesus down into the world, and making the world very real, and then covering over our mistake by spiritualizing the result and dressing it up in religious sentiment, which merely obfuscates our attempt of making the world real and ourselves important. In our present time, we like to be important ACIM teachers, just as much as Paul transformed Jesus's intention of teaching the oneness of the sonship, into a togetherness of a community which subscribed to a set of beliefs about Jesus, which Paul and those who followed after were in charge of defining.

The apotheosis of this line of thinking is truly in the Nicene Creed, which truly becomes a formula of a set of rational beliefs, and almost a mantra which will magically ensure that we will go to heaven when we die: all clearly manifestations of the ego's model of the world of time and space, including the incarnation of souls into the body, meaning that the body has primacy, not the spirit, as Jesus had taught, but which was misunderstood by a religion founded in his name which celebrated the crucifixion of his body, not the resurrection of the spirit.

In terms of the transition from the teachings of Jesus to the teachings of Paul, we don't have to go far. By Romans 2:4 he starts throwing the judgment of God around, quite in contrast to Jesus whose ministry is founded on the forgiveness of sins. Regarding his views on resurrection, passages like Hebrews 11:35 make it clear that he thinks of resurrection as something after physical death. So it becomes part of what follows a good life on earth, and the notion we find in the Gospel of Thomas that this life here on earth IS death, so that Resurrection becomes waking up from this life- it is not there in Paul. Instead there is concern with convincing the neighbors.

The fine line is that true spirituality would teach that the ego is not true, whereas in any effort to spiritualize the world or anything in it, form is the cause meaning, not meaning the cause of form. That sounds abstract and elusive, but it is quite clear, in particular in the example of the crucifixion and the explanation which Jesus gives in the Course in which the meaning of the crucifixion is given as “Teach only love for that is what you are.” (T-6.III.2.4) In other words Jesus here teaches by his spiritual attitude that the world and the body are not what they seem to be. Conversely the Christian explanation of the crucifixion for which Paul lays the groundwork, sees meaning in the act of Jesus' death by crucifixion and rationalizes it with the sacrificial theology of vicarious salvation: he dies so we get off the hook. So here a pseudo spiritual rationalization seeks to justify a gruesome event, by ascribing salvific value to is.

Thus spiritualizing the world becomes simply a methodology of justifying the ego, and it is this which Christianity does throughout. It is another example of a beautiful and elaborate frames, quite in the spirit of the section “The Two Picutes,” in which it is clear that we should look for the content of the picture, and not be distracted by the form. Along these lines I can't help but remember being in Rome as a high school kid, and we got a tour of the Sta. Maria Maggiore, which is of course a gorgeous cathedral, and the Dutch priest who volunteered to give us the tour, because he overheard us speaking Dutch, waxed poetical about the golden ceiling and how it was made from the first gold Columbus had brought from the New World, and being somewhat precocious I said out loud what was on my mind: “Ah, just like I thought, it's all built on rape, murder and robbery.” The poor priest turned around and left us standing there in the middle of the tour. Yet of course this is fundamentally the picture, ever since the time of Constantine “the Great,” when Christianity really was put in the service of the state, the world and the ego in the most explicit sense thinkable, and that has never changed. Even in our own day the Pope is thought to have political relevance, and he seems quite concerned with that.

To come back to Paul for one more moment, of course there are many wonderful sections in his work and he is undoubtedly a towering intellectual figure, yet the overall influence is away from spirituality, and towards justifying and spiritualizing this life on earth. And therein lies the rub.

Rogier F. van Vlissingen, © 2006.
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