Sunday, August 28, 2005

The Voice of One Crying in the Desert

The voice of one crying in the wilderness, as the KJV has it in Mk. 1:3. It is the soundless sound we hear at the dawning of reality on the dream-sleep of the ego-world. When the reality of who we are in truth for the first time cracks the shell of the substitute reality we have made up and superimposed upon creation as the expression of our choice for separation, and starts us looking for "another way."

I would like to suggest here that the usual historical cum phenomenological distinctions within Christianity are less than useful from the point of view of those who are looking to follow the spiritual path which Jesus represented, and which was bombarded "Christianity," only by dint of theological concepts which Paul put in Jesus's mouth through his influence on the editing of those Gospel stories which were to become "canonical," and thus included in the New Testament as the accepted wordly version and interpretation of the teachings of Jesus. That theology was the rationalization of the ego's need to separate, and provided Paul with a suitably glamorous career option.

In the following I should like to suggest that a more useful distinction is along the lines of content, not form, and moreover is very simple to make. Pauline Christianity is a reinterpretation of Jesus and his teachings, and I would suggest a complete reconstruction of who and what he was, based primarily on Paul's conversion experience on the road to Damascus. He thought he saw Jesus, and was overwhelmed with guilt about his prior prosecution of Christians, and now decided to become one himself.

As anybody knows who has spent some time in their current lifetime being a spiritual seeker of one sort or another, we are terribly likely to confuse the medium and the message, form and content, and go off on wild tangents which we then subsequently regret. Such it was with Paul. The most common form of spiritual misadventure is one in which we interpret an experience that may be of a revelatory nature in the context of the old ego framework, and thereby pervert it. And God forbid, if we're successful at it we may even start another movement or religion. Religious history is littered with those phenomena, for they become schools of thought, and various denominations within the context of church history. The most salient characteristic perhaps is that the specific teacher who developed those ideas becomes important. Paul of course is the primary example and in the end indirectly declares himself a saint, which is a convenience afforded those who help found a major institution like the church.
Paul is the primary founder of that institution in concept, since it is he who puts the core concepts of Christian theology into Jesus's mouth, through his influence on the redaction of he Gospel stories, most particularly Luke and Acts as a combined book (which it originally was), which serves the purpose of legitimizing Paul's reconstruction of Jesus, and the development of a theology based on his perceptions of Jesus, which he blithely declares to be better than the real thing. Eucharist, vicarious salvation, resurrection in the flesh, and second coming as a future event in the world, as Jesus coming TO the world, are all Pauline constructs, and reflect a dualistic teaching which makes the world real.

No wonder that it took just a few finishing touches over the next couple of hundred years, before this teaching became suited to be a state religion under Constantine the Great. Earlier, the Roman Empire saw a threat in Christianity because of Jesus' teachings that a "Kingdom not of this world" was the real deal. Under the redaction of Paul and his followers however, the world is made very real, and the Second Coming safely put off till what is for all intents and purposes infinity, so the ego can have a field day, and Emperors subsequently no longer need to see it as a threat. Constantine correctly saw the marketing opportunity for what it was and based his powergrab on the Christian hunger for recognition.

The central themes of Pauline Christianity are: making the world real by emphasizing Jesus's and God's role in it (the creator God), vicarious salvation, Jesus' exclusive claim to being God's son, and us as adopted sons and daughters, resurrection in the flesh, and a Second Coming in the future. Hell and damnation shall rain upon you and yours if you don't believe it, and a good deal of the belief in sin, guilt and fear forms the seasoning in the stew of the Pauline epistles. Very noticeable also is the need to proselytize, to convince others of the righteousness of these beliefs, and its corollary belief that our salvation will depend on convincing others. The latter is a form of attack, which was to lead to prosecutions and religious wars in the end.

The other principal manifestation of Christianity I would like to call Johannine Christianity after John the Baptist, where the emphasis is on actually following Jesus as a path of spiritual development, in which the first step is to be a follower of John, learning to transcend the ego's automatic valuation of everything in life into good and bad for our ego-based personality, but rather to learn to see everything that comes our way as a blessing in disguise, as a learning opportunity to advance our spiritual learning, a spiritual classroom. It is this John (whose role can be played by any number of people, and does not need to be any specific person, but an experience), who helps us transcend our ego-judgments and sets us on a path where in due course we will meet Jesus. "There must be another way," the now famous phrase of Bill Thetford which "led" to the writing down of the Course, is a reflection of hearing this call (the voice calling in the desert.)

Mary Magdalen, the apostle to the apostles, Valentinus, A Course In Miracles, Angelus Silezius and countless others belong in this category. The only reason not more is known of their "history" is that by definition they do not build buildings, or otherwise focus on leaving behind a lot of monuments, though there may be writings, artwork, or oral tradition. The only reason to use the term Christianity at all, when Jesus so clearly was identified as a Jew, in my view would only be historical convenience, and the fact that Jesus in the Course does refer to being a Christian in this sense a few times. However, in terms of content, arguably much of the Chassidic movement in Judaism could belong under this category, because it was a powerful reflection of Johannine consciousness, and a living expectation of the coming of the Messiah, though again often it got stuck in making the world real. The culmination of Johannine consciousness is what the Course calls the Happy Learner, at which point, like John the Baptist we can be useful to others by assisting in their baptism of life. This makes sense only if you realize that the theological constructs which Paul c.s. used to split off Christianity from Judaism as a new religion, were not taught by Jesus at all.
In fact, Jan Willem Kaiser, the Dutch author on spirituality whose work I'm translating, suggested this notion of Chassidism as a reflection of Johannine-consciousness in his writing fifty years ago. He was good friends with Prof. Martin Buber, who was also a frequent speaker at Kaiser's Open Field conferences on sprituality. We need to see the Judaeo-Christian tradition as an organic whole, and not be distracted too much by the specifics. In the end probably all of the Abrahamic religions will need to learn to understand each other much better, close relatives that they are. We might even decide that in spite of her pre-Vatican II theology, Mother Theresa might have a home of sorts on the Johannine side of this line, as might some Catholic saints, and perhaps even some Sufi teachers could easily cross over. The critical point here that it is content, not form which matters, and a living relationship with Jesus is the primary notion. A present life of the spirit.

It is in fact J. W. Kaiser who uses the disctinction between Johannine and Pauline Christianity, but he uses the term as it sometimes has been in the past, associating it with John, the beloved disciple - and that would be equally valid for similar reasons as argued above. The bottom line is that we start seeing two paths, a dualistic one in the world, which becomes a religion, and a worldly institution, and an inner path of non-dualistic spirituality, of which most evidence has been obliterated, burned, destroyed or suppressed, if any physical evidence was left behind at all.

Looking at the landscape in this manner is a convenient way of sorting through the clutter of religious phenomena. In the end it is very simple to understand why the Pauline model of Christianity, never mind all the hair-splitting, is essentially a necessity if you are to believe in the reality of the world. So is an external savior who comes to rescue us in the end. All's well that ends well, is the implied message, which is very soothing, in this not always pleasant world - no wonder Marx called religion opium for the people, except that he forgot that Marxism is a religion also.
The alternative path is the path of inner growth, of taking up your cross (i.e. taking responsibility for your life) and following him, out of this world, i.e. learning to hear and ultimately live and become his message. The Course is perhaps the most complete, thorough and consistent expression of this type of spirituality we've ever known, certainly within the Judaeo-Christian framework proper. With the addition of "The Disappearance of the Universe" as a sort of popular-language compendium and corollary to the Course the living presence of Jesus as our Inner Teacher is arguably an easier choice to make today than at any previous time in history. We might also note that Jesus in the NT really is depicted as carrying out his ministry in street language with ordinary people, and "Disappearance" brings the Course to the vernacular of today, without compromising it one iota.

Another way of looking at this distinction is that Johannine Christianity as defined here, reflects what Jesus taught, while Pauline Christianity is what the ego hears, and then turns around and explains to others in terms of reference which make sense to it. It is a translation of his message into language the world can accept without the need to wake up from the dream. Now interestingly, the second at least in an external sense kept the news alive in the consciousness of the world, if nothing else by printing piles of Bibles, and lo and behold, the Bible can be read with the right mind as well as with the wrong mind, as the Course hints several times. And so the lines are fluid in reality, and over the centuries people have come through Christianity, and transcended it in various ways to still find their inner relationship with Jesus, for it does not depend on any "right" theology, but only on experience.

The "Voice of One Crying in the Desert" ultimately is nothing else but the dualistic experience (duality is metaphor - not an actual voice) of a memory of our non-dualistic reality, which we frequently experience as disconcerting fractures in the ego's so seemingly fool proof system, an event, a remark, etc. But as the Course reminds us, the ego's system may be fool proof, but it is not God-proof (ACIM:T-5.VI.10:6). So the cracks in the system show up in a variety of ways. People who realize they never believed what they heard in Catechism class, for the explanations did not make sense, and they start looking on their own. Bill Thetford looking for "another way." Etc. all of that is the intrusion of the memory of our spiritual reality into the dualistic substitute-reality of the ego, and if we hear the call and take heed, it will be the start of our spiritual path, which is why the Gospel of Mark expresses so clearly that the coming of John is the beginning of the path of salvation (Gospel). Once we begin to follow this inner voice, it will lead us ultimately into a relationship with our own Inner Teacher.

The path of spiritual growth which we now embark upon has us get up and fall down many times, as did the apostles in the Bible. Of this process the Course in T-2.III.3:10 says: "The outcome is as certain as God." Here is the paragraph in full:

The acceptance of the Atonement by everyone is only a matter of time. 2 This may appear to contradict free will because of the inevitability of the final decision, but this is not so. 3 You can temporize and you are capable of enormous procrastination, but you cannot depart entirely from your Creator, Who set the limits on your ability to miscreate. 4 An imprisoned will engenders a situation which, in the extreme, becomes altogether intolerable. 5 Tolerance for pain may be high, but it is not without limit. 6 Eventually everyone begins to recognize, however dimly, that there be a better way. 7 As this recognition becomes more firmly established, it becomes a turning point. 8 This ultimately reawakens spiritual vision, simultaneously weakening the investment in physical sight. 9 The alternating investment in the two levels of perception is usually experienced as conflict, which can become very acute. 10 But the outcome is as certain as God.
unquote (ACIM:T-2.III.3)

Copyright, (c) 2005, Rogier F. van Vlissingen. All rights reserved.
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