Down the Rabbit HoleIt is perhaps worthwhile then to contrast the mainstream or orthodox view of Christianity with the view of the sage as presented in this book. There is a striking relationship between these two views, which are like twin siblings. Although they use the same language and the same Christian symbols, they point to a different experience of reality entirely. Orthodoxy celebrates the symbols, sees them as ends in themselves and ignores their references, thereby robbing these symbols of their true function. Baptism and Communion are two examples of symbolic rituals, enactments or celebrations of some inner significance. Of themselves these rituals have no redemptive or magical powers; the change has to occur within the individual. For the sake of this discussion, an orthodox viewpoint is one that holds in higher esteem the truth from an external source, whether it be the Scriptures or any theology built around it, and blocks or minimizes or deviates from knowledge gained through personal experience or revelation or perception. It also views the reading of the life of Jesus, his miracles, sayings, death and resurrection, much in literal terms. There are many groups that fall under the umbrella of orthodoxy as defined here, which include mainstream Catholics, Protestants, Greek Orthodox, and others. The one type that glaringly stands out as an example of clearly defined orthodoxy is Christian Fundamentalism. Fundamentalism is the pinnacle of a militant perspective of sorts that reads the Scriptures literally and evangelically. While other groups or denominations subscribe to varying degrees of orthodoxy, Fundamentalists stretch orthodoxy to its literal limits. Although I will mainly use Fundamentalism as the prime example of orthodoxy, my comparison and arguments apply as well to other traditional Christian denominations, perhaps in varying degrees.

In some ways, Fundamentalists are to be respected more than any other denomination because they truly hold steadfast in their vision of God and make a great and (for the majority) honest effort to integrate God in their daily lives and to spread the “good news.” Fundamentalists believe that, as soldiers of the Lord, they not only need to have a relationship with Jesus Christ, as their personal savior, but to also evangelize the world, to spread the word and convert others to their faith. They also tend to have great fervor in their faith, to commit themselves to a strict diet of the Word of God, to lead their lives every single day in accordance with the Bible. Their thinking is based on a hermetically sealed system of ideas that points back, at every turn, to "facts" in the Bible. It is like a house that is clad in iron bars. Nothing can penetrate it nor escape it. Fundamentalists call themselves born-again; they spend substantial hours each week in study of the Scriptures. They do not submit to any man-made institutions or structures but denounce them - the Catholic Church is one example - for having strayed from the true Word. Fundamentalists speak with as much conviction as any confident believer willing to die for his faith. Some of them have undergone a profound psychological conversion, which has transformed and deepened their faith. Many Christians from traditional denominations are turning today to this extreme orthodox movement. They are abandoning their traditional faiths or denominations to become "full time" Christians, serious Christians by their own account. They have recognized the ineffectiveness and, in some instances, the hypocrisy of their churches. Many of the long established churches, the Catholic Church in particular, have seen a decline in attendance over the last several decades, complicated by many scandals and accusations of being archaic, corrupt, and even abusive. This relatively new army of God has taken up the Bible as its sword and is attempting to evangelize the world with its vision.

For Fundamentalist Christians, the events and sayings in the Bible are taken at face value and are not viewed as symbols that point to some higher truth or meaning; rather, the symbols do not point to anything at all. They are simply facts. And this is the problem. They believe, for example, that Jonah was literally in the belly of a whale for three days. They believe that Jesus literally turned water into wine and that he was raised physically from the dead. They believe in the Rapture described in First Thessalonians 4:16, which suggests that those who are "saved" will be literally taken up into the clouds with Jesus at the end of the world. These are just a few examples of Fundamentalist views. With this perspective, the believer is encouraged to think about God and Jesus in only one specific way, as facts. A great effort is made to have those who are saved, the elect, to share one unified vision of God, much in the same way that the Chosen People in their day had the clearly defined Ten Commandments. Any deviation from the Bible, the Word of God, is met with a suggestion that satanic activity may be at work to deceive the elect and they reference passages from Scripture to support this view. Certainly Fundamentalists may entertain symbolic references in the Jesus story as long as they do not negate or counteract the essential, literal reading of the Scriptures.

From the sage's perspective, one is encouraged to think in broader, creative terms, to stroke the imagination, to ask questions and not literally accept what is written on the page at first glance. One is encouraged to turn inwardly and see the Word of God imprinted on the heart, to recognize within the spark of the divine. For Fundamentalist Christians, one can ask questions and be creative in his thinking as long as he does not deviate from God's Word. They maintain that the devil is clever and can appear as truth by appealing to one's imperfect humanity; for Fundamentalists, human nature is inherently sinful and therefore cannot be trusted. To the sage, human nature is “sinful” insofar as it is asleep or ignorant. The devil is a symbol for the shadow in man and all that binds him and keeps him from awakening; the devil can represent a fossilized, comfortable religion, an unconscious spirit, which is the very thing that Jesus sought to awaken. The sage must recognize the devil within himself, psychologically speaking, and realize the source of his power. In doing so, the sage dismantles the devil's work and shakes the human spirit from its slumber. Human nature, then, is to be unlocked, not subjugated, so that it becomes transparent to the divine, just as a metaphor is transparent to the truth it reveals. Fundamentalists tend to use hard facts, to draw clear borders around God, to package Him and consume Him. They see the Bible as an instruction book, a recipe to be adhered to closely, and if it is precisely followed, salvation can be achieved.

The sage, as he rouses from his slumber, may at first reject and even vehemently rebel against the literalism, the religious forms and theology of orthodoxy because they seem to be the very things that have been a stumbling block between him and his greater life. But as he develops, he learns to penetrate the forms and behold the radiance that they communicate. Eventually, the sage retreats into himself, into a sacred place where there is the Sacred Fire. From that seat within, eventually he is able to accept these forms and even celebrate them in the quiet chambers of his sanctuary. And so, the sage walks in the same procession as the orthodox churchgoer, and no difference can be detected between the two as they kneel before the altar to take communion; however, the two are having quite different experiences and the forms are playing upon them in profoundly different ways. As the churchgoer looks out sorrowfully onto the altar and meditates across the chasm of space and time on Jesus’ life, crucifixion and resurrection in old Jerusalem, that one sacred place on the planet, the sage is undergoing the crucifixion and resurrection simultaneously and paradoxically within him, on that very sacred ground where he is standing and in that very instant. Time and space are irrelevant here. The sage may even be led to a point of awe and wonder in appreciation of the divine beauty in the ignorance of orthodoxy, because it is also a sacred movement or manifestation of the divine. Everything becomes luminous to the radiance of the Father. The kingdom of the Father is spread upon the earth and men do not see it.

These are only some highlights of differences and there are certainly many others. In essence, Fundamentalists see the sage's viewpoint as entangled in a web of deception, mired in self-exaltation and delusion. Most importantly, they cannot imagine and do not comprehend that an internal experience can yield a rich inner life and knowledge of God that is infinitely more engaging, more fulfilling, more loving and all-encompassing than their own. To Fundamentalists, the sage’s experience leads him to an outlook of life that has no tangible or metaphysical results. They believe that they have found the truth and must proclaim it to the world. From the Fundamentalist's mental framework, the devil may even have his hand in this book, because it calls for a heretical way of thinking; it taps the believer's shoulder, questions accepted beliefs, shakes the ground beneath his feet and tempts him to walk a different path, even an entirely different terrain. Therefore, it leads the believer into thinking about God in ways that are not in line with the orthodox interpretation of the Scriptures. It may lead to perplexity and uncertainty but this is the beginning of true knowledge. This is the beauty of the sage's viewpoint. It recognizes the divine dance in the world and proclaims that, to various people or ideologies, we all appear as both gods and devils, as saints and sinners, as blasphemers and prophets. It affirms the interplay of light and dark in the world and asks us to look beyond the two to a greater revelation or indisputable unity. In fact, the sage is the ultimate unification of the saint and the sinner. For neither the saint nor the sinner has favor with God, so to speak, but only he who recognizes and reconciles the two within himself.

The stars do not shine but in the darkness; they reveal their glory only when man is asleep and not watching. This is one of life’s deepest secrets.