In the primordial darkness, from the elemental waters of imagination, ideas are born naked and half-conscious. Like mist and foam, they wash ashore on the periphery of our minds and seep into the fabric of our thoughts. We clothe them, nurture them, protect them and in turn, they leave indelible footprints upon the landscape of our lives. Many of these ideas arrive through the oceans of time to captivate us, thrive in us, change us and sometimes enslave us. Ideas can lift us up and carry us on seas of opportunity to uncharted territory, but they can also pull us in and drown us in the vast, dark oceans from whence they came, long after they have been extinguished in our depths.
Christianity was born with an idea, an untainted thought in the form of the baby Jesus in Mary's womb. This idea has since perplexed the world and changed the face of civilization. After the dawn of the first century, this idea of Jesus was kept alive and was even made to flourish through a few key individuals. Throughout the centuries we have seen Christianity lift many people up and cast a shadow upon others, all in the name of one man, allegedly born and crucified in a far-flung corner of the Roman Empire. To this day, we do not have any definitive or historically accepted evidence that the Jesus of the Gospels actually lived in the mighty Roman Empire; however, his story has inspired many to sainthood, to sacrifice, to self-righteousness, and even to murder. This phenomenon is evidence that human beings are driven by ideas and that the stories of our lives are often written by words of imagination. Everything that we live by, everything that we do, begins as an idea. Simply, ideas can change our psychology and shape our world. It is no wonder that we are products of our own imagination, but it is also a double-edged sword.
Since Christianity's stormy beginnings, there have been debates arguing the history, purpose and meaning of the Jesus story. Through the centuries, many saints, scholars, and skeptics have given of their thoughts, debated their positions and argued with passion and fervor. Some have deconstructed the story to a rehashing and mixture of old pagan myths, centered around the ancient study of astrology, while others have built it up to be a historical or factual account of a critical point for the destiny of each human soul. The mystery of the Jesus story, however, remains intact. Collectively, nothing has been resolved. Nothing has changed. We are still at war and divided in our thinking, cowering in our own theological corners that are broken into many factions and denominations. Hardly ever, as a result of debates, does one side adopt the viewpoint of the other. Intellectual debates often result in all sides entrenching themselves deeper in their own thinking, fossilizing their ideas in the process, and shutting down to the other side's point of view. Oftentimes, no connection is ever made; no breakthrough is ever achieved. The aim repeatedly becomes how to best protect one’s own viewpoint from attacks by the other side, even unto death, rather than to truly consider the other's perspective and discover a new vision together. The essence or viewpoint itself becomes, for each side, secondary to the act of protecting it. Alienation sets in and our own ideas eventually consume us or die. And in our unwillingness to budge from our position, we also die along with them. Having looked into Medusa's eyes, we harden and become like statues cast in stone. We embark on wars and fight to the death in faraway lands to uphold our predetermined ideas that are rarely revisited at home. We sentence a man to death for murdering his neighbor, but award a medal of honor and praise to another for slaughtering the enemy, an estranged neighbor, on the battlefield. This same act of killing is secondary to the ideological impulse behind it. The reality takes a backseat to the ideology. Such is the power of ideas.
Today we live in a fractured world. We have long looked into the eyes of Medusa and, as a whole, have fallen under a spell cast by our own hand. We have lost our ability to connect with ourselves, with each other and with our environment. With the loss of this connection, we are left vulnerable, neurotic, and alienated, like a small vessel in the midst of a violent storm, susceptible to waves that slowly drown the remnants of our humanity. But history is awash with the turning tides of civilization. In every age, there is destruction and there is transformation; there is disintegration and there is rebirth. There is always darkness before the dawn. New life emerges from beneath the ashes of a scorched forest, and new planets are often formed from the death of massive stars or supernovæ.
The roots of today’s challenge reach back several thousand years. Long ago, people lived with mystery all around them. Tidal waves, volcanoes, tornados and earthquakes were thought to be the work of supernatural powers, a request by the gods for appeasement. Although the sense of mystery was boundless at that time, profound fear and primitive awe accompanied this mystery. People were held at bay by divinities and demons that lived behind the veil of daily life and that were satisfied perhaps only through prayers or sacrifices or monetary offerings. As in every age, the clever ones of those ancient times were able to harness the power of this fear and exploit those who believed. Several centuries ago, when science and the light of reason began to dawn upon civilization in full force and unlock ancient mysteries, the world started to become demystified. Fear of unknown forces and of the church (and “God”) began to diminish, along with the mystery in everyday life. The world became mechanized like some pocket watch. As the Industrial Revolution took hold, people began to crave the comforts that the new world had to offer and thought less and less about the realm of the mysterious. Science and technology steamrolled through our cities and into our homes making us believe that these modern conveniences would make our lives easier. Consumerism became the new religion. In our zealous search, at least in many parts of the world, to maximize our convenience and physical comfort, we have almost entirely expelled the sense of mystery from our lives. Never before has the middle class achieved so much wealth. And yet never before have we come to know such widespread neuroticism, anxiety and use of medication for the treatment of depression and other psychological illnesses in the young and old. Many thinkers, poets, artists and the like, liberal and conservative, have unequivocally put the blame for today's social failures on the collapse of our religion, the primary ideas by which we once lived. Even today, many are attempting to enforce an ideology or a religion that was born two thousand years ago when the earth was thought to be flat. Whatever the reasons for their failure, these primary ideas – as we perceive them today - no longer serve the human spirit and therefore, many are calling either for their reinterpretation in context with our modern world or for a quest to find new ideas that will once more set us on the right path. It is the task of the seeker, the artist, the thinker, and every human being who has any reverence or wonder for life whatsoever to turn the tide once again, to look through the shattered remains of our heritage and bring about a revolution, a new expression of this mystery. Perhaps the pendulum of religion has exhausted its full swing and is now turning back to find renewed energy and life in the nuances of its momentum. But we must be sure to set it in a new direction altogether or completely smash it, lest we fall into the depression of its hardened footprints.
No one can deny that the world is filled with war, famine, homelessness, murder and other types of violence. These pestilences are solely caused by human beings. Christians and members of other religions have failed in joining together to make their ideologies work and to eradicate these horrors. We in the West have based our worldview and many of our institutions on a certain understanding of the Bible and the Gospels, but I believe that this understanding is one of the root causes of our problems. Christianity, among other religions, teaches its followers to do good, to exert every effort to be moral and to love people. Perhaps through this effort, many believers feel that they will attain or earn their place in heaven. But it seems that the more people try through effort to live moral lives, the more susceptible they are to corruption. Why? We are perhaps approaching the problem from the opposite end. I believe that the issue is our ignorance or denial, rooted in fear, of what there actually is; instead, we try to paint a thin layer of morality over it. Jesus of the Gospels approached this problem by constantly holding up a mirror to people so that they may confront themselves and question the basis for their thoughts and behavior. But to confront oneself in the mirror is to suffer. It brings us face to face with those dark aspects of ourselves that we do not wish to see. In Carl Jung's words: "There is no coming to consciousness without pain." We spend a lifetime in distractions as we try to avoid looking at ourselves. Psychological suffering is a knock at the door that beckons us to move out into a wide open, inner space. Suffering is the unbalancing and displacement of our assumptions about our world and our personal existence. In seeing our conflicts and inconsistencies and accepting the truth of who we are not, a certain dissociation and a natural and effortless transformation takes place. Virtues such as compassion, love and social morality grow out of this transformation and not vice versa. In truly seeing our smallness and pettiness, we grow big and gentle. Contrary to mainstream Christianity's teaching, these virtues cannot be chased or possessed. They are not to be worn and paraded about and traded; rather, they are the direct result of the Christ vision, of seeing what is, of becoming aware of the patterns behind our thoughts, actions and words. These virtues are the fruit of a dynamic process or perception that lies outside the confines of any effort to achieve a certain morality or any linear thinking or intellect. In Matthew 11:12 Jesus says: "And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force." Any effort to grasp at a virtue is a form of violence. This effort is self-serving and it is through this violence that believers have always tried to force their way into heaven. The result of course is the brutal world we have today.
This book, divided in three parts, explores the story of Jesus as a symbol for that dynamic transformation that lies dormant within the human being. The first part sets the stage for the exploration of the Jesus story from a metaphorical perspective, introduces the use of metaphors and symbols, and presents the key characteristics of the Christ mindset or vision that is represented through the person of Jesus. The Gospels speak of it as the Kingdom of Heaven. This is not a place but a symbol for that liberated state of mind and of being that comes about as a result of a fundamental recognition or perception. Although difficult to talk about, there are specific, universal markers that define this vision. The second part gives many examples of Jesus' sayings and miracles and reveals them as pointers to or symbols of that archetypal vision. The third part compares and contrasts the perspective of one who has been touched by this vision, the sage or mystic, with that of the orthodox believer, specifically the Fundamentalist Christian and attempts to reveal a common thread in these apparent polarities.