A: Some readers are probably very surprised that a mystic and an angel are spending so much time talking about academic research and academic sources. How would you respond to that?
J: I respond the same way today as I responded 2,000 years ago. My basic attitude is a pretty tough one: you can’t get close to God if you don’t do the work. You can’t get close to God if you separate yourself from the rest of God’s Creation. You can’t get close to God by snubbing everything God is saying to you in the world around you.
A: The idea that you can’t get close to God if you don’t do the work is a pretty universal spiritual idea. Teachers from a number of different faith traditions have said much the same thing. Various schools of Buddhism are all about teaching the correct way to do the work. But the second idea you present — the idea that you can’t get close to God if you separate yourself from the rest of God’s Creation — that’s a much less common idea among spiritual teachers. Tell me more about that.
J: Basically it’s the idea that if you want to get close to God, you have to start with the only piece of Creation that God has given you complete control over: your own biology. Your own brain, your own body, your own body-soul nexus. This little piece of Creation is all you get. The rest belongs to other people — to other souls and to God the Mother and God the Father. You get one little piece of Creation to command — one little Kingdom to be in charge of — and it’s your job as a human being and as a soul to look after your little corner of Creation. It’s a big job. Much bigger than most human beings realize. It takes time. It takes commitment. It takes courage. It takes knowledge. More than anything, it takes full acceptance.
A: What do you mean by “acceptance”? Do you mean people have to be resigned to their misery? Do you mean they have to accept the status quo?
J: No. I mean the exact opposite. I mean that if they want to get close to God while living here as human beings, they have to accept that God believes in them. They have to accept that they’re not filled with corruption and sin. They have to accept that they’re not here — here on Planet Earth — as some form of cosmic punishment or karmic journey. They have to stop seeing the glass as “half empty” and start seeing Creation in a positive light. This includes a commitment to seeing themselves — their core selves, their souls — in a positive light. They have to stop feeling so damned sorry for themselves.
A: A lot of pious people I’ve met — mostly Christians, but not exclusively so — remind me a lot of a fictional character from a science fiction/satire mini-series that ran many years ago called “The Hitchhiker`s Guide to the Galaxy. The character was Marvin the Robot. Marvin was always going around feeling sorry for himself. “Oh, poor me!” “Woe is me!” He saw himself as a victim — victim with a capital “V.” I found it hard to like Marvin, to be honest, because all he did was whine.
J: Pauline Christianity encourages people to whine. “Oh, poor me, I’m tainted with original sin, and there’s nothing I can do about it. I’m just a victim. It’s not my fault. It’s Adam’s fault. If Adam hadn’t screwed up and made God so angry, then I wouldn’t have so many problems today. I’ll do my best, Lord — honest! — but please don’t expect too much of me, because, after all, I’m full of inner corruption and sin, and I’m doing the best I can — honest! I promise to go to church every week so you can cleanse me of my sins, but as for the rest of the week . . . please remember that I’m just a frail, weak, ignorant human being who can’t possibly resist temptation and can’t possibly understand your mysteries! You’ve decided to make all life solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short, so who I am to argue with your wisdom?”
A: Thomas Hobbes.
J: Yes. Thomas Hobbes — the pessimist’s pessimist. Also one of the great Materialist philosophers who rejected outright the relevance of the soul to a functioning, non-chaotic society. He had it all backwards because of his own psychological dysfunction.
A: Progressive Christianity, as this new movement calls itself, is edging in the direction of a Materialist religion — a religion founded on Newtonian science where the words “soul” and “miracle” are considered embarrassing and irrelevant.
J (smiling): Orthodox Western Christianity has in some ways always been a Materialist religion, despite the oxymoron-like quality of this phrase.
A: How so?
J: How often does Paul use the word psyche (soul) in his 7 known letters (8 if you count Colossians, as I do)?
A: Uh, hardly ever. When he does, he describes the soul in an eerie blend of Platonic and Jewish apocalyptic ways.
J: And how often does Paul talk about healing miracles? By that I mean the kind of healing miracles described several times in the Gospel of Mark.
A: Never. Paul doesn’t talk about healing miracles. He talks about sin and salvation and eschatology and Spirit and chosenness for those who believe in Christ. But he doesn’t talk about healing miracles.
J: What about the Roman Catholic Church’s take on healing miracles?
A: Oh, they keep a tight, tight rein on miracles. Nothing can be called an “official miracle” unless the Vatican approves it according to very strict criteria.
J: What’s one of the key criteria?
A: The healing had to take place after somebody prayed directly to a saint. Or a saint-to-be.
J: It’s a closed shop. A closed system. The Vatican has control over all the definitions. It’s not a true miracle unless it goes through the doors of the Church. Which doesn’t happen very often. It therefore forces people to look at the world around them in non-miraculous ways. In Materialist ways.
J: Think of it this way. Christian orthodoxy has insisted since the beginning that God is to be understood as transcendent — far, far away from this earthly realm, detached from all emotion, detached from day to day concerns with human suffering, distant, serene, uninvolved with the petty concerns of the corrupt material world. This is actually Plato’s idea, but the Church long ago embraced it, and it’s officially part of Church doctrine, so the Church has to take responsibility for this choice. How does this translate for pious Christians? How does it make them feel about the world around them?
A: Well, on the one hand, they’re told by Genesis that they’re in charge of the world and can do whatever they like to it. It’s supposed to be a “good Creation.” On the other hand, they’re told that God isn’t actually “in” this good Creation, but is somewhere else — far, far away in a transcendent realm of pure Mind. I suppose that idea makes it easy for people to make excuses for their behaviour when they mistreat the environment and mistreat other creatures. Something along the lines of “Oh, it’s just a bunch of corrupt, material ‘stuff’ that doesn’t matter to God, so it’s okay for me to take what I want and leave a big mess behind.” . . . Okay, I’m starting to see what you’re getting at. This kind of anthropocentric religious thinking is a form of “state sanctioned Materialism.”
J: Yes. Two thousand years ago, there was no distinction between the political state and the religious state. The two were totally intertwined. So it mattered what religious leaders said about the environment, about the Earth, about the world around us. It mattered that religious leaders told pious followers to ignore all the lessons, all the truths that were being conveyed to them through “the eyes of Nature,” as it were. It mattered then, and it still matters today. God isn’t transcendent. Never was, never will be. God does have feelings. And God feels everything that happens in Creation. Everything.
A: Materialists don’t take God’s feelings into account. They don’t believe God has feelings (many of them don’t even believe that God exists). They don’t ask themselves how God is going to feel when they pour toxic sludge into the groundwaters. Pauline Christianity tells them they don’t have to ask this question.
J: Just as Pauline Christianity tells them they don’t have to take full responsibility for the care, healing, and core integrity of their own little piece of Creation: their biological body.
A: Their Kingdom. Their own Kingdom of the Heavens.
J: Only when you fully understand and respect the core integrity and the core wonder of your own Kingdom will you be able to understand and respect the core integrity of other people, other creatures, and God. That’s what empathy is — the ability to understand that your neighbour’s Kingdom is different but equal to your own. The healing of the Church must begin with a complete overturning of all doctrines that repudiate or undermine the true worth of the soul.
A: The United Church of Canada doesn’t even have an official doctrine of the soul, though the Articles of Faith tell us in one breath that we’re responsible for all our choices (Articles 2.3 and 2.4) and in the next breath tell us that all people are born with a sinful nature (Article 2.5). Talk about a lose-lose situation!
J: My point exactly.