A: Last time, you came out with a doozy. You said — and I quote — “[Paul] would have thought of it as ‘reintegrating’ broken pieces of divine truth that had fallen out of their proper places. Pieces such as the Logos [Jesus]. And Charis (grace), who was Paul’s God.”
That’s quite a statement. You’re saying, in effect, that Paul believed you actually were some some sort of divine figure who was sent to Earth, but that you were somehow “defective” or “broken,” and because of your “brokenness” Paul hated and feared you and tried to “fix” your teachings. Have I got that right?
J (nodding): Exactly. It’s not difficult to see the differences in theology between Paul and myself, and it’s not difficult to see that Paul was trying to found a brand new religious movement, with himself as leader and prophet. But at the end of the day, you still have to ask yourself why he would bother including me at all. You have to ask yourself why he would found a new religious movement, and then stick a real person — a person whose family and friends had survived him and could still tell the truth — right in the middle of it. It was a risky thing to do. A stupid thing to do from the viewpoint of common sense and practicality. It would have been much simpler and more logical for him to invent a Saviour from whole cloth, as so many other religious movements had done before him. He could have invented a new god, and nobody around him would have blinked. The world of 1st century CE religion was full of invented gods.
A: So why did he do it? Why did he take the risk of putting a real person at the centre of his new religious movement?
J: We’ve talked about some of Paul’s motives in the past. He was a man who was deeply driven, deeply ambitious. He was, like so many ambitious men before and after him, a man who was blind to his own issues, blind to his own extreme narcissism. The world was a confusing and endlessly frustrating place, from his point of view. So, like so many other narcissists, he turned to ideology to help him cope. He turned, in this case, to the ideology of religion. Not faith, as I’d like to emphasize, but religion. Religion as a cultural institution with clear rules and expectations — rules that bring order and harmony into a world of pure chaos. Rules that make sense to the head if not to the heart. Rules that tell people their place in life. Rules that tell people how to behave toward their neighbours and how to behave toward their “betters.” Rules that teach people how to obey. This sense of structure and obedience was greatly appealing to Paul. It helped him cope with his own feelings of confusion and anger.
A: So he just went out and started a new religion?
J: No. Paul’s mindset — his internal belief system — was the start of his journey, but not the end of it. In early adulthood, Paul turned to the Jewish tradition he’d been raised in, and at first this satisfied him. But soon his narcissism, his need for special attention and special outcomes for himself, led him further and further away from questions about compassion and healing and forgiveness. His clever mind and his skill with rhetoric brought him to the attention of a powerful group of military and political thinkers based in Alexandria, Egypt.
A: We’ve talked about this before. You called this group “Seekers of the Rock.” You said they had a plan to seize power from the emperors of the Julian dynasty in Rome.
J (nodding): People today often scoff at the idea that such powerful groups exist. But they do. They’ve been a fixture of all technologically advanced civilizations on Planet Earth. The people who found and maintain these groups always ascribe great mystical significance and merit to their work, but, in fact, they’re really just a bunch of severe narcissists who’ve got together to form a “mutual admiration society.”
A: Misery loves company.
J: Yes. Narcissists feel miserable on the inside. But they feel better if they can keep themselves busy by throwing themselves into “a worthy cause.” And what more worthy cause could there be than joining the Sons of Light to save the universe from the dire perils of Sin and Death and Corrupt Law and their evil leader Beliar?
A: Paul mentions Beliar in Second Corinthians (2 Cor 6:15).
J: And the Essenes before him. Essene beliefs about Good Versus Evil greatly influenced Paul. But in the end, even the secret mystical teachings of the Essenes weren’t enough for him, and he embraced the offer made to him by the Seekers of the Rock.
A: They made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.
J: One of their seers told Paul he’d been chosen before birth to carry out a great mission that could help save the world and restore order to the entire universe. There is no more tempting bait for a pure narcissist.
A: Paul begins his letter to the Galatians by saying God had set him apart before he was born to receive divine revelation (Gal 1:11-17).
J: Once a narcissist is convinced of such a claim, he or she becomes unstoppable in religious fervour. He puts on a cloak of religious fervour that is understood by others as charisma — a gift of special grace from God. He wears it 24/7 and goes without food or sleep if he’s caught up in the self-generated ecstasy of being the No. 1 Prophet and Mouthpiece of Revelation. But, again, there’s nothing mystical or divine about it. It’s the self-generated high — the orgasmic high — that narcissists feel when other people tell them how “special” and “chosen” they (the prophets) are.
A: So Paul believed his own propaganda. He believed he was a divinely chosen messenger.
J: Absolutely. He couldn’t have found the strength to keep going for so long if he hadn’t believed in his own message.
A: The source of that strength was the “high” he got from being treated by others as special and chosen.
J: Yes. It’s an addictive high. Eventually it damages both body and brain and leads to other forms of addiction, such as addiction to sex or drugs, but in the short term it gives a lot of energy, a lot of stamina for big performances, big bursts of charisma.
A: Like some pop stars today.
J: A lot like that, yes.
A: So how does any of this relate to you? Why did he decide to put you in the middle of the new religion he was commissioned to create?
J: Several reasons. One, he needed a “face” for his new Christ Movement, a movement that was being founded to compete with the Emperor Cult in Rome. The Emperor Cult had “refreshed” ideas about the living god, the god incarnated in human form, the man who is really the son of God, deity in human flesh, god-and-emperor-as-One, that kind of thing. These weren’t new religious ideas at the time. Far from it. But the influence of the Emperor Cult — which was nothing more than a calculated political ploy designed to build acceptance for Rome’s rule — had a surprising and unintended effect on people. People began to think more — and yearn more — for an actual living god who could help them in their suffering. Many people were open to the idea a living god, a Saviour who would come to Earth during a time of great need and save the oppressed. It’s an idea that still hasn’t gone away.
A: The Romans were nothing if not oppressive.
J: Other religious movements of the time — and there were many — focussed on ancient gods and ancient prophecies. Meanwhile, the Emperor Cult had a “new” god, a god of living flesh. Paul saw the effect this had on people, and decided to offer them an alternative. It was quite brilliant, actually.
A: But why you? Why not a prince or a member of the Alexandrian elite? Why not a heroic general? Why not a famous oracle?
J: Paul chose me because he was afraid I was actually “the real deal.” He didn’t arrive in Galilee in time to meet me in person, but he spoke to people who had worked with me, and he read the writings Lazarus and I had left behind. He came to two unshakeable conclusions: (1) I had been the prophesied Messiah, as shown by the miracles of my ministry, and (2) I had seriously fucked things up.
A: You always have such a way with words.
J (laughing): Hey, it’s the truth. It’s what Paul thought about me. He could see from his own investigations that I knew something new and important about God, something he didn’t. He could see I’d been using strange, new techniques to heal people. He could see that something damned weird had happened around the time of my crucifixion and reappearance from the tomb. He didn’t argue with the events, with the historicity of miraculous events during my ministry. What he objected to was how I had used this secret knowledge. In his opinion, I hadn’t behaved at all the way a proper Messiah should have behaved. I hadn’t seized the power and the glory. So he concluded I’d got broken somehow, that I’d got broken and needed to be fixed.
A: Which he had the skill to do, of course.
J: Of course. A narcissist doesn’t believe he has limits. I was so broken he sometimes referred to me as the “thorn in his flesh.” Other times he referred to me as “the useful one,” the slave Onesimus, as in Paul’s letter to Philemon. He felt I’d fallen so low during my time as a man that I’d become no better than a slave.
A: So what was this secret knowledge you had? What were these strange, new healing techniques you used?
J: Ah. That would be science.
A: You want to explain that?
J: It’s the simplest thing in the world to put science and faith together when you trust in God’s goodness with all your heart, all your strength, all your mind, and all your soul. When you believe in God — in God as God actually is — there’s no need to fight the science. There’s no need to fight the objective realities of science. There’s no need to hide behind religious laws and religious rituals. You just go out there and do your thing — whatever your “thing” happens to be.
A: Which in your case was being a physician.
J: I was a physician, then and now. It’s who I am as a soul. It’s my calling, you could say. It’s my strength. Because it’s my strength, I hear God’s voice particularly well in this area. My instincts, my gut, my heart, my intuition hear messages from God very clearly in the area of medical science. I can’t hear God’s voice clearly in all areas, but when it comes to questions about medical science, I can hear clear as a bell. I combined my skill as a natural physician with my faith in God and my faith in the goodness of all souls. God’s healing angels did the rest. I didn’t perform the miracles myself. But I helped create a fruitful garden of the heart where oppressed individuals could believe in their own worthiness, in their own worthiness to be loved and healed by God. My job was to persuade my friends they could find healing by working with God instead of against God.
A: This doesn’t sound very broken to me. It sounds pretty healthy and normal.
J: Apparently Messiahs who are worth their salt are expected to show a lot more razzle dazzle. More shields, more swords, more footstools, more thrones, more trumpets.
A: Sounds a lot to me like an American reality TV show. “So You Think You Can Prophesy” . . . “American Messiah” . . . “Dancing With the Gods” . . . Hey, you know, maybe we’re already there . . .