Mar 162007
 

In the collection of sources that went into the Bible, there were several different perspectives regarding Satan and the role of evil in the world. In fact, the book of Job is an all-out argument right in the pages of scripture between several of these competing views. Israel was in a unique position to experience and ponder the problem of evil because they lived in a land that was a crossroads between Egypt on one side and Asia and Mesopotamia on the other. During much of their history they were constantly conquered or invaded by one ambitious empire after another.

Before this period, God’s attitude toward Abraham and his descendents is one of unqualified benevolence:

Now Yahweh said to Abram, Get out of your country, and from your relatives, and from your fathers house, to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation. I will bless you and make your name great. You will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you. All of the families of the earth will be blessed in you. (Genesis 12:1-3 WEB)

God continues to bless Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in spite of their personal failings and problems.

The “Prophetic” View

As Israel began to experience repeated conquests by their neighbors, a religious question arose. If God promised to bless Israel and give them their land as a possession forever (see Gen 13:15), why were they often conquered and subjugated by their neighbors? The answer that developed has been called the “Prophetic” view of good and evil. God blesses Israel when they obey him, but he is prepared to punish them when they do NOT obey him.

Behold, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you shall listen to the commandments of Yahweh your God, which I command you this day; and the curse, if you shall not listen to the commandments of Yahweh your God, but turn aside out of the way which I command you this day, to go after other gods, which you have not known. (Deuteronomy 11:26-28 WEB)

Remember that Deuteronomy was written long after the fact. The Deuteronomist (possibly Jeremiah) was looking back at Israel’s history from the perspective of repeated periods of suffering. Also notice that the blessings and curses are entirely physical, in there here-and-now. For example:

“I command you this day to love Yahweh your God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commandments and his statutes and his ordinances, that you may live and multiply, and that Yahweh your God may bless you in the land where you go in to possess it.” (Deuteronomy 30:16 WEB)

The reward for obedience to God was not heavenly happiness. It was life, possessions, and posterity. Physical prosperity and happiness was the sign of God’s favor. Physical misfortune was the sign of God’s displeasure.

Also at this time, the concept of “Satan” began to occur in scripture. We are used to thinking of the serpent in the garden of Eden as the first appearance of Satan, but this is a later association. In the primitive original story, the serpent is only a serpent. “Satan” originally meant simply “adversary”. For example, in 1 Samuel 29:4, The Philistines are worried that if they take David into battle with them against Israel (David is serving the Philistines at that time) he will turn on them in battle and become a “satan” (an adversary).

God sends angels as “satans” to either oppose or test various individuals. In Numbers 22, for example, God sends an angel as a “satan” against Balaam, to prevent him from cursing Israel.

Gods anger was kindled because he went; and the angel of Yahweh placed himself in the way for an adversary [Hebrew = “satan”] against him. Now he was riding on his donkey, and his two servants were with him. (Numbers 22:22 WEB)

In one case, God himself acts as the “satan”. We read:

Satan stood up against Israel, and moved David to number Israel. (1 Chronicles 21:1 WEB)

But in a parallel version of the text, we read:

Again the anger of Yahweh was kindled against Israel, and he moved David against them, saying, Go, number Israel and Judah. (2 Samuel 24:1 WEB)

Was it Satan, or Yahweh, who moved David to number Israel? It was God, acting as an adversary (satan) against David. He was, in other words, testing David.

Satan as God’s Prosecutor.

By the time the book of Job is written, the view is beginning to shift again. There have been various religious reforms in Judah and Israel, and even during periods of religious righteousness, the people continue to suffer from invading armies on several sides. Physical misfortunes don’t seem to be confined only to the wicked. The good suffer also. The book of Job addresses this issue.

Job, whom we are told is an entirely righteous man, suffers horrible calamities. He looses his children, his livestock, his health. His friends, echoing the prophets and the book of Deuteronomy, insist that if Job is suffering, he must have done something to anger God.

Is it for your piety that he reproves you, that he enters with you into judgment?
Isnt your wickedness great? Neither is there any end to your iniquities. (Job 22:4-5 WEB)

What Job’s friends don’t know, of course, is that Job is suffering at the hand of “Satan”. Instead of being just an occasional role filled by whatever angel is convenient, however, the role of “Satan” now seems to be a full-time position. Satan is seen as the chief prosecutor of the court of heaven. He is still an honored member of the “sons of God”, the highest angels. But his role is now to seek out unrighteousness and bring it to God’s attention for punishment, and to test even the righteous with trials.

Now it happened on the day when God’s sons came to present themselves before Yahweh, that Satan also came among them. Yahweh said to Satan, Where have you come from? Then Satan answered Yahweh, and said, From going back and forth in the earth, and from walking up and down in it. Yahweh said to Satan, Have you considered my servant, Job? For there is none like him in the earth, a blameless and an upright man, one who fears God, and turns away from evil. Then Satan answered Yahweh, and said, Does Job fear God for nothing? Haven’t you made a hedge around him, and around his house, and around all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased in the land. But put forth your hand now, and touch all that he has, and he will renounce you to your face. Yahweh said to Satan, Behold, all that he has is in your power. Only on himself don’t put forth your hand. So Satan went forth from the presence of Yahweh.
(Job 1:6-12 WEB)

We see here the beginnings of what will come to be called the “Apocalyptic” worldview. The good can expect to suffer in this life as a test of their faith. God will eventually make things right. In Job God shows up personally in the last chapter in a “personal” apocalypse, and makes everything right. But Job also begins to hint at the fact that not everything may end up justly resolved in this life. The unwarranted suffering of the righteous may require rewards AFTER this life.

For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: (Job 19:25-26 KJV)

These rewards are still seen in terms of a physical resurrection. They are still physical rewards – but postponed until the resurrection.

The Apocalyptic View

After the Babylonian captivity, the returning exiles rebuilt Jerusalem in a spirit of religious purification and reform. The Torah was codified and followed rigorously. And yet in spite of unprecedented religious purity and righteousness, Judea soon experienced some of the worst persecution of its history at the hands of the Seleucid Empire. Antiochus, ruler of the Empire, prohibited Jewish religious practices, and punished any demonstrations of Jewish piety with unprecedented cruelty. Jewish scriptures were burned and even women and children tortured and killed for refusing to sacrifice to pagan idols.

During this period, the “Apocalyptic” worldview came to full flower. It seemed obvious that a righteous God would not willingly order such atrocities toward the pious simply as a test. Borrowing perhaps from the Zoroastrian dualism to which they had been exposed by the Persians, the Jews began to see Satan not as the prosecuting attorney of heaven – but a fallen angel in total rebellion against God. This idea of fallen angels begins to appear in Daniel, which was written at the time of the persecutions of Antiochus. An angel is sent to Daniel, but is delayed due to having to fight off the “prince” (a fallen angelic governor) of Persia.

But the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days; but, behold, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me: and I remained there with the kings of Persia. (Daniel 10:13 WEB)

This is also one of the first mentions of Michael the Archangel. The introduction of angelic names and hierarchies – also a favorite topic of the Persians, would proliferate in later years.

Daniel is also filled with apocalyptic visions. God would eventually destroy the kingdoms of the world and set up his own. Until then, the righteous could expect persecution, because of the evil angelic powers – but God would reward them in the resurrection. For example, in 2nd Maccabees, an inter-testamental writing from this period, we read of seven brothers who were tortured to death for refusing to violate religious law. He says to his tormenters:

So when he was ready to die he said thus, It is good, being put to death by men, to look for hope from God to be raised up again by him: as for thee, thou shalt have no resurrection to life. (2 Maccabees 7:14 KJVA)

We begin to see that God will not only reward the righteous in the resurrection, but punish the wicked. This theme is amplified in another intertestamental writing, 1 Enoch.
Then I looked and turned myself to another part of the earth, where I beheld a deep valley burning with fire. To this valley they brought monarchs and the mighty. And there my eyes beheld the instruments which they were making, fetters of iron without weight (or of immeasurable weight) Then I inquired of the angel of peace, who proceeded with me, saying, For whom are these fetters and instruments prepared? He replied, These are prepared for the host of Azazeel, that they may be delivered over and adjudged to the lowest condemnation; and that their angels may be overwhelmed with hurled stones, as the Lord of spirits has commanded. Michael and Gabriel, Raphael and Phanuel shall be strengthened in that day, and shall then cast them into a furnace of blazing fire, that the Lord of spirits may be avenged of them for their crimes; because they became ministers of Satan, and seduced those who dwell upon earth. ( 1 Enoch 53: 1-6)
Here we have the concept of a hell of burning fire. Satan also has been “promoted” to the head of the fallen angels.

 

The Gnostic View

Things continued to be difficult for the Jews under the Roman Empire, culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 AD. This event crushed the hopes of the most pious Jews. In a world that at times seemed utterly evil, some of the Jews began to question the wisdom of God in permitting such a situation. Combining influences of earlier philosophies, Jewish and Christian Gnostics took the next step past the apocalyptic viewpoint. The righteous suffered, said the Gnostics, not because evil was a test permitted by a good God, and not because a powerful fallen angel was on the loose opposing a good God. The righteous suffered because the God who had created the material world itself and all the powers that controlled it was an EVIL God (or at best, an incompetent one). This “Demiurge” had been created by a cosmic accident. He had incompetently created the world and ruled over it, demanding worship and obedience. To a number of these Gnostics – Satan basically WAS the God of the Old Testament. Satan had created the world and given the Old Testament law – demanding worship as the one and only God.

But above him was a TRUE God, of complete goodness and pure light. The true God, taking pity on the tortured creation of the Demiurge, had sent messengers into the world to show the way to escape from the clutches of the evil God of the material world.

The Apocryphon of John describes this incompetent creator:

"Now the archon who is weak has three names. The first name is Yaltabaoth, the second is Saklas, and the third is Samael. And he is impious in his arrogance which is in him. For he said, 'I am God and there is no other God beside me,' for he is ignorant of his strength, the place from which he had come.”

The Gnostic equating of Satan with the Demiurge or god of this world has it’s echos even in the New Testament writings

I will no more speak much with you, for the prince of the world comes, and he has nothing in me. (John 14:30 WEB)

For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the worlds rulers of the darkness of this age, and against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.
(Ephesians 6:12 WEB)

in whom the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that the light of the Good News of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should not dawn on them. (2 Corinthians 4:4 WEB)

We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.
(1 John 5:19 WEB)

 

The Gnostic view also regarded the next life as entirely spiritual. The physical world was evil, and so a physical resurrection made no sense.

Summary

To review, then, the conception of Satan has undergone considerable change in Biblical and extra-biblical writings, going hand in hand with a change in worldview and the perception of Evil. These changes can be summarized as follows:

The conception of Satan:

Primitive: An occasional role of God or his angels.
Prophetic: God’s official prosecutor.
Apocalyptic: A cosmic rebel against God.
Gnostic: The evil or incompetent creator of the world.

Conception of evil:

Primitive: An occasional fact of life.
Prophetic: God’s punishment.
Apocalyptic: Part of Satan’s civil war.
Gnostic: The primary nature of the material world.

Conception of rewards/punishments

Primitive: Earthly – unconditional
Prophetic: Earthly – conditional
Apocalyptic: Future earthly – conditional
Gnostic: Future spiritual – conditional
 

 

 

Sep 292006
 

In an earlier piece, I argued that Matthew 5:22, which (in the King James) says we should not be angry WITHOUT CAUSE – is actually better in the modern translations, which say that we shouldn't be angry AT ALL.

Ok, so what’s actually wrong with anger? What if you’re only angry over evil things in the world that a good person SHOULD be angry about? Let’s analyze that a bit.

The root of anger is a very primitive fighting response. It is the body’s way of preparing to defend ourselves against immediate threats to our body. It causes a surge of hormones in the body, such as epinephrine, cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline. These are responses to threats or danger. Depending on the threat, our disposition, our other hormonal levels, etc – this hormonal/emotional response may motivate us to fight, or to flee. We may experience fear, or anger. They are simply the two sides of the same coin – the physiological response to a threat. Their purpose is to help us to run fast… or to hit hard. In natural conditions, they are also momentary. They make brief, enormous demands on the body structures and systems for the sake of survival. The body recovers from these demands when the fight or flight is over, in the relaxation response.

These physiological responses are probably still useful, but in an increasingly limited set of circumstances. Most of us may be in a “fight for your life” situation once or twice in a lifetime. Those who are in such situations often, such as soldiers or police, learn to control their anger. While rage may help get an ordinary person survive an extreme physical conflict – in the long run it interferes with a trained, calculated response to aggression, such as a soldier or police generally needs to employ.

Unfortunately, we have a problem – the ego. Our egoic mind constructs an elaborate mental image of ourselves. And it will trigger the body’s emotional fear/anger/stress mechanisms if it perceives any threat to our elaborate self-concept. This self concept includes our imagined status, our self-appointed roles, our country, our religion, etc. This is how thousands of Muslims can find themselves in a screaming, raging hormonal stew – fully prepared by their biology to immediately defend themselves against a rogue mastodon … over an old Pope quoting some obscure Byzantine emperor from a podium.

And since the ego spends more time in the imaginary past and present than in the here and now, the egoic threats don’t even have to be actually present. We can simmer over past wrongs that are no longer a threat. We can fume over possible events in the future that may not even happen. And 99 percent of these simmerings and fumings will be about things that are no direct threat to our actual physical person at all.

Because our ego is so large and complex, and because the combination of all imagined past and imagined future pseudo-threats is so numerous – many of us spend most of our lives in a state of – if not actual anger – at least borderline fear and stress. As a result, the enormous stress demands we make on the body – which are supposed to be momentary, become chronic. And chronically high levels of fear, anger and stress hormones are catastrophic to our health. They can cause high blood pressure, impair thyroid function, and disrupt our blood sugar levels (leading to obesity or possibly diabetes). They cause impaired mental function, decreased bone density, impaired immune system. They contribute to cancer, heart disease, stroke… sound familiar? The spigot of hormones, intended to save you from immediate physical danger will, if left running, KILL you.

So is there an appropriate time for anger? Yes. When you or someone you are responsible for is in mortal peril. And that’s about it. So if you really want to believe that Jesus says only someone who is angry with his brother WITHOUT CAUSE is in danger of judgement – fine, but realize that the only proper CAUSE for anger is that your brother is running toward you with a weapon threatening to kill you. If you insist on living in perpetual anger – realize that you are in danger of judgment. If nothing else, it will be the judgment of your body, which will collapse under the strain of trying to support the need to defend your own ego.

Sep 292006
 

I recently ran across a “King James Only” sort who complained that one example of the evil of modern translations was the removal of the words “without cause” from Matthew 5:22. In doing so (this individual thought) these translators were trying to deprive us of our right to be righteously angry.

[img_assist|nid=125|title=Anger Management|desc=|link=node|align=left|width=100|height=83]Purely as an illustration for others, and not because I think this person will actually pay attention to a word I say, let me comment on Matt:5:22, which reads in part (in the King James)

Mt 5:22 "But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment”

Before getting into the texts, let’s notice how very UN-helpful this bit of advice is. Was there ever a violent, angry, abusive person who didn’t think they had a very good CAUSE for being angry? Many of them even manage to get their victims to enable their anger by brainwashing them into believing that they somehow had it coming – that they DESERVED the abuse. Speaking as a formally trained theologian Wink let me simply remark… this is cow dung.

Interestingly, many of the newer versions of the Bible, the ones to which some of the idolitors of the King James so angrily object Wink – word it as follows:

“But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court” (NASB)

“But I promise you that if you are angry with someone, you will have to stand trial.” (CEV)

“But now I tell you: whoever is angry with his brother will be brought to trial” (TEV)

“But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment” (RSV)

“But, I, say unto you, that, every one who is angry with his brother, shall be, liable, to judgment” (Rotherham)

“But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother[a]will be subject to judgment” (NIV)

“But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be in danger of being judged” (BBE)

 “But I tell you, everyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment” (Holman)

“But I say unto you, that every one who is angry with his brother shall be in danger of the judgment” (ASV)

 “But I say to you, that whosoever is angry with his brother, shall be in danger of the judgment.” (Douay)

None of these, you will notice, uses that phrase “without cause”. Some of these, by the way, are hardly new. The Douay is almost as old as the King James. The RSV has my personal endorsement as being generally the most precisely translated version. There are a few slightly newer version which follow the KJV text on this one, such as Youngs, Darby, and versions of the KJV such as the NKJV.

Why do so many modern versions omit this phrase? Is it because they are satanically perverting the Word of God. Please…. It’s because a lot of the earliest and best manuscripts of the New Testament don’t’ have this phrase. The phrase wasn’t taken out by satanic conspirators. It was added in by scribes who just couldn’t imagine not having an excuse to get angry. This particular issue is not a new one at all. Scholars have been aware of the alternate reading for centuries. For example:

 "The Greek manuscripts do not contain sine causa.[without cause]" (Augustine of Hippo – Retractions i.19.4)

“Some codices add without cause. However, in the genuine codices the sentence is unqualified, and anger is forbidden altogether.” (Jerome on Matthew)

 Erasmus, the very scholar who PRODUCED the compiled Greek edition that the King James scholars used for their translation, noted that we must continually improve our scholarship by using the best manuscripts:

"You cry out that it is a crime to correct the gospels. This is a speech worthier of a coachman than of a theologian. You think it is all very well if a clumsy scribe makes a mistake in transcription and then you deem it a crime to put it right. The only way to determine the true text is to examine the early codices."

Yes, isn’t it ironic that Erasmus and the scholars who produced the King James were accused of doing the very same kind of tampering with scripture that current idolators of the King James accuse modern translators of doing.

There are, of course, hundreds of manuscripts of the New Testament. Many of the later manuscripts are grouped into regional “families” of texts, which tend to agree with one and other. In this case, the text family known as “Byzantine” as well as two famous codexes Bezae and Washingtonienus, include the phrase “without cause”. The two codexes are 4th to 5th century, and most of the Byzantine texts are much later.

By contrast, omitting the phrase is supported by the texts of codex Sinaitucus and Vaticanus (of the Alexandrian family), dated to the 4th century. This is supported by the remarkably early papayrus fragment P67, which dates to 200 CE and contains Matthew 3:9, 15; 5:20-22, 25-28.

In this case, removing “without cause” seems justified because the earliest manuscripts (in one case dramatically early) support removing it. It was very likely NOT in the original manuscript, and by retaining it, we would only perpetuate a scribal error or insertion. However, nearly every manuscript that omits the words has a footnote indicating that some manuscripts include “without cause”.

Jesus didn’t say it folks. Are you going to adjust your thinking to conform with what Jesus said, or adjust what Jesus said to conform with how you’d prefer to behave?

Sep 082006
 

Near the end of his life, Mark Twain said: "I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.” How many hundreds of hours have we spent agonizing over possible problems that never actually happened?

 

Ralph Waldo Emerson said it more poetically:

 

"Some of your hurts you have cured,

And the sharpest you still have survived,

But what torments of grief you endured

From the evil which never arrived."

 

The Peanut's character Charlie Brown is notorious for this kind of worrying. Eventually he said, “I’ve developed a new philosophy. I'm only going to dread one day at a time".

 

The Master Jesus doesn't want us to dread the future. Not even one day at a time. He wants to introduce us to the "Perfect love which casts out fear." He tells us in his teachings not to fear the future. Now the version of this we have in Matthew is a bit confused. It makes Jesus into Charlie Brown. Jesus says there, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Now I’m pretty sure that this isn’t a very good rendering of what Jesus actually said. Jesus never focused on troubles and he would hardly advise us to do so. I suppose if he had, we could make a fortune marketing the “Don’t Worry About Tomorrow” Christian day-planner. It wouldn’t have a calendar – just a page that says “Today’s Troubles”.

 

I suspect what happened was that some poor neurotic scribe a hundred years after Jesus read Jesus’ statement to “not worry about tomorrow” and thought “How can Jesus be serious? How can we not worry about tomorrow?? Oooohhh – it must be because there are so many horrible things to worry about TODAY!!” He apparently doesn’t notice that two verses earlier, Jesus tells us not to worry about TODAY either! Here’s how Bishop Keizer renders this entire teaching in the Simple Word of the Master Jesus:

 

“Therefore, do not WORRY (!) or say, what will we eat? Or, what will we drink? Or, how will we be clothed? For your Heavenly Father knows you have need of all these things. But seek first the guidance and justices of God’s INNER kingdom, and all these things shall be added unto you. Therefore do not fear the future; rather, entrust the problems of the day in prayer to the Father, and then act on Heaven’s guidance. For the transformed present will produce a transformed future.”

 

The Master Jesus wants our attention in the here and now. In the present moment – the only moment where we can actually change anything. The past doesn’t exist. The only contact you have with the past is in your memories – in the present moment. The future doesn’t exist. The only effect you have on the future is caused by your actions right here and now, in the present moment.

 

Does this mean we SHOULDN’T use an appointment calendar? No, that’s not what it means at all. It’s fine – even helpful, to use “time” for practical purposes. Who do you think worries more about tomorrow – the person who consults their appointment book and knows they have three appointments tomorrow – or the person who doesn’t HAVE an appointment book and THINKS they may have appointments tomorrow. The person without the appointment book may spend hours trying to remember where they are supposed to be and at what time, or making calls to find out.

 

Even if you aren’t consciously thinking about your appointments and things to do – if you don’t have a good planning and appointment system, your commitments will always be there in the back of your mind or in your subconscious, giving you a faint feeling of anxiety as your mind tries to keep track of everything. So the purpose of organizing your plans and appointments isn’t to worry about the future, it’s to NOT worry about the future. Once your mind knows that your commitments are captured in some external system that it knows you will check when you are supposed to – it can relax, and let you focus back on the present moment.

 

Of course, if organizing and reorganizing your day becomes your hobby – if you spend more time organizing than actually DOING, then you’ve let your organizing pull you away from the present moment.

 

So let’s get back to the present moment. Because the present moment is the gateway to the Kingdom of Heaven

 

I’m going to make a statement that may seem extreme, but I ask you to consider it carefully. Almost all of our worry, fear, stress, frustration and anxiety comes from refusing to accept the present moment as it actually is.

 

Next time you’re worried about a relative or stuck in a traffic jam, notice your feelings. At the bottom of your frustration you’ll find a deep feeling of resentment and hostility against the reality of the present moment. When we worry about the future, what are we really doing? We may be rebelling against the fact that our reality has uncertainties in it. Or we are unhappy with our present reality and want to focus on our plans for the future – but they’re not coming fast enough. There are too many setbacks. We’re not getting out of this terrible present situation as fast as we’d like to. Or perhaps we fixate on the past to escape the present moment. We linger in the sweet sadness of memories of a past that we prefer to our current situation.

 

We fight and we resist and we run away from the only thing that actually exists – the present moment.

 

Why do we resist it so?

 

Well, one thing that may worry us is an idea in the back of our minds that if we accept the present moment, and are content with our current situation – we’ll never get out of it. We’ll be stuck here. Forever. We think that with our discontent we can bribe or threaten God into changing things for us. But if we let him think we’re content – he’ll just let us languish. That doesn’t say a lot of good things about our image of God, does it? It sounds like the kind of God who if we ask for bread will give us a rock. But it is love and gratitude that open the windows of heaven, not discontent.

 

If we drop our resistance to the present moment, does that mean we are stagnant? That we can’t change? Of course not! It means that our change begins with an objective, loving assessment of out situation as it really is. It’s like a person who falls into quicksand. By resisting – by flailing around like a lunatic – we only sink deeper – because our activity is irrational – not productive. But if we keep ourselves calm – if we don’t resist the reality of our situation, then we can plan our escape more efficiently. And the universe will help us. Perhaps we will notice a branch nearby that we can grab. Something we wouldn’t have noticed if we were flailing around. Perhaps we can explore the quicksand and find a gentle handhold or toehold somewhere. And we make progress.

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The next time you find yourself in the grip of worry, or resentment or anger some other strong negative emotion, try this exercise – completely surrender to the present moment, including all its risks and possibilities. Don’t resist. Know that everything is just as it must be for the moment. Suspend your judgment of other people, or the situation or yourself.

 

What you will find is that a space opens up in the spiritual atmosphere. There’s a feeling like a fresh breeze blowing away your problems. You may still feel anxiety or some other emotion – but you won’t be lost in it. You won’t BE worried – you’ll be a person aware of experiencing a feeling of worry. And that’s a much different feeling. And when you do, you’ll find that your emotions will settle down. Negative emotions like worry don’t like to be watched. They’re bashful. Be the witness of your emotions instead of being possessed by your emotions.

 

Let’s come back to the present moment again. There is another reason we run away from the present moment. This reason is rooted in the nature of our being. It’s a metaphysical reason. That doesn’t mean it’s weird or complicated. Just the opposite. It means it’s so basic it’s sometimes hard to see.

 

The Master Jesus says that the Kingdom of God – God’s dominion or God’s dimension – is within you – within each of you. If you could reach down to your innermost nature, your heart of all hearts – you will find the presence of God. Your innermost essence – is God’s essence. That is the secret of all secrets. That is the core of all mystical teaching – the root of all true religion.

 

But this inner kingdom is hidden from us. It’s covered up by huge amounts of emotional turmoil and mental noise. Anyone who has seriously tried to practice meditation knows that – even when you don’t want it to – the mind keeps spewing out thoughts like some unwanted television set that’s impossible to turn off.

 

Eckhart Tolle tells a story of sitting on a bus next to a woman who was mentally disturbed. She was talking to an imaginary person in a loud and often hostile voice. Lots of profanity. She was a running stream of conversation. Later as he washed his hands in public bathroom, Eckhart thought to himself “I’m sure glad I’m not like that woman” – and the man at the sink next to him gave him a strange look. Then Eckhart realized he hadn’t THOUGHT the phrase to himself – he’d actually said it out loud!

 

We’re all “crazy people”. We all have a running stream of mostly useless, mostly repetitive thought going on in our minds all the time. The only difference is that the “normal” people manage not to let it come spilling out of their mouths – at least MOST of the time.

 

A lot of those thoughts are hopes and plans, and especially worries, about the future. They pull us like a strong swift current away from our grounding in the present moment. And it is in the present moment, and only there – that we can find the gateway into the inner kingdom of God.

 

You won’t find the Kingdom of God in some grandiose plan for the future.

 

You won’t find it in some cherished memory of the past.

 

God, your inner nature – is reality. And there is only one point of contact we have with reality – that pinpoint gateway – that eye of the needle, between the remembered past and the imagined future. The doorway to the kingdom of God that fills up the reality of the present moment.

 

Be in the present moment. Don’t think about it. Experience it. Surrender yourself in a complete and loving acceptance of the present moment, and the door begins opens to you. And behind the door is the essence of the Godhead, the Buddha Nature, closer to you than you are to yourself.

 

And as you become more at home in the present moment, you realize that you ARE the present moment. It is timeless. It has no past and no future. It is only now – eternally now. Forms and manifestations come and go. They appear in the field of Now and then they disappear – but the Now remains, and YOU remain – at peace in the vibrant energetic emptiness of God – wanting for nothing, worrying about nothing.

 

And here’s the paradox. When you seek first God’s inner kingdom, all the rest falls into place. The universe aligns itself to your purposes because you are aligned to the universe. Just at the moment when you begin to lose your desperate grasping after the external things of the world, the things you need begin to come to you almost without effort. And you can enjoy them fully – free of worry, because when they go, as all finite things do, they don’t take a part of you with them. You are connected to the source of all manifestation.

 

This is the kingdom of God, and the home country of all mystics. It’s a place where worries and problems subside, because you are no longer at odds with the purposes of God manifesting in your life. Many teachers of different traditions have commented on this.

 

Listen to the Catholic mystic St. Theresa describe it:

 

Let nothing trouble you / Let nothing frighten you

Everything passes / God never changes

Patience / Obtains all

Whoever has God / Wants for nothing

God alone is enough.

 

The Indian Guru Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj said:

 

"You are all drenched for it is raining hard. In my world it is always fine weather. There is no night or day, no heat or cold. No worries beset me there, nor regrets. My mind is free of thoughts, for there are no desires to slave for."

 

And here’s one of the most famous quotes from “A Course In Miracles”

 

"Nothing real can be threatened.

Nothing unreal exists.

Herein lies the peace of God."

 

Put aside the unreality of your worries about the future, your longings for the past, your impatient desires. Surrender to the reality of this present moment.

 

And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

 

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Jul 272006
 

The following chart of consciousness is taken from David Hawkin’s book Power Vs. Force

 

God-view Life-View Level Log Emotion Process
Self Is Enlightenment 700–1,000 Ineffable Pure Consciousness
All-Being Perfect Peace 600 Bliss Illumination
One Complete Joy 540 Serenity Transfiguration
Loving Benign Love 500 Reverence Revelation
Wise Meaningful Reason 400 Understanding Abstraction
Merciful Harmonious Acceptance 350 Forgiveness Transcendence
Inspiring Hopeful Willingness 310 Optimism Intention
Enabling Satisfactory Neutrality 250 Trust Release
Permitting Feasible Courage 200 Affirmation Empowerment
Indifferent Demanding Pride 175 Scorn Inflation
Vengeful Antagonistic Anger 150 Hate Aggression
Denying Disappointing Desire 125 Craving Enslavement
Punitive Frightening Fear 100 Anxiety Withdrawal
Disdainful Tragic Grief 75 Regret Dispondency
Condemning Hopeless Apathy 50 Despair Abdication
Vindictive Evil Guilt 30 Blame Destruction
Despising Miserable Shame 20 Humiliation Elimination
Jul 272006
 

While thinking about the issue of Gnosticism and the problem of evil, I suddenly had what was (to me at least) a very powerful “ah ha” moment. Of course, once written down and shared, it will probably seem mundane or even stupidly obvious. But at the time it was like a bolt of lightening from heaven.

The insight was this: Whatever the literal truth or falsehood – Gnosticism is actually a very perceptive metaphor on the problem of pain and evil. It hit me as I was reading something in a Gnostic text and realized it was very similar to something both Robert Pirsig and Ken Wilber had said. Both these writers point out a particular hierarchy of being – one I think we would all agree with. You can divide it up in more than one way – but it goes something like this:

The Hierarchy of Being

The foundational structures of the cosmos are physical – in the sense of being governed by chemistry and physics. Then there are biological structures built from the physical. Then there are social structures built from the biological. Then there are the mental structures of ideas that are built from social dialogue. You can add a layer of spiritual structures, but since that will be an item of dispute, let’s just lump it in with mental for the moment. Each of these structures is built on the preceding ones. Biological systems use physical systems. Social systems use biological systems (people) and physical systems (technologies). Mental systems use social systems (communal dialogue), biological systems (our brains) and physical systems (the neurochemistry of the brain).

Contrary Purposes

Now for a critical observation – each of these levels have entirely different – even contradictory – purposes, laws and goals. For example, entropy (The tendency for all matter and energy in the universe to devolve into a state of inert uniformity and disorder) is a fundamental principle of the physical cosmos. But biology is in a state of war with entropy. Biology is a system for increasing the order and energy in the small local pocket of it’s own system. Biology has its own laws and goals – which center on the survival of the individual organism and its reproduction at the expense of all else. But at the social level, these biological goals – unchecked, become evils. Societies may choose to sacrifice their own individual members for the good of the society – if they threaten the social stability, for example. Then from these societies and their interactions, systems of ideas arise. And what a society may see as “good” for its survival and prosperity (slavery for example) the arising system of ideas may see as evil. In the West, we have a developed a system of ideas which demands that we tolerate (for the sake of the IDEA of liberty) the existence of certain things which may pose a danger to the social order – reformers or crackpots as the case may be.

The point is, at each point in the hierarchy of being, the “good” and “evil” of the lower rungs on the ladder may be (and often ARE) very contrary to the “good” and “evil” of the higher rungs. Let’s take a bad genetic illness like Harlequin Baby Syndrome. From our point of view in the social and particularly mental spheres of being, this seems quite obviously evil. It is hideous and causes great physical and emotional suffering. On the other hand, from the point of view of biology, it’s not bad at all. Genetic variability is what drives the whole process. If we didn’t have a thousand mutations or genetic combinations that resulted in death and pain, we wouldn’t have the one that turned proved to be useful in some particular way. Suffering and death are simply failed experiments that weed out unfit genetic combinations.

The higher levels cannot normally disregard the rules and laws of the lower levels. They simply find ways to work around them or compromise with them to achieve their purposes.

Spiritual Metaphors

Let’s return to the Gnostic metaphor, then. The Gnostics saw the god of creation, the demiurge or “half-maker” as a somewhat ignorant figure, full of arrogance, petty jealousy and capriciousness. From the ideas above, we could say that the demiurge represents the physical/biological systems, as seen from the point of view of the mental/spiritual systems. It’s interesting that as gnosticism developed from its earlier roots, the demiurge was increasingly seen as not just immature and ignorant, but positively EVIL, along with the material world he organized. Orthodox Christianity has been more reluctant to condemn the material world, but still tries to insist that God governs the whole cosmos in accordance with the higher (mental/spiritual) notions of “good”. The idea that “good” changes from one level to the next would probably rub the wrong way and be seen as making morality “situational”.

A Symbolic Example

This idea of good and evil changing from one level to the next has an interesting illustration in world symbology – specifically the symbol of the snake. Ken Wilber points out that serpents can be seen as symbols of good OR evil in many different religions – including Christianity. For example, the serpent represents Satan in the garden on the one hand, but when Moses raises up a serpent on a pole to heal the Israelites, it is taken to be a symbol of Jesus.

In Hindu/Buddhist symbolism, the snake represents Kundalini energy – the basic life/god force of the cosmos, which works it’s way up the energy centers or “chakras” of the human body as it spiritually progresses. It’s starts at the base of the spine, at a center representing the physical systems, and works it’s way up to above the crown of the head, representing the highest spiritual centers. Wilber points out that when the snake symbol is used as representing “evil” it is seen at the lower levels of the body (the typhonic gods, for example, or the goat-god baphomet), and at the higher levels of the body, it represents “good” (Buddah and other deities are seen with cobras shading the crown of their heads). It is not that the physical levels are “bad” – they are only seen as bad when we fixate on or descend to the lower physical/biological or social levels as the expense of the mental/spiritual levels.

More Refinements

The categories I have been using, by the way, need not be divided so broadly. Within each level of being, there may be many sub-levels. For example, there are many types and classifications of social and mental systems. A new and higher social or mental system may find its notions of “good” and “evil” quite different from an earlier one.

Implications

How do we view the problem of evil from this hierarchical perspective? What looks to us humans as “unnecessary suffering” from our perspective is usually the “good” of a lower order interposing itself in our own “good”. Theoretically, of course, it could always be the good of a higher order interposing itself in our own “good”. For example, our programs of selective breeding produce species that, while they serve our purposes nicely – are actually LESS fit for survival. If biology had an independent mind and could speak, it might accuse us of corrupting things. Which brings up another point. A lower level is utterly incapable of reacting according to the “good” of a higher level. If there are levels of being above our own – we might be quite unequipped to understand “good” and “evil” with respect to them – until we reach that level ourselves. In fact, if the system I have mapped out here has any predictive value, it would probably say that at the next level, the “goods” and “evils” of our MENTAL or philosophical/religious systems are quite incidental to a much greater spiritual good. The angels or higher beings may be as unconcerned about the truths of our philosophies and dogmas as we are unconcerned with “corrupting” natural selection by breeding prize milk cows.

If we look at God as being present at every level of this hierarchy, working within it – we are simply faced with the fact that there are different ideals of “good” at different levels of being.

“Evil” is simply the interplay of different levels of “good”.

Jul 272006
 

Considering all the reasons for developing mystical insight, we might wonder why more people aren’t mystics. While there are many reasons unique to each person, there are a few obstacles that almost any aspiring mystic faces.

Guilt

Many people who strive to live by a moral code assume that guilt is a good thing – a help to let us know when we have gone wrong. They believe that without guilt, we would easily fall into moral chaos, both as individuals and as society.

On a lower level, there may be some truth to this. There are some people, perhaps most, for whom guilt is a powerful motivator for doing good instead of evil. As we reach out for mystical union, however, we need to reexamine the role of guilt in our lives.

What is the root sensation of guilt? What exactly do we feel when we experience guilt? Guilt and shame are emotions of the lower self, not the higher Self. When the lower self feels guilt, it feels offended at its own lack of perfection. It senses the perfection possible in the higher Self and wants to claim that perfection as its own. It is closely tied to pride. Guilt is our anger and frustration that our actions don’t measure up to our own opinion of ourselves. We are upset that a person as good as we are could make such a mistake.

From the perspective of our higher Self, there is no guilt. We look upon our lower selves with compassion and understanding. We realize that the lower self is limited and because of these limitations it is imperfect. One of these imperfections is knowledge. The higher Self knows perfect good. The lower self easily mistakes lesser goods for the perfect good. The lower self will always choose what it thinks is best for itself. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really know what the perfect good is.

Does this mean that the mystic doesn’t bother trying to improve his behavior? On the contrary. With the knowledge which comes from union with the higher Self, the mystic KNOWS (not just says he believes) the perfect good. He can calmly, kindly, and non-judgmentally look at his behavior and make adjustments to line up with the perfect good. His knowledge is much more life-changing than the lower self’s feelings of guilt, tangled up as they are with pride.

Jul 272006
 

wrote in The Two Yous that identifying with the lower self instead of the higher Self is the root of all your problems. What does a mystical understanding offer to help us with our problems? By identifying with the higher Self, our entire perspective on everything changes radically. Here are some of the key areas where that change occurs.

Peace:

When our lower self is caught up in emotional upheavals of fear, anger, anxiety, depression – our higher Self can look upon these emotions with understanding and compassion, but not be caught up in them. We become detached from our negative emotions. We know that in the higher Self, there is perfect peace, love and safety. We are able to put the problems of our lower self into perspective.

Our lower self is constantly on the defensive – feeling the need to justify itself, defend itself, advance itself. The lower self constantly needs to toot its own horn, and prove what a good self it is. The higher self is already at perfect peace with itself. It requires no defense, no justification. The mystic can let go of the terrible burden of constantly justifying himself. He knows that his lower self is imperfect, flawed and limited, and he is compassionate with his lower self. He is free from the terrible burden of self-justification.

Freedom

The lower self is basically a reactive self. It reacts, based on the programming of its genetics and upbringing, to various situations in a predictable way. The lower self often feels caught in a trap of its own making. It may want to stop certain self-destructive behaviors, but it can’t seem to stop falling into them like a robot whenever its programming is triggered. The higher Self, on the other hand, is totally free. It can come down into any situation and act rather than re-act.

Love

The higher Self realizes that all other beings are really part of itself in different masks. What happens to all beings becomes just as important as what happens to one particular lower self. The higher Self naturally reaches out in compassion to all these many expressions of itself. There is no longer any selfish distinction. All beings are loved.

Joy

To be in contact with the higher Self means that complete joy and contentment are always available at any moment. The experience of union with the higher Self is transcendently joyful – and can be experienced no matter what the outward circumstances.

Abundance

The higher Self has the ability to manifest anything that is needed in the physical world. Once the obstacles to communion with the higher Self are removed, anything that the lower self truly needs can be created or attracted by the higher Self. Financial abundance, health, relationships or anything else that would benefit the lower self can all be generated through communion with the higher Self.

From the points above, it should be easy to see how a mystical understanding and practice can benefit anyone who undertakes it. Whatever problems the lower self is suffering: emotional difficulties, anxiety, destructive behaviors, health problems, or even financial difficulties can all benefit from mystical practice.

As the mystic Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj put it: “In my world, nothing ever goes wrong. You do not have any problems, only your body has problems…In your world, nothing stays, in mine nothing changes.”

Jul 262006
 

After watching and participating in innumerable discussions with atheists over the existence of ‘God’, I am coming to feel that the word ‘God’ itself is an almost insurmountable obstacle to communication.

To an atheist, to believe in ‘God’, means:

That you believe a Supreme Being hand-crafted each species of life separately, and then made it look like they descended from each other. That you believe this Being created the universe 6,000 years ago but gave it an apparent age of billions of years. That you believe this Being, while being wise and benevolent, throws tizzy fits, destroys his enemies if they anger him, changes his mind, orders the slaughter of innocents, plays favorites, asks for human sacrifice as a ‘test’ of obedience, requires elaborate rituals, is pleased with animal sacrifices, and engages in all the other odd behaviors a casual reading of the Old Testament would suggest. That you believe this Being, in the New Testament, is willing to accept the awful torture and murder of his own innocent Son as an acceptable substitute to punishing people who are clearly guilty. That you believe that in spite of his omnipotence, this being is unable to communicate his will in written form without apparent contradiction. That you believe that in spite of wanting to save everyone, this omnipotent being is unable to persuade many people of his very existence. That you believe that this being will totally forgive and eternally reward those who approach him with the right formula, but will condemn to everlasting torment those who were unaware of this formula or were unable to correctly pick this formula from the several competing formulas. That you believe the condemned group above will suffer eternal torment in spite of the possibility of their being more moral, sincere, honest, and trying harder to find the truth than the first group that followed the correct formula. That in spite of an infinite love and goodness, this Being will permit such things as for a small child to suffer a horrible, painful death all the while calling out in vain to this Being for help, so long as it serves his purpose. That you believe in a Supreme Being who’s followers don’t show remarkable signs of being more moral or more intelligent than anyone else ? in fact often LESS so. That you believe in a Supreme Being who’s followers invoke his name as a reason for killing other human beings.

The list could be elaborated on a bit. However, taken as it is, and without any mitigation, the atheist’s position seems entirely sensible. Who would believe in such a Being? Even if he DID exist, what sort of moral blindness would make us want to worship such a being? The only thing more despicable than the being described would be a person who could be bribed into worshipping and obeying such a being for the promise of rewards.

Now some of these issues may be straw men to some degree (although you can probably find a believer out there somewhere to argue for any or all of them.) Others may have reasonable explanations. Still others may not be relevant. But the fact is that in order to even get to the point of having a neutral discussion on the existence of God, you often have to first overcome a list like the above, point by point and line by line.

I’m wondering if I’m not doing a disservice to people by trying to persuade them to believe in ‘God’, when, if I’m successful, there’s a danger they might believe in something like the being above. Clearly, to go from atheism to a belief in the being above is a giant leap backwards. I have a friend who over the course of several years and a lot of conversation, has come to believe in something transcendent, but still refuses to call it ‘God’ because of all the ‘baggage’ that comes with the word. Perhaps it would sometimes be better if we should start from scratch ? pick some more neutral word to talk about the transcendent, and then work our way up. Something like ‘Spirit’ for example.

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