Christ Myth II

As a fan of the Christ Myth theory, I doubt that the Gospel/historical Jesus existed as a flesh-and-blood human person. So for me, the Gospels are probably “all myth” when they talk about Jesus the Galilean carpenter-sage-Son of God (although, of course, the Gospels’ settings are more often than not historically real places and their “Big People” like Pilate were real people).

However, I do keep the historical Jesus hypothesis on the back burner in case I turn out to be wrong – if, in the unknowable future, the archaeologist’s spade should uncover evidence from Jesus himself, or some writing or artifact that points directly to his historical existence.

Following the work of the late New Testament scholar, Marcus J. Borg, I think that the basic Gospel Jesus-depiction could be boiled down to a few plausible religio-social traits, e.g.,

1) Jesus as a reform movement founder (“Jewish Christianity” in Jerusalem/Galilee, Judea and Syria)

2) Jesus as a social prophet (one who not only predicts oncoming events, but who also functions as a sharp social critic, speaking to his/her peers “in God’s voice”)

3) Jesus as an exorcist, shaman, healer and magician (recall that we don’t need to believe in such things in order to acknowledge the existence of the ascribed _social roles_)

4) Jesus as an enlightened sage (“spiritually enlightened” like the Buddha, Bodhidharma, Lao Tzu, Ramana Maharshi, etc.)

5) Jesus as “Kingdom agent” who taught the present in-breaking of God’s Kingdom here-and-now on earth (“the Kingdom is within you and among you”)

6) Jesus as transformative sage (one who leads followers on a “Path” toward spiritual growth/fulfillment)

7) Jesus as divine union mystic (one whose self-perception and experience(s) lead him/her to claim a deep sense of union and communion with God – e.g., “the Father and I are one”)

8) Jesus as parabolic teacher (one who teaches symboliccally in parables, analogies, allegories, analogies)

9) Jesus as a re-interpreter of his culture’s spirituality, scripture and traditions

10) Jesus as a martyr to his own beliefs about himself, his relation to God, and his message about the Kingdom of God

That, in my view, is a plausible perspective and condensation of the Gospels’ portraits of Jesus as a historical person. The list is not long, and most holy people, shamans and sages typically perform most of the listed items before breakfast on any given, ordinary day. So it’s not a question of “how could Jesus or any other single person wear so many ‘hats’?” The hats come with the territory. We always have plenty of historicist Jesus theory to consult should Christ Myth theory be invalidated.


Christ Myth I

Some Christ Myth folks think that there was a pre-Christian mystical Jewish sect that reverenced a celestial Christ-figure.

Apparently some people in this sect were claiming to be receiving revelations from the heavenly realm – revelations and visions that told them that the celestial Christ had undergone a journey from the highest to the lowest heaven, where he suffered, died, and rose again back to his original position at God’s right hand in the highest heaven.

Supposedly, “the Apostles” were chief among these Jewish cultists, with Peter/Cephas apparently being among the first to receive the new revelation that the heavenly Son had sacrificed himself for humanity. “Saint” Paul apparently had – or at least, claimed – a similar experience and boldly added himself to the list of “Apostles”. Paul was the first – as far as we can tell – who wrote about the celestial Christ’s suffering and sacrifice.

So Paul was the first to write – but not to preach about – the celestial Jesus. Others had done so before him, according to Paul’s own testimony. And – if one’s theology is not averse to taking Paul at his word – one could conceive that it was the celestial Christ who was speaking through Paul, making His own self-revelation through Paul’s writing. But I do understand your meaning about the data arising with Jesus or someone else.

Without access to time travel, I don’t know how we could ever ascertain such an issue. As I mentioned in my other post, it is within the realm of probability that Jesus, had he existed, could have left something about himself behind – or at least some first-generation disciple could have written about a real historical Jesus. Such a discovery would be as close as we could get to time travel.

But judging from the glaring fact that Christianity’s earliest writings – Paul and some of the other Epistles – virtually ignore the Gospel Jesus and/or a historical Jesus, I would venture to guess that there was never a historical Jesus who could have written about himself, and there were no disciples to write about such a man.

There were probably plenty of disciples who preached about the _celestial_ Jesus, and wrote about him (if, of course, they were lucky enough to be literate and wealthy enough to afford writing materials). But I doubt that there was any individual or group who could write about a historical Jesus – because there was no historical Jesus on whom they could write, or from whose life-example they could derive edifying examples and citations.


Not by “Hope Alone”

Recently an Internet religious discussion forum hosted the question of hope’s power to sustain faith. The following is my somewhat modified reply, in which I deny the notion of

"Spe enim salvi facti sumus unum" [Wiki translation] or the principle which, like Luther's "sola fide", 
proposes that hope alone is or can be the basis of faith.

Depending on a religious person’s perspective, I do suppose that some few people can sustain their faith on the principle of “Hope Alone”.

However, from my own perspective, faith should only be a secondary interpretive tool which helps the intellect delineate a primary, “foundational” religious experience. Without that kind of hands-on, immediate spiritual encounter, faith is just empty words about a doctrine, or else about some other person’s experience (e.g. a founder of a religion, a saint, a guru, etc.), but not one’s own experience, which is the only decisive matter to those for whom “faith” is equally “gnosis” or “knowing”.

So, for me, one’s interpretation – one’s “faith-in” or “faith-about” – of a core spiritual experience or experiences must be based on that initial and initiating experience of the Sacred Transcendent … or it will be absent its most cogent and driving factor – spiritual experience – and it will consist of nothing but mere words combined with wishful thinking – wishful thinking being one aspect of “Hope”. So a faith and/or a hope that is not based on a liberating sacred experience is bound to be nothing but a shell whose missing core is its central, crucial, essential “gnosis” – at best an empty faith and a pointless hope.

This issue is illustrated in Jodo Shinshu/Shin Buddhism’s teaching of Shinjin – Amida Buddha’s sheer, unearned gift of “perfect faith” – a faith that is at one and the same time “gnosis” because the gift of faith is itself the living experience of the living Buddha’s activity in oneself. In the reception of Shinjin, spiritual faith is conveyed in-and-as spiritual knowing. And so is spiritual hope, which is based on the received experience. But sayings like, “Our hope is in Amida Buddha delivering us to His Pure Land”, while emotionally true, still don’t cover the experiential nature of Shinjin.

Yes, Shin people are hopeful about their ultimate destiny of being transformed into Buddhas in the Pure Land, but that hope, because it is based on the prior experience of Shinjin, is far more than “mere” hope as cheerful, blissful anticipation. On the contrary, because it is based in the Shinjin experience, Jodo Shinshu “Hope” is expressed in the adherent’s own perception of the Shinjin-mind and the state of non-retrogression, both of which preclude a “falling-back” into pre-Shin modes of thinking and living. Once embraced by Amida, the Shin person is never let go. And that security, of course, extends far beyond both the secular and the standard religious connotations of Hope. Shinjin permits us to actually, in this life, step aboard “the Raft from the Other Shore” – the “vessel” which will safely transport us over the storm-tossed ocean of samsara to the shore of the Pure Land, where Faith and Hope together merge into Amida’s infinite compassion and find their true original nature in Buddhahood itself.

Panentheism vs. Pantheism

On the one hand, Pantheism identifies God and world, in which the world is a closed system of self-referencing objects and phenomena.

On the other hand, panentheism divides – in a sense – God and world.

In Panentheism, as in pantheism, the world is permeated with God, but the model doesn’t stop there, it is not complete, because in panentheism, the world is also immersed in God, like a sponge is permeated with sea water, while the wide ocean extends far beyond the sponge. That is, in panentheism, God is both “here” (immanent) and “more than here” (transcendent) – whereas in pantheism, there is only “here”, with no enveloping transcendent factor. This is the main difference between panentheism and pantheism.

So, in pantheism – unlike the panentheistic experience – there is no claim of experiencing a transcendent “MORE than here”, much less an intelligent (but not Creating) Sentiency – which is, in Jodo Shinshu/Shin Buddhism, the experience of Amitabha/Amida Buddha’s gift of grace.

The two systems are probably in agreement that there is no personal intelligence – such as a creator-deity – manipulating the material processes of the universe. The two disagree in that pantheism limits reality strictly to the cosmos, while panentheism views the cosmos as immersed in a greater, sacred transcendent, intelligent Reality – which, however, never created, and never manipulates, material objects and processes, for the simple reason that the universe was never “His”, or “Its”, creation to begin with.

So – when pantheism calls the universe “ALL”, that is like the fallacy that identifies the body-brain as “all there is” while omitting – or actively refusing to admit – the reality of the witnessing personal consciousness that fills the body and is, as C.G. Jung wrote, the arbiter and “sine qua non” of all experience (and again, as Jung said, the psyche, at least in part, can be defined as the living body seen from within).

Jung had an awareness of the issue of pantheism vs. panentheism. He reiterated that, purely as a scientist and a medical doctor, he could only go so far as to say that the the Collective Unconscious can at best only lead us to the doors of metaphysics and spiritual transcendence. For him it was an open question – as a scientist, he claimed agnosticism if there was or was not any reality behind those doors. But as a Christian, he permitted his faith to take him, at least intellectually, through the doors and beyond.

The pantheist perspective can venture only as far as the doors of transcendence, but claims to have no reason for thinking that anything real exists beyond them.

For me, based on what I believe and have experienced thus far, I have found that my Jodo Shinshu conversion experience – the experience of a transcendent, unearned grace – which Shin calls “the raft from the Other Shore” – has ushered me through those doors of transcendence, and has put me on the voyage to Amida Buddha’s Pure Land.

Or, as Shin also explains, I have, through the Buddha’s grace, embarked on the great, safely-constructed ship which permits me to cross the ocean of Samsara until the shores of Amida Buddha’s Pure Land are finally reached. What more could I – or anyone – ask?

The Interior Experience of the Ultimate

To my view, the typical assertive atheist’s question, “Show me your God!” is inept from the very beginning. Not that God can be “proved”, of course, but the question proceeds from the premise that God should, or ought to be, subject to proof.
The primary reason that God cannot be proven is that the experience of God – the only thing that really counts – philosophy, science, and faith being at most second best approaches – is purely subjective, and so cannot be dragged out from the internal psyche into the external world. No one can show God to another person. One who has had a spiritual experience can only describe the experience and suggest possible means by which another might duplicate the experience.
Once one views God as an object of experience, one tends to eschew most other avenues of knowledge-acquisition, because knowing God internally, like one might know a friend, is utterly satisfying and immediately, fully, answers the central God-questions. Philosophy, science (can science “find God”?), and faith-in and faith-about, cannot disclose God in the way that personal experience can.
The late atheist, Gore Vidal, wrote:
“God, or what have you, is not to be found at the far side of a syllogism, no matter how brilliantly phrased.”
…which perfectly expresses the primary truth that philosophy, at best, can only deliver the God of the intellect, but never connect the inquirer to the God of spiritual experience.
A similar principle applies to the Shin adherent’s experience of Amida Buddha, which is conveyed from the Buddha Himself via His pure gift of Shinjin. No amount of theorization about samsara, Bodhi or even Amida Himself can substitute for the living experience of His “inconceivable” grace. A spiritual event and state that is wholly evidential for the adherent, but by its very nature, cannot be drawn out from the experiencer’s subjectivity into the arena of public discourse. That is, a very real experience of grace and “Presence” to whom the experiencer can only point, and invite others to investigate for themselves.

A Divine Jesus, but no “God the Son”

A case for a weak type of binitarianism can be made from NT christological claims, but no NT text supports the official dogma of Trinitarianism, the central pillar of which is “Jesus is God” claims.

In the NT, Jesus explicitly excludes himself from the Godhead, first by saying in John 17:3, “You [Father] are the only true God, and second by identifying himself with the Son of Man in repeated passages, in which he conducts and executes the judgment of God, and “has the power on earth to forgive sins”.

Binitarianism of a sort involves itself in this Son of Man claim of Jesus – inspired originally from the book of Daniel, conceived as an exalted being who is an archangelic, pre-existent, heavenly figure who lives in the clouds and is gloriously, ceremoniously, presented before God, whom Daniel calls “the Ancient of Days”. Thus we already have a “Second Power in heaven”, who, however, is not ontologically God, but rather God’s primordial representative and agent. Therefore, the initial, monotheistic “Godhead-structure” was that of one God, one “Person” who is God; plus another heavenly figure, – primordial and pre-existent – “divine” but not ontologically God.

In the Synoptic Gospels Jesus identifies himself with the Son of Man at his Sanhedrin trial, telling the high priest Caiaphas that the judges will see the Son of Man coming with the clouds in great glory (Mark 14:62), accompanied with “Power” (the living Presence of God).

By claiming to be the heaven-dwelling primal, angelic Son of Man, the high priest judged that Jesus was guilty of blasphemy – not because he claimed to be God, but because he was claiming to be “the next thing to God” – that is, of being a unique, heavenly “Son” whom God charged with the execution of divine judgment. Of course, this bold statement was what prompted Caiaphas cry “Blasphemy!” and to tear his robe in righteous indignation.

This early monotheistic binitarianism was probably the earliest Jewish Christian christology. The Trinity dogma was a development of the Gentile church which, consciously or not, misunderstood the Son of Man’s relation to God, raised the Son of Man to the status of ontological God, and did the same with the Holy Spirit – thus newly – and grotesquely from a monotheistic point of view – creating a new form of the Godhead. A new form that fractured God’s unity and elevated a primordial Son of God to the status of “God the Son”.

Exorcist III: A Lengthy Consideration of Certain Points

(As the title warns, this is an unusually lengthy rumination on The Exorcist and the late William Peter Blatty’s self-directed movie sequel to his original novel.)

There seem to be quite a few misapprehensions about William Peter Blatty’s filming of his novelistic Exorcist sequel, Legion. This essay hopes, as best it can, to re-adjust some of the prevalent distorted takes on the film.

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1. The demon from The Exorcist – both the novel and the film – is definitely still active in the Exorcist III film – “he” is referred to by James Vennamun/the Gemini Killer (played by Brad Dourif) as “the Master…on the other side”, and also as a “certain party” who trapped Father Damien Karras in his own body, thus forcing the priest to watch as the Gemini mutilates and kills people who were involved in Karras’s earlier exorcism.  “…Oh…. Let’s call it revenge”, says the Gemini. All too frequently, viewers claim that they have no idea of who the demon is, whereas the screenplay makes it clear that it is the same demon of the original novel and film. “He” is out for revenge against Father Damien Karras, and others who were involved in the demonic possession of Regan MacNeil.

During the exorcism, the Gemini personality disappears and is fully replaced by the demon itself, who tells exorcist Father Paul Morning, “This time, you’re going to lose” (exactly what the same demon told Father Merrin in Blatty’s original Exorcist novel – and therefore a confirmation that we are dealing with the same demon), and who has been tormenting police lieutenant William Kinderman (played in the original by Lee J. Cobb, in the present production by George C. Scott). The demon indeed actually does emerge as itself alone at the climax of the film to taunt Morning and Kinderman. The demon still remains the supernatural villain of the piece, just as it did in Blatty’s original story and in the Blatty-Friedkin film.

2. Kinderman is always, only, seeing Karras’s/Miller’s face and body. Only the audience sees the Gemini/Dourif as Miller and Dourif alternately perform the role.

We know this because the Gemini asks Kinderman, “Look at me, Lieutenant, and tell me what you see”, and Kinderman replies, “I see a man who looks like Damien Karras”, to which Vennamun furiously replies that he is James Vennamun, the Gemini Killer. This is later confirmed because Kinderman requests a dental records-profile of Karras – whom he can see is the only physical entity in Cell 11.

So the film contains: Only one body, occupied at first by two personalities – Karras and the Gemini – and at the end, after the Gemini personality has receded – only by Karras and the original demon itself. Kinderman can only look on with shock and dread…because,  as the Gemini speaks, he succeeds in convincing the detective that the he, the Gemini, has truly, really, come back to life as a parasite living within Karras’s body … and, even more shockingly, is now forcing Karras’s resuscitated body to “rip and tear and mutilate” various victims.

3a. The ceiling-crawling old lady is not the lady who is lurking behind the door. That lady is actually the Gemini-possessed patient with the bag carrying the wannabe Kinderman-killing surgical shears. In fact, both women are in the same scene: while the old lady ceiling-crawls, the nurse exits the door behind Kinderman, who finds that the “nurse” is possessed by the Gemini, and has incapacitated a real nurse and donned her uniform as a disguise so she can travel to the Kinderman residence incognito.

3b. The individual who attacks the nurse in the corridor is not a phantom, or a Christ statue come to life, as many viewers mistakenly believe. The figure is only one of the hospital patients who the Gemini temporarily possesses, for whatever reason covered by a white bed sheet, and wielding a pair of “missing” (Gemin-stolen) surgical shears.

4. The MAJOR change from the Exorcist and the Legion novels, vs. Exorcist III :

In the both the Exorcist and the Legion novels, protagonist Damien Karras has succeeded in saving Regan MacNeil – and has spiritually triumphed and gone on to his heavenly reward. End of story.

And, consistent with that theme, in the Legion novel, Karras is not at all present as a living personality. Assumptively, he is in heaven. Nor is he possessed, because he is not occupying his resuscitated body in the first place. Rather, it is only that empty carcass which the demon regenerates and which the Gemini inhabits. Karras himself, as a person or as  a soul, is not even there to be possesssed-and-saved.

However, for the Exorcist III film …the studio demanded an exorcism scene, on the principle that because they’re calling the film an Exorcist sequel, of course, it must contain an exorcism. This unexpected imposition caused Blatty to hire Jason Miller – who had recently become free to do the project – to replay the role of Damien Karras. So Blatty re-engineered his original story of Karras’ sacrificial heaven-tending death in the following way:

Instead of having Karras immediately going to heaven, Blatty invented the new scenario wherein the demon caught Karras’s soul while it was still “on his way out” of his battered body, and stuffed him back into his nearly-dead corpse – along with the recently-executed Gemini Killer.

That is the revenge that the Gemini talks about. Thus, the exorcism in the film has a twofold purpose: to expel the Gemini, AND to rescue Karras from the demon’s grip.

In fulfillment of this new scenario, the film’s climax presents two exorcists:

1) the official exorcist, Fr. Morning;


2) the unofficial “exorcist-by-gunshot” Detective Kinderman.

Thus, Karras, the former liberator of Regan MacNeil in the original story, is now himself the victim who needs rescuing. 

5. Regarding the supernatural “church invasion-distrubance” scene at the film’s opening, those flying bits and pieces are not locusts swarming into the church.

First – such a scene would, contrary to both reason and good taste, connect the film to the monstrous John Boorman production, Exorcist II: the Heretic, wherein locust swarms and a preternatural “Good Locust” largely and painfully figure.

Second – the objects in question are not insects, but rather street-and-sidewalk leaf debris, probably meant to be driven by “the Pazuzu wind” which in the first film starts to blow when Fr. Merrin confronts the Pazuzu statue across a rocky chasm.

Third, it is extremely likely that the scene as a whole is not to be taken literally, but rather as part of the opening narration, which itself seems to be an amalgam of the trapped Karras’s and the possessing Gemini’s garbled memories of the night of Karras’s “death”.

It is likely that the viewer is being invited to think of this opening narration as a kind of fever dream that is shared by both of the personalities – Damien Karras and James Vennamun/the Gemini – occupying the same resuscitated body. So it would seem doubtful that we are meant to take the debris-storm and the eye-moving crucifix as literal physical facts. If we do accept them as physical facts, this would be an unlikely case of the demon ineptly giving itself away – and that far too early and publicly by clumsily “outing” itself through an out-of-character, even ham-thumbed self-revelation.


The saintly priest’s soul has been trapped inside his own body and is the helpless witness of the Gemini’s depredations. It is Kinderman and Morning who save the day – Morning by attacking the demon via exorcism ritual and brandishing the crucifix at the beast – and Kinderman by providing the means of the merciful death that finally sets Karras free.

7. Father Paul Morning was a tacked-on character, but Blatty was careful to show that this new exorcist doesn’t quite, exactly, “come out of nowhere” as an annoying intrusion into the narrative. Blatty takes care to give Morning a brief, prior exorcistic history, and poetically sketches the aging priest’s character in a gentle, wordless introductory scene that shows that he has been caring for an injured bird; finds that the bird has suddenly died;and then encounters the presence of the old demon when he witnesses a crucifix fall off the wall, the sky darkening, while the demonic “Pazuzu wind” begins to blow through his room.

Blatty also shows Morning praying in the campus chapel – in another wordless scene, except for Morning’s vocalized prayer, which ends with a scriptural citation, “men of violence seek my life …my life…” an explicitly foreshadowing hint that, like Father Lankester Merrin before him, Morning himself “must soon face an ancient enemy”.

8. A final, very important (for those who care about spiritual matters dramatically expressed) theological notation:

Exorcist III is the first and (as far as I know) the only one of Blatty’s religious works in which the formerly hidden deity emerges into the material world to perform an act of divine intervention – for which we have that much-disdained added-in exorcism scene to thank.

This is worked out by showing a mysterious beam of heavenly light shining into the Gemini cell, which awakens the unconscious Father Morning, thereby permitting him to yell encouragement to Karras to break the demon’s hold – which Karras momentarily succeeds in doing – which in turn permits Kinderman the chance to free Karras by a lethal use of his service revolver.

In that final moment of clarity, Karras shouts, “Shoot me, Bill! Shoot now! Kill me now!”. Kinderman swiftly obliges the priest’s request. Karras’s final words are: “We’ve won… Now, free me.” Kinderman delivers a final shot, which permits Damien Karras at last to ascend to the heaven from which the vengeful demon had, for a hellish period, prevented his entry.

By this device, Blatty’s formerly hidden God has finally been permitted to reveal his presence on the scene – still invisible, but at last as a positively active Presence within the world – and this in a manner completely new to Blatty’s former theological contemplations about God’s absence from the world. A hopeful note on which Blatty ended his creative involvement in the Exorcist franchise.