Category Archives: religion

Jihadist Terror

Recently I have been embroiled privately and publicly in condemning Islamic terrorism. Because I pulled no punches, I have alienated and lost some old friends. The following is from the Dharma Wheel website forums which I wrote in response to the thread.

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Postby steveb1 » Sun Jul 30, 2017 5:26 pm

Dharma Flower wrote:

“He’s saying that we’re at war against international jihad, which is the drive to take over the world for Islam that has been part of Islam from the beginning. Millions of Asian Buddhists have died at the hands of Islamic conquest. Is there any Asian Muslim country that wasn’t converted by the sword?

“What Sam Harris is saying is that the Muslim world needs an enlightenment and a reformation, the same way that the West had an enlightenment and a reformation. Christianity had a very violent, brutal history too, but the West is different today because of the reformation and the enlightenment.”

Exact and to the point.

[Requisite PSA: Not all Muslims are terrorists! Only a small minority. Most are peaceful!]

Jihad is a toxic, ugly truth at the heart of Islam. Sadly, only Muslims can rid the religion and the world of Islamic terrorism via “reform”. The odds are stacked against it, because Jihad is embedded in the Quran and the life of Muhammad. Allah is the first deity to teach the principles of Jihad to a human being – that is a rock-solid, ground truth. It is not an argument to say that most Muslims are not Jihadists or supporters thereof. As everyone can agree: “THEY are not the problem”. The terrorists ARE.

The “peaceful Muslims” gambit is being used by the Left and by the cucked Right as a dodge, a red herring, a ploy with the intent to try to distract the public’s gaze from the true horrors of Islamic terrorism, a crime that has no foreseeable end. To reform Islam is, according to everything stated and implied in the Quran, to reform Perfection. Can’t be done, and all attempts to do so will end in fire and sword.

Harris is a mixed bag. On religion, I think he’s mostly misled, but on political Islam he’s mostly correct. And it is beneficial to recall that condemnation of Jihad is not condemnation of religious Islam.

Religious Islam began fairly peacefully in Mecca until the Prophet became increasingly megalomaniac and political, and the Meccans kicked him out. He then went to Medina where he became a politician, a judge and a warlord. When he had assembled a strong following there, he returned to Mecca and exacted a frightful vengeance upon those who had so sensibly rejected him as Muhammad the Terrorist. Thus Islam contains both the Meccan/pacifistic religious “Surrender” as well as the Medinan/terrorist “Surrender”. Unfortunately, both are woven of the same cloth and cannot be separated and still be called “Islam”.

Westerners whose first reaction to a Jihad attack is to rush to protect “innocent Muslims” from Western attack are simply wrong-headed. The first response needs to be quarantining, jailing, and punishing the perpetrators and their networks – plus strong, legal expressions of outrage and public protest, including demonstrations and marches. The second response needs to be taking care of all the victims, their friends-and-families, as well as any physically uninjured witnesses who are suffering from emotional trauma. The third response is to keep peaceful Muslims on the back burner of “Concern!” – because, after all, that’s where they belong, since …THEY are not the Problem.

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“God” as Real, but not as a Creator

It seems to me that one major problem with the modern God-conversation is that God is constantly being defined as some kind of responsible world-agent – a creator. Of course, a creator – especially one who is held to be all-knowing and all-good – is ultimately responsible for “His” creation. No excuses can be offered for the putative creator’s misbehavior. And I’m not even (yet) talking about the depredations of the Biblical deity. No, the creator – as we now have “Him” – is sufficiently evil, indifferent, inept, mute and incompetent to be existentially and morally condemned under the Epicurean mandate.

However, I personally believe that “God” is real, but is not a creator, intervener, or judge.
For me – a panentheist (not pantheist) – God is much less a creator and much more the being Who and Which is spoken about in Gnostic Christianity, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, and by the mystics of all traditions. A silent Presence, the Tao, the Absolute, the Dharmakaya, Bodhi, the Unconditioned/the Unborn, Salvation, Light, Wisdom, etc. … a being and/or a category, that is, whose only “doing-ness” or activity is limited, and natural, to its transformative effects in sentient beings, but which is non-functional and irrelevant vis-a-vis the creation and maintenance of physical worlds, universes, things and processes.

Thus, as pertains to the world/cosmos/”life”, God is not all-mighty; in fact, God is not “mighty” at all,  the word “might” being a crude projection of gross material, physical “power” onto a spirit being.

This type of God is immune from both the Epicurean critique and the normative Western theistic view, because both base themselves on the idea of an all-powerful creator deity. They assume that, for God to be real – “for God to BE God” – God must be a creator – or “He” isn’t God , and “He” does not, or cannot, exist. But that is as silly and inept as saying that either the moon is made of green cheese, or it does not, or cannot, exist.

The conception of a non-creating God immediately releases one’s God-definition from the burden of creating a theodicy. A theodicy is an argument that claims to explain evil – and more importantly, the persistence of evil – in a cosmos that was supposedly created and is currently being maintained by an all-good, all-powerful creator deity. If we remove from our theological perspective the conception of an all-good/all-powerful creator deity, we also remove the conception of divine intervention, as well as the embarrassing necessity of needing to account for “God’s” obviously neglectful behavior.

The non-creating, non-almighty God thus cannot be blamed for the world’s evils, nor can this God be praised for the world’s goodness. There is no one – “no One” – to praise or to blame. The universe goes its own “samsaric” way without deity-influence, interference, or manipulation, while God simply, deeply, remains as the silent Presence within the depths not of matter, but rather in the perceiving souls of the sentient beings who seek divine union.

In one narrow sense, Jodo Shinshu’s Amida Buddha can be seen as a kind of functional equivalent to the non-creating but spiritually-transformative God. Buddhas are not gods or creator deities, and neither is Amida Buddha. However, if by “God” is meant an all-compassionate, all-wise, luminous, transcendent Being who saves and enlightens not by physical intervention but by sheer grace – in the form of Shinjin in Jodo Shinshu – then, surely, Amida “fits the bill”. Not a creator, not a physical intervener, not a judge, not a divine warrior or apocalyptic vengeful destroyer, not a dying-and-rising savior, Amida can be seen as the compassionate, transforming, transcendent spiritual Ultimate – a “God” for all sentient beings, who at the same time is source and spark of their future Buddhahood in Amida’s Pure Land, where those beings recognize and realize their own “godness” as Buddhas in their own right.

Mythicism, Resurrection, and the Historical Question

Let’s begin with the Mythicist claim that the earliest Christian writers – Paul and other Epistle authors, had no concept of an earthly Jesus, but only a concept of an eternal, heavenly “Son” figure unconnected to the purportedly historical Gospel Jesus. However, Jews in Jesus’ time did have a concept of body-soul dualism, and a belief in congress between mortals and non-corporeal spirit beings, among which beliefs was that the eternal Son was known via scripture and revelation – but not necessarily as a human being who had recently lived on earth.

For example, there is the account of Saul bidding the Witch of Endor to summon up the spirit of Samuel. Now if Samuel had not been called up as a spirit or soul, how then could he have been called up at all?  Jews believed that the righteous would only be raised up bodily on the last day at the general resurrection, but of course, this had not yet happened, and Samuel was not excluded from this condition. This almost coerces us to think that Samuel manifested to Saul as a spirit entity, not a physical body. The whole concept of Sheol demands some kind of a spiritual survival, no matter how minimal and subdued. People in Sheol had a dim consciousness, but had not yet received a resurrection body. The same holds true for Jesus’  reference to dead people dwelling in Abraham’s Bosom – where conscious beings live, but not in-or-as-bodies – again, because of the simple fact that the general resurrection had not yet occurred. And it is assumed in Jesus’ promising the “Good Thief” on the cross that “this day you will be with me in Paradise” – obviously Paradise was a repository for the souls of the dead, at least until the last day when the dead would be reunited with their former bodies.

Jews also “peopled” heaven with non-bodily figures who could be perceived in spontaneous mystical experience, or achieved through a practice of  “ascent to the heavens”. Paul himself expresses body-soul dualism when he says he ascended to heaven, “whether in the body or out of it, I do not know”. Thus for Paul, his own consciousness was separable from hisbody and could have experiences – even revelations – that are separate from physical sensation and data transmitted through the senses.

Jewish non-bodily thought can be found in any number of particular situations, e.g., Herod’s belief that Jesus was “John the Baptist – returned”. Obviously Herod was thinking of the Baptist’s spirit, surviving in the afterlife for a brief time, and then “incarnating” or even possessing Jesus. Both Jesus’ friends and foes insisted that he “had” – i.e., that he possessed, or was possessed by – a spirit. His friends called it the Holy Spirit, and his enemies called it Beelzebub. In those days, the spirits of the dead could also possess the living (and this type of possession is the most common in Judaism to this day in the form of the dybbuk). In any case, physical resurrection cannot be fit into the “Jesus is the return of the Baptist” scenario. Nor does it match the concept in the books of Maccabees, which invokes prayer for the dead, an idea that presupposes that there are conscious souls in the afterlife.

It is important to know that, pertaining to Christian origins, we are not talking mainstream theologies,  but rather with idiosyncratic sectarian ideas, such as the notion that Jesus’ resurrection was merely the first “rising” in preparation for the general resurrection, and as such, it signaled that the end times had begun. The Jewish elite never persecuted “the Twelve” et al for believing that Jesus had been raised – they may have considered it a strange idea, but they didn’t condemn it as heresy. The question before us is the nature and quality of resurrection as it applies to the specific case of Jesus and primitive Christianity.

Regarding  Jesus’  “bodily” resurrection, the Gospel narratives are ambiguous. If the risen Jesus was a resuscitated corpse, then all of his appearances should have been reported as being bodily. But they aren’t. His “body” does things that no body can do: it can levitate, bilocate, appear and vanish at will, disguise its form, and pass through solid obstructions.

The Gospel resurrection appearances are a mix of physicality and non-materiality … but Paul’s risen Christ is completely non-corporeal. Paul’s Christ doesn’t look like any person – on the contrary, He is only a light and a voice – and of course from then on, an indwelling Spirit. Paul never sits down with Christ to break bread as in Luke’s Emmaus account, or probe His wounds, as in the Johannine “doubting Thomas” narrative. That’s simply not Paul’s Christ, even if Paul acknowledged some kind of prior earthly existence for Him. For Paul, the heavenly Christ apparently eclipsed Jesus of Nazareth, to the point that Paul rarely if ever mentions the Nazarene.
Relative to Mythicism’s claims, opponents remind us that the Epistles are not biographical texts, so of course we wouldn’t expect them to say much about the historical Jesus. I don’t really buy that argument, because since Paul and the Epistle authors were preaching a celestial Son revealed in the hearts of believers (Paul: “God was pleased to reveal his Son IN me”), they would have needed to cite – and cite frequently – the heavenly Son’s direct connection to the purported existence of Jesus the Galilean carpenter – if such a tradition preceded the Epistles. And the more citations, the better the buttressing of the supposed connection between the earthly Jesus and the heavenly Son.

But the Epistles – whether Pauline or not – don’t give any hint of their cosmic Christ being meaningfully connected to the so-called historical ministry of a human Jesus. They make no citation of foundational themes such as the Sermon on the Mount/Plain; no mention of Jesus’ cures and exorcisms; nothing about Jesus forgiving the woman who washed his feet; no mention of Jesus’ “Parables of the Kingdom” which are acknowledged by most scholars as the most distinctive aspect of Jesus’ teaching; no mention of the calling of the disciples, whether in Galilee or in Judea; nothing about Jesus’ own foundational experience – his baptism by John in the Jordan; no mention of Pilate, Judas, Peter’s cowardice; no reference to the scene of the Beloved Disciple leaning back on Jesus’ breast at the last supper; no Mary Magdalene; no Lazarus; no Nicodemus or Joseph of Arimathea, etc., etc. ad infinitum.

How much more effective their preaching would have been, had they buttressed their mystical, non-material Christ with examples from his earthly career. But there are virtually none. (Paul, at most, seems to think that Jews of his own generation were being persecuted as punishment for crucifying the Lord in Sion/Jerusalem; and he also mentions that Jesus’ mission had only been to Israel [an idea that is supported by the Gospels], just as Peter’s was to the Jews and Paul’s was to the Gentiles. But beyond very minor “nods” like these, the Epistles do not bring the ministry Jesus and his world-changing message into their argumentation.)

Again, how much more effective their efforts would have been had they said things like, “Brethren, we are blessed to have seen His glory in visions, and to know him in our hearts. But how fortunate are those who knew Him according to the flesh, who felt His touch, heard his words, and traveled with Him throughout Judea. Seek out their testimony and learn from them”. Or, even better yet, had they said things like, “You have suffered much from lack of meat, wine, and shelter. We are the poor. But take heart from the example of the Lord, who when he was still on the earth, like us, thirsted, was hungry, and had no place to lay his head”.

Had Paul and the Epistle writers actually possessed a store of extensive knowledge about the historical Jesus, surely they would have written multiple texts in the vein of the above two examples. But they didn’t. This implies one of two things:

Either they deemed Jesus’ earthly ministry, acts, wonders, and teaching as unimportant (at least in contrast to the importance of the cosmic Son);

or there was simply no actual record of a historical Jesus for them to consult and quote – hence his example wasn’t there to be cited.

Otherwise, they would have cited his earthly example almost ad nauseam as the originating, reliable buttress for their heavenly Son teaching. But they don’t. And to me, this is not just a remarkable lack. It is a Screaming Silence.

I’m not a Mythicist, but this Silence is deep and dark. A few Epistolary peeks into-and-about Jesus being recently crucified in the capital, preaching only to Israel, etc., are simply not enough to effectively penetrate the great Silence.

Thus, if Jesus did most of the historical things recorded in the Gospels, why did virtually none of these crucially important things make it into Paul and the Epistles? As already mentioned,  the Epistles weren’t trying to be biographical documents. But even so, their utter separation of their cosmic Christ from the purported historical existence of the Galilean sage – on whom the visionary revelations are traditionallly assumed to be based – is, for me, jaw-droppingly astonishing.

God as an ‘Object’ of Experience

Although it has become something of a cliche, the statement “Experience trumps faith” represents a high religio-spiritual concept.

For example, any amount of scientific knowledge about a particular brand of candy bar may “explain” the candy bar’s material facets, but it is only by tasting that we can personally, subjectively, truly, know if the candy bar is sweet. All prior assumptions, even when based on scientific knowledge of the candy’s ingredients, come under the category of “faith” or “faith-about”. That is, even exhaustive material-scientific knowledge of the candy’s ingredients may at most permit us to say that it probably will taste sweet, but only the criterion of actual tasting is the one thing that can bring the candy’s sweetness (or lack thereof)  out of the realm of mere intellection into the realm of personal experience, personal consciousness, and personal truth. Similarly, then, the proposition that spirituality is truly a “Way of Knowing” – a way of “gnosis” is, in my view, quite true and valuable for religion.  Jesus himself claimed that Eternal Life consists in “knowing” the heavenly Father and the Son whom He sent (John 17:3) – and not a matter of merely having faith in God as Something or Someone “out there”, Which can only believed-in, but not really, directly, experienced. Only by such direct experience can we taste of the manna and know that it is sweet indeed.

Philosophical proofs and evidences for the existence of God, Spirit, the human soul, etc., are not irrelevant or unimportant. But, in my view,  they ought to be secondary supports for an original, ineffable experience of Spirit. The wordless experience should come first, and its intellectual supporting structures and definitions second. Or at most, the intellectual structures might act as “lures” whose main purpose would be to lead the questioner into the ineffable experience of the divine – into prayer, contemplation, centering, or whatever name we might give the process (and its accompanying states). For instance, of what real use is faith vis-a-vis the Catholic sacrament of the Real Presence in the Eucharist? If Jesus is not, or cannot, be known in this – the most intimate of sacraments – then one wonders what the point of it is; if, in fact, this were the case, the Catholic communicant may as well just switch over to “sola fide”, Eucharist-free Protestantism. That is, one’s experience of the Real Presence had better be “Real”, and not something to merely be believed-in or believed-about!

Scholars such as Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell, Mircea Eliade, as well as “Great Sages” such as Ramana Maharshi, Bodhidharma, the Taoist Masters, “God (or Self-) Realized persons, and countless anonymous indigenous shamans globally, in varying ways of expressing the thought, claim that spiritualities are indeed “Paths of Knowing” and “Technologies of the Sacred”.

This kind of knowing differs from scientific and philosophical ways of knowing in that it refers the questioner inward, not to the external world (science) or to mental/intellectual considerations (philosophy), but to the human soul and its relationship, interactions, and its potential merger with God (“gnosis”). As such, these spiritualities function as “lenses” or sacraments through which God is “seen” (perceived) –  that is, known inwardly through immediate experience, whether direct or mediated. This experience, obviously, sidesteps the question of prior belief or unbelief, because its only requirement is to have an open mind, and is therefore available to believers and atheists alike, as the following hopes to illustrate.

Following the work of the American philosopher Ken Wilber, we might try to interest atheists in this “Direct Experience” approach to (spiritual) knowledge-acquisition:

1. The Injunction:  If you want to know ‘X’, then DO ‘Y’. If you want to know if Jupiter has moons, look through a telescope – if you want to know if its night time, look out a window; if you want to know about God, look through the appropriate lenses (e.g., meditation, contemplation).

2. The Experiment:  Put the Injunction to the test. Look through the lens; do the meditation. Take notes.

3. The Conclusion:  Collate and preserve all the aspects of the Experiment. Then compare notes with others – i.e., those who have already, adequately performed all the three steps. This is a form of “peer review” which places the three steps into a responsible social context.

If this three-step knowledge-acquisition process is valid, then it is one that can be carried out by believer and unbeliever alike. There is no prior “faith burden” or “unbelief burden” to come between the participant and the experiment. It is fair-minded and invitational. This “test” is open to all – and therefore, atheists, as well as believers, may consider themselves equally invited to participate.

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(Notes from a Shin perspective:)

It would seem that Jodo Shinshu adherents are at least partially exempt from this process, for the simple reason that they do not so much typically rely on a three-step process (or any other) of inquiry, but more on a non-intellectual but experiential “Calling” from Amida Buddha, issued from His Presence on “the Other Shore”. It is as if the great “Raft” from that shore has arrived at our feet … unbidden. Our mysteriously-received Faith is at once “faith-full” and experiential.

Amida’s Call has been issued and has pierced our heart with its love-laden arrow. Our only reply to this gift is to voice, verbally or mentally, our simple, sincere “Thank-You” as phrased in the Nembutsu. Amida has enabled us to sidestep the three-step inquiry, without our having to strive with its inherently self-powered methods of searching.

Namo Amida Butsu.

Materialists, the Human Soul, and Introspection

One issue I’d like to bring up is the question of how to communicate the idea of non-material reality to those who claim that matter is a universal fact of being, a stance, which by nature, cannot allow for the existence of, and evidence for, spiritual realities, entities, and “realms”.

In claiming that only matter exists, materialists let themselves off the metaphysical hook, because they a priori  dismiss evidence for non-material realities. They talk the liberal, open-minded approach – you know: “I’m open to believing if you show me the evidence”. However, since evidence for the non-material is itself non-material, the atheists cannot and will not accept such evidence. Which, in a negative sense, makes them the “winners” because they live in an air-tight dialectical bubble, where nothing from “the outside” can reach them and shatter their worldview. So, how to reach them, since there is no argumentation they will accept?

Perhaps one angle of approach would be to attempt to address the fact of their own non-materiality, i.e., their own mental functions and their subjective selves.
At first, they will no doubt protest that the self is nothing but a product of neurological function. The reply to that, I think, would be to ask them to introvert, to “look inside” not only at the fact that they are conscious, but also to examine the contents of their consciousness. At that point, it should be easy to show how utterly different mental life is from the brain – and the first thing they will discover is that they won’t find anything like a brain or a body within the field of their awareness.

The brain is a three-pound skull organ, whose purpose and functions are well-known. And none of those functions demonstrably constitutes the creation of a mind or mental contents. At best, there is only a correlation between the two, but not an identity. On principle, “Like begets like” – so the brain might perhaps beget more brain – but never a non-material, subjective self. Moreover, the brain is not “about” anything, whereas the psyche is “about” everything under the sun, including the experience of its own – non-material – contents. Therefore, to claim that brain equals mind, self, subjectivity the qualia, personhood, etc., is to commit a category error of egregious proportions.

One suggestion for mental introversion would be to have the experimenter realize that he or she is the observer – that is, in and as a non-material self, he or she can realize that the body and the myriad objects witnessed within the stream of the introverted consciousness are simply things that exist outside the observer, and are therefore not the observer him–or-herself. This will bring the realization that the observer – the soul, the self – is not material and is not part of the passing objects that stream by in front of the observing self. Rather, the observer is the non-material consciousness that merely – simply – witnesses the passing sense impressions and mental phenomena, and therefore, because it is not identifiable with such material-world phenomena, is not a material category – not a body and not a brain.

So, if materialists could be weaned from their naive “Brain equals mind” / “We ARE the brain!” perspective, simply by having them empirically discover, via introspection, that the exact opposite is the case, their materialism might weaken – and weaken to the extent that they would begin to make intellectual room for God, the Spirit, and the human soul.

I think that this hands-on, empirical, experiential approach would have at least as much success as pointing materialists to books, websites and philosophical ruminations, on the principle that experience trumps mere intellection or “belief-in”. That is, giving a person real fishing equipment to catch real fish is more pragmatic than merely telling a person about fish and how to catch them. Introspection could function as the unbeliever’s rod and reel, with the Catch being as big as their net could handle.

These considerations also seem to at least in part successfully dovetail with certain categories in Jodo Shinshu – namely the experiential reality of the non-material Transcendent as postulated by Masters Shinran and Rennyo and interpreted so well for us by scholars such as John Paraskevopoulos, D.T. Suzuki, Harold Stewart, and others. “Our” Transcendent – “our” Amida Buddha and his gift of Shinjin – are our very own experienced, unmediated reality of “the Other Shore” – from which our “Raft” of salvation has sailed to us for our benefit.

New Book by Richard Smoley

Longtime scholar of religion Richard Smoley has written a fascinating book about the origins of Western religion titled, How God Became God:

The book follows the historical, historical and ecclesiastical path of religion in the West, and therefore concentrates on Judaism and Christianity. Much attention is given to ancient Israel and the origins of its deity. Or perhaps we should say, “deities”.

As Smoley shows (and here his work dovetails with that of Margaret Barker and the late Alan Segal), in pre-Deuteronomic times, Israel had a binitarian theology. That is, the ultimate God was held to be El Elyon (the Most High), but this topmost father-god had a multitude of “sons”, who were conceptualized as other, lesser gods – or as angelic beings – who constituted El Elyon’s high council. At one point, the Most High appointed each of the world’s nations to an angel, a process by which the Council’s god/angels  became a protector, benefactor, and judge of a particular earthly nation. Surprisingly, this scenario is embedded in the Jewish Bible itself,  in Deuteronomy 32:7-9:

7 “Remember the days of old, Consider the years of all generations. Ask your father, and he will inform you, Your elders, and they will tell you. “When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance, When He separated the sons of man, He set the boundaries of the peoples According to the number of the sons of Israel.  9 “For the LORD’S portion is His people; Jacob is the allotment of His inheritance.… (Bible Hub)

From the inception of this belief, an ancient tradition looked to the “second God” or “Great Angel” of Israel as that nation’s guiding, tutelary, and judging deity, a literal Son of the Most High. He went by several names such as Yahoel, Son of Man, Heavenly Adam (Adam Kadmon), and Metatron, but for religious and historical purposes, his greatest name is Yahweh.

Far from the traditional, commonly received picture of Yahweh being the high God, in the earlier picture, Yahweh was God’s (El Elyon’s) Son, representative, servant, and Israel’s particular “deity”. Of course this means that Judaism, at least in part, contained a conception of “Two Powers in Heaven” – El Elyon and his Son, Yahweh. The situation is even more complex, per Barker, when it is realized that Yahweh the Son had a female consort – possibly a mother figure or simply a spouse. Thus a royal-divine dyad on earth was worshipped in Israel, along with a most high Father. Some of the prophets raged against the divine consort and urged that her symbols be permanently removed from the Temple. And, in any case, the ancient El Elyon-Yahweh dynamic plays a huge role in New Testament christology.

The New Testament Jesus identified himself with a Jewish figure called the Son of Man. In certain texts, he uses it as a circumlocution for “this guy”, i.e., “me, myself”. But in others, he seems to be speaking of the heavenly Son of Man who is enthroned next to the Most High, in which case he would have equally have been speaking of the Angel, Adam Kadmon, or of Yahweh (again, not as topmost deity, but as son of El Elyon). This makes sense of Jesus’ answer to the high priest Caiaphas’ question about his identity, where Jesus says that people will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with “Power” (another circumlocution designating God). And it would mean that Jesus’ frequent New Testament references to his own sonship in relation to God could in reality represent the ancient view of Yahweh’s son-like relationship to El Elyon.

This christology would mean that the New Testament Jesus is actually saying that he is not the high God, the Most High, but rather that he is the son of the Most High,  Israel’s Great Angel. This in turn might explain why the earliest Jewish-Christian sects held that Jesus – unlike his later Trinitarian counterpart – is a divine Son, but of course cannot not be the Father-Creator-Most High. And this notion is supported in Patristic reports of several early Jewish “Christ cults” which claimed that Jesus had been a righteous man in whom the heavenly Messiah-Christ, the heavenly Adam (Adam Kadmon) “incarnated”.

The El Elyon/heavenly Father-to-Jesus/Yahweh/the Son relationship is only one of many refreshing and informative points of interest in Smoley’s book, which I strongly recommend for anyone interested in religion, religious history, and christology.



Buddhism and the New Testament

This is my response to a discussion over at Dharma Wheel, **

regarding the question of whether Buddhism can “absorb” other religions. Of course, there are many paths to “the One”, but I think it strains the capacity, as well as the purposes, of any religion to absorb all the others:

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I don’t see how all religions could be absorbed into Buddhism, although I do think that most religions and expressions of spirituality share certain core ideas and values with Buddhism. For example, and not to stretch a point too far, some would associate, if not identify, particular aspects of the New Testament teaching with Buddhistic ideas.

Like Buddha, Jesus taught a way of self-denial (“take up your cross daily and follow me”; “whoever loses oneself for the Kingdom will find oneself”), which – when sincerely practiced – would ideally lead to self-transcendence (“resurrection”). Thus, Jesus taught, at least in some of his parables and sayings, a kind of “ego-death” brought on by centering the self in Spirit rather than in world and culture. Some would even say that his life and death represent the victory of Spirit over culture.

His saying, “seek first the Kingdom of God” / which “is within you and among you” could be interpreted as brushing aside all peripheral values by way of a kind of “not this”/”not that” stripping away of egoic, cultural, “super-egoic” categories, and blossoming into one’s true spiritual nature which at base is not separate from unadulterated Spirit. For instance, 2 Peter 1:4 says

“Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.”

In this passage, perhaps similarly to Buddhism, “evil desire” is an obstruction to merging with the Divine Nature – and if we would care to associate this with a participation in Bodhi, discovering of our real Buddha Nature, and our link to the Dharmakaya, then we might see some Buddhistic parallels. This interpretation, of course, even if accurate, does not mean that NT categories can or should be absorbed into Buddhism. It merely indicates that the two systems may be spiritual cousins in some very central matters.

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