Friday, March 2, 2007



At the age of nineteen I had a radical religious experience while reading through the Gospel of Matthew. I felt connected to God and my life changed for the better. I went to a Christian college, joined a church, studied evangelical theology and eventually became a minister and seminary professor. Over the years I have met and spoken with many others who have been 'born again' through the Christian gospel of Jesus dying for their sins and being raised from the dead. Almost all of them admit that something very powerful took place internally. Their lives were changed for the better. What actually happens in such situations?


Something most religious and non-religious people forget, especially in our modern 'scientific' world, is that deep personal religious experiences are more powerful than, and infintiely beyond intellectual explanations and rational arguments. But we humans have a tendency to want to capture the experience, so we immediately pour the red hot magma of our intense personal religious experiences into some ideological or imaginative theological mold which has been cast by some other person or group. Then the experience cools, takes form and resembles the solid mold into which it was poured. The religious name of these solidified images of the once molten spiritual experience is 'myth.' Myths are frozen stories, stiff metaphors, similes cast in concrete or etched in stone. The people who inspect the images in detail are called theologians.

We then come to believe that the cast images (myths) are exact replicas of the original mysterious and inexplicable experience. That is the fatal error which begins the gradual or rapid descent away from living Spirit into dead forms and stagnant institutions. These solid forms work for a time, perhaps a few centuries or minutes, but they do not contain and cannot capture or replicate the originating, dynamic liquid eruption on the landscape of an altered soul.

The function of these imagistic ideological myths, says John Hicks, "is to illumine by means of unforgettable imagery the religious significance of some present or remembered fact of experience. But the experience which the myth thus emphasizes and illumines is itself the locus of the mystery." [Evil and the God of Love, John Hicks]

In other words, the religious experience is a mystery which has not been explained yet. Theologians, astrologers, magicians, philosophers and alchemists have tired for centuries. More recently, sociologists, anthropologists, psychologists, neurologists, biologists and a host of scientifically inspired researchers have attempted to explain the religious experience. Names like Freud, Comte, Spinoza, Hume, Jung, Newberg, Hawking, etc. come to mind. These are brilliant fellows casting these experiences into their molds, and each is broken, usually before they pass away.


Remember the children's story of Chicken Little? That story is an excellent example of a very real, dynamic personal experience being imaginatively formed and eventually dissolved. The story begins with Chicken Little pecking at some kernels of corn in the barnyard when he is suddenly hit on the head with a thud! Through crossed eyes he looks up, sees the sky spinning above him and concludes that the sky is falling. He has just poured his experience into a rational mold so that the story (myth) might be told to others. He runs all over the barnyard like a missionary recruiting the other animals through his newly concretized myth. Within minutes, he has started the new Fellowship of The Plummeting Sky.

A host of new converts join him on his frantic crusade. Soon Turkey Lurky and Henny Penny join him. After all, he had been very trustworthy up to that point; surely he wouldn't lie. And Chicken Little was very persuasive; he really believed it – after all, something clearly came from above - he had the bump on his head to prove it. And he had a story, albeit fantastic, which was plausible.

At one point, the wise old Owl King asks Chicken Little some questions. Owl is not so quick to convert. He doubts that the sky is falling; skies don't typically fall. But Chicken Little points to the lump on his noggin and says it's a miracle. The owl suggests that he go back to the scene of the event and take another look at what might have really happened. Chicken Little and his crew reluctantly march back expecting to find a big chunk of sky. You know the end, instead they find an apple.


Just as Chicken Little returned to the scene of his original mind altering experience, I too returned to my original reading of the Gospel of Matthew. Like Chicken Little, I too discovered that all of my rushing about and noisy evangelism was based on a hasty interpretation given to me by a Pastor and many mostly sincere teachers. Their’s was a very plausible interpretation – after all, I too had a head-thumping experience that seemed to come out of nowhere.

Everyone around me was telling me that my experience was the result of Jesus literally dying for my sins, and that I now had to believe that the Bible was the literal Word of a literal Trinitarian God, and that literal blood paid for the literal sins of a world being punished for the literal sins of a literal man named Adam who had a literal wife made out of his literal rib who talked with a literal snake, and that an angry God cancelled my literal ticket to Hell, and a whole host of other literal doctrines too numerous to list. If I am making fun, it is of myself, this is how I more or less once believed! My soul shriveled as I defended all of this with my rational mind.

It is now clear to me that the life altering spiritual blow to my head was real, but it had little to do with the literal 'sky is falling' evangelical doctrines that I was taught afterwards. I understand why my pastor and teachers taught me what they did. It is the nature of human beings to assign meanings to experiences, to explain how and why an event occurred. That's what we humans do, we explain how and why. We begin with real experiences, form general theories which become plausible explanations, and eventually become absolute dogma. Soon we are running around the barnyard (globe) with a very real experience, enhanced by a hasty interpretation and a flock of supportive disciples. Unless we meet some wise owls along the way, we usually go to the grave believing it was the sky that hit us rather than an apple.

Many Christians today and religious folks from all spiritual traditions do not know that their spiritual awakening and relationship to 'God' may be very real, while the accompanying sacred theological interpretations are mostly unrelated.


With much time and agony, I eventually came to see that my original spiritual awakening was very legitimate, but that the doctrines and teachings which came afterward were not organically related. It was not necessary to unite the theoretical evangelical creeds and teachings with my unquestionable experience. I could throw out the murky theological bathwater and keep the pristine spiritual baby. That was when Spirit returned and the Mystery came back to life.

However, it took me years to shed the indoctrination and rejection. Many never do. Some of the convoluted faithful go numb, some become paid professionals, some commit suicide, some turn to alcohol and some live in perpetual bitterness for having been hoodwinked.


"Some stories are true that never happened." ~Elie Weisel

After I left the evangelical movement, I continued to wonder what had happened to my parents and me during those life altering months. One can't ignore the fact that countless millions attend Billy Graham crusades and other such evangelistic events around the world, experiencing spiritual awakenings. For 2,000 years people have responded to this gospel of sin, separation and salvation by grace through faith. I can only conclude that there is something in that message that was and is very powerful and effective in facilitating a spiritual experience. It is time critics stop ignoring this and face it. Something happens. Unfortunately we mostly divide into two warring camps - the dogmatic believers versus the dogmatic skeptics:

1. Dogmatic Believers: The absolute truth of the gospel is proved by the fact that millions have found a spiritual awakening over the past 2,000 years. Jesus' death and resurrection is the only Way to God, and once you experience it, you must adhere to all or most of the traditonal accompanying biblical doctrines to be a true Christian.

2. Dogmatic Skeptics: The fact that millions of people have flocked to a message doesn't make it true. Islam, Communism and Mormonisn have attracted millions. They can't all be absolutely true. All religion is a cowardly, oppressive, psychopathic and an irrational escape tactic invented by primitive savages and used to socialize the duped masses. There is little, if any value in it.

For me, neither of these extremes rings true. The Universe is not so neatly constructed as to contain simple either/or truth explanations. Ideas can contain much truth and much error simultaneously – I know, I am a walking example, and so are you.
Here is why I think The Gospel works as it does:


The world is a lonely place, especially the modern world. Since the discoveries of Copernicus and Galileo, we humans have found that the earth is not the center of the universe, but just one tiny spoke in a cosmic wheel lined with an infinite number of spokes. We are nothing special.

We have been taught that life begins as curiously congealed flesh, unraveling into larger physical forms by some impersonal mechanical DNA code, finally to emerge at birth to get an education, find a job and snatch as much pleasure and meaning from life as we can before we die.


This was the world I lived in as a nineteen year old. I was relatively happy, my parents provided for our basic needs, but there was always a feeling that I was an alien living in an oddly empty universe. Was I just this little lonely ego struggling to survive and find my way alone in this quiet, strange trek called life? My teenage imagination told me there was something more, but science called it wishful, immature thinking.

The modern depersonalization and depopulation of the universe has shrunken our existence to an egoistic humanism and non-animistic materialism. Humans have been reduced to physical bodies containing nothing but an ego we capitalize and call the ‘I’. The universe has been swept clean of Soul.


Along comes a Christian Evangelist into the modern predicament. He proclaims a very simple message by asking a question, “Do you feel sad, alone, empty and afraid?”
Many moderns must answer honestly, “Yes.”
He goes on, “Do you sense there is something more to life than your routine of eating, working and sleeping?”
Again, many modern humans would have to say, “Yes.”
He continues, “God loves you and has sent His son to die for you. If you trust Him, he will release you from your fears and mistakes (sins) and welcome you into a supernatural relationship with Him. Will you believe?”
Thousands of people each day respond to this gospel by saying, “Yes.”

And guess what – those people often have an experience of release and forgiveness, a transcendent connection and feeling 'born again'! Do you know why? Because they have been reintroduced to Soul and opened experientially to a reanimated universe. Suddenly, the letter ‘I’ is not the only word that is capitalized. Surrender to The Gospel gives that person a ‘God’ along with ‘I’. The door is opened - the lonely human soul, like a new born baby, gasps, takes a breath and wakes up to an enchanted existence, often for the very first time.

That was my experience. It was the experience I saw for my mother and father, and many others around me. It was exhilarating. Something had dropped out of the sky and konked us on the head. God was real! The Universe was alive! Prayers were answered! How could one not rush around the barnyard screaming, "The sky is falling!"

You see, like a newly hatched duckling, my freshly awakened soul imprinted the first interpretation that came along. For me, it was Fundamentalist theology - and like the imprinted duckling, once the teaching was etched into my neural receptors, they were hard to undo. I really came to believe that my 'born again' experience was identical with the theology that came after it.


The Christian Gospel is a device that works to reintroduce people to the Living Universe. The Christian gospel is a sweet and simple way of opening the door of Soul to people trapped in what they have experienced heretofore as a boxed in cosmos. The Gospel is good news because it opens the Universe to more than a self absorbed 'I'. It is the apple that hits some of us on the head.

Unfortunately, too many Christians have literalized The Gospel just as the New Testament Pharisee Nicodemis literalized being born again. Jesus scolded the great religious teacher for taking things too literally! Like Nicodemis, I once took a profound spiritual experience and turned it into literalized, rationalistic, humanly interpreted dogma. It is the profound effect we seek, not the human rationalization of the means to that effect. As James Hillman says, "Soul-making means releasing events from their literal understanding into mythical appreciation. So the question of soul-making is ‘what does this event...move in my soul?”

Many progressive Liberals and rationalistic Humanists have some astutely accurate critiques of religion – but few of them are providing alternative portals into Soul. They criticize, mock and deride the stupid fundies, but the stupid fundies are offering some sort of crack through which people can wriggle their way into the larger Soul of the Cosmos.

In this regard, Jesus' gospel works. Ironically, the simple gospel is often much more effective than the brilliant skeptic's arguments, or the myriad self help plans. This is likely what the Apostle Paul was hinting at when he wrote, "Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save (make whole) those who believe." (I Corinthians 1:20-21)


So then, if my former Evangelical associates read this, please know that I respect your gospel as a way into the palatial mysteries of the Universe. I do not respect the tendency to suffocate people in the foyer once they have entered. I respect your willingness to tell people that we are not in a dead Cosmos. I do not respect your stifling dogmas and tyrannical rules. I respect your love for God and desire to see other people experience the peace and joy you found when you were ‘born again’. I do not respect your narrow literal minded approach to God and the Bible. We will either keep fighting and hating, or recognize that Infinite Spirit keeps bonking us on the head, and could care less whether we think it was the sky or an apple. Spirit simply wants us awake!

Michael's web site:


Tim said... Wow Dude, that's totally amazing. I am grateful you allow us in on your journey of the soul!I've had a similar journey with Christianity. In fact, we've talked about it many years ago in a music store up in Everett.Blessed be brother Bogar!February 25, 2007 3:57 PM

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