Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Mind of the Bible Believer

The following article on the psychology of biblicism is by Robert M. Price. I (Michael) have added some personal observations bracketed in blue. These are not the opinions of Mr. Price.
The Psychology of Biblicism
by Robert M. Price


For many years I have studied the theology underlying biblicism, the fundamentalist belief in the absolute authority of the Bible in every aspect of life, only to conclude that it is not theological in nature at all, but rather entirely psychological. That is, biblicism is not, as its adherents claim and think, an implication of a set of beliefs about the Bible but rather the outgrowth of a particular frame of mind. I am not impatient with theological claims; I just do not think they are the real source or motivation of biblicism, and this becomes evident once we discover certain inconsistencies in biblicism which make nonsense of its theological claims, but are quite consistent with the psychological function of biblicism. If it were a matter of theology, surely biblicists would notice the problems. But since biblicism does the job biblicists want it to do, they simply never notice the problems.

Biblicism, again, is the term for that stance toward the Bible whereby a believer intends to obey whatever the text tells him to do, and to believe whatever the text asserts. If occasionally the commands of the Bible seem just too outrageous (for example, to give away all one’s possessions), biblicists may rationalize them away, but even this does not mean they are not taking them seriously; a non-biblicist would say he rejects the command of the Bible and leave it at that. There are more liberal Christian theologies which do not entail biblicism, managing, as Reinhold Niebuhr said, to take the text seriously even if not literally.

[This is my approach and it puzzles the hell out of my biblicist friends and acquaintances. They are conditioned to divide the world up into those who are for the Bible and those who are against the Bible. Emotionally, they are incapable of holding any kind of tension, whether theologically, morally or politically. They see the world like immature children, as black and white: boys are good, girls are bad, my dad is stronger, my mom is prettier, etc. Most biblicists are emotionally frozen in childhood or adolescence, and sadly, their biblicism gives them divine justification for never growing up emotionally.

They don't know what to do with those of us who take the Bible very seriously but don't see it as God's absolute and final thoughts inscribed on a page. Their emotional security is so wrapped up in having a non-ambiguous text right from the mouth of God that they can't afford to allow the Bible to be a great and inspired book. They can't afford to view the Bible as a means to spiritual maturity rather than a how to manual for children. They do not want to move out of the spiritual nursery and to find truth. Psychologically, they can allow the Bible to be God's only perfect word or a book of without errors. It causes them panic and confusion to even consider for one moment that the various works collected in the Bible are works written by men and women just like me and you, each in his or her process of spiritual awareness. They are incapable yet of seeing that the Bible contains some truth and some error, and that meeting God in the struggle is the purpose of biblical study.]

So what is it that attracts many people to biblicism?

Faith as Skepticism

First I think we may identify the fundamentalist’s, the biblicist’s, desperate felt need for “a sure word from God.” Why do we need God to break the silence of the ages with a revealed word, an inspired book of infallible information? Perhaps paradoxically, this need stems from a kind of [unconscious] skepticism, a lack of confidence in the ability of the human mind to discover necessary truth by reason alone. This is a very different stance from that of the old Deists who believed in a divine Creator but who did not believe in the inspiration of the Bible. Not only did the Bible appear to them a poor candidate for an inspired book, but they believed the Creator had written the only revelation book human beings needed in the world itself, nature, not scripture. And he had given us reason as the only spectacles needful to read and understand it.

The biblicist, however, is flustered by over-choice, the condition of being faced with too many options, each with plausible arguments and spokespersons. How is he to decide between them? Suddenly, a religious claim that God has tossed confused humanity a life-preserver called the Bible sounds pretty good. The problem, of course, is that there are just as many competing revelation claims [from other religions] vying for our faith, and one is left without a clue as to deciding between them!

But whence the urgency of arriving at true and sure beliefs about all ethical and theological questions? Why not emulate the ancient Skeptics? Like fundamentalist Fideists today, the Skeptics viewed the conflict of dogmas from the sidelines and despaired of joining any particular team with confidence. But their conclusion was that such answers, such knowledge, must not be either available or necessary, and that one can live perfectly well in this life on the basis of common sense and mere probabilities. Why does our biblicist not adopt the same attitude?
I think it is because he holds an unexamined assumption, perhaps a vestige of childhood catechism, a picture of God as some sort of punitive theology professor who stands ready to flunk you if you write the wrong answers on your theology exam.

[It may also be partly due to our modern educational system which indoctrinates children into seeing a particular text with the right answers to be written on tests; being "true to the text" the basis of thirteen years of training. Passing the text-based tests determines his graduation or humiliation of being held back.]

You die and appear at the Pearly Gates, and God hands you the blue book. You do your best on the Theology and Metaphysics final exam, but if you make enough mistakes, the floor is going to open beneath your feet, as it did beneath old Korah’s, and you are going to slide down the shaft to Hell. This is a God who does not excuse honest mistakes. Again, I can understand this obnoxious God-concept only as a matter of psychology, not as the implication of any orthodox theology. What element of theology implies that God should be unfair, even peevish? To think him so is to project a childish fear of retribution which can only stifle intellectual growth. Surely it is a legacy of retrograde education, whether religious or secular.


A prime example of this fearful skepticism that needs God’s word to settle issues too important for mere human minds to decide would be abortion. It is a difficult matter precisely because of the ambiguities of the issue. Strong cases may be made on various sides of the issue. That fact alone inclines many of us toward a pro-choice position. But some fundamentalists feel the stakes are high enough that those on the wrong side of the issue, especially abortion doctors, may be justifiably murdered. How can they be so sure they are right? Because God has told them so in the Bible. And this despite the fact that the question of abortion never even comes up in the Bible. The need for the Bible to adjudicate the subject produces the optical illusion that it does.

[In other words, rather than wrestle with God as Jacob did, the fundamentalist wants a quick and easy solution to all of life's hard problems. True spiritual growth which produces depth of character and solid convictions is replaced by lazy religious authoritarianism. I personally view abortion as more immoral than moral, but not because the Bible says so. Honestly, I could just as easily defend abortion from the Bible. My position is from struggling with the issue, researching, examining my conscience, personal experiences and coming before my God with an open mind which has earned my conviction. Biblical study played a small role in my decision, but I do not hold it because I think God wants me to as He speaks through the Bible.]


The need for a sure word from God may simply stem from the kind of intellectual laziness posited by Ludwig Feuerbach. We feel we need to know certain things but are too lazy or impatient to try to figure them out, and the belief in a divine revelation is all too convenient. Convenient both for the lazy one who wants to be spoon-fed, and for the authorities who view themselves as far more capable of finding truth than the laity. But in any case, whether it is a matter of fear or of laziness, I think we may chalk up the desire for “a sure word from God” to a low tolerance for ambiguity.

[This is graphically apparent in the modern resurgence and renaissance of Islamic fundamentalism across the world. The encroachment of modern, western ideas, moral confusion and terrifying technologies is more easily dealt with by declaring that "The Book of God" has all of the answers. Lazy, childish and fear-filled people prefer this approach rather than practicing the rigorous endeavors of thinking, prayer, fasting, reason and discussion with others.
I think the biblicist uses his pat answer book in order to avoid prayer, meditation and deep connection to the Higher Source in us all. Who needs to get on his knees and pray, introspect and reflect when he assumes that God has given him a simple moral recipe book to be followed? There is no deeply earned conviction, just mindless repetition of heartless laws and formulaic morality. Jesus lauded the Prodigal son and other sinners for discovering through failure and moral degradation that they didn't want a life of adultery, alcoholism, gossip, gluttony and the like. William Blake said, "The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom." If Blake had been a biblicist, he might have said, "The road of legal obedience leads to the palace of lazy certainties."]
This is clearly seen in the advice given to pastors and students for studying the Bible. Suppose one is reading the text, seeking divine guidance for one’s own life or scriptural grounding for one’s beliefs (predestination or free will? Pre- or Post-Tribulation Rapture?). One will shortly discover ambiguity, individual passages that seem to point in one direction or another, or where things are just not so clear. One must then make one’s best exegetical judgment call, and then go forward confident that one has achieved the truth. The biblicist awards himself a license for dogmatism, heedless of the necessary tentativeness of one’s results. One intends to be dogmatic about whatever conclusions one will wind up embracing. It is just a question of which dogma one will promote.

FEAR OF AMBIGUITY: Limit the Options to Calm the Mind

A fear of ambiguity is the chief reason any definitive biblical canon was ever stipulated in the first place: to limit the options for textual divination. God’s word and will must be sought only within certain limits. Similarly, this is why the Roman Catholic authorities sought to limit access to the Bible to properly catechized priests who could be trusted to read the text through the spectacles of church tradition. Protestants believed all Christians should be welcomed to read the Bible, over-optimistic that the central gospel truth would be clear to all readers. It wasn’t immediately clear at all, and Protestant groups had to frame their own creeds to regulate how the Bible might be read and understood. The trend continues today as various Evangelical seminaries and denominations draft statements of how the Bible may and may not legitimately be interpreted. The goal is to get everyone to agree with the traditional interpretation of the sponsoring group. “Heresy,” after all, simply means “choice,” the idea being that it is effrontery to choose one’s own beliefs rather than submit meekly to spoon-feeding.

[The ancient Rabbinic scholars called it 'placing a law around the Law.' In an effort to reduce ambiguity, worry, fear and discomfort in people, the Jewish teachers set up an assumed set of pre-conditions for interpreting the text. These assumptions became so much a part of the system, that soon the students were hardly aware that these assumptions were psychological rather than theological. These conditions made reading and interpreting the text easier. That is what all doctrinal statements are - psychological guard rails to keep the mind from tumbling down the metaphysical stairs into a terrifyingly dark cellar of theological abstractions. This is what Soren Kierkegaard attacked, declaring that the religious mind which seeks to domesticate God will never be sufficiently terrified and humbled to experience Him directly. The Evangelical movement is filled with many sincere God-seekers who are incapable of having an experience with the Infinite Source because their systems have made Him a concept rather than a Living Presence. Most humans, like the Hebrews at the foot of Mount Sinai, prefer to have another tell them what God is like, or read from written tablets, rather than stand before the quaking, rumbling Voice itself:

"When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, "Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die." Exodus 20:18-19

That is the same reason most people go to the zoo to see the caged lion rather than travel to the African Veldt where they might get devoured. Rather than making the student struggle with hard metaphysical issues, Evangelicals are told they must believe in the Trinity, the established canon, original sin, penal substitutionary atonement, eternal conscious punishment for unbelievers, etc. With these commandments, or 'law around the Law,' they have enough metaphysical certainty and mental security to study their Bibles without having to meet God in His terrifying and exciting ambiguity.

This terror of ambiguity gradually gave rise to certain biblical sayings meant to make people think that any teacher or teaching other than that of the right teacher or group of teachers was to be shunned:

1. "See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ." Colossians 2:8

2. "As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. These promote controversies rather than God's work—which is by faith. The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Some have wandered away from these and turned to meaningless talk. They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm." I Timothy 1:3-7

3. "I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.' Revelation 22:18-19

4. "I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will have nothing to do with us. So if I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, gossiping maliciously about us. Not satisfied with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church." III John 9-10
5. "For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord. Though you already know all this, I want to remind you that the Lord delivered his people out of Egypt, but later destroyed those who did not believe." Jude 1:4-5

[These textual warnings are common in all cults which attempt to alleviate the confusions their adherents are doubtless going through as they process their elitist teachings in a world with many confusing ideas about morality, God and such problematic issues. This is doubly troubling when one's internal personal moral desires and mental doubts are raging against the teachings which they are receiving from the true believers.]

What a Tangled Web We Weave When We Practice to Believe

I mentioned above that there are liberal theologies of biblical authority that do not entail biblicism. Such theologies often accommodate the possibility that the Bible writers may have contradicted each other. A more liberal theologian might observe that Paul and James disagree over whether faith is sufficient to save one’s soul, or whether faith must be realized through works. Such a theologian would consider neither Paul nor James mouthpieces of revelation, yet both as possible sources of religious wisdom. The theologian’s task would be not to submit to either Paul’s or James’ teaching, but to draw upon both in the process of forming his own (tentative) beliefs [as he wrestles with God for his personal blessing].

The fundamentalist theologian, by contrast, dismisses the liberal’s form of faith as mere [subjective] speculation, worthless in the face of the ultimate question of salvation. With one’s eternal destiny at stake, one must know. And thus one needs revelation, not mere [subjective] speculations, whether ancient (James’ and Paul’s) or modern (one’s own). Since he wants revelation, that is what he is determined to find in the ancient text.

[To admit for one moment that Paul and James may be ordinary men
struggling for spiritual understanding creates a psychological tension that causes terror and uncertainty of cosmic proportions. Thus, the evangelical's frantic adherence to biblical inspiration are not theologically based, but psychologically based. They are usually so unconscious of this distinction, that they will laugh and jump to find textual defenses, proving that it's a theological issue rather than an emotional certainty issue.]

The fundamentalist cannot even recognize that Paul and James contradict one another, since if he did, this would disqualify either or both as mouthpieces of revelation. One might be accepted as a true prophet, the other rejected as a counterfeit, but then who is to decide, and how? Martin Luther had no hesitation in relegating James to the status of a mere appendix to scripture, but most are not so bold. A statement is authoritative for the fundamentalist simply because it appears somewhere in the canon of scripture, all canonical texts being equally authoritative. This is what the slogan “plenary inspiration” means. Unlike in liberal theology, no parts of the Bible are deemed superior or inferior to others. The biblicist, remember, wants to be able just to open the Bible and find his answer. If it is up to him and his meager human abilities to weigh and choose, he is back to square one. He does not want to have to make decisions like this! That’s the whole point!

[This quick and easy solution to the tough metaphysical problems is akin to the psychological immaturity and emotional instability found in those addicted to chemicals like alcohol and cocaine. Their minds are incapable of facing tough problems and growing up. They are frozen in a psychological adolescence, believing that just one more drink, one more line of coke or one more Bible verse will give them that sense of ease and comfort they think they must have or die. This is a mentality that wants instant gratification. Ambiguity, patient struggling and periods of despairing uncertainty must be avoided at all costs. This is one reason it is so common for addicts to readily embrace the doctrines of fundamentalist cults and religions. They often exchange their immediate chemical fix for an immediate metaphysical fix. Sadly, these people have often had a genuine spiritual experience with God, and then end up being told by their Fundamentalist religious teachers that the various cult doctrines must be accepted as part of the genuine spiritual experience. The end result is almost always a diminishing spiritual experience accompanied by a rise in theological indoctrination. Pure spiritual power is gradually and ingeniously replaced by peer approval. After a year or two, the new believer is perturbed that his close connection with Spirit has all but disappeared, but takes comfort in the support of the cult's fellowship. He knows that the deep spiritual experience has vanished, but accolades for Bible study and recruiting others through 'witnessing for Christ' provides a kind of spirituality generated by group acceptance. This is the real meaning of 'antichrist,' or the replacement of the Living God with human recognition and religious training. Such situations almost always end with the indoctrinated believer secretly or publicly returning to his old addictions or adopting new addictions while living a lie. That is why sex scandals, alcoholism, drug abuse and such behaviors are rife amongst evangelical and cultic clergy and laity. They have lost their conscious contact with God, substituting orthodox religious beliefs in an approving community.]
But he cannot escape the horns of dilemmas like this. Fundamentalists follow Martin Luther in wanting to interpret the text of scripture literally, or according to the “plain sense,” what it apparently means by straightforward exegesis, such as one would apply to any ancient text.
The Bible is inspired, but this only means that its message, once determined by exegesis, must be heeded. Inspiration does not entitle us to read the Bible in some esoteric way, as medieval Catholics did, discerning all manner of secret meanings between the lines. If the Bible may be taken to mean just about anything, then the Bible becomes a Rorschach blot. Again, as a literalist, the biblicist wants to banish ambiguity. Reading the text in a careful and “literal” way, however, sooner or later discloses “apparent contradictions” like those between Paul and James. And at this point the biblicist abandons literalism, falling back to a less-than-literal reading. Suddenly one may and must read between the lines after all. An exception to the straightforward reading is allowed when otherwise the two texts would negate each other’s authority and inspiration, a collapse that would take the whole canon with it!
But the cure is worse than the disease! Whatever a “real contradiction” might be, “apparent contradictions” are quite sufficient to vitiate a doctrine of biblical authority that is based on the supposedly “apparent” reading of the text. And it is not just a technicality. For the poor biblicist finds himself situated like the proverbial donkey between the two haystacks: he must decide whether it is Paul or James who is to be taken literally, and which is to be read in a looser way as if he agreed with the other. Though the phrase used is that one must “interpret the less clear texts by the more clear texts,” the biblicist is really interpreting the text he doesn’t like as if it said the same thing as the one he does like. In short, he is in precisely the same position as the liberal theologian, choosing between biblical voices; he just doesn’t realize it.
[Or more accurately, the mind which requires metaphysical certainty will not see it.]


How can he continue in such self-deception? Simply because his choice is an automatic one, determined in advance by his particular church’s tradition of interpretation. If he were a Catholic, he would read Paul as agreeing with James. As a Protestant, he reads James as echoing Paul, once you “really understand” him. The biblicist is submitting to authority, all right, but it is not as he imagines the authority of the text but rather that of his church. And this, too, is fatal, since the first principle of the biblicist is Sola Scriptura: “Scripture alone!”

It is such gross, vitiating contradictions that reveal the origin of biblicism to be essentially non-theological. If it had been theological in origin, it would have more consistency. To call on a related field of supernaturalist belief, we might compare biblicism to astrology. A survey of horoscope readers in Britain revealed that most of them admitted the newspaper predictions proved accurate less than half the time. Why then did they continue to read the horoscope? If it were a matter of theoretical consistency, the utter failure of astrology would have been quickly evident. But it was not a matter of theory. It was a matter of psychology: the astrology believers really sought, not knowledge of the future, but rather peace of mind for the night, permission to sleep well in the confidence of being forewarned and thus forearmed for the morrow. When the morrow came and the prediction, probably forgotten, turned out not to prepare them for events, it hardly mattered. They were competent to deal with the day’s surprises, but the night before they felt they needed an edge, and reading their horoscope allowed them to imagine they had it. Even so with the biblicist. What he wants from the Bible is not so much a coherent system for divining infallible revelations, but only the permission to dogmatize, whether the goal is to quiet his own fears or to push others around.

[He has found a way to get around Jesus' teaching that we must subject our basic human instincts of prestige, power and emotional security to an encounter with God as God is, not as we make Him to be.]

A Mighty Fortress Is Our Mentality

Once one has adopted the belief that the Bible must function as the final authority in all matters, some strange results follow. Above, I gave abortion as an example of how the desire for a sure word of revelation leads some biblicists to imagine that the Bible speaks to issues of which it is in fact innocent. To do this is what I call hermeneutical ventriloquism. The biblicist may chant “The Bible said it! I believe it! That settles it!” But in practice this often amounts to “I said it! The Bible believes it! That settles it!” One does the scripture the dubious favor of attributing to it one’s own beliefs. The (psycho)logical process goes like this: “My opinion is true. The Bible teaches the truth. Therefore the Bible must teach my opinion.” One suspects that the dogmatist has simply become so accustomed to dogmatizing that appealing to the Bible is just his way of asserting the truth of his opinion, wherever he got it. Saying “The Bible says” is tantamount to saying, “Verily I say unto thee...”

[I always imagine that scene from the Wizard of Oz where the terrified little professor stands behind the curtain, pretending to be the great and terrible Oz, pulling levers and flashing lights to make him right and to keep others at a distance. Once exposed, we feel pity, because he is really just a scared little man looking for a way to protect himself from ambiguity and uncertainty. Ironically, once his ruse is revealed and he admits he is a 'terrible wizard but a very good man,' he is able to help himself and others find what they are really looking for – courage, heart, knowledge and the way home. Most evangelicals I know are very good men and women; they are just filled with fear and uncertainty. Many of them met God at one point in their early Christian experiences, but like Essau, traded their spiritual birthright for a bowl of psychological porridge. Most have given up the quest for the unpredictable Infinite Who is always revealing Himself anew, for a little package of theological certainties which allow them to hide from the True God.]

One’s imaginary possession of the word of God, or the mind of God, allows the biblicist to wield what I call the Prophetic Ramrod, an attitude of invulnerable narrow-mindedness: “Friend, there is your view, and then there is God’s view.”

Such dogmatism may even rub off onto areas where the biblicist feels no especial need to quote the Bible or knows he cannot, areas such as party politics or even selling merchandise. Whether one is “witnessing” to the glories of Christian salvation, Amway products or May Kay Cosmetics, one uses the same methods (as Southern Baptist salesman and evangelist Zig Ziglar freely admits in his book Secrets of Closing the Sale).

[These same people begin to think that their political views and candidates are God's chosen because they agree with their 'biblical' opinions. It becomes God's way versus the godless Libs. I once found such people to be despicable, but I honestly now feel deep sorrow for them. I have been where they are and remember the fear, the confusion, the hatred and the unclean feeling inside. The only thing that would erase the misery and lack of conscious contact with God was a chronic retreat to the Bible or my community of fearful biblicists. There was no fount of living water which Jesus described, no filling with the Holy Spirit that gave me love for my enemies, no power to stop from retaliating against my spouse when he/she offended me. When I was really honest with myself, I had no deep abiding awareness of God's overwhelming Presence bursting out of my chest. I had my book. I had my doctrines. I had my mental security that I was right. I had a heart filled with fear, a mind filled with resentments and a secret desire to have God like I once knew Him.]

The Sliding Scale of Biblical Inerrancy

Another anomaly resulting from the psychological, not theological, basis of biblicism is the shifting opinion of biblicists over the years as to what is the allegedly infallible teaching of the Bible is when it comes to the world of nature. There was a time when readers of the Bible could see quite well that it “taught” (or presupposed) a flat earth that floated on water, covered by a solid firmament (dome) that kept out another ocean above. The earth was orbited by the sun and supported by pillars. And every Bible reader understood this. In the name of the infallible Bible, religious authorities opposed the progress of science. Today, most fundamentalists reject evolution because it contradicts the Bible. But only a tiny minority still believe the earth is flat. A slightly larger minority believe that the sun orbits the earth. Most fundamentalists believe that the earth is round and that it orbits the sun. And they do not even realize that the biblical picture of the earth contradicts these notions. Their religious upbringing has told them that the Bible contradicts science only at the point of evolution. As for the rest, they have even been told that the ancient writers of the Bible miraculously foreknew what it took modern science centuries to learn, that the earth is round, that it orbits the sun, etc. These assertions are read into the Bible by forced and implausible readings of various passages out of context, akin to attempts to show that the Bible writers knew about flying saucers. The true teaching of the Bible on these matters, they say, could not be understood until modern science allowed us to understand the relevant texts correctly! This is very close to (but also very far from) a frank admission of the game of catch-up being played here.

But what makes the difference between whether one recognizes contradictions between the Bible and science or one pretends the Bible anticipated modern science? It is simply peer pressure, massive and permeating public opinion. Ancient biblicists lived in a peer group (a “plausibility structure,” as Peter Berger would call it) that believed in a flat earth orbited by the sun, created in a week. It would have been hard to believe anything radically different. As the plausibility structure shifted, so that most people in the culture no longer took the ancient world-picture seriously, it ceased to be an option for biblicists to retain the biblical cosmology. They couldn’t withstand the cognitive peer pressure. And today the great majority, including biblicists, believe in a round, sun-orbiting earth, but it is not so obvious to the great majority that all life forms gradually evolved from a common ancestor. One still has breathing room on that point; one can still afford to recognize what the Bible says. One can still, for the time being, reject evolution and not seem a freak. The fundamentalist dreads the time when universal belief might turn to accept evolution, and so they seek to defer that day by means of public debates, censoring biology textbooks, etc. Their effort is not to persuade the intelligentsia (scientists) of the truth of anti-evolutionism, but rather to appeal to the gallery in the manner of a political campaign,. They are looking for votes in order to retain an amenable plausibility structure. It is all psychological, not theological, since what the Bible says or does not say about the natural world is utterly beside the point. The day will eventually come when biblicists will reinterpret Genesis to teach evolution and will claim that God had revealed it to the ancient scriptural writers ages before scientists supposedly discovered it. And these new scriptural “insights” will have come not from exegesis but solely from social peer pressure.

[Again, this is psychology at work, not theology. People approach the Bible because they want personal certainty and acceptance by their peers. When the majority opinion amongst evangelicals shifts, as it did with slavery and women's equality, they will feel comfortable going to the Bible to prove that this was God's all along. They will ignore or deny that their spiritual ancestors taught just the opposite. So you see, their exegesis is not driven by a rigorous honesty and pursuit of truth, but by fear and acceptance.]

If one wishes to get anywhere reasoning with fundamentalists and biblicists, I suggest one try to determine the emotional issues that attach believers to their beliefs. The beliefs themselves are, I think, a function of certain psychological needs that would be better met in other ways. But until those psychological needs are identified and met in other ways, we will have no way of getting believers to budge from their beliefs, and we might not even have the right to do so.

[There is something almost cruel about threatening to take away a child's security blanket. The only good motive would be to see the child walk, thereby improving his chances of having a rich, full human life. I now see that Jesus was more interested in people meeting God than in being comfortable. The only genuine motive for pointing these things out to evangelicals and other cultists is a sincere desire to see them know God in a way that gives them and others a richer, fuller more human and humane life. If our hearts are not filled with the clean, overwhelming joy and presence of the Holy Spirit which Jesus talked about, I question our motives in 'attacking' or trying to take away the evangelical's psychological props. We may be doing nothing more than what they are doing, namely, assuaging our own fears and uncertainties by causing them to face their own. I have done that, and may do it again. Many an atheist put his acerbic pen to paper, not to help the theist, but to undermine his faith that he might be as miserable as the unbelieving skeptic. When Jesus cleared the temple and called the Jewish religionists a pit of snakes and spiritually dead hypocrites, he desired to point out their actual psycho-spiritual condition in order that they might have a chance of being connected to the Infinite Source of Life, Love and Power. We hear a lot about 'tough love' these days; genuine tough love is causing someone pain that they may experience healing, clarity and a deeper experience of being fully and truly human.]

Michael Bogar

Monday, January 28, 2008

How Can We Know God Without the Bible?

This essay is part of a larger series in a dialogue with evangelical Christians who have asked why I left the evangelical movement:
_______ ________

Christian wrote: You say that people everywhere have an awareness of a Higher Power or 'God,' and all they need to do is surrender to that God when they feel powerless. How do they even know what God is like, or how do they know they need to surrender to the will of God without a Bible?


Michael's Response:

Does a baby have to read a book or take a class to know how and when to suckle after he is born? How do humans know when to eat, drink or have a bowel movement? How does the heart know how and when to beat? How does the digestive system know what to do with last night's dinner? How do your lungs know when to inhale and exhale? If our physical anatomy has autonomic systems that function without rational, conscious human thought or education - is it so hard to believe that the realm of Spirit is not also autonomic, getting along quite well without our instruction through books and classes? Jesus seemed to think so.

In the Gospel of Mark, 4:26-29, Jesus said the kingdom of God grows like a seed 'all by itself' even when the farmer is sound asleep. The phrase 'all by itself' in Mark's parable is the Greek word automate from which we get our English word automatic. I suspect when Jesus told this story, he was surrounded by Pharisees with Hebrew Bibles tucked under their arms, thinking that knowledge of God and His will couldn't arrive without their objective written texts and eloquent teaching and preaching. This sort of clerical elitism has been the norm since recorded human history – kings, priests and prophets in every civilization and culture have thought they were the sole and objective mediators between heaven and earth for the stupid commoners.

Then along came people like Jeremiah the Hebrew prophet in 600 B.C. He radically challenged the elite Levitical priesthood's role of being the sole conveyors of God's will with their Torah and Temple teachings:

"This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel
after that time," declares the LORD.
"I will put my law in their minds
and write it on their hearts
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
No longer will a man teach his neighbor,
or a man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,'
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest,"
declares the LORD.

Jeremiah 31:33-34

At about the same time in history, Siddhartha Gotama in northern India was preaching that anyone could become enlightened apart from the teachings of the rigid religious Caste system. In other words, male Bhramanic priests were not the only ones with direct access to spiritual awakening. Siddharta himself had been born into the second class Warrior Caste and meditated his way to complete enlightenment, or Buddhahood.

Six hundred years later, going beyond even Jeremiah's revelation, Jesus and the Apostle Paul taught that God was known by and available to all men, women and children, including Gentiles. Jesus was crucified in part because he dared to teach that knowledge of God arrived without a holy book, without a holy city and without a clerical call. In some ways, Jesus was returning to Genesis where an ordinary, non-priestly, non-Jewish shepherd named Abraham had received a direct call from God.

Is it so inconceivable that this God you 'evangelicals' declare Omnipotent (all powerful) and Omnipresent (everywhere present) is actually just that?! Does the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe have to resort to a book to make Himself (Itself) known? I can only conclude with the words of Jesus spoken to the religious teacher Nicodemus, "You are Israel's teacher, and do you not understand these things?"

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Soul-making and Parental Blaming


I recently heard a young man talking about the 'way' his parents ruined his life. He told me how his parents were abusive, neglectful and absent emotionally. He expounded horror stories from his childhood, teenage years and right up to the present. I could identify in many ways. I think many of us can to varying degrees.

The modern western courting ritual, we call it dating, is to meet as couples and discuss how our parents screwed us up. This is a safe way of being honest and intimate while blaming others for the faults the potential partner is about to see in detail. We sip coffee or wine and exchange stories about fights with fathers and mothers, explain our faults and failures through the lens of our parental failures and insanities, etc. That way, if the relationship bombs, one or both can say, "I told you my parents screwed me up; what did you expect?"

But this is at best a partial solution and ultimately explains very little as far as I can see. I walked away from this young man's very convincing litany of parental failures, and could see how his parents clearly helped create the mess that was his life. But I was troubled.


I found myself thinking, "Alright then, let's assume that his parents screwed him up. That must mean that his grandparents screwed up his parents. And that the great grandparents screwed up the grandparents, and that the great, great grandparents screwed up the great grandparents."

My mind kept tracing this dysfunctional family lineage as far back as I could imagine. Suddenly, in the breathless tumble of my mental regress, I arrived at pre-historic Lucy on the cover of Time Magazine several years ago. The Time article said that genetic researchers have concluded that approximately 1.6 to 5.3 million years before humans evolved, Australopithecus walked upright in Africa. "Lucy" was the name given to this famous bipedal, proto-human. DNA evidence demonstrates that from Lucy's family tree, around 200,000 years ago in East Africa, "Mitochondrial Eve" was born. This newer and improved humanoid is now being called the genetic ancestral mother of the entire human race! Similarly, another pre-historic survivor named yDNA Adam is the paternal ancestor of all men. Mitochondrial Eve and yDNA Adam eventually wandered out of Africa. From these two came this young man's parents, and yours, and mine.

I was so pleased to have solved the problem. Maybe the Bible was right after all; it was the fault of Adam and Eve! Perhaps Augustine was right all along when he said that the entire human race fell into sin and dysfunction through Adam and Eve. At this rate, science has proved Christian theology correct. Maybe Adam and Eve were the original sinners.

But then I found myself asking, "Who screwed up Mitochondrial Eve and yDNA Adam?" I guess the answer would have to be Mitochondrial Eve and yDNA Adam screwed their selves up. Or maybe it was the fault of their not-quite-yet-human relatives? Yes, that was it. It was Lucy's fault. But wait. Are you anticipating my question? Who screwed up Lucy? And if the answer is no one, because Lucy and all subsequent humanoids were simply trying to survive, then no one is really to blame. We are amoral creatures in an evolving process of survival, and there is really no one at fault. Then why are we trying to blame someone? Clearly, if you are a theist, or hold to any kind of absolute morality, the last stop in this train of blame must end with God or humans.


I am what Harvard psychologist William James called himself, a "supernaturalist of the crasser type". I assume the existence of a Higher Power that is somehow involved with the natural dimension of existence as opposed to those academics who would like to keep their philosophical metaphysics separated from nature. In other words, I assume there is a Godhead from which all we know arises. I do not equate God with the Godhead, but that is another subject for another time. The bottom line is that I see the cosmic situation being exactly as it ought to be.

I do not think my parents are ultimately to blame for my life condition. Are they responsible for their immoral, self centered choices and behaviors which harmed me, themselves and others? Absolutely. Did their choices and actions affect my life? Unquestionably. Can they change their souls and make amends for their harms. Emphatically yes!


But the universe into which we are born is intentionally unfinished and 'dysfunctional'. That means that dysfunction has a function. Self centered survival instincts are part and parcel of the normal human condition. It is from that base which we get to develop souls. Just as a kindergartener begins with innate categories for math and reading, he still has to learn the times tables and alphabet. As he learns, his awareness, choices and responsibilities increase with regard to geometry and literacy. He is enabled to take his newly acquired knowledge and do more harm or good.

Humans are born with innate soul potential; internal categories or archetypal seed pods which are capable of being cultivated by the water of time, the sunshine of Spirit and the fertilizer of life struggles. Life is a kind of kindergarten. Teachers come along every second of the day in the form of internal thoughts and feelings, and external people and situations. We are always developing, whether we are conscious of it or not. It is the purpose of existence. Being conscious makes it much less painful and easier to care for the soul. My parents did what their spiritual development allowed them to do at the time.

Currently, my only recourse is to believe that the Universe is a school of soul-making which includes dysfunction and what we have labeled abnormal behaviors. This means that the insanities of my parents, their parents, the parents of their parents and as far back as theologians or geneticists can conjecture or trace DNA, are part of the 'way it is'. Why can we accept the insane chaos and collisions throughout the physical universe as being cosmically beautiful and normal, and then turn around and call our own psychic collisions and life chaos abnormal and wrong? Is it because we want someone to blame in this school of soul-making? Is this the psychological equivalent of 'the dog ate my homework'?


It is possible to live in the tension or paradox of seeing the world perfectly imperfect, and to hold conscious human beings accountable for their actions, words and attitudes. The Chinese Tao Te Ching says that 'before one can become perfect, he must be imperfect.' Jesus said the same thing, "The first shall be last and the last shall be first."

Returning to the school analogy - a good teacher walks the tight rope between compassionate understanding and strict accountability. One day the teacher might lean over the shoulder of the confused little girl and show her how to do her math problem; the next day the teacher may refuse to help her, saying, "Sweetheart, I know you will think I hate you for not doing what I did yesterday, but now it is your responsibility to struggle with this problem all by yourself." That is soul-making. This is how normal life actually works from day to day.


My parents functioned at the level to which their souls had advanced when I was born and growing up with them. Since I have become an adult, I have watched them continue to grow up – to observe their souls becoming richer and deeper. A few years ago, I watched my mother die a slow, soulful death as she withered away from colon cancer. One day, with tumors filling her abdomen, she said to me, "Mike, I look back at the way we raised you kids and I am so sorry. We were obsessed with success, work and being successful. If I could go back I would…".

I don't remember all that she said at that point. I do recall seeing the kind of reflective regret that only adversity and imminent death can bring. I saw and felt her remorse and sadness coming from tearful eyes and trembling lips. I now know that I was not looking at a dysfunctional parent, but at a beautiful soul blossoming through the life she had lived, and was about to finish.

Monday, January 14, 2008



The late, legendary Green Bay Packer football coach Vince Lombardi used to begin each season of training camp by gathering rookies and seasoned veterans together for the initial meeting. Former players tell us that Coach Lombardi entered the room each year holding a football, and his first words were always, "Gentlemen, this is a football." Lombardi reminded his players that the basics are often easily forgotten, and that without reminders, the more 'complex' aspects of the game were lost. It is the same with the life of Spirit. Most of us are probably seasoned veterans when it comes to affirmations, but like Vince Lombardi, I remind each us, "Ladies and gentlemen, this is an affirmation."


1. Use the present tense: An affirmation is more effective when stated in the present tense. For example; "I am making a living by doing what I love", is better than, “I would like to make a living doing what I like.” Avoid affirming something in the future tense.

2. Express a positive statement: Affirmations ought to be stated in the most positive terms possible. Avoid negative statements. Affirm what you do want, rather than what you don't want. For example: "I do not catch the flu in the winter." This is a negative statement. Instead, affirm: "I am perfectly healthy in body, soul and spirit."

3. Be short and specific: Short affirmations are easy to repeat, and have a far greater impact at the subconscious level than those which are long and wordy. Keeping them specific and to the point adds power as the idea is uncluttered by extraneous elements.

4. They belong to you alone: Be sure to ask yourself, “What is it that calls from within my heart? What do I really REALLY want, and what REALLY wants me?” Others will try to influence you with what you should want. Listen to and trust your inner voice, as Emerson frequently said, "Within the heart of every person is the law of his/her life."

5. Conclude them by saying, “or something better": This recognizes that our ego-knowledge is always limited and that the Living Archetypal Presences in the Universe (God) have access to even greater possibilities than we do. The ancient Greeks and Romans sacrificed to the Daemons or Fates as those invisible Guides Who knew our life course better than we do.


Repetition: The importance of repetition cannot be overemphasized. It imprints the affirmation into your subconscious mind. A universal maxim suggests repeating your affirmation at least 15 times per session. In a Time magazine article, Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams said he went from sitting in a cubicle at Pac Bell to being a syndicated cartoonist by writing 15 times a day, “I am a syndicated cartoonist.”

Dissolution: This step is often ignored in many affirmation systems. The human Soul lives from Images or what Carl Jung called Imagistic Complexes, which are different than factual memories. These Images have a sense of being alive, residents of your Soul. As you begin to repeat your new affirmations, you will notice the old voices or images coming to mind. These past images will contradict and challenge your new affirmations, showing you old visions of failure, fear, anxiety and despondency. These are often very subtle, but it is critical to be aware of them. When they appear, close your eyes, freeze the most powerful image, behold it and study it for about one minute, and then force it to dissolve behind your eyelids. Allow it to completely disappear, visualizing a clean, white space to be filled with your new affirmations. In Medieval alchemy, this was called the Putrefaction or Dissolution stage, prior to the manifestation of the Gold.

Feelings: Get personally involved with your affirmation; be passionate and use your emotions. Consider carefully the meaning of the affirmative words as you repeat them. Don’t do these affirmations perfunctorily or without feeling. See yourself in the finished result. Hollywood actor Martin Short said he knew from boyhood he wanted to be an entertainer. As a child, after seeing Frank Sinatra on TV, Short went into the attic of his home, turned an old gooseneck lamp into a spotlight, printed up programs with his name on them, sang Frank Sinatra songs loudly and then played an applause recording when he finished singing. He did this for years. He said he left the attic feeling as though he had just been in Las Vegas!

Perseverance: Practicing affirmations with persistence achieves results much sooner than practicing them periodically. Successive sessions will have a compounding effect. You will know when to stop by the cessation of negative images and despondent voices. In other words, you need to work hard on continuing your affirmations as long as those old voices and limiting images continue to appear. Also, if you stop for a few days or weeks or even months – get back at it!

Fake It: Keep in mind that you do not necessarily have to deeply believe your affirmations initially in order for them to work. Firm belief will arrive as you dissolve the old images and when you see different results showing up in your life. What you do need is the ability to create a feeling of what it would be like when the desire you're affirming is fulfilled. Without this little bit of feeling, your affirmation is powerless.

Think, Write & Speak Them: Scientific studies are verifying that affirmations must be visualized, spoken and written. If you hold imaginative thoughts, consistently repeat sound frequencies and replicate written statements, you will create new images, rewire human neurons and activate silent DNA. Then objects in the external world will be affected. The internal mind and external world are linked. British physicist Rupert Sheldrake has demonstrated that pet owners mentally influenced their animals. The human mind has the ability to intend and attract external objects through thought, writing and speaking. Sheldrake’s conclusion was:

“In this book I have suggested that our minds extend far beyond our brains. They do so even in the simplest act of perception. Images are where they seem to be. Subjects and objects are not radically separated, with subjects inside our heads and objects in the external world. They are interlinked. Through vision, the external world is brought into the mind through the eyes, and the subjective world of experience is projected outward into the external world through field of perception and intention. Our intentions stretch out into the world around us, and also extend into the future. We are linked to our environment and to each other.” The Sense of Being Stared At, Rupert Sheldrake


This is a fairly straight forward and simple formula for creating effective affirmations. Let me conclude with a quote from one of the founders of the early New Thought movement, Emma Curtis Hopkins,

“There are three ways of dealing with the principles announced in Truth. There is the deep thinking which the mind exercises respecting them. There is the speaking them forth which we do no hesitate to do. There is the careful recording of them, which is writing down what we know of them. The next is living them, which we are sure to do if we think, speak, and write them. It is by faithfully doing all these things with Spiritual doctrine that we accomplish the works of the Spirit in us.” Scientific Christian Mental Practice, Emma Curtis Hopkins, p. 97

Notice that Emma stressed, "by faithfully doing all these things," not by 'Knowing about them.' A spiritual practice is very different than 'faithfully doing all these things."


Those of us who hold to the so-called Prosperity teachings are sometimes challenged to find the positive in a world intentionally filled with challenges and problems, suffering and pathologies. On the surface, it is a problem, but when you scratch the varnish off the surface, the problem diminishes. Prosperity, like a three dimensional chess game, occurs on three levels, separately and simultaneously. The lowest level of prosperity is personal, the second is social/global, and the highest is in the invisible realm of soul-making. All three are important, and to be sought earnestly. All three are organically interrelated and cannot be separated.

The pursuit of personal and social prosperity are critical means to making soul. The basic human instincts are tested, the soul seed is watered and fertilized, the skin of soul (ego) is stretched to make room for more of God (The Good) through our strivings and surrenderings. Those who participate fully in the game of life, including self improvement, environmental care taking and world peace are simultaneously making souls, whether they 'succeed' or not. A person may make a million dollars or go bankrupt, die in battle at the age of 19 or in bed at the age of 91 and make a soul beyond visible comprehension. Jesus was likely referring to this idea when he said, "The first shall be last and the last shall be first." External appearnaces, in the realm of soul, reveal very little. You can see this principle being illustrated through the young life of Ofelia in the movie, Pan's Labyrinth. (I will not give the plot away if you want to see the movie, which I highly recommend, but the summary is here: Pan's Labyrinth).


Christian wrote: I have a couple of questions about how you view the purpose and role of humans on the earth: What is wrong with humanity and how can it be fixed? Where is all of this going, or what is 'The End'? You believe in positive thinking in a world of sin and evil, how can you? I have never heard you state your beliefs about this.

"Problems are the means of human development, not the result of human depravity."


First off, I have no certainty on any of these questions. Even the most quoted biblical author of all time, the Apostle Paul, said he saw 'through a blurry glass.' (I Corinthians 13:12) In Paul's world, every major city had a bath house with open window frames to allow in cool summer breezes; but in the fall and winter, very thick, opaque glass was installed to keep the cold out while letting the light in. These panes allowed only the most vague forms to show through. Paul used this metaphor to say that he wasn't certain of his theological metaphysics either, making love his bottom line. Therefore, if even the great Apostle, whom Christians think spoke for God, couldn't see beyond this world clearly, don't expect me to. The following responses are based on personal experience, limited reading, universal psychological phenomena found in world religions and philosophy, and metaphysical speculation.


The standard Christian approach to 'man's problem and the solution' is to appeal to the position developed by Augustine around 400 A.D. which says that we are fallen sinners who need to be saved. This view says that disease, death, sin and all natural disasters are the result of human evil. Few evangelcals even know that about 250 years before Augustine, an old orthodox Bishop named Irenaeus (c.150 AD) had a very different view of humankind and the so called problem that needs fixing. Irenaeus taught in his major work, Against Heresies, that the universe and humans are created imperfect or incomplete, and that the goal of life is to make completed souls, or to move toward and into the likeness of God. He thought that genuine human perfection could not come about except through humans achieving it through their own free will, in an imperfect world in which there was a very real possibility of evil.

In other words, humans aren't fallen sinners that need saving, but incomplete blocks of marble that need chiseling and polishing. His main text is Genesis 1:26-27 which uses two terms that most people overlook as synonyms or Hebrew parallelism: the words are ''image" and "likeness." The word image is tselem in Hebrew, and likeness is demoot. The word 'image,' according to Irenaeus refers to potential and the word 'likeness' refers to actual. He taught that humans were placed on the planet by God to move from 'image/potential' to 'likeness/actual'. In other words, the purpose of life is to make a perfected or mature soul in the divine likeness of God. Humans were NOT primarily sinners, but baby souls.

All humans begin with a soul-seed or potential in the 'image' phase, and are very much animalistic at this point, living by instincts. We eat, sleep, breed, and live lives of self-centered survival, living by the basic instincts of pleasure, prestige and power (as found in the temptation of Jesus). This was the metaphor of Adam being formed from the earth before the breath of God entered. This is what happened with Adam and Eve in Eden. They didn't fall into sin, they moved from the Edenic nursery of blissful ignornce into the school of challenging classes and test, or the University of Adversity to get a degree in soul-making.

Each human is born an unconscious being with an innate image of God, almost animal like until he or she wakes up to the God 'likeness' within. That 'likeness' whispers and bubbles to the surface of consciousness in all humans, but only when it is recognized and received ('to as many as receive him') does it reanimate the human animal into a spiritual being. Humans aren't evil or fallen, just ignorant and incomplete. When from the cross, Jesus viewed his violent executioners, he didn't cry, "Punish them Father for they are fallen, wicked sinners." He said, "Forgive them, they are ignorant." Jesus came to proclaim the God news that all humans are baby souls who need to be born and become growing sons and daughters of God.


The English Romantic poet, John Keats, called the world in which we live and die 'the vale of soul-making.' Keats was dying of tubercleosis and contemplating the purpose of this existence fraught with suffering and certain death. He died at the age of 26. I find myself agreeing with Keats. Problems are the means of human development, not the result of human depravity.

2,500 years ago the Buddha began his first sermon with the phrase 'life is suffering.' This has become the the first tenet of Buddhist teaching as found in the Four Noble Truths. More recently, M. Scott Peck in his very popular, The Road Less Traveled, begins with the laconic line, "Life is difficult." Jesus stated mater of factly, "In the world you shall have tribulations."

Life is filled with tests that bring pain, which move us to turn to other sources for help, and ideally, ultimately to The Higher Power(s) or God(s) for help. Living like an animal never satisfies because we are in the potential image of God with the likeness constantly whispering for us to become more. The innate seed of divinity or potential soul is in every human, but must be fertilized by the Spirit in order to cause a new birth, a soul birth. At that point, the human begins to shift from 'image' to 'likeness'. After he is born again, or his soul becomes God-conscious, a man is capable of making free will choices and becomes morally responsible to co-create and have dominion. That is why Nicodemus and others were more reprehensible than the whores and drunks; those who knew something of the likeness of God were free to choose or reject truth. Unquickened men are not. That is why Paul said we would all be judged by the Gospel, not the Law. The Gospel is the covenant written on the heart of all men which Jeremiah talked about. Human judgment will be most severe to those of us who are spiritually awake, and feel the tug of Spirit into more truth outside of our cult, but are afraid to follow it.

This awakening may happen at age 5 or age 85, or not at all. Some Jews and early Christians believed we keep coming back to earth until we finish soul school. As the newly regenerated human learns to surrender to God and increasingly releases self will, his soul expands and he becomes a "partaker of the divine nature" as Peter's epistle says. We move from babes to adolescents to adults (I John 2:11-12). According to Irenaeus, Jesus was the first human to arrive at making a completed soul, uniting the human and the divine. He was the first born of the brethern, the first fruits of all creation - the true Son of Man and Son of God. The aim of life is not to be saved from our depraved sinful nature, but to make souls in the image of God.


For Irenaeus and the majority of early Christians before Augustine and Anselm, Jesus died to ransom us back from Satan who was a kidnapping terrorist. You can read more on this site http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atonement_(Ransom_view) This is sometimes called the classical view of atonement because it was the earliest view held by many Christians. This view held that Jesus did not die for our sins, but to rescue us back from the clutches of Satan. The human problem was not sin, but captivity by the Devil. Once Jesus redeemed us, or bought us back, he then resurrected and slipped away from Satan, tricking the old deluder. CS Lewis revived this theory in Mere Christianity and The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. Remember when the Ice Queen swaps the children for Aslan?

So to answer your questions by summary:

I believe we are here to make souls, individually and socially. The goal of life is to move from the 'image' or potential to the 'likeness' or actual Human/Divine nature and being we are created to be. Earth is a school of sorts. Satan is one of the teachers - look at his role in Job and where Jesus says Satan asked to sift Peter like wheat so he could return and be of greater use to the disciples. Satan took Jesus into the desert to test him, to help him make a soul. In the Old Testament, the word Shatan is a verb which means to block the path, to test, and is used most often of God's actions (read Numbers 22) as he places obstacles in the path of humans to teach them and help them make soul. That was the role of the Tree in Eden. The Serpent was the teacher, not some critter that outwitted God and ruined the divine plan, as if God didn't know what He was doing. Later, the verb Shatan came to refer to a person, but any serious Bible student will see that the word is used of God and later applied to God's helper, Satan, an aspect of the divine. There should be a Quaternity instead of a trinity. Christianity has created an illogical and psychologically damaging theology by making God All-powerful, and Satan a threat to God!!! If God is all-powerful, then Satan is part of the soul-making staff at the University of Adversity, and he gets his teaching assignments from God as we see in Job and Jesus. I could go on...but will stop.

I don't see life or the world as a fallen, evil, and God forsaken place filled with depraved, wicked, God hating sinners in need of God to slaughter his son to appease his petty wrath. I see the world and cosmos in general as a place of intentional light and darkness, chaos and order, good and evil and all dualities created by God for the sake of making humans partakers of the Divine Image. Jesus was one of our greatest examples and guides.


Those of us who hold to the so-called Prosperity teachings are sometimes challenged to find the positive in a world intentionally filled with challenges and problems, suffering and pathologies. On the surface, it is a problem, but when you scratch the varnish off the surface, the problem diminishes. Prosperity, like a three dimensional chess game, occurs on three levels, separately and simultaneously. The lowest level of prosperity is personal, the second is social, and the highest is in the invisible realm of soul-making. All three are important, to be sought earnestly and are interrelated. The pursuit of personal and social prosperity are a critical means to making soul. The basic human instincts are tested, the soul seed is watered and fertilized, the skin of soul is stretched to make room for more of God through our strivings. Those who participate fully in the game of life, including self and communal success are simultaneously making souls, whether they make a million dollars or go bankrupt, whether they die in battle at the age of 19 or in bed at the age of 91.


Where is it all going? According to another early theologian who believed in Soul-making, Origen, the aim of existence is to make divine souls and then cease to exist when the educational process is over. Origen went so far as to say that in the end, even the Devil and his angels will be redeemed. Origen taught that in the beginning God asked for two volunteers to be the greatest teachers on earth. Jesus volunteered to be the soul-making light, and God's beloved Lucifer volunteered to be the soul-making teacher or agent of darkness - I call him the Algebra teacher!! I hated algebra, even though it is good for you.

Enough from me. That is how I view life these days based on the teaching from the Holy Spirit through external education and internal revelation, which we all have access to according to Jeremiah and Jesus and many others.



Saturday, January 12, 2008

DEMOTION BEFORE PROMOTION: Finding Spirit When Ankle Deep in Sheep Crap


Do you remember the biblical story of Moses tending sheep under the shadow of Mount Sinai just before he meets God in the burning bush? If you’ve never read the story, surely you recall Charlton Heston in the movie, The Ten Commandments, in his starched shepherd ensemble, pensively surveying the grazing flocks.

Until recently, I always imagined Moses under soft blue skies, a content shepherd in an idyllic pasture filled with little prancing, bleating sheep. Not anymore. Now I see him bitterly reminiscing about his days as a powerful prince in Egypt , with servants, fine food, clothes made of Ethiopian silk, expensive wines, residing in luxury on every level of life. And now he is ankle deep in sheep shit, working under a scalding sun, remembering the murder he committed to help a fellow Hebrew and the subsequent betrayal by his own people who identified him publicly as the killer. Moses was now a felonious fugitive, freshly demoted from royalty to a common farmer – an occupation which must have been the ancient equivalent of a midnight 7-11 clerk.

I see Moses in pain, doubting his tribal God of Abraham, questioning why he had served such an absent God, forced into a way of life he despised. It is in this situation that we see him approaching the famous burning bush where he hears the voice of God say:
“I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name the LORD I did not make myself known to them.” Exodus 6:3If we could read the thought-bubble hovering over Moses' turban, I think we might have seen something like this:

“A new name? God has a new name? What’s wrong with the old name? God doesn’t change. This is blasphemy! This really screws up the old doctrinal statement and my former theology.”

But Moses stayed and listened. He received a new call beyond his wildest imagination - to lead Israel out of Egypt . Suddenly his God got immensely bigger; it had to in order to match Moses’ huge new mission. In a flash of insight, no pun intended, he saw that the years of commotion with his subsequent demotion and stressful emotions, were steps upward to this new enlarged vision. I was tempted here to write, demotion is really promotion, but I am already sounding too much like Rev. Jesse Jackson.

Someone reading this right now may be experiencing similar bitter turmoil around a lost job, relationship or physical health. You may be angry over being demoted in some area of life, financially or vocationally. Like Moses, you are ankle deep in the stench of loss, wondering why this ‘God stuff’ doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to! Take heart. You are about to find a new name for God. The universe seems to use these kinds of situations to expand our understanding of ‘God’ and to prepare us for a larger mission.

True spirituality always involves experiencing the Divine by a new name. God may not change, but our understanding shifts each day, week and year. The divine has always revealed itself by innovative metaphors and fresh images. This idea scares entrenched religious people to death, conservatives and liberals; including any of us who think we have this God thing figured out. Keep your eyes open for your burning bush, the flash of insight will come. Externally we sometimes move from the palace to the pasture, but there is divine order in the apparent chaos.

Saturday, January 5, 2008


“Fanaticism is...overcompensation for doubt.”
-- Robertson Davies

There is a very interesting progression in the New Testament when it comes to asking questions and challenging religious authoritarianism. The Greek word zeteo is used throughout the New Testament, and it means to challenge, to question, to seek honestly, to dispute, to debate and pose alternative ideas and solutions.

Jesus encouraged zeteo:

"Ask and it will be given to you; seek (zeteo) and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks (zeteo) finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” Matthew 7:7-8

Jesus consistently debated and questioned traditional Jewish ideas, as did his followers in the Book of Acts. The Apostle Paul routinely brought differing religious opinions to the synagogues and churches:

“Some men came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the brothers: "Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved." This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate (zeteo) with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question (zeteo).” Acts 15:1-2

This was normal in the early Christian movement. Both Jesus and Paul confronted the established religious opinions of their time, in the Jewish synagogues and Christian gatherings . The pursuit of truth requires honest inquiry.

A few decades after Jesus, we see the successful establishment and rapid growth of various Christian groups. As these parties expanded and organized, Bishops and deacons were appointed and doctrinal positions were developed. Ironically, or maybe not, they began to limit and forbid all questioning or zeteo. We see this trend in the Pastoral epistles:

“… stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. These promote questioning (zeteo) rather than God's work—which is by faith.” I Timothy 1:3-4

“But refuse foolish and ignorant questions (zeteo) knowing that they produce controversial quarrels.” 2 Timothy 2:23

Some English Bible translators attempt to throw the modern reader off track by shifting the translations of these words in I and II Timothy, using words like ‘controversies’ and ‘speculations’ instead of the better translation of ‘questioning,’ ‘seeking,’ ‘debating,’ and ‘searching.’

A few decades later (c.180 A.D.), a man named Irenaeus, hailed today as a hero of Christian orthodoxy, made it clear that the time for honest debate and religious doubts was over. In the introduction to his classic treatise, Against Heresies, Irenaeus states a position completely opposed to what we see in Jesus and his early followers:

“Inasmuch as certain men have set the truth aside, and bring in lying words and vain genealogies…and by means of their craftily-constructed plausibilities draw away the minds of the inexperienced and take them captive...These men falsify the oracles of God…and also overthrow the faith of many, by drawing them away, under a pretence of knowledge (gnosis)…as if they had something more excellent and sublime to reveal…By means of specious and plausible words, they cunningly allure the simple-minded to inquire into their system; but they nevertheless clumsily destroy them, while they initiate them into their blasphemous and impious opinions respecting the Demiurge; and these simple ones are unable, even in such a matter, to distinguish falsehood from truth.
Against Heresies, Book 1

Notice how this Bishop refers to the members of his and other churches: ‘minds of the inexperienced.’ ‘simple-minded,’ and these ‘simple ones.’ They are so simple or stupid that the false teachers ‘draw,’ ‘overthrow,’ ‘allure,’ and ‘destroy’ them. So much for open and honest dialogue, doubting and questioning, or zeteo advocated by Jesus and practiced by Paul. It wasn’t long before the Christian movement excommunicated and later executed those who applied questioning (zeteo) to the pursuit of truth in the church. Gradually after the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D., Christian orthodoxy abandoned all forms of zeteo.
Theologian Paul Tillich once said, “Doubt isn't the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith.”

Part of what this means is that a ‘Christian’ or follower of Jesus the Christ brings radical zeteo to his spiritual path. Just as Jacob wrestled with the angel of the LORD in order to come face to face with God, so only the person who honestly expresses his doubts and asks her questions will encounter God directly. Charles West said, “We turn to God for help when our foundations are shaking only to learn that it is God shaking them.” The good news, or evangel, requires us to ask questions. A true ‘evangelical’ does not have absolute, unquestioned doctrines. There is no good news in being forced to adhere to teachings which your head rejects and your heart despises.


An acquaintance recently wrote:

"I think our priorities as Americans are warped when we pay WAY TOO MUCH money to these violent sports stars, allowing these disproportionately self-esteemed bums to continue to make MORE money than they are worth by hitting people and scoring points while people cheer them on. We need to PAY OUR POLICE OFFICERS, FIREMEN and ARMED FORCES the way we pay these "SELF-ABSORBED" poops and then maybe we'll be teaching our kids truthfully what is really VALUABLE in life."



I confess that I am sympathetic with this evaluation, and probably have said something similar, and even find myself largely in agreement. But before we opine too dogmatically about how much these athletes get paid, and before we criticize them for their violent activities, let's look at another possibility. Consider what is taking place in post-election Kenya, in civil war torn Iraq, in Pakistan following Benazir Bhutto's murder and in any Junior High School girl's locker room, and a hundred other places in the world where people are displaying clannish aggression and violence.

HUMAN NATURE: Passive or Aggressive?

I know some of us think that humans are sweet, kind and innocent by nature, but the anthropological evidence suggests that human beings are territorial and aggressive by nature; racism, tribalism and sectarianism have been and continue to be endemic to the animal and human conditions since as far back as we have records. I am not saying this is the only human trait, because we can also be quite empathic and cooperative. I am not justifying, encouraging or suggesting that we continue such behaviors, but simply observing what experts are telling us. The first step to changing an intolerable situation is an honest and correct evaluation of the problem based on the evidence.

Many of us Westerners pretend this assessment of the human propensity to sectarian conflict isn't true, preferring the Noble Savage view espoused by Rousseau and other so called romantics, but the fact is that humans are neurally hardwired to choose a tribe to love, cooperate with and defend as superior. Look at the current 2008 presidential process – many women are siding with Hillary Clinton because she is a female, many blacks are siding with Barak Obama because he is black, many evangelicals are siding with Reverend Huckabee, many white males are siding with one of the several white male candidates, and young people are siding with the younger candidates as seen recently in the Iowa caucus.


Humans tend to identify with that which is similar and find fault with those who differ. Freud called this 'the narcissism of minor difference,' the natural human propensity to find fault and criticize it, especially in the 'other'. This is actually a good trait when it doesn't get out of hand, arising in the individual psyche, causing a person to find areas of improvement and seek advancement for the self and our tribe. Some have called this 'divine discontent.' Freud described the world in general as a 'space of conflict'. External conflicts are little more than projections of the chaos found in the individual psyche. Our attempt to create civilization, said Freud, is an effort to carve order out of this 'space of conflict'. Humans must be taught to get along and 'act' civilized.

It is not our nature to embrace differences without struggle, no matter how progressive and Politically Correct we may want to be. Freud predicted the failure of Communism in 1930, writing that humans are not constitutionally constructed to get along and overlook differences. Howard Bloom's book, The Global Brain, explores this in the realms of animals, insects and humans, “Individuals extremely similar to one another find some petty distinction, then raise holy hell about it.” Howard Bloom, Global Brain, p. 93 Emile Durkheim wrote, “…a community of saints will classify a bit of lint on the heavenly robes as intolerable, and will viciously hound those who aren’t lint free. Eventually the supposedly unkempt may seek out others with a sloppy bent, and wall themselves off as a separate sect sworn to a messy destiny.”


Those of us who consider ourselves non-sectarian and more liberally minded all know that Conservatives routinely mock, bash and deride the 'Libs'. Yet most Liberals I know, including myself, oppose violence and advocate world peace, but often privately mock and bash those 'stupid fundies'. But we more progressive types are more subtle, keeping our bigotry concealed. I think this is called Passive Aggressive, which one fellow described as the dog that licks your face will peeing on your leg. I suggest that this is not hypocrisy, but very natural human behavior.

America's multi-billion dollar Organized Sports Industry just may be a brilliantly creative way to channel our innate tribal aggressions so they don't spill out into the streets, which they sometimes do anyway. That was one of the main reasons the ancient Greeks founded the Olympic Games, allowing the various City-states (tribes) to aggressively compete without bloodshed on the battlefield. The ancient Mayan cultures played a game similar to the modern game of soccer, culminating in the execution of certain players at the end of the game. Contemporary Mayan Shaman explain that this was actually a civilized way to avoid mass bloodshed. The game was played when feuding tribes were about to go to war over territorial differences and trade routes. Rather than continue horrific wars, they played the games and settled for the death of a few instead of many. This may seem barbaric to us today, but it was actually quite a creative solution given the alternative.

Sporting events are rife with animalistic tribal totems, unique identity, uncompromising competition, aggressive emotional expressions, overt acts of penetrating (violating) boundaries and conquering territory, keeping score, emerging victorious and gloating in the conquest. The losers get to experience humility, vague resentment, regrouping and another chance next season. One side goes away elated, the other side hopeful. Both are beneficial emotions and filled with optimism.

The philosopher Aristotle coined the phrase 'cathartic theatre,' suggesting that human emotions will either be expressed vicariously through spectatorship, or suppressed which causes emotional damage, or expressed directly through raging mouths and violent fists. He suggested that the state support such spectacles for the health of individuals and the society. Consider the possibility that the money our American athletes are making may be a means of keeping our society reasonably violent free, compared to those cultures that have no alternatives but to express sectarian aggression against those with whom they differ.


Again, please don't misunderstand. I am not calling humans inherently evil, sinful or bad. Those who observe human selfishness and conflict by resorting to Augustinian Original Sin are at the other extreme end of the spectrum. I see this innate struggle that Freud and others have observed as the necessary and normal condition of the human psyche on the way to making souls. Just as wandering space debris collides to create planets, so the human psyche, and human cultures collide to make larger souls. The poet William Blake wrote, "Without Contraries in no progression." Blake intentionally capitalized 'Contraries' because he viewed this as archetypal, a living pattern of the universal psyche. Joseph Campbell was once asked how people grow spiritually. He answered, "Either by trials...or by illuminating revelations." [Campbell, Joseph, The Power of Myth, p.126] The Hero's Journey always includes an encounter with some obstacle and opponent. before one can return home an expanded victor.


So what does Benazir Bhutto have to do with all of this? People like Martin Luther Sr., Martin Luther King Jr., Jesus, Ghandi and more recently, Benazir Bhutto are the real sports stars. They were not afraid to move onto the larger social playing field and encounter intolerable and inhumane sectarian opponents. They played the game to make the human team larger, melting tribal differences into the union of larger humane souls. We must be careful not to divert all of our aggressions through organized sports. Sports can be a good release valve, but not to the point of welding us to our couches, isolated and removed from encountering the game of life. It seems to me that the aim of life is to see the normal and necessary human 'narcissisms of minor difference' to be a means to expanding human consciousness and making larger individual and social souls.

Thursday, January 3, 2008



I hear people talk about the way God saved them from the tsunami or fiery plane crash, or healed them from cancer, or helped them win the Super Bowl, but they never mention the fact that there are many more people God seems to have neglected. What about all of those people who don't get miraculously delivered, or the losers of the Super Bowl? Statistically, more people do not survive catastrophic misfortune than those who do. For every first place winner, there are dozens who finished behind them. It seems incredibly selfish and thoughtless to praise God when you are the sole survivor in a plane filled with one hundred others who died in a fiery crash. Do these happy survivors and winners not know that they are tacitly saying either:

1. God didn't care about all of the others like he cared for me.
2. God loved them so much that he burned them to death so they could go to heaven.

And if heaven is better than earth, then the survivor should be upset that he got left behind. Ironically, they are always happier when they stay alive on earth, though they will all tell you that heaven is a better place, presumably with no road rage or IRS bills.

I think most people don't even think about this stuff. They just sort of understand 'God' to be a synonym for things that worked out for them and their loved ones. But what kind of God would that really be? It's not for me.


There is clearly something to the God-concept or there wouldn't be so many people adhering to it. God is not going away. Even scientists like Andrew Newberg with his book, Why God Won't Go Away, are saying that we are mentally equipped with some sort of transcendent region in our nervous systems. Even the atheist Matthew Alper, The God-part of the Brain, admits that there is evidence for holy hardwiring. Alper concludes his book by stating that we have now outgrown that primitive divine neural function, and it is time to get over it. Dr. Dean Hamer, the director of the U.S. National Cancer Institute, has written a book titled, The God Gene: How Faith is Hardwired into our Genes. According to this hypothesis, the God gene (VMAT2), does not cause the belief in God, but functions as a physiological arrangement that produces the sensations which some people associate with a feeling of the presence of God or other mystic experiences, or more specifically a spiritual state of mind.

Dr. Carl Jung was one of the first to posit and popularize the idea that the human psyche autonomously produces what Jung called 'God-images' in all cultures and epochs, resulting in myths, rituals and religious activities. Jung refused to dabble in metaphysical speculation about the objective existence of, or essential nature of an actual entity called God. As a scientist, he simply reported what he observed, namely that people in all times and on all continents have concocted some notion of divine beings in one form or another.

I sometimes hear people say things like, "Well, millions believed in a flat earth too, and they were all wrong." Of course they were wrong about the 'flat' part, but they got the 'earth' part right. So too, people may be wrong about their theological speculations about the nature of God, but that something like God exists is an empirical fact.

Clearly then, the God-experience is a standard part of the human psyche, based on the fact that all cultures have had the notion of God(s). That does not mean that any one person or group has exclusive rights on The One True God; that is more than any human or religious group can claim, though most try. That being said, it is also just as possible, even probable, that some people and certain religious groups have a much clearer perception of the God-experience than others.

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