Monthly Archives: June 2017

June 23 – So, Who and What Was Jesus? – Part 2

Today’s Post

In last week’s post, we began to move from the scriptural depictions of Jesus to seeing him in the light of the insights of Teilhard.  We saw how the scriptural treatment of Jesus shows a distinct evolution, as he is shown first as a very human teacher of wisdom, then as ‘the Christ’, who was ‘exalted by God’ due to his sacrificial act, and finally to Jesus, the Cosmic Christ, who was so integrally a part of God that he had coexisted with him through eternity.

John’s Bold Step

As we have seen, John sees Jesus in a way that is quite different from Paul and the authors of the synoptic gospels.  While Jesus’s teachings certainly address how it is that we should behave, and Paul goes on to describe such proper behavior, John sees Jesus’ teachings as addressing how we should be if we would be whole.  This moves from a prescription for salvation to one for being fully human.   John then goes on to explore God from an ‘ontological’ perspective.

The idea of ‘The word made flesh’ is much more than a ‘metaphor’, and goes well beyond seeing God using Jesus to communicate to us what we must do to get to heaven.     In his innovative insight, John is showing us how God manifests himself in human form to show us how we should be if we would be whole.   By insisting that ‘God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God and God in them’, John is not saying that we should love God because he loves us, or as a prerequisite for salvation.  Effectively, John is saying that when we love we are cooperating with the principle of life that flows through us when we love, and thus are borne onward to a more complete state of personhood.

John does not tell us to love God, he tells us that we must ‘abide in love’, essentially to immerse ourselves in the fundamental energy of the universe, which is now seen as love itself.  This requires openness, trust, and effectively cooperation with the basic energy of the universe that even an atheist such as Richard Dawkins can acknowledge, “raises the world to an increasing level of complexity”.

In Teilhard’s words

” Those who spread their sails in the right way to the winds of the earth will always find themselves born by a current towards the open seas.”

   So in just a handful of years, a single lifetime, we see the Christian understanding of Jesus evolving from a teacher whose morality seemed grounded in preparation for ‘the coming’, to one who offers a sacrifice to an angry, judgmental God who has withheld his love to humans due to an ancient sin, to one rewarded (“exalted”) with divinity for his sacrifice, to one whose ‘divinity’, whose ‘oneness with God’ was in place before the creation of the universe.   At the same time, we see an evolution of the understanding of God as well, from a God whose primary characteristic was ‘judgment’ to one whose very nature was ‘Love’.

So, Who and What Was Jesus?

So, how do we reinterpret the ‘religious’ understanding of Jesus into one which fits into our ‘secular’ perspective?  The heart of evolution finally pulled from the shadows and revealed ‘in full light’, is less a group of metaphors than a recipe for human evolution.

As Teilhard points out, the long sweep of evolution from the big bang to the present time, from pure energy to entities become aware of their awareness, is punctuated by ‘changes of state’.  In order for complexity to increase, evolution must constantly find new ‘modes of being’ in which extraordinary changes in form and function occur.

This can be clearly seen in each such critical point of evolution:

– energy to matter

– simple granularities (bosons, quarks, electrons) to atoms

– atoms to molecules

– molecules to cells

–  cells to neurons

– neurons to awareness

– awareness to consciousness

– consciousness to awareness of consciousness

To this progression we can now add another critical point: from awareness of consiousness to evolution become aware of itself.  In Jesus, through the insights of John, we see the beginning of the awareness that our personal growth is the continuation of the agent of being that powers all evolution, from the big bang onwards.  And as John points out, the energy which powers this growth can now be understood as love.  John pulls the heart of evolution from the shadows and reveals it ‘in full light’.  In John, God, Jesus, personal fulfillment and love are less a group of metaphors than a recipe for human evolution.

We have seen in several posts how the fundamental nature of love strongly differs from the romantic or sentimental emotional attraction so often celebrated in our culture.  Teilhard calls it for what it is: the current manifestation of the universal attraction between entities that causes them to grow.  And in Jesus, as chronicled by John, we can see the first stirrings of such an understanding of this basic principle.

God, to John, is not a ‘creator’, ‘out there’, over and against mankind, but the universal set of agents which, as Dawkins observes, “raises the world to an increasing level of complexity”.

So, just as we offered a reinterpretation of God from a ‘divine person who rewards and punishes’ to the cohesive agent which underlies evolution as it progresses from pure energy to the human person, we can reinterpret Jesus from the holy person, even divine person who shows us how we should love God and each other in order to merit salvation, to the personal manifestation of the fundamental energy by which we come to be and grow as a result of this thread of evolution which rises in us.

Indeed, even as Jesus is ‘evolution become aware of itself’, he also represents the point in human history where the universal power of love as the creative force which powers our continued evolution is first recognized as such.

The Next Post

This week we took a look at a way that the person of Jesus can be reinterpreted from traditional understanding to the secular understanding of him as being the critical point in history in which evolution can seen to become ‘evolution become aware of itself’.  Next week we will look at how this secular approach can be seen to offer insights into the human condition and how evolution can proceed through both the human person and society at large.

June 13 – So, Who and What Was Jesus? – Part 1

Today’s Post

In the last two posts we saw how the understanding of Jesus, as depicted by Paul, the synoptic gospels and John, represents an evolution of the understanding of Jesus.  Jesus, the teacher of wisdom becomes Jesus, the Christ, who was ‘exalted by God’ due to his sacrificial act, and finally to Jesus, the Christ, who was so integrally a part of God that he had coexisted with him through eternity.   As we will see, this evolution continues further as Christianity gets to development of God as ‘triune’: the trinity.

Today we will begin to put these insights on Jesus into the perspective of our search for the secular God.

The Second Dimension of Duality

As we have seen, the concept of ‘the Christ’ evolves in the New Testament.  The synoptic gospels depict Jesus as a teacher who believed that he was living in the end of times, and insisted on preparation by way of moral behavior.  Paul, while not denying this humanistic portrait of Jesus, expanded on his teachings (for example, in his treatise on Love), and goes on to see him tasked with the sacrifice required for reconciliation of sinful man with divine God.  The claim to divinity, in Paul’s mind, comes about as God’s ‘exaltation’ of Jesus as a result of this task.  Jesus is born a human, but raised to a divine level by God because of his sacrifice.

John goes one step further, as he identifies Jesus as part of the fundamental basis by which creation was effected.  Jesus, as ‘the Christ’, had always existed, along with God, and collaborated with God in the act of creation.

On the surface, these two facets of Jesus, the human and the divine, appear as just another type of duality, along with body/soul, this life/the next, good/evil, in which two opposing and orthogonal concepts are juxtaposed and contrasted.  In the ‘atonement’ theory, for example, Jesus is placed into history to re-establish the connection between God and his creation that was intended, but failed due to Adam’s ‘original sin’.  In argument against the ‘theory of atonement’, Richard Rohr notes:

”The ‘substitutionary atonement theory’ of salvation treats Christ as a mere Plan B. In this attempt at an explanation for the Incarnation, God did not really enter the scene until God saw that we had screwed up.”

   In the “cosmic Christ” theory of John, Jesus, as the Christ, is co-substantial with God, and therefore had always existed as part of the creation process.

These two theories are orthogonal in that the first posits a somewhat ‘deistic’ God whose creation process ends with the appearance of man, and man is a finished product free to turn against him.  In the second, the ‘cosmic Christ’ is an agent essential to the rising of man’s understanding of God, becoming manifest in human history as the recognition of God’s continuing presence in human existence.

Church history describes many disagreements among leaders of the early church on how Jesus could be man and God at the same time, with many different ‘heresies’ debated.  Was Jesus ‘only’ human, ‘only God’ and appearing in human form, or both at the same time?  The final solution, that Jesus was indeed God and man, was presented as a ‘mystery’ to be believed, not to be understood.  Essentially, although it could not be explained, it became an article of faith, requiring a sort of ‘cognitive dissonance’, with the appearance of yet another duality.

We have seen how many such dualities can be resolved through application of our secular principles of reinterpretation, and this one is no exception.  As we have seen, many of the concepts associated with God, such as those addressed in earlier posts, can fall into coherence, and the dualities fall away, by understanding God as the ‘ground of being’, active in both the principles of being (physics) and the principles of becoming (evolution via the ‘axis of evolution’).  In the same way we should be able to re-look at the person of Jesus.

Making Sense of Jesuswere

Thomas Jefferson was one of the first thinkers to attempt such a relook.  Jefferson understood that the teachings of Jesus, stripped of their supernatural and miraculous content, had much to offer the construction of a secular set of laws to underpin a new nation.  In doing this, Jefferson was one of many who attempted to ‘articulate the noosphere’.

As an eighteenth century Deist, of course, Jefferson’s ideas of God were limited to ‘source’ and without recourse to the nineteenth century findings of Physics and the emerging science of natural selection.  Without these insights, he could not conceive of this ‘source’ continuing as an active agent to power the increasing complexity which would eventually manifest itself in the human person.

With the insights of Teilhard in hand, however, we can understand God as not only the ‘source’ but the ‘agent’ of a universe which comes to be over long periods of time.  This agent powers evolution, first through the complexification of matter, then through the appearance of ever more complex living entities, and eventually to the appearance of conscious entities who are aware of their consciousness.

As history has showed, it’s not enough to be aware of our awareness, we must also seek to understand it well enough to cooperate with whatever it is that powers our being to be able to move our evolution forward.  To be able to continue to move forward, we must both understand the ‘laws of the noosphere’ and learn to cooperate with them.

And this is where Jesus comes in.

The Next Post

We have seen in the last two posts how the person of Jesus has been depicted in the Christian ‘New Testament’, and how this depiction changes over the three (Paul, Synoptic Gospels, John) groups of texts.  Next week we will take a look at how this emerging portrait of Jesus can be seen in light of our search for a secular God.