Thursday, March 22, 2007

Some Thoughts on Faith

Some Thoughts on Faith. . .


[Note--the following musing is not the result of a single setting in front of a computer monitor. I wrote this over a period of time as a continuing dialogue with myself as I was contemplating the validity of my own faith system. I had just completed a rather exhaustive reading of the world's religions, and the pagan beginnings to religious thought; and I was discouraged by the church's seemingly impotent understanding of its role in aiding people to know the basis of their faith, and what the overall religious experience is meant to do for humanity. I cannot say I have completed this work; but it represents my present perspective on my own confession of faith as regards the sacred in my life. I remind the reader that the words are mine; and, while I love'em, they may not represent truth, or wisdom, to you. So, take what seems to have meaning to you, and accept the balance as the musings of one who perhaps thinks too much about these things --Robert G. Davis]



The French author, Voltaire (a freemason), once said, "If there were no God it would be necessary to invent him." It is the view of many intellectuals in our modern society that that is precisely what man has done.

It can hardly be debated that organized religion has created its own versions of God many times over. I think perhaps the reason it is so difficult to personally decide if one is a Christian is because the church has, through the past 2,000 years, invented Jesus. And. regardless of which religion we may belong, since most of us simply follow the faith of our fathers--without ever really studying the relevancy or reliability of that faith--it is remarkable that we can proclaim on the subject at all.

The great question posed by Pilate, "What is Truth?", has always burned at my psyche, and I have spent a considerable part of my adult life wondering about the answer. While I now know that it is not in the provision of man to know, I still feel fairly certain about some things. One of them is that everyone has a religious experience. We are all connected to history; to the history of ideas, to the experience and ways of our ancestors. And, while we have largely desacralized our modern world, we have never totally succeeded in doing away with religious behavior in our lives. Many of our daily or yearly rituals were born in religion. I profess to be a Christian, and Christianity has validity in my mind and heart. But my declaration of faith is built upon Christ as metaphor; and is not tied to the dogma and doctrines of that faith. I am also a Buddhist because Buddhism provides me the understanding to live a life in harmony with all things.

I freely admit that my own faith has little or nothing to do with the function of church. I see little hope for the future of the established church. I'm not angry at the church, although I could make a strong argument it has many faults--not the least of which is its own failure or refusal to understand its mission. But for all its pettiness, its corruption, its emotional conflicts, and its own negligence in establishing an adequate understanding of the message of Christianity--still, it provides an important societal function which enables people to discover that their own life can be improved; can be transcended.

Perhaps the best way to look at the church is to see it as a space different from the ground on which it stands. It symbolically represents a place where passage from one world to another becomes possible. When one opens the door to the interior of the church, he crosses a threshold between the two worlds in which he lives. This threshold then becomes the boundary between his profane and his religious life. It represents an initiatory passage from one form of life to another. Every human being needs such a sacred retreat, or precinct, which enables him to transcend his own profane world. It is in such places that communication with the gods is made possible. It is in such centers that man becomes centered on the moral duties of his life. And if such a retreat space did not exist, the world in which we live would ultimately have little meaning. To the extent the church fulfills its mission as a sacred space, or retreat, for man, we should strive to help it improve. But, like in so many other things, what needs improvement is the model in which its message is delivered so that it can work in our lives.

We already know that, if that model is not improved, our modern society will create its own replacement for it. We have already seen the beginning of this in the proliferation of many little sects and movements; all seeking to offer a more meaningful path to a feeling of sacredness in the life experience. The reason for all this experimentation is that we each need to create this sacred space for ourselves. By whatever ritualistic way we construct it, it reproduces for us the work of the gods. It is important to understand that a fulfilled life is not really possible without an opening to the transcendent. We simply cannot live happily in chaos. So, I think in evaluating our own concept or understanding of faith, it is important that we look at religion and the church as two different ideas; two separate things. The church is a consecrated authority, but it too often fails its religious mission by allowing itself to become more of a human institution than a godly one. One should be careful not judge whether it is valid for him to be a believer based on his feelings about the church alone.

In my own reflection on these things, I took a closer look at the church itself because my biggest disappointment with religion has always been in the apparent failing of this most significant symbol for it. Assuming for the moment that we can agree that the message of Jesus has validity, then the central problem is that "organized" religion is too indecisive, and is therefore ultimately a rejection of the real and pure message of Christ. There is no divine rationale for a divided church. Yet, churches and denominations divide themselves almost daily. And every time they do, they reject the message. It is a sad thing to have to admit that there is much in the history of the church that represents rejection. I can give some examples of a few such major church ideas which represent the rejection of the message.

Triumphalism, which puts confidence in the power and the splendor of the church rather than in the power and love of God; is a rejection. Parochialism, which is too willing to prevent the Spirit from inspiring those who aren't, say, Baptist, or Catholic; is a rejection. Dishonesty, which tries to obscure the human failings of the church organization; is a rejection. Authoritarianism, the worst of all evils, which attempts to compel people to be virtuous by coercion; is a rejection. Stereotyping and scapegoating, which blame other people for what is wrong in the world in the name of God; is a disgusting perversion. Right wing Christian fundamentalism today is centered around just such a mindset.

Pietism is a failure because it confuses the meaning of commitment. Zealotry is a failure because it makes us think we can demonstrate our commitment by forcing a commitment on others. Rationalism is a failure because it ultimately refuses to admit the possibility of the intervention of God in the person of Jesus. The New Age movement is a failure because it confuses being spiritual with penetrating the root questions which all men must ask.

So, is there no wonder there is a crisis of faith in our times?

All of the above are an evasion of faith. We use so many masks and props in the formal ceremonies of Christianity that many folks are no longer sure there is a "wedding feast"--and certainly are not sure they want to go to it! It's a real shame.

Now, given all this discouragement, why and how can I claim to be a Christian?

To me, the Truth lies in the symbolism of Jesus and the gospel story. I will try to communicate to you my understanding about the Myth of Jesus. But, it's not an easy concept to interpret, so bear with me.

It's important to think about Jesus in mythic terms. As you know, to say Jesus is a myth is not to say he is a legend. As Joseph Campbell, the great mythologist, has so aptly taught us, the mythic image enables us to realize that the life and message of Jesus was an attempt to demonstrate the inner meaning of the universe and of human life. Religion, in the context of myth, becomes a set of symbols which provide us a "meaning system" that can answer our fundamental questions about how to interpret the universe. It's critical that we affirm religion in this sense, because to not do so would mean we could not interpret the meaning of problems like death. To not do so would immerse the world in chaos because there would be no motivation for the erudition of the sacred in our life.

How we create our world becomes the archetype for every creative thing we do, by whatever plane of reference we choose. Every construction of our own cosmology becomes a paradigmatic model for society. When our archetypes are defined only by our contemporary human activities, we fail to include the essential basis for truth-the archetypal image has to also meet the test of past generations.

I do not choose to limit my universe to the contemporary human experience alone. History has given me ample warning to know that, whenever we create our own world, then our own paradigm become its cosmology. Any attack from without, then, becomes a threat to the personal model we have built. Our response is to defend our model, even in its impurity. This constant variance in human interpretation of such things will most assuredly result in chaos.

I must therefore believe that the universe was created by a higher force than man; that man did not construct it, that there is hope that, in living a transcendent life, we can, in fact, resanctify the world as the sacred space it was created by the gods to be. For, to not do so will mean there is no hope for happiness. We would be thrown into the reality that time is our only existential dimension. It is linked to our life; hence, it has a beginning and end, which is death. In such a world view, we move only toward our own annihilation. I need to feel that what I do does not always represent a human experience alone, without any possibility of a divine presence. I need to believe that time is more than recorded history; that it can be created over and over again. I need to hope that there is a therapeutic purpose of which is to begin life again. Since life cannot be repaired, it surely can be repeated. This is my paradigmatic model of cosmology, and one in which I believe to be the model for all creation.

The point of any faith is not that man believes in God, or that every man requires the sacred in his life, or even that every man agonizes over these kinds of problems. The point is rather that most of us need some sort of answers to the questions of whether life has meaning; of how good people live; of whether good triumphs over evil; of whether we are capable of establishing relationships with God, or if an unwordly connection is necessary to staying the moral path. Our religious and/or spiritual symbol system is the only thing which enables us to interpret these questions for ourselves.

So, in the model of Christianity, since Jesus is the central symbol, his story becomes a symbol system designed to answer our questions about meaning in our life.

We must accept or reject the story (or message) of Jesus on the basis of whether or not it answers these most fundamental questions. To me, this is the real test of validity of faith. If we reject the message, then we must also ask if there is a different symbol system that will enable us to find the answers. If we accept it, then it must also lead us to believe that everything will be all right in the end. It is on this ground that we accept or reject Jesus--not on matter of papal infallibility, or the virgin birth, or the existence of angels, or whether or not the church has anything relevant to say about social reform, etc.

The reason I accept Jesus and believe in him is because I believe in God, and I believe that Jesus is God Incarnate, and thus is, himself, every man and woman. It is suggested even in the beginning. Human nature did not begin with Adam, but existed forever in Jesus. the Archetypal Man, the eternal Christ. The incarnation was God's commentary in Genesis, "Let us make humankind in our own image, and according to our likeness..."

You see, from the beginning there had been a second person in the Trinity--a Christ whose nature included the man-type. The plural form is used to represent the male-female principle of the creative form. Also the Trinity--God, the father; God, the son; and God, the Holy spirit.

The likeness does not imply a physical similarity to God, but that we are a reflection of God's glory. This concept is explained in the sephirah of the Kabbalah (which, although Jewish, is the best description of the nature of God I have ever found). Man refers not to the physical, but to the intellect. The origin of the word "man" means "mind." God created "mind" in its own image. So, the Divine archetype formed our intelligent nature--our ability to reason, understand, imagine, and think--all attributes of the Divine Intelligence, God--the Three in One. To me, the power and truth in this idea is extraordinary to contemplate. I have found it in all religious symbol systems the world has ever known.

And this idea that Christ is an agent in creation is confirmed in several scriptural passages (Colossians 1:16, Ephesians 1:10, Philippians 2:6, 1 Corinthians 8:6, Colossians 3:11, 1 Corinthians 15:24-28). But it becomes clear in the Gospel of John--the last of the early biographies of Jesus. The prologue begins with the words, "In the beginning was the Word" (Greek, meaning Logos, the creative and controlling principle of the universe)--that which turned the void (chaos) into order (cosmos). It is called the En-Sof in the Kabbalah. The significance for Christians of John's prologue is his suggestion that Jesus and Logos are somehow one, that what took human form as Jesus had always been ultimate reality. The creation myth then, incorporates this new sense of Jesus' divinity.

Christ is the ideal, representative man (incidentally, Adam is the concrete, imperfect type of the archetype). In Christ, the pure archetype is imparted in man. As Christ is the image of the Invisible, so we are all transformed into the same image. It's not too much of a stretch for me to visualize that God (an ineffable idea) used the human form to communicate the essence of Its message to us--which is Love. And, without providing the way in which this message could be transformed into human terms, there is no way we could have ever understood it.

Since God is undefinable, it seems necessary to me that It should most appropriately have used a vehicle which would have been knowable and capable of being understood by our kind. To believe that Jesus was the first-born of all creation, that creation is affirmed through him, that he himself was in the beginning, and through him the vehicle for the meaning of God was expressed as we are capable of understanding it, is to accept the message of Christianity.

Because of Jesus' journey on earth, we all carry within us the "plan of the Perfect," as Plato said. Thus, to believe that God would manifest Its essence in man through Jesus, means that that same spark of the Divine is also within all of us. As Jesus was God, so we are all God, and capable of the same glory. Of course, this is also the Royal Secret in Freemasonry. And I believe this with all my heart. If you can accept this, then all that is left to understand is the message of Jesus. Because everything else in the New Testament is borrowed from other, older traditions.

I think there is yet another failure of the church. It has always feared (and refused) to teach us from whence it came. Yet, Biblical scholars and historians of religion know that the story of Christianity is a synthesis of beliefs and doctrines which had their origins in other lands and among various peoples. They were all combined to make the gospel of Jesus. I think this is what it means when they say Christianity is a world-affirming religion--not that it is prevalent in all world societies.

I can give you some examples:

a) The use of water for baptism, the savior born of a true virgin mother, the vivid concept of heaven and hell, the belief in demons, the universal judgment--all derived from Persia as a contribution of Zoroastrianism.

b) To the Catholic faith, the trial by ordeal, use of excommunication, prohibition against conversations with heretics, pilgrimages to shrines, severe sanctions against remarried women, degrees of legality in marriage, scripture revealed to official hierarchy alone--all derived from Brahmanism.

c) We must practice brotherhood, charity; before God all humanity is equal, we must love our enemies, rid our minds of anger, turn the other cheek; there must be a conversion to see salvation; religion should be separate from civil government--all of these tenets came from Buddhism.

d) The last judgment; the immortality of the soul; communion with bread and wine; that only through a mediator between God and man can salvation be possible; that Sunday is the Sabbath day; that December 25 is Christ's birthday--all of these came from the Rite of Mythra.

Egypt gave the world the God-man savior. Persia filled us with fears of hell, the hope of heaven, and the last judgment. The Jews gave us the priest-state. The Buddhists gave us renunciation, which made sex, family, wealth, labor, and comfort into crimes. The Greeks gave us democracy. The Essenes were Pythagoreans who provided the religious synthesis which Jesus absorbed--the God-man sacrifice and resurrection.

Therefore, since so much of the Bible is not original, and its words not literal, then the important question to ask is: What is the common element in all these traditions that brings validity to us? The answer is that religion is the study of myth. Man has two ways of expressing meaning. He can do it by using concepts and ideas which he develops himself, or he can use symbols and images through stories which convey meaning to him. In fact, one becomes wise by using both rational thinking and symbolic thinking. The stories of the Bible are not all meant to be literal; many of them convey a hidden meaning which direct us to investigate the darkest and brightest sides of our own nature. The synthesizing emphasis of all the mythic images outlined above is that all saviors, past, present, and future, were incarnate gods. This is the central reason I can accept the Jesus myth as an affirming testament of faith. Through the mythic interpretation of the stories represented by Jesus’ life, I can discover myself. I need only study their meanings. And if the traditions and belief systems of Christianity also offer me ways that I can associate them with all the other mythic systems in history, then all that's left is the message. And, in a human sense, the message is equally important.

And the message of Jesus is Love. The point is as relevant today, as it ever was. Unless we believe in the Supreme Being, the Heavenly Father, the Really Real, who has created in us, in our genetic map, the Divine ability to love to a point of unworldly generosity, we human beings would simply otherwise be incapable of being generous in our love of others. What Jesus is saying is that unless men are prepared to commit themselves to the vision of a divine love that he came to preach, they will not be able to love one another.

Selective compassion, which is so common to all of us, has nothing to do with the message. We must strive to see the world from other's perspectives. The white racist must strive to understand the black's militancy--the black must try to understand the racist's fear. The old can't write off the most repulsive of the youth culture--and youth must understand that the generation gap is not a virtue, but a barrier. Scapegoating, no matter how popular a human activity, is not permitted in the message of Jesus. We are only villains to ourselves. There is no such thing as a "little bit of hatred." Any cause which allows just a little bit of wrong to infiltrate it will ultimately be destroyed by it. This message is taught so often in the degrees of the Scottish Rite, which is a ritual and mythological system which attempts to discover the synthesis in religious forms, and, thus, the universality of religion..

Jesus was saying that we must be stubborn about the point of unconditional love. His message is absolutely meaningless unless it produces men and women who respect and reverence their fellow citizens.

If we accept the gospel of Jesus, we reject nothing that is good in the world. We are to go about our lives with no fear. What we do is much less likely to distinguish us from others than the way we do it. The way we do what we do is the way of the man who has found the meaning of existence. This is the message. Accept it, and you accept Jesus. The details, the opinions and authority of the church, and the community of Christians; none of these really matter.

If we do not see many Christians whose relationship with their fellows is a reflection of the message of love as told in the sermon on the mount, or as reflected in the good Samaritan story, the reason is not that Christianity has failed. The reason is simply that there haven't been very many Christians.

The church doesn't matter. Those who persist in judging the message by membership and leadership of the church, have set up criteria which Jesus explicitly rejected. The best the church can do is to facilitate the message. Again, it offers a symbolic sacred space that enables man to understand that he lives in two separate worlds and he has an inherent duty to connect his being to both. Everything else about the church is historical development. The Christian faith hangs upon a historical revelation. That revelation is an incarnate god in historical time that guarantees the validity of all older religious symbol systems. The history of religion only adds new meanings to the symbol, but it cannot destroy its symbolic structure.

The resurrection doesn't matter--it's from an older tradition, validating the myth. It can't be confirmed by historical fact. Even biblical scholars agree it is too much a leap of faith that a human being can be risen from the dead. The meaning of the resurrection, and not the fact, is what is important. And the meaning of the resurrection is a transcended life.

Again, it is all symbol. It represents a greater event. It is the vindication of the kingdom, a symbol that nothing can stop immortality. It is God's love that is the event, the cause; and the new, or transformed life, is the effect. We need only to believe in love to accept the gift of a new life. The resurrection is merely the event that vindicates the message of love.

And our focus must be on the whole message.

To follow Jesus is to think of ourselves as freely and generously offering our lives in the service of others. To live respected, so that we may die regretted. Our life should be seen as an exercise in gift-giving. The question Jesus would have us ask ourselves is, are we giving hope and love to the many people around us? We are called to give life--to give life to others by giving our own lives to them. The idea is to teach others how to love by the power of our love. It's a pilgrimage of the conscious acceptance of the Divine will.

I think it is valid to be on the hero quest with Jesus. His is the journey of all heroes. It is the same journey we all seek. It is the journey we also teach and strive to understand in the world's great myths; and in our own symbol systems. Don't worry about the theological details, organizational structures, or historical verifications. The issue is the same today as always. Do we want to go on the pilgrimage? Do we wish to trust the Absolute? Do we believe the claim of Jesus to be one of the guides for the pilgrimage?

In the end, religion is a quest for self knowledge. It is a hope for immortality in which every new birth, every life lived, is closer to the Source in understanding. It is an insight that human life is not felt as a brief appearance in time between one nothingness and another. Life is preceded by a pre-existence and continues in a post-existence. And, while little is known about these two transcendent stages of human life, the history of religion has shown us they are known to exist. Hence, for religious man, death does not put a final end to life. It is but another modality of human existence.

Even more, science has confirmed that all of this is, in fact, ciphered in the cosmic rhythm of things. We need only to decipher what the cosmos says in its many modes of being, and we will understand the mystery of life. This is why both the study of religion and science are important. The two together provide clarity beyond doubt that the cosmos is a living organism, which renews itself over and over. As our brains continue to develop into a collective consciousness with all other beings, we will come to understand that consciousness and intelligence derive from a mathematical root which has always been known in the cosmos. The mystery of our own inexhaustible appearance of life is bound up with the rhythmical renewal of the cosmos.

Since I plan on participating in the unraveling of this mystery, and being part of the rhythm of my own immortal transcendence, it seems to me that to strive to live with love, balance, and harmony in my life is to work at being a microcosm of the infinite macrocosm. When I place myself into the perspective of being a religious man, believing that the world exists because it was created by the gods, and that the existence of the world itself "means" something, "wants to say" something, that the world is neither mute, nor opaque, that it is not an inert thing without purpose or intelligence--then, for me, the cosmos "lives" and "speaks" to me. I form a part of the divine creation, and I find in myself the same sanctity that I recognize in the universe. My life is homologized to it. Then, as a divine work myself; the cosmos becomes my paradigmatic image of human existence. And that is the only paradigm that will ultimately free me and my world from chaos.

So, as long as I believe in a god-created universe (and I must because I cannot see the almost infinite number of complex life forms organizing themselves from random chaos), that order in the cosmos was pre-arranged by a supernatural power and intellect, that such power is manifested in me so that I can ultimately have cosmic awareness and existence myself. It is my mind which is eternal, and since none of these things can yet be known in my present reality because my brain is still evolving, then it is not irrational that I have faith--faith that I am a part of the cosmos, that it is not bigger than me, but is connected to me and includes the equation which will eternally guide me to improvement. Of all the faith systems in the world, the model offered by the Jesus myth offers for me the necessary metaphysical connection to lead me to cosmic happiness, order, and harmony. Jesus works for me because he is both historical and divine. Through him, I am able to access that sacred space; he is the threshold, or door, which links me to my spiritual side.

To follow Jesus as a model for an incarnate God, and as a reflection of us, is to recognize our true selves in what Joseph Campbell called "the wonderful song of the soul's high adventure"--a journey into our own unknown to discover our relationship with the overall significance of things.

To me, it is a pilgrimage worth making. And that has made all the difference.

1 comment:

isabella mori said...

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