Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Disappearance of the Universe

Gary Renard's work is at the center of Closing the Circle, because it is in his work that the connection is laid between the tradition of the Thomas Gospel, and A Course in Miracles, symbolized through his teacher Pursah in the book, who tells him she was Thomas in a prior incarnation.

This book is unique, and it became a huge hit without advertising budgets, just through word of mouth and through clever promotion over the web. Soon it became known as DU, and a Yahoo! group formed around it. It's also impossible to explain the book, beyond the obvious facts, for it really takes you on a ride over about a ten year period of the author's life, which is pretty indescribable. The title clearly grabs a lot of people, and if it works that way for you, you're in for a treat. The premise of the book is simple. Gary Renard is a regular guy with his fair share of troubles who at some point in time in his life strings together some fairly successful years as a guitarist, until it doesn't work for him anymore, and he takes a hard left turn. Among other things he has been practicing meditation, and one day when he comes out of a meditation in his living room in Maine, he sees on his living room sofa two people, who introduce themselves as ascended masters, Arten and Pursah, who in prior lives had been the apostles Thaddeus and Thomas. The form of the book is a series of dialogs based on this series of visits.

I recently reread the book very much in depth, because I was doing a translation of it into my native Dutch, which was definitely a fun challenge, as well giving me a good foundation to write some notes here. The book is in dialog form, and Gary's visitors give him a serious education in spirituality, which reframes his entire life, and part of that process works through introducing him in the early chapters to A Course in Miracles, which he was not very much aware of before this introduction. Arten and Pursah take him on a whirlwind tour, helping him to use his own experience to understand the application of the principles of the Course, focusing naturally mostly on the essential teaching of true forgiveness, which Jesus, as the Voice who addresses us in the Course, explains as the core of his teaching. It is evident that a meaningful understanding of forgiveness, requires the metaphysical framework of the Course, which has its roots in everything from Plato to Jesus, to Shakespeare, Freud and quantum mechanics. In other words, we are at a stage now, where we culturally have the ability for a much deeper understanding, and through this book Gary shares his own learning experiences with us, and the dialogs explore the Course concepts in every day language, making for a highly enjoyable read.

In the book Pursah makes the connection between the Voice of Jesus from A Course in Miracles, who points out a number of ways that his teachings have been misunderstood, and the Gospel of Thomas, which has often been misunderstood, because it doesn't sound like Christianity at all, but it was clearly older than the other Gospels which were included in the New Testament. Aha! So Jesus was not a Christian, because it had not been invented yet in his time. And suddenly the whole thing makes sense. In this particular book, Pursah discusses twenty two sayings from the Thomas Gospel, which she feels are most easily understandable for the modern reader. In my book, Closing the Circle, I've highlighted those sayings, as well as included a list of them in the back. Her point is simply that it's these 22 Logia, which the accepted Greek word for these Jesus sayings, are easier to get into without struggling too much with some of the cultural differences between then and now. Her comments on the Thomas gospel are seamlessly woven into the story, so that besides being a wonderful first introduction to A Course in Miracles for some, a refresher course for others, it is also a very powerful introduction to the more unvarnished Voice of Jesus (Gary calls him "J" in his books), which speaks from the pages of the Thomas Gospel.

In this context, Gary's choice for "J" instead of Jesus certainly has merit, for there is less of a tendency with that abbreviation to let our minds be cluttered by the whole historical burden of Christian tradition and theology, which has little to do with what he taught. We are now learning to listen to him fresh again, and that can be very helpful for our own relationship with him, and evidently for many of us this book has become not only an exciting read, but also an accellerator of our own spiritual lives, by connecting theory and practice in a previously undreamt of manner. This book is definitely of the "where the rubber meets the road" variety. You'll read it many times.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Absence from Felicity

Here is another book that was mentioned in Closing the Circle, and I have sofar not discussed in full on this site. I doubt anyone would read this book unless they were already interested in the Course, and for as much it is a biography, it is really about the Course which would seem to have been the defining event of Helen Schucman's life and work. Actually, the publishers of A Course in Miracles, the Foundation for Inner Peace, have a lot of material now available on-line on their recent new website, and one important audio segment is Helen's discussion of the Voice, which would make it clear to any one why Helen's years with the Course were to her the defining experience of her life.

This biography is very much in depth, and it could only conceivably be written by one who understood Helen and the Course very deeply, not to mention someone who would have to be an accomplished psychologist himself to be able to write this. Since helping Helen with preparing the Course for print, Ken Wapnick has simply become the pre-eminent teacher of the Course, and this book reflects all of that experience, and it exhaustively addresses the need of the Course student who at some point becomes interested in the context in which the Course arose. The essence of the story is simply that besides all of the evident (with the benefit of hindsight) seeds that were present in the lives of Helen and Bill, the fundamental point is that they were in a professional situation that was rife with conflict, jealousies, including a fair amount of tension between the two of them. Professionally Bill was a professor of Medical Psychology at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center, and Helen was a Research Professor under him, and they had their offices in the Black building at West 168th Street in Manhattan. So they were in New York, the Empire City, highly symbolic of all the world has to offer, good and bad. And one day they found themselves completely fed up with the professional tensions they had to deal with, and prior to going to a meeting at another facility, Bill voiced this to Helen in the now famous "another way" speech, in which he simply expressed to her that there had to be another way of relating to people and much to her own surprise, never mind his, Helen spontaneously agreed to help him find it. It was not too long after that that the Course started making itself manifest to Helen's mind. The rest is history, as they say.

This book will undoubtedly satisfy any student wanting to gain a deeper understanding of the birth place and process of the Course, and it is fascinating to see how Helen's entire life prepared her for this experience, starting from the fact that she had a long standing and early attraction to Jesus and the Bible. I can almost see her as a young child going to service at a Baptist church with the family's black maid, and all the other ways in which she explored her relationship with Jesus during her life. If there is any story that is my favorite in this book, there is the dream in which she experiences a man who helps her and intuits that this is Jesus, and later when awake asks Jesus, how come he looked like Bill, and the answer is, "Who else would I look like?" In a way this is the essence of the Course, namely it ALL happens in relationships, and depending on whether we see our brothers with the ego or the Holy Spirit, our experience of them will change accordingly, until we truly understand that they are always our best way home, and we learn to recognize our savior in them, and as the Course puts it, learn to "see the face of Christ" in them, which comes only from practicing forgiveness, until we finally have no need any longer to project any guilt onto our brothers.

Also helpful is the fact that through Helen's own experiences we can see all the mistakes we ourselves tend to make in our relationship with Jesus and/or the Holy Spirit, such as trying to use them as Santa Claus, as in Helen's episodes with Jesus's Higher Shopping service, where she felt he helped her find the green panty hose she liked best, or conversely she experienced that if she was on the outs with him, she could not find anything at all. To a greater or lesser degree we've all known such episodes. If you lose something in your house, the chances of finding it are slim to none if you give in to the upset, whereas if your mind is at peace it'll just turn up when you need it. All of these episodes help to underscore the very practical meaning of the Course. Meanwhile Helen's own life also shows us why the Course's primary focus always is on seeing the ego with open eyes, and understanding honestly that it is our own resistance that prevents us from following the Course completely right away. It is a process, and this book can certainly be helpful to many.

Lastly, this book is important for the historical record, now that there are so many bootleg versions of the Course on the market, which are being promoted by unscrupulous individuals, who are achieving little but to obfuscate the message with controversy about the text of the Course itself. No author would appreciate it if the early drafts of their work were made public, and that certainly applies here. The fact that the copyright on the first edition of the Course was invalidated for technical/legal reasons has little relevance either. Once you understand the publication process of the Course, it should be clear to anyone that you always want to work with the current 3rd edition from the Foundation for Inner Peace (, which is the original publisher, established in conjunction with Helen and Bill, and completely faithful to their intentions. The 3rd edition includes the pamphlets that came later, The Song of Prayer, and the psychotherapy pamphlet.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Thomas Logia sound like Zen Koans sometimes

That sort of a comment has been quite common in the discussions around the Thomas gospel. By now we know enough to understand what happened to the Jesus tradition after his death: substantial embellishment. So no wonder that these early materials should have a different character.

Jesus may or may not have been to India in those first 33 years about which we know so little. We may not be able to know this for sure. However philosophically, since truth is one, and oneness is a non-dualistic concept, therefore it should not surprise if Jesus sounded like Buddha or like Advaita Vedanta at times. The explanation is not necessarily that he was exposed to those sources, although he may have been. People did travel. The summary of these different forms of belief system, from dualism to pure non-dualism is very well explained in Gary's 2nd book, Your Immortal Reality.

The philosophical point is perhaps more compelling. If truth is true, and all else is a lie, well, there are only so many ways you could express truth in words, particularly since words are by nature dualistic, and so you can only approach it, never state it explicitly. So at some level the most abstract expressions of wisdom teaching would have to sound recognizably similar. So to be "like the Buddha," Jesus does not have to be a Buddhist, or even have known about the Buddha. From that standpoint I am totally at ease around Gary Renard's frequent observation that A Course in Miracles is sometimes closer to Buddhism than to Christianity, although of course there are very dualistic traditions in Buddhism, but it does seem that in Buddhism more of the original non-dualistic teachings survived and even thrived at times.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Jefferson Revisited III - Independence, Abolition, Projection

This is just a note resulting from this book, which only relates to the topic of this site in a sideways manner, but it is very important to remember... in the period 1790-1804 with the slave revolts in Haiti and finally its independence from France going on, the fear in the US was understandably of such a slave revolt happening here, for inevitably there was guilt about the system of slavery, so therefore there must be fear that the system should be challenged.

It seems relevant to notice however that the fear was founded in two ways, number one perhaps being the example of it happening in Haiti, which was the proximate cause for the concern, the second one however maybe equally or almost more important to remember, is that there was also the fresh memory of throwing off British rule which was felt to be illegitimate and oppressive, in a manner not dissimilar in which blacks might find slavery oppressive in the US. In short, the innate fears that aside from justifications the young republic had any subliminal doubts, these would as a result of projection, immediately translate into the suspicion that the blacks would do to them what they did to the British. For the same reason on subliminal level the independence itself was no doubt the biggest motivation for justifying abolition, entirely in line with the extremes of cognitive dissonance that TJ in particular must have felt about it in Paris and after, amid all the rhetoric of the rights of man etc.

No Christmas in the Thomas Gospel

There is no Christmas in the Thomas gospel, because it only has the teachings, and none of the stories about him, which as a literary form naturally only developed after his death, when his life was being mythologized. The Thomas materials, as much as the hypothetical (but now reconstructed) Q Gospel, which Gary Renard refers to as The Words of the Master, were simply his words, his teachings, with little or no ambiance and storyline, at most some very sketchy situational details, which simply serve as reminders for the practical context in which they occurred. For as he also says in A Course in Miracles, "You have surely begun to realize that this is a very practical course, and one that means exactly what it says." (ACIM:T-8.IX.8:1) This is very crucial to realize, that J presented a very concrete and practical teaching, which just became muddled later, as the stories of others about him began to become more important than what he actually taught. The Course restores that balance, by presenting Jesus's teachings in modern form in an unprecedented way, and Gary Renard's work with its connection to the Thomas gospel lay the bridge to recognizing that very simple and straightforward message again. The only thing to do is to follow him, which means to practice what he taught, more so than to repeat it. The world of course merrily went about repeating it, and for the most part not practicing it, and to the extent it was repeated without understanding, the message got buried under the mythology, though some of that mythology could, if properly understood, be very helpful indeed.

The symbolism of the birth as an inner event, born from the recognition of our true spiritual source, is very powerful. A Course in Miracles, helps us see it in this way, in that the Christ indeed is born to us as and when we choose "another way," in the form of the path for forgiveness, and the implied invitation is that we can turn to him, and he grows within us as we increase in faith in him. Here is how the Course reinterprets the story:

    What danger can assail the wholly innocent? What can attack the guiltless? What fear can enter and disturb the peace of sinlessness? What has been given you, even in its infancy, is in full communication with God and you. In its tiny hands it holds, in perfect safety, every miracle you will perform, held out to you. The miracle of life is ageless, born in time but nourished in eternity. Behold this infant, to whom you gave a resting place by your forgiveness of your brother, and see in it the Will of God. Here is the babe of Bethlehem reborn. And everyone who gives him shelter will follow him, not to the cross, but to the resurrection and the life.
  When anything seems to you to be a source of fear, when any situation strikes you with terror and makes your body tremble and the cold sweat of fear comes over it, remember it is always for one
reason; the ego has perceived it as a symbol of fear, a sign of sin and death. Remember, then, that neither sign nor symbol should be confused with source, for they must stand for something other than themselves. Their meaning cannot lie in them, but must be sought in what they represent. And they may thus mean everything or nothing, according to the truth or falsity of the idea which they reflect. Confronted with such seeming uncertainty of meaning, judge it not.  Remember the holy Presence of the One given to you to be the Source of judgment. Give it to Him to judge for you, and say:

Take this from me and look upon it, judging it for me.
Let me not see it as a sign of sin and death, nor use it for destruction.
Teach me how not to make of it an obstacle to peace, but let You use it for me, to facilitate its coming.

Seen this way the whole story is that Jesus is a presence for which we need to make place, if only just barely (the manger), for the ego, the world really do not have place for him, but because in the end that is not who we are in truth there always still is a place within us, where he is welcomed. And what he represents is the hope and promise that as we withdraw our investment in the world of duality with all its challenges, of up and down, etc., which offers no hope at all in the end, because it offers only division and darkness, we will remember him, make space for him, and with him, by practicing what he teaches, we will learn to remember who we are in truth, for with him we learn to invest in wholeness, not in division (separation). In the Thomas Gospel he expresses this beautifully in Logion 61:

I am the one who comes from what is whole. I was given from the things of my Father. Therefore, I say that if one is whole, one will be filled with light, but if one is divided, one will be filled with darkness.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Jefferson Revisited II - Special Relationships

One of the most fascinating questions that for me is raised by this book, is wouldn't it be easier to examine the relationship between Jefferson and Sally Hemings in light of the Course's view on special relationships, and how all relationships start for the wrong reasons? I think the answer is yes, though the general reader would not be helped by this, and so I'll attempt here to summarize the Course's ideas on special relationships in plain language, without making it a formal introduction, and I'll use Annette-Gordon Reed's analysis of the Jefferson/Hemings relationship as my main point of reference, and I think this will end up proving the point.

The fundamental notion of the Course's view of special relationships is that we are not who we say we are, and specifically we are not the separated individual we think we are, and the special relationships in our lives serve merely to protest that we really, really, really now are who we say we are, which is not to be dislodged until we perhaps start to suspect that "the lady doth protest too much," as Shakespeare expressed it, and we begin to disbelieve the story, and start looking for "another way." In this context there is thus a dynamic of hatred, which must be appreciated to get an honest understanding of the situation. Moreover both special "love," and special "hate" relationships are expressions of that same dynamic of hatred, and belief in differences, which is the non-existent foundation of the ego system.

In this book about the Hemings family, Annette Gordon-Reed goes to extraordinary lengths to discern the dimensions of the Jefferson/Hemings relationship, and I think she does an absolutely incredible job navigating the scarce evidence, and interpolating from a lot of circumstantial information to evoke a picture that few have managed to discern, and which some have taken offense at, namely that there could have been anything like love involved in this scenario. I think her analysis is right on, it just feels intuitively right, and it befits the subtlety and complexity of Jefferson's character that this should have been so. At the same time the ego's bargain is also in evidence, and actually simplifies the analysis.

For again, on the basis of the psychology of the Course, the purpose of the special relationship is to make the individuals involved good and real, and thus to keep them vested in their (false!) identities, not to mention to shut Jesus out as completely as possible. Now I have already spoken in my book and elsewhere on this blog of Jefferson's curious relationship with Jesus, which is an interesting topic in its own right. It behooves us to remember that all of us have a right mind and a wrong mind, and one or the other can play itself out in different scenes of our life. Johan Willem Kaiser, who has been a very important teacher in my life has a very helpful expression for what the Course terms the special relationship. He called it a "duo-self-preservation-effort," and that describes exactly the ambivalent, and even completely contradictory nature of it, which I'm suggesting would make the Jefferson/Hemings relationship easier to understand.

Thus, since bodies cannot communicate, and only spirit can, the special relationship as a so-called relationship between separate bodily identities, characters on the stage of the world (think Shakespeare, "All the world's a stage"), is rooted in the ego's intention to demonstrate that we exist, we are separate, and we are real. It is the most powerful witness to the reality of the ego's world, and it behooves us to remind ourselves from time to time that the truth never needs witnesses, because it is simply true--with or without witnesses that say so. This also means that we thrive by communication failure, and we are scared out of our wits at the thought that communication should be possible, which sometimes shows up in the fear of "losing ourselves," in a relationship, which is merely a cover over the fact that the purpose of a good special relationship is to lose our (true) Self, and reaffirm our (false) ego-self. Therefore, regardless of what happens on the surface, the foundation of the special relationship is the belief in differences, which is how the ego wants to define us. And generally the more the merrier, for the purpose of the relationship is to keep spirit out, and the ego firmly in charge, so the more differences the better it often is. This does not mean that on the surface a relationship cannot appear to be loving, that's just a matter of what kind of a play we decided to be in in this lifetime. At the core of it, the foundation, the special relationship is part of the ego system, and based in fear, hatred and the belief in differences, and ultimately the separation from God. Most of all we can ill afford to be like him (That's why the Christian belief that we should be " sinners all,"  became so popular). Once we understand this even a little bit, it is also clear why these relationships are sometimes loving and sometimes full of hate, and one can easily turn into the other, for they are merely two sides of the same coin, in reaffirming the belief in duality, which is a fundamental premise of the ego's existence, without which it is utterly meaningless, and thus " out of business."

Therefore all the differences which help define the relationship serve the ego's purpose of keeping differences real, and making our individual egoic in this world a reality, which substitutes for the Kingdom not of this world which J taught about, and keep it safely out of awareness, for that is the process, as is clearly demonstrated in the Thomas sayings as well, e.g. Logion 3:

J said: " If your teachers say to you, ' Look, God's Divine Rule is in the sky,'  then the birds will precede you. If they say to you, 'It's in the sea,' then the fish will precede you. Rather, God's Divine Rule is within you and you are everywhere. When you know yourself, you will be known, and you will understand that we are one. But if you don't know yourself, you live in poverty, and you are the poverty."
The ego, or the thought of separation, is invested in us NOT knowing ourselves as who we are in truth, namely the Son of God, and therefore the same as Jesus (i.e. we would understand that we and he are one), as long as we don't know ourselves (i.e. continue to identify with the false self, or ego self), we continue to live in poverty, because we are then invested in the ego's belief in lack. But, we will not take responsibility for that belief and therefore we project our guilt onto others, and believe they have stolen the peace of God from us, and if two people effectively manage to mutually maintain that projection, this is what the world calls a marriage made in Heaven. Through this union we now choose to believe that we regain the bliss of Heaven, never owning up to the fact that we ourselves threw it out to begin with. So as long as two people mutually agree to supplement that lack for one another, that sort of an arrangement can appear to be quite stable at times, or at least until one of them forgets to put out the garbage on time, or something equally silly. In this context then, it can be seen how the ego's nefarious logic, and the strenght of this ego-conspiracy is served, by all differences that play into this, because they reinforce the underlying belief in differences which is the foundation of that relationship. Thus master/slave, black/white, man/woman, tall/short, and any other dualistic dimensions of like nature reinforce the underlying bargain, the bargain to shut God out. In the fascinating relationship at hand there are numerous additional dimensions which make it clear how one gets from the other what they need to reinforce their own role. Specifically, Jefferson had promised his wife not to remarry, and taking a black concubine under the perceptions of the day nicely met that condition, while of course for Sally the possibility of a relationship, even while giving up a shot at freedom in France, achieved eventual manumission for her kids. Likewise for the 'legitimate' children Sally was not a threat, because she could be safely ignored, and could not inherit property, other than what was given to him during his lifetime or explicitly in his will. There are other interesting dimensions, such as in a master/slave relationship, eventually the submissive/slave is in control of the relationship, in subtle ways, and this was from time to time expressed as the master becoming the slave of the slave, because slave-ownership then defined the master as who he thought he was, and a slave-owner without slaves is nothing. The element of bargain was also present in the form of Sally's apparent negotiations with Jefferson in Paris, where she was pregnant just before they were to return to America, and negotiated that Jefferson would free all her children when they turned 21.

Therefore, when seen strictly in terms of these categories which serve the two personalities involved in their own view of themselves, it becomes much more clear why a relationship like this could indeed work very well for all concerned, as it reinforced the realities of the chosen roles. After that, the choice if we act this out in a more "loving"  way or as a special hate relationship really is circumstantial, and too often one turns into the other, without really changing the dynamic, unless and until at least one partner starts looking for "another way." For Love is only Love in the full awareness of oneness, as suggested above in Logion 3, and Jesus's teaching of forgiveness as expressed in the Course is the most direct path to that living awareness, of which we catch mere glimpses at first (what the Course calls " Miracles"), but which can become our living reality in due course, as what the Course calls "the Real World." Love can only be born from a relationship through quantum forgiveness, Course style, which does lead one (or both) partner(s) to realize that we are one, and not separate, for in the realization that we only project separation onto the other in all of our various accusations and irritations, the awareness of our total oneness is born and only that is love. The atonement is the realization there was no sin, only a silly mistake, and that is when the true love of the Holy Relationship dwells in our heart.

As to Jefferson, it seems clear that besides his amazing intuition of the core of Jesus's teachigns, that he fathomed at least something of the forgiveness process, and the true meaning of love, as is evident from a letter to his daughter about an upset she was having, which is quoted in this book on page 428/9:
Every human being, my dear, must be viewed according to what it is good for, for none of us, no not one, is perfect; and where we to love none who had imperfections this world would be a desert for our love. All we can do is make the best of our friends: love and cherish what is good in them, and keep out of the way of what is bad: but no more think of rejecting them for it than of throwing away a piece of music for a flat passage or two.  (Letter TJ to Martha Jefferson Randolph, July 17, 1790)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

"What It Says": From the Preface of A Course In Miracles

This book is a more recent contribution from Ken Wapnick, but in a lot of ways, next to A Talk Given, it may be one of the more suitable "introductory" books available from his hand, which is the main reason for including it in the reading list in my book. At the same time it is also a very useful recap for long time students.

In short, while I don't believe I quoted this book specifically in Closing the Circle, I included it in the reading list with the thought that it is highly suitable "for further reading." My book tries to be accessible for both people who had not known of the Thomas gospel before as well as for people who had not heard of A Course In Miracles before, in effect bringing the two together. Along those same lines the bibliography is trying to be helpful towards the next step to take. Simply put, if you weren't already a student of A Course In Miracles, it is a bit harder to really see the coherence of the Thomas message in the spirit of Pursah's commentaries to it, and it helps to have that frame work, and this booklet of just 75 pages, which covers the third section of the Preface to the Course is very comprehensive indeed. In fact the only word for it is exhaustive, but in Ken's inimitable style it manages to be not exhausting, but a gem. Ever since his involvement with Helen Schucman in the editing of the Course manuscript, Ken has emerged as the leading teacher of the Course, simply because he does not mix in anything else. He is a very literate person, and can and does draw from his extensive knowledge of literature and music, not to mention psychology, but his fundamental approach always is to explain the Course in it's own terms, without mixing in anything external, except for an example that can help us on our way to integrate this material. He is at it again in this book. It should be noted that in most cases, to write a 75 page booklet about 4 pages of text might seem to be overkill, but the reason it is not is that truly in these 4 pages all the seeds are planted which will flower subsequently in the 1400 pages of the Course itself, and the commentary of this book helps us to see that, for otherwise we might read right over it.

Ken compares this section to the overture to a symphony, or the prelude to an opera, and his commentary makes it clear in detail how essentially all the major themes of the Course's teaching are present in this section, and the groundwork is laid for a more exhaustive treatment later on in the text. So the foundation that is laid here begins from the beginning, which is the distinction of the Level One teaching of the Course, which is introduced with the famous lines, summarizing the Course teaching from the Introduction to A Course in Miracles:

Nothing real can be threatened.
Nothing unreal exists.
Herein lies the peace of God.
It seems so simple, but most of our lives we don't get the obvious, since the ego is all about complexity. To my mind these lines always seem to be a corollary to an old Dutch saying, which in translation would sound as follows: That's why we suffers mostly here, from the suffering we fear, (My translation is slightly poetic, to preserve the rhyme, here it is in Dutch: Daarom lijdt de mens het meest van het lijden dat men vreest). The peace of God thus depends on the ability to tell apart truth and fiction, for our suffering is entirely in the realm of the illusory ego-world of projection, and the truth or realith in us can never be affected or changed by anything external. Learning to understand that viscerally is the bridge that Jesus or the Holy Spirit lead us across if we practice the teachings of the Course, which are the teachings of Jesus in modern form. The next issue which this section of the Course then addresses, is the level of our experience, so if Level One is about the abstract understanding of the difference between Heaven and the world, Level Two is about the level of our daily experience, and learning to tell the ego and the Holy Spirit apart, and learning to choose the miracle of forgiveness instead of the ego's pain.

Throughout this little book Ken connects the abstract concepts of the Course in many ways to our practical experience, such as showing how the scarcity principle, which as an expression occurs only in this section of the Preface (though the words scarcity and lack appear throughout the Course to indicate the fundamental nature of the ego thought system), finds expression in such experiential "facts" of life as addictions (never enough of xyz), and blackholes, which seem to vacuum up matter, which disappears into nothingness at that point. Evidently it is again no accident that not only were Helen and Bill, who collaborated in writing down the Course psychologists, but so is Ken, and his profound ability to help us connect the Course's teachings to our daily experience, with complete intellectual integrity is his abiding contribution to the teaching of the Course, and this little gem of a book will no doubt be helpful to many.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Jefferson Revisited I

You would maintain, and think it true, that you do not believe these senseless laws, nor act upon them. And when you look at what they say, they cannot be believed. Brother, you do believe them. For how else could you perceive the form they take, with content such as this? Can any form of this be tenable? Yet you believe them for the form they take, and do not recognize the content. It never changes. Can you paint rosy lips upon a skeleton, dress it in loveliness, pet it and pamper it, and make it live? And can you be content with an illusion that you are living? (ACIM:T-23.II.18)

I've written elsewhere about the function of cognitive dissonance in the Course, focusing on the notion that the whole Course process is about making us aware of all that doesn't work in the ego's world, and gradually to wear off our rationalizations and justifications of it. It is through that process that we remove the blocks to love's presence, as the introduction to the Course declares to be its goal. This is the specific process of the Course, but it behooves us to understand that this is the process of how Jesus or the Holy Spirit teaches us, regardless if we're a Course student or not. In that sense the Course merely serves as an acceleration of the process, and that is why the only real claim for the benefit of the Course which Jesus ever makes is that it will speed us along faster, but otherwise it claims no specialness, being only one of thousands of paths. Since the underlying psychological process regardless of whether we undertake it consciously with the Course or not, is always the same, and is inevitable, it pays to look closer. The ego system is always a lie, never mind how hard we try to justify it. Only truth is true, and everything else is a lie. The disparity creeps in whenever our justifications wear out, and the truth peeks its ugly head through the thin veils of the ego's obfuscations.

Presently I'm reading Annette Gordon-Reed's book The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family, and it is bringing all these things to life for me. I guess I am fascinated by Jefferson, and in particulare by his profound intuition that about Jesus that is evident in his work that is now known as The Jefferson Bible. At some level it could be no mere coincidence that his first name was Thomas. And then there is his life... besides the schoolbook stuff, and the obvious historical importance, so much has come out in recent years, a hundred and fifty years after the fact, that has shifted the whole perception, that it pays to look beneath the public drama and into the heart of  what went on. The present book is a bit bulky, and not a casual read. It seems repetitive at times, which clearly has annoyed some reviewers, but I don't think it is bothersome, to me it is as if we're with the author, reading over her shoulder, trying to decipher from the fog of history what she is trying to ascertain about the nature of the relationship between Jefferson and Sally Hemings. She repeatedly has to polish her glasses, and resort the papers, and check her own feelings to see if she is still on the right track. My gut sense is she is. Her most "controversial" tenet which this book develops is that there was a basis of genuine affection, and emotional bond in this relationship, a notion which not everyone finds acceptable. In the process of her discovery about this we travel with Jefferson to Paris, where he begins to fully develop his notions of the rights of man, etc., in the run-up to the French Revolution, all of which is materially important for his later work in America. But there he is, publicly speaking out against slavery, and privately having two undeclared people in his entourage, Sally and her brother James, who are free under French law, and slaves under Virginia law, and he'd rather not have anybody find out. Evidently there was a negotiation in the formative period of his relationship with Sally, in which the notion of her freedom under French law enters the consideration, before she decides to return to the States with him on his apparent promise of the manumission of her children by him.

We all know these situations in our lives where the appearances do not line up with the facts, and we tend to ignore these things, but eventually those kinds of disparities may force a shift. A book like this is a powerful reminder of how this life learning process works, and how we inflict suffering upon ourselves by resisting where the process is taking us. For Jefferson the process ended up being a slow movement towards the manumission of his former slaves, some only posthumously through his will, but the seeds of it were evident when he lived in Paris, and there was total cognitive dissonance between what he was trying to maintain in his Virginia (slave-owner, among other things) persona, his public life in Paris, and his private life at home, with a chef who was a black slave from Virginia, and his younger sister who became his mistress. What seems so helpful to me about this type of a process is the realization that this is universal. The ego system never works, or in the words of the Course, it may be foolproof, but it is not God-proof, as the following passage says, speaking about the need for us to transcend the ego's judgments, and appeal our case, whatever it may be, to the " Higher Court," of the Holy Spirit:

You need not fear the Higher Court will condemn you. It will merely dismiss the case against you. There can be no case against a child of God, and every witness to guilt in God's creations is bearing false witness to God Himself. Appeal everything you believe gladly to God's Own Higher Court, because it speaks for Him and therefore speaks truly. It will dismiss the case against you, however carefully you have built it up. The case may be fool-proof, but it is not God-proof. The Holy Spirit will not hear it, because He can only witness truly. His verdict will always be "thine is the Kingdom," because He was given to you to remind you of what you are. (ACIM:T-5.VI.10)

In short since freedom is our natural condition, we ultimately cannot fail but relearn it, though it may take us a long time to experientially disprove the opposite to freedom, releasing the shackles of the ego system. But that it will happen in the end is certain, because it is part of truth, however long it takes us to get there. The painful parts are trying to hang on to our justifications for what we know not to be the truth, just like Thomas Jefferson in his writings on the State of Virginia publicly reaffirmed the seeming justifications for racial discrimination and slavery, while his private life was inexorably moving in a different direction. These are the scenes which Shakespeare modeled in the phrase " Me thinks the lady doth protest too much." In such cases our heart already knows a truth that seems inconvenient, but our mind is still attempting to hold on to what it thinks it knows from the past, and so the rationalizations and protests express not the truth, but our fervent resistance to it, by which we only prolong our own suffering. And often times it can be helpful to watch this process in another, and through empathy that can in turn allow us to recognize similar processes in our own lives, and perhaps help us to choose " another way"  a bit sooner, and lessen our discomfort along the way.  The process invariably entails that the fissures of inner contradiction in any arrangements our ego makes start to show up and become more undeniable and uncomfortable, until the gap of cognitive dissonance forces us into a change process. Those are the times when life itself erupts through the cracks of our seemingly comfortable living arrangements.

The path the Course teaches in effect is to learn to see those discrepancies better and better, by stopping our rationalizations and justifications, and asking the help of Jesus or the Holy Spirit to look at them without judgment, but just noticing: "Oh well, my ego's still alive and well." It is by stopping to take these things overly seriously, that we gradually let the air out of the ego's defenses, until we can blatantly see that it is nothing, and then we know it is no sacrifice to give up nothing. Hence Jesus says also in the Course that he asks for teachers (of the valuelessness of the ego-system), not martyrs, as in the following passage:

    As you read the teachings of the Apostles, remember that I told them myself that there was much they would understand later, because they were not wholly ready to follow me at the time. I do not want you to allow any fear to enter into the thought system toward which I am guiding you. I do not call for martyrs but for teachers. No one is punished for sins, and the Sons of God are not sinners. Any concept of punishment involves the projection of blame, and reinforces the idea that blame is justified. The result is a lesson in blame, for all behavior teaches the beliefs that motivate it. The crucifixion was the result of clearly opposed thought systems; the perfect symbol of the "conflict" between the ego and the Son of God. This conflict seems just as real now, and its lessons must be learned now as well as then. (ACIM:T-6.I.16)

That we will find truth is inevitable, as the Course repeatedly reassures us, because simply put truth is true, and everything else is a lie, so the rest is only a matter of time. It is our choice how long we want to suffer still. The reason the cracks will always be there, is because the split mind is not capable of anything else, by reason of the very nature of what it is. Therein exactly lies the root of fool proof, not God proof, and so there is always hope, because part of our mind of necessity has an allegiance to truth, and that is what the Course calls the right mind, where we do hear the Voice for God, or the Holy Spirit, who is calling us to leave the insane asylum behind, and seek and find our way Home.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

A Talk Given by Ken Wapnick

Continuing on the commitment to discuss on this site all of the books which I mention in Closing the Circle, it is high time to talk about A Talk Given On A Course In Miracles, An Introduction, by Kenneth Wapnick. This book is ideal as someone's first introduction to the Course, though for many people today The Disappearance of the Universe fulfills that function. But even so, one of the things you are bound to discover is that Gary Renard also mentions Ken Wapnick as the premier teacher of A Course in Miracles.

I think this little book is indispensable in every sense of the word, for being as small as it is (just 127 pages in a 4-3/4''x7'' format), it provides a truly comprehensive introduction to the Course, and even if you are already a student of the Course this little book can be extremely helpful to you to see the forest, without getting distracted by the trees. By far the most distortions of the Course, which are all too common, happen exactly because of that issue, that people focus on trees and not the forest, and then it becomes very easy to ignore the true context of the Course, and distort parts of it and turn them into something they are not. Gary's second book, Your Immortal Reality, pretty extensively dispenses with many of those issues in a very incisive and to the point fashion.

The book starts with a brief summary of how the Course came into being, which is extremely helpful for anyone to understand. Next it lays out the Course's notions of Heaven, or One Mindedness (i.e. what came before and comes after the notion of separation, and the world of egoic illusion), that's a very short chapter, and rightly so, for we don't understand it anyway. The only connection that we retain to that in the seeming separation is the Holy Spirit as the memory of Heaven, but our relationship with Him tends to be uncertain as well, because our commitment is not wholehearted at first. By far the largest portion of the book is taken up by the discussion of the ego's thought system and its exploits, Sin, Guilt and Fear, Denial and Projection, the Attack-Defense Cycle, and Special Relationships. That this should be the largest section is evident by the simple logic that the purpose of the Course is very much for us to become aware of our ego, and to stop denying it. The long and the short of it is that until we know we are in trouble we are not motivated to get help, and we're not ready to ask the Holy Spirit until we begin to fathom the circular logic of the ego, and realize that we cannot pull ourselves up out of the ego's marsh by our own hair like Baron von Münchhausen. Only when we get that, and we begin to see that the Holy Spirit is not part of the insanity are we possibly interested in asking for His Help.

Equally logically the next section of the book is about the meaning of the Holy Spirit, the meaning of Forgiveness, and the meaning of Miracles. And then finally Chapter 5 is about Jesus and the purpose of his life. This is a powerful finale to this very concise introduction. The point here is that when we start on the Course, the vast majority of us have issues with Jesus. Stereotypes galore. Here, in just 10 pages, we get a quick introduction to the Jesus of the Course, who presents himself to us as our loving brother, who can simply help us because he has already found the way home, and we are just starting to look and have no idea which way to turn. Perhaps one of the key lines in this part of the book is this: "What Jesus did was to live in this world--the world of suffering, sin, and death--and show that it had no effect on him." And that is the gist of the Course's notion that the message of the crucifixion is to "Teach only love," which is a different way of saying that the point is learning to follow in Jesus's footsteps in the sense of these words from the Course, which Ken also quotes "Teach not that I died in vain. Teach rather that I did not die by demonstrating that I live in you." (ACIM:T-11.VI.7:3-4).

Finally Ken also explains in detail that while it is not necessary to believe in Jesus, it is necessary to believe in the resurrection, as the awakening from the dream, i.e. the awakening to the knowledge that there is no death except seemingly in this world of appearances. I am quoting his entire paragraph on this point:

Once again, to benefit from A Course in Miracles, it is not necessary to believe in Jesus as our personal savior, Lord, or whatever other words we choose to use. But on some level we must accept the fact that the resurrection is something that could have happened, even though we may not believe in Jesus. Ultimately, we cannot accept the Course, unless we also accept the fact that death is an illusion. We need not do this right away, and we do not have to fully integrate this into our lives, because the moment that we integrate it, we will not be here anymore. This is the goal. But as an intellectual idea, we have to recognize it as an essential part of the entire system. (p.122)
In the end then, Jesus is our model for learning in the sense of demonstrating that our Inner Peace is not dependent on anything "outside," including our body, "outside" here meaning part of the phenomenal world as opposed to being of spirit. And Jesus is present in the Course as an elder brother, who can show us the way home, if we ask, and as the manifestation of the Holy Spirit (the memory of Heaven), and as such one of the most concise descrtiptions of him comes also from Ken, though it is not in this book: "Jesus is a 'What,' that looks like a who, as long as you think you're a who." In other words, as long as we identify with our bodily identity, we will think of Jesus as a person, but when we remember what we are as spirit, we will realize that that is what Jesus was demonstrating to us all along, and at that point we and he are entirely the same as spirit.

Henry J. van Dyke and the Other Wise Man

It's just that time of year, and I like to think about Henry J. van Dyke, and make sure he's not forgotten. The book has been variously published as The Story of the Other Wise Man or the Fourth Wise Man. You can find an on-line version here: , or as a download here:, but this book is definitely worth owning in book form. Idea for a Christmas present?

The reason I'm discussing this little gem of a book on this blog is simply this: as much as I am interested in the story of the discovery of the Thomas gospel and all that goes with it in terms of clarifying what he was saying before later editors turned him into a proto-Christian, it is always important to remember that Jesus speaks the language of the heart, and people have found their way to him at any time, and regardless of theological limitations. I personally find little appeal in the Christian theology which Henry J. van Dyke obviously embraced, but when I read this story, I know in my heart that this man had a very clear understanding of Jesus, to be able to express it in this deeply moving story.

The Story of the Other Wise Man is all about giving up all of our notions of what it will take to come to Jesus, for in the story it is blatantly clear that the fourth wise man does not find him until after he has given up even the last bit of what he thought it would take to come to him, and only when he does, he finds that in what he thinks is abject failure, he meets him, stronger yet, in that instant he is face to face with him.

This theme is worked out in A Course in Miracles in a different way, for there Jesus makes it clear that essentially we need to forgive him, for NOT being the idol that we made of him, which is essentially the same point that Henry van Dyke makes in this wonderful story: what will keep us away from him are only our own concepts about him, for as long as we are busy telling him who he is and what to say, we are evidently listening to ourselves and not him. It's that easy. Once you catch on, it is easy to spot the problem, and once you spot the problem perhaps some day you can let it go...

I have great need for lilies, for the Son of God has not forgiven me. And can I offer him forgiveness when he offers thorns to me? For he who offers thorns to anyone is against me still, and who is whole without him? Be you his friend for me, that I may be forgiven and you may look upon the Son of God as whole. But look you first upon the altar in your chosen home, and see what you have laid upon it to offer me. If it be thorns whose points gleam sharply in a blood-red light, the body is your chosen home and it is separation that you offer me. And yet the thorns are gone. Look you still closer at them now, and you will see your altar is no longer what it was.  (ACIM:T-20.II.4)

In short as long as what we offer him is framed in our own concepts that the ego and the separation are real, that is tantamount to slamming the door in his face. It is only by letting all that go, that we can let him in, and in fact the minute we do let that go, we will be face to face with him. This is why the Course speaks of "removing the blocks to the awareness of love's presence." (Introduction) That is the fundamental lesson of forgiveness. In the Thomas gospel, this same notion that we let stereotypes and past expectations blind us to the living reality of him, is expressed beautifully in Logion 52:

The disciples said to him, " Twenty-four prophets have spoken in Israel, and they all spoke of you."  He said to them, " You have disregarded the living one who is in your presence, and have spoken of the dead."

Saturday, December 6, 2008


If there is anyone who put me on the track to consciously seek out a path to the teachings of Yeshua prior to him becoming Christianized as Jesus, it was the Dutch author Johan Willem Kaiser (JWK), whose main body of work dates from 1946 to 1960. By the mid sixties I was beginning to very seriously explore ways to seek out what I sensed was Jesus's original meaning, which I was pretty clear was not at all what Christianity said he said. Since I was learning classical Greek in school, reading the Bible in Greek was a logical first step. The work of Kaiser became an important guide to me since about age fifteen, both in the form of his book Beleving van het Evangelie, (Experiencing the Gospel, not available in English), which was a thoroughly new translation and commentary of the Gospel according to Mark, as well as in the awareness that is ingrained in all his work that a relationship with Jesus is the essence of what he meant by "following him," i.e. learning to follow his guidance rather than relying on our own council, in the understanding that the "Kingdom" he spoke of was not of this earth, but of spirit and in spirit. Hence he would not be a teacher of morals, but a teacher of spirituality and spiritual development.

One central concept that is pervasive in Kaiser's work is that "to follow Jesus" is about inner experience, while the evolution of Christianity was all about morality and behavior, and confessions of conscious beliefs, in other words, it became primarily all in the head, and external, which is not what Jesus was talking about, but it evolved that way under those who came after him, starting with Paul. The latter becomes very true if you begin to study Paul's struggle with concepts in his writings, and how he resolves his own inner contradictions in his evolving mythologizing of Jesus, founded on his famous conversion experience on the road to Damascus, which I still sense was a completely legitimate experience, the problem being that our ego has a fair way of co-opting absolutely everything, and reinterpreting it to suit its purposes.

Before I found my way to Kaiser's work, I had been familiar since early childhood, at least age 4, with Ms. Margaretha "Greet" Hofmans, aka. "Tante Greet" (Auntie Greet). She was a student of his during the Second World War, and she had a channeling-type experience of what I would today call Jesus. Her preferred way of referencing him with me was as "the Help," or "God's Help," (the etymological meaning of his name in Hebrew), explaining to me from time to time how this Help was available to me whenever I wished, except on the condition that I should understand that this Help was not like Santa Claus, fulfilling wishes, and giving you what YOU thought you wanted, but rather, it meant that you should be willing to let go of your definition of the problem, deferred (ego-) judgment was the key. Only when I was in my forties and fifties and studying A Course In Miracles did I truly realize how utterly profound this explanation was, and how wonderful as a way to explain the situation to a child. This theme is pervasive in the Course, that we have to go up to the Answer (the presence of the Holy Spirit in our minds), instead of dragging the answer down into the world by making the world, "the problem" good and real. In short his Kingdom indeed is not of this world, he did not say that by accident. Kaiser had an inspired work partnership with Ms. Hofmans, in which he did write books, and give public presentations, and she worked one on one with people, to help make them aware of their own inner access to the Help, as well as channeling answers to questions for them. So it was only natural that my acquaintance with her should lead to finding my way to Kaiser's work later on.

Since then things have for me come full circle on a number of different levels, some of which I am no doubt not even aware of yet, as I write this, but some of them are very clear. Number one, as much as Ms. Hofmans and Kaiser put me on a track to at least some awareness of the inner access to this living Presence of another knowing, that is somehow present to us all  if only we stop denying it long enough, they taught me to see the distinction between that direct inner awareness and inspiration, and the rationalizations of the dialectic mind (what the Buddhists call "monkey mind"), which in the Christian tradition are symbolized in terms of the Pauline reconstruction of Jesus' teachings into Christianity, and later the Nicene Creed, which really reduces things to conscious beliefs and rationalizations only. Parallel phenomena occurred in Vedanta and Buddhism, e.g. "what's known as the teachings of the Buddha are not the teachings of the Buddha," while a pure non-dualistic teaching in Advaita deteriorated into a very dualistic Hinduism, though from time to time some inspired teachers emerged who returned to the source, similar to the Christian experience. Inspired living begins only when we stop taking the ego's rationalizations, and our concomitant perceptions totally seriously, and make some room for spirit, and the first step therefore must be to learn this inner discernment, since we cannot prevent the ego from literally running us into the ground, lest we begin to learn another way of living, by making a deliberate choice.

A Course in Miracles was born from Helen Schucman and Bill Thetford's realization that "There must be another way," (for the full story of the scribing of the Course, see Ken Wapnick's biography of Helen Schucman, Absence from Felicity). The Course is totally geared to an emphasis to the experiential "following" of Jesus, by letting him take us by the hand and teaching us another way of looking at the world, and thus engaging on a path that will loosen our abject slavery to the ego until we learn to live in inner freedom again. I became aware of the Thomas gospel in the early sixties, and was always intrigued with it, and I followed the evolution of the scholarship which gradually led to date it earlier than Paul and the Canonical Gospels. However, it was not until Gary Renard's books came along, that I fully realized that the Thomas gospel was indeed the voice of the pre-Pauline Jesus, who had not yet been redacted into a proto-Chrsitian, but the more I realized that connection, the more it grew in importance in my mind, and thus the idea for Closing the Circle was born.

There were more circles than one being closed however, and here's a collection:
  • In the Course, Jesus frequently offers corrections to the Bible, or our understanding of it, and states that he meant something else than what has been "made of him."
  • In the Thomas gospel the Jesus who speaks is free from the editorial influences that "made him" into the "bitter idol" of Christianity, who died a sacrificial death on the cross. (cf. ACIM:T-C-5.5:7)
  • With roots in the enlightenment, the German school of Radikalkritik explored the disparity between Jesus and Paul extensively since the mid nineteenth century.
  • Johan Willem Kaiser voices it as follows in a vocabulary entry in his book De mysteriën van Jezus in ons leven, (Eng. The Mysteries of Jesus in our Lives, not available in translation), voices it as follows "Presently the newly awakened psychology will gradually accomplish what pure religious devotion might have done: throw out Paul, and let Jesus in!" (as quoted on p. 115 in The Gospel as a Spiritual Path)
  • Thomas Jefferson in his editing of The Jefferson Bible, which he titled, The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth followed the same logic of taking the Pauline/Christian wrappers off of Jesus.
  • During the writing of the book then showed up the brilliant book of Nouk Sanchez and Tomas Vieira, Take Me To Truth, which offers an interesting insight in the ego's tendency of skipping steps in the process the Course refers to as the Development of Trust, and which provides a very interesting way of looking at Paul's development. (See their comments on "Bypass" on page 162 of their book.)
And all of the above are merely different ways of learning to tell apart the "raucus shrieking" of the ego (ACIM), from the still, small voice inside, which does offer us inspiration and guidance, the more we get the ego out of the way. Included in this process, is learning to tell the ways in which we can fool ourselves completely about just how spiritual we are. It is to the eternal merit of the Course that it finally puts us in touch with our own inner resistance, and gives us an understanding of why we don't want Jesus around, even though part of us knows that the only way we can be truly happy is in our relationship with him. The Course stresses our need to forgive Jesus for not being who we would like him to be, because that is our path to dropping our resistance to him. But until we know we have that resistance, there is no hope of overcoming it, while through forgiveness we can take the sting out of it, and ultimately let it go.

And so, if Ms. Hofmans introduced me first to "the Help" and then to Kaiser, and he gave me the "formal" introduction to the original teachings of Jesus, I subsequently followed that path and kept seeking until I found his voice in A Course in Miracles, and I ended up in turn being re-introduced by Gary Renard to that original voice, as it speaks to us from both ACIM and the Thomas gospel, but that time in the vernacular, leading me to write Closing the Circle. My earlier book about Kaiser's work, The Gospel as a Spiritual Path, really returns the favor, by affording the modern reader a glimpse into the work of and an introduction to this important teacher, who knew so well (as all real teachers do) his own unimportance, because truth can come through us, but it is not authored by us. Meanwhile he is one of the most important spiritual authors of the twentieth century in my book, on a par with (at least), Blavatsky, Gurdieff, Rudolf Steiner, Alice Bailey, et al. Unfortunately he has been nearly forgotten, even in his native Holland, a situation which I hope can yet be changed.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Gary Renard on New Realities TV

Just in case you had missed it, here is the link for Gary's interview on New Realities TV, on July 14, 2008.

On YouTube.

Do note there are actually multiple segments. This was a great interview, enjoy! There are several other helpful clips there as well.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Christ Myth

Arthur Drews has become mostly forgotten, but this particular book from 1910 continues to be reprinted steadily. And the importance of his work continues to be recognized in the school of Radikalkritik, which is primarily a German/Dutch phenomenon, though it has some offshoots in the USA also. See here:

While I don't find myself agreeing with Drews too much in detail, I find his overall thesis a helpful anti-dote to the never ending stream of literature about the so-called historical Jesus. His is one of several traditions in European letters which have looked at Jesus as symbol more than a historical person, which I find actually more helpful than thinking about the supposedly historical accounts, which only draw us into the play, rather than watching it, and watching what it's telling us. In eighteenth century France the idea of Jesus as a solar hero had already been seriously explored, something which would be expanded upon by the theologian of the Christian Community, by the nineteenth century theologian Dr. Hermann Beckh, and then developed further in Holland by Johan Willem Kaiser in the 20th. In entertaining this possibility the mind looks much more at the meaning of Jesus's life than at the factual circumstances, which can only  be helpful.

The book is also helpful in exploring the three phases of Jesus, the pre-Chrsitian, the Pauline and the Jesus of the Gospels, for it is really by pulling those traditions apart and becoming aware of them that we begin to see the way that interpretation shaped the traditions about Jesus, and here Drews' observations make us just all the more conscious of the evolutionary aspect of how the world has looked at Jesus, and how our perceptions of him have been molded by the tellers of the story. In the context of the Thomas gospel I find this particularly helpful because it really has that "Just the facts ma'am" quality, which leaves out any editorial, explanation, or interpretation. In other words, in the Thomas Gospel the mythmaking really has not yet begun.

For the rest you can reflect on this book on any number of levels, including the realization that in a profound sense it is true, entirely in the sense of the notions in the Course that all of duality of necessity is metaphor, metaphor for aspects of an experience which can only exist after we entertain the possibility of being seprate from God, the separation myth, which usually takes the form of a creation story, in which we are absolved from the blame for the mess we're in. For the rest then there are only two sorts of metaphors, those that have us wandering away further from home, and those that help us find the way home. The Jesus myth of course is of the latter variety. Interestingly enough the way this book is written allows for the possibility that the notion of the mythical character of the Jesus tradition is not automatically tantamount to debunking him, but rather understanding him on a different, more spiritual level.

What to me is most important about this book and others like it, is that they provide counterbalance to the overwhelming interest in the historical Jesus and his physical circumstances, which has dominated the literature since the middle of the 19th century. I guess it would not make for light reading in the eyes of most, but it's very instructive if you have this kind of mindset.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Mythmaker: Paul and the Invention of Christianity

It seems this book is sold out in the moment, but one of the things I'm trying to do on this site is to offer mini reviews of the books I've consulted in writing Closing the Circle. The most recent printing of this one was at Barnes & Noble, in their reprint series.

I think this is a very important book, because it provides a unique and different look at an old problem. There are a lot of ways to approach the evident differences between the teachings of Yeshua, and the words that the Pauline world of the New Testament puts in Jesus's mouth, all the while framing the stories in a way that underscores Christian theology. Hyam Jaccoby, is a Talmudic scholar, and he approaches it from that angle, and his investigation is pretty convincing. If there is a weakness it is that Jesus is left as a Jewish rabbi, really as the sort of Yeshua that his brother James and the Jerusalem community would have wished he were. He Jewish rabbi, with some unique ideas perhaps, but nevertheless a Jewish rabbi. That was their view. While Paul's view was the one to mythologize Jesus in ways that laid the groundwork for the Christian teachings about him.

Hyam Jaccoby takes Paul to task by pointing out that ideas like Jesus's divinity and the meaning of the Eucharist, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection and the Second Coming all go back to Paul and not to Jesus. In short everything that makes Christianity what it is, originates with Paul, not Jesus. The book is truly very informative, the more so while it does this through analyzing Paul's writing and influence. But the conclusion lines up perfectly with what we now know about the Yeshua of the Thomas gospel, who also dates from before he was made to sound like a Christian.

With the Thomas gospel in hand it seems to me we would differ with Maccoby, in that Jesus did transcend the Jewish mold as well. In short I agree with Maccoby that he was not the proto-Christian Paul makes him out to be, but that does not automatically make him out to be the Jewish rabbi which Maccoby makes out of him, again, really following the mold of how the Jerusalem community under James looked at him.
So this is complimentary reading for someone who is so inclined. I found it tremendously engaging reading, and intuitively quite convincing.

The Mythmaker: Paul and the Invention of Christianity