Saturday, June 2, 2012

Saul, Paul, and how Jesus survived Christianity

How can you who are so holy suffer? All your past except its beauty is gone, and nothing is left but a blessing. I have saved all your kindnesses and every loving thought you ever had. I have purified them of the errors that hid their light, and kept them for you in their own perfect radiance. They are beyond destruction and beyond guilt. They came from the Holy Spirit within you, and we know what God creates is eternal. You can indeed depart in peace because I have loved you as I loved myself. You go with my blessing and for my blessing. Hold it and share it, that it may always be ours. I place the peace of God in your heart and in your hands, to hold and share. The heart is pure to hold it, and the hands are strong to give it. We cannot lose. My judgment is as strong as the wisdom of God, in Whose Heart and Hands we have our being. His quiet children are His blessed Sons. The Thoughts of God are with you. (ACIM:T-5.IV.8)
In Closing the Circle: Pursah's Gospel of Thomas and A Course in Miracles, I paid quite a bit of attention to the issue of the transition that takes place in the traditions about Jesus, between the teachings of Jesus, of which the Thomas gospel seems to be the most authentic record, and Chrisitianity, named after him, but never 'founded' by him in any meaningful sense of the word, but merely ascribed to him by others and given his name, after his death. Because of the profound intertwining of the Jesus tradition with the orthodoxy of Chrisitianity as it solidified in the next 300 years, for a long time it was the "canonical" books of the New Testament that appeared authoritative.
Only with the re-discovery of the Thomas Gospel, once one understands the timeline of how and why it emerged before the gospels of the New Testament collection, does it become insightful where the break occurs - with the introduction of the theological foundations of Christianity, including the exceptionalism about Jesus as God's only son, to the exclusion of the rest of the sonship as 'adopted sons,' the interpretation of the crucifixion, resurrection (bodily, as Paul assures us), the second coming (the puzzling idea of his returning to the world he claimed to have overcome), the Eucharist etc. All of these concepts were features of Pauline Christianity, and there were many other schools of would-be Christian thought which did not have them, or had entirely different notions. Among other things there were many vocal debates about the idea that the moment of the resurrection was really the moment of the Heavens opening up in the story of the baptism in the River Jordan, under John the Baptist. That particular story would be closer to what is reflected in the Course today. The fact is Pauline Christianity won, because it rendered itself palatable to Caesar, and as a result eventually what we now regard as Roman Catholicism. The fact that it was most successful in stamping out other views, and gained the upper hand politically is no recommendation.

After those original debates died down, Christianity went through a consolidation phase, and then a splintering again. With Vatican II the most obvious attempts at mind control were starting to be relinquished, allowing such an oxymoron as Catholic Bible Scholars, or in general Catholic Bible Studies to exist, just when the first serious translations of the Thomas Gospel began to gain currency, while at another place on the planet the dictation of A Course in Miracles got under way.
Since the time of the enlightenment, thinkers such as Thomas Jefferson in the US had become suspicious of the Pauline material, and smelled a rat. Jefferson likened his efforts to cull Jesus' teachings out of the Biblical materials to salvaging 'pearls' from a pile of 'manure.' Paul he called a 'dupe' and a 'fraud.' This was all very perceptive, but name calling does not solve anything. Jefferson's positive contribution, which was only published posthumously as the 'Jefferson Bible' -- he had called it The Life and Morals of Jezus of Nazareth -- however is a powerful turning point and came very close to anticipating the re-discovery of the Thomas Gospel almost 125 years later.

The interesting thing about A Course in Miracles no doubt is that in it Jesus quotes some of Paul's inspired writing on numerous occasions, while at the same time forcefully correcting the fundamental constructs of the Christian theology of which Paul was the principal architect. In other words, the Course shows also in that regard, what forgiveness means -- the mistakes and the messes are cleaned up and corrected, and only the inspired, 'loving' thoughts are remembered. To that extent then it is never useful to pursue this type of critical scholarship of the tradition, unless it also helps us to see how we all make the mistakes Paul made, and forgive him and ourselves in the same breath. Here, the text of the Course is our guide, as the opening quote shows.