Honey, I talk to god all the time. Doesn't mean I actually believe there's anyone there. ~ a woman on Facebook
beeches, County Antrim
Well I don't go to church on Sunday
Don't get on my knees to pray
Don't memorize the books of the Bible
I got my own special way
I know Jesus loves me
Maybe just a little bit more
I fall down on my knees every Sunday
At Zerelda Lee's candy store
Well it's got to be a chocolate Jesus
Make me feel good inside
Got to be a chocolate Jesus
Keep me satisfied
Well I don't want no Abba Zaba
Don't want no Almond Joy
There ain't nothing better
Suitable for this boy
Well it's the only thing
That can pick me up
Better than a cup of gold
See only a chocolate Jesus
Can satisfy my soul
When the weather gets rough
And it's whiskey in the shade
It's best to wrap your savior
Up in cellophane
He flows like the big muddy
But that's ok
Pour him over ice cream
For a nice parfait
Well it's got to be a chocolate Jesus
Good enough for me
Got to be a chocolate Jesus
Good enough for me
Well it's got to be a chocolate Jesus
Make me feel so good inside
Got to be a chocolate Jesus
Keep me satisfied
~ Tom Waits http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m5kHx1itU8c
I especially like
When the weather gets rough
And it's whiskey in the shade
It's best to wrap your savior
Up in cellophane
Sweet Jesus, yes, but chocolate Jesus? If there happened to be a song called “Chocolate Muhammad,” there’d be Islamic riots. And who knows, Putin might send the singer of Chocolate Jesus to Siberia for “offending the religious feelings of others.”
Abandoned church of the Transfiguration, built 1878, Arkhangelsk Region
But let’s stay with our more tolerant Western world. When you ponder the fact that in the past singing a song of this sort would lead to being burned at the stake, you immediately see the “softening” in attitudes toward blasphemy. Let’s face it, this song would have been unimaginable just a century ago -- maybe even as relatively recently as the nineteen fifties, when “In God we trust” was put on the banknotes (I still fail to understand what this motto has to do with money -- maybe “in God we trust; everyone else has to pass a credit check”?)
Now that the Pope shocked the world by announcing that even atheists go to heaven as long as they’ve been good persons, how can I not be elated? What a journey I’ve witnessed! ~ from “only Catholics go to heaven” to “non-Catholic Christians also go to heaven” to “even good atheists go to heaven.” From the cruelty of the Middle Ages, a leap into the tender-hearted modern times. Well, almost. We are still talking about what doesn’t even exist -- unless here and now, both heaven and hell, and each human being gets to travel in both.
(Imagine a greater shock, the mother of all shock: what if the Grand Mufti announced that non-Moslems can also enter paradise? Paradise! That word is so redolent with pleasure, promising ecstasies we can understand; “heaven” is for monks, who’d just continue their monotonous chanting.)
MOVING AWAY FROM THE GOD OF PUNISHMENT TOWARD A LOVING “CHOCOLATE JESUS”
It didn’t use to be that sweet: be good and you’ll go to heaven. No need to believe in Virgin Birth or walking on water, no need to develop arthritis from kneeling. The old-time religion was much more grim. As Andrew Butterfield writes, “The prospect of death held a special fear, since according to Catholic doctrine death was not the end but merely a new beginning of one’s suffering. The damned burned forever in hell, and even the good had to undergo an extremely long time in purgatory, enduring torments far worse than anything experienced in life.”
(How long is meant by “extremely long time in purgatory”? My grandmother expected many centuries, perhaps ten. This actually gave her hope; she did not see herself as doomed to hell, the conclusion I reached about myself.)
Albrecht Dürer, The Penitent, 1510.
True, after shocking the world on Wednesday, on Thursday the Vatican took a giant step back. A spokesman for the Holy See said that those aware of the Catholic Church need to “enter Her or remain within Her.” (Her? Yes, the church is feminine -- a transvestite.) But already quite a few years back it was announced, infallibly I presume, that Protestants need not become Catholic to enter heaven; some time after that, we learned that Jews don’t even have to convert to Christianity. So I don’t think any going back is possible any more -- just as there is no banning pets from heaven. Just try telling a Catholic family that their dog has no soul! We are already in the twenty-first century, and it’s too late for that.
Besides, Jesus told us to feed the hungry and visit the sick, but he never mentioned becoming a Catholic. He himself was definitely not a Catholic. In fact, the historical Jesus was probably closer to a Jehova’s Witness.
From an Amazon review of Bart Ehrman’s Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth:
Erhman believes, quite convincingly, that Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet in the Jewish tradition of his time. Jesus believed and preached that God would soon intervene and destroy the forces of evil, bring in his good kingdom on earth, and install him on his throne. There is just one problem. Jesus was wrong. In fact, he was mistaken about a lot things. People don't want to hear that, Ehrman points out.
The difficulty, Ehrman believes, is that this historical Jesus is obviously far too historical for modern tastes. Ehrman is right. Out of the context of his time, the overriding message of Jesus is preposterous, leaving anyone grasping for a meaningful faith nowhere to go, no inspiring message to believe in. Jesus the wisdom sage or Jesus the social revolutionary, for example, might offer solace, guidance, and hope but a Jesus predicting the end times leaves us only a corpse.
This is precisely the problem: the “historical Jesus is obviously far too historical for modern tastes.” In fact, a question arises as to the sanity of Jesus: today he’d be discussed as a case of paranoid schizophrenia with the “Messiah complex,” fairly common in schizophrenic delusions.
So no, the historical Jesus is not the chocolate Jesus who’d fraternize with kindly atheists. And here we are already visualizing a surprised atheist entering heaven together with her atheist dog.
Here is a scene showing orphaned little Jane Eyre at Lowood School for Girls:
“No sight so sad as that of a naughty child," he began, "especially a naughty little girl. Do you know where the wicked go after death?"
"They go to hell," was my ready and orthodox answer.
"And what is hell? Can you tell me that?"
"A pit full of fire."
"And should you like to fall into that pit, and to be burning there for ever?"
"What must you do to avoid it?"
I deliberated a moment: my answer, when it did come was objectionable: "I must keep in good health and not die.”
~ Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre
If already Charlotte Brontë could pen this little chuckle in 1847, no wonder we can more than chuckle. We can discard hell altogether as cruel and unusual punishment.
If we discard hell, then everyone goes to heaven (serial killers may have to undergo compulsory therapy). But assuming the existence of heaven, what exactly would the souls do there? What would there be to talk about? -- for eternity, mind you. And no change in the weather. Or rather, what weather?
And besides, a New Age friend I once had told me about her near-death experience. I asked if there were trees in heaven. She said, “No, nothing like trees.” And for felicity, I require trees.
Beech trees and bluebells, England
GOD AS SANTA CLAUS
A woman who belonged to a 12-Step program told me that the idea is to find a “higher power” or “god as you understand him.” She rejected the god of her childhood: “He spied on me and was writing down my sins so later he could throw me into hell.” Her sponsor asked, “So what would you like god to be like?” And the woman replied, “Santa Claus.”
I am not making this up, nor is it meant to be a joke. The woman was lively and intelligent. She said she wanted a caring god who did good things for her. No hell, no punishment -- just help and affection. She shrugged and smiled: “So my god is a kind of Santa Claus.”
The "softie" god within would have been much more pleasant. Just take punishment out of the teachings, and you get a supportive religion, totally unlike the nasty stuff it was in my childhood, and that was the only religion available. No buddhist centers yet, not even in Warsaw.
No judgment, no punishment, no vengeance -- wasn’t that the most radical message of Jesus? An extreme, for the times, respect for every human being? (I’m “cleaning up” Jesus, I know: he wasn’t quite so universal.)
But back to God-as-Santa, or the “God Within.” What about the Satan Within and the internal battle between Zoroaster’s Ahura Mazda and Ahriman? But that’s the battle of youth. The God Within is for the middle-aged women.
FEMINISM AND THE “GOD WITHIN”
Why women? Rabbi Finley pointed out that he started hearing about the “God Within” in parallel with the rise of feminism. “Women would come up to me and say that they believe in the god within,” Rabbi Finley stated. The god within was a softie: totally supportive, compassionate and loving, she (I think the change of pronouns is appropriate) provided guidance and nourished persons with positive thoughts and beautiful images. The god without was the patriarchal god, a dangerous lunatic: judgmental, jealous, angry, raging, always threatening punishment and dealing out “justice” (“Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord, and I shall pay back”)
(I realize that the term “lunatic” is politically incorrect, reminding us of the 19th century and the Lunacy Act: you had to register your insane relatives rather than just hide them in the attic. Now there is some dispute if the god of the Old Testament is best diagnosed as manic-depressive or a malignant narcissist. I vote for malignant narcissist.)
One scriptural support for the god within is of course my favorite saying of Jesus, “The kingdom of heaven is within you.” If god is a loving, blissful state of mind, I have no quarrel with this definition.
It’s not the idea of the god within that displeases Rabbi Finley, but the feminist rejection of the the god without. “I need that eye in the sky,” he declared. “It challenges me: am I really as good as I think? Am I good enough? Could I be an even better person?” Shifting from the personal to the universal perspective, and tossing in the Nazis and the Stalinists, in his lecture on “The Otherness of God” Rabbi Finley declared that humanity needs god because without god, without the eye in the sky, humanity is evil. The eye in the sky keeps us in line.
(My experience with the eye in the sky god-without was that I was never good enough. I could never stay in the state of grace for more than two weeks after confession. I watched with melancholy envy as the beefy Insensitives proceeded to communion, while I held back, feeling unworthy -- thus depriving a certain altar boy of the pleasure of pressing the gilded tray against my budding bosom so hard it hurt. If only someone told me that not being careful enough and spilling a liquid of some sort -- there weren’t too many sorts, due to the communist economy -- was insufficient to disqualify me from grace.)
By contrast, the god within reassures women (well, primarily women) that they really are “good enough.” It’s the small still voice that tells them the world will not end if they lie down and rest for a while.
THE SAVING GRACE OF ATHEISM
Do we need this cumbersome metaphysical framework just to give ourselves the permission to lie down and rest? Could we manage just on “common sense”? The bible certainly contains much wisdom, and not just accounts of atrocities. Feminist scholars have even identified passages where god appears to be more God-the-Mother. But I can’t remember anything from the bible that changed my life. The statement that struck like a lightning and changed my life was “You can practice being strong, or you can practice falling apart.”
So, there was no choice except to be strong. Just one word -- “strong” -- did some incredibly heavy lifting. Sorry: it really was that simple. The message reached me at a time when I was whole-heartedly practicing falling apart. It put an end to that, then and forever. It happened to be in a book that my friends classified as “beach reading” and beneath me. But it delivered that one common-sense sentence whose price was “far above rubies.”
To be honest, I needed one more thing for the paradigm shift that ended my chronic depression. I needed to grow old enough to realize that there wasn’t that much life left, and that I did not want to waste that shockingly brief span of years brooding about past mistakes and disasters (I saw my life only as a series of tragic mistakes; my positive memories were blocked, so I couldn’t remember a single good thing ever happening to me). But I’ve spoken of this elsewhere. The way all this relates to the saving grace of atheism is by defining life as NOW, not as the hereafter. If you lose the now, you lose it all.
Albrecht Dürer: Melancholia, 1514
ARE WE ALL AEOLIAN HARPS?
When we look at the cultural revolution that makes the fifties look like another country, it wasn’t just feminism that happened. New Age also happened, and it deserves to be taken more seriously. It’s an attempt to create an alternative to Christianity, though “Christ consciousness” is part of the emotionally supportive life philosophy it provides. On the West Coast the New Age movement has been wildly successful.
An alternative to Christianity is no small accomplishment. Jung tried it too. His thinking changed constantly, but not his absolute rejection of the Judeo-Christian tradition of a judging, punitive god who is the Absolute Other while humans are just worms -- as Job says, “I am of little worth,” also translated as “I am of no account.”
Jung came up with a vision of a spiritual Übermensch, or the Self with a capital S (creating a hair puller equivalent of trying to comprehend the difference between being and Being). The divine lies within us; it is the “innermost infinity.”
At the same time, the psyche within is connected with the psyche without. Jungians and New Age mystics believe that the nature of reality is ultimately spiritual, and our thoughts influence matter. Quantum physics is often invoked: the observer influences the outcome.
Critics never tire of pointing out that there is nothing new about the New Age. Its various principles have been expressed since tribal religions, with new notions being added. Thus, one school of ancient Greek philosophy held that each person’s mind is part of the great collective Logos. Coleridge put it more beautifully than most in his “Aeolian Harp”:
And what if all of animated nature
Be but organic Harps diversely framed,
That tremble into thought, as o’er them sweeps
Plastic and vast, one intellectual breeze,
At once the Soul of each, and God of all?
It is an attractive notion, a god without that is not “absolutely other.” Here, the god within is a harmonious part of the the god without. I have no quarrel with that. It is simply Nature with a capital N. In my view there is no distinction between Nature and nature: it’s simply all there is. We are part of nature; or, to put it even more simply, we ARE nature.
WE HAVE ALREADY LIVED IN THE REAL PARADISE
If we are nature, then there is no judgment and punishment, even if bad things still happen to good people. Even a school shooting is not an occasion for declaring that the perpetrator is now paying for it in hell. It’s simply too late in history for that kind of primitive revenge consciousness. Rather, we debate on how to improve mental health services.
Isn’t this compatible with the “judge not” message of Christianity? Only if we revise Christianity to be fully compatible with its message of radical compassion. “Love thy enemy” is still the most daring ethics ever proposed. “Hatred by hatred never can be ended” is the Eastern equivalent, but the phrasing is mild -- far from the emotional shock of “Love thy enemy.”
Alas, if we go by “gospel truth,” Jesus did not always love his enemies. In fact he threatened blasphemers with hell. Yes, even Jesus needs some softening of the heart chakra to meet the modern standards. Since in every period of history the bible was read selectively, why not continue to be selective and go for Chocolate Jesus -- or, to be even more inclusive, god as an all-good and unconditionally generous Santa Claus?
(A shameless digression: I never believed in Santa Claus. My parents spared no effort to prevent me from believing in Santa, witches, or ghosts. Is it any wonder that eventually I rejected Catholic supernaturalism? Mark my words: atheism starts with not believing in Santa Claus.)
But, first of all, did you see the gorgeous full moon in Gemini (May 24)? I went for my evening walk soon after moonrise, and got to see earth’s twin like a huge amber lantern low on the horizon. I also remembered another lunar encounter, the time I saw a full moon from a plane at 30,000 feet, beautiful and serene between two silver-edged clouds. What a gift, I thought. What other paradise can one want?
But nature wasn’t seen as beautiful until Romanticism. “Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low” -- Isaiah voices a longing for a completely flat paradise.
And if we are to trust Dante and the Book of Revelation, in heaven there is no night. And then what would we do, dreamers, poets, lunatics and romantics?
But not to worry. Every atom inside us was once a star. We don’t go to heaven; we ARE heaven. We are the universe.
That doesn’t mean that mythologies are dead. They still speak to us. As long as we don’t literalize them, I am all for keeping the best of the ancient stories.
I don’t have a moonrise poem, only a moonset poem.
MOONSET, MONTANA DE ORO
Mottled like a lamp with moths,
the heavy globe
sinks into the obsidian
silence of the bay.
The bellied curve
rests on shiny black water,
an entrance to the world
where the past becomes eternal.
We stand on the shore
as if waiting
for the ferry,
arriving dark on dark –
The wedge of amber
The tip glows,
a coin of pure white light.
Now the passage is paid.
The perfection of darkness.
You ask, “Where is Gold Mountain?”
In silence I take your hand.
One day as soft and tranquil
as the ocean of a distant night,
we’ll pay with the priceless
coin of a spent life
and journey to Gold Mountain.
But not yet, my love.
Across the dark, again
we start toward dawn.
~ Oriana © 2013
REDEEMED FROM WHAT?
Loved your new blog. So the new pope says I can be redeemed -- redeemed from what, I ask?
Obviously, from hell, where you deserve to go because of your sins and the Original Sin (transmitted through your father's semen, St. Augustine says; at least the ovum is sinless, but only because St. Augustine didn’t know that such a thing as the ovum existed), except for being rinsed in the blood of the Lamb. The blood is the payment that needs to be made if justice is to be done.
And here the ugliness starts all over again. So you don't think you've done anything so evil that you deserve to be fed to the pit of fire? Let's take a more extreme case: an unbaptized child dies, so her soul is thrown into a pit of fire (the limbo was just for babies; but imagine an “unredeemed” 9-year-old girl). The cruelty of the Christian god is unspeakable. (Judaism wasn't as focused on hell, or afterlife in general). But we have just witnessed a huge leap forward for the Catholic church, since the new pope would allow an unbaptized child to enter heaven.
Now, if you’ve been properly indoctrinated/intimidated, of course you suffer from guilt and low self-esteem. I know I did, and life was difficult enough without that extra burden. Doomed for eternity! The ideal of perfect morality, which includes never experiencing “lust” or envy or anger or wanting a second helping not to mention dessert, is impossible to achieve, so naturally everyone is a sinner in need of “redemption.” It’s something like ransom, except in this case it involves a cruel and unusual execution of someone innocent instead of the sinner. Never mind that you wouldn’t have agreed to that. I assumed you too were told again and again: Jesus died for your sins.
And if your own sins are truly minor, there is always “In Adam’s fall, we sinned all.” We have St. Augustine to thank for the doctrine of Original Sin: collective guilt. My nuns and priests were used to the objection that a child would make: “If it were me in the Garden, I wouldn’t have touched the apple.” The nun would smile indulgently and kindly point out that of course you too, little boy or girl, would have been disobedient, since it’s human nature to be curious, disobedient, and ambitious for self-improvement (“ye shall be as the gods”).
And if the creator created humans in his own image, then surely he himself must share all the human flaws.
Furthermore, what's to be done with the failed prophecies of the "last days"?
It really makes sense to see the historical Jesus as an apocalyptic preacher. (by the way, how would Jung try to resolve JC's "father complex"?)
Michelangelo, Last Judgment
This blog starts out great and continues that way. It is associational writing that is enjoyable and makes sense.
A good question to ask a believer is, "Exactly what happens in hell?" Going into this thought process in a serious way will should have even the most ardent believers wonder if all the suffering in hell is realistic in the face of "Love your enemy."
I love the reference to the Catholic Church being a transvestite. How else can you describe this male-dominated religion where the hierarchy dresses like drag queens?
To see Jesus' predictions that went awry: https://www.google.com/search?q=jesus+wrong+predictions&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a.
And yes, Hell is a cruel and unusual punishment. God as Santa Claus makes so much sense.
Of course we are nature. Love MOONSET, MONTANA DE ORO. It captures the beauty of nature.
Thank you for pointing out the profound contradiction between “Love thy enemy” and the existence of hell. I haven’t thought of that. Christians don’t normally think of it; they got indoctrinated and intimidated as children, and some fear of hellfire lurks in the brain forever.
And yes, a merciful deity would love his/her/its enemies and through love produce a change in the state of mind. Call it "love therapy."
Dante has a more sophisticated description of hell, where the psychological set of mind of vices such as gluttony or hoarding is colorfully depicted. But that’s Dante’s sophistication. Nothing even approaching subtlety is indicated in the gospels -- just fire for all. In a country with a hot climate, heat as a torture is easy to understand.
There was a time when I yearned for some metaphoric understanding that could validate Christianity -- since in some ways Jesus is a cool guy with more advanced sense of ethics. But then again, not. There is no saving Christianity without a huge revision. Bishop Spong’s Christianity Must Change or Die is a good start for anyone who yearns for truly compassionate, non-apocalyptic Christianity.
The beauty of nature is what finally remains for me. I never tire of sunsets and the beauty of moonrise and moonset. If there is any room in my mind for what the Jungians would evasively call the transcendent function, it’s the extravagant beauty of nature. In terms of sheer functionality, the earth doesn’t have to be beautiful, or the ordinary domestic cat be such an exquisite athlete. This beauty is a gift of nature so great that “Today you shall be with me in paradise” is the one true prophecy: we live in paradise.
GOD OF PUNISHMENT
Loved your "Chocolate Jesus" blog. Such a wealth of thought! I'll read it again when I have more time. It made me think of my Catholic girlhood, how my God was the God of Punishment. I gave him up at eleven when I was preparing for confirmation. The kids talked about how the bishop would slap you in the face at the ceremony. I decided no one, not even God's minion, would slap me.
“God of Punishment” (GOP) is the perfect phrase. Yes!!
I envy you for having left the the GOP early, unlike me who actually went through with the confirmation. The bishop was a typical “grumpy old man,” devoid of any aura of holiness. He acted as if the ceremony were completely empty, which made me aware that it really was empty.
Don’t be so sure of going to heaven. As you point out, the Vatican issued a disclaimer: If you are aware of the Catholic church, then “you must enter her or remain within her.”
Fortunately, the fourth century gave us Bishop Athanasius, later St. Athanasius of Alexandria. He taught that a heretic is doomed only if he is aware that he’s rejecting the true church.
I am not aware of rejecting “the true church.” In my eyes, the Catholic church is far from being the true church.
Not that such a church exists or can exist. Ultimately every person has his or her special beliefs. Many people have a sense of the sacred without needing to worship at man-made altars. The “temple of nature” surpasses anything constructed by humanity. I enjoy beautiful churches (except that they often smell bad), but nothing raises my spirits so much as being in the woods or a mountain meadow in bloom.
I really enjoyed your latest blog on The Chocolate Jesus. I immediately thought of "Well, I don't care if it rains or freezes, / Long as I have my plastic Jesus / Riding on the dashboard of my car."
As you know, I consider myself a spiritual though not religious person--but I also adore irreverence, I suppose because we all get so serious when the idea of God or the Creator or Higher Power or whatever we call it comes up. So I love the idea of a chocolate Jesus. Makes me think of an oven hot pad I once bought for my sister. It had a picture of a cat on it with the words
Love them little mousies,
mousies what I love to eat
Bite they little heads off
Nibble on they tiny feet.
What does that have to do with a chocolate Jesus? Well, a chocolate Jesus wouldn't last too long it MY hands, that's all!
Thank you for your fascinating philosophical/spiritual wanderings in your blog. They are always a treat!
Well, you’ve done it. I finally googled “Plastic Jesus” and got this famous rendition:
~ so it’s both a trinket Jesus and a “Sweet Madonna” -- both completely supportive and non-punitive.
Chocolate Jesus wouldn’t last too long in my hands either, though I stipulate dark chocolate, preferably “non-Dutched” (processed without alkali, thus providing more polyphenols). And thus my chocolate Jesus would become “the god within” quite literally.
For me the amazing and very “American” question was: “If you could have any god you like, what kind of god would it be?” It’s a profoundly American question because it at least implies freedom of choice, and asserts that the individual matters, and is not like Job saying, “I know I am of little worth” (in another translation, “I am of no account”).
I think I am like a lot of people who’d answer that I’d like a totally loving and supportive god. Remember that woman’s “My god is Santa Claus”? In our age it’s understood that Santa would never be so cruel as to bring ashes instead of gifts. Santa or Chocolate Jesus, but definitely not the terrifying “eye in the sky” spying on people’s thoughts and everything they do from the perspective of sin and punishment. If we stumble and fall, we’d like to be lifted up, not threatened with hell.
I think Christianity is actually mellowing toward the loving god within. The great part is that no one would kill in the name of the god within. The god within is basically one’s highest (some would say “deepest”) self. And it’s of course possible to talk to the god within and not be disturbed by silence. That silence can even feel soothing.
Or else a loving thought (including love toward the self, already a “soft” idea) can be perceived as an answer from the god within.
The part that clergy of all denominations do not like about the god within is that it makes them superfluous. New religious communities can be imagined, but they’d be more democratic and egalitarian. The dictatorship model will sooner or later be abandoned in the West. And irreverence is part of the great transition.