When I found that I no longer believed everything I thought Christians were supposed to believe, I asked myself, Why not just leave Christianity—and religion—behind, as so many others have done? Yet I sometimes encountered, in churches and elsewhere—in the presence of a venerable Buddhist monk, in the cantor’s singing at a bar mitzvah, and on mountain hikes—something compelling, powerful, even terrifying that I could not ignore, and I had come to see that, besides belief, Christianity involves practice—and paths toward transformation.
Italics mine. The above was lifted from Elaine Pagels, Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group—but I might have written it myself. In fact I have, in these blog pages. That’s what this is all about, that’s what I’ve been trying to say.
I’ve been trying to warn you: don’t give up on Christianity--as so many younger Americans are understandingly doing these days, dismayed by the sickening behavior of current evangelicals deluded by the Far Right and Fox News, the new Christian fascists, our beloved Republicans. Don’t give them the dignity of owning truth. Rather, look for ultimate meaning—the reward that awaits you when you finally see through any religion, any philosophy, any belief system. Its ultimate meaning is YOU. At the end, if you persist long enough, hang in there, you get yourself back.
Your true self.
Minus the lies, the delusions, the pretenses that fed that false self you’ve fronted for all these years.
Oh yes, I know, it’s impossible to find a church--these days--you can take seriously. But hold your nose, and dive in somewhere, if you feel the need for this sort of thing. Look for the missing figure of Jesus, in the music, the liturgy, the people you encounter, seekers like yourself, each of them somewhere along the way, swallowed up by the ambiguity of life.
But then again it may be time to junk it all, start all over.
Just Jesus and you: the real American religion, according to Harold Bloom (every American is convinced that Jesus and he/she are really buddies, that whatever transpires in this screwed up world, whatever our predicament or problem, Jesus is on my side. I get no respect, ala Rodney Dangerfield, but Jesus alone, he gets it, who I am. Unfailingly, he understands, forgives me, accepts me as special, a personal project of his). He of all men knows why I’m not understood—nobody understood him either. And doesn’t yet. In that sense, we really are twins with this Jesus. Who do people say that I am? he was always asking. Nobody got it right, at least not in our ‘Bibles,’ except Peter. Written later by the Great Church, our Gospels make out that only Peter answered correctly, saying you are the Christ, the Son of the Living God. They didn’t understand what Jesus was after, what answer he sought from them, so they just made him divine, and let it go at that. Besides, they had already decided that Peter was to be the first Pope.
Don’t give up on the Bible, either.
Whoever has ears to hear, let him hear. In the biblical account of Peter’s confession, if you are awake enough, you may well hear echoes of an earlier version, preserved for us in the Gospel of Thomas. At last, this all begins to make sense… In the original story, it is not Peter, but Thomas who gets it right. Jesus asks the question about his true identity, who they think he is, and he is not looking for them to say that he is god incarnate (that would be entirely out of character, especially in Mark, where he wants everything to be kept secret!) but rather he wants to find out how conscious they are, how aware of who they themselves are… of what’s going on right under their noses. How honest they are. Peter answers first: you are like a just angel. Then Matthew: you are a philosopher of wisdom. (That isn’t even enough, apparently). Then it’’s Thomas’s turn, but Thomas cannot answer. He tells Jesus he can’t find words to express the mystery he sees before him in the person of his teacher. I’m in awe, he seems to say, I can’t pretend to be able to label you. Jesus takes Thomas aside and commends him, from that time on his twin, like himself a fellow son of man and child of the One, the Living Father, a man who has found in himself that which was never created and hence cannot die, the infinite dimension of deity resident in each and every human being.
This is where Christianity started, with this healing message, the primitive psychotherapy of this highly original giant among men, this one-of-a-kind Jesus. Or rather I should say that this was what transpired in that last minute before the big bang, the split second interval immediately preceding the actual onset of what was to become the Christian religion as we know it---namely when the resulting clash between the Thomas Christians and the John Christians there in ancient Ephesus resulted in the Gospel of John and the eclipse of Thomas and his smaller band, followed by the escalation of Jesus to the rank of God himself, asking only of his followers a blind belief, a proper orthodoxy. In the end, it was Peter’s confession that was endorsed by the earliest Church, not Thomas’s. Thomas was to go down in John’s Gospel as the bad guy who saw the light, a doubter, driven by the risen Jesus to fall on his knees and confess he’d been wrong, that this one with the wounds in his side was my Lord and my God…
Did the Church resurrect their version of Jesus, keep him alive for twenty centuries, while burying the real historical person known by this name somewhere near Nag Hammadi, down in Egypt?
Are you really interested in transforming your miserable life now, or will you be content to forget that jazz and go on suffering, hope for “heaven” when you die?
You’ll have to make the decision.
Probably, you’ve already made it.