Topic Do you believe in "God"?
13 Sep 2010 08:13
I think it is possible to not believe in a supernatural god, and yet to believe in the validity of the words of Jesus. We have to remember that in a pre-scientific age the only way to describe aspects of deep psychology was through myth. Where I live in Australia it might be aboriginal stories about the Dreamtime. In ancient Greece it was tales of Promethus, Oedipus and Medusa. As psychiatrists such as Freud and Jung discovered, these are not just stories, their cultural tenacity lies in the fact that they describe in symbolic form aspects of common personal psychological experience. The myths of the Bible, such as Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel and Noah and the Ark, speak of aspects of our history as a species. They are clearly not a factual history, but a race memory handed down in the form of stories. No story that we create is entirely fiction. When we use our imagination we express truths about our psyche, often without realising, and the stories which take hold and acquire the kind of cultural value that leads to them being passed down from generation to generation are those which speak most helpfully to our unconscious.
I think that all that Jesus was was an exceptionally unneurotic, unrepressed, psychologically naked, individual. The history of the human condition has been one in which we have all had to learn to conform to society's expectations, most of our aggressive feelings and much of our sexuality has had to be repressed, because, if we didn't accept repression we would be ostracised and, if noone accepted repression, society would collapse. But the price we pay is that repression puts us at war with ourselves and leaves us with a fragile, insecure ego. The feelings of insecurity make defensive feelings of aggression more likely, which means more repression, etc., etc. But, if someone has an exceptionally untraumatic childhood, so that their ego is very secure and not obsessed with self-justification, then their aggressive feelings would not be so great as to need repressing, and they would feel comfortable enough with their sexuality not to feel compelled to act upon their sexual desires if doing so would conflict with what they were trying to achieve, and thus sexual repression would not be necessary either. I believe that what lies at the heart of the human psyche is an instinctive orientation to unconditional love. All that separates us from that instinct is that backlog of aggressive and sexual feelings which we repress, and the insecurity of our ego, which fears that which we have repressed, and also fears the inevitability of its own death, by which I don't mean necessarily physical death, but the dissolution of the ego that seems to be threatened by the love instinct's desire for unity with all of our kind.
Jesus talked as a poet talks expressing ideas in parables and symbols. God means many things to many people, but I think that to Jesus God was the love instinct. It needn't have been just something internal. I don't understand synchronicity (Jung's term for the phenomena where an external event coincides meaningfully with a profoundly meaningful internal thought), but I've experienced it quite a few times. I still don't believe in the supernatural. All I can think is that patterns exist in nature (think of a snowflake) so why not on a larger scale that we only glimpse occasionally. While I refuse to believe in a supernatural god, the experience of synchronistic events which seemed to be giving me a comforting message in a time of crisis, have sometimes made it seem like God was looking out for me. So it seems quite likely to me that Jesus experience of God was probably external as well as internal, but something natural, not supernatural. To me, Jesus was the ultimate psychiatrist. Not blinded by neurosis like the rest of us, he could see us for who we really are, what troubles us and why we are always fighting with each other and judging each other and more concerned with ourselves than with others. And he wanted to set us free by explaining that we were all in the same boat and that honesty, forgiveness and sharing would provide the social climate in which we could rediscover our inner instinct for love, and thus "never have to die", because it is only the ego that dies, the instinct for love, being the same in all of us will last as long as the human race.
The problem is that few seem to have understood what Jesus was on about. When he talked about life after death, they thought he was talking about a life for the ego after physical death, something which is clearly impossible. And, as the story was passed on, people turned ordinary events into "miracles". To drink water with a man as loving as Jesus would be like drinking wine with anyone else, but pass that on a few times and suddenly he's turning water magically into wine. The problem is that recognising Jesus for what he was would mean acknowledging that they were seriously neurotic (or "sinful" to use the language of the time). The only other way to explain what made him different was to believe he was something magical. I'm sure he would have been very sad to see how things turned out after he died. He clearly didn't want to be worshipped. The only people who want to be worshipped are those who are extremely egotistical (i.e. insecure).
While some (like the gnostic Christians) tried to discover the real meaning of Jesus words, the organised Christian churches all-to-often became a travesty of his vision. They crucified him a second time by associating his name with intolerance, torture, warfare, greed, pomposity and meaningless rituals which mocked the simple sense of his advice. But I think Christianity is a bit like a time bomb. The churches may pervert Jesus message, but they preserve his words. They carry at their heart the seeds of their own destruction. Not so long ago, unquestioning religious conformity was the norm. Today, with books like "The Divinci Code" and "Jesus the Man" reaching millions and an increasingly strong athiest movement, religious dogma is being put to the test. To hold firm when you are actually living by the words of your prophet is one thing, but when you can easily be shown to be a hypocrite it's not so easy. Especially if the fruits of love begin to sprout amongst the "sinners" in a way they never have amongst the "believers".
In general, Christianity has become a force for repression rather than for liberation of the soul (our deepest instinct for love). Improvisation teacher Keith Johnstone, in his book "Impro : Improvisation and the Theatre" (Eyre Methuen, 1981) says this about repression :
"Grotesque and frightening things are released as soon as people begin to work with spontaneity. Even if a class works on improvisation every day for only a week or so, then they start producing very ‘sick' scenes : they become cannibals pretending to eat each other, and so on. But when you give the student permission to explore this material he very soon uncovers layers of unsuspected gentleness and tenderness. It is no longer sexual feelings and violence that are deeply repressed in this culture now, whatever it may have been like in fin-de-siecle Vienna. We repress our benevolence and tenderness."
Some look at the internet with its proliferation of porn of various kinds, hate literature and all things gruesome and grotesque and see this as a sign of terminal moral decay. I see it as a global improvisation. Dark and troubling things are bound to surface from a couple of million years of repression, but by allowing ourselves to freely explore this material we will discover what lies beneath - our capacity for "benevolence and tenderness" - our soul.
“Then if anyone says to you, ‘Behold, here is the Christ,’ or ‘There He is,’ do not believe him. 24 “For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect. 25 “Behold, I have told you in advance. 26 “So if they say to you, ‘Behold, He is in the wilderness,’ do not go out, or, ‘Behold, He is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe them. 27 “For just as the lightning comes from the east and flashes even to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be. 28 “Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather." Matthew 24:37
Clearly the idea, popular with Christian churches, that Jesus is going to return as an individual is contrary to his own words. But what he says here is completely in keeping with what I've described. The rising of the loving instinct and the world it makes possible (whether called the Son of Man or the Kingdom of Heaven) is not centred in any one individual but would be able to be seen all over the world. The last sentence is a reference to fundamentalism. That which is "dead", i.e. inflexible and unforgiving and thus least capable of the spontaneity that characterises love, attracts those who are most needy and self-obsessed. This is not to be judgemental though, it is just an acknowledgement that those of us who most need love, may be the last ones to be able to receive it.