Welcome to song-of-songs.net

If you are looking for Christian wedding music, you will find links to Real Audio and mp3 music samples on the Christian wedding music page. You can also find a commentary on the Song of Songs (also known as the Song of Solomon), and an exploration of the question: Was Jesus Married

This site began as a way of sharing my music for the Song of Songs... an erotic love song that has been quoted and sung in Jewish and Christian wedding ceremonies for some 2000 years. Modern commentators are inclined to play down the allegorical interpretations that were attached to the Song by pious tradition. It is treated now as a collection of secular love poems, or as God's guide to sex in marriage. But the Song's subject... the passionate attraction of two lovers... is a natural and inevitable metaphor for our relationship with the mysterious source of our own life and consciousness. So, over the years, the wedding theme of the Song of Songs has come to have a broader metaphorical meaning for me. Lovemaking is a way of celebrating the fundamental unity of life. The wedding of two wills in giving and receiving pleasure... and the wedding of two lives, and two perspectives on life... produces a new, more resonant consciousness, analagous to the consciousness that results from a synthesis of the Self of the universe with the self of the individual. So, here I would like to explore some of the links between the mystical marriage... which is at the core of bridal theology... and the experience of unitive consciousness, at the heart of the perennial philosophy: "the common, eternal philosophy that underlies all religions, and in particular the mystical streams within them."

The Wedding of Heaven and Earth

Tradition teaches that we are created by God... that we are like pots made by a potter out of clay (Jeremiah 18:1-6). But it would be more accurate to say that we grow out of God, like the branches of a tree. Jesus is said to have used a similar image... that of a branching grapevine... to convey essentially the same idea (John 15:5). 

The Bible is replete with agricultural metaphors. Plants connect us with the energy of the sun. Naturally they are also potent symbols. Symbolically they tell the story of the One and the many... the story of separation from, and reunion with, the Source of life and consciousness. A tree, for example, is like a water fountain with a pump inside that recycles water. Trees recycle raw materials from the earth around their base; they weave those raw materials together, and "spray them out" as leaves, flowers, and fruit... all of which eventually return to their place of origin... "Mother Earth"... our figurative and literal "Ground of Being."

Man as an organism is to the world outside like a whirlpool is to a river: man and world are a single natural process, but we are behaving as if we were invaders and plunderers in foreign territory. For when the individual is defined and felt as the separate personality or ego, he remains unaware that his actual body is a dancing pattern of energy that simply does not happen by itself. It happens only in concert with myriads of other patterns---called animals, plants, insects, bacteria, minerals, liquids, and gases. The definition of a person and the normal feeling of "I" do not effectively include these relationships. You say, "I came into this world." You didn't; you came out of it, as a branch from a tree."

---Alan Watts,
Does It Matter © 1968, 1969, 1970, p.23

Like branches on a tree, we are continuous with the Source... with the patternmaking power of the universe. And it is because of this continuity that the experience of mystical union is possible. In the words of Christian mystic, Meister Eckhart:

"The eye with which I see God is the same eye with which God sees me: my eye and God's eye are one eye, one seeing, one knowing and one love."

The knower and the known are one. Simple people imagine that they should see God as if he stood there and they here. This is not so. God and I, we are one in knowledge.

God is nearer to me than I am to myself.

---Meister Eckhart
German Sermon No. 12

An engaging contemporary account of this unitive experience is given by Trisha Feuerstein, in her husband's book Sacred Sexuality. This is what she wrote:

"My first memory of that incident is of awakening one morning after a night of lovemaking and feeling as if I had not been asleep. I felt as though I was conscious or constantly awake on some higher plane. That entire day I remember feeling totally and perfectly relaxed.

In this perfect relaxation I stood outside of time. It was as if time normally flowed in a horizontal plane, and I had somehow stepped out of this horizontal flow into a timeless state. There was absolutely no sense of the passage of time. To say there was no beginning or ending of time would seem irrelevant. There was simply no time.

I remember coming home from work a few days later, standing in the living room of my little studio apartment, and suddenly realizing that I had no edges. There was no me. The thought arose, and these are the exact words, "This is what I AM in truth." I remember looking over to the door of my apartment and thinking, "There is no difference between door jambs and smog." There is no difference between anything whatsoever. Everything is the same. There is only apparent difference.

I remember that the thoughts also arose, "You could shoot me in this moment and I would laugh." Everything material seemed superfluous. It was all spontaneously and playfully arising from one great source, and it could just as well cease to arise in any moment.

Somehow I had become infinity with eyes. I felt as if I had just been born in that moment, or that I had been asleep all my life and had just awakened. I also remember thinking that this was the true condition of everyone and that everyone could know this.

This particular moment remains, seventeen years later, the single most significant moment of my life. It was also the most ordinary, simple, happy, normal, neurosis-free moment of my life. I was simply being what I AM, and what everyone else IS, in truth.

I remained in this state of edgelessness for about three weeks, and life was intensely magnified. When I walked, I felt so light it was as if my feet did not touch the ground. I had no appetite for food---in fact, most of what I tried to eat left a strange metallic taste in my mouth. And although I ate almost nothing during this period, I lost no weight. I remember telling my lover that it felt as if my spine were plugged into the "universal socket" and that it was a source of infinite energy.

During this time I was more creative than I had ever been---or have been since---both at work and outside of work. All the limits on my thinking were no longer in place. I also became prescient---seeing into the future and then later experiencing the scenes I had foreseen down to the last detail. This astonished me.

I also remember sitting at my desk at work one day and turning to look at one of my officemates. In an instant I was drowning in bliss, overwhelmed with love and compassion for my fellow worker, and for every being and thing I looked at. I loved everyone, including my lover, the same---infinitely. There was really no one separate to love. Tears silently rolled down my cheeks. I felt infinite love and infinite pain at the same time, the pain arising from realizing the power and primacy of love, yet how little we love.

I remember thinking that this universal love is what the Madonna symbolizes. Then suddenly I felt as if I were the source of all creation, that the universe was arising from me, or through me---from whatever this infinite thing was I had become."

---Trisha Feuerstein
"Sacred Sexuality," by Georg Feuerstein

Feuerstein's "edgelessness" aptly describes what might be called "a marriage of subject and object"... a dissolution of the boundaries between self and other (summarized in Vedantic Hinduism as tat tvam asi, thou art that). 

The sense of self seems to be the product of the brain's representing its own acts of representation: its seeing of the world begets an image of a one who sees. It is important to realize that this feeling---the sense that each of us has of appropriating, rather than merely being, a sphere of experience---is not a necessary feature of consciousness. It is, after all, conceivable that a creature could form a representation of the world without forming a representation of itself in the world. And, indeed, many spiritual practitioners claim to experience the world in just this way, perfectly shorn of self...

As a mental phenomenon, loss of self is not as rare as our scholarly neglect of it suggests. This experience is characterized by a sudden loss of subject/object perception: the continuum of experience remains, but one no longer feels that there is a knower standing apart from the known. Thoughts may arise, but the feeling that one is the thinker of these thoughts has vanished. Something has definitely changed at the level of one's moment-to-moment experience... the disappearance of anything to which the pronoun "I" can be faithfully attached...

---Sam Harris, "The End Of Faith,"
© 2004, p. 212-213

The experience of unitive consciousness is the heart of all the world's great spiritual traditions. Unfortunately, the cultural packaging that distinguishes one expression of this insight from another can become such a diversion... such a labyrinth of theology... that people get more and more lost. They wage war in the name of the Prince of Peace, and devastate Creation in the name of the Creator. This diabolical inversion is a subject that I will take up in the sections on Pro-life/Pro-war Christianity and Painted Windows / Models of God... a critique of salvation theology.

Although the experience of mystical union... or unitive consciousness... is at the heart of all the world's great spiritual traditions, it has often been marginalized or suppressed by religious leaders who care more about transient power than the unfolding of human potential. Meister Eckhart, for example, was tried as a heretic by Pope John XXII. A confession of error was extracted under duress, and although he was not condemned to death, he died in the papal prison before his trial could be concluded. As Timothy Freke pointed out in his book, The Wisdom of the Christian Mystics:

"Mysticism is the spiritual essence of Christianity. The great Christian mystics, however, have often found themselves horribly persecuted as heretics by the established Churches for their outrageous claims and idiosyncratic ways. The mystics are not content to have a relationship with God via priests and institutions, but look inside themselves to know God directly. When they do, God is revealed as an all-embracing love that unites the universe into one indivisible whole. In communion with God, the mystics no longer experience themselves as separate individuals but as expressions of the Oneness. God is the only reality. God is everything. God does everything. This mystical vision is not a psychological anomaly: it is the natural state. Human beings fail to experience it only because they believe themselves to be separate from God, when in fact He is their very essence. All mystical practices are designed to dispel this pernicious illusion of separateness."

---Timothy Freke
The Wisdom of the Christian Mystics:

In her review of The Da Vinci Code, Elaine Pagels asks: What were the alleged heresies that provoked churchmen like Athanasius and Irenaeus to hunt down and destroy early Christian texts like The Secret Book of John, The Gospel of Thomas, and The Gospel of Philip.

According to the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus suggests that when we come to know ourselves at the deepest level, we come to know God: "If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you."  This message... to seek for oneself... was not one that bishops like Irenaeus appreciated: Instead, he insisted, one must come to God through the church, "outside of which,'' he said, "there is no salvation.''

Second, in texts that the bishops called "heresy,'' Jesus appears as human, yet one through whom the light of God now shines. So, according to the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus said,

"I am the light that is before all things; I am all things; all things come forth from me; all things return to me. Split a piece of wood, and I am there; lift up a rock, and you will find me there.''

To Irenaeus, the thought of the divine energy manifested through all creation, even rocks and logs, sounded dangerously like pantheism. People might end up thinking that they could be like Jesus themselves and, in fact, the Gospel of Philip says, "Do not seek to become a Christian, but a Christ.''

As Irenaeus read this, it was not mystical language, but "an abyss of madness, and blasphemy against Christ."

Yet, this suppressed wisdom from the Gospels of Thomas and Philip is entirely consistent with Meister Eckhart's insights, with the insights of mystics from other spiritual traditions, and with wisdom preserved by the canonical gospels regarding "the kingdom of heaven within" and "the vine and the branches."

Spiritual Evolution

The human mind is a work in progress. In the words of the Christian mystic, Angela of Foligno, "The world is pregnant with God." That, I think, is the real meaning of the second coming of Christ.

For me, the wedding of heaven and earth signifies both the experience of unitive consciousness and the evolutionary process by which that state might eventually become the norm---a prospect that has been taken seriously by a number of eminent philosophers and scientists, including Ken Wilbur (Up From Eden), and Teilhard de Chardin (Revised and updated in The Phenomenon of Man Revisited, by Edward O. Dodson).*** 

The question is: Will humankind survive long enough to permit the unfolding of that inherent potential? Let us hope that this process will not be aborted by war and the suicidal destruction of our own life-support system.

It is scarcely an exaggeration to say that the feeling that we call "I" is one of the most pervasive and salient features of human life: and its effect upon the world, as six billion "selves" pursue diverse and often incompatible ends, rival those that can be ascribed to almost any other phenomenon in nature. Clearly, there is nothing optimal---or even necessarily viable---about our present form of subjectivity. Almost every problem we have can be ascribed to the fact that human beings are utterly beguiled by their feelings of separateness. It would seem that a spirituality that undermined such dualism, through the mere contemplation of consciousness, could not help but improve our situation. 

Whether or not great numbers of human beings will ever be in a position to explore this terrain depends on how our discourse on religion proceeds. There is clearly no greater obstacle to a truly empirical approach to spiritual experience than our current beliefs about God.

---Sam Harris, "The End Of Faith,"
© 2004, p. 214

Mystical Union, Empathy,
and Progressive Politics

The tragic flaw of traditional Christianity is that, although it enshrines such fine ideals as "love your neighbor as yourself," it often undermines the believer's ability to actually do this... providing little aid in attaining an authentic experience of unitive consciousness. The possibilities for brotherly love are further undermined by the divisive doctrine that there is only one path to God... one true religion. Church authorities have marginalized the Christian mystical tradition, and Jesus is presented as having a one-of-a-kind relationship with God. Moreover, the prevailing Christian concept of God is fatally interwoven with the primitive image of Yahweh, as painted by the writers of the Old Testament. Although that image is tempered by certain passages in the New Testament, like the Sermon on the Mount... the Book of Revelation reasserts the primitive vision of God as a jealous, abusive husband. 

The conceptual model of God as a king at the apex of a male dominated hierarchy has been extremely profitable for those who benefit from it; however, this graven image... this idolatrous mental model of God (as seen "through a glass darkly")... stems from, and reinforces, the socially regressive strict father family structure... the foundation of the conservative worldview:

The Conservative Worldview

In the conservative worldview, it is assumed that the world is, and always will be, a dangerous and difficult place. It is a competitive world and there will always be winners and losers. Children are naturally bad since they want to do what feels good, not what is moral, so they have to be made good by being taught discipline. There is tangible evil in the world and to stand up to evil, one must be morally strong, or "disciplined."

The Strict Father Family

The father's job is to protect and support the family. Children are to respect and obey him. The father's moral duty is to teach his children right from wrong, with punishment that is typically physical and can be painful when they do wrong. It is assumed that parental discipline in childhood is required to develop the internal discipline that adults will need in order to be moral and to succeed. Morality and success are linked through discipline. This focus on discipline is seen as a form of love—"tough love."

The mother is in the background, not strong enough to protect and support the family or fully discipline the children on her own. Her job is to uphold the authority of the father and to care for and comfort the children. As a "mommy," she tends to be overly soft-hearted and might well coddle or spoil the child. The father must make sure this does not happen, lest the children become weak and dependent.

Competition is necessary for discipline. Children are to become self-reliant through discipline and the pursuit of self-interest. Those who succeed as adults are the good (moral) people and parents are not to "meddle" in their lives. Those children who remain dependent—who were spoiled, overly willful, or recalcitrant—undergo further discipline or are turned out to face the discipline of the outside world.

When everyone is acting morally and responsibly, seeking their own self-interest in a self-disciplined fashion, everyone benefits. Thus, instilling morality and discipline in your children is also acting for the good of society as a whole.

Strict Morality

In Strict Morality, the Strict Father is the Moral Authority, determining right from wrong, and protecting the family from a world that is chaotic and threatening. Evil is a major force in the world that must be fought using Moral Strength, which has the highest moral priority. Evil is both external and internal. Internal evil is fought with self-discipline and self-denial to achieve "self-control." "Weakness," and the tolerance of it, is immoral since it implies being unable to stand up to evil. Punishment is required to balance the moral books: If you do wrong, you must suffer a negative consequence.

Competition is necessary for a moral world; without it, people would not have to develop discipline and so would not become moral beings. Worldly success is an indicator of sufficient moral strength; lack of success suggests lack of sufficient discipline. Dependency is immoral. The undisciplined will be weak and poor, and deservedly so.

Strict Father Morality demonstrates a natural Moral Order: Those who are moral should be in power. The Moral Order legitimizes traditional power relations as being natural, determining a hierarchy of Moral Authority: God above Man; Man above Nature; Adults above Children; Western Culture above Non-western Culture; America above other nations. (There are other traditional aspects of the Moral Order that are less accepted than they used to be: Straights above Gays; Christians above non-Christians; Men above Women; White above Non-whites.)

Since to participate in the promotion or preservation of immorality is itself immoral, it is a moral requirement to eradicate immorality—through "tough love" if possible but through punishment if necessary—in every aspect of life, both public and private, domestic and foreign.

Conservative Politics

The Role of Government: When translated into politics, the government metaphorically becomes the Strict Father. The citizens are children of two kinds: the mature, successfully disciplined, and self-reliant ones (read: wealthy businesses and individuals), whom the government should not meddle with; and the whining, undisciplined, dependent ones who must never be coddled. Just as in the family, the government must be an instrument of Moral Authority, upholding and extending policies that express Moral Strength.

The role of government is to:

    * Protect the country and its interests in a dangerous world by maximizing military and political strength;
    * Promote unimpeded competitive economic activity so that both the disciplined moral people and the undisciplined immoral ones are able to receive what they each deserve, based on their own choices;
    * Maintain order and discipline, through severe enforcement of the rules if necessary.

      Foreign Policy: America is seen as more moral than other nations, and hence more deserving of power. As the ultimate Moral Authority, the U.S. does not need advice and should not yield to other nations who are less wise and less moral. The government should maintain its sovereignty and impose its moral authority everywhere it can while seeking its self-interest, defined as its economic self-interest and its military strength (i.e., to provide one's "family"—nation—with the means for existence, fulfillment, and protection).

      The Economy and Business: Promoting unimpeded economic activity means favoring those who control wealth and power, who are seen as the "best people," over those who are unsuccessful, who are seen as morally weak. Corporations are more heavily favored than non-corporate businesses, because big businesses (like wealthy people) have gotten big precisely through working hard and being disciplined. The Strict Father worldview also favors removing government regulations, because they get in the way of those who are disciplined and seeking their self-interest so as to become self-reliant. "The market" is the mechanism by which the disciplined people become self-reliant, and wealth is a measure of discipline. Competitive markets separate winners and losers, rewarding those who are successful, and punishing those who are not. Furthermore, when everyone maximizes his or her own self-interest, the self-interest of all is collectively maximized; therefore, working toward one's own self-interest is both moral and beneficial to others.

      Taxes: The best citizens are those who are successful and moral, and should be rewarded with lower taxes. Taxes beyond the minimum needed for government take away from the good, disciplined people the rewards they have earned and spend it on those who have not earned it and so do not deserve it. Progressive taxation is seen as a punishment for being a good person, and so is immoral.

      Social programs: Since discipline is paramount, social programs "spoil" people by giving them things they haven't earned and keeping them dependent. Social programs are immoral and are to be eliminated in favor of forcing people to be disciplined and self-reliant. It is immoral to coddle immoral people.

      Women's Role: The Strict Father, as the Moral Authority, is responsible for controlling the women in the family. He has this role because of the Moral Order: men, being higher in the Moral Order than women, are responsible for protecting women (and others weaker than themselves). The Moral Order ranking also places men in a higher moral position, which means that they are responsible for instilling and monitoring discipline in those lower in the Moral Order. Banning abortion, getting rid of sex education, and restricting access to women's reproductive health facilities thus assert the strict father's proper control over women's lives.

      Nature: Since the Moral Order stipulates that human beings are superior to animals and plants and have dominion over the natural world, the natural environment is seen as a resource to be exploited for people's self-interest and business profit. Environmentalism gets in the way of this and is actively fought. This is why conservatives called their anti-environmentalist movement the "Wise Use" movement—and meant it, from their point of view.

The Conservative Worldview,
The Rockridge Institute

Morality based on the experience or intuition of interconnectedness has broad political implications. It is at the heart of the progressive worldview, founded on the human capacity for empathy.

The Progressive Worldview:
The Nurturant Parent Family Model

In the Nurturant Parent family, it is assumed that the world is basically good. And, however dangerous and difficult the world may be at present, it can be made better, and it is your responsibility to help make it better.  Correspondingly, children are born good, and parents can make them better, and it is their responsibility to do so.  Both parents (if there are two) are responsible for running the household and raising the children, although they may divide their activities.  The parents' job is to be responsive to their children, nurture them, and raise their children to nurture others. Nurturance requires empathy and responsibility.

Nurturant Morality

In the Nurturant Parent family, the highest moral values are Empathy and Responsibility. Effective nurturing requires empathy, which is feeling what someone else feels—parents have to figure out what all their baby's cries mean in order to take care of him or her.  Responsibility is critical, since being a good nurturer means being responsible not only for looking after the well-being of others, but also being responsible to ourselves so that we can take care of others.  Nurturant parents raise children to be empathetic toward others, responsible to themselves, and responsible to others who are or will be in their care. Empathy connects us to other people in our families, our neighborhoods, and in the larger world.  Being responsible to others and oneself requires cooperation.  In society, nurturant morality is expressed as social responsibility.  This requires cooperation rather than competition, and a recognition of interdependence.

The Progressive Value System:  How the values relate to one another

Nurturant morality is based on a fundamental ethic of care that says:  Help, Don't Harm.  From the central values of Empathy and Responsibility, the ethic of care leads naturally to the following set of values that characterizes the Nurturant Parent family:

    * Strength:  You have to be strong and competent to carry out your responsibilities. 
    * Safety and Protection:  A nurturing parent wants his/her family to be safe, which requires that they protect them, and themselves, from harm.  The motivation to protect others comes from empathy, and the ability to do so comes from responsibility and strength.
    * Fulfillment in Life:  When we empathize with others and take care of them responsibly, we desire their well-being, and want their dreams to come true.  Happy and fulfilled people want to see others happy and fulfilled. Correspondingly, unhappy, unfulfilled people tend not to want others to be happier than they are.  It is, therefore, a moral requirement to be a happy, fulfilled person.
    * Fairness:  When we care for others, we want to treat them fairly, help them to treat others fairly, and ensure that others do treat them fairly.
    * Freedom:  Freedom allows us to meet our needs, fulfill our potential, realize our dreams, and help others to do so as well.
    * Opportunity:  Caring for others means ensuring they have opportunities—to achieve fulfillment in life, to be treated fairly, and to be able to care for themselves and others.
    * Prosperity:  Without prosperity, there can be no opportunity.
    * Community:  Healthy communities are based on cooperation, honesty, trust, and open communication.
    * Cooperation:  Responsibility to others requires cooperation and empathy. Cooperation is the basis for community, and requires open communication, honesty and trust.
    * Trust:  Trust is needed for open communication and cooperation.  We are trustworthy when we treat others fairly and responsibly.
    * Honesty:   Honesty is the hallmark of open communication, and is necessary for trust and cooperation.
    * Open Communication:  Open communication is at the heart of empathy and responsibility.  To know how to care for others, we must communicate with them to understand their needs.  Cooperation relies on two-way communication.

How Values Shape Progressive Politics

The values inherent in the Nurturant Parent model of the family translate directly to political values.  Progressive political positions are based on a responsive morality that centers around Empathy and Responsibility—responsibility for oneself and social responsibility.  These values are to be promoted in every area of life, both public and private.

For progressives, these values are typically unconscious, but the more we understand them, the more we can articulate and work towards a society that is consistent with and extends our values.

A progressive government expresses progressive values in its goals and policies.  For example:

    * Strength:  A progressive government must be strong enough to carry out progressive goals.
    * The promotion of Safety and Protection for life, health, the environment, and human dignity translate into support for the social safety net, health care, environmental protection laws, and protection offered by the police and military.  Governmental laws and policies ensure protection from unscrupulous businesses, pollution, unsafe products in the home, and unsafe working conditions.
    * Fulfillment in Life is expressed in many ways: by satisfying and profitable work, by lifelong education and learning, and by an appreciation for the arts, music, and culture. This translates into support for our schools and universities, the National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities, and our cultural institutions.  Religious and spiritual fulfillment is supported by our many religious traditions, protected from undue influence by the government.
    * Fairness and Freedom are upheld by our civil liberties, offering equal protection under the law and equal rights for all citizens.  Universal education and health care and programs such as Head Start are all matters of fairness that also advance freedom of opportunity.  A professional, nonpartisan civil service and judiciary support fairness and freedom by preventing corruption, patronage and favoritism in government.
    * Opportunity is critical for fairness and freedom, and to achieve fulfillment in life.  Our nation's public schools and universities provide opportunities for everyone.  Government policies such as Affirmative Action offer opportunity to women and people of color who face unfair disadvantages in society.  Government support of honest business practices, full accounting standards, and anti-trust laws provide the conditions for honest businesspeople to succeed.
    * Prosperity is based on how well our communities are doing, and whether we all have access to good jobs, a good education, and the conditions needed to live healthy and productive lives.  Equal opportunity is important to be able to achieve prosperity.  And prosperity is necessary for opportunity.  This translates into a progressive goal of government to promote widespread prosperity as a form of seeking the common good.  The promotion of general prosperity need not be just a role for the government, but for corporations and businesspeople as well.
    * Community:  Healthy communities are needed for healthy individuals.  Policies that support healthy communities include well-trained and equipped fire fighters and police officers, hospitals and community care clinics, and other institutions that care for people in the community.  Access to Fair Lending Laws, adhering to environmental standards, and sustainable planning and zoning laws all contribute to sound communities.  And, an active civil society is a precondition for a healthy community.
    * Cooperation is a hallmark of healthy communities, where everyone in a community works together to meet shared goals.  Open communication requires cooperation and trust.  In foreign policy, cooperation is expressed in support for the United Nations, diplomacy, and respect for international agreements and treaties.
    * Trust, Honesty and Open Communication are required of an open government that respects its citizens.  Open communication is how policymakers learn about the needs of people in their communities.  Democracy requires a government that is responsive to its citizens.  Regular press conferences, public hearings, and open deliberations by policymakers allow the people to communicate with their elected officials, and foster trust.  The Freedom of Information Act and oversight agencies such as the General Accounting Office ensure the openness, honesty and accountability of the government to the people.

A Progressive View of the Economy

The economy should be a means to these moral ends.  Government should promote an economy that benefits all and functions to promote these values.  The government provides the infrastructure and services needed to enact these values.  Taxes are a means to maintain the quality of our infrastructure so that we can continue to live in a safe, well-ordered, and civilized society.  Taxes are investments in our future.
A Progressive View of the Environment

Humans and the environment nurture each other.  If we want to continue to receive nurturance from the environment, and ensure this nurturance for future generations, we must improve our nurturance of the environment.

A Progressive View of Cultural Support

Art and education are part of self-fulfillment and therefore are moral necessities.

A Progressive View of Foreign Policy

The role of the nation should be to promote cooperation and extend these values to the world.  This comes from caring about the well-being of people in our own and in other countries, recognizing that all nations exist interdependently in one global "society," and, therefore, wanting to cooperate with other nations to solve problems like hunger, disease, oppression of women and exploitation of children, and political strife.

Ultimately, the job of a progressive government is to care for and protect the population, especially those who are helpless; to guarantee democracy (the equal sharing of political power); to promote the well-being of all through cooperation; and to ensure fairness for everyone.  Empathy and responsibility are required to meet all of these goals.  These values are traditional American values, and progressives seek to reinvigorate them in American political life.

The Progressive Worldview
Rockridge Istitute

The Mystical Marriage and Deep Ecology

Man as an organism is to the world outside like a whirlpool is to a river: man and world are a single natural process, but we are behaving as if we were invaders and plunderers in foreign territory. For when the individual is defined and felt as the separate personality or ego, he remains unaware that his actual body is a dancing pattern of energy that simply does not happen by itself. It happens only in concert with myriads of other patterns---called animals, plants, insects, bacteria, minerals, liquids, and gases. The definition of a person and the normal feeling of "I" do not effectively include these relationships. You say, "I came into this world." You didn't; you came out of it, as a branch from a tree."

---Alan Watts,
Does It Matter © 1968, 1969, 1970, p.23

Those who dwell... among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life... Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.

Rachel Carson

Our essential connectedness and interdependence is the ultimate foundation for moral action. Christ's advice: "Love your neighbor as yourself," (Matt 22:39) makes sense only in light of that insight. Moreover, our continuing survival and the survival of our children and grandchildren depends upon either experiencing, intuiting, or having faith in this basic truth. Our sensation of being separate egos enclosed in bags of skin is nothing more than a hallucination.

This hallucination underlies the misuse of technology for the violent subjugation of man's natural environment and, consequently, its eventual destruction.

We are therefore in urgent need of a sense of our own existence which is in accord with the physical facts and which overcomes our feeling of alienation from the universe.

---Alan Watts
The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are (from the preface)


A human being is a part of the whole, called by us Universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest... a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.

---Albert Einstein

According to Genesis, God made human beings to rule over and subdue the earth; but the only way to master Nature is to harmonize with Nature... to play our part in the larger life of the earth. Through us, the Universe is becoming conscious of itself in a unique way. Humans may someday play a directive role in the course of evolution; but in view of the damage that we have already done to the biosphere,* we would be wise to proceed with extreme caution. Humanity is in its reckless adolescence, and if we hope to suvive as a species, we will have to find some way to make ourselves happy without plundering the earth and turning it into garbage.* We will have to find some way to see the humor in our differences, leave our war machines to rust, and use our talents to augment the psychic unfolding of the whole human community, in harmony with nature.

We need to incorporate a more biocentric, ecological perspective in our philosophies and religions. To that end, the Song of Songs reminds us that the earth is our own body; and although this message is conveyed poetically, it is literally true: the toxins that we dump into the earth's circulatory system end up in our own.* Likewise there is an ecosystem of social and psychological interdependencies and "karmic" feedback: The havoc that U.S. backed war profiteers have wrought on other countries comes back to haunt us in the form of disabled and suicidal vets. At the same time, our domestic economy withers as the life is sucked out of it by a military budget that is out of control.**

The earth is out of balance because humans are out of balance. The central problem is spiritual. People are trying to fill a spiritual void with material things. All too often we end up spending money we don't have, for things we don't want, to impress people we don't like. What we really want is a deeper level of experience. Deeper relationships with other people and communion with the creative power of Nature. Mainstream religion has so far failed to enable people to access this deeper level of experience. They turn instead to drugs and alcohol, and allow themselves to be manipulated by the idiot savants of corporatocracy... those who cultivate consumerism, and feed it with plunder from every corner of the globe, without regard for future generations. 

The marriage of heaven and earth involves a transformation of consciousness from an ego-centric to a community and earth-centric mode; or, in the words of historian and social critic, Riane Eisler, from a dominator to a partnership society.* We will know that this wedding is in full swing when harmony becomes a religious and political priority. Only by living in harmony with nature and at peace with each other can we truely marry heaven and earth, and create for ourselves and our children an earthly paradise... a city of God.

So the question must be asked: Is it possible to heal our planet without also rethinking Christianity? There seems to be something in Christianity's DNA that fosters intolerance and war. It is a good and hopeful sign that interest in stewardship is on the rise,** but too many people don't seem to realize that stewardship and war are opposites. War devastates ecosystems. War misallocates vital resources of time, energy, ingenuity, and money.* War for oil is about enriching oil barons and weaponmakers, at a time when our life-support system hangs in the balance, and everything depends on the development of earth friendly alternatives to oil.***

The Song of Songs is relevant to this transition for several reasons. It gives voice to an ancient worldview that comprehended the interconnectedness of people, plants, and animals: a view that is also central to deep ecology, and the mystical traditions of many different religions, including Christianity (Francis of Assisi, for example).

The Song is also relevant, in no small part, because another book of the Bible, the Book of Revelation, has had an inordinate influence on the direction of American politics, tipping the world toward self-destruction.* The philosophies of these two books could hardly be more different... pointing in opposite directions, toward equally possible futures. One connects; the other divides. Not surprisingly, the Book of Revelation is preferred by those who profit from war. The belief that there is only one path to heaven leads inevitably to friction and violence; whereas, religious tolerance sets the stage for an earthly paradise.

The Song of Songs

In the Western spiritual tradition, unitive consciousness... or mystical union... is usually associated with self-denial, contemplative prayer, and meditation. Although officially opposed to Gnosticism, Christianity was strongly influenced and shaped by it. Gnostic Christians believed that this world was created by a lesser god (the god described by the Old Testament) and that our spirits are the sparks of a higher God (Jesus' "heavenly father") that have been degraded and trapped in this material creation... the sublunar realm of the flesh. In reality, liberation is not about spirit escaping "evil" corruptible flesh; it is about transcending one's mental model of the body... one's sense of being stuck in a bag of skin... a single, lonely point of view.

Due to the influence of Gnosticism and Platonic dualism, extreme emphasis has been laid, in the Christian tradition, on the way of renunciation... the via negativa... (austerity, silence, meditation, sensory deprivation), as opposed to the via positiva (which revels in the grand illusion (maya), and relates to the world as an undiscovered part of oneself... tat tvam asi, thou art that).*

The spirit of via positiva is conveyed in this poem by Rabindranath Tagore:

I won't be delivered by renouncing the world
My freedom is found in a thousand bonds of delight.
You fill this vessel to the brim
With color and perfume, my world lights 
Its hundred lamps with your flame
And lays them on the altar of your temple.

No, the doors of my senses will never be shut 
What I see and hear and touch bears your delight 
Until all my illusions turn into illuminations
And all my desires ripen into the fruits of love.

These two paths... the via positiva and the via negativa... actually relate to different phases of a single process: the cycle of separation and reunion. Remember the fountain-like tree mentioned earlier? One phase involves the creation of difference and diversity. Then comes gravitation toward unity, and reunion with the Source. Neither phase is superior to the other; they are yin and yang... anabolism and catabolism. In the cyclical game of hide and seek, getting lost is the prerequisite to being found.

As in Tagore's poem, mystical union in the Song of Solomon is charged with eros, reflecting the author's awareness that it can arise, at times, in a sexual context, as a result of deeply felt, selfless love... which is, after all, a way of transcending one's own narrow sense of self. As Alan Watts pointed out in an exposition on Tantric yoga, love can sometimes sweep away the illusion of separateness:

"in an embrace of this kind, all considerations of time and place, of what and who, drop away" and they discover in themselves "the primordial 'love that makes the world go round.' There is an extraordinary melting sensation... and, 'seeing their eyes reflected in each other's, they realize that there is one Self looking out through both... The conceptual boundary between male and female, self and other, dissolves, and---as every spoke leads to the hub---this particular embrace on the this particular day discloses itself as going on forever, behind the scenes."

--- Alan Watts, On Tantric Yoga
"Erotic Spirituality,"1971, p. 89

On its deepest level, the Song of Songs evokes the profound wedding of heaven and earth that takes place when love dissolves the illusory boundaries of the body, and two lovers open each other to a wider sense of self.

This erotic wedding of spirit and body is vividly conveyed by the Song's most pervasive metaphor, in which the young woman is pictured as a garden, a vineyard, or---as in verses 4:1 through 4:7---a mountainous landscape filled with animal life. This passage suggests a tryst, sub rosa, high on a hill, where the Song's young lovers survey a broad landscape. They see doves, hiding in a thicket; a flock of goats bounding down the mountainside; white ewes rising from a pond; two fawns grazing together in a field of lilies. All of these images are woven together by the Song's Romeo into a poetic vision celebrating his lover's charms. From his intimate perspective, her sensuous curves seem like continuations of the rolling landscape, and he becomes an explorer on "the mountain of myrrh" and "the hill of frankincense." This linking of landscape and bodyscape is more than metaphor. There is a kind of nature mysticism in the Song of Solomon that springs from an ancient and very different way of relating to the earth. In his lover, the Song's Romeo discovers the earth's human heart; he falls in love with Nature's human face and voice.

The Song's inherent mysticism becomes more explicit in verses 4:8 through 5:1. We find them standing together near a mountain peak, in the rocky domain of wild animals ("the mountains of the leopards" and "the lion's dens.") But this is also the domain of gods and goddesses, where panoramic vistas awaken a sense of communion with the divine. Here, in the high places, Moses encountered the sky god, Yahweh; and alters stood here for hundreds years in honor of Yahweh's counterpart---the Hebrew goddess, Asherah---until they were destroyed by her enemies.

Sensing danger in this wilderness, the youth urges his love to return with him to the valley, and after following him down, she merges once again into the landscape. A fresh running stream traces their path from those vistas in the mountains to a secret garden in the valley, bridging the gap between heaven and earth. This stream brings life-giving water from the sky and surges like a fountain in the earth's fertile recesses. ("You are a fountain in the garden, a well of living waters...") As they make love, she is both the "woman in the garden" and the garden itself. Their lovemaking mingles with that of the primordial lovers, Father Sky and Mother earth:

Awake, north wind! 0 south wind, come,
breathe upon my garden,
let its spices stream out.
Let my lover come into his garden
and taste its delicious fruit.

Song of Solomon 4:16 Listen to the music

I have come into my garden,
my sister, my bride,
I have gathered my myrrh and my spices,
I have eaten from the honeycomb,
I have drunk the milk and the wine.

Song of Solomon 5:1 Listen to the music
Translation: Ariel and Chana Bloch

Longing for the most intimate fusion with her lover, her sense of self overflows the illusory boundaries of the body. Her lover is the opening through which she plunges into the ocean of life and consciousness in the garden where they make love. That is to say, she becomes the garden; and this sense of oneness with nature and nature's Source is the foundation of her confidence that "love is stronger than death" (Song 8:6)  Many others have had the same insight:

"The entire universe is a manifestation of our own deeper being. In our being we are naturally one with all. Through relationship we are trying to rediscover that unity... to discover ourselves beyond the boundaries of the physical body."

---David Frawley
"Vedantic Meditation" © 2000, p.57

"Through sacred sexuality, we directly participate in the vastness of being---the mountains, rivers, and animals of the earth, the planets and the stars, and our next door neighbors"

Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi
Yes! Magazine, Winter 1998

"Eros is connective energy par excellence. Through erotic passion we overcome our habitual egoic insularity and reach out into the core of other beings. Blazing eros recognizes no barrier; it is the organic impulse toward wholeness"

---Georg Feuerstein

The Religion of Love and Wonder:
Sex, Drugs, and Sacred Hymns

The Song of Songs was set in its final form some 300 years before the birth of Christ, and it preserves elements that are much older---rooted in a time when our sacred role in the regeneration of life was thought to be the very heart of religion. The earth was perceived as the visible body of the Goddess---the manifest Source of Life. In that context, it would have been quite natural for a young woman who was crossing the border from childhood to motherhood to identify with this maternal Source---to imagine herself as a garden of earthly delights for her lover's pleasure, and to be open to the experience of mystical union with the creative power of the universe. 

In her book, Sacred Pleasure, Riane Eisler pointed out the vast difference between historic and prehistoric views of sexuality. This difference is evident in early Neolithic art, which features numerous images of pregnancy and birth. There are very few scenes of men raping women and killing each other in battle. Eros was regarded as the vitalizing principle of the universe, and the Song of Songs resonates with that ethos. Eisler compares it with the hymns to Inanna, in that it contains:

"important clues to an earlier time when, far from being a male "sex object," woman was seen as the conduit for what in Indian sacred writings is called the kundalini: the powerful divine energy from whence comes both life and bliss."

---Riane Eisler
Sacred Pleasure © 1995, p.68

And let us not overlook the contribution that psychoactive plants may have made to the evolution of our religious sensibilities... a probability that even many critical historians seem to be blind to. See "Biblical Entheogens: a Speculative Hypothesis," by Benny Shanon, and wikipedia's article on entheogens. Other authors have written about Biblical references to "kaneh bosm,"*** including at least one reference in the Song of Songs:

An enclosed garden is my sister, my bride,
a hidden well, a sealed spring.

Your branches are an orchard
of pomegranate trees heavy with fruit,
flowering henna and spikenard,
spikenard and saffron, [kaneh] and cinnamon,
with every tree of frankincense,
myrrh and aloes,
all the rare spices.

Song of Songs 4: 12-14

There are even references, in the Song, to the rite of sacred marriage---an act of sympathetic magic, in which the king and the high-priestess engaged in sexual intercourse in order to aid the regeneration of nature and ensure a bountiful harvest:

Come out, O daughters of Zion,
and gaze at Solomon the King!
See the crown his mother set on his head
on the day of his wedding,
the day of his heart's great joy.

---Song of Solomon 3:11

Notice that it is Solomon's mother who provides the crown, and his marriage which provides the occassion for coronation. In the matriarchal societies of the ancient Near East, and during the transition to patriarchy, kingship was conferred by wedding the high priestess, which was a symbolic way of wedding the Earth herself---the maternal Source of life. However, there doesn't seem to be any consensus among scholars regarding the significance of such apparent references to the sacred marriage rite:

...scholars have associated the Song with Near Eastern fertility rites that were celebrated with music and ecstatic poetry in Sumer from the third millennium BCE, and later adopted by the Akkadians, the Canaanites, and, some believe, the ancient Hebrews. Each spring the king and a priestess, representing Dumuzi and Inanna (Tammuz and Ishtar), would participate in this "sacred marriage rite" for the purpose of restoring life to nature. Some of the images and motifs in the ancient Mesopotamian poems, detached from their original ritual context, may indeed have left their traces on the Song; an example of such an image is "Your right hand you have placed on my vulva, / Your left stroked my head." But fertility, the central concern of the cultic rite, is of no concern in the Song. And since the prophets emphatically denounced the fertility rites of Israel's neighbors, it is unlikely that the Song would have found its way into the canon if it had anything to do with the copulation of the gods; human kisses were problem enough for the rabbis.

---Ariel and Chana Bloch
The Song of Songs: A New Translation, © 1995, p. 34

It seems to me that this assessment overlooks the possibility that the Song was included in the canon... despite its roots in polytheistic fertility rites... because the rabbis had such confidence in their own allegorical sublimations. Its pagan roots have been as effectively obfuscated as its eroticism. Also, there is a growing body of evidence that Israel's monotheism was a much later development than is generally supposed. See, for example: Official Religion and Popular Religion in Pre-Exilic Ancient Israel, by Jacques Berlinerblau. Also see the PBS docudrama, Empires: Kingdom of David: The Saga of the Israelites. In the words of historian, Robert M. Price:

...we are often told that Jews would never have borrowed pagan mythemes even if they were available, since Jews were staunch monotheists. This line of reasoning assumes the same error that vitiates Alfred Edersheim's, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, the uncritical belief that Jews and Judaism in the first century were the same as they would be two and three centuries later, as if Jesus and the Pharisees alike were all Mishnaic, Rabbinic Jews. This is far from the truth, as Jewish scholars now recognize. Just as Christian apologists want to make us think that Jesus, Peter, and Paul all believed in Chalcedonian orthodoxy, traditional Rabbinic Judaism recast first century CE Judaism in is own image. But the sources do not bear these reconstructions out.

Keep in mind that conservative apologists are also dogmatically opposed to the critical view that Israelite religion originated amid animism and polytheism. Fundamentalists prefer the traditional theological party line that Moses was already a monotheist. But critical scholarship reveals that monotheism first popped up among Jews in the time of Jeremiah and the Second Isaiah, during and after the Babylonian Exile. And even then it was a distinct minority view. It took centuries before it dominated Jewish belief. We read in 2 Maccabdees 12:30 how Jewish freedom fighters against the pagan Seleucids wore amulets of the Semitic gods of Jaffa into battle!

---Robert M. Price
The Da Vinci Fraud, © 2005, p. 254

In The Da Vinci Fraud: Why the Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction, Price argues that efforts were made by the gospel writers to obscure the real significance of Mary Magdalene. There are strong similarities between the gospel accounts of Mary Magdalene's meeting with the resurrected Jesus, and the numerous ancient stories of dying and rising saviors who are resurrected by their consorts...

Baal is rescued by Anath, Osiris by Isis, Dionysus by Athena (or Semele, Persephone, or someone else in various versions), Attis by Cybele, Adonis by Aphrodite, Tammuz by Ishtar.

According to Price, the mysterious woman with the alabaster jar who prepares Jesus for burial by anointing him with expensive perfume, is most likely Mary Magdalene. Although the patriarchal revision of this mytheme, has shifted the anointing scene out of its logical context, and the dead god's consort has been divested of her power to restore life, the usual pattern is still discernable. She is, after all, the one who ultimately searches for his body with the intention of anointing it for burial; and like the many goddesses mentioned above, her search for her lover's body ultimately results in... or, at least, coincides with... his resurrection. 

Further support for this interpretation can be found in Matt. 26:13 and Mark 14:9: After being anointed for burial (while still alive, oddly enough) Jesus says, "wherever this gospel is proclaimed throughout the world, what she has done will be told in memory of her." It is hard to imagine a higher recommendation, and yet this singular woman is never named!

The whole idea of memorializing the woman demands that her name be included. Thus originally it must have been. But it has subsequently been removed as part of the reactional effort to displace and disguise the original point. For the same reason, we might suspect, the anointing has been credited instead to Mary of Bethany in John 12:1-3 and to an unnamed "sinner" in Luke's wholly rewritten version (7:36-38). Her original identity may be hinted soon after, in the beginning of the very next chapter, when Mary Magdalene is introduced in Luke 8:2. John has simply switched Marys. But it must have been Mary Magdalene, whom we are told brought ointment to the tomb to do precisely what we are saying she did on that occasion: anoint the body... and, like Isis, bring it back ot life...

[The evangelists] have inherited a version... of the story in which the older, mythic character of it has been largely effaced. But that earlier version can still be plausibly discovered and reconstructed. And when we do, we discover Mary Magdalene as the Christian goddess of the resurrection, the Anastasis.

In ancient mythology, the dying and rising god was always associated with the cycle of the seasons... the disappearance and return of vegetation. Traces of Tammuz can be found in the Song of Songs, for example, where the young woman's mysterious, unnamed lover is represented as the harbinger of spring.

Look, winter is over, 
the rains are done,
wildflowers spring up in the fields.
Now is the time of the nightingale.
In every meadow you hear
the song of the turtledove.

The fig tree has sweetened 
its new green fruit
and the young budded vines smell spicy.
Hurry, my love, my friend
come away.

The idea that sexual intercourse, i.e. hieros gamos, can exert a magical power over plants seems naive and superstitious in this scientific age. Nevertheless, the rite was, in a way, prophetic. Our aid in the cycle of regeneration is now crucial for the well-being of all life on this planet. We need to rediscover that the Earth is our own body. Our health and viability as a species are inseparably linked with the integrity of the biosphere. The poisons that we dump into the Earth's circulatory system, eventually end up in our own. For our own sake, and for the sake of our children and grandchildren, we need to be actively engaged in preserving and repairing Earth's ecosystems. The greatest obstacles to this vital work are war and the reckless exploitation of natural resources and labor.

Make Love, Not War

"The mystic, magus and poet of the past considered our relationship with nature as a loving one---not merely a sentimental appreciation on the part of humans, but rather a kinship and attraction among all elements. Eros keeps the planets in orbit, the seasons on time, and the organs of the body in harmony"

---Thomas Moore
Natural Spirituality

"The ecological spirituality called for today is founded in a deep recognition of the unity of life---a unity that is celebrated in the act of love"

"we share our somatic reality with countless other beings with whom we are interconnected and interdependent. Contemporary spirituality is, then, meaningful only to the degree that it is ecological in the broadest sense of the term."


The Song of Songs is really two love stories: the story of two lovers and the story of their love for the earth. Larry Rasmussen, author of earth Community, Earth Ethics made the same observation:

"Song of Songs," of course, refers to that Earthy little book of the Hebrew Bible where you've got two love stories going on at the same time---you've got this sensuous love between human beings, and then you've got the sensuous love of these passionate souls for the land and its life.

--Larry Rassmussen
The Icon 'Round God's Neck

The depth of our love is being measured on this eve of destruction, as war and ecocide threaten to destroy our children's life-support system. The Earth is a maiden in distress.

"Earth remains our Mother, as God remains our Father, and our Mother will only lay in the Father's arms those who remain true to her. Earth and its distress---that is the Christian's 'Song of Songs.'"

---Dietrich Bonhoeffer
The Foundations of Christian Ethics

"Our religious vocation for the foreseeable future is Earthkeeping. Fidelity to God now expresses itself as fidelity to the Earth."

--Larry Rassmussen

Recently James Hansen, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, and arguably the world's leading researcher on global warming, was interviewed on the television program 60 Minutes. Hansen sees compelling evidence that we have just 10 years to reduce greenhouse gases before global warming reaches a tipping point and becomes unstoppable.

As a government scientist, Hansen is taking a risk. There are things the White House doesn't want you to hear about, but he is determined to say them anyway. "In my more than three decades in the government I've never witnessed such restrictions on the ability of scientists to communicate with the public," he says. "Politicians are rewriting the science."

In several interviews with the New York Times, Hansen stated that officials at NASA headquarters had ordered the public affairs staff to review his coming lectures, interviews, papers, and postings on the Goddard Website. "They feel their job is to be this censor of information going out to the public," he said, and pointed out that this is only the latest in a long series of attempts to muzzle government climatologists. Hansen said he would ignore these restrictions because "public concern is probably the only thing capable of overcoming the special interests that have obfuscated the topic."

Given that global warming is a problem that will not be solved without broad public support and participation, why would the current administration---which claims to be the great defender of our national security---want us to remain ignorant of this threat to our security? And who are the "special interests" that have "obfuscated" this critical issue?

In 1961, the Supreme Commander of the Allied forces in Europe during World War II---Dwight D. Eisenhower---chose the moment of his farewell address, as president of the United States, to warn Americans about the rising power of military-industrial fascism. Nor was Eisenhower the first to sound the alarm. There were other expert witnesses to this danger. Back in 1933, Major General Smedley Butler wrote a searing indictment of the war racket

I helped make Mexico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. In China I helped to see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested.

--- War is a Racket
--- More U.S. interventions

Eisenhower's warning has proven prophetic. Due to the continuing failure of campaign finance reform, and a few stolen elections, the U.S. government is now controlled by what John Perkins refers to as a "corporatocracy": a network of corporations, banks, and U.S.-dominated aid agencies. This takeover has been a long process, under both democratic and republican administrations.* The movie Why We Fight traces the growth of the military-industrial complex from the time of Butler and Eisenhower to the present.

The current "Christian" based administration has shown a preference for physical violence---preemptive war and torture---however, much of US aggression has been economic rather than military.  Read Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, by John Perkins.

Economic hit men," John Perkins writes, "are highly paid professionals who cheat countries around the globe out of trillions of dollars. Their tools include fraudulent financial reports, rigged elections, payoffs, extortion, sex, and murder." John Perkins should know -- he was an economic hit man. His job was to convince countries that are strategically important to the U.S.---from Indonesia to Panama ---to accept enormous loans for infrastructure development, and to make sure that the lucrative projects were contracted to U. S. corporations. Saddled with huge debts, these countries came under the control of the United States government, World Bank, and other U.S.-dominated aid agencies that acted like loan sharks---dictating repayment terms and bullying foreign governments into submission.

The bill for the present trillion dollar orgy of violence in Iraq will be handed to our children and grandchildren*. Their creditors will be foreign banks and governments. What flag will fly from American porches when the bill for this madness comes due? And can those who profit from other people's misery have any genuine interest in a government "of the people, by the people, and for the people." Are the war profiteers and international loan sharks likely to care more about American children than they care about the children of other countries that they have afflicted with debt and poverty?

The first step toward solving a problem is acknowledging the problem. Americans need to wake up and shake off their all-too-often willful ignorance---mollified and mesmerized, as they are, by the bread and circuses of the corporate media. Here are several powerful teaching tools. If you care about what sort of world your grandchildren will inherit, watch these documentaries and recommend them to your friends:

The Ground Truth, An Inconvenient Truth, Why We Fight, The Corporation, Unconstitutional, Jesus CampFast Food Nation, House of War, and Constantine's Sword .

The sweetest wedding music comes after the ceremony: in your lover's cries of pleasure, in the voice of a new baby, and hopefully, in the laughter of healthy children growing up in a world of peace and prosperity. But, as long as the U.S. government continues to beat ploughshares into swords ---cutting social services and increasing defense spending*---our once bright future will seem more and more like an impossible dream. Where is the outrage among people of faith against the theft of trillions of dollars from the poor and the middle class to prosecute a rich man's war?

Many of our religious institutions have been co-opted, lulled, or otherwise rendered ineffective by the corporate "bread and circuses" media. (I have to laugh every time someone refers to the voice of corporatocracy as the "liberal" media. If it is so liberal, where are the articulate voices of the Peace movement? People like Dennis Kucinich and organizations like American Friends, Amnesty International, Sojourners, and Pax Christi. How often do we see representatives from these organizations on tv? When has the mainstream media ever asked for their opinions on the eve of war? Almost never, if at all. This is a simple, easy to grasp measure of the extent to which most people's perceptions have been managed by powers that are not working in their best interest. Likewise, we are subjected to hourly news reports on the well-being of the stock market. What about the well-being of ordinary workers and organized labor? (Take a look at Norman Solomon's article: What If We Didn't Need Labor Day?)

One small corporate compromise sustaining the illusion of a free press is the PBS NOW series (always in danger of being cut back or eliminated), which recently did a story on Christian leaders who are trying to reduce tensions and start a dialogue with Iran, at a time when President Bush has declared that "no options---including military options---are off the table," in the effort to stop Iran from joining the same nuclear club that the U.S. belongs to, along with several of Iran's neighbors.

In spite of the valiant efforts of progressive media and enlightened religious leaders, many Christians still do not understand how they are being manipulated to gain their support for war and the world-wide exploitation of resources and labor. If we want peace and prosperity for our children and grandchildren, we will have to be able to identify the forces that are working against this pleasant prospect.

For the beneficiaries of corporatocracy, the present alliance with religious fundamentalism is a cynical marriage of convenience. In exchange for unrestrained freedom to trash the planet and exploit labor ("free trade"), they promise to implement the Christian Right's social agenda, which revolves around the divisive and emotionally charged issues of abortion and gay rights. "Divide and conquer" is the inevitable strategy of the privleged few against the lower classes. Mesmerized by these issues, the Right has made it possible for war profiteers to steal trillions from the poor and the middle class. Ironically, Jesus was a passionate champion of the poor; but search the sayings attributed to him, and you will find not a single word against homosexuality.

The greatest irony of our times is that "pro-life/pro-war" anti-abortionists have been helping to bring about the abortion of all life on this planet. And judging from the popularity of Tim LaHay's Left Behind series and Hal Lindsey's Late Great Planet Earth, a surprising number of true believers actually welcome this outcome, imagining that they will applaud God's wrath from the gates of heaven. (Read: Lobbying for Armageddon by Sarah Posner.) This is what happens when dishonest leaders preside over a militaristic culture of unquestioning obedience to authority. More important than the quality of their grandchildren's lives, apparently, is the preservation of a sense of superiority, as they transpose the primitive game of religious one-upmanship into the modern world of high-tech weapons.

"The only people on earth, who do not see Christ and his teachings as nonviolent are Christians."

---Mohandas Gandhi

To be sure, there are some who see through the false piety and the flag waving of the present leadership (Jim Wallis and Sojourners, among Evangelicals, for example; Pax Christi and Maryknoll, among Catholics; and of course, the Religious Society of Friends). Unfortunately, many still do not. What will it take to wake them up? For four years now, pro-war Christians have been supporting our troops by supporting the businesses that thrive on their blood; and our self-proclaimed "Christian" political leaders are setting the stage for yet another war with Iran. How can we explain this widespread susceptibility to manipulation by corporate war-profiteers? Apart from the power of the corporate media to distract and delude, is there something in Christianity's DNA that makes this manipulation possible?

Pro-life/Pro-War Chrisitanity?

Pro-life/pro-war Christianity is largely the result of fundamental contradictions and mixed messages in the biblical portrayal of Jesus: Is Jesus a Prince of Peace, as portrayed in the sermon on the mount, or a god of war, as portrayed in the book of Revelation? The same man who said, "Blessed are the peacemakers," (Matthew 5:9) and "Put your sword back in its place...for all who draw the sword will die by the sword," (Matthew 26:50-52) is also said to have said:

Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the Earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.

---Matthew 10:34

I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

---John 14:6

...those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them... bring them here and kill them in front of me.

---Luke 19:27

If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town. I tell you the truth, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.

---Matthew 10:14-15

I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God."

---Luke 9:26-27

From these uncompromising and urgent prophecies, it is a short step to the psychedelic predictions of the book of Revelation, in which Jesus opens seven seals and looses all manner of destructive forces on the Earth. In the last days, according to Revelation, Jesus will come "like a son of man, with a crown of gold on his head and a sharp sickle in his hand." With help from the angels of death, Earth's "ripened grapes" will be harvested and thrown into the "the great winepress of God's wrath." Out of Christ's mouth will come “a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations.” He will rule the nations "with an iron scepter," and tread "the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. Blood will flow out of this winepress "rising as high as the horses' bridles for a distance of 1,600 stadia." (Revelation 14:19 - 20 and 19:15)

This portrayal of Jesus in Revelation is very much in line with the portrayal of Yahweh in the Old Testament:

...in the cities of the nations the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. Completely destroy [your enemies] as the Lord your God has commanded you. Otherwise, they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshiping their gods, and you will sin against the Lord your God.

Deuteronomy 20:16-18

The author of this passage ascribes these words to God, but it should be obvious to anyone who hasn't had their common sense educated out of them in Sunday school or seminary that this is nothing more than a projection of human greed and malice. Only lesser gods need armies to plunder and kill for them.

Bible Hawks And Doves

The Bible is a chronicle of our ancestor's spiritual journey as they struggled with the mystery of our unfolding relationship with God. Both hawks and doves have had a hand in its construction. As a result, it presents us with contradictory images of God: Should we love our enemies or hate them? And why would Jesus counsel us to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44) if he hates his own enemies and intends to condemn them to an everlasting "lake of fire?" (Revelation 19:20, 20:10, 20:14-15, 21:8)

Unfortunately, it is Revelation that has the last word in the Bible, confusing the Prince of Peace with the god of war, and conjuring a vision of violent retribution that many people feel is finally upon us. Jesus is seen returning to the Earth, but "no more Mr. Nice Guy." See the movie Jesus Camp for a glimpse of the mindset of militant Christianity. As voters and soldiers, these victims of child abuse will prove useful in the corporatocracy's grand plan for the world-wide exploitation of land and labor. (Which may not be entirely coincidental: Read The Christian Right and the Rise of American Fascism, by Chris Hedges.)

Jesus and the Princes of this World

The evolution of militant Christianity began when the first generation of Jewish Christians was scattered during the Roman conquest of Jerusalem, in 70 C.E. Pacifistic Jewish Christianity fled to the East and gradually faded into the mist of time, possibly influencing or becoming absorbed into Islamic mysticism (Sufism). But the story of Jesus (now severed from those who knew him best---his own family and friends) was adopted and co-opted, and filtered through a wide array of gentile traditions. By the fourth century, the stories, interpretions, and heresies were so multifarious---and Christian factions so contentious---that it was necessary for the emperor Constantine to convene the first council of Nicea, to establish a common creed and canon. (Read, "When Jesus Became God," by Richard E. Rubenstein)

Not surprisingly, Constantine and his successors presided over the selection of a canon that was compatible with the needs of an imperial state. "The prince of this world," with his accomplices and successors, yoked Jesus and the Hebrew god of war to the military might of Rome. The Book of Revelation was placed on a par with the Sermon on the Mount and other pacifist texts in the gospels; and the result is a patchwork of sense and nonsense: a cosmology in which an omnipotent and omniscient god causes or "allows" evil people to be born, knowing that they will eventually be consigned, by his own law, to everlasting torment in a "lake of fire."---all the while commanding us to love our enemies.

Painted Windows / Models of God

A university professor went to visit a famous Zen master. While the master quietly served tea, the professor talked about Zen. The master poured the visitor's cup to the brim, and then kept pouring. The professor watched the overflowing cup until he could no longer restrain himself. "It's overfull! No more will go in!" the professor blurted. "You are like this cup," the master replied, "How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup."

---Nan-in, 1868-1912

Imagine a landscape painted on a window. The painted landscape prevents us from seeing the real landscape on the other side of the glass. Likewise, our mental models of God create the illusion that we've got God all figured out. They prevent us from entering more deeply into the mystery of our relationship with the Source of our own life and consciousness.

In his book, American Theocracy, Kevin Phillips has documented the Religious Right's efforts to circumvent the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. In view of this aspiration, and the Right's already considerable influence on American government (lending massive support for the war in Iraq) a critical examination of fundamentalist theology is entirely in order. So, consider for a moment the Southern Baptist theory of the attributes of God:

There is one and only one living and true God. He is an intelligent, spiritual, and personal Being, the Creator, Redeemer, Preserver, and Ruler of the universe. God is infinite in holiness and all other perfections. God is all powerful and all knowing; and His perfect knowledge extends to all things, past, present, and future, including the future decisions of His free creatures. To Him we owe the highest love, reverence, and obedience. The eternal triune God reveals Himself to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, with distinct personal attributes, but without division of nature, essence, or being.

The Baptist Faith and Message

This is an inspiring vision. But the devil, as they say, is in the details. All of these divine attributes are attenuated or flatly contradicted as soon as theologians start talking about salvation and the nature of our relationship to God. For starters, God is already considerably diminished by "his" confinement to the masculine gender. It isn't really clear in what sense a pure spirit can be masculine, but in whatever sense that is, it is a limitation. Can God not see the world from a woman's point of view? Then "he" is not all-knowing.

An even greater limitation on God's knowledge and power is implied by the common belief that God is wholly transcendent... that there is a vast unbridgeable gulf between God and Man. One implication of this belief is that God can know us only as objects. "He" can supposedly read your mind and know your heart, but cannot see the world exactly as you see it, through your unique mixture of knowledge and ignorance. The notion of omniscience is inherently paradoxical. If God's "perfect knowledge extends to all things, past, present, and future," "he" can never know the common human experience of suspense and surprise. "He" can never hear a joke the way you hear it, for example, because "he" already knows the punchline. Thus a vast realm of experience is inaccessible to God.

On the other hand, if the Source of life and consciousness is somehow immanent in Creation, and continuous with all the beings that it animates and illuminates, then the fundamentalist interpretation of "I am the vine, you are the branches" needs to be revised. And I would suggest that the revisionists look to Christian mystics like Meister Eckhart (and the great mystics of other spiritual traditions) for some help with this revision:

The knower and the known are one. Simple people imagine that they should see God as if he stood there and they here. This is not so. God and I, we are one in knowledge.

God is nearer to me than I am to myself.

--Meister Eckhart

Our relationship with God, like our relationship with our own bodies, is mysterious and paradoxical. People often behave as if they are their bodies, even though our bodies are marvelously complex systems, over which we have only superficial control, and even though they believe that the soul is more important than the body, and survives the body's death.

But to be immersed in a body is to be immersed in God's active intelligence. So the question arises: where do we end, and where does God begin? Do we really know who and what we are? The ego is only the tip of an iceberg. There is, in our minds, a vast uncharted realm of dreams, memories, and unconscious thought processes. Judging from the mystical experiences described by the pioneers of human consciousness, the ego is nothing more---and nothing less---than an epiphenomenon of God's vast intelligence: a mental model of one small piece of the universal body. But like wavy glass, the body-centered ego distorts our view of reality. We are like blocks of ice floating in an ocean of consciousness. Somehow we've got the idea that we are nothing other than the crystallized water... utterly discontinuous with the ocean. But the difference between water and ice is one of mode, not substance... they are variations on the same theme. Ice is crystallized water. Likewise, ego is a wrinkle in Universal Consciousness. Like Celtic knots in an endless rope, our senses and our nervous systems create the illusion that we are separate beings focused in single points of view. But according to the mystics, the bodycentered ego is only an epiphenomenon of Universal Consciousness as it explores the limitations of time and space. Might it be, to a God who is almost unlimited, that the illusion of limitation is an extremely interesting phenomenon? Might it be, as William Blake said, that "Eternity is in love with the productions of time." Or, to extend the metaphor, that light is in love with all the colors of the rainbow... its own inherent possibilities.

Might it be that the fountain of infinite possiblities is in love with all the different ways of looking at itself... an eternal cascade of different points of view. Unfortunately, in mainstream Christian theology our limitations are characterized as imperfections and sins. According to Paul (Romans 3: 23) for example, "all fall short of the glory of God", which is rather like saying that all the colors of the rainbow are merely imperfections of pure, undifferentiated light.

Fundamentalist theory holds that the source of life animates and illuminates from outside, like the Sun above the Earth. But when theologians start talking about salvation, and the nature of our relationship to God, their theory is fraught with contradictions:

The Fall of Man and God

According to the salvation narrative, God wanted to create a world in which people would freely choose to follow his laws. Given that God's "perfect knowledge extends to all things, past, present, and future, including the future decisions of His free creatures," "he" must have known that Adam and Eve were the wrong people for the job. And yet "he" created them anyway. The obvious question is, if God is all-powerful, and already knows ahead of time which people will do the right thing, why not bring only those people into existence? 

Bear in mind that, according to the story, God had already created a heavenly kingdom replete with angelic beings who, until Lucifer's rebellion, freely chose to do whatever God thought was right. There again, the obvious question is: if God is all-powerful, and already knows ahead of time which angels will do the right thing, why not bring only those angels into existence? If God brought Lucifer into existence knowing that Lucifer would rebel, isn't God the ultimate source of evil?

According to Genesis, God provided Adam and Eve with a beautiful garden, and showed them which plants were good to eat and which were bad.  We are talking about the time before the Fall here, and already there is good and evil in the world: good plants and bad plants. But if God is good, why would "he" put bad plants in Adam and Eve's garden? 

Or was it Lucifer who put them there? In which case, we are brought back to the question: why would God bring Lucifer into existence, knowing that he would subvert Creation? Did God have no choice? Then God is not omnipotent. Did God need to test us, to see who would be good and who would be bad? Then God is not omniscient. 

And where, we might wonder, was God when Eve was being tempted by Satan? What sort of father would stand by and watch while his naive and inexperienced daughter was being misled by the slickest liar in the Universe? What bible-believing father would stand by idly while his fourteen-year-old was being seduced by a sexual predator? And who would accept the excuse that he was merely allowing her to exercise her judgement and free will, to see if she would guard her virtue or choose to complicate her life by having a child out of wedlock with an irresponsible scoundrel? Would it not be shameful for this father to lie about his negligence and blame everything on the girl? Even cast her out of his house? As God is said to have cast Eve out of the Garden of Eden?

And in what sense was Eve making a "free" choice, if she had no idea what she was choosing between? Having lived all her life in Paradise, could she have any clear idea of the consequences of her actions?

To further strain credibility, the salvation theory postulates that God punishes children for their parent's sins:

You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the Earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me.

Exodus 20:5-6 and Dt 5:9

The most consequential application of this principle is found in Genesis, where human suffering is construed as a punishment for Adam and Eve's disobedience:

To the woman [God] said, "I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you."

To Adam he said, "Because you listened to your wife... Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground..."

Genesis 3:16-19

Does God punish children for their parent's sins? Would anyone in their right mind want to incoporate this principal into our own system of justice? And, if not, why do people continue to ascribe this injustice to God?

Presumably an all-powerful God could create a natural system in which sinfulness is not transmitted from parent to child; but according to Augustinian Christian theory, because of Adam and Eve's disobedience, all people are born with an irresistable tendency to sin, and in fact no one escapes it. In the fundamentalist version of God's value system, the magnitude of a sin is irrelevant. It doesn't matter if you are a mass murderer, a petty thief, or just rude to your tv, "the wages of sin is death." (Romans 6:23) And it doesn't matter what wonderful things you do to make the world a better place, redemption is possible only through faith. If you don't believe in Jesus, you are headed for hell:

God says that every person that has ever lived is a sinner, and any sin separates us from God.

The Plan of Salvation

Salvation involves the redemption of the whole man, and is offered freely to all who accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, who by His own blood obtained eternal redemption for the believer.


The unrighteous will be consigned to Hell, the place of everlasting punishment.

surpriseLast Things

...the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars---their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.

Revelation 21: 8

The Courting Phase: Jesus Loves You

Prospective converts to Christian fundamentalism are courted with glowing assurances of Jesus' love:

According to man's rules, people should be punished or rewarded according to how good they are, and it might be hard for you to understand how Jesus could love you when other people don't seem to. But I have great news for you! Jesus DOES love you! More than you can ever imagine! And there's nothing you can do to make him stop!

How to Become A Christian

Despite this profession of love, God supposedly sets an arbitrary limit on the time frame for redemption---as if patience is not one of his "infinite perfections." Salvation theory postulates that, even though God loves us "more than we can ever imagine," "he" gives us only one chance in all eternity to do the right thing. If we blow it, we will be horribly tortured forever. Presumably, if God is all-powerful, "he" could give us another chance if "he" wanted to, but apparently---even though Jesus loves us so much that "there is nothing we can do to make *him stop"---God simply doesn't want to. 

According to salvation theory, we are saved by faith, not works; so, for example, you can be the most ruthless slave owner or sweatshop industrialist on the planet, and still be saved. No need to change the way you do business: just "believe on Jesus." It is easy to see why this version of Christianity has been so popular south of the Mason-Dixon line. Southern preachers, serving the status quo, found ways to rationalize bigotry and reconcile slavery with scripture. Historian and social critic Kevin Phillips has astutely connected the dots:

"Economic conservatives often warm to sects in which a preoccupation with personal salvation turns lower-income persons away from distracting visions of economic and social reform."

---Kevin Phillips, American Theocracy © 2006, p.117

All we have to do to be saved is believe the salvation story, and not probe too deeply into the contradictions inherent in the fundamentalist model of God. All we have to do to be saved is believe that there is a vast gulf between ourselves and our Maker; and that we, and our ancestors, have done something terrible to make ourselves unworthy of eternal life:

"Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner and I do not deserve eternal life. But, I believe You died and rose from the grave to purchase a place in heaven for me. Jesus, come into my life, take control of my life, forgive my sins and save me. I am now placing my trust in You alone for my salvation and I accept your free gift of eternal life."

How to Become A Christian

All we have to do to be saved is believe that Jesus died in our place for our sins. Hmmm...

Imagine that you are travelling abroad, and one day you find yourself watching the trial of a woman who has stolen a small amount money. In the country where this trial takes place, the punishment for stealing is death, and the jury delivers a guilty verdict. Suddenly, a young man steps forward and offers to die in the woman's place. Strange to say, the judge agrees, and the man is led away to his execution. Later you discover that this brave and generous young man was the judge's own son, and that both he and his father were the legislators who drafted this country's harsh laws (where... by comparison with 20th century American law, and community standards... the punishment is out of all proportion to the crime). Still later, you discover that our hero didn't really die at all. After being beaten within an inch of his life, he fully recovered in three short days. 

Reason rebels against such nonsense, but this is an accurate synopsis of Christian salvation theory (soteriology)... the theory that has dominated Western culture for nearly 2000 years, and motivated the hubris of manifest destiny and the missionary zeal of Christian capitalism.

Here is a similar metaphor from historian, Earl Doherty, author of The Jesus Puzzle, which makes the same point. This is from his review of Mel Gibson's movie, The Passion of Christ:

What are we to make of the juxtaposition of God’s requirement of this barbarous act with his directive that we should “love one another”? Gibson actually intercuts the two elements within the film. Jesus, through the one eye left to him that has not been swollen shut from the beating he has received, sees things along the road to death that prompt him to recall earlier Gospel moments. One of these is the Johannine supper scene, where the love command is given to the disciples, another the Sermon on the Mount with the admonition to the multitude to love one’s enemies. This direct juxtaposition ought to create a jarring incongruity in the mind of the viewer. Is this the same Deity who urges peace and love, and yet has fashioned salvation out of atrocity and murder?

     At that supper, Jesus speaks what is one of the most oft-quoted lines from any of the Gospels (John 15:13): “There is no greater love than this, that a man should lay down his life for his friends.” This is a concept which seems to overwhelm most Christians. More than one person interviewed while exiting a theater after seeing The Passion of the Christ has said: “To think that he suffered all that for me.” Altruism is a commendable feature, even of a god; we humans consider the capacity for it to be one of our highest virtues. Yet there is a difference between a person rushing into a burning house to save someone at the risk of his own life, and a person who sets the fire himself in order to play the hero. The latter has perpetrated the evil, and has hardly set a good example to the community. If he has somehow managed to make the occupant feel responsible for the rescuer’s need to set the fire, the situation becomes unconscionable.

---Earl Doherty,
Review of Mel Gibson's, The Passion of Christ

Returning to my own metaphor: Perhaps the only point in need of further elucidation is my allegorical country's harsh criminal code. After all, Jesus was renowned for his compassion. In John 8:7, for example, we have the story of the adulteress who was brought to Jesus in order to confound him with an ethical dilemma. Certain religious authorities wanted to know if he would uphold Mosaic Law, which called for death by stoning. Jesus, of course, famously forgave her, and turned the tables on his opponents with his disarming challenge: "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." 

Jesus' compassion is illustrated throughout the gospels, wherever he is portrayed as a passionate champion of the the poor and the oppressed.

Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.... I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.

Matt. 25: 34-40

Unfortunately (if the gospels can be believed) Jesus' passion was also his tragic flaw. In his moral outrage and passionate defense of the oppressed, he tended to get carried away by his own rhetoric, and his utopian vision of perfection.

You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.' But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 

Matt. 5: 27

It would be hard to find a more concise example of mixed messages. The exemplary compassion that moves Jesus to rescue an adulteress suddenly evaporates in Matt. 5: 27, where he condemns the entire masculine gender for responding reflexively to feminine beauty. A man who can appreciate beauty without becoming a homewrecker deserves praise, not blame. Condemnation for a mere thought crime is actually counterproductive (if one's intention is to inspire social harmony and moral behavior) because, as often as not, it only succeeds in generating a neurotic reaction.

Of course, there is also the question of whether this saying is genuine. As mentioned earlier, the Bible is a chronicle of our ancestor's spiritual journey as they struggled with the mystery of our unfolding relationship with God. Both hawks and doves have had a hand in its construction. As a result, it presents us with contradictory images of God: Should we love our enemies or hate them? And why would Jesus counsel us to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44) if he hates his own enemies and intends to condemn them to an everlasting "lake of fire?"

Liberal Christians and humanists treat such sayings (as Matt. 5:27) as rhetorical exaggerations; but the fundamentalist moral system remains stubbornly imbued with this same exquisite sensitivity to sin. "All fall short", it is said. (Romans 3: 23) Only God is perfect. No one is worthy of everlasting life. Salvation is God's gift, and there is nothing you can do to make yourself worthy of it except convert to Christianity. You must suppress reason, and subscribe to the rather peculiar idea that God himself died in your place, for your sins; and that this was necessary because even your smallest deviations from perfection are so offensive to your Creator that there is nothing you can do to atone for them. 

Reason rebels against such nonsense; but there is a level on which it does make sense. The problem lies in the attempt to rationalize an emotional / physiological process, namely catharsis. By way of explanation, consider the following story:

Maggie's Tale

A beautiful woman lives on the outskirts of a village in a small house with her three year old daughter who was born out of wedlock. Magdalene (known as Maggie) provides for herself and her daughter out of a small garden, and ocassionally receives gifts (in exchange for sexual favors) from men in the village. More than one wife has wished Maggie to the gallows; yet  she and her daughter have many visitors---and not all of them men. There are women too who appreciate her bright spirit, and her sometimes irreverent humor; and children are always stopping by to play with her daughter. Meanwhile, the village priest, very much aware of her corrupting influence on the community, is waiting impatiently for an opportunity to make a example of this wayward woman. One day that opportunity arrives:

As Maggie is playing in a nearby field with her daughter, one of her male admirers happens by, and there is an amorous exchange. After he leaves, she goes to find her daughter, and is horrified to discover that the child has fallen into a pond and drowned. In shock and horror she recovers the child's body from the muddy water, and laments her plight in the darkening field. The next morning she is found in a state of emotional exhaustion by the priest and several women from the village. She is returned to her home, where she spends most of her time in bed. She loses interest in life, shuns visitors, and does nothing but wait for death, or the excruciatingly slow process of healing.

Meanwhile the priest puts her story to use as a cautionary tale in his sermons in church, and he is pleased to see that many young women and men have recognized the judgement of God on Maggie's sinful ways, and discontinued their dangerous liasons with her. Yet, some of the older women press on in their visitations to nurse Maggie back to health and supervise her rehabilitation. 

In time, Maggie is led to Jesus, and shown how to substitute the thought of his forgiveness for her unbearable feelings of guilt and loss. She and her new friends pray fervently that God will not send her daughter's unbaptized soul into the lake of fire, and she looks forward to seeing the child again in heaven. 

One of her confessors writes a play telling her story in lurid detail, and the priest likes it so much that he arranges to have it performed periodically, in order to keep this valuable lesson alive for the younger generations. In fact, he is quite surprised by the power of this play to evoke remorse and a deep determination to avoid such a ruinous path as Maggie's. So much good does her story do that, many years later, on his deathbead, the priest confesses not merely faith, but confidence, that God will forgive him for knocking Maggie's child unconscious and holding her head under the water.

Catharsis and Animal Sacrifice

Maggie's Tale illustrates how devastating the death of a loved one can be, especially if one feels in some way responsible for that death because of negligence or imprudence. Some people are likely to be upset by this casting of a priest in the role of a villain, but it seems to me that there is a certain moral equivalence between those who murdered Jesus, and those who use his death to control and exploit their fellow travellers. Just as Maggie was made to feel guilty about the death of her child, believers are made to feel guilty about the death of Jesus. We are told that he died for our sins, and, by a tenuous chain of reasoning, chastened penitents are led to contribute to the spread of corporate welfare and unregulated capitalism (a system which is diametrically opposed to the dread communalism of the first Christians, as described in the Acts of the Apostles). According to the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus saw the same sort of moral equivalence between those who murdered the prophets and those who exploit their fellows in the prophets' names:

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, 'If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.' So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets...

Matt. 23:29-32

Long ago students of human nature noticed that stories like Maggie's Tale can unlock powerful feelings and bring about radical changes in behavior. We all know the experience of feeling better after having a good cry. Maggie undergoes the process of emotional breakdown and regeneration known as catharsis. She is cleansed by tears, and given hope for the future (although the theological framework in which her healing takes place is a rather mixed blessing, requiring belief in a heavenly kingdom that is closed to unbaptized babies).

Here is another example of catharsis; one that gets us closer to the psychological truth of Christianity:

A child misbehaves, and his father swears he's going to kill the boy. So offended is he that he believes the child deserves to die. After his anger cools, he decides to teach him a lesson he won't forget. The boy can be spared, if something else dies in his place. Seeing how much he loves his pet lamb, the father kills the lamb instead, and the boy's heart is broken. He feels responsible for his friend's death. He is filled with remorse, and profoundly altered. Because of his misdeed, his friend suffered. This is the link between blood and tears, between sacrifice and salvation. This is the transformation that is conflated in the phrase "washed in the blood of the lamb."

One of the most ancient and powerfully cathartic stories is that of the dead hero: the selfless one who risks his life on behalf of others. Jesus is not a military hero, yet he has the heart of a lion. Like John the Baptist, he speaks truth to power; and in the best tradition of the prophets, he decries the hypocrisy of the established religious authorities, and their exploitation of the poor. Since the archetypal hero dies defending us, he dies on our behalf. And this is conflated, in the Christian salvation narrative, with the practice of animal sacrifice, whereby the victim takes away sins by dying in the sinners place.

On the most basic level, the practice of animal sacrifice probably grew out of necessity of killing for food. Hungry people are likely to be sullen and contentious. Bounty inspires good humor, and generosity. Thus, the victim of the hunt takes away our sins. When people kill for food, some other animal dies in our place, on our behalf. It was often necessary for our ancestors to kill in order to survive; therefore God, the author of Natural Law, seems to demand blood. But nature is the "Worm Ouroboros" that survives by eating its own tale. It is a closed system that devours itself in order to continue. In proportion to one's capacity for empathy, there may be a feeling of ambivalence associated with the act of killing. It is possible to see oneself... one's own future... in the dying animal.

Jesus is the very personification of catharsis. By his death, he brought tears, and by his resurrection he came back to wipe them away. Anyone who has lost someone dear to them knows the anguish that Jesus' family and friends must have felt. But his return inspires hope.

The death of Jesus represents not only the death of an innocent man, but the death of innocence itself: the loss of childish creativity, playfulness, and honesty. All too often the baby is thrown out with the bathwater, and the virtues of childhood are sacrificed on the alter of an authoritarian power structure. Yet, "unless you become like one of these, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven." Emotional pain and the healing response of catharsis can evoke empathy and put us back in touch with that part of us that is forever rooted in innocence... the True Self, Atman, Logos, Jesus... the Source of life and consciousness; the organizing principle of the Universe; the Patternmaker.

It is the Patternmaker within who reminds us: "I am the vine, and you are the branches." Empathy is the divine perception of connectedness:

Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.... I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.

Matt. 25: 34-40

Those who lose sight of our connectedness may consider themselves lucky when circumstances conspire to make them aware of their callousness. Empathy flows from that part of us that is rooted in innocence: the True Self. In the language of Christianity, Jesus fulfills the wish for forgiveness and rebirth.

Intellectual rationalizations of these psychic and physiological processes only succeed in painting God as an irrational tyrant. The theology of divine animal sacrifice readily dissolves in nonsense---as in the story above about the woman who is sentenced to death for petty theft. The young man who, with astonishing courage and kindness, offers to die in her place seems like a heroic figure until we realize that he and his father are solely responsible for establishing the harsh system of law and retribution that indicts and imperils this woman in the first place. 

God Imperils. Jesus Saves.

According to Keith Akers, author of The Lost Religion of Jesus, the first generation of Christians---those who knew Jesus best---were adamantly opposed to animal sacrifice. They were pacifists who believed that the laws pertaining to animal sacrifice had been smuggled into the scriptures by dishonest scribes. The cult of animal sacrifice, with its center in Jerusalem, was, in their opinion, founded on lies. Jesus hated the cruelty of animal sacrifice, and the whole dishonest business that had grown up around it: the profiteering moneychangers, and the priest's hypocritical exploitation of the poor. 

Religious authorities cultivated the belief that even the most innocuous infractions were abominable to God, and deserving of death. The only salvation from this death sentence was the death of a substitute. God requires blood. There is no getting around it. If not the blood of the sinner himself, then the blood of some other animal, in the sinner's place. 

These were the issues that precipitated Jesus' angry protest at the Temple (Matt. 21:12, Mark. 11:15), and led, in the end, to his arrest and crucifixion. How ironic that Jesus' death in protest of this exploitation should be turned upside down, and used as an even more effective means of exploitation. The rebel himself has become an animal sacrifice to atone for the sins of all Mankind, and faith in this sacrifice has become a substitute for the work of actualizing social and economic justice.

Fundamentalist preachers, like Egyptian priests claiming power over the sun during a solar eclipse,* have learned how to manage and direct the emotional process of cartharsis. Although having a good cry, speaking in tongues, or holy rolling, can provide an emotional release, a problem arises when cathartic salvation is exploited for monetary and political gain. Unfortunately, in some churches, the story of salvation has become a kind of protection racket whereby God imperils, and Jesus saves. God the Father pushes us into a pit, and God the Son helps us out---thus commanding our undying gratitude, loyalty, financial contributions, and votes for holy war. God pushes us into a pit by establishing a standard that no ordinary human can possibly measure up to (all fall short of perfection), and by determining that the punishment for this imperfection can only be a one way ticket to the inferno, unless we turn to Jesus. It doesn't matter if the worst thing you ever did in your life was forget to feed the dog, you are bound for hell, unless you "believe on Jesus."

God Is Love ?

The argument is sometimes made that, although God is the perfection of goodness and love, God is also just; therefore, there is no inconsistency if he consigns sinners to everlasting torment. Justice is in no sense served, however, when a punishment is out of all proportion to a crime. And how is justice served when one person dies in place of another, as in the theory of salvation? 

More to the point, it is absurd to say that an all-powerful God cannot come up with some less drastic alternative to eternal damnation. And equally absurd to say that a God "who is love" might choose not to implement that alternative. Instead of consigning unrepentant murderers, unregenerate homosexuals, non-Christians, doubters, and unbaptized babies to everlasting torment, a truely loving God would channel these souls into other lives and other circumstances where conditions are right for further spiritual growth. That is the form of cosmic justice advanced by the theories of karma and reincarnation. Even the considerably less-than-perfect British government ultimately chose, in the latter part of the 18th century, to stop hanging Britain's poor and desperate masses, and send them instead to Australia. (See Bloody Code)

The idea that the God of love is also a rigid legalist who chose to sacrifice his "only" son, rather than admit that his laws were unreasonable and his system of retribution excessively harsh, clearly has the ring of untruth. Even the biblical prophets cast doubt on this theory of salvation-by-means-of animal-sacrifice:

When you offer me holocausts, I reject your oblations and refuse to look at your sacrifices of fattened cattle... but let justice flow like water and integrity like an unfailing stream." (Amos 5:21,22,24 JB)

What are your endless sacrifices to me, says Yahweh. I am sick of holocausts of rams... the blood of bulls and goats revolts me... the smoke of them fills me with disgust... Your New Moons and your pilgrimages I hate with all my soul... your hands are covered with blood, wash, make yourselves clean." (Isaiah 1:11, 13-16 JB)

"I will have mercy, and not sacrifice" (Matt. 9:13)

"Hear this, you leaders of the house of Jacob, you rulers of the house of Israel, who despise justice and distort all that is right; who build Zion with bloodshed and Jerusalem with wickedness... yet they lean upon the Lord and say, is not the Lord with us? No disaster will come upon us. Therefore, because of you, Zion will be plowed like a field, Jerusalem will become a heap of rubble, the temple hill a mound overgrown with thickets." Micah 3:9-12.

"Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to the buildings. Do you see all these, he asked? I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down." (Matthew 24:1,2)

God's Higher Standard

The question arises: Beyond the establishment of laws against abortion and gay marriage, what sort of legal changes might we expect under a full-fledged, bible-based, American theocracy? According to criminal law in America, no child should be tried for a parent's crimes; punishment should be proportional to the crime; and we have a scale of values based on community standards, wherein theft, for example, is not considered to be as grievous as murder. So, is Man's law out of step with God's? How, for example, do men like George W. Bush and former attorney general Alberto Gonzales reconcile these two systems of law, whose basic principles are at such variance? Did the belief that God consigns unbelievers irrevocably to everlasting fire lay the foundation for the system of justice at Guantanamo, where Islamic infidels are incarcerated indefinitely without habeus corpus? Is this proceedure an emulation---conscious or unconscious---of God's harsh system of retribution? How far might this emulation go if Christian fundamentalists succeed in establishing an American theocracy? If, according to God, all people fall short of perfection; if all are sinners, and no one deserves eternal life, might law under a fundamentalist theocracy begin to look more like the Bloody Code of 15th--18th century England, where stealing anything worth more than 5 shillings was punishable by death? 

The Holy Bible is at hand, and ready to provide a "divinely inspired" foundation for a sweeping transformation of American law:

...the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars---their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur.

Revelation 21: 8

Notes On Abortion

The words "Thou shalt not kill" still ring in my ears from Catholic grammer school, even though many modern Bibles now read "You shall not murder." The latter translation is indeed more consistent with the bulk of the text because there is plenty of divinely sanctioned killing in the Bible:

...in the cities of the nations the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. Completely destroy [your enemies] as the Lord your God has commanded you. Otherwise, they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshiping their gods, and you will sin against the Lord your God.

Deuteronomy 20:16-18

Murder is "unlawful" killing, and this quote from Deuteronomy makes it clear that, as far as the Good Book is concerned, not all killing is unlawful. Bear in mind that the author of this text claims to speak for God, and that children and pregnant women were among the victims of these biblical campaigns to annex other people's land... resulting in what might be called war-abortions, or battle-abortions... a subject which has little currency among pro-life/pro-war anti-abortionists.

As I write... in the election year of 2008... the Republican platform denies a woman's right to choose, even in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother. Yet, Deuteronomy furnishes an excuse for killing mothers and unborn babies in order to prevent non-believers from teaching believers "to follow all the detestable things they do in worshiping their gods." So, once again, a literal reading of the Bible dissolves in nonsense. 

Is it not odd that we hear so much about the great evil of abortion in the right-wing media, yet so little attention is paid to the abortions that result from war? Defenders of the war in Iraq, following the lead of the corporate media... in turn following the lead of corporate war-profiteers... reflexively minimize "collateral damage." But in the words of General Tommy Franks: "We don't do body counts;" so, how do we know that the damage is minimal, if we don't measure it? The very words "collateral damage" are designed to help Americans maintain the fiction of innocence. By way of contrast, if an American town or city were bombed by some foreign invader, who would use these words to describe the loss their own friends and families? And what American redneck would think of his own enraged reaction as terrorism? 

Anti-abortionists issue streams of literature urging Christians to vote against candidates who are soft on abortion; and the result is a government that aborts by means of war. Adding a touch of surrealism to their argument, religious patriots will sometimes calculate that the number of American foetuses that are destroyed by abortion far exceeds the number that are destroyed by war; hence, war is preferable to abortion, and a Republican government is preferable to a Democratic one. To make this calculation it is necessary to count every fertilized "American egg" as a person, and to not count Iraquis as persons at all ("We don't do body counts"). Not only is this calculation skewed out of all proportion, but it overlooks the fact that the present administration has been following a course that could well lead to the abortion of all life on this planet---the death of birth itself.

A few more thoughts:

Do fundamentalist representatives who vote against universal health care for born babies really care about unborn babies? Or is it really all about keeping women in their place? Which is really all about maintaining a male-dominant, war-friendly culture, with a ready pool of tough guys on tap for land grabs like Iraq.

Christians who are sincere in their desire to save babies would do well to focus their energy in support of contraception and sex education, because the best evidence indicates that abstinence does not work. (No surprise there. Pitting people against Nature only makes them crazy.) See the fact sheets on contraception and abortion on the Guttmacher website.

Anti-abortionists exaggerate the number of abortions by counting every fertilized egg as a person. But do we really know when the soul enters the body? There was a time when even the Catholic Church taught that the soul doesn't enter the body until the moment of "quickening," when a mother feels the baby move for the first time. And some people argue that in some cases (Dick Cheney and George W. Bush, for example) the soul never enters the body. So, who can say for sure? In light of its mixed messages on the morality of killing, the "word of God" isn't much help on this divisive issue.

But here is a little thought experiment that might help to clarify the problem:

Imagine that you are on your way to interview the Director of  Cryology in a clinic where in-vitro fertilization is done. You are walking down the hall by the lab when suddenly there is an explosion, and a fire breaks out. You happen to know that there is a mobile cabinet in the lab containing one hundred frozen embryos. On the other side is a nursery with five children in it. The fire is spreading fast. You may not have a chance to return. Given the necessity of choosing between the one hundred embryos and the five children, which do you choose to save? And why?

Mixed Messages

Unfortunately, the wisdom of the Bible is all-too-often mixed with folly, self-righteousness, and a sense of manifest destiny that regularly leads to war. Prior to the reign of Constantine (for more than 200 years) Christianity was associated in many people's minds with pacifism. But that was then and this is now. It is the book of Revelation that has the last word in the Bible, transmogrifying the Prince of Peace into a god of war, and pointing to a fearful future of violent retribution that many people feel is finally upon us. This belief that we are living in the "end-times" is used to justify Christian militarism, and renders believers susceptible to manipulation by military-industrial war-profiteers.

A curse on him who is lax in doing the Lord's work!
A curse on him who keeps his sword from bloodshed!

Jeremiah 48:10

Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay," says the Lord.

Romans 12:19

(More mixed messages from the Good Book.)

The Big Picture

The global rise of fundamentalism is one of the big stories of the 21st century. In this increasingly precarious world, it will be increasingly important for us to be able to distinguish between leaders who are serving the god of war and leaders who are serving the Prince of Peace. Read the Tomdispatch interview with James Carroll on American Fundamentalisms. Carroll is a former Catholic priest whose father was a director of the Defense Intelligence Agency. Here is an excerpt from the interview:

Carroll: Let me just say that we've been talking only America here, in part because I think people are attuned to the threat from what's called "Islamic fundamentalism." My own conviction is that a crucial twenty-first century problem is going to be Christian fundamentalism. Its global growth is an unnoticed story in the United States. Africa, Latin America, and parts of Asia are now absolutely on fire with zealous belief in the saving power of Jesus, in the most intolerant of ways. A religious ideology that affirms the salvific power of violence is taking hold. It denigrates people who are not part of the saved community, permitting discrimination, and ultimately violence. Hundreds of millions of people are embracing this kind of Christianity.

So what am I doing? I'm a Christian. I'm raising this alarm from within the community. That's why I believe, as a Roman Catholic, that my own tradition must be rescued from its current temptation to fundamentalism. There are a billion Catholics in the world. For all its problems, Roman Catholicism has reckoned with the Enlightenment, has accepted the scientific worldview, has no argument with evolution, has learned to read the Bible in metaphoric ways, as opposed to literal ones. Today we have a fundamentalist Pope, but he rules from the margin. It's hugely important that the Catholic tradition not go fundamentalist.

Carroll is also the author of House of War, for which he received the PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award, and Constantine's Sword, a New York Times bestseller that was recently made into a movie. In Constantine's Sword, Carroll explores the history of Christian antisemitism to uncover the roots of religiously inspired violence and war. His search also reveals a growing scandal involving religious infiltration of the U.S. military and the terrible consequences of religion’s influence on America’s foreign policy.

The Real Prince Of Peace

According to Keith Akers, author of The Lost Religion of Jesus, the people who understood Jesus best were the first generation of Jewish Christians and their spiritual descendants the Ebionites. These people were vegetarians and pacifists who despised animal sacrifice and believed that the original law of Moses had been radically altered:

"Look! the scriptures have been changed by dishonest scribes." (Jeremiah 8:8)

Modern scholarship confirms this view. Although the Books of Moses are filled with instructions about animal sacrifice, most mainline scholars agree that Moses could not have written these books in their present form. In fact, they may have been written as much as a thousand years later. So, it is entirely possible that animal sacrifice was not a part of the original Law of Moses.

There is, in fact, no shortage of evidence that the scriptures have been changed by dishonest scribes: Deuteronomy, for example (the book containing the rules of war, where soldiers are instructed to kill men, women, and children, and leave nothing alive that breathes) was falsely presented by king Josiah as a work of great antiquity, written by Moses, speaking for God. In reality, linguistic and historical analysis reveals that it was written in Josiah's own time (622 BC) and probably under his direct supervision, in order to consolidate power and prepare Judah for war.

Turning to the New Testament, most scholars agree that Timothy I and II and Titus were written in response to the gnostic Marcionites and falsely ascribed to Paul.

The problem of the violent Old Testament war god was solved in different ways by the gnostics and by the Jewish Christians. The gnostics acknowledged Yahweh as the creator of this world, but saw him as a malevolent, or incompetant, lesser god. (The theory of original sin evolved in response to this heresy, solving "the problem of evil" by shifting the blame from God to Man, but original sin didn't really become an article of faith until it was treated systematically by Augustine.)

The Jewish Christians, on the other hand, believed that all biblical passages portraying God's sponsorship of violence are, in fact, apocryphal. For this reason, the wrathful war-god of the OT should not be confused with the Father in heaven that Jesus prayed to. Akers argues that, like the first generation of Jewish Christians who knew him best, Jesus was a vegetarian and a pacifist who believed that the scriptures had been altered by dishonest scribes. The cult of animal sacrifice, with its center in Jerusalem, was founded on these lies. Jesus hated the cruelty of animal sacrifice, and the whole dishonest business that had grown up around it: the profiteering moneychangers, and the priest's hypocritical exploitation of the poor. These were the issues that precipitated his angry protest at the Temple (Matt. 21:12, Mark. 11:15), and led, in the end, to his arrest and crucifixion.

It is clear from reading the Acts of the Apostles and the letters of Paul, that there were disagreements between Paul and James, the brother of Jesus and leader of the first generation of Jewish Christians. According to Akers, Paul and Acts misrepresent the nature and seriousness of this dispute. It wasn't about circumcision or elaborate food laws. It was about comprehensive non-violence, with respect to both people and animals. Unfortunately, after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E., this side of the story got lost. The first Christians were scattered by war, but gentile versions of Christianity continued to spread and flourish in bewildering variety. It was actually the heretic, Marcion, who put together the first canon, and popularized the letters of Paul.

But is it plausible that Jesus was a vegetarian? What about the sacrificial lamb that was traditionaly eaten during Passover? Akers points out that the gospels are inconsistent about the timing of the Last Supper. In John, for example, this meal is not a Passover Seder at all. Akers cites a number of scholars who have argued convincingly that it sounds more like a kiddush ceremony, in which a prayer was pronounced over a cup of wine, and sometimes followed by the distribution of bread. Moreover, "The Jewish Christians had their own version of the Last Supper in which Jesus specifically rejects the Passover meat (Panarion 30.22.4)." And "there are no accounts of any early Christians ever celebrating the Eucharist using lamb."

What about the stories of Jesus feeding the multitudes with loaves and fishes? Akers cites three church fathers (Irenaeus, Arnobius, and Eusebius) who conspicuously omit fish from their descriptions of this event. And, even in the gospels, Jesus refers to it, mentioning only the bread, and not the fish. (Matt 16:9-10, Mark 8:18-20)

The repeated mention of this story by several diverse church fathers (and even by Jesus himself) wthout fish strongly suggests that the original tradition did not include fish as recorded in our canonical gospels. The bread is everywhere remembered, but the fish is omitted on numerous occassions. Most likely, later redactors added fish to the story when only bread was recorded in the original tradition, but forgot to also insert fish in the passages where Jesus refers back to the miraculous feeding of the multitudes.

---Keith Akers,
The Lost Religion Of Jesus

There are many stories where Jesus talks about fish or serves fish or helps others fish, but there are only two occassions on which Jesus is actuallyPreserver said to have eaten fish; and both of them are probably 2nd century retrojections designed to refute 2nd century gnostics (like Marcion) who argued that Jesus returned from the dead in a spiritual, not a physical, body.

After the Council of Nicea, vegetarianism was officially rejected, but it "met with a kinder reception among early Christian leaders and the monastic communities. Indeed, a list of those described as vegetarians reads very much like a Who's Who in the early church." Even Augustine, "while strongly arguing against any requirement that Christians be vegetarians, comments that the number of Christians who abstain both from flesh and wine are "without number"---indicating a widespread acceptance of vegetarianism among ordinary Christians even as late as the fourth century. This Christian embrace of vegetarianism "is difficult to explain if the 'orthodox' rejection of vegetarianism were really the original tradition."

It is not possible to do justice to Akers' argument in a brief article like this. My only purpose is to convey its plausibility, and inspire you to read it for yourself. Here is a review by one of my favorite authors, Riane Eisler:

The Lost Religion of Jesus is a groundbreaking, timely, and important book. It can help us shift the current dialogue about Christian fundamentalism to the fundamentals of what Jesus really taught. Based on ignored writings by and about the Jewish followers of Jesus, Keith Akers has put together compelling evidence that the core teachings of Jesus---caring, compassion, simple living, and nonviolence against both humans and animals---remained at the core of the early Jewish communities that saw Jesus as he saw himself, as a Jewish prophet. Akers also documents how these Jewish communities were later deemed heretic by the "orthodox" Church, as it built a new religious hierarchy that eventually allied itself with the despotic Roman Emperor Constantine. He challenges us to re-examine the theology that Paul and other gentile Christians superimposed on the original teachings of Jesus, showing how this distortion of Jesus and his message led to the oppression and bloodshed that has historically been committed in the name of Christianity. He also shows the urgent relevance of Jesus's real teachings to the social and environmental crises of our time.

---Riane Eisler,
author of The Chalice and the Blade,
Sacred Pleasure, and Tomorrow's Children

Unitive Consciousness,
Christian Mysticism, and
The Wedding of Heaven and Earth

From time to time, Christian saints and mystics have tried to breathe new life into the original message of Jesus. The perrenial philosophy, as conveyed by the Christian mystical tradition, provides us with some precious common ground with other religions; a basis for peaceful co-existence, and a deeper insight into the true nature of our relationship with God.

Every major religion has a mystical tradition. At the heart of these traditions is the experience of " unitive consciousness:" a profound sense of continuity with the Source of Life. The great Christian mystic, Meister Eckhart, alluded to this experience when he said:

"The eye with which I see God is the same eye with which God sees me: my eye and God's eye are one eye, one seeing, one knowing and one love."

---German Sermon No. 12

The knower and the known are one. Simple people imagine that they should see God as if he stood there and they here. This is not so. God and I, we are one in knowledge.

God is nearer to me than I am to myself.

---Meister Eckhart

Speaking from the same vista of consciousness, Jesus said, "I and the Father are one" (John 10:24-30) and "I am the vine; you are the branches." (John 15:5) Likewise, in the Gospel of Thomas, he suggests that when we come to know ourselves on the deepest level, we come to know God: "If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you.'' For that reason the Gospel of Philip advises, "Do not seek to become a Christian, but a Christ.'' And in the literature of "bridal mysticism," medieval mystics---using the erotic language of the Song of Solomon---describe the experience of unitive consciousness as a mystical union with Christ. The Song itself speaks of unitive consciousness in terms of the ancient rite of sacred marriage, in which a man became a king through marriage and ecstatic union with the high priestess---the earthly representative or embodiment of the Goddess.

For these reasons, the experience of oneness is referred to herein as a "wedding of heaven and earth." In other words: an ecstatic union of higher and lower (or broader and narrower) consciousness.

Mystics who have experienced this psychic wedding assure us that, underlying the multiplicity of individual beings in the universe, there is a single unifying Self---one vine with many branches. This Self of selves is always present, but hidden---like the calm water beneath the waves. We rest in that undying Self each night in dreamless sleep. But it is also possible to fully awaken to it, as described earlier by Trisha Feuerstein.

The experience of unitive consciousness is the heart of all the world's great spiritual traditions. Unfortunately it has often been marginalized or suppressed by religious leaders who care more about transient power than the unfolding of our true nature (the Second Coming of Christ through us). Meister Eckhart, for example, was tried as a heretic by Pope John XXII. A confession of error was extracted under duress, and although he was not condemned to death, he died in the papal prison before his trial could be concluded. As Timothy Freke pointed out in his book, The Wisdom of the Christian Mystics:

"Mysticism is the spiritual essence of Christianity. The great Christian mystics, however, have often found themselves horribly persecuted as heretics by the established Churches for their outrageous claims and idiosyncratic ways. The mystics are not content to have a relationship with God via priests and institutions, but look inside themselves to know God directly. When they do, God is revealed as an all-embracing love that unites the universe into one indivisible whole. In communion with God, the mystics no longer experience themselves as separate individuals but as expressions of the Oneness. God is the only reality. God is everything. God does everything. This mystical vision is not a psychological anomaly: it is the natural state. Human beings fail to experience it only because they believe themselves to be separate from God, when in fact He is their very essence. All mystical practices are designed to dispel this pernicious illusion of separateness."

---Timothy Freke
The Wisdom of the Christian Mystics:

God is love, and all that resonates with love: sanity, clarity, harmony and peace; the overarching and underlying joy of being. We can assist the wedding of heaven and earth by listening more carefully to the great pioneers of consciousness: not only to Christian sages like Meister Eckhart, but also to non-Christians---Buddha, Rumi, Sri Ramana---teachers who were more in harmony with Christ than many of those who have risen to the pinnacles of ecclesiastical power. (See the wikipedia article on mysticism for an extensive list of mystics from many diverse traditions, including prominent Christian mystics.) These pioneers of consciousness have elucidated the central message of Jesus, which as Thomas Jefferson pointed out, has "come to us mutilated, misstated, and often unintelligible." In Jefferson's opinion, Christ's teachings were handed down to us:

not having been committed to writing by himself, but by the most unlettered of men, by memory, long after they had heard them from him, when much was forgotten, much misunderstood, and presented in every paradoxical shape...

His character and doctrines have received still greater injury from those who pretend to be his special disciples, and who have disfigured and sophisticated his actions and precepts, from views of personal interest...

-- The Jefferson Bible, F. Forrester Church

As Bart D. Ehrman points out in his book, Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why, the bible was altered in non-trivial ways by the scribes who copied it. Marginal notes made by copyists were incorporated as God's word, and words were altered in ways that profoundly affected doctrine. Women's names, for example, were eliminated or masculinized because scribes couldn't believe that women held positions of considerable authority in early Christian communities.

Some paths are more direct than others, but all paths lead back to the Source. A leaf may blow for miles before it finally touches the ground. One way for Christians to cultivate peaceful co-existence and preserve the Earth for our children and grandchildren is to recognize our common ground with other spiritual traditions. We can do this by placing our own mystical tradition, and the experience of unitive consciousness where they should have been placed long ago: at the center of our religious art, literature, and practice.

The Earth is Pregnant with God
is Pregnant with the Earth.

What does God do all day long? He gives birth. From the beginning of eternity God lies on a maternity bed giving birth to the All. God is creating this whole universe, full and entire, in this present moment.

--Meister Eckhart

The world is pregnant with God.

--Angela of Foligno

Our relationship with God is mysterious and paradoxical. Our bodies are marvelously complex systems, over which we have only superficial control. We are immersed in God's intelligence. The Spirit lives in us; it sees through our eyes; it knows our pleasure and pain---and yet we are mostly unaware of its presence. By what magic are we alienated from the Source of our own consciousness?

The knower and the known are one. Simple people imagine that they should see God as if he stood there and they here. This is not so. God and I, we are one in knowledge.

God is nearer to me than I am to myself.

--Meister Eckhart

The Self of selves is always present, but hidden---like the calm water beneath the waves. Our senses focus our attention on the turbulent surface of the world. Our bodies create an illusion of separateness. Nature is like a prism. As Spirit passes through the prism of nature, it is spread out and divided up like the colors of a spectrum. If we look more deeply---as the great mystics have done---we find that Spirit plays all the parts in this cosmic drama. It is a trinity of light, prism, and spectrum. It shines through the elementary forces and structures of nature, and radiates as an infinite variety of sentient beings: plants, animals, and people.

As modern scientists contemplate quantum strangeness, string theory, and the probability of parallel universes, it is becoming increasingly difficult for materialists to scoff at the notion of spiritual interconnectedness. In his book The Marriage of Sense and Soul, contemporary philosopher, Ken Wilber, pointed out that the human bodymind, when used in a certain way, becomes an instrument of science: like a microscope or a telescope. This is what great mystics do. All over the world, in every spiritual tradition, the experiment has been replicated, and persistent explorers of the inner world have encountered the Source of Consciousness in the silence of self-forgetting. As the Bible says: "Be still and know that I am God."

While we are awake, our senses focus our attention on the turbulent surface of the world; but each night, in deep sleep, the Spirit withdraws from this surface, and gathers in the underlying reality of pure awareness.

In dreamless sleep, there is no world, no ego, and no unhappiness, but the Self remains. In the waking state there are all these; yet, there is the Self. One has only to remove the transitory happenings in order to realize the ever-present beatitude of the Self. Your nature is Bliss. Find that on which all the rest is superimposed and you then remain as the pure Self.

-- Talks with Ramana Maharshi

First, "Be asleep to all things": that means ignore time, creatures, images. And then you could perceive what God works in you. That is why the soul says in the Song of Songs, "I sleep but my Heart watches." Therefore, if all creatures are asleep in you, you can perceive what God works in you.

--Meister Eckhart

This paradise of pure awareness is a realm of infinite possibilities---the womb of creation. Like a fountain that recyles water from its basin, Spirit circulates from pure potential to the manifestation of that potential; from implicate to explicate order. Through us---in our waking lives---it flows out of its harbor in paradise, in order to explore all of the possibilities of being and becoming.

"Eternity is in love with the productions of time."

William Blake

The Tree of Life

We can see this cycle reflected in nature. A tree is like a fountain: it recycles raw materials from the earth around its base. Those materials are woven together and "sprayed out" as leaves, flowers, and fruit, which eventually return to their place of origin: their "Ground of Being." Notice also, that a tree is a kind of prism, which spreads the comparatively undifferentiated "earth tones" of brown and gray into an array of bright colors. The Source of Life creates things which are like itself. All artists are reflected in their work. Nature is replete with the "self-similar" iterations of fractal geometry. The cycle of radiation and reconvergence can also be seen in the flow of blood through a capillary bed.

A tree, then---like Christ's image of vine and branches---is a living metaphor: a message from God in the book of nature. In broad outline, it tells the story of our origin and destiny.

The seed of God is in us. Given an intelligent and hard-working farmer, it will thrive and grow up to God, whose seed it is; and accordingly its fruits will be God-nature. Pear seeds grow into pear trees, nut seeds into nut trees, and God-seed into God.

--Meister Eckhart

The Problem of Evil

Theists and atheists debate endlessly about the existence of God. Yet, none of us would even be here to argue this question, if it weren't for some sort of patternmaking principle or power to counteract the forces of entropy and chaos. So it seems obvious that such a person or power exists. Given this premise (the existence of a patternmaking person or power), several much more interesting questions arise: What, for example, is the nature of this Patternmaker? Is he/she/it benign, malevolent, or indifferent? Moral, immoral, or amoral? Consider, for a moment, the predatory structure of Nature. Why would a personal "God of love" create a system in which animals have no choice but to eat each other in order to survive? And with this natural pattern in mind, isn't it perfectly natural... just to take one example... for self-interested bankers to engage in "predatory lending"? Are they not acting in harmony with the deist "God of nature"?

I love puzzles, and it is in my nature to focus on a problem until I get a satisfactory answer. Here is what I consider to be... for me, at least... a satisfactory solution to the age old "problem of evil." It seems to me that the reason this has been such an enduring problem is the inadmissability of the idea that God is not omnipotent. Even atheists... oftentimes... accept the theist premise that God must be "all-powerful." And therefore, it must be within the power of this all-powerful God to create a paradisaical world without evil. The challenge then is to explain why evil exists... if God is both good and all-powerful. Omnipotence, in this case, is definitional: God is, by definition, all-powerful. But just being able to say something in words, doesn't make it true. What if God is not omnipotent?

The human nervous system is "the tree of knowledge of good and evil" that stands in the middle of paradise (Genesis 2 & 3). It is through our sensory experience of pleasure and pain, that we come to know the meaning of good and evil. People wonder why there is so much suffering in the world. Some think this suffering demonstrates that there is no God. Others think that suffering is a test or a punishment from God. But perhaps the strangest notion of all is the idea that God punishes people on account of other people's sins:

You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the Earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me.

Exodus 20:5-6 and Dt 5:9

The most fateful application of this principle is found in Genesis, where human suffering is construed as a punishment for Adam and Eve's disobedience:

To the woman [God] said, "I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you."

To Adam he said, "Because you lisulatened to your wife... Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground..."

Genesis 3:16-19

Does God punish children for their parent's sins? No one in their right mind would want to incorporate this principle into our own system of justice; so, why do people continue to ascribe this injustice to God?

Problem Solved

In fact there is a simpler and more commonsensical solution for the problem of evil and the prevalence of suffering: We suffer because, in a world that grows, suffering is unavoidable. There are some things that even God cannot do. God cannot create up without down, or hard without soft.

Some people bristle at the suggestion that God might have limits, and yet the same people regularly refer to God as a "he" and not a "she," as if God can not encompass both masculine and feminine.

But the Spirit of the World, like any other artist, is limited by the properties of its medium: in this case, the properties of space and time. Even God cannot unfold a story of growth that begins with full maturity. If there is to be a voyage of discovery, there must be something to discover. The adventure of evolution must inevitably begin with lack of knowledge, lack of wisdom, lack of skill and power. Therefore: pain. But, who would prefer to live in a universe where there is nothing to discover and nowhere to grow? What parent would want their children to enter the world fully grown?

Our world is a budding leaf. We are immersed in God, and yet---by some magic---God is not fully present, but folded up inside. God is both transcendent and immanent; both perfect and imperfect (in the same sense that a woman who is "with child" is a single, unified, living system that is both mature and immature). Spirit unfolds according to material, mechanical ---and unavoidable---processes that are, at times, unjust, indiscriminate, and cruel. In the realm of time and growth, there is no alternative. Through us, the Source of Consciousness is exploring a new way of looking at itself. God does not make the world, like a potter making a pot. The world grows out of God like the branches of a vine. We are continuous with God---spiritual beings having a physical experience. The mind is not in the body; the body is in the mind. This experience of being stuck (by means of our perceptual apparatus) in a very localized point of view is an unavoidable and indispensible stage of spiritual growth; a prerequisite for further growth---like the foundation of a house. Without a foundation, how can you build the upper stories? There are certain experiences that a person must have before that person can understand and appreciate more complex and subtle experiences. A child cannot really understand sexual attraction and marriage until he or she has experienced puberty, for example.

By choosing each day to co-create this world with God, we place ourselves in harm's way; we subject ourselves to indiscriminate, unavoidable, mechanical processes: Every complex and dynamic system unavoidably produces a certain amount of noise. Consider the interference patterns of sound waves as they bounce around in a concert hall. No matter how well designed the hall may be, there are inevitably regions of clarity and distortion. Likewise, every weather system produces good weather and bad; and every ecosystem or social system will produce patterns of co-operation and competition, harmony and discord. Even the predatory relationships in nature are unavoidable byproducts of evolution in a complex and relatively closed energy system. Every artist is limited by the properties of his or her medium. So it is, even for God. However, as in the case of a concert hall, it is important to realize that it is possible to move from a region of noise, or chaos, to a region of clarity and harmony. This is growth. This is the path that leads to the fulfillment of our human potential.

In short, we suffer because we have forgotten who we really are. We experience ourselves as separate beings in a world of disconnected people and things. And this apparent disconnectedness is an unavoidable consequence of the Spirit's bold enterprise of Self-exploration, as it passes through the prism of nature. Suffering is the price of exploration and growth, as the Universe invents new ways of looking at itself. Through the magical process of forgetting-who-we-really-are, all of the interrelationships of family and friends spring into being. The illusion of otherness is the source of all conflict; yet, at the same time, it enables us to give and receive love. Indeed, it enables God to give and receive love.

"Eternity is in love with the productions of time."

---William Blake

Wedding the Land

In the matriarchal societies of the ancient Near East, and during the transition to patriarchy, kingship was conferred by wedding the high priestess, which was a symbolic way of wedding the Earth herself---the maternal Source of life. We find a reference to this rite in verse 3:11. Notice that it is Solomon's mother who provides the crown, and his marriage which provides the occassion for coronation.

Come out, O daughters of Zion,
and gaze at Solomon the King!
See the crown his mother set on his head
on the day of his wedding,
the day of his heart's great joy.

---Song of Solomon 3:11

By wedding the land, the king became the shepherd of his kingdom and accepted the priviledge and responsibility of stewardship. This is an idea that needs to be reinvented for a more democratic age. We are living in a perilous time, and the Earth is in dire need of responsible stewardship.

When two people fall in love and start a family, they affirm the beauty and essential goodness of this world. By blessing the Earth with children, we participate in the renewal of this unique human way of experiencing and exploring the universe. We co-create the world with God. We marry the land. As in the ancient rite of sacred marriage, a contemporary wedding presents an opportunity for two lovers to declare this affirmation of human life. And, for those who care deeply about the Earth and her distress, it presents an opportunity to declare their love and commitment, not only to each other but to their children and grandchildren.

In these perilous times, when human beings have the power to completely destroy the biosphere and abort all life on this planet, a wedding ceremony takes on a whole new meaning. Our species has been almost too successful in the long battle for survival, and we have yet to learn how to live in harmony with nature, and manage the Earth's finite resources in a way that is wise and sustainable. Our sacred role in the regeneration of life---considered by our Neolithic ancestors to be the very heart of religion---has, in fact, become absolutely critical for the preservation of life on Earth.

Christians have a vital role to play in this much needed healing. As Mark Wallace put it in his essay, "The Green Face of God," the Christian spiritual tradition is "the pharmakon of looming environmental disaster." Christianity is, in part, "both the cause of the problem and its solution."

"Lynn White, in a now famous essay, writes that Western Christianity's attack on paganism effectively stripped the natural world of any spiritual meaning by replacing the belief that the Sacred is in rivers and trees with the doctrine that God is a disembodied Spirit whose true residence is in heaven, not on earth.

The impact of Christianity's antipagan teachings has tended to empty the biosphere of any sense of God's presence in natural things.

But if the root of the environmental problem is deeply spiritual or religious at its core, it is also the case, ironically, that a partial answer to the problem lies in a rehabilitation of the earth-friendly teachings within the spiritual traditions that seem most hostile to nature, namely, the Christian tradition.

Christianity, then, is the pharmakon of looming environmental disaster: in part, it is both the cause of the problem and its solution. It is both the origin of the ecocidal "disease" from which we suffer and its "cure," insofar as it provides resources for a new green mindset toward nature that is a prophylactic against antinature attitudes and habits."

A rich store of such resources can be found in the Christian mystical tradition. And in the Song of Solomon, as I have tried to show, there is a profound spiritual dimension: a deep sense of interconnectedness with other sentient beings and continuity with the Source of Life. This is the consciousness that we need to cultivate in our art and literature, and translate into political action, if our children and grandchildren are to live and thrive in a free society on a healthy planet.

"The ecological spirituality called for today is founded in a deep recognition of the unity of life---a unity that is celebrated in the act of love"

"we share our somatic reality with countless other beings with whom we are interconnected and interdependent. Contemporary spirituality is, then, meaningful only to the degree that it is ecological in the broadest sense of the term."


"The Earth remains our mother just as God remains our father, and our mother will only lay in the father's arms those who are true to her. Earth and its distress---this is the Christian's song of songs."


"Our religious vocation for the foreseeable future is Earthkeeping. Fidelity to God now expresses itself as fidelity to the Earth."


"The world is pregnant with God."

---Angela of Foligno

[1] The concept of "wedding the land" was widespread in the ancient world. An enormous temple was recently discovered under Ireland's Hill of Tara, probably dating from 2500 to 2300 BCE. Nearby stands the famous phallic-shaped Stone of Destiny, Lia Fáil, which probably played a role in early fertility rituals and was later used to initiate the area's earliest kings. Breandán Mac Suibhne, program coordinator for the Keough Institute for Irish Studies explained that "The fertility idea merged into politics, as kings were believed to marry the land."

[2] Lynn White, Jr.,
"The Historic Roots of Our Ecological Crisis," Science 155 (1967): 1203-7 From Webster's New World Dictionary of the American Language:

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Read more about the Song of Solomon,
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The Hidden Meaning of the Song of Solomon
The Song of Solomon as Erotic Poetry
Deep Ecology and the Song of Songs
Christian Mysticism / Bridal Mysticism
Was Jesus Married?
Illustrations for the Song of Solomon
A New Traslation of the Song of Solomon
Music for the Song of Solomon
Christian Wedding Music
The Star of David and the Flower of Life
Squaring the Circle: Sacred Geometry and
the Marriage of Heaven and Earth

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