IMG_0569
Blog powered by Typepad

« When the river meets the sea | Main | Dream a little dream »

Comments

And did you ever consider to write a non-fictional book on the paranormal and spiritual? You blog is amazing, but a more condensed version would be much appreciated :-)!

That's what I've been thinking, in a more primitive way. Wonderful!

Hi Michael,
Interesting concept. It reminds me of the old comic strip Pogo quote of, "We have met the enemy and they are us." (At least I think that's the source of the quote.)
Here are some of my thoughts about the perceived differences between the God of the old testatment and the Father of the new testament (which still would not go against your presented concept in the larger picture.)

I find it extremely difficult to reconcile some instances of the demanding, vindictive Old Testament God with the loving, fair, and longsuffering God presented by Christ in the New Testament.

Many Christians accept the Old Testament God as Christ’s Father because the Old Testament and New Testament are bound in the same book, and there are Old Testament passages that are prophetic and look forward to the coming of Christ. Because of this belief (that the Old Testament God is Christ’s Father), they allow the actions and attitudes of the Old Testament God to color their own. (Some faiths even believe that the Old Testament God was Christ himself.)

While many Christians believe the God of the Old Testament is the same as the Father of Christ, I think this is not a valid assumption. The Old Testament God is not necessarily the Father that Christ referred to. Just because Christ participated in the Jewish Temple activities during his upbringing and ministry, I find no direct evidence that he ever equated the Old Testament God as being the “Father” he prayed to or spoke of. Nor do I see where he considered the Old Testament scriptures as something to be considered divine and worshipped or reverenced as such. Many times Christ stated, “You have heard it said…” (or words to that affect), immediately followed by, “But I say unto you…” and then would proceed to give a more spiritual directive that involved the sincerity of the inner person. With regard to Christ’s participation in Jewish religious life, it is helpful to remember that Christ himself understood and declared that he was on a specific mission to the “House of Israel”.

I think there is a possibility that there may have been beings who were entrusted with the responsibility of being stewards to oversee and nurture the development of life and humanity here on earth, but that these beings may have rebelled and usurped authority, and then may have even declared themselves as gods to various humans and demanded their worshipfulness. I think that Jesus may have even referred to this in his parables concerning faithful stewardship (specifically, the vineyard and the husbandmen--Matthew 21; Mark 12; & Luke 20--where a householder set up a vineyard and let it out to husbandmen, but the husbandmen plotted to steal the vineyard). Christ did also state, “All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers” (John 10:8). The emphasis on faithful stewardship shows the importance of being true to God rather than self, and also portrays the disastrous results of betrayal.

I don’t deny that the coming of Christ was foretold. However, I think it possible that the Old Testament is a mixture of truth and error (as well as subsequent writings/scriptures that try to equate the Old and New Testament God as being one and the same). While some Old Testament persons and/or prophets may have been those who were duped, others may have indeed received prophecies from spiritual beings foretelling the coming of Christ. He did tell the Jews who sought to kill him, "Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life" (John 5:39). I think Christ may have referred to this mixture of truth and error in the parable of wheat and tares (Matthew 13), the enemy being the sower of the tares, and it is for us in these latter days to discover the difference between the wheat and the tares.

Also, I think it possible Jesus understood the Israelites to have been duped, and this is why he instructed his disciples at first to go only to "the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matthew 10:6). This perception is further reinforced by his declaration that he was “not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:24).

I think Christ came to this world not only to take full responsibility and endure the suffering of guilt, shame, and condemnation caused by sin (and I have personal reason to believe he experienced this spiritual torment to a degree we cannot fathom), but that he also came to reclaim that which had been (or attempted to have been) stolen by great deception.

Christ told his disciples that he had other things to tell them but that they weren't able to "bear" it (John 16:12). I think the complete truth at that time would have been just too much for them.

I think these concepts are logical and possible, and help reconcile differences between the Old Testament and New Testament portrayals of God.

Just some thoughts,

Sojourner

Very interesting thoughts, Sojourner. There's a lot in there to digest.

I think the idea of "GOD" can definitely be a mirror of ourselves. Not in the sense that there isn't an ultimate divine source, but in the sense that we can only perceive and understand "GOD" as one of us, a man. To the Gnostics, and to the Jewish Kabbalists, God is not really knowable in our current state, but can only be partially perceived at best.

"Now, I don’t buy the idea that some inept, delusional godling created the space-time cosmos."

Michael, I agree with you--expressed in those terms, gnosticism sounds pretty silly. Here's an explanation that makes sense to me:

"In the Gnostic view, there is a true, ultimate and transcendent God, who is beyond all created universes and who never created anything in the sense in which the word “create” is ordinarily understood. While this True God did not fashion or create anything, He (or, It) “emanated” or brought forth from within Himself the substance of all there is in all the worlds, visible and invisible. In a certain sense, it may therefore be true to say that all is God, for all consists of the substance of God. By the same token, it must also be recognized that many portions of the original divine essence have been projected so far from their source that they underwent unwholesome changes in the process. To worship the cosmos, or nature, or embodied creatures is thus tantamount to worshipping alienated and corrupt portions of the emanated divine essence."

So the key may lie in this phrase: "many portions of the original divine essence have been projected so far from their source . . ." The creator or creators of our immediate environment have wandered a bit far away. But that in itself is simply a part of the process of emanating outward from God and then returning.

Like you, I don't claim to know much about gnosticism. But the little I do know, sounds quite in tune with my own way of seeing things.

Interesting thoughts indeed by both Michael and Sojourner.

I have always liked Michael's idea of "functional entities" ever since he wrote a post about them some while back. These are not true higher beings or real deceased spirits, but somehow intelligent quasi-independent entities created - or given life - via the minds of séance participants. Yet, the functional entities often *claim* to be ascended spirits, deceased people, etc. and claim to possess all kinds of superior knowledge and capabilities.

Additionally, it seems clear to me that even the best tested mediums, at least on occasion, produce a mixture of actual spirit communication, psychic material from sitters' minds, subconscious material from their own minds and conscious interpretation from their own egos.

So given all of the above, it makes sense that Moses and other OT figures were creating a functional entity they called (or perhaps called itself) Yahweh and that Yahweh did indeed involve a lot of ego and deception.

Jesus would have been trying to correct all of that without tossing the baby out with the bath water.

"I find no direct evidence that he ever equated the Old Testament God as being the 'Father' he prayed to or spoke of."

There's at least one such reference that occurs to me. Jesus is quoted as saying:

"But regarding the fact that the dead rise again, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the burning bush, how God spoke to him, saying, 'I AM THE GOD OF ABRAHAM, AND THE GOD OF ISAAC, and the God of Jacob'? He is not the God of the dead, but of the living; you are greatly mistaken." (Mark 12:26-27)

http://biblehub.com/mark/12-27.htm

Great post! You think about many things on a deep level.

The OT God is clearly not an entity that conjures up warm feelings in one's heart. It doesn't elicit a desire to draw close to it due to any sort of innate attractiveness that, weirdly enough, is often ascribed to it by the orthodox. Nor does it seem to have any meaningful relationship to what, at least today, is best understood as "love."

Nonetheless, the demiurge is alive and well today in mainstream Christianity. Today it seems to manifest as an entity that demands individuals to believe in all sorts of ridiculous myths and fables as literal, historical events and, so long as you genuinely "believe" in everything in the bible as literal historical events, then you will be spared eternal torture that must otherwise happen in order to appease the demiurge's wounded vanity that you wouldn't jump through the hoops that it set up. I guess the extra bit is that this being was only able to be appeased by having a perfect person slaughtered - so you have to buy into that part as well.

In this scheme, this whole world and everything that happens in every person's life is completely irrelevant because everything is reduced to an abortion that the demiurge intends to intervene in at some point in the future and undo.

Much of popular Christianity is simply foregoing any of your own preferences and desires and discarding them as 'sinful' while waiting to be beamed up and rebooted into the demiurge's new world where everyone and everything will perfectly submit to its dictates for all eternity.

A friend once said to me, "If the God most people worshiped was just a person on the street, most people would want to punch him in the face." The only thing that keeps this bully such a powerful and compelling being is that it is supposedly ultra-powerful and will cause untold horrors to come upon you for all eternity if you don't submit to it. Hence, people who would otherwise hate a regular human being who demonstrated personality traits like the demiurge will put all that aside for an entity that can throw you in a lake of fire and hold you there for all eternity. It's sort of like Hitler. He only had a single friend as a child. Doesn't seem like anyone liked him much until he got some power. Then, nearly all of Germany averted their eyes from all his flaws and submitted to him.

Similar things go on with channeled material. So much of channeled material is either nonsensical fluff or morally reprehensible. But, once people come to feel a dependance on the channeled beings (hence giving them power) they just seem to turn a blind eye to all the garbage and nonsense spewing forth. Take a look at all the people who were channeling beings promising some sort of ascension on December 21, 2012 for all the "lightworkers." Those people are, today, doing just what Christians have done for the last two millenia regarding the second coming - not acknowledging what is right in front of their faces.

Whatever intelligence fashioned photons and electrons is clearly not the same being that wants you to believe Satan put dinosaur bones in the ground to make people doubt the literal historicity of various passages in the bible. The intelligence that sustains our reality would have little need for human beings to sell off all their belongings and quit their jobs in order to be a "full-time lightworker" preparing for the "ascension" and then turn around and say, "Oh, you just misunderstood - but thanks for your efforts and sorry you're broke now."

Too bad the "True God" seems oddly inaccessible, and doesn't seem to have a lot to say - but all these lesser beings sure seem to like to toot their own horns and have their egos stroked by whoever will submit to them.

"I find no direct evidence that he ever equated the Old Testament God as being the 'Father' he prayed to or spoke of."

There's at least one such reference that occurs to me. Jesus is quoted as saying:

"But regarding the fact that the dead rise again, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the burning bush, how God spoke to him, saying, 'I AM THE GOD OF ABRAHAM, AND THE GOD OF ISAAC, and the God of Jacob'? He is not the God of the dead, but of the living; you are greatly mistaken." (Mark 12:26-27)

Michael,

I understand your thoughts that might be considered as equating the old testament God and new testatment Father as being one and the same by Christ. However, I don't actually consider this as "direct" evidence. It is actally an indirect reference. I couldn't find a "direct" reference where he indicated the old testament God was indeed his Father. I have noted that Christ liked to use the old testament scriptures against those who thought the scriptures were "divine", to make his point. He would quote the old testament scripture, to then later show a more spiritual aspect. I think that even later Jewish writers (such as Paul) had a hard time of dismissing the old testatment God as being Christ's Father.
I think that Christ did acknowledge that the "God" who spoke to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and/or others, had great knowledge and influence in the governing and direction of the nation of Israel. But I think he also indicated that the Israeli religious leaders were also "of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do." (John 8:44) I know this is rather blatant, and possibly a hard concept to consider by many. But the bottom line is, I still think that Christ experienced the ultimate spiritual suffering (as would be fitting, for God to be omniscient and understanding of all things), and that he wanted to free all people from the anthropomorphic concepts of God the Father.

Of course, anyone is completely free to reject the idea that Christ experienced this ultimate suffering so that others need not do so (to have the understanding of it), but I also think that those who reject his sacrifice and experience, will continue to progress according to the Karmic laws of spiritual progression. This leads to a whole 'nother concept of reincarnation, which I think Christ had ample opportunity to dispute but did not. In fact, he seemed to have no reservations in equating John the Baptist as being the reincarnation of Elijah the prophet (Matthew 11:11-14; Mark 9:11-13). So, reincarnation seems to me to be something that Christ accepted as being a realistic possibility. When his disciples asked about whether the man who had been born blind had been thus because of his own sin or that of his parents, he had a perfect oppotunity to refute the idea of reincarnation, but chose not to do so. Instead he simply stated the man had been born blind "that the works of God should be made manifest in him." (John 9:1-3)

I apologize if I have strayed into another area not in keeping with your original post, but wanted to clarify some of my thinking.

Thanks again for your wonderful blog. I do like to glean from your insights and those who contribute their various perspectives.

Sojourner

The other night I happened to be rereading The Gospel of Thomas - an enigmatic work that is not strictly Gnostic, but may have been influential with some Gnostics. At one point Jesus takes Thomas aside and tells him three truths, which are not shared with the reader. When the other disciples ask Thomas what was said, Thomas replies that if he told them, they would try to stone him and Jesus to death! This suggests that there was at least one tradition claiming that Jesus had a secret, heretical, esoteric teaching.

I'm leery of relying too much on John's Gospel, because it is so different from the three synoptic gospels. It may even reflect aspects of a quasi-Gnostic tradition. I suspect that while all the Gospels are a mix of legitimate traditions and later embellishments, the ratio of embellishment/invention to historical fact in John is probably much higher than in the other three. For instance, Jesus' tirades against the Jewish authorities (which have been used as ammunition by anti-Semites) seem to reflect the state of hostility between Christians and Jews in the decades after Jesus' death rather than an accurate memory of conditions in Jesus' own time. But we'll never really know.

I have, most of my life, gone by the idea that most of the holy writings, any religion, are what you get at the end of a game of telephone.

In a lot of cases there may have been true revelations in the beginning, but then the prophet first may not even get quite the right impression of what the deity is trying to give him, then he needs to turn that into words when he tries to tell other people about it (and there may also be more than a little bit of time between when he got it and when he starts to preach it, and his memory and personal foibles will probably have at least some effect on the message during that time). And since the prophet is trying to convey messages which may not have many, if any, reference points in the lives of the listeners who knows how much they can get of the original message. Then they tell others and so on, at some point it gets written down and then it gets translated, lots of time passes between all these stages...

Who knows how much of the original meaning is left by the point somebody reads that holy text a few hundred or a few thousand years later?

Looking over the arc of history, I can't help but think that The Ultimate Truth is unfolding at an accelerating clip.

In hunter gatherer cultures, animistic myths were the most obvious way to make sense of the world.
As humanity settled into farming and animal husbandry, large city-states sprang up, and a capricious king-god or gods fit the bill.
By The Age of Enlightenment and into The Industrial Revolution, the mechanical Universe model became more acceptable than a transcendent god. A lot of common good resulted from this revolutionary way of thinking, even though we are still scrambling through the yard trying to rescue the baby that got thrown out with the bathwater.
Nowadays, with our 21st century computational and quantum worldview, we have our holographic and multi-universe myths that clearly work for us.

But underneath all this religious and mythological change, there has been a spiritual evolution developing in the background. Mainstream humanity has been growing kinder, more humane and intelligent over time. The pace seems to be speeding up as we go along, although admittedly the progress is quite uneven and bumpy.

Acceptance of gay marriage swept the U.S. in less than a decade.
Remember segregated schools? That was an integral part of our society less than 50 years ago. Slavery? 140 years ago.
The death penalty is hesitatingly measured out in only a few U.S. States, and our courts fret about the pain and suffering of the executed. Until the early 1900's, the guillotine was considered more humane than other forms of execution.
War crimes are a modern idea, and open tolerance and acceptance of an individual's right to freedom of religious belief was unthinkable five hundred years ago.

I could go on into The Axial Age and other evidence, but my point is that not only does science progress one funeral at a time, so does our cultural understanding of God.
Personally, I think this Ultimate Truth is greater than anything we can possibly imagine.

Could this idea be extended to archetypes and beings seen during spiritual visions and the use of certain types of drugs? Are those created by a shared (un)consciousness and have attained somewhat independent existence?

The introduction of these ideas complicates the picture too much for me. I prefer to focus on how to determine if the mediums are in contact with the deceased human beings or only presenting functional entities. There abductive reasons to consider that some mediums have been in contact with the deceased human beings, but I prefer to focus on this rather than Gnosticism.

It's possible, RabbitDawg. But another explanation for these rapid social changes is simply that we're becoming more affluent.

Slavery was abolished when it became economically unnecessary because of new technology that replaced human labor. Integration of schools took place when mass communications made it possible for people throughout the country to see the disturbing images on TV. The death penalty has less support in a society where most people feel safely insulated from violence and danger. I suspect that movements like animal rights also stem from affluence; people who no longer need to hunt for food have a different attitude toward animals.

Meanwhile, slavery persists in some of the poorest parts of the world; bigotry of all kinds is rampant in undeveloped nations; and capital punishment is not an issue in countries where "life is cheap."

In general, wealthy societies become more squeamish about inflicting cruelty and violence on anyone, while poor societies are more inclined to look the other way, because their people are too focused on their own survival to spare much concern for others. I admit this is a cynical way of looking at it, but I suspect it's true.

I'm puzzled by the idea that a deity (if such exists) has difficulty in making themselves properly understood or correcting correcting errors in communication from their own prophet.

I can understand how a human might have such problems, but a god? Really?

Good point Michael, but wealth doesn't necessarily beget compassion, and poverty doesn't automatically lead to cruelty. I believe it depends on the worldview of the individual, which, needing to survive, is influenced by his or her culture.
Sometimes wealth breeds tyranny, and extreme poverty can bring out the worst in us. Conversely, wealth and poverty can motivate us to manifest our finest human kindness and altruism. It all depends on what's going on inside.
Most of the time the deck may seem to be stacked on the side of the devil (so to speak), but when I look back over time, I see what I believe is a revelatory process going on. It's "something" that has been developing over the past three to five thousand years, and it's accelerating.

Under the right conditions, you can have a symbionic situation going on between affluence and spiritual progress, and maybe I'm being a bit Pollyanna-ish here, but a case can be made for the power of compassion to increase the collective wealth and well being.
I'm not talking about Marxism, I mean something more subtle, more spiritual. Here's a link to an an example of my point in an article (posted on Richard Dawkins' website of all places!).
It's just one small example.

http://old.richarddawkins.net/articles/3502-matthew-parris-as-an-atheist-i-truly-believe-africa-needs-god

"I'm puzzled by the idea that a deity (if such exists) has difficulty in making themselves properly understood ..."

But I was talking about discarnate humans as the communicators, who were then mistakenly identified as gods.

BTW, could you modify your screen name? We already have a Paul on here. Thanks.

"I have, most of my life, gone by the idea that most of the holy writings, any religion, are what you get at the end of a game of telephone."

Nicely said, Marja. By that logic, I guess you could say that wars have been fought over whose game of telephone is producing the most accurate results.

"It's possible, RabbitDawg. But another explanation for these rapid social changes is simply that we're becoming more affluent."

Another possibility is that we're not in possession of more or better truths than hunter-gatherer societies--just *different* ones.

Has music or art improved over the millennia? I don't think so. The same for world views and cultures. Going all the way back to our origin as one-celled creatures, as we "advance," something's lost, and something's gained.

But I guess we've had *this* discussion before. :)

This is a really great discussion. It makes me think that you can look at Christians in the United States at least as either Old Testament or New Testament. The Old Testamenters are angry about gay marriage, birth control, etc. Back in the day, they were the Purtans who thought dancing was un-godly (thus the invention of Irish step-dancing) and outlawed Christmas celebrations. The New Testamenters seem more focused on helping the poor and less unfortunate. They seem to me to much better reflect the teachings of Jesus. But is it all psychological? There are some people who love wagging their fingers at others for perceived sins - I think it becomes an ingrained habit from those I've seen it in. Others may have had difficult circumstances and developed over-empathy. But then again, Jesus would say there's no such thing as too much empathy.

BTW, if my assumption of the holy writings being the end results of holy revelations subjected to a game of telephone is even mostly right it would be interesting to find out what are the most often recurring themes and ideas in different religions. If we also assume that the ultimate truth is the same for all of us there should be at least some things which start to stand out if you look at everything. I don't know if that has ever been done in a large enough scale, at least I have never been able to find a study quite like that.

"Has music or art improved over the millennia? I don't think so."

Well, yeah, I think it has. The Statue of David represents an advance over paleolithic carvings of bulbous fertility goddesses. Rembrandt represents an advance over cave paintings. Mozart's Requiem represents an advance over jungle drums. For that matter, Shakespeare represents an advance over the Epic of Gilgamesh or aboriginal oral traditions.

We can respect the earliest forays into art, music, and literature without pretending that no improvements have been made since then. It would be pretty depressing to think that 10,000 years of creative effort have not yielded any progress. And if we can make progress in areas like engineering, mathematics, and medicine, why not in the creative arts?

I think all religions probably evolved out of mystical and transcendental experiences such as NDEs, death bed visions, after death communications, dreams, natural drug induced experiences like peyote and mescaline, ergot from rye, ayhuasca, and self induced experiences like American Indians would induce in themselves by going out into nature and not eating or drinking until they started to hallucinate.

These profound and mystical experiences would change and evolve over time as the stories were told and retold by storytellers (and not necessarily the original person the experience happened to) and what we are left with hundreds and thousands of years later are the religions we have now.

Eastern religions in particular bear a striking resemblance to things I've read in many near death experiences, such as oneness and connectedness, fate and predestination, etc.

"God did not fashion or create anything, He (or, It) “emanated” or brought forth from within Himself the substance of all there is"-Bruce Siegel

Isn't this consistent with Mellon-Thomas's NDE story? I've heard several interview's where he asks the light if it is God and the light asks back 'what is not God?'.

"It makes me think that you can look at Christians in the United States at least as either Old Testament or New Testament."

But in fairness, there's a lot of fire and brimstone stuff in the NT (Jesus is always threatening that sinners will be cast into the outer darkness, where there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth), and a lot of love and kindness in the OT, especially in the writings of the prophets. E.g., "Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow" (Isaiah 1.16-17); "For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings" (Hosea 6:6).

"The Old Testamenters are angry about gay marriage, birth control, etc."

I think Christian opposition to homosexuality is usually based on the writings attributed to the Apostle Paul, notably Romans 1:26-27:

"For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error."

These words are probably more responsible for Christian antipathy toward homosexuality than anything else in the Bible.

"Mozart's Requiem represents an advance over jungle drums."

Glad you responded to this Michael, because it's a really important point, and one which, as a musician, I've given great thought to over the years. Here's the essence of my argument.

*You* may like Mozart's Requiem better than the sound of jungle drums, but that doesn't mean that one form of music-making is an improvement over the other.

Music has lots of purposes and is enjoyed in a great variety of ways. But perhaps its highest function is to put us in touch with the very best parts of ourselves--the deepest joy, the purest love. In other words, to bring us closer to the God that lives within us.

Now who is to say that an audience listening to Mozart's Requiem in a concert hall comes closer to that ecstatic state, than indigenous folks, hearing the beat of drums, dancing around a fire, in close connection with each other and with their natural environment?

It's obvious the ways in which Mozart's music is more advanced than the music mankind made thousands of years ago. But using the example I just gave, can you see how certain key aspects of that ancient experience have been lost?

Simple music isn't inferior to complex music. Folk music isn't *less *than classical. There's nothing inherently more worthy in listening to a Brahms Concerto than in the experience of being an infant and hearing your mother sing the simplest melody--poorly, but with love. The only reasonable way to evaluate the worth of music is by taking into consideration what is experienced, what is * felt*, not the technical sophistication of the music produced.

But it's so easy to make the assumption you did. In certain ways "the Mozart experience" IS incredibly more advanced than what came before. But only in certain ways.

And in response to what Rabbitdawg was saying earlier, that's the point I was making about history in general. Forever and always, mankind moves forward in some respects, and backwards in others.

Like music!

Here's a sentence that sums up my point, Michael: You're looking at music as a technical product. I'm looking it as an experience. And who can possibly judge the value of one person's experience over another?

Rabbitdawg,

That is a great article, and I give credit to the Dawkins site for even publishing it. I bolsters my belief that Christianity was necessary for the spiritual evolution of the planet, and atheists take those benefits for granted.

Bruce,

I am inclined to both agree and disagree with you on the music and art thing.

The art of the "jungle drums" is not to be underestimated. I have read players can play for hours and still be at the exact same tempo, as accurate as a metronome. That music is perfect in its own way.

I do think, however, that sheer technology has improved, which you seem to recognize, allowing us to do different things with art than we were capable before. In addition, a changing social perspective allowed for the dawn of the individual artist, as opposed to a hired artisan.

But I think the spiritual evolution of humanity as a whole is pretty obvious. I don't believe that it is a churn, one step forward, one step back.

Michael,

It is hard to untangle advances in wealth, technology, and morality/ethics. But I do think Christianity was a big leap forward in our spiritual evolution at a time when the world was not very wealthy at all. You might call it the birth of "modern altruism," before which you had compassion for someone or a lack thereof mostly based on social relations. The abstract worth of all people was not recognized.

I guess I can't stop chewing this bone. :)

"Rembrandt represents an advance over cave paintings."

Are you really certain that the experience of seeing a Rembrandt painting is a better one than that enjoyed by Paleolithic cave artists?

You'll notice I'm comparing seeing art to making it. Perhaps something that we've lost is that, in today's world, we tend to be consumers of art rather than creators of it. We worship artists like Rembrandt and van Gogh, rather than feeling the worth in our own simple creative efforts.

This relates to my earlier picture of indigenous people dancing around a fire. We see this in "primitive" cultures: the emphasis is on people *participating* in artistic activities rather than admiring them from afar (as one would in the concert hall or art museum).

The Mozart/Rembrandt experience largely revolves around creative geniuses whom we worship. While ancients no doubt had various degrees of talent, we can see, by looking at today's indigenous, that artistic activity has traditionally been more of a communal affair than a solitary exercise.

That's a great loss! And it's part of the reason I say that art and music, as human endeavors, don't improve. They just change.

|| Are you really certain that the experience of seeing a Rembrandt painting is a better one than that enjoyed by Paleolithic cave artists? ||

It's the same argument over whether the pleasure of a death metal rocker's enjoyment of his "music" is on the same level as and indistinguishable in any meaningful way from a classical music enthusiast's enjoyment of Beethoven's Ninth. To say that these forms of art and the experience of it have the same value and quality is to say that lumps of s#$%T and Shinola are essentially the same because they weigh the same. But of course this would follow the tenets of the prevailing paradigm of cultural relativism.

|| .....I say that art and music, as human endeavors, don't improve. They just change. ||

I think it is obvious that the sophistication, complexity, profundity and beauty of great art and music have advanced over thousands of years (although with a notable dip during the 20th and 21st centuries). Of course appreciation of the new forms also requires change and advancement in artistic sensibilities.

"The art of the "jungle drums" is not to be underestimated. I have read players can play for hours and still be at the exact same tempo, as accurate as a metronome. That music is perfect in its own way."

This misses the point. Like Michael, you're focused on technical perfection rather than depth of meaning/feeling.

"I do think, however, that sheer technology has improved, which you seem to recognize, allowing us to do different things with art than we were capable before."

Right. I never argued against "different," just "better."

"But I think the spiritual evolution of humanity as a whole is pretty obvious."

It's not so obvious to me. Even going back to our origins--the plant and animal kingdom--I don't see any clear advancement in spirituality during the entire period of our evolution. The opposite argument can easily be made.

Is a man more spiritual than a tree or a dog? Is he more genuine, more respectful of the environment, more loving, or closer to God?

Now I'm not saying that man is necessarily *worse* in all those respects. But better? I'm not so sure.

Mostly, I think such comparisons are foolish. Which, as I see it, seriously undermines the notion of progress.

I totally agree with you Bruce. How to decide which is better, a well played drum, violin, acoustic guitar, piano, electronic piano, orchestra etc.

What used to bug me is the art teacher at school who was often a returning teacher with little knowledge of art. Telling students they had no talent.

I also love Kaye Ryan's poem "Blandeur", a woman who also does not adhere to poetry rules thank goodness. But I take from her poem that averages are fine, which is not actually what you are proporting to Bruce.

My daughter has a nice voice and was often the lead in productions at school. And it got to the stage where she was told she had be in the production by teachers. But in her last year with heavy school commitments she gave it up. I was pleased in some ways, as it allowed anther kid opportunity. The school was very good at pushing the best and ignoring the rest. She was in the top maths class for example and for GCSE exams got an A in maths, but those in the class (all but 5 of them) who got an A+ got shouted pizza for lunch. So an A wasn't obviously worth recognition.

There is so much talent out there, and people often don't feel they are good enough. My youngest was at a bar here recently and a young woman got up and sang, and she went to her and said what a beautiful voice she had and she should do something with it. But the women said, she had had a lot to drink in order to get up there and sing and wouldn't have had the confidence otherwise. Not exactly the point I'm making, but you see it a lot here, people get up at bars, and some blow you away with not only singing but playing instruments. Lyn x.

Concerning the advancement of art debate..I would have to agree with Michael there is demonstrable advancement of complexity and sophistication in how we wiggle. Yet I also share Bruce's sympathy that the experience is not necessarily more advanced viscerally due to these technical details...but it can be, especially for those educated in whichever art is being appreciated.

As professional musician I get asked all the time by people what music I like...my reply is simple.....Soul...music that has soul(the authentic expression of life)a phat funk beat with tasty horn pops, a lovely pop song in harmony, Bach's Chaconne I could go on forever the 'style' of the wiggles are not what I feel, it is the groove/soul that do...

Here is my grand teacher Andre Segovia playing what many consider to be a pinnacle in the musical arts.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zcGt9AFlIPY

And here is my teacher Eric who studied with Segovia...in addition to studying the piece he performs in this clip with composer Torroba
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZwgGrwxFPYY

Is the more sophisticated more sublime?

I confess to thinking that is so.

||This misses the point. Like Michael, you're focused on technical perfection rather than depth of meaning/feeling.||

I guess I was arguing against Michael then. :)

||Right. I never argued against "different," just "better."||

Well, it can be "better" in more than one dimension.

||Is a man more spiritual than a tree or a dog? Is he more genuine, more respectful of the environment, more loving, or closer to God?||

Certainly. A tree has no mentality at all. A dog has very limited cognition. So a person is more "spiritual" in that sense. "Spiritual," if the word is to have any meaning at all, refers to a state that can be more or less present, not to a state that is automatically inherent in all things. That's why we call a nun more spiritual than a heroin addict who only wants to get high.

Genuine? Don't know what you mean. Is this a quality that can be more or less present in things?

Respectful of the environment? Only a person on planet earth can be respectful of the environment; animals have no concept of the environment.

More loving? Trees don't love. Dogs I think have a certain type of love that is not at the level of higher human love, such as altruistic love.

Closer to God? I think at least having a concept of something would bring you closer to it, but it depends on your definition.

Don't get me wrong, I think trees and dogs are perfect in their own way, but "advancement" isn't *about* a rock being perfect as it is. So I think you are making a category mistake.

I mean, what I get from New Age philosophy and my spirit guides in fact is all about being a better person and advancing spiritually. Is that total BS? Should I just give up?

I mean to say all the above with no edge; I am always grateful for our debates! :)

"Is the more sophisticated more sublime? I confess to thinking that is so."

Talcott--I appreciate the humility with which you say that. Here's an example of how difficult it is to make comparisons between early forms of art, and later ones.

Has literature advanced? Well, we know that ancient peoples were storytellers, and that it is from this behavior that literature evolved. If we insist on trying to make value judgements, let's imagine what that ancient literary experience might have been like, and then see if we can think of ways in which the earliest storytelling was likely to have been just as worthy as the storytelling we participate in today.

Instead of enjoying a story through the solitary means of holding a book in one's hands, or watching images on a screen, the earliest consumers of literature got to hear stories, in person, from those who *lived* those stories (or likely made them up, using realistic elements as well as imagined ones).

It's likely that each tribe had its most talented storytellers, but it's also probable that many in the group--if not most--were fond of telling tales.

Based on that scenario:

1. Hearing a story meant learning more about someone you know and probably love. So storytelling fostered bonding between members of the tribe.

Who does today's audience bond with? If you're lucky, maybe someone you love will read to you. More likely, you're reading a book or watching the TV. And where's the bonding? We get to "know," in some sense, authors and actors, but is that a richer experience than becoming closer with people in your own family and extended family?

2. Not only did people get to hear great stories, they got to *tell* them. Is it hard to imagine that this opportunity to share one's life with others, through storytelling, is exactly the sort of thing that keeps people sane? This is what I mean by participatory art vs consumer art (whether it's literature, painting, or music).

We are a society of story *consumers*.

3. But let's be literary critics for a moment. As to the quality of the stories themselves, how can we possibly compare a story told 'round a fire, with a Dickens novel? *We* may opt for the Dickens, but does that mean it has more value, in the largest sense, than a story told by one tribal member to another? How can we compare the worthiness of one storytelling experience, or one story, against another?

Clearly, storytelling today is infinitely more advanced in a variety of ways. I don't need to list them.

But does today's literature do its job any better than the storytelling of 100,000 years ago? I think it's hard to make that argument. Like all art, and probably life itself, storytelling has changed--that's all we can say for sure.

"I mean, what I get from New Age philosophy and my spirit guides in fact is all about being a better person and advancing spiritually. Is that total BS? Should I just give up?"

I never said people can't grow spiritually. I just question whether the history of life on this planet--and that's what I'm taking about here--can be judged in those terms.

You keep stressing the importance of concepts. As I see it, spiritual growth isn't synonymous with acquiring concepts. In fact, concepts are just as likely to get in the way, no matter how beautiful or logical they may seem. History provides plenty of evidence for that.

As I see it, spirituality refers to how close we are, in feeling and behavior, to the spirit (God) from which we emerge, and to which we return. That seems a reasonable definition.

And in that sense, man--who so easily forgets his origins--can't be argued to be more spiritual than other creatures, regardless of how many concepts he accumulates.

"I mean to say all the above with no edge; I am always grateful for our debates! :)"

I've enjoyed our debates too, Matt. But I'm gonna have to pass on having one right now.

In the past year, I've had to choose between getting into extensive conversations online, or trying to write something more substantial and lasting, like a book.

At the moment, the latter is more appealing.

Wish I had time for both! I'm sure I'll continue to pipe in here when I simply can't resist the urge. That seems to happen a lot.

Thanks for a great discussion which sadly characterizes Gnostics with cartoon accuracy, caricature perhaps..I suggest a look at Tim Freke, the Laughing Jesus and Jesus and the Lost Goddess..And yet you find your way to very valid observations that do affirm Gnostic truth which is shared by the amazing Druz who consider both Plato and Pythagoras prophets. And yes, the non-physical mind and truths of Tibetan teaching are all thoroughly affirmed in Gnostic work, not teaching..You dont "Teach" what is inner knowing. Nobody speaks for god but only, ever As God..and in any words but ultimately silence..Oneness of being in Light..Other good sources are Henry Corbin and yes, goes right into Jungian psych. where Corbin presented for yrs. Also includes Rumi and the Sufi's who are dead center on this way..of No Way..:) So thank you for your imperfect but very good work! (Just like my work, hopefully)

Well Bruce, write the book so I can read it! I'm sure a book by you will be a good one indeed!

"I suggest a look at Tim Freke, the Laughing Jesus and Jesus and the Lost Goddess."

I've read "Jesus and the Lost Goddess," but I'd take Freke and Gandy with a grain of salt. They rely disproportionately on outdated 19th century sources, and many of their arguments have been effectively rebutted by modern New Testament scholars.

To take one example, they argue that the story of Isis and Osiris is a resurrection myth with parallels to Jesus' resurrection. But Osiris was not really resurrected; this was a misunderstanding perpetrated by an older generation of scholars. Isis, his sister, gathered up Osiris' scattered body parts and pieced them together, at which point Osiris was able to reign over the dead in the afterlife.

The point of the story is that the body must be intact in order for the soul to function in the next life (hence the paramount importance of mummification for Egyptians), but not that Osiris, or anyone else, can be restored to physical life by making the corpse whole. Osiris never returns to physical life; he remains dead; but now, at least, he can enjoy the afterlife. This is quite different from the resurrection story in the NT.

Other myths that they cite as parallels to the NT story are also questionable. In general, I find Freke and Gandy tendentious and not too well informed about modern NT scholarship, though they do write well and are entertaining and provocative to read.

John lash is very informative souce on Gnosticism

With all due respect, I would like to suggest there is an alternative to the supposed "either Old Testament or New Testament" conflict: studying the religion of Judaism, for which the so-called "Old" Testament is simply "the Scriptures". The Jews have been interpreting and commenting on the Scriptures for thousands of years ... longer than Christians OR Gnostics! So I do think their voice is sorely needed in this type of discussion.

' ...for which the so-called "Old" Testament is simply "the Scriptures".'

I usually call it the Hebrew Bible, except when I'm trying to distinguish it from the NT. I agree that the issue is a lot more complex than "Old" vs. "New." As I think I mentioned somewhere above, there are many instances of a loving and just God in the Hebrew Bible, and many instances of a wrathful and cruel God in the New Testament.

To me, the biggest difference between the two is that the Hebrew Bible has very little to say about an afterlife, a subject that doesn't even arise until around quite late, around the time of the Maccabees. The Hebrew Bible is more concerned with the survival of the Jewish people; immortality is conceived of as bearing many children who will carry on your family line. Personal immortality was not a big part of Judaism (and is not, to this day), while it has always been central to Christianity.

My view is that the Old Testament is more like a history of the Jews while the New Testament is like a library of Christian writings which I view as being somewhat incomplete.

What I really believe is that the New Testament is a highly embellished and out of sequence Near Death Experience story and Christianity at it's very heart is a near death experience religion.

But that's just me....

That's very true. And I'm no expert on Judaism. However, I have discussed this with Jewish friends who find it a bit insulting that so many people influenced by the Christian worldview just automatically assume the "Old Testament God" was so awful and had to be "fixed" by the New Testament.

And P.S. I just discovered your blog today and am really enjoying it! Thank you!

Interesting. This reminds me of Rene Girard's mimetic analysis of the Old Testament wherein he shows convincingly that the angry pronouncements of God, properly read within a hermeneutic framework which accounts for whole books of the Bible rather than snippets taken out of context, actually come from the humans who claim to work on behalf of God. IF you read carefully, you will notice that when God actually speaks in the OT it is nothing like the violent, genocidal commandments which so many people point to as typical of the OT.

“The Statue of David represents an advance over paleolithic carvings of bulbous fertility goddesses.”

This just made my day!

I will comment that one improvement in art and music lies in their perception of worth. Not in an economic sense but a practical one. I work in the child welfare filed and am often pleasantly surprised at the influx of practitioners who use art and music therapeutically in creative ways. Art and music often provide a back door entrance to the mind where ideas can be planted, changes can occur, etc.

On second thought perhaps I just stumbled over my own thoughts (or maybe wandering bulbous fertility goddesses).
Art and music embedded into the correct cultural presentation make are great advertisements and induce people to part with their earnings. And that’s definitely an economic measure of worth.

The comments to this entry are closed.