Frank Visser, CLIMBING THE STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN: Reflections on Ken Wilber's “The Religion of Tomorrow”
INTEGRAL WORLD: EXPLORING THEORIES OF EVERYTHING
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Publication dates of essays (month/year) can be found under "Essays".
Chris Dierkes was a contributor to the now defunct Integral webzine TheManifest.org, and to Indistinct Union. He is co-creator of the Beams and Struts blog, of which he is the religion editor.
A RESPONSE TO RAY HARRIS
In responding to Ray Harris' article (Christianity the Great Lie: Progressive Religion and Integral Politics), I want to make clear at the beginning my intention, particularly my intended audience.
I'm not writing in order to convince Ray that he should hold different views on Christianity. Nor am I writing from an arrogant assumption that my faith (which is Christian and of the kind criticized in Ray's article) is clearly superior and immune from such objections. Ray makes a forceful claim that orthodox Christian doctrine is flawed. I am responding to this charge—I am not declaring that I know for certain that Christianity is the ultimate truth in all contexts to the entire universe for all created beings (it is still faith). Rather I am making the best case I can to show the ways in which Ray's interpretation is misguided and faulty and to let the doctrine stand as best as it can for itself and let the reader make up his/her own mind on the subject.
Christianity is a highly diverse and extremely charged topic. It is also a subject on which many people (both for and against) are ill-informed, making it a very difficult issue with which to attempt to be “integral”—however we define that term.
I have no real problem with Ray's article of beliefs as such. He strikes me as a well read man and writes with much erudition. My disagreement is with the way in which the article runs roughshod over what are otherwise disputed claims. It gives the reader the impression of finality/consensus to a number of hotly contested points concerning Jesus and early Christianity. He at times only covers one side of an issue, making no mention of opposing points of view; makes assertions without evidence; strips pieces of evidence from their context in order to support a preconceived view; and in certain places, is simply misinformed.
Before I cover my counter-argument, I believe some self-disclosure is in order. I am a believing Christian and have been my whole life (26 years). I was raised in a traditional Roman Catholic family and in my twenties “converted” to Episcopalianism (Anglicanism), if converted is the right word. I have written extensively on my own studies/views of what an Integral Christianity would look like (see Indistinct Union Blog). I have particularly focused on the mystical, social justice, and prophetic strains within Christianity.
I certainly am not naïve when it comes to the horrors perpetrated upon this world, especially upon countless innocents, by those in the name of Christ. The list is a sad and tragic one: The Crusades; Witch Hunts; Colonialism; Inquisition; persecution of Jews, Pagans, and so-called heretical Christians; sexual abuse by clergy; cover ups, extortion, and blackballing techniques. Plus innumerable others.
There is also within this religion the memory of great men and women of holiness and utter love: Francis of Assisi and his embrace of the poor and forgotten of our world; Martin Luther King, Jr. and his abiding faith in a God of justice who looses the bonds of slavery and oppression; The Missionaries of Charity picking up the dead and dying in the streets of Calcutta, washing them and giving their lives some semblance of dignity in an otherwise brutal world as a sign of a merciful divine presence.
By believing and identifying myself with this tradition I am part and parcel of both strains. Just as within my own heart I find movements towards destruction/hate/revenge as well as towards mercy/forgiveness/love. I subscribe to the view that religions are simultaneously the largest purveyors of violence and destruction in the world (1st) AND the repository of the most liberating teachings and realizers in human history (2nd)—and that the two are always intertwined.
More importantly, by focusing on doctrine, I am consciously putting the best foot forward. In a different context I would be arguing from different sets of priorities. This article assumes a mostly non-Christian audience and is responding to a specific set of criticisms. Focusing on this piece of the puzzle does not mean I am ignorant of or purposefully occluding other, more damaging pieces. Also my description of Christianity and doctrine refers only to those churches that adhere to the orthodox Nicene faith—Roman Catholic, Anglican, Eastern Orthodox, and mainline Protestant. Groups like Mormons, Jehoviah's Witnesses, are not covered here.
I am also am aware that there are certain principles I take to be true on “faith.” I understand that for some people “faith” can only ever be in reality an illusory cover for what in reality is the product of biological predisposition and Darwinian adaptation; social-cultural construction/bourgeoisie class-based imperial mythology; or a Freudian infantile wish-fulfilling psychodrama meant to protect me from a cold, cruel world. And that these are the arguments of rational people and no rational adult holds “faith”. While I can not ever say that such explanations may not be factors involved to some degree, I do not believe my “faith” is reducible to such explanations. It seems to me that those who hold such views take these views to be true in all times and in all places and to give a coherence and stability to their world in an all unifying explanatory framework that, to me, strangely resembles that which they purport to show is ignorant in those of “faith.”
Also I rely heavily on key concepts from Wilber's philosophy to make my argument. I am employing his Three Useful Principles for Integral Methodology (Excerpt B to Vol 2 Kosmos Trilogy), as well as the related notions of morphogenetic patterning, states versus stages, and worldviews as probability waves of existence.
As quick review, the three principles are: nonexclusion, exemplarism, and envelopment.
Nonexclusion means that one can not judge the validity of a discipline unless one undertakes its injunctions. E.g. one can not judge scientific theories if one does not practice the scientific method as it has been annunciated by its practicioners over time. Nor could a scientist qua scientist pass judgment on say depth psychology solely by referring to data gained via the scientific enterprise. The reason for that one discipline can not defend or reject another is principle 2: exemplarism.
Paradigms-exemplars-injunctions help bring forth worldspaces. Certain types of data and interpretive frames only arise by undertaking certain injunctions as defined by that practicing community of experts. Depth psychology does not invalidate chemistry nor chemistry overturn psychology. What is required is a framework that incorporates the data-truths of each in a larger whole. Integral models, as we know, seek to do just that.
Lastly, #3 envelopment: not only do exemplars bring forth worldspaces but these worldspaces (via phenomenological developmental reconstruction) are found to deploy in hierarchical (holarchical) fashion, each transcending and including (“enveloping”) the previous.
These three will be central to be my argument.
With due recognition to the critical views on Wilber some authors on this site hold… whatever an individual's views on matters like the status of individual/collective holons, quadrants versus sextants, I believe the concepts I'm focusing on and the conclusions I draw can be found helpful regardless. Obviously an argument on those subjects are papers in themselves and would distract from my argument. I'll just say that I am convinced that Wilber's methodology does incorporate and organize more data-streams than any other. I am particularly impressed by his Wilber-5 so-called post-metaphysical ventures, especially as they relate to the future of religion (see Integral Spirituality). Nevertheless, I think the basic points made here can hold even if one holds a non-Wilberian integral frame; I leave it to those readers to translate my insights into their own frameworks.
INTEGRATED TRUTH TELLING
Harris begins by noting in addition to the Prime Directive---the assertion that integral action serves best the health of the whole spiral rather than any one individual development stage--he believes integral ethics should be composed of a second Directive:
But there is also a second and equally important ethical imperative, the need to discover and tell the truth. No-one is served by lies, inaccuracy and incorrect theories. You cannot bake a cake with the wrong recipe.
He then adds this paragraph:
I know there's considerable debate over the nature of truth, in fact I hope to write a future piece on how the integral community sometimes indulges in epistemological relativism and some shady theories about truth and the nature of reality. The truth does exist, even when we are not certain what the truth is precisely. Yes, there are enormous areas of uncertainty but at the same time there is a great deal of certainty and predictability. But even more important, there is falsity. Even if we are not certain about what is true we can be certain about what is false. Even though we may not know how the Kosmos was created we do know that it wasn't created by the Giant Spaghetti Monster, or by Zeus – or really, seriously, by God in seven days.
I'm not entirely sure what Harris means by the phrase “epistemological relativism.” If by that he means that someone advocates a position like: “All truth is relative, therefore nothing is more true than anything else” (i.e. so-called postmodernist relativism?), then in fact that would be very problematic if members of the integral community sometime indulge in such a thought process. If by epistemological relativism, however, Harris means that all truths are relative to one another--some are relatively more true (or less wrong) than others, some relatively less true—then I am an epistemological relativist. I do not take it to mean therefore that I believe that no set of truths is more important than others.
Either way he argues, even if we can not know the truth, it is there nevertheless. “Even though we may not know how the Kosmos was created we do know that it wasn't created by the Giant Spaghetti Monster, or by Zeus—or really, seriously, by God in seven days.”
But what does he mean by truth and nature of reality?
Let me give an example. I have a friend who has two young daughters. I used to play hide and go seek with her girls and the neighbor's kids. My friend's 2nd daughter was the youngest of the bunch—I'll call her Susie. She was about 2-3 years old at the time. So I would close my eyes and begin counting out loud. All the other children (ages 5 to 8) would run and hide in closets, behind doors and curtains, in cabinets—in other words out of plain sight. Susie would inevitably lie down directly in front of me on the floor, clearly in view, and would cover her eyes.
The first time I thought she was just being very funny. Until she did the same thing over and over again—not only covering her head in her hands but actually laying down in the exact same spot. And I thought to myself, why is she hiding right in front of me? Why does she think covering her head in her hands is going to prevent me from seeing her?
As strange (or humorous) as that action may sound, when we study Piaget's writings on cognitive development, it makes perfect sense. In her worldspace, she did not yet possess the cognitive capacity to differentiate between self and other. That means she could not (in her mind) imagine the world from my point of view. Because if she could have, she would have realized that hiding her face in her hands would not prevent me from spotting her. Normally children make this leap around 4/5 years old, which is why all the other children were hiding out of sight. Susie had a magical worldview, wherein, since self and environment were not totally differentiated yet, anything performed upon herself would (in that worldview) automatically alter the very fabric of the outer world. Hence, she covers her face and she literally disappears---magic. Should I also mention that she believed that an ethereal being flew in through her window while she slept at night, depositing money under her pillow in exchange for her teeth?
Now, from my point of view, I know that it is really her mother leaving behind the money and not a fairy, just like I know that she clearly doesn't disappear by burying her face in her hands. But only from a different worldspace, that is a different perspective.
Is her world completely wrong for her inability to take a 2nd person's point of view? Was she wrong about everything in her universe, not just the Tooth Fairy?
Now, some may argue that this is an unfair analogy because Susie is so young. We would certainly have a problem with an adult still believing that literally some giant man in a red suit really comes down your chimney on December 24th, leaving presents under a tree. Religion, some argue particularly in its mythical aspects, is like Santa Claus and should not therefore be believed by adults. Not in a literal sense anyway.
It is true there is no giant old grey-bearded man in the sky manipulating the world to his ends, controlling everything that occurs. So the mythic god is dead, that very immature understanding of God is dead, but is God dead then too, altogether?
What Harris' seems to me to neglect is the cognition of worldspaces. Developmental studies teach us to that people live in different worlds. That means certain facts and certain kinds of interpretations only arise within certain worldspaces. This statement seems quite easy to grasp at first, but the implications are, I believe, very very profound and subtle. These worldspaces are horizons of understanding. Whatever worldspace one predominantly inhabits, one can not see the boundaries of that worldspace. It is rather that one sees from that particular worldspace than about it. It is their subject; they are in other words, “subject” to the beauty and limitations of such a worldspace. Also as horizons, when identified exclusively with a certain worldview (from archaic to integral), one can not see above the ceiling—i.e. one can not see worldspaces higher than your own, only lower.
Therefore facts and interpretive structures that only arise in those higher worldspaces are literally incomprehensible to a person. It made absolutely no sense to Susie when I told her I could see her when she covered her face in front of me. [Even more complex is that an individual (and a collective) has something like 12 major lines of development, each with their own sub-worldspaces/levels, each developing (mostly) independently of the others but that for another time].
Not just facts but interpretation of facts (facts/interpretation always co-arise), only arise within certain worldspaces. Worldspaces can only be accessed by exemplars (injunctions). Truths ex-ist (emphasis on the plural). Certain truths arise in certain worldspaces, whether stages or states of consciousness.
Integral epistemology is primarily concerned with describing the contours of these worldspaces (truths and limitations), the order in which they arise (enfoldment), and the means by which they are co-created (injunction). The facts-interpretations at each level have a reality of their own, however we define the term reality, and if integral is about integrating a plurality of beliefs we have to allow these worldspaces arise. We can certainly help people develop through the lower ones to the higher—even try to help accelerate that growth—but we simply can't declare them null and void. Doing that only pulls the rug out from under evolution, leaving no way for people to make the next structural step.
What's worse, to simply describe a set of facts/interpretation without describing the precise methods by which one accesses those data-streams is metaphysics. Metaphysics usually works as a deceptive cover for all manner of conscious and unconscious viewpoints.
Because of the exemplarist, co-creative nature of the Kosmos, the meaning of a statement is the means of its arising. Since data streams and interpretive structures can only be accessed by the appropriate methodologies, it is not enough simply to state the findings of any discipline. We must describe the very injunctions and processes whereby such truths are discovered. To do this it requires, at minimum, the means (injunction-perspective) undertaken and the altitude (level) in which the facts/interpretation emerge.
Minus making our own methodologies transparent, we may be articulating certain data and meaning statements only understood from a higher worldspace to an individual/group left with no roadmap as to how to find this knowledge.
All worldspaces—as described in 3rd person language such as levels, Spiral, etc.—are but probabilities of finding a certain set of beliefs/actions within a specified “chunk” of the Kosmos. Describing an action or a person as exhibiting a “purple” belief, means that there is a very high probability (maybe over 95%) locating these actions/beliefs within the broad loose framework of what we term the purple meme. No individual's actions are ever 100% of one meme, so more properly there is a very high probability of locating a large portion (maybe 60%) of the structural aspect of a person's beliefs or actions. These probabilities refer only to the structural aspect not their surface manifestation.
Once a stage of consciousness emerges and becomes patterned (as say beige to turquoise at this point), then those waves do in fact pre-exist the individual born at square one. But certain truths/interpretations will not concretely exist in the individual's mind until he/she develops to the appropriate level through the appropriate set of methodologies.
To the degree that we should, as Harris notes, speak truth, the truths spoken from a higher worldspace can only ever be understood (though in a corrupted form) through a translation of those concepts to the level at which at individual already ex-ists. So if the Ethical Imperative is to speak truth, then the question remains---which truths? And to whom? And how? Which returns us to the Prime Directive—policies and structures must be designed from an integral worldspace that allow each of the pre-integral structures to express their own native intelligences in a healthy manner, while disallowing them from suppressing lower or higher worldspaces and not themselves subject to lower or higher worldspaces attacking them, in their healthy functioning that is.
Ray employs this more abstract truth-telling principle first to set the groundwork for his discussion (and criticism) of Christianity. I have focused on the ways in which I think this truth-telling principle is mistaken and as I will show how it corrupts his arguments on Christianity.
THE OTHER SIDE OF THE TALE
First let me point out the one area where, in essentials, I agree with Ray. He correctly notes that with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hammadi library in Egypt during the 20th century, our understanding of the crucial intertestamental period (200 BCE to 200 CE) has been radically altered. Discovered in the writings of the Dead Sea and Nag Hammadi are other forms of Judaism and Christianity not described in the Bible. There are apocalyptic Jewish movements as well as Gnostic Christian sects.
The Pharisee Party (Rabbis) came to dominate Judaism after the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE—common ancestor of modern-day Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform Judaisms. Christianity controlled by the so-called orthodox/catholic tradition (what Harris calls “the literalists”), forerunners of the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches.
History, it is said, is written by the winners. The Bible, as currently constituted is the product of the “winners”. The orthodox-catholic tradition determined which books were included in the New Testament and which were left out. They also argued (against Marcion) that the New Testament was the fulfillment of the Old and the Old Testament writings must be included in the Bible. They declared The Gnostics heretics and it is for this reason, the Gnostics hid their writings in Egypt, only to be accidentally discovered almost 2,000 years later.
Every text, postmodernist interpretation teaches us, involves an agenda, a partisan point of view no matter how “innocent” the text claims to be on the surface. The Bible, in this sense, is no different. While I do not believe the Bible's meaning can be reduced SOLELY to such interpretative lens, it certainly is not immune from such criticism either.
These texts with alternative Christianities are translated and widely available. The historical Christian churches do not have a monopoly on interpretation of the Bible or the meaning of Christianity. If individuals read these texts want to identify and organize themselves as, for example, Gnostics, then that is their right. It is not their right to make the same mistake in reverse, declaring themselves the one and only true “faith” and marginalizing the orthodox (or from their point of view, the real heretics). All the while never holding the critical candle up to themselves.
I am arguing from within the tradition, so I clearly take my stand on a certain platform. I believe it better to argue from within the positive attributes of the tradition itself then primarily focusing on cutting down those with different views. That doesn't mean I think all the views are equal, but that the religion is better served by a different form of discourse than has been more commonly practiced up till now.
On the other hand, given the relative newness in public and scholarly awareness, there has been a tendency to read these forgotten/suppressed texts uncritically. This uncritical tendency is rife in postmodern circles, both within and without Christian circles. Individuals romanticize and project their own wishes for a different kind of church or religion onto these ancient voices. These rediscovered voices are used to help subvert the dominance of the traditional orthodox storyline but are not often held up to the same scrutiny. In the most extreme of cases, these texts become weapons used in a pitched battle for those, who for whatever reasons have axes to grind against the churches.
An integral analysis, in my view, would seek to locate the true and partial elements of all parties involved, those who would form the orthodox party and those who were to be left out, giving an overall more balanced reconstruction. I find this balance lacking in Harris' articulation.
Harris begins his discussion of Christianity with a sub-section entitled, Christianity: The Real Story So Far.
Note that there is one and only one story to Christianity—not stories—and that Harris from a dis-embedded outside view will describe for us the “real” one. The emphasis is on “real” because, as we will see, the “real” story (as described by Harris) is nothing other than the story of how men using faith as a cover suppressed other forms of religious expression and created a false religion. Harris writes:
Perhaps the most devastating consequence of Christian theology is its emphasis on faith. As I will argue below the early Christian ideologues struggled against competing ideas about Christ and the nature of God and the Cosmos. They could not argue from evidence because they had none, instead they argued from faith. Today orthodox Christians still defend their beliefs against an ever increasing amount of contrary evidence by arguing from faith. The American fundamentalist responds to the hard evidence contradicting a literal interpretation of the Bible by constructing a rationale based on faith alone – it is so because I believe it is so. We might choose to ridicule such fundamentalist beliefs, however, it is not the specific belief that is the real problem. By raising an argument from faith to the same epistemological status as an argument from facts and reason, Christianity has opened the door for other beliefs to use the same excuse. Thus a whole range of bizarre and contradictory belief systems claim a 'right' to exist solely on the basis of a supposed 'right' to faith. This diminishes the power of what is true and merely creates a confusing array of false paths based on fantasies and lies – it plunges the world into gobbledygook.
A couple of points I want to note.
First the quick jump from orthodox Christians to American Biblical fundamentalists.
He says that “today orthodox Christians still defend their beliefs against an ever increasing amount of contrary evidence by arguing from faith.” What exactly this contrary evidence is remains unclear. Is it scientific evidence? Is it scientific evidence that (correctly) shows that the cosmology of the Bible is inaccurate? If so, that would only matter to fundamentalist Christians who read the Bible literally, of which a vast number of orthodox Christians do not (myself included). The traditional teaching of Christianity is that the Bible does not make mistakes when it comes to those issues central to the questions of salvation and matters of Christian faith. It does make mistakes on all kinds of other issues not central to salvation—e.g. historical facts, dates, times, scientific descriptions, and the like. Has science or history disproved the existence of God or the notion of salvation recently? Did I not get the memo on that one?
And again Harris:
“By raising an argument from faith to the same epistemological status as an argument from facts and reason, Christianity has opened the door for other beliefs to use the same excuse.”
Again, I'm not sure exactly to what (or whom) Harris he refers. The word faith is left undefined, which is problematic. James Fowler, a development psychologist, wrote a work on stages of faith development. His work, based on his extensive structuralist studies, outlines six stages of faith: intuitive-projective; mythic-literal; synthetic-conventional; individuative-reflective; conjunctive; universalizing. As stages only (discounting for the moments other definitions like states, traits, feelings/attitudes), there are least six different meanings of “faith.” Though they represent different lines of development, these six stages could be roughly correlated as:
For an excellent summary of these stages, click here.
The faith to which I think Harris is referring sounds like mythic and/or synthetic-conventional. Mythic involves the concrete literalization of the religious tales inculcated by one's in-group. Conventional emphasizes more the social conformity of identifying (mostly) with that in group and the way in which these stories give coherence and stability through the ups and downs of life.
Harris writes that Christianity has raised to an equal epistemological standing arguments from faith as those from facts and reason. Facts and reason are codewords for (at least) an orange-modernist worldview, so by raising an argument from faith to the level of facts-reason, the faith in question must be lower than modernist, hence something like blue mythic-literal. And to the degree that there are those who argue from metaphysical closed circular premodernist belief systems, Harris is right to criticize them. One better modernist approach is to say for example science and religion refer to different vectors and that they are “non-overlapping”. Religion is part of a swath of interests like values, meaning, and spiritual fulfillment. Science, technology, and so on describing the natural world, material causality, and objective aspect of reality, while remaining mute on the question of interior and/or ultimate meaning.
And for what it's worth, at the “modernist” wave of faith development (individuative), Fowler's analysis branches in multiple directions. At the modernist/postmodernist waves, an individual may be atheist, theist, deist, pantheist, or agnostic. All of these interestingly are part of faith development. [I will return to that issue later when discussing Christian mysticism, but for the moment the key is that as related to stages (as opposed to states) of consciousness, the religious process always bifurcates. The mind is based on duality (according to the stages) and so long as there are believers there will be unbelievers, whether the believers believe in religion or science].
But this proliferation of so-called bizarre views is not all to be laid on the doorstep of Christianity. Part of it is simply living in a pluralistic world where views considered pre-rational are not criminalized---as long those views do not end up in political (exterior) illegal acts, e.g. cults, murder, discrimination, and so forth. In other words a context where free expression of religious belief is considered an innate human right is bound to manifest views most of us find incomprehensible or worse repugnant, particularly religious ones. The Christianity of the premodern world, as Harris notes elsewhere, was not promoting political and social pluralism. It was busying instigating Inquisitions and aligning itself with state powers to enforce faith with the edge of the sword if needs be. Secularism perhaps is more to blame for this one; Harris in fact does admit this point though its a little buried—check out his Appendix II on American Christianity.
Harris then enumerates ways in which for the (presumably) mythic-conventional believer many disparate and contradicting pieces of evidence concerning the storyline of one's faith have been ignored or suppressed. He cites the ways in which people still judge the Roman Empire based on Christian narratives of oppression and persecution. This opening to other narratives and possibilities can leave a sense of confusion whether or not it is even possible to sort out these competing visions.
Before delving into his own rendering of the “true” story so far, Harris makes a telling admission:
It is here however, that we face an insurmountable problem, no-one knows anything for certain.
So there is a caveat over what follows. It is all disputed. But this is the point. No-one can assert to know what really happened. This means that there is enough credible evidence for us to say to any Christian; you cannot be certain and intellectual honesty demands that you suspend your belief. Faith is no excuse. If independent scholars are honest to admit they are speculating, you should be similarly honest and admit that the entire Bible is speculation.
He is correct: no one can assert to know what really happened in terms of Jesus and the early church. Too much of the “history” of that movement is lost to us. No one can know what really happened if for no other reason then because the truth does not exist separately from reconstructed scholarly efforts, embedded in cultures, languages, economies, religious traditions and so. While these two statements may seem to contradict his earlier arguments about truth-telling and anti-epistemological relativism, I think the statement of uncertainty in this regard does in fact hold validity. The validity of uncertainty applies to the interior realms of meaning and to the misapplication of exterior paradigms to answer interior existential ones.
JESUS AND THE MYTH OF HISTORICISM
Modernist epistemologies have, on the whole, reduced truth to material determinism---whether biological, neurological, historical, or economic. This epistemology runs into direct conflict with the Bible and leads to endless intellectual dead ends.
In a reductionist modernist epistemology truth is defined as “what happened”. What really happened is determined by archaeology, reviewing written, judging eyewitness testimony, and finding physical, material evidence.
You can learn from a history book that The Japanese military bombed the US Naval Installation of Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941. You can even travel and walk atop the sunken USS Arizona (as I have done), see the film clips of FDR speaking to the American people, or talk to people still alive who remember the event. All of those facts are “true.”
The problem with such an exlusively horizontal version of truth is that it has, of course, no room for meaning. What were the implications of the Pearl Harbor Attack? Was the attack right or wrong? What did it mean? Physical evidence and slave-like devotion to historical facts can answer none of those questions. Other methodologies are necessary.
With the introduction of the modernist method into Biblical studies beginning in the 19th century and continuing today, much was gained in terms of learning about the background, context, and daily lives of the Biblical authors. The modernist movement brought methodologies from linguistics, archaeology, history, economics, and sociology. But the modern critical biblical method can not, by its own methods, determine whether the Bible, as a work claiming to reveal spiritual wisdom, is true or not.
Take the so-called Search for the Historical Jesus, which is supposed to tell us (presumably) what the real Jesus was like. Of course it can do no such thing. Even historical Jesus scholar John Meier notes that there is a difference between the Jesus of history, the man who walked on earth and the “historical Jesus”, who is a reconstruction by modern scholars. Does not mean the historical Jesus is completely wrong, just very limited in scope. Most authors and readers sadly miss this essential point and succumb to the temptation to think our reconstructions reveal the “real” Jesus. When this occurs the quest has fallen victim to the modernist fallacies (absolutizations) of truth.
As a modernist fallacy, the Historical Jesus quests ex-ist in a worldspace prior to the understandings of postmodernity. In this modernist world there is no strong understanding of the way in which culture, politics, and our own current assumptions of truth are shaping the very quest itself. Certain historical Jesus scholars give credence to the importance of Jesus' cultural nexus but seem profoundly ignorant of the way in which their own cultures/languages are shaping the very way in which they reconstruct these ancient cultures.
Nor do these scholars often grasp that all the texts we have concerning Jesus are already elaborately conceived interpretative narratives. Since Jesus left no writings himself, the question of how accurate a depiction they are about Jesus, his life and message becomes very tricky.
For every Historical Jesus author, there is a different Jesus. And not surprisingly the Jesus each author declares to be the “real” one looks suspiciously like the author him/herself. John Dominic Crossan, for example, had a long history of conflict with the Roman Catholic authorities and his Jesus turns out to be a revolutionary, anti religious establishment figure. Conservative Jesus scholars' (e.g. Luke Timothy Johnson, N.T. Wright) Jesus looks like a good orthodox religious believer. And, should I add, that Ray Harris' description of Jesus as
“more like a Greek philosopher/mystic preaching a syncretic religion that incorporated some heterodox Jewish elements – if indeed, he existed at all.”
seems to resemble Harris' own spiritual tendencies?
Harris repeatedly lauds this Greek spiritual tradition:
Christian hegemony was an important factor in the decline of spiritual philosophy. By replacing philosophy with a theology based on lies the original teachings of several philosophical schools were distorted, allowing a later materialist reaction to arise. By taking God out of nature and out of man and placing Him in a remote heaven, Christianity created the dualism that allowed science to concentrate exclusively on nature and ignore God. If God was separate from His creation then he could be kept separate and out of mind.
I find that an interesting parallel.
Regardless, all of the texts about Jesus, both the orthodox canonical Gospels and the non-canonical ones (of which there are hundreds incidentally)—including Gnostic texts—are written by a specific community with a specific theological spiritual agenda.
Gospels are not biographies. None of them—orthodox or otherwise. They do not provide us with Jesus' height, weight, hair or eye color, etc. As the Gospel of John states, “This is written so that you may believe Jesus is the Christ.” The Gospel is telling us it is written with a clear objective in mind—to convert the hearer to the belief that Jesus is the Christ.
It is not, I repeat, a biography of Jesus. Nor is it meant to be, and when we attempt to decide whether the Gospels (whichever ones) are true or not, we unconsciously tend to project modernist epistemological assumptions onto the text.
The Gospels in other words consist of stories and parables attempting to make a theological point and one can not make a judgment about its claims solely from investigative techniques of the exterior world.
In terms of the “facts” of the life of Jesus the only agreement might be over the following points:
And the following two propositions seem very likely:
[Though Harris obliquely notes (minus supporting evidence) that there may never have been a man named Jesus, the Roman (pagan) author Tacitus does say that there was a certain Jesus who was executed under Pontius Pilate].
Notice what I did not say in the preceding:
His followers claimed they experienced his Resurrection. Historical reconstruction alone can say that the followers claimed such an experience. It can not define what a resurrection experience may or may not be, whether such a thing is even possible or not, or whether it in fact occurred or not in the case of Jesus. Same for his followers claimed that he possessed some ability to perform spiritual healing. Before those the historical method (alone) is mute.
Even if we establish through reconstruction Jesus taught something called the reign/kingdom of God (basileia to theou)—what did he mean by that?
The Gospel of John tells us that it is written so that you may believe Jesus is the Christ. But those “historical” facts by themselves give us no indication of whether Jesus was the Christ or not---or what the word Christ even means.
Gospels are not biographies. I can not stress this point enough. All Gospels are written to convince the reader of a certain vision of faith. In simplified form, every Gospel (and the letters of the New Testament) is written to make one believe that Jesus is the Christ.
The differences arise between these different theologies from their different understandings of the nature of Christ. The word Christ is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Messiah. The word messiah (masiah) means “anointed” as in “anointed with oil”, like the kings and prophets of Israel. Prior to the time of Jesus, different conceptions of the nature of the Messiah (or messiahs) arose. Some saw the Messiah as a Cosmic Judge come to rule the world, for others a priest who would bring true spiritual piety and sacrifice to the corrupted religious rites, a prophet, a king, and so on.
The New Testament picks up these themes and argues that Jesus was the Messiah, according to any and all of these messianic strains.
If we look only to the New Testament canonical writings we find, for example, Christ portrayed as the fulfillment of the priestly liturgical tradition (Letter to the Hebrews), The New Moses (Gospel of Matthew), The Suffering Messiah (Gospel of Mark), The Eternal Pre-Existent Word of God (John), Cosmic Judge (Revelation). And in non-canonical Gospels like that of Thomas we find Christ depicted as a Wisdom Sage, promoting Enlightenment with Zen-like aphorisms.
Each Gospel or Letter then arises out of the context of a worshipping community, a group of Christians who find Jesus to be the Christ. How each community understood the meaning of Christ (and therefore of the life and ministry of Jesus) was shaped by their own backgrounds. Groups with a more Jewish context emphasized a Jesus who at first ignores a Gentile woman pleading for him to save her son. Jesus in this story replies, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel (Matthew 15:36).” But in the Gospel of Luke, written for a primarily Gentile Christian audience, Jesus repeatedly questions the notion of the primary spot being reserved for Israelites. For example take these words of Jesus spoken to a Jewish crowd: “Then there will be weeping and grinding of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves [i.e. the Jewish crowd] thrown out. And people from east and west, from north and south [i.e. Gentiles] will come and sit down at the feast in the kingdom of God. (Luke 13:28-30)”
So which is it? Which one is the true, historical Jesus? By focusing on the so-called historical as the bearer of truth, we miss the essential point.
The essential point, it seems to me, is that each can be correct, depending on the context. To understand how these multiple perspectives could be true simultaneously, we require a better methodology than a historicist, empirical one. I suggest phenomenology.
According to Edmund Husserl, the “father” of phenomenology, the phenomenological injunction begins by “suspension” (aka bracketing or nonexclusion). To practice phenomenology one must the “bracket” the question of the relation of the interior to the exterior dimensions. Then one simply describes the contours of one's interiority as distinctly as possible. It is vitally important to remember that by bracketing the question of whether one's thoughts/feelings mirror something “real” in the exterior world, we are not assuming that our thoughts are not in some measure reflective of exterior phenomena. Nor are we assuming they are. We simply put our attention elsewhere. I may have a picture in my mind of a cat, and that mental cat may or may not look like my mom's cat, but even if it is not, even if it is a cat I'm just imaging mentally, the presence of the image, the visuals of the image possess a reality.
The bracket in this context means to bracket (“suspend”) the question of whether the depictions of Jesus in these texts correspond to the “real” Jesus in the exterior world of history. And in contradistinction to both traditionalist orthodox-types and postmodern “other side of history” types, I argue this methodology be applied equally in all cases.
In other words, if scholars on all sides were being brutally honest, they would have to admit that none of us can ever get behind the texts to the question of what “really” happened. The text themselves are already interpretations born of communities with certain beliefs.
What we can reconstruct is, as best as we can understand, what the authors originally intended by their works. Whether or not this is an accurate depiction of the historical Jesus can not be answered by the texts themselves nor modern historical-empiricst methods. There simply are no texts written from a more 3rd-person, objective contemporary point of view with which to compare the Christian texts—both canonical and non-canonical. There are simply texts and faith statements concerning Jesus from within different Christian sects written in a premodern world with a notion of truth not reduced to exterior, objectivist assumptions.
Jesus died around the year 30. The earliest Gospel is the Gospel of Mark written around the year 70. Matthew and Luke somewhere in the 80-90s and John around 100. Most of the Gnostic Gospels are written even later—some it seems as late as the 3rd century. An easy way to think of the Gospels is to see them as written under the assumption, “What would Jesus have been like if he were alive today in our community?” Each of these communities lived in a concrete time and place, with unique concerns. The Gospel authors took whatever stories circulated concerning Jesus and applied what they took to be the essential meaning of those memories and translated them into the new context.
This practice explains for example why Jesus in the Canonical Gospels has an increasingly hostile relationship with the Pharisees. The Pharisees after the Destruction of the Temple in 70 came to be the dominant force in Judaism, increasingly marginalizing the new Jesus movement. So much so that by the time the Gospel of John, the Christians have been excommunicated and expelled from the Jewish community by the Rabbis. Only in that context does it make sense for Jesus, in the Gospel of John, to refer to “the Jews” in the third person, when Jesus was himself Jewish and would never have referred to his own in the third person. But if the Gospel is written as if Jesus were alive in a community excommunicated from mainline Judaism, it makes sense for him to call the Jews “them”.
The Gospel of Matthew records the dying words of Jesus on the cross as: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Now, a fundamentalist believer would assume that this is what Jesus really said, because the Bible says so. [His belief would be countered by the fact that in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus' final words are: “Father into your hands I commend my Spirit.”]
The line quoted in The Gospel of Matthew is actually the first verse of the 22nd Psalm: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?/The words of my groaning do nothing to save me.” (Psalm 22:1-2) Now, if a person assumes a more reductionistic historicist point of view, she might argue that the Gospels are false because Jesus didn't really say these words on the cross.
What both points of view holds in common is the belief that the truth rests on whether those words have been accurately recorded, which again I am arguing is the not the central issue. Even if we assume Jesus had said, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” it is not clear what he would have meant by that. Had Jesus actually been forsaken by God, did he realize there was never a God in the first place, did he only feel betrayed but was not actually so? Was he consciously quoting the Psalm to make a point? If so, what point exactly?
Again, first we simply bracket all those questions because they all lead to a dead end. Rather we focus on what the author(s) meant, as best as we can understand, by putting these words into the mouth of Jesus.
The 22nd Psalm starts out in this cry of agony, as the Psalmist feels abandoned by his Creator. He feels his life ebbing away: “My strength is trickling away, my bones are all disjointed, my heart has turned to wax, melting inside me.”
And yet after all this sorrow, the Psalmist ends his song in praise and thanksgiving of God—“All the race of Jacob, honor him! Revere him, all the race of Israel. For he has not disregarded the poverty of the poor, has not turned away his face, but has listened to the cry for help (P. 22:23-24).”
That the author Matthew intends for us to read the crucifixion story in light of this Psalm is further shown by the story he weaves concerning the soldiers underneath the cross who strip Jesus naked and gamble for ownership of his clothing. In Psalm 22, this same Psalm, verse 18 reads: “they divide my garments among them and cast lost for my clothing.”
Recall the main points of the Psalm: begins in agony and despair and ends in joy and praise of God.
How might this same structure apply to the Gospel of Matthew? Jesus begins his cry on the cross, one of despair and abandonment, but like the Psalmist he will end his speech in praise and thanksgiving. For the Gospel writer believes that Jesus was risen from the dead and that this resurrection shows that God “has not disregarded the poverty of the poor, has turned away his face, but has listened to the cry for help.”
So the ten thousand dollar question remains: Is this story true?
I've argued that it is impossible to determine the “historicity” (pro/con) of these events. The method of reconstructing the author's original intent, gives us only that—as in the example above we can show what the author intended to convey. But such a method does not give any clue whether what the author intended is true or not. Anyone can learn that the Gospel of Matthew places the words of the Psalmist on the lips of Jesus to make a theological point, whether they are a Christian or not. Whether it is true or not resides in the subjective and intersubjective realms of meaning, value, and yes religious faith, a proposition not easily decided by simplistic analysis.
In the light of all that, recall this quotation from Harris:
So there is a caveat over what follows. It is all disputed. But this is the point. No-one can assert to know what really happened. This means that there is enough credible evidence for us to say to any Christian; you cannot be certain and intellectual honesty demands that you suspend your belief. Faith is no excuse. If independent scholars are honest to admit they are speculating, you should be similarly honest and admit that the entire Bible is speculation.
If by “suspending your belief” Harris means that we must undertake the phenomenological method and bracket the question of whether the events described in the writings concerning Jesus (or the Bible more generally) purport “historical” fact and decide based on other factors whether or not they can still be true (if say in a metaphorical and/or mystical sense)---then I agree. If he means that an individual is free to believe (or not believe) as long as they are honest enough to admit that faith is actually “faith” and not proof, then again I agree. There is no “proof” either for or against God in the exterior world. All scientific injunctions can do is describe material causality. Those procedures can not determine whether or not there may be a source to materiality or causation or what, if any, meaning can be ascribed to materiality (see Stephen Jay Gould on non-overlapping magisteria).
And to the degree any of us continue to make this error of misapplying methodologies, our conclusions will suffer. Harris, I argue, falls exactly into the trap of this historicist modernist fallacy regarding Jesus and early Christianity.
JAMES, BROTHER OF THE LORD
Harris says he currently subscribes to the thesis of Robert Eisenman (author of James the Brother of Jesus). Eisenman suggests that James, the Brother of the Lord mentioned in the New Testament as the leader of the Jerusalem Church, was very closely related to the Essene movement. The Essenes, connected to the Dead Sea community of Qumran, saw the world in starkly dualistic terms and were expectantly awaiting a final battle between the forces of good and evil (usually symbolized by Roman occupation). Furthermore, Eisenman asserts that the New Testament was written by Gentiles seeking to overturn this very Aramaic Jewish movement. Prominent evidence exists in the form of the famous argument between Paul and James (with Peter caught in the middle) depicted in the Acts of the Apostles and the Letter to the Galatians. There is no doubt that the author named Luke, in his second volume Acts, weaves a literary tapestry that seeks to make the early Christian community seem unified—i.e. he papers over the differences. Luke also begins the work in Jerusalem ending it in Rome, as a signal of the future of the Church (in his mind) resting with the Gentiles. The Jerusalem Church and some aspects its theology seems represented in the New Testament by the Letters ascribed to James and Peter (and perhaps Hebrews?).
Harris quotes Eisenman's conclusion: “Who and whatever James was, so was Jesus.”
This scholarly conclusion again falls into the trap of historicism; it violates the phenomenological bracket. Assume for the moment that Eisenman's thesis is largely correct in its description of James and the community gathered around him. Why would we assume that this vision of Jesus is the “true” one? What proof is there that James understood Jesus' message best? Would James have automatically understood Jesus because he was his brother? Because they spoke the same language? Because what is earliest is assumed, by historians, to be the most true?
We have no writings from Jesus himself only interpretations of Jesus by others. Scholars now roughly 2000 years removed from the events read certain of these interpretations and decide which one is the most “true”, hardly ever bothering to define what mean by true nor how they arrived at their conclusion.
The Essene movement sought to overthrow the Roman establishment and perhaps so too did the Jerusalem church (or elements thereof). Harris combines Eisenman's views with a literal reading of the recently re-discovered Gnostic Gospel of Judas:
The recently published Gospel of Judas suggests that Jesus asked Judas to betray him, and furthermore, that Jesus gave him secret teachings. If Judas is the brother of Jesus then this suggests that the events surrounding Jesus' death were part of a sectarian plan, perhaps to instigate an anti-Roman, anti-Sadducee revolt in which the Essenes would come to power.
And again why are non-canonical gospels like the Gospel of Judas (written over a hundred years after Jesus' death) read as literally for historical fact as traditionalist scholars do the canonical ones? Why does the fact that the Gospel of Judas proclaims a version in which Jesus asks Judas to purposefully betray him automatically assumed to be historical? Just because it contradicts the canonical version? Because it's sexy to have controversies and conspiracies, especially against the Catholic Church? Because the underside of history is always right?
If we are following (as concerning James) the assumption that what is earlier is closer to what actually happened, then why is it that Paul (the earliest writings of any) never mentions Judas or any betrayal at all? What if there was never a betrayal to begin with? What if, just like in the Infancy Narratives, the Passion Narrative is a constructed theological message coded in a story format? See John Dominic Crossan: Who Killed Jesus for a brilliant phenomenological reading of the Passion Narratives. He brackets the question of what really happened in favor of the meaning of the stories, the only fact being a man named Jesus was executed, like in the Infancy Narratives the lone fact being a boy named Jesus was born.
Perhaps the Passion Narrative in which Judas betrays Jesus without Jesus' consent was championed by the rising orthodox group and a group somewhat separate from the orthodox movements writes its own subversive text with Jesus giving Judas the command to betray as a way to subvert the orthodox group's interpretation? And then we read the text in light of modern assumptions of truth and read (falsely) into the text the notion of historicity, then what?
Just for the record, my own sense—which I freely admit is a combination of my scholarly study, feeling, and experience of prayer/mysticism—is that Jesus was a world-altering religious figure. I believe he was not really ever understood in all ways by any of his followers and aspects, if we like, of his message became refracted through the lens of traditional religious figures of his day: wonder worker, healer, enlightened sage, prophet, gatherer of the outcast, judge.
In other words he was, I imagine, aspects of all those and yet something mysteriously more. But I'll fully admit that is just my intuition and could be very wrong.
PAUL (AKA SAUL)
Harris makes roughly the same set of mistakes as he did with Jesus in regards to Paul. He argues that Paul's vision of Christ on the Road to Damascus (as described in Acts of the Apostles) was interpreted by Paul as a combination of the Essene-Zoroastrian Messianic Figure with Greek myth of the dying-resurrected hero-god. One problem with this theory is that Paul himself never mentions such an experience—Luke does. Paul mentions that he had an experience of the Resurrected Christ, but does not elaborate on what that entailed. Luke later takes that initial kernel and creates the story of the vision on the Road to unpack what Luke understood to be the meaning of Paul's Resurrected Christ—to promote his [Luke's] understanding of Christ and the nature of Paul's message. Technically then, the story is Luke's perspective on Paul's interpretation of his (Paul's) own mystical experience of Christ, his (Paul's) previous life experience and beliefs setting certain parameters that helped mould the mystical experience of Christ itself, set in a story context that Luke uses to promote his own theological vision.
In the narrative, Luke intentionally alludes to a vision of the Prophet Ezekiel. Luke is consciously placing Paul in the line of prophetic ancestry stretching back to the Hebrew Prophets, symbolized by Ezekiel.
Ezekiel famously saw the Chariot of the Lord descend from heaven.
Ezekiel describes the vision:
“I saw what looked like fire, giving a brilliant light all around. The radiance of the encircling light was like the radiance of the bow in the clouds on rainy days. The sight was like the glory of Yahweh. I looked and fell to the ground, and I heard the voice of someone speaking to me.” He [the voice] said, 'Son of Man, get to your feet, I will speak to you. (Ezekiel 1:27-28).”
Here is the description from Acts:
It happened that while Saul was traveling to Damascus and approaching the city, suddenly a light from heaven shone all round him. He fell to the ground, and then he heard a voice saying, 'Saul, Saul why are you persecuting?' 'Who are you Lord?' he asked, and the answer came, 'I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. Get up and go into the city and you will be told what you are to do? (Acts 9:3-6)”
Radiance, a voice from heaven, falling down in holy fear, and the command to arise—notice the structural similarities? Coincidence?
Certainly early Gentile forms of Christianity—depicted in Paul's Letters and Lucan Theology—made reference to the motifs of Greek mythology and pagan religion, particularly in the cases of Jesus' infancy narratives, the role of Mary, and so on. It is also important to remember that someone like Paul repeatedly emphasized (as in 1 and 2 Corinthians) the suffering inherent in the Christian path as indicative of discipleship of Jesus a theme drawn from early Christian reading of certain pieces of the Hebrew Scriptures (like the Suffering Servant Songs of the Prophet Isaiah), a theme Paul felt directly at odds with Greek-pagan wisdom. “We preach Christ crucified, which is foolishness to the Greeks.”
And as to the argument mentioned by Harris (via Eisenman) that Paul as Hellenized pro-Roman Jew sought to isolate the more militant Essene Jerusalem Church, that thesis is at least partially called into question by the fact that Paul in his later letters makes clear he is raising funds for the Jerusalem Church which he desires to give to the leadership there in person. Was Paul trying perhaps to heal these divisions?
IRENAEUS VERSUS THE GNOSTICS
The question of the exact relationship of the Greek myth of dying-rising hero god/Primordial Man and its relationship, if any to the Messianic strain of apocalyptic Judaism brings to light the issue of Gnosticism.
I return to Harris' unsupported thesis that Christianity has no evidence to supports its claims and must therefore simply refer to “faith” as a way to combat charges of intellectual dishonesty.
The only evidence, were there to be any, regarding religion-spirituality comes in the form of mysticism. To the degree that we read either the canonical or Gnostic Gospels as documents that have a theological agenda, which argue for a certain version of faith, we can through the tools of literary analysis, reconstruct the original intent of the author. Using postmodern tools of sociological-hermeneutical analysis, we can determine the ways in which these authors' and editors' theological constructions supported certain social, class, linguistic, gender definitions (and disparities), as well as the ways in which their visions were shaped by their local context. Those injunctions help the individual detach from an exclusive, uncritical mythic reading of the text. None of which can determine positively or negatively the existence (or non-existence) of God. They are not for all that, failed methodologies, just simply limited in their scope.
At some point, people have to practice the faith and see if it “delivers”. If people stay outside the practicing circle, then they must admit there are in no real position (qua religious faith/mysticism) to make a determination either way on the validity or invalidity of a religion.
Now I understand in our post/modern world the claims of mysticism are inherently considered suspect or outright illusory. If any readers hold this view, then nothing I can say will change that point of view. But for those who are at least open to the possibility, consider a different take on the matter, one more in line with traditional Christian theology.
Irenaeus, as noted by Harris, did promote the idea of the four canonical gospels. He also helped form the notion that for orthodox Christianity, the Old and New Testaments would be read together as unity and that Christ would act as the hinge (for the Christian), the interpretive key to unlocking the meaning of the Old Testament. i.e. Christ was to the interpretive lens for the Christian for reading the Old Testament—the New Testament writers as we have seen interpreted the Old Testament through the perspective of their understanding of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. So Irenaeus, in that regard, follows the same path of as the writers of the New Testament.
He was also a driving force behind the movement to declare a multitude of related beliefs called Gnostic, heretical. Gnosticism is term used both by the Church Fathers and modern scholars to make what was it seems a fluid set of movements and identities—perhaps sharing certain common features—into a more unified system. Some of those common themes are (again not necessarily shared by very group we label Gnostic):
1. Creation as Inherently Evil Gnosticisms taught that Creation was purely evil. It created a chasm between matter and spirit. Some Gnostics interpreted the Creator God of the Hebrew Scriptures as actually a derivative, evil, demigod who has placed this world in a veil of illusion.
2. Denial of the Corporeal, Fleshly Nature of Christ. An early sub-set of Gnostic belief is known as Docetism (from the Greek dokein, “to appear, seem”). Docetism argued that Jesus did not actually die on the cross or that more generally he did not actually take on real human flesh in the Incarnation—he only seemed to have so done. This proposition flows from the first. If creation is inherently evil (in its essence), then the Savior Figure must not become limited by corrupt space, matter, and time.
3. Salvation as a Form of Inner Esoteric Awakening As the spirit/matter divide was considered unbridgeable, the only hope in this world of trauma and tears was to escape through an inner mystical experience of gnosis. This inner wisdom was known to place the individual in an equivalent relationship to God the Father (not the derivative Jehovah of Genesis) as Christ held. This tradition de-emphasizes the importance of the crucifixion and of apocalypticism. It is typically more quietistic and apolitical (the world is so fallen, there is no point to focus on those things).
With the emphasis that arose in the orthodox circles on the importance of the real humanity of Jesus and of his importance as Mediator, certain scholars portray the issue as one between egalitarian mystics (Gnostics) versus hierarchical literalists (orthodox). But this argument does not take into account a variety of factors (good and bad) from both camps.
In his argument against the Gnostics, Irenaeus also famously stated that “God became human, so that humanity might become God.” This radical assertion was Irenaeus' understanding of the Incarnation. And also Irenaeus wrote, “The glory of God is the human being fully alive.” Recall the passage from the Prophet Ezekiel when he saw a divine-like radiance. The word “glory” (doxa in Greek—ortho-dox, interpreted as “right glory”, correct worship/praise”) here has a specific meaning. It refers to the radiance or illuminative shine of the Divine Presence on earth. This glory is usually referred to in the Feminine as in Kabbalah—Shekinah. Paul calls Christ the Wisdom (Sophia) of God, again Feminine.
So Irenaeus: The glory of God is the human being fully alive. AND God became man so that man might become God.
The glory, the actual divine radiance shinning through the forms of manifestation is the human being fully alive. The awakened human then is a god. This is the teaching known as “deification” or “divinization” popularized especially in the Eastern Orthodox (Greek influenced) Churches.
Expanding upon Irenaeus, Church Father Dionysius (5th century) referred to the mystical path as containing three steps: purgation, illumination, and union. For those more familiar with Eastern religious terms that is gross, subtle, causal (waking, dreaming, and deep sleep).
Dionysius left precise practices as to how to achieve these states of consciousness. Egyptian monks during the same period began to perfect a spiritual practice of interior concentration upon one's heart and the mantra-like repetition of the name of Jesus Christ known as the Jesus Prayer (“Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner.”) This practice was perfected by the monks of Mount Athos (still there today), culminating they claimed, in an experience of the Uncreated Light of God, the Light that it is said shone from the face of Jesus during his Transfiguration of Mount Tabor.
Disciples of these spiritual fathers-mothers claimed to have seen a radiance, an illuminative light actually shine forth from their faces---as human beings fully alive (i.e. divinized) and therefore being the embodied icons of God on earth.
The Western Christian spiritual tradition, as with a St. Francis of Assisi, focused more on the humility and sufferings of Christ, until some of them too, became embodied icons of Christ—with Francis literally suffering the stigmata, the wounds of Christ on the cross. Or John of the Cross claiming the Christian mystic would experience an inner pain so profound that one would be mystically united to Christ on the cross and feel one's soul crucified as actually as had Christ's body.
And contra, Harris, who argues that this tradition is only derivative of Greek spiritualist teachings, particularly Neoplatonic, this causal level Christian theology is unique to Christianity—as established by scholars of mysticism. Neoplatonism did not hold, as did this causal-level Christian theology (Nicene orthodox theology) to an idea of creation ex nihilo (creation from nothing). Certainly there are structural parallels between the types of meditation/prayer techniques (like monasticism) found in the Christian churches with pagan, even Eastern forms of religion, the interpretative and religious nexus is very different and shapes the contours of inner experiences to such a degree that they can not be equated.
Both wings of this orthodox tradition claimed that this deification/union with God was the end-point of the Christian life and could be achieved, with grace, by any in this life. Certainly, particularly in the Western church, this claim was not always followed through by the Church, but it remained the official teaching nevertheless.
This is the same Irenaeus who Harris asserts is the father of the literalist tradition. What would be more accurate would be to say that Irenaeus taught a causal-level state theology interpreted through a mostly mythic dogmatic level structure, which given the Kosmic configuration prevalent in those days, was exactly normal.
If we assume the integral principles outlined above, in relation to mysticism I argue that one has to simply undertake the practice, see if the worldspaces arise as described, note the order in which they unfold (if at all), and check these results with others more experienced in these injunctions. If one does not undertake the practices, that is fine, but then that person does not have the authority to say such experiences as described by mystics are impossible. Maybe they are, maybe they are illusions, but by never undertaking the practice, how could someone make such a claim? At least as regards the state technologies of higher awareness.
The Gnostic tradition, at its highest promoted what Wilber calls “high causal” mysticism. It did so however with a pathological interpretive model [see Appendix B]. Just as the Unitive-Deification theology of the orthodox was only truly realized by a very select few, just so the High Causal State Theology of the Gnostics. Most members of Gnostic Christian communities were as mythic as the orthodox camp. Worse even the High Causal Gnostic theologies of say a Valentinus (2nd century) created a brutal duality between matter and spirit. [For the orthodox, matter and spirit were dual but could be united.] The world of form, for the Gnostic, was considered inherently evil—a proposition never taught by the orthodox tradition, though the orthodox certainly hold a history of awful ascetic brutalization of the body, feminine, and the earth.
For Gnosticism, the world in its very essence was totally corrupted. Many Gnostic groups classified themselves on a hierarchy of faith—with the Gnostic realizer on the top. These highest initiates often practiced celibacy (both men and women) due to the fact that giving birth to a child was imprisoning a soul in the torture of existence.
MEMES, BLUE AND OTHERWISE
After having completed his own take on the history of Jesus and early Christianity, Harris explores the deeper implications for integral thought, of the continued existence of the illusory construct known as Christianity. He writes:
In several discussions about Christianity members of the integral community have argued that deconstructing Christianity is tantamount to deconstructing the Blue vMeme itself, thus undermining the whole spiral. This is not true and is based on a misunderstanding about the nature of memes and vMemes, and of Christianity.
Again I have no idea to whom Harris is referring in this instance. I have never heard anyone say that deconstructing Christianity (by which I assume he means here literalist Christianity) is deconstructing the blue meme itself. I don't imagine the one billion+ Muslims on the planet have a Christian blue meme.
What Harris may be referring to is the idea that for Westerners of historically Christian populations (Europeans, Euro-descended populations, Americas) the collective unconscious backdrop to the red and blue memes is the traditional Christian story of The Fall.
This does not mean that individuals will be Christian but only that there will be the same morphogenetic patterns in their expression of mythic (red and blue) memes. For example, many have commented on the very Christian like narrative of much environmental writings, especially those of expressly anti-theistic notions. We lived in a world of perfect plenty (Garden of Eden), then there was industrialization (Fall), which separated us from nature (expulsion), leading inexorably to a cataclysmic end (Apocalypse) unless we change course (repent from our sin) and become eco-conscious (saved). So individuals not raised in traditional Christian religious narrative unconsciously promote many of the deep structures of that worldview.
Still, Harris use of the notion of memes is also I find very unfortunate. First off, the very concept of memes is (at best) confused in this context. The original meaning of memes is more a fad that spreads throughout different populations—like clothing or musical trends. Spiral Dynamics has had to re-define the meaning of memes so radically from its original meaning that it almost has no connection. Harris writes,
Beck and Cowan describe the vMemes as like strange attractors drawing the appropriate memes toward them. I have argued that the developmental levels can be regarded as Jungian archetypes. They are structures of the unconscious which are empty of themselves. As with the other archetypes, 'meaning', and its symbols and signifiers, are drawn to the appropriate archetype.
Christianity is a collection of symbols, signifiers and memes, that's all. These memes are drawn to the appropriate level, but are not the level itself. What I am suggesting is that we replace the regressive and redundant memes, the junk DNA, with progressive and more accurate memes. There are many Christians who are simply being fed junk food, junk memes – and it's bad for their spiritual diet.
I find this a very confused set of notions. A post-metaphysical understanding of levels/worldviews is different from the notion of memes portrayed here and I believe acts as a corrective.
According to Wilber's view, involution precedes evolution. Involution leaves an evolutionary gradient—an erotic tilt towards greater complexity in this Kosmos—but leaves the Kosmos as mostly untapped potential for existence. The stages of development at this initial point can be described as “unconscious” because they are not yet made manifest and are not metaphysically pre-established. But through the repetitive patterning of the Kosmos, structures emerge. And the longer these stages are in existence the more patterned they become. That is through morphogenetic patterning, the stages are no longer empty or unconscious. The future stages have not been shaped yet and so we could term them non-conscious (non-manifest), but not the already patterned ones. While no stage ever reaches a 100% probability, its likelihood becomes strong enough as to be nearly assured.
The purple meme is roughly 50,000 years old, the red meme 10,000 and blue meme around 3,000 years ago. This makes these structures particularly well entrenched in the Kosmos fabric; they are not going anywhere anytime soon.
As a person is born today at beige, the structures of red/blue are already deeply engrained into the structure of the Kosmos. The stages in this instance are not “unconscious”, nor simply memes. The surface manifestations of these structures differ and can be substituted in certain cases, but the deep structures are themselves quasi-universal and already deeply molded by the paths/injunctions undertaken. So the difference between Islamic or Buddhist “blue” and Christian “blue” is much more subtle than just surface differences. These structures are actual grooves in the Kosmic fabric, and the older they are, the longer they have been cut, the more permanent their mark.
Jungian archetypes properly only delineate the deep structural, conditioned, co-constructed elements of the red and blue memes. All of the levels are not Jungian archetypes as suggested by Harris. Again, I think Harris misses the notion of transformation and how worldviews arise only through certain exemplars. He's bordering dangerously close, in my mind, to a pre-set purely translative point of view.
When Harris says that Christianity is nothing but symbols, signifiers, and memes, this is a very naïve view. Christianity consists of injunctions and praxes: injunctions concerning how to interpret the Bible, how to make theological arguments, how to form communities, liturgical and ritualistic injunctions with different sets of each at each corresponding level of development. All of these arose in time and space. Whatever one may or may not believe concerning Revelation (Agape, Involution), one can see the ways in which such trascendelia (if there any) were molded and shaped by human beings through evolution.
Christianity might in fact consist of signifieds and those signifieds might actually hold truth, even revelatory truth. By focusing only on memes, symbols, signifiers (3rd person perspectives), Harris misses the inherently participatory nature of the Kosmos.
The analogy often used is that the stages are like grooves cut into a path. Take for example a walk through the woods. You come to the woods and notice a path already set ahead of you. Individuals have been walking this path now for so long that they have cut out a well-marked path through the woods. Now, not every individual who comes to the woods will automatically go the marked way—i.e. you don't have to walk along the cut out path. You can choose to walk through the brambles, thickets, and wild aspects. You can even eventually reach the same destination as the marked out path, but you are also more likely to get lost, turned around, or injured along the way.
So to the degree that not every individual comes along the pre-cut paths, Harris is right that a Western person need not go through the Christian-influenced red/blue memes in his/her development. But again, the probability of this occurring is very very slight, even miniscule. What are the chances in other words, that a person will walk the entire path of the woods without at some point stepping onto the marked-out path or even not using the market out path as a means of orientation?
Those who are the most adventurous will come to the end of the path as currently constructed, i.e. reaching the highest level of general stages at any point in evolutionary history. Beyond which the consciousness explorer must create the path, cut the grooves, even help build the very fabric of the “woods” themselves.
There is no doubt that regressive and even pathological developments can accrue to a religion. By continuing to pattern pathological responses, those responses become more and more ingrained and more difficult eventually to heal and let go of. Christianity, in all its different forms, as I've said, has many of these.
Ray is also right in noting that (in a pluralistic context) there is no such thing as Christianity, but only Christianities, and that these different Christianities cover a multitude of levels, cultures, and horizontal frames. Ray is further correct in noting that there is a purple, red, blue, orange, green, and beyond forms of Christianity. To the degree that the stages of consciousness are quasi-universal, then Christianities at any level will reflect some of the quasi-universal patterns of that corresponding wave in the larger population.
As an example of this correlation, the prime example of Green Christianity is known as Liberation Theology. There are many different types of Liberation Theologies: feminist, ecological, 3rd World, homosexual, etc. What all these theologies have in common is a methodology (praxis) of studying the world and the Christian heritage-revelation through the eyes of the Other. A common pattern is to read the Bible through the lens of the Book of Exodus. God liberates the enslaved Hebrews; this God chooses those bowed down by the world and gives them a mission to redeem the world. Different groups today are then the modern versions of the ancient Hebrews—whether African Americans, women, the poor, even the earth itself. To the degree that this praxis reminds us of “secular” green movements, there are deep connections in relationship to the primacy given to the Other (e.g. Levinas). These green Christianities also suffer from some of the same flaws as their green cousins, e.g. a tendency to romanticize “The Other” and therefore continue to see them as Other, unconsciously projecting onto the Other foreign notions and unjust needs. This process is nothing other than the flip side of the demonization of the Other seen in the premodern and modern worlds.
Harris also states that there could be a turquoise Christianity: and at its highest it can even reach Turquoise (although this involves a considerable theological act of contortion where Christ is morphed into a Gnostic Cosmic Christ, thus actually, in my view, ceasing to be legitimately Christian.
Given that Harris is admittedly not a professing Christian, I have no idea how it is he is in any position to declare who are legitimate Christians and who are not. And as best as I have tried, I have outlined the practices/interpretations/facts of a turquoise Christianity and it does not require one to believe in a Gnostic Cosmic Christ. The Cosmic Christ is a thoroughly orthodox notion, found in Paul and John, sourced in the Wisdom Literature of the Old Testament.
What Harris fails to note is the way in which these Christianities are built on praxis and therefore embed themselves into the very Kosmos fabric over time. They are not simply memes, easily bandied about and changed like a pair of pants, nor simply to be dismissed as only functioning as a means of social conformity and control.
A doctrine that is based on a misinterpretation of reality and that is externally and internally incoherent will always falter. It is the fault of the founders for misunderstanding reality and for creating an incoherent framework in the first place. Christianity was born in confusion and even after a considerable effort at purifying the doctrine, it remained a poor model of reality, full of contradictions, impossibilities and absurdities. It is no wonder that it fell apart and splintered into a thousand pieces.
Again we return to context-independent statements like a “misrepresentation of reality”, which gives the impression there is such a thing as a single pre-set reality for all beings in all forms of creation. And that the point of a religion or spiritual system is to somehow simply “describe” from afar this reality and then inculcate that correct view of reality in the minds of adherents. This view fundamentally fails to understand the basic co-creative aspects of post-metaphysics. What exactly this “misinterpretation of reality” that is Christian doctrine is never exactly explained. Harris article has only ever taken his (partial) reading of blue meme mythic Christianity and shown the ways in which others forms of Christianity, other interpretations of the founding of the religion relativize that view. He deconstructs the absolutisms of the orthodox mythic view, but then absolutizes his own deconstruction.
There is not just reality. Worldviews are literally worldspaces—they are entirely different realms with different phenomena arising in them. Some of these phenomena are included in the next iterative structure, while other elements are labeled (from this higher vantage) to be illusory, false, and so on. That worldspace will then itself be negated by the next stage and so on.
Integral phenomenology practices non-exclusion by allowing all these worldspaces to arise and letting them have their own reality, letting them describe the contours of their worldspace and reconstructing the order in which these worldspaces develop. It can also help these worldviews express their positive attributes and be healthy (though limited) at their own level. It does not practice excluding out of hand, without undertaking the injunctions and sympathetically entering the worldspaces, any such notions, beliefs, views as arise in the Kosmos, particularly of a religious nature.
In that light re-consider Harris' assertion:
For the most part Christianity has been a regressive, albeit legitimate religion. Any authentic component has been accidental and tentative, always on the edge of being labeled a heresy. Any progressive element has in fact, been the result of the influence of outside forces, namely the reintroduction of Greek philosophy, and in recent times, the infusion of Eastern philosophy and the rediscovery of Gnosticism.
I do not consider Mother Theresa to have been either accidental or tentative. Nor by the fact that her canonization was pushed through in record time, would it seem that anyone has believed her to be a “heretic.” Nor is there any proof, I'm aware of, that she was a secret Gnostic, crypto-Buddhist, or closet Neoplatonist.
There is a difference between saying that the “real” Jesus of history is lost to us and to say that Christianity is based on a lie.
As to the idea that Christian doctrine is unimportant or a bad of guess of reality (of scientific material reality? Which reality?), I have a argued that the traditional doctrines of orthodox Christianity refer to causal states and the signifieds of those signifiers can only be correctly adjudicated in that state accessed by the injunctions and background filters (Christian belief systems).
Take for example the declaration of the Council of Nicea (325 C.E.) that Christ is of one being (substance, nature) with the Father. The word in Greek is homo-ousios “same-nature”. The Creed states Christ is: “God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God, begotten, not made.”
The phrase “begotten not made” is key. The Father is referred to as “unbegotten” while the Son (Christ) is called “begotten”. The Son is God, of the same nature as God, and yet not “unbegotten” like the Father.
Made means created, i.e. subject to birth, decay, and death. Christ, as God, was not of this order and yet, as noted, not in some sense exactly the same as the Father—not unbegotten. Begotten is mostly an apophatic statement; it states what Christ is not: Is God and yet is not the Father nor a created subject. It leaves an opening, an element of mystery that was to be realized through mystical (trans-rational) experiential understanding. It is argued that the teaching is true, but only can be verified by those who realize the inner meaning of the outward expression.
The Eastern Orthodox Church has always maintained that doctrine is the outer expression of inner mystical experience. The mystic experiences interiorly what doctrine, through exterior symbols has proclaimed to be true.
This notion of Christ as homo-ousia and begotten not made can only be discovered in their proper context by undertaking the mystical praxis of purgation, illumination, and union (gross, subtle, and causal).
Athanasius, father of the Nicene Orthodox formulation argued that if Christ (as 2nd Person of the Trinity, Eternal Logos-Word of God) was not God then humanity was not fully redeemed. If Christ was not fully God, then humanity had not been fully incorporated into the Divine. Or to bring this discussion back to Irenaeus (so-called father of the “literalist” tradition), the mystical experience of unification with God in this life could not be true unless in the Incarnation God had truly taken on human form. The Nicene Creed then is the logical outcome of Irenaeus' declaration (as based in his inner mysticism) that God became human so that humanity might become God.
I have undertaken these paradigms and believe that the experiences they describe are in fact accurate (e.g. see the mystical praxis described in 13th century English text The Cloud of Unknowing). That is not to say that the interpretive frames of these premodern Christian writers are not limited, they are. They had no knowledge of modern science, postmodern cultural studies, and so on. But the limitation of their interpretive structures does not automatically invalidate the experiences or injunctions for contemporary seekers.
At each stage, there is a type of “faith”—mythic faith is faith in the myths, rational faith is faith that rationality solves all ills, pluralistic faith is that by simply being pluralistic everyone will get along. The question of whether, in addition, to those beliefs, one “believes” in a God, say at rational or pluralistic, even integral is a different question. It is a question, again I stress that can not be proved or disproved by exterior forms of evidence like science, history, economics. By acknowledging that basic fact, both sides could learn some humility and tone down the rhetoric.
Ray discusses, only briefly, his vision of creating an Integral Spirituality as an alternative to Christianity. I wish him the best. It's unfortunate that he seems to think that this Integral Spirituality can only arise by first labeling other traditions as “opponents” and then cutting them down to size—particularly Christianity and Islam. What's worse is the mode of cutting down these opposing religions consists in giving a very one-sided, at times nearly ideological reading of those religions.
An Integral Spirituality would have to act, as I believe all religions must in the postmodern world, as a way of bringing people through the different worldviews, understood as stages of life (see Wilber's Integral Spirituality for the notion of religions as Conveyor Belts). An integral spirituality would have to come to terms with things like its own “blue” version, as there will be people presumably at all levels of development in this Integral Spirituality. Archaic, magical, mythic, rational, and pluralistic ones. There will be “fundamentalist” integral spiritualists just as there are fundamentalist Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, and Hindus. Although integral will no longer be the proper word to describe such a movement.
In other words integral spirituality will have to learn to wisely employ healthy relative boundaries. I also believe integral theory and praxis gives a more balanced treatment to the notion of boundaries. In postmodern contexts boundaries are seen to be inherently oppressive and exclusionary and frankly given the histories of the premodern and modern worlds, this assertion is not unjustified. But as we deeply meditate on the integral truth that individuals/groups live in worldspaces AND have no access to facts/interpretations in higher worldspaces AND note that many will reach a certain plateau in life AND have a right to do so THEN boundaries will have to be viewed as ways in which to create holding containers for individuals to live out their lives as relatively peaceful as they can be, as I said, neither managing to tear down the emergence of higher structures, oppress lower structures, or themselves be the victims of oppression from either above or below.
In that sense, I think integral spiritualities across the board, whether of traditional religious strains or more contemporary versions, will be able to be themselves without having to be overly burdened by arguing the exact relationship between these different spiritual paths. Integral Christians will not have to worry about defending the legitimacy of their path from Integral Buddhists or vice versa (insofar as we are discussing the contemplative state and higher stage manifestations of each). Each path can be itself, it can continue to learn from the other paths, and members of different traditions can (and should) work together for the common good, alleviating suffering, helping bring about justice, and promoting peace and well being. We can even challenge one another, in an atmosphere of mutual respect and love, to face our own shadows, to overcome our own failings, and to grow strong together. But the paths will never be the same and ultimately only those from within the paths have the legitimacy to help the path correct itself if it goes astray.
APPENDIX A: JESUS AND MARY MAGDALENE
The recent interest in The Da Vinci Code has popularized an element of the debate over Gnosticism and orthodox Christianity. Dan Brown used certain arguments from a work of non-fiction (Holy Blood, Holy Grail) and created a fictional account of a conspiracy by the Roman Catholic Church aided by the secret Catholic order Opus Dei, to prevent the world from knowing that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were lovers and that Mary gave birth to Jesus' child and that his descendents are still alive today.
The book Holy Blood, Holy Grail argues that the Holy Grail was actually the bloodline of Christ. Traditionally the Holy Grail is taught to be the cup which Christ used at the Last Supper (“This is my Blood of the New Covenant…”) which Joseph of Arimathea used to collect the blood of Christ that spurted from his side as his dead body was pierced on the Cross. The Biblical text only states that Joseph petitions Pilate for permission to take Jesus' body off the cross and bury him; the story about collecting his blood in the Holy Grail is a later legend.
The argument that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were lovers (or husband and wife) comes from modern scholars using sources like the Gnostic Gospel of Philip. Also, the Gnostic Gospel of Mary Magdalene has Mary tell the male apostles that Jesus had revealed secret (Gnostic) wisdom to her. The apostles Andrew and Peter, representing the orthodox tradition, deride this assertion by Mary and are incredulous.
The claim that the Catholic Church purposefully covered up knowledge of the love affair between Jesus and Mary is clearly related to the notion that the Church has hid gnostic, i.e. inner esoteric wisdom. Given the sexualized nature of a culture, I do not find it surprising that sex and mysticism are so closely intertwined in the minds of many.
Following the same logic I have used throughout, I believe there is no way to get to the question of whether or not Jesus and Mary had any such relationship.
The Gospel of Philip is dated to the second half of the 3rd century (i.e. 250-300). That is a long time removed from the events surrounding the life and death of Jesus, so any claims to historical fact should be taken with a grain of salt. The text itself is corrupted and does not unequivocally state that the two were husband and wife. No text, not even this Gnostic Gospel, makes the explicit claim that Jesus and Mary were married.
There is a corrupted piece of the Philip-ine Gospel that seems to indicate Jesus “kissing” Mary and she is referred to as his “companion”, although that does not necessarily mean his wife-lover. And the disciples ask Jesus why he loves her more than them. All of it fairly vague.
Also the Gospel of Philip places a strong emphasis on the sacrament of marriage, particularly as a symbolic mystical act. In this regard, the Gospel resembles I think the notion of Tantra in Hindu-Buddhist spirituality. Normally Gnosticism, as anti-material, denigrates marriage and sexuality. Celibacy was practiced by most of the so-called advanced Gnostics (“the perfect”). So it is unclear whether the community that wrote this Gospel used marriage simply as a metaphor for Gnostic awakening or actually used sexual intimacy as a spiritual practice. I mean literally like in certain Eastern religious traditions with the sexual act as the very injunction itself. There is no way to know. And even if such a thing did occur, as noted with the pattern of all the other Gospels, the practices/beliefs of the community are retro-read back into the life of Jesus. So maybe this group did practice marriage-sexuality as an avenue to religious awakening and then simply justified their practice (in a pre-post metaphysical understanding) by weaving a tale in which Jesus was married.
From the canonical Gospels we learn that Mary Magdalene is there at the crucifixion and helps perform burial rites which some have taken to interpret as the actions of a grieving widow. But again that is hardly conclusive evidence either way. First of all, we have no real way of knowing whether those events described actually took place—again they are already part of the theological narrative fabric. Secondly, assuming these events did take place they do not automatically entail her status as widow. Otherwise the canonical gospels do not say that Jesus was celibate/single (though many Christians falsely assume this) nor do they say he was married. They are completely silent on the subject. Again, they are not biographies.
All of which points to a very boring conclusion: there is no evidence that Jesus did or did not have such a relationship with Mary Magdalene. The Gospels tell us they are written so that we believe that Jesus is the Christ—in other words they only focus on details they think are important from a religious point of view. The conclusion would then seem to be that the Gospel writers felt that Jesus' sexuality was not of prime importance in the spiritual quest, a view that I think the often sex-obsessed modern West might contemplate.
The orthodox tradition says that Jesus Christ was like us (humans) in all things except sin. If there were to be definitive proof someday that Jesus was single or married (which again there won't but for the sake of argument), marriage is not a sin. Sin is conscious separation from God, conscious disobedience from the will of God. Or if one prefers more Eastern terminology living in the illusion of separation from the True Nature. Marriage, celibacy, fatherhood or not, none of these are sinful (or holy frankly) simply by themselves. They are states of life within which we make choices, choices that are either holy or sinful. In either situation Jesus could be the Christ.
APPENDIX B: CHRISTIANITY AND NONDUALITY
The controversy surrounding gnostic versus orthodox forms of Christianity ultimately involves is the thorny issue of Nonduality.
As I mentioned earlier the mainline mystical tradition of the orthodox is of the low/mid casual, called Unification or Divinization. The Gnostic tradition as it highest (e.g. Valentinus) reveals a high causal mysticism.
Now in an integral developmental view we note that the high causal state is higher than the low/mid causal and therefore it should be that Gnostic mysticism has the upper hand. But there are a few factors to consider before we jump to that conclusion.
The most critical issue is that the interpretations of the high causal by Gnostics were almost uniformly pathological in nature. The orthodox mystical low/mid causal interpretations were generally sound and healthy.
The high causal reveals a state wherein the awareness of the arising of manifestation fades; it can fade to such a degree that one is no longer aware of the arising of creation. A better interpretation is to describe the high causal's lesson is that the world is shimmering or transparent. There is a deep sense of peace and freedom felt in the high causal but it is experienced as separate from the arising of the transparent manifest realm. It is often experienced as a Witness, an unmoved Watcher free of all the slings and arrows of outrageous manifestation. So there is a state (worldspace) wherein the sense of creation is very tenuous even essentially non-existent. But this is only a relative state (not Absolute Nonduality) and has no place in an integral frame to judge the invalidity of earlier states. Manifestation, reality, creation, whatever term we prefer arises in certain states and seems to not arise as in the high causal---although to be fair in the Vajrayana system of Tibetan Buddhism, the causal is called “the very subtle”, so that even in the high causal there is a form of body/energies, however finely subtle.
Ideally these higher states/worldspaces transcend and include their predecessors. Gnosticism failed on this second point, by absolutizing its own state and pathologically so, it failed to properly include the manifest realm. Transcend, in a select few, perhaps, but no healthy inclusion. It almost dis-engaged, transcended and dissociated in other words. Recall that the Neoplatonic Nondual Master Plotinus (3rd century) wrote a scathing attack on the Gnostics.
Historian of Christian mysticism Bernard McGinn articulates about two different types of Christian mysticism: union of spirits and indistinct union. Union of spirits corresponds to the relative causal level mysticism described as Deification/Unification. In that system there are two separate realities, God and the soul (or God and the Cosmos) which become united. They remain separate ontologically, even if the mystic, at times, may not be totally aware of or feel the separation. This distinction remains nonetheless in this view.
The other form of mysticism (or better non-mysticism) is much rarer: indistinct union. This formulation is more radical and points to a form of “union”, if such a word can be used, that is not-distinct, i.e. non-separate—in other words Nondual. The prime examples within the Christian tradition of this view are individuals like Meister Eckhart, Nicholas of Cusa, Hadewijch of Brabant, and Marguerite Porete (see McGinn's vol 3 and 4 of the History of Western Christian Mysticism for their descriptions).
These individuals describe a different set of mystical injunctions than those of their causal level Christian cousins like Dionysius or John of the Cross. Or, to put it another way, they add a fourth step to that of the earlier three: purgation, illumination, union (of spirits), and now indistinct union (gross, subtle, causal, nondual).
The injunctions involve a sense of total death, even the death of soul united to God. They point to a practice that involves letting go completely of any desire to reach a destination or even undertake a path itself, as if there is nothing fundamentally to be reformed, only simply the surrender to what always already is the case.
This teaching has not yet formally received the recognition due. It is a confused matter really. Certain theses of Eckhart's were condemned though Eckhart himself was not; the Dominican order has asked the Vatican to re-open his case and exonerate him of charges of heresy. Marguerite Porete was condemned and executed by a French wing of the Inquisition but her case too is being re-examined. Nicholas of Cusa and Jan of Ruysbroeck were never condemned nor canonized and well known.
As long as the debate is framed between the orthodox and the Gnostic, then it is a debate on the relative scale and can never ultimately be resolved. The orthodox would free up the restrictions on high causal/nondual mysticism while the Gnostics (if they are any left) would have to learn to respect the (relative) e of the orthodox three-step path as well as a higher state (Nondual) and a healthy interpretative structure to its own high causal.
The primary mistake in this regard (continually repeated by both Christians and non-Christians) is that Christianity teaches that Jesus is the only son of God (Harris states this word for word). Christianity is a religion of “Christ”; it is not Jesus-ianity. The Nicene Creed states we believe in one Lord Jesus Christ. Christ is the only begotten Son of God. Christ as Second Person of the Trinity, Pre-existent Word of God.
The Council of Chalcedon (451) defined for the orthodox the exact relationship of the man Jesus to the (Divine) person of Christ. After The Councils of Nicea and Constantinople had defined the Nature of the Divine in Christianity as consisting of One Godhead in Three Persons, with Christ and the Holy Spirit co-equal yet distinct persons within that Divine Comm-unity, the question of the relationship between Christ and Jesus took center stage.
There were two main camps that had formed: The Alexandrians and the Antiocheans. The Alexandrians (e.g. Cyril of Alexandria) emphasized the Divine Person of Christ assuming human flesh. This theology is known as Descent Theology, for Christ “descended” to our state. This form of theology was dominant in the premodern world which overall tended to emphasize causality from above descending below (i.e. The Great Chain of Being). The limitation to the Alexandrian Christology was that it had no real language for describing the humanity of Jesus. It at points veered dangerously close to a revived Docetism, where Christ only seemed to be human in the appearance of Jesus.
The Antiochean Christology (e.g. Theodore of Mospuestia) was a Christology from below that had Jesus through virtue and obedience to the will of God “ascend” to heaven. Hence it is known as the theology of Ascent. It has been the dominant Christology of modern and postmodern Christianity, paralleling the notions of causality (from below) prevalent since the Enlightenment. Antiochean theology suffers from the same basic flaw—it in the end comes close to abolishing Jesus' humanity. As he ascends or is “adopted” into the Christ, Christ seems to obliterate his humanity. The ancient heresy that Antiocheans almost returned to is called “adoptionism”.
The Council of Chalcedon managed to perfectly unite (in a trans-rational fashion) these two seemingly opposite trends. The Council of Chalcedon defined Christ as “one person, subsisting in two natures, one human, one divine.” These two natures are neither mixed nor completely separate.
Again note the apophatic, mystical quality of this definition. It defines what is not the case.
The one person is Christ---second person of the Trinty, Eternal Son of God. The two natures are one human and one divine. Jesus Christ is fully human and fully God so argues the orthodox faith. Not 50/50 or only seemingly human or only really an uber-human who triumphs into divinity, fully God and fully human. Like us in all things (human nature) except sin (divine nature).
The Council of Chalcedon in other words promotes nonduality. One person (The One Divine Self) manifesting as always the fully human (form) and fully divine (formless). Uniting at every moment involution (Descent Christology) and evolution (Ascent Christology). The orthodox camp tended to relegate the nonduality only to the human Jesus. The Gnostics were more open to the equality of consciousness that could be realized by the believer with that of Jesus but did not place enough focus on the concreteness of his humanity and of his political-social message (as well as his spiritual one). An integral view would be to bring the orthodox emphasis on the concreteness of reality (as good but wounded by sin) with a nondual perspective.