This book is a Get Out of Jail Free card and a passport back into the playground.

The aim of this book is to set you free. But free from what? Free from neurosis. Free from the feeling that you have to obey authority. Free from emotional intimidation. Free from addiction. Free from inhibition.

The key to happiness, mental health and being the most that we can be is absolute and unconditional self-acceptance. The paradox is that many of our problems are caused by trying to improve ourselves, censor our thinking, make up for past misdeeds and struggling with our negative feelings whether of depression or aggression.

But if we consider ourselves in our entirety in this very moment, we know these things :

1. Anything we have done is in the past and cannot be changed, thus it is pointless to do anything else but accept it. No regrets or guilt.

2. While our actions can harm others, our thoughts and emotions, in and of themselves, never can. So we should accept them and allow them to be and go where they will. While emotions sometimes drive actions, those who completely accept their emotions and allow themselves to feel them fully, have more choice over how they act in the light of them.

Self-criticism never made anyone a better person. Anyone who does a “good deed” under pressure from their conscience or to gain the approval of others takes out the frustration involved in some other way. The basis for loving behaviour towards others is the ability to love ourselves. And loving ourselves unconditionally, means loving ourselves exactly as we are at this moment.

This might seem to be complacency, but in fact the natural activity of the individual is healthy growth, and what holds us back from it is fighting with those things we can’t change and the free thought and emotional experience which is the very substance of that growth.

How to Be Free is available as a free ebook from Smashwords, iBooks in some countries, Kobo and Barnes & Noble

It is also available in paperback from Lulu or Amazon for $10 US, plus postage.

The ebook version currently has received 593 ***** out of ***** ratings on U.S. iBooks.

Friday, 28 September 2012

New Joe Blow Ebook

My new book - containing essays posted on this blog, as well as a couple not posted here, is now available as a free download from Smashwords.

Has materialism become a joyless addiction? Is idealism making things worse for us? Have we underestimated the healing power of the erotic? Can the symbolic language of religion tell us something about the nature of the mind? Is the "Kingdom of Heaven" within? These are some of the questions explored in these essays by the author of "How to Be Free".

Joe Blow's controversial first book "How to Be Free" has received over 100 five star ratings on U.S. I-Tunes and led to him being referred to as a "screwball" and "a lost soul". Now he is back with more.

Materialism Is Masturbation
The Conscience of the Free Individual
The Malignancy of Idealism
Do We Know That We Are Life Itself?
You Complete Me
Fantasies and Sexual Healing
Taboos and Fixations
Untying the Sexual Knot
Anorexia, Armouring and Objectification
Fifty Shades of Sexual Liberation
Sucked Into Paradise
Inner Space - The Final Frontier

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Deciphering the Jesus Fairy Tale : Part 3 - The Holy Spirit

"He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters. And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. "Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit." Matthew 12:30-12:33, NIV, 1984.

If Jesus' words have a non-supernatural meaning, what might be meant by the term "the holy spirit"?

In the last essay I talked about how the word "holy" comes from the same root word as "whole" and so can be interpreted as meaning "whole" or "of the whole". The largest whole is the universe. Everything which exists in the universe is a whole which is part of that whole and there are wholes within wholes within wholes. Each of us is a whole individual, made up of cells which are wholes, and the cells are made up of atoms which are whole and the atoms are made up of electrons which are wholes. The meaning of a whole is found in it relationship to the larger whole of which it is a part in just the same way that each of the words in this sentence conveys a meaning through its relationship to the rest of the sentence.

There is a creative principle which is intrinsic to the nature of the universe. Were this not the case there would be nothing in the universe but unstructured energy. Creating more complex wholes is one of the things the universe does. Otherwise we wouldn't be here.

But the disintegration of wholes is also an inescapable part of the functioning of the universe. Among we living things there is life and death. Death brings with it disintegration.

While each whole has its own integrity, each is of the larger whole and ultimately of the universe. We may think of ourselves as separate entities but we are actually a system through which energy and matter is always flowing – coming in from outside when we eat, drink and breathe and leaving us when we move, sweat, excrete, etc. And our mind also is a system with information and ideas coming in from outside and being then shared with others. So, while we think of ourselves as a continuing entity, we are not entirely the same person from moment to moment. The qualities we associate with ourselves are really more like statistical probabilities. The fact that I've liked eating spaghetti for 50 years makes it likely that I will still like eating spaghetti in ten years time, but it is possible that at some stage I'll get sick of it, or be introduced to some amazing kind of pasta which will lead me to never consider spaghetti again. On the other hand the fact that I may be a person with a head cold today does not indicate that I'll probably still be a person with a head cold next year at this time.

The reason we needed to develop the concept of the holy is that we became divided, i.e. we became unholy. As I speculated in How to Be Free, there must have been a time before the human neurosis, a time when our ape-like ancestors lived peacefully together and at one with the natural environment. This would have been made possible by our species extended nurturing period which kept our psychological and social development from being hindered by the struggle for survival in a harsh environment and by the need to compete for food and mating opportunities. This would have been fine except that the men had to protect the group from predators such as leopards. In fighting the leopards, and also in trying to learn to understand them, the men would have had to become more like them, to be aggressive and competitive. Eventually this would have caused problems in the tribal group, creating a rift between the men and the women. This would have been the beginning of the human neurosis as the need to minimise social disturbance led the men, and later the women, to internalise the other's criticisms of them. First we were criticised by our fellows, then we began to criticise ourselves. We developed a conscience. Judgement and condemnation came into being. Judgement and condemnation of others and judgement and condemnation of ourselves.

How easy must it have been when a natural disaster occurred for us to see this as some kind of punishment for bad conduct? Even today, when we know so much about the way the world works, those of us who do not believe in the supernatural often find ourselves thinking, when something bad happens in our lives, "Perhaps I'm being punished." But our early ancestors didn't know what made a volcano erupt or lightning fall from the sky or a flood wash away their village.

From this must have come the concept that there were gods who stood in judgement on our behaviour and might punish us for wrong doing. At the time it was probably different gods in charge of specific natural forces. At some stage the concept of sacrifice to appease the gods must have developed. This makes sense. We had nothing on which to base our concept of what these gods might be like except ourselves. Since we knew that we were sometimes willing to forgive an act against us if the perpetrator gave us something in the way of reparation, it made sense that this would also work with the gods.

At some stage the idea developed in some cultures that there was one single god. Once again we imagined him or her in our image. Once our neurosis developed to the extent that the psychological insecurity of males made it necessary for them to enchain women and take total control, i.e. our society became patriarchal, those societies, if they believed in a single god, believed in a male one.

Some of the qualities which were assigned to this male God were qualities which belonged to the creative principle of the universe. God was seen as the creator of all things, including humans. All matter and life, including humans, arise from and are an expression of that principle. God was considered to be invisible and omnipresent. These qualities also apply to the creative principle of the universe.

But the creative principle of the universe is neither male nor female. It has no supernatural powers. After all it is nature. And it does not stand in judgement over us. We may stand in judgement over ourselves. In fact we generally do. But the creative principle of the universe could give a shit. The sun continued to shine on Adolph Hitler and Idi Amin and Charles Manson. It they had a garden it would not stop producing because of their crimes against their fellows. If we harm our fellows they may strike back or shun us. If we do something we feel is wrong, we may feel guilty. But if the creative principle of the universe is God, and I believe that this is the God of the mystics and shamans as opposed to the God of the Old Testament, then God does not condemn us. Both condemnation and forgiveness are human terms. Something immaterial, like a law of nature, cannot condemn or forgive. On the other hand condemnation and forgiveness are understandable metaphors with regard to natural forces. You could say that if we treat an eco-system so harshly that a vegetated area becomes a desert, our behaviour has been condemned by nature. Likewise, we could say that a robust eco-system which can take a lot of harsh treatment and remain verdant is very forgiving. But we know we are using metaphors and not actually assigning emotional reactions to plants.

So by the time of Jesus, we were severely neurotic as a species. We were at war with ourselves internally, feeling that we were torn between the forces of good and evil. And we were divided from each other emotionally and often in conflict with each other. And above us was the figure of a stern cosmic father who had been known to send fire or flood to wipe out those who broke his laws or in any way gave him offence.

It is in the context of a society of individuals divided internally and also socially (just as we still are today), that the concept of the holy can be seen to be deeply meaningful. What we so crave is to heal the division within ourselves, to achieve individuation as Carl Jung put it. And also to find a healing of society – to heal the divisions which blight our lives.

The creative principle of the universe operatives via forces which draw together parts to form wholes. In human society this principle takes the form of love. Love is simply a form of communication characterised by openness, honesty and spontaneity. Where this kind of communication occurs between human beings it is accompanied by warm feelings of attraction and a cathartic breaking down of any kind of emotional repression which may have been interfering with the emotional health of the individual. It is through this process that we become aware that we are all life itself contained as we may be in the temporary shell of our body. The divisions between us exist only in the unrealistic artificial conceptions of our minds.

Since we long for wholeness for ourselves and our society, that which is truly whole and of the whole has a tremendous importance for us. And to describe this we use the word "holy".

So what might Jesus have meant by the "holy spirit"? We think of a spirit as being a supernatural entity, perhaps synonymous with a ghost. And the term "holy spirit" sometimes seems to be used interchangeably with the term "holy ghost".

But we don't always use the term "spirit" to mean an actual supernatural being. Sometimes we talk about "the spirit of fairness". We can use the term to refer to the essence of something.

What might be the essence of the holy?

What is it which divides us? Lies, delusions, prejudices, differing opinions, differing ideas...

If we were going to be united, what would be the common ground on which we could stand together? If we were to all once more become an integral part of a whole, what would that whole be, and what would be its essence?

The whole would be reality. And its essence the truth.

Now I don't mean some specific hypothetical "truth", like "the truth that the Lord Jesus Christ is my Lord and Saviour." I mean the real truth. Whatever is factual.

If you stopped off at the pub on the way home from work for a few drinks with your friends, and your partner angrily asks you where you've been when you get home, then "I had to work back late" is not the truth and "I stopped off for a drink with my friends" is the truth. This is the kind of truth I'm talking about. But I'm also talking about the truth that the earth is about four and a half billion years old. And the truth that the concept of a supernatural being standing judgement over us is a figment of our imaginations.

We may not always know the exact factual truth, but the best approximation of it that we can come to is the only thing which can ever unify us – make us whole and make us part of the whole. There are many lies and delusions, but there can only ever be one truth.

So now we can look at the "holy trinity". The "father" is the creative principle of the universe. The "son" is anything which is a product of the creative principle. And "the holy spirit" is the frame work of truth – the facts – which can be apprehended by the senses and understood, in time, by reason.

Now imagine that you are Jesus and you can see these things and you've been born into a society where people are divided within themselves and in conflict with each other. A society of people who feel ashamed of themselves for various reasons and feel that a cosmic father figure stands in judgement over them. You know that this father figure is a delusion. Unlike them you live in the real world, your mind unclouded by guilt or dogma or superstition. Your God is the God of nature, the creative principle of the universe which does not judge and which gives generously. The God who clothed the lilies of the field more magnificently than Solomon clothed himself. What are you going to do to lead your fellows out of their madness and their misery?

Now you could tell them that it's all in their imaginations. You could tell them that God the Father doesn't exist. This probably wouldn't get you very far. Psychiatrists often try this kind of approach with their psychotic patients. It doesn't work. That's why they rely on drugs. Jesus didn't have access to drugs.

To take that kind of approach is what improvisation teacher Keith Johnstone would call "blocking". A successful improvisation requires that we accept what we are given to work with. One thing which made R. D. Laing such a great psychiatrist was that he took the view that he did not have the right to try to impose his experience of reality onto his patients. He joined them where they were and then tried to help them to find their own way out of the prison cell of their neurosis or psychosis.

I believe that this is also the approach taken by Jesus.

If these people believed that a grim father figure stood in judgement over them then he would tell them that this God had sent him to bring them forgiveness for their "sins". This was not a lie. He knew that the God they feared was the same God in whose world he lived, and that the human face and the judgemental attitude were the distortions of their disturbed minds, like something seen in a crazy house mirror. And he was a product of the creative principle of the universe, as we all are. He was not lying when he said that he was "the son of God". Nor was he lying when he said he had been sent to bring forgiveness. A creative system has to produce what is needed for creation to continue. Flowers produce pollen. If they didn't the bees would die. So it is not inappropriate to say that flowers are sent by nature to bring pollen. Whatever we find to do in our lives to aid creation or the health of the system into which we are born, that is what we were sent to do. But he had to talk the language of the people to whom he was communicating his message.

Jesus realised that God did not judge people. If there was a big flood which killed a lot of people it wasn't because God was unhappy with them. That is not how nature works. And it doesn't take a scientist to see that. Fear-based superstitions were not our original mode of viewing the world. They were a product of our neurosis and they obscured our original realistic view of the world in which we did not try to fill in the gaps in our sensory information about the world with chimeras of the mind.

Jesus realised that we are the only judges, both of ourselves and of others. And he realised that the only Hell was the one we made for ourselves during our life. And he realised that our neurosis left us more dead than alive. The bliss of living in the real world which was his daily experience was unavailable to us. Trapped within the cage of our wounded ego we were deadened emotionally and sensually and our embattlement, our character armour as Wilhelm Reich called it, meant that we could no longer interact with the world and our fellows spontaneously as we had when we were children. We can tell when something dies because it stops actively interacting with its environment. The more armoured we were, the more cut off from interaction, the more we were, metaphorically-speaking, dead. This was acknowledged by those who referred to Jesus as "the first born from among the dead".

Jesus talked a lot about life after death and not having to die. Clearly the body dies. Those who believed in him still died physically. So what was he talking about? Principally, I think, he was talking about the state of spiritual death in which he found people. He was saying that this was a preventable mental illness, one which was reversible, one from which they could be "resurrected" or "born again". And it was a disease which those young people who followed his advice would never have to experience, at least so he thought.

Of course there may have been more to it than that. He talked of eternal life. There are three parts of our consciousness – our raw consciousness, our physical sensations and our ego, or conscious thinking self. Our raw consciousness is life itself, the shared consciousness of the entire universe. We have that in common, not just with all other humans, but with animals, plants, inorganic matter and all forms of energy. And since it is all one network of energy and energy can never be destroyed, it is eternal. Our physical sensations and our thoughts are individual to us and provide the shaping of raw consciousness. One day you will no longer have a body or a brain. There will be no "you" to feel or think anything. But raw consciousness has always been not "you" or "me" but "us" – or rather a big all-encompassing "me". We know what this means when we feel love. When we feel love we realise that "you" and "me" are really "us", that that which is individual to us in our consciousness is tiny compared to what is communal. What we fear when we fear death is the death of the ego, the lesser part of our consciousness.

So why did Jesus say that blasphemy against the holy spirit is the one thing which will not be forgiven? Dishonesty is the blasphemy against the holy spirit. Now, of course, we have all been dishonest at one time or another. He is no talking about something for which we are going to be condemned by a cosmic father figure. He is telling us that dishonesty is the one "sin" by which we condemn ourselves to the prevailing psychological disease. If we do something to harm other people then we may suffer the consequences. They may take revenge on us or shun us. But the universe won't punish us. The universe could give a shit what we do.

But access to the bliss of living in the real world is something we can deny to ourselves. If our mind is truthful, if it is grounded on the bedrock of what is, then there is no fog of confused dogma, self-deception or denial to stand between us and the joy, in all its forms, that the real world has to offer to us. On the other hand, when we start to tell lies we can create a hell for ourselves in which we live constantly in fear of being found out. And we cut ourselves off totally from the possibility of love, because love is open, honest, spontaneous communication. The real world is the only place were love can occur. Lies separate us. Love requires the common ground of truthfulness.

To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." They answered him, "We are Abraham's descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?" Jesus replied, "I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. John 8:31-8:36, NIV

Often we are led to believe that the term "sin" refers to having a good time – sex, carousing, whatever. That's not what Jesus is referring to. What he means by "sin" is selfishness, and slavery to "sin" is neurosis. Neurosis is mental suffering. And, naturally, when we are suffering our attention is directed towards our self, in the same way our attention is directed towards our thumb when we hit it with a hammer. Sex and carousing are not sinful in this sense unless they are pursued selfishly and thus are a cause of division between individuals, or unless we feel guilty about them, in which case they feed back into our neurosis. And the answer to guilt is to be truthful in our assessment of our behaviour. If it does no harm to anyone then there is no reason to feel guilty, and if it is in the past then we can't change it and so, once again, there is no need to feel guilty. But the key here is "you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free". This doesn't mean any specific dogmatic "truth". It means simply the truth. To be able to see things realistically and to be truthful about one's self.

If we have built a cage of fabrications for ourselves, then the way out is to admit the truth about ourselves. To come out of the closet so to speak. The gay liberation movement have set a great example for this. And there are examples of liberating truth-telling throughout our culture. A recent example was the hilarious ending of the film The Campaign (2012) in which rival politicians compete to see who can be the most truthful. They admit all sorts of embarrassing things about themselves and find that the public love them for it.

"Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." Matthew 7.1-7.2, NIV, 1984.

Jesus recognised that we were only being judged by ourselves and each other. God could give a shit. What mattered, if we were going to be free from our neurosis, was that we could return to honesty. But how could we be open and honest about ourselves in a social context in which we would be judged by our fellows for past actions or present feelings? Honesty was the one thing which could set us free, and dishonesty was the one thing which was condemning each new generation to the same fate. No matter what we did to hurt each other, without dishonesty, the effects would heal within a few generations or less, but if we couldn't be truthful, and each generation grew up surrounded by lies and half-truths, the suffering of humanity would just continue. So he tried to encourage the idea that people should accept their fellows regardless of what they might confess to, because to do otherwise was to exclude us all from a world in which we could live together in the bliss of reality. And he was also acknowledging that the mindset which judges others is one which opens itself up to self-judgement.

The human neurosis has been a terrible curse. At times it has made us do terrible things. But if we are willing to not bar the way back to Paradise – the paradise of the real world (the world that science is telling us so much about) – to anyone else, then we can all return there together.

If Moral Virtue was Christianity
Christ's Pretensions were all Vanity.
The Moral Christian is the Cause
Of the Unbeliever and his laws.
For what is Antichrist but those
Who against Sinners Heaven close.

William Blake, The Everlasting Gospel

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Deciphering the Jesus Fairy Tale - Part 2 : Faith

Without warning, a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, saying, "Lord, save us! We're going to drown!" He replied, "You of little faith, why are you so afraid?" Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm. The men were amazed and asked, "What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!" Matthew 8:24-27, NIV, 1984.

We don't live in a Harry Potter world where an individual can command the elements and they will obey, so, assuming that this story had its origins in a real event, what kind of event might it have been?

To make sense of this we need to consider what Jesus may have meant by "faith". He says that his disciples have "little faith" and also that they are afraid. Whatever he means by "faith" it is something which would counter fear.

Faith is often viewed, both by religious believers and by critics of religious belief, as a belief in the existence of something of which we have no factual evidence. This is one kind of faith. Sometimes it counters fear. For instance a fearful person may temper their anxiety by clinging to the belief that they have a guardian angel. On the other hand this kind of faith can itself be a source of fear. The existence of a devil and a place of eternal punishment after death are also matters of faith of this kind.

But faith need not be a belief in the existence of something. It can be a belief in the effectiveness of a process. Most of us have faith in science. This doesn't mean that we believe that every conclusion a scientist comes to will necessarily prove correct. But we believe that the progress of science is toward a better understanding of the universe. Superstition made us fearful of the world. Science is the response. The fearless confrontation with and examination of reality. Such fearlessness requires faith that we can meet the challenge. And this, I believe, is the kind of faith to which Jesus was referring.

Of course he wasn't specifically talking about science. But he was talking about what is open to us if we can learn not to be afraid. If reality itself or life in all its potentialities can be viewed as a sea then the faith Jesus was referring to is the courage that allows us to cast ourselves out onto that body of water. To open up to all that there is in life and the world around us, rather than allowing fear to blight our life or drag us from the glory of creation into the pointlessness of conflict with our fellows.

Because at the root of all anger or conflict is fear. Fear that we may lose something if we do not strike back against that which inspires it in us. Of course it may not be the person who angers us whom we fear, but there is something about them or something they express which makes us anxious.

If we are full of insecurities and fears, our inner life and our outer life is liable to be stormy. We will be at war within ourselves and we will be prone to getting into conflict with those around us. The root cause of most of our insecurities and fears is a lack of self-acceptance. Our sense of our own worth is fragile and this leaves us fearful of aspects of our own psyche and makes us vulnerable to be upset by things which others do or say.

The presence of a person who accepts us unconditionally has a soothing impact on us. We know that nothing we are liable to do or say will trouble them or make them think less of us. When conflict breaks out, the presence of such a person, a person who has no allegiance to one side or the other, can have a calming influence. Deep down we know that our anger is a sign of weakness, and if someone is genuinely unmoved by it we are liable to defer to their inner strength.

The storm which threatened Jesus' disciples was no doubt of the psychological rather then meteorological variety. This story is a record, albeit in mythological form, of Jesus' ability to resolve conflict amongst his disciples.

If by "God" Jesus meant the creative principle of the universe, then he was talking about faith in a process, not in the existence of something. We might have faith in nature. This need not mean that we believe that fruit trees will grow spontaneously in the desert or that a tiger will not try to eat us. It just means that we trust to nature to provide for our needs as long as we appropriately acknowledge its limitations and its dangers. So to have faith in God, for Jesus, meant to approach life fearlessly, in recognition that the world is full of things and processes and people who will help us if we live in such a way.

To understand the nature of this concept of faith and see its wisdom we could consider the decisions we make in our lives as wagers not unlike the wager that Blaise Pascal proposed concerning the existence or non-existence of God.

First it should be pointed out that faith is no replacement for reason. If we jump off of a tall building we are most likely going to die no matter how much faith we have that we can fly. Faith should only come into the question after we have determined that a positive outcome is not beyond the bounds of possibility.

  1. We don't believe we will succeed, so decide not to try.
  2. We don't believe we will succeed, but we try anyway.
  3. We believe that we will succeed, but we fail.
  4. We believe that we will succeed, and we do.

We'll interpret a decision not to try as a failure. And, in the second case, our belief that we will fail is not a good basis for success and is liable to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. So we will assume that that is also a fail.

So the results would look like this :

  1. Fear Fail
  2. Fear Fail
  3. Faith Fail
  4. Faith Success

If jumping 50 cars on a motorcycle was the thing which was being attempted, then 1. would probably be the most sensible choice, as there is little to be gained by success and everything to be lost by failure. But when we apply this wager to the everyday decisions of our lives, we find that we might as well have faith that things will go well. If we do find ourselves in a number 3. situation we know that we have lost nothing by having faith. We would have failed anyway. And faith almost always is a prerequisite to success.

To pick a practical example. We may fear to speak to strangers. You never know who's a serial killer these days, we may tell ourselves. Of course the statistical likelihood of meeting a serial killer is quite small. What we don't know is how our life might have been transformed for the better by friendships we may have made, or even ideas exchanged in casual conversation, with all those strangers. The same could be applied if we are afraid of flying. We might eliminate the possibility that we will die in a plane crash, but we also deprive ourself of the rich experiences which might await us in other countries.

Is the existence of God necessarily a matter of faith?

For many it is. For Jesus it was not. God is raw undivided reality unobscured by the abstraction of rational thought, the preconceptions of received dogma or the fracturing effect of the embattled ego.

The world "holy" comes from the same root word as the word "whole". Something which is "holy" is something which is undivided. When William Blake said "Everything that lives is holy" he was acknowledging that every living thing is an undivided whole and indivisibly connected to the whole of nature. The universe, the totality of all things, is also an undivided whole. That is what God is. That is what God means.

In our wounded paranoid state, this reality can become a mirror in which we see reflected the human face of an individual who shares our own prejudices or an embodiment of the torturing conscience programmed into us by our society. None of this has anything to do with the nature of God. And much of what Jesus had to say about God was aimed at destroying such misconceptions. He stuck with the use of terms like "He" and "Father" because he had to start with the language people were used to using when talking about God, but he also explained to them that "Though I have been speaking figuratively, a time is coming when I will no longer use this kind of language but will tell you plainly about my Father." John 16:25, NIV, 1984.

Rational thought is a crucial tool for developing understanding of reality. But it is not rational thought which tells us whether or not something exists. It is direct experience which does that. If I hold an orange in my hand I know that it exists because I can see it, feel it, smell it, taste it. Rational thought combined with such direct sensory experience can help me to discover more about the orange. I can learn that it is good for me because it contains high quantities of Vitamin C. But I cannot use reason to prove the existence of the orange, because the a priori establishment via sensory perception that the orange exists it the primary datum for the reasoning process about its nature. In other words we have to decide whether something exists before we can begin to use reason to tell us anything about it.

And rational thought is an abstraction. It does not deal directly with reality. It deals with ideas about reality. It requires language. The word "orange" is not itself an orange. Its meaning for us is determined largely by our sensory experience of the real thing. And this is where we run into problems with the word "God". Because the direct sensory experience of the reality to which we assigned the label "God" is not as easily accessible to us, because of our neurosis, as direct sensory experience of a piece of fruit.

To perceive reality as an integrated whole we have to be able to temporarily turn off that part of our thinking which divides. If we are thinking in terms of us and them, good and evil, inside and outside, up and down, alive and dead, etc., we cannot perceive a reality in which there are no such divisions. Some see God when they take hallucinogenic drugs, because these drugs prevent the mind from maintaining its conceptual divisions. Others are able to achieve direct sensory experience of God through meditation, because meditation involves the cessation of all rational thought. And there are those who see God when rational thought is broken down by psychosis. And it is likely that as children, before we learned to think rationally and divide the world into separate bits, we lived in an awareness of God.

Keith Johnstone tells this story :

A Psychotic Girl

I once had a close rapport with a teenager who seemed 'mad' when she was with other people, but relatively normal when she was with me. I treated her rather as I would a Mask – that is to say, I was gentle, and I didn't try to impose my reality on her. One thing that amazed me was her perceptiveness about other people – it was as if she was a body-language expert. She described things about them which she read from their movement and postures that I later found to be true, although this was at the beginning of a summer school and none of us had ever met before.

I'm remembering her now because of an interaction she had with a very gentle, motherly schoolteacher. I had to leave for a few minutes, so I gave the teenager my watch and said she could use it to see I was away only a very short time, and that the schoolteacher would look after her. We were in a beautiful garden (where the teenager had just seen God) and the teacher picked a flower and said : 'Look at the pretty flower, Betty.'

Betty, filled with spiritual radiance, said, 'All the flowers are beautiful.'

'Ah,' said the teacher, blocking her, 'but this flower is especially beautiful.'

Betty rolled on the ground screaming, and it took a while to calm her. Nobody seemed to notice that she was screaming 'Can't you see? Can't you see!'

In the gentlest possible way, this teacher had been very violent. She was insisting on categorising, and on selecting. Actually it is crazy to insist that one flower is especially beautiful in a whole garden of flowers, but the teacher is allowed to do this, and is not perceived by sane people as violent. Grown-ups are expect to distort the perceptions of the child in this way. Since then I've noticed such behaviour constantly, but it took the mad girl to open my eyes to it.

Impro : Improvisation and the Theatre, Keith Johnstone, Eyre Methuen, 1981.

At that time Jesus said, "I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Matthew 11:25, NIV

This is not to say that we should abandon rational thought, only that we need to take a holiday from it occasionally if we are to remain in contact with reality. This is something which Einstein understood : “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.” No doubt it was this approach which allowed Einstein to transcend the boundaries placed on our understanding of physics by the limitations of mechanistic enquiry. I'm sure we have all met individuals who are intellectually brilliant but seem to be emotionally dead inside, incapable of weeping in the face of beauty for instance. Rational thought is a essential tool, but it can also be used as a neurotic defence by the emotionally wounded. The mind has a built-in capacity for holistic thought, for integrating pieces of information into a meaningful picture of the whole, but any form of internal conflict disrupts this ability, therefore the most effective thinker will be one who is not just intellectually skilled but emotionally healthy.

If God is the creative principle of the universe then the task of science is to unveil God. To flee from that unveiling is to lack faith. Some fearfully cling to fairy story descriptions of the nature of the world written thousands of years ago. Others angrily deny the existence of God.

We are caught up in a storm. But some of us have faith that reason will prevail, that a clear understanding of our current situation, humble, free from dogma, free from judgement, can provide an island of calm on which refugees from the sinking boats of irrational superstition and rationalistic denial can all find refuge.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Deciphering the Jesus Fairy Tale - Part 1

"Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is near." Matthew 3:2, NIV (1984).

I don't believe in the supernatural. And yet, somehow, the words of Jesus, as recorded in the New Testament and the apocryphal gospels, have always been intensely meaningful to me. I've increasingly come to see what appear to be supernatural elements in the philosophy he expressed to be symbolic rather than literal – a description of perceivable rational aspects of reality in poetic terms.

There are a couple of possible explanations for this. We live in a universe in which patterns are repeated. This is why it is so easy to come up with metaphors, because aspects of our own experience often follow similar patterns to those of nature. We might say : "I was holding in my grief, but then the dam broke." The two phenomena are independent but the pattern is the same. So Jesus might have been a man who believed in the supernatural, and it might be a coincidence that the pattern of his supernatural belief system sometimes is in sync with my own rationalistic belief system.

On the other hand it is possible that Jesus didn't believe in the supernatural either but was using poetic language because it was the only kind of language he had available to him to communicate his ideas. When we say that someone is "wrestling with his demons" we know that we don't mean he is literally fighting with evil supernatural entities, but we often assume that those who lived in an era when science was only just beginning must have always been talking literally when they made references to supernatural beings. This may not always have been the case. Today we can talk about neurosis, psychosis, systems theory, evolution, etc., but in Jesus' day the scientific framework for such ways of talking about ourselves and the nature of the universe did not exist. Jesus seems to have acknowledged the limitations under which he was working. "Though I have been speaking figuratively, a time is coming when I will no longer use this kind of language but will tell you plainly about my Father." John 16:25, NIV, 1984. (In prophetic speech the individual is a mouthpiece for some form of deeper collective awareness, what Jung called the collective unconscious, and so we can't assume that Jesus thought he would be able to achieve this personally.)

It is also important to remember that the accounts of Jesus life which have been handed down to us were most likely recorded generations after the events occurred. To we neurotics the healthy individual is liable to appear magical. We have two options to explain the difference between us and them. We can think of ourselves as healthy individuals and them as superhuman, or we can acknowledge that the difference is due to our own state of sickness. The former assumption tends to be the more comfortable one. And when stories are handed down under these circumstances it is likely that the metaphorical will transmute into the literal. Lazarus may have said : "It was as if I were dead, but since I met Jesus, I am now alive." A hundred or more years later and the story becomes one of Jesus reanimating Lazarus' corpse.

So this series of articles will be an explanation of what Jesus' words mean to me. I'm no authority. I haven't done a lot of reading on the topic, even in the Bible. So this is a personal experiment the value of which depends, as with all my writing here, only on whether it strikes a chord with the reader. But I certainly would encourage anyone to do more reading and to take an interest in the interpretations others may put upon these words which have had such a profound impact on our culture and our history.

"Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is near" is one of Jesus most famous statements. The traditional interpretation is that we should express shame for our sinful ways and put them behind us as a supernatural deity is going to assert control in some way and we will be sorry if we are not in line with the new order he will be establishing. Alternatively, I suppose, the Kingdom of Heaven could be interpreted as a place we go after we die and thus the admonition would be to repent before we die and have to face this supernatural deity in the after life.

Wikipedia gives this definition : "Repentance is the activity of reviewing one's actions and feeling contrition or regret for past wrongs." But it also says : In the New Testament the word translated as 'repentance' is the Greek word μετάνοια (metanoia), "after/behind one's mind", which is a compound word of the preposition 'meta' (after, with), and the verb 'noeo' (to perceive, to think, the result of perceiving or observing). In this compound word the preposition combines the two meanings of time and change, which may be denoted by 'after' and 'different'; so that the whole compound means: 'to think differently after'. Metanoia is therefore primarily an after-thought, different from the former thought; a change of mind accompanied by regret and change of conduct, "change of mind and heart", or, "change of consciousness".

What was Jesus really talking about when he referred to "the Kingdom of Heaven"? He referred to "Heaven" or "the Kingdom of Heaven" a lot. If we don't believe in the supernatural, and thus don't believe in a personal after-life, is this term meaningless?

Whatever Jesus meant by "the Kingdom of Heaven" was something he felt was "near". In this context the term is often interpreted as "about to occur". If this were the case then Jesus was wrong. Almost two thousand years later Christians are still waiting for such an event. So, while it might still occur, it was not imminent in Jesus' own time.

But the term "near" can also refer to something which is in close physical proximity to us. Something which already exists. In the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas it says : Jesus said, "If those who lead you say to you, 'See, the kingdom is in the sky,' then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, 'It is in the sea,' then the fish will precede you. Rather, the kingdom is inside of you, and it is outside of you. When you come to know yourselves, then you will become known, and you will realize that it is you who are the sons of the living father. But if you will not know yourselves, you dwell in poverty and it is you who are that poverty." Gospel of Thomas, Log 3. Here Jesus says that "the Kingdom" is inside of us and outside of us. It is not coming, it is already here. But it is close in proximity. Nothing can be closer to us than something which is within us.

To understand what might be meant by the term "Heaven" in a non-supernatural sense we need to consider the nature of joy or bliss as well as the nature of suffering. Symbolically, Heaven is a symbol for bliss and Hell is a symbol for suffering. The common denominator of all suffering is self-consciousness. When we feel physical or emotion pain our consciousness focusses naturally on our self. Anxiety, shame, embarrassment... All of these are emotional states which involve an intense awareness of our self. By contrast, joy, bliss or ecstasy are states in which we forget ourselves, in which our enjoyment of something is so great that we are lost in it. Our emotional experience is rich but it is unselfconscious.

"Outside the trap, right close by, is living Life, all around one, in everything the eye can see and the ear can hear and the nose can smell. To the victims within the trap it is eternal agony, a temptation as for Tantalus. You see it, you feel it, you smell it, you eternally long for it, yet you can never never get through the exit out of the trap. To get out of the trap simply has become an impossibility. It can only be had in dreams and in poems and in great music and paintings, but it is no longer in your motility. The keys to the exit are cemented into your own character armour and into the mechanical rigidity of your body and soul.

"This is the great tragedy. And Christ happened to know it."

Wilhelm Reich, The Murder of Christ, 1953.

Wilhelm Reich under arrest for alleged Food and Drug Administration violations shortly before his death in prison
Bliss is the primary emotional characteristic of existence. If we are not worried or depressed or frightened or in pain then we have no choice but to feel joy because that is what is left when those other feelings are absent. "And he said: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." Matthew 18:3, NIV. When we were young children we knew "heaven". When nothing was currently troubling us we knew bliss. In adult life we tend to fall under the illusion that happiness is something which must be earned or paid for. We try to buy happiness in the form of expensive possessions. We try to win happiness by engaging in competitive behaviour. We try to earn happiness by being a good person. We have forgotten that, unless we are struggling for our existence or being seriously mistreated, happiness is freely available to us whenever we feel ready to give up trying to prove anything about ourselves and simply be.

Repentance, in the traditional sense, would just be another form of armouring – another bar on Hell's cage – because to feel regret and strive to exercise self-discipline is to tie ourselves up more tightly in our self. This is why Jesus emphasised that "sins" (i.e. forms of selfishness) are forgiven by "God" (i.e. the creative principle of the universe). Because the way to access the healing joy of raw existence and thus move beyond selfishness is to live in the present as a child does.

So this famous passage could be restated : "Change your consciousness for happiness is all around you."