Archive for January, 2006

The Real Jesus

I had a moment of synchronicity recently. I have been reading “The
Power of Myth” by Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers. One early chapter
has a long discussion about the nature of religion and its function
across cultures. Campbell proposes that our current “economy of
religion” (my phrase, not his) focuses so greatly on sin and salvation
that we have lost the idea of living in a heaven on earth. It’s more
nuanced and complicated, but that might get to the heart of the matter
fairly closely.

So, in the midst of these ideas, I pick up last month’s issue of
Harper’s magazine. There is an article on Thomas Jefferson’s Bible and
the Gospel of Thomas. Essentially, the author makes the case that
Jefferson’s edited Bible echoes the same sentiments of the Gospel of
Thomas. They both try to make Jesus less of a supernatural figure and
more of a soothsayer or simply someone who spouts wisdom using
seemingly nonsensical stories, or myths.

I then come across, and I have forgotten where, a discussion of
Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice” that makes the claim that
Shylock’s insistence on the concrete letter of his agreement is an
example of how someone who has lost his touch with the myth and magic
of the world falls apart.

All of this is surrounding the Christmas season, which celebrates a
magical virgin birth complete with celestial fireworks. The
synchronicity of these ideas coming at me all at the same time has
really piqued my curiousity. I have been lead to the “Quelle,” the
Gnostic gospels, and several other texts which are amazingly
interesting. Add to all of this the fact that I am developing a course
on “Myth and Epic” to teach next year.

It’s a fascinating topic and an interesting coincidence of how it
has all fallen in my lap at once. What I am taking away from it is
something I have long suspected. The current situation of organized
religion in America is a complete sham. The really sad part is that
many of the people involved in perpetuating this real destruction of
the truth of religion and spirituality in the world don’t even realize
that they have been fooled.

This is a preliminary thought, but it seems to me that the idea of
building a “Republic of God” (thanks Pullman!) starts within each
person. It doesn’t start by confessing what horrible people we are, but
by recognizing how much we really have to offer to the world and those
around us. This recognition of the faltering of organized religion is
not a loss of faith at all, but is instead an affirmation of our own
being and its power. It’s an affirmation of our ability to share in
God’s splendor now and to promote that splendor not by knocking on
doors, but by drawing people to the light we create.