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Christian mysticism Part 1
A Christianity which is not basically mystical must become either a political ideology or a mindless fundamentalism. Alan Watts, Behold the Spirit
There was one well-known mystic who wished to help others achieve the union with God that he had reached; and he went from town to town trying to explain those things which had been revealed to him, saying such outrageous things as: “The disciple is not above his master: but every one that is perfect shall be as his master.” and “The kingdom of God is within you” and “I and my Father (God) are one.” As you are no doubt aware, he was executed for saying these things.
Shortly after Jesus was killed for saying these things, it became okay for Jesus, but certainly not okay for anyone else to say. The line of thinking which became mainstream Christianity went essentially this way: (1) no human can be divine; (2) well, okay – Jesus was, but no one else. As usually happens, people began to focus on the person and not on the message. People found it easier to believe in Jesus than to believe Jesus. Was Jesus a Christian? Did he accept himself as his own personal savior? I don’t think so. In a ludicrous historical accident, the religion of Jesus became the religion about Jesus.
What we today call Christianity was in essence invented by Paul. Paul was to Jesus as Dr. Watson was to Sherlock Holmes – he was the press agent, the salesman. If not for Paul, it is not hard to see that Jesus would be as little-known as Simon Magus is today. Both led small religious groups which hinged on certain magical powers each was supposed to have possessed. Each asked their followers to give up their possessions and families to follow him, and each expressed a direct and special relationship with God. Both Jesus and Simon Magus were what we would today call cult leaders.
But why did Jesus’s message survive? Certainly, marketing played a large part; but there was also a core message to Christianity which found ready acceptance during the first few centuries A.D. This message, which was a combination of Judaism, Zoroastrianism, and Neo-Platonism, was tied together with a thin thread of actual facts about Jesus, and turned into a religion which the world was ready to accept. The question of whether it was accepted because people were ready for it or if it was created as a belief that people were ready to accept is a toss-up.
To see why the world was ready for Christianity, it is convenient to think of a civilization as going through stages of life much as a person does. There is infancy, childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, middle age, old age, and death. Now apply these stages to what we call Western European civilization, which was born during the first centuries CE, experienced childhood during what we call the “Dark Ages,” entered puberty with the Renaissance, and matured over the last several centuries. Western Civilization is now entering its old age, when thoughts turn to mortality and subsequently to spirituality. We can see this in the current resurgence of interest in matters of religion. The number of people who describe themselves as “spiritual” but not “religious” exemplifies how people are now searching for God, perhaps in all the wrong places.
But what does this have to do with the birth of Christianity? Christianity was born during the death of the Greco/Roman Civilization. It hit the right cords with the mood of the people at the time – it was the right answer at the right time.
It’s important to note here that just because I think Christianity survived because of proper timing, doesn’t mean that I discount its spiritual value. I used to, but I don’t anymore — otherwise, this blog wouldn’t be called Christianity2020!
More on Christian mysticism in part 2; stay tuned!