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Christian mysticism, Part 2
Picking up from the prior post…
The problem is that when we say “give me that old time religion” we are talking about the adolescent version of Christianity, most of which is of no use to a mature civilization. What we need is a return to a Christianity of a mature culture – that of the first several centuries CE. It was during this time that the concept of the incarnation – that is, the concept of Christ, was developed. The term Christ, which means “anointed one” is an adjective, like “carpenter”. “Jesus the Christ” means “Jesus the Anointed One”, much like the phrase “Jesus the Carpenter” would mean. Jesus was a Christ, not the only one, any more than he was the only carpenter. The incarnation of God in man was exemplified by Jesus, not defined by him. By deifying Jesus, we avoid having to live up to his example.
That Jesus did not believe himself to be the only Christ is beyond question. During the last supper “scene” in the Gospel of John, Jesus is praying to God and says (of his disciples) “That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us.” In Mathew he is quoted as saying: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” And we all know that “the Kingdom of God is within you.”
Accepting the incarnation as an historical event is one thing; understanding its symbolic content is another; living it’s meaning is yet another.
The Catholic Mass was developed to celebrate the possibility of union with God through the use of symbols and metaphor. Seen from the standpoint of an adolescent, of course the original masses look like hogwash; but seen with the eyes of a mature adult, the richness of the symbolism is evident. It always surprises me that someone who can carry on a conversation about the aliens, ghosts, or astrology with a straight face can also dismiss the symbolism of a Catholic Mass as ludicrous. Viewed as objective reality, a Catholic Mass is ludicrous; but viewed as a symbol of something much deeper, it is not.
To serve the spiritual needs of a mature civilization, a religion must be equally mature. Just as we outgrow the use for the religious symbols of our own childhood – Santa Claus and bogeymen – a society as a whole can outgrow its “traditional” religious symbols. The danger is when we outgrow these symbols but find no replacements. For our current culture, religion must necessarily be mystical. As Alan Watts predicted over seventy years ago: “A Christianity which is not basically mystical must become either a political ideology or a mindless fundamentalism.” And this is what has happened.
A religion which does not seek union with the fundamental driving force of the universe is not a religion at all – but simply, and disappointingly, only a philosophy. And a philosophy is woefully inadequate as a basis for living a life. No one ever charged into battle yelling “Give me Kant epistemology or give me death!” because a philosophy lacks emotive power. The word emotive has the same root as motor – the power to make something move. Religions move people, philosophies interest people.