If You do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.’ Jesus in the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas
I’m not a Christian, but this doesn’t prevent me from appreciating the fiery discourses of the Nazarene. As a young person, however, I was allergic to ‘churchgoing’ and Nietzsche — who declared himself the antichrist — was my favourite philosopher. Even though my mother dragged me around to several churches to give me a flavour of different traditions of Christianity, nothing was compelling to me there. Later in my twenties I looked for more practical spiritual solutions to spiritual conundrums: for instance, Zen and Vajrayana Buddhism, with its skilful means in meditation and emphasis on praxis rather than theory.
Anyway, despite my ambivalence to Christianity and a Nietzschean disposition, one summer, when I was about 21, I was sitting on a rock facing a lake and had an experience of what some people call ‘the presence of Christ’. It came as vision as if from out of a dense, dark cloud, and from high above me. I wondered if I was being ‘saved’ and remember feeling that Christ was calling out to me.
Having decided early on to be an atheist, the experience was quite strange and unexpected. I quickly shut it out, pushed it away. I refuse to be saved, I told myself. I didn’t want to have anything to do with a death worshiping religion that Zen scholar D.T. Suzuki likened to cannibalism — I would not drink the body and blood of Christ. I had decided as, as James Joyce did quoting Lucifer: Non serviam. I will not serve.
Still, I noticed that, especially during periods of intense crisis, a certain Christ-like presence returned. This is a fairly common experience, I believe, with people growing up in a Christian culture — do we all need to be ‘Christians’ to have it? There is a powerful imprint of Christ on all of us, even if we are hard core atheists. In fact, if you believe some philosophers like Slavov Zizek, Christianity has a powerful existential, even atheistic, dimension. Jesus, after all, declared: ‘Why have you forsaken me.’ Jesus doubts. He expresses the vulnerability of a man feeling that God has abandoned him.
Many people these days would like to — like the the original Gnostics — have Christ without the Christianity, which seems reasonable to me. Do we need to be religious to have spiritual depth? In later years, I came to a similar conclusion about Buddhism: give me Buddha without the Buddhism. Moreover, if I were to be a Buddhist I would have to be a Buddhist who believed in God and a soul — a heretical Buddhist in other words. I mean no offense to such traditions by being so difficult — It’s just that I am incapable of orthodoxy. And anyway, what would Christ think of Christianity and what would Buddha think of Buddhism? They might love certain individuals, but be nonplussed with much of spiritual game.
Anyway, these days I’ve come to the conclusion that one can’t really be genuinely spiritual without being heretical to a certain extent, despite my respect for perennial traditions. Carl Jung felt the same way: that he was a heretic. If we want to think freely, outside of dogmatic attachments — what the original followers of these religions did — we might need take some kind of risk in thinking. This kind of heresy will not lead to hell and damnation, even if it is a risky business in the face of a heavy collective force of cohesion, but we might find ourselves in the madhouse like Nietzsche. But taking such a leap could also lead to a direct encounter with what the Christians call ‘the holy spirit’.
The Nazarene tells us that we should ‘bring forth’ what is within — which I am attempting to do where. What does it mean to ‘bring forth’? And what is this thing ‘within’? And why does this ‘within’ destroy, if it is not realized?
The ‘within’ is obviously the soul, or the indwelling holy spirit, or the christos, or whatever you want to call it. That is something I do believe in. Not from faith precisely, but from tasting it. Of course I am not talking about an empirical fact, or something that can be proven with the instruments of science or human logic, but an evidence nonetheless.
If you don’t have soul, what do you have? If we don’t find our soul, we are doomed to frustration. How do I know this? Because if there is soul, there is meaning and beauty. You know soul when you witness it, when you see it in the world. If there is no soul — in the individual or in the institution — then there is just a caricature. The caricature is of course the ‘Satan’ that Christians talk about constantly. Soullessness is precisely what has been called the devil.
Why are Christian fundamentalists so obsessed with the devil? — because many have lost or given away their souls. You can’t help feeling that they themselves are have become demonic, that they are secretly in service of their greatest foe. Satan always had special love for Christianity (and in all the Abrahamic religions) it seems. There is obviously some ‘projection’ going on.
If you think of a pink elephant all the time, it becomes quite real to you. But Mara or Lucifer — some poetic words for the separate state or demonic ego — are just dullness and inadvertence, nothing more dramatic. Evil is more about about ignorance or ‘missing the mark’ (which is the literal meaning of sin) than breaking any commandment. And inadvertence means causing harm, which is all that sin is. Sin is harming self and others. Nothing else. And in the end we harm ourselves, and by extension others, if we do not offer our true gifts to the world.
What do do if you are a heretic? Testify!!! Baptise yourself in the holy spirit and praise the Lord!!! Hallelujah!!! Bring forth the pink elephant!!!