“Here and Now” column by Daniel Pinchbeck
“The Dispassion of the Christ”
Originally published in Arthur No. 10 (May 2004)
Like Fast Food Nation, Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ may have converted some of its audience to vegetarianism. The film was like watching a slab of wounded roast beef stagger through an elaborate literalization of the New Testament’s nasty bits. Calling to mind the Smiths’ anthemic “Meat Is Murder,” The Passion was long on flayed flesh and short on fun. Apparently, Gibson escaped cocaine addiction by connecting with his Higher Power, and the film could be seen as a metaphorical enactment of Mel’s ordeal as the stages of the 12 Steps.
Fundamentalists in the US—the core audience for The Passion, and supporters of the Bush agenda—maintain a self-serving and atavistic understanding of the Bible. Since Fundamentalists consider themselves automatically among the “Saved,” they believe they have the right to ignore the most basic Biblical commandments. These still-fresh ideas include “Love Your Enemy as Yourself,” and “Thou Shall Not Kill.” The Fundamentalist attitude seems to be that as long as you are “saved,” you can support a government that kicks global ass, toxifies the biosphere, gobbles the Earth’s resources and converts “developing nations” into cheap labor camps.
At the same time, “spirituality” is increasingly trendy among the wealthy elites of the modern-day West. This “spirituality” generally has an Eastern caste, avoiding Christ and the Bible altogether. Models and their stockbroker boyfriends spend thousands of dollars to attend yoga and raw food retreats, where they practice asanas and mantras in tropical locales. Corporate executives and their trophy wives decorate their country homes with Hindu statues and Tibetan thangkas. Architects incorporate a bit of feng shui into their designs. Nightclubs are called Karma and Spirit, while bands are Nirvana and Spiritualized. Millions meditate and chant, seeking relief from anxiety and some undefined feeling of “unity” with the cosmos.
Words can turn into their opposite. They can be emptied of meaning altogether. This seems to be the case with the common usage of “Spirituality,” which is amputated from the processes of life. Devoid of meaning, the term is banalized into a new system of commodifiable life-experiences, a way of making a pampered and guilt-ridden class feel better about themselves. Although it is crude and perversely violent, The Passion of the Christ does imprint the idea that pursuit of meaningful “spirituality” might require some form of tangible sacrifice that goes beyond vegetarianism or om-chanting.
Over the last few centuries, Christianity’s ambience of guilt and repression and its denial of the flesh increasingly repelled the modern mind—and rightly so. The Christian religion remains a destructive element in world affairs. Yet as Westerners, we can reclaim our own tradition. This requires careful thinking about this tradition, to reach a deeper level of understanding. As the Sufi philosopher Frithof Schuon writes: “The sufficient reason for the existence of the human creature is the capacity to think; not to think just anything, but to think about what matters, and finally, about what alone matters.” Thinking should be part of a spiritual path. Dedication to truth is a spiritual discipline.
Perhaps our separation from the Biblical and Gnostic Christ is a necessary part of the process of return. We needed to be cut off from this tradition so we could recognize it as if it were new and original. The significance of the events relayed in the Gospels can only be revealed to each individual through his or her own process of introspection. You must come to it in your own time, and in your own mind. What follows is my personal interpretation, a thought experiment I have made, borrowing ideas from Rudolf Steiner, Carl Jung, and others.
From my psychedelic experiences, I think of consciousness as a kind of vibration or frequency. There might be an infinite number of possible vibrations of consciousness, of levels of soul-development, at various planes of intensity. In this sense, the purpose of Christ’s “mission” was to bring a more intensified form of consciousness to the Earth.
Christ’s incarnation not only fulfilled the prophetic traditions leading up to his arrival but pointed the way to the future. The vibrational frequency of consciousness that Christ brought to the Earth was too much for humanity at that time—save for a few—and up until the present day. Of course, “descending” as he did from a more intensified phase of Being, Christ knew this would be the case. That is why he said he did not come to bring peace, but a sword—not to unite, but to divide. And indeed, the legacy of Christ’s coming has been two millenia of incessant bloodbaths and primitive horrors.
World avatars are frequency transducers who step up the voltage of Mind. Christ’s parables are not just “mythologemes” but devices to store and transmit higher energies. The receptivity of his audience to his impacted fables and statements was in itself miraculous—as much a miracle as any of his suspensions or transmutations of seeming physical laws. There is an almost cybernetic quality to much of Christ’s discourse. His parables break open ordinary logic to introduce a “supramental” element or higher-level logic that can only be conveyed through symbolic speech. His disciples listened in wonder, but understood only in part. Their amazement becomes apparent through reading a stripped-down version of the Gospel of Thomas, which dates from the same period as the canonical texts.
In the Gospel of Thomas, Christ proclaims the necessity of achieving direct knowledge—gnosis—of the Divine: “Open the door for yourself, so you will know what is.” He also declares: “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.” The essence of Christ’s “doctrine” can be summed up as: “No more bullshit.” There is no hierarchy, no priest caste, and no mediation.
To trasmit, a receiver is required. Without reception, there can be no meaningful transmission. The Gospel of Thomas, along with other gnostic texts, was found in a jar in the Nag Hammadi desert of Egypt, in 1945. I suspect that these lost scriptures were intended for our time. Throughout Thomas, Christ reiterates: “Those who have two ears better listen!” We are the subjects with the capacity to understand, and it is to the advanced present-day consciousness that Christ directs his statements.
We develop “ears to hear” by reconciling modern empirical cognition, which accepts the quantum paradoxes of spacetime discovered by physics, with a new understanding of myth. Myth is not antithetical to science. A new attitude to myth is described by William Irwin Thompson in his books Imaginary Landscapes and Coming Into Being. Thompson proposes we make a shift “from a postmodernist sensibility in which myth is regarded as an absolute and authoritarian system of discourse to a planetary culture in which myth is regarded as isomorphic, but not identical, to scientific narratives.”
One can understand the meaning of the “Christ event” from several different angles. From one perspective, Christ’s incarnation initiated the descent of the Logos into humanity. This process continues—realizes itself, I suspect—in our own time. Realization of the Logos illuminates the human soul from within. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” so begins the Gospel of John. The Logos is the light that came into the world, “and the darkness comprehendeth it not.” Through awareness of the Logos, consciousness realizes its self-identity with the Divine.
God is not a conscious being. God is the Logos, who, as William Blake wrote, “only acts, and is, in existing beings and men.” Immanent rather than transcendent, God, the Logos, comes to consciousness in humanity. Man is a Logos-being. Reality is syntax.
Only in stages of intensification that naturally appear in the physical realm as the destructive shocks of a historical process can consciousness be brought to realization of the Logos, and achieve awareness of its direct participation in the creative process. Christ says, “The Kingdom of God is within you.” No external temple or mountaintop contains the Sacred. The Sacred is everywhere. As Black Elk realized: “Every place is the center of the world.” The fact that religions today squabble and make war over particular spots on the Earth only reveals their deficient and out-dated mentality.
From the Jungian perspective, Christ’s arrival humanizes the God-image. The tyrannical and patriarchal God-image presiding over the Old Testament represents phases in a dialectic. Humanity looks up to see itself in the mirror of the God-image, the God-image beholds Himself reflected in humanity. Both are shocked by what they find, and evolve as a result. Conflict creates consciousness. As human consciousness develops more sensitivity, the previously barbaric God-image becomes sensitized and compassionate.
In “God’s Answer to Job,” Carl Jung suggests that humanity’s moral and intellectual progress forced God to incarnate in suffering humanity. This is His mercy. First, He “descends” as a special and singular being, the Christ, thereby introducing the new vibrational level of consciousness. Eventually, God incarnates—seeks to know Himself—within the larger body of prosaic humanity. History is this story of the “descent” or incarnation of the Logos into humanity. At the same time, in fulfillment of His wrath, He prepares the Apocalypse. Edward Edinger, in Archetypes of the Apocalypse, describes the Apocalypse as “the momentous event of the coming of the Self into conscious realization.” Like the human psyche, the God-image unifies opposites: Creation and destruction, male and female, being and nonbeing are fused in Him, as in us.
Theorists have proposed that consciousness was not fully individualized in the pre-Christian Era. It may be that consciousness was first experienced as an extrinsic voice or presence—as Julian Jaynes outlined in The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. For Rudolf Steiner, before Christ’s incarnation, a person identified him or herself with their “group soul” or ancestral line. When the Bible says that Abraham or another patriarch lived for many hundreds of years, it signifies that the descendants of Abraham had an awareness of themselves that was not clearly distinct from their originator, hence the descendants also considered themselves to be “Abraham.” Christ instilled the “I AM” in the human soul. He said, “You have to leave your father and mother to follow me.” In other words, people had to break from any diffuse connection with their lineage or tribe, and awaken to their own individuality. Once the process of individuation is complete, the Ego can be consciously sacrificed.
According to Steiner, the materialization of the Earth and the Ego increased the powers of demonic or Ahrimanic forces, seeking to drag humanity down into the mineral world, the inorganic and the death-trap of technology. Without the spark or seed-impulse provided by the Christ, impelling consciousness and feeling to a new vibratory level, humanity would have surrendered completely to materialism. The separation of human souls into discrete individualities necessitated the new commandment that Christ brought to Earth: “Love one another as you are loved.”
In the modern age, Colonialism on the one hand accelerated the materialist urge in its most destructive aspects. On the other hand, Colonialism spread the “word of Christ” across the planet, although this was done through the most brutal means. This process is, again, dialectical. Despite the genocide and cultural annihilation inflicted upon them by the colonialist powers, indigenous people understood and accepted the doctrine of Christ, incorporating it into older traditions. In this dialectic, the intensifying of consciousness first manifests naturally as destruction and capitulation.
These days, certain movies seem to be noospheric events—a means for the collective unconscious of humanity to speak to itself. This was the case with The Lord of the Rings. I would say that the “ring of power” represents the Ego, with its delusionary temptations of power. The ring has to be carried until all the psychic dark matter is revealed, then tossed away. As Jung wrote, “One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.” This is one element of the collective process taking place in our time.
It is only as a fully self-reflective individual consciousness that one can make the choice, out of free will, to reconcile with the Divine, the Logos, through sacrifice, or supercession, of the Ego. As Christ says: “He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal.”
In his words, his actions, and his inner being, Christ exemplified such a sacrifice. Unfortunately, Christ did not “save our souls” through the crucifixion. Instead, he showed us the path—a model for selfless action that can be internalized, and followed, if we make the free choice to evolve. Christ is only a “savior” when we follow his lead. We still have to save our own souls. Alas, this is no easy task. But without real sacrifice, there is no spiritual progress.