Eight in ten people in the world claim to be adherents of a religion with a third of them identifying themselves as Christian. We live in a world on the brink of global disclosure of massive amounts of heretofore hidden information that includes exoplanet life, crimes against humanity, and amazing technological and scientific advances that will seem like science fiction. When will this happen? It seems that this is being negotiated now, behind the scenes, between groups who have been warring for millennia.
With the likely prospect of some sort of major disclosures on the horizon, several important, and far reaching questions, begin to surface. What will disclosure say about the foundations of institutional Christianity? How might the average Sunday going church crowd throughout the world be affected emotionally and spiritually given certain Christian interpretations about the salvific nature of Jesus of Nazareth? What might be ways in which the Christian message can be reinterpreted so as to fit the emerging global and cosmic reality upon which disclosure may shine a light?
This series of brief essays attempts to identify several themes that could bring some light into how the mainline Christian narrative might be challenged. I hope to provide suggestions to a path forward that can help assuage the massive disillusionment that may come with disclosure.
What is unknowable at this time in history is: 1) how much disclosure will happen, and 2) how quickly will the full disclosure take to roll out? Disclosure about aliens will, indeed, be shocking enough for many people but what will be more crippling is disclosure about massive and millennia-long manipulations of humanity by an elite who follow what is known as the service-to-self, or left-hand, spiritual path whose goal is to control and dominate the masses at the service of the very few. Part of this manipulation, it will be disclosed, has been the intentional creation or coopting of belief systems, Christianity included. Does this mean that we must throw the baby out with the bathwater after disclosure? Are there any redeeming qualities of religions, particularly Christianity?
My conjecture is that the spirit of the Infinite Creator has already been addressing this and all we have to do is tap into a flow that has been renewing people’s hearts and minds on a mass scale. It is my firm belief that all of the major world’s religions already have within them at their deeper levels facets of the immortal diamond of reality that will feel intimately familiar and will provide access to a more holistic understanding of the fabric of a unified reality.
In order for people to access this deeper level, one thing for sure will be necessary: a return to the contemplative tradition wherein the individual and collective ego is bypassed and people begin to break open to their religion’s non-dual essence rather than heeding dualistic tendencies that pit people against each other.
Disclosure will not only act like a psychic bomb that will flatten fragile belief structures but for those with the eyes to see it, expose and make more accessible any deeper, sometimes hidden, facets to this diamond that have remained hidden until humanity was ready. What in Christianity needs to be blown away and what needs to be revealed?
Substitutionary Atonement Theory
The most successful and most damaging theology of the mainline Christian narrative hinges around the idea that Jesus needed to come into the world in order to save it from a wrathful god. This idea may have its roots in the Roman take over of the early Christian church in the early fourth century when the Roman Emperor Constantine made Christianity the state religion. My guess is that things were already afoot well before the corporate takeover but to try to prove this lies beyond my goal in this blog. What is obvious is that forever afterwards, Christianity was identified with the strong and powerful instead of the poor and marginalized.
For the first thousand years of Christianity, the common belief was the Jesus had to pay humanity’s debt to the devil in order for God to get His people back. Later in the twelfth century, Anselm of Canterbury developed a sophisticated theology that revealed a narrative wherein God had to send his Son into the world to pay a debt owed to God since humanity could not pay it. What we see in this version of atonement theory is that Jesus becomes the great sacrifice offered up to a god who demanded a bloody transaction in order for the relationship between this god and his creation to be right again. In all practicality, this version of god is modeled upon Zeus who is always at the ready to throw lighting bolts at those who don’t live up to his demands.
After Jesus is killed and offered up for sacrifice to a now appeased god, he rises from the dead and ascends into heaven thus unlocking the gates to eternal life for us. Indeed, the mainline Christian understanding is that before Jesus opened the gates of heaven, there was no salvation from a hellish afterlife. Jesus made all of this possible.
Moreover, Jesus took over the role of divine judge from the Father and we picture him on a throne in heaven casting out judgments and condemning most of humanity to eternal punishment unless one professes belief in him and his salvific work. The goal, then, is to spend one’s life forever thanking Jesus for dying for our sins and rising so that we unfortunate and unworthy souls could enjoy eternal bliss. What is demanded is belief but no real life transformation into a larger way of seeing and being in the world. In this belief system only the few with the right beliefs and church membership are saved while the vast majority are doomed. Does this sound like a service-to-self mindset? It should. There are kinder versions of the substitutionary atonement theory but they all offer a similar set up albeit with more nuance. No wonder why so many people are leaving their childhood faith which cannot offer much consolation nor dialog with a world that has discovered quantum physics and the extreme vastness of space.
Another big problem with the mainline atonement theory about Jesus’ role in humanity is that it is Earth specific. I remember years ago I was speaking to a young, very conservative, Catholic seminarian. He said that logically there could not be any intelligent life on other planets because this would bring into question Jesus’ salvific work for humanity. How? Mired in the atonement theory, he explained that Jesus’ death and resurrection were required to pay the debt of sin that humanity had amassed and thus were linked specifically to Earth. Logically, the salvific work of Jesus would not, could not, cover another planet’s karma since Jesus, as God, redeemed humanity and then returned to Heaven from whence He came. Once Jesus “was up there,” he wouldn’t come back down and do the whole thing again for another planet. Why? Because Jesus’ sacrifice was a “one and done” deal.
As the reader can see, any disclosure of extraterrestrials will blow this narrow belief system apart leaving many mainline Christians, including their leaders, reeling in massive confusion.
At-One-Ment: An Alternative Orthodoxy
Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest, is one of the leading voices in the spiritual landscape today who is reminding us that there are other Christian narratives besides the mainline one that offer an alternative understanding of the Jesus Event in history. Indeed, across Christian denominations one finds the Spirit moving and unifying people who are being attracted to contemplative practice, simple living, and service to the marginalized. One example of this is the emergent church movement. The following is from the Wikepedia site:
“Proponents believe the movement transcends such “modernist” labels of “conservative” and “liberal,” calling the movement a “conversation” to emphasize its developing and decentralized nature, its vast range of standpoints, and its commitment to dialogue. Participants seek to live their faith in what they believe to be a “postmodern” society. What those involved in the conversation mostly agree on is their disillusionment with the organized and institutional church and their support for the deconstruction of modern Christian worship, modern evangelism, and the nature of modern Christian community.
Gibbs and Bolger interviewed a number of people involved in leading emerging churches and from this research have identified some core values in the emerging church, including desires to imitate the life of Jesus; transform secular society; emphasize communal living; welcome outsiders; be generous and creative; and lead without control. Ian Mobsby suggests… this movement is over and against some forms of conservative evangelicalism and other reformed ecclesiologies since the enlightenment that have neglected the Trinity, which has caused problems with certainty, judgementalism and fundamentalism and the increasing gap between the Church and contemporary culture.
An alternative orthodox re-emphasizes the Trinity and brings this central Christian doctrine back into dialog with science and culture. The great problem with atonement theory is that it in effect pulled Jesus out of the Trinity and recapitulated a top-down, hierarchical theocracy with Jesus as the King and humanity his grateful servants. As we will see in a later essay, the Trinity understood as the flow of love between three forces of the Infinite Creator, is tailor made to address a cosmic reality. People of other religions, and many post-Christians, are rightly distrustful of mainline Christianity’s overplaying the Jesus’ card since it resulted in an imperial religion that often seems exclusive and small.
It is quite likely that Jesus never intended to found a whole new religion because he was attempting to reform his own religion, Judaism, by emphasizing teachings from his own scriptures that portrayed God as inclusive, loving, and merciful. He saw God as love and he clearly had an intimate relationship with whom he referred to as his Abba, or daddy. An alternative orthodoxy, then, can be summed up with Rohr’s interpretation of Rene Girard’s work, “Jesus did not come to change the mind of God about humanity. It didn’t need changing. Instead, Jesus came to change humanity’s mind about God.” God, as the Infinite Creator, has always been loving, merciful, inclusive. Any interpretations of God as being wrathful and elitist reveal not God’s character but rather that of the humans positioned in power who fostered the life-limiting narratives. Jesus did not come to atone for our sins and pay an outstanding debt but rather he was invited by the Infinite Creator to a mission that revealed to humanity it was always one with God and any understanding of separation between God and humanity and between humanity, itself, is an illusion. This is lived-statement of at-one-ment.
Conclusion of Part I
If Christianity is to have relevance in the future, most especially after disclosure begins, we need to continue to re-embrace the more hidden, yet orthodox, diamonds of truth which are being uncovered in our time. In this essay, I highlighted the substitutionary atonement theory that sets up a belief system for most mainline Christians where the Infinite Creator is more akin to Zeus or Santa Claus who keeps a list and he checks it twice to find out who is naught or nice.
This belief system is even now unsustainable but after disclosure, it clearly won’t make sense. Instead, Christians can be invited into a collective liminal space where a larger understanding of the cosmos can break in since the stronghold of the atonement theory would be broken open. A new interpretation of Jesus is not totally necessary since Christianity, in its mystical and contemplative forms, which have always remained more hidden, offers an alternative orthodoxy that fits nicely within the idea that the Infinite Creator has always been loving and united with us since the very universe itself is God’s Body. This is not some new age tenant, but can be seen in the very first verse of John’s Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
In the next essay, we will reflect on how the Logos, through Jesus, revealed to humanity a new way of living that reduces karmic debt by teaching us how to love and forgive. Jesus sacrifice on the cross was not a transaction but an invitation to human transformation.