Theosophical University Press Online Edition
Chapter 4: The Bible — Fundamental Teachings, Part 2
The Doctrine of the Trinity
The Second Coming of Christ
The Golden Rule
The Immanent Christ
Chapter 5: Christianity and Morality
The Problem of Evil
Chapter 6: Conclusion
Return to Section 1
As the doctrine of reincarnation and its twin doctrine of karma form so important a part of the ancient wisdom from which all religions have descended, it is important to know why we find so little of it in Christianity. The simple reason is that it has been expurgated. A learned scholar, the late Professor F. S. Darrow, writes:
The critical history of the doctrines of Pre-existence and Reincarnation has never been written, but the materials at hand for such a history are most extensive. I have in my library, without the slightest exaggeration, literally hundreds of volumes having to do with this subject. Many of the volumes deal entirely with that subject and nothing else. . . . The Theosophical teachings in regard to the pre-existence and rebirth of the human soul have been plainly and continuously enunciated in the Christian world from the very beginning of Christianity until the present day, but the recognition of these truths among professed Christians naturally has varied greatly from time to time in accordance with the degree of publicity permitted by the pendulum swing of the cycles.
The same author divides the subject chronologically into three heads: the period of early Christianity until the Synod of Constantinople in 553, which officially declared the teachings of the Church Father Origen in regard to the nature and destiny of the soul to be "heretical"; from 553 to 1438, when Georgius Gemistus visited Florence and revived the philosophy of Plato; thence down to modern times.
So the only reason why this knowledge of pre-existence and reincarnation is not heard of is that it has never been studied; the literature is there in abundance, but having been banned as heretical it has been neglected. The reason why these teachings have been banned is easy to see. Their admission would open the door to so very much that is incompatible with ecclesiastical Christianity. And so we have to get along with the absurdity that souls are created at a point in time, and yet live for ever; that they survive the body but did not pre-exist it; and the utter insignificance of a life of seventy years amid the ocean of eternity.
The Christian scheme, as generally understood today, affords no explanation for the inequalities and incompleteness of human life, other than attributing them to the inscrutable will of a personal deity. This denies to man his speculative instinct, his thirst for knowledge; thus leaving him to seek satisfaction therefor outside the pale of religion, and to have more than one religion at the same time, and a second God called Nature. His innate sense of justice rebels against what he has been constrained to believe; his study of nature has given him the idea of law and order; but his religious teaching, instead of confirming, thwarts these — good reason for surmising that his religion has come down to him in adulterated form. Instead of discarding the whole thing, let him reinstate it, rejecting what is false and holding to what is true.
THE DOCTRINE OF THE TRINITY
The Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost — three Persons and yet only one God. Such is the Christian Trinity; and bitter controversies have raged as to the exact nature of this triune God and the relations of the three Persons to each other. The entire Christian world, in Roman times, was divided by irreconcilable schism turning on the question whether the Son was of the same substance with the Father, or of like substance with the Father. Is the Son coeternal with the Father, or was he produced from the Father? It is customary to accuse the disputants with raising a turmoil over trifles, but this is unfair, for great issues may turn on a very small point of symbolism, and this difference about the creed was the sign by which were distinguished from one another two bodies of Christians whose general attitude was antagonistic.
Why was the Deity thus represented as a Three-in-One? The doctrine is not to be found formally stated in the New Testament; it was devised by Church Councils who formulated the creed, and the terms used in the formula are not Biblical. But, once formulated, it could be justified by reference to the New Testament.
The fact is that such a triune deity is found at the head of all theogonies and cosmogonies, and philosophical systems usually begin with something equivalent. In the very beginning of the Bible it is represented as the Spirit of God, brooding over the waters of space or chaos, and bringing forth the universe. This is the great creative trinity which stands at the head of cosmogonies: a universal spirit, father of all; then comes the chaos or the great depth or the waters of space, which is often called the great mother. From these two proceed the son, which is the universe. This philosophical trinity, which is indeed a necessity of thought, was naturally enough adopted by the Church; its adoption put them into harmony with all the other religions and philosophies, with Greek thought especially, and with various Eastern systems current in Asia Minor. The persons of this trinity could then be readily found in the New Testament, for Jesus often speaks of the Father and the Son, and of the Holy Spirit which he will send.
But this trinity is defective, for there is a father and a son, but no mother. In one church this last is supplied by the Virgin, though she is not a member of the trinity. The Virgin is taken from the Magna Mater, or "Great Mother," so much reverenced in many of the Asiatic religions prevalent in parts of the Roman empire; but indeed there is always a Great Mother, regarded as the consort of the Father, whether it is Hera, consort of Zeus; Juno, consort of Jupiter; Isis, consort of Osiris and mother of Horus; or what not.
In ordinary Christian belief the Father and the Son have been personalized, and the Holy Ghost or Holy Spirit is a somewhat vague conception. What is called inspiration is in many cases a mere neurotic excitement, with disastrous reactions; but there have always been Christian mystics who have attained to a higher realization of the meaning of inspiration. We are aware that some readers of this may point to the fine characters and noble lives of many devout and earnest Christians, but we prefer to attribute this to the innate nobility of human nature, which has enabled these persons to imbibe the true spirit of their religion in spite of its defects. Under a better understanding of Christianity there would be more of such people.
And he bearing his cross went forth to a place called the place of a skull . . . where they crucified him. — John 19:17-18
The preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us who are saved it is the power of God. — 1 Cor. 1:18
If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. -- Matt. 14:24
The above are typical examples of the use of the word "cross" in the New Testament; it means the stake used in crucifixion, or the Christian doctrine, or a burden or sacrifice. This sacred symbol of Christianity is a perpetual reminder of its cardinal doctrine that Christ died for our sins, whereby we are saved. It is also used for the daily burden we take up in sacrificing our personal will to our faith.
But the cross is a universal religious and philosophical symbol, found in places as remote as Palenque in Mexico, India, and Tibet; well known in Egyptian symbolism, as in Hinduism; an emblem used in the sacred Mysteries of ancient Greece. Dr. Lundy, in his Monumental Christianity, says that "the Jews themselves acknowledged this sign of salvation until they rejected Christ"; and he speaks of a Hindu sculpture of ancient date, a human figure upon a cross, with the nail-marks on hands and feet — a pre-Christian crucifix in fact.
Theosophy shows that the teachings of the ancient wisdom were preserved in a universal symbol-language, which conveyed the leading tenets; and the cross is one of these symbols, which is why it is so universally found. The sun, moon, and cross form a trinity of symbols, denoting respectively father, mother, son; cosmic spirit, cosmic matter, and the universe produced by their interaction. In the case of man, who is a miniature copy of the universe, the cross denotes what John calls the Word made Flesh, the Son, the Christ, which is in every person and is the divine part of his nature.
In order to explain why such a symbol was chosen to represent this idea, we should have to go more deeply into matters than is appropriate here; but it may be stated that the two lines of the cross (speaking particularly of the Greek cross with four equal arms) stand for spirit and matter, and the fact of their crossing each other denotes the union or interaction of these two elements to form the manifested universe. The divine spirit in man is said to be crucified, made into a cross, caused to dwell in a residence of flesh; and this crucifixion is destined to be succeeded by a resurrection.
It is also to be observed that a ceremony of crucifixion was actually performed upon the candidates for initiation into the sacred Mysteries, which still existed in some parts of the Roman world at the Christian era. These candidates, at a certain stage in their initiation, were fastened to a cross or cruciform couch, where they lay entranced for two days, while their liberated soul went through the necessary experiences and came to life again on the third day. It is possible that the story in the Gospels was founded on this. However, the Christians have taken over the cross and adopted it as their symbol; the other two, the sun and moon, are seen in the emblems of Japan and Islam.
But this meaning of the cross has become confused or blended with that of the Roman instrument of capital punishment, which was a stake, usually with a cross-bar near the top, to which the criminal was fastened. Whether there really was a teacher who, after a very short ministry, was apprehended, condemned, and thus executed, may be doubted. There is no historical record to substantiate it.
The crucifixion of the Christ is the symbolic name for a cardinal tenet of the ancient wisdom, but it has been materialized into the story of an actual crucifixion of Jesus by Pontius Pilatus in the reign of Tiberius. Critical people, doubting the authenticity of this story, or doubting its importance even if authentic, have gone too far in their objections and thrown over Christianity itself, and even all religion; which shows how important it is to separate the true from the false and to avoid literal and materialistic interpretations of spiritual truths couched in symbolic language.
The sign of the cross has become a sacred emblem, a sign which has value through the association of ideas; and in the use of the pious and of mystics has been a potent means of invoking spiritual aid, though also at times a standard of war. To the above it may be added that the cross is a better symbol when drawn within the circle or with a circle joined to the upper arm. The circle stands for spirit, and the cross alone denotes materialism, which may be said to be characteristic of the times wherein Christianity has been prevalent, these times being characterized, as said, by the interpreting of mystic symbols in a literal sense.
In ancient Greece were the Mysteries of Eleusis and other schools of the Mysteries less well known, where candidates for initiation were received. Such schools existed also in Egypt, India, and several other places, and connections can be traced between the schools in these different localities, whereby confirmation is obtained of the fact that they taught a uniform doctrine. This was the secret doctrine or wisdom-religion of which theosophy is the modern expression. As man is essentially divine, being a lineal descendant through evolution from divine beings, it is possible for him by a particular course of training to arouse the latent spiritual powers within him. This is called the path of wisdom, and is in fact salvation in the real sense of that word. The Gospels contain sufficient evidence that the teacher whose words are quoted therein was aware of the existence of this path and that he wished his disciples to follow it. He calls it the Kingdom of God. It is also stated that he gave his disciples secret instructions apart from the multitude.
At the time of the Christian era there still existed some of these Mystery schools in Egypt and parts of Asia, and their influence is evident in the doctrines of the Gnostics, Neoplatonists, and similar cults, among which Christianity was developed. The process of selection and compilation which resulted in the canonical Gospels led to an inclusion of extracts from these teachings, and the putting of them into the mouth of the teacher called Jesus.
Paul, who seems to have written his epistles before the Gospel narratives were drawn up, interprets the Christian doctrines in a much more esoteric way. One would judge from his manner of speaking that he himself was initiated, to some degree at least; but he was clearly under the necessity of adapting his teachings to the limited comprehension of his various hearers, and he often uses figurative language whose real sense would only be understood by a few of those whom he addressed.
THE SECOND COMING OF CHRIST
From the Gospel narratives, and from what history tells us, we gather that there was among the early Christians a widespread and often very confident belief that Christ would really come again in the flesh, and that very soon, to destroy evil and set up a kingdom of the righteous on earth. This idea was connected with the decay of the Roman empire, which figured as the evil dominion that Christ was to overthrow; and it is no wonder that these Christians excited the jealousy of Roman rulers.
The Jews too, who contributed so many Christians and whose influence entered so largely into Christian ideas, had their own prophecies of the return of one or another of their own prophets as the "Messiah," and this idea evidently contributed largely to the belief as to the return of Christ. Some Biblical critics are convinced that Jesus himself, at one time at least, believed this; but we have to bear in mind that the Gospels, as they have come down to us, were largely made to order.
A most indisputable instance of this is to be found in Matthew 24:3, which the Authorized Version translates quite wrongly from the Greek, but which is translated correctly in the Revised Version, which was made by a body of divines and scholars in 1881. A comparison of these two renderings will show that the earlier translators have twisted the Greek original into a confirmation of their views about the second coming. The passages are as follows:
Authorized Version: And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?
Revised Version: . . . the sign of thy presence, and of the consummation of the age?
This latter is the meaning of the Greek, and the former is a forced rendering. (While on this subject, it is worth noting that the passage Mark 16:9-20 does not occur in most of the manuscripts and is regarded as a spurious insertion. It contains the words: "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.")
We see here an allusion to the doctrine of cycles, in accordance with which great root-races of humanity succeed one another. The "consummation of the age" is when the present root-race has run its course and humanity will be divided into those who have progressed enough to form the nucleus of the next succeeding race, and those who have lagged in the rear of progress. This latter part of the race will come to an end (as a race) in the cataclysms which separate one race from another; while the others will be "saved," as is figured in the allegory of the flood and the ark. Jesus in his answer says that the end is not yet, there will be wars, there will be many false prophets. The Coming of Christ means the reawakening of the Christ spirit in mankind or in as many as are able to receive it.
There are Christian Adventists who still expect an actual physical coming of Christ; and there are some who interpret the Books of Daniel and Ezekiel and Revelation in that sense. But though these prophecies do relate to great cyclic changes, and though the Adventists have the intuition that such changes impend, they are too literal and materialistic in their interpretation.
THE GOLDEN RULE
This is often cited as characteristic of Christianity, but it is known to exist in all other religions. To the theosophist it is more than a mere moral injunction; it is a necessary law of man's nature. For man, essentially divine, having wandered away from the knowledge of his own divinity, has to regain it. His great obstacle is self-love; therefore he can only regain his lost kingdom by overcoming self-love. So he must somehow find out how to act from an impersonal motive. It is evident, therefore, that ideas of self-advancement, of gaining occult powers for his own satisfaction, or even the desire for personal holiness, will never suffice, because the indulgence of such desires is merely increasing the power of the enemy we wish to conquer. To exchange a weak personality for a strong one cannot be the way. But a large part of our daily lives is composed of actions into which self-love does not enter — disinterested actions, actions prompted by a genuine and uncalculating desire to serve another or others. Or perhaps, having witnessed the pain caused to others by some selfish action of ours, and feeling remorse, we have registered a resolve not to act thus in the future, a resolve prompted by no thought of self-benefit whatever, but simply by the desire to avoid wronging other people.
The motive which operates in these cases is that of love — not passional love, but pure impersonal love. This is a cosmic force. It operates in the animal world; for that which we so disparagingly call "instinct" is truly a pure and simple manifestation of a great cosmic force leading the beast to sacrifice itself for its offspring, the dog to die unhesitatingly for his master. The teacher in the Gospels upholds the simple — the beasts and birds, the lilies of the field, and the children — as well he might, and as we often feel disposed to do after experiences of human selfishness.
So the teacher, in enunciating the Golden Rule, merely points out to those who aspire to fulfill the true human destiny the law of the spiritual life, of the Kingdom of Heaven; which is harmony, not strife. This is a path which the individual may enter upon at any time, and which humanity in the aggregate must one day follow; though there will always be some who, having failed to attain the ideal, will miss their chance for one cycle and have to await another opportunity for progress. It has been said that the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount are impracticable and would result in the dissolution of society; but they set forth the ideal, and it is precisely the possession of such an ideal which prevents man from sinking under the load of his difficulties. As for ways and means of reforming society, perhaps if we began by setting our own house in order we might thereby gain vision and power towards that end.
The Golden Rule shows the way of realizing the unity of living beings; and this is specially brought out in the injunctions to forgive our neighbor. But if this is only to mean that we suppress our anger towards him, while still continuing to imagine ourself his victim, the real forgiveness has not been achieved. In the greater fullness of life to which we aspire, and to which the teacher points the way, we shall see that our neighbor is actually part of our own self, and then all feelings of animosity or conflict will seem absurd. In our present darkness we have falsely separated a unity into two halves, one of which is supposed to have been injured by the other. Forgiveness consists in the dispelling of this illusion.
This rule is the prime maxim of conduct for the disciple in any system of practical religion or philosophy which aims at self-realization and which sets before the aspirant the path of wisdom and attainment. And truly it must be so; for it is self-seeking which binds a man down to the illusions and frustrations of his mortal life; and to escape, it is necessary to give up this law of self-seeking in favor of a higher law. It may be said, perhaps, that the strict following out of such a law, in the way (for instance) of the Sermon on the Mount, is too much to ask of an ordinary person. But, while the heights may be left to the comparatively few who feel themselves ready to scale them, even the most ordinary is every moment faced with the choice between selfish and unselfish conduct, and must choose one course or the other. With the ideal ever before him, and with an understanding of its rationality, he will be enabled to choose the right course, thus preparing himself for what awaits him in the future. For the day must come for every one when compromise will no longer be possible and he must choose definitely which path he will take. Never was the practice of unselfishness more needed than today, and it will help people to achieve it if they are not hampered by materialistic forms of religion and science which accentuate the lower aspect of human nature.
THE IMMANENT CHRIST
This means the Christ that dwells in every human heart, as distinct from the man Christ who is said to have been crucified. The doctrine of the indwelling Christ is taught in the Gospels and in Paul's Letters, so it is to be found in the Bible and in Christianity by those willing to look for it. Those who prefer the anthropomorphized ecclesiastical doctrine of the crucifixion of a particular man will have to consider these Biblical teachings as figurative. Yet it would be a mistake to judge Christianity by its crudest forms, and it is true that many enlightened and broad-church teachers adopt this doctrine of the indwelling Christ, and that many devout Christians approximate in varying degrees to it. There are many to whom the life of Christ as represented in the Gospels has been an ideal and a pattern on which they have sought to mold their own lives, and saints and mystics have attained to high levels by contemplation of this ideal. But this is not enough; there still remains the notion that man is a weak creature, born in sin, and looking for salvation beyond the grave, and that it would be presumptuous in him to attempt really to imitate Christ. Yet in the original teaching, the Christ means the divine spirit resident in the core of our being, the Christ which has been sacrificed and entombed and has to be resurrected in us. Certain great teachers may be described in a special sense as Christs, inasmuch as they have attained to a self-realization to which the majority have not yet attained. But they do not set themselves up as the only son of God, but merely offer their lives as a pattern for other people to follow. In the real doctrine we are all sons of God in the same way as Jesus was, and can really achieve what he achieved, as he himself promises when he says:
He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father. -- John 16:12
This indwelling Christ is called "the Son"; and the divine spirit is called "the Father."
No man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him. -- Matthew 11:27
On this point we may quote from "The Esoteric Character of the Gospels" by H. P. Blavatsky as follows:
The first key that one has to use to unravel the dark secrets involved in the mystic name of Christ, is the key which unlocked the door to the ancient mysteries of the primitive Aryans, Sabeans, and Egyptians. The Gnosis supplanted by the Christian scheme was universal. It was the echo of the primordial wisdom-religion which had once been the heirloom of the whole of mankind; and, therefore, one may truly say that, in its purely metaphysical aspect, the Spirit of Christ (the divine logos) was present in humanity from the beginning of it. The author of the Clementine Homilies is right; the mystery of Christos — now supposed to have been taught by Jesus of Nazareth — "was identical" with that which from the first had been communicated "to those who were worthy," . . .
These and other words used —
apply to all those who, without being Initiates, strive and succeed, through personal efforts to live the life and to attain the naturally ensuing spiritual illumination in blending their personality — the ("Son") with (the "Father,") their individual divine Spirit, the God within them.
Compare this with the Bible itself:
Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin. Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. -- Romans 6:3-8
The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is the Lord from Heaven. -- 1 Corinthians 15:47
As in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive. — 1 Corinthians 15:22
Adam, in Hebrew, means "earthy"; it stands for the terrestrial nature of man. But the allegory has been literalized; the type figure has been turned into an actual individual man. But Paul here uses it in the right symbolic sense. Contrasted with this is the heavenly man — Christ — the divine part of human nature. The one is mortal, the other immortal. But does this refer to a state of perfection after death? By no means, for the teaching is that we can attain it while on earth. Earth is the place where we achieve; we are here to learn its lessons and to win victory over its forces. This state of attainment, whereby we cease to be dead with Adam, and become alive with Christ, is called the second birth.
In Matthew 3:11, John the Baptist says:
I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire.
Turn now to John 3, where a rabbi comes privately to Jesus, asking what is meant by the saying that a man must be born again, and is told:
Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
But can a man enter the womb a second time? asks Nicodemus, and is answered:
Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh: and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
It is needless to burden this book with multiplied quotations, but the frequent references to the Kingdom of God (or Heaven) are well enough known. It is evident that this expression refers to a state attainable by man while on earth, and that the sayings in the Gospels, whatever their original source, are those of a teacher of the ancient wisdom. They have been construed to refer to a state of bliss after death, which is not sufficiently vivid to affect the minds of most people, and does not fit in with the general scheme of things which we infer from our knowledge of nature and life.
People may wonder if the abandonment of Christianity (as ordinarily understood) will mean a loss of the basis of moral conduct and a consequent general, if gradual, lapse into profligacy of various kinds. This is a question which demands serious consideration and cannot be dismissed with a few bald assertions. Rationalists, Secularists, and others of that genus say that the fount of good conduct is in the human intelligence and instincts, that religion is rather a hindrance than a help, and that this fount will suffice for needs. But to this it can be answered that perhaps these rationalists are living on the capital of good habits accumulated by centuries of religious influence, that this capital would soon become exhausted, and that the human intellect and instinct, as conceived by rationalism, would not suffice to renew the stock.
Here indeed is the weakness of the rationalist and humanist position. Their philosophy lacks foundations; and if pressed on this point, they are too ready to take refuge in agnosticism — the view that these fundamental questions lie beyond the scope of inquiry, that they cannot be known, that it is needless to try to fathom them. We seem to detect here the scientific fallacy of confusing cause with effect: is morality a cause or an effect? Is it any use saying that morality is the effect of morality? Or if, to avoid such tautology, we change the wording and say that morality is the effect of human intelligence and instinct, we have merely dodged the difficulty.
We need to know something about those mysterious powers in the human breast. By what are they inspired? Shall we define them as an enlightened self-interest? In that case we commit ourselves to the proposition that morality is sustained by self-interest, and that self-interest is the foundation of human conduct. The forces which rule in matter must themselves be immaterial, outside of matter; otherwise we are reasoning in a circle and have an engine generating its own steam, or a motor and a dynamo running each other. And so with the present problem. Human social conduct cannot be represented as a mechanism perpetually running by its own momentum; it could never rise, and would be much more likely to fall. It is clear that this "Unknowable" which the rationalists admit but scorn to inquire into is the very mainspring.
Here is where religion comes in. The rationalists have thrown away the grain with the chaff. It is the spirit of religion, religion itself, which keeps alive the eternal vitality of the human race, compelling obedience to the essential laws of moral health and preventing an utter collapse into destruction by unrelieved selfishness.
And this true religion has its shrine in the human heart. But a pious, devotional, emotional attitude will not suffice to keep the fire alive in an age where the intellect is so acute. This intellect has been enlisted on the side of self-interest, with the results which we so much dread. Unless the scope of the intellect can be expanded so as to inquire into and learn about those parts of human nature which lie below the surface, we shall become morally bankrupt. To live healthfully in a physical sense, we must know the laws of hygiene and sanitation; we cannot go by blind faith and guesswork. And this deeper knowledge is what religion can and should give us.
That Christianity has failed so much as it has in this respect is due to the great admixture of dross with the pure metal. We have sought in this book to bring out the essential truths in Christianity, and to explain them in a way which will be more vital and effectual in human life. We have not taken away from man anything needed for his support. Whatever can be said in favor of the influence of Christianity can be said with greater force with regard to the theosophical interpretation of Christianity. We have expressly said that we have no wish to interfere with the faith of those who find in their religion what they need and who seek nothing further; and that our object is to help those for whom this is not sufficient, and who are earnestly seeking for the real basis of human welfare.
Religion which teaches man that he is essentially divine cannot be more immoral in its influence than religion which teaches him he is a miserable sinner. In the theosophical interpretation of Christianity the moral law is the essential law of human conduct, by which alone man can achieve happiness, self-realization, and harmony of his life with that of his fellows. It is this interpretation alone which unifies life and brings into harmony intellect and heart, so that all our faculties may cooperate towards the end of perfection.
God is not a person standing outside the universe. Nor is he apart from man. God is everywhere; there is nothing which is not God. God is the ultimate fact, the root of all existence, the spiritual foundation of all that is. Many thinkers have arrived at this conception of God, and have realized that the theological God is an anthropomorphized ideal. God, the universe, man, are not separate from each other, but form a unity. We can approach God only by sounding the depths of our own being; for man himself is a manifestation of divinity, and there are no limits to what he can attain through self-knowledge.
The manifold objections to the idea of a personal and extracosmic God are almost too well known to need mention. Such a God seems to manifest little interest in human affairs, and to be apart from nature, which is a sort of secondary deity. It is little wonder that so many have abandoned the idea of God altogether, though it passes comprehension to understand how these explain the meaning of things. To abandon the idea of God does not mean that we must represent the universe as a haphazard mechanism.
The doctrine of extreme materialism means nothing; agnosticism is a confession of ignorance and helplessness. We may call ourselves Humanists, and make man the center of things; but then what is man? Every person, studying the wonders of his own conscious being, knows that there is a profound mystery beyond the limits of thought. But to suppose that that mystery is utterly insoluble is to turn the whole universe and human life into a horrible jest.
There have always been Christian mystics who have taught that revelation comes through self-communion. This is the only way to knowledge of God; and, as we have shown, Jesus points the way to the attainment of such knowledge. There are faculties in man which transcend the intellect (as we know it now) — not set it aside or abrogate it, but supplement it. We little know the sublimity of our own nature, though many of us have at rare moments obtained glimpses. Let us aspire to the highest we can attain, and forbear to limit our vision by giving it the form of a personal deity, which is in very truth creating a graven image.
Supplication to a personal deity for favors desired is looking for help in the wrong place. It is presuming to dictate to deity and is based on the idea that divine goodness and wisdom needs the help of our prayers. The climax of absurdity is reached when hostile armies pray for victory over each other. This brings out the truth that a personal God is usually partial, local, tribal. There is some sense in such invocations if we believe that each nation has its own special deity, as some peoples believe; but it becomes nonsense when such contradictory prayers are addressed to one and the same God.
Prayer means self-communion accompanied by high aspiration, and should be in the spirit of "Not my will, but thine be done." Prayer for specific objects is not right, because we do not know what is best for us. Prayer is communing with the Father in Heaven through the Son, reaching towards our own highest and best. Personal wishes must be cast aside, and the unity of life realized as much as possible.
THE PROBLEM OF EVIL
People often vex themselves with the question how a good God can permit evil. Evil is imperfection, and this world is but an imperfect manifestation of Deity the All-Good. Contrast and opposition are found everywhere; they are necessary conditions of growth and experience. Evil has been defined as the shadow of God. Attempts to define good and evil philosophically have not much bearing upon duty and conduct, and usually serve merely to bewilder people. In actual life good and evil are as distinct as a good egg and a bad egg. Every person is naturally endowed with the ability to distinguish them.
The words good and evil are very vague, and confusion arises from their being used in varying senses. They may be taken to mean pleasant and unpleasant; but this obviously refers to our tastes, which are unreliable as criterions. What is unpleasant may be good for us; what is pleasant, evil. They may be taken to mean right and wrong, and here again the reference may be to moral law, or social law, civic law, etc.
As far as our own experiences are concerned, the true philosopher can arrive at a state where he recognizes that no evil can befall him because he accepts every event as a part of his equitable lot — the Stoic philosophy. So we see that in this case the terms good and evil imply a contrast which we have made in our own minds by classifying experiences as pleasant and unpleasant and speaking of good and evil fortune.
As long as a person makes personal pleasure an object, he is bound to bring pain upon himself by the same law which renders the glutton or the drunkard sick. Such pursuit of self-gratification upsets the moral balance, and nature restores it by the complementary opposite experience. But what about our conduct to other people? This ought surely to concern most a person of heart and conscience; and it might be better if people spoke more about this aspect of the question than about their own luck and ill-luck and merit and demerit, which are utterly trivial to anybody but themselves.
Can it be denied that we have the power to work evil upon our fellows? And if there is anyone whose mind has become so disordered that he can argue, "Whatever happens to a person is his karma; therefore I cannot injure him," and use this as an excuse for misbehavior; then we can only pity such a one. To do mischief in the world and leave it to the universal laws of harmony to clean up the mess we have made is but a sorry way of manifesting the divinity that is in us. So far as our conduct to others is concerned, there is an unmistakable difference between good and evil, and an inescapable obligation upon every individual who is truly human to choose the right. And if he is truly human, he will do the right despite all the religions and philosophies in the world.
As said above, in speaking of the fall of man, the making of deity into a personal God has necessitated the making of a personal Satan as the adversary of God. But, as there stated, the Serpent of Eden was man's teacher, who awoke in him the power of intelligence; and when this Serpent is called the Adversary, it means that he was opposed to the first God who created man as an unintelligent though sinless being.
Satan is also a personification of our passions, which seek to lead us to destruction; but it is by fighting them that we learn and progress, so that ultimately they become our savior. But that is only on condition that we fight and overcome them; if we yield to them we are lost. There is no Devil with horns and hoofs, haunting us during life and preparing to torment us after death. But it is only too true that our passions, allied to our intellect, can create a kind of secondary evil self, which is our enemy whom we must conquer. It is also true that the astral light is full of destructive powers engendered by human thoughts and passions; so that the astral light, in one of its aspects, has merited the title of Satan.
Our subject is so large that we have not attempted to comprehend it; and had we done so, we should but have wearied the reader's attention. However enough has been said to invite the interested student to further study of the subject. The evidences for the views taken here are abundant and will be forthcoming in future years; they have been ignored because they have not suited the plans of the custodians of sectarian religion. But once broader views prevail, as they will among the generations of divines that are growing up, these evidences will be brought to light and the gradual development of modern Christianity from its original sources in the wisdom-religion will be historically traced.
All religions in their origin teach the divinity of man; but this teaching is afterwards hustled out of sight, and in its place we have a credal system supported by a hierarchy, by which salvation is made conditional upon the acceptance of certain doctrines and conformity to certain requirements. It is of course inevitable and necessary that there should be organization, since every spirit must have an imbodiment of some kind. But the physical framework of a plant does not prevent it from growing and changing; and the outer form of religion must change from age to age to fit the growing needs of the human spirit. And lastly, we must be willing to recognize the claims of other religions, most of them older than Christianity.
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