2. Biblical Prophecies Before the birth of Jesus, Jews had long believed that a Messiah would eventually appear. The Old Testament is filled with prophecies of the Messiah; many of these prophecies appear to have been fulfilled in the life of Jesus. For example, the Book of Micah foretells that the Messiah will come from Bethlehem; Isaiah foretells that the Messiah will be born of a virgin; the Psalms foretell that the Messiah will be betrayed by a “familiar friend”; Zechariah even foretells that the Messiah will be betrayed for “thirty pieces of silver.”
Throughout the history of Christianity, the prophecies have been adduced as proofs of the divinity of Christ. Even philosophers like Pascal, who were skeptical of miracles, were impressed by prophecies; “the most weighty proofs of Jesus,” said Pascal, “are the prophecies.”1 But once people began to subject the Bible to close scrutiny, they ceased to regard the prophecies as “weighty proofs.” Biblical prophecies are as dubious as Biblical miracles; the prophecies don’t prove the divinity of Jesus, just as Jesus’ alleged ability to walk on water doesn’t prove his divinity.
Both miracles and prophecies are indications that the life of Christ, as set forth in the New Testament, is filled with fictitious episodes, episodes designed to convince people that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah. In order to win converts to their sect, the authors of the New Testament had to make it appear that the life of Jesus fulfilled Old Testament prophecies; they had to tailor their life of Jesus to fit the prophecies. Accordingly, they were quick to point out how the prophecies had been fulfilled; for example, in Acts 1:16, Peter, referring to the betrayal of Jesus, says that the “Scripture must needs have been fulfilled... concerning Judas.” The Scripture must be fulfilled — this was the guiding principle of the authors of the New Testament.
3. Biblical Criticism Biblical criticism has uncovered a host of contradictions, frauds and forgeries in the Bible. It has shown, for example, that the first five books of the Old Testament, which Judaism and Catholicism ascribe to Moses, were not actually written by Moses. It has also shown that an early reference to the trinity (in the First Epistle of John, v, 7) was actually inserted at a later date. The churches, far from trying to ascertain the truth, have tried to suppress the truth, and have forbidden any questioning of the sacred texts; the Catholic Church, for example, forbade any questioning of the early reference to the trinity.
Some will argue, however, that Biblical criticism can’t touch the heart of Christianity; it can’t deny that Christian morality is lofty; it can’t deny that the Sermon on the Mount is sublime. But Christian morality isn’t original, isn’t unique to Christianity. Like all morality, Christian morality is the product of its time and place, the product of a certain level of civilization, not the product of divine inspiration. There were Jewish thinkers at the time of Christ who preached a morality similar to Christian morality. A few centuries before the time of Christ, thinkers like Socrates, Buddha, Lao-Zi and Confucius also preached a morality similar to Christian morality; in these four thinkers, one encounters such Christian ideas as “do unto others as you would have others do unto you,” and “resist not evil.”2
4. Which Religion Is True? Most people who are raised in Christian families and Christian societies become Christians themselves. Only a few people question the beliefs of their environment, and try to discover the truth for themselves. Many in the West think that Christianity must be true because so many people believe it, and have believed it for centuries. How can so many people be wrong? But people in non-Western countries use the same reasoning about their religions; they assume that since Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, etc. have won so many adherents, they must be true. If the popularity and longevity of Christianity were an indication of its truth, then Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam, which also enjoy popularity and longevity, are also true. But how can they all be true when they contradict each other?
Some people argue that all religions are false because they contradict each other. Likewise, some people argue that all philosophies are false because they contradict each other, and because they’re all superseded by later philosophies. Hegel, however, argued that all philosophies are true, all philosophies represent a part of the truth. We can say the same thing about religion: all religions are true, all religions represent a part of the truth. Religion springs from man’s psyche, meets man’s psychological needs, and contains psychological truth. The founders of religions embody the thoughts and feelings of their society. Likewise, those who modify a religion are responding to society’s needs.
But religions aren’t satisfied with psychological truth, with partial truth, with temporary truth, with truth for a particular time and place, with the same degree of truth that all other religions possess. They want more; they claim to possess revealed truth, complete truth, eternal truth, truth for all times and places, truth such as no other religion possesses. And in defending this claim, they use dishonest means.
5. Baptism, confirmation, communion, bar mitzvah — all these religious rituals helped the individual to rise from a child to an adult. Likewise, the rites of passage in a primitive society helped the individual to rise from a child to an adult. Myths and legends served a similar purpose; Joseph Campbell has shown how the typical hero myth closely resembles a primitive initiation ceremony.
Nowadays, religious rituals like confirmation have lost much of their force, they’ve become a shadow of their former selves, perhaps because these rituals — like the religions of which they’re a part — have become frozen, stuck in the past. The hero myth in Star Wars has probably played a more constructive role in modern life than the ritual of confirmation.
For too long, the West has treated religion as a thing apart — remote, sacred, untouchable. As a result, many Western intellectuals wanted to smash religion completely, and this smashing created a dangerous and unhealthy situation, a spiritual and psychological vacuum, a vacuum that was filled by communism, nationalism, etc. Instead of treating religion as a remote grandfather, we should treat it as a sibling of philosophy and psychology, mythology and literature.
The unconscious produces images that resemble rites of passage, the unconscious tries to guide us through life’s passages. The unconscious may give us better advice than ritual and myth, since its advice is tailored to our situation — like the advice of a wise friend or a trained therapist. Perhaps the therapist doesn’t give us advice, but rather helps us to hear the advice of our own unconscious. If the unconscious resembles ritual and myth, that’s not surprising. After all, where do ritual and myth originate if not in the unconscious? Instead of seeing religion as sacred and remote, we should see it as close to us — no further than our own unconscious.
6. Atheism and Suicide According to Christianity, God created the individual in his own image, endowed him with an immortal soul, and watches over him forever. Therefore, according to Christianity, human life per se has value; every human life has infinite importance. Accordingly, Christianity opposed suicide; those who committed suicide were denied Christian burial. Kierkegaard is an example of a Christian thinker who opposed suicide; Kierkegaard called suicide, “a crime against God.”
Unlike Christians, the ancients didn’t consider human life per se valuable. Hence, the ancients had no scruples about suicide. Cicero, for example, recommends suicide for the victims of misfortune. Many famous Greeks and Romans committed suicide, including Cato the Younger, Brutus and Petronius.
Modern atheism is similar, in many ways, to ancient paganism. Since modern atheists, like the ancients, don’t consider human life per se valuable, they too have no scruples about suicide. Nietzsche, for example, said that in certain circumstances, suicide is not only justifiable but praiseworthy.
The Renaissance was akin to paganism and to modern atheism. Montaigne, a product of the Renaissance, agreed with ancient philosophers and with modern atheists on the subject of suicide; “the most voluntary death,” wrote Montaigne, “is the finest.”3
The Philosophy of Today is neither Christian nor atheist. It merges man with the universe; it finds the same energy, the same spirit, the same essence in man as in the universe as a whole. It takes a positive attitude toward the universe, and toward human life. Though it doesn’t regard suicide as blasphemous (as Christianity did), it discourages suicide, just as it discourages melancholy.
7. Atheism and Eugenics When people think that human life per se isn’t valuable, they often advocate the development of a certain type of human being, that is, they often advocate eugenics. Hence we find advocates of eugenics among the ancients and among modern atheists. Plato, for example, wrote thus: “The best of either sex should be united with the best as often, and the inferior with the inferior as seldom as possible.” Such modern atheists as Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Shaw and Wells also advocated eugenics.4
8. The Death of God The chief philosophical problem of modern times is the death of God, and its implications for our view of the world and our view of man. This problem was first perceived in the late 1800’s; it was perceived independently by Dostoyevsky and by Nietzsche. The death of God means that the world no longer has a plan, a divine order; it also means that human life no longer has absolute value. And since morality — in the West, at any rate — has long been founded on religion, the disintegration of religion entails the disintegration of morality. Hence Nietzsche called himself an “immoralist,” and said that mankind was now “beyond good and evil.”
The death of God is an epoch-making event in human history; it divides history in two, as Dostoyevsky and Nietzsche both pointed out. Dostoyevsky depicts an atheist, Kirillov, who “rejects morality itself altogether.” Dostoyevsky’s atheists talk constantly of suicide and genocide. Dostoyevsky seemed to anticipate the worst atrocities of Hitler and Stalin: “There will be an upheaval!,” he wrote; “there’s going to be such an upset as the world has never seen before.... The earth will weep for its old gods.”5 Can anyone doubt that there’s a connection between the death of God and Soviet genocide? Between the death of God and Nazi genocide? Between the death of God and Cambodian genocide? The phase of the French Revolution known as “The Terror” was an early form of genocide, just as the atheism of the French Revolutionaries was an early form of nineteenth-century atheism.
Though we may dislike the new universe in which we find ourselves, though we may long for God, though we may want to return to the age of faith, the age of religious and moral certainty, the age of the great cathedrals and Thomas Aquinas, nonetheless we must accept the current situation, and learn to cope with it. The wailing infant may prefer to be back in the womb, but he can’t go back. Just as the infant grows accustomed to living outside the womb, so too it’s possible to develop new approaches to religion and morality. Schopenhauer thought that mankind would outgrow religion, but now the future of religion looks bright. It now seems possible to develop new conceptions of God, new conceptions of religion, and new conceptions of the value of human life.
9. Nietzsche and Nazism If Nietzsche first spoke of the death of God, and the death of God is connected to Nazi genocide, did Nietzsche cause Nazi genocide? Do thinkers cause historical events? No, Nazi genocide wasn’t caused by Nietzsche; Nietzsche merely popularized the phrase “death of God,” and revealed the full implications of the loss of religious belief. As Dostoyevsky’s work shows, the ideas of atheism and of going “beyond good and evil” were in the air during the late 1800’s; Nietzsche didn’t introduce those ideas, he merely found them and expressed them. To find the ideas of one’s time and express them is the task of a thinker.
10. During the 1940s, when rumors about the Holocaust began to circulate, it seemed unbelievable. People couldn’t believe that a nation as advanced, as cultured as Germany was killing millions of people in death-factories.
One might suppose that Hitler alone conceived the idea of a death-factory, or that this idea was unique to the Nazis, or to the Germans. In fact, the idea of a death-factory, the idea of genocide, was widespread in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Many of England’s leading intellectuals endorsed the idea, including George Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells, and D. H. Lawrence. Wells envisioned genocide on a far greater scale than anything seen in the Third Reich; Wells spoke of eliminating “those swarms of blacks, and brown, and dirty-white, and yellow people.” Lawrence wrote, “If I had my way, I would build a lethal chamber as big as the Crystal Palace.”6
The idea of genocide was doubtless as widespread in Germany as it was in England. Nietzsche speaks of, “the greatest of all tasks, the attempt to raise humanity higher, including the relentless destruction of everything that was degenerating and parasitical.”7 Gorky met many people in Russia who subscribed to these ideas; Gorky said that these ideas are “more persistent and more widespread than they are commonly thought to be.”8
Is it surprising that the idea of genocide, widespread among Western intellectuals, was eventually put into practice? The beliefs of one generation become the policies of the next; as Heine said, “thought precedes action as lightning precedes thunder.”
The idea of genocide emerged when religious faith declined. In the early 1800s, Heine said that Christianity had restrained the Germans, and he predicted that the Germans would perpetrate genocide if “that subduing talisman, the cross, be shattered.”9
11. Atheism and the Future As long as people believed in God, their chief concern was doing God’s will. As long as people believed in God, they paid little attention to the future of mankind; they left it to God to take care of mankind. As long as people believed in God, they acted like children who think that if their parents love them, they don’t have anything to worry about, their parents will take care of them. It’s only recently, it’s only since people have lost their belief in God, that people have become preoccupied with the future of mankind, have begun to see themselves as responsible for the future of mankind, and have begun to believe that the future will be as bright or as dark as they make it. One of the greatest benefits that atheism has conferred on mankind is a sense of responsibility, a sense that man is responsible for his own future. Conversely, one of the greatest injuries that religion does to mankind is to make man into an irresponsible child, preoccupied with doing God’s will, unconcerned about his own future.
12. Mill Writing about 1870, Mill said there was an urgent need for a new religion, a new faith. Mill said that this need was so urgent that any “thinking or writing” that didn’t help to develop a new religion was of dubious value.
Mill shows wisdom and modesty by not saying precisely what this new religion should be; he speaks of, “some faith, whether religious or merely human.” Mill says that the old worldview is “discredited in the more intellectual minds”; this is true today, as it was in Mill’s day. (Nietzsche, who writes in a more prophetic, more poetic tone than Mill, expressed the same thought when he said, “God is dead”.) Mill says that the old religions, discredited though they may be, are still a “powerful obstacle to the growing up of any better opinions.” Mill realized that a void had been created by the decline of the old faiths, and that this void would be filled by political schemes, totalitarian schemes. He anticipated the harmful effects of these schemes, and warned against them.
13. Jung believed that certain archetypes or images could be found in the unconscious of all mankind, in the “collective unconscious.” The most important of these archetypes, according to Jung, was the archetype of the self. In Jung’s vocabulary, the term “self” means the whole person, the unconscious as well as consciousness. Jung felt that God was synonymous with the archetype of the self.
Jung felt that man was prone to identify himself with consciousness, with the ego, with reason, and to neglect and despise the unconscious. In other words, Jung felt that man was prone to lapse into rationalism, and to lose contact with his unconscious, with his soul. In Jung’s view, religion helped man to maintain contact with his unconscious, and to avoid rationalism and ego inflation. Since modern societies were apt to reject religion, they were also apt to lapse into rationalism. Jung regarded Communism as a lapse into rationalism. Communists tried to use reason to control all human activities; they despised tradition, and they despised religion.
Christ helped man to avoid rationalism and ego inflation, urging people to “become like little children.” The message of Christ resembled the message of Zen, since both Zen and Christ steered man away from rationalism and toward the wholeness of the child.
Jung believed that the archetype of God evolved during the course of history. The violent, amoral, unconscious God of the ancient Hebrews evolved into the loving, moral, conscious God of the time of Christ. The existence and evolution of the God archetype took place independently of man, independently of human reason and human volition. Jung didn’t regard God as an invention of man. Jung believed in God, and his arguments are the strongest arguments against atheism.
Jung regarded Jesus not merely as a carpenter’s son, a Jewish reformer, a genius, but rather as the son of God, as a carrier or embodiment of the son-of-God archetype. Jesus felt himself to embody this archetype, felt himself to be the son of God. Jesus knew that it was his destiny to live this archetype — to die young, etc.
Jung believed that archetypes and myths were embodied in history, they didn’t exist only in the mind. Through contact with archetypes, and contact with the unconscious, it’s possible for certain people, including Jesus, to anticipate the future. Just before the outbreak of World War I, Jung himself had a prophetic dream of Europe awash in a sea of blood.
14. Some symbols of the self, such as the yin-yang symbol, are a blend of darkness and light, a union of opposites. Christ, however, is a self symbol who emphasizes the light and excludes the darkness; Christ isn’t a union of opposites. Hence, it was necessary to offset Christ with a figure of darkness, of evil, such as the devil, or the Antichrist, or Satanaël (the elder son of God).
In an attempt to heal the split between light and dark, Christ and Antichrist, the figure of Merlin grew up in the Western imagination; Merlin united the opposites in one being. Likewise, the alchemical figure Mercurius was a union of opposites; “Mercurius [is] cunning and duplex (double); one text says of him that ‘he runs around the earth and enjoys equally the company of the good and the wicked.’”11 One purpose of alchemy, and of The Grail Legend, was to unite the opposites, to heal the rift between light and dark. The philosopher’s stone (lapis philosophorum), which was sought by the alchemists, was a blend of light and dark.
15. Jung equates God with our own unconscious; that is, he finds God within, instead of projecting God outside. He says that the unconscious is greater than the ego, beyond the ego, just as God is beyond man. Thus, finding God within ourselves doesn’t mean the apotheosis of man, or the abasement of God. Jung respects both God and the unconscious — or should I say, he equates God and the unconscious, respects them, and sees them as beyond our limited ego, our rational mind.
Jung says we shouldn’t regard God as outside ourselves, as separate from man, and we shouldn’t regard God as all-powerful, all-good, and all-wise. If we do so, we
But while Jung opposed the traditional, Western view of God, he wanted to continue to use the term “God.” He wanted to apply the term “God” to the unconscious — to those forces in the soul that are beyond the rational mind, beyond the ego. Only by using the term “God,” Jung argued, could we accurately describe the strength of those forces, and their independence of the conscious mind.
16. Hiking Philosophers If Descartes hiked to the top of a mountain in Africa, and sat down on a rock, and looked at the animals in the valley below, and at the vegetation all around him, he might say, “I alone, in this vast scene of teeming life, have a soul.” And if Kant hiked to the top of the same mountain, he might say, “I alone am an end in myself.” But if Freud hiked to the top of that mountain, he might say, “all these animals and plants have the same basic drives that I have, they all have life- and death-instincts — just like me. Animals and plants are my kin. Man is derived from animals, and animals are derived from plants — we’re all branches of the same family tree, we’re all relatives. Man isn’t fundamentally different from animals and plants — as Western thinkers once supposed.”
And if Jung hiked to the top of that mountain, he might say, “all those animals have the same Energy, the same Essence, the same Spirit, the same Tao, that is in me. And all these plants have that same Energy, too. And this rock that I’m sitting on, this mountain, this earth — all these have that same Energy, too. I’m akin to the animals, the plants, the rocks — I’m akin to everything in the universe. Man is derived from animals, and animals are derived from plants, and plants are derived from inorganic matter. We’re all related! The same universe that produced the rock I’m sitting on also produced Hamlet. Man isn’t fundamentally different from other forms of life, as Descartes and Kant thought, nor is organic life fundamentally different from inorganic matter, as Freud thought. The same Energy/Essence/Spirit/Tao suffuses everything, produces everything.”
Jung’s view is similar to that of Eastern philosophers. This view helps to explain why Eastern painters depicted landscapes long before Western painters did. Western painters like Michelangelo were preoccupied with man, perhaps because the West saw man as distinct from the rest of the universe. The East saw the same Tao in everything.
It has been said that the clearest distinction in nature is the distinction between the organic and the inorganic. This distinction is clearer (so the argument goes) than the distinction between one species and another, and clearer than the distinction between plants and animals. But is it really as clear as it appears to be? Isn’t it conceivable that some enterprising young scientist will someday connect the organic to the inorganic — just as Darwin connected man to animals? Isn’t it conceivable that we’ll someday discover intermediate forms — forms that lie between the organic and the inorganic? After all, isn’t organic life descended from the inorganic? Darwin speculated on how organic life might have originated:
17. The World Behind Is the essence of the universe matter or spirit? It is both/and, not either/or, it is a mysterious mix of matter and spirit. It is here, in this mysterious essence, that time and space seem to disappear, it is here that occult phenomena occur. It is this mysterious essence that Kant called the “thing-in-itself,” that Kant described as beyond time, space, and causality, and beyond man’s power of comprehension. One might call this mysterious essence The World Behind the World.
When physics encounters The World Behind, it’s surprised to find matter appearing to act with intention, with consciousness, it’s surprised to find mysterious links between distant particles.
When biology encounters The World Behind, it speaks of things that are both material and spiritual — a will to life (Schopenhauer), élan vital (Bergson), life- and death-instincts (Freud), etc. Some biologists have argued that evolution couldn’t occur without some force or instinct to propel it. These forces and instincts are elusive, mysterious, both material and immaterial.
Chinese thinkers referred to The World Behind as the Tao. The Tao is the mysterious essence of the universe, the thing-in-itself. Lao Zi said,
While people in the West often imagine God making the world, the Tao doesn’t make the world, it produces the world through spontaneous growth: “The Tao’s principle is spontaneity.” The Tao isn’t the master of the universe, as God is, and the Tao isn’t a conscious being, as God is:
The great Tao flows everywhere,
18. Animism Encore One might describe the history of religion as a progression from animism to polytheism to monotheism to atheism. Now, however, we seem to be coming full circle, and developing a new religion that resembles animism. Our new religion sees energy and intelligence suffusing the universe. It doesn’t see God as distinct from the universe, or distinct from man. It draws no distinction between spirit and matter, mind and body.
Mill said that a new faith could be “religious or merely human.” It didn’t occur to Mill that a new faith could be religious and human. Instead of a religion that is centered on a God who created the world and rules the world, why not a religion that sees the world developing through its own forces, and sees man as participating in these forces, not just subject to them? And if someone wants to use the word “God” for the mysterious forces in the universe and in man, why should we object?