The first reasonable premise in Brian Muraresku’s thesis is that, as his mentor Brother David Steindl-Rast says, “Every religion has its mystical core.” The second reasonable premise is that in the specific case of Christianity, there is also a psychedelic core.
So far so good. These two claims neatly translate into the mysticism and shamanism, meditation and psychedelics (or “Zen Soma”) of my own model of integral spirituality. But there is something else at the core of Christianity: faith. Saint Paul makes this abundantly clear in his epistle to the Romans. What differentiates Christianity from Judaism, he says, is the move from an excessive emphasis on the Law to a seemingly magical saving grace through faith:
21 But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets;
22 Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference:
23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;
24 Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:
25 Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;
26 To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.
27 Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith.
28 Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.
Romans 3: 21-28
So there is a mystical core, a psychedelic core, and a core of faith at the heart of Christianity. But I would go further. In chapter four of my book, titled Pantheism is not Sexed-up Atheism, I argue the case against Richard Dawkins (in The God Delusion) for a religious understanding of pantheism:
“What if pantheism is really at the very heart of religion? Robbed of pantheism, religion is like a bone without a marrow. Without pantheism, religion loses all trace of of nonduality, and all credibility, because God is only allowed to exist in another world, not this one. Dawkins is like a dog with a bone, and it’s easy to crush a bone as brittle as that.”
So I would add pantheism to the list of things at the core of religion. However, without a hierarchical conception of reality, pantheism does indeed default to a kind of “Flatland” monism which is difficult to distinguish from atheism. In this version, it is fair to say that “Pantheists don’t believe in a supernatural God at all, but use the word God as a synonym for Nature, or for the Universe, or for the lawfulness that governs its workings”, as Dawkins does.
A religious pantheism must be hierarchical in order to cover both the immanent and transcendent aspects of God. Strictly speaking then, we should call it panentheism, since God is both All and Everything, within and beyond.
I describe the panentheist hierarchy using Egyptian gods. In my version, Amun is the god of Emptiness, Ra is the god of Energy, Atum is the god of Matter, Ka is the god of Life and Ba is the god of Mind. Beyond these are Gaia, the Earth goddess and Jah, the god of the Universe. Together these comprise an octave of existence or a ray of creation.
In my model, these seven mantras are associated with the seven chakras rising up the spinal column from the root at the perineum to the crown at the top of the head. Thus the macrocosm maps onto the microcosm. This is the core of the Tantric kundalini system, and in my model constitutes a core body-mantra, identified with the cosmic tree Yggdrasil, the tree of life in the Garden of Eden and the Staff of Moses.
In the “Armour of Christ” body-mantra (the double cross with two horizontals at the hips and shoulders) the central energy centres at the ajna chakra (third eye) and svadhisthana chakra (sacral chakra), which together create the vertical line of the cross, are associated with the Mystic and Shaman archetypes respectively, but also with Peace and Love.
So that we now have a slightly longer list of things to include in the “core of religion”:
- Mysticism (meditation)
- Shamanism (psychedelics)
- Panentheism (The Cosmic Tree)
- Faith (with the resulting grace)
- Peace and Love
However, Brian Muraresku is right in identifying the fundamental core of religion as the “immortality key” of death and resurrection: you must die before you die. But then be careful how you’re reborn.