Christianity has it All

The past and present wilt—I have fill’d them, emptied them.
And proceed to fill my next fold of the future.

Listener up there! what have you to confide to me?
Look in my face while I snuff the sidle of evening,
(Talk honestly, no one else hears you, and I stay only a minute longer.)

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Walt Whitman (1819-1892)

It makes me laugh when conservative Christians lose their faith when they find out about all the problems and contradictions in Christianity. What? You mean Jesus never said those things in John’s gospel like “I am the resurrection and the life”? What? You mean the doctrine of the Trinity didn’t exist until the third century AD? What? You mean Jesus and his followers thought that they would live to see the end of the world? What? You mean Jesus probably never even existed?

Those who try to find the fundamentals of Christianity and stick to them will always be disappointed in the long run. Do you put all your faith in the Church and the infallibility of the Pope? Do you put all your faith in Scripture and the inerrancy of the Bible? Do you put all your faith in Reason and the ability of scholarship and science to get to the bottom of the truth about Christianity?

Whatever you pin your hopes on, Christianity will have the last laugh. Why? Because the truth is neither here nor there, neither this nor that. “Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:21)

And you’d better not conclude that the kingdom of God is within you and that Christianity is really all about inner spiritual experiences, because it’s not.

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

The problem with Christianity is that it has it all. You will never be able to boil it down to its essence. It has too many moving parts. The following list is suggestive and by no means exhaustive. Like the Tao, Christianity is a bottomless well that cannot be exhausted.

(The Tao is like a well: used but never used up. It is like the eternal void: filled with infinite possibilities. It is hidden but always present.

Tao Te Ching, verse 4)

So what is Christianity? Well, at the very least, it contains the following multitudes:

  1. The God of the Philosophers, ie. the God of Aristotle.
  2. The God of the Jews, ie. the God of Abraham.
  3. The God of the Greek Mysteries, ie. the God of wine, Dionysus.
  4. The God of the Humanists, ie. the God of Enlightenment, Buddha.
  5. The God of the Alchemists, ie. the God of the Inner Spirit.
  6. The God of the Rationalists, ie. the God of the Inner Logos.
  7. The God of the Mystics, ie. the God of Unknowing.
  8. The God of the Pagans, ie. the Heavenly Host.

Let’s unpack and expand these basic elements a bit. The first two are concerned with “God the Father”.

  1. Aristotle’s metaphysics is the main influence on Christian theological reflections on the nature of God, but we should really go back to Pythagoras. Traditionally, Christian theology has tacked between the two philosophical traditions established by Plato (Neo-Platonism) and Aristotle, most famously represented by Augustine of Hippo and Thomas Aquinas, Stoicism being another important influence (especially in the doctrine of the Logos – see below).
  2. The monotheism of the Jews, which is at the heart the three Abrahamic faiths, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, is referred to in the Bible as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Jacob being renamed Israel after his struggle with the angel of God). In the Torah, this invisible, unutterable God, JHWH, is instantiated in the people of Israel through the covenant of the Law of Moses (the Ten Commandments and the Halakha). The personal relationship between the individual soul and God is worked out by Psalmist (King David) and that between the collective soul and God by the Prophets. Thus the God of Abraham is also the God of Moses, David and Isaiah.

The next two are concerned with “God the Son”:

3. The Christ of Faith is a divine God-Man, an Avatar, a Personal Saviour. He is akin to the mythical figures at the centre of the mystery cults of the ancient world, such as Isis and Osiris, Demeter and Persephone, Mithras, Adonis, Attis, Cybele and Dionysus. His status as a new Dionysus is especially relevant because of the sacramental parallels: eating the body and drinking the blood of the sacrificial God in the bread and wine. The wine in both cases (Dionysian and early Christian rituals) was probably spiked wine with psychoactive properties.

4. The Jesus of History is a human spiritual teacher, a prophet, a rabbi, a reformer, a revolutionary, an enlightened holy man, a pure soul, a saint. Buddhists would say that he was a Buddha, an awakened human being who has seen into the truth of their essential nature, no longer subject to the delusions of ordinary mortals. This archetypal figure of the “perfect man” is the humanist ideal: the apogee of what humanity is spiritually capable of. Of course we will never know how “perfect” Jesus’ enlightenment really was, whether it was exaggerated or even a fictional construct.

The next two are concerned with “God the Spirit”:

5. The festival of Pentecost celebrates the descent of the Holy Spirit on the disciples in a “rushing wind” and “cloven tongues like as of fire” (Acts 2). The charisma (gift) of the indwelling Spirit is an inner power or energy, akin to the Kundalini of the Indian Tantrikas and the Qi of the Taoist Alchemists. In Western alchemy, it is represented by Mercury (the messenger of the Gods) which has the power to transmute the Lead of mortal flesh into the Gold of immortality.

6. The inner spirit of Christ, or Logos, “the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world” (John 1:9) is later hypostatized in Christian tradition as the Holy Spirit. The “true Light” of the “Word” is associated with the principle of active Reason, a portion of the divine Logos inhering in all things, as the Stoics taught. This belief in the divinity of rationality eventually led to the methodical application of reason to the natural world, ushering in the Scientific Revolution in the seventeenth century.

The next element points to the apophatic tradition of the Christian mystics, who stress the ineffability of God. There is clearly a natural affinity here with mystics of all traditions, whether Sufi, Taoist, Zen or Advaita Vedanta.

Finally, the polytheism of the Pagan world is smuggled back into Christianity via the communion of saints, the heavenly host of angels and archangels, powers and principalities, and the demonic hordes of Satan’s brood.

Is it any wonder that there are currently over two hundred Christian denominations in the US alone?

Samuel Johnson famously remarked that “when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.” The same could be said of Christianity. The more you dig, the more you see that Christianity really does have it all.