Intermediate Christianity

In a Gurdjieffian take on Christianity, the philosopher Jacob Needleman argues that there is a lost Christianity that lies hidden beneath the visible edifice of the established Church as we know it (Lost Christianity: A Journey of Rediscovery to the Centre of Christian Experience). Gurdjieff would call it esoteric Christianity.

Brian Muraresku makes a similar claim in his book The Immortality Key: The Secret History of the Religion with No Name. During his extensive investigations into the possible use of psychedelics among early Christians, he visits the Vatican Necropolis under Saint Peter’s Basilica. These catacombs were practically unknown until the middle of the twentieth century, and it is here that Muraresku believes early Christians partook in a ritualised recreation of the Last Supper using a psychoactive sacrament.

The symbolic resonance of the fact that the Catholic Church literally buried this original psychedelic Christianity under their headquarters in Rome is not lost on him. What a powerful image of institutional suppression and erasure!

In Needleman’s book, the enigmatic Father Sylvan reveals to the wide-eyed professor some of the hidden secrets of what he calls “lost Christianity”. But the central point is that Christianity is too advanced for people to understand and that what is needed is an “intermediate Christianity” as a kind of preparative. He believes that it is precisely because of this lack of intermediate preparation that the true significance of Christianity is lost, hidden in plain sight.

The clues as to what this intermediate Christianity might entail are hinted at throughout the book by the mysterious Father, who may or may not be a figment of Needleman’s imagination. The style of exposition is reminiscent of Ouspensky’s classic, In Search of the Miraculous: Fragments of an Unknown Teaching: Needleman plays the Ouspensky role of questioning disciple to Father Sylvan’s Gurdjieff.

Many of the elements that the Father recommends are also similar to the practices that Gurdjieff recommends in what came to be called The Fourth Way, a comprehensive system of transformational psychology which works on the human organism as a whole.

Whatever the details of this “intermediate Christianity”, I agree that something like it is necessary to enter into “the centre of Christian experience”. This can be simply illustrated using the Wheel of Babylon and Armour of Christ diagrams (see the Home Page).

Ordinary, conventional Christianity can be one of three types on the Wheel of Babylon: Muggle Christianity, Muppet Christianity or Diva Christianity. Muggle Christianity is basically nominalist. In other words, you might go to church and read the bible, but your faith is rather superficial – you are primarily a cultural Christian. Muppet Christianity requires far more commitment. It is characterised by narrow dogmatic literalism and fanaticism, and defines itself in opposition to the prevailing status quo. In the modern world, this usually means decadent secular liberal humanism, but also the corrupt and decadent mainstream Church, which has sold out.

Muppet Christianity is therefore locked into a perpetual battle with Diva Christianity, “the Establishment”. Diva Christians have most of the resources: the cathedrals, abbeys, monasteries, art collections, schools, seminaries, charities, publishing houses, etc. etc. They take pride in all these spiritual riches. They feel privileged and exceptional. They have something of a superiority complex.

The Divas are a target for both Christian Muppets and Militant Atheist Muppets, both camps determined to cut them down to size. For their own part, Christian Divas enjoy the splendour of their spiritual palaces, their great organs and choirs, but never quite managing to get to the centre of Christian experience. There is always that nagging still small voice, and the inevitable cognitive dissonance that must accompany such a glamorous religion worshipping spiritual poverty.

My approach to Christianity points to a fourth way (pun intended) beyond the unholy trinity of Muggles, Muppets and Divas. It points to an intermediate stage, before Christianity proper can be meaningfully engaged. With Father Sylvan, I would say that Muggles, Muppets and Divas are not ready for Christianity. They need to first be purified, purged. You could say that they need to be bapitised.

The sacrament of baptism is a symbolic, physical representation of a spiritual initiation process. How many Christians have actually gone through this spiritual baptism though? And how many have been baptised by fire as well as water? I’ll leave that rhetorical question hanging.

My approach involves stepping off the Wheel altogether and extracting oneself from the closed logic of the Babylon system. This is pictorially represented by moving from the Wheel to the Cross, the “Armour of Christ”. Beginning at the top of the diagram, we must become mystics, by emptying ourselves of all preconceptions. This includes emptying ourselves of Christianity and even of God, as Meister Eckhart taught.

Then we must become shamans, by mastering the energetic body. Then we must become warriors, monks (or nuns), philosophers and kings (or queens) by mastering the will, the emotions, the mind and the ego. All this is “intermediate Christianity”, a prelude to Christianity proper, which as we are in our undeveloped form, is too advanced for us.

This is symbolically represented by the sign of the (double) cross. As we make the sign of the cross (forehead, navel, left hip, right hip, left shoulder, right shoulder, heart) we come to rest at the seventh point, at the heart. The corresponding body-mantra, Mystic (forehead), Shaman (navel), Warrior (left hip), Monk (right hip), Philosopher (left shoulder), King (right shoulder), is completed with the seventh archetype, which must come after all the others: Christian (heart).