Many forms of Christianity do not resemble the spirituality Jesus taught. The teachings of Jesus and the Bible may require his followers to transform their Christian religious institutions in order to become Christians (lit. “followers of Christ”) because Christianity and its book have become idols for many. “God” is dead, and Christians killed God and destroyed God’s power by confining it to a single religious tribe, book, and time. The hubris of monotheism and exclusivity of Scripture is the trading of divinity for the idolatrous illusion of certainty (bibliolatry). If “God” exists, then faith is resting in Uncertainty and Infinite Expansiveness, not dogmatic claims and infallible revelation. Anything less is humanmade, idolatrous religion. An idol prohibits experience of “the divine” because it is a substitute.
Exclusivist Christianity makes it difficult to have mystical (“spiritual”) experiences because one must destroy many religious idols in order to uncover its hidden treasures: the spirituality held captive behind the dogma. Indeed, the path of Jesus requires one to step outside the narrow four walls of the Church to embrace all of reality, which is boundlessly greater than the Christian Tribe and its Little Book. It must be, or “God” is not divine but smaller than the imagination of a tiny group of hominids. Christianity itself has become an idol because it has traded authentic “divine revelation” (intuition, connection to “divinity”) for human tradition, however divine that tradition may seem. All idols fade with the rains of time because they are made of mud, and this religion too will fade like many religions and empires before it if it continues to resist modern scientific and spiritual knowledge about reality: the bigger book of God. Followers of Christ must break open the idol of Christianity to release the spiritual oils that once flowed through it back again into the world.
I write this article neither as a Christian nor an anti-Christian, but as one speaking to Christians, challenging certain conceptions of divinity and offering possibilities for expansion. People are in different stages of their relationship to religion. Within each stage, it is possible to expand the framework and speak to it in such a way as to create more space within it and offer the option of moving through it, perhaps also to beyond it. Outside of religion, it is possible to expand by having empathy and respect for the process of those still in religion, without judging oneself superior, and by appreciating positive aspects of biblical teachings while rejecting others. It is possible to appreciate aspects of almost any ideology without pledging allegiance to it. Moreover, I am not suggesting there is such a thing as “true Christianity” or one true spiritual path of Jesus. I am merely pointing out how existing Christianities contradict the Bible’s own prophetic process of religious evolution and Jesus’ teachings, and severely limit the spiritual growth of Christians.
The entire history of the development of the Christian Scriptures and dogma plainly demonstrate that Christianity grew and remained relevant because it allowed its Scriptures and teachings to be challenged, contradicted, and expanded by its prophets in light of new understandings and needs. Throughout the Bible, the prophets of Judaism and Christianity heavily criticized and redefined the existing Scriptures and central religious establishments because these limited God and no longer served the people of the present generation. For example, many commands of the Law, said to be eternal, were contradicted and abolished by later teachings of the New Testament because they were dated, irrelevant, and immoral. The prophet Hosea was commanded by God to sin and break God’s law by marrying a prostitute to serve a higher law: a prophetic call to repentance. The temple cult of animal sacrifice was done away and replaced with a metaphorical sacrifice in the heart of the worshipper (In Christianity, not Judaism).
More significantly, Judaism’s and Christianity’s most central notions of God, the heart of the religion, have been invalidated and reinvented by the religion itself many times. God evolved out of the Canaanite pantheon (polytheism = many gods), which itself was preceded by animism (=nature spiritism). The Canaanite deity El was the chief god in the pantheon (like the Greek god Zeus) over lesser deities of different tribes like Yahweh of the Hebrews, Molech of the Ammonites, and Dagon of the Philistines: “When El gave the nations their inheritance, when he divided all mankind, he set up boundaries for the peoples according to the number of the sons of Israel. For Yahweh’s portion is his people, Jacob his allotted inheritance” (Deuteronomy 32:8-9. English translations usually translate the Hebrew names אל “El” and יהוה “Yahweh” to “The Most High” and “The Lord,” respectively, obscuring the differentiation of deities because of theological interpretive bias). The next stage of the evolution of divinity was the idea that God is one (monotheism). Monotheism under Yahweh, who came to absorb the deity El, suited the consolidation of the various Hebrew tribes into the singular identity of the new nation-state of Israel. Israelite prophets and kings relentlessly murdered Hebrew priests who continued to worship the deities of the past in order to eliminate polytheism, which used to be established orthodoxy.
Christianity was the result (in part) of the worship of a human (Jesus) as God. It was rejected as the highest blasphemy of Jewish Orthodoxy, of which it claimed to be a part, because according to the Decalogue, no created thing (including humans) is to be worshipped as God: “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below” (Exodus 20:4). The Christian idea of the Incarnation, which states that Jesus is fully God and fully human, was not something Jesus taught about himself. It was an expansion of Christian Scriptures utilizing Greek philosophical concepts to counter trends Christians considered heretical, though several of them were accepted as orthodoxy (like Arianism) at various points in Christian history, and what is now accepted as infallible orthodoxy was once condemned as damnable heresy.
The triune three-in-one deity was a further expansion of divinity that radically reinterpreted biblical Scriptures to make space for Jesus within God. Finally, a notion of the Holy Spirit as divinity began to emerge in the New Testament (The Spirit of God was not seen as distinct in the Old Testament), in order to make divinity more accessible to the people. The Holy Spirit as divinity did not fully emerge until the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century when the Pope was dethroned as monarch and sole interpreter of Scripture (essentially a stand-in for God) and the individual Christian became the locus of authority. Yet Christianity’s conception of divinity remains stuck in the sixteenth century, five-hundred years old, because the religion turned the Bible into God when church authorities closed the canon of Scriptures (roughly in the 300’s) and ceased to be open to “God” outside of the Little Book. The Holy Spirit could not attain full divinity, nor the believer, nor even “God,” because all receive their divinity and definition from words in a book.
Christianity and Judaism self-destructed and violated their foundations when they closed their scriptural canons. The closing of the Canon was unprecedented in the history of both religions. It took place not because divinity demanded it, but because human beings were afraid of the power of God. The religious fear God’s power to challenge their comforting notions of God, which their ancestors living in the times of the Bible had allowed to change, evolve, and so challenge their tendency to confine God to religious rituals and ideas. Inviolable religious norms provide comfort because they limit change and possibility. But the evolutionary law of life and religion is this: refusal to adapt is surety of extinction. If God wishes to survive, God must evolve, for humanity has evolved but God is still ancient.
It is evident that the spiritual practices and religious writings of other cultures and religions, as well as the secular advances of science, contain many truths which plainly contradict the Bible’s notion of divinity or go entirely beyond its purview. The Bible itself and Christian orthodoxy, as we have demonstrated, tears down and reinvents its own core notions of divinity. Honest admittance of this fact should cause faithful followers of Jesus to admit that a commitment to Scripture requires discarding doctrines of Scriptural infallibility, inerrancy, and sufficiency. Sola scriptura is about maintaining ignorance because of fear of change, the unknown, and the foreign, not faith in God.
The only way to avoid the undeniable evidence that traditional Christianity’s notion of divinity (“God”) is dead is to live in isolation, fear, and denial. And the God of liberal Christianities is on life support because these traditions still tend towards a tribal deity, teaching notions spirituality confined to the Christian tribe. Christianity at large knows almost nothing of nondual consciousness (a reproducible state of experiential, timeless unity with all reality), transpersonal experiences, ego identity constriction, non-attachment, concentration, breathwork–to name a few concepts foreign to the Bible but arguably basic to spiritual growth and expansion. If “all truth is God’s truth,” then God must die for divinity to be reborn. Though some forms of Universalist Christianities are open to divinity beyond Bibliolatry, most still subtly proclaim the superiority of Christianity by claiming “all religions are included in Christ.” In order to be unfettered from tribalism (=religious colonialism), God must be beyond identification with the book or tradition of any tribe. Divinity may be understood partly within a single religion, but never solely. Why should Christianity myopically confine itself to its own small history, when its own historical development owes its life from interacting with and transforming from other perspectives? Let us be clear: orthodoxy is not about moral integrity. Orthodoxy is about using teachings to establish the power of an institution by silencing dissenters and creating uniformity in the membership. Maintaining orthodoxy demands the sacrifice of God and the Church.
The Christian religion is not even consistent with the teachings of Jesus, who is not even its founder. Jesus was a Jew who never envisioned anything like the Christian religion or its notion of divinity as a Trinity. The Apostle Paul and a few other Christians who won the early orthodoxy battles founded the institutional religion of Christianity. The Roman Empire organized its doctrinal and organizational structures, which have evolved but not fundamentally changed; not even in the Protestant Church. Jesus was a revolutionary and a man of his time. He had many ideas, some enlightened and others disastrous. Jesus continued and intensified many harmful ideas mainstream to Jewish sects in his day, like apocalyptic wrath, hellfire torture, and sexual repression. The lesson is not to “outsource your divinity” to a spiritual teacher by making him infallible.
Yet Jesus also taught a revolutionary spiritual path very different from Christianity and the religion of his time in many respects. He did not offer his followers an organized religion or dogmatic theology, though he saw himself as religiously Jewish. Jesus did not teach a theory of atonement or salvation. His idea of salvation was more about returning to justice and authentic spiritual practice of the heart, which the religious establishment of his time prevented. Jesus modeled a spiritual way of life: humility, loving one’s enemies, caring for the poor and oppressed, resisting greedy religious and secular institutions, and manifesting divinity out of direct personal experience. He taught personal divinity; “You are Gods,” and called himself God’s Son as an example of how divinity is available to all who seek it (John 10:34-36). Jesus’ way of life can be practiced within traditional Christianity or adapted to secular and spiritual lifestyles outside of it. But it is rarely practiced within traditional Christianity because orthodoxy by its very nature militates against democratized spirituality. Jesus himself had trouble with consistency because of his own religious indoctrination, vacillating between teachings of spiritual liberation; “The kingdom of God is within you,” (Luke 17:21) and religious control; “If you love me, you will obey my commands” (John 14:15).
Would Jesus call his followers to leave Christianity if he were alive today? There is no way to know because there are two sides to Jesus: the Jesus of love, and the Jesus of fear; the Jesus of spiritual liberation, and the Jesus of traditional religion. In its closing of the biblical canon and religious tribalism, Christianity has chosen the Jesus of fear and isolationist traditional religion. Yet it is the revolutionary aspects of Jesus’ teachings that have always inspired his followers, not his traditional religious messages of fear and dogmatic control. The heart of Jesus, the spirit of Jesus that continues to speak, is love, justice, and spiritual liberation from religious institutions. It was this message that led to Jesus’ rejection and crucifixion by the religious authorities. Jesus called attention to the hypocrisy of institutional religion, which, as I have pointed out, has consistently killed its prophetic reformers throughout its whole history for the sake of orthodoxy (idolatry): “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors started!” (Matthew 23:29-32).
The bibliolatry model of divinity that forms the basis of tribal Christianity, traditional and liberal, results in the metaphorical crucifixion of its prophets who call people to follow Jesus by looking beyond institutions that confine his message to any religious institution. In today’s world, with our globalized knowledge of diverse spiritual paths and modern science, the way of Jesus requires us to abandon our allegiance to any particular form of organized religion so we can experience its heart. This does not necessarily mean we must stop using the Bible, gathering together, or appreciating traditional rituals (though these are options); though the spiritual evolution of religion (and humanity) call us to critically deconstruct and adapt all such structures. It means that no book or tradition can dictate divinity, and the religions of our birth no longer dictate the spiritualities of our adulthood. Religions were formed in monarchical, tribal cultures; yet spirituality by nature is democratic. Any religious institution that sacrifices the spirituality of its members to maintain itself commits the real blasphemy.
Is divinity still a useful concept if it is so fraught with historical abuses and confusion? Materialists argue it is a meaningless, dangerous relic. Of course, materialists also make uninformed expert “scientific” judgments about thousands of years of careful observation of consciousness and mystical experiences by non-Western peoples and call it all primitive nonsense, though they have never bothered to study their writings, dared to make the experiential experiment, or considered the Eurocentric and philosophical assumptions lurking beneath their so-called scientific neutrality. Nevertheless, the word divinity has a real psychosymbolic meaning for most people. Because the notion of divinity is psychologically substantive, it at least has a valid symbolic usage, if not also a metaphysical meaning (I leave this matter open to personal judgment). And we utilize symbols like “god” and “divinity” because they evoke levels of meaning, including the poetic, beyond the capacity of simple terminology to describe because they include matters beyond the linguistic-symbolic realm.
In my understanding, divinity symbolizes something like aliveness combined with creativity: the creative lifeforce of Self as it connects to the creative potential of the “Self” of all existing reality. The divinity of the Self is partly predicted by Jesus; “You are all Gods” (John 10:34-36) and prefigured in the theological doctrine of divinization (participation in the divine nature). Yet Christianity lacked the tools of consciousness exploration pursued more fully in Eastern traditions and scientific development offered by secular traditions. It was not able to see its separation-based splitting of reality, which fails to recognize divinity in nature, and the fluidity of boundaries between self and the rest of existence. The divinity of Self within Greater Self of Nature (existence) is another stage of development of divinity not yet explored by most followers of Jesus due to the dogmas of institutional Christianity that prohibit them from seeing God outside of the Four Walls.
Notions of divinity grasp at powers and ideas so potent as traditionally believed to be beyond human reach. Yet the whole point of divinity is that there is something within human nature that goes beyond it, something that makes us able to access what feels to us to be beyond human reach, maybe even beyond human consciousness. Without making any injunction of the supernatural or magical, what we deem unimaginable and impossible can perhaps be made real, at least in some semblance, whether by science, in action, or within consciousness, because its seed mysteriously exists within the human heart. How many magic things of science fiction have become real science? How many dreams of imagination have inspired world-changing enterprises and revolutions? The seed of God is small, but the Tree of life stretches to the heavens. Let no human heart settle for less. This is the stuff of “God,” and it can be religious, but it doesn’t have to be. It is real magic.
Andrew Jasko, M.Div., helps religious leaders experience spiritual transformation and create psychologically healthy programs for their membership. Andrew also helps individuals heal from religious trauma. Are you a Christian or spiritual leader looking to increase your spiritual experiences, teach in integrity, and offer new vitality to your members? To inquire about The Divinity Template, a psychospiritual renewal coaching program, contact Andrew firstname.lastname@example.org.