So, let’s suppose then that Jesus had such an experience. But, you see, Jesus has a limitation, that he doesn’t know of any religion other than those of the immediate Near East. He might know something about Egyptian religion, and perhaps a little bit about Greek religion, but mostly about Hebrew. There is no evidence whatsoever that he knew anything about India or China. And people who think that Jesus was God assume that he must have known because he would have been omniscient. No, Saint Paul makes it perfectly clear in the Epistle to the Philippians that Jesus renounced his divine powers so as to be Man.
“Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, thought not equality with God a thing to be hung on to, but humbled himself and made himself of no reputation and was found in fashion as a man and became obedient to death.” Theologians call that kenosis, which means self-emptying. So obviously, an omnipotent and omniscient man would not really be a man.
So even if you take the very orthodox Catholic doctrine of the nature of Christ, that he was both true God and true man, you must say that, for true God to be united with true Man, true God has to make a voluntary renunciation, for the time being, of omniscience, and omnipotence and omnipresence, for that matter.
Now therefore, if Jesus were to come right out and say, ‘I am the son of God’, that’s like saying ‘I’m the boss’s son’. Or ‘I am the boss’. And everybody immediately says that is blasphemy. That is subversion. That is trying to introduce democracy into the Kingdom of Heaven! That is, you are a usurper of the throne. No man has seen God.
Now, Jesus in his exoteric teaching, as recorded in the synoptic gospels, was pretty cagy about this. He didn’t come right out there and say ‘I and the Father are one’. Instead he identified himself with the messiah described in the second part of the prophet Isaiah, the suffering servant who was despised and rejected of man. And that this man is the non-political messiah, in other words, it was convenient to make that identification, even though it would get him into trouble. But to his elect disciples, as recorded in Saint John, he come right out and said: “Before Abraham was, I am. I am the way, the truth, and the life. I am the resurrection and the life. I am the living bread that comes down from heaven. I and the Father are one, and he who has seen me has seen the Father.” And there can be no mistaking that language.
So the Jews found out what he said and they put him to death, or had him put to death, for blasphemy. This is no cause for any special antagonism to the Jews. We would do exactly the same thing, it’s always done. It happened to one of the great Sufi mystics in Persia who had the same experience.
Now, what happened? The apostles did not quite get the point. They were awed by the miracles of Jesus, they worshiped him as people do worship gurus, and you know to what lengths that can go, if you’ve been around guru land. So the Christians said, “Okay, okay, Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God. But let it stop right there! Nobody else.” So what happened was that Jesus was pedestalized. He was put in a position that was safely upstairs, so that his troubles and experience of cosmic consciousness would not come and cause other people to be a nuisance. Those who had this experience, and expressed it during those times when the church had political power, were almost invariably persecuted. Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake. John Scotus Eriugena was excommunicated. Meister Eckehart’s theses were condemned, and so on and so on. A few mystics got away with it, because they used cautious language.
But you see what happens. If you pedestalize Jesus, you strangle the Gospel at birth. And it has been the tradition in both, the Catholic Church and in Protestantism, to pass of what I would call an ‘emasculated gospel’. Gospel means “good news,” and I cannot for the life of me think what is the good news about the gospel as ordinarily handed down. Because, look here, here is the revelation of God in Christ, in Jesus, and we are supposed to follow his life and example without having the unique advantage of being the boss’s son. Now the tradition, both Catholic and Protestant fundamentalists represents Jesus to us as a freak, born of a virgin, knowing he is the Son of God, having the power of miracles, knowing that basically it’s impossible to kill him, because he is to rise again in the end. And we are asked to take up our cross and follow him, when we don’t know that about ourselves at all.
So what happens is this: We are delivered therefore a gospel which is in fact an impossible religion. It is impossible to follow the way of Christ; many a Christian has admitted it. “I am a miserable sinner. I fall far short of the example of Christ.” But do you realize, the more you say that, the better you are? Because what happened was, that Christianity institutionalized guilt as a virtue. [applause] You see, you can never come up to it, never, and therefore you will always be aware of your shortcomings. And so, the more shortcomings you feel, the more, in other words, you are aware of the vast abyss between Christ and yourself.
So, you go to confession, and if you have a nice, dear, understanding confessor, he will not get angry with you. He will say, “My child, you know you have sinned very grievously, but you must realize that the love of God and of our Lord is infinite, and that naturally you are forgiven. As a token of thanksgiving say three Hail Mary’s.” You may have committed a murder and robbed a bank and fornicated around and so on, the priest is perfectly patient and quiet. Well, you feel awful “I have done that, to the love of God I’ve wounded Jesus, grieved the Holy Spirit!” and so on. But you know in the back of your mind that you are going to do it all over again. You won’t be able to help yourself. You will try, but there is always a greater and greater sense of guilt.
Now, the lady objected that I was putting out the straw man and knocking it down; this is the Christianity of most people. Now there is also a much more subtle Christianity of the theologians, the mystics, and the philosophers. But it is not what gets preached from the pulpit, grant you. But the message of Billy Graham is approximately what I’m giving you, and of all what I would call fundamentalist forms of Catholicism and Protestantism. What would the real gospel be? The real good news is not simply that Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God, but that he was a powerful Son of God who came to open everybody’s eyes to the fact that you are too. This is perfectly plain if you go to the tenth chapter of Saint John, verse thirty, there is the passage where Jesus says, “I and the Father are one.” There are some people around who are not intimate disciples around, and they are horrified. They immediately pick up stones to stone him. He says, “Many good works I have shown you from the Father, and for which of these do you stone me?” And they say, “For a good work we stone you not, but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.” And he replied, “Isn’t it written in your law, ‘I have said you are Gods?’ – he is quoting the eighty-second Psalm – ‘Is it not written in your law I have said you are Gods?’ If God called those to whom He gave His word Gods – and you cannot deny the scriptures – how can you say I blaspheme because I said I am a son of God?”
There is the whole thing in a nutshell. Because if you read the King James Bible – that descended with the angel – you will see in italic in front of these words “Son of God,” “the Son of God,” “because I said I am the Son of God”. And most people think the italics are for emphasis, but they are not. The italics indicate words interpolated by the translators, you will not find that in the Greek. In the Greek [it] says “a son of God.” So it seems to me here perfectly plain that Jesus has got it in the back of his mind and that this is not something peculiar to himself. So when he says, “I am the way. No man comes to the Father but by me”, this “I am,” this “me,” is the divine in us, which in Hebrew would be called the Ruah Adonai. A great deal is made of this by the esoteric Jews, the Cabalists and the Hasidim. The ruah is the breath, which God breathed into the nostrils of Adam. It is different from the soul, the individual soul in Hebraism is called nefesh. So we translate the ruah into the Greek [penafma], and the nefesh in to psike or psyche, the spirit. And you ask the theologians what’s the difference between the soul and the spirit and he won’t be able to tell you. But it’s very clear in Saint Paul’s writings. So the point is that the ruah is the divine in the creature by virtue of which we are ‘sons of’ or ‘of the nature’ of God. Manifestations of the divine. This discovery is the gospel that is the good news.
But this has been perpetually repressed throughout the history of Western religion, because all Western religions have taken the form of celestial monarchies and therefore have discouraged democracy in the kingdom of heaven. Until, as a consequence of the teaching of the German and Flemish mystics in the fifteenth century, there began to be such movements as the Anabaptists, the Brothers of the Free Spirit, and the Levelers and the Quakers. A spiritual movement which came to this country and founded a republic and not a monarchy. And how could you say that a republic is the best form of government if you think that the universe is a monarchy? Obviously if God is on top in a monarchy, monarchy is the best form of government. But you see, ever so many citizens of this republic think they ought to believe that the universe is a monarchy, and therefore they are always at odds with the republic. It is from principally white, racist Christians that we have the threat of fascism in this country, because, you see, they have a religion which is militant, which is not the religion of Jesus, which was the realization of divine sonship, but the religion about Jesus, which pedestalizes him, and which says that only this man, of all the sons of woman, was divine. And you had better recognize it. And so it speaks of itself as the church militant. The onward Christian soldiers marching, as to war. Utterly exclusive, convinced in advance of examining the doctrines of any other religion, that it is the top religion. So it becomes a freak religion, just as it has made a freak of Jesus, an unnatural man.
It claims uniqueness, not realizing that what it does teach would be far more credible if it were truly Catholic. That is to say, restated again, the truths that have been known from time immemorial, which have appeared in all the great cultures of the world. But even very liberal Protestants still want to say somehow, so I suppose to keep the mission effort going or to pay off the mortgage; “Yes, these other religions are very good. God has no doubt revealed Himself through Buddha and Lao-tzu, but …”
Now, obviously, it is a matter of temperament, you can be loyal to Jesus, just as you are loyal to your own country, but you are not serving your country if you think that it’s necessarily the best of all possible countries. That is doing a disservice to your country; it is refusing to be critical where criticism is proper. So of religion. Every religion should be self-critical. Otherwise it soon degenerates into a self-righteous hypocrisy. If then we can see this, that Jesus speaks not from the situation of a historical deus ex machina, a kind of weird, extraordinary event, but he is a voice which joins with other voices that have said in every place and time: “Wake up man! Wake up and realize who you are.”
I do not think, you see, until church is get with that, that they’re going to have very much relevance. Popular Protestantism and popular Catholicism will tell you nothing about mystical religion. The message of the preacher, fifty-two Sundays a year, is “Dear people, be good.” We have heard it ad nauseam. Or believe in this, he may occasionally give a sermon on what happens after death, or on the nature of God, but basically the sermon is “Be good.” But how? As Saint Paul said: “To will is present with me, but how to do that which is good, I find not. For the good that I would do, I do not, and the evil that I would not do, that I do.” How’re we going to be changed? Obviously, there cannot be a vitality of religion without vital religious experience. And that something much more than emoting over singing “Onward Christian Soldiers.”
But you see, what happens in our ecclesiastical goings-on is that we run a talking shop. We pray, we tell God what to do or give Him advice, as if He didn’t know. We read the Scriptures. And remember talking it the Bible, Jesus said, “You search the Scriptures daily, for in them you think you have life.” Saint Paul made some rather funny references about “the spirit which giveth life and the letter which kills.” I think the Bible ought to be ceremoniously and reverently burned every Easter. We need it no more because the spirit is with us. It’s a dangerous book, and to worship it is of course, a far more dangerous idolatry than bowing down to images of wood and stone. Because nobody in his senses can reasonably confuse a wooden image with God, but you can very easily confuse a set of ideas with God, because concepts are more rarefied and abstract.
So in this endless talking in church we can preach, but by and large preaching does nothing but excite a sense of anxiety and guilt. You can’t love out of that. No scolding or rational demonstration of the right way to behave is going to inspire people with love. Something else must happen. Well but you say, “Well, what are we going to do about it?” Do about it? Have you no faith? Then be quiet. Even Quakers are not quiet. They sit in meeting and think, at least some of them do. But supposing we are really quiet, we do not think, be are absolutely silent through and through. We say, “You will just fall into a blank space.” Oh? Ever tried?
I feel then, that it is enormously important that churches stop being talking shops. They must become centers of contemplation. What is contemplation? Con-templum; it’s what you do in the temple. You don’t come to the temple to chatter but to be still and know that “I am God.” This is why, if the Christian religion, if the gospel of Christ is to mean anything at all – instead of just being one of the forgotten religions, along with Osiris and Mithra, we must see Christ as the great mystic, in the proper sense of the word mystic. Not someone who has all sorts of magical powers and understands spirits and so on. A mystic, strictly speaking, is one who realizes union with God, by whatever name. This seems to me the crux and message of the gospel. Summed up in the prayer of Jesus which Saint John records as he speaks over his disciples, praying that they may you be one, even as the Father and I are one, that you may be all one. May we all realize this divine sonship, or oneness, basic identity with the eternal energy of the universe, and the love that moves the sun and other stars.