The Bible and Culture

In his new book “The Third Jesus: The Christ we Can’t Ignore’ Deepak Chopra sets up a discussion of Jesus first as a historical figure, then as Christianity’s Son of God, a creation of dogma, and finally of the mystical or cosmic Christ accessible to all persons regardless of their religious orientation or affiliation. In this post I am only really interested in the third of these presentations which is the real thrust of Chopra’s book, its leading edge. Here is a direct quote from the Amazon description of that third part of this book:

“And finally, there is the third Jesus, the cosmic Christ, the spiritual guide whose teaching embraces all humanity, not just the church built in his name. He speaks to the individual who wants to find God as a personal experience, to attain what some might call grace, or God-consciousness, or enlightenment.

When we take Jesus literally, we are faced with the impossible. How can we truly “love thy neighbor as thyself”? But when we see the exhortations of Jesus as invitations to join him on a higher spiritual plane, his words suddenly make sense.

Ultimately, Chopra argues, Christianity needs to overcome its tendency to be exclusionary and refocus on being a religion of personal insight and spiritual growth. In this way Jesus can be seen for the universal teacher he truly is–someone whose teachings of compassion, tolerance, and understanding can embrace and be embraced by all of us.”

This approach of course comports nicely with the more Gnostic and spiritualist tendencies of our culture, not to mention its religious pluralism, and also its anti-institutional religion tendencies as well. The problem of course is that Chopra turns Jesus into an advocate of pantheism, and more specifically into the Buddhist form of pantheism. And for sure, the monotheistic Jew from Nazareth would be vigorously rejecting this caricature were he here to debate Chopra in person.

I have been enjoying reading of late A.J. Jacobs fascinating auto-biographical spiritual chronicle entitled The Year of Living Biblically(I will be reviewing this book in due course), which has a passage in it which will serve quite nicely as a critique of Chopra—-

A friend and her husband had come over to the Jacobs for dinner and they were talking about the answer they gave their daughter when she asked about God. The mother had said God is in the wind, the trees, the rocks, the forklift truck the cement mixer, in general in everything– pantheism or more correctly pan-entheism. Jacobs replied:

“The only thing is, this is not the God of the Israelites. This is not the God of the Hebrew Scriptures. That God is an interactive God. he rewards and punishes them. He argues with them, negotiates with them forgives them, occasionally smites them. The God of the Hebrew Scriptures has human emotions– love and anger. “

And then in a moment of honesty in his own mostly Jewish spiritual pilgrimage, Jacobs admits that he has not yet fully believed in such a God. He adds

“My God doesn’t. My God is impersonal. My God is the God of Spinoza. Or the God of Paul Tillich, the Protestant theologian who believed that God was ‘the ground of being’. Or the God of the Jedi knights. Its a powerful but vague all-pervasive force; some slightly more sophisticated version of pantheism. I don’t even know if my God can be said to have a grand plan, much less mood swings.” (p. 153).

The point is that Jacobs is right in his analysis of the God of the Bible, and while we are at it, Jesus is far more like that, than the portrait of Jesus we get in Chopra’s book.

Jesus did not, and does not come to take us to a higher spiritual plane, so that we might better get in touch with the little bit of God that is in us all or our own God-consciousness. Indeed, he seeks to lead us to have a relationship with the God he called Abba who is wholly other, and who urges us to recognize the Creator Creature distinction. We are not God, nor is God inherently in us or a part of our being. The end result of navel gazing is that we may well get more in touch with ‘our inner child’, but we do not get more in touch with the ‘outer’ God who created the universe and all that is in it. The former sort of spirituality is a form of narcissism, or at its worse, self- worship. The latter form of spirituality reinforces the Creator/creature distinction and leads to worship of the one true God.

Jesus, if you must call him mystical at all, was an apocalyptic seer who had exclusionary visions— he said things like ” All things have been given me by the Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, nor does anyone know the Father except the Son and to whomever the Son wishes to reveal the Father.” (Mt. 11.27). In other words, the mysticism of Jesus has nothing to do with pan-spirituality. It has far more to do with his saying “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father, but by me.” And it is salutary to remember this especially now during Holy Week.

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