Heretic For President!

“I’ll tell you my strategy, the power that emerges from fierce authentic truth articulated among us!”

Marianne Williamson is one among many in the Democratic field of presidential candidates. She is a popular writer and motivational speaker, a liberation theologian and spiritual teacher. She was raised Jewish, but as an adult she embraced A Course In Miracles (ACIM).* She was the leader and senior minister of the Renaissance Unity Church (formerly known as the Church of Today). Under her leadership, it grew to be the second largest Unity church in the country. She sought to make the church independent of the Association of Unity Churches, but it didn’t work out and so she left that position; she would later return to the same church as a guest minister.

She is already a fairly well known name — not as much for politics, although she previously ran as a congressional candidate. Consistently left (and often quite far left) on every major issue, she has been speaking out about social, economic, and political issues for decades, including her 1997 book The Healing of America, but public health has been a particular focus. For example, she started two organizations to support HIV and AIDS patients during the height of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s; and also that same decade she formed a nonprofit that continues to this day in bringing meals to the seriously ill. She has founded other kinds of organizations as well, such as one teaching peace-making skills. On the more radical side, she strongly advocates reparations for slavery.

She is a social justice warrior, but does so with a light touch without attacking others. She promotes moral patriotism in emphasizing that America, though imperfect, has stood for great things throughout its history. Americans have done the morally right thing many times before and we can do so in the future. It’s a message of making America great again, just without any hint of cynicism. It isn’t empty rhetoric to manipulate supporters and win votes. If nothing else, she is sincere. That isn’t what we’ve come to expect from presidential hopefuls. Then again, maybe it is exactly what we need, if only to change the public mood and shift public debate.

Along with her time in the Unity Church, the ACIM informs her vision for humanity and America. It has shaped me as well. My grandmother read the ACIM and, when I was in high school, I read my grandmother’s copy of it. It is particularly popular in the Unity Church**, the New Thought Christianity also introduced to my family by my grandmother. Williamson was the major force behind the ACIM’s rise into public awareness, along with Gerald Jampolsky as a guest on Robert Schuller’s Hour of Power tv program (Schuller being the all time most influential prosperity preacher; certainly, my mother’s favorite). The ACIM message reached a much larger audience by way of Oprah Winfrey promoting Williamson and her writings. Some people like to portray Williamson as Oprah’s spiritual guru, but that seems more like a way of dismissing the message, whatever one may think of New Age religion (I’m personally of mixed opinion, having been around it my entire life).

Williamson will be in the second Democratic debate hosted by NBC, along with Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden. She is the only candidate, as far as I know, who is openly speaking about spirituality and religion. Interestingly, as a longtime Democrat, she will be the most religious candidate in either party. I guess New Age religion is moving up in the world. She represents the most potent antithesis of everything Donald Trump stands for. As he promotes hatred and division, she speaks of love and unity: “We have to shift from a sense that we are separate to a shift that we are one. That is the only way the 21st century will be survivable. Our technology has so outdistanced our wisdom that we are a threat to ourselves.”

Public religiosity has been dominated by the Republican Party since the Fundamentalists gained a foothold in the Reagan administration, although we have to blame Jimmy Carter for introducing Evangelicalism onto the national stage and making it respectable. For many decades now, the loudest voices and most powerful forces of religion have worshipped an authoritarian demiurge of fear, hatred, and judgment. Now here is a religious leader entering the political fray with a message that declares that the God inspires our worship is of love and nothing but love, a God who speaks truth instead of lies, a God known through personal transformation and radical vision, not from institutional authority and righteous dogma. That is quite different than the right-wing ‘god’ who creates his own pseudo-truths, as do his followers, and then forces them upon the world. Williamson is part of the reality-based community, but she elevates reality to a faith in Reality, that truth isn’t a mere convenience of opinion that we bend to our preferred biases and agendas. Truth remains, as always, and it will overcome what is false like shadows before the light of the sun — I might note, according to the earliest Pauline tradition, this is the original teaching of Jesus Christ.

Even if you’re not religious and are opposed to New Agey woo, even if you’re an atheist or simply not a Christian, still understand this represents an interesting turning point and a challenge to the status quo. The Republican Party has embraced Trump, a man raised in a different strain of positive thinking Christianity, that of Norman Vincent Peale who had more of a right-wing lean. But this conflict within religion is quite ancient. It goes back to the early Church. Williamson is defending a theology that once was at the heart of Christianity before being expelled by later heresiologists. Her message of love is the return of one of the earliest strains of radical thought, at a time when Christianity was challenging another abusive power of this world, the Roman Empire. The situation isn’t fundamentally different under the American Empire (“The Empire never ended!” PKD), even if not yet reaching the same height of brutality, not quite yet. The times change, along with the ruling powers of this world, but this ancient message of hope is continually resurrected.***

– – – –

* For those unfamiliar, ACIM is one of the most popular New Age texts that uses Christian language and, according to Kenneth Wapnick, Valentinian theology. Valentinus, one of the earliest Church Fathers and in the Pauline tradition, introduced the Trinity into Christianity. According to Clement of Alexandria, his followers said that he learned under Theodas or Theudas, a disciple of Paul the Apostle. Marcion, first collector of the Pauline Epistles (as argued by Robert M. Price) and originator of the earliest New Testament canon, was another famous student of Theudas. In following the radical Pauline vision, both Valentinus and Marcion preached about a God of love, forgiveness, and mercy.

This was part of a direct lineage of wisdom, maybe more similar to Eastern traditions of mysticism and meditation or else something along the lines of the Roman mystery schools. Supposedly taught to Paul’s inner circle, this was a personal vision of the risen Christ (Romans 16:25; 1 Corinthians 2:7; 2 Corinthians 12:2–4; Acts 9:9–10), and one might note that Paul never claimed historical literalism (and so this lends itself to a docetist interpretation) for the Christ he spoke of always was a spiritual figure that transformed the individual supplicant, akin to Enlightenment. Never once did Paul describe a physical Jesus, which is truly bizarre if such a Jesus existed for Paul converted to Christianity during the time when later Gospels claimed Jesus was still alive and yet Paul never bothered to seek out Jesus, as he apparently was fully content with the spiritual Christ. Considering no historical record of a Jesus Christ has ever been discovered, not even in the writings of the most famous Jewish historian of the era, one is forced to conclude that speculating about a historical Jesus is meaningless since it obviously held no meaning to the earliest faithful such as Paul.

It might be seen as similar to other traditions labeled as Gnostic, that is if one interprets this vision of Christ as secret knowledge of an elite or an elect. But one might argue it is more similar to the anti-elitist strain of some later Protestant or Anabaptist faiths in how Valentinianism upholds a personal relationship to God that depends on no institutional authority as mediator. His monism resonates with Eastern religion and philosophy. Evil, in this worldview, has no fundamental reality and, instead, is an illusion or error. In not understanding the monistic essence, some mistake this as dualism associated with Gnosticism. But if Valentinus and Marcion were Gnostics, then so was Paul and, with this in mind, we should acknowledge that Paul’s writings are the earliest known Christian texts. Many have argued that the Paul’s teachings were the prototype of both Christianity and Gnosticism, the two traditions maybe having originally been the same faith or else emerged from the same milieu.

Rather than the dualism of good and evil that has long plagued Christianity (as inherited from Judaicized Zoroastrianism and as incorporated from Augustine’s Manichaeanism), Valentinus’ monistic system of faith reconciled the Trinity within the one true divine source. Despite the denial of the Trinity, the closest modern equivalent to this monism would be Unitarianism, specifically in relation to Universalism as Valentinus also had a broad vision of salvation (besides the Unitarian-Universalists, the Unity Church also holds to these doctrines). Despite being called a Gnostic according to those who seized power within the Church, Valentinus was a leader in the early Church long before any heresiologists came along to slander anyone as not being a real Christian and centuries before the Nicene Council. His Christianity was original and, if anything, what came after was revisionism.

Gospel of Truth
(written by Valentinus or his followers)

“Therefore, if one has knowledge, his is from above. If he is called, he hears, he answers, and he turns to him who is calling him, and ascends to him. And he knows in what manner he is called. Having knowledge, he does the will of the one who called him, he wishes to be pleasing to him, he receives rest. Each one’s name comes to him. He who is to have knowledge in this manner knows where he comes from and where he is going. He knows as one who, having become drunk, has turned away from his drunkenness, (and) having returned to himself, has set right what are his own.

“He has brought many back from error. He has gone before them to their places, from which they had moved away, since it was on account of the depth that they received error, the depth of the one who encircles all spaces, while there is none that encircles him. It was a great wonder that they were in the Father, not knowing him, and (that) they were able to come forth by themselves, since they were unable to comprehend or to know the one in whom they were. For if his will had not thus emerged from him – for he revealed it in view of a knowledge in which all its emanations concur.”

– – – –

** Let me offer some historical context, but specifically about the United States. So-called New Age thinking began quite early. Of course, you find it rooted in the Axial Age. But you also see evidence of it in the various mystical and spiritual schools of thought that kept erupting throughout European history. Following the Protestant Reformation, the idealistic Anabaptists, Huguenots, Quakers, Shakers, etc brought a political edge to religiosity — all of which shaped England during the English Civil War and shaped the American colonies during the same period. Consider Roger Williams’ version of the Baptist faith, as radical as they came in that era and remains radical to this day.

The Enlightenment kicked this into high gear with such things as Mesmerism which would later influence not only psychology by way of hypnotism and hypnotheraphy but also positive thinking, new thought, and prosperity gospel. The American Founders were often quite radical in their views, such as many of them being Unitarians, Universalists, and Deists. Thomas Paine, like a number of others, challenged the historicity of Jesus Christ and other Biblical stories, not that he was making a docetist argument. The American Revolution might not have happened without this religious fervor and the theological challenge to the British Empire. In asserting natural law above human law, in declaring everyone was an equal before God, this moral righteousness struck directly at the heart of abusive power.

From the American Revolution to the decades following the American Civil War, there was an emerging sensibility about religion and spirituality. It was the the period of the second and third Great Awakenings, involving the spread of what was then radical Evangelicalism (giving voice to women and challenging slavery), along with Transcendentalism, Spiritualism, Theosophy, etc. This would come to shape 20th century progressivism and liberalism. The Unity Church formed in the late 19th century, having taken shape amidst the Evangelical unrest of the Populist Era. Besides offering a more positive message, they early on were advocates of vegetarianism; also, women were allowed greater participation and at least by the time I was a kid they were proponents of same sex marriage. The New Age is as American as apple pie.

– – – –

*** This isn’t limited to Christianity, of course. The same basic message was preached by all of the major Axial Age prophets. It has been the defining feature, the radical heart of all that has followed since, including the universal idealism that erupted during the Enlightenment.

This vision has been persistent in its challenge. It is unsurprising that Christians, as with the faithful of other religions, have so often failed to live up to it. But one wouldn’t mind all the failure so much if there were more believers who took the message seriously in the first place, serious enough to attempt to genuinely follow such high ideals. Instead, most failure of faith comes from a weakness or lack of faith. It is a rare Christian I’ve met in my life who has even bothered to try to live according to Jesus’ example and his simple teachings of love, as such extremes of self-sacrifice are inconvenient.

Marianne Williamson is making the humble suggestion that maybe, just maybe religion doesn’t have to be equated with heartless hypocrisy, doesn’t have to make a moral compromise with cynical realpolitik. Nor that spiritual transformation is inherently separate from political revolution, a truth that has been embodied by many visionary leaders before, from Gandhi to Martin Luther King Jr. This has been the challenge of Axial Age idealism for more than two millennia.

– – – –

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New Age: Part 2

New Age: Part 2

Posted on Jul 22nd, 2008 by Marmalade : Gaia Child Marmalade

In Unity, Jesus isn’t superior to us.  We don’t need to give the right answer or win his approval in order to be saved.  This is because our salvation isn’t in his hands.  He just shows the way.
In Unity, access to Heaven isn’t limited to those who follow Christ (ie Universalism).  But it depends on what is meant by “Christ” and “follow”.  Christ has two meanings in New Thought: (1) Jesus Christ the Wayshowher, and (2) Christ Consciousness.  New Thought Christianity is non-exclusive.  Most New Thought practitioners probably see Christ Consciousness in all religions.  The language used isn’t important.  It doesn’t matter if you call this Wayshower principle Jesus or Buddha or whatever, and there is no reason why there can’t be multiple Wayshowers.  In New Thought, to “follow” Christ simply means to live your life according to his example.  This doesn’t necessitate believing in the one true dogma or accepting Jesus as the one true savior.  It simply means that you follow him and so all that it implies is that you trust his guidance, that you trust he knows the way.  Also, New Thought practitioners tend to believe that there are many paths to “Heaven”.
In Unity, Heaven and Hell don’t exist as separate realms.  They’re states of mind and they’re part and parcel with how we live our lives, our words and our deeds.  We don’t have to wait until we’re dead to be close to God.  Sin is our separation or rather perceived separation from God, but there is no Original Sin.  Sin like salvation is in the present.  Each moment gives us an opportunity to accept or deny God.
In Unity, we co-create reality with God.  It is difficult to trace this idea.  One of the earliest source would be Gnosticism.  There is an idea that began in Gnosticism and was adapted in later Kabbalah.  The idea is that we don’t merely passively receive salvation but rather participate in the salvation process. 
New Thought types like to quote passages such as Psalm 82:6 and John 10:34.  New Thought interprets as literal truth the statement of Jesus that “You are gods.”  And in John 14:12, Jesus says “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.”
Also, Mesmer had the idea that we have the power to influence our reality.  Phineas Quimby is considered the Father of New Thought and he studied Mesmerism.
I’ve read that Unity began within the Evangelical movement.  It doesn’t seem all that Evangelical in comparison to some more vocal Evangelists today, but it still has an Evangelical core.  I suppose it was Robert Schuller who first popularized New Thought (he is my mom’s favorite minister).  I’ve seen many Evangelical tv ministries where New Thought ideas are preached.  What is known as prosperity thinking in New Thought and positive thinking in New Age is called by a different name in the Evangelical movement.  Its called prosperity gospel or abundance theology.  The newest popular proponent of New Thought in Evangelism is Joel Osteen.
The wiki article says…

Universalism is a religion and theology that generally holds all persons and creatures are related to God or the divine and will be reconciled to God. A church that calls itself Universalist may emphasize the universal principles of most religions and accept other religions in an inclusive manner, believing in a universal reconciliation between humanity and the divine. Other religions may have Universalist theology as one of their tenets and principles, including Christianity, Hinduism, and some of the New Age religions. Universalist beliefs exist within many faiths, and many Universalists practice in a variety of traditions, drawing upon the same universal principles.

The most common principle drawn upon is love. (Sai Baba/Baba Speech): “The spirit present in all of the beings is varily seen as that of mind. They are all full of the essential love. Without love, it is all just a pun, without love you can not be happy !”

Truth is also an important principle to be drawn upon. The living truth is more far-reaching than national, cultural, even faith boundaries. [1]
That generally lines up with my understanding of Unity’s Universalism.  The Random House definition says that “the doctrine that emphasizes the universal fatherhood of God and the final salvation of all souls.”  Within the Unity church, fatherhood isn’t a term that I remember hearing much in reference to God, but the general idea of God’s universal nature as Creator has a similar meaning.  The major difference here is that Unity wouldn’t agree with a view that final salvation is a collective future event.  This goes along with heaven and hell not being places that we go to.  Ultimately, Unity teaches that everyone is already saved.  Sin is an error in perception and that is all.  We aren’t really separate from God because everything is eternally in and of God.
There are all kinds of weaknesses some inherent to New Thought theology and some with how New Thought has manifested in contemporary culture.  Most importantly is the question of whether New Thought aligns with what psychological research has discovered.  Some of the strongest criticism of New Thought in its relationship with New Age comes from the Integral theorists.  A book that looks interesting is The Dark Side of the Light Chasers by Debbie Ford.  I haven’t read the book, but it seems to be about how some New Agers could learn a thing or two from Jungian shadow work.

In highschool, I was heavily influenced by both Unity and A Course In Miracles (ACIM).  This means that the two are pretty mixed in my mind.  The ACIM was popular in Unity.  Because of this, Unity decided to stop carrying it in their bookstores.  They were worried that people would start thinking of Unity theology only in ACIM terms.  The ACIM has much more of an intellectual theology than New Thought does in general, and so ACIM adds a bit of meat to the bones.  Check out Kenneth Wapnick if you’re interested in the theology pertaining to the ACIM.  Basically, the ACIM is most similar to Valentinian Gnosticism. 
I’ve studied the ACIM more thoroughly than I have ever studied Unity theology.  As I was raised in Unity, I never gave it much thought growing up.  And as I haven’t attended a Unity since highschool, I’ve never studied of its theology to any great extent.  I’m not an expert on Unity, but its essential philosophy is easy enough to grasp… easier to grasp than the historical comlexities of Catholic theology.  The funny thing about Unity is its lack of motivation to push a particular theology beyond a few basic beliefs.  I was never taught what the beliefs of Unity were.  I never even read the Bible growing up nor do I remember anyone reading Bible stories to me.  It didn’t even occur to me to think about any of this.

This blog is posted in the God Pod.

Access_public Access: Public 9 Comments Print Post this!views (151)  

Nicole : wakingdreamer

about 15 hours later

Nicole said

Did I tell you my mom has been a member of a Unity church for years?

To me, it has been a way to reinforce her vague optimism without seriously challenging any of her confused beliefs about the world or her life. She, like many in her generation, has not engaged her inner demons, not really heard of shadow work or considered doing it, not worked through the ways she has alienated her children and grandchildren.

It’s sad.

By contrast, you are much more thoughtful and flexible about this. You read widely and incorporate many other aspects of belief in your view of the universe. So it feels a lot healthier coming from you.

Have you read much of the Bible as an adult, or does it even interest you?

Marmalade : Gaia Child

1 day later

Marmalade said

No, you hadn’t mentioned that about your mom.  I don’t know that it would be the majority, but I’d imagine there are many people in Unity like her.  One thing my parents noticed about Unity was that it attracted many lost souls, people who didn’t fit anywhere else.

I’ve read more of the Bible in recent years, but I’ve never read the whole text.  I was deeply researching Biblical studies a while back and learned a fair amount about the Bible.   I would be more interested in the subject, but I found that the people who were most interested in the subject didn’t interest me.  I joined some forums where there was discussion about the Bible.  People tended to fall into extremes of fundamentalism or atheism, and every discussion was quickly polarized.  And trying to research the subject, I came to realize that there is no lack of opinions but plenty of lack of facts.  Biblical studies has to be the least scholarly of all the scholarly fields.  Even the academic experts can’t agree on even the most basic details.  However, reading the Bible without reading the scholarship is pointless because the translations are so far apart.

My Grandfather was a minister.  He said that you could prove almost anything you wanted with the Bible.  There are so many passages and so many translations, that you can find some wording that you can interpret as agreeing with whatever you already believe.  And its so easy to misinterpret as it takes a life long of scholarly study to even be able guess at the meaning of a Bible passage.  My Grandfather used the example of the “eye of the needle”.  It wasn’t meaning that its impossible for a rich person to get into heaven.  The eye of the needle was the name of a doorway into a city where camels had to walk on their knees to pass through.  So, the difficulty of a rich man getting into heaven seems nothing more than a minor inconvenience.  But I’m sure there are a thousand other interpretations.

Understanding the Bible is practically impossible, but I’ve never been one to let the impossible get in the way of my studies.  I’m sure I’ll read more of the Bible.  I have a translation of the Pre-Nicene Texts by Robert M. Price.  I find his translation very fascinating and I’m in the middle of reading it.  I’ll finish it sometime.

BTW what translation do you read?

Nicole : wakingdreamer

2 days later

Nicole said

ah, but take a closer look at that eye of the needle… the camels had to walk on their knees – challenging for a camel but much more so than many rich people who do not have the humility and courage to abase themselves to a higher power. think of his interaction with the rich young ruler.

i try to refer to the original Greek as much as possible when i’m doing serious study but for reading lightly, enjoy the NRSV – for different applications, I like different translations and paraphrases – they all have strengths and weaknesses. still hope to learn Hebrew well enough to read the OT in the original, translations are inadequate

Marmalade : Gaia Child

2 days later

Marmalade said

Yep, NIcole, you could interpret as such: the camels on their knees as representing humility and courage.  It might be a correct interpretation.  Then again, my Grandfather might’ve been wrong about his translation.  I really don’t know.  But I’m willing to bet you that, were you to research it, a plethora of disagreement could be found.

In looking at Biblical studies, I quickly realized that I would have to learn several ancient languages to even begin to grasp/guess what was being said.  Actually, even many Biblical scholars don’t know all of the ancient languages involved.  Even if you do know the ancient languages, the cultural context is mostly lost.  For instance, an expert in Hebrew isn’t likely to be an expert in the various cultures that were borrowed from in creating the Jewish mythology. 

Yes, modern versions are inaccurate translations of Hebrew, but the OT is an inaccurate translation of the stories its based upon.  Inaccurate translation is how religions evolve.  For instance, Christianity formed because it was able to re-interpret the OT, but obviously the Christians were essentially mistranslating in order to do so.

Lets say a single person could learn in detail all the factors (multiple languages, cultural contexts, and historical documents).  What could such a person make of it all?  There is no coherent whole.  The Old Testament (like the New Testament) was written by many people.  And the Old Testament is based on stories from different cultures told orally for thousands of years before being written down as we now know them.  All these different stories and all these different writers aren’t in agreement.  When we turn to the Bible, we don’t find a single coherent message.  Just considering the New Testament, the depictions of Jesus Christ are widely divergent and this excludes the other even more divergent depictions found elsewhere.

In all of this, everyone can find what they’re looking for.  The problem is there is no concensus on correct interpretation and there is a lack of evidence upon which to base a rational argument for the correctness of  any particular interpretation.  If we simply pick what we agree with and ignore the rest, then how is that helpful?  We don’t need a text to tell us what we already believe.

I’m not trying to discourage you from studying the Bible.  I find it all fascinating, but frustrating too.  I think any Jew, Christian, or Muslim worth their salt, should study the origins of monotheism for themselves.  In doing so, one can’t discover truth, but what one discovers is how complex “truth” is.  I do think people can discover wisdom in studying the Bible, but not because the Bible revealed it precisely.  We bring our own wisdom to the Bible and whatever we find there already existed within us.

The attempt to understand the Bible (if done with serious intent and an open heart-mind) is more humbling than even the eye of the needle is for camels.  And to sludge through the field of Biblical studies takes no small amount of courage or at least stubborn persistence.  People often just find what they were looking for, but its not unusual for people to find what they wished to not find.

Personally, I’d rather look at Biblical stories from an archetypal perspective rather than worry about what is said in a particular passage in a particular text in a particular language.  I’m a person who wants to do something all the way or not at all.  I realized the only way to do the Bible justice would be to devote my whole life to studying every aspect of it, but I’m just not inspired to do so.  But this isn’t to say I don’t want to familiarize myself with the Bible some more.  Its just not high on my priority list at the moment.

Nicole : wakingdreamer

3 days later

Nicole said

i have known a number of Biblical scholars and am quite aware of the lifework involved in having and using all the tools needed for more accurate interpretation of the Bible. I find it satisfying to work away bit by bit at what I can understand about the Bible among a lot of other ways to come to grips with God and God’s relationship with us… I’m glad you find archetypes satisfying. It’s important to find what works for us.

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

3 days later

Marmalade said

I wasn’t implying that you weren’t aware of what I was speaking of.  I know that you know.  I was just expressing my own frustration at the whole field.  Sorry, to sound like I was lecturing.  I wasn’t intending to sound that way.

I think in general we human can know very little about the world… and God.  Oddly though the limits of our knowledge are the most clear when we turn to a holy text.  I don’t mean to dismiss the Bible, but I sometimes feel so frustrated with people’s opinions about God’s truth that I feel like the Bible may be the last place one should look for God.  There is wisdom in the Bible no doubt… its just buried very very very deep.

As you know, I’ve spent time myself studying the Bible and Christianity overall, and so it would be silly of me to disparage someone else doing the same.  I looked into Biblical studies because I’m a curious person, and its an utterly fascinating area.  I believe studying the Bible is worthwhile because I believe studying anything is worthwhile.  There aren’t enough people in the world who take learning seriously. 

Also, its not as if we have to choose to learn only one thing and ignore all else.  I may be focused more in one direction than another at any given moment, but I can study both the Bible and the archetypes.  I’m of the opinion that learning one thing can help me learn another thing.  Studying the Bible can help me understand archetypes and studying archetypes can help me to understand the Bible.  You probably agree with this as you seem to also have wide interests.

However, I do put an emphasis on the archetypal side of things because I figure that if there is a truth in the Bible its probably an archetypal truth rather than the truth of an historical figure.  Actually, what I should say is that both an archetypal and a historical truth may simultaneously exist, but its the archetypal truth that is the most easily accessible… and maybe the most easy to prove or disprove.  And if the historical Jesus was real, then disentangling the archetypal elements from the historical facts will help to clarify the matter.

I guess why I feel reluctant towards Biblical studies is because of the people who tend to be involved in it.  There are too many people with agendas who are seeking conclusive answers… whether to prove some belief or disprove some belief.  I realize that you, Nicole, are a more open-minded seeker who isn’t just looking for simple answers.  I wish I’d met more people like you when I was studying all of this deeply.

Nicole : wakingdreamer

3 days later

Nicole said

yes, i hear everything you say, dear Ben, sorry I sounded defensive in my comment, i do know and understand your views more and more and have great sympathy for your approach.

unfortunately or fortunately, as people keep telling me, there isn’t anyone else like me :):)

Marmalade : Gaia Child

3 days later

Marmalade said

Its no big deal.  My frustrations have nothing to do with you.  I just get frustrated at times with life in general.  And I’m not good at hiding my frustrations. 

You may not be average Nicole, but trust me that isn’t something that frustrates me.  In fact, I like the non-average.  🙂

Nicole : wakingdreamer

4 days later

Nicole said

why hide your frustrations? especially since they have nothing to do with me, i like that 🙂

i know you like the non-average, and you know i do too! one of the many reasons i delight in our conversation, i delight in you

New Age: Part 1

[Originally posted at now the now defunct community on Jul 21st, 2008]
New Age is a more general term and New Thought is a more specific

term.  I don’t know when the term New Age was first used, but as its
used in contemporary culture it seems to mostly to apply to the pop
culture spirituality that was inspired by various earlier movements.
One of those earlier movements was New Thought, and New Thought is no
longer distinct from New Age.  New Thought has become incorporated
into mainstream culture.  Most people who are familiar with New Thought
views aren’t familiar with the New Thought tradition.  New Thought has
in some ways become even more generalized than New Age because its
influence has been so wide and yet so below the radar.

I was raised in Unity and it attracted the New Age type of person.  It
was normal practice to hug people at church and everything was fairly
politically correct.  There was an extreme open-mindedness about it
even though it was Christian… by which I mean that no one cared if
you were saved or if you believed in any particular dogma.  New
Thought Christianity is often referred to as Practical Christianity.
There are two basic elements to this.

First, personal experience is prioritized and so having a personal
relationship to Jesus/God is emphasized.  The difference between this
and the personal relationship of other Christians is that its very
relaxed.  Jesus is your friend and you can talk to him as you would a
friend.  Jesus isn’t our Lord.  Instead, this notion is replaced with
the idea of Jesus being the (or a) Wayshower, a wise and knowledgable

Second, the power of mind is related to the Power of God.  We are
microcosms of God, and as such we are co-creators of our reality.
There is a difference here from some later adaptations in New Age.
This power is rooted in our personal relationship to Jesus/God.
Beyond simple positive thinking, its primarily about faith and the
ultimate goal is in deepening our faith experience.

New Thought influenced the New Age, but it has other influences.
Unity publishes a small magazine which if I remember correctly is
called The Daily Word.  It used to (and may still) have a wide
readership outside of Unity.  I met people from mainstream Christian
churches that said that their church distributed it.  Unsurprisingly,
even though these people had seen Unity’s magazine, they didn’t know
of Unity or of New Thought.  Also, recently, I’ve been noticing New
Thought creeping into the Evangelical movement (practically taking it
over in some cases).

New Thought has common origin in several other American movements.  At
the time Unity was forming, Americans were seeking a new form of
religion.  For instance, out of this same milieu, the Mormons arose.
New Thought has much in common with the UU church as Unity too is
Unitarian and Universalist in its theology.  The Transcendentalists
also seem to have been a part of this quest for the new.  There was an
influence from Eastern texts that were being translated, but there
also was a renewed interest in the long suppressed Gnostic strains of
the Western tradition.  The inspired text A Course In Miracles has a
strong Gnostic flavor to it and it was an extremely popular book in
Unity.  One of the more interesting influences of New Thought was
Mesmer who proposed the idea of animal magnetism, that there was a
power in the world that could be directed for the good of humans…
specifically in terms of healing.  There is a strong emphasis on
healing in Unity and in Evangelism.  Interestingly, Mesmer led to the
tradition of hypnotism which in course led to Neuro-linguistic
Programming (NLP).  NLP, similar to New Thought, is interested in how
we influence reality through our perception of it.

Another interesting American phenomena is Landmark Forum which
originated from EST.  Landmark is a more harsh (almost cult-like)
product of the New Age movement.  Its positive thinking on steroids.
I’ve been to a Landmark Forum.  It had some useful things to teach,
but I didn’t like its morally questionable techniques of influencing
participants.  EST supposedly had even stronger methodologies.  Sadly,
I’ve heard that Landmark is gaining a foothold in some Unity circles.
If Landmark used its stronghold tactics to inveigle its way into
Unity, then it could use it as a respectable front for its
prosyletizing activities.  This is the dark side of the New Age.

All of this that I mentioned has influenced and in some cases been
incorporated into the almost anything goes theology of New Age.
Nonetheless, as I grew up in New Thought as a distinct tradition, I
still consider the two separate.  I agree with some of Wilber’s
criticisms of New Age: the Mean Green Meme (MGM) and cultural

BTW my experience with New Age is pretty wide.  I’ve read many of the
New Age classics growing up.  I also attended a UU for a while.  I
went to massage school where I learned about alternative health and
energy healing.  Two of the psychotherapists I’ve been to were Reiki
healers and one of them was also a practicing Sufi.  I went to a
shamanistic healer a couple of times.  I’ve had my hug from the
hugging saint Amma.  I’ve done all kinds of spiritual practices over
the years.  I used to be a vegetarian.  I have interests in various
New Age subjects: tarot, astrology, chakras, etc.

OTOH I was also raised by two fairly conservative parents who later
became very dissatisfied with Unity.  I went to highschool in the
conservative South and lived in the heart of the Bible Belt for a
time.  I’m fairly critical of much of New Age and New Thought.  I’m
very intellectual and can be frustrated by anti-intellectual
ideologies.  I’ve spent much of my life depressed and can be annoyed
by the manic cheeriness of some New Agers.

I have both an insiders and an outsiders view of New Thought and New
Age.  I meet people online who have just discovered positive thinking
and I have to control myself from expressing my cynicism too strongly.
I’ve practiced New Thought off and on over the years and I still
believe in it, but I also know of its weaknesses and pitfalls.  What
annoys me about the positive thinking is that many people who discover
it feel they must proselytize it as if it can answer all of the
world’s problems.  To me, the most important New Thought principle is
acceptance and not optimism.  Plus, I distinguish between faith and
optimism… whereas, pop culture positive thinking downplays faith or
limits it to personal psychology.

Even though all of these ideas and experiences have made me who I am,
I don’t label myself as New Age or New Thought.  I believe that there is
much truth in these traditions, but I don’t align myself with any
particular tradition… which I suppose is very New Age of me.

Whether or not I’m New Age, there is no doubt I’m a product of this
sub-culture.  I joined Gaia because a part of me very clearly
resonates with this kind of positive thinking community.  Generally
speaking, I like most New Agers as people.  They’re my people and I
understand them.  I’m an INFP which is one of the MBTI types that most
closely fits with a New Age worldview.  I belong to an INFP forum and
I love the place, but the sweet kind pc friendliness would make some
people vomit.

* * *

Original comment section from Gaia blog:

Enlightened.thinker said

Your last sentence is a riot! People cannot seem to tolerate people who are kind, sweet and friendly as they must have some agenda! NOT!

I love this differentiation blog and find it well explained here Ben. I grew up New England Congregational church and taught Sunday School. We did not have an angry God, he was a loving one. After many years, I was attracted to astrology, then more new thought ideas. And growing up in New england was pretty liberal..then at 33 I moved to Virginia, where Edgar Cayce and other readings opened up my mind to reincarnation and other ideas. And the other side was the bible beaters on the street corner espusing an angry God. Who was he? No one I knew!

I attended Unity in Florida and liked it, and also learned about Native American nature thought, and psychic and other new age ideas. I was in heaven. Moving to Texas burst the bubble. I was immediately contacted by every yahoo to come to their church. Churches are on every corner and the biggest one in Houston is Osteens church of 55K members. No thanks. They talk tithing only half the time.

From this space I returned to school for my masters and was taught comparative religions, and loved it! Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam were all taught and I read all the sacred text. I also attended and enjoyed Science of Mind, which is NOT Scientology. They have a daily word too…The Science of Mind Treatment magazine. It is good, but still refers mostly to Christianity. I love Buddhist ideas…and like to pick and choose my beliefs.

I chose zaadz because after living back in New England, I was starving for connections with like minded folks. I have no agenda to change anyones perceptions about anything…I just plain love the energy exchange!

So, as an older woman, I am vitally pleased you have found your “place” as a younger person, and can articulate it so well and bring a piece of your ideas to this forum. I wish I knew half of what you know when I was your age, but then maybe it was not the time for me to know. Just as teaching did not occur in my life until I was 44 and it was at the right

Thanks Ben…your feelings are like mine and I hate labels too…and titles. That is why I will not become a Gaia Ambassador, even though I already do the job of one on a daily basis.

Blessings to you!

Centria said

Ha ha, Ben, the sweet kind pc friendliness would make most people vomit!  This sounds like we’re getting back to a “care bears” discussion….  I actually have a bit of trouble with the positive you-can-make-things happen ideology.  Although a part of me loves it.  I think it’s both/and.  We can make things happen, and we can’t.  Because it’s not just us.  It’s our thoughts and intentions, as well as the Universe’s.  which is why I like it that you argue with “God”.  Actually, the term “God” sometimes makes me want to vomit.  I prefer terms like The Universe, The All, the Self….just because the pre-conceived ideas of God are so darn limiting at times.  so about the time I can’t stand the term God, I start using it all the time, just because.  Although I don’t like the term New Ager, either.  Come to think of it, is there any term I like?    Good question….thanks for this, Ben!

Marmalade said

Thanks for commenting.  I have to go to work right now, but I’ll respond later tonight.

Bye bye!  🙂

Nicole said

hey Ben, i hate labels too…. little tiny boxes that people try to stuff you into, so cramped and uncomfortable in there i just won’t stay! 🙂

enjoy work :):)

1Vector3 said

Hi Ben, I got onto Notifications of your blogs, yippeee !!!

You connected a lot of dots for folks, and I also enjoyed learning more about your personal journey and approaches !!

I have touched into most of those “dots,” too, and now feel that I am not only outside the box, but the box isn’t even visible anymore, hahahaha !!!!!

The distinction that most interests me if it comes to my attention is the differentiation between Unity and Science of Mind (Church of Religious Science.) For example, there is a real anti-energy-healing bias in SOM, which seems less so in Unity, though one might expect vice versa.

Rather than just say Yes Yes yes Yes, and yes again to your many good points, I’ll add a slight deviation or two. I have not been to Landmark, but did several others in that genre, like Context Trainings. They were good at the time, for my development. I have a bunch of friends who have found great value in Landmark, and are not at all into it as a “cult,” and that is perhaps too strong a word, but I too dislike quite a few of their internal methods AND their marketing approach.

BTW “barf” is an easier word to not trigger the vivid imagination……

There are exceptions, but within New Thought and New Age, as in Christianity in general and rampantly in the Eastern religions, I often get the sense that one is supposed to strive for some kind of “connection” with God or Jesus, but heaven forbid you should tell anyone you have achieved it, they would accuse you of all kinds of pride and ego !!! Also Unity is shot through with what Wilber calls “dualistic thinking” – God is very much alive and well OUTSIDE of oneself – and I can no longer resonate much with it; I just get annoyed. SOM less so, but still.

I can’t even begin to talk about the notions of creating your own reality and positive thinking, that would end up being a book…… I won’t even start. Suffice to say I am as usual a heretic wrt any other known system of thought…..

Nor will I venture into the fascinating discussion about the word “God.” I use it for a shorthand, but am writing even now a piece about how in the question or statement, “IS there a God?” only the word IS has any meaning whatsoever !!!!!!

Aley, I enjoyed reading about your personal journey too. Touched most of those dots, too, in my long life.

Thanks for mentioning the Transcendentalists. I think they are amazingly neglected and greatly worth exposing oneself to as part of one’s religious and philosophical education. Can’t say I have done that yet, but based on all the snippets I have read of Ralph Waldo Emerson, sounds as if one would have to consider him as an enlightened human. Extremely amazing stuff, that guy said !!!!!

Looking forward to Part II.

Blessings, OM Bastet

Marmalade said

bible beaters – Is that like a wife beater?  🙂

Moving to Texas burst the bubble.
A bit like when I moved to the middle of the Bible Belt in North Carolina.  I worked a few summers at a YMCA camp and it was very conservatively Christian.  Most of the Christians I met there were nice, but it was a culture shock.  In particular, I dated a local girl and her parents were some of the most backward Christians I’ve met in my life.

the biggest one in Houston is Osteens church
I’ve read a bit about Joel Osteen.  An interesting phenomena.

I also attended and enjoyed Science of Mind, which is NOT Scientology. They have a daily word too…The Science of Mind Treatment magazine.
For a short while as a kid my family attended a Scienc of Mind church, but my memories of it are vague.  My Grandmother (who introduced my parents to Unity and to A Course In Miracles) was trained in giving Science of Mind Treatments.  Unfortunately, she died when I was very young and I never got to know her.

So, as an older woman, I am vitally pleased you have found your “place” as a younger person, and can articulate it so well and bring a piece of your ideas to this forum.  Everyone finds their own way in life.  I don’t know that I’ve found my “place”, but I can at least articulate whatever place I’ve found myself in.

I wish I knew half of what you know when I was your age, but then maybe it was not the time for me to know.
I know what I know because I’ve done very little else with my life other than learning.  I don’t have a career and I only work 3/4 quarter time at a job that allows me to read at work; I’m not married and I have no kids; I don’t travel much and I have no time consuming hobbies.  All I’ve done for the last 15 yrs of my life is buy books and read them.  So, I have knowledge, but I don’t have much else.  You get what you invest your time in.  But for me it wasn’t exactly a choice I made.  I was simply drawn to learning and so that is what I did… and now here I am.

Just as teaching did not occur in my life until I was 44 and it was at the right
Yeah, a lot can change in life.  I could be doing all kinds of things when I’m 44 or I might just still be doing the same thing.

your feelings are like mine and I hate labels too…and titles. That is why I will not become a Gaia Ambassador, even though I already do the job of one on a daily basis.
My problem is I just can’t ever find a label that fits me.  I’m too much an individual and I don’t want to try to fit in with a group identity or to play a specific role.  I just want to be me.  So, I probably won’t ever become a Gaia Ambassador either.

I actually have a bit of trouble with the positive you-can-make-things happen ideology.  Although a part of me loves it.  I think it’s both/and.  We can make things happen, and we can’t.  Because it’s not just us.  It’s our thoughts and intentions, as well as the Universe’s.
Sounds like my perspective.  Yes, its not just us.  And its the fact that we’re more complex than our conscious thoughts and idealized intentions.  Once you start taking a participatory viewpoint seriously, normal causation starts breaking down.  What makes sense to me is the Buddhist idea of Dependent Co-arising.  So, the world may manifest out of mind, but if so it isn’t my individual mind.

Actually, the term “God” sometimes makes me want to vomit.  I prefer terms like The Universe, The All, the Self….just because the pre-conceived ideas of God are so darn limiting at times.  so about the time I can’t stand the term God, I start using it all the time, just because.
My view of the divine feels most in line with the inclusive monotheism of Hinduism.  Hinduism allows for one to worship any particular deity or set of deities, and their gods aren’t jealous.  Inclusive monotheism sees all gods as aspects of one God (which is similar to Islam).  On top of this, Hinduism has many other theological viewpoints that more or less peacefully co-exist.  So, a Hindu can even switch from worshipping a personal God to worshipping an impersonal principle and they don’t have to switch traditions.  I like this kind of complexity.  It fits my ambiguous sense of the divine.

i hate labels too…. little tiny boxes that people try to stuff you into, so cramped and uncomfortable in there i just won’t stay! 🙂
Yep, labels are just convenient ways of thinking about things, approximations of reality.  But labels never perfectly fit.  In the end, experience trumps all.

1Vector3 said

Great commentary.

The tiniest of comments: The classic term is, I think, Bible thumpers.

Experience trumps all. That’s kinda quotable. I like it !!

Blessings, OM Bastet


Marmalade said

The distinction that most interests me if it comes to my attention is the differentiation between Unity and Science of Mind (Church of Religious Science.) For example, there is a real anti-energy-healing bias in SOM, which seems less so in Unity, though one might expect vice versa.

It is useful to compare those two.  I know of SOM in a more indirect manner, but my sense is that they have a more clear set of beliefs and practices.  OTOH, Unity seems more open to different beliefs and practices.

I have not been to Landmark, but did several others in that genre, like Context Trainings. They were good at the time, for my development. I have a bunch of friends who have found great value in Landmark, and are not at all into it as a “cult,” and that is perhaps too strong a word, but I too dislike quite a few of their internal methods AND their marketing approach.

I have a friend who is really into Landmark.  He is one of my closest friends, but I must admit I like him less when he is in Landmark mode.  He is much more relaxed, compassionate, and genrally more friendly when not in Landmark mode.  He finds great value in it, and I understand that its been helpful for him.

I still think that the methods used by Landmark are morally questionable.  Landmark isn’t a cult, but its the closest thing to a cult that I’ve ever personally come across.  Basically, its as cult-like as you can get without precisely being a cult.  Landmark has a very manipulative style of getting people involved.  You just can’t know what its like until you’ve been in a Landmark forum and had the full force of the Landmark followers turned upon you.  Its overwhelming.  That is how it works.  It breaks down a person’s normal psychological defenses, but that is also how brainwashing works.  Its a thin line.

There are exceptions, but within New Thought and New Age, as in Christianity in general and rampantly in the Eastern religions, I often get the sense that one is supposed to strive for some kind of “connection” with God or Jesus, but heaven forbid you should tell anyone you have achieved it, they would accuse you of all kinds of pride and ego !!! Also Unity is shot through with what Wilber calls “dualistic thinking” – God is very much alive and well OUTSIDE of oneself – and I can no longer resonate much with it;

I understand what you’re saying, but this doesn’t bother me.

I see the experience of divine as Other as being a valid and real human experience… which isn’t to argue about the theology of what that experience means.  How I see it is that God is as real or unreal as I am and as the world is, and God is as external as the world is.  From one perspective, my sense of an internal self and my sense of an external world are both false.  Reality isn’t as we perceive it.

God is by definition non-rational and our longing for an Other is non-rational.  There is nothing that can be directly said about it from a rational perspective, and that is just the way it is.  You can call it a false view or a less developed view, but those are rational judgements of a non-rational experience.

It also doesn’t bother me if you say that you’ve achieved it.  I can’t say that it sounds any more rational.  But if that is your experience, then there isn’t much that I can say that would be meaningful.  I really have no clear opinon about any of this.

The “dualistic thinking” part is something that has been on my mind.  I’ve been reading about binary oppositions (in Structuralism, Deconstructionism, and Postructuralism) and their relationship to concepts such as liminal and anti-structure.  The author I’m reading (George P. Hansen) also discusses the numinous which relates to the experience of divine as Other.

Nor will I venture into the fascinating discussion about the word “God.” I use it for a shorthand, but am writing even now a piece about how in the question or statement, “IS there a God?” only the word IS has any meaning whatsoever !!!!!!

I would agree but with some addition.  The same goes for any similar question… “IS there a Human?” and “IS there a Ben?” and “IS there a Reality?”   So, yes, only the word IS has any meaning because the IS refers to experience rather than categroies.

Abstract categories tend to fall into binaries.  But dualistic thinking isn’t exactly the problem because our minds seem designed to think this way.  The problem is when dualistic thinking becomes black and white, and when any particular dualism becomes absolute.  Also, the privileging of one side of a binary opposition is a major issue.

Looking forward to Part II.

And I’m looking forward to your piece about the subject of IS.


Nicole said

and you used to worry about your blogs not being discussed! now you can hardly keep up… isn’t it great! :):)

Yes, I think we are wired for binary, though we are analog beings 🙂 but as you say it is not a problem per se… i try to remember strengths are weaknesses and weaknesses strengths, and so it is with many opposities – just two sides of the same coin. embracing reality in its fullness and enjoying it all…

i liked very much when you were describing your life of learning and learning… it is a privileged one for such a curious cat as yourself… and you seem so contented in it. but who knows what is around the corner. isn’t it fun?


Marmalade said

Hey Nicole, I think your correct to point out that we’re analog beings.  In thinking, we seem forced into binary distinctions no matter how subtle.  But in our general experience we naturally fall into an analog way of being.  The book I’m reading right now points this out.  The Trickster archetype tends towards the concrete rather than the abstract, and the Trickster is wont to blur the binary divisions of abstract thought.


Marmalade said

About Landmark, I was being a bit critical of them.  I know that many people have been helped by Landmark, but even so I don’t know if I’d directly recommend it to anybody.  If someone was interested, I’d recommend they research it thoroughly first and retain their objectivity while in the forum.  Take what is useful from it and discard all else, but beware that this isn’t what someone involved with Landmark would recommend.  From a Landmark perspective, you only get out of it what you put into it which translates that you must immerse yourself in it without questioning.  Personally, I would entrust my mind to Landmark.

I do believe that Landmark could be risky for someone who wasn’t perfectly balanced mentally.  An interesting thing was since I’ve been diagnosed with depression my therapist had to sign a consent form to allow me to participate.  For someone who was having troubles in life and was looking for answers, such a person could become as pulled into Landmark as they would with an Evangelical church.  What I was surprised by Landmark was how evangelical it was by which I mean how much they encourage prosyletizing.

Sometime I’d like to blog about Landmark, the good and the bad.  There is quite a bit of info out there on the web.  I researched it before attending my Landmark Forum, and I admit that some of the things I read made me feel a bit wary.  If my very good friend hadn’t gone along with me, I might not have gone at all.  Landmark is one of those organizations that tends to polarize people.  Some practically have conversion experiences and others feel that Landmark really messed with their head.

Whatever Landmark is, its certainly interesting.  As it was inspired by EST which was supposedly even more intense, I can’t even imagine what that would’ve been like.


Nicole said

very interesting about Landmark, food for thought… and that’s cool to know about the Trickster, such a fascinating archetype – do you have a favourite incarnation? Culturally appropriate ones for me are Anansi the Spider Man and Brer Rabbit LOL! I grew up loving those stories…


1Vector3 said

Sorry I can’t contribute more to your blog than this one thought right now.

I was trying to be as generous and tactful as I could about Landmark, but my friends who have “immersed” themselves in it, even the one who has since split with them, can sometimes get into what I call the “Landmark Robot” mode when they are facilitating groups in other settings, and it is not pleasant to be on the receiving end of.

They are steamrollering, disrespectful, even encouraging of people to violate their own integrity. They have no empathy, they are inconsiderate. Their faces and voices get hard and harsh and remote and unreachable and unalterable, in that Landmark mode. Normally, these are people who are the opposite in their daily lives. So I have to consider the “Landmark Robot” to be something that got programmed in and they accepted it.

They THINK they are being helpful, not letting people get away with their usual games, encouraging stepping out of comfort zones, but I see them running roughshod over people, being juggernaughts.

Not the way I would choose to help someone change/grow.

For those who need a kick in the posterior, perhaps it works fine. I have other friends whose lives have really opened up from doing the Landmark series….. But it seems to lack subtlety, and be a “one size fits all” approach to changing people.

I have not been through it, but as I said, I did Context Trainings, more than once, and that’s a sibling.

Blessings, OM Bastet


Marmalade said

Nicole – So, do I have a favorite incarnation of the Trickster archetype?

I’m not sure I have a favorite exactly, but there are some I’m more familiar with.  I’m fairly familiar with Mercurius because Jung wrote much about Alchemy, but I might be more familiar with Hermes as I come across Greek mythology more often.  I do know the stories of Loki and I know some of the stories of Native American Tricksters.  I’m probably the least familiar with the African Tricksters.

Which are my favorite?  Hmmm…

Well, the Native American Tricksters are some of the most amusing, but I don’t personally connect with them.  The Native American Tricksters are nice to study about because there is a lot of info available.  The stories seem amusing on the surface, but they related to dark magic.  There is something very primal and grotesque about some of the Native American Tricksters, and I don’t know what to make of them.

I find Loki fascinating, but there isn’t enough info about him to have a good sense of what he represented when he was a living myth.  I like how he plays such a central role in Norse mythology, and how even the other gods have great respect for him.

I have to say that Mercurius and Hermes are my favorites, and the two are closely related.  They both have the seeming darker side of the Trickster, but they also show the Trickster’s other side which isn’t obvious in many other incarnations.  The Trickster does represent change in all its forms which includes injury, death, and theft… but it also includes spiritual transformation.  The Trickster isn’t just a clever buffoon.  The Trickster is also the redeeming psychopomp and this is where he shares territory with other redeemer incarnations such as Jesus.  I’m most interested in where the Trickster and Redeemer meet within the same incarnation.

Hermes is probably my most favorite because of his relationship to Apollo and Dionysus.  The latter two seem to be mythological forerunners to the Christ story.  Jesus uses the same or similar symbolism as Dionysus and they’re both twice born godmen who challenge earthly authority figures.  But Jesus took on many of the characteristics of Apollo: solar logos, heavenly being, healer, etc.  Of Apollo and Dionysus, the second is more of the Trickster and this makes sense as he was put under the protection of Hermes as an infant.

Unity prefers the Apollonian Heavenly Christ, but I prefer the Dionysian Earthly Jesus.  I find it strange that people invoke Jesus as a preserver of order.  Afterall, he overturned tables in the temple, and he told people to give their money away and to let the dead bury the dead.  Jesus was a Trickster all the way through.  He was constantly challenging authority and defying expectations.  Jesus was clever and witty in his words.  Jesus spoke in concrete parables and expressed his emotions freely.  Also, Jesus embraced suffering which is a major theme of the Trickster, and he acts as pschopomp (like Hermes was also a shephard).

So, maybe Jesus is my favorite Trickster.


Marmalade said

OM, you hit the nail on the head.  What bothers me isn’t Landmark the organization, but rather Landmark the mindset.  I don’t like aggressive and manipulative people, but of course a Landmark person just sees it as being assertive.  The other thing is that Landmark teaches techniques and I don’t like the feeling of someone using a technique on me instead of just relating to me as a person.

Nicole said

Hermes… yes, I have loved him in the way you say, as psychopomp as well as trickster. and you’re right, Jesus must be my favourite Trickster too. The parables were deliberately tricky to understand at times, he was very emotive and yes, a shepherd too… fascinating… not at all a preserver of order, rather constantly challenging authority. even the way he chose to “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s” is not usually underlined by the conservatives – getting a coin out of a fish’s mouth isn’t really paying taxes on income 🙂


Amazume said

Hmmmm, great discussion and musings. Just listening in here. Thank you all for sharing your thoughts and journeys. Thank you Ben, for creating this space to share.  I agree whole heartedly with OM that ”experience trumps all” is quotable, and with everyone who likes to avoid labels. Labels indeed are toxic.

People have asked me ‘what my children are’ within an ‘interfaith marriage’, of parents who grew up on completely different continents (one in Africa, one in Europe). If people insisted, as they were frantically looking to wrap their busy minds around something, I opted with a big smile: “I suppose you could say my kids are mutts”. Still sometimes people would not give up and tell me “you have to choose for your kids sake”. I am so very glad I did not. As I have come into my own experience, my kids have too. I am with Kahlil Gibran to allow my kids to have their own thoughts, although mass media has a whole other agenda, and I’m doing my darndest to minimize that influence.

Also, I enjoy shopping around in the different flavors and colors of what God, Goddess, the Divine experience looks like. Never really buying into any established belief system, yet really open and eager to experience truth. This happens a lot when I’m in a zone, working with clients doing energy work. People who have passed on show up sometimes, and even Jesus, and Mary. Atheists could argue these images could be figments of my client’s imagination I picked up, yet experience has taught me that what you can imagine is true.


Marmalade said

Howdy Amazume!

Your way of raising your kids sounds healthy to me.  My parents are pretty conservative and have strong opinions about many things, but even so they let me make up my own mind and make my own mistakes.  🙂

I do sense there is a truth to what may appear as mere imagination.  Nonetheless, I’m a questioning kind of guy and so I can’t help but wonder what kind of truth it may be.  I personally have never had a vision of Jesus or anything similar.  But if I did have such an experience, I’d tentatively accept it for what it was… oh, who am I kidding… I’d analyze to death.  :):)

I have had strange experiences and its hard to know what to make of them.

Nicole said

of course you’d analyse to death! that’s what you do best – hug.

amazume, great to see you here and hear your thoughts…


Amazume said

Hi Ben, and Nicole,

Thanks for your responses. I too can wear that analytical hat and enjoy it. Yet, I have learned not to explain away the magic. Some questions are simply answered by: where there is love, there is no question.


Marmalade said

Hi Amazume,

I’m not for explaining away the magic.  I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I tend to have more questions than answers.  I don’t feel my intellectuality and my sense of wonder are in conflict.  When I’m most engaged with contamplating something, my sense of wonder directs and inspires my intellect.  I think in terms of possibilities.

where there is love, there is no question.

I’m not sure what you mean by that, but I might have to part ways with you on that one.  I love questions.  So, for me, where there is love, there are questions because my questioning is fueled by wonder.  Love need not be an answer.  My purpose for questioning isn’t to find conclusive answers.   Related to this viewpoint is my attitude that doubt strengthens faith, and so my faith is defined by my ability to be open to doubt.

Also, questiong for me is a simple matter of my having an insatiable curiosity.  Questioning is my normal mode of being.  My mom says I was asking philosophical questions when I was a little kid.  Plus, I have a love of learning and a strong idealization of truth.  I want to know about the world, about people, about God.  My studying is my spiritual practice.

Still, I might understand what you’re pointing at.  There are moments where my mind becomes quiet and empty, and not even wonder disturbs it.


Nicole said

i can just imagine the kinds of questions you asked as a kid! 🙂

love may be an answer, it may be a question, it may be so many things… love is so complex, life and people are complex…


Amazume said

Hi Ben,

You say: ”I’m not sure what you mean by that, but I might have to part ways with you on that one.  I love questions

I do too! So no need to part ways here 😉

There are moments where my mind becomes quiet and empty, and not even wonder disturbs it.” Exactly! At moments like that one can feel completely at one with all there is. At such moments the (energy) body becomes one with the frequency of a love vibration, and it simply is so fulfilling that no question will even come up.

And yes, please do keep your sense of wonder, which often is a great portal to those moments of blissful stillness.



1Vector3 said

Interesting similarities! Among my descriptions of my experience of that state, or what might be the same state, is

“There are no answers, because there are no questions.”

But for me it has the sensation of fullness, even while there is that emptiness/absence of all seeking, of all searching, of all movement toward anything, of any sense of incompleteness or unknowing.

Blessings, OM Bastet


Centria said

OM, I just wrote a poem about qestions and answers on my blog:
I LOVE that line you just wrote  “There are no answers, because there are no questions.”
Dear Ben, thank you for facilitating this rich discussion!

I love so much how you express yourself.  🙂

PKD, ACIM, and Burroughs

Philip K. Dick (PKD) had the idea of God as hidden and yet present in the world.  God invades the world and re-creates it, makes real that which lacks fundamental reality.  In light of this, I was thinking of another idea from A Course In Miracles (ACIM) which is that God doesn’t make real or even recognize our false creations.  Supposedly God sees us as we truly are no matter how we see ourselves.  Maybe, in a sense, both are right.  As God’s reality is hidden from us, our reality is hidden from God.  We can make this rationally coherent by proposing the Gnostic view that the divine can simultaneously be fallen and not fallen.  Also, from the Gnostic view, Jesus acts as mediary for he understands our predicament as God cannot.  Jesus, like all of us as separate individuals, is not ultimately real.  But Jesus reflects the light of the real, acts as a remembrance of the real.  If we can recognize that we are the fallen divine, then we can remember that the divine never really fell.

PKD had another idea borrowed from earlier Christians: the Ape of God.  The god of this world mimics the creative powers of the God of heaven, or if you prefer the emanating fullness of the pleroma.  The Ape of God, however, creates falsely.  In terms of ACIM, the Ape of God is the ego.  Even though ACIM posits no evil, ACIM does distinguish between the false and the real which would fit some definitions of evil and good.  Anyways, ACIM is clear that the false use of the creative power serves no useful end whatever terms one wishes to use.  PKD, on the other hand, theorized that the Ape of God may serve a positive purpose, may even be an artifact of the one true God.  Maybe God needs to remain hidden to accomplish his task and so we need to temporarily remain in this dream.  This attitude necessitates faith in God being in control and using that control to a benevolent end.  We will all awaken one day and the sufferings of the dream will be forgotten.  For PKD, that is our hope and consolation.

PKD had a further notion about these two ideas.  The hidden God and the Ape of God both operate in the world, one seemingly good and the other seemingly bad.  PKD felt that the two were inseparable.  The world could be seen as a game with two players, but still the game is being played out by a single God.  William S. Burroughs thought that evil often appeared as good and good as evil.  This is an aspect of the hidden God.  God isn’t where we expect him; or, as PKD stated it, God in the garbage.  Burroughs was more cynical than PKD and saw this world as one to be escaped.  PKD, on the other hand, believed escape was not necessary or maybe even possible.  Accordingly, we may “escape” our delusions and misunderstandings, but we can’t escape the world.  We need not seek out God because God will seek out us.  PKD went so far as to say God can’t be found.  God reveals himself for reasons that are a mystery to us, and God’s hand can’t be forced.

PKD started out much more of a dualist, and Burroughs seems to have remained a dualist.  For Burroughs, the god of this world and the God of the Western Lands are two entirely separate beings.  Burroughs said he always believed in God but, oddly for a writer, not the God of the Word.  He apparently took from Christianity that this world was created from the Word; but since this world didn’t seem good to him, he believed that neither was the God who created it.  Interestingly, PKD was influenced by Burroughs Gnostic thinking.  Both sought God in unlikely places, and PKD was interested in Burroughs cut-up technique.  The idea is that if language is broken up from its normal order, true information can be revealed (God in disorder similar to God in garbage).  So, language could be used to see beyond language as long as one realized that Truth existed beyond the Word.  PKD also sometimes seemed to equate the creative Word as part of the deceptiveness of this created world, but it was a deceptiveness serving a good purpose.  Burroughs, of course, saw no good in it (even though he saw goodness or the potential for goodness in people or at least some people).

The mixing of the seeming good and the seeming evil is the trick of PKD’s maneuvering past dualism.  PKD remained fascinated with dualities but felt they were contained in a larger whole.  PKD had begun to question what he saw as the dualism of Gnosticism, and later in life he questioned Christianity for the same reasons.  He was drawn to the Greek idea of pantheistic monism.  He saw in Greek philosophy a love of symmetry and beauty that he felt lacking in Christianity.  He once had a vision of a world beyond a golden door (i.e., Golden Rectangle).  It was utterly perfect and he saw a young woman within that world.  He somehow knew this woman was Aphrodite and that this world was the Greek otherworld rather than the Christian heaven.  Burroughs believed in the Egyptian idea of an otherworld which I don’t know if it at all resembled PKD’s vision of the Palm Tree Garden.  For certain, there is a clear distinction between Burrough’s vision of a perfect world only attainable in death and PKD’s vision of divine reality existing as part of this world.  The former, to the extent that I understand Burrough’s view, is entirely dualistic in that the worlds of good and evil shall never meet.

So, what conclusion can we come to about dualism?  My sense is that PKD is right that absolute dualism is false, but maybe dualism still portrays something true in our experience.  From PKD’s perspective, it’s necessary that we take the game seriously even though it is only a game.  Dualism, according to PKD, may serve a purpose of purification of the world.  The good needs to remain hidden so that the evil can be more apparent.  If good were to be obvious, then evil would mimic it and we wouldn’t be able to distinguish the two.  God must act as an undercover agent in enemy territory.  God may even forget himself in entering the human realm, but he leaves clues for himself (something like the Hymn of the Pearl).  In a sense, we are all God hidden in the form of the human for the spark of God exists within every person.

The hiddenness of God allows for the subtlety of faith.  Faith must be developed and that is what God encourages in remaining hidden (yet available).  This offers freedom to choose.  God is intimately close to everyone, but every person must choose what he sees.  Even though God can’t be found out through force, by a shift of perception we can open ourselves to the possibility of revelation.  A simple shift is all that is necessary (and an immensely humble patience is also helpful).  This fits in with the idea of willingness in ACIM.  However, unlike ACIM and Burroughs, PKDs evil can serve the purpose of good for the reason that God can and does use everything to his end.  Furthermore, there is nothing to fear because the Second Coming already happened… for those who have eyes to see.

In general, PKD was interested in dualities which is something he probably picked up from his studies of Gnosticism (and Jung).  He had many theories about dualities.  Along with the good and evil issue, he connected the views of a lower and higher world in which he saw this world as the meeting ground for the two.  He thought about this partly as a depth perception in time rather than space, the two worlds being two perspectives that create our perception of reality (the mind itself reflecting this split in reality).  This also relates to his idea of how the Holy Spirit flows backwards in time.  So, the backward flow with the “normal” experience of forward flow creates the present.  I could go on and on with PKD”s philosophizing about dualities, but I’ll only add one further aspect. 

PKD, in line with the Gnostics (and Jung), was very much interested in the duality of male and female and how this corresponds to spiritual truths.  For PKD, this was very personal.  He had a twin sister who died as an infant and this made him obsessed with this sense of a missing part of himself.  He was obsessed with the “dark-haired girl” both in his fiction and in his personal life.  More importantly, he had that vision of the divine feminine which stuck with him.  Burroughs, to the contrary, was more critical of the feminine to the point of being called a misogynist.  Going by an essay he wrote on the matter, I don’t think he was actually a misogynist but simply a pessimist about life in general.  He just had a negative view of life, of embodied existence.  He wasn’t trying to simply blame it all on women.  Still, he certainly wasn’t idealizing the feminine either.  Personally, my experience is more in line with PKD.  I fel a certain connection to the divine feminine.  Understanding the interplay, psychologically and spiritually, between the feminine and the masculine seems important to me.

Let me return to the views about the world of the good, of the true.  Burroughs believed the Western Lands was distant and the path arduous.  PKD believed (as did certain Gnostics, Kabbalists and Christian mystics) that the Kingdom is all around us and even within us, that the Kingdom is right here and now in this world (necessitating dual vision).  I must say both make sense to me in that both speak to that which feels true in my experience.  Oftentimes, the divine does feel infinitely distant and infinitely alien to this world.  God is so far beyond my comprehension that I’m left with nothing useful to say (which doesn’t stop me from trying)).  But I sense the reality of something that, although beyond me, does exist within or at least touches upon my experience and so is intimately close (there is some comfort this at least).  It’s right here, and yet always beyond my grasp.  Like Gnostic Valentinus, I suspect that all believers may be saved in some sense, but still gnosis is very much desirable.  What good does the hope (or even certainty) of being saved do when people are lost in delusion and ideology?  Seeing truly is of utmost importance in this world and such discernment is no easy task.  The kingdom may be all around us, but the trick is to truly understand what this means.  Belief isn’t enough.  We must know… or else we suffer (and cause suffering) in our unknowing. 

To quote PKD from his Exegesis (1978 entry, p. 143, In Pursuit of Valis):

The Valentinian ontological assessment of knowledge is not that it (the Gnosis) leads to salvation or is knowledge about salvation.  But that in the act (event, revelation, experience) of knowing in itself lies salvation.  Because in knowing, there is restoration of man’s lost state, & a reversal of his present state of ignorance.  Upon knowing, man is again what he originally was.

This knowing isn’t a conclusion.  From the conventional sense of reality, it’s an utter paradox (a dualistic view that allows for seemingly contradictory experiences).  We are saved and yet the world remains as it was.  We simply remember what always has been true.  The hidden is glimpsed, but even in its revelation it remains hidden from our intellect.  We can’t really understand it no matter how much we try.  PKD  accepted the failure of the intellect and saw in this very failure a hidden success.  This was part of the paradox.  Seeking God always fails, but only in our failing can we find God.  The seeking is necessary in its own way.

To quote PKD once more from his Exegesis (1979 entry, p. 91, In Pursuit of Valis):

I actually had to develop a love of the disordered & puzzling, viewing reality as a vast riddle to be joyfully tackled, not in fear but with tireless fascination.  What has been most needed is reality testing, & a willingness to face the possibility of self-negating experiences; ie., real contradictions, with something being true and not true.

The enigma is alive, aware of us, & changing.  It is partly created by our own minds; we alter it by perceiving it, since we are not outside it.  As our views shift, it shifts in a sense it is not there at all (acosmism).  In another sense it is a vast intelligence; in another sense it is total harmonia and structure (how logically can it be all three?  Well, it is).