UNDISCOVERED GENIUS

A commentary on the history, contexts, and meanings of the word "genius."

Sunday, January 27, 2013

4. The Cheerful Sinner

4. The Cheerful Sinner


Today's sermon is a study in paradox: we will be taking a closer look at sin and investigating its dualistic properties. We will suggest that, as in all spiritual things, one man's sin may well be another man's righteous act.

First, here is some generic background material from Wikipedia:

"In Abrahamic contexts, sin is the act of violating God's will. Sin can also be viewed as anything within individuals that violates the ideal relationship between them and God.
Some crimes are regarded as sins and some sins are regarded as greater than others. In this nuanced concept of sin, sins fall in a spectrum from minor errors to deadly misdeeds. Catholicism regards the least corrupt sins as venial sins—which are part of human living and carry little divine consequence. Conversely, sins of great evil are mortal sins—which bring the dire consequence of going to Hell if unrepented for.
History of the term
The word derives from “Old English syn(n), for original *sunjō,... The stem may be related to that of Latin sons, sont-is guilty. In Old English there are examples of the original general sense, ‘offence, wrong-doing, misdeed'”. The Biblical terms that have been translated from Greek and Hebrew literally refer to missing a target, i.e. error.

Religions:
Bahá'í

In the Bahá'í Faith, humans are considered naturally good (perfect), fundamentally spiritual beings. Human beings were created because of God's immeasurable love. However, the Bahá'í teachings compare the human heart to a mirror, which, if turned away from the light of the sun (i.e. God), is incapable of receiving God's love.

Christianity
In Western Christianity, sin is believed to alienate the sinner from God. It has damaged, and completely severed, the relationship of humanity to God. That relationship can only be restored through acceptance of Jesus Christ and his death on the cross as a substitutionary sacrifice for mankind's sin.
In Eastern Christianity, sin is viewed in terms of its effects on relationships, both among people and between people and God. Sin is seen as the refusal to follow God's plan, and the desire to be "like God" (Genesis 3:5) and thus in direct opposition to God's will (see the account of Adam and Eve in the Book of Genesis).
Original sin is a Western concept which states that sin entered the human world through Adam and Eve's sin in the Garden of Eden, and that human beings have since lived with the consequences of this first sin. 
Hinduism
In Hinduism, the term sin (pāpa in Sanskrit) is often used to describe actions that create negative karma by violating moral and ethical codes, which automatically brings negative consequences. This is different from Abrahamic sin in the sense that pāpa is not a crime against the will of God, but against (1) Dharma, or moral order, and (2) one's own self.

[Sidebar: We will return to sins against the self presently.]
Islam
Muslims see sin (dhanb, thanb ذنب) as anything that goes against the commands of God (Allah). Islam teaches that sin is an act and not a state of being. The Qur'an teaches that "the soul is certainly prone to evil, unless the Lord does bestow His Mercy" and that even the prophets do not absolve themselves of the blame. It is believed that Iblis (Satan) has a significant role in tempting humankind towards sin.

[Sidebar: We will certainly have cause to return to the subject of Satan; my next sermon will deal with him.]
Judaism
Judaism teaches that sin is an act, but one has an inclination to do evil "from his youth". . . All sin has a consequence. The righteous suffer their sins in this world and receive their reward in the world to come. The wicked cannot correct their sins in this world and hence do not suffer them here, but in gehinom (hell). If they have not become completely corrupted, they repent in hell and thereafter join the righteous. The very evil do not repent even at the gates of hell. Such people prosper in this world to receive their reward for any good deed, but cannot be cleansed by and hence leave gehinom, because they don't or can't repent. This world can therefore seem unjust where the righteous suffer, while the wicked prosper. Many great thinkers have contemplated this, but God's justice is long, precise and just."

The comments above, taken from Wikipedia, state very generally accepted principles--there is none of the paradoxical promised in my introductory paragraph. But stay with me--the plot thickens.
Last week I introduced into these sermons some writings of William Blake. I mentioned that Blake was really the great-grandaddy of the Spiritualist movement, about seventy-five years ahead of everybody else; that he was an intensely original thinker, with a magnificently open heart, and a cosmically resonant vision.

For the next few moments we will be looking at some material taken from Blake's The Marriage of Heaven and Hell and Proverbs of Hell. The following is from the Wikipedia article:

"The work was composed between 1790 and 1793, in the period of radical foment and political conflict immediately after the French Revolution. The title is an ironic reference to Emanuel Swedenborg's theological work Heaven and Hell published in Latin 33 years earlier.  
Unlike that of Milton or Dante, Blake's conception of Hell begins not as a place of punishment, but as a source of unrepressed, somewhat Dionysian energy, opposed to the authoritarian and regulated perception of Heaven."


Here is our first hint of paradox: to Blake, Hell is not necessarily a place of punishment, but a source of energy; it follows therefore, that sin may not be merely an expression of evil, but a release of power--power that can impress itself upon the world. Energy is central to everything Blake has to say in the following quotations: he is making a case for the idea that: what the church, as a dogmatic authority, considers evil, may simply be active expressions, in the material plane, of the passive principles of the spiritual plane.

Indeed, it was the contemplation of the polar opposites of passive and active that inspired today’s sermon. I have often been in violent disagreement with many of the church's moral positions; its dogmatic pronouncements about what was sinful and what wasn't--especially since I have so often been pigeonholed on the sinful end of that continuum. Many times throughout history, the church, as a formal body, has condemned certain human acts, and the people who performed these acts, as sinful; sadly, these socially-invented moral codes have, quite often, been created by a committee of just a few church authorities. Thus, the general opinion has been created by a parochial opinion; a minority has spoken for the majority, without the majority's consent. How lame is that?

I have found that many of the activities, identified as sinful by the established church, are, in fact, FOR ME, very spiritually profitable and morally uplifting; and when I have acted in opposition to the church's moral directives I have felt myself righteous and spiritual. You may recall the sermon, given a few months ago, concerning hate (16 Happiness/Joy II). We discovered several contexts in which righteous hatred was not only acceptable, but which expressed a moral imperative. So, as we go more deeply into the subject of the active and the passive, the carnal and the spiritual, we will arrive at a deeper understanding of the message of Jesus, which, as we have said many times in the past several months, was to bring Heaven to Earth, and to allow man to enjoy the eternal spirituality inherent in physical existence.

As we consider the passive and active poles, one of the main expressions of the passive would be: obedience. We all agree that, as Christians, we must give over our will to that of the Father and allow our will become His. However, this is where the passive part ends, because once we are filled with spirit, we are filled with moral imperatives which command us to perform certain aggressive acts. And these acts, though active, though involved in carnal life, carnal relationships, earthly relationships, mundane  institutions and entities, are still expressions of passive obedience to Divine Will, and, like the Christ Consciousness, or perhaps the same as the Christ Consciousness, these acts become the realization of a divine thought in the mind of God.

We continue, now, with more Wikipedia comments on Blake, but first we must insert a clarification concerning the 19th century definition of the word "genius", which is different than the meaning it has assumed in the 20th century:

genius=imagination

a plural genii : an attendant spirit of a person or place
In ancient Rome, the genius (plural in Latin genii) was the guiding spirit or tutelary deity of a person, family (gens), or place (genius loci).

The noun is related to the Latin verb gigno, genui, genitus, "to bring into being, create, produce." Because the achievements of exceptional individuals seemed to indicate the presence of a particularly powerful genius, by the time of Augustus the word began to acquire its secondary meaning of "inspiration, talent."

Now, Wikipedia:
"Blake's purpose [in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell] is to create what he called a "memorable fancy" in order to reveal the repressive nature of conventional morality and institutional religion, which he describes thus:
"The ancient Poets animated all sensible objects with Gods or Geniuses, calling them by the names and adorning them with the properties of woods, rivers, mountains, lakes, cities, nations, and whatever their enlarged & numerous senses could perceive.

And particularly they studied the genius of each city & country, placing it under its mental deity;
Till a system was formed, which some took advantage of & enslav'd the vulgar by attempting to realize or abstract the mental deities from their objects: thus began Priesthood;

Choosing forms of worship from poetic tales.
And at length they pronounc'd that the Gods had order'd such things.

Thus men forgot that All deities reside in the human breast."

[Sidebar: I'm sure that Blake found that crack about the priesthood to be sarcastically hilarious:

(Till a system was formed, which some took advantage of & enslav'd the vulgar)

but we must not overlook the serious side of the comment, which is that: the common man all too often surrenders to the priesthood responsibility for defining his own personal perception and experience of the truth. The general principle, here, is that: passive order that stifles spontaneous action it is not spiritual at all. Blake makes the claim that religion replaces spirituality with authoritarianism and therefore works contrary to true spiritual freedom.]

Back to Wikipedia:

"In the most famous part of the book, Blake reveals the Proverbs of Hell. These display a very different kind of wisdom from the Biblical Book of Proverbs. The diabolical proverbs are provocative and paradoxical. Their purpose is to energise thought. Several of Blake's proverbs have become famous:
"The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom."

"The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction"

Blake explains that,
"Without Contraries is no progression. Attraction and Repulsion, Reason and Energy, Love and Hate, are necessary to Human existence.
From these contraries spring what the religious call Good & Evil.

Good is the passive that obeys Reason. Evil is the active springing from Energy.

Good is Heaven. Evil is Hell."

Blake's theory of contraries was not a belief in opposites but rather a belief that each person reflects the contrary nature of God, and that progression in life is impossible without contraries. Moreover he explores the contrary nature of reason and of energy, believing that two types of people existed: the "energetic creators" and the "rational organizers", or as he calls them in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, the "devils" and "angels". Both are necessary to life according to Blake."
[Sidebar: Before we can appreciate the next bundle of quotes, we must agree that operating in opposition to one's true identity is a sin against the self. Thus, if the pleasure of the flesh exalts the spiritual essence of the flesh, there can be no sin. Perhaps it is as simple as, "you can't have white without black." Blake insists (or let's say I insist)that the self, the self as an extension of the Godhead, can only act in its own service in a righteous way-- that those sins against the self are sins against the spontaneous expression of the divine impulses which may or may not be controlled, which may be, in fact, overwhelming. Also, remember that this overwhelming feeling may be just an illusion created by man's self-limiting concept of himself; and as we overcome our self-limiting concepts we come closer to the spontaneous acts which are engendered by true spirituality.]

Other Provebs from Hell include:
Man has no Body distinct from his Soul. For that called Body is a portion of Soul discerned by the five senses, the chief inlets of Soul in this age.
Energy is the only life, and is from the Body; and Reason is the bound
or outward circumference of Energy.

Energy is Eternal Delight. Those who restrain desire, do so because theirs is weak enough to be restrained; and the restrainer or reason usurps its place and governs the unwilling. And being restrained, it by degrees becomes passive, till it is only the shadow of desire.

Drive your cart and your plough over the bones of the dead.

The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.

Prudence is a rich ugly old maid courted by Incapacity.

He who desires, but acts not, breeds pestilence.

Expect poison from the standing water.

You never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough.

Improvement makes straight roads, but the crooked roads without Improve-
ment are roads of Genius.

He whose face gives no light shall never become a star.

Eternity is in love with the forms of time.

Back to Wikipedia:
"Influence
The Marriage of Heaven and Hell is probably the most influential of Blake's works. Its vision of a dynamic relationship between a stable "Heaven" and an energized "Hell" has fascinated theologians, aestheticians and psychologists. Aldous Huxley took the name of one of his most famous works, The Doors of Perception, from this work, which in turn also inspired American rock band The Doors' name. Huxley's contemporary C. S. Lewis wrote The Great Divorce about the divorce of Heaven and Hell, in response to Blake's Marriage."

We see a similarly paradoxical attitude toward Hell expressed in Swedenborg's Heaven and Hell :

"... hellish fire is self-love and love of the world, it is every craving that belongs to those loves, the craving being an extension of love because a person constantly craves what he loves.  It is also a pleasure, since when a person gets what he loves or craves, he perceives it as pleasant.  This is the only source of heartfelt joy for man.  So hellish fire is a craving and a pleasure that well up from these two loves as their sources... "

This statement is even more paradoxical than Blake's, because it suggests that self-love is at the heart of sin. Here, Swedenborg is giving the impression that acts of self-love are acts of sinful, carnal indulgence. But, please remember that our joys are to be found in glorifying our true selves; therefore self-love can only be thought of as the highest form of devotion to God. Furthermore, the craving as an extension of love sounds a lot like sehnsucht to me, and splits up the idea of pleasure not only between Heaven and Hell, but Present and Future. Thus, the difference between love of pleasure as a sin, and love of pleasure as self-affirmation, becomes a razor's edge between which only the most spiritually discriminating can distinguish.

Blake's ruthless criticism of the priesthood, as the representatives of organized religion, and the bloodsuckers of true spirituality, is echoed in Joseph Campbell's The Power of Myth:

"The Christian separation of matter and spirit, of the dynamism of life and the realm of the spirit, of natural grace and supernatural grace, has really castrated nature…The true spirituality, which would have come from the union of matter and spirit, has been killed." (p. 197)

"Our story of the Fall in the Garden sees nature as corrupt; and that myth corrupts the whole world for us. Because nature is thought of as corrupt, every spontaneous act is sinful and must not be yielded to. You get a totally different civilization and a totally different way of living according to whether your myth presents nature as fallen or whether nature is in itself a manifestation of divinity, and the spirit is the revelation of the divinity that is inherent in nature. " (p. 99)

The next section touches on the subtleties and some ramifications of Original Sin. There are many arguments which are in agreement with Blake, but there is a fatal flaw embedded in the argument that Original Sin is a bondage. Needless to say, next week's sermon on Satan must deal extensively with original sin. For now, just a few comments must suffice:

Commenting on the concept of original sin, a modern Scholar, Elaine Pagels explains:
"...I came to see that for nearly the first four hundred years of our era, Christians regarded "FREEDOM as the primary message of Genesis 1-3. Freedom in its many forms, including free will, freedom from demonic powers, freedom from social and sexual obligations, freedom from tyrannical government and from fate; and self mastery as the source of such freedom."
[Sidebar: The message here is that the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden was originally thought to be an expulsion into freedom from the animalistic, unthinking, intuitive world of the unconscious, into the unlimited spaces of thought--almost, an entry from Earth into Heaven. The only problem is that, the freedom of thought gave Man the ability to reject God, because for the first time he could DISTINGUISH himself from God, he could tell where God ended and he began. Thus the freedom of thought is a kind of slavery--another razor's edge.

Back to Campbell:]
"As we examine this story for metaphor, it becomes clear that God somehow made known to early man that with consciousness and self-awareness came consequences:
And the Lord God commanded man saying,
'Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat but of the tree of knowledge of good end evil you shall not eat for in the day you eat of it you shall surely die.    (Genesis 2:16-18)
It needs to be pointed out here, that while it is so often taught that the serpent is a representation of the devil, the Bible never says that. In many cultures, the snake is seen as a life force, and perhaps this meaning could be applied, and much more constructively, to the Creation Stories."
[Sidebar: Notice this "life force" idea, that is so much a part of pagan religions; life force, and active energy--sound familiar? It is this expression "life force" that was so abhorrent to C.S. Lewis; to him it meant the depersonalization of God into an anonymous, faceless, natural power, the idea of which totally omits a consideration of the central concern of Christianity-Jesus. We will get back to this.

Back to Campbell:]
"It becomes God's plan that mankind evolve to have intellect and free will. Thus, the temptation of consciousness (knowledge of good and evil) becomes the force of human life itself."
Life force, again. Ah, me.

One of the pivotal concepts in regard to Original Sin, suggested by many New Age sources, is the idea of Jesus as the first and second Adam. This is an idea which is bound to create much disagreement, the truth of which we can never really know. But Edgar Cayce makes maintains that, at a certain stage of human evolution, the world was surrounded by spirits who gradually started, recreationally, taking on human form. According to Cayce, Adam was merely the first one of these spirits to lose sight of his spiritual origin, getting completely enthralled and ensnared by the illusions of carnal reality. Thus, Original Sin, which is simply a function of higher consciousness losing itself in the material plane, was born.

Now, concerning Original Sin, the Garden of Eden, and Adam, all the arguments made by enlightened, modern, liberal Christians (as opposed to dull-witted, old-fashioned, fundamentalist Christians) encourage us to take all the Old Testament stories in a metaphoric sense. Although you have heard me speak out, many times, against a too-literal interpretation of biblical passages, you may be surprised to hear me speak out, in this case, of the danger in taking this story in a too-metaphoric sense. Stating that Original Sin is a general state of mind, that there was no actual Garden, no actual Adam, no actual serpent, suggests that there wasn't really any Original Sin. Where, in this picture, does that leave Jesus? Turning Adam (whoever he was) into a symbolic mythological character, reduces to insignificance the historical Jesus--second Adam or not.

There is one sin that I consider to be particularly abhorrent, and that is the sin of guilt. I was raised in a household where guilt was a very powerful, and omnipresent family stock-in-trade; it was the currency by which my parents negotiated their relationships with their children and each other. Thus, guilt became a primary source of emotional pain; pain inflicted by a moral attitude which, though possibly righteous in its origin and intention, was expressed in terms that were completely negative and and hurtful. Guilt was the tool that my mother used to make me feel bad about anything I did that was outside the passive realm of strict obedience. I will never forget the famous words of my grandmother who, in attempting to make my little brother feel bad about forgetting to take out the garbage cried passionately, “Honey, Jesus WANTS you to take out the garbage.” I'll admit that, in retrospect, that was extremely funny, but, in a way, it's very sad, because that sort of manipulation was was ever-present in my household and made, Jesus into a punishment-mongering ogre instead of a loving Shepherd.

A word on proselytizing suggests itself, because, on the surface, proselytizing appears to be aggressive righteous action. All of us have had the experience of opening the door to a group of two or three Jehovah's Witnesses, with their halos tightly pressed down on their foreheads, who have come to teach us the true way. Now, as we have discussed many times, it is our Christian duty to speak the truth, but it is not our duty to inflict our truth on other people when they are not ready for it. We discussed how such uninvited behavior would just tend to turn people away from the truth, instead of inviting them into it. Jehovah's Witnesses stand on your doorstep, inflicting their truth on you, thereby making you dislike them all the more, and reject whatever it is they have to say all the more. The parables of Jesus are an example of how the truth is veiled, and given to the people in small bits, in such a way that it can be digested a little bit at a time, and not thrown in their faces.
Thus, unwelcome spiritual aggression is not really spiritual action because it is not a true expression of Divine personality, but a mask, or façade. Jehovah's Witnesses are very comfortable standing there performing an act that is insulated by the common beliefs of their parochial community, wearing their little Jehovah's Witnesses uniforms. (Frank Zappa says, “Everybody in this room is wearing a uniform, and don't kid yourself.”) Passive aggressive action is not action at all, because it hides the self behind a shield that promotes anonymity instead of identity; it is a form of theater in which they are substituting some sort of made-up character for themselves; they are like the children in the marketplace saying, “We have piped and you have not danced, we have wept and you have not mourned.” These people are pretend Christians, and in their pretend proselytizing, they are pretending to speak the truth. There is nothing heroic about throwing truisms out over a protective wall created by your friends.

However, there are moments in our lives when speaking the truth really matters, moments when speaking the truth is really an act of righteous aggression, moments that take courage, and put you on the line. Responding to a moral imperative in telling a friend in a bar, “I think maybe you drink too much.” or, telling your son, “That friend of yours is not good for you.” or confessing to an associate, “I can’t be a party to this situation.” It is when speaking the truth exposes you to censure and rejection that it is a true act of charity and a great righteous aggression.

We have encountered several times, in the course of these readings, the phrase, “Sin against the self.” I find that sins against the self are the worst; this may require some explanation. We have said that to be truly ourselves we must surrender our will to the will of the Father. On the surface, many things, like:
drinking, or
gluttony, or
recreational drug use, or
casual sex, or
cheating on your income tax,

to be very obviously sinful; but we must remember that our true self is the truth of the self that merges with the Self of the Father; and it easy enough to imagine scenarios in which any of the above-mentioned sins might work to strengthen our relationship with the Father, not weaken it.
We have a commandment from God not to kill, and yet there are many a situations in which killing is the only moral imperative open to us. If there's an activity which is self-enhancing, which truly does not compromise our relationship with the Father, strengthens our relationship to the Father by bringing the joy of carnality into the spiritual domain, this can be thought of as a cheerful or joyful sin.

And thus, we arrive at the crux of the sermon here today: the idea of a cheerful sin is the idea of a sin that may be considered by others, (and in fact might BE for others) a sin, a step away from the Father, but which, to us, is really a step toward the Father. Thus, we have paradoxical sayings like Blake’s,

“The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom."


"The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction."
To most of us, the road of excess leads to the tenement of ruin, and the tortoises of patience are wiser than the hares of flippancy. But not necessarily. These expressions of Blake's glorify the fact that human carnality is a gift and a blessing, and that only by embracing our physical being and penetrating to the spiritual source of that physical being, and relishing, and glorifying, and exalting the physical, will we get to the true meaning of our lives, seemingly so enslaved on the material plane. The energy in Blake can easily be mistaken for the blind self-indulgence of Satan, but if the energy that so enlivens the tigers of wrath are an outpouring, and overflowing of spirit, who dares complain?

The Buddhist may retreat into the world of abstraction and find the Christ Consciousness in the upper regions, but if he is not using the mediation of Jesus to connect with the physical world, he is doing nothing to serve the greater good. We've been hearing, recently, about the monasteries, and how there are two types of Monks:
1.)    that type of Monk who retreats inward and seeks personal glorification by joining Himself to the abstract All, and
2.)    that type of Monk who reaches out into the world to do good works.
I myself have always preferred the extroverted expressions of spirituality, and therefore find Christianity a much more attractive and truthful belief system. In the Buddhist system, which is certainly, in its description, more highflown is really a kind of narcissistic religion-- is a retreat from the gifts which God have given us on this earth. I prefer to fly, unbridled by the chains of mundane conception, on wings of angel music, rolling and flowing through clouds of eternal bliss.

Let us pray: Jesus, thank you for allowing us to access the mind of God in a flower, in a breeze, in a touch, in a song. Teach us to tell the difference between the world that drags us down to Hell, and the world that buoys us up to Heaven. Let us focus our imaginations on the direction we ought to take, and let us remember that that direction always draws an image of your face looming in the distance. Amen.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

3. All Judgment to the Son: Hell

The subject of Hell has been of interest to me ever since I was a child; as I have had ample occasion to mention before, the reminder of the ultimate unthinkable threat of eternal hellfire was constantly flaunted before my impressionable, sensitive eyes, every single day of my young life. Therefore Hell was one of the first Christian concepts I easily, cheerfully, dispensed with during my long days of atheism and agnosticism.

One of my big problems, with Hell, always used to be that it seemed so unfair; not only were living people, who had never heard of Jesus, automatically condemned to Hell, but generation upon generation of men who walked the earth BEFORE Jesus came, were also condemned to Hell. A few days ago, I read an online article  that very clearly stated that Martin Luther was in Hell, because he had been ex-communicated by the Pope. My God! All these people are condemned to Hell who never heard of Jesus, who never had any opportunity of accepting or rejecting Him--or maybe they are condemned just because a guy in a pointy hat says so. A world in which this kind of injustice can prevail is not the creation of a loving God! Everybody except the chosen measly few are created to suffer in eternal hellfire! Hell this, Hell that, so easily they speak the word! From this it seemed that, in the thousands of years before Christ, Earth was just a breeding ground for Hell. It just didn't seem reasonable to me.

Since then, as faith has grown in me, so has my ability to include such unpleasant realities as Hell into my self-constructed cosmography. Reality is not pretty. But, again, we run upon the horns of the literal vs. symbolic dialectic: the question of whether Hell is a really live place, or whether it is merely a state of mind? Spiritually speaking, I figure it can't make that much difference, either way; but I make no pretense of having perfect understanding of this matter. However, I will say this: in an eternity of eternities, eternal damnation is no longer an impossible thing for me to imagine.

I have often encountered New Age accounts of where souls actually come from, and where they go, etc., and I have wondered about the various possibilities they suggest. If we accept the Rudolf Steiner view that humankind is always in a state of evolution toward some ever more perfect state, it is not hard to imagine the opposite: the scenario of a wasted soul, a soul which could never make more of itself, a soul which digressed rather than progressed--I say, it is not hard to imagine such a soul being recycled into some lower-vibratory stuff of the universe and losing its personal identity: this, to me, would be death. It is also not hard for me to imagine a place of ultimate torment; and since all eternity is included in a moment, it is therefore not hard to imagine a place of eternal torment. Nevertheless, the jury is still out on this one, as you will see from the following opinions on the subject of Hell.

The Rudolf Steiner explanation of the situation, in terms of the evolution of Mankind, has much less to do with the afterlife than it has to do with the presence of the Kingdom of God on Earth. The reality of Heaven on Earth is what Jesus, as Mediator, made available to Mankind for the first time; that's the importance of Jesus' coming: it wasn't to bring Heaven as a substitute for Hell, it was supposed to eliminate Hell; it was simply supposed to make us understand that eternity is available here and now in whatever form we ask it to take, material or otherwise; that the fruits of Heaven and the fruits of Hell are available on any dimension of creation at any time.

First, I must mention how I came upon this subject: it has to do with my survey of John, which was postponed while subjects of a more seasonal character were discussed; coming back to John, I give the following quotation:


John 5:22-27 (ESV Bible)
"22 The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son,
23 that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.
24 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.
25 “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.
26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself.
27 And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man."

I was attracted to the idea of the Son as Judge. I don't think I ever imagined Jesus presiding over the Last Judgment, even though I have heard the words of the Credo many many times--when I read this, I realized that I have always thought of the Father as Judge, and the Son as, maybe, the executor. Putting Jesus in the throne of Judgment suddenly sheds new light on Jesus' position in the Spiritual hierarchy, and lends enhanced significance to my personal relationship with Him. I also breathe a sigh of relief, because I figure I can get away with stuff with Jesus that I can't get away with from God. On the other hand, it says, that the Son must be a representation of the Father. . . Oh, well.

It makes sense, though, for who better than a former Man, to judge other Men fairly? The coming of the Mediator brought the coming of the necessity for judgment; the fact that Jesus could weep with us, shows that He will always weigh the rewards and punishments in favor of pity, and mercy, and forgiveness. Indeed, I don't think that Jesus must ultimately judge anything or anybody--that we make the decision to enter Hell or Heaven on our own.

This is the thesis sentence of the sermon, which we will return to in time.

"I don't think that Jesus must ultimately judge anything or anybody--that we make the decision to enter Hell or Heaven on our own."

Indeed, our good friend C. S. Lewis always makes a point, in those one-on-one interviews with Aslan that all the Narnia books have--the scene where all pretense is stripped away, and Aslan reads the soul of the child before Him, and the child confesses all truly. In the presence of Aslan, no one can lie, even to oneself. Thus, the absolute honesty, that the presence of the Christ compels, makes each Man to confess each his own condemnation, each his own salvation. This is how Jesus stands in judgment; he makes Men see the truth of themselves, and reveals to them the consequences of choices they have already made.

However, before we can justify a conclusion, there is much amplifying material to sort through. We will begin to explore this subject with a piece from Paramount Church.com : What is the Gospel? This piece makes a case for the justification of such a place as Hell:

"God is terribly angry with the sin man is born with, as well as the sins man personally commits, and thus will punish sinful man both now and in eternity. Though God is merciful, He is also just. The Lord God is a holy God. He is a consuming fire, a jealous God. Thus, His justice demands that sin, committed against His supreme majesty be punished with the supreme penalty, namely eternal punishment of body and soul in hell.

Matt. 10:28
28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
Matt 25:40-46
40 And the King will answer them, Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels."
The eternal Son of God had to become man because sinful man cannot pay for others the debt they owe to God. Christ, the Mediator, had to be born of a virgin  and become a man because God’s justice demands that human nature, which has sinned, must pay for its sin.

Yet, it was necessary that our Mediator also be God so that by His own power, He might bear the weight of God’s anger in His humanity and earn for us and restore us to righteousness and life."

Thus, from this author's point of view, Hell is man's just punishment for his so-called "supreme" sin, even if it is, after all, Adam's sin.

The following piece, Beyond description, by Herman Bavinck
is all about: by what right Jesus claims the position to the right hand of God. The main point is that: the sacrifice is commensurate with the reward. The piece goes on to elaborate on what it is that Jesus' sacrifice has won Him, and on what it is we gain from the mediation of the Son.

“What Christ acquired by this sacrifice is beyond description. For Himself He acquired by it His entire exaltation, His resurrection, His ascension to heaven, His seating at the right hand of God, His elevation as head of the church, the name that is above every name, the glory of the mediator, power over all things in heaven and on earth, the final judgment.
In addition He acquired for His own, for humanity, for the world, an interminable series of blessings. In His person He is Himself the sum of all those blessings: the light of the world, the true bread, the true vine, the way, the truth, the resurrection, and the life, our wisdom, our righteousness, holiness, and redemption, our peace, the firstborn and the firstfruits who is followed by many others, the second and last Adam, the head of the church, the cornerstone of the temple of God; and for that reason there is no participation in His benefits except by communion with His person."

[Sidebar: Thank you, Jesus, for that lofty yet utterly simple idea:
". . . there is no participation in His benefits except by communion with His person."
How this sums it all up for me! Participation in the great Ocean of Jesus, focussed in the Christ Consciousness, is the ultimate authority of belief, and the ultimate end of our time on Earth. The Person of Jesus; what a lovely expression!

Back to Bavinck:]

"Yet from Him flow all the benefits, the whole of salvation, and more specifically the forgiveness of sins; the removal of our sins; the cleansing or deliverance of a bad conscience; justification; righteousness; sonship; confident access to God; God’s laying aside His wrath in virtue of Christ’s sacrifice, that is, the sacrifice of atonement; the disposition in God that replaced it, the new reconciled—no longer hostile but favorable—disposition of peace toward the world; the disposition of people vis-à-vis God; further, the gift of the Holy Spirit; the second birth and the power to become children of God; sanctification; participation in Christ’s death; the dying to sin; the being crucified to the world; the cleansing and the washing away of sins by being sprinkled with the blood of Christ; walking in the Spirit and in the newness of life; participation in the resurrection and ascension of Christ; the imitation of Christ; increased freedom from the curse of the law; the fulfillment of the old and the inauguration of a new covenant; redemption from the power of Satan; victory over the world; deliverance from death and from the fear of death; escape from judgment; and, finally, the resurrection of the last day; ascension; glorification; the heavenly inheritance; eternal life already beginning here with the inception of faith  and one day fully manifesting itself in glory; the new heaven and new earth; and the restoration of all things.”

Notice, in the previous quotation, the reference to Jesus as the first and second Adam. I was surprised to stumble across that expression in mainline Christian material, but you must know that it's a common enough concept in New Age Spiritual Theory: many New Age authors, including Edgar Cayce and Elizabeth Claire Prophet, among many others, have insisted that Jesus was the reincarnation of Adam--that because Adam had committed the first sin, it was up to Him to make restitution for it, by undoing the damage caused by His original sin. Hence, the first and second Adam. The details of these beliefs are, as usual, of little interest to me, (and I have no intention of committing to one such belief or another, especially since there are so many variants); but it is definitely tantalizing to imagine that Jesus' authority over us comes from his commission of the original sin. That Jesus should finally come forward and redeem that sin is a very interesting thought. Some might think this interpretation diminishes the force of Jesus' proclaimed Divinity, but I don't think so--its just one more way the story works.

The Martin Luther feature for today consists only of two short excerpts:

The following is from: Christians at MOMENT BY MOMENT REST:

Martin Luther stated; "Thou (God the Father) hast put all things in subjection under His feet. For in that He put all in subjection under Him, He left nothing that is not put under Him (to chance, as He will rid Himself of this evil existence in due time!). But now we seen not (viewing the destructive pattern that this world is following currently) yet all things put under Him."

Afterlife and Salvation by: Ted Vial
"Martin Luther, like most traditional Christians, believed that this life was simply a pilgrimage, a journey toward our final destination. That destination was an eternity spent either in heaven or in hell. There was nothing one could do to earn a spot in heaven-God freely forgave the sins of some, and they could enter heaven. Heaven is a state of blessedness where you exist in the presence of God, something humans have not been able to do since the fall in the Garden of Eden. Hell was a place of torment, as just punishment for sin.
. . .
The conservative wing of the Lutheran Church maintains its belief in an afterlife spent in a literal place, either heaven or hell. More liberal Lutherans tend to downplay hell, often because the image of God torturing people for eternity, even if they are sinners, is not easy to square with their idea of a loving God. Nor is it easy to square the idea of a just God with one who casts people into hell just because, as the result of fortune for which they are not responsible, they have not lived in a place where the Gospel of Jesus was preached.
Far more Americans say that they believe in heaven in recent surveys, than say they believe in hell.There are also Lutherans since the mid-20th century (this is true of all Protestant denominations) who hold that neither heaven nor hell are literal places. If the core of salvation as described above is to live in the presence of God, heaven is then a metaphor for blessedness or a divine relationship in this life. Hell is a metaphor for living in the absence of God in this life."

If my mother had heard the last few sentences of the piece I just read, she would have rejected totally anything the guy was trying to say, because, to her, there is no gray area: the Bible says Heaven and Hell are real places, so all this symbolic baloney carries no weight. To her the physical reality is more important than the spiritual reality; she is so unspiritual, she can only imagine physical realities (albeit coaxed into being, somehow, by magic). And there are many, many, many people who, like my mother, find it comforting to think of a literal Heaven or a literal Hell. To me, it's a trivial point, because the Heaven experience is all about enjoying blessedness, and the point of Hell is to suffer. If there is one thing I know, Man is capable of suffering on any dimension.

On the subject of suicide, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that, if people are suffering in life, they must certainly continue to suffer in death; a soul in pain is a soul in pain, regardless of the dimension it is focussed in, physical or otherwise. I have to agree with the philosophy I read many years ago, which is states that suicide never solves anything or delivers anybody from anything, because we take our problems with us wherever we go. If we're in such torment that we can't stand to live, we must be in Hell already--so, if we kill ourselves, we just take our Hell with us, maybe in a more intense form. This has never seemed to be a very good economic solution.

As you will have noted, I have presented readings from many theologians, philosophers, and poets, including writings from many ancient masters, as well such New Age philosophers as Steiner, Campbell, and Lewis. There is a New Age writer whom we have not mentioned often enough, and that is William Blake. Blake was really the great-grandaddy of the Spiritualist movement, about seventy-five years ahead of everybody else. He was an intensely original thinker, with a magnificently open heart, and a cosmically resonant vision.

The following is from: William Blake's Proverbs of Hell:
"Unlike that of Milton or Dante, Blake's conception of Hell begins not as a place of punishment, but as a source of unrepressed, somewhat Dionysian energy, opposed to the authoritarian and regulated perception of Heaven."

[Sidebar: Remember Steiner's point that the material world is tainted all by Luciferian vibrations. Hell is the tang of those one-too-many beers. Very subtle, very comfortable. It is that neon-lit glow of sin that tempts us into Hell; that wild and crazy freedom of sin, of carnality, of excess. Shaw's Don Juan in Hell paints Hell as one great aristocratic ball. What present of the Magi would be the perfect blend of Earth and Heaven?]

"Blake's purpose is to create what he called a "memorable fancy" in order to reveal the repressive nature of conventional morality and institutional religion, which he describes thus:
"The ancient Poets animated all sensible objects with Gods or Geniuses, calling them by the names and adorning them with the properties of woods, rivers, mountains, lakes, cities, nations, and whatever their enlarged & numerous senses could perceive.

And particularly they studied the genius of each city & country, placing it under its mental deity;
Till a system was formed, which some took advantage of & enslav'd the vulgar by attempting to realize or abstract the mental deities from their objects: thus began Priesthood;

Choosing forms of worship from poetic tales.
And at length they pronounc'd that the Gods had order'd such things.

Thus men forgot that All deities reside in the human breast."

In the most famous part of the book, Blake reveals the Proverbs of Hell. These display a very different kind of wisdom from the Biblical Book of Proverbs. The diabolical proverbs are provocative and paradoxical. Their purpose is to energise thought. Several of Blake's proverbs have become famous:
"The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom."

"The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction"

Blake explains that,
"Without Contraries is no progression. Attraction and Repulsion, Reason and Energy, Love and Hate, are necessary to Human existence.
From these contraries spring what the religious call Good & Evil.
Good is the passive that obeys Reason. Evil is the active springing from Energy.
Good is Heaven. Evil is Hell."

We see a similar attitude toward the temptations of Hell expressed in Swedenborg's Heaven and Hell :

"... hellish fire is self-love and love of the world, it is every craving that belongs to those loves, the craving being an extension of love because a person constantly craves what he loves.  It is also a pleasure, since when a person gets what he loves or craves, he perceives it as pleasant.  This is the only source of heartfelt joy for man.  So hellish fire is a craving and a pleasure that well up from these two loves as their sources... "

The following is from Job:

"Job again took up his parable, and said:

"Oh that I were as in the months of old, as in the days when God watched over me; when his lamp shone on my head, and by his light I walked through darkness, as I was in the ripeness of my days, when the friendship of God was in my tent, when the Almighty was yet with me, and my children were around me,
when my steps were washed with butter, and the rock poured out streams of oil for me, when I went forth to the city gate, when I prepared my seat in the street.

The young men saw me and hid themselves.  The aged rose up and stood. The princes refrained from talking, and laid their hand on their mouth. The voice of the nobles was hushed, and their tongue stuck to the roof of their mouth.

For when the ear heard me, then it blessed me; and when the eye saw me, it commended me:

Because I delivered the poor who cried, and the fatherless also, who had none to help him, the blessing of him who was ready to perish came on me, and I caused the widow's heart to sing for joy.

I put on righteousness, and it clothed me.  My justice was as a robe and a diadem.

I was eyes to the blind, and feet to the lame. I was a father to the needy.  The cause of him who I didn't know, I searched out. I broke the jaws of the unrighteous, and plucked the prey out of his teeth.

Then I said, 'I shall die in my own house, I shall number my days as the sand. My root is spread out to the waters.  The dew lies all night on my branch. My glory is fresh in me.  My bow is renewed in my hand.'"

I find this last quotation from Job, just in terms of its literary quality, to be astonishingly beautiful poetry; but I was drawn to this passage for the single moment, in the long progression, that refers to justice. The reference to justice, in this quotation, bears directly on Jesus' authority to judge and to mete out punishment and reward. Thus, not only is it beautiful poem, a poem that affirms the possibilities for good that come with life, it is a prophetic poem, as well, because, through the mouth of Job, it speaks about putting on the authority of the sun in order to administer one's affairs--that the blessings of God will bring happiness into his life; a long life such that, when he grows older and looks back on this, he will see it as a good thing. The justice of the Son justifies (duh) the world and all that is in the world.


The following is from Joseph Campbell on Jesus and Metaphor:

CAMPBELL: "The reference of the metaphor in religious traditions is to something transcendent that is not literally any thing. If you think that the metaphor is itself the reference, it would be like going to a restaurant, asking for the menu, seeing beefsteak written there, and starting to eat the menu.

For example, Jesus ascended to heaven. The denotation would seem to be that somebody ascended to the sky. That’s literally what is being said. But if that were really the meaning of the message, then we have to throw it away, because there would have been no such place for Jesus literally to go. We know that Jesus could not have ascended to heaven because there is no physical heaven anywhere in the universe. Even ascending at the speed of light, Jesus would still be in the galaxy, Astronomy and physics have simply eliminated that as a literal, physical possibility, But if you read "Jesus ascended to heaven" in terms of its metaphoric connotation, you see that he has gone inward – not into outer space but into inward space, to the place from which all being comes, into the consciousness that is the source of all things, the kingdom of heaven within. The images are outward, but their reflection is inward. The point is that we should ascend with him by going inward. It is a metaphor of returning to the source, alpha and omega, of leaving the fixation on the body behind and going to the body’s dynamic source."

"This is the problem that can be metaphorically understood as identifying with the Christ in you. The Christ in you doesn't die. The Christ in you survives death and resurrects. Or you can identify that with Shiva. I am Shiva--this is the great meditation of the yogis in the Himalayas...Heaven and hell are within us, and all the gods are within us. This is the great realization of the Upanishads of India in the ninth century B.C. All the gods, all the heavens, all the worlds, are within us. They are magnified dreams, and dreams are manifestations in image form of the energies of the body in conflict with each other."

One of the problems with the word "symbol" is that it sort of has the the undertone connotation that it's not actually real-- that when something "symbolizes" something, it's somehow talking about an abstraction-- something made up, pretend. But one of the things I have talked about, repeatedly, in these sermons, is that a symbol is a real thing. A symbol which comes to animate a physical object, has its origin in the mental world of abstraction, as an incidence of thought; it's an idea, born as a thought in the mind of God, which becomes realized in the physical plane. So, a symbol is not a nonphysical, nonreal entity, it is actually the physical invasion of matter by thought energy that previously existed in the mind of God.

Therefore, to think of Hell symbolically, for me, does not in any way diminish the terror of Hell. Hell is suffering. Hell is eternal regret, no matter what dimension it takes place in. The prospect of the physical torments, promised by Hell, actually seem much less forbidding than the spiritual hell, because we understand that spirit just keeps going on and on, while we are conditioned to think that physical matter must eventually be burned up. For this reason, it is easier for me to imagine an eternity of spiritual Hell, than it is to imagine an eternity of physical hell. Also, the idea of Jesus going up to heaven is simply a matter of imagining Him disappearing from the physical dimension into a nonphysical dimension. This is not rocket science.

The following is from Waldorf Watch: ‪hell‬:

"According to Rudolf Steiner, hell is not a location, in any normal sense, but a spiritual state: the lowest such state imaginable. Going to hell means losing one’s soul, falling out of evolution, becoming trapped in a totally material realm, becoming totally corrupted.

In general, Steiner delivered upbeat messages in his books and lectures, often indicating that everyone and everything may be redeemed. But not always. In his teachings, there is no absolute guarantee of winning through to divinity. The divine plans of the good gods can be derailed; and even if everything works out, evil souls will have hell to pay before being redeemed.

Here is a sampling of Steiner’s descriptions of hell in its various guises."

HELL
"We have in modern consciousness the feeling of a contrast between heaven and hell; others call it spirit and matter. Fundamentally there are differences only in degree between the heaven and hell of the peasant [in former times] and the matter and spirit of the philosophers of our day."


"Old-fashioned ways of speaking about “hell” are obsolete. But the descent into hell is a real danger. Hell is, in a sense, the world we occupy, the material plane, if we do not overcome its dark temptations."
Speaking of benevolent spiritual beings who helped mankind to evolve, Steiner said:
"These former divine companions confronted, as an inimical world, what even in earlier times was called 'hell.' But the efficacy of these spiritual beings stopped short at the gates of hell. These spiritual beings worked upon humankind. The forces of humankind extend even into hell. . . The divine spiritual beings felt this as a world opposed to them. They saw it rise up out of the Earth and felt it to be an exceedingly problematic world ... In His way the Christ gained the victory over death.  And therewith entered, I might say, the opposite pole to the Descent into Hell, the ascent into the spiritual world ...  [Christ] descended to that to which humankind is exposed ... Thus in the Easter thought we see united in a certain way the Descent into the region of Hell, and through this descent the winning of the heavenly region for the further evolution of humankind."

Is Jesus the judge being fair? Does every tit add up to tat? Thank God, no! Our sins are too far beyond our own power to forgive ourselves--it is Jesus that we must turn to, for forgiveness.

Let me remind you of thesis sentence of the sermon read at the beginning of the sermon:

"I don't think that Jesus must ultimately judge anything or anybody--that we make the decision to enter Hell or Heaven on our own."

"Indeed, our good friend C. S. Lewis always makes a point, in those one-on-one interviews with Aslan that all the Narnia books have at some point--you know, the scene where all pretense is stripped away, and Aslan reads the soul of the child before Him, and the child confesses all truly. In the presence of Aslan, no one can lie, even to oneself. Thus, the absolute honesty, that the presence of the Christ compels, makes each Man to confess each his own condemnation, each his own salvation. This is how Jesus stands in judgment; he makes Men see the truth of themselves, and reveals to them the consequences of choices they have already made."

Thus, C. S. Lewis, and Steiner as well, strongly affirm that hell is a choice. Jesus, as mediator sitting in judgment, merely affirms or rejects spiritual choices already made by the sinner. The miracle is that so much love gives us so many chances. Daily I fall down in my aspired spirituality, and daily I am reminded that without the mercy of an unjust savior, I would be burning in Hell right now.

Let us pray: Jesus thank you for the truth. Thank you for the sense that all things add up to a great good, and thank you for taking responsibility for us. Thank you for giving the truth of ourselves to ourselves, and thank you for escorting me through the gates of your Heavenly Kingdom. Amen.