Monday, August 1, 2011

APOCALYPTICISM... ALWAYS ALIVE... July 21,2009(edited Aug1,2011)...note to Ed Fudge

Hi Edward, I'd like to reflect on this kind of highly symbolic passage: "And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: so Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many: and unto them that look for Him shall He appear the second time without sin unto salvation "(Hebrews 9:27-28).
To me this is one of those poetic statements that one can go astray by placing it in the category of  a  description of  a literal, historical  'once only' happening. Many things that are religious or spiritual are stated as if literal, historical and  'once only' that are actually describing  a genuine archetypal symbolic truth that is happening  in some way now and happens again and again. 'There is nothing new under the Sun.”

Something so important to remember regarding early Christianity is that these people truly believed that Jesus was coming again very very soon to make all things that were wrong and unjust right. The whole Hebrew people were also expecting a historical intervention from God that would relieve them of civil and economic oppression and vindicate them as God's chosen. It was this 'faith'  that motivated both to start each day truly hoping that this would be the day. This is a 'living faith and trust'. We easily  fail to realize how miserably oppressed both the regular Hebrews were in the pre-Jesus centuries  as were  the Jesus-Hebrews in the  first century A.D. 

But what both were expecting  historically simply did not happen. God did not save the Jews from Roman assault and Jesus did not come back. I do not say this to say their faith was wrong. It was the only kind of faith that could have kept them alive and going. But they were caught up in a kind of surviving mind set that comes from the collective unconscious. It is the kind of 'thinking and belief' that may come to people during   horrendously oppressed times. Religious stories are often built around the  reoccurring principle of the  'fullness of time', of 'when the time is right.' It is this kind of historical situation that brings forth 'apocalyptic'  'visions and revelations'... that basically say to the suffering, "this horrible suffering unlivable  life that we, our families and people are experiencing is coming from the source of all evil that is opposed to God's good will for us. And  God in His power is going to 'any moment' enter into this situation literally and historically  and make us who appear to be  most cursed vindicated and shown to be  most blessed. All we have to do is 'hold on',  'remain faithful'  just for one more day."  I think you would agree that this is a central message of the Book of describe as 'encouragement for believers'. And the Book Of Revelation is even more so. This is the meaning of apocalyptic literature in all religions. But I can think of no genuine apocalyptic statements such as Daniel and The Revelation Of John that actually concluded  literally and historically like the writer was fully convinced was going to happen. It just didn't.  It was 'true' for it provided a 'survival state of mind' which is no small thing. Of course these same documents are used perpetually  by some portion of  people of every generation who, experiencing that things are so bad, for the same purpose; to say the historical intervention of  God on their behalf is about to happen.

It is important that once that survival crisis is over(such as the first century one for Jews and Christians) that we be able to look back and 'understand' spiritually/psychologically what was going on. And even with such knowledge, which literal interpretations of ancient religious texts do no allow to become conscious, we may still experience times when such archetypes influence us and give us a hope of survival. To 'understand' these things as orchestrated by the Collective Unconscious does not mean we are no longer under their influence. The best we can do is to ALWAYS question ourselves and the source of the archetypes when we are in the grips of any strong emotion that is obviously not just  from logical rational thinking. If someone wants to think they are never so influenced that is their choice. But I would have concern that any such person is disillusioned and choosing to carry a serious handicap. To be human is to experience the impact of the Collective Unconscious whether or not we are conscious of it or willing to acknowledge that discomfort.

I think a similar kind of survival  apocalyptic mind set can happen  to individuals when they are totally hemmed in, have spent their last and best and most faithful  effort, are in an impossible physical and/or  psychological situation. Their personal integrity  and life is totally on the line. All their eggs are in one basket, often a strong trust in their image of God. This creates a moment in life that a person who 'believes'  sees as the only imaginable way to survive and retain  a meaning of life  is for God to act historically and momentarily to bring an end to the suffering and to bring 'proof' that the 'believer' has acted responsibly and is vindicated openly. As you know I temporarily experienced that very way of living and surviving. I can think of no other way I could have lived and survived. It was a 'real' and 'true' experience but it was not going to really erupt literally and historically, at least not in the physical way  I envisioned. I see myself as having experienced  my own  version of 'God appeared the second time without  sin unto  my salvation' . Some would say I was wrong, disillusioned and crazy. I think that misses the whole point of  what humans can possibly experience on their spiritual journey. I do think my little individual experience is of the same type that the early Christians had as communities whose trust and hope lay in the immediate 'return' of Jesus from 'heaven in the air.' I consider the 'visions'  I experienced are explained by this same kind of  spiritual/psychological dynamic. Such things demonstrate how religious experience and  psychology intersect. I think they always have. There was just no depth psychology until recent times to offer us an understanding.

The second above paragraph is a recurring historical theme repeated over and over. For the Hebrews and  Christian Hebrews of the first century A.D. the fact that there was no  historical intervention by God or  literal return of Jesus meant that both groups had to start finding new interpretations of their faith, explanations for what had gone wrong, ones that would explain why God had not acted according to their apocalyptic convictions. The N.T. is one of the results of this overwhelmingly desperate situation. As they say, the rest is history. For the Jews the new interpretation  became that the previous generations had not been faithful to God so God had withdrawn himself and not intervened. They were thus charged by the prophets  to return to a 'better and more faithful following the covenant of the Sinai Law.' This was, I think, an unfortunate conclusion for it dishonored their own forebears efforts  and it placed an impossible moral demand on ordinary humans, which we all are. Christian authors of the epistles began to say that 'time' is relative  with God.  Jesus is literally coming again but not necessarily in the next few days and gradually it became  maybe not even 'your life time', a total shift of the position from what Jesus was even reported to have told his followers.  

I grew up being told 'Jesus is coming' but we had no sense that it was immanent , except when some really bad things were happening. Rare is the individual Christian nowadays who lives the same anticipatory faith in Jesus' return as did the early believers. That makes 'being Christian' today a very different thing than it was for those early believers.  That 'immediate return of Jesus' was central to their living faith. But it is usually  a sign of emotional instability when any person or group has such a conviction today.  There is always some group of Christians who are experiencing life in enough  a negative and suffering way that they say to each other, "The end is at hand. It must be. We can't keep going on like this." When that happens they are repeating a similar experience the early Christians consistently had.  Such experiencing of an apocalyptic archetype is never totally nonsense. It occurs when there are  real and often unparalleled sufferings and times where  real change is needing to happen in the individual or collective life. The Revelation of John, for example, is a reaction to the otherwise hopeless situation of  the early persecuted Christians.  It is the typical apocalyptic vision of the final battle between perfect good and darkest evil as about to happen literally and historically.  Again it did not  and has not happened that way. All such apocalyptic episodes are never literally fulfilled. To look at them that way to miss their richest meaning. They always serve as a bridge to a new and different time. Then somehow a new, and hopefully effective, interpretation is hard won and life continues on again.

There is a serious danger in our day of these archetypes being taken literally. One of the strongest present ones hovers over the Middle East. Both sides of a centuries long hostile cultural relationship and their supporters  are squared off against each other. Both are expecting  a Sacred intervention in their behalf. It is a 'religious charged' situation. When politicians are under the influence of  such an archetype, possessed by it, it is very easy to not take the personal responsibility of seeking  just solutions through peaceful compromise. Instead the politician will secretly reason, " It makes no difference what I or anyone else does. God is going to intervene to make it right for my side. So 'let it come. The sooner the better.' "  I recall the last verse of the Bible says  of all the horrible images  in Revelation, "Even so, Come Lord Jesus." I think I  have even heard a former president of the U.S. suggest such a 'death wish' attitude. The danger of this is unimaginable  in our time for  Nuclear Disaster is only a button push away. These archetypes, and the beliefs they generate,  must be QUESTIONED by well  balanced minds if  humans are to survive self extinction.

All of this is to say that most  spiritual truths, especially when they are cast in  poetic, out -of -this -daily -world language, or as apocalypse, are true; very true from time to time. Sometimes they are true as recurring inner psychological  experience  and sometime they erupt into history, not just in one historical event but in many historical moments.  And when they do break through into actual history they come as 'natural' events not supernatural ones as first  envisioned.

I think this Hebrews text ( along with so many others) you quote is best understood as this kind of  spiritual truth, not that all of history is literally going to be wrapped up by the one time literal coming 'in the air'  of Jesus with  'real trumpets blowing' and real 'earthly graves opening up' and  'real visible bodies' literally coming out of  them. This kind of misguided  interpretation is , I believe, not what was coming from the 'inspired' writer.  Even if the writer was thinking literally, which they often were, the inspiration was  of something  different and larger than the writer was consciously aware.  I think all 'inspired' material says something more than only what the  writer is conscious of.  The same is true for all deeply  creative art and literature. To fail to see this as the nature of  Sacred text  is to  take what is spiritual and psychological and  convert it to what is material , literal and historical. This approach to scripture  is another example of  the 'materializing  and objectifying of reality' that began with the 'enlightenment' three hundred years ago.  This use of Sacred text  makes it more materialistic, less true and less applicable to the real human situation.  This approach  is the nature of fundamentalism in any religion. This is how fundamentalists use sacred texts whether it be the Bible or the Koran  etc.

The Hebrews 9:27-29  statement is truth. It is so much the truth that it can be experienced time and again by many different people in many different forms. Edward, you seem to  nearly say this from your conservative perspective: We continually die and are judged. Forever sins are being born. And, for those who look, the sacred appears, not just initially but that most important second time, bringing again our long awaited salvation. In Jungian language it is truth that springs from the eternal base of the human psyche , the living archetypes of the collective unconscious  that continue to feed into human consciousness in unique ways throughout human history. Such a sacred statement is a richer  spiritual resource, I think, when it is seen as a description of real ongoing human experience that can effect outer reality any time, rather than a rigid statement  of a specific historical event that one is simply asked to 'believe is true'. That is a big difference and one that matters.


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