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Author of the Month

Stephen Larsen, Ph.D. LMHC, BCIA-eeg, Author of the Month for February 2009

Why (some think) The Gods Must Be Crazy:
(Or how do we sink into delusion when we think that "God is on our side?") (cont.)
By Stephen Larsen

Since by now the Second Coming has been predicted for twenty centuries--without apparent fulfillment-Joseph Campbell presumed to call it "the great non-event!" A destructive mythology, indeed, to persist so…and yet it keeps being predicted. People have given away all they owned and stood on hilltops or the roofs of houses or churches, waiting for the End Times, for the heavens to part and the Absolute to intervene in time and space. In the year 1000, for example, there was a great divestiture of earthly portfolios for divine ones-people gave away all they had to the church, in expectation of eternal reward. Around this time also, as I have written, there emerged a potentially far more serious practice: of "forcing God's hand." Since Jesus failed to stage his second coming in the (calendrically auspicious) year 1000, surely if the Crusaders marched on Jerusalem, he would deign to come down, like he was supposed to, and rule as an earthly king for a millennium (a thousand years) Hence the "millenialists" are people who believe this will come to pass. The three and a half crusades, over two centuries (one was an ill-fated "Children's Crusade"), enacted unimaginable violence on everyone unlucky enough to be in the way.)

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The Crusades brought violence in the name of the Holy

As my study in the book moves on to pre-millenialism in nineteenth century America, it seems that for believers, disappointment and failure are mere bumps on the path to the awaited fulfillment and salvation. Major American denominations (Jehovah's Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventists among many others) are based on this same messianic expectation-which must never really happen because then it would eliminate the expectation on which the church is based. (Being invisible seems to give God a really good excuse to bow out of such puerile human scenarios.) Don't get me wrong, though; I am not saying this is God's problem. It's an eminently human problem: one of projecting our power, our creativity and our spirituality onto a historically-manifesting sacred person, and waiting around for that person to make our lives perfect. Likewise, seeing history as the tangible theater of a divine Will, and the various blunders, catastrophes, and even human-caused genocides and horrors as the doings of this Will, seems a dead end street.

The one thing that thus divides what I have called Shadow Christianity from more authentic variants, is this waiting game-while in fact the world goes to hell in its proverbial hand basket. The Fundamentalist historical fallacy is pernicious because it ignores all the psychologically and spiritually instructive things about Jesus' life--as an inspired prophet and healer who lived in Galilee, and laid down some pretty amazing guidelines for humanity. (I believe we accomplish more as a spiritually-empowered species if we do not sit around waiting for a projected God or Messiah to do everything for us, but take the inspiration into ourselves.)

Expecting the messiah within would guide you to save yourself and (your piece of) the world at the same time, by your spiritual efforts. Then you will have brought about the "new age," or entered the "promised land," in an inner, psychological, way. But culture forms that project their literally-held psychological states onto history are bound to reap disappointment-and waste a lot of creative effort. (And why would a literal Jesus want to come back, considering how he was treated last time?)

Human beings have the most exquisite and complex hardware in the known universe in their skulls, the cerebral cortex, with its billions of neurons and immeasurable trillions of possibilities for combinations. But culture, with language and customs, mythologies (some use the term religions) are imprinted on these receptive, organic human computers at a very early age. Thus habits of thought, drilled and inured, heard, recited, enacted, and which refer to ultimate things-beyond which there can be by definition no further thinking, no visualizing-seem to trump all secular tropes, any rational rhetoric. Emotion-imbued myth prevails. We remember stories of good and evil, heroic deeds and grand destinies, even sin and evil, and their redemption. These spirit-impregnated things eclipse all rational categories of thought: The manger and the baby Jesus; miracles, crucifixions; the prophet Mohammed's great winds and angelic voices; the dark, beautiful apparition of Kali to Ramakrishna.

Secular thinking, contrarily, is based on the evidence of the senses, and rational thought processes that pertain to predictable and known outcomes. At its best it is pragmatic, and uses the available evidence to make choices that are "realistic," in the sense of a practical benefit for all concerned. It worked for our Paleolithic ancestors as they considered the perils and the rewards of slaying mastodons and keeping the fire going. It worked for the Neolithic planters anticipating years of drought or famine and how much food they might need to feed their constituents. But historically, we all know how few decisions were made according to rational guidelines because of the enigmatic, perennial figure of the shaman.

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The Shaman
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The Christ figure
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