05 April 2015

Integral Christ

UPDATE: Integral Christ is now available in PDF format complete with additional pictures and about three errors corrected. 

 If the crucifixion took place in 33 AD then the day was today, 3 April. The last time Holy Week took place at the same time as the first Holy Week was 1942. The next time it will happen again is 2026. If my calculations are correct Jesus was killed 2 weeks before his 39th birthday.

On such an auspicious occasion, the first in the lives of probably most people who have ever visited The Urban Mystic (though I love my septuagenarian readers just as much, probably more), I will take this time to write a very special piece about the most famous man who ever lived.

Who was Jesus Christ? I've already written about his birth, about his life, the conspiracy to kill him, the resurrection, and the possibility that he visited India during those missing 18 years. What is left to write about?

How about the ways in which we interpret Jesus.

I listened to an audio program from Integral Life that was little more than a 45 minute commercial, but it got me thinking about the way people at different developmental levels interpret Jesus and what part of his life and teaching they may focus on.

We hear about magic stage Christianity focuses on Jesus as personal savior who can miraculously alter the world. A child's view of Jesus as a superhero who is there to save you. The miraculous is the focus at this stage; it is what convinces the believer.

Mythic Christianity would focus on Jesus as the Way the Truth and the Life. Jesus prescribes behavior and you have to obey, you have to accept Jesus as your personal savior or you'll go to Hell forever. This is the Christianity of the Crusaders and most of medieval Europe and even going into the Reformation. The difference between the old Catholic church and Luther's church was the interpretation of whether Jesus' Law included belief only or if acts of charity were needed to cement one's place in Heaven.

Rational Christianity, the Christianity of Thomas Jefferson, John Locke, Rene Descartes, and Isaac Newton. We have a God who is grand designer of the universe, and while Jesus is fully divine he is also fully human. Jesus is a wisdom teacher.

There's a pluralistic Christianity would deconstruct Jesus. It would be seen as unchristlike to say Jesus is the only way to God. Belief no longer needs to have any connection with truth, if truth even exists; belief is my own feeling about something and everyone has different, equally valid beliefs.

But what is integral Christianity? Who is the integral Jesus? This question may be too large even for this massive essay. To scale it back I'll focus on a much smaller scale.

The dialogue did ask four interesting questions about what would be included in an integral version of Christianity: Do you need the virgin birth? Do you need miracles? Do you need Jesus dying on the cross? and Do you need the resurrection?

Remember, the key feature of second tier is supposed to be to integrate all of first tier. We're supposed to look at everything that has come before and work it all together. Ken Wilber's working hypothesis is that no one is entirely wrong. Every level is right about some aspect of reality in some way. What I try to do is find what works at each level and put it all together, bridging the gaps, to create a unified whole. What the people over at Integral Life seem to do is talk about the lower levels and then take whatever Green-Post Modern says and declare it the truth of everything. There seems to be a very strong Green bias in the supposedly second tier integral community. But that's a topic for a different discussion. Right now what I will attempt to do is integrate all of first tier into a second tier version of Christianity. I will start by answering the four questions presented in the dialogue.

Now, I have absolutely no idea if Mary was a virgin or not prior to Jesus' birth. Mentioned in Matthew and Luke, the virgin birth went relatively unquestioned for most of the history of Christianity. Matthew makes reference to a prophecy from Isaiah that the messiah would be born of a virgin and he sees Jesus as fulfilling that prophecy. Why did Matthew and Luke tell different versions of the same story, and why did Mark and John not mention the virgin birth at all? We can excuse Paul because his central focus was the resurrection as the singular event in history in which sin and death were overcome, but is the silence from Mark and John any indication of anything?

It is not impossible for such an event as a virgin birth to occur. It has never been observed in mammals in the wild, but scientists have been able to tinker around with mice and rabbits, and in 2007 human embryos were created this way for use in stem cell research. God can do anything that a human can do, so technically God could turn the reptilian gene on and make a fatherless Jesus as a demonstration of sovereignty over nature. The biggest problem is that the offspring of such an event is always female. Again, however, it is possible to tinker with an X chromosome in the lab and create a Y chromosome from it, since they have homologous genes. It is technically possible for a scientist today to create a male embryo from the cells of just the mother, but no one has ever done this before and it doesn't happen in nature, which really would make it a miracle par excellence.

Did it happen? We can't say. Are we required to believe it happened? Well, if we follow what Paul says then technically no. A virgin birth is not a requirement for an integral Christianity.

Do we need miracles? Surprisingly they seem to agree that events that might be considered miraculous actually do happen. There are healers who use methods such as laying on hands and other energetic methods, and not only do they produce statistically significant results, but these alternative methods are sometimes even covered by insurance, so energy healing is not something on the fringe, it is acceptable medicine. Phenomena such as ESP and psychokinesis have been demonstrated to exist with greater scrutiny than any other field of science ever. Double-blind protocol was invented to study psychic phenomena, starting with Mesmerism (a form of hypnotism). Just as ancient people would consider an airplane magic if it were somehow transported back in time, it is safe to say that they would have considered psychic powers to be a form of magic or miracles.

Richard Rose, an iconoclastic physicist and engineer as well as a mystic, certainly accepted what he called "magic," which appears to include psychic phenomena. Looking at Ken Wilber's classification of the developmental levels it is possible that Richard Rose would have been considered third tier, meaning permanently ensconced in states of transpersonal awareness. Rose would almost certainly have been considered integrally developed, and he not only accepted the existence of psychic phenomena, but also demonic possession.

A lot of miracles in the New Testament definitely could be explained through psychic phenomena, albeit at a larger scale than what is seen in a laboratory setting. Miracles can indeed be a part of integral Christianity, and if we're using the word "miracle" as a pre-scientific term to mean "psychic phenomena" then the existence of miracles is already an established fact.

What about the crucifixion? Does integral Christianity need a crucifixion? Well, what exactly is the alternative? The dialogue brings up the swoon hypothesis. They say that people in the Gospels acted like Jesus was still alive. They say he was taken off after only six hours, his body was put in a tomb instead of left on the cross to rot like typically happens with criminals, that the herbs used to anoint the body were typically used to revive people and not to anoint the dead. People are acting like he isn't dead? Really? Only John mentions anything put on Jesus' body, and he says myrrh, aloe, and unnamed spices. Aloe is certainly used in medicine, and so is myrrh, but myrrh is also used in embalming the dead. But what about the swoon hypothesis? I have to say it is the most ridiculous alternative to crucifixion anyone has come up with. People have suggested it was a double who was crucified, some people say that the whole story was made up, some people even say that God replaced Jesus' body on the cross with Judas, but anyone who believes in the swoon hypothesis knows absolutely nothing about medicine.

Let us look at the Shroud of Turin, an object that realistically depicts what is mentioned in the Gospels. Jesus was scourged by a Roman flagrum. The man on the shroud has 120 such marks on his body. There have been people who have died from a few lashes from a regular whip back when capital punishment was legal in the West, in the British navy for example. A flagrum is about 50 times worse than a whip. A flagrum is like a whip with three strips of leather with iron barbells, nails, or broken glass tied to it, wielded by a professional killer. He had a crown of thorns placed on his head. His eye is swollen shut from the beating he received, his nose is broken. His shoulders were dislocated when he was crucified. The nails used in the crucifixion would have rendered his hands nonfunctional, not to mention the excruciating pain from putting pressure on the median nerve in the wrist. After six hours on the cross Jesus' heart would have been beating over 140 beats per minute, he would be near suffocating, dehydrated, exhausted, between 10-20% of his blood would have been lost. Then the Roman centurion thrust a spear through Jesus' side and "blood and water" poured out of the wound. This is a very telling remark from John. The heart is surrounded by a cushion of clear fluid. When the spear pierced Jesus' heart that clear fluid came out with the blood. It is doubtful that even professional executioners in the first century would have known about the existence of pericardial fluid. The fact that John mentions this is strong indication that he witnessed an actual event.

In order to complete the swoon hypothesis the Apostles would have needed to fool professional executioners that Jesus was dead. In the tomb they would have needed to treat wounds that would probably have been fatal even with modern emergency surgery. Jesus would have needed an emergency heart transplant, a blood transfusion, his shoulders would have had to been put back in place and his nose would have had to have been set. 36 hours later Jesus would have needed to roll an enormous stone away using his nonfunctional hands, overpower the guards standing outside the tomb, walk seven miles from outside Jerusalem to Emmaus, sneak into a locked room with no evidence of forced entry, and fool people including his Apostles and his own mother that he was resurrected and had conquered death and not a bloody and beaten mess who had barely escaped death. He would have had to convince people so thoroughly that 11 of the 12 Apostles would overcome their fear of the Romans and go to their death as martyrs to preach a Gospel they knew was a lie.

The swoon hypothesis is absolutely impossible. One thing is certain, the Romans were experts at killing people. If they said Jesus was dead then he was dead. He wasn't in a coma, he wasn't faking, he was absolutely dead.

The dialogue also mentions a supposed lack of documentary evidence of the crucifixion. Lack of documentary evidence? Josephus and Tacitus both say that a man named Jesus was crucified by the Romans. What do you want, a CNN video from 33 AD actually showing the nails going in?

The crucifixion is as close to an historical fact as we can get. We know from historical sources that a man named Jesus preached in Judea in the first century and he was crucified by the Romans. That is fact. If the crucifixion isn't part of integral Christianity that's just plain denying fact. That would be like integral chemistry denying the existence of atoms.

Now we come to the big one. Does integral Christianity need the resurrection? The men in the dialogue dodge produce yet another flippant response. They say something like "Well I don't care, 'he died for my sins', that doesn't mean anything to me." Not only did they dodge the question, I also suspect they enjoy sinning. I mean sinning is fun, at the time, but I suspect they don't repent afterward.

But the answer to the question is an unequivocal yes. You don't need to believe in the resurrection to practice Jesus' teachings, you don't need to believe to accept the existence of an historical Jesus, but to be a Christian the central tenant is belief in the resurrection. That is nonnegotiable. Paul says that there can be no Christianity without the resurrection and that if the resurrection did not happen we should immediately through Christianity out because it is false:

But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. (1 Cor 15:13-17)

Who am I going to believe, Paul, the inventor of Christianity, as the man who took a small following of an obscure Jewish teacher and made it a world religion everyone can belong to, or some guy in 2015 who doesn't even care about the concept of sin?

Here's what Richard Rose has to say:

"Evidently Jesus was able to come back and get his body, since the body disappeared from the grave, and later reappeared on the road to Emmaus. This does not prove that Jesus escaped physically from the grave, but could imply that the spirit of Jesus was able to simulate a body and to discard the mask at will.

"To say that a personality has found a means to travel from one dimension to another and to be seen in both is not unreasonable, although it implies a special talent. The SRF (Self Realization Fellowship) movement claims that some of its masters were avatars who had the ability to come and go between the spiritual planes and they were also reputed to have extensive creative ability. This brings us to the word illusion, for many believe this world to be one of illusion and that some liberated spirits are able to evoke the illusion at will." (The Albigen Papers, p. 84)

Rose is speaking of chapter 43 from Autobiography of a Yogi. Yogananda's guru Yukteswar Giri had died and his body was buried and then a few days later he reappeared in physical form before Yogananda to console him and teach a valuable lesson about life and death:

"Angelic guru," I said, "your body looks exactly as it did when last I wept over it in the Puri ashram."

"O yes, my new body is a perfect copy of the old one. I materialize or dematerialize this form any time at will, much more frequently than I did while on earth. By quick dematerialization, I now travel instantly by light express from planet to planet or, indeed, from astral to causal or to physical cosmos." My divine guru smiled. "Though you move about so fast these days, I had no difficulty in finding you at Bombay!"
(Quote taken from the original public domain version, which I have as a text file, so I unfortunately can't say what page it came from.)

What about A Course in Miracles? If we look at the unpublished "Special Messages" section the Voice (identified as Jesus Christ) says the following about the resurrection:

My body disappeared because I had no illusion about it. The last one had gone. It was laid in the tomb, but there was nothing left to bury. It did not disintegrate because the unreal cannot die. It merely became what it always was. And that is what “rolling the stone away” means. The body disappears, and no longer hides what lies beyond. It merely ceases to interfere with vision. To roll the stone away is to see beyond the tomb, beyond death, and to understand the body’s nothingness. What is understood as nothing must disappear.

I did assume a human form with human attributes afterwards, to speak to those who were to prove the body’s worthlessness to the world. This has been much misunderstood. I came to tell them that death is illusion, and the mind that made the body can make another since form itself is an illusion. They did not understand. But now I talk to you and give you the same message. The death of an illusion means nothing. It disappears when you awaken and decide to dream no more. And you still do have the power to make this decision as I did.

Is resurrection even possible? Resurrection, not mere revival of the body. Both Richard Rose and Paramhansa Yogananda seem to think so. And you may think to yourself, sure Rose and Yogananda may, may, have had a center of gravity in third tier, but Yogananda could still have been cognitively at amber and Rose at orange, or whatever. You might say that the Course was written by Hellen Schucman subconsciously, and she might have been at orange or maybe green, who knows.

Someone with a cognitive level of teal or turquoise, even someone at green, would see this is all a myth, it's impossible, the resurrection is a holdover from a mythic consciousness and it's really symbolic of our spiritual resurrection within Christ consciousness. The death of the separate self sense and the resurrection into nondual spirit as such. This also achieves the conquest of sin, because from a nondual perspective there is no sin. Nonduality transcends good and evil (unfortunately most people today misinterpret the nondual traditions and instead of transcending anything just act egotistically and think they are transcending good and evil). Sin is entirely a product of the separate self, so when we die to the separate self we are eliminating sin. And that's fine. I don't disagree with that interpretation. It is lovely symbolism and capable of producing profound spiritual experiences.

But my question is is it possible for an integral Christianity to include a bodily resurrection of Jesus? I've presented eye-witness testimony of resurrection and spiritual communication. Now let's take another look at the Shroud of Turin. I keep bringing up the Shroud because I think it is strong evidence in favor of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. If we are able to overcome the speculation that it is a forgery then we are left with what appears to me to be two possibilities: that the Shroud was formed through some unknown natural process related to the decomposition of a body that has never been seen before or since, or that the Shroud is a relic of a miracle, a physical testimony to the the ultimate event in history.

The evidence that the shroud is not a forgery is very strong. The first piece of evidence is the dating. One sample from the Shroud of Turin was taken and dated. First off, testing one sample proves nothing. Second, the sample was taken from a corner where a repair was made. The radio carbon date of the sample is off because it did not come from an original part of the cloth.

Next we have an illumination from a Hungarian manuscript the Pray Codex.
Pray Manuscript
The illumination depicts a crucified man who looks like the man in the Shroud with his thumbs retracted (because the nails damaged the nerve) – medical knowledge a medieval monk would not have known. The picture also depicts the man on a cloth with a similar weave as the Shroud, and an L-shaped series of burn marks in the same place as on the Shroud. Crucially, this manuscript was made almost a century prior to the earliest date attested to by the carbon 14 testing of the Shroud. This is strong evidence against the Shroud being a medieval forgery.

Then comes the list of high improbabilities; things that no medieval artist should know or would even think about.

 ● The blood stains – which have been tested and are real human blood – have no image underneath them. That means the blood was placed on the cloth first and the image created afterward. The forger would need to know exactly where to place the blood, correctly depicting the flow of gravity around a three dimensional body, both when held vertical during the crucifixion, and then later when the body was horizontal within the tomb, and then paint over it.

 ● The forger would need to know what an authentic Roman scourging looked like to produce an accurate representation.

 ● The forger would need to know what an authentic Roman crucifixion looked like, including putting the nails in the wrists and not the palms, as was the tradition during the middle ages. The forger would have needed to know that the thumbs would retract from the injury.

 ● The forger would need to put Jerusalem pollen on the cloth to fool 20th century scientists who would conduct microchemistry on the Shroud.

 ● The forger would need to paint using an unknown medium (no paint, no dye, no pigment of any kind was ever discovered on the cloth, there are no indication of brush strokes or any application of any material) in perfect negative of an image that is almost invisible up close and does not become visible until many 40 feet away, in order to produce a positive image only after the invention of photography many centuries later.

 ● The forger would need to encode 3D information within the image so that 20th century computers could extract a full 3D life-sized image of a man.

If the Shroud is a forgery then the forger would need to be the greatest artist who has ever lived and will likely ever live, and yet the forger would have to have produced absolutely no other work during his lifetime.

Now that the idea that the Shroud is a forgery has been refuted it is up to you to decide whether the Shroud of Turin is the natural byproduct of an unknown process of decomposition that has never before or since been observed, or a genuine miracle.

Integral Christianity certainly can include a bodily resurrection. We certainly can have room for interpretation and experiences. It is possible to have visions of Christ, just like deathbed visions of relatives. I'll say this for the first time, I have had a vision of Christ. He reached through my body, touched my spine, and instantly healed a childhood injury that had filled most of my life up to that point with constant pain. No hallucination can do that, that was a genuine miracle. (Unfortunately, six years later I re-injured my back at work. I don't expect Jesus to come back and heal me every time I get hurt, that was a one off event with spiritual ramifications.) Could the Apostles have had such a vision? I certainly think Paul did. But a mere vision does not explain the empty tomb. Remember, people at different levels can interpret the empty tomb and the resurrection differently, but when reading the Gospels we must take into account the writer's original intent. We can read interpretations into the Gospels that the writers could never have imagined, about Christ consciousness and symbolism of this and that, but to know what they were talking about we must take into account their own level of development. First and second century Jews would not have a clue what you're talking about if you start speaking in postmodern terminology.

When Paul was writing his letter to the Corinthians he was not talking about some experience you can have and gee isn't that swell, but other people can interpret things their own way. The Gospel writers were not using the empty tomb as a metaphor for anything. They do not paint themselves as particularly bright within their own Gospels. Jesus has to constantly explain himself in ever more details before the Apostles finally get it in John at the Last Supper. The Gospel writers depict events that would have been embarrassing for a first century Jew. If they were writing metaphor they would not have put so many inconvenient details within the text, they would have presented Jesus as Superman.  These people were writing what they thought was the true account of real events. If Paul says that Christianity cannot exist without the resurrection, he's not talking about an experience he had on the road to Damascus, he's not using the empty tomb to talk about shunyata, they really found a tomb with no body and they explain it by saying Jesus physically rose from the dead. Without that, without the resurrection, there can be no Christianity.

So where does that leave integral Christianity? Well, I've certainly demonstrated that miracles exist, whether we use the word "miracle" or "psychic phenomena," I've shown that the crucifixion was a real historical event, and, most controversially, I have presented evidence in favor of the resurrection, and have argued that our own interpretation, while important, should not be read into the minds of the Gospel writers.

You can certainly love Jesus at any level. You can practice Jesus' teaching in the manner interpreted at any level and have that practice be appropriate for that level. However interpretations should not trump facts. Postmodernism deconstructed the world, and integralism is supposed to reconstruct it, taking what works at every level and synthesizing it into a seamless whole. It is not enough to say every level has its own interpretations, its own value structures, and just leave it at that. While true, that is not the whole picture. Our own interpretation must go hand-in-hand with the interpretations of the Gospel writers and with the facts of Jesus' life in order to complete the picture and create a truly integral Christianity. We must live the teachings of Jesus body, mind, and spirit, exercising our charity and compassion, our rationality, and our prayer and contemplation so that we too may "die daily" to our separate self as Paul did 2000 years ago.

It is Easter Sunday. Rejoice! Christ is risen!