An overview of “truth groups” and the “honesty culture” strategy (longer, anti-esotericist version)

(The following post constitutes virtually the entirety of the updated final section of Part I of my “Against the Lie” essay.  If you do not consider yourself an “anti-esotericist,” or are still unfamiliar with the subject matter of religious esotericism and have not yet formed any opinions with regard to it, then I recommend that you instead read a shorter version of this post which does not discuss the subject of religious esotericism or its relevance to an “honesty culture” social strategy.)

 

“Principle is not limited by Precedent.”
—Thomas Troward

I believe that it would actually be possible to solve the age-old problem of lying and dishonesty in human affairs if there were only a relatively small number of people who were willing to consistently adhere to a strategy based on the formation of what might be called “truth groups” (or “honesty groups,” to be more precise).  I certainly make no claim that the thorough elimination of dishonesty in society would be achieved in the very near future by using this strategy; but I do believe that, in time, it would be achieved.  (Incidentally, I also envision that these same “truth groups” would constitute the nuclei or beginning cores around which the moral communities that I describe elsewhere might come to form—with each of these moral communities practicing a non-esoteric religion or practical philosophy of its choice.)

I propose that members of truth groups would make four pledges, the first three being the most important to stress.  First:  They will never lie, either to each other or to outsiders—not even to those who have lied to them.  (There would be a single exception to this blanket “never lie” rule:  a kind of “self-defense” or “self-protection” exception that would apply in cases in which an individual’s personal privacy or autonomy was being unreasonably threatened—for example, by being asked intrusive and impertinent questions.)[1]  SecondTo the extent that they are reasonably able, they will never tolerate lying by others.  ThirdTo the extent that they are reasonably able, they will never tolerate the condoning (or promoting, or endorsing, or enabling) by others of lying by others.  Fourth:  They will strive to reduce how much they lie to themselves (at least to the extent they are able to do so, given that some degree of self-deception in every person is inevitable, and one must fight a never-ending battle against it).[2]

A particular truth group could be formed around any interest that its members shared in common, or any mission or goal that they wished to jointly pursue.  Any currently-existing group or association, including a small business, a non-profit organization, or an informal club, could always choose to additionally identify as a “truth group.”  Members of different truth groups wouldn’t need to have anything in common with one another except a shared desire to promote the development of a thoroughly honest society.[3]

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How we can know that Paul never regarded “Jesus Christ” as a flesh-and-blood person

In Galatians 1:11-12 the apostle Paul writes,

For I make known to you, brothers, that the gospel preached by me is not according to man.  For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught (it), but (I received it) through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

Notice that Paul seems to be implying that a gospel received “from man,” at second-hand, is inferior to a direct revelation from Jesus Christ.  And that idea seems to be consistent with Galatians 1:15-20, in which Paul goes on to write,

But when it pleased God—the one who separated me from my mother’s womb and who called me through his grace—to reveal his Son in me so that I might announce the good news about him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to the apostles (who became apostles) before me, but I went off into Arabia, and again returned to Damascus.  Then, after three years [!], I went up to Jerusalem to become personally acquainted with Cephas [i.e., Peter; see John 1:42], and I stayed with him for fifteen days.  But I saw none of the other apostles except James, the brother of the Lord.  And take heed, (in) the things I write to you, (I swear) before God, I do not lie.

Notice that Paul is saying all this as if it gave added credibility to his claim of having received a revelation from Jesus Christ, and to the content of that revelation.  He apparently didn’t want people to think that he was just passing along “revelation stories” that he had heard from others.  Moreover, it seems that Paul didn’t feel that he had much to learn from the other apostles, since anything he learned from them would have been merely “according to man.”  He had already had his own personal, direct revelation—just as the other apostles had had theirs.  (In fact, I think it’s reasonable to surmise that having had a personal, direct revelation from “Jesus Christ” is what was considered to make an “apostle” an apostle.)

As far as I am concerned, this passage provides virtually irrefutable proof that Paul did not regard “Jesus Christ” as an actual, historical, flesh-and-blood individual.  Note that Paul makes a point of saying that after Jesus was revealed to him, he did not go to see the other apostles in Jerusalem.  Instead, he waited three years before going to see them.  If Paul understood Jesus to be an historical individual, one whom Paul now understood to be the one and only Son of God, wouldn’t he have made it his absolute top priority in life to go to the apostles who actually knew him and spent time with him so that he could learn from them everything that he possibly could about the life of Jesus and his teachings?  Wasn’t Paul concerned that some of them might die or forget some things during that long period of time?  Not all that much, it seems.

A Christian may be inclined to suggest that Paul, as a result of his personal revelation from Jesus Christ, must have already learned everything about Jesus Christ and his teachings that were possibly worth knowing.  But how could he have known that to be true without first having spoken with the other apostles to find out what Jesus had taught them, and what they had personally witnessed of his life, death, and resurrection?  I would also ask that same Christian why, according to the traditional Christian account, God chose to reveal himself in the flesh at all—if that is indeed an inferior and unnecessary way of going about revealing himself to human beings.  Why didn’t God just reveal himself directly to all of the apostles in the form of “visions”?  Well, I’m arguing that—at least according to how Paul saw things—that’s exactly what God did.

Galatians 1:15-20 shows that whatever exactly Paul understood “Jesus Christ” to mean, it’s not even conceivable to the mind of a reasonable person that he understood him to be an historical, flesh-and-blood individual.

The figure of Jesus seen as the “cut-off member” of the Jewish “body”

I ask you to be a bit patient as I go about helping you to see what appears to be an esoteric meaning contained in one of Jesus’s parables—a meaning which, if I am correct in believing that it was probably intended by the authors of the Gospels (whether consciously or unconsciously), would be quite remarkable.  I recommend that the first time you read the Bible passages quoted below, that you only read the text in red, and skip the bracketed material.  I also recommend that you not refer to the endnotes the first time you read the post.

The particular parable I have in mind can be found in Matthew 5:29-30, in which Jesus says,

And if your right eye causes you to be offended [or to stumble, or to offend, or to become indignant, or to be led into temptation, or to get stuck, or to get tripped up; more literally, to be ensnared: skandalizō], pluck it out [or pull it out, or lift it out, or take it out, or rescue it: ex-aireō][1] and cast [or send: ballō] (it) away from [apo] you.  For it is profitable [or advantageous: sympherō] for you that [hina] one [hen] of your members [melos] should perish [or be ruined, or be destroyed: apollymi, a word that appears to be derived from apo-lyō, which can mean “to cut loose, to detach, to cut off, to cut away”], and (the) whole [holos] (of) your body [sōma] not be cast [or sent: ballō] into Gehenna [or hell: geenna].[2]  And if your right hand[3] causes you to be offended [or to stumble: skandalizō], cut it off [ek-koptō] and cast [or send: ballō] (it) away from [apo] you.[4]  For it is profitable [sympherō] for you that [hina] one [hen] of your members [melos] should perish [apollymi], and (the) whole [holos] (of) your body [sōma] not go away [ap-erchomai] into Gehenna [or hell: geenna].[5]

Compare the quoted passage to John 11:47-53, which says,

So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered together [syn-agō] the Council [or Sanhedrin: synedrion] and said, “What do we do (now)?  For this man does many signs.  If we let him go on in this way, everyone will believe [or be persuaded: pisteuō] unto him, and the Romans will come and will take away [or destroy: airō] from us both the (holy) place and the nation [or people: ethnos].”  But one of them, Caiaphas, being high priest that year, said to them, “You understand nothing at all.  Nor are you considering that it is profitable [sympherō] for us that [hina] one [heis] man [anthrōpos] should perish [or die: apothnéskō] for the sake of the people [laos, not ethnos], and (the) whole [holos] (of) the nation [ethnos, not laos] not be destroyed [or perish, or be ruined, or be lost: apollymi].”  And he said this not of his own accord [more literally, “from himself”], but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus was going to die [apothnéskō] for the sake of the nation [ethnos]—and not for the sake of the nation [ethnos] alone, but also so that he might gather together [syn-agō] into one the children of God who had been scattered [dia-skorpizō].[6]  So from that day (on) they made plans [or purposed: bouleuō] to put him to death [apothnéskō].

In other words:  One “member” of the “body” of the people would be made to “perish” in order to benefit the “whole.”

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The “unclean foods” parable in the Gospels: Jesus lying again

In my writings on this site I repeatedly make the argument that all of the traditional religions practice “esotericism,” meaning that they knowingly make splits between an “outer meaning” and one or more “inner meanings” in their “sacred” communications.  The “outer meaning” is made freely available to “the multitude” or “the profane,” while the (different) “inner meaning” is reserved for the “elect” or “chosen” or “initiates.”  In other words, religions of this type are okay with misleading people.

Here’s an example of what I mean taken from the Bible.  (As you read what I write below, please keep in mind that I don’t believe “Jesus” was an actual, historical, individual, flesh-and-blood human being; I think he was functioning as a fictional, idealized collective representation of the authors of the Gospels, and persons like them.  So by my criticism of “Jesus,” what I am really trying to do is indicate the fact that the authors of the Gospels were oblivious to their own moral flaws—flaws stemming from their approval of religious esotericism—in so far as they were not able to recognize the defects displayed in their own imagined vision of how “the perfect man” would act.)

And having called the multitude to him again, (Jesus) said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and comprehend:  There is nothing outside the man that by going into him can make him unclean, but the things going out of the man are the things making the man unclean.  If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.”  [Mark 7:14-16.]

Yes, I have ears to hear!  The meaning of the passage is perfectly obvious:  Jesus is telling us that there’s no such thing as a “ritually impure food,” since it’s what comes out of us, after we eat, that makes us unclean.  And after all, isn’t that why we wash our hands after using the toilet?  Just some sound advice from Jesus on the matter of personal hygiene, that’s all.

But wait.  The passage then continues:

And when he had entered the house away from the multitude [or commoners, or crowd: ochlos], his disciples asked him (the meaning of) the parable.  And he said to them, “So are you also without comprehension?  Do you not understand that everything going into the man from outside cannot make him unclean, since it enters not his heart but his belly, and goes out into the latrine, (thus) purifying all foods?”  And he said, “What goes out of the man, that is what makes him unclean.  For from within, out of the heart of man, go forth evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.”  [Mark 7:17-22.]

Ohhhhh, now I get it.  The first passage was only giving us the “exoteric meaning,” and, being “common,” I unfortunately got taken in by it.  Stupid me.  But now that we’ve all learned the “esoteric meaning,” we understand that food cannot make people unclean after all—perhaps not even when it “goes out” of the “belly” of the person “into the latrine” in the form of poo.  We now know that it is what comes “out of the heart” that makes a person “unclean” or “defiled”; at least, that’s the only kind of “uncleanliness” that seems to be of concern to Jesus.  So does that mean Jesus is telling us that if we’re true “disciples,” we needn’t be all that concerned with washing our hands after using the toilet, since using the toilet doesn’t actually make us “unclean” in any way that we ought to consider especially important?  It would seem so—at least, so long as we choose to take what Jesus says to his disciples at face value (which might be just as big a mistake as taking what he told “the multitude” at face value—but for the most part I will ignore that line of thinking for present purposes; I will only mention in passing the possibility that words like “food” and “belly” and “hands” may have been understood to have esoteric meanings of their own).

This may sound like a pretty silly suggestion at first, but it begins to appear less silly when the quoted verses are read in the context of the preceding verses of Mark 7:1-8, in which we are told that Jesus’s disciples would refuse to wash their admittedly “unclean hands” before eating.  Regardless of how “hypocritical” the scribes and Pharisees may have been, I still would have been appreciative that they were washing their hands and utensils before eating.  (I don’t wish to get too graphic, so I’ll say nothing more than remind the reader that toilet paper did not exist in ancient times.)

(And by the way, if anyone thinks I’m being vulgar in talking about this subject matter, just remember that the vulgarity came from the Bible, not me; it was Jesus who brought up the subject matter of “latrines” and digested food.  And I’m quite certain that this particular double meaning regarding “the things going out of the man” was meant to be noticed and appreciated by the more “discerning” reader—although, needless to say, prim and proper Christian clergymen have never allowed themselves to devote too much careful thought to what is going on here, even though it’s all to be found in their very own Holy Bible.)

Now, did you notice the little bait-and-switch pulled by Jesus?  Pay close attention to the technique, because esotericists do stuff like this on a regular basis.  Jesus himself later admits to his disciples that his parable involves “food”—that’s what “goes into the man from outside.”  (And if you need even more proof of this, he also explicitly mentions “bellies” and “latrines.”)  So, since Jesus is admittedly thinking about “food” as being that which “goes into the man from outside,” and since Jesus also speaks to the multitude of “the things going out of the man,” the reasonable member of “the multitude” would—if that member made what, it so happens, is the correct assumption that Jesus had “food” in mind—also assume, for the sake of consistency, when Jesus speaks of “the things going out of the man,” he must be referring to “excrement” (or, less likely, “vomit”).

But no—without bothering to make anyone in the multitude “privy” to the secret “esoteric meaning” of his parable, he surreptitiously allowed his “food” reference—along with what would appear to be the reasonable understanding of “the multitude”—to just pass away “into the latrine,” so that, when alone with his disciples, he could instead talk about something entirely different:  namely, “what goes forth out of the heart,” which according to him consists of evil mental tendencies and vices.  In short, what Jesus did was to suddenly “switch body organs” behind the backs of “the multitude.”  And they had been given absolutely no reason to expect that he would do so.  But even in spite of that fact, Jesus still feels justified in expressing impatience with and contempt for the multitude by saying to his disciples, “So are you also without comprehension?”—as if the multitude’s “lack of comprehension” was their problem, rather than a result of Jesus’s own difficulty at communicating—in public, anyway—in a clear, honest, and straightforward way.

Continue reading “The “unclean foods” parable in the Gospels: Jesus lying again”

Ogden and Richards on the misuse of language in religion

The following is from The Meaning of Meaning (Harcourt, Brace & World, 1968 [1923]), written by the philosophers C. K. Ogden and I. A. Richards.  The underlined emphases are mine.

… Words, whenever they cannot directly ally themselves with and support themselves upon gestures, are at present a very imperfect means of communication.  Even for private thinking thought is often ready to advance, and only held back by the treachery of its natural symbolism; and for conversational purposes the latitude acquired constantly shows itself to all those who make any serious attempt to compare opinions.

We have not here in view the more familiar ways in which words may be used to deceive.  In a later chapter, when the function of language as an instrument for the promotion of purposes rather than as a means of symbolizing references is fully discussed, we shall see how the intention of the speaker may complicate the situation.  But the honnête homme may be unprepared for the lengths to which verbal ingenuity can be carried.  At all times these possibilities have been exploited to the full by interpreters of Holy Writ who desire to enjoy the best of both worlds.  Here, for example, is a specimen of the exegetic of the late Dr. Lyman Abbott, pastor, publicist, and editor, which through the efforts of Mr. Upton Sinclair, has now become classic.  Does Christianity condemn the methods of twentieth-century finance?  Doubtless there are some awkward words in the Gospels, but a little “interpretation” is all that is necessary.

“Jesus did not say, ‘Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth.’  He said, “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth where moth and rust doth corrupt and where thieves break through and steal.’  And no sensible American does.  Moth and rust do not get at Mr. Rockefeller’s oil wells, and thieves do not often break through and steal a railway.  What Jesus condemned was hoarding wealth.”

Each investment, therefore, every worldly acquisition, according to one of the leading divines of the New World, may be judged on its merits.  There is no hard and fast rule.  When moth and rust have been eliminated by science the Christian investor will presumably have no problem, but in the meantime it would seem that Camphorated Oil fulfils most nearly the synoptic requirements.  Burglars are not partial to it; it is anethema to moth; and the risk of rust is completely obviated.

Another variety of verbal ingenuity closely allied to this, is the deliberate use of symbols to misdirect the listener.  Apologies for such a practice in the case of the madman from whom we desire to conceal the whereabouts of his razor are well known, but a wider justification has also been attempted.  In the Christian era we hear of “falsifications of documents, inventions of legends, and forgeries of every description which made the Catholic Church a veritable seat of lying.”  A play upon words in which one sense is taken by the speaker and another sense intended by him for the hearer was permitted.  Indeed, three sorts of equivocations were distinguished by Alfonso de Liguori, who was beatified in the nineteenth century, which might be used with good reason; a good reason being “any honest object, such as keeping our goods, spiritual or temporal.”  In the twentieth century the intensification of militant nationalism has added further “good reason”; for the military code includes all transactions with hostile nations or individuals as part of the process of keeping spiritual and temporal goods.  In war-time words become a normal part of the mechanism of deceit, and the ethics of the situation have been aptly summed up by Lord Wolseley:  “We will keep hammering along with the conviction that ‘honesty is the best policy,’ and that truth always wins in the long run.  These pretty sentences do well for a child’s copy-book, but the man who acts upon them in war had better sheathe his sword for ever.”  [pp. 15-17; citations omitted; the underlined emphases are mine.]

It doesn’t surprise me in the least that in certain Christian teachings, “A play upon words in which one sense is taken by the speaker and another sense intended by him for the hearer was permitted.”  After all, this is precisely what one finds in the Bible itself.  This practice is what makes the Bible “esoteric” (and it provides the reason why I find religious esotericism so objectionable).  So does anyone really expect that later Christians would have felt compelled to denounce the practice?  Hadn’t they been trained by the Bible not to do so?  There is absolutely no inconsistency between the attitude of the authors of the Bible and the attitude of later clergymen.  The act of misleading people “for a good cause” has always been considered excusable by traditional religionists.

If Christians ever became too scrupulous about honesty, then they would have to come to the conclusion that the Bible is fundamentally a morally defective writing (though, of course, not a completely valueless writing) to which they themselves had become morally superior.  In terms of moral advancement, they would have “gotten out ahead” of their own foundational religious writing; and because to do that would have caused the religious basis of their lives to be undermined—since that religious writing was supposedly revealed directly by God as the Holy Spirit—they made sure that that would never happen.  The existence of the Bible has thus always had the effect of keeping Christians from ever becoming too morally scrupulous; it acts as a restraint on morality.  At best, the Bible makes some people more moral than they would have been apart from the Bible; but, so long as they treat the Bible as an authoritative religious writing, they will never have the ability to become more moral than the authors of the Bible were.  And that is why, if humanity is to reach its full potential, it is imperative that religious writings of this kind lose their authoritative status.

The foregoing should suffice as a response to Christians who claim that the Bible and their religion are not esoteric.  Christians are not innocents.  The Bible is an esoteric writing; and whether or not they’ve been willing to admit the fact, Christians, taken as a whole, have always understood it at some level of awareness.  (I’m sure that some Protestants would like to believe that the way of thinking described is something merely “Catholic” or “Jesuitical,” something in which they are not morally implicated; but again, it is a way of thinking that is endorsed and even required by the logic of Christianity as set forth in the New Testament; the Catholic clergymen were only making the point explicit.)

Later in the text, Ogden and Richards make a distinction between the “symbolic” or “referential” function of language (generally corresponding to the purpose of “prose” writing) and the “evocative” function of language (generally corresponding to the purpose of “poetic” writing).  They advocate

a rule which all those who are aware of the functions of language will support, namely, that in discussion, where symbolic considerations are supposed to be prior to all others, the evocative advantages of terms are only to be exploited when it is certain that symbolically no disadvantage can result.

But a more general consciousness of the nature of the two functions is necessary if they are to be kept from interfering with one another; and especially all the verbal disguises, by which each at times endeavors to pass itself off as the other, need to be exposed.  It ought to be impossible to pretend that any scientific statement can give a more inspiring or a more profound “vision of reality” than another.  It can be more general or more useful, and that is all.  On the other hand it ought to be impossible to talk about poetry or religion as though they were capable of giving “knowledge,” especially since “knowledge” as a term has been so overworked from both sides that it is no longer of much service.  A poem—or a religion, though religions have so definitely exploited the confusion of function which we are now considering, and are so dependent upon it, as to be unmistakably pathological growths—has no concern with limited and directed reference.  It tells us, or should tell us, nothing.  It has a different, though an equally important and a far more vital function—to use an evocative term in connection with an evocative matter.  What it does, or should do, is to induce a fitting attitude to experience.  But such words as “fitting,” “suitable” or “appropriate” are chilly, having little or no evocative power.  Therefore those who care most for poetry and who best understand its central and crucial value, tend to resent such language as unworthy of its subject.  From the evocative standpoint they are justified.  But once the proper separation of these functions is made it will be plain that the purpose for which such terms are used, namely to give a strictly symbolic description of the function of poetry, for many reasons the supreme form of emotive language, cannot conflict with the poetic or evocative appraisal of poetry, with which poets as poets are concerned.

Further, the exercise of one function need not, if the functions are not confused, in any way interfere with the exercise of the other. … [pp. 158-59; citation omitted; the underlined emphases are mine.]

As an example of how “religions have exploited the confusion of function,” consider the willingness of Christian theologians to cite verses from the Bible—which really ought to be viewed as a collection of literary and poetical writings—in support of philosophical and historical arguments.  Doing this represents a highly inappropriate use of writings from one genre as if they in fact belonged to a very different genre of writing.  It is analogous to citing a passage from Moby Dick or a poem by Edgar Allen Poe in support of (as opposed to “in illustration of”) a particular philosophical proposition.

I take the position that the authoritative writings of a religion ought to be “prosaic,” clearly focused on carrying out what Ogden and Richards call the “symbolic” or “referential” function of language.  Any “poetical” or “literary” writings associated with a particular religion ought to be non-authoritative writings only; that is, writings that no member of the religion would be expected to claim to “assent to” or “agree with.”  There is a place for “evocation”—just not in the authoritative religious writings.  When it comes to those writings, the meaning should be as clear and indisputable as possible (even if it leaves some members of the religion feeling a bit “chilly”).