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

The argument that I make in this post is, I believe, as close to definitive as one can find outside of mathematical proof.  All of traditional, ecclesiastical Christianity is based upon a fundamental error:  a belief in the historicity of Jesus.  And all the proof that any reasonable person should require in order to be satisfied of the erroneousness of this belief can be found in the New Testament itself.

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 [para-lambanō] 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 were 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 [which is almost certainly a kind of metaphorical “title,” not the literal description of a biological relation; cf. John 20:17, Philemon 1:1, and Galatians 1:11, quoted just above].  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 second-hand “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 any of 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 believed to be the one and only eternal Son of God, wouldn’t he have made it his absolute top priority in life to go as quickly as possible to the disciples/apostles who personally knew Jesus and spent time with him, so that he could learn everything that he possibly could about Jesus’s life and teachings from those who had witnessed everything first-hand?  Wasn’t Paul concerned that some of them might die or forget some important things during that lengthy period of three years?  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 was 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 exactly 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 bothered 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 am 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—and it is admittedly evident that some notion of “Jesus Christ” did have great significance for Paul—it is not even conceivable to the mind of a reasonable person that Paul understood him to be an historical, flesh-and-blood, individual human being.

But if it would be correct to conclude that that was not Paul’s understanding of what “Jesus Christ” meant, then it is similarly inconceivable that the other authors of the New Testament, taken as a whole, believed in the historicity of Jesus.  That is because, for one thing, we know from 2 Peter 3:14-18 that the author of that passage was personally acquainted with Paul, and was willing to “vouch for” and “endorse” him as an authentic apostle.  And it is impossible to believe that the author of Second Peter (as well as of First Peter) would have been willing to vouch for and endorse someone who did not believe in the historicity of Jesus—IF that belief was considered by early Christian leaders to indeed be correct, and IF the holding of that belief was considered by those Christian leaders to be something essential in any true Christian.  Therefore we are forced to conclude that the author of the epistles First Peter and Second Peter did not believe, at the very least, in the essentiality of that belief—and hence very likely did not believe in its correctness either, since a strong conviction of the correctness of such an unusual and extraordinary belief would presumably give rise to an insistence on its essentiality as well.

For another thing, consider that the Gospel of Luke appears to have been at least partly derived from the writings of Paul.  To be more specific, in 1 Corinthians 11:23-25 Paul writes,

For I received [para-lambanō] from the Lord what I also delivered [or transmitted: para-didōmi] to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night on which he was betrayed [or delivered, or handed over: para-didōmi] took bread, and, having given thanks, he broke (it) and said, “This is my body, which (is given) for you; do this in [or unto: eis] remembrance of me.”  And in the same way (he took) the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do [or make: poieō] this as often as you might drink in [or unto: eis] remembrance of me.”

And Luke 22:19-20 says,

And having taken bread, having given thanks, (Jesus) broke (it) and gave to (his disciples), and said, “This is my body, which is being given for you; do this in [or unto: eis] remembrance of me.”  And in the same way (he took) the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup (is) the new covenant in my blood, which is being poured out for you.”

Now, if this had been an actual historical event, one would expect that the story would have been “delivered” by, or “transmitted” from, persons who had witnessed the event to persons who had not witnessed it.  But we know—by Paul’s own stipulation—that Paul never witnessed any such event (except in his own mind), since he claims to have “received” this knowledge directly “from the Lord”; and yet Paul also claims to be the person who initially “delivered” or “transmitted” this knowledge to others before any other human being was aware of it.  Therefore, since the wording in 1 Corinthians 11:23-25 and Luke 22:19-20 is so similar, the most likely explanation would be that the wording we find in the Gospel of Luke was obtained from Paul’s writing—and therefore that no historical event ever occurred that was capable of being witnessed through the use of a person’s physical senses.

A Christian might try to object that one reason for the extreme similarity of wording in Corinthians 11:23-25 and Luke 22:19-20 may be that the author of Luke 22:19-20, just like Paul, directly “received from the Lord” his knowledge about this episode.  But such an argument would prove too much.  It would show that no only did the author not obtain first-hand knowledge of the episode by witnessing it himself, whatever knowledge he did have was also not obtained through ordinary “human” means (i.e., by hearing accounts of the episode from other human beings who did witness it in person).  But in that case, there would be no good reason to assume that any of the other episodes narrated in the Gospel of Luke were not similarly “received from the Lord” (i.e., imagined in the mind of the author).  (Incidentally, notice Paul’s use in 1 Corinthians 11:23-25 of the word “received” (Greek paralambanō), reminiscent of Paul’s use of the same word in Galatians 1:11-12, quoted above—and also recall that what Paul in Galatians 1:11-12 said that he “received” “through a revelation of Jesus Christ” was “the gospel preached by me.”)  So either way—whether the author of Luke 22:19-20 “received” the specific wording found in that passage from Paul’s writings, or “from the Lord”—it would be unreasonable for anyone to suppose that the author of the Gospel of Luke meant for readers to accept the historicity of the “events” described therein.

But if that’s true, then the close similarities between the Gospel of Luke and the other synoptic gospels (viz., the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Mark) should lead a reasonable person to further conclude that the authors or editors of those gospels were also not claiming historicity for the “events” narrated in those writings.

Furthermore, a textual comparison between Luke 1:1-4 and Acts 1:1-2 strongly indicates that the Gospel of Luke and the Book of the Acts of the Apostles were produced by the same authors or editors (which also happens to be the traditional Christian belief).  So if the authors/editors of the Gospel of Luke did not believe in the historicity of Jesus, then neither could the authors/editors of the Book of Acts have believed in the historicity of Jesus.

It would thus seem that at least the following books from the New Testament were written by persons who did not believe in the historicity of Jesus:  all of the epistles attributed to Paul; the epistles 1 Peter and 2 Peter; the Gospel of Luke; the Gospel of Matthew; the Gospel of Mark; and the Book of Acts.  The result is that there is remarkably little material left in the New Testament that wasn’t written by persons who, it can be reasonably determined, did not believe in the historicity of Jesus.  And even in the case of these remaining writings, there is no more reason to think that their authors believed in the historicity of Jesus’s life than did the authors of the writings that I have enumerated.  Indeed, the fact that so many people have been fundamentally misreading the writings that I have enumerated significantly increases the likelihood that they have also been fundamentally misreading those remaining writings, since all of these New Testament writings employ similar metaphorical symbols.  If the intended meanings of those metaphorical symbols have been misunderstood in certain New Testament writings, then the intended meanings of those same symbols when found in other New Testament writings have very likely been misunderstood as well.

In sum, I am not arguing that Paul and the other authors of the New Testament were trying to deceive readers, by trying to lead them to believe that Jesus was an historical person.  What I am arguing is that those authors have been fundamentally misunderstood—insofar as the claim that Jesus was an historical person was never a claim that they were even trying to make.  And we can know that simply by paying close attention to what the writings of the canonical New Testament are actually saying.

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 save the “whole.”

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

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 have additionally learned the “esoteric meaning,” we understand that mere food cannot make a person “unclean” after all—not even, it would seem—that is, assuming we are strictly following Jesus’s exact words and giving those words their ordinary “surface level” definitions—not even at the stage when the food “goes out” of the “belly” of the person “into the latrine” in the form of excrement.  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” or “defilement” 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 latrine, since using the latrine doesn’t actually make us “unclean” or “defiled” in any way that we ought to consider especially significant?  It would seem so—at least, so long as we choose to take at face value what Jesus says to his “disciples.”  (But it must be stressed that to do that might be just as big a mistake as we now know it was for us to take at face value what Jesus had just said to “the multitude.”  For the most part, however, I will ignore that line of thinking in the present context, since to explore it in any depth would only exponentially increase the confusion involved in trying to make sense of the passages quoted above; I will only mention in passing the possibility that words such as “food” and “belly” and “hands” and “washing” may have been intended by the author to be understood as having esoteric meanings of their own.  In other words, it’s important that the reader at least be aware of the possibility of various levels of meaning existing simultaneously—perhaps meant to “touch” each other at certain points, but perhaps not at others.)

It may sound like I’m merely being facetious (and maybe somewhat boorish at the same time) when I offer the suggestion that Jesus seems to be implicitly telling his disciples that it’s not especially important for them to “wash their hands” after using the “latrine.”  But my suggestion actually begins to appear less outlandish when the quoted verses are read in the context of the almost immediately preceding verses of Mark 7:1-8, in which we are told that at least some of Jesus’s disciples were refusing to wash their admittedly “unclean hands” before they ate.  (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, incidentally, if anyone thinks that I’m being excessively vulgar simply by talking about these matters at all, just remember that the vulgarity comes from the Bible, not from me; it was Jesus who first brought up the subject matter of “latrines” and digested food.  Moreover, 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 in the two passages quoted above?  Pay close attention to the technique, because esotericists do stuff like this on a regular basis.  Jesus himself later admits to his disciples that the parable he told to “the multitude” involves “food”—that’s what “goes into the man from outside.”  (And once again, if you require even more proof that “food” was the intended reference, remember that Jesus also explicitly mentions “bellies” and “latrines” when speaking to his disciples.)  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 just so happens, is the correct assumption that Jesus did in fact have “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,” so to speak, 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”

Profs. 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 in the person of 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”).

Parallels between the “Odyssey paradox” and the “Bible paradox”

In his book The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (Houghton Mifflin, 1976), Princeton psychologist Julian Jaynes makes an argument that in the second millennium B.C., mankind began a gradual transition from a “bicameral” or unconscious mode of thought to a subjectively conscious mode of thought, with this process accelerating in the first millennium B.C.  Prior to this “breakdown of the bicameral mind,” according to Jaynes’ argument, all human beings were more or less severely schizophrenic, unreflectingly obeying the directives issued by the “voices” that they “heard” in their own minds, which were perceived by ancient peoples to be the voices of the “gods,” but which Jaynes believes originated in the right hemisphere of the brain.  What Jaynes calls subjective “consciousness” emerged over a number of centuries as those “voices” increasingly went silent (for most people anyway), as the left hemisphere of the brain became increasingly independent of the right hemisphere, and was no longer so dominated by it.

I don’t agree with Jaynes’ overall thesis in its entirety, or with all of the more specific arguments that he makes in the course of developing that thesis.  However, I do think the themes and ideas with which he deals in the book are extremely important ones, especially including the basic proposition that people in ancient times were generally more “schizophrenic” than people in modern times—which would help to explain why, as I claim in my own writings, the sacred religious scriptures that have come down to us from ancient times appear to be essentially schizophrenic in nature.  The relationship between schizophrenia or psychosis and ancient or traditional religion—which can also be described as “esoteric religion”—is an exceedingly important one, and deserves a great deal more attention than it currently receives.  Because of the continuing importance of these ancient scriptures in modern culture due to the survival of “traditional religion” or “esoteric religion,” the predominantly “schizophrenic-like” thinking of ancient peoples is still exerting its impact on humanity even in our own time.

As I was re-reading parts of the book, one passage in particular jumped out at me, since I found it so eerily reminiscent of my own admittedly perplexing theory that there is an anti-esotericist and therefore self-neutralizing message unconsciously embedded in the esoteric writings of the Bible—a state of affairs that I sometimes refer to as the “Bible paradox.”  Jaynes writes,

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