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.