How religious esotericism is really just a form of lying

“Esoteric writing” can generally be defined as writing in which an author uses a word or words to mean one thing (namely, the “inner,” or “secretly intended,” or “esotericmeaning) in his own mind and perhaps also in the minds of close associates, while the general reading public, being unaware of the author’s secretly intended meaning, is left to assign a different meaning to that same word (namely, the “outer,” or “ordinary,” or “conventional,” or “surface,” or “exotericmeaning).  In other words, “esoteric communication,” or “esotericism,” is really just a fancy and euphemistic name for the practice of lying and deception.  Unfortunately, it is a practice that characterizes and provides the basis for all of the so-called “major world religions,” including Christianity.  And not only the “major” religions:  I am not aware of a single traditional religion anywhere in the world, including among all the so-called “shamanistic” or “primitive” religions, that does not or did not employ “secret languages” as a means by which to conceal knowledge from the “uninitiated” members of the religious community.

At the same time, I have also come to the conclusion that the authors of both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible were actually, at least to some extent, opposed to the practice of esotericism, and through their writings, were subtly and surreptitiously working against it.  That is to say—whether or not they were fully aware of it—they were providing later generations with means by which to help them slough off these oppressive systems of organized deception and deliberate confusion.  I think that the “subversiveness” to be found in the Bible must have been mostly the result of some sort of unconscious or non-conscious (or, if one prefers, “divinely providential”) process at work, in conjunction with a limited amount of conscious awareness by those authors of the problems associated with religious esotericism.  (Passages such as John 16:25 show that the authors of the Bible must have had at least some conscious awareness of the problematic nature of religious esotericism, and must have realized that the esotericist type of religious discourse was somehow defective and less than ideal—which would have presumably given rise to a hope that it might someday be replaced by a new type of religious discourse that would be more ideal.)

However, it is often very difficult if not impossible to determine exactly how much of the anti-esotericist “subversiveness” that one might discern in a particular passage from the Bible was consciously intended by the author, and exactly how much was unconsciously intended (and I do consider an “unconscious intention” to be a genuine kind of intention), since the two types of thinking can easily blend together.  And to make matters even more complicated, there is the additional question of whether non-human mental influences may have sometimes played a role in (quite deliberately) planting an “anti-esotericist message” in the Bible even in spite of the human authors’ complete unawareness of that message in a given instance (and this would again raise the question of possible “divine providence”); but that is a question I won’t pursue here.

Before going any further, let me give you an example of how the esotericist deception works by telling you a little story about myself:

I worked for forty years in West Virginia as a coal miner.  I now receive health benefits from the federal government because of the fact that I got black lung disease as a result of my job.

Now, by ordinary standards, what I just told you is a flat-out lie.  I have never worked as a coal miner.  I have never lived in West Virginia.  But an esotericist has a neat trick he can use to make a passage like that suddenly become “all true” in his own mind.  He simply puts invisible quotation marks around various words and then supplies each of those words or phrases with his own private, secret definitions.  Doing this serves basically the same function in his own mind as that served by a child crossing his fingers behind his back when he tells a lie.  Practitioners of this trickery will often give their secret definitions a euphemistic name, such as “the spiritual meaning.”  Now watch and begin to perceive the deep “spirituality” contained within my own little fib story:

I “worked” “for forty years” “in West Virginia” as a “coal miner.”  I now “receive health benefits” from the “federal government” because of the fact that I got “black lung disease” as a result of “my job.”

Continue reading “How religious esotericism is really just a form of lying”

A new interpretive approach: Viewing the Bible as an esoteric critique of esoteric religion

“For Plato ideas are archetypes of the things themselves, and not, in the manner of the categories, merely keys to possible experiences.  In his view they have issued from highest reason, and from that source have come to be shared in by human reason, which, however, is now no longer in its original state, but is constrained laboriously to recall, by a process of reminiscence (which is named philosophy), the old ideas, now very much obscured.  I shall not engage here in any literary enquiry into the meaning which this illustrious philosopher attached to the expression.  I need only remark that it is by no means unusual, upon comparing the thoughts which an author has expressed in regard to his subject, whether in ordinary conversation or in writing, to find that we understand him better than he has understood himself.  As he has not sufficiently determined his concept, he has sometimes spoken, or even thought, in opposition to his own intention.”

—Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason (1787), B370 (Norman Kemp Smith, trans.; the emphasis is mine)

I’m going to suggest a very big paradox—one that may at first be difficult to get one’s mind around.  I believe there is actually reason to think that the authors of the Bible may have been using an “esoteric” (i.e., “cryptic”) mode of discourse in their writings with the partially unconscious intention of criticizing the esoteric form of religion (a category in which I would include orthodox Christianity, Judaism, and Gnosticism, among many other world religions).

By “esoteric religion,” I basically have in mind any religion whose core, authoritative writings are capable of having and were intended by its authors to have “double meanings”; so that any religion whose authoritative writings are overtly and indisputably allegorical, or parabolic, or obscurely metaphorical, symbolic, or figurative, would qualify as an “esoteric” religion.  And any “mythical” religion would necessarily also be an “esoteric” religion, since “myth” obviously involves obscurely metaphorical, symbolic, or figurative communication.

My personal belief is that the so-called “mythicist” position regarding the life narrative of Jesus, which views that life narrative as myth or allegory, is the correct one; and that means, based on what I just wrote, that I believe Christianity qualifies as an “esoteric religion.”  Even if it were assumed for the sake of argument that the character of “Jesus” was originally based on a single historical individual, so long as it can be shown that there was substantial embellishment, “legend-making,” “myth-making,” and allegorizing occurring in the telling of his life-story, then at some point that just blends into the mythicist position anyway.  So the essential question to be asked is whether or not significant allegorical or mythical elements can be discerned in the Gospel narratives of Jesus’s life story; if they can, the figure of “Jesus” becomes a “mythical” figure—and thus an “esoteric” figure, located at the center of an “esoteric” religion.  Mythicist authors have already made an argument for the position that these allegorical or mythical elements do in fact exist in the supposedly “historical” accounts found in the Gospels and elsewhere in the Bible; so that, in terms of what I am personally trying to do, I do not feel the need to revisit that particular argument except to refer people to the writings of those authors if they still have doubts about the allegorical or mythical nature of the Gospels.  (As for myself, based partly on the amount of time I have spent trying to make sense of the Bible, I cannot help but consider the matter to be obvious, and so have not felt any pressing need to read those authors’ books myself.)

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The figures of “the King of Babylon/Babel,” “Satan,” and “Lucifer”

Luke 10:1 says,

And with these things, the Lord (Jesus) appointed seventy-two [or seventy, according to some manuscripts] others,[1] and sent them out [or sent them away: apo-stellō, from which is derived the Greek word apostolos, meaning “apostle”] in twos [ana dyo] before [or prior to: pro] his face [or his appearance: prosōpon], into every city and place where he himself was going to come [erchomai; this may have been meant to allude to what is now popularly known as “the Second Coming”].

When the seventy-two “return” (or “turn back”; more literally, “turn under” or “turn beneath”: hypo-strephō),[2] the very first thing Jesus that says to them, in Luke 10:18, is,

I was beholding Satan falling [pesonta, a form of piptō] like lightning [astrapé] out of the heaven.

But it is important to recognize that this verse can also be translated,

I was beholding Satan falling [pesonta, a form of piptō] like (the flash of) a falling star [or shooting star, or meteor, or fallen star (or any other kind of bright flash of light in the sky): astrapé, related to the Greek word astér, meaning “star”] out of the heaven.[3]

Presumably the author meant this to be understood in reference to the work that Jesus’s “apostles” had been doing while they were “away” (apo)—or, perhaps, in reference to the very “returning” of the apostles from their period of being “away” (or “distant,” or “off [above]”)—or, perhaps, both.

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Some tips and background information for those interested in taking up the amateur “decoding” of esoteric Biblical texts (Part 2 of 2)

There are several points I’d like to discuss with regard to the kind of comparison and analysis of Bible passages that I did in the last post, based on my own experiences with trying to get a handle on material of that sort.  Hopefully this information will be useful to those persons who would like to engage in the interpreting or “decoding” or “deciphering” of the Bible for anti-esotericist purposes, but have never yet made the attempt to do so.

The first point is that you’ll notice from the comparison that the authors of the Bible do not necessarily use their symbols in a consistent manner.  This is one of the things that I find most exasperating about the Bible, and about esoteric religion in general.  In Hebrews 4:12, the “Word of God” is described as being a “sword.”  However, in 2 Thessalonians 2:8, Paul implies—I believe—that Jesus (i.e., the “Word of God”) would use the “sword of Spirit” to “kill” the “Lawless One.”  Similarly, in Revelation 19:11-16, the “sword” is described as coming out of the “Word of God” (i.e., Jesus).  So the metaphor has been changed somewhat.  And I get the sense that esotericists are generally pretty okay with that sort of thing.  (I, on the other hand, being a non-esotericist and indeed an anti-esotericist, am not at all okay with it, because it causes confusion, and makes it more difficult to figure out what an author’s point is.)  This fact needs to be recognized from the outset, since defenders of esoteric religion will likely criticize you for inconsistencies in and among your various theories and hypotheses, even though that very inconsistency may well be due entirely to the inconsistencies in thinking indulged in by the authors of the Bible whose meaning you’re trying to determine.  So always remember:  It’s not your fault.  As long as you make sure that you’re no more inconsistent than the authors were themselves being in their own minds, that will be sufficient.

Continue reading “Some tips and background information for those interested in taking up the amateur “decoding” of esoteric Biblical texts (Part 2 of 2)”

The two “swords”: An example of how I go about looking for “hidden meanings” in Biblical texts (Part 1 of 2)

In this post and the next, I will, by means of an example, explain some of the methods and techniques that I use when trying to analyze a Biblical text to discern any “hidden meanings” or “inner meanings” that it might contain.  In this post, I will focus more on the actual content of a few Bible passages, and in the next post, I will discuss some of the methods that I used in analyzing these passages and that I use generally, and call your attention to some of the aspects of the process of “decoding” that I consider to be especially important.

As an initial point, it is important to note that I do not necessarily make the assumption that it is possible to find these “inner meanings” because of any deliberate design on the part of an author.  I think that in many cases the author’s unconscious thinking was being revealed “in spite of himself,” so to speak.  At the same time, however, one should not rule out the possibility of deliberate design in any particular instance.

Let’s start by looking at Hebrews 4:12, in which the author describes the “Word of God” as a kind of “sword”:[1]

For the Word [or utterance, or message, or meaning: logos] of God is living [zaō] and active [en-ergés], and sharper [tomōteros, a comparative form of tomos] than any two-edged [or “two-mouthed”: di-stomos, derived from stoma, which can mean either “mouth” or “edge” (or “blade”)] sword [machaira], even penetrating [or piercing, or going through: di-ikneomai] so far as the dividing [or partitioning: merismos, related to meros, meaning “part”] of soul [psyché] and spirit [pneuma], of joints [harmos] and marrow [or “the inmost (part)”: myelos, derived from myō, which means “to close, to shut,” and from which is also derived the word mystérion, meaning “secret teaching, mystery”], and (it is) able to discern [or “able to judge of,” or “able to separate,” or “able to interpret”: kritikos, derived from krinō, meaning “to judge, to sift, to separate, to discern, to interpret”] the deliberations [or conceptions: enthymésis] and intentions [or ideas, or notions: ennoia] of (the) heart [kardia].[2]

Two “swords” are being compared in this passage.  One is a “two-edged”—or “two-mouthed” (di-stomos)—sword.[3]  The other is the “Word of God”; and it can be reasonably inferred from the context that this was meant to be thought of as a “one-edged” or “one-mouthed” sword:  that is, a kind of “sword” that would “speak” (or “cut,” or “discern,” or “interpret”) with only a single “voice” or “speech,” as opposed to the kind that would allow a person to “speak out of both sides of his mouth.”[4]

Moreover, it seems that the “one-mouthed sword” was meant to be seen as being more powerful than the “two-mouthed sword,” and as being able to defeat a “two-mouthed sword” in battle or combat, because of the fact that it is “sharper” (perhaps understood to mean that it is “clearer” and “more distinct”).[5]

Continue reading “The two “swords”: An example of how I go about looking for “hidden meanings” in Biblical texts (Part 1 of 2)”