A Brief Excursion Into Panentheism
From time to time I delve into the nonsense of religious speculation.
I have been thinking lately about a particular occult philosophy that belief is a tool to be used to effect change in oneself and in the world. In particular, I have been thinking about this in connection with John 8, the woman caught in adultery. I believe that the evangelicals and catholics, and to a lesser extent all mainline christians, have fundamentally misunderstood the meaning of this myth.
Throughout his preaching, The Nazarene repeatedly returns to the notion of hypocrisy, and generally speaking I think that this has carried over into the improper, in my view, exegesis of John 8 as yet another condemnation of hypocrites. And I think that there is an element of that. But I also think it's important to note that John 8 is without parallels in the other gospels. The story is not sourced from anywhere but the Johannine community and their traditions. As such, I think it is a bit more revealing than yet another condemnation of hypocrisy.
Of all the gospels, John is the most in keeping with the Gnostic Christians like Marcion. It is also the most in line with the philosophy of stoicism, and the mysticism of gnostics from whom the notion that Jesus was always a part of the godhead and had come to redeem a world that was imperfect, is blended in John with the notions of the stoics that the ultimate truth is the knowledge of logos, The Word, through a disciplined quest for personal improvement in controlling ones passions and transforming them into a state of inner calm. The Word for the stoics was the reasonableness inherent in all things, and it was through this pursuit of reason that stoics believed the good was instituted in the soul. John identifies The Word, the logos, the reason of all things, with The Nazarene.
In light of this, what then is to be made of John 8? Is it, as the evangelists say, evidence that all are sinners in need of redemption? Well, perhaps in a sense. But that bespeaks a metaphysical aspect of sin which is quite alien from the stoic tradition which sees these things as very practical real world concerns. Perhaps the order that he who is without sin should be the first to cast a stone at the adulteress is a condemnation of hypocrisy. But to my reading the point of the whole story is what happens at the end. Jesus, who has notably been writing in the dust with his finger during the whole episode, looks up at the woman after all of her accusers have left and says "Who here condemns you?" She looks around and seeing that everyone of her accusers has left, says "No one Rabbi." Then The Nazarene says "Neither do I condemn you. Go forth and sin no more."
Can this be read as Jesus saving the woman's soul? Given the traditions of the church since time immemorial it is difficult to avoid this reading. But I think another reading is possible. Here is expressed in the final sentences The Nazarene speaks the notion that this woman is not completed. She is not done and over as a result of her misdeeds. Jesus doesn't say he forgives her, nor does he say that what she did was not wrong. It was wrong and forgiveness is not his to give since it is not him who she wronged. But he does say that she has a choice. He will not condemn her because she can be better, she can improve, just as the stoics believed. Here there is a radical rejection of the notion of sin as a permanent stain demanding the blood sacrifice of God's son. Instead, he leaves it to her. Her past does not determine her future and just because she has been wrong in the past it does not mean that she will always be a bad person, forever adorned with the scarlet letter. She is free to be good.
The point of this story, I think, is quite clear from these considerations. The idea is that while our past informs who we are, we are always already free to choose a different way to live. We can be better people. There is a better way to live beyond the selfishness and suffering of passion. The synoptics are much more in line with Jewish thought here than with Greek views such as those found in John, but the same idea is found in the story of the Call of Levi, first found in Mark and copied into Matthew and Luke. The Call of Levi is the story of Jesus sitting down to eat communally with tax collectors and sinners. When the pharisees challenge the Nazarene on this, he replies that it is not the healthy that need a physician but the sick. His mission in his preaching, over and over again, returns to the notion of living without hypocrisy and to treat others with love and respect. Again, I don't think the proper reading of this is some bizarre metaphysical notion that all are born with the stain of original sin, but the idea that through treating others with genuine love, and respecting the spark of the divine present in all of humanity by loving God, all people can find a better way to live, particularly those who have fallen off the path and are in the wilderness of their own wrongs. We are all free to be better people, and we should choose to be better people. Not through rampant public prayer and signs of our faith as the hypocrites condemned in Matthew 6:6 and as practiced by so many so called Christians in the evangelical movement. They get what they want, which is to have people see their professed piety and think "oh this man is godly." No Fuck That, says The Nazarene. When you pray, go into a dark secluded place, in secret, and thank god for giving you that which you need and for loving the world and the people in it. Then go forth into the world and don't try to make people think you are a good person, BE a good person. Choose to do right even by those who have wronged you. That, of course, is the point of the parable about the good tree bearing good fruit and the bad tree by the bad fruit. You can know a man by the fruits of his labors.
It's a shame that Christians don't take this more seriously. It's a shame that all people don't take this more seriously.
This of course comes back to the occult notion I mentioned earlier. It seems clear that the application of The Nazarene's message here can effect a change in the person. By holding to these beliefs, one can be better, and through the choice of that belief, one can find a better way to live.