Ignoring the Vengeful God

Many Christians insist that the teachings of Jesus require accepting the entirety of the Older Testament (ie, the Torah, Wisdom literature, the prophets, etc) in order to properly appreciate his new wisdom. Now, it is impossible to understand what Jesus taught without an awareness of the world (and religious underpinning) in which he lived. But it seems to me that in order to derive the available benefits, one need only read what Jesus said and ignore any supposed prior context.

Yes, I am of course aware of his “jot & tittle” comment, but basically every substantial commandment or suggestion that originated directly from Jesus flies in the face of the vengeful maniac who presided over the Older Testament. Buddhism is not Hinduism, though it has its roots there. Christianity is not Orthodox Judaism, though it grew out of it. Jesus, like Gautama Buddha, was an ethical and religious genius who was able to formulate a radically new morality while living in the midst of a millenia-old world view. Love thy neighbor. Turn the cheek. As ye care for the prisoners, so ye care for me.

I don’t need to reconcile Jehovah and Jesus. I’ve read most of the Older Testament. Taking that dark and vengeful “god” literally would be to willfully partake in the insanity his words and actions imply. The main takeaway, the truly positive idea, that came from Abraham and Moses (mainly the latter) is monotheism, and even that concept may have originated with the heretic Egyptian Akhenaten, a sort of “one-termer” pharaoh who, during his reign, forced the Egyptians to solely worship Aten, the sun. Oh, and I guess the codification of the Ten Pretty Obvious Commandments was another sort of breakthrough, though even those had their origins in previous Mesopotamian cultures. But then you have to also deal the 100 or so “minor” commandments in Exodus, not to mention the endless city ordinances in Leviticus.

No, I don’t care to reconcile YHWH with the red text in the New Testament. I have no problem whatsoever in reconciling Jesus and God, since there is no ontological reconciliation necessary: they are two completely separate entities. The latter, under the rubric of “I AM”, and depicted in the first several books of the Bible, is of course an embarrassing myth, but perhaps the best an unsophisticated tribe of nomads in 1000 BC (or so) could come up with. Like I said, their major theological leap was monotheism.

And what I mean about “YHWH as myth” is strictly the Older Testament depiction; I do not want to suggest that I deny a Creator, only that YHWH is a very flawed example. Every ancient description of The Creator/ Sustainer suffers from the mythological trappings of the specific cultures in which they occur. And all of those descriptions therefore obscure whatever transcendence must obtain to such an entity (if “entity” can be used to imply what is meant, which is problematic).

The genius moment that happened in the far mists of the past was when some human mind(s) made the leap to conclude that there was a beginning, and that something caused it. To anthropomorphize that cause, and imbue it with the powers of storm and lightning and fire and earthquakes, the most powerful forces imaginable, was the most natural next step. And certainly these attributes accrued to the chief god of the pantheons of all ancient religions.

And then someone (Moses?) made the reductionist conclusion that, given that power, a pantheon isn’t required: just make YHWH the sole mover, responsible for everything. Unfortunately, they maintained the anthropomorphism. And also unfortunately, that concept of monotheism never leapt from within the confines of the Hebrew tribes (I AM a god for your people; don’t pray to other peoples’ gods). Even Jesus  mainly constrained his teachings to Judah and Israel. It took Paul to combine Jesus’ message with various aspects of Greek philosophy and Mediterranean “god-men”, and thus liberate Chrsitianity unto the Gentiles. But Jesus and Paul were men, which is one up the reality ladder from myth.

I maintain my conviction that Jesus was in many ways a theological genius, meaning that he was able to create Brand New Ideas. Most creative people just sort of reorganize whatever exists. It’s the Newtons and the Einsteins and the Buddhas and the Jesuses who make the gigantic leaps ahead, conceptual leaps so huge they almost seem like they came out of nowhere.

© 2017 Chuck Puckett


I wrote this in honor of my high school mathematics teacher, Virginia Guthery, who celebrates 80 years of a most influential life this month. Not everyone is so blessed, but many of us in fact owe a tremendous debt to one or two extraordinary teachers, people who were instrumental in leading us to a never-ending search for illumination. Ms. Guthery was that kind of special teacher.


In Honor of Virginia Guthery

How far beyond measure
Is the worth of the true teacher.
That rare soul who
Can lead your soul
To follow the endless search
Into what lies below
And what soars above,
And what connects it all.

Mentor, yogi, rabbi, shaman,
Teacher. The one who
Will not accept less
Than the best you have
And then demands that
Which is beyond your best.

The one who won’t reveal
The answer, but instead
Points to a path that leads there.
Who imparts knowledge,
But especially that knowledge
Which, when unwrapped,
Unfolds into a map.
The secret places do exist,
But only for those who seek.
They are not merely given.

We all sojourn alone.
The barrier between souls
Is infinite, but not
Students trudge in rows,
Endless empty faces,
And the chance is small
That any will encounter
A jewel in the classroom,
Will look up and see
A bright flare that ignites
Their fire to learn,
The zeal to discover.

There is no metric
That measures the worth
Of the ones who make
The universe your doorstep.

February 2017
© 2017 Chuck Puckett

In Memory Of My Mother

We buried my mother, Martha Evelyn Black Puckett, four years ago today. I wrote this at the time. It bears repeating and remembering.

This day is done, and we pass into a future already permanently altered, folding the day’s events into our hearts and minds. We have bade our last farewell, given a nod to the past, while simultaneously, though tentatively, accepting the future. We bow our heads in the acknowledgement that we are now unequivocally a generation on our own, a generation that must either either offer wisdom or else pretend we know it. Too much depends on this eternal fiction that must now transform into an ever-recurring truth.

I say a last farewell: Mother, Father, frail humans who did the best they could with the adventures Aslan sent them. If we do better, it is only because we carefully watched your footsteps and saw where and how you strove against the pitiless winds of existence, dealt with every success and triumph, how you were forged and tempered on the anvil of God.

If we do not, is only because we closed our eyes and ignored the lessons we were taught.

Thanks be to God.

The Indistinguishable Phusis

From my earliest forays into the spiritual (which formally began in high school, though I had been thinking on these matters since early adolescence), after I had started my survey of the world’s religions and their key figures, I had recognized that there was a strong similarity among all of them. A very strong resemblance in the case of Jesus and Gautama Buddha, but one also easily recognizable, for instance, in the sayings and actions of Lao Tzu, and Moses, and a host of others. From this, a working hypothesis emerged: that all these figures had, in some supreme MOMENT, apprehended the Godhead, the True Reality, the Truth Behind the Veil. For lack of a better phrase, they all experienced an overwhelming Religious Experience, in which, for one brief shining moment, they were at one with the wordless expanse and glory of the Infinite Being.

But, being finite (as we all are), the Infinite could not be “maintained”; they were forced to return to the Here & Now. And they were then required, by the power of their experience, to somehow relate that experience to their fellow human beings. But (and here’s the crux of the matter), they only had the symbols and myths and culture in which they lived to translate the Ineffable, the Wordless, the Beyond Description. And so, each key figure attempted to translate the essence of their experiences using the ideas and notions familiar to them and their listeners. Jesus spoke in parables that are steeped in Jewish culture and history. Siddhatha used the symbols and metaphors available in Hinduism. And so on.

The actual experience is, I believe, the same, and forever incapable of accurately transmitting to their listeners. The message that they deciphered from the experience, the way of life they all urged, is also fundamentally the same: we are One, Love unites, there are consequences for our actions, give aid to those who need it without regard to recompense. Reduce the Self and listen for that “small, still voice” that speaks “when your heart is strangely warmed.”

Some claim that, in the fullness of time, we will all come face to face with the Inevitable and experience this fullness individually and as a conglomerate whole. The religions that adhere to an “arrow of time” world view, wherein there is a Beginning, a Traversal, and an End to everything, are most likely to consider this apocalyptic notion. Whether the Veil is ever lifted, in our lifetime or ever, is debatable. Is there an End of Time, where all is resolved for eternity? “There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophies.” Ask Horatio; I know not.

There does seem to me a slipping backwards at work in our present world, a tendency, in the face of a world that appears ever more terrifying, to relapse into fundamental literalism. Not just in Christianity, for there are similar trends in Hinduism, and of course the other religions “of the Book”. But I do believe that the overall arc of history is towards enlightenment and (if you will) a revelation. Towards unity among all peoples. Consider how the long story has evolved: from isolated tribes in prehistory to villages and cities, coalescing into small kingdoms and then larger kingdoms, then empires, ever ebbing and flowing, but always moving inexorably towards a global culture.

Now, thanks in part to technology, our interconnectedness is truly amazing. This blog, Facebook, Twitter, etc, are all examples of how that interconnectedness works. We all know, more and more frequently, what happens everywhere, all the time. This global neural network is staggering in its import. We have not yet learned how to manage such a maze, and the capability seems at times daunting. The arc of history may point toward a global village, but it does not guarantee it will ever exist.

It is easy to despair, hard to hope. But keeping our eyes on the prize makes it possible.

© 2016 Chuck Puckett