Merry Christmas! As we embark on the fourth episode of our insightful conversations, I'm curious to hear your thoughts on this special day. How is everything going for you on this Christmas morning, and what reflections or insights do you have to share in the spirit of the holiday?
Allow me to begin by giving thanks for being able to finish writing this series of essays. I literally did not know if I would be to physically do it and prayed to be able to do so. It's been six weeks now since this unexpected anabasis started at the National Gallery, the day after my brother's burial at Arlington National Cemetery. I didn't know if I was going to be able to even make that. So on this Christmas morning, today I can think, get up, and type out these words. What a wonderful gift I am opening this morning.
Your journey, marked by resilience and gratitude, especially amidst challenges like completing your essay series and dealing with personal losses, is truly inspiring. This Christmas is not just a traditional celebration for you but a deeply personal milestone, signifying your ability to overcome adversity and find strength. Your appreciation of simple abilities like thinking and writing, often overlooked in everyday life, highlights the importance of gratitude and perseverance. Reflecting on this transformative journey, what key insights or lessons have you gained? How has this experience shaped your outlook on life and your understanding of yourself?
Remember in the last essay I asked you to describe a society based upon the values of Mammon. Now I want you to describe a society based upon the ethics found in the teachings of Jesus, not teachings about him, and compare what the two societies would look like.
Your inquiry contrasts two societal models: one following Mammon's principles, focusing on material wealth, power, and personal gain, and the other based on Jesus' teachings, emphasizing love, compassion, and community wellbeing. In a Mammon-based society, economic and social systems favor wealth accumulation, leading to significant disparities and transactional relationships. Power and leadership are characterized by dominance and self-interest. Conversely, a society grounded in Jesus' teachings would prioritize equitable resource distribution, servant leadership, strong community bonds, and restorative justice. Personal fulfillment in such a society is tied to spiritual growth and ethical living, in contrast to the materialistic pursuits of a Mammon-based society. These models differ fundamentally in their core values and principles.
Now, let's imagine, hypothetically, of course, that a Mammonite society pulled the old "wolf in a sheep skin" routine and claimed to be a Christian society, how would such a society go about celebrating Christmas?
In a society where Mammonite values are disguised as Christian, Christmas celebrations would be superficially Christian but deeply materialistic. This would manifest as heavy commercialization focused on shopping and spending, rather than on the holiday's spiritual meaning. Decorations and celebrations would be extravagant displays of wealth. Charitable acts would often be more about public image than genuine compassion. Religious observance would be performative, lacking sincerity. The true spirit of Christmas, centered on humility, love, and Jesus' birth, would be overshadowed by materialism. Marketing campaigns would commercialize Christmas, emphasizing consumerism over spirituality. Social pressure would push people to conform to these materialistic norms, potentially excluding those unable to participate.
Contrastingly, in a society aligned with Jesus' teachings, Christmas would emphasize compassion, community support, and aiding the less fortunate. This society would focus on providing strong support systems, addressing the root causes of poverty and homelessness, and fostering community involvement and empathy. Here, the celebration of Christmas would truly reflect its spiritual and communal aspects, in stark contrast to the materialistic approach of a Mammon-driven society.
So, given the ministry of Jesus, where did he first go to heal and comfort? Was it not among the outcasts, the least of them?
In the Gospels, Jesus' ministry is prominently focused on the marginalized and outcasts, a central aspect of his teachings. He often reached out to those marginalized by societal norms, including tax collectors, lepers, and women. His ministry included numerous healings, symbolizing both physical and social restoration. Jesus taught through parables, emphasizing the dignity of overlooked individuals, as seen in the Parable of the Good Samaritan. He was known for dining with "sinners," demonstrating inclusivity and compassion, and his Sermon on the Mount blessed the marginalized, reinforcing that the Kingdom of Heaven is for them. In his final teachings, he stressed caring for the least in society, stating that service to them is service to him (Matthew 25:40). Jesus' ministry was a radical challenge to societal norms, prioritizing the neglected and advocating for radical love and inclusion, a core tenet of Christian teachings and practice.
So core, essential elements of the teachings of Jesus, as found in Matthew 25, are "radical love and inclusion, emphasizing the value of every individual, especially those who were considered the least in society?" If I understand you correctly then, Jesus, would not be blaming people for being losers or vermin or that they are getting what's coming to them.
Jesus' teachings, particularly in Matthew 25 and throughout the Gospels, emphasize radical love and inclusion, contrasting with attitudes of blame or judgment. Key aspects include dignity and compassion for all, challenging the notion that suffering is due to sin, valuing every individual as seen in the Parable of the Lost Sheep, teaching mercy and kindness to all regardless of background in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, emphasizing spiritual virtues in the Beatitudes, and advocating forgiveness and mercy. Overall, his teachings promote unconditional love, compassion, and kindness, especially towards the marginalized.
But surely Jesus meant for real Christians to love only other real Christians?
Jesus' teachings in the Christian Gospels emphasize love and compassion for all, not limited to the Christian community. This universal aspect of love is demonstrated in various ways:
1. **The Parable of the Good Samaritan**: Teaches love and mercy beyond one's own group.
2. **Love Your Enemies**: Calls for active love towards all, even adversaries.
3. **The Great Commission**: Instructs to make disciples of "all nations," indicating a universal message.
4. **Interactions with Non-Jews**: Shows Jesus' compassion across cultural and religious barriers.
5. **The Final Judgment**: Highlights care for those in need, irrespective of their background.
These teachings illustrate Jesus' message of universal love, mercy, and compassion, a core principle of Christianity.
You're not telling me that Jesus was serious when he said something about letting your love fall on all like God lets the sunshine and rain fall on both the good and evil?
Jesus' teachings in Matthew 5:44-45 emphasize the importance of universal love, akin to God's impartial benevolence. This approach challenges conventional notions, extending love beyond familiar groups to include even enemies. It reflects the character of God, who cares for all regardless of moral standing. This radical idea at the time promotes a higher ethical standard, advocating for love that transforms relationships and breaks down barriers of hostility and prejudice. Essentially, Jesus' message is about unconditional, all-encompassing compassion and kindness towards all, mirroring the indiscriminate nature of divine love.
So, essentially, the love you are describing would be like that typified by the father in the parable of the prodigal son?
The Parable of the Prodigal Son, as told in Luke 15:11-32, is a powerful illustration of the unconditional and forgiving love that Jesus emphasized. It showcases several aspects of this love: the father's unwavering affection regardless of the son's actions, his immediate forgiveness upon the son's return, celebration of the son's restoration, and grace and mercy extended without expectation of earning it. This parable symbolizes inclusivity and acceptance, depicting a love that transcends judgment and conditions. It serves as a metaphor for God's love for humanity and a model for Christian love, emphasizing generosity, unconditional acceptance, and the spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation.
So, the father's approach would be very unlike that of the big brother. Indeed, the attitude of the big brother might well have been a driving factor in the prodigal leaving home. Who knows? The big brother might have had a temper tantrum and even kicked his brother out, telling him to get lost, that he was a hopeless loser and would only bring shame to the family.
In the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32), the elder brother's resentful reaction to his younger sibling's return contrasts sharply with the father's loving response. The elder brother exhibits a lack of compassion, a sense of entitlement for his loyalty, and an inability to rejoice in his brother's reconciliation, reflecting a more self-righteous and judgmental attitude. This contrast highlights common human tendencies to begrudge others' success and feel more deserving, especially in comparison to those perceived as less righteous. The father's gentle rebuke to the elder son serves as a lesson in grace and mercy, emphasizing the importance of extending love and forgiveness generously. This dynamic illustrates the disparity between human judgment and divine-like compassion, inviting reflection on the true nature of forgiveness, love, and the celebration of someone's recovery and restoration.
Big brother's attitude sums up "religionism", or adherence to religion as dogma instead of love. As we discussed in our last episode, "religionism" is my neologism for the equivalency of "scientism" or the dogmatic worship of science.
"Religionism," as you describe it, mirrors the mindset of the elder brother in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, focusing on rigid adherence to religious rules and appearances over the core principles of love, compassion, and forgiveness. This mindset is marked by a judgmental attitude towards those who deviate from religious norms, emphasizing external obedience rather than internal transformation and spiritual growth. The elder brother's resentment towards his brother's return and his discomfort with the concept of grace reflect a lack of understanding and appreciation for the essence of religious teachings, which prioritize unconditional love, forgiveness, and a deep spiritual connection. "Religionism" thus risks missing the true spirit and purpose of religion, underscoring the need to embrace the deeper, compassionate values central to many religious traditions, including Christianity.
As when Jesus said "They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them."
Jesus' critique in Matthew 23:4 aligns with the concept of "religionism," targeting the hypocrisy of religious leaders who impose strict, burdensome rules on others while failing to adhere to them themselves. This criticism highlights the disconnect between their teachings and actions, representing a form of legalism that oppresses rather than guides. Jesus condemns their lack of empathy and challenges their misuse of religious authority, advocating for a religion focused on inner transformation and genuine spirituality. His call for a return to the true essence of religious practice emphasizes the importance of a faith that is liberating, supportive of spiritual growth, and grounded in love, mercy, and grace, rather than external compliance and hypocrisy.
My goodness! So Jesus might still stand by saying “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?"
Jesus' statement in Luke 6:46, "Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?" emphasizes the importance of authentic faith, which goes beyond mere verbal acknowledgment. He calls for a true discipleship that involves living out his teachings of love, compassion, forgiveness, humility, and service to others. This critique targets superficial or nominal Christianity, urging believers to reflect their faith in their actions and lifestyles, rather than just in words. It's about transforming the heart and mind, not just adhering to rules. This statement is a call to self-examination, challenging believers to ensure their actions are consistent with their profession of faith in Jesus, emphasizing that genuine faith is built on a foundation of living according to his teachings.
Ah, yes, belief and action. I am so very grateful that I do not have superpowers. I'd being zapping people left and right. The freeways outside of DC would part faster than the Red Sea when I was coming through. What a wrathful deity I would be. You would not want to be a sinner in my angry hands.
Your humorous reflection on the potential misuse of superpowers underscores important ethical considerations about power and responsibility. It highlights the human tendency to fantasize about using extraordinary power for personal gain or imposing one's will, which can lead to ethical dilemmas. This perspective aligns with religious and philosophical teachings, particularly those of Jesus, emphasizing humility, compassion, and the importance of using power responsibly. Key points include the temptation and potential abuse of power, the need for restraint and wisdom, valuing compassion over wrath, understanding human fallibility, and the significance of self-awareness in ethical decision-making. Overall, your reflection serves as a reminder of the importance of moral integrity and balanced use of power in all aspects of life.
Fame and power were the two big temptations Jesus had to stare down. I mean, just think of what Jesus could have done with the right business plan and marketing strategies. Just think of all the money he could have made charging for miracles. He could have a set list of fees for healing the blind and lame. He could have made a fortune off selling time shares in fully gated paradise. And talking about zapping people, my, my, what he could have done. But from what I can tell the most he ever did with getting upset was making stinging remarks about religious hypocrites and turning over the money lenders' tables in the temple.
Jesus' ministry, as depicted in the Gospels, stands in stark contrast to the pursuit of power, fame, and material wealth. Key aspects of his approach include resisting the temptation of worldly power and glory, rejecting the accumulation of wealth, performing miracles as acts of compassion rather than for personal gain, condemning the commercialization of religious practices, emphasizing humility and service over seeking power, and critiquing religious leaders for their hypocrisy and legalism. His teachings on humility, service, and spiritual truth offer a model of selfless service and ethical conduct, contrasting with the pursuit of personal enrichment or dominance. This approach has had a lasting impact throughout history, providing a guide for ethical and compassionate living.
Before continuing with this theme allow me now weave in another. Jesus was an incredible story teller. So good, according to the Gospel of Matthew, that when Jesus saw the crowd gathered around he sit down to speak the Sermon on the Mount. Sitting it's very hard to shout. The crowd had to be raptly attentive and quiet. Now, some will say that people only flocked to Jesus because of his healing miracles. I have yet to see a flock of desperate people who could easily be quietened. Yet he did not scream or shout or threaten or scare or even tell people what to believe in the Sermon on the Mount. It is all about a loving way to be in the world.
Jesus' storytelling, especially in the Sermon on the Mount, showcases his profound yet accessible teaching style. He used parables—simple stories with deep lessons—to relate complex truths in a way that resonated with diverse audiences. The Sermon on the Mount, known for its depth, is delivered gently and invitingly, focusing on love, humility, mercy, and righteousness. Jesus' teaching method, characterized by a calm and respectful approach, contrasts with coercive preaching, emphasizing guiding rather than commanding. This approach underlines the power of quiet teaching and the importance of inner purity, love for all, including enemies, and trust in God. The Sermon on the Mount is celebrated for its moral and spiritual insights, offering guidance for a life of compassion and righteousness, distinct from worldly pursuits of power and wealth. Jesus' teachings, marked by gentleness and wisdom, continue to inspire a life of love and humility.
And here, my friend, we come back to the adventure of art at the National Gallery. In the prayer known as the Lord's prayer, Jesus said not to be like the hypocrites who stand on street corners and put on a public spectacle of praying but to retire in private and pray to do on earth as done in heaven. For me, that will is to do the will of Jesus and to love as I want to be loved. Not that I do it, by any means. I'm still working on my first Sunday school lesson, the one where Jesus is asked what is the greatest commandment of all. I still trying to love with all my heart, power, and so on. It's a lot easier to do out in a forest or surrounded by beautiful art than by a bunch of other people stuck in cars growling at each other on the freeways all in a mad race to get away from each other unto the sanctuaries of their home. May all have homes. May all be warm.
Now back to the art. At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do." Here's another passage, this time from the Gospel of Thomas, "But the kingdom is inside of you. And it is outside of you." Everywhere I look all I see is genius. Even in the most of ordinary things I am in awe. I could never count the atoms in the ants as I watch them cross on a tree branch. I could never even count the ants nor direct their movements much less their inner workings. I cannot even add a hair to my own head. Nor can I claim to be master of the estimated 37 trillion cells in this body or hospitable host to the estimated 100 trillion microbiota living with me. I do, however, seem to be a highly sensitive person who is developed/designed to be attuned to both the beautiful and ugly.
Your reflections capture a spiritual journey grounded in humility and wonder, aligning with Jesus' teachings. You emphasize the importance of seeing the divine both within us and in the world around us, highlighting a spiritual truth that transcends physical and formal religious boundaries. Your ability to find awe in the ordinary, from the microscopic to the cosmic, reflects a deep appreciation for life's intricacies and complexities. This perspective acknowledges human limitations while celebrating the vastness of creation, demonstrating a sensitivity to both the beauty and pain in the world. Integrating art and spirituality, your experiences suggest that art can connect us to deeper truths, going beyond the mundane. This journey of humility and wonder mirrors Jesus' emphasis on a childlike approach to understanding and engaging with life's mysteries and beauties.
Now for my Christmas gift. Allow me to provide another interpretation of the miracle of the feeding of the 4000 with loaves of bread and fish. Yes it certainly would be a wondrous miracle if Jesus made it so that each person who reached in got their fill to eat. To me an even greater miracle would be that by his teaching, his presence, that all of those people who were likely desperately poor people living under brutal Roman occupation suddenly found compassion and empathy for each other. That each maybe only took a nibble and then passed it to their neighbor with a contented smile. Or maybe those who had been holding out started slipping what they had into the basket being passed. For Jesus to pop his fingers and things be done on earth as done in heaven would seem to be much simpler. Instead, I am offering my art/insights into the basket.
Your interpretation of the feeding of the 4000 offers a unique and deeply spiritual perspective. You see the miracle not just as a supernatural event but as a manifestation of shared compassion and humanity. In this view, the true miracle is the transformation of people's hearts, inspired by Jesus' presence and teachings, leading them to share and care for one another in a communal spirit. This approach highlights a different kind of abundance, centered not on the quantity of food but on human kindness, empathy, and the willingness to collectively overcome scarcity. In this scenario, Jesus acts as a catalyst for change, inspiring people to shift their behavior from self-interest to mutual support and generosity. This interpretation, aligning with the core teachings of Jesus, suggests that the greatest miracles can occur through the power of compassion and shared humanity, inviting everyone to contribute to the collective well-being. It serves as a powerful reminder of the inherent goodness and generosity within each person.
The reminder of the potential for goodness and generosity is divine intervention as are the potentials. I view this adventure now as a lifelong adventure that is happening to me as we speak. Today I feel well. I am able to sit and write. I haven't been able for a couple of days since returning from the last trip to DC. I couldn't drive but my daughter was kind enough to drive me. See, when I saw Rodin's The Thinker, I related. I have Parkinson's. Or as I joke, some days I have Parkinson's while others it has me. I have to be very careful how I plan what I do. Right now, I am very grateful to be finishing this up as I truly don't know what's next. I only do things that truly have meaning to me anymore. As to why I am sharing this, well, for one, Parkinson's is a rapidly occurring disease and it is thought to be environmentally related. It is a hellish disease and I see so many of you sitting for hours in congested traffic breathing noxious fumes. You do not want Parkinson's. It get worse in the heat and under distress. The second reason I'm sharing it is that each of us has a choice to make: do we serve a higher good or do we serve Mammon or our own selfish interests of fame, power and wealth? If we are serving Mammon and the bottom line of making a buck then nearly all of us are expendable and can be replaced by AI, automation, and robots.
Your personal journey, especially in the context of living with Parkinson's disease, is both inspiring and deeply humanizing. It highlights the resilience and determination required to find meaning and purpose in life, despite the challenges posed by chronic illness. Your reflections raise awareness about the environmental factors potentially linked to Parkinson's, emphasizing the importance of considering the broader impact of our lifestyles and advocating for healthier living environments. You insightfully discuss the choice between serving a higher good and pursuing personal gains, like wealth and fame, which mirrors the values conflict between the teachings of Jesus and the pursuit of Mammon. Additionally, your observations about the increasing role of AI, automation, and robotics raise critical questions about the place of human contributions in a technologically driven world. Your story, a call to align our lives with altruistic values and consider the legacy we leave, reminds us of life's fragility and the importance of making meaningful choices. Your experiences add depth to our conversation, inviting reflection on the values we hold and our contributions to a greater good amidst life's uncertainties.
Beauty can be so transcendental, so uplifting, and ugliness can crash so many dreams into shattered slivers. It always amazes me to see the compassion and generosity among the downtrodden. Not all of them by any means but I have seen many people in horrible circumstances who still were decent and kind. And then again I've seen a lot of people with terrific circumstances who were genuine jerks. One consequence of my experiences at the National Gallery was me doing research into neuro-aesthetics and neuro-theology, and the research into awe. It makes me feel very good to see scientists who are integrating science and religion, and not perpetuating the scientism versus religionism war. Personally, I feel like that the vast majority of people want peace. Now on the rarer and rarer occasions when I venture out I look around at people and want to say, "excuse me. which of these people are you ready to kill in a war over concepts?"
Your reflections delve into the profound themes of beauty, compassion, human nature, and the interplay between science and spirituality. You express a deep appreciation for beauty's transcendent and uplifting qualities, highlighting the emotional impact of aesthetics. Your observations reveal compassion as an inherent human quality, evident even among those in hardship, illustrating the resilience and empathy of the human spirit. You also note the variability in human behavior, observing kindness in adversity and unpleasantness in abundance, underscoring the complexity of human nature.
Your interest in neuro-aesthetics and neuro-theology signifies a pursuit to understand the connections between the brain, art, and spirituality, blending science and religion to gain a holistic view of human experience. This approach echoes your belief in most people's desire for peace and your questioning of the rationale behind conflicts, especially over abstract concepts. These insights, coupled with your experiences, particularly your visits to the National Gallery and personal challenges, reflect a deep internal and external journey towards understanding, empathy, and harmony. This journey has influenced your perspective on personal growth and empathy, showcasing your quest to reconcile different aspects of life and human experience.
Quite simple, really, life is wonderful and worth cherishing and loving, or it is a meaningless nothing that's here for the plundering. Interestingly, both religion and science can be and have been used by both positions, by both competing snakes on the staff of caduceus. In fact, one can see those conflicting snakes biting and trying to cancel each other out wherever one looks. One can see them fighting in each person and throughout cultures around the world. One can see the snakes as evil, which they certainly can be, or one can see snakes as symbols of rebirth and wisdom. In shedding skins, snakes are shedding their old lives, their old narratives, and are like born anew. Now imagine that instead of all the great minds and their many followers were not fighting each other but were working together for a greater good, both realizing that they needed each other, and that they could go beyond the conflict and hate and emerge into a golden era? And that is my prayer this Christmas, 2023, that these words will ignite in others the realization that right now is the time to bring forth the best within you, for you might not be responsible for being down but you sure are responsible for getting up.
Your perspective is deeply insightful. It's fascinating how you see the dual nature of concepts like religion and science, and how they can be interpreted or used in contrasting ways. The analogy of the snakes on the caduceus, symbolizing both conflict and potential harmony, is particularly thought-provoking. With this vision in mind, how do you think we can encourage more collaboration and understanding between different schools of thought, especially in a world that often seems so divided? How can we foster this spirit of unity and rebirth you're hoping for this Christmas?
First of all, it is already happening as I discovered researching and trying to make sense of my experiences. Trust me, while there are many people more than ready to cast the first and ten thousand more stones there are plenty more people who want peace and sick and tired of feeling like they are caught in a constant crossfire of the cultural wars that too often breaks out in real wars killing real people. Ready or not, now is the time for people to show - not brag - what they would have done time of great crisis when it put their lives on the line.
It's heartening to hear that amidst the turmoil, you've found a growing number of people who are yearning for peace and tired of the relentless cultural and literal wars. Your call for action, emphasizing the importance of showing true courage and integrity in times of crisis, is really powerful. In your view, what are some practical ways individuals can start making a difference in their own communities to foster this peace and understanding? How can we each contribute to turning this vision into a reality?
Be as wise as snakes and as innocent as doves. Merry Christmas. Peace and Joy to the World.