One of the benefits of spending the summer out on a lake without a television or accessible road is the chance to read and ponder bigger question (One of the “hardships” is limited access to the internet and thus less opportunity to post). Using the time to consume and process, I recently read two books asking bigger questions. The first, a secular historical perspective on Jesus; the second, a spiritual look at God from a perspective outside religious structure. Very different questions asked, and arguments made.
The first book I read was How Jesus Became God by Bart Ehrman. Dr. Ehrman is a secular scholar of the Bible with many books to his name. He teaches the history of early Christianity and while his views may have a bias towards an atheist opinion, he provides an insightful view of how the understanding of Jesus evolved. My main takeaway from his book is that many Christians in the first century believed Christ was human who became divine when resurrected. It was later opinions, especially from the Gospel of John (one of the last gospels written), that made Christ divine from the dawn of time. Today most Christians believe Jesus has always been divine and simply entered our world to provide guidance. I had never really considered the question of whether Jesus started out human or was always divine, so the book was quite thought provoking.
I should also mention, this post is really a follow up to an article I wrote for Daily Zen, “Where is God For You?” In the article I ask whether Jesus would consider God “up there,” all around us (including within us), or something else. Ehrman asks a similar question, although does not ask whether God is within us. Instead he assumes there is a difference between mortals and deities. He asks how a mortal becomes a deity, or how a deity descends down into a mortal. It sets up the question of whether the divine realm is a series of levels or whether the divine realm is completely other, separated by an infinite space. In short, from researching quantum physics, cosmology, and neurology for my book Evolved, I have come to believe neither is a fair representation of reality.
Dr. Ehrman does a good job explaining the belief systems at the time of Jesus. Judaism was the only religion that believed in a singular God. Roman culture, similar to Greek mythology, had many gods in a hierarchy and it was believed humans could elevate themselves through actions, or gods would periodically descend to Interact with mortals. The Roman emperor Caesar Augustus was known as the “Son of God”. There was even another commoner, Apollonius, who lived a little later than Jesus, who was a Pythagorean philosopher who worshiped the Roman gods, and was considered a son of god by his followers. Ehrman argues that Jesus was considered completely human during his life. It was only after his death that he began to be considered the “Son of God” in competition with the Roman authority. It was only a few centuries later that Roman society adopted Jesus as a favored religion as a way to promote unification within society.
The time period of Jesus is interesting because there was such a dynamic amount of religious development. Taking a big step back and not getting bogged down in the influences during the first few hundred years of Christianity, religions evolved from many gods to largely a singular God and the perception of the divine realm in the west changed from one with our reality, or at least connected through a continuum, to another separate mortally inaccessible place. Now I doubt the divine realm itself changed much during this period. So the question becomes – why did western society change its perception of the divine realm? More insight? The influence of the teachings by Jesus? A simple winner take all human debate that occurred during the few centuries after Jesus lived? Or, a more convenient man-made way to create social order within a highly regimented Roman Empire seeking a unifying deity?
Sorry, no answers. Ehrman has his agenda as a non-believer, arguing the transformation of Jesus from mortal to God occurred gradually after his death through the work of his disciples once he had departed this world, not during his life and resurrection. My point is that I think Ehrman is asking the wrong questions in his book. He assumes two separate worlds that are subject to different laws of reality. Yet, there are enough cosmological and quantum puzzlements to allow for both worlds to co-exist together.
The second book I read was The Future of God by Deepak Chopra. Dr. Chopra (who is a medical doctor) approaches spirituality from a more integrated reality, assuming God is all around and within us. While his views have a heavy mix of eastern religion, he does not define himself by a religion. Instead, arguing religions are relics of the past that hold us back. For Chopra, the question is not whether the separation between our world and the divine is a continuum or absolute. It is how we train ourselves to experience the divine all around and in us. In short, his arguments fit almost perfectly with the world created in Evolved. A complete shock to me since I wrote Evolved completely based on my research on scientific topics, not through the spiritual.
After seeing what emerged from me through the writing of Evolved, I am more firmly of the opinion that the divine is everywhere, including in You. It is through looking inside ourselves and finding the You in each other that we become closer to God. The teachings of Jesus actually provide wonderful guidance to help us on this journey when looking at God from this perspective. The Franciscan priest Richard Rohr does an incredible job teaching these lessons from this perspective.
But, only one man’s opinion from a singular spiritual path. Each one of us travels our own path, asking different questions, and finding different answers. Therefore I am very interested in hearing other perspectives. So, I keep asking the question – Where is God for You?