Friday, June 13, 2008

Lost Christianity

I just finished reading Lost Christianity by Jacob Needleman. The following is a quote from Father Sylvan, a mysterious, spiritually-advanced monk who crossed paths with Mr. Needleman. The author received the monk's journals, using them to explore the deeper levels of Christianity. From Father Sylvan's journal:
The idea of levels of Christianity may never again be known in the West. There is an intermediate level of Christianity which teaches the way that the higher level becomes distorted. We need the intermediate level. We need to observe how we lose Christianity, lose mysticism, lose the energy of God. Here lies the origin of sin and repentance, on the border between heaven and hell.

Modern people do not understand that the Christian ideals to which half the world attempts to conform comprise a description of the results of a specific inner act and inner inquiry. Mysticism is a result, a great result perhaps, of the inner inquiry; but everything is corrupted when I confuse inner work with the results of inner work.

To experience love for God or my neighbor, even for an instant, is no less a result than mystical experience. To be virtuous is a result. To have faith is a result. Similarly, wisdom and compassion are results.

All corruption of tradition begins with the confusion and mixing of inner work with the results of inner work. Jesus saw that the Judaism of his time had fallen into this confusion and that no one was practicing the inner discipline free from the expectation or assumption of results.
And another quote from Father Sylvan:
In a certain sense, the problem of Christianity is not that something has been hidden, but that not enough has stayed hidden.
Fascinating stuff! I think this connects very well with what Maurice Nicoll explores in The New Man:
The idea behind all sacred writing is to convey a higher meaning than the literal words contain, the truth of which must be seen by Man internally. This higher, concealed, inner, or esoteric, meaning, cast in the words and sense-images of ordinary usage, can only be grasped by the understanding, and it is exactly here that the first difficulty lies in conveying higher meaning to Man. A person's literal level of understanding is not necessarily equal to grasping psychological meaning.
And this, also from The New Man:
The Gospels are from beginning to end all about this possible self-evolution. They are psychological documents. They are about the psychology of this possible inner development - that is, about what a man must think, feel, and do in order to reach a new level of understanding. The Gospels are not about the affairs of life, save indirectly, but about this central idea - namely, that Man internally is a seed capable of a definite growth. Man is compared with a seed capable of a definite evolution. As he is, Man is incomplete, unfinished. A man can bring about his own evolution, his own completion, individually. If he does not wish to do this he need not. He is then called grass - that is, burned up as useless. This is the teaching of the Gospels. But this teaching can be given neither directly nor by external compulsion. A man must begin to understand for himself before he can receive it. You cannot make anyone understand by force, by law.
So if we take what Father Sylvan and Maurice Nicoll have said, we get an impression that what we think we know about Christianity could be only a very simplistic and superficial understanding, maybe even a grossly distorted understanding. The depth of truth concealed in the Gospels has probably been beyond the comprehension of the vast majority of humanity for centuries, let alone much of the hierarchy of the Church which has tried to convey those truths. Contrast this with Ken Wilber's concepts of the states and stages of development in Integral Theory. Western civilization has only recently started to emerge from the mythic/ethnocentric stage of development in the past century or two (perhaps as much as 70% of humanity is still at the mythic stage today). If the Gospels are read and comprehended from a mythic, ethnocentric stage of consciousness, then it would make sense why much of humanity has failed to grasp the deeper meaning of the Gospels. This is not to criticize people at the mythic stage. All humans and societies and civilizations progress through stages of development, from lower to higher. But what do we do with this situation, if anything? Ho
w do we help that 70% move up to a higher stage of consciousness? Should they be helped or not? Can the "lost Christianity" be rediscovered and be a catalyst for humanity's spiritual development?

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