Looking for Jesus in All the Wrong Places
24th August 2004
Back in 1975 or so I joined a line of pilgrims that snaked around the streets of Turin, waiting to file past the shroud that purported to show an imprint of the face of Jesus. The authenticity of the shroud is in question, but the faith of the thousands drawn toward it was powerful.
Having read the new book by Tom Harpur, The Pagan Christ, I've learned that not only was the shroud a myth, so was the character of Jesus. A former Anglican priest, Harpur views 'myth' as a positive term, and in the non-existence of a historical Christ finds renewal of his own Christianity. He makes some distinction between Christianity and 'Christianism', and blames the Church of the 3rd Century for a savage campaign of suppressing teachings that counter the notion of a literal Christ. The Church moved from an esoteric stance, in which people were to be led to incarnate the Christ spirit within themselves, to an exoteric stance, in which people were to believe in an actual man who was the Divine come to Earth in human form.
Tom Harpur draws extensively on earlier writers, most particularly Alvin Kuhn (1880-1963), to source his argument. Essentially this consists of evidence of all the elements of the Christ story pre-existing the time of Christ, forming an essential part of earlier so-called mystery religions. From the virgin birth through the crucifixion to the resurrection, all the elements of the Christ story can be found in religions that pre-date Christ. So Lazarus, for example, exists by name in other scriptures, as does the place name attached to the story and the story and the names of the attendant Mary and Martha. It is possible to contest that these earlier scriptures prophesy the coming of Christ, and indeed the New testament takes pains to establish links between supposed prophesies of the Old Testament. Harpur states though that the final appearance of an actual man, a Christ figure, would deny the very essence of the myth. Like the reappearance of the sun, the tale tells of the everpresent immanence of the divine inside the body, the 'temple', of everybody.
The information convinces me. It comes as both a shock and a liberation - certainly my sense of the spiritual is of a divine spark that ignites the nascent divinity in each of us, and that the body is a prism of appreciation through which we get to experience the outer world. I look forward to revisiting the New Testament, untroubled by its contradictions, viewing it as a fiction that contains an ultimate truth.
Apparently there is no reason to doubt the existence of St Paul. I can see that shifting the focus away from a remote figure like Horus to a contemporary carpenter humanizes the story, makes it accessible to a new audience. If a carpenter can access this Christ force, then why can't I? Without Jesus, and apparently without the Apostles, St Paul's role as the founder of Christianity becomes even more fundamental.
While researching my book In Search of the Divine Mother, the biography of the Indian holywoman Mother Meera, I gained the sense of slipping under the wire just before the established myth was set firmly in place. Mother Meera is presented to the world as the divine come to earth in female form. I was writing a spiritual book that I hoped would transform as well as inform lives, so I took care not to include certain verified stories and to seek out opposing viewpoints from disenchanted followers. My book was partial in that way. However time and again, particularly in my researches through southern India with the guidance of Mother Meera's family, I came across stories that were supposed to have been hidden from me. My story became one of a poor girl from an Indian village who through her relationship with an older mentor came to, in Tom Harpur's terms from another tradition, incarnate the Christ spirit within herself. I was careful to cross-reference stories to establish them as facts, and did not bother to point out the differences between the story as I uncovered it and the authorized version of events as published in Mother Meera's organizations own publications. I leave that task to scholars of the origin of religion who might seek such an inside account of a religion in its earliest phase. Every effort was made by the organization to suppress my book, which does seem to be the route taken by Christianity and other established religions. (I had not known that the burning of the library of Alexandria was the responsibility of Christian zealots seeking to rid the world of alternative versions of their story.) The organization's main concern, as I see it, was with my apportioning a human biography to someone they saw as being wholly divine.
I see Mother Meera having difficulty accepting her human side (as of course many of us do, including myself), and no difficulty accepting her divine side (which is a struggle for many of us if we bother at all). When I first went to her, it felt like accessing the original Christ. Indeed I write in my book of seeing the 'chalice' displayed on her face, around the nose and its cup across her brow, and the crucifix formed down the bridge of her nose. I like the sense given my Tom Harpur's book of a universal religion, perhaps with its origins in Egypt, from which all subsequent religions have either flowed or broken off. Formalized religions based around an avatar figure are, to my mind, dangerous and exclusive things. They are the origin of fundamentalism, believers prepared to go to war to defend their own notion of what is a supreme good. Much better to realize that we all have complete access to the same divine expression in our lives (the divine is not divisable) and not assume that the responsibility for manifesting this divine quality is reserved for some supreme human. I noted in my book how Mother Meera and her mentor triggered the divine in each other, that she was subsequently a trigger for me, and that for me is the truth expressed in what I am happy to see as the myth of the Christ story. That the Christ spirit incarnates in us 'when two or more are gathered in my name'. We find this Christ not on our own, not as instructed by a priest, not in some remote super being, but in ourselves through an act of communion with some other being. The Christ story is the ultimate human story.