Readers Respond: Letters from Spring 2013
A NOTE ON LETTERS TO THE EDITOR:
We welcome your responses to our articles. Send your letters to the editor to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please remember, however, not to attribute to Tikkun views other than those expressed in our editorials. We email, post, and print many articles with which we have strong disagreements, because that is what makes Tikkun a location for a true diversity of ideas. Tikkun reserves the right to edit your letters to fit available space in the magazine.
James Vrettos’s November 2012 article on tikkun.org, “Stop-and-Frisk in New York and the Politics of Crime in America,” ably spotlights the fundamentally political nature of discriminatory policing practices such as stop-and-frisk, and keenly advises that, if we seek to end practices that are fundamentally political, our strategies must be so as well. As Vrettos notes, this begins with changing the narrative. As long as those defending stop-and-frisk insist that they are simply fighting violent crime, we must establish that this claim is demonstrably false and at the same time show that it only survives within a worldview that actively criminalizes youth, poverty, and people of color. In addition to publishing the damning statistics on the policy, one way to start this shift is to engage the stories of people who have been stopped—because they are young, because they live in low-income neighborhoods, because they are Black or Latino.
A recent report by the Center for Constitutional Rights, “Stop and Frisk: The Human Impact,” tells many of these stories. The center issued the report in an effort to share the personal experiences of the hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers represented in Floyd v. City of New York, a class-action lawsuit against the NYPD for its unconstitutional stop-and-frisk practices. When a young woman recalls being stopped and searched with her cousins, ages eight through sixteen, as they walked up the stairs in their public housing unit, it is hard to believe that this is the kind of policing that will keep our city safe. When someone tells how, after being stopped and frisked, “my jeans were ripped. I had bruises on my face. My whole face was swollen,” the fiction that stop-and-frisk is protecting New Yorkers from violent crime becomes increasingly difficult to maintain. When the growing “surveillance-directed policing system” that Vrettos describes overwhelmingly targets Muslim New Yorkers, denying the political nature of discriminatory policing becomes downright impossible.
New York, NY
Christianity Without the Cross?
It seems that what is objectionable in the discussion of “Christianity Without the Cross?” in Tikkun’s Fall 2012 print edition is a particular theory of the significance of the cross: the late Western, Latin, and Protestant “satisfaction theory” of St. Anselm of Canterbury in the eleventh century and its even later corollary, Calvinist “penal” theory, according to which God required a sacrifice for human sin. Many contemporary Christian theologians reject this line of thinking. This rejection of satisfaction theory began perhaps in the 1930s with Gustav Aulen, who argued that Luther rejected it, too.
Aulen argued that the classic, ancient Christian view was that, in His Son, God absorbed all the forces of violence into Himself. This notion depends on the Doctrine of the Incarnation, in which Jesus is not only a Prophet or a Sage, but also God Himself. The ancients saw this as the “defeat of the devil” by subterfuge—death swallowed up a man, but was poisoned by devouring God. It has nothing to do with sacrifice to God, but sacrifice—and victory—by God. Many prefer not even to use the word atonement (a medieval English coinage), but rather, redemption. A current variation of this view is found in the “narrative Christus Victor” thinking of Mennonite Denny Weaver’s The Nonviolent Atonement. (If you google the latter, you will find all kinds of articles about this matter.) Weaver is a fine scholar who shows that language about “sacrifice for sin” means something different from Anselm’s interpretation. For one thing, the Paschal sacrifice was not a sin offering, but a Covenant meal.
The notion that God requires innocent suffering is just monstrous. The notion that the Creator willingly becomes the Subject of the consequences of the creative act, sharing—and overcoming—our sufferings, is somewhat more attractive, isn’t it?
As a person raised in Catholicism, I would like to suggest (though this is not what Catholics teach) that Jesus came to show us the Truth of our own Divinity, and the physical death he suffered is a metaphor for Liberation from the ego (our personal and collective conditioning, including most religions). Love is our natural state when we are freed from this fear-based conditioning. Said another way, each of us is a Christ (a title, not a name) at the core of our being, and the Second Coming is not through a person, but when all claim and live our Divine Nature.
—Lucira Jane Nebelung
The theology of atonement is a minority position within the New Testament. It is found only in the gospel of John. In one way or another, the Synoptic Gospels portray the death of Jesus as involving an innocent victim. This Jesus suffers unfairly, and those who witness his death encounter God: the power of vicarious suffering inspired by the suffering servant songs in Isaiah. Jesus suffers not because it is God’s plan for him to do so, but because of Roman injustice. The experience of Jesus’s death leads one to God. It has nothing to do with the forgiveness of sins. See Matthew 27: 32-54, Mark 15: 16-35, and Luke 23: 26-46.
Oak Bluffs, MA
I appreciate the link to the section in your Fall 2012 issue on the crucifixion of Christ, and the question about what kind of a god would, potentially, welcome any kind of sacrifice of a human being, and how could that god then be all-loving, all-merciful, and so on. I think this is one of the central questions that Western religions have had to struggle with for centuries—a real grappling with this nagging question of outrageous sacrifice and human suffering.
In the case of Abraham, or Jesus Christ, the specificity of the suffering being proposed (or carried out) is so outrageous that it gives us pause—and evokes many, many visceral reactions among people hearing these stories, from anger about religions that seem to think child abuse is legitimate, to upset about messages of painful martyrdom, to the unsettling notion that a god would ask such a thing, or that perhaps there really isn’t a god, but these are made-up tales to further political agendas of patriarchy, totalitarianism, religious oppression and so on…
In India, there is an ancient spiritual yoga called “kandhana yoga.” Many saints since time immemorial have performed this outrageous yoga (“yoga” in this context meaning a high supernatural process that brings the consciousness of union with the divine)—often it involves cutting off a body part or parts (arms, legs, hands, etc.) and then refixing the body again so that it is perfectly normal. It sounds completely crazy, but it’s true. Once a human being witnesses kandhana yoga, it’s pretty much impossible to believe, fully, the illusion that the physical body is all there is to life, or that the soul is not real, or that it is not immortal. But there’s another, deeper, mechanism behind the kandhana yoga process—in the cutting and the refixing, in the presence and with the cooperation (yoga = union) of the divine, gajillions of negative karmas, the weight of human actions-to-reaction, are being released, healed, ‘refixed.’ The more of that kind of baggage, planet-wide, that is dissolved, freed, the more humanity at large can receive higher spiritual consciousness, awareness, and capability.
What Jesus did on the cross, as I understand it (from ancient texts in India that detail exactly what he did, what he learned, and how he implemented that yogic knowledge in the Middle East), was a form of kandhana yoga. He wanted to know the full range of god’s creation and nature, in this world—in order to be able to help humanity gain that same knowledge, from the inside, as a consciousness state—and the divine’s reply to his desire to experience the totality of the divine (all the positive and all the negative, everything) was that he couldn’t handle it. Fiery, fearless trail-blazer that he was, he made a deal with god to experience that totality, anyway—and the price of that knowledge, on behalf of humanity, was his experience on the cross.
My teacher in India, a highly enlightened, miracle healing saint himself, named Kaleshwar, shared with us that Christ didn’t suffer, physically, on the cross—again, the willingness to undergo that was the only requirement to fulfill his deal/destiny with the divine—but that Mother and Father Divine, god, took the physical pain of the experience for him. Kaleshwar published a book on these topics: The Real Life And Teachings Of Jesus Christ.
All of this is written, in detail, in ancient manuscripts from India—I have seen them with my own eyes; one of them, 2000 years old, has been carbon-dated and its authenticity validated independently.
The story doesn’t end, for Jesus, on the cross, either. The Q’ran references obliquely that he didn’t die on the cross. In India, it’s known in some quarters that he did in fact come back to life after the crucifixion, through another mystical ‘yoga’ process—and went back to live out the rest of his life in India.
So—to me, there is a rich context, a beautiful context, a complicated and thought-and-soul-provoking context, behind the sacrifice demanded from Abraham and his son, and from Jesus Christ, as well. And it’s not a context that is readily apparent on the surface—or without having a working knowledge of the high yogic processes of the East.
Historically, these Western saints like Abraham or Jesus were not the first spiritual souls to be put through these kinds of processes—and certainly not the last. Indian saints and yogis since before them and after them have done these same kinds of processes, again and again and again—with the sole purpose of helping humanity evolve through their willingness to suffer through physical pain.
You asked, then, is the cross really a symbol of love and liberation—my response is yes, but not the way it’s conventionally considered.
Is god cruel for requiring such a sacrifice on the cross? I think, from one angle, in a way, yes—but god as an amplified reflection, a mirror, to the cruelty exhibited by humanity to that point—and as a vehicle through which the patterns of human cruelty, oppression and ignorance can be transcended.
Sometimes it takes a thorn to remove a thorn. Is that ultimately cruel? No. Does it hurt in the moment? Yes.
Do the ends—increased consciousness, compassion, spiritual awakening—justify the means? I think that depends on the individual involved—Jesus was, to my understanding, quite clear about his motives, his relationship with the divine (all sides of it), and his own willingness to undergo such an experience. If he had no problem, ultimately, with his crucifixion—should we? Or should we be researching, in our hearts, deeply, about what really happened there, on the cross, and what gift was given to humanity as a result of that action, and what is the promise for us now, 2000 years later….?
Jesus told his students, “all these works (miracles) I did, you will do, and greater.” Okay, but when? And how much healing/purification does it take, for humanity at large, to be able to dissolve enough ignorance, greed, violence, cruelty, hatred and blame—how much energetic baggage do we need to drop?—before we can live to the fullest potential of the greatness of what it means to be human beings? (I mean, our capacity to live in elevated consciousness, awareness, pure love, compassion, helping one another rather than hurting one another, and also remembering how to access/implement the miraculous, the super-natural, in our lives.)
I’d suggest that his experience on the cross was a kind of world-wide initiation, and it’s required a 2000-year cycle of human nuttiness, fits and starts of progress and regression, punctuated by revelations in all religious/spiritual paths, century after century, to keep us on the course of the awakening set in motion on the cross (for all peoples, regardless of beliefs, religions, spiritual paths, or none).
Anyway, these are a few of my thoughts, today, in response to your beautiful message about Aid and all the themes stirred up by the story of Abraham and his son.
Thank you, again, for your email.
And thank you for the incredible work you’ve been doing for so long, bringing together people of all faiths to work together towards understanding, evolution, and progress in our country. I’ve been a fan for a long time.
Santa Cruz, CA
ISRAEL AND IRAN
Regarding your editorial against Israel’s preemptive striking: Please recall that Saddam Hussein made the same kind of belligerent threats against Israel, but then invaded Kuwait. Is it possible that the Sunni Muslim oil-producing states have as much to fear from an atomic Iran as Israel? Perhaps even more?
Iran’s leaders openly call for the destruction of Israel and the death of its 6 million Jews, while continuing their pursuit of nuclear weapons to make their dream of destroying Israel a reality…. Hamas and Hezbollah have already fired thousands of missiles into Israeli towns and villages. Each of these missiles is obviously an act of war, as well as a war crime, intended to kill and terrorize as many Jewish men, women and children as possible. They have accumulated thousands of additional missiles and rockets and they openly announce to the world they intend to fire these missiles into Israel to kill and terrorize more Jews…. And, while all this is happening, you continue to publish columns by Politically Correct pundits who insist that that Radical Islam is a fiction, that the Muslim world is essentially peaceful, and that if war breaks out between Israel and its neighbors it will be the fault of Israel, because Mr. Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel, is a war monger. Amazing.
—Michael S. Kolker
THE TRINITY AND THE HOLY SPIRIT
I want to express my profound appreciation for Brian McLaren’s article on “Rethinking the Doctrines of the Trinity and the Holy Spirit” in Tikkun’s Summer 2012 issue. In relation to his segment on the Trinity, I want to share an experience I had—and still rehearse—while participating in an Ashram with E. Stanley Jones in the mid-1950s. Early in that week Jones indicated that he would sit out under a certain tree around 3pm each afternoon, available for anyone to converse with him. I clearly recall my response that, on one such afternoon, I chose to approach him and ask, as I was a young Methodist pastor, if he could help me have an understanding of the Trinity. Without hesitation he pointed me to the passage attributed to Paul in Ephesians 3:14-19:
I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant you to be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
As to McLaren’s segment on the Holy Spirit, I am attaching a personal, and rhythmic, reflection that came as the result of an experience I had while out walking in Tucson the morning of September 17, 2005. Entitled “Refreshed, in the Spirit,” it includes a prompt from the Dalai Lama and the appeal, again attributed to Paul, in Ephesians 4:1ff: “Make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Indeed, as Paul writes in Philippians 2:1:ff., “If then there is any … sharing in the Spirit … be of the same mind….” So, as I concluded in my reflection that morning, “I was refreshed … by another experience of ‘centering,’ of bringing together strands of thought, of reading, of devotion. Not abandoning my personal Christo-centrism, but seeing it expanded and respecting, indeed, incorporating the faith-experiences, the Spirit-responsiveness of even more of my human family!”
—Leland H. Scott