Are Gaia, the living and sacred earth, and God, the monotheistic deity of the biblical traditions, on speaking terms with each other?
– Rosemary Radford Ruether, Gaia & God
The principle deficiency in biblical scholarship is its lack of a myth criticism. [The Jesus Seminar has] developed historical criticism to a high art, but we have been unable to conceive a critical relation to the stories that undergird our tradition and limit our vision. In the next phase of this work, we must remedy this fundamental deficiency.
– Robert Funk, Honest to Jesus, page 309
The disclosure of a myth is deemed academic as long as the myth belongs to somebody else. Recognizing one’s own myth is always much more difficult, if not downright dangerous.
– Burton Mack, The Lost Gospel, page 237
In the four Gospels Jesus used the word usually translated “kingdom” more than a hundred times, most of those in Matthew and Luke. No other word that Jesus used has been subject to so much speculation. . . .
[T]he word usually translated as “kingdom” is gendered feminine in both Aramaic (malkuta) and Hebrew (mamlaka). In fact, the word translated as “kingdom” in the Greek New Testament, basileia, is also a feminine-gendered noun. Quite apart from any consideration of political correctness, “queendom” would be a more accurate translation.
– Neil Douglas-Klotz, The Hidden Gospel, pages 83-84
Usually we use the term “civilization” for anything that is good about our humanity—for example, poetry and drama, music and dance, art and architecture, image and narrative. Correspondingly, to call individuals or groups, places or actions, “uncivilized” is normally a calculated insult. So I need to explain very clearly what I mean . . . by the “brutal normalcy of civilization.” The point I wish to emphasize is that imperialism is not just a here-and-there, now-and-then, sporadic event in human history, but that civilization itself, as I am using that term, has always been imperial—that is, empire is the normalcy of civilization’s violence.
– John Dominic Crossan, God and Empire,
Is it not time that the Christian mythology, instead of being wiped out, was understood symbolically for once?
– C. G. Jung, The Undiscovered Self
The study of history always implies a study of its alternative.
– James Carroll, Constantine’s Sword, page 17
These epigraphs cry out for integration—the need for symbolic understanding of Christian mythology; the danger of myth disclosure; the Jesus Seminar’s acknowledged difficulty in developing myth criticism; the ethical core and spiritual portal of Jesus’ “kingdom” teachings condensed as an Aramaic word of feminine ambience; a question about whether God and Goddess are even on speaking terms; a strikingly unusual appraisal of what we blithely call “civilization”; and a query into historical understandings and alternatives.
Shall we ask what symbolic understandings of Christian imagery might look like; what the danger—real or imagined—is in myth disclosure; perhaps wonder why the Jesus Seminar found it difficult to develop myth perception; poke around in the significance of gendered etymologies that bump self-absorbed male presumption aside; and listen closely for any indication that religious Outer Space has a Class-and-War hot line to civilization (but not to the ecological and evolutionary Earth)—before stirring that pot to see what sort of alternative brew or broth we might cook up?
In a National Public Radio remembrance of theologian Rosemary Radford Ruether (who died at 85 in May of 2022), considerable attention was given to her 1992 Gaia & God and its impact especially on her students. The theme of her book is the reciprocal relationship between female/male gender dynamics and the mythological representations of cosmic divinities whose human caricatures we reproduce through religious depiction and civil law. Since I’d just begun to read Gaia & God when her death was announced, and since the content of her book brushes up against the themes of my own writing, I’d like to honor the depth of her exploration, at least obliquely, and, if I can, expand on that obliquity.
Shall we wander those crooked paths by asking why running sky-high theism into the ground of atheism, with periodicals like the American The Fourth R and its British counterpart Sofia in the forefront, seems to be the moral high ground of a rather abrasive Earth landing? Getting to atheism—or, more nuanced, to a-theism—is akin to Samson pulling the temple down around his ears. It’s not just a little icon desecration—smashed paintings and that sort of thing; a-theism threatens to collapse the entire edifice of a mythic Christianity that’s built its churches with materials from an extraterrestrial belief system. When God comes down, belief-system churches begin to feel their doctrinal architecture under threat of coming down with Him, even as the consequences of the crash can take a rather long time to register. There’s a lot of religious dust to settle as the eternally true discloses its brittle temporariness.
As ethically admirable as the theism/atheism wrestle was and still is, it has not yet achieved the integration we rather urgently—perhaps desperately—need. Unmasking and dethroning an absent god who has a powerful cultural history as God Almighty can be devastatingly liberating—it’s a huge emotional hit for a psychologically totalitarian otherworldliness—but it’s only a glancing blow in regard to myth disclosure, even as it enables the liberating potential of myth recognition.
But here we need a mental note for our inquiry: What does myth disclosure have to do with danger? What might that danger be? How do we recognize danger—and realize liberation from that danger—when the danger is so “unconsciously” entangled in our moral standards and everyday behaviors?
The theism-to-atheism descent is only one element in our mythic dilemma. This cosmic crash is largely linked to an understanding and acceptance of accrued scientific discovery, indications that the universe (and certainly the ecological Earth teeming with life) may be a living thing, certainly a powerful rational case that the god we call God looks awfully gaunt without all the adoration drapery, engineering equations, and governance authority with which He’s been wardrobed over the centuries. Science from Copernicus on has, bit by bit, done God in, or at least removed His magic metaphysical wrappings, particularly for those who’ve paid close attention and found the courage to recognize an entirely plausible disrobing.
All this has taken spiritual fortitude, clear perception and rational analysis, even as perception and analysis could be difficult to integrate with the inherited conception of God. Difficult or even impossible. Why? Because to deconstruct God rationally does not necessarily meet with cooperation from the deeply emotional God-attuned layers of our religious internalizations. Once God has settled in, it can be a painful emotional experience to initiate even a gentle eviction process. We discover the extent to which God is not only the author of our behavioral morality but the sacred boundary of the intellectually permissible. To evict God inevitably involves questioning the morality and worldview we’ve internalized. God’s disintegration causes fundamental disruption of that worldview, a worldview infused with divine authorization.
All this suggests a powerful religious construct continuing to implode, despite vigorous resistance by conventional believers and a fair amount of sardonic “Oh, really? You’re only now catching on?” from a crowd of younger people for whom theism never had much spiritual resonance or intellectual traction to begin with. But a lot of these skeptical folks are living a lifestyle of erroneous conclusion if they think theism never had historical traction or that it has no significance in the shaping of contemporary institutions, political behaviors, and personal morality. Disposing of Christian mythology as good riddance to worthless religious rubbish disguises an alarming failure to recognize how institutions and behaviors are related to and bound up with overarching mythologies; symbolic analysis is needed in order to reach the depth of their cultural and psychological shaping power. Achieving this depth is a crucial element in how we can navigate out of the End Times ecological and evolutionary pickle into which our mythic behaviors have brought us, and into a truly transformed world. But getting to the transformed world involves transformed mythological comprehension. Carl Jung intuited this problem decades ago and Burton Mack conveys an urgency that’s getting more intense. Yet there is strong resistance to conscious and clear-eyed myth analysis. Such analysis generates anxiety and resistance. It pokes and prods in ways that irritate and aggravate.
Mythological analysis and mythological reconfiguration are far more complicated and challenging than blithe dismissal or uncritical debunking. Maybe it’s just difficult to grasp—or want to grasp, or know how to grasp, or be willing to grasp. For instance, a core assertion in Gaia & God is that patriarchy—male domination—is both civilizational structure and Hebrew-Christian religious depiction. The God of patriarchy is an ultimate role model for male presumption. Since supremacy is associated with and justified by this divinity as almighty male, the collapse of theism constitutes a major blow to gender self-understanding. And although its divine mandate may be dead or dying, male advantage has been promoted and protected in a direct line of superiority derived from both secular governance and God the Almighty Father, without which male entitlement is vulnerable to critical exposure and ethical humiliation. When divine sanctification cracks up, identity anxiety and gender defensiveness set in; such roles are not easily transformed or dissolved after centuries of civil shaping and religious affirmation. Once entitlement and deference feel normal, it’s a shock—it feels naked—to recognize the less-then-eternal roles in our behavioral wardrobe. God’s collapse generates gender disorientation.
Ruth Graham, a religion reporter for the New York Times was a recent guest on Public Radio’s Fresh Air. She said—she wasn’t speaking of liberal churches—mainstream conservative churches are losing membership to far-right churches, many of which proclaim Donald Trump (despite his personal baggage) as Defender of the Faith because he promised to make Christianity great again and restore God to His proper place in the American pantheon of devotion. What might this have to do with the difficulty of myth disclosure? Shall we look at the political implications of God’s fracture?
It’s possible to say that left-wing Christians—perhaps the left-wings within all Abrahamic religions—have watched the traditional God construct slowly but steadily deconstruct over the course of the modern period and have—even painfully—found spiritual paths through that deconstruction in ways that the right-wing never was willing to explore or engage. We might say that the Right/Left political divide—order and exclusion on the Right, inclusion and justice on the Left—reflects religious conviction: adherence to conventional mythic certainty on the Right, groping for greater implementation of ethical comprehension on the Left. The Right is more judgmentally moral, the Left more inclusively ethical. The Right believes in the supernatural correctness of the mythic story. The Left yearns to feel confident about what Jesus actually meant by malkuta. But this means that the Right trusts inherited religion over revelatory spirituality. While the Right continues to pile ancient sandbags around God, the Left gropes for a mythological construct into which its malkuta ethics more fully fit. The Right accuses the Left of betraying God, a betrayal invoking the deadly danger of evil.
Yet conventional theism, especially for liberals, continues to be whacked by a relentless headache ball of detailed and persuasive critical scholarship. The struggle is intensely intellectual—the Enlightenment psychoanalyzing both Class-and-War civilization and the extraterrestrial God—and intensely spiritual. But it’s not easy to live free of the behavioral harness and intellectual boundaries imposed by centuries of civilized rule and extraterrestrial indoctrination. (Deism, meanwhile, has been wearing protective philosophical Prime Mover headgear for centuries and is less susceptible to theological migraine, while agnosticism can now be summed up as Whatever, and atheism characterized as You want me to believe what?) Inherited theism, however, is shrinking to a constituency that’s feeling explosively threatened and desperately agitated. There is disturbed gender prerogative involved in that agitation. There’s fight in those folks, many of whom own guns. A man’s home may also be his second amendment castle doctrine, a present-day shrine to the authorized warrior Joshua.
If God has become a heap of extraterrestrial shards, distraught believers survey the wreckage with a mixed bag of feelings. Intense dismay may be one of those feelings, wanting God to pull Himself up by His shredded bootstraps and resume some semblance of His previously omnipotent Self. The Proud Boys or the Oath Keepers will, in the meantime, help make God great again. They’ll leverage Him—and His star advocates—back on the cosmic wall. And they won’t be too gentle with those who refuse to help lift the divinely bruised body. Other responses are more difficult to allow into fuller consciousness, including rushes of secret glee that the Old Tyrant has finally crashed and burned, even as the smoldering ruins give off an odor of enchanting (though toxic) incense.
Meanwhile, making God great again seems to be a job for really big men. The folks (both religious and political) who are doing their utmost to sustain the scope and even enlarge the domain of this crumbled and crumbling sanctity support various authoritarian figures who surf the real and induced panic of those whose cosmic alarm finds no outlet, no hope, no relief, except in the possible restoration of a status quo ante. These authoritarian figures may be devoid of historical understanding or political vision, but they are masters of conventional webspinning, and they perform spectacularly in the political theater where well-funded media image is the portal to mass popularity. And political power. Propaganda. Personality. Power.
Uneasiness can also grow into outright spiritual panic: how in the world do we get on in the world without a God who keeps the world under constant multi-millennial governing surveillance and who provides ultimate order and eternal meaning? God’s death cracks open the moral absolutes. The metaphysical keystone no longer holds the God-and-Heaven arch in place. The entire edifice is tottering and mortal desperation is in the air.
We’re pushing up against the mythologically anticipated End Times, even as the causal dynamics of our actual End Times are of our own making. We might say End Times are us. But that’s a script we have a hard time accepting or believing. Are we to believe—and comes to grips with—the implication that God is a human fabrication? How do we live without God in control? Or without a Devil to blame for what we find wicked and repulsive?
Something similar is happening with Patriotism. Demythologized historical realities are no longer possible to evade or pretend were justified by divine sanctification: the violent theft of the Western Hemisphere and the murder of the Indigenous (“The Right of Christian Discovery”), slavery and the slave trade, global economic and military imperialism, accelerating climate change due to the Invisible Footprint of progressive economic “externalities,” possible mammalian extinction if—or when—the thermonuclear arsenal is unleashed to protect and defend all this righteousness. Patriotism is having an increasingly hard time holding up its portion of Church-State sanctity now that the keystone is crumbling. The statuary of God and Country are being steadily undermined. There’s a relentless sea-level rise of alarmed consciousness with the consequent erosion of conventional securities. Agitation is globalized. The problems (and human populations) are immense as climate change disasters intensify and political conflicts grow.
Yet a lot of liberals seem conflict averse and even afraid of so-called conservatives. (The political joke is that liberals bring soft rubber knives to gunfights with conservatives, although the underlying meaning of the joke—that ethical liberals are in general a gentler bunch than moral conservatives—tends to get little intellectual or spiritual exploration.) Thanks to gerrymandering, ALEC-formulated voter-suppression laws, and an astonishingly well-funded array of conservative “think tanks,” foundations, and political action committees, these putative conservatives out-organize liberals hands down. They’re a concentrated crew. Some are in it for God; the real hard core are in it for power and money. Still others, mostly working-class voters, are just tugged along on a propaganda-induced ride, for which there’s a powerful media engine with relentless conservative agitation backed by a ton of money. And there’s virtually nothing on the Left that even begins to speak to the working-class temperament and disposition. Conservatives rule the propaganda roost.
But the word conservative no longer fits. It’s become an inappropriate usage. The problem lies in its etymology: conserve and conservation also derive from conservare and give the game away. Conserve, conservation, and conservative insinuate ecological health, spiritual wholesomeness, political inclusion, and economic restraint. “Conservative” has been lured by foxy news into an undrained dismal swamp of mythic miasma whose more accurate name is neo-aristocratic “reactionary.” “Conservative” has been hijacked by reactionary, neo-aristocratic thieves who steal words and deliberately hide behind the venerable skirts of a dignity taken hostage.
God and Patriotism are propped up by relentless religious and political agitation in behalf of moral outrage. God’s cultural resuscitation and Civilization’s moral revival are also funded by dark money and broadcast by cadres of stern, no-nonsense male authorities who purport to speak for both God and Civilization. Liberalism, even though its temperament and disposition are majoritarian, is politically overwhelmed by this never-ending onslaught—and liberals certainly don’t have anything resembling an equivalent return message. Liberals feel God’s collapse as spiritual struggle; conservatives feel it as evil fake news.
Yet almost all of us struggle with spiritual uncertainty, even if we paper it over with a “certainty” we don’t actually feel. Uncertainty settles in when our two major metaphysical signifiers—God and Patriotism or, more universally, God and Civilization—are ethically challenged by our End Times predicament. And it’s a bit odd that when End Times becomes our actual reality—as Arnold J. Toynbee’s congenital diseases of civilized Class and War are globally closing in with their accrued infections and lethal toxins—we continue to celebrate a rising stock market and vote increased funding for yet more end-of-the-world weaponry.
What’s wrong with this picture? Is this Freud’s death instinct closing in? Rapture-ready Christians gleefully waiting for the rest of us to fry as they lift off to Heaven? Liberals too bewildered, numb, or indifferent to recognize the magnitude of the disasters actual and impending? Are we too mythologically fogged in to grasp the magnitude of the catastrophe that Civilization—and most certainly Christian Civilization—has prepared for us? Or are we beginning to come out of our mythological trance? If so, what are we doing to express our awakening and activate our new understandings?
Well, “conservatives” have morphed—thanks to dark money, hidden motives, and relentlessly agitating media—into explicit neo-aristocratic reactionary mode. But liberals, broadly speaking, are not fully woke. Shall we say we’re half-asleep, only half-heartedly trying to shake off our lifestyle somnolence and God addiction? Worse yet, we’re afraid of Big Daddy both religiously and politically. (What if God’s not really dead? What if He’s only testing our resolve and commitment?) Besides—and this is no small matter—liberals, just like conservatives, are quite comfortable with First World affluence, an affluence that, together with its requisite military protection, is the lifestyle reward generated by the same Christian Civilization that’s provided the entire world with the potentially fatal consequences of its congenital diseases of Class and War. Yet we are cautious to the point of restraint about nibbling the fingers that enable us to achieve secure and comfortable lifestyles. (What if climate change really is only provisional sunspots?)
Comfort seems to be our Achilles heel. Or one of our heels. Security may be the other. The only way out of our predicament may be ecological socialism. But this, for most of us, is an immense intellectual challenge and spiritual leap, especially as socialism has a history of being demonized by both secular and religious authorities. Yet the need for major change is pressing in on us even as ecological socialism is the obvious ethical expression of malkuta servanthood and stewardship in a political mode. It offers us a way out of our spiritual befuddlement and material overconsumption; it may be the only base of sufficient spiritual conviction and political courage, at least in the Christian world, by which to overcome a First World comfort addiction that’s both personal and political. Rigorous downsizing of economic expectations is what’s needed as quickly and as humanely as possible. But our political focus will remain weak and blurry until our personal behaviors toughen up in explicitly cooperative ways. The longer we delay instituting a program of rigorous cooperative downsizing, the more haphazard and ineffective it’s likely to be when further postponement is no longer possible. Panic is not a congenial atmosphere for thoughtful planning.
Some folks may be able to work through these spiritual and political reconfigurations as hardnosed atheists. Most of us can’t or won’t. Maybe our egos or wills aren’t tough enough to allow us to become atheists. Maybe we intuit a hidden spirituality we don’t yet know how to consistently connect with or name, but that we don’t want to lose touch with. Besides, there’s a serious ethical dilemma here. When God and Civilization go down, Original Sin as ironclad metaphysical doctrine goes down with them, and we are compelled to face the institutional sin wreckage of the civilized diseases of Class and War we previously venerated. This is our harsh paradox: the civilized diseases culminating in Global Disaster are the very agencies of Security and Comfort we have depended on, supported, and in some forms even worshipped. And still largely do.
So, when Christian myths crash and smolder, the naked ethical core of malkuta is what’s left. And either this naked ethical core is ephemeral wishful thinking—bleeding-heart liberal wishy-washy moral bullshit—or it is precisely the extraordinarily tough but vulnerable stuff of which political transformation to servanthood and stewardship becomes possible. Malkuta is the spiritual and ethical path out of our predicament. Perhaps it is the only path out, given our globally toxic circumstance. That it was the core teaching of Jesus should, after two thousand years of stubborn survival, indicate its ethical plausibility, especially as we realize that the earthly immanence of malkuta had been hidden under “kingdom of God” heavenly transcendence for most of two thousand years. All eyes were on the sky. What was underfoot was only dirty dirt. Salvation meant ascension.
But what is malkuta? What was Jesus’ vision? To say it was spiritually and socially transformative, true as that may be, doesn’t answer the question. Yet there seem to be two promising approaches to this quandary. One path is to imaginatively ponder the nature of Spirit Jesus turned to for guidance and direction, in whose waters he bathed. This path leads, in my estimation, to the realization that the Spirit of Evolutionary Life on Earth was where he found his ground of being. (If scholars object by saying Jesus knew nothing of evolution, may we say the Spirit of Living Nature?) The other path—taking deadly serious our End Times predicament generated by the sacred diseases of civilized Class and War—requires a difficult shedding of the God-and-Civilization membranes that hold us inside the catastrophic momentum of these sacred diseases.
Yes, those membranes are historically venerable, politically external, and legally structural. But that’s not all they are. They’re also deeply internal; they’re powerfully entangled with how we feel, for example, about family, property, marriage, and money. Malkuta is not just about structural change in the larger world of politics and economics, important and even crucial as those aspects are. Malkuta also represents a fundamentally different quality of life, cooperative and communal life, requiring a deepening of what we might clumsily call spiritual psychology, certainly a spiritual deepening of psychological self-understanding. Rosemary Radford Ruether employs the term metanoia—a “change of consciousness.” But Carl Jung in Modern Man in Search of a Soul puts a little intellectual muscle on the concept when he talks about integration of the conscious and unconscious.
The “unconscious” is, however, no single thing. At its most basic, it’s what keeps the lights on—our hearts pumping, our lungs breathing, our organs working, the brain with all its sensory integration functioning: all that doesn’t need conscious supervision. But there are things we prefer to call unconscious that aren’t. These things may even be nearly constant presences in consciousness. But since we have social rules or norms or expectations that won’t allow blunt descriptions of insouciant farting habits or lusty erotic imaginings, we primly agree to call “unconscious” what is actually quite conscious self-control. A fair amount of what we blithely call unconscious is really a quite conscious private pool of culturally imposed secrecy.
If the prevailing religious or mythic belief systems are constructs of authoritarian dominance, spiritual ethics have the capacity to enable us to develop a deeply transformative integration of the conscious and unconscious, moving out of and beyond the authoritarian boundary. But that means we have to muster the spiritual courage to undertake a difficult examination of the conditioned repressions that shape and even define our normality. Why? Because the moral gatekeeper between good and evil presides over a psychic landscape of daily consciousness that keeps the “unconscious”—that is, our hidden desires, impulses, and needs—from trespassing into the policed zones of daily conscious life. Integration of conscious and unconscious moves and softens the moral boundary, and the veteran gatekeeper feels in a bit of a panic.
To deepen our spirituality in accord with the unfolding of evolutionary life is to redirect our inherited moral compass; the major myths by which we’ve been guided are on a collision course with self-inflicted—myth-inflicted—disaster. To bring the repressed “unconscious” into no-longer-deniable consciousness can be said, at least in some respects, to give fresh evolutionary and ecological birth to the needs of the body, the emotions, the intellect, and the soul in ways that the traditional gatekeepers have not only not permitted but promised hellfire and brimstone for those who dare trespass the moral boundaries. Myths powerfully shape morality and ethics. Myth is both civilizational and religious. They roll and intersect in each other’s turf. Our national religion is in bed with the diseased powers of Class and War. The Right of Christian Discovery. In God We Trust. One Nation Under God. The Greatest Country in the History of the World.
It is the “subjective” dimension of myth we have such difficulty bringing—allowing—into fuller consciousness. Inherited myth prescribes the moral boundaries by which “unconscious” needs are in self-imposed repression. We live in a world where the privatization of family, property, marriage, and money feels necessary, normal, and morally correct. Yet prevailing moral normality has roots that precede the global hegemony of civilized Class and War, roots that disappear in our distant ancestry. (Here is the deep anthropological turf of books, like Dorothy Dinnerstein’s The Mermaid and the Minotaur, in which gender distortions and family pathologies are tracked to their ancient lair. Or at least given brave exploration and plausible explanation.)
But it’s civilization that really codified Class-and-War normality on a global scale, even as Jesus unmasked its cruelty and hypocrisy. That unmasking cost him his life. But that doesn’t mean that Jesus was a wooly-headed folk romantic. His apocalyptic vision, his joyful embrace of the Spirit of Evolutionary Life on Earth—let’s say Rosemary Radford Ruether’s Gaia—was so compelling, so spiritually liberating, that even though nobody seems to fully grasp the depth of its dynamic energy, it has charmed, agitated, and spiritually intoxicated spiritual seekers over successive centuries. The larger society, and certainly the formal church, may have fed on that dynamic energy; but the church also channeled that energy as institutional fuel for perpetuating the status quo.
But now we’ve reached a tipping point. The accrued toxicities of the congenital diseases of Class and War have brought us to unavoidable Global Crisis. The greed and violence of our species is now capable of desecrating the biological nest out of which all living species have evolved. These deeply institutionalized deformities will heal only to the extent that we first recognize them and then withdraw our energies from the mythic infections that shape not only public policy and governmental purpose, but also private attitudes and personal behaviors. Working free of those infections may be the most difficult and wonderfully liberating transformation we’ve ever faced. But facing it is not ethically optional. The accompanying feeling of risk is in large part the uncertainty and even bewilderment that’s inherent in a spiritual impulse and ethical disposition in which bravery and trust are unavoidable dynamics. One may be compelled to go down this path with butterflies in the belly.
Maybe here’s a source of liberal befuddlement. Christian supremacy’s mortal enemy was and still is paganism, a paganism to be converted, overcome, or—if deemed necessary—morally crushed. But since both pagan and peasant derive from pagus (“country dweller”), the collapse of City of God supremacy necessitates repentance and humble reconciliation with the long-standing “enemy.” The collapsing City of God is obliged to welcome into its streets the despised pagans who’ve been denied entry for insisting on bringing the Village Goddess in with them. (Catholics worked out some post-Constantinian cultural compromises, but Reformation Protestants repudiated most of those arrangements and directed the Mother of God to go home and stay in the kitchen.)
Supremacy obviously has a lot to atone for; its first step is to acknowledge and shed the garb of moral and cultural superiority that’s been packaged as an attribute of God’s—and civilization’s—infinite dominion. This shedding requires a deliberate embrace of the vulnerability we’ve been trained to disavow—the risk involved not only in culturally accepting those people we’ve been advised to shun, but also in exploring the political fear that’s the underbelly of supremacy and superiority, including the “unconscious” repressions we coddle and protect. Ethical vulnerability means exposing our moral fear of paganism to a no-nonsense scrutiny that can be painful and deeply humiliating. It’s not easy to work one’s way through that swarm of sticky fears and habituated repressions.
Is there “divinity” hiding in those fears and repressions? Traditionally the “divinity” of paganism was the Devil, that surly, burly, sadistic guy who, with God’s apparent approval, permission, and maybe even mandate, gets to torment the damned for eternity. The fear packed into that perverse doctrine morphs easily into a relentless fear of anything pagan. Infidels, pagans, and barbarians—communists, queers, terrorists—activate fear packed in both civilized and religious myths. God and Civilization may be superlative packages of supremacy, but backsliding into anything pagan is greased with fear of the Devil and his troop of savage demons eager to torture you forever. Have your mind and emotions loaded with that terrifying stuff as a kid and you’ve got some heavy-duty spiritual psychotherapy to work through later in life. Even if you no longer believe in eternal torture, erasing that conditioning from your emotions is not easy or simple. Besides, a goodly number of First World lifestyle addictions feel threatened by any reduction in energy, commodities, services, or comfort. “Backwardness” is among paganism’s attributes to which we feel aversion. Class and War civilization has brought a lot of First World comfort to its beneficiaries. Feeling “civilized” is spiritual bubblewrap, a moral moat, a gated “community.”
Conservatives, refusing to let go of God or Civilization, want religious and political restoration of the status quo ante. Liberals, afraid to let go of imperial affluence, hope for an adequate array of technical fixes by which civilized affluence, without all the nuisance externalities, may continue unimpeded and uninterrupted.
God and Civilization are more than lifeboats. They’re the cruise ships of our civilized life and anticipated future. Abandoning ship feels more than humiliating; it evokes resentful pride and injured expectations. Moving from the spacious and well-apportioned theistic cruise ship to a stinky, overcrowded non-theistic lifeboat is an affront to our First World dignity and civilized entitlement. A gauntlet of psychological traumas awaits if we fall overboard. In the worst-case scenario, we hope the lifeboat will be only a temporary inconvenience while the best in-house theologians manage an ontological fix on God’s resurrection and Civilization’s rehabilitation. They’ll both be great again. You just wait and see.
But all this doesn’t answer the question of whether there’s a fuller, gentler, and immensely more ecological sense of the spiritual to be discovered and internalized, whether that ecological spirituality will generate malkuta governance of ecological democracy. Nor does it connect our “unconscious” self-control with stubborn mythic blindness or the extent to which our mythic stubbornness is linked to the protection and coddling of cherished repressions. We’ve been so conditioned to dread the devilish, negative spirituality of pagus that any openness to the benevolence of earthy nature, of evolved and evolving life—let’s say Gaia, to use the name Rosemary Radford Ruether pushed in God’s face thirty years ago—threatens to throw us into the indigenous camps whose villages we previously destroyed in order to save. And then did it again not so long ago. There was a magnitude of pagan wickedness in those villages requiring righteous punishment. Once a culture becomes civilized, the uncivilized are deemed immoral and their suppression justified. This is a cultural conviction difficult to psychologically acknowledge or spiritually dissolve.
Given our End Times predicament, turnaround from fierce defensive/offensive morality to open ethical reconstruction has built-in urgency. That means revelation or “paradigm shift” is not only needed by which we might set a new political and economic course, but that paradigm revelation entails serious spiritual struggle. This is not simply a job for scholarship, although scholarship of the sort facilitated through the Jesus Seminar has been intellectually helpful and spiritually enabling, wonderfully so. Strengthening the spiritual intellect offers crucial preparation; but we are also body, emotion, and soul, and we need a bigger and more deeply representative mythic story by which a fuller and more complete integration can congeal. And there’s a mythic depiction integrating the epigraphs that open this essay, from Jung to Crossan to Radford Ruether. That depiction is completely rational and historically plausible, although it’s emotionally quite difficult for most people to accept. And we might as well get to it.
Joachim of Floris, a twelfth-century Italian monk, began to transform medieval European spirituality when he took Trinity out of the sky and shaped it into three sequential earthly ages: that of the Father—an Old Testament age of monarchy, discipline, and law; that of the Son—a New Testament age of love institutionalized in the church; and that of the Holy Ghost—an impending age of spiritual freedom and grace. (Joachim is one of Michael Harrington’s saints in Socialism.) Consciously intended or not, Joachim’s historicizing of Trinity was a bold and even astonishing intellectual undertaking, a mythological breakthrough. The historicizing of Trinity as sequential earthly ages puts divinity back on Earth, and it opens doors of perception Joachim apparently never imagined or anticipated. But now, thanks to modern scholarship and science, and the corresponding strengthening of spiritual intellect, we can see through those doors into a larger mythic world.
Since our minds have been largely shaped by binary either/ors—church or state, sacred or profane, supernatural truth or scientific truth—we have a hard time understanding the nature or function of myth. We sort of get it that myth may be a veiled explanation of origins or history, often without a factual basis, something made up and therefore false in an empirical sense. But myth is more complex than that, especially when we realize that constructs we thought factual—that God exists as conventionally depicted, that Trinity represents the actual nature of God—are either to be discarded as nonsense or more fully understood culturally and psychologically. Exploring the inner workings of Christian myth, difficult as that may be, enables us to see how we got into our global dilemma and what it takes to get safely out.
By bringing Trinity out of the sky and giving it sequential earthly ages, Joachim also brought malkuta down to Earth and made it dynamically immanent rather than, as “kingdom of God,” unreachably transcendent. Love institutionalized is either a sardonic joke or transformational breakthrough behavior. Mingling the mythological with the immanent—and that is exactly what the historicizing of Trinity achieves—creates an energy field so powerfully alive that it raises religious resistance and sets off intellectual alarms for those whose commitment (or addiction) to transcendence is so strong that immanence feels wicked or evil. (Consider what Catholics, Lutherans, and Calvinists did to the so-called Anabaptists in the sixteenth century when they—the Anabaptists—felt malkuta come alive in their communal lives. Ignazio Silone, in his 1936 novel Bread and Wine, says Italian peasants of the fascist period were more trusting of Joachim than of Gramsci.)
But now, thanks to Joachim, we have a mythological construct mediating between religious conception and historical progression, a construct that activates spiritual comprehension and vitalizes spiritual anticipation in ways that extraterrestrial Trinity prevented and obstructed. This mediation enables an understanding (simultaneously intellectual and spiritual) by which to adjust, enlarge, and correct the inherited constrictive myths, with new ways of looking at the world and exciting prospects for living in that new world.
Not only has modern science probed the mysteries of the universe and the evolution of life on Earth; but, through solid scholarship, science has shown that prior to the Old Testament Father’s age there was an extensive Middle Eastern Mother’s age—a world of flourishing horticultural villages before patriarchal civilization expropriated those villages and, eventually, turned religious sensibility Abrahamic. The horticultural world had a spirituality of female ambience. That is to say, once Trinity attains mythological status by being historicized as sequential ages, it becomes perfectly rational to recognize a Mother’s age before God supplanted Goddess, before male divinity smothered female divinity. Knowing that factual history, we can easily slip horticulture’s Mother in front of civilization’s Father—whose Class and War proclivities turned horticulturalists into peasants (or slaves) and eventually turned peasants into farmers and farmers into agribusinessmen. (Liquidation of the village made industrialized food production the agribusiness arm of civilization’s commercial rationalization of peasant agriculture.)
Once we are capable of—and willing to—recognize this simple but revolutionary “paradigm shift” (heavenly Father, Son, and Holy Ghost to earthly Mother, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost), some difficult things begin to fall into apocalyptic place: for apokalypsis is epiphany not disaster, liberated understanding not end-of-the-world expectation. Just as pagan is a scapegoat term of Christian Civilization, apokalypsis—the uncovering of the suppressed and hidden—has been demonized as preordained catastrophe. Christian righteousness has etymological poison in its sacred vocabulary.
The quadripartite construct of Mother, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost offers mythological insight enabling historical, cultural, religious, and psychological understanding into how civilization’s violent male conquests abolished female divinity and restricted religious conceptions to a male-only modality. And, since the male violence associated with male presumptions of prerogative has done much to foster the powerful surge of today’s worldwide women’s movement, the four-figure Mandala provides a panoramic lens through which we can view a still-unfolding historical narrative in which gender is capable of achieving a far richer and more balanced realization.
But Mandala also does something that drives religious conservatives to righteous rage and causes religious liberals to squirm. Once Mother is back in the mythological pantheon, the “Holy Ghost” masquerade is over. Put Mother in front of Father and Son and it’s obvious that spiritual and semantic consistency shouts “Daughter.” The Holy Ghost is in process of dropping Her burqa.
This is one of the places where mythological plausibility hits a wall of intellectual resistance. For conservatives it’s outrageous heresy. For flatfooted scientific atheists it’s just another stupid slab of religious gobbledygook. And for Christian liberals groping for a new spiritual gestalt, Mandala can be a stumbling block because of its very simplicity. One may agree that putting mythological Mother in front of mythological Father carries historical accuracy—that’s a rationally plausible adjustment—but remove the foggy camouflage from religious Holy Ghost, recognize Her obvious gender, and two serious objections arise.
First, recognizing Holy Ghost as Daughter levels the playing field of mythological depiction of divinity: Mother and Daughter on the one hand, Father and Son on the other. That in itself is a shock to many people, given our multi-millennial inculcation of a male-only godhead. Suddenly Holy Trinity has its male halo exploded. Allowing female representation into second-tier divinity is bad enough—Mary as Mother of God, let’s say—but depicting first-rate,equal representation generates religious anxiety, to put it mildly. Christian self-understanding balks. This is unauthorized territory. Who is giving us permission to believe this?
Perhaps even more shocking than downsizing the religious Father to more modest mythological scale is recognizing that the still-emerging women’s movement reflects the rising Daughter. Even more puzzling is the implication of a possibly preordained spiritual Something that may be called Gaia rather than God. How is it that when Mother is in process of being rediscovered—and restored to Her rightful historical place—a worldwide women’s movement accompanies the disclosure of Daughter? (One might envision this living process as the Spirit of Evolutionary Life on Earth slowly bringing forth a multi-millennial transformation that could render malkuta a global inspiration for a post-civilized world of ethical politics and ecological economics, a transformation of human spirituality with revolutionary cultural ramifications. Picture a spiritually evolutionary tsunami sweeping beyond a post-theistic humanistic spirituality that impatiently waits for conservatives to drop the sola scriptura belief shield they imagine scientifically and spiritually bulletproof.) Malkuta waves are already beginning to sweep over kingdom bunkers, a spiritual climate change that conservatives are feeling acutely and—at least for some of them—reacting with panic and rage.
It’s not just that God and Civilization have entered apocalyptic deconstruction, so has Christian Trinity. This is more than a heap of extraterrestrial God shards. It’s also mythic revelation. The hidden and the repressed are boldly coming forth. The project of trinitarian reformulation into four-part mythological depiction has the ethical capacity and spiritual profundity by which to rescue us from theistic supremacy, atheistic despair, and all shades of agnostic bewilderment. This is revelation hiding in plain mythic sight. Recognition becomes revelation. If we can muster the courage and commitment to hold the four-person Mandala in our minds and hearts, recognizing the wonder of its historical accuracy and spiritual resonance, we will be able to outgrow the outmoded myths that do not fit our global circumstance. Those old myths are incomplete and, in their one-sided hubris, false and even evil. They are the mythic repositories of Class and War prerogatives, justified by Constantinian Christianity, culminating in an actual End Times.
So, are Gaia and God on speaking terms? Well, not among traditional Christians, at least not yet, for Gaia is seldom welcomed in God’s house. How about among progressives—is Gaia peeking in their windows? Can She find an open door? How long will it take for God and Gaia to join in End Times mediation, enter political psychotherapy, and shape the ecologically driven economic downsizing crucial to critically needed gender and racial reconciliation?
Outgrowing conventional myth projection demands psychotherapeutic self-understanding and social change. Myth reformulation is merely academic if it doesn’t lead to healing the congenital diseases of Class and War. But externalhealing cannot and will not happen without internal transformation. And because of longstanding religious conditioning, we mustn’t simply discard the old mythology but work hard to understand it, reinterpret its archetypal images, and enlarge its meaning to meet conceptual growth and pressing need. Mandala provides the mythic umbrella for both internal and external transformation.
Mother is the missing representation in the trinitarian mythology whose significance we need to enlarge and embrace. But once Mother is recognized, Holy Ghost reveals Herself as Daughter. Mandala is then complete, the presumption of male supremacy is undone, and a whole new world of ethical possibilities and ecological healings becomes free to emerge with increasingly less friction or resistance. (When the Red working class goes Rainbow Green, transformation is at hand.)
With Mother restored to first position—Mother, Father, Son, Daughter—it’s possible to say that Daughter becomes the fourth mythological divinity. But either way, Mother or Daughter, first or fourth, the two female figures reshape the trinitarian male-only myth of orthodox Christianity in an entirely plausible way. They offer a vision capable of transforming End Times calamity into earthly ecological and spiritual rebirth. Mandala has the capacity to remove the knee of toxic civilization from the neck of a suffocating Gaia. Mandala is the mythological and spiritual template for the political healing of the congenital diseases of civilized Class and War. This may seem like heresy, but it offers the saving grace of political servanthood and ecological stewardship, and it does so with a more inclusive mythology and a far more deeply wholesome spirituality. It’s there for the taking—if we’re bold enough to embrace it.