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Most Western religions are monotheistic in character. They believe in a God who is separate and apart from mankind. Eastern religions however are often pantheistic and believe that the spirit of God and the spirit of man are one and the same. That, in fact, all reality is one with God. However, virtually all mystics, no matter what their religious background, report a pantheistic, mystical experience of being one with God. Thus, it is much more meaningful to relate pantheism to higher spiritual experiences than to the Eastern portion of the world.

Eastern religions generally develop their pantheistic view due to their founder having an experience of oneness with God. Such an experience usually comes in two phases. First, Spirit baptism where they receive head knowledge of their oneness with God. Then, Nirvana which is the actual realization of that oneness. Buddhism is an example.

Christianity started out with two main views. The Gnostic Gospels, discovered only recently in Egypt in 1945, tell us that a number of primitive Christians, who called themselves "Gnostics," were pantheistic. Their writings indicate that many of them had experienced knowledge of oneness with God (Spirit baptism). In addition to head knowledge of oneness with God Spirit baptism is also a form of ever expanding spiritual illumination which causes a greatly enhanced understanding of spiritual matters. Some of the Gnostics may even have realized Nirvana, or may have learned about it from Buddhism. They referred to this special knowledge as "Gnosis." Gnosis and Spirit baptism are one and the same experience and have the same meaning. These early Christians believed that Christ was a human being just as they were and that he had experienced oneness with God in the same way that they had. There was no "mystery" as to his nature. They understood that if a person is one spirit with the eternal God that they did not become one at a point in time. That they have eternally been one.

However, Spirit Baptism (Gnosis) does not come easily, as this author knows from personal experience. No spiritual formula or set of rituals can produce it. The Wind of the Spirit of God blows where it will, when it will, and only when a person is ready. Accordingly, the majority of early Christians felt left out because they were not Spirit baptized. Thus they were easily convinced by the leaders of the Orthodox Church that no such "secret knowledge," or Gnosis, existed. This battle went on for the first two hundred years until Orthodoxy, with its easy membership requirements and assurances that Gnosis was a spiritual illusion, won out.

The book explains that the reason that the Orthodox Church leaders and their followers had not experienced Gnosis was that they had drifted away from St. Paul's doctrine of salvation by faith alone to a form of Jewish legalism, or salvation by works of law (being good).

A classic illustration of the Spirit baptism process is Martin Luther. He had been a member of the Roman Catholic Church whose theology teaches that one must obey God's Laws to be saved. When Luther finally rejected the Church's legalistic teachings and believed St. Paul's writings, that salvation was by faith alone and that believers were free from the Law of Moses, he experienced Spirit baptism. The reason for this is that Spirit baptism is by definition head knowledge of oneness with God. And since all humans break the Law of Moses regularly, in thought or deed, believers in that law cannot access their intuitive knowledge that they are one with God ( be aware that God is present at all times) until they can believe Paul's teaching that they have been freed from Mosaic Law. And, "that where there is no law there is no sin"; that, "all things are lawful to me, but not all things are helpful." Until then it is much more comfortable for them to have a separate God up in the sky who is not around when they "sin."

Mystics are aware that belief in any type of divine law is a spiritual trap. One must be separate from God in order to be under his law. Law requires a lawgiver and a separate person who is under that law. And, if one is separate from God they can be punished and sent to a Hell. However, if the person is one with God for them to go to Hell would require God to join them! And, God would hardly put his own spirit under law. Thus mystics also believe that the Biblical stories about Moses getting the Laws from God must be myths. And accordingly, that as long as one believes that they are "under the law of God" they cannot understand that they are one with God. And, since most Western religions teach law and punishment they effectively block Spirit baptism and its resultant spiritual progress toward the actual realization of oneness with God. And a person would hardly pursue the realization of oneness (nirvana) unless they first had head knowledge that they are one with God, via Spirit baptism.

The book points out other major problems with Christianity. The most serious of these problems is that the whole of Christian "salvational" doctrine rests upon a single alleged Genesis promise of God to Abraham, that salvation is a free gift. The Old Testament says it was made to Abraham and his descendants. St. Paul however alleges that the promise was made to Abraham and Christ. And says further, "that if a person be one with Christ they too are heir to the promise," whether Jew or Gentile. St. Paul needed to make this biblical change to create a way for Gentiles to be saved. It was also necessary to explain why God gave the Law to Moses after promising that salvation was a free gift. Christ had not come yet!

First, to need salvation one must believe that they are separate from God. A person whose spirit is one with God's hardly needs "salvation." Their spirit is already eternal. Second, most scholars consider the Book of Genesis as a myth. A snake reasoned and talked, man was created instantly about 2000 years before Christ, the world was created in seven days, etc. And, if the promise to Abraham is only a myth then Christian salvational theology totally collapses!

Another serious problem is the Christian concept of God's love. In the Christian view God sent his only son to die for the world's sins. In the pantheistic or mystical view there were no separate persons for Christ to die for since all men are one with God. And, since there is no law there can be no sin. In the final analysis, God, who Christians allege to be a loving father, demanded the cruel death of his son in the name of divine justice. This is a perversion of the concept of love. Since when can love not simply forgive and relinquish its pound of flesh? The Judeo-Christian belief that God requires sacrifice for sin, and that therefore revenge is an appropriate component of justice, has supported a cruel and barbaric criminal justice system in the West for thousands of years.

Chapter Five of the book provides an extensive analysis of the Judeo/Christian philosophy of justice, much of which came from the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament. The Pentateuch's notion of justice was to protect society and to take revenge upon the offender. Moses belief that there must be revenge (punishment) for wrongdoing has colored the meaning of Christ's death for thousands of years. It has also led to cruel judicial practices such as capital punishment today, and in the Middle Ages drawing and quartering, boiling in oil and pulling humans apart with horses. All to balance the scales of God's justice.

Certainly a particular person's right to freedom must be weighted against society's absolute right to protect itself from materially harmful behavior on the part of that individual. But it is quite another thing to state that society has the right to punish (take revenge upon) wrongdoers. Any truly equitable allocation of revenge, by the nature of things, assumes that the person determining the particular amount and type of punishment, also be fully aware of the amount of personal moral culpability that the moral actor possessed at the time of the wrongdoing. Considering the fact that modern science cannot explain why a person performed a specific act, at a certain point in time, how can a judge, or a jury, make such a determination? The problem is that no one, including the moral actor, fully understands the biological and psychological forces that were limiting that moral actor's ability to make a totally free moral choice. Even if they did what constitutes a truly fair punishment for each type of offense?

Another major philosophical problem one has in justifying the judicial notion of punishment is that there is no scientific way to determine an objective definition of social wrong doing. Defining social wrong doing is always a subjective determination. For instance, if fundamentalist Christians were in control of legislation then sex before marriage might well constitute a crime.

In the final analysis the right of any criminal judicial sanction stems solely from the right of society to protect itself from a particular individual. The book concludes that a protective custody/educational type of justice, with the intent to rehabilitate the offender whenever possible, is the only truly moral and civilized form of justice.

Christians sometimes argue that, even after taking into account the brutality of the Crusaders and the cruelty of the high priests of the Inquisition, that a pagan society would have been more dehumanizing. While it is impossible to be sure whether a purely secular society would have been any less physically brutal than Christianity was, it is possible to conclude that a purely secular society would never have taught young, intellectually defenseless children, that they could be tortured forever in a Hell, for normal human sexual acts, or simply for disobedience to alleged Church authority. The book concludes that the mystical view of organized Christianity (as well as of Islam, Judaism and similar monotheistic religions) must necessarily be that it has been a scourge upon humanity. The physical brutality of Christendom, however, amounts to almost nothing when it is compared with the billions of hours of unnecessary tortured guilt and fear that it has inflicted upon mankind. No secular society, no matter how ferocious, could have accomplished this.

Finally, the book contains chapters on religious fundamentalism, on Spiritual Confusion Anonymous, a Twelve Step spiritual program that can help deprogram religious fundamentalists. There is also a chapter on theoretical physics that supports the mystics' subjective spiritual experience of oneness, chapters on Zen, the mystics, the Gnostics, the way to and nature of Nirvana, Christian sexual morality and the authors own spiritual experience. And, a chapter demonstrating that the Roman Catholic Church has had to change an allegedly infallible doctrine and that the Catholic Church's sacramental system and theology will actually prevent Spirit baptism and real spiritual progress.


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Shawn Patrick Thornton's next book, Zen and the Art of A.A.'s Twelve Spiritual Steps, is expected to be available in late 2005.

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