PM3103: Christianity and Maratreanism

In this article I would like to address the topic of the relationship between Christianity and Maratreanism.

To answer this, we must firstly answer the question -- what is Christianity? I would say a central part of the definition of Christianity is Jesus of Nazareth -- Christianity is the religion which views him as its founder, and which claims to follow his teachings. But we must make a distinction between "theological" and "sociological" definitions. Christians generally believe that Jesus was God -- but there are some who call themselves Christian but do not believe this. Are they Christian? Many Christians would say 'No' -- but in doing so, they have adopted a definition of Christianity which amounts to agreeing with the core points of their own theology. If you share that theology, that is a definition which makes sense; but if you don't share that theology, it is not so attractive.

By contrast, a sociological definition would be inclined to include in Christianity those who say they believe in Jesus as a prophet or teacher, but not as God. For example, Arians, (classical) Unitarians, Jehovah's Witnesses, Christadelphians, and some other forms of nontrinitarianism. But that is not to say that everyone who believes in Jesus as a prophet only is a Christian. Muslims believe that Jesus is a prophet; but Islam is not a form of Christianity -- rather it is a separate religion. I would suggest the following criteria -- a group which rejects some common elements of Christianity (e.g. belief in Jesus being God) can still be considered Christian. But once it starts adding elements from other religious traditions, there comes a point where it has passed over from Christianity into something else. For example, a church which believed Jesus was a human prophet, or even some kind of angelic or semidivine (but not fully divine) being, would be Christian by this definition. Even if it adopted belief in Muhammad as being a prophet too, we still could rightly consider it Christian, if the belief in Muhammad is secondary to belief in Jesus -- one could conceive of a church which adopts Muhammad as a prophet, while still focusing its worship and teaching on Jesus and the Christian scriptures. However, if it believed that Muhammad was equally important to Jesus, or more important than Jesus, and paid equal or more attention to Islamic scriptures such as the Qur'an or Hadith, it would have gone beyond Christianity into Islam, or some kind of Chrislam.

So, to summarise, I think the core of Christianity is the person of Jesus, and the traditions which have grown up around him. One can be a Christian yet be in selective in one's use of those traditions, one can seek to amend, reinterpret and reform them; but, if one refuses to consider them or respond to them, or rejects them totally, then one is outside of Christianity. One can be in Christianity and look to what is valuable in other traditions - Islamic, Buddhist, Hindu, etc. However, once one starts drawing more from those other traditions than one does from the Christian tradition, one has passed beyond Christianity, and into one of those other religions. (Judaism is a special case, since Christianity grew out of Jesus -- but Judaism has undergone significant divergent evolution since Christianity split from it, with the development of the Mishnah, the Talmud, and many other works of Rabbinic teaching.)

What is a Maratrean to make of Jesus? There are two approaches which are definitely acceptable:
  • Jesus was a true prophet, and his original teachings were correct; any variance between the received teachings of the Christian tradition, and the ultimate truth, must be due to some form of corruption
  • I don't have any opinion on Jesus -- no opinion as to whether he was a prophet or not, no opinion as what his original teachings were and whether they were correct.
I think the first approach would be best for those who have some Christian background, and who have some attachment to the person of Jesus. Whereas, the second approach may be better for those from a non-Christian background, or a very weakly Christian background, who have no particular attachment to the person of Jesus.

There is a third group of approaches -- Jesus never existed; Jesus was a false prophet; Jesus was mentally ill; Jesus was a lying deceiving con-man; Jesus was demon-possessed; etc. I don't think these approaches are helpful. If you really want to believe one of them, you may; but I think it would be best then that you kept that belief to yourself. If one feels this way inclined, one ought to consider the second approach as an alternative.

Many are interested in the "quest for the historical Jesus" - but what they are really after is neither the Jesus "of faith" nor the Jesus "of history", but the real Jesus, Jesus as he actually happened. The term 'historical' has a double meaning - it is used to refer to what actually occurred (as opposed to what is believed or supposed to have occurred); it also is used to refer to the conclusions of historical research as to what actually occurred. People forget that these are two different things -- the best historical research may perchance be wrong, and the real Jesus and the Jesus of history could end up being very different. The very use of this double meaning betrays what I believe to be an excessive faith in the abilities of the science of history.

From a purely secular historical perspective, did Jesus exist? One problem with this question is it assumes that history can give definite yes or no answers. I think in some cases it can -- for instance, when dealing with notorious events of the modern-day period. But, when we deal with more obscure events or persons, or with events in the more distant past, or questions which are more of interpretation or motivations than of brute fact, then we become less capable to give definite yes or no answers in history; but we can still give estimations of likelihood. So, maybe the correct answer, from a secular historical perspective, to "Did Jesus exist?", is "he probably did, although we can't know for certain". There are some theories that claim that Jesus did not exist -- but, presented with a religious movement, which claims a certain person in the recent past to be its founder (recent relative to the earliest time at which the historical existence of the movement itself can be confirmed), the most likely explanation is that such a person actually existed. Its not impossible that their founder is mythical or legendary, but it is unlikely -- now, if they claimed their founder lived at some ill-defined time in the distant past, it is more likely their founder is mythical or legendary. If we are going to approach the origins of Christianity from a secular-historical perspective, we should adopt the working assumption that, until proven otherwise, Christianity was in its origins like most other new religious movements (NRMs). So, we can look to other new religious movements, including contemporary new religious movements, to find out what the origin of Christianity might have been like (of course, we must consider in any such comparison the impact of the temporal, geographical and cultural differences.) In today's world, there are many hundreds, thousands, of NRMs. Almost all of them claim some founder in recent history. Is there a known case in which that founder is believed to be mythical or legendary? I am not aware of one. So, prima facie, claims that Jesus did not exist must be seen as inherently unlikely, although not absolutely impossible.

I think we can also talk about relative likelihood of existence. One way of measuring this, is to ask the question "How big a conspiracy would be required to fake the existence of this person?" If someone during the Roman Empire thought it would be amusing to write a manuscript about an invented, but otherwise believable, minor Roman senator, and perchance this manuscript survived to the present day, we might very well believe in this senator's existence, and have no way of knowing that he was invented. It seems unlikely that such a manuscript would be written, and even if it was, against the odds for it to survive -- but it is not impossible. Now, suppose instead this miscreant was to write a manuscript about an invented character called Julius Caesar -- this is far more unlikely. Why? Julius Caesar was de facto head of state, he lead armies in battle, etc. It is not impossible to fake the existence of minor, obscure historical persons; but as to important political or military leaders, it would take quite a conspiracy to fake their existence. But comparing Jesus to Julius Caesar, Jesus' impact during his life was local, and limited (at least in political-military-economic terms). So, by this measure, we should say that both Jesus and Julius Caesar are likely to have existed, but the probability of Julius Caesar having existed is much higher than that of Jesus having existed.

Most believers in the non-existence of Jesus, however, do not claim he was faked by some conspiracy (although a few do); rather, they believe that belief in Jesus evolved somehow, say as some mythical / legendary figure became concretized in the recent past. I think such a process is unlikely -- we cannot point to other historical or contemporary cases in which a process has occurred. However, it is believable that Jesus is the kind of figure who would be constructed by such a mythogenetic process; it is inconceivable that such a process could produce someone such as Julius Caesar. So, on this grounds also, I think we should conclude, that from a secular-historical perspective, Jesus most likely existed -- although the likelihood of his existence is not as immense of that of other some historical figures, such as Julius Caesar, Adolf Hitler or JFK.

I think many people (especially Christian apologists, but equally so atheist counter-apologists) make two great errors in the philosophy of history. Firstly, they believe that history can give definite yes/no answers. As I have said, I think in some cases it can - for some historical questions, such as "Was there a Second World War?", the answer is not probabilistic, it is a definite, certain, yes. However, for other historical questions, we cannot give definite yes/no answers, we can only answer in terms of probability and likelihood. And some questions, we simply can't answer at all - we just don't know. There is much about the past which we don't know, and we are not ever going to know (at least not by natural means). Many details of history have been lost, for good - many details, if no one at the time find worth recording in writing or passing on by word of mouth, will be forgotten within a generation. And even if passed on in writing or verbally, without continued interest in succeeding generations, it is quite likely to be lost. There will sometimes be archaeological remnants where there is no oral or verbal account; but even they will frequently fall victim to the ravages of decay, climate, looting, reuse, recycling, and so forth. There are surely countless persons and events of history we have entirely forgotten, and cannot now by any natural means ever be recovered. But I think many tend to overestimate the power of historical science - to forget that it cannot answer many questions put to it, and even those which it can answer, its answers are often on shakier ground than many would like to admit.

The second great mistake is thinking that there will be unending progress in historical science. There have been, and can be, periods of progress, no doubt; but there will come a time when the written and archaeological sources have been exhausted, when there will still be major gaps remaining in our knowledge, but further research will not be able to fill them. History is not like physics or chemistry, where one can always perform more experiments. I suppose one can always do more archaeological digs, but there is a fair chance that ten more years of digging will add little to our historical knowledge. I think we are at that point in the question of the historical Jesus. There are many questions we cannot answer, historically; and further research is unlikely to find answers to them. We have likely already collected all the evidence available, and have had significant time to study them. One cannot rule out, of course, that buried in some cave in some desert somewhere is a cache of texts, waiting to be unearthed, that will contain many of the missing answers. But it will be foolish to hope for such a thing.

What kind of person was Jesus? Christians, sympathetic non-Christians, believe he was a good man, who taught true wisdom, and so forth. What can history tell us? Very little, I believe. The gospels give what many would call a very positive account of him - although, there are reasonable ethical or philosophical objections to some of the things the gospels have him say. But, can we believe the gospels? Let me return to my earlier principle -- let's approach Christianity like any other NRM. If we look at NRMs today, we will find that they all have accounts of the teachings of their founders. It seems unlikely these accounts would be entirely invented -- it seems most likely there is a substantial element of truth in them, which is to say, they reflect with a substantial degree of accuracy the life and teachings of the founder. At the same time, we would not expect perfect accuracy either -- we would expect them to sometimes be selective, omitting or downplaying episodes which might paint the founder in a negative light; to sometimes be one-sided, giving a biased account of the conflicts of the founder (or his earlier or current followers) with other related religious movements; we would expect them to sometimes be anachronistic, presenting later developments in the evolution of the groups doctrine as existing in its founders day, or reinterpreting possibly ambiguous aspects of his teaching in light of the group's present beliefs; we might also expect some elements of legend about the life of the founder, either due to the founder's false claims, or later invention of followers. (Many contemporary religious groups may extravagant claims about their founders world travels which independent observers find questionable -- such as the Church of Scientology's claims about the youthful adventures of L. Ron Hubbard, or Noble Drew Ali's journey to Egypt, or so on -- could aspects of the infancy narratives, for instance the flight to Egypt, also be an instance of this?) Could any of these factors be at work in the Gospels? I don't think we can definitely say any of them are -- but nor can we definitely say any of them are not. We don't have enough contemporary accounts of Jesus to judge. The four gospels (and the gospel elements in Paul's epistles) come from broadly speaking the same perspective, although each has its particular emphasises; although there are Gospels surviving with quite different perspectives (such as the Gnostic gospels), the predominant scholarly opinion is that they are substantially later in date than the canonical Gospels. So, based on our broader experience with the founding and evolution of religious groups, we can say there is a far chance, but not a certainty, that the Gospels contain the sorts of inaccuracies which we might expect. But we cannot know whether these likely inaccuracies are actually present or not, whether generally, or in any particular case. Most people want to believe that Jesus was a good person. But, there are many religious leaders in recent history, which sound like saints if you read the accounts of their followers, but there are other accounts available which present them as far from saintly. Maybe Jesus was indeed a saintly figure; then again, maybe he was not, but the accounts of his unsaintliness have not survived -- maybe the accounts of his unsaintliness were never written down, or if written down have been lost -- those who knew Jesus' darker side, if he had one, would have had no idea that the obscure sect of his followers would become a major world religion, and so likely never thought to see their different view of him retained for posterity.

Let us at this point leave questions of secular history -- history cannot tell us enough about Jesus to function as a base for any religious belief. Let us ask, what particular contribution can Maratreanism make to the quest for the real Jesus (even if not a "historical" one?). I have already made mention of purely secular reasons to believe that the abilities of historical science are often overestimated. For Maratreans, however, there is a further, spiritual reason, to be doubtful historical science - the possibility of a multiplicity of pasts. Maratreanism believes that universes constantly divide, that this moment has not one single future but many. But, if there are many futures, might there not also be many pasts? In one sense, for a Maratrean, the answer is a definite 'yes' - for at the end of all things, the many universe return to their original oneness; and in the circle of time, every one of our futures is thus also one of our pasts, as also are our besides -- which is to say, the futures of our pasts other than this present. But, all these many pasts are many through the turning point of time, and through a process of universe merger which is clear and open. Is it possible, that there might be many pasts prior to here, yet after the turning point? Such would be attained, not by the clear and open merger of universes which we believe takes place at the end, but rather through some kind of occult merger, of convergence. Maratreanism does not teach that such is the case, but neither does it teach that such is not the case -- on the questions of multiple pasts subsequent to origin, and the occult merger of convergence, each and every Maratrean is free to believe as they wish. But, if such a possibility is true, then whither the science of history? If there is not one past, but rather many, how can we know anything about "the past" -- when there is no such thing as "the past". Did Jesus exist, or did he not exist? It may well be the answer is not one or the other, but rather both.

As Maratreans, we believe in the promises of our Goddess; first among which, is that whatever we truly wish for, we shall receive, for she shall give birth to a universe in which our true desires are fulfilled, and grant us knowledge of that universe so intimate, we shall near entirely forget we were ever in any other. Can we apply this principle to Christians? They desire that Jesus be a certain way - a man of exemplary moral character, a teacher of true wisdom. Is this a true desire, amongst the deepest desires of their heart? That depends on the person; some Christians, upon discovering that Jesus was actually a fraud and a monster, would be merely resigned; but many would be absolutely distraught, as distraught as one might be if a friend or family member had died. So, it seems that at least some Christians truly desire that Jesus be a saintly teacher of true wisdom. Thus, supposing that Jesus was not such a person, Maratrea would grant them their true wish that we was. So, even if it were true, that in our universe, Jesus was a lying scoundrel, there would thereby exist another universe in which he was not, but rather was everything his followers believe him to be. And, Maratrea fulfills these desires, not through entirely separate universes, but through branches alongside the universe of the desirer. So even if in our universe, Jesus was a scoundrel, there would be another universe, exactly the same before Jesus' birth, and as close as possible thereafter, in which Jesus was a saintly teacher of true wisdom instead.

We should note that Maratrea does not give everything one might ask; she fulfills the true desires of all - thus one desires cannot be fulfilled if they conflicted with the fulfillment of those of another. Since each desire has, if it need be, an entire universe for fulfillment, this is generally not an issue. However, consider a desire, such as that Maratreanism is false. Such a desire could not be fulfilled by Maratrea - how then can she fulfill every true desire? We would conclude that such a desire cannot possibly be a true desire - although there may be another desire, similar yet distinct, which is indeed a true desire, and the desirer has mistaken this untrue desire for that true desire. So, there could not be a true desire for the falsehood of Maratreanism -- but, there could be a true desire, on the part of a non-Maratrean, for its apparent falsehood - such as for a universe in which Maratreanism never existed, or one in which it was entirely extinguished. In the same way, a Christian cannot have a true desire for the truth of certain theological propositions, which conflict Maratrean truth. But they could have a true desire for the truth of other propositions, expressed with the same words but having a different meaning, which does not so conflict the ultimate truth; or a desire for the apparent but not ultimately actual truth of those propositions - a Christian may be satisified to see Jesus descending with an army of angels from the clouds, to attend the 'final' judgement, and then many long years in 'heaven' - only to discover later that this judgement was not as final or universal as they thought, and that this heaven of theirs, rather than a true end, is only a preparation for something far greater.

The true desire of a Christian believer for Jesus is quite unlike the more common true desire, which has as its objects mainly matters of life and love, in times contemporary to the desirer. Generally, the universes of desire can be quite different, after the point of division, from the universe of desire-origination. This still satisfies the desirer, since the distance between the desire and the division which fulfills it is generally short. But, the distance between a contemporary Christian and Jesus is immense. So, if Jesus is is not all he is thought to be in our universe, the relationship between our universe and the one in which he is must be very intimate, one of near identity. In such a circumstance, the doctrine of 'many pasts' I mentioned above would make sense -- the immensity of the temporal distance between saintly Jesus and his desirers would inevitably pull the saintly-Jesus-universe and the unsaintly-Jesus-universe very closely together, such that there would even arise a process of divergence and convergence around the time of Jesus -- shortly after Jesus' death, the two universes, that of the saintly Jesus and the unsaintly Jesus, would converge back together again.

We must also consider the doctrine of the "emptiness of universes". This doctrine begins with a consideration of the mechanisms of universe-division. When universes divide, they are exactly the same up to the moment of division, and hereafter different. However, the differences between them will start out as localised, and then spread outwards from the point of division. Now, when universes divide, so do the souls within them divide; but the identity of the soul is the identiy of its experiences, so only when in dividing universes do souls begin to differ in experience do they actually divide. What this means is, at the point of division, very quickly will souls divide into one universe or the other. But further away, causally and spatially, from that point, there will exist souls whose experiences do not yet differ, and therefore exist in both universes at once; until the division reaches them, then they too will divide. The consequence is, that one soul may exist in two or more different universes simultaneously. And this is what is meant by the "emptiness of universes", that the boundaries between universes are not always clearly defined, but can be vague and ambiguous. Following this doctrine, it is even possible that the saintly and unsaintly Jesus universes never fully split, and that many who lived in Jesus time, and who met Jesus, actually met both of them simultaneously.

However, although I cannot rule out the doctrine of many pasts, the principles of parsimony leads me to prefer an alternative to it. In the case of Jesus, the simple alternative is that he our universe Jesus is precisely as wise and saintly as his followers claim. If there was a universe in which he was also unsaintly, we would conclude that in such a universe his religion never grew to such heights as it has in ours, but faded away into obscurity and nothingness. This only works if the love for him is deeper than the hatred, but I suspect that is true -- some may believe Jesus was truly a scoundrel, but I think they would feel far less distraught were Jesus proven to have not to have so been, than many a Christian would be were Jesus proven to have so been. This then leads us to the first approach -- of Jesus as a saintly true prophet.

Who is a true prophet? Someone who teaches the truth. Thus, if Jesus was a true prophet, and if something be true, then surely Jesus taught it, or at least taught nothing contrary to it. Therefore, if we believe Jesus was a true prophet, but also believe in the truth of the Maratreanism, we must conclude that Jesus taught the Maratrean religion - or at least, nothing contrary to Maratreanism. We may distinguish different levels of the completion of a prophet's teaching -- we should not expect any prophet to teach every truth, or all prophets to teach precisely the same selection of truths. But, broadly, there are two types of prophets -- those who teach all the truths necessary for salvation; those who, although they do not teaching anything contrary to the truths of salvation, nonetheless are missing certain essential truths. Which type was Jesus? I will leave that to each to believe as they wish.

But, in either case, we must consider the Christian scriptures, and the points at which they contradict the Maratrean teaching. If Jesus is a true prophet, these points cannot be an accurate record of his teaching, but must contain alterations by those who failed to understand him, or even deliberately twisted his teachings for their own ends. These alterations could have occurred either before or after these scriptures were written. If before, then these scriptures were from their very origin false scriptures, albeit containing amidst their falsehoods shards of the truth. Whereas, if the alteration occurred subsequent to the moment of original authorship, then these scriptures were originally true scriptures, but later corrupted with falsehoods. In the later case, we might seek to recover the original true scriptures, prior to the corruptions, although we may not be able to do so except through the means of divine revelation. Which is the case? Again, I will leave that to each to decide for themselves.

Reading the Christian scriptures, one can see various points of truth - even if, for some people, the alien nature of some of the language makes that truth not immediately accessible. But one can also see various points which are contrary to the truth, as known through the Maratrean religion - animal sacrifice, capital punishment, prohibition of homosexuality, eternal damnation. We have a choice of strategies in dealing with these contrary elements:
  1. We can view them as misinterpretations, and seek to find an interpretation of the text which is not contrary to Maratrean truth.
  2. We can view them as interpolations, and believe that the original of the text was not contrary to Maratrean truth, but later corruptions have introduced these falsehoods in to it.
  3. We can reject the text entirely, as being from the very beginning a work of falsehood.
Which should we do? To answer this, would require a detailed analysis of these scriptures - and, even if such an analysis was carried out, others might reasonably disagree with its conclusions. But, if we read the Christian scriptures, we should keep these possibilities in mind.

There are three possible ways of reading-as-alteration:
  1. We can alter the text to conform to Maratrean truth, even believing that as we do so we may be returning it to its original form
  2. We can repudiate the text, and construct a new contrary text - believing that the text may have been from the very beginning false, we can construct an answer of truth.
  3. Without deciding on the ultimate origins of the truth, neither seeking to conform it nor repudiate it, we can read it as a vehicle of inspiration in the construction of a new text.
Christians claim that Jesus was the "Son of God". A Maratrean can admit that without issue - to a Maratrean, we are all children of the divine. Christians believe that in Jesus the human and divine natures were united. MaratreansJohn 1:14. That verse uses the Greek word monogenes - in Latin, unigenitus. Although "only Son" would be the most common interpretation, another possibility is to read "only-begotten Son" as "son begotten only of" - in other words, a child of only one parent, of only one origin (genesis). Indeed, Maratreans believe that, although as to our flesh we have two parents, as to our soul we have only one parent, Maratrea. So, by a Maratrean reading, Jesus is the monogenetic child of the divine, of the ultimate divinity - as indeed we all are. The virgin birth then functions as a metaphor for this doctrine, in which Jesus' biological origination is made exceptionally to mirror our common spiritual origination. To a Maratrean, Jesus is 'divine' in the same sense as we are all divine - yet we may admit that Jesus may have had an especial awareness of his divinity. According to the Maratrean doctrine of anointment, although we all were once divine, we have forgotten our divinity - and though we may relearn our divinity, we do not actually remember it - but certain anointed prophets may be granted, not merely a relearning, but a recollection. A person has amnesia - some things they may come to remember - other things they may never remember, yet may learn to have been true. So, Jesus may have been such an anointed prophet.

A Christian will object, that they believe Jesus to have been uniquely the Son of God. But, words such as "unique" or "only" can have both absolute or relative meanings. Often, when we use "only", we do not mean the only way in the entire world or all of history, but simply the only way in a given context, and the relevant context varies with the circumstances. I come to a river, and am told "the only way across it is to use the canoe". Now, maybe I could risk swimming it; maybe if I walk ten miles upstream there will be a bridge; maybe if I had a helicopter (which I don't and can't afford) it could take me over. But none of this detracts from my use of "only" -- by "only" I do not mean to make an absolute statement true everywhere and for all time and eternity -- my "only" is relevant to the current context. So, a Maratrean might admit that Jesus is unique -- such as being the only anointed Prophet -- but to a Maratrean, that "only" would have to be relevant to our current universe -- even if Jesus was the only such Prophet in this universe, there may well be other anointed Prophets in other universes.

Finally, may I speak against those who take what I think to be a needlessly negative attitude towards Christianity. From a Maratrean perspective, we want to bring people the truth, in whichever form is palatable to them. If someone comes from a Christian background, they may well react positively to the language and symbolism of the Christian tradition -- let us do all we can to convey them the Maratrean truth through this vehicle. On the other hand, if they are from a non-Christian background, or from a Christian background but with negative experiences, then another vehicle for the truth would probably serve them better. For this reason, Maratreanism proposes the erection of 'auxiliary ecclessiae', which are organizations which seek to present the Maratrean truth in the language of an existing tradition, such as Christianity.

But for those whose experiences of Christianity have been negative, it would be better to ignore Christianity than come out against it. Although there are many bad things in Christianity, there are also some good, and the way to make the world a better place is to get the misguided Christians to become rightly-guided Christians (the same applies to every other religion) -- although getting the misguided Christians to become non-Christians might have the same effect, the outcome of such an attempt is far more likely to be that they remain in their misguidedness, rather than coming to the way of the truly good and truly beautiful and truly true. This is why I think paths such as Satanism ultimately having nothing of lasting value to offer - they are too negative, with nothing positive to offer. That is not to say that some temporary negativity is not without value -- thesis and antithesis combine to produce the synthesis -- but Satanism, for example, is too antithetic for any valuable synthesis to come out of it. I think many who believe, for instance, that Jesus never existed, their primary motivation in believing this is to annoy Christians, and I don't think that in so doing they are being ultimately helpful.

I have written the above about Christianity, but most of it would apply to any other religion - Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, etc.