“The day capitalism is forced to tolerate non-capitalist societies in its midst and to acknowledge limits in its quest for domination, the day it is forced to recognize that its supply of raw material will not be endless, is the day when change will come. If there is any hope for the world at all, it does not live in climate-change conference rooms or in cities with tall buildings. It lives low down on the ground, with its arms around the people who go to battle every day to protect their forests, their mountains and their rivers because they know that the forests, the mountains and the rivers protect them.
The first step towards reimagining a world gone terribly wrong would be to stop the annihilation of those who have a different imagination — an imagination that is outside of capitalism as well as communism. An imagination which has an altogether different understanding of what constitutes happiness and fulfillment. To gain this philosophical space, it is necessary to concede some physical space for the survival of those who may look like the keepers of our past, but who may really be the guides to our future.”
(The image that illustrates this post was found in Flick; it’s a “Pachamama” refers to “Mother Earth” and is central to many indigenous cultures across South America.)
“As the pioneering psychedelic chemist Alexander Shulgin (1927-2014) has pointed out, the idea that the Earth moved around the Sun was radical heresy at one time. A century later, it was a commonplace truism. The prospect that the inner exploration of consciousness with psychedelics might be recognized as, in itself, a positive and worthy endeavor is another radical heresy that may be seen as self-evident in the future. Rather than collapsing into anarchy, a civilization that supports the adult individual’s right to utilize these chemical catalysts for self-discovery and spiritual communion might advance to a more mature and stable state. Much of the anxiety and negative conditioning around the subject could be dispelled with logical argument based on evidence for the relative safety of psychedelics, especially natural ones, compared to other drugs. The point is not that everyone needs to take psychedelics but that the minority of people who find themselves compelled to make this exploration could be permitted to do so. (…) In a culture that is awash in prescription chemicals, drugs of abuse, and mood-altering SSRIs, it seems increasingly odd to ban a handful of plant substances and related compounds (even LSD is closely related to a chemical found in ergot fungus) that have been used by human beings for untold thousands of years.”
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“To a large extent, the cultural and social movements of the 1960s developed in reaction to the Cold War, which nearly reached a devastating nuclear climax during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. The awareness of humanity’s hair-trigger proximity to self-inflicted annihilation inspired individual acts of courage and brilliance, and mass movements for social and personal liberation. It also led to widespread interest in psychedelic exploration as a fast track to self-knowledge and spiritual illumination. Rather than leading to instant “enlightenment”, the visionary insights, temporary dissolution of ego boundaries, and deconditioning from proscribed social codes often induced by entheogenic explorations helped some people to reevaluate their own role in society at that time.
Today, we are faced with an intractable and unpopular war in Iraq that has already continued longer than the U.S. involvement in World War II, a rise in terrorism, and a global ecological crisis of terrifying magnitude. Just as the 1960s generation had to confront the militaristic insanity of the Vietnam War and the Cold War, our generation has to reckon with the individual and collective mind-set that has brought us to this critical threshold, quickly approaching the point of no return. While it would be the height of silliness to consider psychedelics, in themselves, as the Answer to the massive problems now facing us, they continue to offer some individuals a means for looking at the world from a different vantage point, integrating new levels of insight.”
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“When we cast a cold eye on the current planetary situation, we discover that the industrial culture and excessive lifestyle of the affluent West masks an intensifying scarcity of resources that is unsustainable, even in the short term. According to scientists, 25% of all mammalian species will be extinct within the next 30 years. Our oceans are 90% fished out, with the potential for an irreversible collapse of many fisheries. As accelerating climate change leads to an increase in natural disasters, the polar ice caps are melting at rates that exceed predictions, potentially leading to a significant rise in global sea levels, causing coastal flooding. At current rates of deforestation, there will be no tropical forests left on the planet in 40 years. According to many geologists, we are on the verge of ‘peak oil’ – the highest possible production of oil, after which procution must decline – leading to higher prices and potential scarcity of energy in the next decades… Our efforts to find short-term technological fixes for the problems we create often lead to deeper errors and more dangerous unintended consequences. We are faced with the urgent task of changing the direction of global civilization if we want to avoid biospheric collapse and species burnout.
Without romanticizing native cultures, we can recognize that in many cases their intimate and sacralized relationship to the natural world kept them from overshooting the carrying capacities of their local ecosystems. The modern fixation on abstract, quantifiable, and rational modes of thought has profoundly alienated us from the directly sensorial and mimetic forms of knowing and relating maintained by indigenous cultures, allowing us to treat the natural world as something separate from ourselves. The entheogenic experience can temporarily reconnect the modern individual with lost participatory modes of awareness that may induce a greater sensitivity to his or her physical surroundings, beside raising a psychic periscope into the marginalized realms of mythological archetype and imaginative vision. It is not a question of forfeiting our mdern cognition for fuzzy mysticism, but of reintegrating older and more intimate ways of knowing that can help us find a more balanced relationship with the human and nonhuman world around us.
It may seem unlikely that psychedelics could be rehabilitated, but who knows? Profound shifts in consciousness and culture happen in surprising ways, overturning the smug certitudes of academic experts and media commentators. New forms of awareness develop below everyday consciousness, gestating in hidden reaches of the collective psyche, long before they are allowed to be articulated and manifested as new social realities. What was once scandalous and impossible can become acceptable and obvious to a new generation, and doors that long seemed securely padlocked may swing open at the merest touch. As new paradigms of knowlege emerge, breaking through the crust of old habit and received conditioning, change becomes possible – and sometimes inevitable.”
– Daniel Pinchbeck,
Introduction to The Psychedelic Experience, by T. Leary, R. Metzner and R. Alpert,
Penguin Classics, 2007.
Introduction by Daniel Pinchbeck
The Joyous Cosmology inevitably sends me into a state of poetic euphoria and anarchistic delight. Alan Watts wrote this wonderful little book in the early 1960s: that long-lost moment of innocence when psychedelic substances like LSD and psilocybin were starting to permeate the culture of the modern West but no final decision had yet been made on their utility or fate – or their legality. It was a time when a handful of philosopher-poets had the chance to muse on the power of these compounds — “to give some impression of the new world of consciousness which these substances reveal”, Watts wrote.
Reading it again, I can’t help but recall my first forays into the soul-unfolding and mind-opening qualities of the visionary plants and chemical catalysts. Those first trips unmasked the brittle delusions of our current culture and revealed that deeper dimensions of psychic reality were available for us to explore. Watts is such a fluid stylist — such a master of evanescent, evocative, pitch-perfect prose — that it is easy to gloss over or to entirely miss the explosive, radical, even revolutionary core of his message and meaning: the Western ego, the primacy of self that our entire civilization is intricately designed to shore up and protect, simply does not exist.
When one uses the magnifying glass or microscope provided by one of a number of chemical compounds that, Watts cannily noted, do not impart wisdom in itself but provide “the raw materials of wisdom,” one finds nothing fixed, stable, permanent — no essence. Only relationship, pattern, flow. Watts’s psychedelic journeys provided experiential confirmation of the core teachings of Eastern metaphysics: that the Tao is all, that consciousness is “one without a second”, that there is no doing, only infinite reciprocity and divine play.
This book retains the freshness of precocious notebook jottings. It also, almost accidentally, gives a beautiful sense of life in the dawn of the psychedelic era on the West Coast, when groups of friends would gather in backyards beside eucalyptus groves to explore together, with the gentle humor of wise children, the infinite within. “All of us look at each other knowingly, for the feeling that we knew each other in that most distant past conceals something else — tacit, awesome, almost unmentionable — the realization that at the deep center of a time perpendicular to ordinary time we are, and always have been, one”, Watts wrote. “We acknowledge the marvelously hidden plot, the master illusion, whereby we appear to be different.”
Over the past forty or so years, we have suffered from the cultural delusion — put forth by a corporate media and government working overtime to keep consciousness locked up, as our industries suck the lifeblood from our planet — that the psychedelic revolution of the 1960s was a failure. Revisiting Watts’s Joyous Cosmology reminds me that the psychedelic revolution has barely begun. The journey inward is the great adventure that remains for humanity to take together. As long as we refuse to turn our attention to the vast interior dimensions of the Psyche — “The Kingdom of God is within” — we will continue to exhaust the physical resources of the planet, cook the atmosphere, and mindlessly exterminate the myriad plant, animal, and insect species who weave the web of life with us.
When on psychedelics, we tend to find that each moment takes on archetypal, timeless, mythological significance. At one point, Watts and his friends enter into a garage full of trash, where they collapse with helpless laughter. “The culmination of civilization in monumental heaps of junk is seen, not as thoughtless ugliness, but as self-caricature — as the creation of phenomenally absurd collages and abstract sculptures in deliberate but kindly mockery of our own pretensions.” Our civilization mirrors the “defended defensiveness” of the individual ego, which fortifies itself against the revelation of interdependence and interconnectivity, the plenitude and emptiness of the void.
We are lucky to have Watts’s testament of his encounters: The Joyous Cosmology is a carrier wave of information and insight, which has lost none of its subtlety, suppleness, or zest. It is also an expression of a larger culture process, one that is unfolding over the course of decades, through a “War on Drugs” that is secretly a war on consciousness.
Dr. Thomas B. Roberts, author of The Psychedelic Future of the Mind, among other works, has proposed that the rediscovery of entheogens by the modern West in the mid-twentieth century was the beginning of a “second Reformation”, destined to have repercussions at least as profound as those of the first one. In the first Reformation, the Bible was translated into the common vernacular, printed, and mass-produced, providing direct access to the “word of God”, which had previously been protected by the priests. With psychedelics, many people now have direct and unmediated access to the mystical and visionary experience, instead of reading about it in musty old tomes. As Watts’s scintillating prose makes clear – and all appearances to the contrary – the future will be psychedelic, or it will not be.
author of Breaking Open the Head: A Psychedelic Journey into the Heart of Contemporary Shamanism.
New York City, 2013.
Excerpted from “The Joyous Cosmology” © 2013 by Alan W. Watts. New World Library.
Alan Watts (1915-1973) was the author of more than twenty books, including The Way of Zen, The Wisdom of Insecurity, and The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are. An acclaimed writer, philosopher, and student of Buddhism, he was also an Episcopalian minister, a professor, and a research fellow at Harvard University.
THE TRIPLE ILLUSION OF CHRISTIAN CONSCIOUSNESS
by Hasana Sharp (McGill University)
“Men think themselves free, because they are conscious of their volitions and their appetite, and do not think, even in their dreams, of the causes by which they are disposed to wanting and willing.” – SPINOZA, Ethics, I, appendix.
In Spinoza: Practical Philosophy, Gilles Deleuze writes that “consciousness is inseparable from the triple illusion that constitutes it, the illusion of finality, the illusion of freedom, and the theological illusion.” The triple illusion that Deleuze identifies belongs to a fantasy of human exceptionalism. Consciousness of one’s desire, especially as it is described in the appendix to part I of the Ethics, includes a notion of reality designed for human use and enjoyment (finalist illusion) by a God who can offer or withhold love (theological illusion) from an individual who can freely earn or fail to be worthy of salvation (freedom illusion).
Yet the “triple illusion” that Deleuze describes seems to be historically specific. Rather than constituting consciousness as such, it aptly describes what might loosely be called Christian psychology. It is the psychology of those who believe that we are divine creations, endowed with free will, who may or may not use this will to earn salvation.
Spinoza begins with the premise that we desire and pursue our advantage, convinced that our desire signals our freedom. We typically perceive something as desirable and believe that we pursue it by virtue of a self-originating appetite. (…) From the pursuit of self-preservation, Spinoza describes God as a kind of narcisistic self-projection (one that is developed by Feuerbach in The Essence of Christianity).
The tendency to imagine God as a power that arranges things purposefully for human pleasure is prompted by our experience of the excellent design of our bodies and things that meet our basic needs. In Spinoza’s words, “they find – both in themselves and outside themselves – many means that are very helpful in seeking their advantage, for example, eyes for seeing, teeth for chewing, plants and animals for food, the sun for light, the sea for supporting fish” (Ethics, I, appendix).
The pleasures of food, visible beauty, and the sun’s warmth please humans all too well and prompt us to infer that there must be a “ruler of Nature” who arranged everything to suit us. (…) From the belief that their actions are prompted by self-generated goals, humans tend to be falsely convinced that God, too, acts with an end in view, that end being, simply, humanity. Yet nature does not always provide, and while the successful pursuit of self-satisfaction generates the notion that pleasant things exist for the sole purpose of enriching human life, unpleasant things are seen to reflect human vice.
Misfortune incites superstition and fear of divine punishment but does not interrupt the narcissistic notion that good or bad events, pleasant or repugnant things, point to oneself as a member of God’s most beloved creation, humanity. Insofar as we are trapped within the triple illusion of (Christian) consciousness, we are convinced that the external world, no less than our bodies, exists for us, and, the more we find ourselves to be favored, the more we are convinced that God recognizes, validates, and rewards us.
As Spinoza puts is, “So it has happened that each of them thought up from his own temperament different ways of worshipping God, so that God might love him above all rest, and direct the whole of Nature according to the needs of their blind desire and insatiable greed” (Ethics, I, appendix). In accord with a certain worldview that arguably persists today, our desire prompts a portrait of God and nature as instruments of self-satisfaction…
For Spinoza, desire is liberated by establishing a distinctive kind of relationship to oneself and others. Spontaneous desire is less free insofar as we persist in the belief that desire is not constrained, provoked, and oriented by a complex history of causal determinations. We remain servile as long as we do not see ourselves as relational beings. Rather than socializing desire, however, we must naturalize it. We must come to act in light of being but a tiny “part of nature”, one singularity submerged within an acentric force of powers and counterpowers.
Spinoza comes to view freedom as a coordination of strenght and vitality in relationship to others. (…) Nature is absolute and self-caused, but freedom requires that we cease to see ourselves as independent in the same way as God. Human freedom is won only by coming to terms with our lack of freedom. We come to act effectively only when we appreciate that our agency is infinitely surpassed by the totality of other natural beings (Ethics, IV, p. 3).
The initial desire to be affirmed or loved by God above all others as a unique and irreplaceable being must be surrendered. The politics of renaturalization denies the possibility of mutual recognition between God and humanity, the Other and the self. (…) We are singular expressions of the power of infinite nature, knowledge of which Spinoza calls beatitude or glory.
Rather than personal salvation or recognition, freedom involves a kind of depersonalization. The irrecoverable loss of oneself in God is precisely what Hegel rejected in Spinoza’s system, yet, in an epoch where the risk of too much man is arguably greater than the risk of too much nature, let us see whether we might find ressources for a posthumanist view of agency in Spinoza’s account…
For Spinoza, the highest form of self-knowledge that accompanies intuition involves the intellectual love of God (nature), which is decidedly not mutual. “He who loves God cannot strive that God should love him in return” (Ethics, V, p. 19). The lack of mutuality is two-sided. God does not create humans in order to be loved and glory in his almighty power. Humans are not God’s self-image, the vehicles of his glorious self-representation. God is an entirely impersonal natural force that is not oriented around humanity. Loving nature or God is nothing other than the active joy by which we love ourselves, not as exemplars of human goodness, but as absolutely unique instances of nature’s power.”
God in Pain: Inversions of the Apocalypse
Slavoj Žižek and Boris Gunjević
A brilliant dissection and reconstruction of the three major faith-based systems of belief in the world today, from one of the world’s most articulate intellectuals, Slavoj Zizek, in conversation with Croatian philosopher Boris Gunjevic. In six chapters that describe Christianity, Islam, and Judaism in fresh ways using the tools of Hegelian and Lacanian analysis, God in Pain: Inversions of Apocalypse shows how each faith understands humanity and divinity – and how the differences between the faiths may be far stranger than they may at first seem.
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In God in Pain: Inversions of Apocalypse, pyrotechnic Marxist theorist Slavoj Žižek and radical theologian Boris Gunjević offer us not a religious text but a critical inquiry, a work of faith not in God but in the human intellect. With his contagious zeal and his genius for unlikely connections, Žižek calls the bluff on the West’s alleged atheism and contemplates the bewildering idea of an Almighty that both suffers and prays. Taking on Žižek’s gambits and proposing his own, Gunjević issues a revolutionary clarion call for theology that can break the back of capitalism’s cunning “enslavement of desire.” With gripping examples and razor-sharp logic, Žižek and Gunjević invoke thinkers from Augustine to Lacan and topics ranging from Christian versus “pagan” ethics to the “class struggle” implied in reading the Qur’an and the role of gender in Islam. Together, they confirm and dissect faith in the twenty-first century, shaking the foundations of the Abrahamic traditions.
“The most dangerous philosopher in the West.” —Adam Kirsch, New Review
“Zizek has only to clap eyes on a received truth to feel the intolerable itch to deface it … Zizek is that rare breed of writer—one who is both lucid and esoteric. If he is sometimes hard to understand, it is because of the intricacy of his ideas, not because of a self-preening style.” —Terry Eagleton
About Slavoj Žižek and Boris Gunjević
Philosopher and cultural critic SLAVOJ ŽIŽEK is internationally recognized for his work on psychoanalysis. He teaches at the European Graduate School and has been a visiting professor at Université de Paris VIII, Columbia, and Princeton, among other institutions. He is founder and president of the Society for Theoretical Psychoanalysis in Ljubljana, Slovenia, and is the author of many books on topics ranging from Christianity to the films of David Lynch.
BORIS GUNJEVIĆ is a theologian, priest, and professor of history of philosophy and liturgy. He has taught in several schools and theological colleges on systematic theology, radical theology, and the history of philosophy, among other subjects. His forthcoming books include A Handbook for Militant Research and The Carpentry of John Milbank. He lives in Zagreb.
(1) “Christianity Against Sacred,”
(2) “Glance into the Archives of Islam,”
(3) “Only Suffering God Can Save Us,”
(4) “Animal Gaze,”
(5) “For the Theologico-Political Suspension of the Ethical,”
(1) “Mistagogy of Revolution,”
(2) “Virtues of Empire,”
(3) “Every Book Is Like Fortress,”
(4) “Radical Orthodoxy,”
(5) “Prayer and Wake.”
Conversations with Myself:
Time & The More It Changes:
Work as Play:
Buddhism & Science
The Discipline of Zen
To be continued…
FRIEDRICH ENGELS (1820-1895)
On The History of Early Christianity
“The history of early Christianity has notable points of resemblance with the modern working-class moviment. Like the latter, Christianity was originally a movement of oppressed people: it first appeared as the religion of slaves and emancipated slaves, of poor people deprived of all rights, of peoples subjugated or dispersed by Rome. Both Christianity and the workers’ socialism preach forthcoming salvation from bondage and misery; Christianity places this salvation in a life beyond, after death, in heaven; socialism places it in this world, in a transformation of society.
[…] The parallel between the two historic phenomena forces itself upon our attention as early as the Middle Ages in the first risings of the oppressed peasants and particularly of the town plebeians. These risings, like all mass movements of the Middle Ages, were bound to wear the mask of religion and appeared as the restoration of early Christianity from spreading degeneration; but behind the religious exaltation there was every time a very tangible worldly interest.
[…] This trait pervades the whole of the Middle Ages until it gradually fades away after the German Peasant War (1535) to revive again with the working-men Communists after 1830. The French revolutionary Communists, in particular Wilhelm Weitling (1808 – 1871) and his supporters, referred to early Christianity long before Ernest Renan’s (1823-1892) words: “If I wanted to give you an idea of the early Christian communities I would teel you to look at a local section of the International Working Men’s Association.”
[…] One of our best sources on the first Christians is Lucian of Samosata (AD 125 – AD 180), the Voltaire of classic antiquity, who was equally sceptic towards every kind of religious superstition and therefore had neither pagan-religious nor political grounds to treat the Christian otherwise than as some other kind of religious community. On the contrary, he mocked them all for their superstition, those who prayed to Jupiter no less than those who prayed to Christ; from his shallow rationalistic point of view one sort of superstition was as stupid as the other.
[…] German criticism of the Bible has as one of its main representatives Bruno Bauer (1809-1882). His greatest service consists not merely in having given a pitiless criticism of the Gospels and the Epistles of the apostles, but also in having seriously undertaken an inquiry into the Jewish, Greco-Alexandrian and Greco-Roman elements that first opened for Christianity the career of a universal religion.
The legend that Christianity arose ready and complete out of Judaism and, starting from Palestine, conquered the world with its dogma and morals already defined in the main, has been untenable since Bruno Bauer; the enormous influence which the Philonic school of Alexandria and Greco-Roman philosophy – Platonic and mainly Stoic (especially Seneca) – had on Christianity, which became the state religion under Constantine, is far from being defined in detail, but its existence has been proved and that is primarily the achievement of Bruno Bauer.
He laided the foundation of the proof that Christianity was not imported from outside – from Judea – into the Romano-Greek world and imposed on it, but that, at least in its world-religion form, it is that world’s product. (…) Not Galilee and Jerusalem, but Alexandria and Rome, according to Bauer, are the birthplaces of the new religion.
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We have in the New Testament a single book which belongs to the very beginning of the Christian era, and it must have been written between 67 and 68 (after Christ). It reflects with the most naive fidelity the ideas of the beginning of that era. This book, therefore, in my opinion, is a far more important source from which to define what early Christianity really was than all the rest of the New Testament – which, in its present form, is of a far later date. This book is the so-called Revelation of John.
[…] That was a time when even in Rome and Greece – and still more in Asia Minor, Syria and Egypt – an absolutely uncritical mixture of the crassest superstitions of the most varying peoples was indiscriminately accepted and complemented by pious deception and downright charlatanism; a time in which miracles, ecstasies, visions, apparitions, divining, gold-making, cabbala and other secret magic played a primary role. It was in that atmosphere, and, moreover, among a class of people who were more inclined than any other to listen to these supernatural fantasies, that Christianity arose.
[…] All the apocalypses attribute to themselves the right to deceive their readers. Not only were they written as a rule by quite different people than their alleged authors, and mostly by people who lived much later; as far as their main content is concerned, they prophesy only things that had already happened long before and were quite well known to the real author.
[…] Thus in the year 164, the author of the Book of Daniel makes Daniel, who is supposed to have lived in the time of Nebuchadnezzar (605 BC – 562 BC), prophesy the rise and fall of the Persian and Macedonian empires and beggining of the Roman Empire, in order by this proof of his gift of prophecy to prepare the reader to accept the final prophecy that the people of Israel will overcome all hardships and finally be victorious.
[…] The John who claims to be the author of the Book of Revelation, in any case, was a man of great distinction among the Christians of Asia Minor. […] The most characteristic in the whole book is that it never occurs to the author to refer to himself and his co-believers by any other name than that of Jews. He reproaches the members of the sects in Smyrna and Philadelphia against whom he fulminates with the fact that they ‘say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan.’
[…] Here it is therefore not a case of conscious Christians but of people who say they are Jews. Granted, their Judaism is a new stage of development of the earlier one… Hence, when the saints appeared before the throne of God there came first 144.000 Jews, 12.000 from each tribe, and only after them the countless masses of heathens converted to this renovated Judaism.
[…] There was among the early Christians a division into countless sects, which was the very means by which discussion and thereby later unity was achieved. We already find it in this book, which is beyond doubt the oldest Christian document, and our author fights it with the same irreconcilable ardour as the great sinful world outside. There were those who said they were Jews but where the synagogue of Satan; the supporters of Balaam, who is called a false prophet, in Pergamos; those who said they were apostles but were not, in Ephesus; and finally, in Thyatira, the supporters of the false prophetess who is described as Jezebel.
[…] Our John had his own views on the sexual relations allowed to orthodox Jews. He says (XIV, 4) of the 144.000 heavenly Jews: ‘These are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins.” And, in fact, in our John’s heaven there is not a single woman. He therefore belongs to the trend, which also often appears in other early Christian writings, that considers sexual relations generally as sinful. He calls Rome the Great Whore with thom the kings of the earth have commited fornication and have become drunk with the wine of fornication…
[…] These passages in the messages are an obvious indication of a phenomenon common to all times of great agitation, that the traditional bonds of sexual relations, like all other fetters, are shaken off. In the first centuries of Christianity, too, there appeared often enough, side by side with ascetics which mortified the flesh, the tendency to extend Christian freedom to a more or less unrestrained intercourse between man and woman.
[…] That is all the dogmatic content of the messages. The rest consists in exhorting the faithful to be zealous in propaganda, to courageous and proud confession of their faith in face of the foe, to unrelenting struggle against the enemy both within and without – and as far as this goes they could just as well have been written by one of the prophetically minded enthusiasts of the International.
[…] What kind of people were the first Christians recruited from? Mainly from the ‘labouring and burdened’, the members of the lowest strata of the people… small peasants, who had fallen more and more into bondage through debt; emancipated slaves; and, above all, actual slaves. There was absolutely no common road to emancipation for all these elements. For all of them paradise lay lost behind them: for the ruined free men, it was the former polis, the town and the state at the samen time, of which their forefathers had been free citizens; for the war-captive slaves, the time of freedom before their subjugation and captivity; for the small peasants, the abolished gentile social system and communal land-ownership. All that had been smitten down by the levelling iron fist of conquering Rome.
[…] The Roman Empire had put an end once for all to the smaller unions; military might, Roman jurisdiction and the tax-collecting machinery completely dissolved the traditional inner organization. To the loss of independence and distinctive organization, it was added the forcible plunder by military and civil authorities, who took the treasures of the subjugated away from them, and then lent them back at usurious rates in order to extort still more out of them. This plunged the peasants into ever deeper bondage to the usurers, gave rise to great differences in fortune, making the rich richer and the poor completely destitute.
Any resistance of isolated small tribes or towns against gigantic Roman world power was hopeless. Where was the way out, salvation, for the enslaved, oppressed and impoverished? And yet it had to be found if a great revolutionary movement was to embrace them all. This way out was found. But not in this world. In the state in which things were it could only be a religious way out. Then a new world was disclosed.
The continued life of the soul after the death of the body had gradually become a recognized article of faith throughout the Roman world. A kind of recompense or punishment of the deceased souls for their actions while on earth also received more and more general recognition. Antiquity had been too spontaneously materialistic not to attribute infinitely greater value to life on earth than to life in the kingdom of shadowss; to live on after death was considered by the Greeks rather as a misfortune.
Then came Christianity, which took recompense and punishment in the world beyond seriously and created heaven and hell. And a way out was found which would lead the labouring and burdened from this vale of woe to eternal paradise. And in fact only with the prospect of a reward in the world beyond could the stoic-philonic renunciation of the world and asceticism be exalted to the basic moral principle of a new universal religion which would inspire the oppressed masses with enthusiasm. But this heavenly paradise does not open to the faithful by the mere fact of their death. We shall see that the kingdom of God, the capital of which is New Jerusalem, can only be conquered and opened after arduous struggles with the powers of hell…
[…] Our John can only give a superficial description of the kingdom of heaven that is reserved for the faithful. The New Jerusalem is laid out on a fairly large scale, at least according to the conceptions of the time: its area is about 5 million square kilometres, more than half the size of the United States of America. And it is built of gold and all manner of precious stones. There God lives with his people and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, neither shall there be any more pain. A pure river of water of life flows through the city, and on either side of the river are trees of life, bearing fruits every month, and the leaves of the tree ‘serve for the healing of the nations’. Here the saints shall live forever.
Such, as far as we know, was Christianity in Asia Minor, its main seat, about the year 68. No trace of any Trinity but, on the contrary, the old one and indivisible Jehovah of later Judaism, which had exalted him from the national god of the Jews to the one and supreme God of heaven and earth, where he claims rule over all nations, promising mercy to those who are converted and mercilessly smiting down the obdurate, in accordance with the ancient pardon the humble and make war on the proud…
[…] There can be no doubt that this book, with its date so originally authenticated as the year 68 or 69, is the oldest of all Christian literature. No other is written in such barbaric language, so full of Hebraisms, impossible constructions and mistakes in grammar… The reason why this oldest writing of the time when Christianity was coming into being is especially valuable for us is that it shows without any dilution what Judaism, strongly influenced by Alexandria, contributed to Christianity. All that comes later is western, Greco-Roman addition.
It was only by the intermediary of the monotheistic Jewish religion that the cultured monotheism of later Greek vulgar philosophy could clothe itself in the religious form in which alone it could grip the masses. But once this intermediary found, it could become a universal religion only in the Greco-Roman world, and that by further development in and merging with the thought material that world had achieved.”
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Quoted from MARX & ENGELS, On Religion.
Dover Publications, Mineola / New York, 2008 / pgs. 316 to 336.
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