Episode 6: Marcus Aurelius & “A Course in Miracles”

The example of Marcus Aurelius shows how highly developed spiritual seekers can be unconscious of their identity as oppressors.

The previous five episodes in this series on A Course in Miracles can be accessed on my podcast website “A Course in Miracles for Social Justice Warriors.”

If Jesus Is The Christ, The Christ Is Also Jesus

A Course in Miracles (ACIM) has long been an inspiration to me. It is a New Age “channeled” production published by Helen Schucman in 1975. However, the book is often interpreted in ways that discourage social activism — for instance, by its foremost expositor, Ken Wapnick,

My approach is quite the opposite. It sees ACIM as written specifically for North Americans calling them precisely to leave aside any trace of quietism and to follow Jesus’ example of working for the liberation of the world’s poor and oppressed.

So, having finished the heavy lifting on the publication of my novel (The Pope’s Secret) I’m finally getting back to the podcast whose point is to explain lesson-by-lesson A Course in Miracles (ACIM) and its often-neglected implications for social justice warriors. However, before I get to those lessons, this 5th episode continues my introduction to ACIM. For the other four episodes, please see my separate podcast site.

Can Exterrestrials Rescue Us from Religious Enslavement?

If you’re like many who read these pages, you might be skeptical about religion and its claims. You’re put off by apparently childish beliefs in a God who according to the teachings of Jesus is a loving parent, but who also ends up committing and ordering acts (like Noah’s flood and military slaughters) that can only be described as immoral and even genocidal.

Yet, if you’re like me, you also recognize in ancient biblical traditions powerful sources of wisdom and inspiration for transforming the world. I’m talking about biblical interpretations by Jesus himself, by the prophets, and their more recent embodiments such as Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day, William Barber II and Liz Theoharis. You’re probably loathe to throw out the baby represented by the heroes just mentioned with the bathwater of demeaning beliefs unworthy of adults concerned with peace, justice and saving our planet from the ravages of climate change and nuclear war.

If you fall into either category, I recommend that you read Escaping from Eden: does Genesis teach that the human race was created by God or engineered by ETs? It is authored by Anglican priest and scholar Paul Anthony Wallis. The book vividly describes the religious dynamic we’re all used to with its tendencies to enslave and stunt human growth on the one hand and to liberate and call us to our higher selves on the other.

It also offers cogent exegeses of familiar Genesis stories that centralize an unfamiliar theogony that involves us all.

Let me explain.

Escaping Eden 

Perhaps shockingly to most, Wallis’ basic thesis is that the Eden and subsequent stories in the first eleven chapters of Genesis are not about God at all. Instead as the book’s full title suggests, many of the tales describe extraterrestrial aliens (ETs) and their interactions with early humans.  For Wallis, recognizing the aliens hidden in plain sight within the Genesis myths and legends can help liberate us from powerful contemporary actors who use religion to infantilize and enslave the rest of us.

Does all that sound too far out? Wallis insists that it shouldn’t. In fact, he argues, his observations are grounded in sound, long-standing biblical scholarship that has puzzled over and/or ignored references to plural gods in a text ostensibly promoting monotheism.

On top of this, Wallis emphasizes the fact that we humans live (and always have) in a universe populated by many human-like species. This is attested to by worldwide myths and stories found among humans everywhere – e.g., in Sumerian cuneiform tablets, in Greek and Roman mythology, in the Popol Vuh, and in the Judeo-Christian Bible. It is also verified by innumerable “close encounters” throughout history, by science-fiction writers like Erich von Daniken in his Chariots of the Gods, as well as by NASA astronauts, the U.S. government and even by the Vatican itself.

More to Wallis’ point, the Bible is an especially noteworthy source attesting to the existence of extraterrestrial agents who visit the earth and interact with human beings. Some of the ETs help humans; others attempt to enslave them. 

Though commonly overlooked as such, (and as we’ll see below) interactions with ETs are found in the myths involving the First Man and the First Woman, in the legends of Abraham and Sarah, of Sodom and Gomorrah and elsewhere. They are also found in the prophetic books of Ezekiel and Elijah as well as in Christian Testament conception stories of John the Baptist and Jesus himself. Additionally, they are suggested in “apocalyptic” literature found throughout the Bible.

In all these accounts, one finds tales not only of gods, angels, monsters, and devils, but of giants so large that they make humans feel like grasshoppers, of agents with extraordinarily long lives, of divine beings of immense physical attraction begetting exceptional children with human partners, and of vehicles that we today would call UFOs.

For Wallis, the key to perceiving such overlooked realities is found in accurately translating the plural Hebrew term Elohim which is centralized in the familiar creation myths of Genesis. Normally, this term has been translated simply as “God.”

However, Wallis points out, this fatal mistranslation leads to insoluble problems linked to monotheism (e.g., why is Elohim plural in a monotheistic text?), and to moral quandaries where a biblical God commits and orders genocidal acts of extreme cruelty.  

Actually, Wallis explains Elohim’s plural form is correctly translated not as “God” or even “gods,” but as “Sky People,” the “Powerful Ones,” or the “Engineers.” Elohim refers to extraterrestrials who rescue an already created world rather than constitute it from scratch. Among them is that minor entity called “Yahweh.” Eventually, the Mosaic tradition identifies him as the one and only god of the Hebrew people.

In developing these ideas, Wallis shows that a close reading of the first chapter of Genesis reveals that the Hebrew Bible contains no account of the world’s creation at all. Instead, in what is often taken as a creation myth, the earth and seas already exist as does “darkness” which assumes the existence of a contrasting sun and/or moon and stars.  

This leads Wallis to conclude that Genesis’ ancient “creation story” is really about a recovery or planetary reset following some sort of extinction level event that geologists tell us occurred following the last ice age, or the collision of earth and a meteor, and/or a planetwide flood. According to this interpretation, the tale in Genesis describes how “Powerful Ones” (Elohim) – extraterrestrials – used their extraordinary powers to restore order to a planet suffering from a post-traumatic stress syndrome.

Genesis Retold

To show what I mean, here how Wallis retells the Genesis story:

Following a planetary catastrophe, the earth remained shrouded in darkness, empty, barren and covered in water. In response, Spirit-Beings, the Powerful Ones (Elohim) from beyond the earth came to its rescue. They hovered over the planet’s watery surface dissipating its darkness. Soon light manifested itself as the sun, moon, and stars once again became visible.

Next the Powerful Ones separated the earth’s waters to create saltwater seas, freshwater rivers and habitable land. Vegetation, fish, birds, and animals returned to fill the air, land, and seas.

Within a plain called Eden the Sky People created an enclosed safety zone and filled it with animal and botanical life. In the soil of the plain near the Tigris and Euphrates, precious mineral deposits, including high grade gold also came to light.

Using the elements of the earth to make clay, the Engineers next fashioned Earth Creatures (Adam) to look like their makers. Their bodies lay silent and motionless until the Powerful Ones breathed spirit into them.

Once animated the new humans were put to work in the enclosed zone. They ate a vegan diet and lived a subsistence lives in harmony with the animals.

Gradually the Powerful Ones noticed that the humans were depressed. All the other animal species were male and female. The humans needed such companionship too. So, the Powerful Ones generated females of the species from the asexual Earth Creatures’ bodies. As male and female, human society was then poised to begin its journey.

Then one day the humans found themselves in conversation with a Sky Person known as “the Snake.” He walked upright and had arms and legs. The helpful Snake showed the humans how they might achieve a higher level of consciousness. The change would raise their understanding and self-awareness and improve the quality of their lives. Not surprisingly, the humans accepted the Snake’s offer. Here, the female of the species took the lead. The resulting upgrade brought with it moral conscience and sexual awareness. Humans began to wear clothes and gender roles emerged. With the first childbirths, human society began to take form.

All of this incited a long-lasting conflict among the Powerful Ones. Some of them were afraid that the newly empowered humans might become too independent. As punishment for breaking rank by effecting an unauthorized human upgrade, the Snake Sky Person was shorn of its limbs and forced to eat the other Powerful Ones’ dust.

For their parts, the male and the female humans faced parallel repercussions. The Engineers locked them out of the enclosed zone and forced the humans to fend for themselves in the wild, untamed country of Eden. There the humans continued to produce children. However, the land of Eden had not been prepared or cultivated for this eventuality. Consequently, circumstances forced the humans to work hard just to provide for their families.

In addition, exiled from the enclosed area, the humans no longer enjoyed access to the healing plants which before had cured their every injury and ailment. Denied such cures the humans began to die.

As human society grew and became harder to manage, the Council of Powerful Ones decided that the human beings were living too long and took a decision to limit the humans’ lifespans. Additionally, troubling news of abductions of human females and resultant hybridization by some Powerful Ones (bnei Elohim, sons of the Powerful Ones) also reached the ears of the Council. This was not what they had intended. After a period of intense debate, a final solution was reached. Earth was to be wiped clean of the human menace by means of a massive flood.

But not all the Powerful Ones concurred. Along with a warning about the impending flood, the dissenters gave a man called Noah instructions about constructing a rescue vessel, sealing his family inside (together with a stock of plants and animals to eventually reseed flora and fauna) and re-booting the human population with the DNA of Noah’s extended family. Then came the deluge.

In the aftermath of the flood, as human society re-expanded, the people migrated east of Eden. When they reached the Shinar Plain, Mesopotamia – the home of Sumeria and Babylonia – they settled and built a huge tower – as a gateway between the people and the Powerful Ones, a means of reaching the heavens from Earth.

However, when some members of the Council observed the project, they were deeply disturbed. Old fears resurfaced about humans usurping the power of their betters. Another brutal response was called for. Accordingly, the Sky People used their great powers to arrest the development of human civilization. They did this by taking from the humans the language which had united them, confusing their ability to speak so that the humans would no longer be able to communicate with one another and operate as a single society.

Two Types of Biblical Aliens

The tale just reviewed reveals a powerful internecine “Battle of the Elite” hidden in the Genesis accounts and continues to our day. It pits some Powerful Ones (Elohim) who were benevolent towards the emerging race of humans against other Sky People who sought to keep humans subordinate and unconscious.

In the biblical stories benevolent Powerful Ones:

  • Reconstitute planet earth after the unprecedented cataclysm referenced above
  • Create earth creatures who physically resemble their creators
  • Divide the earth creatures into male and female to relieve their creatures’ loneliness
  • Provide a safe zone where humans live in the company of their powerful mentors and where food, shelter, and healing plants are provided.
  • Instruct the earth creatures (through a Powerful One called “the Snake”) about how to achieve moral consciousness
  • Intervene to save at least some humans from an approaching universal deluge
  • And eventually in the deified Powerful One, Yahweh, liberate people enslaved by the Pharaohs of Egypt.

Meanwhile, more malevolent Sky People:

  • Take measures to keep the earth creatures subservient
  • By forbidding humans from attaining moral consciousness
  • Punishing them for doing so by inflicting painful childbirth experiences on their women and harsh labor upon men, and by driving both women and men out of their paradisical safe zone, thus depriving them of food and healing plants, while consequently introducing sickness, shortened lives, and death
  • Punishing the Snake (the humans’ moral mentor) by amputating its arms and legs
  • Sending a universal flood
  • Preventing humans from cooperating with one another by eliminating their universally understood common language
  • Routinely ordering humans to commit genocide on the Powerful Ones’ enemies

Conclusion

None of this is to say that the stories Wallis examines should be taken literally, though he gives an impression of doing so. My own tendency is to continue treating the stories Wallis examines as myth and legend and as such to mine them for the extremely rich meaning they contain.

However literal or not, the tales in question serve to highlight the facts that:

  • We do exist in a populated universe
  • Religious traditions across the planet are strangely unanimous in recording close encounters with extraterrestrial entities
  • Earthly elites (emperors, kings, popes, and priests) have typically used such records to instill fear within and enslave their subjects
  • Those same powerful agents have ignored and obscured accounts with ETs that empower non-elites by inspiring them to rebel against their enslaving masters

In any case, Paul Anthony Wallis’ book calls us to re-examine our prejudices about the biblical tradition, whatever they might be. He suggests that it is more powerful and relevant to our postmodern world than we’ve been led to believe.

Jesus Repudiates Machismo Not Divorce

Readings for 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Genesis 2:18-24; Psalms. 128:1-6; Hebrews, 2:9-11; Mark 10:2-16 

I shared Tammy Wynette’s award-winning song “D-I-V-O-R-C-E” because it captures the pain that more than half of married people go through when they decide to divorce. Tammy’s opening words, “I want to sing you a song that I didn’t write, but I should have,” as well as the way she sings capture the very sad experience that divorce is for couples who all started out so full of love and hope. As all of us know, divorce is often characterized by regret and feelings of failure especially relative to the children involved. The irony is that many divorced people will come to church this morning and find their pain compounded by today’s readings and no doubt by sermons they will hear.

However today’s liturgy of the word is surprising for what it says about Jesus and his teachings about divorce. The readings tell us that Jesus wasn’t really against divorce as we know it. Instead as the embodiment of compassion, he must have been sympathetic to the pain and abuse that often precede divorce. As a champion of women, he must have been especially sensitive to the abandonment of divorced women in his highly patriarchal culture.

What I’m suggesting is that a sensitive reading shows that what Jesus stands against in today’s Gospel is machismo not divorce as such. Relative to failed marriages, he implicitly invites us to follow his compassionate example in putting the welfare of people – in his day women specifically – ahead of abstract principles or laws. Doing so will make us more understanding and supportive of couples who decide to divorce in the best interests of all.

By the way, the gospel reading also tells us something important about scripture scholarship and its contributions towards understanding the kind of person Jesus was and what he taught on this topic.

First of all consider that scholarship and its importance relative to the topic at hand.

To begin with, it would have been very unlikely that Jesus actually said “let no one” or (as our translation went this morning) “let no human being” put asunder what God has joined together. That’s because in Jesus’ Palestine, only men had the right to initiate a divorce. So in prohibiting divorce, Jesus was addressing men.  The “no one” or “no human being” attribution comes from Mark who wanted Jesus’ pronouncement on divorce to address situations outside of Palestine more than 40 years after Jesus’ death. By the time Mark wrote his Gospel, the church had spread outside of Palestine to Rome and the Hellenistic world.  In some of those communities, women could initiate divorce proceedings as well as men.

Similarly, Jesus probably did not say, “and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” Such a statement would have been incomprehensible to Jesus’ immediate audience. Once again, in Palestine no woman could divorce her husband. Divorce was strictly a male right. Women could only be divorced; they couldn’t divorce their husbands.

So what did Jesus say? He probably said (as today’s first reading from Genesis puts it) “What God has joined together let no man put asunder. “ His was a statement against the anti-woman, male-centered practice of divorce that characterized the Judaism of his time.

And what was that practice?

In a word, it was highly patriarchal. Until they entered puberty, female children were “owned” by their father. From then on the father’s ownership could be transferred to another male generally chosen by the father as the daughter’s husband. The marriage ceremony made the ownership-transfer legal. After marriage, the husband was bound to support his wife. For her part however the wife’s obedience to her husband became her religious duty.

Meanwhile, even after marriage, the husband could retain as many lovers as he wanted provided he also able to support them. Additionally the husband enjoyed the unilateral right to demand divorce not only for adultery (as some rabbis held), but also according to the majority of rabbinical scholars for reasons that included burning his food, or spending too much time talking with the neighbors. Even after divorce, a man’s former wife needed his permission to remarry. As a result of all this, divorced women were often left totally abandoned. Their only way out was to become once again dependent on another man.

In their book Another God Is PossibleMaria and Ignacio Lopez Vigil put it this way: “Jesus’ saying, ‘What God has joined together, let no man put asunder’ is not the expression of an abstract principle about the indissolubility of marriage. Instead, Jesus’ words were directed against the highly patriarchal marriage practices of his time. ‘Men,’ he said, should not divide what God has joined together. This meant that the family should not be at the mercy of the whimsies of its male head, nor should the woman be left defenseless before her husband’s inflexibility. Jesus cut straight through the tangle of legal interpretations that existed in Israel about divorce, all of which favored the man, and returned to the origins: he reminded his listeners that in the beginning God made man and woman in his own image, equal in dignity, rights, and opportunities. Jesus was not pronouncing against divorce, but against machismo.”

Here it should be noted that Mark’s alteration of Jesus’ words is far less radical than what Jesus said. Mark makes the point of the Master’s utterance divorce rather than machismo. Ironically, in doing so and by treating women the same as men, Mark’s words also offer a scriptural basis for legalists who place the “bond of marriage” ahead of the happiness (and even safety) of those who find themselves in relationships which have become destructive to partners and to children.

Traditionally that emphasis on the inviolability of the marriage bond has represented the position of the Roman Catholic hierarchy. It is very unlikely that the historical Jesus with his extremely liberal attitude towards law and his concern for women would have endorsed it.

Instead however, it never was Jesus position that any law should take precedence over the welfare of people. In fact, his refusal to endorse that precedence – his breaking of religious laws (even the Sabbath law) in favor of human welfare – was the main reason for his excommunication by the religious leaders of his own day. In other words, Jesus was the one who kept God’s law by breaking human law.

So instead of “Anti-Divorce Sunday,” this should be “Anti-Machismo Sunday.” It should remind us all of what a champion women have in Jesus.

Sometimes feminists complain that Christian faith finds its “fullness of revelation” in a man. But as one Latin American feminist theologian put it recently, the point of complaint shouldn’t be that Jesus was a man, but that most of us men are not like Jesus. Today’s Gospel calls us men to take steps towards nullifying that particular objection.