I am a practicing Catholic but I do not accept the pillars of Christian belief that Jesus is God and his death saved the world. This myth of Christ has profound symbolic meaning for millions and I value it for that reason, but my understanding of Christ differs from the one preached by the official church. The church’s message also differs from the one preached by Jesus of Nazareth.
In this book I present scholarly findings about scripture and myth that render the traditional interpretation of doctrine impossible. The Christian story is not factual history and it is not the supreme message of God to humanity. I offer a symbolic reading of the myth of Christ and an inclusive understanding of the Reign of God proclaimed by Jesus. . . .
The best contribution Christianity can make to global spirituality in the twenty-first century is to acknowledge its myth and symbol as myth and symbol. In the chapters of this book I hope to advance these realizations, which would help immeasurably to smooth thorny relations between the peoples of the world.
The Role of Myth
While literally false, [religious] myths are nevertheless honorable and true—real but not factual, true but not historical. This is the critical distinction. Someone called them “true stories that never happened.”
. . . if we are human, we have spiritual experiences. By the time we have reached the ability to think about them, most of us have been given a conceptual frame or map of reality—a system of myths—with which to arrange them. This map of reality familiar to us soon seems the only possibility because it truly connects us with our spiritual center and the Inner Realm. We think another set of images could not possibly be right. This tendency underlies the exclusive claims of Christianity and some of the conflict between religions.
The Sayings of Jesus
. . . Since Jesus' voice and some sayings are retrievable, it is possible to state his distinctive message. Surprisingly, it has nothing in common with the Christian proclamation that we are saved by believing he died for us, but it has much in common with the basic message of the world's mystics, specifically the mystics of the East.
The Only-Through-Jesus Stance
Historians are convinced that the real founder of Christianity was Paul of Tarsus, not Jesus of Nazareth. . . .
He never knew the historical Jesus, and his letters relate no stories or sayings of Jesus. In contrast to the gospel writers, Paul made no attempt to pass on Jesus' preaching—no sayings, no parables, no miracles. But what he did broadcast became the central tenet of Christianity: Jesus Christ saved us by dying for our sins, and believing this is our salvation. This claim of Paul, which became the heart of Christian belief, had never been made by Jesus. . . .
The nexus of divinity and humanity lies not in one man but in the inner core of all creation . . . The only-through-Jesus stance violates the Nazarene’s message, but the image of Jesus Christ helps our human minds to recognize the divine/human connection.
Christ in the Human Soul
The Self is the image of God imprinted on the soul . . . Christ is a symbol of this interior reality in each soul.
The way of the cross is not a one-time historical event, but an ongoing call to die to our old selves and rise to our new. Worshipping an external object can distract us from reaching the mucky depth of our own experiences and letting them transform us.
The Myth Wanes but Remains
Where Christianity went wrong was not in broadcasting the sacred myth but in demanding literal belief and imposing it as the only spiritual foundation. . . .
Imagine the force for global harmony that Christians could become if we had the largeness of heart to surrender our exclusive claims! We would gain, not lose, status by ranging ourselves humbly alongside other great mediators of the Reign, the Transcendent Mystery.