The Imaginal Within The Cosmos: Commentaries on the Cosmic Christ (5)
"The mystical Christ, the universal Christ of St. Paul, has neither meaning nor value in our eyes except as an explanation of the Christ who was born of Mary and who died on the cross... However far we may be drawn into the divine spaces opened up to us by Christian mysticism, we never depart from the Jesus of the Gospels..." [Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, THE DIVINE MILIEU, Harper & Row, 1960, p. 117.]
This above paragraph reflects the strong faith that Teilhard held in regard to Jesus the man literally being the Incarnation of the Logos. Now those who believe, who hold such a faith, there's no problem. But what of those who are not quite sure? For those who are careful inquirers, who realize that historically we cannot be sure over much that has been said about Jesus?
Since Albert Schweitzer's THE QUEST FOR THE HISTORICAL JESUS a myriad of studies have been published that open us to far more questions than answers. And more recently scholars have employed the tools of archaeology and cross-cultural studies to try better to come to some understanding about Jesus.
And with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls there now exists a better understanding about the culture of Jesus' times in Palestine. Contrary to popular thought, these scrolls are *not* about Jesus. They do not refer to him. Rather they are writings of a mystical monastic order. They are writings that may, too, be part of the Temple Library brought to the caves for safe-keeping during the siege of Jerusalem by the Romans. All in all, however, these scrolls provide insight into the Jewish culture of Jesus' day.
It has proved to be a culture far more diverse than previously ever recognized. And cross-cultural studies reveal the role of the Hellenistic World in this faraway colony of the Roman Empire. There were Imperial cities spaced throughout Palestine. There was Caesarea, along the Mediterranean coast, where the Roman governor held sway. The foreign kings, such as the House of Herod, ruled as Roman puppets.
But there was one Imperial city, deemed by some the jewel of such cities, that was situated only four miles from Nazareth. And at the time of Jesus, this city--Sepphoris--was undergoing reconstruction. Historians speculate it very possible that both Joseph and Jesus likely worked as craftsmen in Sepphoris. Further, both historians and theologians have pondered about the very diverse philosophical and spiritual influences to which Jesus may have been exposed while working in this city.
Sepphoris was a major city in Galilee, a region that was literally the crossroads of the Roman Empire.Sepphoris was home to not only Greeks, Roman legionnaires, but to Hellenistic Jews. The city was rife with different religions and philosophies that represented the Empire's considerable diversity. In this culture the theatres were free. One theologian (I read) even imagined Jesus sitting in the theatre at Sepphoris, listening to visiting philosophers who spoke there. There were also many magicians and sorcerers (healers) passing through. In other words, it's quite possible that Jesus did not just live in a sleepy backwater town; but, rather, he stood in the spiritual and religious cross-currents of the Empire that honed him into a rather special and very different kind of religious leader, nearly a multicultural, a universal teacher!
Again, all of this--like the ancient scriptures--tell a "story" about Jesus the man. Whether archaic, whether modern narratives, again one can only hold to their own consideration of who this man was. And it still boils down to *faith* as to whether we believe the Historical Jesus was the Incarnation of the Logos, henceforth known as the Cosmic Christ.
Now, in most Christology classes taught at the professional level, there's two *models* of Christ that are presented. There's the "Christ from Above" and there's the "Christ from Below."
The "Christ from Above" is the older model. It speculates that Jesus came into this world with the full knowledge of who he was as the Christ. The "Christ from Below" considers that Jesus slowly grew into his understanding as the Christ.
Today, both of these models may be outmoded in the face of many who no longer put a naked faith in the Christ come down to us via a religious creed. Teilhard was working towards another model, the "Christ Ahead" who, as Omega, was drawing a converging universe unto its Final Point. Nonetheless, Teilhard clung to the Historical Jesus as the great Revelation that stands behind all this. Was it Teilhard's faith alone that prompted his position, or was it yet another consideration?
Teilhard put such faith in our accumulation of scientific knowledge, that I must wonder if there might have been an insight, an intuition, on his part about the Historical Jesus being the Incarnate Logos. Again, only guesswork, faith in another milieu, but perhaps Teilhard had an inkling of something I call "the Message, the Meme of all memes." Perhaps he realized that this great Meme has continued down through the ages of human consciousness, continued through many guises, continued through many philosophies and religions, and came to rest *within* the mind of Jesus--and then soared forth!
Now what is a meme? The word "meme" was coined a number of years ago by the Oxford zoologist Richard Dawkins, who devised a new way of looking at culture change. He drew on the analogy of the gene as the fundamental unit of biological evolution, and thus posited the existence of the meme--from the Greek root meaning "imitation"--as the basic unit of cultural transmission. Interestingly, at about the same time E.O. Wilson, the Harvard sociobiologist, happened upon the same analogy--only he preferred his own word "culturgen" rather than "meme." Dawkin's term stuck.
As for definition, let me proceed. "Examples of memes are tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes, fashions, ways of making pots or building arches," so Dawkin writes. And he says, "Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leaping from body to body via sperm or eggs, so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain-to-brain."
According to Keith Henson, who has written extensively in the field of Memetics, he says: "Like genes, memes are pure information. They must be perceived indirectly, most often by their effect on behavior..." Proceeding, Henson says that the "Meme is similar to 'idea,' but not all ideas are memes. A passing idea which you do not communicate to others, or one which fails to take root in others fall short of being a meme."
For Henson the important issue upon which to focus is that "memes are subject to adaptive evolutionary forces, very similar to those that select for genes. That is, their variation is subject to selection in the environment provided by human minds, communication channels, and the vast collection of cooperating and competing memes that make up human culture."
In today's modern world, it's easy to see this "vast collection" of memes that not only cooperate but compete for the control of human minds. We have seen it not only in our world's ancient religions, but in recent times in the ideologies that have sundered apart our cultures. Still, behind all the rumble of memes moving to-and-fro there seems a *constant.* There seems always an inner sense of Virtue, if you will, that lurks in all minds everywhere since the dawn of consciousness.
This sense of Virtue is about living the noble life. It's about becoming ever more and more spiritually. It's like an "unfolding" that need be for the sake of maturity. And I think the concept of the Cosmic Christ is part-and-parcel of this unfolding, never swerving Meme. This great Meme may change garbs, adapt to evolutionary currents, but its Message always remains the same as it winds its path through centuries of evolutionary change. This Message is always about Virtue, about living a good and noble life. And I've wondered about this unchanging Message. What does it really mean?
For me, it's obvious this great Meme--this Message of Virtue--is about employing the tools of *successful living* in this world. This Message is designed for both the individual and for the Collective. And in the West, the Christ is the great Metaphor of this Message-- hence, the "Incarnate Word."
Thus as we head more towards a universal perspective, the label of the Cosmic Christ makes more sense. For those who are scholars, it's about a *Continuum* that has proceeded forth through the ages. It's a Meme that started small, in the minds of archaic hominids, in the cultures of ancient civilizations, in the philosophies and religions of societies, into finally a Personalization.
With this we are back to the stories about the Historical Jesus, we are back to the imaginations of the Christ of Faith. These stories have marched on, serving as the Metaphor of this great Meme, the Message Carrier, for the last two millennia. Yet, in our own times, it would seem once again this great Meme is undergoing a noticeable transformation--into something else, altogether, or into a more deep and universal extension of the Cosmic Christ?
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