There are many books about Jesus currently, some of them asking the bold question: Did Jesus even exist? Authors like Timothy Freke and Peter Gandly, S. Acharaya and Kenneth Humphreys are quick to make claims that Jesus is a fiction but only present a limited amount of evidence to substantiate this claim. “Did Jesus Exist?” identifies and evaluates the available evidence and makes a strong case for the high probability that Jesus did, indeed, exist. Accordingly, this is a book for anyone interested in pondering the evidence and assembling a more complete picture of the historical Jesus.
Targeted Age Group:: 18+
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Religion, for many in today’s world, is struggling to make meaning as it fails to make meaning of existence in its entirety. This book addresses this shortfall and draws on a number of academic disciplines to make sense of the deeper human questions that continue to challenge.
Setting the stage
The great scourge of the post-modern era is that people believe that what they see is all there is to reality. They subscribe to the myth of objectivity and materialism. People are of the belief there is a world out there, independent of them that can be fully understood, given enough time and expertise. This belief is embodied within the scientific method of empiricism or the idea that all natural phenomena have a rational explanation. The empirical method is considered the touchstone for determining objective material reality – what is real or not real. Consistent with and emerging out of the empirical method is the Newtonian scientific paradigm for understanding objective reality. This model has become deeply embedded in the human psyche and functions as one of the archetypal myths for identifying and understanding reality.
The Newtonian Model
The Newtonian model suggests that what we encounter and identify through the senses and assume to be real, is real. If something is observable as a solid object in space, then, we generally agree that it is there as an external reality, separate from us. We also generally agree that all objects in space are subject to particular laws of the physical world that are indisputable. These laws are governed by time and space and exist as absolute entities within this model. Consequently, when operating from the perspective of Newtonian Physics one can feel confident in predicting that certain events will occur in a certain way. It promises a level of certainty.
The Quantum Model
The new science of Quantum Physics tells a different story about what is real however, and is a departure from the Newtonian paradigm of absolute time and space. It suggests the entire material universe, all that appears to have solidity, is largely comprised of empty space; that includes solid material objects like us. The human body consists of millions of atoms that are largely empty of solid matter. Each atom that combines with other atoms to make the molecules and cells of our bodies is largely empty space according to this model. To draw an analogy, if you were the nucleus of each atom in your body and the electron was a soccer ball circling you, it would be doing so approximately fifty kilometres away. In between you and the soccer ball would be empty space.
This scientific observation, regarding the lack of solidity in material objects, puts a new spin on the colloquialism: “Seeing is believing.” The perception of solidity is a belief therefore, rather than a fact as it is not directly supported by empirical evidence. One does not literally view reality as some pixelated image belying an absence of solidity; paradoxically, one could argue that the Newtonian Model requires the assent of faith. People have been conditioned to trust their perceptions so absolutely that what they are seeing every day, the world of material forms, is deemed reality in its entirety.
Many subscribe to the so called aphorism that if you cannot see and touch it, then it is not real. However, perception does not register the following fact: solidity is truly an illusion of the senses. The material world is more akin to a holographic projection rather than to anything substantial. Due to a notion of the world being a combination of empty space and solid objects, the idea of separation between objects in space has evolved alongside of it. In similar fashion, the idea of empty space and separation being an observable reality has been elevated to the status of ‘fact’.
Space and separation
Objects or ‘things’ in the world are perceived by the senses as there. We see a mountain and consider it is truly there. We see it because the space around it allows it to be seen. The mind then concludes this mountain to be separate from me; the mountain and I exist and this separateness is validated by the empty space observable between us. The mind further differentiates external reality and makes particular judgments about the ‘things’ identifiable within empty space. It creates a hierarchy of importance in reference to the vast array of objects present in the field of human consciousness. Similar to the paradigm of the great chain of being, prevalent in the Elizabethan era, we derive a special sense of identity and importance relative to other objects.
Humans, naturally, are placed at the top of the hierarchical pyramid followed by the animals. Below the animals are plants; below the plants are rocks and so on. Furthermore, this perception of separate objects in space simultaneously spawns the notion of time. Because of space and the distance between objects, time is elevated to the status of ‘fact’. Time is required for an object or ‘thing’ to move through space from one place or location to another. Hence, time and space are judged as inextricably linked.
Reason tells us it takes time to move from one point to another point, from one object to another object. In travelling from where I am standing to a mountain in the distance, for example, it will take possibly two hours of driving to arrive there. Hence, space and time appear to exist as conditions of human experience and are equated with the very structure of reality. The mind assumes that space and time are indisputable truths. Based upon assumptions of separation and time constituting the very fabric of reality, mind then constructs a picture of the world. Mind paints a picture on this fabric and calls it reality. This picture will usually incorporate a personal life story built upon these assumptions.
What the mind forgets or fails to see however, is that the world itself is simply a construction of the mind – a point of view. In truth, one could posit that the world is literally different for every person who perceives it. The world, as each person experiences it, is literally born with each individual and will die with each individual. If we were to think of our earliest memory before we were born, we could not do so. The world literally did not exist for us until we were born and it will surely end when we die. The world, one could say, is a mental construct. The Hollywood blockbuster film: “The Matrix” exploited this concept to great effect, further enriching our appreciation of it.
The world exists for us only when the senses and mind are directed towards it. Conversely, it ceases to exist when the senses and the mind are no longer engaged with it. During deep sleep, for example, we do not experience the world as such because the senses are not active and directly engaged with its external stimuli. Can you prove the world is real while you are in a deep sleep? Of course not; after you wake up other people might tell you that the world existed while you were sleeping but can you prove that these people existed while you were asleep? (Sasson, 2012). In addition and quite ironically, when asleep our dreams can take on the feel of reality in a manner that can be disarming. We may awake from a dream, for instance, with the sense that the dream was just as real as what we would normally experience in the conscious state. We were being chased in our dream and suddenly awake to find ourselves lathered in sweat, our heart racing and our legs tired. It would appear the mind does not easily distinguish between thoughts about reality and reality itself. And what is a dream anyway but a collection of thoughts and ideas about the world as we know it.
The world, then, could be defined as a set of human ideas. These ideas are based upon particular stimuli processed by the brain and reflected in the mind as thought, rather than an autonomous reality separate from us. The stimuli may be external to us or it may be from within us, arising from the sub-conscious. While socio-culturally we may agree on certain ‘things’ as being objectively true or real in the world, in order to facilitate effective communication and meaningful activity, there are many ‘things’ that we as human beings do not agree on. Therefore, the world does not stand as something wholly objective and independent of those who talk about it.
Linguistically, if one looks at the origin of the word ‘world’ it becomes apparent that it is derived from the Old English compound weor-old. The first part of the compound, weor means ‘man’ while old denotes ‘age’ or ‘era’. Understood etymologically, world is the era of man. Strictly speaking, there is no world apart from man or humankind (Macquarrie, 1986, p.79). The world arises within the human person. It is generated by sensory perceptions or information received from outside. This sensory information is interpreted and shaped into pictures by the brain on the inside. These seemingly random pieces of information are organised and configured by the thinking mind to construct a more complete world picture. Scientists have discovered that the initial information that our senses receive is largely disorganised and fuzzy. Only when the brain neurologically processes and organises this information does it resemble some sort of world picture. Consequently, this world picture, created by the thinking mind, places me, the thinker, at the centre of this world.
Psychologists suggest that personal identity emerges the more one identifies with the thoughts attached to these pictures. Freud identified three parts to the psychic apparatus constituting the foundation of personal identity. These are the id, ego and super-ego. He also identified that all three parts are functions of the mind and are conditioned by the world in which we find ourselves (Snowden, 2006, pp.105-107). However, he distinguished between mind and brain and did not identify any necessary neural connection between this psychic apparatus and the brain. Psychology has subsequently built on this model with people such as Jung and Berne, Skinner and Maslow putting their own spin on it. They have largely identified that the reality of the world, as we experience it, has more to do with perception rather than with any objective entity outside of the individual. In addition, many psychological theories tend to conflate the three parts of Freud’s model into one overarching element, simply referring to the ‘ego’ or the mind-created self.
Hence, personal identity resides more in what one thinks than in what actually is. Importantly though and in contrast to Freud, present day psychology is seeing a definite connection between mind and brain, that the two mirror each other neurologically. Consequently, personal identity or who we think we are forms the personal narrative or story of me and this story is wired into the brain as specific neural networks. This personal narrative then, gives birth to the ego or mind-based self and becomes for many, the pivotal reference point for how one functions in the world. Furthermore, scientists will tell us that the data we receive through the senses is not a direct experience of the external world but a secondary one.
Data received through the senses is processed via neural pathways and then organised by the brain into some sort of world picture. The picture of the world we think we are seeing with our eyes we are really seeing in a far corner of our brain; the sounds we think we are hearing out there are really being heard in the recesses of the brain. The picture and the sounds are secondary to the data and are a neurological interpretation of it, not an objective and direct experience of it.
Studies of the human brain and how it processes external reality reveal that various stimuli we engage, via the senses, are largely random and disconnected, without sequence or order. This is similar to a film one may watch on the television. A movie scene, from a certain perspective, is simply a chain of disconnected still photographs, that when played in sequence, create the illusion of movement. It is the human brain processing these still frames and assigning them order and meaning that creates this illusion. Similarly, it is the meaning attached to particular stimuli in the external world that endow random sensory information with some sense of order and meaning. This order is the world as it arises in each of us while the meanings attached become the personal story within the world.
The mind assigns to the numerous stimuli constituting this world, particular meanings. Meanings attached to these external stimuli, registered by the brain as mental pictures, collaborate to form the personal story and so, my-story begins to emerge and take shape within the world. As we are social creatures our personal story does not exist in isolation. My particular story will then merge with other human stories to become a larger tapestry of many stories – a shared human narrative. This shared human narrative may manifest within such categories as National Identity, Culture, and Religion or Political Ideology to name but a few.
Ideology – a shared human story
Within this tapestry of many stories some will compete for recognition and fulfilment. Some national identities, countries, may go to war, political parties will compete for power and ascendancy and some religious identities may claim to be more correct than others. Ideology is the enemy of truth but on the level of mind the two are considered one and the same. On the level of the personal story I may identify with a particular ideology and this will inform how I operate in the world.
If I subscribe to the Darwinian idea of competition for resources and survival of the fittest, then I will compete with another person for a job or career opportunity or for recognition and honour. Furthermore, I may ask myself the following questions: “Will my story be more successful than another’s and will it have a happy ending? Will my particular story prove to be a flop, a B Grade movie, or will it win me an Oscar in the tragic comic-drama that is life?” Who knows, it is up to me to make it something, or so the mind says.
The deeper truth is humankind, rather than being a patchwork of random stories unfolding simultaneously, is part of a larger whole; it is a whole that transcends both the personal and collective stories we may identify with. While on the level of mind or thought we may appear as individuals living out our separate lives, each life telling a different story within the context of a larger human story, beneath this appearance of difference and separation we are all profoundly interconnected. In fact, the reality is we are not separate at all and the ‘story’ that the mind has created is ultimately an illusion. Quantum Physics suggests all ‘things’ are emanations of energy from a deeper place of being; we are ultimately vibrations of energy rippling forth from a field that some physicists describe as a field of pure potentiality. Recent studies of the human brain and how it functions seems to support this substantively.
The human brain
The human brain consists of four key sections: the Neo-cortex, the Mid-brain, the Cerebellum and the Brain-stem. Studies reveal that the Neo-cortex is largely the centre responsible for our conscious life – self-awareness, thoughts, behaviour and feelings. This is the place of subjective consciousness and is responsible for the development of a personal sense of identity in the world. It is the place where the personal story is born; subjective consciousness is the source of you and me – the one with a particular history and a projected future. Other parts of the brain operate on a subconscious level and could be called the source of objective consciousness. This controls, on the level of body, many involuntary functions such as the systems that control our heart, pump our blood and digest our food, regenerate cells and organise our DNA.
Figure 1. An example of the human brain. Retrieved May 25, 2013, from http://www.google.com.au/search?q=human+brain+images&rls=com.microsoft:en-au:IE-.
In addition to maintaining the many physical systems of the body, according to Quantum Physics, there is evidence objective consciousness is also connected to a deeper source outside of the brain. Consequently, objective consciousness transcends the personal; it transcends the story of me and ultimately, transcends me. This set of subconscious brain functions has its provenance in some mysterious field of potentiality. This field and our connection with it is a universal and fundamental aspect of every human being. It is what gives life to all things and is a real intelligence underlying existence, with quantifiable energy or force; it is innate to all ‘things’. This intelligence could be called the “Zero Point Field”, the Source of all ‘things’ It is the Source of consciousness responsible for collapsing the quantum field, the formless and super-position of all possibilities, into a specific physical form or single possibility (Dispenza, 2007, pp.68-69). It is the creative power giving rise to all that exists.
Monotheistic religion calls this creative power, the source of objective consciousness, the infinite and eternal God. Therefore, irrespective of any individual sense of self, according to the lights of science and religion there is ultimately a creative source giving rise to the physical order. It could be said that all of existence ultimately, is vibrations of energy, projections of divine consciousness, arising from a deeper reality and appearing as form. From one perspective then, we allow divine consciousness to express itself in each of us; every person is, therefore, an expression of one of an infinite number of possibilities collapsing into existence as you and me. We are manifestations of the divine source choosing to be some ‘thing’ rather than no ‘thing’.
Divine consciousness, which is no ‘thing’ in the world, becomes, in each ‘thing’ that exists and that has form, some ‘thing’ quite particular in the world. Unfortunately, as the human mind, the brain in action, has grown and evolved to be capable of great ‘things’, great inventions and colossal achievements, this same mind has lost contact with its very source. The Neo-cortex or source of subjective consciousness has lost contact with the Mid-brain, Cerebellum and Brain-stem or source of objective consciousness. As the mind has become so engrossed in identifying with ‘things’ in the world in order to better understand and manipulate the natural order, it has become disconnected from its very source. The mind has taken control in order to facilitate a greater expression of life by manifesting new ‘things’ (the primary function of mind) but has forgotten what gave rise to it. The source of mind is the un-manifested, the singular and indivisible whole that is Life in its fullness, underlying all, within all and giving rise to all ‘things’
Who we are
This book is a reminder that each person is not primarily, their mind but an expression of the whole. The energy that infuses and gives shape to the ‘human story’ now needs to return to its source in order to reclaim itself from an ego driven global culture. The energy that we embody and are needs to rediscover its true identity as the formless. Ultimately, the heart of humankind is not identifiable with the story of who we ‘think’ we are in the world, our existence , but rather, it is identifiable with who we truly are – that which gives rise to the world, the essence of all that is.
Essentially, humankind is not identifiable with the action or drama taking place on the stage of human history but with Life, that which makes the drama possible. We are, in the final analysis, the un-created at our source; the no ‘thing’ that gives rise to every ‘thing’. There is a poignant verse from the “Tao Te Ching” that captures this truth beautifully:
Thirty spokes are joined together in a wheel,
But it is the centre hole that allows the
Wheel to function.
We mould clay into a pot,
But it is the emptiness inside that makes the pot useful.
We fashion wood for a house,
But it is the emptiness inside that makes it liveable.
We work with the substantial,
But the emptiness is what we use
(Tzu, 2009, p.37).
The following insights do not pretend to be a set of possible answers to a series of metaphysical questions that cannot be answered conclusively. The thoughts expressed in the following pages are just that, thoughts. Instead, when you read, do so as if it were a meditation on life, a conversation with a number of helpful ideas – thought forms – that may function to point you in the right direction. Thought forms drawn from philosophy, psychology, religion and science only serve to enrich our understanding of reality if seen for what they truly are – pointers to divine consciousness or the God reality and not explanations.
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