Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Gods of Eden - Ch.16

Messiahs and Means

IN A GLOBAL civilization such as ours where spiritual knowledge and freedom appear to have been tampered with, there would obviously be a place for someone to develop a useful and understandable body of knowledge about the spirit and the spirit's relationship to the universe. Because verifiable spiritual phenomena seem to be consistent from person to person, and from time to time, it is probable that all spiritual realities are rooted in consistent laws and axioms, just like astronomy or physics. If someone were to discover and methodically outline those laws and axioms, he or she would be doing a great service. Such discoveries could open up a whole new science. Would a person who did this be a "messiah"?

Promises of a "messiah" have been put forth by a great many religions, both maverick and Custodial. The word "messiah" has had several meanings, from simply "teacher" to "liberator." A "messiah" could be anyone from a person who develops a successful science of the spirit to someone who is actually able to spiritually liberate the human race.

Throughout history, there have been thousands of people claiming to be a "messiah," or they have been given the label by others even if they did not claim it themselves. Such messianic claims are usually based upon prophecies recorded earlier in history, such as the Buddhist Mettaya legend, the "Second Coming" prophecy of the Book of Revelation, the apocalyptic teachings of Zoroaster, or the Hebrew prophecies. Many people look at all messianic claims with outright skepticism; others become avid followers of a leader whom they believe to be the fulfillment of a religious prophecy. This raises the question: has there ever been, or will there ever be, a genuine messiah? How would one identify such a person?

Anyone who successfully develops a functional science of the spirit would obviously have a legitimate claim to the title of "messiah" in the "teacher" sense. There is nothing mystical or apocalyptic about this: a person makes some discoveries and shares them. If this knowledge becomes widely known and results in widespread spiritual salvation, then we enter the realm of the "liberator" or "prophesized messiah." How do we identify such a liberator when there exist so many different prophecies with so many ways to interpret them?

The answer is simple: The would-be liberator must succeed. That person must earn the title; it is not God-given.

This is a terribly cold and uncompromising way of looking at it. It strips away the magic and mysticism normally associated with messianic prophecy. It forces any person who would claim the title of messiah to actually bring about peace and spiritual salvation, because such a prophecy is not going to be fulfilled unless someone causes it happen. This compels the would-be liberator to fully overcome the overwhelming obstacles which act against these universal goals. This is one of the most unenviable tasks that any person could ever hope to undertake. We need only look at past "liberators" to appreciate the long hard road that such a person must travel. To date, no one has succeeded, but it is certainly a challenge worthy of the best talent.

When most people envision a messiah, they see a person dressed in spotless white who thinks, speaks and behaves in the saintliest of manner. This may be the wrong image to look for in determining whether or not someone has made the discoveries necessary to achieve spiritual salvation. Developing a successful spiritual science would be no different than developing a successful science of aeronautics: the key scientists may not all be saints – some of them may even be people you would not invite into your home – but their airplanes fly. It is an irony that important discoveries are often made by unsavory personalities. Witness, for example, the Scandinavian vikings who charted vast unknown regions but plundered as they went.

It follows that a person who might discover a route to spiritual salvation may not be a saint. In fact, it is more likely that such an individual would exhibit as many character flaws as any other person. The test to determine if a route to spiritual recovery has been developed is not the personality of the discoverer: the test is whether that route truly and clearly brings about spiritual recovery on others.

There is an idea that proclaiming someone a prophesized messiah is enough to make it true. The logic behind this is that if everyone rallies around a single religious leader, harmony and world peace would automatically result. Such a plan sounds good, but history has clearly shown that it does not work. Even followers of the same religious leader are easily split apart into factions. Witness the Christians and Moslems.

Religion ultimately addresses the survival of the individual spiritual being and, as we shall discuss near the end of this book, the possible survival of the Supreme Being of some sort. It is therefore easy for people to become quite zealous about religion. There is nothing wrong with that zealousness as long as it is guided by compassion and good sense. We have already seen how several religions initially rooted in very humanitarian ideals had betrayed those ideals and became tyrannies far worse than any tyrannies the religions had opposed. This usually happens when religious adherents believe that the means used to achieve an altruistic goal will always be justified as long as the goal is attained. Their logic seems sensible enough, but is it?

It is an unfortunate fact of life that the means will always shape the ends. No matter how noble an end may be, the final result will always resemble the means used to attain it. It is in this way that some of the most stellar goals can create some of the most oppressive and deadly institutions. A frequent character in literature is the altruistic individual who gradually becomes just like the evils he is fighting because he uses the same means that the enemy is using. This results in our finally not being able to tell the difference between an “altruist” and his opponent. We frequently see this phenomenon occur on a larger scale involving organizations and governments.

To judge an individual or organization, therefore, one must do more than merely consider its professed goal or aim. One must also scrutinize the actual day-to-day means being used to reach the goal. No matter how sincere the individuals are, what they eventually create will be determined greatly by the means they are using. Interestingly, a group with less lofty aims can sometimes achieve far more good, even more than its own members may have intended, if it is employing honest, constructive means to attaining its purposes.

As we can see, an organization which justifies killing, defamation, and Machiavellian manipulations to gain influence and defeat opponents in the name of a higher goal is creating a world in which killing, defamation and turmoil are taking place. On the other hand, a person who believes in always telling the truth so that her knitting club will be respected is creating a world in which truth is being told. Ultimately, the best of all worlds combines a lofty goal with lofty means to attain it since the accomplishment of a goal usually requires a conscious effort to achieve it. Second to that, noble means to a lesser goal will benefit the world far more than disreputable means to a higher goal.

- pages 168-171, The Gods of Eden, by William Bramley (need pages 170-171)

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