The most central image, metaphor and symbol in Christianity is the crucifixion of Jesus. The sign of the cross is ubiquitous in contemporary Western civilization, but what does it really symbolize? What meaning are we meant to derive from it, and how might it be understood and utilized in a way that is vivifying and spirit-strengthening? In this concluding examination of Timothy Ashworth's Paul's Necessary Sin - The Experience of Liberation, we examine the crucifixion in its relation to the death of sin, what Paul the Apostle found so compelling about it, and why he spent the rest of life trying to convey its significance to those he was in contact with.

This week on MindMatters we discuss these allegorical themes which have had the lasting power to affect the lives of many - over many centuries. We will also look at how some of these ideas have been carried over in the work of G.I. Gurdjieff, and how the exposure of humanity to its true, but potentially changeable condition, can be seen, known and addressed.

Books discussed: The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ by Fleming Rutledge

Running Time: 01:05:55

Download: MP3 — 60.4 MB

Here's the transcript of the show:

Corey: Welcome back to mind matters everybody. On today's show we're going to be continuing a three-part discussion that we've been having on Christianity, specifically Pauline Christianity. On today's show we are going to be discussing the crucifixion and the importance and the central place it has in Pauline Christianity and also maybe we'll be discussing a little bit about how modern Christianity seems to be lacking a major focus on the crucifixion. I've been reading a book called The Crucifixion - Understanding The Death Of Jesus Christ by the author Flemming Rutledge. She's a scholar and a theologian. I believe she is also practicing in one of the denominations but I can't remember which one it was off the top of my head.

But she discusses the fact that in modern America, in the West really in general, there has been a reticence to focus on the crucifixion in favor of of a more positive attitude, more of a glory-driven focus on Christianity and the redemption and resurrection of Christ and a neglect of the real horror of the crucifixion and the crucifix and what it stood for and why Paul would have to say - which letter was it where he writes about how about he wasn't ashamed of Christ? Harrison?

Harrison: I can't remember. Either Corinthians or Galatians I think.

Corey: Yeah. So in either Corinthians or Galatians he writes about how he's not ashamed of Christ and how he felt the need to be adamant about the fact that the crucifixion was an object of shame. It was an object of great and tremendous shame because it was meant to degrade and dehumanize and slowly and brutally murder someone for all passersby to walk by and to spit and to share in the degradation and dehumanization of the individual who was up on the cross, on the crucifix.

This became the central image, such an irreligious image but such a central image, to Christianity that it shocked many of the more noble and the intelligentsia of Rome and it was also seen by other religious folk as being just too worldly. But for Paul, the faith of Christ as exemplified by his going to the cross, became something that was such a great and liberating moment for all of humanity that he believed that that faith could change the world and could bring in a new creation.

So today we're going to be discussing how that's possible and what exactly he meant by that and what the crucifix really stands for.

Harrison: There are a few different strands of thought that you can get to in looking at this. One's just the historical perspective and what happened or what didn't happen and then what Paul's perspective was on it and then what it actually meant to Paul and the significance and meaning it might still hold for people today.

If we just start looking back at some of the things that you mentioned Corey, about the actual history, if you look at what crucifixion was and what it meant at the time, it was the way to execute certain criminals, especially rebels. Back then, the Roman Empire was experiencing a problem with rebellions all over the place and specifically in Judea; you had these rebellions popping up and groups of zealous Judeans. If that were happening today they'd be called terrorists. If you think about the Sicarii, the assassin wing of the rebels, they were going around assassinating officials and people that had maybe too good a relationship with the Roman overlords.

So they would be killing Jews and Romans, whoever they could get their knives into. This was something of a problem for the Romans of course. No empire likes seeing rebellions on its borders, even in a backwater place like Judea. So that's the historical background of this. If you actually read Paul's letters, there's not a lot of history in there. In fact some scholars, mostly in recent years, have gotten out of the mental straitjacket of the church dogma that's been so prevalent for hundreds and thousands of years, literally. Some have looked at the texts trying to take off the blinders of the force of all that religious dogma and doctrines that have built up over the years.

When you look at the New Testament, the first books in there are the Gospels. So they read the gospel stories and that's now the foundation that they start from. "Okay, this is what happened" and then you get to Paul's letters and you read them and then everything that you read in Paul's letters is then referred back to the Gospels. But the new approach that a lot of scholars are taking is to actually look at things chronologically because the letters were the first things written. The gospels were written up to a hundred years after the letters.

So when you try to limit yourself just to the letters you say. "Okay, well what does Paul actually say, leaving out all of that other stuff?" It's a mental effort to do that. "Okay, well what does Paul actually say? What are the elements that are in there, totally disregarding everything in the Gospels?"

Then afterwards you come back to the Gospels and say "Okay, well what's the same? What's different?" Then you can look at each gospel in particular and say "What's the difference between each gospel? What can be discerned about the motivations of each writer because things change, details change. Big details change." So there are what you could call different agendas or just different purposes in the writing of all these different texts in the New Testament. But when you look at them chronologically, you can find very interesting things in them and you can consistently interpret Paul's letters, for instance, without any historical events in mind. That's what the Jesus mythicists do, or at least some of them.

So you could look at Paul's letters and conclude that when he's talking about Jesus and the crucifixion, he's actually not talking about any actual historical event. These are kind of mythical in the sense that Paul saw them as real events, but real in some kind of spiritual way. You look at a text like the Ascension of Isaiah which is this apocryphal text that is its own kind of gospel and you have Jesus descending from the highest spheres of heaven into the lower spheres of heaven and that's where he's crucified. He's actually crucified in heaven. He never actually incarnates on earth and dies as a human being. He assumes a human form and then dies essentially in the astral plane.

So those ideas were going around at the time and it looks like Paul probably had those kinds of ideas. Then within a couple of generations - well maybe not even a generation after Paul - you have the Gospel of Mark written which was the first gospel and that entire gospel can be interpreted allegorically. Most, if not all, of the narrative events in it can be seen as essentially - what's the best way to put it? - written in this narrative form taking inspiration from, for instance, the books of Kings in the Old Testament.

You've got the Elijah/Elisha narratives and what you can see Paul doing is taking that story and then rewriting it with different characters and changing the outcomes in certain ways to make a point, which is essentially what the Old Testament writers were doing too. If you look at some of the books in the Old Testament that were written as if they were historical narratives, but were written hundreds of years after the fact, they're writing allegories, using historical things, little tidbits here and there, but often getting the history all mangled.

In the Book of Daniel, I believe, he's writing about all of this Persian history and getting the people mixed up and not really knowing who was who. But they're just characters in the story to make a point. So that's basically what Mark was doing. But once you have that gospel of this story of Jesus that Mark has written as this allegory, then when you just have that story and you don't know that it's an allegory, it's very easy to say, "Okay, well this is the actual history then. Well now I'm going take off from that."

That's essentially what the historical view of Christianity has been ever since; taking these allegorical stories as the basis of history when it looks like it was actually a progression of a more spiritual, almost archetypal approach - but archetypal isn't the best word for it - of dealing with these things in the higher realities and then having this story set on earth to embody those things and then taking the allegories as literal truth and then going with it. But none of that's actually necessary. I think this is one of the stumbling blocks that a lot of modern Christians have. They think that they'll be somehow sinning, doing something wrong, if they...

Elan: Don't take it literally.

Harrison: ...if they don't take it literally, yeah. But you don't have to take it literally. I think it was a few weeks ago we were reading something from Gurdjieff and Gurdjieff said "All of your saints, all of your gods have to die in you and don't worry, your saints won't be offended." Right? Jesus won't be offended if you don't believe in him, if you believe in Jesus in a particular way. That's not how it works. We have freedom on this planet to actually learn something, to learn a whole bunch of things and that necessitates a little bit of doubt in order to gain something out of it. You can totally reject all of your previous beliefs and nothing will be lost because if there was anything good in there, you can find it again and it'll come back to you in a more enriched form than you had previously. So you've got nothing to lose by entertaining doubts about the historicity of Jesus, for instance.

Elan: Well a few things come up as you saying all that Harrison and in your intro Corey, and that is that the literalness of the crucifixion, there was a criticism of the movie The Passion of the Christ which came out a few years ago, made by Mel Gibson where it's just about 40 minutes to an hour of watching Christ get flayed and watching his suffering to the exclusion of any more kind of nuanced or metaphysical, in my opinion, truths that were trying to be conveyed in these allegorical stories, as you put it.

In the past couple of weeks, we've made mention of the crucifixion of the heart, the circumcision of the heart, where all of these religious truths are being experienced, conveyed on an emotional, psychological and visceral level ideally, where they're ideas, where they are no less valid because they're ideas that don't necessarily have this one-to-one component with physical reality per se.

It seems to me that when a film or a piece of writing or analysis gets too hung up not on the symbolism or the metaphorical significance of an event such as the crucifixion, it loses sight of the meaning that's inherent in such a representation, in such an act.

Harrison: Well I wanted to make one comment on that. I want to go back to the mythicists. In the Bible studies camps you have two opposing views, generally. You don't really find anyone in the middle. You've got the hard core believers who take everything literally. Within that group, bordering on that group, you've got the more scholarly approach. These are the Christians who usually teach at universities, actually get PhDs from pretty well-respected - well I wouldn't necessarily say well respected universities - but kind of more secular universities, but that have their own theology departments and are well-respected among the wider community as opposed to just the Bible schools. And those scholars will be a bit more open to questioning the total literal interpretation of everything.

So you get some nuance there, but they're still in the kind of true believer camp. Then you get the hard core atheist, anti-religion people on the other side. Most of the mythicists, I'll just say a lot of them, are in that camp, in that atheist, anti-religion camp. So if you read some of these guys, it's very clear from their writings what their agenda is. But you can be in the middle of those groups. In fact, I think that's the best place to be, to not get caught up on either side of that equation because each do have their agenda and each are pretty much idiots in their own ways.

So the weird thing about the mythicists tradition is that you've got all these atheists arguing that Paul was essentially a mythicist, well not a mythicist, but Paul had this more mythical, spiritual vision of Jesus Christ and yet you don't have very many, if any, people actually believing that these days and they use that as a reason to discount Christianity. But really, if that's true and if you look back, then there were a substantial number of people back then who held this really sincere mythical vision of Jesus Christ and Christianity and you don't have that today.

Now you're either an atheist or you're a literalist, broadly speaking, but it is possible, if the theory is true, if the interpretation is true, to actually be a full, wholehearted religious mythicist to actually think about that in terms of "Oh this actually may be true."

Elan: I'm glad you said that because not being literal about it and being a mythicists or seeing the truth of it, it's not mutually exclusive. You don't have to believe that it literally happened. In other words there can be more truth to this whole event precisely because it happened on another level or it's a representation of some symbolic event that occurred in some metaphysical kind of existence.

Harrison: And that's not even discounting that some things really did happen. We just don't know what those things actually were because there's no actual evidence for it. You can't look at the gospels and Acts and look at them as evidence. Some things in there might be true but we have absolutely no way of verifying it. Some things we know aren't true, for various reasons in looking at the texts and how things changed. But when you look back far enough, there's just this black hole where it's like, "Something might happen but we have no idea what it is." In that case there's still a way of finding meaning. You can find life-changing meaning in this stuff without giving up your critical faculties, without stopping to think, essentially, that those things are still possible and they are possible.

Moving on, maybe we can get into a bit of the actual crucifixion because the story that Paul presents is very simple. There's no passion narrative. You can sum it up in 'Jesus took the form of a man, was crucified, died and rose again. He was raised by the power of spirit, the power of God.' Within that little nutshell there's all kinds of things that grow out of it.

But that's really what the story comes down to, very simple. The way that Ashworth brings out the nuance in all of that is that for Paul, faith was an important concept. But that's just a word right now. When you're approaching things like a newborn with a blank slate, "Okay, well there's this thing faith. Well what is faith?" You have to read Paul to understand what he means by faith. The primary example that he gives is Abraham in the Old Testament. The things that Paul focuses on are that Abraham had total trust in the word of god that he received, despite any kind of contradiction because here is Abraham, a 100-year-old dude who's promised that his progeny will be the fathers of many nations and his wife's 90 years old or something. Then she miraculously gives birth and has a child and now God says, "Okay, now you've got to sacrifice your firstborn son." Well okay, how does that mesh with me already being 100, I had that one chance with this one kid. What am I going to do?"

But in the story, Abraham has such faith despite the contradiction that he's willing to sacrifice his own son. And of course god steps in at the last moment and says, "Oh you don't have to do that." But he had that absolute trust even in the face of death, in this case death of his line, death of his son. So Paul says that Abraham had the faith of Jesus Christ and what does that mean?

So what's the faith of Jesus? It's kind of the same thing. For Paul, Jesus had such faith in his father's word and his father's will and message that he willingly went to death. Jesus without sin became sin, became a man, became mortal to fulfill everything essentially, to give his life willingly, going to his death willingly, with such faith that he knows it's the right thing to do but does it anyway, even though he loses himself, even though he will die. And then is raised afterwards.

So the elements of faith is going willingly to death and having this absolute rock steady trust in these higher directions that are given. So those are the aspects of faith. And then for Paul we, as the faithful or the believers, can then share in that faith, have that same faith. But how do we do that? What's the way of getting there? Well for Paul there are a few things.

We mentioned some of the main ideas in the previous shows but one of the big ones is baptism. So in baptism you participate in that death and resurrection. By submerging in the water you are dying. You're being buried. Well you're being drowned but the symbolism is that you're buried. You're sharing in the burial of Jesus and then when you're raised out of the water, that's like your ascension, your resurrection. So you're sharing in that experience.

For Paul it is a baptism of spirit. So there's something that happens and baptism, the actual act of being dipped in some water, is just an external form. For Paul the important thing is receiving what Ashworth calls the first installment or deposit of the spirit. You got this little bit of spirit. You're being baptized in spirit.

You see the same thing in the Gospel of Mark with John the Baptist and Jesus's baptism and how Jesus will baptize with spirit. So there's a connection between this crucifixion, this death that you experience along with Christ. It's like you're participating in this event with him, getting this spirit which has the power to bring life to something dead and then rising up and entering into that new life.

This ties into the whole discussion that we had last week and the week before about the nature of the fall, the nature of sin, because for Paul this is really important, that the nature of humanity is a state of deadness, is death itself, mortality. So this crucifixion, this whole thing is a way of spirit coming into something that is dead in order to bring life to it. It's like receiving this finer higher energy that then vivifies or revivifies the body and brings it to life, putting it into a new state, something that it hadn't been in before.

Ashworth describes all of these ideas like the arch in a cathedral. In a cathedral all of the stones are important. They all support each other to make this structure so you can't really look at one individual aspect without looking at all of them at the same time, because they all fit together to make this more complex picture.

To go off in a slightly different direction, one more of these stones making up this arch is that for Paul there is something extremely significant and important specifically about Jesus Christ's crucifixion. It is what allows something brand new to enter the world. So until that time, for him the law was necessary. There was this childhood of mankind where there was no possibility of redemption, or at least there was always the possibility, but it was more of like a thing in destiny, in the future, something that would happen. But for all that time there was no Jesus so there was no real possibility in the sense of it actually being able to happen at that time until that moment in time of the actual crucifixion. The way that Paul puts it is that Jesus became sin.

So you have this being with no sin who literally, in some sense, becomes sin. So what does that mean? Well you can look at it in a number of ways. You can say, okay well Jesus became mortal, became human in some way, entered into the state of humanity and then by becoming the representation or the nature of sin itself, even though he's this sinless being, by then going to death willingly, sin dies when Jesus dies because Jesus has become sin.

So sin is killed in the crucifixion. This is kind of the trick that God played on the demons and the powers. They didn't realize what was going on, that by allowing the crucifixion to happen and even engaging in the crucifixion because in the ascension of Isaiah for instance it's the demons, it's the powers that crucified Jesus Christ, it's not the Jews like in the Gospels, that by doing it they're kind of signing their own death warrant because they're actually fulfilling God's purpose when they think that they're at war with God by killing this individual.

So by becoming sin and then dying as sin, sin is actually the thing being killed. Death is the thing being killed. So it's this cool, weird reversal of expectations where this being, this figure, is willingly going to his own death and then by dying he's killing all the bad stuff with him. So that event, whatever its nature, for Paul is this energizing event. It gives the energy and the power necessary for that then to be experienced by potentially everyone. So what previously wasn't possible and feasible within the sphere of humanity, now becomes possible.

There are a couple ways of looking at that too. I kind of think of more mundane examples, like the hundredth monkeys syndrome. I might have used this analogy before. If you imagine a fairy tale type land where there's a settlement of humans that are living in the midst of this vast wilderness, right? There might be a mountain or a giant forest. But no one knows what's on the other side of the forest. It takes one person to make that journey, to travel through the forest, to battle all the monsters and wild animals and all of the natural blockages and obstacles to get there, in order to create the path that will then be followed by anyone else. Before then there's no real possibility of doing it because no one's done it before or no one has done it successfully.

So there's no possibility for anyone in that settlement, in that village to actually do it on by themselves. But that first trailblazer, by actually doing it, then makes it possible for others. Here's the path. Avoid that monster there. Go here. Turn there. Rest for a day here. And then he goes and finds some wonderful thing and he brings it back. That's the way I see the crucifixion. One person had to do it first in order to set the model for everyone else and for Paul, that was Jesus Christ. But it was more than just that for Paul. This was a cosmos-shaking event.

There's a mystery there for me too that I haven't grasped the full significance of. I just know that it was that significant for Paul. For Paul, that killing of sin in Jesus in the crucifixion actually did kill sin in some sense, in everyone else because he says something like, "Christ died in our place". The therefore there is that all died in some real sense. So the way Ashworth presents that is that the identification was too strong. The sin in humanity was too strong. We were so identified with the physical separateness that results in all this selfishness, self-importance and egoism, that it's just too strong to see on our own. We can't see that. We need a mirror held up to present that image of ourselves to us before we see its significance and until that time, until that crucifixion event, that just wasn't possible. What that crucifixion did was give us that little bit of energy, that little bit of power to then see it for ourselves and to then actually participate in that crucifixion so that that event would play itself out in us too.

The way that Paul presents that playing itself out in us is that our old, selfish self dies. That's what's crucified and then the new life that is born is our new perspective, our new self perception and then our new way of living. That new way of living that's associated and comes out of this new self perception that is the result of the crucifixion, is a totally different state of being than the previous state of being, being the state of deadness that humanity finds itself in.

So there's something powerful for Paul about that event that makes it possible then for everyone else to actually experience that transformation for themselves.

Elan: That's pretty much what I wanted to underline in some of what you were saying Harrison because he was talking to all of these groups. He was writing his letters. He was meeting with all of them, and there had to have been something in what he was saying both in person and in his letters that was compelling enough that it did in fact have some kind of inner transformational effect on people such that now, 2,000 years later, we're still reading about it and thinking on it. It's one of the world's greatest religions.

Now some things may have been twisted and malformed in its propagation over the centuries. At the same time, you can't help but think that by sheer strength of his personality, character and conviction and the energy that he put behind his words to people, that it did transmit some kind of powerful effect such that his words were carried on and shared to a much greater extent.

Corey: Well I just want to talk briefly about the issue of time here because we're dealing with stories that are so darn old. The Genesis account that Paul bases his theory of the divine history of humanity, that Genesis account goes back how many thousands of years from what we'd read in the origins of the world mythologies? Was it 40 or 50 thousand year old tales that were similar?

Harrison: Yeah or older.

Corey: So it's easy to say, "Well I don't believe in Jehovah" or "It doesn't make sense to me that Jehovah would sacrifice his son." But it goes back to what you were discussing Harrison, this other level of being able to understand the material, understanding it in like a symbolic, allegorical and also potentially purely spiritual kind of way, that he had this experience and in some way it's connected to stories that we have been telling ourselves about this cosmic drama that humanity has been on for years and years and explaining why we find ourselves in a condition that is so blind to reality, so selfish, so self-seeking and continually degrading ourselves and our environment.

What can be done to change the state of being that we all have in order to arrive at some place at some other time that has also been promised in various myths and stories, where we can be whole, communal again, real. In some way more real, have more of an impact, be more effective in reality than these worldly, flesh-oriented types of pursuits that continue to get us into trouble over and over again. We're so good at ignoring the stories that we've been told and the warnings that we've been given over millennia and millennia and millennia. There's the rise one Empire fall of another.

These stories seem to take different guises but for Paul, what's really intriguing about this event is that it seems like it's a new chapter in this story and that's how it's presented in Christianity and that's how Paul presents it, as another chapter in this Judaic tradition which is actually part of an even longer and bigger tradition. There was something in Christ's crucifixion that gave humanity a new ability, some new way of dealing with the ravages of time and the ravages of earthly existence that nobody could have found on their own.

There was something divine, some divine spark in an individual or in Paul, or in a historical individual that inspired Paul, that was transmitted to humanity. It was Paul's mission to transmit that information. So I wonder, when you use examples like Abraham preparing to sacrifice his son, my very first thought is "Ugggghhh!"

Harrison: Yeah. {laughter}

Corey: "Oh no! I don't like that kind of obedience." That kind of obedience is strange to modern years. But there's something to be said about conscience, about something higher within the individual that is a little bit closer to the divine than whatever our whims are at the moment, that there's something that people have, some kind of connection to the divine that is like a hint of what is right or what is wrong or what you should be doing in life versus what is currently there and some divine impulse to be that is easily thwarted by our desire to not be because it's so much easier to just to go along with the state of the world. Which is why I found it interesting, the reactions towards crucifixion by the Roman elite. It wasn't really talked about because it was such an ugly thing to talk about in polite company, like today's modern intelligentsia. "We don't talk about torture. We don't talk about those filthy things that go on in the shadows." It's just something that you don't want to talk about.

But here it is at the center of this new religion, almost as a way of bringing God out of the hands of so many individuals who just desire earthly glory, people who want to have the nice priestly hats. It took God out of that realm and it brought it into the material world in the form of a man that anybody could empathize with.

That's another big thing. Throughout history clearly there have been worse things done to people than that crucifixion. But it's the symbol of what it is, everyone knows that this is the weight of sin and darkness in the world. That's the weight of sin and darkness that weighs on each and every one of us and that there is redemption, if it's done correctly.

Do you know what I'm saying? If you have that faith, there is a resurrection. This bodily existence is not going to last forever. There is a promise for you now. This is the way. Now if you follow this way, if you follow this conscience then you can move from the world of darkness and fleshly delights and you can move into a world of meaning like these early Christian communities. To me it's very fascinating. It sounds like a cosmic battle as relayed throughout time, all of these different stories that we just can't seem to get away from.

I still find this very intriguing and very interesting and hard to kind of wrap my head around but I find it really heartening too at the same time. I think there's a lot of significance still there that we haven't mined yet and we haven't really plumbed the depths of, the Christian message, even in the 21st century.

Harrison: There's a lot in there that I want to respond with. I think I'll limit it to maybe two or three. One is this theme of the reversal of things in Paul and in Christianity. For Paul, one of the ways he phrased it is that in order to become wise we have to become fools. Adam and Eve desired wisdom and became fools. Humanity desired wisdom, thought themselves wise and became fools instead. Then from the other perspective, the people who are truly wise are perceived as fools by the rest of the world.

So for Paul, the society in which he lived and the state of humanity is such that it glorifies certain things like strength, power, in our world today intelligence, competence on a very basic level. We glorify that. We worship it. But these things were all totally unimportant to Paul. Also this religious status thing. In a big organized religion there's a channeling of energy upwards. So you've got the Pope. You've got your priests, your bishops. You've got your rabbis. You've got whatever, your Imams.

There's this energy directed upwards and these are things to be admired and to strive towards, but all of that for Paul is not important. That stuff is all fleshly, human status, human power. The people doing the crucifying are the people that are elevated to positions of power. These are the power possessing beings. But in Christianity that's all reversed. It is in weakness that there is strength. So Paul presents himself as full of bodily weaknesses. He's not a gladiator or engaging in any Greek Olympian games. He's just this guy with some physical problems.

But within that weakness and even with his flaws - for example he says that he's not a very good speaker - within those flaws, what the people respond to is the power of the Spirit speaking through him. There is a power within him, something that is not recognized as powerful by the rest of the world. So it's in weakness that there is power and in worldly foolishness that there is true wisdom. It's the people in the world who are perceived as these intelligent, powerful beings who are actually anything but that, There's that total reversal going on.

Another thing is the idea of the divine spark in everyone. Now last week I read a little portion from Ashworth's book from a quote in first Corinthians. I kind of had a joke about it because Paul says, "But if all prophecy and an unbeliever or outsider enters, his wrongness is exposed by all. He is scrutinized by all. The secrets of his heart are disclosed and so falling on his face, he will worship God and declare God is really among you." So I was kind of joking that that's not very likely to happen. You get this newbie that comes into your church meeting and then you just tell them everything that's wrong with him. What are the chances of falling on their face and saying, "Oh god is with you! You've shown me the truth of my ways!"

I said it as a joke it's but it's not exactly what Paul is talking about. I was trying to think of an example of what that might be and since we've done shows on Gurdjieff recently, that's essentially what Gurdjieff did. You can see that there is a response, there is a range of responses because tons of people in, let's say, Gurdjieff's Russian days, came to hear him talk where he was saying exactly that. He was exposing the - how does he put it? - exposing the secrets of their heart and exposing all these people to scrutiny. But the way he did it to start out with wasn't by identifying everything personally wrong with any individual. He did that too. But he did it by presenting these generalities, just as Paul does, about the nature of humanity.

When you hear an exposition on the nature of humanity and how fundamentally flawed it really is, part of you will respond to that by saying, "Oh, I'm part of that" and if there's that spark in you that recognizes that as being true, even on a little level, then that will be attracted to that information and accept, "Oh you know what? That is true." That can be the first stage, the first step in this transformation process of a radical reappraisal of one's self-perception.

So on that note I wanted to read a little bit from In Search Of The Miraculous on one of the things Gurdjieff said. This is directly related to the conversation we're having about the crucifixion and the resurrection. So Gurdjieff says,

"In relation to what we are speaking of now, (this book of aphorisms that he mentioned) says the following: 'A man may be born but in order to be born he must first die and in order to die he must first awake.' In another place it says, 'When a man awakes he can die. When he dies he can be born.' We must find out what this means, to be awake, to die, to be born. These are three successive stages. If you study the Gospels attentively, you will see that the references are often made to the possibility of being born. Several references are made to the necessity of dying and there are very many references to the nest as a necessity of awakening. 'Watch, for ye know not the day and the hour' and so on. But these three possibilities of man to awake or not to sleep, to die and to be born, are not set down in connection with one another. Nevertheless this is the whole point. If a man dies without having awakened he cannot be born. If a man is born without having died, he may become an immortal thing.

Thus, the fact that he has not died prevents a man from being born. The fact of his not having awakened prevents him from dying. And should he be born without having died, he is prevented from being. We have already spoken enough about the meanings of being born. This relates to the beginning of a new growth of essence, the beginning of the formation of individuality, the beginning of the appearance of one indivisible I."

So I'll stop there for a bit. This all relates directly to Ashworth and what Paul was saying and doing. Paul says that for himself, that before the law he knew no sin. It was because of the law that sin entered into him and when sin entered, 'I died'. So Paul's true I died with the coming of the law and the entering of sin and basically the identification of himself with his separate selfishness, essentially. It's only when that selfishness dies that the true I can emerge or re-emerge.

So there we have this death and being reborn. The selfishness must die in order for the real I, the real conscience, to then be born and the real conscience is essence. That's something in the heart. That's something that has to do with a depth of feeling and a responsivity to the world and the things higher. So we've got that. I want to read a bit more because there's this third factor of becoming awake. So in Paul, this is one of the things that is just kind of hinted at. Like I said last week, it's not like Paul's presenting an instruction manual for transformation. You can't just read Paul and all of a sudden say, "Oh I'm spiritually transformed! I'm a totally new being!" There's more to the process than that.

The process can be found in numerous places and I think Gurdjieff is one of the best places. But this is what Gurdjieff writes now,

"But in order to be able to attain this or at least begin to attain it, a man must die. That is, he must free himself from a thousand petty attachments and identifications which hold him in the position in which he is. He is attached to everything in his life, attached to his imagination, attached to his stupidity, attached even to his sufferings, possibly to his sufferings more than to anything else. He must free himself from this attachment. Attachment to things, identification with things, keep alive a thousand useless i's in man (the letter i, like I am this, I am that). These i's must die in order that the big I may be born.

But how can they be made to die? They do not want to die. It is at this point that the possibility of awakening comes to the rescue. To awaken means to realize one's nothingness, that is to realize one's complete and absolute mechanicalness and one's complete and absolute helplessness and it is not sufficient to realize it philosophically in words. It is necessary to realize it in clear simple and concrete facts, in one's own facts.

When a man begins to know himself a little, he will see in himself many things that are bound to horrify him. So long as a man is not horrified at himself he knows nothing about himself. A man has seen in himself something that horrifies him. He decides to throw it off, stop it, put an end to it. But however many efforts he makes he feels that he cannot do this, that everything remains as it was. Here he will see his impotence his helplessness and his nothingness, or again when he begins to know himself, a man sees that he has nothing that is that is his own, that is, that all that he has regarded as his own, his views, thoughts, convictions, tastes, habits even faults and vices, all these are not his own but have either been formed through imitation or borrowed from somewhere ready-made.

In feeling this a man may feel his nothingness and in feeling his nothingness a man should see himself as he really is, not for a second, not for a moment, but constantly, never forgetting it. This continual consciousness of his nothingness and of his helplessness will eventually give a man the courage to die, that is to die not merely mentally or in his consciousness, but to die in fact and to renounce actually and forever those aspects of himself which are either unnecessary from the point of view of his inner growth, or which hinder it. These aspects are first of all his false I and then all the fantastic ideas about his individuality, will, consciousness, capacity to do, his powers, initiative determination and so on.

But in order to see a thing always, one must first of all see it even only for a second. All new powers and capacities of realization come always in one and the same way. At first they appear in the form of flashes at rare and short moments. Afterwards they appear more often and last longer until finally, after very long work, they become permanent. The same thing applies to awakening. It is impossible to awaken completely all at once. One must first begin to awaken for short moments but one must die all at once and forever after having made a certain effort, having surmounted a certain obstacle, having taken a certain decision from which there is no going back.

This would be difficult, even impossible for a man if it were not for the slow and gradual awakening which precedes it. But there are a thousand things which prevent a man from awakening and which keep him in the power of his dreams. In order to act consciously with the intention of awakening, it is necessary to know the nature of the forces which keep man in the state of sleep."

And so that all relates back to what Paul is saying. Gurdjieff goes into a bit more detail. We've got more of Gurdjieff's writings about the actual examples that can be reflected back to me of my own state of sin, my own death, my own condemnation to mortality. These are all examples that I have to then see in myself. All of these things that I see in myself are the awakening. I have to see them before I can die.

So this is the process that Paul's talking about, presenting like new members of the church or outsiders with this vision of themselves. It's a vision not necessarily at first specifically of all their own flaws, but that will be a necessary part of the process. It's like you have to have the knowledge first. You have to have the awareness of what the reality of the situation is. That can be presented in a lecture like Gurdjieff was doing or in a group talk like Paul and his congregations were doing. Then you start seeing things in yourself. You start seeing glimpses of yourself. You get reflections of yourself as the people who are engaged in this process can then reflect that back to you. You get a vision of who you really are, what you're really like, your hidden motivations, the things that you won't admit to yourself, that you won't admit to others.

Elan: I'm going to interrupt you Harrison because this really comes down to the crux of self work and the difficulty of seeing oneself and being honest with oneself about one's motivations and what one's actions are truly informed by. So we're talking about this from the outside, right? Presumably everyone who's listening to this has more than just an intellectual interest in how this actually works because aside from reading Gurdjieff or going to a church or some kind of religious congregation with some kind of strong, powerful, righteous individual, or going to therapy, what is this experience individually? How do you do it without the interaction of a group of people that you're in touch with who are attempting to be honest and to show you your ways?

All of these ideas have some validity if you've ever experienced it in the attempt to be better, in the attempt to consider how one is living lies in certain ways. But what is that individual experience when one is encountering the truth? Corey, you look like you're ready to bust so please go ahead.

Corey: Crucifixion.

Elan: Crucifixion. And by crucifixion, I don't think you mean buying a two-by-four and having somebody nail you to it.

Corey: No.

Elan: So this is a very painful experience that you consciously decide to have, to be aware of the physical symptoms of the realization, of sitting in the thoughts of the realization, of the honesty of the truth of the matter in regards to oneself. So by that you mean a kind of a symbolic crucifixion of the self, not pinning oneself to the symbolic two-by-four and squirming and not seeking relief, at least right away, is what I think you're getting at, yeah?

Corey: Right. {laughter}

Elan: Okay.

Corey: I agree. I think that was a perfect way to sum up exactly what we've been talking about this whole time. What is that experience that Gurdjieff is talking about and what I'm sure many of our listeners have gone through to some degree or another. It's just seeing yourself for what you are and what you will probably amount to and what you can accomplish in one lifetime and all the things that you've done to other people, all the things you know all of your apathy, your ignorance, your cowardice and so all of the silly things that you let yourself waste your time with when you could be putting your time to better things.

Harrison: And all the excuses you make for yourself.

Corey: And excuses, yes excuses, excuses. It's not like Gurdjieff was saying, it's obviously not an overnight thing, but that there is something at the end of that process. If you follow that through, if you accept that dark night of the soul, if you accept the crucifixion part of being crucified, that there is resurrection at the end of it.

Harrison: Right. There's hope.

Corey: There is hope. There's a light at the end of the tunnel and about 500 billion times out of 500 billion-and-one times, it's just a freight train coming your way. {laughter} But on that last time, there is still hope that you will awaken and that the scales will fall from your eyes and you will understand and you will be present for your own coming to be, coming alive from this dark sleep that you had been in where you were completely oblivious to your own thoughts, your own emotions, your own effect on other people. All of a sudden there's a great gift, right? There's some great gift that's bestowed upon this individual when they're able to see and they are awake.

I don't know what it would be like to be awake, but I still think that really comes down to what we're talking about here. That is the crucifixion and you can't have the resurrection without the crucifixion.

Elan: I would just add - both of you have used the term 'process' a couple of times. While we might have periods of intensity in our lives where an incredibly big, almost monumental lesson or experience has been learned and processed, it doesn't ever end and it would be a mistake to think that having reached some marginally better place with ourselves and in our lives, that that would excuse us from continuing to strive.

So that seems to be one of the things to accept about some of this material, and that is that it really is never ending. The work of self growth and actualization and burning the dross off is an ongoing thing and it needn't all be difficult and painful. I think that with the capacity of experiencing remorse of conscience or consciousness and feeling pain, also makes way for a place of joy within us that can be sincere.

So there may also be a fuller range of experience available to us and this isn't to say that we should seek out suffering, but just that giving it its due...

Harrison: Or we should seek out a certain kind of suffering, for sure.

Elan: Okay well maybe you can be specific about that.

Harrison: As Gurdjieff said, there's useless suffering that people are identified with and addicted to and then there's actual intentional or conscious suffering. Conscious suffering would be engaging in this process. That's one of them. We brought up both faith and hope in what you were saying Corey, about how there's a hope in this thing that people are lacking. People are totally lacking in faith and hope and I think they're lacking that because they lack the knowledge. They lack the theory behind what happens. They don't know that if they respond in a certain way to feedback of themselves, it'll actually have a benefit for them and the people around them.

They don't see the value in having the secrets of their heart exposed to themselves and others. It's painful. It hurts. And so we keep it to ourselves. We don't share. We put up barriers between our own understanding of it and our own seeing of it. You can see this in fights between spouses all the time and in family members and in co-workers where you point something out to someone else and they're just totally rejecting of it. "Oh, that's not true. I'm not like that." Or yourself, you can probably see it in yourself. Someone says something and you respond, "Well I'm not like that!" Well you are, in a lot of cases.

So by presenting an actual picture of the way humanity works, the possibilities inherent in this process, that in itself opens up a place for faith and hope because the faithful response is to have faith in this process, that going through this experience of seeing myself and suffering from it because I don't like the picture that's being presented to me, there is hope. Faith and hope are intimately tied together. There is hope for a better future, that there is light at the end of this tunnel that is a crucifixion in itself and the faith is what gets you through it because "I know that this can happen," and you can know by these little, tiny experiences that build up over time. You get used to it. You get calibrated to it. "Okay, I can see how this works in myself. I've experienced it once before. I can experience it again."

That faith in the process then lets you open yourself up to it to the point where you can seek a form of suffering. Part of that can be things that you do for yourself. You have all of these frustrations and annoyances and those in themselves are kind of useless suffering, and then you can suffer by not fulfilling the response that you want to have. If someone is pissing you off and ordinarily you'd either get in a fistfight or tell them off or do something, you can consciously suffer by observing your own annoyance, observing your own frustration, and then doing the opposite. That will create a lot of friction in you. You won't enjoy it because part of you just really wants to lay into this other guy for being such a douchebag. But that in itself is a part of the conscious suffering.

Another part of the conscious suffering is really looking at yourself in certain situations and the way you act as a douchebag because ordinarily we just want to justify everything we do and make excuses for everything and think we're right you, we're totally justified in acting like this because that other guy's being an asshole. So I'm perfectly justified. Well no, you can stop and you can look at yourself and say, "Actually this isn't a very flattering picture of myself. I have this perception of myself as this great guy that just does great things. Everyone loves me. I've got all these talents, but really when I look in myself I see this aspect of my nothingness. I see that it's not very pretty inside. All the things that I hate in other people and that frustrate and annoy me about other people. are all present in me too. I do those same things."

Elan: It's because I do those same things that I project them onto other people...

Harrison: Right.

Elan: ...without seeing them in myself. So this idea of intentional suffering is this kind of proactive attempt at fighting against all of those habits and mechanical behaviors that keep us habituated to a self-centered, selfish, egotistical, self-gratifying point of view. We're not saying that this is something you can attempt to correct or address in one fell swoop. This is something that takes work and seeing. I'll bring up my analogy with exercise again. You're not going to go into a gym after a workout or two and look like Arnold. {laughter} This takes work. This takes a persistent, consistent, focused, driven, aimed-at, attempt at becoming healthier.

Corey: Yes. And with that, we hope that you enjoyed our series on Christianity. {laughter} We hope that you found new depths to plumb in the Christian faith and the mythos and are going to take something away from all the dots that we've been connecting between Gurdjieff and Christianity and just basic good old common sense. With that, we're going to wrap up today's show and we hope that you will share this on tweeter and space book and like us on YouTube and subscribe. Have a good week everybody and we'll see you next time.