One of my apps on my iPad beeped the other day. I looked at the screen and read the notification – white smoke coming from the Sistine Chapel. No, I had not downloaded an app specifically designed to notify me when a new pope had been chosen. This notification came from my CNN app.
It’s a remarkable testament to our human evolution that the world would notify me of some action on the other side of the planet within moments of it occurring. Yet, I couldn’t help but look on in amazement at the resources and attention being placed upon this decision.
Yes, there are millions of Catholics around the world wondering who their new leader will be. Furthermore, there are millions of non-Catholics wondering if the selection of the new pope would reflect a new evolutionary direction for this ancient religious institution. Early signs and media coverage of the new Pope Francis give hope that the church will move in a more humble and inclusive manner. After all, the new pope took his name from St. Francis of Assisi – one of the most humble and inspiring Christian saints of all history.
Yet I couldn’t help but wonder as I received my iPad notification – where is the real spiritual news? The Pope’s selection was more “religious news”. It detailed the actions of a long powerful religious institution – one that many have looked to no doubt for spiritual guidance… but also one that has served as an intermediary between us and our own spiritual experiences.
Do we really need a human institution to tell us how we might experience a relationship with the divine?
This is a question humans have grappled with for 2000 years.
In the period following Christ’s crucifixion, there were many different groups formed around the teachings of Jesus. There were many teachers and many texts who offered various versions of what we were to take as meaningful from his life and death. One central issue frequently debated among these early followers of Christ were the different views of Jesus’ divinity. This matter had not yet been resolved even after Roman Emperor Constantine had moved to giving Christianity preferential treatment throughout the empire in the fourth century.
Religious scholar Elaine Pagels in her recent book Revelations provides a historical narrative about how politics played an essential role in this controversial book being included in the canon of the Bible. There she describes how Constantine convened the Council of Nicea in June 325 partly to stop the bickering among various clergy on certain issues including the one regarding who Jesus really was.
Pagels writes, “the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, and Luke tend to support the view of Jesus as a human being divinely chosen as God’s Messiah, although they contain hints later used by some Christians to support the claim that the divine Word incarnate in Jesus was essentially the same as God. Those who insisted on the latter view supported their position by drawing primarily upon Paul’s letters and the Gospel of John, although people on both sides used passages from John’s Gospel to argue their views.”
At the Council, bishops supporting the view of the special divinity of Jesus both drove the agenda and drafted the Nicene Creed which supported this outlook. After hearing both sides, Emperor Constantine endorsed the Creed and urged the assembled bishops to accept it. Either out of spiritual belief or political necessity, most (but not all) did. From this point forward, the freedom to hold a different viewpoint within the church was branded as heresy.
There still existed for many years certain Christian groups who read and taught that no intermediary was needed for one to experience what Christ taught. Alternative texts, such as those we now call the Gnostic Gospels, and their teachers emphasized the message of Jesus that “God was within” and that we could tap that inner God-nature. Eventually they were driven into hiding and banished by the church as it coalesced its political power. There was a greater possibility for the church’s control and indoctrination of the masses of people when God was not immediately accessible to them. And for almost two millennium, the Catholic Church has attempted to be that determiner of what is spiritual truth and what is not.
Yet the human will to move beyond the place of needing someone to tell us how to experience God has remained with us throughout those years. Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation followed later by the Enlightenment and the rise of science and reason have diffused the power and authority of the Catholic Church. The first offered alternative Christian spiritual paths (although most still held the belief in the divinity of Jesus) while the second pointed us to the knowledge and wisdom that existed in humans to find ultimate truth. That latter search has included our exploration into whether a true divine power exists or not.
Does God exist? That’s a loaded question. When people ask me if I believe in God, I ask them to define what they mean by “God”? If they mean an external being – the old man sitting on a throne in the sky – then, I tell them no. This old myth of an external God is the one that allows for religious institutions to step in the space between us and the external God so that they may serve as our intermediary. This old myth of an external God is one that can be easily ridiculed by science and reason.
Yet God and our desire for an experience of It persists. With this continuing urge has been the rise of what some have termed “a new myth of God”. There are aspects of scientific findings that support such a new definition of God. This version of God is not an external being. Rather, it exists as a power, an intelligence, a force, an inexpressible something that is embedded within everything – both the world of the seen and the unseen. It is all around us and it is inside us. Through our own consciousness we experience this something. It is the ground of all being. It exists outside of time yet has given rise to the experience of time. It is the Oneness from which we experience in our own way the multiplicity of life.
It is the rising tide of more and more people experiencing their own personal relationship with this Divine without the need for any human organization or dogma serving as intermediary that is the real “spiritual news” . Now if only our iPads would beep with a notification reminding us!
Check out all of Mark Gilbert’s books—available at Amazon. Click here to visit his Author Page. This includes his recent one Our Spiritual Rights and Responsibilities. In this book, he offers what he suggests are the 5 basic rights we all possess by virtue of our being these spiritual beings on planet Earth — and our 2 responsibilities we all hold in relation to one another! Check it out!