The Tao of Christ

Secondhand Religion and Spiritual Awakening

November 30, 2022 Marshall Davis
The Tao of Christ
Secondhand Religion and Spiritual Awakening
Show Notes Transcript

Having been a Christian for all of my adult life and a Baptist pastor for nearly all of that, I can say from firsthand knowledge that the essential difference between Christianity and spiritual awakening is that the first is secondhand religion and the other is direct realization. 

Having been a Christian for all of my adult life and a Baptist pastor for nearly all of that, I can say from firsthand knowledge that the essential difference between Christianity and spiritual awakening is that the first is secondhand religion and the other is direct realization. 

It is ironic because such a distinction between firsthand and secondhand is exactly the type of thing that evangelical Christians say about others. They look down their noses at mainline Protestants, Roman Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox, as well as the many Christian sects. They say that these groups are just about religion, but evangelicals they have a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ and that makes all the difference. Evangelicals are sure they are going to heaven, but they are not so sure about anyone else.

When one wakes up from that egoic mindset, one sees that evangelical Christianity, like all other types of Christianity, is also secondhand religion. Evangelicals talk about their personal faith but even that personal faith is really secondhand religion. They talk about having a personal experience of Christ or the Holy Spirit, but even those experiences are secondhand interpretations. 

The whole thing is a story told by the ego to itself to convince itself that it is real and permanent and that it will live forever as an individual entity in a heavenly kingdom. It is all a fantasy created by the human mind. When one sees through all such stories as fantasies, that is crystal clear. Let me explain further how exactly Christianity is a second religion. 

First it relies on secondhand knowledge found in scripture. Scripture is very important to Christians. Protestants talk about the doctrine of sola scriptura, by which they mean that scripture is their only authority. They are very proud of that. They call the Bible the Word of God and use terms like inerrant and infallible to describe it. They do not realize that this idea is itself secondhand religious tradition. The Bible never says such things about itself.

They have committed bibliolatry, which is a form of idolatry. Their unexamined assumption that the Bible is to be taken literally in all areas has led them to believe all types of unscientific ideas - like a six day creation that happened six thousand years ago and a worldwide flood that happened in Noah’s day. They will insist on a literal Adam and Even in a physical Garden of Eden.  

They believe all this because they have been told they have to believe it in order to be faithful Christians. It is accepted secondhand from preachers and teachers. The Bible never says that the stories in Scripture have to be taken literally. That is a fundamentalist interpretation that originated in the early twentieth century. It is a secondhand interpretation of a book that itself is full of secondhand accounts.

Genesis for example is about ancient peoples, but the ancient peoples did not write these books. The stories in Genesis were passed down orally for generations before they were ever written down. We do not know anything firsthand about the spiritual experience of any of the ancient patriarchs or matriarchs. We cannot even be certain they existed. 

The other four books of the Torah, the Pentateuch, are about Moses’ experience and understanding of God, but no biblical scholar outside of fundamentalism believes Moses wrote them. They are secondhand. Moses did not write them. It never even suggests that Moses wrote them. They were written centuries after Moses lived. 

Even in the New Testament, we have no firsthand accounts written by Jesus. Everything we know about Jesus is secondhand. The gospels were not even written by firsthand witnesses, so they are third-hand accounts at best. They also are stories passed down for a whole generation before they were written. 

Then we have the canonization process where bishops got together centuries after Jesus and decided which books to exclude from scripture and which to include. They accepted only those books that agreed with the centuries of church tradition. Why should be trust their decision as infallible? 

When you think about it, everything about Christianity as we know it today is secondhand church tradition. Evangelical and Reformed Christians brag how they base their beliefs on the Bible and not human tradition, but the Bible itself is church tradition! That is all it is. How this Bible is interpreted is another layer of tradition. Tradition on top of tradition. It is second and third and fourth hand religion. 

Another way that Christianity is secondhand religion is its emphasis on doctrine and ethics. Christianity has become all about what you believe, what you should do and not do. Theology is the mind thinking about God. Dogma is the church saying that you have to believe certain ideas about God.  So people believe what others say about what people who wrote the Bible said about the people they wrote about but didn’t know. It is a Gordian knot of layers of tradition. 

The truth about theology is that the mind cannot know God. It cannot know anything about God. God is beyond human comprehension. Doctrine is by nature false and misleading. Creeds and catechisms are secondhand knowledge about God. Worse than that, when they are taken as absolutely true they are idolatry.  Theological idolatry. That is all secondhand religion. 

Even having a personal relationship with God is secondhand religion. This takes a bit more explanation. For it seems like a personal relationship with God and/or Jesus would be firsthand knowledge. But it is not because the human persona is a secondhand creation of the mind, which in turn is formed by its social environment. 

The ego is a fiction formed by the mind. The idea that we are an individual personal self is useful, just like computer programs and phone apps are useful. But they are not real. They are just code. So is the self. It is just a program running in the brain. It does not exist apart from the brain, any more than a computer program exists apart from a computer. 

If the personal self is not real, then the self’s personal relationship with God is also a fiction. A personal God is a fiction created by a fictitious self. We have created this God in our own image. We think we are a self and so we assume that God must be a humanlike self which we can have a personal relationship with. So it is a fabricated God created by a fabricated entity called the self. It is all a fabrication, which we mistake for reality. 

That does not mean there is anything wrong with this personal devotional form of the Christian faith, as long as you realize it for what it is. It is fine as far as it goes. I personally enjoy the devotional form of Christianity. It is an important part of my personal identity. As a self I have a personal relationship with God through Christ! I know what evangelicals are talking about. I enjoy worship of God as an expression of it. 

The difference is that I know it is not ultimately real. I know what I really am. There is much more to Ultimate Reality than a personal relationship with God and Christ. There is direct spiritual awareness of the Divine Reality that we call God. Awareness from within and not from without. A relationship is always between two beings. Reality is one Being (capital B), not two.

Spiritual awakening is waking up from the mirage of a separate self and secondhand religion that is part of it. Spiritual awakening is direct realization of what we are and what the universe is and what God is. It is knowing ourselves as this one reality. This reality cannot be described with ideas, doctrines or theology. It cannot be contained in a book or a creed. It cannot be communicated in words.

I cannot communicate this reality to you. The good news is that I don’t have to because at some level of consciousness you already are aware of this. You are aware as this reality. Self-realization is remembering who and what we are. It is waking up from the illusion perpetuated by society and religion. As Alan Watts famously said there is a societal taboo against knowing who you are. But we can buck the taboo and know this firsthand. That is spiritual awakening.  

This spiritual awakening was the message of Jesus. It is a call to die to self in order to live to what we really are. I see that as the real message of the cross and the resurrection. That is why I call myself a Christian. I call myself a Christian because Christ taught this message that transcends religion and even destroys religion. That is what Jesus was pointing to when he spoke of the destruction of the temple and when he performed the symbolic and prophetic act of cleaning the temple. 

Jesus was awake. He was awake to spiritual reality and awake as spiritual reality. He called others to this same spiritual awakening. That is the true message of Christ, which has been overlaid with centuries of tradition and forgotten by the Church. It is because of Christ’s original message of spiritual awakening that I call myself a follower of Jesus Christ.