Your place in the Universe – to scale

The difference between the scientific and the religious views of the world comes down to context. Those who want to believe in something unchanging can’t afford to contextualize their ideas, because our knowledge of the universe is always changing. An idea that looked reasonable to an illiterate herder (“the earth is flat”, say, or “the sun and the moon are the same size”) becomes untenable with increased information.

A child's understanding of the relative sizes of the Sun and Moon

Religious people want to hold on to old ideas, and they can only do that by refusing to place them in the new context of understanding – even when they accept the new understanding. So they develop this split world, one of mundane reality and the other of a magical world of angels and fairies. Historical people and events, if they have become important in a religious context, gradually get moved by their adherents into the magical world.

“The Gospel According to the Romans” is an attempt to undo some of this, and reconcile some major religious figures with the historical realities of their lives. In contextualizing them, their words and actions take on new meanings. We lose the magic, but we gain a richer understanding of our cultural history and identity.

It is all a part of understanding our place in the universe. And here is your place in the universe, to scale:

It is truly amazing. Enjoy!

Magical thinking and Jesus

Context. Without context, a star can hover over a house, because that’s the way our creative understanding works. In the context of astrophysics, that star idea is nonsensical. Without context, Jesus was a Christian and the Jews hated him. In the context of his time and place, there were no Christians. He lived in the middle of an area occupied by pig-eating, beard-shaving, idolatrous Westerners. He lived in the middle of 200 years of constant uprisings by religious fundamentalists. Reading his words in context, it is obvious that he was a Jew, he hated the Romans, most Jews loved him, and Romans hated him.

Paul's legacy: nonsensical magical thinking

The genius of Paul was in seeing that by removing context and putting everything into the mythic realm, a universal religion could be created that wasn’t tied to the foibles of its anointed fountainhead. In this case, by decontextualizing Jesus, he became no longer a Jew (John says things like “Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him” – John 5: 18). He became no longer an adversary of Rome, no longer a Zealot, no longer gay… he becomes instead a mythic god, independent of the realities of history, independent of the laws of the universe. “Magic Jesus“, in the song by Tim Minchin.

Whether Paul understood this consciously and deliberately planned it, or whether he believed the visions from his own epileptic seizures, we may never know. But Paul is the creator of the post-Jewish “Christianity”.

The Gospels are written in an episodic way, highlighting some aspects of Jesus’ teachings, camouflaging other uncomfortable aspects, turning Jesus’ Jewishness upside down to make him more acceptable to Roman listeners and the Roman Empire, blending him with Mithras and Apollo. The Gospels swaddle him in miracles not just “from birth to death”, not even just “from womb to tomb”, but, in words originating in another context, “from the erection to the resurrection”. The very bookends of his life are so unbelievable that many people nowadays suspect he never existed at all.

So Jesus becomes a myth, a spiritual reality, an archetype. Like others before him in the preliterate world, he attains godhood. The historical person didn’t, of course – the historical person is dead and buried. But the story lives and grows and transmutes, constantly evolving to resonate more deeply with more people. All this is natural, inherent in human tendencies, and can be very useful for personal growth…

But magical thinking is a lousy basis for government policy decisions. Especially regarding the science curriculum for schools and universities.