October 16, 2017

Scot McKnight: Justification is about Unification

St Paul Seymour Art 1 CK

Note from CM: I saw this on Scot’s blog the other day and requested permission to re-post it here, which he graciously granted. This is such an important issue in understanding the New Testament, a perspective which, honestly, I rarely if ever heard during my days in evangelicalism. I have started reading Thompson’s book, which is an attempt to bring Pauline teaching to bear upon contemporary understandings of the church’s identity — something, believe it or not, that is relatively rare in today’s teaching and practice of the church. We will be discussing more in days ahead, but Scot’s post is a good place to introduce some of these ideas.

• • •

Justification is about Unification
by Scot McKnight

Justification is about unification…

So says James Thompson in The Church according to Paul: Rediscovering the Community Conformed to Christ. That is to say, justification transcends personal standing before God and speaks to the unification of Jews and Gentiles, slaves and free, males and females, and barbarians and Scythians in the one Body of Christ, the church.

Thompson begins with a common observation that a traditional (if not the traditional) view of justification is that it is entirely individualistic. As in the hymn Amazing Grace, where “I once was lost but now I’m found” expresses such a theory of justification. Then Thompson moves to Krister Stendahl’s classic statement that such an individualism arose with Augustine and becomes dominant in NT theologians like Bultmann and Bornkamm who both organized NT theology/Pauline theology into largely individualistic categories. Some in the Reformation perspective (old perspective) will argue that there is an ecclesiology present, but those of us who have “been there” would say it remains too muted.

Thompson’s point is that justification is about communal unification in Paul’s letters. I will reformat Thompson to highlight his separable points:

  1. Paul employs the verb dikaioo (commonly rendered “justify”) and the noun dikaiosyne (“righteousness”) primarily in the two letters in which he is engaged in polemic about membership in the people of God.
  2. In Galatians he appeals to this doctrine in the defense of the full membership of gentiles in the church. In Romans he writes to explain his work as God’s minister to the gentiles (Rom 15:16).
  3. The doctrine of justification, therefore, is neither the center of Paul’s theology nor the doctrine that he uses to explain God’s response to the generic human condition.
  4. Paul writes to specific circumstances, and his doctrine of justification is used in the context of polemic over the question of membership among the people of God (129).

Thompson’s first two points are undeniable; justification is almost entirely set in Galatians and Romans, and they are both shaped by the Jew-Gentile issue in the church. Point three is therefore an inference: justification neither is reducible to personal soteriology and thus ought not to be seen as the center of Paul’s theology since it is polemically emergent. Which is point 4.

To enter Pauline theology, and therefore the history of systemic theology, through the door of justification is to mistake a side door for the front door. It’s a door into Paul’s home but not the front door. To force everything through that door will coerce themes into a shape they were never intended to have.

Thompson then sketches both Galatians and especially Romans through the idea of justification as unification of Jews and Gentiles, and does so without colonizing one ethnic group into another and without demanding ethnicities to surrender their distinctives. Here are his conclusions, again reformatted:

  1. The implication of this message was that existing models were inadequate. Those who accept this teaching will come together in worship and overcome cultural and sociological barriers. While others advocated homogeneous churches, Paul insisted that different ethnic groups both accept their differences and glorify God with one voice (Rom 15:6).
  2. Paul faced opponents whose understanding of the church was shaped by the models they knew. Some insisted that gentiles become Jews in order to be incorporated into the people of God, while others advocated two separate churches, living in isolation from each other.
  3. The doctrine of justification by faith was Paul’s answer.
  4. The church is not a balkanized collection of interest groups, but a community in which ethnic identities are subordinated to shared existence in Christ.

Comments

  1. So what does that mean for today?

    Who should be included, that isn’t being at the moment?
    What relevance does justification have for people in the 21st western world?

    • Bingo.

      —> “What relevance does justification have for people in the 21st western world?”

      I’m not sure the word “justification” would resonate with anyone these days, at least not in a religious context, maybe not even in a secular context. So how in the world do we communicate “justification” to anyone these days?

      • “Hey, ever wanted to be in that exclusive club that no one is allowed in unless they know the owner?”

    • For one, it means that the racial separation within churches today is completely unacceptable. Or at least that being content with it is unacceptable.

      • Exactly right. Racial separation is heretical, and the New Testament makes that very clear in the Epistles.

        • Or, to use NT language, racial separation divides the body of Christ, which has been made one in Christ. The church of Christ should be the place where alienation between different “races” and people groups is bridged; for 21st century people, reconciliation among human beings is the relevant gift that the church should be offering. That it is not only not in any position to do so, but for the most part doesn’t even seem to be interested in doing so (not really), underlines the greatest failure of the church: that it has not lived as a community in which all brothers and sisters in Christ are reconciled to each other. Just the opposite, it’s a place where much alienation is caused and suffered, at the hands of people (like some of us) who are not recognizing the unity that God has given us with others, and are failing to live out the vocation to be one and to love one another.

        • Nail on the head.

      • But do you have to use the word “justification” to get that across?

        • Well the nuance, I believe, is that justification is a courtroom term that is applied to the believer as a status, kind of like the traditional protestant theology, it’s just that that’s not an end in itself- it’s merely a way of understanding one’s place at the table as an heir with Christ. It’s basically a metaphor for how to think about body membership.

          So yeah, there are a number of facets to the diamond of “unity” that need to come forward, and justification is only one of them. But since the word does appear in Paul’s writing, we have to deal with it somehow. McKnight and Thompson here are seeking to put the word back into the full service it was designed for, not merely content to let it float around in theoretical concept form. Understood rightly, it should change how we understand the table of the Lord, and thus the body-unity of the church. We do need the word, it’s just not the ONLY word we need, and we need to not truncate its meaning, as much protestant theology is wont to do .

  2. Do YOU have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ? Have YOU prayed the sinner’s prayer and accepted Jesus into you heart as YOUR Lord and Savior? That is the bedrock of Evangelicalism. You are either saved or lost, there is no middle ground. God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life; are you going to cooperate or not? As Ben asks; where do we go from here if that is not the dominant paradigm any longer. I’m really glad you are exploring this issue CM.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > where do we go

      Where do we want to go?

      At least we now have somewhere(s) to go; Evangelicalism is a religious dead end. This is a far more challenging and open ended ‘salvation’.

    • Yes, multiple times, sometimes several times a night, for years of my childhood and early adulthood, with no assurance or comfort or promise.

      He can beg me now.

  3. The proofreader apparently fell asleep, or (more likely what happened) the automatic spell-checker didn’t flag the error because it’s a real word also. The last line of Amazing Grace is not “but not I see” — it’s “but now I see.” The boo-boo is present in McKnight’s original at Jesus Creed and in the copy here. It deserved at least a [sic] in the copy version.

    There I go again, majoring in the minors and minoring in the majors. I can’t help it; it’s the way I’m wired.

    It isn’t bad form to point out errors. It’s bad form to leave them uncorrected.

  4. …. I need all the editors I can get.

    Bonus points if they love pasta, the Cubs, and really good red zin…..and if they smile and are never in too big of a hurry

  5. Good stuff as we come up on the 500th birthday of Protestantism, which might possibly be defined as that group of people who can’t see the forest for the trees. I follow Scot McKnight’s offerings, read about half of them, and mostly it’s like being able to sit in on one of the better evangelical bible college courses available today. Very academic, very evangelical, and cutting edge for that world but of no interest to my neighbors. My neighbor asked me the other day why church people think they have the only answers to life and everyone else should think like they do. Not finding the answer to that in McKnight’s blog so far.

    Could we spend at least a day here trying to figure out what “justification” actually means before officially retiring it at the 500th bash? I mean something my neighbor would understand, not more jargon, oh pardon me, I mean shorthand. My wife finally came and took her dog at the tail end of his life after leaving him with me the last ten years, so I have a now unused pooper scooper out on my porch. Let’s see if it works for “justification”. Yep. How about “ecclesiology” and “righteousness”? No problemo. “Communal unification”? That took two hands. “Polemically emergent”? Uh oh, better go get the shovel.

    If you can sort out McKnight’s basic message here that our convoluted concept of personal justification is not the be all and end all of Paul’s teaching, nevermind Jesus, you might agree with me that Scot does do good and useful work in bringing his evangelical world up to speed, even if you are not entirely sure whether or not you are polemically emergent or even want to be.

    • Valid points. I went from mainstream Protestantism to Evangelicalism back to mainstream now still attending mainstream but finding myself more and more bothered by the colloquialism and bunker mentality. Once you step away from it, you see how silly much of it is (can’t think of better word). I worked for a time at a Seminary and it struck me every day how disconnected most of the people were from the realities of the rest of the world. Most were intent on grappling with an enemy that wasn’t there. I had worked in the secular world, my children attended public schools, so I found myself listening to discussions about what happens to people living and working in secular environments but most of it was fiction, pure and simple, or something with a tiny bit of truth, but expanded into what would fit into their worldview. And then they wonder why they can’t find common ground with non-believers when they are taught to see them as the “others” who won’t understand them and will hate them.
      It was academia, I realize, which tends to be a velvet cacoon, but the (mostly) men there take this view out into the world and I saw that many could not make the jump into seeing that reality is not only right/wrong black/white. And I think they are taking a big chunk of the church with them.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        > you see how silly much of it is (can’t think of better word).

        It is the word I often choose.

        > … how disconnected most of the people were from the realities of the
        > rest of the world. Most were intent on grappling with an enemy that
        > wasn’t there…. listening to discussions about what happens to people
        > living and working in secular environments but most of it was fiction,
        > pure and simple,

        +1,000

        > they wonder why they can’t find common ground with non-believers when

        I am skeptical enough now to believe I have an answer: they have no interest in finding common ground, this is posturing. Finding common ground *must* start with listening – which many never do. If you’ve never talked to someone – how can you know anything about their world, challenges, or accomplishments?

        Listening is hard; especially when you have an ‘answer’.

        > It was academia, I realize, which tends to be a velvet cacoon,

        It bubble extends to many outside of academia. Of course this is not unique to Evangelicalism, Bubbleism is relatively easy to find in many communities.

        • Real listening involves a risk to my own certainties; if it doesn’t involve that risk, then it’s not the real thing.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > ““Polemically emergent”

      It is a good article, but I chocked on that one too.

      > and cutting edge for that world but of no interest to my neighbors.

      I struggle with that part of the whole thing as well.

    • Christiane says:

      I have my own thought about ‘trying to figure out what “justification” actually means ‘, but it doesn’t sound very ‘theological’ or even rational.

      One of my best friends lived across the street from us in a lake community in northern Jersey. She did all the ‘wrong’ things but she had a heart of gold when it came to helpless creatures. She was kind to my son with Down Syndrome and she would spend time with him . . . . no one else in the community made him smile the way she did. She was a pot-head and probably dealt drugs too for all I know, and her morals were questionable, but then she would go and rescue homeless animals in the city (NYC) and bring them home with her and bring them back to health and try to find them a ‘forever home’.

      She was ‘kind’. And I once said to her something like this: ‘Deenie, for all the stuff you get up to, I think what is going to save you is that you are so very kind to animals.’

      I have always thought that ‘kindness’ was something that took care of a lot of lapses. Of course, there is no ‘theology’ in my thinking, but there it is. ‘Justification’ is just another big word I don’t understand. But I know a kind person when I see one, and I know that somehow, they are going to make it. 🙂

  6. I love that it doesn’t bother people that Gentiles were excluded for thousands of years, if you follow the classic thinking.

    The majority of the world. Excluded.

    And people will say that it was the Jew’s responsibility to share God and bring people in. But they failed, so Jesus was sent, and the Jews were punished, but will one day be brought back (classic dispy at least).

    Yeah, that’s nice. I’m so grateful to be included now. /s

  7. Bigger question: is there such a thing as “the people of God” anymore?

    It’s not ethnic based. It’s not an insiders/outsiders club anymore. Is it love based?

    Who are the “people of God” or is there any such thing any more? Setting aside pissy pride stuff.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      I think the New Testament leaves us the concepts of The Church and The Kingdom; “the people” – not so much.

    • >> Who are the “people of God” or is there any such thing any more?

      Stuart, I think you are coming at this from a combination of low-level Christian understanding and personal wounding. Gentiles are not excluded from Judaism in either the Old Testament or the New, nor are they today. Non-Jews accompanied Moses on the trip to the Promised Land and Moses had a non-Jewish wife. Jesus had non-Jewish DNA mixed in according to his genealogies and the New Testament gives many accounts of the acceptance of non-Jews as benefactors and proselytes. You could convert to Judaism today if you wanted to.

      As to the “people of God”, that is how the people who became the Jews were identified in the beginning, if we are talking about God as Yahweh, and that was self-evident. To speak of the “people of God” today probably causes more trouble and ill feeling than it is worth bothering with, both within the church and without. From a Christian point of view, those enjoying this relationship are basically those who recognize Jesus as God’s Messiah and are following him as disciples, but to claim anything more can become offensive and problematic and unhelpful. If you are standing in front of a hornet’s next with a stick, there are choices and there are consequences.

      • Christiane says:

        ” >> Who are the “people of God” or is there any such thing any more? ”

        I think it has to do with this
        from 1 John 4:16
        “God is love; whoever abides in love abides in God, and God in him. “

  8. For some, earth feels like heaven right now. Things are wonderful, nature is grand. They feel loved, and they love. They have a spouse, two intelligent kids in Stanford and Notre Dame, and a dog. They might have a boat. Their retirement is set.

    For some, earth feels like hell right now. They’ve been buried under rubble in Italy, or had a loved one shot by police. They’ve been diagnosed with cancer, their teen is on meth, the dog just died, they don’t make enough to make it through the month without food stamps and hand-outs.

    How can those who feel like earth is heaven right now bring a little of that heaven to those who feel like they’re in hell? (Isn’t that what Jesus would want us to do?)

    And how the hell does justification help with that?

    • —>And how the hell does justification help with that?

      Maybe better said:

      And how the hell does justification – individual OR communal, or ANY definition – help with that?

      In other words, is this talk of justification just religious babbling? Could talk of justification be one of the things warned about in 2 Timothy 2:23 “Again I say, don’t get involved in foolish, ignorant arguments that only start fights”?

    • Ronald Avra says:

      Good questions, Rick.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        Indeed. Especially “And how the hell does justification help with that?”

  9. Dana Ames says:

    “if you get the message, you might refuse it – but if you get the meaning, hey, don’t ever lose it…” -Noel Paul Stookey

    Again, hermeneutics – discerning meaning.

    Thompson gets nearer to what I propose as the definition of all those dik- words (righteous, righteousness, justify, justification). Try mentally substituting the appropriate form as you’re reading along in your Bibles, and see what happens:

    “The ability to be in right relationship with God/other humans (depending on context).”

    Some examples:
    -Abraham loyally trusted God, and it was reckoned to him as being in right relationship to God.
    -What does the Lord require of you? To act in right relationship, love merciful faithfulness (chesed) and walk humbly with your God.
    -They are set in right relationship with God by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.
    -Christ is the fulfillment/ultimate purpose of the law, that everyone who loyally trusts him may be set in right relationship with God.
    -And the scripture, foreseeing that God would set the Gentiles in right relationship with him because of trusting loyalty, preached the good news beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.”

    This is the only way that I can see for all of this to actually work as GOOD news about who Jesus is and what he has done. It gives a consistent meaning to all those passages, a meaning that is much more ontological and doesn’t rely on a western legal framework. It meshes better with Paul’s discussion about which people constitute God’s people (the answer – *potentially* everybody…). God is not up to getting certain people to a place called “heaven” after they die – he is up to enabling people to be in right relationship with himself and with each other, which is for now and eternity.

    “Master, which is the greatest commandment?”

    N.T. Wright has remarked more than once that he wonders what it would have looked like for our ideas of soteriology in Paul’s writings to have been undergirded by Ephesians and Colossians, rather than Romans and Galatians.

    Dana

  10. senecagriggs says:

    I’m pretty sure I never really comprehended what Scott was trying to say and how it impacts the church today.

    • What it does is it shifts the church’s attention from “how to get saved” onto ecclesiology- “how are the people of God constituted?” The church’s oneness becomes a lot more important. So unity is paramount, not one’s personal status.

      • But shouldn’t we go on to ask, Why is the church’s oneness important? Why should one desire to make oneself part of that oneness, and why should those who have no such interest become interested? What’s the payoff? If not justification, then what?

        • To use an overused and variously understood term, being part of the church should have a missional implication for people. It should mean that we are harbingers and heralds of a new creation in Christ, one aspect of which is that the walls we construct between people are taken down and we live in reconciled diversity with one another.

          • And what if we aren’t such harbingers and heralds? What if we consistently fail to live up to our calling to do so? What if we bring division and alienation instead? Never mind the rest of the world, on what basis do we ourselves trust that we belong to a community of harbingers and heralds of a new creation in Christ, when, if we are honest, we have directly experienced so much counter-evidence?

            • You didn’t ask if we live up to it, Robert. You asked what we should take from this perspective.

              No doubt the Church has failed dramatically, regularly, and often. I have written before that this is my primary theodicy question. Given the NT emphasis on the “last days” arriving at Pentecost, with the long-anticipated gift of the Spirit, and the exaltation of Christ to God’s right hand, why are we still, over 2000 years later, in the state we’re in?

      • Robert F-

        First off, while justification isn’t the payoff, it’s how you get to the payoff. Body membership is the point of the “just” status that is conferred on the believer. I know that I’m reckoned “just” according to God’s righteousness in Christ, through faith in him, over and against racial and cultural ingroup boundaries. *Not* as often understood, faith vs. good deeds. Perhaps reductionistically, you could say this view of justification says “we’re IN based on faith in Jesus, not race or cultural heritage.” Thus, we are “justified.” But you’re right, that’s not the payoff. The payoff is not a new type of justification theology. That theology is merely a corrective for the church when we try to exclude our equivalent of uncircumcised gentiles.

        What I think the reward is, the incentive, is Christ himself as Lord, a New Creation in his Resurrection, and a new community- one that is at least BEGINNING to operate according to this “justification by faith, not race” principle. In other words, “unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” is a major goal for the church, as we come to understand ourselves as living under one Lord, in the New Creation.

        Why this is not happening, or isn’t at least a desire for many churches, is as Chaplain Mike points out, a major theodicy question, and I’ll admit it inhibits me from understanding how best to present the Gospel to outsiders. What exactly am I inviting them TO? If the New Creation, a new community, and a risen Lord are not somehow visible in the life of the church, how can I expect anyone to want what the Gospel offers? “Your Jesus is great, but Lord save me from your followers” or something like that.

        The only thing I can be sure of at the moment is there needs to be a lot of in-house work to get the average local church to a point where it recognizes these fundamentals, and begins to admit its long neglect of basic NT ecclesiology. Only then is there a hope of the church being something to which a nonbeliever would even want to be invited.

  11. Are there any readers out there who feel inclined to offer a defence of justification?

    Another half formed thought – Justification makes sense if God really is angry with us, and our sin really does make him angry. But a lot of us don’t have that concept of god anymore. In fact it’s difficult to say exactly what ‘god’ is for us. If you listen to Meisters Rob Bell, Richard Rohr, and Peter Rollins, you hear concepts of God that are much less easily defined. Source, spirit, ‘electricity’, ‘ground of being’, ‘evolving consciousess’ are a few phrases that come to mind. I don’t know if, under these various understandings of god, justification makes any sense at all.

    On a personal note, right now, i couldn’t care less if I’m justified or not. I’m more interested in, ‘how do I live well?’ ‘How do I find meaningful community?’ ‘How do I find meaning in my work and writing?’ Christianity is still interesting for me as there seems to be a whole wealth of ideas, in the tradition, that speak to these questions

    • –> “Are there any readers out there who feel inclined to offer a defence of justification?”

      Great bait! Let’s see if anyone bites!

      –“On a personal note, right now, i couldn’t care less if I’m justified or not. I’m more interested in, ‘how do I live well?’ ‘How do I find meaningful community?’ ‘How do I find meaning in my work and writing?’ Christianity is still interesting for me as there seems to be a whole wealth of ideas, in the tradition, that speak to these questions”

      I’m with ya there!

      I will say this: regardless of theologies, denominations and what other people make out of God and Christianity, Jesus will always be interesting to me. He’s Lord and Savior, redeemer and friend, Alpha and Omega. He’s priest and sacrifice, victor over whatever makes me afraid.

      So go ahead and ramble on about justification and free will or predetermination or whatever. I’ll continue my yawning and look to Jesus and thank him for all he’s done, does and will do.

    • Dana Ames says:

      Ben,

      “Justification” as God quitting being angry with us is about morality. Dikaiosyne (justification/righteousness) as being in right relationship with God and others – participating in God’s life, to begin with – is about ontology. Ontology is the sphere in which we find meaning.

      I think the “how do I find meaning” questions can only be answered within the framework of relationship. Relationship can only happen between Persons (theological definition, not simply individuals); so if God is somehow defined or described as other than Personal (theological definition, not simply an individual), then that will ultimately not be very helpful in terms of finding meaning.

      You are right that the Tradition has a wealth of ideas that speak to your questions; you have to reach back beyond 1500 AD to access most of it. You may find this video interesting:
      https://vimeo.com/176220447

      Dana

    • I don’t feel inclined to launch a defense of justification, but I do feel inclined to launch a defense of the classical Christian concept of sin.

      Letting people do whatever comes into their fool heads as long as they agree to let you do what comes into your fool head has always turned out poorly for us. It enslaves us to our momentary caprices and bind us with fetters to this world, when we were meant to inhabit another. I’ll speak bluntly. That’ kind of latitudinarianism is where I see most of you heading, although I have to admit along with Charles that it comes from a place of personal wounding, so I don’t see it as your fault.

      Sin is real. It has a real force, and it wounds people. It makes us opaque to ourselves and insensitive to others. I speak from experience. We can’t get rid of it by good intentions, or holding a BBQ with the black family across the street, or by passing legislation against it, or by trying really reaally hard not to do it. The only thing that works against sin is Jesus, and lots of Him, and the only place I’ve found Him in the Industrial Strength concentrations necessary for a misogynist, racist, ethnic-preferer-outsider-loather like myself is in the Orthodox Church.

      Not to say that other places don’t come close…

  12. A-frickin-men!

  13. I think about this a lot. Just last night I was sitting in the Safeway parking lot listening to Sarah McLachlan’s – Adia (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J5rhHZLdYxM) thinking about this topic,(before I visited Imonk tonight). As a father of five Millennials and a friend to a crowd of their friends, I overhear this theme of natural innocence often. Such an intrinsic “purity” would make justification, superfluous.

    Yet, at the same time (as I work in chronic pain and spend a lot of time with people of all ages who are suffering) I hear intense feelings of inadequacy, fear, anxiety and depression coming from that same group. I think their pretense of innocence is a response to the ages of guilt manipulation by us Christians and society in general. I believe that we all (because of the Fall) have this deep instinct that we are guilty (and we have a personal responsibility to that guilt), and in need of a severe exoneration. So, the challenge is to communicate to this group that in Christ they have this total freedom of acceptance without defining it in terms of specific guilt release. It is hard to do and will take someone with more creativity than me to reframe the discussion that is consistent with theological truth but detached from some of the cultural negatives they associate with traditional guilt and shame.

    • I know that this deep perception that I’m guilty, along with the alienation it causes, has been with me since childhood, since I became aware. I’ve also encountered it in others. Whether it is universal among all people, or generations, is something I’m unable to know. I can say this: deeper than the sense of guilt and alienation is the sense that something is not right with the world of violence and death as it is, and that, since I’m a subset of the world, something’s not right with me, and since all other human beings are also a subset of the world, something’s not right with them.

  14. >> I know that this deep perception that I’m guilty, along with the alienation it causes, has been with me since childhood, since I became aware.

    I don’t know about the guilty part, Robert. I sense that this may be partly due to your particular allotment and path in this lifetime, but also more generally buying into the poisoned cup that Augustine emptied out upon the Western world. It is something more appropriate for keeping children in line with God as Santa Claus spying on everyone thru windows and cracks, marking down infractions and keeping the sack of coal handy for miscreants. I don’t personally feel burdened by guilt in spite of instances along the way that merited several stockings full of coal. As a general state of mind, no, and when cringeworthy memories surface, the mechanism is there to send them on their merry way.

    However your sense of alienation as part of the human condition is closer to reality in my view. The story of Adam & Eve can be seen as the story of humanity, but also as the story of what happens to almost all of us somewhere around the age of seven. At some point we become self-conscious. At some point we no longer are unconcerned to be running around with no clothes on. At some point we lose our sense of connection with God and realize our separateness. It is this separateness that informs us something’s not right with me or with the world.

    In my view, our basic task here is to overcome that sense of separation and return to Eden. The best means for doing so have been provided by Jesus, in spite of the fact that most people, including most Christians, ignore this. Most people spend their whole life in a self-conscious state of mind, self here also known as ego, and when people say I feel estranged or guilty or something not right, they are identifying with their ego, it is their ego talking, not their God Selves. To my mind, the very first step out of this house of mirrors is to realize and say, “I am not my ego!” Or not.

    • Charles, I was talking about my own experience regarding the “guilt” part of this, not anyone else, nor did I try to extrapolate to others; from the moment I was aware, I’ve struggled with this issue. Attribute it to pre-conscious family dynamics if you like, which definitely were somewhat shaped by Roman Catholicism, despite my family’s irreligion. But it was definitely my experience.

      I don’t accept your prescription for the overcoming of alienation; to me, it’s toxic, the idea of “return to Eden”. My ego is real and valuable, and will either be redeemed and integrated with the rest of me, or dissolve into annihilation with the rest of me. I don’t intend to discuss this with you.

    • I will say this: my coming to self-awareness coincided with the protracted illness, suffering and death of my maternal grandmother in the room next to mine, all of which I was very conscious. As a result of that experience, no one will ever convince me that things are as they should be in this world. Anyone who tries to convince me that suffering and death in this world are as they should be shall find me immovably incredulous, and shall be doing me a disservice.