I know, we're only supposed to talk about “the historical Jesus” and get all defensive about whatever position we're routing for. But then, I'm a Gnostic, and so what I do has little to do with what I'm supposed to do. And in that spirit, I thought I'd bring a Gnostic perspective to the whole “was there, or wasn't there” debate about Christ.
Personally, I think the same way about those who attempt to show that there wasn't a person at the beginning of Christianity, the same way I think of the attempts to show that Shakespeare didn't write those incredible plays. It tells you more about those making such attempts, than it does about history—the unknown becomes a Rorschach test, what you see is largely you. If the name Jesus (rhymes with 'cheeses'), or the very cheesy or terrifying idea of him, has been used as a weapon by the powers in your life, then you need to do something about it. And if it hasn't: what planet are you from, when did they let you out of the cellar, or how did you get so lucky?
The natural mechanism of basic survival is to either reject the parts of ourselves that don't fit in with the ideas of the powers, or to identify with the rejection and send it right back at them, and in that way reject the parts of ourselves that do fit the ideas of the powers. Initially, winning is survival; but later, when you have gained more autonomy, winning becomes a matter of undoing the whole loose-loose proposition. Liberation must primarily be sought within.
It seems that given this situation that we all find ourselves in, there are two options: retrench your defenses, and in doing so build a stronger prison for yourself; or seek liberation, by making the weapons of the powers into tools for your escape.
James Hillman is perhaps the most famous of the mis-users of C. G. Jung's work, and may be responsible for more new-agey Jungian books than any other individual through his Archetypal Psychology. What is the basis of all of this? A retrenchment of defenses. Hillman is uncomfortable with Jung's notion of Self. I remember first reading his “arguments” against Jung's use of Self. They were not really arguments, they were not even incomplete arguments, they only made sense in you already had an unconscious complex which his statements could evoke. He defended himself against the archonic idea of a monotheistic God, and retrenched himself against it and anything he associated with it, even the divine within himself.
There are many examples of this: someone is hailed as a liberator, yet all they do is help us live more comfortably with our unconscious complexes; give us redecorating tips for our prisons. The one example with which we are all, unfortunately, probably familiar is the Da Vinci Code. If you look, the different threads in that book have actually nothing to do with one another. It makes very little sense, unless you share an unconscious complex that is, apparently, very common.
So, back to the problem of the 'idea of Jesus' as a tool of the powers. What can you do to free yourself? Neither blind acceptance, nor blind rejection; nor any continuance, or flipping back and forth between them, will free us. (Though they can to make a nice change of pace that feels liberating for a time.) Placing the focus on Jesus, seems to be the problem: that is, after all, how the powers framed the whole mess in the first place. And it keeps us from focusing on ourselves, the only place where liberation can happen.
As a Gnostic I know something happened some two thousand years ago, because of the effects it is still having on me. We can't clearly see how such a splash was made in the kosmos, but the ripples from it continue to this day. Do we follow Ockham's razor and go with the simplest and most likely explanation: that at the heart of it was the person that we have traditionally called Christ? Or do we need to say that it was something else that just seemed to be a person known as Christ after some point in history. The latter just sounds like the whole “the Artist formerly known as Prince” fiasco, i.e., “the phenomenon formerly known as Christ.” Or, of talking about “the writer of the plays attributed to Shakespeare,” as opposed to, say, Shakespeare. Someone may feel better thinking that a noble or a scholar wrote such literature, rather than the actor son of a glover—but they are looking at it backwards. The plays are Shakespeare to us, the Shakespeare we know, and the one that lived long ago.
What happened at the center of the ripples two thousand years ago? To us it can be either distant, unreal, or we can receive those ripples into our lives: a living presence with the power to aid us in liberation. It can only become the later within us—within our lives right now. And it can only become that within us, if we are willing to give up our outmoded defenses and be healed.
It is not necessary to receive Christ, to receive aid in attaining liberation. The Gnostic tradition has recognized other Messengers of the Light. However, without healing the “Jesus” wound that is inflicted upon us by the powers of the world to keep us from such aid, it is hard to hear any of the Messengers without hearing the echo of that wound.
The Rev. John Goelz, an EG priest in Los Angeles, has been a long time practiser of Tibetan Buddhism. At one point his teacher, a Tibetan Lama, asked Rev. John to start coming in his priest's collar, and would then divert questions that were addressed to him, but that were really about Christianity, to Rev. John to answer. Unfinished personal work, is unfinished personal work, no matter the setting. Fleeing is not necessarily escaping, and we need to escape.
All of this needs to be taken with the caution, to paraphrase Jung, that it is for internal use only. Following a different path does not indicate unfinished work. But this pattern is something we all need to watch out for in many forms, and this seemed like a good example to use, as this particular form is often evoked this time of year.
So, this Christmastide, let us celebrate the historical Christ as messenger of the Light long ago; along with the ever-coming and redeeming Christ who lives within us—for, in our lives, there is no distinction, the Living One lives within us.