As I mentioned, it is clear that from my own experience, and those of many other near-death experiences, leaving the body does not mean taking the body with us. I am also confident that most people with a modern view on life after death do not literally believe in resurrection of the body, since the flesh actually rots and then there is nothing to return to. This materialistic understanding of resurrection is therefore in direct conflict with science and natural law.
Carl G. Jung once commented on this view by saying that, “To the primitive Christians as to all primitives, the Resurrection had to be a concrete, materialistic event to be seen by the eyes and touched by the hands, as if the spirit had no existence of its own.”[i]
Instead of calling the early Christians primitive, I would say that it is probably more likely that the resurrection was inherited from Egyptian thinking, or some other source. In the New Testament, 1 Corinthians, Paul says: ”If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.”[ii]
It is understandable how a literal interpretation of this line in the Bible can lead people to believe in bodily resurrection, since Christ being resurrected from the dead is central to Christian faith. However, right after this statement Paul says something that I believe to be even more important. Paul talks about being “false witnesses” and explains that those who have “fallen asleep in Christ are lost.”[iii]
On the topic of literal resurrection, I believe that in these times it is important to address the problem of fundamentalism. In my view, it seems that the Church has been holding on to its dogma for too long. A sign of this can be seen through scandals and rigid belief that has lead to the fall in church attendance over the last decades. Without disrespecting a strong tradition, as a philosopher I think that it is healthy to open one’s mind to other possibilities, because holding on to dogma seems to be the wrong strategy in a world that is evolving.
One set of such other possibilities is contained in The Gnostic Scriptures, which was originally labeled as “heresy” by the church. This I find unfortunate since these texts give important second opinions that should be part of our reflection. It is even sadder to think of the long history where difference of opinion has lead to the killing of “the other” in the name of Christ.
In The Gnostic Scriptures we find The Testimony of Truth, which tells us that, “Do not expect, therefore, the carnal resurrection, which is destruction.”[iv] This view, dating back to about the second century, is very much aligned with modern science—the flesh dissolves.
The text is interesting, because it also has another view on why Adam and Eve where cast out of Paradise. It lets us know that, “The serpent was wiser than all the animals that were in Paradise, and he persuaded Eve, saying, ‘On the day when you eat from the tree which is in the midst of Paradise, the eyes of your mind will be opened.’”[v]
The Testimony of Truth then boldly asks:
Of what sort is the God? First he maliciously refused Adam from eating of the tree of knowledge. And secondly he said, “Adam, where are you?” God does not have foreknowledge; otherwise, would he not know from the beginning?[vi]
Later the text answers the question of what sort of God this is by saying: “I am the jealous God; I will bring the sins of the fathers upon the children.”[vii]
In the East the serpent is not a symbol of evil, but the symbol of Kundalini energy. Kundalini is the power of consciousness, or supreme energy, also called mother of the universe. In Sanskrit the word means “coiled up,” and therefore, the symbol of a snake is the ancient symbolic representation, not of the devil, but of the supreme power of consciousness.
If we for example call the Kundalini energy for the Holy Spirit, then this could give us a different perspective on the words of John: “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”[viii] In this interpretation it is the Holy Spirit as the power of consciousness that gives us eternal life. And one could even suggest that the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge in Genesis might be one and the same. That would make eternal life possible through knowledge of the truth (good and evil) as we just saw in the Bhagavadagita.
In her book The Gnostic Gospels, Elaine Pagels, points towards the serpent as an instructor and she quotes from the text, The Hypostasis of the Archons:
Then the Female Spiritual Principle came in the Snake, the Instructor, and it taught them, saying, “…you shall not die; for it was out of jealousy that he said to you. Rather, your eyes shall open, and you shall become like gods, recognizing evil and good.”…And the arrogant Ruler cursed the Woman…and…the Snake.[ix]
Here Eve, the “Mother of the Living,” is a feminine spiritual principle that raises Adam from his material condition to bring him out of ignorance toward becoming like a God. It would seem natural to human nature (and historical correct) that arrogant male rulers would become jealous about this competition, whereby both the woman and the snake were cursed.
Through history, and even today, this curse has proven to be a powerful political tool of suppressing women with male aggression. And at the same time, the important question of personal identity has been left out. It seems logical to conclude that when these words were written around the second century, Gnostics saw the clear danger in the form that Christianity was taking as it became an organized religion.
In a modern day society, it certainly must seem good to most people that Adam ate from the Tree of Knowledge. I am sure that most of us are happy to be conscious and able to think for ourselves rather than being told what to think. In a democracy where everyone works together to solve the problems ahead, it is reasonable to give every individual the freedom to think.
However, the view of the Bible goes in the opposite direction, believing that “paradise was lost,” which could be interpreted as ignorance is bliss, and I find it very interesting to note the negative direction. The Bible has a negative perspective from Adam and Eve being thrown out of paradise to the Book of Revelation—from paradise to the end of the world. This negative view on the world is also reflected through the views of “evil” and “sinners” that still today deserve punishment. The God of the Bible is an angry God that judges over irresponsible children living in an evil world.
The Gnostic perspective on the other hand is positive. It talks about ignorance instead evil, and sees a positive future through enlightenment and the gaining of knowledge. Surely such a view is far more optimistic than the pessimism of the Bible, and with a positive outlook on life it should be much more possible to create a positive future.
The Gnostics called the God of the Bible a “jealous God” because this God said: “I am God, and there is no other.”[x] Looking at the history of the Church enforcing this one and only God, it is clear that this God has been much more angry than loving. We should not forget that the Roman Catholic Church was created on the foundation of the Roman Empire, after Emperor Constantine won the first battle in the name of the cross and Christianity later became the state religion of Rome.
History also tells us that the doctrine of the Incarnation took root about the same time as Pope Urban II sent Christians of on the Fist Crusade with “God wills it!” After more than a thousand years of debate, in 1098 Saint Anselm published his Cur Deus Homo—Why God Became Man—and Jesus were since transformed from prophet into the one and only “son of God.”[xi]
Before we become upset at the past, it is worth taking into consideration that humanity has gone through a transformation as our thinking has evolved. Therefore, now that the children have become adults and outgrown their parents, I find it more important to ask where we should look for guidance. And as a philosopher, it is clear for me that we should look for truth by ourselves, and never accept someone else’s truth. It was for this reason that Luther translated the Bible, so that we could all seek the truth by ourselves, instead of having it dictated to us.
It is not only possible but fairly easy to find other interpretations in the Bible that speak of an incorporeal resurrection. The Bible does in fact make a clear distinction between the body and the spirit. In 1 Corinthians we find: “I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.”[xii] Also John gives the same interpretation of Jesus: “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.”[xiii]
With this separation between the mortal and the immortal, Jesus uses the wind as a metaphor to describe the eternal spirit: “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”[xiv]
In 1 Corinthians 15:40, we find that this distinction is made clear: “There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another.”[xv]And this is made even clearer when the text continues: “So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.”[xvi]
The Gnostic Scriptures offer an account that supplements this view of the Bible:
If one does not understand how blowing wind came into existence, he will blow away with it. If one does not understand how body, which he bears, came into existence, he will perish with it…Whoever will not understand how he came will not understand how he will go.[xvii]
Gnosticism comes from gnosis, which means “knowledge” as opposed to agnostic, which means “not-knowing.” Now, it can of course be argued that it is not humble to claim to know about the ultimate reality; an agnostic would say that we cannot know anything about this reality at all. Before my experience, as an atheist, I would probably have agreed with this view, but today after my experience, I believe like the Gnostics that we can know something about this ultimate reality. Just as my experience of this reality was the experience of my true self, so too does gnosis involve the process of knowing oneself—our true identity.
In a world where we are still in search of truth whether we believe it exists or not, I agree with the Gnostics that we should look for our own truth. For me, knowing our essence as our true nature is the ultimate reality and this is how we become resurrected in life and in death.
Pagels offer us this conclusion: “Only those who come to recognize that they have been living in ignorance, and learn to release themselves by discovering who they are, experience enlightenment as a new life, as ‘the resurrection.’”[xviii]
She is thereby letting us know that,
The “living Jesus” of these texts speaks of illusion and enlightenment, not of sin and repentance, like the Jesus of the New Testament. Instead of coming to save us from sin, he comes as a guide who opens access to spiritual understanding.[xix]
[i] Yates, Jung on Death and Immortality, 133.
[ii] Holy Bible, New Testament, 1 Corinthians 15:13+14.
[iii] Holy Bible, NT, 1 Corinthians 15:15+18.
[iv] Robinson, The Testimony of Truth; The Nag Hammadi Library, 451.
[v] Ibid, 454.
[vi] Ibid, 455.
[vii] Ibid, 455.
[viii] Holy Bible, New Testament, John 3:14.
[ix] Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels, 31.
[x] Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels, 39.
[xi] Carroll, Constantine’s Sword, 284.
[xii] Holy Bible, NT, 1 Corinthians 15:50.
[xiii] Ibid, John 3:5
[xiv] Ibid, John 3:8
[xv] Ibid, 1 Corinthians 15:40.
[xvi] Ibid, 1 Corinthians 15:42-44.
[xvii] Robinson, The Dialogue of the Savior, The Nag Hammadi Library, 251.
[xviii] Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels, 111.
[xix] Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels, xx.