Alan Watts for Easter Morning
The great accomplishment of Western Judeo-Christianity, if we can call it an accomplishment, has been its ability to spread by assimilating the religious systems of the worlds it has encountered.
Most historians point to Constantine as the great example of this phenomenon, crediting him for “converting” the 4th-century Roman Empire into worshipers of what had previously been a persecuted minority faith. Modern examples include the santeria practices of Latin America, in which the ancient rites of indigenous gods are given Catholic names and new official stories and otherwise permitted to persist.
But the tradition goes back much further than Rome. Today being Easter, I’m reminded that centuries before Jesus Christ, Babylonians revered and celebrated Ishtar, the Goddess of Life. It is from this deeper, pre-Christian religious tradition that the modern holiday not only takes its name but also its fascination with finding eggs, each a miniature celebration of the continuous mystery and miracle of life.
When Ishtar is rewritten as Easter, and the universal mystery of life replaced by the assertion that a man who was God came back to life and vacated his tomb, we play our present part in this appropriation. We remind ourselves that we believe (or don’t believe) in a story of a magical person some 2000 years ago who loves us, who looks over us, and who is God. Jesus is God, the point being. Somebody else. Not Ishtar. Not us. And certainly not life itself.
What seems to me to be lacking in our Western religious observances is some sort of social ritual or liturgy which gives an opportunity for spiritual experience.
That is to say for a transformation of the individual consciousness, so that one way or another the individual is able to realize his oneness with the eternal energy behind this universe (which some people call God and other prefer not to name).
The Western religions have from an official standpoint been somewhat suspicious and leery of mystical experience, because in the founder of Christianity, mystical experience led to the claim that he was “God incarnate” which was to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness.
Because if you believe that God is a monarch — a beneficent tyrant in charge of the universe — anyone else claiming to be God is obviously committing an act of subversion and would be suspected of introducing democracy into the Kingdom of Heaven…
I believe that Jesus was a person who had this colossal mystical experience that we call “cosmic consciousness” — the experience that your real self is not that little superficial idea or image of yourself which we call “I”, but the total energy of the world flowing through you, and expressing itself in you, and that’s the real you. And it’s on that basis that he could say “I and the Father are one.”
What the Christians did was stop the gospel cold by saying “alright — Jesus was God, but nobody else…”
Today in my house we’re going to celebrate Ishtar, or more specifically that source of life the Babylonian goddess is intended to name and describe. That ineffable force that brings inanimate matter to life. That mysterious “eternal energy” that Jesus invites each of us to (re)connect with.
Don’t believe the official story. When Jesus claimed to be God, he had no intention of keeping that title to himself. On the contrary: as he put it, the Kingdom of God is within you.