Introduction: Tom Harpur (born 1929) is a Canadian author, broadcaster, columnist and theologian. An ordained priest, he is a proponent of the Christ myth theory, the idea that Jesus did not exist historically, but is a mythical figure. He is the author of a number of books, including For Christ's Sake (1993), Life after Death (1991), and The Pagan Christ (2004). Harpur is a Fellow of the American Religious Public Relations Council, and in 1976 won a State of Israel Silver Medal for Outstanding Journalism. His biography is included in the American Who's Who in Religion, Canadian Who's Who, and Men of Achievement. In 2008 the CBC documentary The Pagan Christ, based upon Harpur's book, won the Platinum Remi Award at The Houston International Film Festival and The Gold Camera Award at The U.S. International Film and Video Festival in Redondo Beach (LA) California. He belongs to the Canadian Association of Rhodes Scholars and The Writers' Union.
Daily Bell: You attended Oxford University on a Rhodes Scholarship 1951-1954. What was that like?
Tom Harpur: I just finished a memoir where I describe my experiences in great detail. To try and sum it up, it was most extraordinary, it was such a privilege to be in that place where so many brilliant and brave people have toiled and made their mark. It was very humbling and at the same time tremendously challenging. I found it to be a very liberating and wonderful experience.
Daily Bell: You initially decided to become an Anglican priest at St. Margaret's-in-the-Pines, West Hill, Ontario where you resided from 1957 to 1964. Then you left to become a professor of New Testament at University of Toronto – Toronto School of Theology from 1964 to 1971. Why the change?
Tom Harpur: I had begun teaching ancient Greek philosophy while I was in the parish at West Hill to the seminarians in the school of theology and I began to think more and more that the education of the future leaders of the church was a key thing, so I went back to Oxford and did another year of post-graduate studies and became professor of New Testament at my old college. The reason was to train future leaders.
Daily Bell: You were awarded the Silver Medal for Outstanding Journalism by the State of Israel in 1976. What was that for, specifically?
Tom Harpur: Yes. In 1971, I left teaching and decided that it was largely the church talking to itself and I wanted to learn how to communicate with the modern world. So I became the religion editor of Canada's largest paper and every Christmas I decided I would do something special. So that Christmas, 1976, I took a photographer and went to Israel and beginning in Northern Israel, in Nazareth, I walked with him – for part of the way we took a donkey to carry our stuff – all the way down the valley of the Jordan river to Jericho and from Jericho to Jerusalem and on to Bethlehem. Everybody knows the traditional stories of how Joseph and Mary went from Nazareth to Bethlehem and I wanted to do it 2000 years later. It became front-page news and a series of stories and we were then awarded the medal by the State of Israel for that journalism.
Daily Bell: You were part of a 10-part series on Vision TV, City TV and The Learning Channel based on your best selling book Life After Death and host of a weekly, hour-long interview program, "Harpur's Heaven and Hell" What was that about?
Tom Harpur: "Life After Death" was a series based on my best selling book that came out in 1991. I have just released an updated version. The weekly interview program, "Harpur's Heaven and Hell," was an hour-long program where I would interview outstanding people such as Robertson Davies the novelist or communicators like Pierre Burton. We called it "Heaven and Hell" after an open-line radio show I previously hosted and the name meant we wanted to deal with ultimate issues, heaven and hell being symbols for ultimacy.
Daily Bell: You are the author of The Uncommon Touch about spiritual healing. Can you give us the basic thesis?
Tom Harpur: Yes. The Uncommon Touch is an investigation of non-medical healing. Traditionally, the church and other religions have believed in the laying on of hands with prayer as an aid to healing and I wanted to see if there was anything to it. I spent a lot of time researching and traveling and I came up with some startling conclusions, which have been validated since that time, which was 1994. But since then, the value of human touch in healing, has been recognized in an extraordinary way by doctors and others.
Daily Bell: Are you in a sense a naturopath? Do you believe in germs? Are vaccines necessary? What do you think of modern medicine as a whole? Is it too dependent on mechanical approaches, surgery and medications and the like.
Tom Harpur: Well, it would have to be in a very general sense: naturopathic doctors require as many years of training as a medical doctor and I do not have that kind of training. I believe that nature has the power to heal, of course, and if that makes me a naturopath then I am. Of course, I believe in the reality of germs, I believe in the importance of vaccination and in general think that modern medicine is simply what we used to call miracles. I think it's incredible that they can operate on the heart of a fetus while it is still in utero. This is quite remarkable.
On the other hand, there are some criticisms to be made and my main criticism is that the main model being used by the majority of doctors, not all doctors by any means, and I see a change coming in this, but the mechanistic view of the human being as if we are simply machines and if you patch a little here and insert a new part there, you are treating the person. Human beings are much more complicated and complex. So I think we need a more holistic approach and a much more personalized approach. Many doctors in today's system think that giving patients a pill or dealing with them on some kind of scan is dealing with them adequately, but it isn't. There's a spiritual side, there's a mental and an emotional side to the person, and also an environmental side, the environment in which they find themselves. All these things, as the ancients knew, have to be considered if you are going to get a proper healing because healing, like the word health comes from the root word meaning whole. I think modern medicine is over-dependant on mechanistic thinking and approaches.
Daily Bell: You also wrote The Spirituality of Wine. Why write a book about wine?
Tom Harpur: The subject of wine fascinates me, and it plays such an important part in many of the leading religions. I know it does not in Islam and not Hinduism but it certainly does in Judaism and in Christianity, where it has a sacramental value and importance. The miracle of transforming water through photosynthesis and the miracle of fermentation – that was always a symbol for people who think deeply about the fermentation caused in a person's heart and mind by the spirit of God or by the influence of that which is beyond the human. The miraculous nature of wine is highly symbolic and therefore it merited being explored.
Daily Bell: Now for some more controversial elements. You believe the Bible is a holy myth as we understand it but a myth nonetheless and ought not to be read literally but imbibed spiritually. Is this so?
Tom Harpur: I would need to expand on that because I don't believe the Bible is a holy myth. I think it's a collection of holy myths; it's much more than one myth. It is much more than just mythology as well. There's poetry, there's highly charged imagery of various kinds but overall its mythological dimension has not been properly understood.
People have been, and are today particularly so, reading it in a literal fashion, but it was never intended to be understood literally. That is not how ancient people thought about religious issues. They thought of them in terms of mythology, symbolism and imagery of various kinds. So that's a huge error and that's behind a lot of the fundamentalism you see in its extreme form in certain parts of the United States for example and in some of the new missionary countries where they are taking such a hateful view of homosexuals for example. That's based on reading the Bible absolutely literally, as if it was a phone book. It's not a phone book and it's not a how-to book; it's a book that reveals deep truths and there's only one way you can really discuss them and that is by understanding them within the context of a collection of stories or myths.
Daily Bell: Give us an outline on how your thought evolved on this, and why it is so important. Mention some books you have written that support your argument, please.
Tom Harpur: My thoughts have evolved on this over the years because I believe we are given our minds to use. It is a very sacred gift and human reason is tremendously important. It is very unfortunate whenever religious people turn their back on reason as if it wasn't God's highest gift to us. I have tried to use my mind and the more I thought about the scriptures – the more I read and studied them – the more I realized that myth is not like a fairy tale; myth is way of telling a truth that can only be told by means of a story. It embodies it and preserves it and it appeals to the imagination and to the spirit of a person in a way that factual and literal things cannot. There's a reason it says in the Bible that, "The letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life." Literalism deadens the meaning, but the spiritual sense gives life, and that is from St. Paul. That became the operating principle that I began using more and more as I tried to understand the scriptures and make them relevant initially to my congregation and then eventually to my students and later on to a larger audience via my work at the newspaper.
Daily Bell: Is the Bible drawn from ancient wisdom? In other words is it holy in the sense that it offers the best intentions and wisdom of humankind?
Tom Harpur: Well it is certainly drawn from ancient wisdom, very ancient wisdom. I think it's holy because what it talks about is holy: I don't think it's intrinsically holy in itself. For example, I don't bow down to the Bible. I don't believe in that. I don't believe that it's intrinsically holy, that there's anything holy about the pages, but the subjects it deals with are holy, and that is what is important.
Daily Bell: You wrote The Pagan Christ, which is the story of your discovery of the writings of one Alvin Boyd Kuhn (1880-1963) and two earlier writers (Godfrey Higgins [1771-1834] and Gerald Massey [1828-1907]), who argued that all of the essential ideas of both Judaism and Christianity came primarily from Egyptian religion. Tell us why you believe this.
Tom Harpur: I believe this because I found Kuhn's and particularly Massey's reasoning and evidence very cogent and revealing things to me that I had never seen before, in all my studies, both at Oxford and in Toronto. The critics tried to say, "oh they lived long ago," but so did the writers of the Bible. Kuhn had a PhD from Columbia University and he died in 1963, which is not only the same year that President Kennedy died, but also the esteemed scholar and theologian, CS Lewis, who is highly regarded by many today. So Kuhn is a contemporary in that sense, a man of our age.
Kuhn depended on the Egyptian part of his arguments from the work of Gerald Massey, an Englishman, who some would call an autodidact, which is a fancy way to say he was self-taught. But in actual fact he studied for 40 years at the British Museum – he worked in the Egyptian and Assyrian section there and he worked closely during those years with the different outstanding scholars and curators like Samuel Birch. While there, Massey taught himself to read hieroglyphics and he used to check his work with the Egyptologists. So he is not somebody working off the street; he was a genius in his own way. In fact, in his obit in the London Times in 1911, (the year that he died), it was recorded that he was a poet in his early life but best known later on as an Egyptologist.
The arguments put forth by a handful of critics that Massey was a nobody, simply fall to the ground. I found him brilliant. But more importantly, I read extensively to find out if the things these men were saying were true, because to me it was tremendously important, as I was about to tell the world about what they said. I wanted to be sure that I knew what I was talking about. So I read widely and came across, for example, the works of Carl Jung. I was familiar with Carl Jung, but had not read Man and His Symbols for example, or some of his other books. Carl Jung said and this is a quote from him, "The Christian era itself owes its name and significance to the ancient mystery of the God man, which has its roots in the archetypal, Osiris Horus myth."
Then, not long after, I watched and later read the transcript of Joseph Campbell's famous series with Bill Moyers, "The Power of Myth." In that series he made it quite clear that the ancient model, and this is a quote, for the Madonna, the Virgin Mary, actually is Isis; that's the mother of Horus, with Horus at her breast. And I could go on. He talks about the Cathedral of Chartres where on the front wall you can see the carving of the mother with the child on her knee; it's Isis and Horus, not Mary and Jesus that is pictured there.
That image of Isis and Horus was very important to early Christians. Anyway, I could go on and on. There was a professor, he is now retired, at Missouri State University, Carl W. Luckert, whose PhD in comparative religion is from Chicago University. He wrote a book called, Egyptian Light and Hebrew Fire in 1991. Now, in that book he makes absolutely no bones about the matter that the whole of Christianity owes itself to the Egyptian thinking and model. He says, "Egypt provided Christendom's mother religion." Luckert says the well-known prologue to John's Gospel is pure Egyptianisim and that St. Paul's theology is also a "spinoff from Egyptian theology."
So the more I read the more I realized Egypt played this tremendous role and then I found that even the ancients themselves understood this and there are plenty of quotes out there to demonstrate this. In the Asclepius it is said: "Egypt is the temple of the ancient world." By that they meant that it's the source of our western religious thinking. People don't know that Plato went to Egypt early on and spent months there talking to the priests. They are not aware that Pythagoras went there and did exactly the same thing. And so did other great thinkers. Egyptian thoughts saturated the religious thinking of the Mediterranean world and did so right into the Christian era for some time.
One of the leading Egyptologists of our day, the German professor, Dr. Erik Hornung, in his 2001 book, The Secret Lore of Egypt – It's Impact on the West, says on page 73 "Notwithstanding its superficial rejection of everything pagan, early Christianity was deeply indebted to ancient Egypt. …" He goes on to cite specific examples.
Daily Bell: Do you believe that toward the end of the third Christian century, the leaders of the church began to misinterpret the Bible and that prior to this, no one ever understood the Bible to be literally true? Why?
Tom Harpur: The second part of that question I don't quite go with. I am not saying no one ever understood the Bible to be literally true because there are foolish and ignorant people in every age and there were some at the beginning who, once it was in front of them, took it in a literal fashion. But those who were instructed and those who knew the way in which the ancients thought and what the nature of the scriptures were, never read it that way.
It is quite obvious that early thinkers such as Clement of Alexandria and Origen, who was later made out to be a heretic and was one of the original brilliant minds of the early church, took the Bible allegorically. They didn't think of always taking the scriptures literally. They took this passage or that passage in a literal fashion if it was making a statement of facts, but there is very little of that in the Bible. As a matter of fact, there is a deceased Canadian scholar named Northrop Frye who is famous for a number of books, but particularly famous for The Great Code. Frye used to tell his class that if there is any history in the Bible, it is there by accident.
Now that naturally came as a blow to many people who had been raised in a church setting and so on. The Bible is not about history, just as a phone book is not about recipes for baking pies. It's a different kind of book. That's why I believe that towards the end of the third Christian century and the early part of the fourth century it was a critical period when Constantine emerges. People were being baptized en masse. They didn't have time to be instructed in anything deep or in esoteric spiritual readings. They came in – most of them were unlearned and simple folk – and the easiest way was to give them the straight literal text and so the subtleties were bypassed. Of course, it's much more complicated than that but that is the main historial reality of what really happened.
Daily Bell: You suggest that there is no solid evidence that Jesus of Nazareth ever lived. All of the details of the life and teachings of Jesus have their counterpart in Egyptian religious ideas. Tell us about this. Are there sources beyond Kuhn and Higgins & Massey?
Tom Harpur: That was the most startling conclusion I came to in preparing for The Pagan Christ. It's now eight years since that book came out and those that were loud, upset and critical have yet to come forward with one solid piece of evidence from the contemporary world at the putative time of Christ as to support the reality of Jesus' existence. There was one passage in the Jewish historian, Josephus, where he makes reference to Jesus, but it has long been recognized that this passage is a deliberate insertion into the text. In other words, it is a fraud.
Nobody quoted it for the first three centuries of the Christian religion. It only began to be quoted by the first man who refered to it, and he happens to be Constantine's official church historian, Eusebius, who tells the story the way he thinks it ought to be told. He quotes this passage. But that's the first time anyone makes any reference to it. Ever since Edward Gibbon and his famous book, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, it has been judged rightly to be an insertion.
I studied at Oxford with the man who was to become the official professor of Greek and Roman history for the whole University of Oxford. That is no mean honor. He was my tutor, Peter Brunt. I studied with him hour after hour for three years. I was fortunate to have him one-on-one. That's very unusual. One of the things I learned from that experience was the nature of historical evidence and how to judge it.
I have not seen anything from the first century, not an inscription, not a Latin or Greek quotation to support the literal existence of Jesus. Now there are some very slight references to a Christos person in the second century by three secular authors and not only are they very brief, but they are very ambiguous. They are certainly not enough to lay the foundation for a world religion. So I am not the first to draw attention to this and neither is Kuhn.
G.R.S. Mead, in 1903 wrote a book called, Did Jesus Live 100BC? The question of whether Jesus is biblical or not has been investigated by writers such as G.A. Wells. One of the better and more explicit books to be written recently is called The Jesus Puzzle, by a Canadian, Earl Doherty. Doherty asks if Christianity begin with a mythical Christ and he concludes that it did. There are many more books out there on this exact subject. Several active websites currently debate this topic. So I don't say I can prove there never was a historical Jesus because you can't prove a negative. I don't have any crusade in proving that anyway but I think that those who say there was one, well, the burden of proof is in their court to come up with some evidence.
Daily Bell: You regard Alvin Boyd Kuhn as "one of the single greatest geniuses of the twentieth century [who] towers above all others of recent memory in intellect and his understanding of the world's religious." Tell us more about him.
Tom Harpur: Well, some have tried to dismiss him in various ways but I say that is just nastiness. It is not for the sake of true academic argument. I don't think he was the greatest genius of the 20th century but I do think he is one of the brightest men that I have ever read on the subject of Christian beginnings. He was not perfect. I don't know any scholar who is. But in the main points that he argues to support his analysis, I believe he is exceptional.
Daily Bell: Kuhn was at one time a high-school language teacher who, critics claim, was an enthusiastic proponent of theosophy. Are you attracted to theosophy? Can you tell us little bit about theosophy and how it might fit into your larger thought?
Tom Harpur: This is simply another way of attempting to attack somebody you don't like. You don't use academic arguments. In fact, however, many of the most intelligent thinkers of the last part of the 19th century were theosophists. It was no mean branch of learning. Theosophy did a marvelous thing as it drew the attention of the Western world to the Orient and the Eastern way of learning. It exposed many to the reality that a lot of ancient religion was by nature esoteric; that is to say its meaning doesn't strike you right at the beginning, it doesn't wear its heart on its sleeve, and it has to be thought about because of inherent myths and parables.
People ought to know that. It's a mystery, the kingdom of God, as the Jesus of Mark's Gospel plainly says, and you have to discover it in parables. Well, what does that mean? That means this is esoteric teaching. You don't throw it like pearls in front of swine. So theosophy drew the attention of the West to that; people like Emerson provided a lot of inspiration from that type of teaching. I am not a theosophist and have never been one. Kuhn himself differed sharply on different points and was a very independent thinker. To portray him as some kind of a puppet who was an enthusiastic proponent of theosophy is quite erroneous.
Daily Bell: What was the "the greatest cover-up of all time" at the beginning of the fourth century? Why do thousands of Christian scholars participate in this on-going cover-up?
Tom Harpur: First of all, the big cover-up is the huge debt that Christianity owes to Paganism. Secondly, I don't think that thousands of Christian scholars participate in it knowingly; they are not deliberately today trying to cover anything up. But over many generations – since the beginning – a great deal has been covered up. It's such a huge subject. I like to refer people to Kuhn's book, which is the best discussion of this subject that I've read, its called, The Shadow of the Third Century, which is where the cover-up began.
If you want to brand Egyptian religion as pagan – the word pagan was not a nasty word in antiquity – it is important to realize that pagan worshippers were simply people from the country who worshiped in a countrified fashion. But the cover-up is the debt that Christianity owes to pagan wisdom. The Christian church, once it had the Emperor behind it, burned pagan books by the score including part of the library at Alexandria. The story goes on and on – it's huge.
Daily Bell: Some claim evidence for Jesus, as a historical personage, is "incontrovertible." How do you answer?
Tom Harpur: It's anything but incontrovertible! It's certainly controversial and that's the issue that has drawn the most heat since the release on my book The Pagan Christ. Incidentally, I wrote a sequel to The Pagan Christ called Water into Wine, where I laid out definitive proof – backed with solid scholarly support – my claims that there was in fact a huge Egyptian influence on the birth of Christianity. It addressed other criticisms as well, especially in the back of the book in several appendices.
I haven't heard a word of loud criticism about this book. Critics of The Pagan Christ don't want to mention it or even have it known. It's all there for them to read in Water into Wine (2007). The earlier controversy certainly happened when I released Pagan Christ. Newspapers reported with much criticism the audacity of somebody saying that Jesus wasn't historical. You know what a meme is? It's a term invented by the atheist Richard Dawkins at Oxford. A meme is a piece of wisdom or knowledge, which is passed on without question, repeatedly in any culture. Well, the history of Jesus is a societal meme – people just don't talk about it. You talk to the average Christian in the street and they haven't a clue how Christianity began other than to repeat what they read in a literal way or what somebody read to them in Sunday school. They don't know how it began or even how many views of Jesus there are according to scholars including myself in the actual New Testament.
Whether you regard it as historical or not, the idea that Jesus may not have been a historical living person hits people like a thunderbolt and it's all because they have never thought about it and never really read carefully about the subject. They just hear that some scholar named Tom Harpur questions the literal existence of Jesus. Many vocal critics haven't even read my book. They are afraid to read it because, if they do, they might have to change their meme.
Daily Bell: Is the Bible the literal word of God even though the stories themselves may be metaphorical?
Tom Harpur: I do not believe that the Bible is the literal word of God. God does not write books and he does not publish books either. So, this idea that you have in your hand, when you hold a Bible, the literal word of God, is to me quite ridiculous.
Daily Bell: Your views must be controversial within the Anglican Church. Are they?
Tom Harpur: I would say that is putting it very mildly.
Daily Bell: Are you still an Anglican? Do you have another name for your viewpoint?
Tom Harpur: I have a name for my viewpoint, although I don't like titles and nicknames. However, since everybody seems to need to categorize things, belief systems included, in such a way, I guess I would call myself a radical Christian in the sense of radical meaning to get to the root of something.
Daily Bell: Why make the argument that the Bible is a metaphorical word rather than the Real Word? It must alienate many.
Tom Harpur: It also liberates many. There is no such thing as the "real" word of God. Metaphorical meanings are as close as you can get with language to anything that is meaningful about God. As soon as you say that a certain statement or a certain belief is absolutely the word of God himself/herself, then you have made God an idol. You're trapped by an idol. It's something that comes between you and the ultimate reality that you are trying to describe. So that's why we use metaphors. Metaphors can take us beyond where literal words can travel – as well as myths, which we previously discussed. So to say it's metaphorical is to accept and realize that's the way it is when you want to talk about the ineffable, the unspeakable, the ultimate. I have a great deal of respect for Orthodox Jews who won't even use the word God, because of the sanctity and the sacredness of God. Anything else is misleading in a way.
Daily Bell: How do you see belief structures evolving moving forward? Are we entering a new age of religion and spirituality?
Tom Harpur: We are going through a period of huge change and no one knows exactly where it is going. Harvey Cox, who is the Dean Emeritus of Divinity at Harvard University, has recently written a book called The Future of Faith. In it he observes that beliefs are less and less important today. Creeds are not terribly important, either. What is more important is what you can actually trust. What can you trust? It's knowing that it is not found by trying to capture the uncapturable. You cannot lasso divine reality inside a web of words. That's impossible. Trust in God is more intuitive. It's found more in the heart and the spirit than in dry, dull language in which you lay out literal beliefs. I think belief structures will become looser and looser and less and less important. I think we are entering a new age of religion and spirituality. I am very optimistic and I think there is an evolutionary process taking place in which the human spirit is going to move ahead.
Daily Bell: Can the world come together in one all-encompassing religion? Are the roots of all religion similar?
Tom Harpur: All the roots of religions are similar and in a way all religions are metaphors for the divine. But I don't see a day when there will be a super or all-embracing world religion. That would be a pity. God is a great lover of variety and so why would we want to do away with the differences? What is important is to realize that no religion has the last word or the only word about God and that they remain open and tolerant to one another.
Daily Bell: What do you think of Hindu spirituality?
Tom Harpur: It's one of the oldest religions known to us and has a wonderful past. Again rooted in mythology and told in that fashion originally. The Vedic scriptures are very ancient and I referred to a book earlier, Water Into Wine, where I had an appendix devoted to the similarities between Hinduism in the Vedic scriptures and Christianity. The similarities are really striking. Just as the similarities between the gospels and the Buddhist writings are known to scholars. I think there is a lot we can learn from Hinduism. It really is more of a philosophy than a religion. It embraces so much but there are parts of it, just like Christianity, that don't show it off at its best.
Daily Bell: How about Islam. Is Islam inherently violent?
Tom Harpur: I think that's a misunderstanding. There is a lot of confused thinking right now especially in the United States where many people fear that Islam is, at its heart, violent. That is unfortunate because it does not make for good understanding. I think it's a great religion, in its own way, and like all faith has its good and bad sides. Fundamentalism in any religion has a disturbing side.
Daily Bell: Are you working on other books? What's in the future for you?
Tom Harpur: I have two new books coming out this spring, in fact one called, Born Again – My Journey from Fundamentalism to Freedom, is due out this week. Also, as mentioned earlier, I have now updated and revised my book on Life After Death – renaming it There is Life After Death. It has just come out in paperback form, which I hope will give it wider distribution because it's a subject that is very important – not because of any escapist type of thinking. Carl Jung said that the person who has a mythos about death and dying can live right into their death and can live a fuller life than the person who does not. I believe that's true. So it's relevant to daily life here and now. I think talking about those books and promoting them will keep me fairly busy for a while.
Daily Bell: Any final thoughts? Any other books or articles you want to mention?
Tom Harpur: I recommend that everyone should read Joseph Campbell's final little book, Thou Art That. It's just terrific. I can't stress how important this subject is because, unfortunately, fundamentalism or literalism in matters of religion is one of the biggest stumbling blocks to peace in the world right now. In conclusion, I want to point out that Paul said the Mystery of the Gospel is "Christ in you, the hope of glory." He's not referring to a historical person but to the reality symbolized by the mythical Christ – the spark or seed of the divine that swells in every heart and mind. All religions bear witness to this in their own way.
Daily Bell: Thank you so much for your time; this has been most interesting.
Tom Harpur: Thank you for airing a topic that is not only vital to our own individual lives but absolutely critical for any hope of genuine and lasting global harmony.
In thinking about the many contributions to religious philosophy and spiritual archeology that Tom Harpur has made, it occurred to us that his interests are from our point of view somewhat idiosyncratic in nature. That is, thoughtful people are often drawn to debunking certain social verities; ones that others might not seek to approach. Mr. Harpur's focus throughout his long life seems to have been one of debunking the literalness with which some approach spiritual issues as regards Christianity and the Bible. He sees a more rational and less doctrinaire approach to Western spirituality to be absolutely critical for, as he says, "any hope of genuine and lasting global harmony."
From our point of view, however, global harmony is neither enhanced nor undermined by people's religious beliefs so long as these beliefs do not result in a theocracy, where people's religious perspectives are promoted by force. This is, in fact, part of a larger argument going on about the Muslim religion and radical Islam today in the West.
In these modest pages, we find feedbackers pointing to violent Islamic scripture and using certain passages to denigrate that religion and prove that it is dangerous to others. This is a mostly misguided exercise in our view. One could make the same points as regards the Torah and the Bible. Even Hindu scriptures have their violent aspects. It is not scripture, then, that is the problem; No, it is religion's conflation with the awesome power of the state.
So long as the state itself is not brought into play as regards religion, we would argue that quarreling over certain passages in Holy Books or making linkages between violent scripture and the religion itself is somewhat wrongheaded. Taking this approach, we would suggest that the world might have been well served had Tom Harpur used his formidable talents at some point to analyze the linkages between religion and the state, and its detrimental effects.
Even within these pages we often get pushback regarding religion generally. Insightful feedbackers make the point regularly that religion is brainwashing and generally a retardant to civil society. We don't believe this. People ought to be able to believe what they wish without facing criticism and overt, negative scrutiny. There is no harm in trying to live in a moral way, even if one is observing morality that comes from organized religion. It is only when religion becomes tied to the state that it becomes dangerous and overbearing. The same could be said of any set of beliefs.
The less state control is exercised in society, the more religion and spirituality tend to surge to the fore as an organizing force. Thus it could be said that the freest states are also the most religious and spiritual. During Rome's imperial period, philosophers used to mourn that the old virtues and spiritual modesty had given way to corruption and licentiousness. This was, in fact, because the Roman state itself had taken over the functions previously provided by private religious worship. The more the state intrudes, the less religion matters as a critical moderator of the larger sociopolitical environment. Man's laws take over from spiritual ones.
As state control by force grows larger and larger in society, there is usually much breast-beating (as there was during the time of the Roman Imperium) that people are no longer interested in spiritual issues. In fact, it is the state itself, squeezing out private morality and private spiritual practices, that creates a situation of Godlessness. For us, the barometer of a healthy society is the general serenity and seriousness with which worshippers go about their business and live their lives – no matter the religion. And for this reason, we are not so sure it is really that important whether people take the Bible literally or not.
What seems to matter more is the intricate relationship between church and state and what it tells us about the health of a culture and its relative freedom. To us, these are the serious issues. Perhaps in the future, someone of Tom Harpur's impressive wisdom and intellect will come along and provide us with a body of work that delves into such issues and illumes them with the same vigor that Mr. Harpur himself has approached the debunking of a literal Christ. In the 21st century, with Western elites doing the best they can to whip up anti-Islamic fervor, we can think of no more critical topic.
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