THEOSOPHY, Vol. 51, No. 10, August, 1963
(Pages 268-274; Size: 20K)
(Number 3 of a 9-part series)
MISUNDERSTOOD BIBLICAL TRADITIONS
FEAR OF GOD
[Part 1 of 2]
BECAUSE of the complexity of man's psychological nature, and his changing dispositions of mind, religion, as a form of worship and devotion, must ever be defined, it would seem, in different terms. At the highest level of man's being, the word religion (from the Latin re-ligare, to bind back, or to bind together) is probably synonymous with the Sanskrit term yoga, which means union, or oneness with God. Few individuals, perhaps, ever know or experience religion in this transcendental sense -- those who do being the Christs, Buddhas and Zoroasters of all time. Few, in other words, can say knowingly, as Jesus no doubt did, "I and my Father are one." (John 10:30.)
For those whose consciousness is centered at the next lower level of being, "religion" may be fittingly defined perhaps as faith, feeling, or intuition. This is the realm of soul-knowledge or direct-beholding, "the wisdom that is from above," spoken of in the New Testament, which is "first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy." (St. James 3:15-17.) However weak and inarticulate these soul perceptions may be, it is they upon which the heart of man is fed, and by which the great mass of human beings live.
At the still lower level of being -- in the mind -- which is concerned almost exclusively with ideas, teachings and beliefs, religion is likely to degenerate, to become sterile, sectarian and doctrinaire. For it is here, in the mind, that man seeks to rationalize his opinions and to confirm his cherished ideals. It is here that he strives to reconcile the irreconcilable, so to say, to make the metaphysical and spiritual fit in with, and conform to, the physical and concrete.
In its lowest, most material form, that symbolized perhaps by the Pharisees and Sadducees of Jesus' time and by orthodoxy in every age, religion is ritualism, pure and simple -- the belief in some men's minds that by merely going to church on Sunday, by sitting in the best pews, by being seen in prayer by the populace, and by contributing to church appeals, they are thereby treading the royal high-road to heaven. When confronted with the question of why it is that present-day Theosophy is almost completely devoid of ritualism, Wm. Q. Judge, one of the founders of the Theosophical Society, made the reply that the Theosophist's duty is to first wear the "yellow robe" internally --the "yellow robe," as everyone no doubt knows, being the garment worn by Buddhist monks and bhikshus (disciples) to denote holiness and purity.
Working with these four forms or degrees of religious expression, we find that it is the mind, as says H. P. Blavatsky, which is "the great slayer of the Real." "Let the Disciple slay the slayer," she says, for it is here in the rationalizing nature, the lower Manas, that man tends to go astray, and runs the risk of losing his foothold on the path of spiritual knowledge. For although Manas, or Mind, possesses the power to know --and rightfully should know -- yet, unless rooted in morality, in the ethics of the Sermon on the Mount, or their equivalent in every scripture, intellect is almost certain to transform living spiritual intuitions into lifeless dogmas or beliefs. It is an old, old truism that "the letter killeth," and religious instructors in all ages have warned against the tendency to materialize that which is sacred and holy.Heaven's dew-drop, glittering in the morn's first sunbeam within the bosom of the lotus, when dropped on earth becomes a piece of clay; behold, the pearl is now a speck of mire. (H. P. Blavatsky.)One of the most confused impartations in religious lore, it may well be, reaches us by the phrase "the fear of God." Does this phrase, especially the term "fear" as there used, really convey the idea intended by the ancients? Is it possible that the translators missed or perverted the real esoteric meaning, so that by repeating the words without understanding the thought, we merely walk over dead men's graves? However this may be, and whatever the idea intended may have been, there can be little doubt, from the manner and frequency with which the phrase was used, that the devout religious life in the days of the prophets was considered hardly possible without it.Blessed is everyone that feareth the Lord. (Psalms 128: 1.)What did Solomon mean by these admonitions? Did he intend, as do the unthinking multitudes of our day who use the phrase in a somewhat vulgar and irreverent fashion, to throw the fear of God into his people? Was it his purpose to threaten the faithful, to provide priests and preachers with a lever by which to coerce questioning minds into compliance? Is it possible that the Son of David wanted us to understand that God, as a personal, vengeful Being, with a rod of punishment in his hand, will tolerate no attempts on the part of men to think for themselves, or to practice self-reliance? We hardly think so. Yet, judging by the effects the phrase has exerted upon the mind of the race, one would be inclined to believe that Solomon meant all these things -- and even more.
Be thou in the fear of the Lord all the day long. (Proverbs 23: 17.)
Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments; for this is the whole duty of man. (Eccl. 12: 13.)
One of the dominant psychological attitudes of the Judeo-Christian temperament, it seems fair to say, is that of fear. But is it "fear of God," which in its true meaning would probably be something internal and sacred, and which would make men strong and courageous -- or is it fear of externals, a fear which leaves us weak and cowardly? Is the fear that dominates the minds and hearts of the people of our time, fear of violating God's commandments, something most of us do each and every day of our lives, or is it fear of public opinion, fear of what other people may think or say if we take a stand on principles, or adopt a course of action opposed to that of the crowd? The fear that rules the lives of most men today, unfortunately, seems not to be fear of God, or of violating his commands, but fear of one's neighbors and of other nations, fear of church and synagogue, fear of priest, preacher and rabbi, and fear to even so much as look at a religious scripture belonging to other peoples, lest we might be guilty of seeing in them something of inspiration and beauty. It is the fear to think and act for one's self, as did Jesus, Luther, Emerson and Paine. And this lower manasic fear -- the psychological heritage of the misunderstood Biblical tradition -- is the tarnish that has injured Christianity, and made of Christian nations the most fear-ridden, security- minded, people on the face of the earth today.
If by "fear of God" the prophets of old meant to imply that men should fear to think for themselves, or to question holy writ, how then account for the fact that Jesus, who of all men must have known the Law, exhibited no apparent trepidation when he questioned and even refuted basic doctrines of the Old Testament. If by "fear of God" they meant to say that men should be afraid to disagree with their priests, or to question the dogmas of established religion, how explain the fact that Origen and Synesius, two of the noblest and most learned of the early Church Fathers evinced no fright or misgiving, apparently, when they disagreed with the authorities of their day, and asserted religious tenets diametrically opposed to those of the Church -- the doctrine of the pre-existence of the Soul, for example, and of reincarnation? Martin Luther, devoted monk of the Order of St. Augustine, must have been acquainted with the statement in the Bible that "the fear of God leads to life." How is it, if this meant to fear the Church, that he was not afraid to post his ninety-five theses, much to the displeasure of the Pope, upon the Church door at Wittenberg? If the admonition to "fear God" meant that one should fear to investigate so-called "heathen" scriptures, how explain the fact that Ralph Waldo Emerson, Unitarian minister of the Gospel, and one of the most elevated minds of his age, possessed the courage, not only to study oriental scriptures, but to renounce his chair in the pulpit and to become, along with Thoreau, Alcott and others, the West's interpreter of Buddha, Krishna and the Greeks? Solomon's statement that "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom," seems to suggest something far more noble than all these things, something single, unitary and uplifting -- a fear quite different from the countless forms of law and debilitating anxieties that rule the minds and hearts of people today.
One of the first questions the sincere Christian will probably wish to ask himself is; What did Jesus have to say about the fear of God? Is there any evidence that he himself subscribed to the doctrine or enjoined the practice to others? At no place in the four Gospels did Jesus ever advocate fear of God! When the Pharisee lawyer, in his scheme to test the Master, said: "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?" -- Jesus did not reply, as one would think he might, in the words of Solomon that the conclusion of the whole matter is to "Fear God, and keep his commandments." Quite the contrary:Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love [not fear] the Lord thy God with all thy soul and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. (Matt. 22: 36.)In the Oxford Cyclopedic Concordance, under the term fear, Jesus is reputed to have advocated fear of God on one occasion, in Luke 12:4-5, where he said: "And I say unto you my friends, Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him." The stern tone of these verses, warning against "him" who, after killing the body might cast into hell, is hardly characteristic, would we think, of Jesus' usual references to his Father in Heaven? Careful examination of the whole of Chapters 11 and 12, just preceding the above quotation, would seem to suggest that it is God in contrast --whom Jesus would have us fear -- in contrast to fear of the Pharisees, with their threats of a temporal nature, whom the Master had just been upbraiding.
The Pharisees, said Jesus, were the real "soul-killers," and had the power to "cast into hell." Turn to Matt. 23:13 and 15, where Jesus says: "But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in ... ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves." (Our italics.)
The more one studies the Gospels and compares their teaching with the unchanging Wisdom of The Secret Doctrine, the more convinced he is likely to become that the living, vibrant philosophy of Jesus had little in common with the already decaying system of the Jews. "Ye have heard that it was said by them of old times," thus-and-so, "but I say unto you" the opposite. Instead of the outside, personal Deity of first century Judaism, Jesus taught the Father within. Instead of outward public prayer, he both practiced and advocated prayer in secret. In the place of retaliation, "an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth," he taught, as Buddha did five hundred years before him, that one should love his enemies and render only good for evil. Instead of salvation by works -- that is, the belief that one can achieve alone, or lift one's self solely by one's own personal bootstraps -- he taught, again as did both Buddha and Krishna, the doctrine of grace.(1) And now, in this study, it is seen that instead of advocating fear of God, as the first and highest duty of man, he constantly admonished love.
Jesus, in one of his functions, appears to have been a Reformer, or an Adjuster, as all spiritual gurus (or teachers) in the Orient are said to be. And one of the primary objects of his mission, it may well be, was to replace the then dominant attitude of fear, which "kills the will and stays all action," with a philosophy of peace, brotherhood and love. Does not the difference in tone and character of the two Testaments themselves suggest as much? According to Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, the term love occurs in the Old Testament, which has 807 pages, only 131 times, while in the New Testament, with one-third the number of pages, it occurs 175 times -- a ratio of better than four to one! With the term fear, however, the predominance is far greater in the Old Testament, where it occurs 316 times as compared with only 80 times in the New. How account for this wide divergence of emphasis in the two books? Is it possible that under the aegis of the lower human mind, Solomon's golden words on fear had already turned, as early as the time of Christ, into sounding brass -- and that Jesus, seeing the extreme to which the mind of his day had swung, sought to bring it back to balance?
The great fraternity of Perfected Men, of which Jesus is held to be a member, is said to watch over the progress of the less progressed. The work of this Fraternity is that of warning, guiding and adjusting the mind of mankind -- and as cyclic law permits, of providing teachings suited to the needs of the time. Gautama Buddha, member of this same Fraternity, never considered himself to be anything other than a Teacher or a Guide -- an adjuster, that is to say, of the minds and hearts of his people. More and more recognized in the West as one of the great psychologists of all time, Buddha taught that man, being a god incarnate, cannot be "told" truth, but must think and discriminate and know for himself.They who fear when there is no cause for fear, as well as they who do not fear when they ought to fear -- both enter the downward path, following false doctrines. (Dhammapada.)
COMPILER'S NOTE: The following is a separate item which followed the above article but was on the same page. I felt it was useful to include it here:
PLOTINUS ON ILLUMINATION
Knowledge has three degrees -- opinion, science, illumination. The means or instruments of the first is sense; of the second -- dialectic, of the third -- intuition. To the last I subordinate reason. It is absolute knowledge founded on the identity of the mind knowing with the object known....
You ask how can we know the Infinite? I answer, not by reason. It is the office of reason to distinguish and define. The Infinite, therefore, cannot be ranked among its objects. You can only apprehend the Infinite by a faculty superior to reason, by entering into a state in which you are your finite state no longer -- in which the divine essence is communicated to you. This is ecstasy. It is liberation of the mind from its finite consciousness. Like can only apprehend like; when you thus cease to be finite, you become one with the Infinite. In the reduction of your soul to its simplest self, its divine essence, you realize this union -- this identity.
But this sublime condition is not of permanent duration. It is only now and then that we can enjoy this elevation (mercifully made possible for us) above the limits of the body and the world. I myself have realized it but three times as yet, and Porphyry hitherto not once. All that tends to purify and elevate the mind will assist you in this attainment, and facilitate the approach and the recurrence of these happy intervals. There are, then, different roads by which this end may be reached. The love of beauty which exalts the poet; that devotion to the one and that ascent of Science which makes the ambition of the philosopher, and that love and the prayer, by which some devout and ardent soul tends its moral purity towards perfection.
MISUNDERSTOOD BIBLICAL TRADITIONS
FEAR OF GOD
(Part II of II -- Conclusion)
(Part 4 of a 9-part series)
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ONE (1) FOOTNOTE LISTED BELOW:
(1) Compare Christ's promise in Matt. 11:28 -- "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest," and also St. Paul's statement in Col. 3:3, that "your life is hid with Christ in God," with Krishna's words in the eighteenth chapter of the Bhagavad-Gita: "There dwelleth in the heart of every creature, O Arjuna, the Master -- Iswara --who by his magic power causeth all things and creatures to revolve mounted upon the universal wheel of time. Take sanctuary with him alone, O Son of Bharata, with all thy soul; by his grace thou shalt obtain supreme happiness, the eternal place." A later installment in the series on Misunderstood Biblical Traditions, it is hoped, will consider the subject of Salvation.
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