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From Chapter # 5 of “Overcoming the Threat to Our Future”

A Book About the Existential Threat to Our Evolutionary Future, a Book That Explains How We Can Overcome That Threat

A solution to our global ecological crisis from the Nag Hammadi Monastery in Egypt

The Gospel of Thomas found at that monastery speaks directly to our ecological crisis. It gives us the knowledge we will need as we face the challenges now confronting us.

First a brief review of 21st century ecological reality: Temperature inversion throughout the globe was the most extreme in recorded history. A Polar Vortex in 2019 brought extremely low temperatures to parts of the US. 2018 was the warmest year on record for ocean heat content, which increased markedly from 2017. It was the fourth warmest year on record for surface temperature. It was the sixth warmest year in the lower part of the atmosphere. Greenhouse gas concentrations reached record levels for CO2, methane, and nitrous oxide. Sea ice was well below the long-term average at both poles for most of the year. The summer Arctic sea ice minimum was the sixth lowest since records began in the late 1970s.

Now to that gospel: In the fourth century it was buried by the monks in a cliff near their Nag Hammadi monastery in Upper Egypt. The Roman Christian church had declared it “heretical” and “schismatic.” (It remains so declared by the Roman Catholic Church today) They placed it along with other so declared writings in a large clay jar and buried that jar in the side of a nearby cliff. It remained there until the last century. It was only known before then in the form of fragments of later writing scattered in European monastery libraries throughout Europe. After its discovery the American scholar Dr. James M Robinson(1924 – 1916) and his team translated it from the written Coptic into English.

The Nag Hammadi monastery was founded by followers of Jesus who had gone to Egypt shortly after his death. The gospel was probably originally written in Aramaic and then later translated into Egyptian Coptic, a form of Egyptian writing using Greek lettering that had become common in Egypt after Alexander’s conquest three centuries before the Common Era. The Gospel discovered was a Coptic copy of prior Coptic versions. By analyzing the Coptic imagery in the Greek lettering, many scholars concluded that it may have been written shortly after the death of Jesus and could therefore possibly be the earliest gospel on record, having preceded the canonical gospels we now see in the Catholic and Protestant Bibles. It should however be noted that there is debate among some scholars as to whether it could have originated so early. Nevertheless, there is no question that in the fourth century when the foundation of the Roman church was laid it challenged that foundation.

It can be described as being different and even opposed to originating Roman Christian orthodoxy.

After reading the authors referenced below, meeting one, corresponding with the other and attending several Westar seminars on the Nag Hammadi discovery, I wrote the following in my journal.

“A young Jewish wisdom teacher and healer from a remote province of the Roman Empire, one racked by royal ineptitude (reign of Herod and his sons), temple corruption, religious dissension, sharp ethnic hatred and brutality, appeared on the scene. He told his followers that The Kingdom of God is not up in the Heavens, it here on Earth, both inside and outside of us. He said; we just don’t see it.”

We will now examine in some depth the sayings of Jesus as recorded in that gospel and the way theycontradict much of present day Judeo/Christian/Islamic doctrinal thought as to the image of God, the persona of Jesus and our relationship to Nature. The conclusion is that unless Jews, Christians and Muslims are able to rethink their religions in a Thomas gospel way, our species may only have a few centuries before it will face self-imposed extinction.

Jesus in that gospel told us that the material and nonmaterial are a synchronous part of the cosmic (God’s) dimension. That assumption at the time was not a part of the thought process of the Jewish world. Nor was the need for interactive equilibrium of all life and nonlife on the planet. The Torah and the thought process that preceded it in Egypt and the Levant had defined our planetary relationship as one where we were down here and Heaven is up there. In the Book of Genesis we were told that we can belike the Gods and that we can have dominion over the earth, that we are to subdue it.

Roman Catholicism when it formed incorporated much of that thought process into its planetary understanding.

In the Thomas gospel Jesus introduced an entirely new interactive equilibrium idea. It is an idea I have experienced in the sun’s reflection on the leaves rustling in the wind outside of my mountain home. I have felt it on the summer rain blowing against my face. I have observed it in the spider weaving its web outside of my window. I have experienced it in the worship service when I partake in the Eucharist.

One summer, I felt it in a Monarch butterfly on a butterfly bush in the front garden. My mountain home was built in the Appalachian style. It has a front porch with rocking chairs facing that garden. Early one morning my wife and I were sitting in those chairs. There suddenly appeared a beautiful Monarch butterfly from the group that was feeding on one of the butterfly bushes. It left the others and flew onto the porch, fluttering for a few seconds, inches from my face, (very unusual for a butterfly) just as I was talking about David Crisp.

David died over the winter. He had planted our beautiful garden two years before. I liked David. Everyone did. He was one of those huge bearded mountain men you think about when you picture the Smoky Mountains in Appalachia. He was what we call a “local.” The Crisp family name goes back many generations. I had given David my book Holy War The Blood of Abraham when he was working on the garden and we had talked a lot about God. I remember being taken back by the openness of his questions and by the depth of his belief. His Appalachian phrasing had allowed him to express himself so much better than I. That’s the last I saw of him. Over the winter the following year, with thirty or forty relatives around his bed, he died. One of them told me that as he was dying, David kept asking for the time. He waited until twelve noon, the same hour his wife had passed on the year before. Then, with a smile on his face, he stopped breathing.

All the butterflies that had been feeding on our bush were gone the next day. (Monarchs have not appeared since) Was David Crisp saying goodbye to us? Was he saying it was nice knowing you and Linda. I want both of you to enjoy your garden.

Stories like this one are not unusual. Things happen. There is no “proof” of anything. Yet the butterfly experience from that moment onward has brought me back again and again to the mystery of Nature, to God in everything, everywhere.

This is what Jesus was saying in the Gospel of Thomas. God is in everything, everywhere. Today most Progressive Christians I meet would agree. And most consider the exclusion of the Gospel of Thomas from the Roman Catholic canon in the fourth century to have been a grave mistake. It challenges the idea of a separation between heaven and earth.

Now in the 21st century a discussion of this has become very important. There are far reaching ecological ramifications as to how we are to view our place on the planet and in the cosmos.

Another challenge that gospel makes to today’s Christian orthodoxy relates to the planetary/cosmic meaning of the person of Jesus. In defiance of the canonical Gospel of John, Jesus tells us in the Thomas gospel that we save ourselves not by belief in him as our personal savior; we save ourselves by going through an inner search to find who we really are and on what side we have chosen to be. We save ourselves in our action to be like him. The implication here is that no ecclesiastical institution or declaration of faith can save us. Only we can save ourselves.

Many scholars believe that this is the reason the Gospel of Thomas was excluded from the canon by the Roman Christian Church and declared heretical. If one could find the Kingdom within, there would then be no need for the creedal Christianity as expressed in John 3:16 with its requirement of the declaration of belief in Jesus as one’s personal savior. There would in fact have been no need even to be a member of the Roman church.

The following quotation from Elaine Pagels book; Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas supports this.

“I was amazed when I went back to the Gospel of John after reading Thomas, for Thomas and John clearly draw upon similar language and images, and both, apparently, begin with similar secret teaching. But John takes this teaching to mean something so different that I wondered whether John could have written his Gospel to refute what Thomas teaches…. I was finally convinced that this is what happened.”

We will now turn to several of the “sayings” of Jesus as they were recorded in the Gospel of Thomas. These sayings take on enormous importance as we try to understand our relationship to this planet and the cosmos. They speak to life and non-life; the material and the non-material. As we think about them, we must understand that the original meanings of the words were specific to an early first century period. Suffice it to say; expressions such as “Kingdom of God” cannot and should not be taken literally as a “Kingdom.” In our modern age, expressions like “cosmic dimension”, “other dimension”, “divine intelligence”, “implicate order” and “creative power” better express that meaning. We need to see the words of Jesus as first century observations having a value that spoke to those around him at that time and in that era, and speak to us today as universal truths.

Here are five sayings from the Gospel of Thomas that deal with our relationship to the physical world that surrounds us. Jesus says to Thomas:

(3) The Kingdom is in inside of you, and it is outside of you. When you come to know yourselves, then you will become known, and you will realize who you are.

(17) I shall give you what no eye has seen and what no ear has heard and what no hand has touched and what has never occurred to the human mind.

(51) What you look forward to has already come, but you do not recognize it.

(77) I am the light that is over all things. I am all: from me all came forth, and to me all attained. Split a piece of wood; I am there. Lift up the stone, and you will find me there.

(113) His disciples said to him; When will the kingdom come? Jesus replied; it will not come by watching for it. It will not be said, look, here or Look, there! Rather, the Father’s kingdom is spread out upon the earth, and people don’t see it.

These words of Jesus showed heaven and earth not separate and distinct from each other. It is interesting to observe just how modern they are. Jesus viewed the material world around us – including ourselves, as nonmaterial. He also viewed our minds as nonmaterial. He said that our minds and our bodies, as well as the physical world surrounding them, are a part of an all-encompassing “Kingdom is inside of you, and outside of you.”

There are profound implications here for our 21st century world. Clearly we humans have not entered this state of this being, or very few of us.

Here is an important condition to recognition of the “state of being.” Jesus said the transition for some will be painful. We see this in the following three sayings:

(2) When he finds, he will become troubled.

 (58) Blessed is the man who has suffered and has found life.

 (69) Blessed are they who have been persecuted within themselves. It is they who have truly come to know the father.

To begin to understand the significance of the Nag Hammadi discovery and its Gospel of Thomas as a way to approach our ecological problems in the 21st century we must understand the meaning of Jesus’ call for inner struggle. When Jesus says to Thomas: When he finds, he will become troubled, Jesus was referring to the abandonment of false gods worshiped, i.e., materialism, power, one’s ego, etc., gods that remove a person from the experience of being at one with the dimension to which Jesus refers asthe Kingdom of God.

The words when he finds refers to finding The Kingdom not in some distant place in the sky, but within ourselves and all of Nature around us.

Jesus makes it very clear that for many it will not be easy to become at one with this Kingdom of God … spread out upon the earth…. He says: Blessed is the man who has suffered and has found life andBlessed are they who have been persecuted within themselves.

Jesus was asking us to join in and be a part another dimensionality. Given the materialist and hedonistic society in which we live, it becomes obvious, as it was at the time of Jesus; that the pain for many will be harsh. So Jesus uses the words: When he finds, he will become troubled.

These words do not sit well in our modern society. The very idea of becoming troubled brings discomfiture. We see this in the “who me worry” response among the many now being made aware of the needed lifestyle changes in order to avert ecological disaster. Any form of change in their lives that would force them to face recognition of planetary reality is avoided.

An unforgiving planet, however, is demanding that we come face to face with this he will become troubled. So here is the question: Can you and I change? Can human society change? And if so how? Again, we must return to the Gospel of Thomas. Jesus is telling us that we cannot find The Kingdom of God until we have cast aside everything in this world that is taking us away from the “other dimensional” purpose of our lives. He is saying only then can we experience the Kingdom of God … spread out upon the earth.

I now ask you to take a huge visual leap; to imagine yourself as having turned away from those self-generated destructive forces that are destroying our planet. Imagine that a critical mass of the public has also turned with you. World political power has entered into agreement on a new societal paradigm. All of humanity has gone through an inner search and experienced the pain associated with that search. People have turned their backs on the false gods of consumerism, egoism, greed and avarice that were distracting them. Humans are living in perfect union in the Kingdom of God … spread out upon the earth. The air is pure. The oceans are pure. Species extinction has been arrested. Human evolution into higher and higher forms is taking its course; the same for all other species. We have found what is insideof us and what is outside of us. Society has come to realize; we spent thousands of years looking for the Kingdom of God up in the heavens, and it was not there at all. It was all along as Jesus told us inside of you, and it is outside of you. God is no longer “up there.” All Abrahamic ascension myths come to their end. Armageddon turns out to be no more than the result of a Freudian self-destructive human psychosis. The contrast between human negativity and the positive power of the “Holy Spirit” as Jesus originally expressed it begins to make sense. We are here on Planet Earth in an ongoing conjunction with the eternal.

Can humanity live in consonance with this “Nature” Jesus idea? Can the above scenario come to pass? Not without greater acceptance as to Jesus’ way to achieve it. Many would prefer to place the blame on a cosmic battle between the forces of good and the forces of evil. Others are too hedonistic to care. Others are just too stupid to understand. Others are too desperate to be concerned. Jesus identified our problem. None of us likes being troubled.

This lost Christian gospel found near an ancient monastery at Nag Hammadi in Upper Egypt shows us how relevant the words of Jesus were to an understanding of the relationship between ourselves and our planet and the cosmos. It also shows that if we are saved, it will be we only who saved ourselves.

 

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References
Beyond Belief, The Secret Gospel of Thomas
The Gnostic Gospels
The Origin of Satan
Elaine Pagels PhD, Department of Religion, Princeton University, scholar on early Christianity. Nominated for Pulitzer Prize.

The Nag Hammadi Library in English
The Gospel of Jesus
James M Robinson, Ph.D, Leader, Coptic translator, Nag Hammadi discovery

Review & Commentary