An American is English, French, Italian, Irish, German, Spanish, Polish, Russian, Greek … An American may also be Mexican, African, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Australian, Iranian, Asian, Arab, Pakistani, Afghan … An American may also be a Cherokee, Osage, Blackfoot, Navaho, Apache or one of the many other tribes known as Native Americans.
An American is Christian, or he could be Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu or Muslim … In fact, there are more Muslims in America than in Afghanistan. The only difference is that in America they are free to worship as each of them chooses. An American is also free to believe in no religion.
An American is from the most prosperous land in the history of the world. The root of that prosperity can be found in the Declaration of Independence, which recognizes the God given right of each man and woman to the pursuit of happiness.
An American is generous. Americans have helped out just about every other nation in the world in their time of need. When Afghanistan was overrun by the Soviet army 20 years ago, Americans came with arms and supplies to enable the people to win back their country. As of the morning of September 11, Americans had given more than any other nation to the poor in Afghanistan: The best products, the best books, the best music, the best food, the best athletes.
Americans welcome the best, but they also welcome the least. The national symbol of America welcomes your tired and your poor, the wretched refuse of your teeming shores, the homeless, tempest tossed. These in fact are the people who built America. Some of them were working in the Twin Towers in the morning of September 11, earning a better life for their families. [I’ve been told that the people in the Towers were from at least 30 and maybe many more other countries, cultures and first languages, including those that aided and abetted the terrorists.]
So you can try to kill an American if you must. Hitler did. So did General Tojo, and Stalin, and Mao Tse-Tung and every bloodthirsty tyrant in the history of the world. However, in doing so you would just be killing yourself. Because Americans are not a particular people from a particular place. They are the embodiment of the human spirit of freedom. Everyone who holds to that spirit, everywhere, is an American.
So look around you. You may find more Americans in your land than you thought were there. One day they will rise up and overthrow the old, ignorant, tired tyrants that trouble too many lands. Then those lands, too, will join the community of free and prosperous nations. And America will welcome them!
[Written by Peter Ferrara, associate professor of law at the George Mason University School of Law]
Not only did our Founding Fathers refuse to include any reference to the Bible, God or Christianity in the Constitution, they left their own views of religion and government for us to refer to during times when religious extremists make false claims like they we have heard for the last few dacades.
Here are 35 quotes by several Founding Fathers that make it clear that the Constitution is the law of the land, not the Bible or any other religious text, and that American is a secular nation open to any religion or none.
1. “If I could conceive that the general government might ever be so administered as to render the liberty of conscience insecure, I beg you will be persuaded, that no one would be more zealous than myself to establish effectual barriers against the horrors of spiritual tyranny and every species of religious persecution.” ~Founding Father George Washington, letter to the United Baptist Chamber of Virginia, May 1789
2. “Of all the animosities which have existed among mankind, those which are caused by a difference of sentiments in religion appear to be the most inveterate and distressing, and ought to be deprecated. I was in hopes that the enlightened and liberal policy, which has marked the present age, would at least have reconciled Christians of every denomination so far that we should never again see the religious disputes carried to such a pitch as to endanger the peace of society.” ~Founding Father George Washington, letter to Edward Newenham, October 20, 1792
3. “We have abundant reason to rejoice that in this Land the light of truth and reason has triumphed over the power of bigotry and superstition… In this enlightened Age and in this Land of equal liberty it is our boast, that a man’s religious tenets will not forfeit the protection of the Laws, nor deprive him of the right of attaining and holding the highest Offices that are known in the United States.” ~Founding Father George Washington, letter to the members of the New Church in Baltimore, January 27, 1793
4. “The United States of America have exhibited, perhaps, the first example of governments erected on the simple principles of nature; and if men are now sufficiently enlightened to disabuse themselves of artifice, imposture, hypocrisy, and superstition, they will consider this event as an era in their history. Although the detail of the formation of the American governments is at present little known or regarded either in Europe or in America, it may hereafter become an object of curiosity. It will never be pretended that any persons employed in that service had interviews with the gods, or were in any degree under the influence of Heaven, more than those at work upon ships or houses, or laboring in merchandise or agriculture; it will forever be acknowledged that these governments were contrived merely by the use of reason and the senses.” ~John Adams, “A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America” 1787-1788
5. “The Government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion.” ~1797 Treaty of Tripoli signed by Founding Father John Adams
6. “Thirteen governments [of the original states] thus founded on the natural authority of the people alone, without a pretence of miracle or mystery, and which are destined to spread over the northern part of that whole quarter of the globe, are a great point gained in favor of the rights of mankind.” ~Founding Father John Adams, “A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America” (1787-88)
7. “We should begin by setting conscience free. When all men of all religions shall enjoy equal liberty, property, and an equal chance for honors and power we may expect that improvements will be made in the human character and the state of society.” ~ Founding Father John Adams, letter to Dr. Price, April 8, 1785
8. “I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibit the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state.” ~Founding Father Thomas Jefferson, letter to the Baptists of Danbury, Connecticut, 1802
9. “In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own. It is error alone that needs the support of government. Truth can stand by itself.” ~Founding Father Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to Horatio Spofford, 1814
10. “Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, then that of blindfolded fear.” ~ Founding Father Thomas Jefferson, letter to Peter Carr, August 10, 1787
11. “I am for freedom of religion and against all maneuvers to bring about a legal ascendancy of one sect over another.” ~ Founding Father Thomas Jefferson, letter to Elbridge Gerry, January 26, 1799
12. “History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance of which their civil as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purposes.” ~ Founding Father Thomas Jefferson: in letter to Alexander von Humboldt, December 6, 1813
13. “Because religious belief, or non-belief, is such an important part of every person’s life, freedom of religion affects every individual. State churches that use government power to support themselves and force their views on persons of other faiths undermine all our civil rights. Moreover, state support of the church tends to make the clergy unresponsive to the people and leads to corruption within religion. Erecting the “wall of separation between church and state,” therefore, is absolutely essential in a free society. We have solved … the great and interesting question whether freedom of religion is compatible with order in government and obedience to the laws. And we have experienced the quiet as well as the comfort which results from leaving every one to profess freely and openly those principles of religion which are the inductions of his own reason and the serious convictions of his own inquiries.” ~ Founding Father Thomas Jefferson: in a speech to the Virginia Baptists, 1808
14. “Christianity neither is, nor ever was a part of the common law.” ~ Founding Father Thomas Jefferson, letter to Dr. Thomas Cooper, February 10, 1814,
15. “The civil government functions with complete success by the total separation of the Church from the State.” ~ Founding Father James Madison, 1819, Writings, 8:432, quoted from Gene Garman, “Essays In Addition to America’s Real Religion”
16. “And I have no doubt that every new example will succeed, as every past one has done, in shewing that religion & Govt will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together.” ~ Founding Father James Madison, letter to Edward Livingston, July 10, 1822
17. “Every new and successful example of a perfect separation between ecclesiastical and civil matters is of importance.” ~ Founding Father James Madison, letter, 1822
18. “Strongly guarded as is the separation between Religion and Government in the Constitution of the United States, the danger of encroachment by Ecclesiastical Bodies, may be illustrated by precedents already furnished in their short history.” ~ Founding Father James Madison; Monopolies, Perpetuities, Corporations, Ecclesiastical Endowments
19. “It is only when the people become ignorant and corrupt, when they degenerate into a populace, that they are incapable of exercising the sovereignty. Usurpation is then an easy attainment, and an usurper soon found. The people themselves become the willing instruments of their own debasement and ruin. Let us, then, look to the great cause, and endeavor to preserve it in full force. Let us by all wise and constitutional measures promote intelligence among the people as the best means of preserving our liberties.” ~ Founding Father James Monroe, First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1817
20. “When a religion is good, I conceive it will support itself; and when it does not support itself, and God does not take care to support it so that its professors are obligated to call for help of the civil power, it’s a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one.” ~ Founding Father Benjamin Franklin, letter to Richard Price, October 9, 1780
21. “Manufacturers, who listening to the powerful invitations of a better price for their fabrics, or their labor, of greater cheapness of provisions and raw materials, of an exemption from the chief part of the taxes burdens and restraints, which they endure in the old world, of greater personal independence and consequence, under the operation of a more equal government, and of what is far more precious than mere religious toleration–a perfect equality of religious privileges; would probably flock from Europe to the United States to pursue their own trades or professions, if they were once made sensible of the advantages they would enjoy, and were inspired with an assurance of encouragement and employment, will, with difficulty, be induced to transplant themselves, with a view to becoming cultivators of the land.” ~ Founding Father Alexander Hamilton: Report on the Subject of Manufacturers December 5, 1791
22. “In regard to religion, mutual toleration in the different professions thereof is what all good and candid minds in all ages have ever practiced, and both by precept and example inculcated on mankind.” ~Samuel Adams, The Rights of the Colonists 1771
23. “That religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and therefore all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forebearance, love, and charity towards each other.” ~ Founding Father George Mason, Virginia Bill of Rights, 1776
24. “It is contrary to the principles of reason and justice that any should be compelled to contribute to the maintenance of a church with which their consciences will not permit them to join, and from which they can derive no benefit; for remedy whereof, and that equal liberty as well religious as civil, may be universally extended to all the good people of this commonwealth.” ~ Founding Father George Mason, Virginia Declaration of Rights, 1776
25. “A man of abilities and character, of any sect whatever, may be admitted to any office or public trust under the United States. I am a friend to a variety of sects, because they keep one another in order. How many different sects are we composed of throughout the United States? How many different sects will be in congress? We cannot enumerate the sects that may be in congress. And there are so many now in the United States that they will prevent the establishment of any one sect in prejudice to the rest, and will forever oppose all attempts to infringe religious liberty. If such an attempt be made, will not the alarm be sounded throughout America? If congress be as wicked as we are foretold they will, they would not run the risk of exciting the resentment of all, or most of the religious sects in America.” ~ Founding Father Edmund Randolph, address to the Virginia Ratifying Convention, June 10, 1788
26. “I never liked the Hierarchy of the Church — an equality in the teacher of Religion, and a dependence on the people, are republican sentiments — but if the Clergy combine, they will have their influence on Government” ~ Founding Father Rufus King, Rufus King: American Federalist, pp. 56-57
27. “A general toleration of Religion appears to me the best means of peopling our country… The free exercise of religion hath stocked the Northern part of the continent with inhabitants; and altho’ Europe hath in great measure adopted a more moderate policy, yet the profession of Protestantism is extremely inconvenient in many places there. A Calvinist, a Lutheran, or Quaker, who hath felt these inconveniences in Europe, sails not to Virginia, where they are felt perhaps in a (greater degree).” ~Patrick Henry, observing that immigrants flock to places where there is no established religion, Religious Tolerance, 1766
28. “No religious doctrine shall be established by law.” ~ Founding Father Elbridge Gerry, Annals of Congress 1:729-731
29. “Knowledge and liberty are so prevalent in this country, that I do not believe that the United States would ever be disposed to establish one religious sect, and lay all others under legal disabilities. But as we know not what may take place hereafter, and any such test would be exceedingly injurious to the rights of free citizens, I cannot think it altogether superfluous to have added a clause, which secures us from the possibility of such oppression.” ~ Founding Father Oliver Wolcott, Connecticut Ratifying Convention, 9 January 1788
30. “Some very worthy persons, who have not had great advantages for information, have objected against that clause in the constitution which provides, that no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States. They have been afraid that this clause is unfavorable to religion. But my countrymen, the sole purpose and effect of it is to exclude persecution, and to secure to you the important right of religious liberty. We are almost the only people in the world, who have a full enjoyment of this important right of human nature. In our country every man has a right to worship God in that way which is most agreeable to his conscience. If he be a good and peaceable person he is liable to no penalties or incapacities on account of his religious sentiments; or in other words, he is not subject to persecution. But in other parts of the world, it has been, and still is, far different. Systems of religious error have been adopted, in times of ignorance. It has been the interest of tyrannical kings, popes, and prelates, to maintain these errors. When the clouds of ignorance began to vanish, and the people grew more enlightened, there was no other way to keep them in error, but to prohibit their altering their religious opinions by severe persecuting laws. In this way persecution became general throughout Europe.” ~ Founding Father Oliver Ellsworth, Philip B Kurland and Ralph Lerner (eds.), The Founder’s Constitution, University of Chicago Press, 1987, Vol. 4, p. 638
31. “Persecution is not an original feature in any religion; but it is always the strongly marked feature of all religions established by law. Take away the law-establishment, and every religion re-assumes its original benignity.” ~Thomas Paine, The Rights of Man, 1791
32. “God has appointed two kinds of government in the world, which are distinct in their nature, and ought never to be confounded together; one of which is called civil, the other ecclesiastical government.” ~ Founding Father Isaac Backus, An Appeal to the Public for Religious Liberty, 1773
33. “Congress has no power to make any religious establishments.” ~ Founding Father Roger Sherman, Congress, August 19, 1789
34. “The American states have gone far in assisting the progress of truth; but they have stopped short of perfection. They ought to have given every honest citizen an equal right to enjoy his religion and an equal title to all civil emoluments, without obliging him to tell his religion. Every interference of the civil power in regulating opinion, is an impious attempt to take the business of the Deity out of his own hands; and every preference given to any religious denomination, is so far slavery and bigotry.” ~ Founding Father Noah Webster, calling for no religious tests to serve in public office, Sketches of American Policy, 1785
35. “The legislature of the United States shall pass no law on the subject of religion.” ~ Founding Father Charles Pinckney, Constitutional Convention, 1787
If the so-called conservatives have their way, America as we know it will cease to exist and the freedoms we have enjoyed because the Constitution will erode. The Founding Fathers trusted Americans to guarantee religious freedom and keep the government a secular institution that serves everyone. We would be dishonoring them and reducing all of their hard work if we allow religious bigots to destroy it now. If such a thing were to succeed, July 4th would never have the same meaning again.
“Orlando Shooter Was Reportedly a Regular at Pulse and Had a Profile on Gay Dating App Gabrielle Bluestone.”
This should not be surprising to anyone who has studied psychology and or psychiatry. His violence was the rage of a homosexual man who was deeply self hating, full of envy, and religiously programmed to be filled with shame, self hate and remorse over the fact that he was born Gay and could not change it. That may also explain his violence toward his wife. In many of the formerly married Gay men that I have interviewed, they had become angry with their wives because they had been led to believe that getting married would make them no longer Gay, and they felt that their wives had let them down by not effecting that change in them. This is, among other reasons, why we know that 99% of virulently homophobic men are deeply self-hating Gay men who have been programmed in one way or another to despise themselves for the way they were born and the fact that there is no possibility of changing themselves.
The following is a reply to my son Adam concerning his response to my words above. His conclusion had been similar to mine:
Son, even if he had not had a psychiatric condition at birth, self loathing is almost certain to generate a mental illness. The bitterness of self-hatred is often projected as a hatred toward those who are not suffering from self-hatred. This sort of envy breeds a virulent anger that can erupt in violence. The Orlando shooter appears to have referred to ISIS as a self-justification. There has as yet been no evidence that he was actually connected with any terrorist organisation. I surmise that if his actions were terrorist related, it was to the terrorism that his religion had committed on him and his psyche. This is one of the great evils of juridicalism and fundamentalism. It programmes so many people to have a deep self-loathing. We find from studies done in paliative care hospices that the people who fear death the most are usually the most religious ones who come from traditions were guilt is significant and a fundamentalist view of hell and judgment are strong.
The ancient Christian faith can be a relative expression of the universal truth that all life is sacred and united.
• Christianity is one of many paths on the journey of experiencing the divine. All people are free to explore and discover the heritage of diverse spiritual traditions.
• A conciliatory Christian presence is inclusive of all and exclusive of none; and denounces discrimination based on gender, race, sexuality, nationality, language, culture, religion, disability or other distinguishing features.
• Participating in the “Great Commission” (St. Mark 16:15) requires demonstration of the liberating message of the Gospel, not just its proclamation: We must practice what we preach.
• Progress on the journey of spiritual development requires that we welcome and encourage the questioning of traditional and contemporary interpretations of the Christian faith.
• The Gospel message of Jesus Christ compels all believers to strive for justice and peace among all people and to become dedicated advocates of the poor and oppressed.
• The Christian faith includes reverence and care for our planet and all created things.
• The Christian faith is a journey of spiritual development and requires a commitment to continuous learning, progress, grace and love.
5) “That’s not Christian…”
I’ve heard this a lot. I once told a person that I meditated. They responded, “Well, that’s not Christian you know…”
See, the problem with that line of thinking is that it narrows what can be identified with living a life in Christ. Rob Bell does a great job in his book Velvet Elvis on dissecting the danger in turning the word “Christian” from a noun (as it’s used in the Bible) into an Adjective. In the noun form, a Christian is a follower of Christ. In the Adjective form, it describes an action…presumably an action that a follower of Christ should/shouldn’t do, and therefore sets up categories that have definite barriers. In doing so, it implies some judgment that is unwarranted at best and untrue at worst. Consider these phrases that I’ve actually heard:
“It’s not Christian to fire that person.” (Implication: A Christian can’t do some things, because they’re seen as “mean”)
“It’s not Christian to think those sexual thoughts.” (Implication: A Christian isn’t sexual, or if they are, they don’t think about it, because God hates sex and real Christians can control such things)
“You can’t do yoga! It’s not a Christian practice…” (Implication: A Christian can’t borrow from other faith traditions…or, apparently, stretch with intentional breathing on rubber mats)
“You can’t get a tattoo; it’s unchristian to defile the temple of God.” (Implication: God has an opinion about the tribal band around your ankle)
People say it all the time, and while a generous interpretation of their words might be to assume they are calling a specific action/thought into question, the reality is that they just end up calling the person doing that thought/action “unchristian”…to hurtful consequences. For those questioning or skeptical of faith, it erects another barrier, and further narrowly defines who is in or out of a relationship with God.
What if someone were to say, “It’s unchristian to make that amount of money”? Or, “It’s unchristian to have a house that large because you really don’t need that much space”?
We should ban “Christian” in the Adjective form, since we can’t use it with any consistency.
4) “I love the sinner but I hate the sin..”
See, the problem that I have with this phrase is that it assumes that “sin” is a specific action that is done/can be undone. If that’s the case, name the specific action that you hate.
“I love you, Tommy, but I don’t like it when you break my glasses.” “I love you, Sarah, but I don’t like it when you kick my shins.”
But really, I haven’t heard this phrase used in those ways. I’ve only heard it used when people are talking about identity.
“I love gay people, I just hate that they act on their homosexual orientation…”
There we go. There’s an honest statement – and an unhelpful one.
It’s unhelpful because, you can’t love me apart from my sexuality. I really don’t think you can. It’s part of what makes me who I am, even if it’s not the whole of my definition. So, if you were to say to me, “I love you, but I hate that you’re heterosexual…” I would probably stop listening right then and there because, well, I wouldn’t believe you.
You can’t love me and yet hate an essential part of me. This phrase is disingenuous.
3) “You need to surround yourself with some good Christian people…”
I once had a well-meaning friend tell me this when I was trying to sort out a problem. I think they were suggesting that I seek faith-based advice. I understand that sentiment, but one of the problems with this sort of thinking is that, well, when you live in a bubble all you breathe is soapy air, and you may begin to think that is all there is.
As a pastor, people want me to have office hours at church. But in all seriousness, I can’t all the time. If I don’t go to the coffee house a couple times a week, I suffocate in my bubble. I need diversity, because it is only in diversity where my thoughts, beliefs and ideas are challenged.
It is delusional to believe that somehow surrounding yourself with only one worldview will help you see the world better.
2) “You just have to do God’s will…”
I am utterly suspicious of people who claim to know the specific will of God.
I’m even more suspicious of people who claim that God’s greatest wish is to have us be in a relationship with God. I think this is where much “praise and worship” music get it’s singular focus.
In the abstract, I get what they’re saying. I think God does desire for humanity to live in shalom with it’s creator. But to claim that this will takes precedence over God’s desire to have humanity live in shalom with one another, and with the environment, and with other creation is, I think, short-sighted. Theology runs into a similar problem when it focuses so much on “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus” and fails to mention the other persons of the Trinity.
We run into real problems when we begin to think that with regard to specific situations (like, say, my future husband/wife) that God has one will.
I cannot see how that can be true. I love my wife, but do I think she’s the only person in the world I could have married? Do I think that I’m the only person in the world she could have married? Of course not.
I hope this gives some freedom to those in the world who believe that there is only one right job, one right spouse, one right school, one right anything that they must find or else they’re missing out on God’s will for their life.
1) “It’s all in God’s plan…”
That you lost your baby. That your sister was murdered. That you got cancer. That your life is in shambles.
I really can’t think of a worse thing to say to someone, especially when they’re in pain.
We cannot use God to fill in the gaps between events and the people they effect. We want to give solace, to promise that there is a purpose behind madness, but if there is one thing that the cross shows us definitively, it is that God takes the pain in the world and makes resurrection.
But we should not think that this means that God makes the world’s pain, or the specific pain in a person’s life. It’s an important distinction.
One of the reasons why people leave their faith for a while was, because they had heard too many times that God was flipping switches on people: causing children to die, cancer to spread, poverty to happen, etc.
Not only do I think that saying this to someone is adding hurt to hurt, I think it breaks the second commandment. When we say such things, we use God’s name in vain; we use it “uselessly” (as the word is better translated).
So when you’re confronted with the news of your friend’s tragedy or a relative’s pain, stand in solidarity with them and scream, “Dammit!” – I think that those who call themselves Christian don’t think enough about their words!
The practice of True Reality is simply to sit serenely in silent introspection. When you have fathomed this you cannot be turned around by external causes and conditions. This empty, wide-open mind is subtly and correctly illuminating. Spacious and content, without confusion from inner thoughts of grasping, effectively overcome habitual behavior and realize the self that is not possessed by emotions. You must be broad-minded, whole without relying on others. Such upright independent spirit can begin not to pursue degrading situations. Here you can rest and become clean, clear and lucid. Bright and penetrating, you can immediately return, accord, and respond to deal with events. Everything is unhindered, clouds gracefully floating up to the peaks, the moonlight glitteringly flowing down mountain streams. The entire place is brightly illumined and spiritually transformed, totally unobstructed and clearly manifesting responsive interaction like box and lid or arrow points meeting. Continuing, cultivate and nourish yourself and achieve stability. If you accord everywhere with thorough clarity and cut off sharp corners without dependence on doctrines, like the white bull or the wildcat, helping to arouse wonder, you can be called a complete person. So we hear that this is how one on the way of non-mind acts, but before realizing non-mind we still have great hardship.
(Hongzhi “Practice Instructions”)
The spiritual wisdom to be found in the Gospel of Thomas just may be the kind of spiritual wisdom contemporary Christians most need.
The Gospel of Thomas is part of the collection of fifty-two texts (thirteen papyrus books – “codices”) discovered in December of 1945 by an Egyptian peasant digging for fertilizer near the modern city of Nag Hammadi. The Gospel of Thomas is a compilation of wisdom sayings attributed to Jesus, some of which parallel sayings in the Synoptic Gospels. It represents the kind of Christianity that flourished in Syria by at least the last part of the first century. It may have even been written as early as the Synoptic Gospels.
In this Gospel Jesus performs no miracles or healings, there is no link to or claim that Jesus fulfills prophesy, and there is no passion or resurrection narrative. Jesus does not die for sins in the Gospel of Thomas. Salvation is found in the struggle to understand and appropriate the wisdom Jesus taught and embodied.
I find it particularly significant that in Thomas there is no announcement of an apocalyptic kingdom that will disrupt the present world order. In Thomas the kingdom of God is here and now.
Thomas, like the Synoptic Gospels, affirms that the kingdom of God was a central focus of Jesus’ teaching, but in the Synoptics the kingdom is referenced in both present and future tenses. Some of the references are simply ambiguous. In Mark 1:15 (also Matt. 4:17) Jesus announces that the kingdom is “at hand” (RSV) or “has come near” (NRSV). This could mean that the kingdom is imminent – that it is soon to break in upon the world, or it could mean that it is already here and is accessible.
Some historical Jesus scholars paint Jesus primarily as an eschatological prophet who believed the kingdom of God would break into the world through divine intervention in apocalyptic fashion bringing an end to the present age. Other Jesus historians believe that Jesus was primarily a Jewish reformer, sage, and mystic. They argue that the apocalyptic passages in the Gospels reflect the faith of Jesus’ early followers who believed that in light of God raising Jesus from the dead the end of the present age was at hand (see 1 Thess. 4:13-18; 1 Cor. 7:25-31). In their preaching and teaching they recast their apocalyptic faith back into the story of Jesus. Still others see all these portraits (reformer, sage, mystic, and apocalyptic prophet) as part of the complex person that constitutes the historical Jesus.
The closest thing we get to an apocalyptic saying in the Gospel of Thomas is Logion 113, which actually functions to shift the focus off the future to the present,
His followers said to him, “When will the kingdom come?” “It will not come by watching for it. It will not be said, ‘Look, here it is,’ or ‘Look, there it is.’ Rather, the father’s kingdom is spread out upon the earth, and people do not see it.” (Trans. from Marvin Meyer, The Gospel of Thomas, 1992)
It is not here or there, it is everywhere. It’s not going to come in the future, it’s already here. It’s spread out over the entire earth. The problem is that most people are not enlightened. They do not see it.
The spiritual question this evokes is not, “When will the kingdom come?” or “How will it come?” It’s here everywhere right now. So the question is, “Why can’t I see it?” or even better, “What will it take for my eyes to be opened?”
Logion 3 is similar,
Jesus said, “If your leaders say to you, ‘Look, the kingdom is in heaven,’ then the birds of heaven will precede you. If they say to you, ‘It is in the sea,’ then the fish will precede you. Rather, the kingdom is inside you and it is outside you. When you know yourselves, then you will be known, and you will understand that you are children of the living father. But if you do not know yourselves, then you will dwell in poverty, and you are poverty.” (Meyer, 1992)
Jesus is poking fun, but also speaking truth. The kingdom is in the sky and in the sea for the kingdom is both “inside” us and “outside” us. But we will never recognize God’s reign/presence in the air or the sea, unless we first recognize it inside us.
When we know ourselves then we are known, because we recognize the divine presence and image within and are enlightened to our true identity as children of God. To know our true selves is to know the One who knows us thoroughly.
When we come to know the God who lives inside us, then we are able to see and sense the divine presence and reality everywhere – in the sky and sea, among fish and fowl, in rain forests and on busy city streets.
When we come to experience the Really Real in the depths of the human soul, we can find God: in suffering as well as pleasure, in sadness and grief as well as joy and celebration, in life and death. When we discover the Beyond Within, we can find God all over the place – in a rock, in a flower, in a dog or cat, and especially and most importantly in our neighbor who is not less than the Christ (Matt. 25:40).
I think it’s time to put the Gospel of Thomas right alongside the canonical Gospels. It contains valuable insights and practical wisdom for modern seekers. Its time has come.
- The discovery of the full text in Coptic of the Gospel of Thomas confirmed that a previous discovery of three Greek papyri found in a rubbish heap at Oxyrhynchus (modern Bhanasa, Egypt) in 1897 and 1904 were sayings from the Gospel of Thomas. These papyri represent Greek editions and reveal that several editions were in circulation. Since the earliest of these fragments dates around 200 C.E. this means that the Gospel of Thomas may have been written in the late first century or early second century. Also, taking into account the likelihood of a sayings source (“Q”) utilized by both Matthew and Luke in the composition of their gospels, it’s quite possible the Gospel of Thomas was written about that time. Many scholars who engage in comparative analysis of the sayings of Jesus argue that in a number of cases where the sayings in Thomas parallel sayings in the Synoptics the form of the sayings in Thomas may be the closest to the original.
(Chuck Queen, Baptist minister)