I’ll begin by reiterating my personal beliefs and what I think society needs from the spiritual. Then I will briefly examine my favorite historical western religion before descending into some lighthearted make-believe.
My Personal Relationship with God(s)
I grew up Catholic. Around the time I was 13 or so, I decided that wasn’t working out for many reasons which I won’t get into. I started telling people I was “agnostic” because it didn’t piss off Christians or atheists, but eventually I wanted to determine what that meant for me exactly. While this was going on, I found a lot of spiritual enlightenment in the pursuits of art, psychonautics, love and transitioning. Ultimately, I made a religion concurrently with my personal development, which I’ve detailed extensively on this blog. That’s my background when it comes to religion. Let it be known that these were the conditions of the garden from whence the next 40 blasphemies were sown.
As I was searching for the answer, I found that the study of religions and their evolution was fascinating in and of itself. Imagine how different the world would be if Mandaeism or Gnosticism had achieved the status of Christianity or Islam in our timeline, for example. A religion centered on daily baptism might be incentivized to take better care of its waterways, and a religion emphasizing man’s spiritual/philosophical potential above his physical/material half might lead to stronger focus on education. In all cases, a religion is shaped from the society it springs from, but religions also go on to mold the society in turn. All religious dogma exists in the minds of its respective believers, just as all religious decrees are only as strong as the men who carry them out. Without worshippers, even Gods can be killed by time: Zoroastrianism and Manichaeism used to be massive and now they’re all but gone, for example. These realizations led me to fully appreciate the true connection between not only all these cults, but heaven and Earth itself. The mediator between the animal component of man (that of the physical/material world,) and the soul (of the spiritual/philosophical) is the sapient mind.
In all the known universe, the only naturally occurring processor God(s) saw fit to create was the brain of sapient creatures like human beings. This invaluable organ is a blank slate to absorb tomes of information, just as much as it’s a two-way camera analyzing every stimuli. The mind is the seed from which all religions spring, the tool which God(s) trusted us to navigate their universe. The mind is the prismatic reflector of all existence, twisting outside observations into impossible webs of new introverted perceptions. The mind is infinite in scope if not in volume, the collaboration between billions of autonomous neurons. The mind is the only thing apart from God(s) that is capable of imaginative creation. Our emotions and experiences are the medium through which God(s) operate(s)–or at least, the filter by which we perceive their will and actions. Therefore, the mind must be considered uniquely divine among material objects, if anything has the right to such an honor. Consciousness is the bride of the cosmos: the key and lock for a Pantheistic God(s) to traverse their own creation. Sapient beings live in symbiosis with spirits: as we thrive off nature’s bounty, they thrive in our imaginations, at the rate of a quintillion unique computations per second.
Everyone’s god is an individualized projection of themselves, taken from each of our flawed and facsimile perceptions of reality. (Even two members of the same sect will not imagine the exact same God with the exact same agenda in their heads.) That means everyone’s inherent worth is as equal and undeniable as that of anyone else’s, for we all have a unique, irreplaceable fragment of the divine sapience within us. To be a good person in such a system is to cultivate one’s own mind and those of their neighbors as much as possible. The wider the breadth of experiences and ideas a mind has absorbed, the deeper the scope of its thoughts and the more it enhances all of creation. The sacraments consist of (among other things) reading/learning, creating things, meditation, accruing experiences, encountering new cultures and altered states of consciousness. Every unnecessary loss of sapient processing power, from murder to malicious silencing of any kind, means losing a unique conception of God(s) and is therefore a crime against our collective potential. As long as these principles are not broken, then all the good done in the name of Joe’s flawed perception of the Creator (whom he calls “Moad”) is also good done in the name of all the pantheistic Creation.
If what I’m saying sounds too “out there,” then consider how the Judeo-Christian tradition changed over time. Moses (supposedly) lived to free us from political bondage, and his god sent plagues to warn other countries not to mess with his people. The Bronze Age Israel crafted a suitably brutal God because they lived in an era of “might makes right.” Jesus (supposedly) died to free us from spiritual malaise, and his god sacrificed himself on our behalf so we would never have to fear any unjust authority again. The first century Judea had their Messiah teach in simple parables for a society of uneducated men. God(s) and their messengers adapt their methodology as society needs them to change. So then, what does that mean for the future? How might religion adapt to our society, or vice versa?
The Aquarius, they who have yet to come or yet to be (re)discovered, is the new emissary whose word will stir the continents for the remainder of the age. The Aquarian leader must free us from the ongoing intellectual stagnation caused by a complex feedback loop of our economic, educational, and cultural shortcomings as well as general malaise due to the state of our planet. The Aquarian prophet’s mandate is to establish a new covenant with God(s) in order to give us meaning again in the post-modern world, whatever that specific creed may be. A prospective Aquarian prophet might then teach in cross-referenced scholarly articles now that a critical mass of people have the knowledge and technology to access them. Or a hypothetical Aquarian preacher might communicate through logical discourses meant to encourage critical thinking in the reader, if not necessarily a definitive answer. In all cases, holy messengers are meant to use the vernacular of their day for the purpose of raising morale among mankind, so that we may fulfill our own potential.
I believe we need a religious reawakening to inspire people in a depressed, mistreated, post-science (and increasingly post-truth) world. We need a new spirituality that answers the question “why” in an age where empiricism (or conspiracy theories) can answer everything else. We need someone to teach us that everyone matters, and then deal with the euphoric as well as dystopian aftereffects which will surely arise from that. We need a person with nothing to lose, incorruptible and imperceptible, who will use the exponential reach of current technology to bring down humanity’s albatross. The Aquarius will destroy all institutions larger than the individual, from organized religion to centralized government, because they have abused their power for centuries. A new social framework will arise from the bottom-up in the ruins of the old Piscean landscape. The spiritual leader would then use technology to outsource man’s collective processing power, channeling our propensity for creativity into communal projects without interference from bad faith actors along the proverbial supply-chain. Everything will be rebuilt anew, and everything larger than the individual must clearly and consistently demonstrate its merit to society. It’s time mankind was freed from the bounds of these artificial entities he’s enslaved himself to, like corporations and nations states. When we root out the disastrous laws and disincentives which have stalled man’s potential, the resultant meritocracy of ideas will allow us to properly tackle the rest of our problems, if it isn’t already too late…
We will eventually get some major shift if civilization lasts long enough, because that’s the natural course of evolution for religious beliefs. I just feel as though we needed it to come sooner for meaningful action to happen in time. Pondering these concepts is how I got to researching obscure “heretical” sects of Christianity and imagining new ones which would have made the world a better place. That’s what the rest of this post is going to be about.
A Brief Defense of the “Heresy,” Gnosticism
Interestingly, an Aquarian-compatible religion may have already come and gone almost 2000 years ago, in the shadow of Christianity.
I will preface this section by saying that I have a special relationship with the underdogs of history. I’m the kind of person who sings the praises of Ancient Carthage, reads the Anti-Federalist Papers and laments the loss of George McGovern. One of my hobbies is seeking out lost or obscure media which has been unfairly overlooked. So, perhaps it was inevitable I would someday find the apocryphal books of the Bible. Before any conservatively-oriented religious people faint reading this (if they haven’t already) just keep in mind what I say in this section primarily comes from a place of empathy towards history’s losers.
In case you didn’t know, there weren’t just the four Gospels. There were hundreds of them, most of which did not make it into the Bible, and usually they represented the views of alternative sects of Christianity. You see, it wasn’t a straight line between Jesus delivering the great covenant and the building of the Vatican palace. Multiple groups purported to offer the true word of God, and they fundamentally disagreed on some key points. Assuming that we live in a purely secular or deist world for a second (so no one can argue God directly influenced the canon), I think it’s important to consider that it was not a given that Catholic Christianity should become the winner of the ideological struggle. The first through fourth century Middle East was a diverse mixing pot that blended ideas from many different cultures together. There’s an alternate timeline where Mani is worshipped as the leader of a religion that stretches from Europe to Asia, and where Zoroastrianism has 100 million followers instead of 100 thousand. The messianic figure in our own timeline easily could have been Simon Magus, John the Baptist, Seth or Basilides if things had gone differently. And, I don’t know about the rest of you, but as a history and religion buff, that blows my mind. I didn’t know most of these people or their ideologies existed a few days ago, and now my mind is teeming with the possibilities they represent.
As it happens, I have never thought that orthodox Christianity (what would go on to be Nicene and eventually Catholic Christianity) was the best variation which existed in the early days of the faith. Most of the main branches had disagreeable elements to them: where I appreciate Paul’s distaste for circumcision, I’m not a fan of salvation through faith alone. (Vice versa for the Judaizing James and Peter branches, then.) In my personal, half-informed layman’s opinion, I think the Gospel of Mark is the only one which presents a (mostly) plausible account of the historical Jesus. Everything else has an agenda, a biased filter when relaying events, and various embellishments. As a result, none of the disputes over Christology (did he suffer on the cross, was he fully human/divine, made of the same essence as the father, etc) interest me very much, nor does the battle over the trinity. While they’re all interesting from a historical perspective, I only judge each book’s spiritual merits, apocryphal or not, on its theology and morality. I do not let the popularity of certain books in an age of illiteracy, nor the subjective opinion of a few biased old men in some councils, determine which books have wisdom in them.
With that in mind, the most fascinating sect of early Christianity from my perspective is Gnosticism. I almost think to call it a mere apocrypha of Christianity is to do it an injustice, for no other heretical sect dared to offer such a radically different theology. There were multiple variations of Gnosticism over centuries, using different holy texts than their Christian counterparts, and often with radically different cosmologies. In many flavors of Gnosticism, the Earth itself was not created by the “Good” God of the spiritual authority, but a lower, flawed demiurge god of the material. According to my cursory research, Gnostics blended Christianity with neoplatonism and pagan mystery religions, with some branches worshipping Jesus alongside secular teachers like Socrates, Plato and Pythagoras. (Which is really cool, and coincidentally what I did in my Bible project.) Supposedly, Gnostics tended to place a greater importance on individual revelation and hidden knowledge as opposed to blind faith and conformity to the church hierarchy as well. I’ve seen some sources argue that even the Gospel of John has gnostic elements in it (such as the title “the word” or “logos” for Jesus) which shows just how early and how fully entwined it became with Christianity.
ASIDE: Incidentally, I have no evidence for this besides a hunch based on their kindness towards women, but I speculate that Gnosticism originated from an offshoot of a sect founded by Mary Magdalene. Many Gnostic texts feature Mary as a much more prominent character than those of the orthodox canon, and sometimes she has one-on-one conversations with Jesus in which she alone is given secret knowledge. We do not know much about Gnosticism’s origins and while it clearly strayed off the beaten path over time, I’m inclined to think it originated from a genuine follower of Jesus.
The subject of Gnosticism is too complicated and I’m not qualified to do it justice here. What’s important is that I admire the schools of thought founded by Valentinus, Carpocrates and their respective followers. I love the angel/aeon Sophia (wisdom), who either creates the world or the demiurge god which in turn creates the world. In some sects she was revered as like a female equivalent to Jesus himself. They were a gendered set of consorts, a syzygy, like the 30 other angels (aeons) who’d pair up as well. In at least one version, she was honored as the third person in the trinity, in place of the holy spirit. Along with this divine feminine figure, they also gave greater roles in the religion to mortal women, including letting us perform the ceremonies. Epiphanes‘ book On Righteousness, advocated a proto-communist lifestyle, with shared spouses and possessions. Marcus‘ writings ascribed a numerologist and Greek letter significance to each angel/aeon, representing the divine beauty in mathematics and language. They thought that it was best to experience as much as one can in life as possible so the soul wouldn’t feel any need to return to the material plane after death. This included a libertine attitude towards sex, so much so that orthodox Christian authors even accused similar sects of eating semen and menses in place of the traditional body and blood of the eucharist. (Personally, I think this must be some kind of metaphor we’ve lost track of, like a call to have sexual intercourse perhaps, or a reiteration of the syzygys motif. It seems like the Gnostics really liked the male-female binary symbolism, with the “bridechamber” holding sacramental significance.) I don’t have much else to say about this topic, I just think it’s really cool that so many of my religious ideas were already being played out 2000 years ago. I sincerely find the Valentinian/Carpocratian traditions of Gnosticism to be a beautiful system of belief. I think a compelling argument could be made that, had these sects been the ones to ascend to Catholicism, the world would be a better place.
All my life, I was forced to conform to a certain variation of a particular faith, when really the “one true way” I was taught was just one piece of a varied spiritual tapestry that was the evolution of religion in the Eastern Mediterranean. It just shows how silly all the rules are: there’s always a Paul to say Moses is wrong, or Gnostic sects which agree the physical world is evil but take radically different approaches in response. (Some chose rigid asceticism, others libertine experientalism.) All religious dogma is arbitrary and made up, with a dozen other holy men ready to tell you exactly how wrong the other guy is. So just be good to other people as well as yourself, and love God(s) how you please. Religion should just be a personal thing, and in my opinion the idea of standardization or canonization is ridiculous anyway. No council may dictate an individual’s right to choose their own relationship with God(s).
Maybe some people won’t understand this, but as a spiritual non-Christian, I find the long tradition of the Canaanite-Yahwist-Jewish-Christian-Gnostic-Muslim-Mani god to be more fascinating than the dogma in any of its individual variations. Taken together, they represent all the ways in which mankind has expressed an appreciation for the unknowable, all the names on which we have bestowed the infinite. To me, the existence of alternate sects with their own rituals is like a woman being honored by her father, husband, daughter and friend. Each one will think of her differently, show their appreciation in personalized ways, maybe use different titles or nicknames for her. She’s still the same woman who’s real to all of them, she appreciates the variety of affection, and nobody’s love for her is more justifiable than anyone else’s–they’re just different.
Bible Fan Fiction
So, we’ve established that religious dogma was far from stagnant and that there are a lot of crazy Gospels on the fringe of history. This then leads me to wonder what other “far out” sects have come and gone without a trace. What are some interesting “alternate Christianity” scenarios you can imagine? They can’t be too much weirder than some of the books that are actually out there, so who’s to say something similar couldn’t have existed at one time? Maybe I’m alone, but I like to play around with the possibilities. For fun, here are some imaginative “what if” Gospels I came up with in the event that history had taken a different turn.
1) What if Asherah Had “Survived” into Judaism and Beyond?
This post has mostly stuck to New Testament apocrypha, but the formation of the Old Testament is just as fascinating. Probably the single biggest thing that blew my mind about proto-Biblical Israelite faith is the fact that Yahweh originally had a wife named Asherah. She was the Queen of the Gods, possibly a regional variant of Isis and/or Aphrodite, who was associated with harvests, sacred groves and snakes. Like the rest of the polytheistic Canaanite gods, she was not phased out in favor of Yahwist-Monotheism until after the Babylonian Captivity. Supposedly the Genesis story we now know may have been a redrafting of a earlier myth, done with the intention of having Yahweh (now tending the sacred garden himself) supplant Asherah’s role entirely, with her snakes being demonized for good measure.
I always thought it’d be cool if there was a “god the mother” or if femininity could just have a place in Christianity besides “be a virgin forever and you can be remembered as the hero’s mom.” What if in an alternate timeline Asherah had been exempted from the purges on account of being Yahweh’s wife? Maybe she could even be redefined as a name for God’s female attributes, or a subordinate companion God created for himself, or an angel rather than a god…but whichever way, she’s a prominent figure in the new theology. If the transition to monotheism had happened a little differently, perhaps Yahweh could have assumed her name and powers too, the same as he did for El, Baal and a dozen others. I’d like to think of an alt-Christianity where we attribute phenomena in the physical world (like rain) to “God the Mother, the fertile Earth” then matters of humanity (like remembering something or finding inner strength to do something hard) to “God the Son, the benevolent instructor” and spiritual concerns (like watching over Grandpa’s soul in the afterlife) to “God the Father, ruler of heaven.”
If an Earth-mother goddess gained such stature so as to live on into the common era, maybe the Judeo-Christian religion would have put more emphasis on preserving the planet, planting trees, and an equal appreciation for the physical world along the spiritual world. Maybe services would be more commonly held outside in the woods, and the money which would have been used for cathedrals might instead go towards maintaining community gardens for the hungry. (Or researching herbal medicines or something.) As Christianity overtook the Roman world as in our timeline, Asherah would come to be associated with Ceres/Demeter and possibly also Hestia/Vesta, goddesses of the harvest and hearth, respectively. Perhaps each of their domains would merge into a proper Christian matron’s private family grove, where the various plants and animals might personify family members in a prayer or sacramental rite. (With the biggest tree being the oldest remembered ancestor.)
In this hypothetical theology, Asherah rather than Mary would be the “real” mother of Jesus. Mary would join Joseph as “merely” his guardian in infancy on Earth. Perhaps the figure of Jesus would be merged with Demeter’s daughter Persephone, and the yearly nuptial in the Underworld for 6 months where nothing grows might be redefined as a yearly harrowing of hell. Or perhaps every year, on each solstice, Jesus travels between the Spiritual plane of the Father and the Material plane of the Mother. This migration might be explained as the ferrying of souls up to Heaven (in the Winter Solstice) and the ferrying of angels/aeons down to renew life every spring. With the butterfly effect being what it is, in this timeline Jesus only gets 7 main followers, who would come to be associated with the wandering stars as seen from Earth.
2) What if Sophia Had Become a Mainstay?
In this timeline, a version of Christianity which blends certain elements of Gnosticism and orthodoxy is selected by Rome to be the new official religion. The angel Sophia is one aspect of Gnosticism which remains, along with the androgynous Barbelo conception of God and 30 aeons/angels, but not much else. The Greco-Roman world likely associates Sophia with Athena/Minerva, influencing the way she would be depicted in sculptures, engravings and paintings for all time. Perhaps Sophia is the go-between for mortals and God in this religion’s scripture; anytime an angel interacts with people face-to-face, it’s Sophia. In this ethos, God the Creator’s name is Barbelo, their role is the divine essence upholding all creation, and their personality is that of a removed and stoic overseer. God the Son’s name is Jesus, his role is the benevolent instructor and his personality is at once a gentle teacher as well as a fiery preacher. God the Daughter’s name is Sophia, her role is the holy spirit which grants us inner wisdom, and her personality is that of a reassuring diplomat, always telling people not to be afraid of divine visions. Curiously, in this version of Gnosticism, Jesus is associated with the material world (since he was born to the Earth) while Sophia is associated with the spiritual (since she sprang from God’s head like Athena–at least, once the dogma was adapted by the Greco-Romans!)
Maybe as further bleed-over from paganism, the remaining angels are renamed and associated with the various Greco-Roman deities who embodied a bunch of different abstract concepts as well as personality traits and characteristics. Jesus is said to embody all of these qualities at once despite his physical flesh. He is described as the bridge which leads the angels and their virtues to the otherwise doomed materialistic people on Earth. To justify such a belief system, there would have to be some really compelling gospels behind it. Perhaps in a “Gospel of Cassandra,” Jesus raises Mary Magdalene to Heaven and introduces her to each of the 30 angels. Sophia is introduced last (she is the Omega to Jesus’ Alpha) and is said to comprise of seven personalities, each representing the seven chakra by which we perceive the spiritual world. Jesus is described as having five personalities, each representing the five senses by which we perceive the material plane of existence. Each angel’s introduction is accompanied by a parable or monologue relaying the importance of their respective attribute, but it’s always noted that Sophia’s wisdom is what makes it possible to be aware of the other virtues and strive for them. In the end, Sophia alone escorts Mary to God (symbolically as does wisdom) and discusses the value of the sapient mind. When Mary returns to share Jesus’ final hidden wisdom with the twelve, they ridicule and banish her from their covenant. The Gospel ends there.
According to church tradition, Mary Magdalene would go on to found the one true faith, stamping out the heresies of Paul and Peter. Mary was said to have formed a material syzygy with Christ on Earth in mirror to his spiritual syzygy with Sophia in Heaven. (Christ, again, forming the bridge between both planes of existence.) This sacred bond would be honored in the sacrament of the bridechamber as described in the Gnostic Gospel of Philip (which is a canonical book in this timeline’s Bible). Christ’s dual marriage would be used to justify communal wives (as well as land) in accordance with the Epiphanes text (which is also a canonical book,) On Righteousness
3) A Gender-Reversed Gnosticism.
I thought it’d be interesting if, instead of a male savior paired with female angel syzygy that Gnosticism has, the genders were reversed. What if the messiah had been female–perhaps to counteract the exclusively male-dominate sphere of political authority? What if she had been a willful, defiant woman who bucked social conventions in order to get ahead? What if she was a scarlet whore, like the moonchild described in L Ron Hubbard’s bizarre pre-Scientology rituals? Or maybe she’s an innocent moonchild like in the King Crimson song. What if she was similar to Jeanne, the titular character in Belladonna of Sadness (1973), and made a pact (this being an adoptionist christology) with the demiurge/material god? Maybe, through a series of forgotten botanical trickeries, she’d grow a garden full of psychedelic and herbalist plants, ready to share with anyone who sought out her wisdom. Or perhaps a woman-messiah might be the embodiment of Maria Ergstrom: a self-emancipated femme fatale who can use her feminine wiles to dominate men.
In this religion, Sophia would be replaced in the Heavens by Ganymede, the water-bearer to Zeus, in a bit of bleed-over between Semitic and Greco-Roman mythology. The cosmology would involve Ganymede as an angel, God’s beloved servant and perhaps the well-meaning but misguided creator of the flawed material Earth. (Or in some sects, the father of the demiurge which created the world.) Spirit-God would correct this error by bringing sapient creatures with a spiritual essence to life. There would be some kind of metaphor about how the Earthly moonchild represents fertile soil. Even in death, as her flesh returns to the Earth in order to feed the new crop, her soul renews itself in heaven and her martyrdom brings change for the next generation. Complementary to this, Ganymede provides the rain on Earth as he offers newly ascended souls with refreshment. Meanwhile, the Spirit-God (Caelastella, or “All Heaven and Stars,” a female Creator-deity) provides the illumination which powers the Earth and guides souls into Heaven like a lighthouse. With all three, the proverbial seed which is our spiritual core (trapped in a physical shell during our mortal life, as you’ll recall) is able to renew itself as a great, self-sustaining “plant” in the Galactic Garden. There, the starlight “soul-plants” bathe in each others’ rejuvenating psycho-luminescence and enjoy the radiant beauty of the collective whole.
In any scenario, the moonchild would easily be persecuted as a witch, a succubus, a reborn Helen of Troy, Lilith incarnate and a servant of the devil. Perhaps in this timeline, God purposefully sent down someone inflammatory to our cultural sensibilities, in order to gauge how we would treat such a person. Sects develop of all kinds where Caelastella sends seven different messiahs, each in the form of a particularly vulnerable person. (Maybe a cripple, a mute, a deaf man, a blind man, a minority of some kind, a leper and a young woman.) Instead of a positive figure to follow, the moonchild is holding a mirror up to the world and exposing its cruelty. Through her acts in life she demonstrated that women would be demonized by society no matter what they do–a collective failure on all of our parts. By doing so, the moonchild negatively (rather than positively, as with our Jesus) calls us to a higher standard.
This type of prophet would not inspire a dozen books debating her message, she would personally discourage secondhand revelation. She would instead emphasize personalized, firsthand connection to God. Over time, the people would be compelled toward the forbidden fruit, rediscover her psychotropic formulas, and know God(s) for themselves. (In several three letter flavors at least!) Nevertheless, a “Gospel of Dianthus” would circulate among followers of this cult. Divided in two parts, the “Book of the Earthy Garden” and “Book of the Heavenly Garden,” this text would comprise of botanical observations on the moonchild’s sacred grove and hymns inspired by the constellations, respectively.
In her lifetime, this female-messiah would have 30 disciples representing the cycle of the moon (like Simon Magus in real life) in contrast to Jesus’ 12 representing the months of the solar calendar. A later apostle (we’ll say Augustus’ daughter, Julia the Elder in this timeline) would claim to have seen the moonchild after her death in a vision. It is the covenant of Julia which allows the religion to thrive. She claims to have been visited by the moon goddess, Diana, upon praying to see the most perfect female archetype in history. (Her great great uncle Julius Caesar clearly being the ideal male.) Julia witnesses this woman’s busy day hunting by night with an arrow like a personified lioness, weaving baskets at daybreak like a spider, feeding the children at noon like a Maiasaura and seducing her man at dusk like a liberated matriarch. She goes on to teach in parables related to simple concepts, like needlework and berry-picking. Perhaps, like the speaker in Wulf and Eadwacer, she might have borne a child from a man in the other tribe (after being taken during a skirmish) and is torn up about it. It is only at the end of the vision when the romanticized demigod of a woman revealed her name as Desdemona. Only then did Julia realize she had not been admiring the pagan moon goddess after all, but the monotheistic moonchild.
4) A Religion of Only the Holy Spirit.
I think it’d be cool if there was just a religion without any anthropomorphic creatures or personified Gods at all. I’d like if our religion mirrored the Force in Star Wars, especially incorporating what we now know about particle physics. God is not this grandiose bearded man sitting on a throne of stars, God is in many ways the multitude of elementary particles bouncing against each other to make up all existence. God is not a sculptor, god is a substrate through which we all move. God is the medium of the multiverse, beyond our comprehension. If the Marcosian faith had been canonized, they would have had a field day ascribing comparisons between the 30 aeons and 30 elementary particles (if you include anti-matter) once that coincidence was discovered. The Marcosians if you’ll recall already assigned a letter and numerological value to each of the aeons.
In this timeline, as Christianity evolved, the Father and Son were shed in favor of the Holy Spirit alone. Both were redefined as personalities of God, but existing together in the amorphous medium that is the Holy Spirit. In this world, it would be understood that the Spirit is an ever-present matrix in which we live. It guides us, and it is the unexplainable “spark” which brings inanimate matter in the substrate to life. Upon the development of digital programming in this timeline, the Holy Spirit would frequently be compared to, if not outright declared, the Universe’s source code.
Perhaps Ouija boards are invented much earlier in this universe (why not, it’s a very simple contraption) and become a sacramental way in which to talk to God? Maybe the planchette would serve as a means by which to select an aeon (which, if you’ll recall, correspond to letters) to single out for prayer and worship. What if a bunch of Romans contacted the Love Beings and understood them as the pantheistic, disincorporated, pluralistic voice of the Holy Spirit? Perhaps in the event that users began having real time conversations with the board (called a “spirit tablet” in this timeline) and encountered hostile entities, such a religion would explain them away as the manifestation of the end-user’s own impure thoughts and desires. In such a scenario, it’s a given that using the board would become a test, a sacrament, by which all followers prove themselves. Those whose sessions end with a malevolent interaction are shamed and punished by the community. Perhaps they are put on the bottom of the social totem pole and must work their way up again. They are said to give off bad vibes, to be bugs in the code, polluting in spirit and therefore dragging the community down. (Which shows that tribalism, hierarchy and scapegoating exist even in a purely egalitarian, impersonal theologic framework.)
5) Aquarian Gnostic Experientialism.
This would be a religion of sapience and its infinite capabilities, expressed in a series of trinities related to the mind. In this timeline, a moderate form of Gnosticism is canonized by Rome and it evolves alongside scientific progress. This gradually leads to a decline in the fanciful Father/Son in favor of the personification of knowledge in an age where empiricism is power. Gradually, Sophia reverts to a convenient and poetic means of personifying the pursuit of wisdom. Eventually, someone invents a new religion as a joke, artistic license or a sincere faith, but Sophia herself supplants the old trinity. She now becomes God the One Whole, with overlapping trinities in the id, ego, superego as well as cerebellum, cerebrum and brain stem. For the sake of balance, a third trinity was added in a later denomination, which is comprised of: problem solving/logical reasoning (the light), creativity/expression (the word) and emotional intelligence/perceptive sensitivity (the warmth.) The emphasis on threes would be so strong in this timeline’s culture that they would purposefully opt for ternary computer design as opposed to binary. The idea of any processor not balanced by three was unconscionable to them.
6) Feminist Rebranding of Christianity.
I just think it would be funny if, in the sixties and seventies during the height of second wave feminism plus the goddess movement, someone had the gumption to take it all the way and make a female-dominated counterpart to the misogynistic traditional religion. God the Mother (Asherah or Barbelo), God the Daughter (Sophia) and God the Fertile Cosmos (analogous to the Holy Spirit). Their scripture could be a rebranding of the old Gnostic traditions about Mary Magdalene alone possessing the secret knowledge for eternal life, Sophia creating the world and Eve raising up (as opposed to corrupting) Adam by giving him the fruit of knowledge. I’m really surprised this isn’t already a thing, to be honest.
7) God the Pauper (Jesus Christ) and God the Prince (Julius Caesar).
Gnosticism proves that there was crossover between Greco-Roman religion and that of the Christian world. If some proto-Christians were okay with placing Jesus on equal footing with Pythagoras or Plato, why not the emperor? If it was refusal to worship the emperor which led to the persecution of the Christians, I find it strange there wasn’t even one sect, one heresy, that was willing to submit. If they could merge Yahweh with the demiurge, why not Jesus and Julius Caesar as perhaps co-equal representatives of God’s will of Earth, with very different missions? Perhaps one was meant to unify the world secularly and the other spiritually. One was the personification of courage and resoluteness, the other of humility and temperance. Then after death, the two switched places, with Julius resurrecting himself in the heavens as a comet and Jesus returning to Earth in the flesh.
In this theology, Caesar is born from the divine but flawed angel, Sophia, and represents the material/physical aspect of God’s plan for unification of mankind. Sophia, in this variation, would be associated by the Romans with Venus, who was traditionally credited as the common ancestor of the Julii family. Perhaps in this merger, Sophia-Venus would represent love for God (wisdom) and Caesar would usurp Eros/Cupid’s identity, as the embodiment of materialistic/physical love. (Cupid, as you know, being the son of Venus in Roman mythology.) Caesar would be heralded as the divine representative of romantic love, as established through his marriage to Cornelia. He stood by her even against the orders of the Dictator, Sulla, on pain of death. Caesar would be further honored as the personification of patriotic love, as established through his reaction to Pompey’s murder. Finally, Caesar would stand as the deification of fraternal love, as established through his clemency toward fallen enemies.
Caesar’s struggles to pass lawful political reform would be seen as an example for Christians to follow: that helping the poor requires work outside of church attendance or prostrations of faith. His conquest of the Gauls would be justified by this religion as a necessary step to civilizing them so that they be ready to hear the word of God. On the Ides of March, his 14 Good Deeds (a mirror to the Stations of the Cross) would be reenacted and worshipers persuaded to follow in his example. When it came time to witness Caesar’s refusal of the crown, disciples might be asked “and when’s the last time you showed some humility?” While honoring Caesar’s virility in seducing Cleopatra, perhaps a not so subtle peer pressure might fall on those who haven’t procreated. Perhaps a spike in vigilante justice might be observed in emulation of Caesar’s pirates. In this canon, Caesar’s last words are recorded as a forgiveness towards Marcus Junius Brutus. Perhaps, with a religious zeal behind it, Caesar’s poetry (lost in our own timeline) is preserved and canonized as something akin to the Songs of Solomon.
In this religious sect, Caesar’s seven conquests (Gaul, Italy, Spain, Greece, Egypt, Pontus and Africa) would be set against the Seven signs of John’s Gospel. The phrase “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s” would take on a whole new meaning. Despite Julius’ words of forgiveness, Brutus would be universally reviled on the level of Judas Iscariot by the church in this timeline. It would be unthinkable of anyone to call him “the noblest Roman of them all.”
The Tenets of My Ideal Gospel
These are all fun ideas, but what would an alternative Bible teach us beyond another convoluted theology? What values should an alternate Bible impart on us? As long as we’re playing make-believe, it’s hard not to ask ourselves what is the “best” Gospel imaginable. How can we make the most desirable society while working backwards from esoteric mythical stories from the Iron Age? I’m not sure, but here’s my stab at it...
What if, instead of Eve being a last minute addition for Adam’s benefit, this alternate-Genesis acknowledged that man comes from woman’s womb, not woman from man’s rib. Maybe instead of Eve getting tricked into eating the fruit, and Adam taking some so she won’t be lonely, what if they chose to be wiser together? Perhaps it was a conscious decision so they could communicate all the impossible romantic thoughts they felt for each other. (Maybe Adam had the desire to compare Eve’s eyes to the moon, but lacked the verbosity.) That way, our shared love and aspiration to greatness, rather than women’s stupidity paired with men’s pity, was the poetic undoing. With this newfound ability to think, plan and conceptualize right and wrong, humans grow resentful of God(s)’ guidance, the way a teenager craves independence. Perhaps after a series of rebellious acts from the two, or the realization that to them it would feel like a prison to stay in Eden at this point, God(s) tells them to go, with the understanding that they must take responsibility for themselves now. And God, rather than get angry, would admire our ability to love each other, while recognizing the vulnerability it presents in us. With regard to our curiosity and newfound intelligence, God would look on with the trepidation of a new mother.
…What if, instead of willingly going along with the infanticide of Isaac until a last second correction by God, Abraham gave an impassioned speech in defense of his son upon receiving the request. He’d say “I can’t harm someone to whom I have a responsibility to. He calls me ‘father’ and I brought him into this world with the expectation that I set him up in life.” or words to that effect. And God, rather than smiting down the entire village for this show of defiance, would marvel at our continued ability to love, now enhanced by the power of sapient speech. God would be pleased to see their children love each other as much as they love us.
…What if, instead of showing us a rainbow after a horrific flood he sent down to kill everyone, God showed us the rainbow of life on some ordinary day where he didn’t destroy the world. God would tell us that we had done it by killing or outcompeting all the other hominids and most of the mega fauna over the course of our development. What if a flood did happen, but it was a lesson in the unpredictability of nature and our inability to control it? What if we were meant to take in our own vulnerability along with that of the other animals in creation? What if God had thought to point out the variety of color in the rainbow as compared to that in nature. The lesson is diversity of the ecosystem, of crops (end monocultures!), of humanity and of thought rather than “God hated the people he made, so he started over, lol.”
…What if, instead of the Book of Job being a thing, God took the suffering guy aside when he was having a bad time and explained the concept of “mind over matter.” What if God explained there and then that once the chemical reaction of life is in place, it must be played out and to make exceptions would undo the integrity of the mathematical equation guiding the course of events. What if God explained that in composing itself by the infinitesimal atom and quark, it intended to show us our ability to influence the big picture by focusing on small steps first. It intended to show us not to underestimate any factor, not to think of anyone as beneath of empathy and consideration. Where every spark of life, every sapient thought or physical reaction between two elements is God, we can use the positive energy in these ubiquitous miracles as the start of something great too…or something.
…What if, instead of a city of gold and a lake of fire, Heaven and Hell are described as like a star remaining in the “Milky Way Galactic Garden” and being cast out, respectively. In general, astronomical concepts are used as metaphors in various allegories, like black holes representing selfish/greedy people, for example. Religion would make use of the scientific phenomena guiding our universe in helpful metaphors. This makes science and religion feel like companions again rather than adversaries as in our timeline. (After all, never before has one advanced so much while the other remained the same over 2000 years.)
In our world, the Old Testament is a set of arcane laws to follow, with military plunder as a reward for adherence and fiery destruction as a punishment for disobedience. What if there was an alternative where God taught us in a series of thought experiments, parental lessons and debate proposals? What if instead of plagues freeing the Hebrews from Egypt, God taught us the power of civil disobedience, organized strikes and collective bargaining? The lesson being that, when the new state of Israel would be founded, the Hebrews learn from their past ordeal. They would know firsthand the power of the masses, the need to keep them satisfied with the new system and the folly of slavery. Similarly, what if the Babylonian captivity was meant to be a firsthand warning regarding the horrors of invasive war? What if God was trying to instill a healthy respect for peace, and maybe give the Hebrews some insight into the inner workings of their neighbors, whose laws and customs might be worth learning from?
In my alternate New Testament, the story of the messiah is relayed by a physical manifestation of God(s) talking to a human companion. In this version, after the crucifixion the Jesus-analogue was resurrected into Persia and put to death via scaphism instead for preaching similar doctrines. Then the same man would emerge, this time in China perhaps, and get boiled alive for preaching similar doctrines. The story would repeat in this manner several times, each in a new location, emphasizing that the messiah was doomed to be misunderstood and persecuted no matter which land he came to. God(s) would explain that every time a person is unjustly killed or otherwise silenced, it is the same as persecuting the Son of man. Every act of unprovoked violence or belittlement is an injustice against God(s). Responsibility for the murder of the Lord is shared by all humankind, because it happens every minute of the day, with every injurious act we take towards each other.
(If I pointed out every single instance of something I’d personally change in the Bible stories, this essay would go on forever, so let’s just cut it off here. You get the point.)
Religion on an Alien World
As one final thought exercise, I’d like to imagine a scenario in which a Christian-esque religion evolves over time, similarly to how our Yahweh went through many developments before settling into Orthodox Christianity, except on an alien planet. How much is a society’s religion determined by its geography–and astronomy? If the sun were smaller in the sky than the moon, if we orbited a red dwarf, if we had two moons, if we had no other visible stars or twice as many…how would our conception of God(s) change? (For that matter, if our brain physiology were different–or if Neanderthals could have lived long enough to develop written language–how would religion/God be different in those scenarios?)
This alien lineage of the pseudo-Canaanite-Judeo-Christian pantheon might be born out of the fourth planet of seven orbiting a red giant. (In order, we’ll call the planet “Gnosica,” for wisdom, orbiting the giant “Archon,” for ruler.) During their history, perhaps originally the egos paid equal tribute to all the Gods, which would naturally evolve from the objects most prominent in the sky, plus their own earth. In this era, every celestial body would host a ruling deity. Eventually though, a powerful priestly order gained favor that emphasized the importance of focusing society’s prayers and attention to the deity associated with their own earth, Gnosica. While not yet denying the existence of other Gods, maybe worship of them gradually became secondary to Gnosica Supreme, before eventually falling out of habit altogether.
As knowledge of the old Gods’ celebrations and rituals faded into obscurity, larger and larger swaths of the populace began to consider them superstition or mere personification of the planets alone. Several denominations of the Gnosica-primacy sect might redefine these formerly respectable gods as demonic spirits which feed on the misdeeds of all ego-kind. The final holdout, the Cult of Archon, would initially survive by marrying their God to Gnosica then even merging his identity with hers entirely. The former womanly, nurturer personality would fuse with Archon’s (the previous chief-deity) male, hardened chieftain into a genderless, empathetic tutor. A formerly Archon-centric creation myth, where he forged the male-egos from iron and sculpted the female-egos from the scrap metal, might be replaced with a Gnosica-centric creation myth where she grows woman and the animals from a heavenly garden. (In this story, male-creatures would only emerge one generation after, and invariably from the wombs of their womenfolk.)
ASIDE: Maybe several small cults in the hinterlands, sworn to secrecy in all dogma and rites, might still privately believe in Archon or others as the true creator-God(s), with Gnosica as a weaker, satanic manipulator, tricking the known world into heretical worship of herself. But over time, even these mystery religions would inevitably die out, with their lack of written records leaving them forgotten to history.
Outdated Biblical references to the “fallen gods” would be edited to reflect new facets of Gnosica’s identity. Once the planet’s Bible contained eight individual stories of the gods introducing themselves to the egos, earning their respect with great deeds and detailing their preferred methods of worship. Now the same book would consist of eight chronological steps in the history of the social development of the ego race, with a now-genderless omniscient God guiding them through each proverbial lesson. A nameless champion of all things anti-Gnosica might be alluded to in a few passages, but never is it dignified with an identity or comprehensive ethos of its own. It is merely referred to as the Anti-Gnosica. As the theology changes, so too does the lexicon and dogma over time. All non-followers of Gnosica might be christened “boll weevils” after the fiercest creature in the garden, or perhaps the especially gluttonous and destructive might be characterized by locusts. Therefore, “Lord of Worms” might exist as a generically applied title, up for grabs should anyone be fool enough to disparage the main religion. Maybe the neighboring planet Omendias, (previously a God of the underworld in the old pantheon) with its vaguely remembered association towards death, might take on a newly sinister connotation. Perhaps a formerly warm matron, tending the family’s hearth and heirlooms, might become a great centipede who carries off souls to the void.
In the fateful years where space-travel and its subsequent discoveries render much of the previous dogma obsolete, belief in Gnosica could persist if it’s adaptable. What had once been a polytheistic, then henotheistic, then monotheistic God of old, now might become a pantheistic substrate, a series of waves in a force field, a collection of numerals in an ongoing mathematical calculation. The nameless God of Creation, Cultivation and Consciousness could become the Pantheistic Existence, Substrate, Creation. Maybe if they were wise, the egos might recognize the benefit of harmonizing science and spirit. It doesn’t matter if society believes in a singular God who personally crafted us with a special purpose or a disembodied, abstract God who created us as the accidental result of a computational program. Unfortunately, the transition from polytheistic to monotheistic is, in a sense, an easy path to take. It instills in its followers the belief that they have a privileged status over their neighboring apostates or heathens. To go in the other direction, and recognize that every other person is just as special as you are, that means admitting that irrelevancy is inevitable an age of individual empowerment. In this scenario, the proverbial egos are going to have to face down the very real concept of ego death.
The ultimate lesson is to respect what’s here, because it’s a miracle that it exists at all. A community that’s not divided between science and spirituality can face down any reality we find ourselves in. Whatever conception of God(s) brings this camaraderie and foresight to a critical mass of people doesn’t really matter. In the end, the Light is furthered by the environment of goodwill which leads to the betterment of sapients everywhere. Every individual processor afforded the opportunities to achieve a higher potential is a creation-multiplier. All the good done in the name of Yahweh, Jesus, Asherah, Sophia, Caesar, Socrates, Pythagoras, the Universe, Science, the Three Eternals, Catherine Spaak and Clarissa Darling is done in the spirit of Divine Grace. What is divine has infinite names, identities and personalities.