1997-04-27: The Gospel According to Jesus

The Gospel According to Jesus (1991)

by Stephen Mitchell (1943-)

This work is subtitled “A New Translation and Guide to His Essential Teachings For Believers and Unbelievers”. It is in three parts: Mitchell’s Introduction (61 pages, with 36 pages of notes), the Gospel (28 pages), and Commentary and Appendices (184 pages). Mitchell’s material includes many quotations and references to material included in The Enlightened Mind.

The Introduction explains why selection of Jesus’s own teachings is necessary, and the principles Mitchell used. In this part he is more forthright about his own background and insight into the spiritual mind than in the other book. He draws on extensive scholarly and spiritual insight of others over many centuries and traditions, including Buddhist and Taoist. A (not very consequential) part of the introduction addresses the personal background of Jesus, in what could easily be a farcical psychological excursion; but Mitchell carries it off without embarrassing himself.

The Gospel is very short. After the Introduction, the teachings are very understandable and clear. The selection appears to be felicitous; the teachings are presented very plainly, and with a single voice, unlike the mix of attitudes and purposes of the Biblical gospels.

The commentary repeats the Gospel piece by piece, with Mitchell’s commentary (some of the commentary, e.g. for the Parable of the Prodigal Son actually appears in the Introduction, and is simply referenced here). Again, a wide selection of commentators is used.

I found the whole book very interesting. Two small parts of the commentary are particularly interesting:

On page 200, a commentary on the the attitude of a woman healed by touching Jesus’ robe has caused me to reconsider some of my own understanding of emotions and attitudes.

Your trust has healed you:  Trust is an attitude toward the world; belief is a structure in the mind. Belief has the instability of yes-or-no. If faith depends on my belief, it is a hostage.

Simone Weil said, “Until God has taken possession of him, no human being can have faith, but only simple belief; and it hardly matters whether or not he has such a belief, because he will arrive at faith equally well through disbelief.” She also said, “In what concerns divine things, belief is not appropriate. Only certainty will do. Anything less than certainty is unworthy of God.”

While trying to understand this passage, I had to reconsider my classification of emotions in MIAM. Some of what I called emotions (supersenses) are apparently better called attitudes (which I still call a category of belief; but then I ignore the spiritual realm in MIAM).

On page 286, in the Appendix On Jesus, Mitchell has the following extract from Thoreau:

It is remarkable that the highest intellectual mood which the world tolerates is the perception of the truth of the most ancient revelations, now in some respects out of date; but any direct revelation, any original thoughts, it hates like virtue. The fathers and the mothers of the town would rather hear the young man or young woman at their tables express reverence for some old statement of the truth than utter a direct revelation themselves. They don’t want to have any prophets born into their families, – damn them! So far as thinking is concerned, surely original thinking is the divinest thing. Rather we should reverently watch for the least motions, the least scintillations, of thought in this sluggish world, and men should run to and fro on the occasion more than at an earthquake. We check and repress the divinity that stirs within us, to fall down and worship the divinity that is without us. I go to see many a good man or good woman, so called, and utter freely that thought which alone it was given to me to utter; but there was a man who lived a long, long time ago, and his name was Moses, and another whose name was Christ, and if your thought does not, or does not appear to, coincide with what they said, the good man or the good woman has no ears to hear you. They think they love God! It is only his old clothes, of which they make scarecrows for the children. Where will they come nearer to God than in those very children?

This is a remarkable collection of ideas, typical of Thoreau. I can use one sentence as an epigram, then the surrounding sentences to lambast the complacency aroused by the epigram. The last part illustrates how a meme complex incorporates conservative memes to prevent its bearers from being persuaded to contrary memes. Amazing.

I expect to value this book highly, along with the others of Mitchell’s I have read. However, I can’t recommend it, even to my family. I find proselytizing distasteful and disgraceful, unless the target is in extreme danger of hurting himself or herself, or someone else.

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