Thomas Keating on Sharing the Gospel and the Mythic Membership Level of Consciousness

Seal of the Society for the Propagation of the...

Seal of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The church constantly has to integrate new wisdom, new science, new information into the Gospel if she is going to communicate it to contemporary people and to people of other cultures.  Unfortunately, those of little faith tend to identify the values of the Gospel with particular structures or symbols.  Then if the symbol is modified, like turning the altar around or receiving communion in the hand, they think the values of the Gospel are being rejected.  People have to grow beyond this over-identification.  Ancient symbols can sometimes prevent the value of the Gospel from being fully transmitted in new circumstances.  Even words develop opposite meanings over time.  Would we say that Jesus was not in continuity with Moses and the prophets?  They bore witness to him on the mountain.  Yet he was completely free about following their tradition.  He paid no attention to the rabbinical practice of preaching only in synagogues and only with regard to scripture.

[However,] in the parable of the sower Jesus seems to be referring to his own preaching.  Some of the seed, he says, falls on the footpath, that is, on the hard path, the path that goes through the field but that has no give, no flexibility, and is almost as hard as concrete . . . there is no chance of this seed bearing fruit because it can’t get through the concrete.  The concrete represents the mythic membership level of consciousness and the worldviews in which people live with unquestioning presuppositions and preconceived ideas: the world of racism, sexism, prejudice, and every kind of bias. — Thomas Keating, Reawakenings

The over-identification of structures or symbols with the gospel is indeed a problem, but I often see in myself and in others an over-identification with certain leaders, churches, experiences and even language itself as well.  All of these conduits for transmitting the message must be constantly relativized.  Theologically speaking, old forms like Thomism, Calvinism or traditional American evangelicalism, for instance, might also serve to substantially limit the gospel message today.

Moreover, what Keating calls “mythic membership level of consciousness” is similar to Niebuhr’s characterization of “henotheism” in the previous post.  It seems appropriate then to broaden the definition of this inferior kind of faith to include these other types of prejudices along the lines of identity politics — politics from the standpoint of both the oppressor and the oppressed.  Obviously, the two are not equal, but as closed-society faith forms, they are both insufficiently commensurate with the gospel or true faith.

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