Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Three Temptations of Jesus

Like many people, I have been intrigued by the Three Temptations of Jesus. Supposedly he spoke to Satan, and Satan to him. Since I don’t believe in any Satan “out there” (otherwise we could deny responsibility and blame everything on him) and instead see one in all of us, Jesus was essentially having a dialogue with a not-so-good part of himself. A part, which, of course, we all have.

The unaccepted “bad” aspects of oneself, Jung called the Shadow. If we don’t accept our own Shadows, we project them onto other people. Everyone is familiar with those extremely judgmental religious fundamentalists who obsess about other people’s sex lives then get caught multiple times with prostitutes. Either that or their boytoys.

Unable to acknowledge and accept “unacceptable” parts of themselves, they project them onto other people, and try to change them instead of themselves.

This projection is essentially what the people in governments do. Since they can’t change themselves (which is why they seek political power in the first place) they pass laws to try to change everyone else. The result, ultimately, throughout history, has been one catastrophe after another.

It never works to try to change others instead of yourself, and it’s why Jesus never told people to try to change others, only themselves (the correct translation of what he advised is “You have missed the mark, so you must change your hearts and minds,” not “You have sinned, so you must repent”).

The idea of going into our personal or collective unconscious to confront and accept the bad aspects of ourselves has existed in all cultures. Oftentimes it has been considered a journey to the Underworld.

In ancient Greece, the ruler of the Underworld was Hades, who was a god and not a place. Christianity appropriated this term and put it in the Bible to denigrate this “pagan” concept.
Most interestingly, “Hades” means “the Rich One,” because of all the riches that exist in our unconscious, i.e., the Underworld.

“Hel” is another example. It is not a place, but the Norse goddess of the Underworld. The people who wrote the Bible turned her into a place of torment to denigrate the Norse myths. Neither Hades nor Hell exists as places, which is why modern accurate versions of the Bible don’t use the terms.

So, in my opinion, Jesus was confronting certain dangerous aspects of himself. He overcame them, accepted them, and transformed them into something good.

The First Temptation was about turning stones into bread. “Bread” can be interpreted in a couple of ways. I think it means materialism, telling us people cannot live by materialism alone. I think it also means pleasure, meaning people can’t live by pleasure alone.

I think “bread” also means gluttony, since materialism, pleasure and gluttony are all related.

Jesus, as we all know, refused to fall for this temptation, instead accepted it, and turned it into something good, i.e., useful and practical. Proof of this is the fact he ate instead of engaging in sanctimonious fasting (such as the Pharisees did), drank wine, and went to weddings. And what are at weddings? Singing and dancing. Jesus went to parties!

Jesus never put down enjoying these things in moderation. They have their place. They’re just not the be-all and end-all of life. Instead of going overboard, as many people do, he put them into their proper place. We should enjoy them, but they are not to rule our lives.

The Third Temptation was about political power, when Satan offered Jesus power over all the kingdoms of the world. Jesus refused that one, too, and later never supported anyone seeking political power over anyone. Again, he told people to change themselves, and not to worry about changing other people.

Unfortunately, the masses of people, throughout history, have consistently fallen for the belief in political power. To this day I still find it amazing people can be so deluded. In the 20th Century alone 177 million to 200 million people were killed in wars (all of which were political and all of which were started by governments) so you’d think people would have finally seen through the true nature of the State.

But they haven’t. They still idolize government and see it as a tit from which all good things flow – Social Security, universal health care, etc. They never realize that when they are seduced by these things they also accept the State’s dictum: “We now own you, so you cannot complain. So when we start wars, you are to die by the millions. Or if you have to live six to an apartment, that’s part of the deal.” And they never figure this out.

The Second Temptation was the one about Jesus throwing himself from a cliff and having God save him. This is a puzzling one. One obvious interpretation is to assume God is not going to take care of you all the time, so you have to take care of yourself, otherwise people would think they have to do nothing and automatically have their wants fulfilled.

A second interpretation is people’s unending desire for miracles. Paradoxically, Jesus told his critics not to expect “signs” but then he consistently did “miracles” for people, such as healing the sick. Why the discrepancy?

Jesus’ use of the word “sign” is interesting. A sign is that which points to something else (strictly speaking, a “stop sign” is a “stop symbol,” unless you consider it a sign that a car is coming from the side). Some people in Jesus’ time thought he might be the king who was violently going to throw off the Roman yoke. This is why he mocked the Roman soldiers who came to arrest them, asking if they were doing so because they thought he was a “militant nationalist.”

It was the scribes and Pharisees asked for “signs” from him. They might have been trying to trick him, or else were asking for signs that he was the militant nationalist king they had been looking for — the idealized ruler who was going to free their nation. The Bible, unfortunately, takes a lot of study, and even then, some of the interpretations are conjecture.

Instead of “signs” that he was the coming militant nationalist king, Jesus instead healed people – something that is not violent at all.

I consider Jesus’ healings not to be miracles. What he did is the way things are supposed to be, although they are not. Yet people have this consistent desire to see “miracles,” which they see as almost supernatural. The problem is they cannot tell a true miracle from a false one.

People are consistently idolizing people whom they believe can create miracles, be they religious or political leaders. They suspend their judgment and worship them. Dostoevsky, in his “The Grand Inquisitor” chapter in his “The Brothers Karamazov,” told us the way the way to rule people is through “miracle, mystery and authority.” And that people wanted nothing so much as “a community of worship” and to find a leader to give their freedom to.

I believe Jesus was telling people not to idolize and worship leaders, and if they do, their “miracles” are not miracles. In fact, he told people all that he did, they could do, and more. He was telling us not to worship leaders, because when we do, we also find they are more Satanic than anything else, and their “miracles” aren’t miracles at all, because their “miracles” and “signs” point to death, violence and destruction.

If you want to see three examples of people’s intense, indeed overwhelming, desire to find a leader to worship and who will give them “signs” and “miracles,” look no farther than David Koresh, Jim Jones and Jonestown, and Hitler. It would not have surprised me if the followers of these people expected them to raise the dead.

If people would run their own lives correctly, they wouldn’t need to find anyone to worship, and expect miracles from them. If you want to see a very good example of this, watch “The Triumph of the Will.” At the beginning Hitler is driving down a street, and both sides of it are thronged with thousands of people, all smiling and worshipping him.
They idolized him and clearly expected miracles from him. He, of course, did not deliver.
Leaders who are worshipped never do. For that matter, anyone who’s worshipped never does.

I believe Jesus saw in himself three main flaws: materialism and gluttony, the desire for political power, and the desire to wow the rubes with miracles (all are interrelated). He overcame them and transformed them into good things.

He clearly understood people are sheep, who are asleep. He clearly understood their desire for materialism, to be taken care of by politicians, and how easy to is for them to worship leaders and expect miracles from them. And he rejected every bit of it.

Materialism will never fulfill you. Politics will never save you. Don’t worship and idealize leaders as gods and expect miracles from them. If people understood those things, most of the problems in life would disappear.


Enbrethiliel said...


And now I see what your problem is, you quasi-Manichean! =P

There's some good theology that explains why the existence of Satan is no reason to blame everything on him.

Thesauros said...

otherwise we could deny responsibility and blame everything on him"

Are you suggesting that there is no difference between being tempted and giving in to temptation? Surely not!

Enbrethiliel said...


Of course not. I have no idea why you think I've said that.

All I'm saying is that the existence of an "out there" Satan is theologically sound, but the people who say, "The devil made me do it," aren't.