Tom Harpur’s “Christ Within”

I’ve been reading Tom Harpur’s The Pagan Christ (New York: Walker & Company, 2004), which argues that the “Christ myth” came from ancient Egyptian legends about Horus.

Today, I don’t want to interact with that argument so much, except to say that I wish Harpur actually provided documentation from primary sources for many of his claims. And “Irenaeus says” does not count, unless I’m told precisely where Irenaeus said it! Maybe I can find documentation in the book advertised on God Discussion, D.M. Murdock’s Christ in Egypt: The Horus-Jesus Connection.

Throughout his book, Harpur argues that Jesus Christ was not a real person, but rather a symbol for the divine within each of us. In this approach, Christ’s healings, feeding of the multitudes, and calming of the storms are symbols for the strength and power of the Christ within: to heal us, to nourish us, to provide us with inner peace, etc.

Harpur discusses what he considers the weaknesses of seeing Jesus as an external person for us to imitate:

I am reminded here of what Carl Jung said about the weakness of the old Imitatio Christi approach. Jung obviously had nothing against people trying to be loving and kind. But, he said, “The Imitatio Christi will forever have this disadvantage: we worship a man as a divine model, embodying the deepest meaning of life, and then out of sheer imitation we forget to make real the profound meaning present in ourselves. If I accept the fact that a God is absolute and beyond all human experience, he leaves me cold. I do not affect him, nor does he affect me. But if I know, on the other hand, that God is a mighty activity within my own soul, at once I must concern myself with him.” If we follow a Christ “out there,” in other words, while ignoring the kingdom of God or the Christ within, authentic transformation never occurs.

This quote intrigues me for various reasons. Its use of the word “cold” struck me as ironic, since that’s how I’d describe Harpur’s version of Christianity. He says that there’s no real Jesus out there who loves me, and that all I have is myself? That’s pretty bleak!

At the same time, the quote does resonate with me on some level. The idea that there’s potential within me, already there for the tapping? I remember a lady at church criticizing the New Age notion that there’s potential within us that God wants to help us use. Personally, I don’t see anything wrong with that sort of notion.

Christians believe that God gives the Holy Spirit to believers, and that’s fine. But I kind of like Harpur’s notion that there’s something spiritual within each of us, Christian and non-Christian, since I’m not always sure if I’m in the “saved” category. If I had incredible potential just on the basis of being human, hey, that’s something I can appreciate!

Still, Paul’s teaching that humans are weak and need a power greater than themselves to regenerate them also resonates with me, since I realize that I am weak. Plus, I’m uncomfortable labelling myself divine in any sense of the word, for I think that an essential component of religion is worshipping some power greater than myself (though, granted, there are religions that view the transcendent differently from theists).

That’s why I have problems with the Armstrongite view that humans will become like God: I can agree that we’re advancing and growing towards something, but I believe that God should always be above us, since that’s part of the very definition of “God.”

Moreover, as I’ve expressed in my post Jesus Clones, I have my own set of problems with Imitatio Christi, which is essentially “What would Jesus do?” I don’t want to be totally like someone else, nor do I desire to imitate someone’s actions in a “monkey see, monkey do” sort of way. I want to be the best James Pate that I can be, according to the unique way that God created me.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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