Tag Archives: Jesus

Maybe it was that moment, in a conversation, where I said to a relatively new friend, that I had four friends in philosophy: Jesus, Nietzsche, Spinoza and Derrida. It was an intellectual conversation, in which humor and reflection naturally mixed. After I went home I thought back to that confession, and realized – of course – I had mentioned no women. Why? I noticed something else – that Nietzsche was the only non-Jew in the group. Well, now my mind was looking for all kinds of secondary things, of course, free-wheeling, whereas the joking remark in fact was meant to say something about me – to give some fragments from which to build my portrait: the shamanistic, zen-riddle loving, nature metaphysic, deconstructive playing, strongheaded woman-girl. One can build that portrait not because I am like them. Not because they are like me. Because I like to be with them, my mind likes to play with theirs. They are my friends.

Now two days later I woke up very early, from a dream, in which I was meeting Derrida. I finally had the chance to check some things about his philosophy with him, while we were having a short conversation, so I did. And he answered seriously and very much to the point. I realized I had to remember what he said, what I said, as this conversation was giving me these unique pieces of understanding I had been looking for. But when the dream ended, and I immediately tried to recover it, I found it was already gone! In the dream, the conversation was also not long. There were many women, some of whom he had a relationship with, maybe his wife was there amongst them. Everybody wanted to talk to him, because it was so unique that he had returned from the dead just for this one evening. In fact we were all gathered at a party to celebrate this and be with him and enjoy the evening.

We went up, in a lift/elevator, and I was told we were going to the 50th floor or so, the top of the building. I was a bit scared, as it was so high, and far below us was the ground. On the top of this building was a tropical garden, planted on both sides of this completely square walking path, and it was a gorgeous summer evening with a pinkish honey-fluid sky and the palm trees softly rustling. Waiters were walking around with drinks, the gathered friends were finding their way after coming out of the lift, in the lush garden, and there I spoke briefly and philosophically with him, before he was claimed by someone else who wanted to use this brief moment that he was amongst us again. Before returning to the other world once more. He would be there just for this one evening. For this return/farewell party.

So I spoke too short with my philosophical friend, he would vanish once more, and on his/our friend-party he was soon mingling with too many people. On top I forgot the important checked aspects of his philosophy. Still I felt remarkably satisfied and at peace, finally, to have spoken with him and touched on these open spaces in his work or in my understanding or in whatever web we were in, weaving along with all the others before and after us. Almost established their meaning. And forgotten. And enjoyed. If you can still follow me, that is the kind of philosophical friendship that characterizes me, and that is me.

This was the weirdest blog post of them all, I guess. that means, considering style. The content is clear, of course. For who understands. Interpretations are welcome. Deconstructive ones please. Or shamanistic ones. Or zen ones. Or nature metaphysic ones. No theological, Freudian, or Jungian ones – they won’t do.

An impression? In this direction? New York-ish?

No credits defined, photo taken from this website

Philosophy is as such a secular profession, taking the attitude of wonder and reflection towards any phenomena it takes in consideration. Sometimes this is seen to create a tension with the search for wisdom that has been present in philosophical tradition over the ages – a tension which can bring thinkers to take religious, agnostic as well as atheist approaches. Whatever one’s specific approach or subject matter, however, the critical instruments provided by philosophical reflection, allows us to gain fresh insights. Also in matters of bible studies, religious studies and theology.

Two weeks, ago, on the 16th of November, I was one of four speakers who were invited to comment on two newly published books on religion in the Netherlands. Religion in the white, Christian section of society, that is – which sociologically gives a distorted image, of course – because while the traditional white protestant and catholic churches are in constant decline, black migrant churches, as well as mosques and islamic communities are thriving.

The traditional churches, however, see so much decline, the authors of both books think, because European christianity has emptied itself from most spiritual practices and experiences – having adapted itself to the stifling influence of the Enlightenment and its consequences. For theology these were either a focus on ‘belief’ as confessing something to be true, or on unearthing the historical basis of the bible from a secular perspective. In my contribution to the book presentation, I suggested, in line with an article I published in 2015 (see below for reference), to circumvent the Enlightenment, and baby-jesus-2reread the gospels as shamanist literature.

Such an approach tunes in with what post-Enlightenment Christians search for, often in non-European religious traditions, to wit: a reevaluation of intuitive knowing, of ritual practice, and religious trust or faith. My own path, which I now call shamanistic, has been inspired by experiences in my childhood that have led me to search to express  these three elements in words, in philosophy. One of the most important philosophers who provides a basis for stretching philosophical discourse to that intent is William James (1842-1910), most well known as the founder of the psychology of religion, with his work The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902). He describes there how we live in a tangible, empirical world on the one hand, but experience (sometimes) that this is surrounded and influenced by a wider, spiritual reality.

Building philosophically on the work of James, and having studied anthropologists’ works on shamanism and on the shamanistic Jesus, I came to reread the gospels in a kind of direct manner, detouring the critical reflections that sprang from the heritage of Enlightenment rationalism. Although the term ‘shamanistic’ stems from Siberian language and originally refers to mediators between the everyday and the spiritual world in that region, the term has been globalized in our day, and is used as well for new spiritual movements that open up traditional knowledge for individuals in modern societies, as for spiritual practices of peoples that are still in touch with traditional ways of living accross the globe.

With respect to the gospels, several researchers have attempted to reread them in a shamanist framework. For instance the South African anthropologist of religion Pieter Craffert, who shows in his book The Life of A Galilean Shaman (2008) that shamanistic practices were alive and well in the society in which Jesus lived. Or theologian Marcus J. Borg, who in his Meeting Jesus Again For The First Time (1994), using a Jamesian language, describes Jesus as ‘a spirit person’ – someone for whom the ‘screens of consciousness’ that keep the everyday and the spiritual domain apart, are unusually permeable. And there is the theologian who practices trance journeys himself John J. Pilch, who in his book Flights of the Soul (2011), on spiritual experiences in the bible, describes the testing of Jesus by Satan, as fitting the traditional route of a shaman to be: ‘Jesus demonstrates that he has acquired the necessary ritual skills to deal with and control the spirit world.’ (Pilch 2011, p. 116)

In my article “The ‘Shamanic’ Travels Of Jesus and Muhammad: Cross-cultural and Transcultural Understandings of Religious Experience”, published in 2015 in the American Journal of Theology and Philosophy, I discuss this and other literature and go into some of the shamanistic events in the gospels. To just give some examples, we can read in Luke 4:1-14 that Jesus withstands Satan’s tests in the desert, filled with the Holy Spirit. After passing the test, that proves which of the two spirits, the holy one or the evil one, is strongest, he returns into society with the force of the Spirit. When he subsequently starts to tour the country, and console and heal people in spiritual and physical need, he shows shamanistic qualities all the time. He passes through an angry mob that cannot touch him (protected by the power of the Spirit) in Luke 4: 29-30, and has power over demons according to Luke 4: 33-36. Also in Matthew and Mark do we find a wealth of shamanistic stories, such as Jesus’ expulsion of demons from some possessed persons in Matthew 8:28-34, his healing of a possessed man in Matthew 9:32-34, a possessed girl in Mark 7:24-30, and a deaf and mute man in Mark 7:31-37). This last story, moreover, presents a description of specifically shamanist practices by Jesus, who puts his fingers in the ears of the man, and touches his tongue with his own spittle. Even today we can find practicing shamans to breathe or spit over a patient – as an exhalation or a secretion of saliva are understood to serve as a vehicle for the healing spirit that is called to assistance by the shaman.

In the seventeenth century theologians in Europe turned against the belief in spirits as well as spiritual practices, like the Dutch pastor Balthasar Bekker, who proposed to read the bible in a rational manner in his work De betoverde weereld. Although his motive, to get people to take more responsibility for their own moral agency, instead of blaming their evil actions on possession, was in line with the teachings of Jesus too, who stress that those cured should turn their lives around toward the good and away from evil – the effect of centuries of rationalist theological works has been that European christianity has lost its appeal for many people, as they don’t find much spiritual appeal or healing there. So in my talk at the book presentation I proposed that, next to the inspiration the ex, or post-christians get from non-European religions, they might as well try to read ‘around’ the Enlightenment, and try to let the gospel stories about the shamanistic Jesus inspire them. This Jesus makes trance journeys, associates with spirits, heals people from his shamanistic inspiration, and shows them ways to more free, loving and just ways to live.

The photo is from the nativity scene my dear parents made, before I was born.

This post is a reworked version of my speech at the book presentation in Dutch, which can be found here.


At nineteen, I first read Nietzsche’s Antichrist, and read it in one go, excited. I had just decided to switch from sociology to philosophy, so I did not have any tools yet to analyse or interpret what I was reading. Let alone to understand why it excited me. This much I can say from hindsight, though: I was not excited because the book overthrew or hurt my religiosity – I felt rather confirmed in my religious attitude by it, which seemed frightening, though, because of Nietzsche’s reputation. But that was all – and being the type that always aims to understand what I am doing or thinking, I decided to put this book away for later, and not to think about it, until I would be able to know what I was reading.

Now I am at a point that I can explain why Nietzsche’s text attracted me so much: because it contains a profoundly pragmatist theology, written by someone with a deep understanding of Christianity. Let me put this straight from the beginning: Nietzsche’s proclamation of the death of God is mostly still not understood – when it is read as an attack on religiosity. It is, instead, from a wider reading of his works clear that it is an attack on what European Enlightenment, especially the philosophy of Kant (remember his famous description of Enlightenment’s turn away from life as becoming ‘pale, Königsbergian’), did to religion: transform living religiosity into a philosophical play with concepts – killing God by incarcerating and starving him in terms like ‘substance’, ‘transcendence’ or, worse, ‘transcendentality’. ‘God is dead’ was just his description of what was happening in European culture, and especially (philosophical) theology.

All the same, Nietzsche wrote a Christian theology himself – in his Antichrist -, and it was of course philosophical too, but in a radically different temperament than that of the mainstream philosophy of his days. In fact, his approach was pragmatist avant la lettre – and radically so. Directly after his claim that ‘there has been only one Christian, and he died at the cross’, he gives his reason for dismissing Christianity’s claim to follow Jesus: it’s mistake was to think that belief, like belief in the redemption through Christ, would be Christian: ‘only Christian practice, a life like he who died at the cross lived, is Christian.’ And what is a Christian practice? It is a ‘doing, more appropriate a not-doing […], an alternative way of being.’ What Jesus did, or did not, to his view, was fight the way things went. His ‘Christianity’ was to completely accept what happened. He even calls the aborted movement which Jesus started ‘a new, a completely original initiative towards a buddhist peace movement.’

Here, although Nietzsche sees Jesus’ initiative as part of a cultural decadence (stopping to fight for one’s own cultural ‘truths’) – his Jesus clearly echoes his own ideal of ‘saying yes’ to life. Nietzsche saw clearly that, from a pragmatist standpoint, taking real experience and practice which goes along with it more seriously than theoretical ‘beliefs’, Jesus’ good news was all about a real transformation of life, here and now – a spiritual happiness here and now, instead of a theoretical belief in rewards in heaven. He had discovered, according to Nietzsche, a way to ‘live the unity of God and human being’, among other things by doing away with the concept of ‘debt’ or ‘sin’ – and this was, says Nietzsche, his ‘good news’. We must also remember that to Nietzsche, ‘decadence’ is not ‘bad’ as such, it is just what happens in cultures at a certain point of their existence. Beyond good and bad, we can assess that certain moments in history provide certain opportunities – and the decadent ones provide the opportunity to transcend ‘ego’, as both Buddha and Jesus understood and practiced. To practice peace, and leave the spirit of revenge alone.

From his point of view, Nietzsche interpreted historical Christianity as a movement which took revenge, revenge against life, against ‘those who killed Jesus’, to it’s heart, and therefore could not bring to fruition the discovery of Jesus, whom it ‘killed’  like Enlightenment killed God – by transforming him into a unique godly person, thereby covering up his discovery that we can all find unity with God and be free. As a young boy, Friedrich is said to have been so devout, that he was nicknamed ‘the little Jesus’. It is too easy to see his later work as revenge against his strict pietist protestant upbringing. We understand him better, I think, as someone who just had a very hard time to articulate boldly what he understood from what he took in in childhood, against the mainstream, and therefore had to hammer away to sculpt what he felt into words. Therefore we can understand why he concludes his book mourning bitterly that we count time by the so called beginning of Christianity. If that was Christianity, he felt, we should rather start to count anew from this day, from it’s final day. And make a new start – revaluing practice and experience over theory and belief.

The citations from Nietzsche’s Antichrist. Curse on Christianity are my own translations from the beautiful Dutch translation by Pé Hawinkels.

Friedrich Nietzsche lived from 1844 untill 1900, and published the Antichrist seven years after writing it (1888), in 1895.