My wife and I love the old Catholic missions of California, and have made it our goal to visit all 21 of them. So far we’ve managed to see eight.
Mission San Diego de Alcalâ was the first of the missions, founded in 1769 by Father Junipero Serra.
I am an atheist, so what is it about these religious grounds that I find so attractive? Within the ambiance of these missions I find myself whelmed in a sense of numinous peace that leaves my soul feeling settled and whole. Why?
Here, Native Americans were enslaved and forced to toil away, feeding and supporting the Spanish military. They couldn’t have enjoyed these missions as much as me. Or could they? Perhaps to understand this, I must rely upon my own personal interpretation of the Gospel.
Back in the day, the Roman military occupied Israel. The Jews hated them. Then along came this dude named Jesus, who promised everyone freedom from the Romans. He performed all kinds of supernatural miracles, which attracted a lot of attention and got him way more followers than I’ve ever been able to achieve on WordPress.
Many believed he was the promised Messiah, and that he would use his miraculous powers to send the Romans packing back to Italy.
But instead he let them all down. It was all a bait-and-switch technique. The oldest scam in the book. Christ was a con artist. Instead of conquering the Romans, he taught that true freedom comes from observing the Golden Rule, and relying upon the mercy of God.
There is no better way to develop empathy other than to try to figure out how to do unto others what you would have them do unto you. And reliance upon the mercy of God is nothing more than trusting to your luck, and to the long run good fortune that eventually results from the development of empathy.
Supernatural miracles, such as walking upon water, cannot help anybody learn these lessons of empathy and faith. We must learn these lessons on our own. So no matter how powerful Jesus happened to be, he knew he could not transplant the skills of the Golden Rule, or empathy, into his followers. He knew they had to rely upon the ordinary miracle of life itself, by living it and learning it on their own.
So one day he decided to stop performing his magic show for his followers. That really did it. They turned on him more viciously than the followers of Kathy Griffin and her severed head of Donald Trump.
The Pharisees seized the opportunity, arrested Jesus, and presented him to the Romans for punishment. Maybe they hoped Jesus would use his supernatural powers to defend himself, sparking an escalating war with the Romans that would result in a Roman defeat.
But Jesus held his fire. And his refusal to defend himself resulted in his execution. This was his sacrifice. This was his way of showing his followers that they could not rely upon external forces to save them. They must instead save themselves by following the Golden Rule, developing empathy, and relying upon the mercy of God. Only then could they know the true way to personal salvation. Only then could they discover how to find true peace and happiness within their own souls.
His final miracle was his resurrection. But he had to do that to get his stupid followers to believe in him and his message again. Just like Kathy Griffin being resurrected at Carnegie Hall. Now we get it, Kathy. Now we understand.
But none of the teachings of Christ are true. They are merely words, and words cannot save anyone. We must instead use the teachings as a guide. When we follow the Golden Rule, and sincerely try to understand it, we develop empathy. When we develop empathy, we develop peace. And when we develop peace we begin to feel ourselves slipping into a wordless grasping of the true essence of life. And then nothing anybody has ever taught, whether they be Christ, Buddha, or Kathy Griffin, means anything.
I believe it is this wordless sense of life’s true essence that we catch a glimpse of, whenever we visit places like this. This is what we find so attractive here. And who knows, perhaps, hopefully, some of the Indian slaves also caught a sense of it here.
Here amongst the bird-of-paradise.
Here within the serene, numinous atmosphere of the adobe walls of an old Catholic mission.