I Dream of Jesus--As Barack and Hillary Join the Collective Unconscious

When will we, as a nation, be able to support and elect the man or woman who understands the plain fact that morality in no way rests upon the Christ myth?
03/19/2008 04:25 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

I have a dream.

A recurring dream. A dream that will not go away. And I'm willing to bet that in some form or another--you have it, too. It's pretty standard: I'm flying. And sometimes I hit the ground screaming.

One might call this an archetypal dream, a trope of the "collective unconscious." The dream of flight may well represent our collective drive to soar as a species, raising questions like where are we flying to? And from where will we fall? Of course, this is all very general.

Prof. Jason Tougaw, who writes extensively on dream and consciousness theory in both his creative and scholarly work, recently directed me to an article in the New Yorker on dreaming, specifically regarding dreams involving our presidential candidates. The website under discussion within the article is called I Dream Of Hillary, I Dream Of Barack. The brains behind it belong to Sheila Heti, a novelist. She calls the site our first "Metaphysical Poll." And it's great fun: Hillary makes risotto in the kitchen, then plays saxophone (I will resist the obvious analysis here); Barack rises above an erupting volcano with an elephant floating above his head (a little messianic wish fulfillment with some eastern flavor thrown in for the sake of cultural inclusion, perhaps); McCain as Billy Idol (I have no idea what do with this).

I would be curious to see how previous candidates have faired in the collective American dream, or perhaps the collective dream that spans the globe. --Bill flies from sea to shining sea in a clean blue dress (an old joke, but it works); George W. sits before a class of young schoolchildren, unable to articulate even the most simple of ideas, in his hands there is a child's picture book, upside down (Wait. This actually happened). What we do know--the current candidates have now inspired enough fear, loathing, inspiration, and outright adoration to demand attention from the national dreaming mind. Now inhabiting and animating our dreaming selves, playing out our singular neuroses (for Freud)--and/or playing out our collective dream as a people (for Jung).

I like Jung's reading better. The collective dream tells a bigger and better story.

My favorite collective dream is the apocalyptic dream. As a genre, it has been carefully documented for at least 2,300 years, some would argue longer. Frightening, detailed, and specific, the apocalypse imagines an end to this world. An Armageddon. And there's a good chance you've had one. I have--and in them I've flown to space and back, watched homes erupt in blazes, heard horrible screams from tenement windows, woken up in a morning sweat and sworn off spicy foods once again. If you haven't, you've certainly heard of the Biblical book of Revelation (in the original Greek, Apocalypto), the most infamous apocalypse of all. Like the canonical book of Daniel and the non-canonical book of Enoch, Revelation is the account of a dream (and for those of you who insist on divine authorship, consider this: if Revelation were written today, the author would be sued successfully for blatant plagiary by Enoch's familial estate).

What I find endlessly fascinating about Revelation is its depiction of Jesus Christ. A side of him we don't often hear about, a Jesus who takes great joy in the destruction of human life. Don't get me wrong, "Revelation-Jesus" does get his share of air time. Without him there may have been no Adolph Hitler (at least not the one we know so well, he loved the book; where do you think he got his idea for "a thousand year reign"?). Certainly, no Jerry Falwell. And without Revelation, we can be sure the Evangelical movement would not be nearly as powerful or passionate. They love "Rated R" Jesus, the Jesus that rides a clean white warhorse through a deep sea of red human blood.

Revelation-Jesus is a real nightmare.

What happened to "Love thy neighbor as thyself?"

Which brings me to Mr. Obama and a recent statement of his (and before you label me 'Obama-Hater," please understand the Democrats have my vote this year, regardless of the ticket). My problem is not with Obama as an individual, or as a candidate (I happen to think he's an exemplary version of both); my problem is with his typically American rhetoric.

As a response to the uproar made over Rev. Wright's recent comments, Barack issued an explicit statement, "On My Faith and My Church." Within this statement:

"Most importantly, Rev. Wright preached the gospel of Jesus, a gospel on which I base my life. In other words, he has never been my political advisor; he's been my pastor. And the sermons I heard him preach always related to our obligation to love God and one another, to work on behalf of the poor, and to seek justice at every turn."

Why is it that Americans only consider Christians seriously electable? And why do candidates continue to propagate this notion? On a recent episode of Bill Maher's Real Time (a damn good show), Christopher Hitchens made a wonderful observation in response to this notion; who would have thought that a goofy, second-rate actor, an actor who famously shared the screen with a monkey, would be electable? And not only did Reagan prove electable, he paved the way for others like the fine thespian governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Clint Eastwood's enormously successful Every Which Way But Loose franchise.

When will we, as a nation, be able to support and elect the man or woman who understands the plain fact that morality in no way rests upon the Christ myth? And when will our leaders stop appropriating Christian rhetoric? Or at least a leader that has sufficient respect for the complex literary character of Christ, instead of breezily referring to Jesus as a lover of the poor and a seeker of justice.

It is the schizophrenic nature of the Christ that continues to baffle believers. Many prefer one Jesus over another, nice Christ over the blood-spiller. But this is a lot like reading Dr. Jekyll's lines and skipping all of Hyde's. The lovers of blood, meanwhile, do their very best to reconcile the two, and have been doing so for almost two thousand years. The problem here is that most Christians have no real respect for the Bible's history and composition; as in the case of, say, Revelation--an artfully composed, largely plagiarized account of a dream written specifically for the first century Jew.

I just wish that we had enough sense and respect for each other (and Biblical literature) to know better by now; to know better than to base contemporary values on an ancient nomadic desert text; to know better than to demand our leaders publicly declare their faiths (Muslim, bad; Christian, good); to know better than to only show love to our fellow humans for some unearthly reward, for celestial brownie points, or because a character in a book tells you to do so. How about loving each other for the sake of love itself, for no reward but to love and be loved?

Unlikely, yes. But I can dream.