Fear of Death & Destruction of Democracy: Otto Rank & Resurrection

Psychologist Otto Rank defines “soul” as “rebirth” and interprets all of human history as a quest for immortality, a quest that drove the building of the pyramids in Egypt with all it cost in human lives and labor because people felt that if the pharaoh lived forever, others could participate vicariously in his immortality.

The fallen statue of King Ramses II at Luxor, Egypt, once thought to be a mythical king called Ozymandias, made a symbol of transience by 19th-century English poet Percy Shelley. Photo by Charlie Phillips on Flickr

The same held true for kings, “the king is dead; God save the (new) king.”  And for so many of our monuments to immorality from empire-building to amassing of fortunes (and towers with one’s name on them like certain politicians?). That the quest for immortality has evolved in various seasons of humanity’s history beginning with the survival of the tribe (an immortality idea) up through today’s drive to be a billionaire.

This idea seems especially pertinent in a presidential election year where a certain candidate and his millions of followers appear to be willing to jettison democracy in favor of authoritarianism and even dictatorship.

Michelangelo Buonarroti, “The Last Judgment,” Sistine Chapel, The Vatican. Wikimedia Commons.

Rank, who is Jewish and not Christian, also felt that Jesus’ and Paul’s notion of Resurrection was the “most revolutionary” idea to occur to humankind.  Why?  Because it totally democratizes immortality.  Now neither pyramids nor empires were needed to thwart the fear of death: Now ordinary people could get on with living fully and moving through the universal fear of death.

Now democracy as practiced lately has plenty of holes in it that need fixing.  But abandoning the core of Jesus’ teaching—among others’—in favor of reverting to authoritarianism seems to be déjà vu and very much a major move backwards.

What follows from seeing the story of Resurrection as a story of Democracy and relating it to solving human ambitions toward empire-building, amassing of wealth and power, and authoritarianism and other immortality projects?

Rev. Bruce Chilton responds to a questioner about the relationship between Paul and Mary Magdalene in their accounts of the Resurrection. IIPSGP1

In his recent study on Resurrection Logic*, biblical scholar Bruce Chilton explores the diverse appearances and interpretations of the Resurrection in the first century, how Paul’s and others’ experience differed from one another, whether Mary Magdalene’s, Peter’s, John’s or “the 500”—many of whom Paul interviewed. 

Also, Emmaus and the last supper tradition play a role in our diverse “logics” around Resurrection which Chilton recognizes as not historically provable, but its fruits are: We can measure its effects on history by way of those who believed in it profoundly.  They changed history, as Rank proposed.


*Bruce Chilton, Resurrection Logic: How Jesus’ First Followers Believed God Raised Him from the Dead (Baylor Univ Press, 2019).

Adapted from Matthew Fox, Creativity: Where the Divine and the Human Meet, pp. 118-153, 218-220

And Fox, One River, Many Wells: Wisdom Springing from Global Faiths, p. 368.

Banner Image: “La Résurrection” by Mantegna, Andrea, ca. 1459. Wikimedia Commons.


Queries for Contemplation

Do you see a relationship between immortality projects and a collective quest for immortality?  And the jettisoning of democracy in favor of autocracy and authoritarianism to be an immortality project? 


Recommended Reading

Creativity: Where the Divine and Human Meet

Because creativity is the key to both our genius and beauty as a species but also to our capacity for evil, we need to teach creativity and to teach ways of steering this God-like power in directions that promote love of life (biophilia) and not love of death (necrophilia). Pushing well beyond the bounds of conventional Christian doctrine, Fox’s focus on creativity attempts nothing less than to shape a new ethic.
“Matt Fox is a pilgrim who seeks a path into the church of tomorrow.  Countless numbers will be happy to follow his lead.” –Bishop John Shelby Spong, author, Rescuing the Bible from FundamentalismLiving in Sin

One River, Many Wells: Wisdom Springing from Global Faiths

Matthew Fox calls on all the world traditions for their wisdom and their inspiration in a work that is far more than a list of theological position papers but a new way to pray—to meditate in a global spiritual context on the wisdom all our traditions share. Fox chooses 18 themes that are foundational to any spirituality and demonstrates how all the world spiritual traditions offer wisdom about each.“Reading One River, Many Wells is like entering the rich silence of a masterfully directed retreat. As you read this text, you reflect, you pray, you embrace Divinity. Truly no words can fully express my respect and awe for this magnificent contribution to contemporary spirituality.” –Caroline Myss, author of Anatomy of the Spirit


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6 thoughts on “Fear of Death & Destruction of Democracy: Otto Rank & Resurrection”

  1. Avatar

    It is safe to say that we in the world are in a period of ‘disorder’ and in need of reorder. This has always been the case in the world, but ‘the West’ only drives the issue when it appears on ‘its shores’. Most really don’t give a dam if the world is or has gone to ‘hell in a handbasket’ as long as it does not affect our daily lives and is confined ‘off shore’ somewhere, anywhere, but home. Now ‘the Great Disorder’ has reared its ugly head and resides most visibly now in our midst. The undertones of disorder have been present and building for a long time now, but we have chosen for the most part to ignore them, put their resolution on hold.
    The accumulation of wealth, fame and fortune as ‘the world’ sees it has always been temporal and never a lasting legacy for the physical, human being. There is no immortality in that vision. The question is, “What is it that so blinds us and keeps us bound to falsehood? — BB.

  2. Avatar

    Yes, autocrat/authoritarian charismatic ‘leaders’ with their promises of order, security, and scapegoating seems to always appeal to the masses of people who have deep seated insecurities, fears, and have not fully developed/individuated their deeper spiritual faith within themselves of a Higher Loving Creative Source which gives Us True Peace, Wisdom, Meaning, Healing, Creativity, Compassion, Joy, and Realization of Our Eternal Diverse LOVING ONENESS… COSMIC CHRIST CONSCIOUSNESS. Our Faith is that Humanity is still evolving and that Our Loving Source Co-Creator is ALWAYS LOVINGLY PRESENT within and among Us….

  3. Avatar

    Perhaps Saint Paul means to self-correct or re-see what he first saw, and he wants to pave the path TODAY for what Mary Magdalene saw/sees.

    I think Jesus said it all when he asked the Samaritan woman for water. John 4: “But a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father is seeking such as these to worship Him. God is Spirit, and His worshipers must worship Him in spirit and in truth.” I think this is a troubling, contradictory and existential realization for anyone trapped within a “Father”/patriarchy=GOD paradigm… so societies keep cycling or spiraling to the truth that Jesus gave, washing out the patriarchy/authoritarianism until we achieve a society more balanced, sustainable and true. This washing out reminds me a lot of Mary Oliver at the water, washing out her pain and grief every day in the ocean of life and nature and Spirit.

  4. Avatar

    The false “prosperity gospel” began selling the idea of wealth as a sign of God’s favor years ago. Today cult followers appear to lionize the rich candidate and believe that by adopting, adhering to, and imitating his actions they too will gain some of his ability to attract wealth, even wealth attained criminally and illicitly. Hence, their illegal actions committed in hopes of gaining his favor.
    We used to desire the humility and humanity exhibited by the life of Jesus and hope imitation of that life would contribute to the general wellbeing and health of everyone around and beyond us. Our goal was INclusion.
    Obviously, this is no longer an evangelical goal.
    To the devout worshiper of wealth, it is, in and of itself, a form of immortality.

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