Bad Faith: A Smug Zone of Certainty

Vice-President Mike Pence yesterday described Christians as being “most persecuted.”  Well, persecution of those who live out of an authentic inner core, such as Jesus Christ illustrated, are apt to be persecuted.  Yes.  But then in the Christian culture there is a tradition of taking delight in the feeling of persecution when these feelings stem primarily if not only from unacknowledged, unconscious issues that meaningful faith in Jesus Christ would allow one to explore.  This hypocritical stance of being “persecuted for His sake” fulfills the ego’s need for pseudo humility, permitting one to bask in a smug self-loathing that is taken for some perverted sense of righteousness.

I certainly can see why Pence feels his version the Christian faith is today being persecuted.  This is because “reality” is exposing their duplicity as daily their political “champion”, a man they declare the Lord has “raised up” to lead this nation, is demonstrating the antithesis of everything Jesus Christ stood for.  But Pence and other Christian luminaries stand behind Trump, will not challenge his egregious dishonesty, and continue to drag the name of Jesus in the mud of their shallow, ego-enslaved faith.  By use of the term “reality” I mean that the Christian faith of Pence and his ilk is an insular world which has the primary purpose of providing a “wall” between themselves and the rest of the world, i.e. “reality.”  No wonder they find the notion of “build that wall” so appealing and are supporting Trump’s insistence on building walls literally, and metaphorically.  This “insularity” is being threatened and they are frightened by “reality.”

But let me introduce another term for this “reality.”  I like to think of it as the Spirit of God that is speaking to them, trying to show them how their faith has been immature and having the primary function of maintaining their disconnection from the world.  Yes, in a sense, God has “raised Trump up” but not for the purpose they have in mind but to let them stare at what lurks in their collective heart, which now they can’t deny…but do!  Christian faith, or faith in any spiritual tradition, is designed to facilitate participation in this world, meaningful participation, and this is not possible when one’s identity is a smug certainty of separateness from this world.  And the Christian faith, and any faith, is easily co-opted into a smug zone of certainty from which great harm will be done, regardless of how noble their announced intention or how noble the spiritual teacher they purport to worship might be.

This intervention of “reality,” i.e. “The Spirit of God,” extends to the whole of our culture.  Trump, and Trumpism, gives us an opportunity to recognize the avarice and smugness that capitalism has gifted us with.  And, staring our ugliness in the face is good for the soul, though not pleasant.  I think the Universe, i.e. “God,” is just telling us, “Welcome to the world.”  And if we can embrace the ugliness of our heart that is now being presented to us, the profound Beauty that is with us and in us can shine forth more radiantly.  As Rilke noted, “The heart has its beastly little treasures.”

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Two other blogs of mine are listed here which I invited you to check out:

https://anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com/

https://literarylew.wordpress.com/

https://theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com/

Truth as a Dynamic Dimension of Life

Blogging has introduced me to many new friends with interesting and provocative points of view.  This has corresponded with many real-time friends that I have also discovered since my move to Taos, New Mexico three years ago. Adventures into the unknown, via internet or geographical change, always poses the risk that some of our viewpoints will be challenged and we will then have the chance to enlarge our worldview.

I want to share here a blog that I recently came across whose view of life as a dynamic process is something I am learning to understand and experience now that I’m in retirement.  The blog is “godcomesby.wordpress.com” and the author is a Montana counselor-educator, Rita Sommers-Flanagan.  I’m going to share a brief summary of what she is attempting with blogging as it reveals very eloquently her grasp of the subtlety of this mystery we call life:

There are two things you should know. First, these writings are true. They’re so true, they make me sick on a regular basis. In fact, I’m a little nauseated right now. That’s how this kind of truth works. I’m not talking about the fragile, expedient reality we cling to as temporary beings. I’m talking about truths that make your mind fall open and your heart break. Truths that untether you from the nice even surfaces you’ve grown accustomed to and threaten your existence as you’ve known it. These truths come from dreams you don’t remember.

 Second, we are not alone, ever. I can’t explain this, but at the subatomic level, you aren’t alone, you aren’t even you, and we’ve known each other for a long, long time. This explains why you might feel dizzy, exhilarated, sad, frightened, and a little crazy if you let the truth of seep in. I understand. What I recommend is small doses, shy glances, formal handshakes, and laughter. Maybe work up to a daydream with the door open. You can’t imagine how dangerous and necessary this is. Courage, dear ones. Everything that is true is contradictory, indefensible, and utterly holy.

I’ve known for decades that truth wasn’t the static system of dogma that my culture gave me in my youth.  And since that realization began to dawn on me in the early 1980’s, it has steadily eaten away at my soul and facilitated an awakening that can best be described as rebirth…or, I might even use the term, “being born again.”  I appreciate this blogger’s grasp of the complexity of Truth, a complexity stemming only from the insistence of our ego to make the simplicity of life into something it can control.  In her words, “I’m not talking about the fragile, expedient reality we cling to as temporary beings. I’m talking about truths that make your mind fall open and your heart break. Truths that untether you from the nice even surfaces you’ve grown accustomed to and threaten your existence as you’ve known it.”

I was taught that Jesus was, “The way, the truth, and the life.”  I still believe that, very firmly, but now my understanding is totally different as I see beyond the “letter of the law” and interpret Him and his teachings in personal terms.  I no longer look on the surface of things, because my life is no longer a surface phenomenon, my experience is no longer only a cognitive grasp of my life.  Spiritual wisdom must be approached with an open mind…and an open heart…or we will not be open to the layers of meaning that lie there.  And our willingness to venture into that region will require an understanding, and experience, of the “layers of meaning” to our very identity.  We will have to come to appreciate the value of the bumper sticker wisdom, “Don’t believe everything you think.” Believing “everything you think” will not allow the “discerning Spirit” that the Apostle Paul spoke of to ferret out the egotism present in pet theories about life, about God, and about ourselves.

Note also that Truth, when approached as a dynamic quality like she suggested, will not emphasize the differences in life…though they will be present…but will emphasize the commonality of all things and all people.  Though separate and distinct, we have simultaneously a unity with all things though this will make no “sense” to the rational mind.  The rational mind, unable and unwilling to see beyond itself, will prefer to comfort zone of linear thinking which will offer the sweet nectar of certainty. But the spiritual dimension of life, that which underlies and under girds the whole of life, is nothing that “sense” can wrap its head around, try as we may.

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Two other blogs of mine are listed here which I invited you to check out:

https://anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com/

https://literarylew.wordpress.com/

https://theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com/

Unadulterated Axe Grinding!!!

I grind an axe too much in this venue and in my other blogs.  I have attempted to moderate that ego impulse and feel that often I make improvement.  But, this time, I will offer unadulterated axe-grinding.

I am infuriated with the Evangelical Christian support of Donald Trump which has led to this House of Representatives vote to repeal Obamacare.  Oh, I knew it was likely to happen and on some level I kind of hoped they’d just go ahead and get it done so their path to self-destruction could take the next step.  But I’m still enraged.  But, being cursed with the self-reflection that is missing in most of evangelical Christianity, and in most religions, I can’t help but ask the question, “Now what is this angry response about?”

And I know.  I am so infuriated that I’ve spent most of my 65 years…and I’m only allotted “three score and ten”…ensconced in the bullshit that is now being demonstrated by these adherents to the “letter of the law.”  And, guess who I have to blame?  Oh, I could blame “them” but I’m honest enough to own the blame and recognize and own my own lack of courage which meant that I sheepishly followed the dictates of the “letter of the law” that I was given in my youth.  I didn’t have to.  The Spirit of God was always there, offering the opportunity to escape into the Spirit of the law, but I found it too frightening as such a venture would have challenged the very fabric of my being.  And, having done so, I daily live in this “challenge” and in a weak moment I pine for those days when the demon of “certainty” was mine.  It is gut-wrenchingly painful to let one’s persona, especially the Christian dimension thereof, be challenged but it is only when we accept this intrusion of the Spirit of God that we recognize what Jesus had in mind when he told us that unless a grain of corn fall into the ground, and disintegrate into rotten-ness, the inner essence of the grain could not be resurrected into life.  To make it even worse, this “resurrected life” is not one of spiritual greatness and valor….that an ego quest of mine in past years…but an acknowledgement and experience of my human-ness, my “being.”  And, as Otto Brown told us decades ago, “To be, is to be vulnerable.”

So, what’s the point?  Hmm.  Not for sure.  But here I affirm again what Shakespeare realized, “There is a Divinity that doeth shape our ends, rough hew them how we may.”  We are living through madness, but then that is the story of human civilization.  And the Christian tradition is wallowing in madness…because we are mere humans after all…and there are persons in this tradition who recognize this and are acting as “the voice crying in the wilderness.”  Truth will “out” in the end but “Truth” is so painful to false truth that each of us is born into, including…maybe especially so…those of us that are born into a spiritual tradition that takes itself too seriously.

There is an ugliness that is besetting the whole world.  Just look at France, Turkey, and India.  The same dark spirit is overwhelming this “Christian” nation and doing so with the help of Christians who are the unwitting agents of the attack.  I take comfort in the realization that my role, so meager in the estimation of the ego demands of my childhood, is to remember the wisdom of the Apostle Paul and focus on working “out my own salvation, with fear and trembling.”

Evangelical Insularity and Duplicity

A writer for Christianity Today, Katelyn Beaty, has written an op-ed for the New York Times that addresses the insularity in evangelical Christianity that has been a focus of mine.  They have put their energy into the culture wars and in so doing missed the essential thrust of the Gospels, opting for the sweet nectar of vicarious power and legitimation rather than grasping the basic teaching of Jesus that power lay in powerlessness and legitimation is a gift from Him, based not in the least on anything we do or know.  Their fierce support of Trump, and now Bill O’Reilly, in the face of overwhelming evidence of their moral turpitude reveals their willingness to overlook anything to know that they, and their way of viewing the world, is “right.”

Beaty quotes a grandson of Billy Graham, Boz Tchividjian, who recognizes this insularity of his evangelical compatriots, noting they are willing to overlook even sexual abuse at times, that they respond to abuse with their primary concern being “institutional self-protection” which is explained as necessary to protect “the name of Christ.”  Mr. Tchividjian has at least some grasp of something most evangelicals are not willing to consider, that Jesus Christ is often largely a foil for the purpose of accomplishing their very self-serving ends.  This is because they can’t acknowledge the “performance art” dimension of their faith because it would be too painful to suffer the disillusionment, though if they did so they could learn that any good they accomplish in their life, including in the name of Jesus, will be done in spite of them and not because of them.  But when the ego predominates in faith, their ministry or Christian practice will be superficial, another demonstration of the wisdom of Shakespeare, “With devotions visage and pious action they sugar o’er the devil himself.”

With Trump in particular, these evangelicals have prostituted themselves to a man who continues daily to demonstrate in word and deed everything that Jesus opposed.  And they have very lame explanations like, “Well, he is just a baby Christian” or “Who am I to judge” or “Who am I to cast stones?”  In Trump they have unwittingly found a voice for the unconscious dimensions of their heart, that region where the Grace of God, that is definitely present in their life, would like to work if they would only acknowledge the need of it.  But acknowledgement of the need of it would be an affront to their Christian persona and would require admitting they made a mistake.  But like their president, they can’t admit making a gut-level, existential mistake…though admitted he can’t admit making any mistake!  Oh, they can confess to being a sinner all day long.  That is easy.  That is what they’ve been taught to do.  But cognitive understanding of sin, and confessing of “knowledge” of sins, does not address the deep-seated avarice, greed, and egotism that lurks in all hearts, regardless of how pious we might think that we are.  To see, understand, and experience this is to begin to process of becoming human and that is what God wants of us.  That is the “incarnation” that Jesus illustrated for us.

(Link to NYT op-ed cited abo e—https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/02/opinion/bill-oreilly-shielded-by-christians.html?ref=opinion&_r=0)

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There are two other blogs listed below which you might wish to check out.

https://anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com/

https://literarylew.wordpress.com/

https://theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com/

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Materialism and Religion

In a recent post, I referred to something that scientists have taught us, that physical life is not simply as it appears to be at its root is a profound mystery that cannot be reduced to rational, including “scientific” explanation.  Life is not “material” as our culture insists, but “immaterial.” Quantum physics teaches us that physical life is mostly empty space and that only our god-given neurological endowment allows us to construct the time and space continuum which gives us this thing we call reality.  Our brain endows us with the capacity to objectify subjective experience which makes possible the creation of an “object-world” which eventually evolves into a consensually-validated reality.  This does not devalue life as we know it; it merely gives it meaning as it introduces us to the realization that there is another dimension to life that we cannot grasp with our conscious mind.

And religion was given to us to attempt to address this mystery of existence and therefore endow life with meaning.  In our primitive past words like “god” had meaning when they were related to the depths of the heart but in time the word became taken as the “thing-in-itself”, taken as that “Wholly Other” dimension of life that cannot be captured with any word but can only be “pointed to” with words.  Our word “Holy” comes from the term “Wholly Other” which refers to that dimension of life which is so profound that one poet has described it as that before which we can only, “glory, bow, and tremble.”  This is the frightening, and Holy, experience of a liminal moment when the core of our being experiences its vulnerability and the distinction between “inside” and “outside” is unclear for a moment.  Liminality is what German philosopher Eric Voeglin and Jewish theologian Martin Buber termed the “in-between” and modern day spiritual teacher Deepak Chopra simply, but beautifully termed, “the gap.”  Buber said that it is only here that we can make connection with other people, a connection that is not routine given its profundity, merely a gift between two people who have found the courage to climb out of their egoistic prison and proffer a “hand that reaches across the abyss” hoping that it will be received by the other, i.e. the “Other.”   Buber called this an “I-Thou” moment because of its profound reverence and Holiness

Our modern “material” culture which is intrinsically bound by linear thinking cannot conceive of spirituality in this sense.  Spirituality bound by culture cannot escape itself so that this “Holiness” can be encountered occasionally…and it can only be encountered “occasionally,” as noted by the wisdom of T.S. Eliot, “Humankind cannot bear very much of reality.” Instead, reality offers a steady diet of dogma and sterile tradition to which the linear-thinking mind can rigidly adhere to and convince itself of its “godliness.”  This is what Jesus recognized in the religious establishment of his day when he so unceremoniously called them “hypocrites” or actors.  Culture-bound faith is performance art.  And that would not be so bad as life is performance art and therefore faith must be also most of the time perfunctory compliance with ritual and tradition.  But the problem arises when the “performance art” dimension of faith is mistaken for the whole of it and the heart-level dimension which would make it meaningful is not taught, and is even discouraged.   This style of faith, bound by the “letter of the law” or tradition, is culture-bound and will always be amenable to cultural influences and will find it difficult or impossible to question the prevailing values of “the tribe.”

Here are the other blogs that I have on the table.  Check’em out!

We Are Stubbornly “Beasts at Heart”

A contributor to the Washington Post, Kara Swisher, who writes from the perspective of the business world noted the “unconscious bias” that is often made in such things as hiring practices.  She described it as “a bias that kicks in automatically, with our supposedly unthinking brains making often-inaccurate snap judgments…While I am fully aware of the science behind the concept — which basically boils down to the fact that we are all beasts at heart — it’s pure laziness by some of the world’s smartest and most innovative people to pretend they are unconscious of something so glaringly clear. It both abrogates the responsibility of leaders and fobs it off on training and classes that never seem to solve the problem, no matter how much money is spent.”

The ”unconscious bias” is much related to the epistemic closure or confirmation bias that is often a focus in my blogging.  There are premises that are involved which influence our decision making and these “premises” are difficult to pay attention to, primarily because we don’t want to pay attention to them. These premises are a template through which we filter our rational thinking and they are heavily laden with emotion to the point that “rationality” often eludes them. This is a human dilemma and most of us have wrestled with the issue from time to time, squirming under the painful realization that our stance on various issues in life were totally irrational and merely reflecting of what had been an “unconscious bias.”  The pain of this self-awareness is often so intense that our conscious mind just will not permit the insight, opting to affirm even more passionately our biased view of the world. Furthermore, we can always find like-minded persons who will “confirm” our bias.

Our political system in the United States currently illustrates what happens when two different world views are “dug in at the heels” and refuse to budge, not realizing that the obstinacy is bad for all in the long run. The core issue is identity itself.  If we take our identity to be only what and who we “think” we are, then we will not be able to back-off of our viewpoint and realize that often the other view point has more validity than we first thought.  This notion takes my mind always to the domain of existence I like to describe as the spiritual, that region in the depths of our heart where we encounter and learn to live with the vulnerability that comes in realizing understanding that the essence of our being lies beneath the surface realm of rationality.  Then, at times we have to agree with Swanson, “We are beasts at heart.”

The irony is that this stubborn “beastliness” is usually most conspicuous with religious beliefs.  No one deliberately opts for “ignoble” beliefs in their religion.  The problem comes when they subscribe to “noble” beliefs but then interpret them in such a way that the result is that other people are marginalized socially at least and sometimes politically.  At times the “marginalization” has even led to violence as religious fervor has become so intense that a believer feels that his belief system must be forced on others even at the “point of sword.”

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My other blogs listed here:

https://anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com/

https://literarylew.wordpress.com/

https://theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com/

The Finger Pointing to the Moon is not the Moon!!!

I recently posted on one of my other blogs about a favorite subject of mine, a closed-referential system also called epistemic closure or confirmation bias.  I focus on this issue because it is personally relevant given my youth in a very close-minded community and religious culture.  And my knowledge about this matter is so personal that without a doubt I am revealing that my “escape” from the close-mindedness is not complete and probably never will be.  In fact, it is impossible to cease to think outside of a context and that context is always larger than one is aware of.  We do not have an “objective” existence and if we ever accomplish that stance we will have become God and personally, I’ve already told friends that if I ever give evidence that I think I have accomplished that, “Just come and shoot me!”  I often like to use the term “god-complex” for those who are so rigid in their belief system that the uncertainty necessary for faith is not permitted to visit them.

My focus for the moment is the way in which religious thought can become self-contained so that it is self-referential, leading always to group-think and the aforementioned epistemic closure.  In a spiritual context like this “god-talk” is nothing but idle chatter even though the “chatting” might be done with great solemnity and fervor.  The “god-talk” I have in mind can be thought of as social grooming, amounting to nothing more than “car-talk” or banter about the local sports team.  Social grooming is very important and even has value in a religious setting though not when it is an end in itself. “God-talk” might be thought of in the spiritual context I come from as the exchange of common-place notions like, “Jesus Saves” or “Praise the Lord” or “Isn’t God wonderful” or “Hallelujah” and all of these terms have value.  But their value has meaning only when they are used in a group dialogue in which they are explored in terms of personal experience and not as mere grist for a social mill.  When reduced to this grist, they have the value only of “sounding brass and tinkling cymbal.”

The core issue here is epistemological, the word is not the thing or as the Buddhists put it, “The finger pointing to the moon is not the moon.”   But our culture has misled us, teaching us that “the word is the thing,” that it is the “thing in itself” and not the pointer that the Buddhists would have us learn.  This view of the world gives us the impression that the world is one dimensional, that there is no immaterial dimension to life, and that our everyone is empowered to claim objectivity.  But the problem with this “objectivity” is that it encourages everyone to claim the right to this objectivity which puts on our table at this present moment two diametrically opposing views of how the world should be seen.  One view is conservative and at its root is a firm belief that “the way things are” is valid and need to be maintained, that “walls” need to be built around it to keep out the ever-encroaching peril of the other view.  This other view, the liberal view, does not see reality as static but as a dynamic flow that permits us to have only a viewpoint, not an objective grasp of “the way things are.”

The “immaterial” dimension of life, i.e. the “spiritual”, could humble each of these perspectives and permit the finding of common ground.  The conservative and the liberal energy is necessary in any political body but when each side is dug in at the heels conflict cannot be resolved and catastrophe can take place.  But by using the term “spiritual” I have just opened a can of worms as the word means something which is not spiritual in the least but a means of social control and even tyranny.

TO BE CONTINUED

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https://anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com/

https://literarylew.wordpress.com/

https://theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com/