Category Archives: biblical literalism

Huffpo column, “All Christians are problematic, even you and I”

An Oregon chaplain and pastor, as well as columnist in Huffington Post, Brandi Miller, noted yesterday that, “All Christians are problematic, even you and I.”  In this column she addressed the issue that has been so conspicuous with the evangelical support of Trump—an unwillingness to admit any fault and to fiercely defend the champion of unwillingness-to-admit-fault, Trump himself.

The kernel of this problem is that many Christians, evangelical and otherwise, are mainly ideologues rather than followers of the teachings of Jesus.  Ideologues are in love with their thoughts more than that which these thoughts should refer to.  As epistemology teaches us, the word is not the thing but merely a token which points us toward the thing…in this case the “thing” being the person of Jesus.  This truth is so powerfully present in the Buddhist teaching, “the finger pointing to the moon is not the moon.”  This “finger” is but a pointer, as words should be, a phenomenon which is very important in spiritual teachings, most of which have this understanding buried in their tradition.  But this “burial” is difficult to grasp and thus wrestle with as most spiritually-minded people prefer the superficial, the “letter of the law,” as it offers quick and easy validation of their self-serving preconceptions and biases.  Awareness of this “burial” of Truth is impossible without understanding the wisdom offered by poet Adrienne Rich, “Until we can understand the assumptions in which we are drenched we cannot know ourselves.”

(The Brandi Miller column can be found in following link—https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/opinion-miller-problematic-christianity_us_5b4b7887e4b0bc69a788148e)

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Spiritual Banter, i.e. “God-talk”

By using words like “faith” I am really misconstruing my intent. Words like faith can easily be part of what I call god-talk which amounts to chatter which I sometimes describe as, “gospel-eze.”  For example, I could go down to a church and banter about “God” and “the Holy Spirit” and “Grace” and “the Second Coming” and “the Lord’s Supper” and do so adroitly and readily find a place in a social context.  And, I find each of these terms of value but if I should do so as described I would be grossly out of line and disrespectful to the people of that church for my needs of a social context have already been met elsewhere.  And “banter” as offered above certainly has its place but the problem lies in it never becoming more than banter with no effort made to explore these and other words and concepts beneath the surface so that they have personal meaning.  In some contexts, the need for social connection and for maintenance of the social connection are so paramount that the verbiage must not only be the same but its meaning must remain the same disallowing any real personal meaning to take place.  For “personal” meaning occurs when words and concepts find application in that “foul rag-and-bone shop of the heart” which is never found when a rigidly scripted format is valued over personal experience.

Let me illustrate with a common spiritual notion like “sin.”  Sin is simple when it is kept on the superficial level of a judicial act that has occurred “in Adam,” as in the “Adamic fall,” or in the day-to-day misdeeds that we all make.  But sin is more of a challenging notion if we see it as a state of separation from our Source, a state which leaves us in the darkness, a darkness which Paul had in mind when he declared that at best we only, “see through a glass darkly.”  Understanding this heart-level dimension of sin then makes us aware of how our ego influences our interpretation of our day-to-day experiences, even our spirituality so that we become aware even of the self-serving nature of our spirituality itself.  This insight then makes grace, for example, even more meaningful as we can see God’s forgiveness as covering even that sin and allowing us to be a bit less spiritually arrogant than we had been before.

Faith in the Guts!!!

After a long hiatus, I’m cranking-up this blog once again, inspired by several “hits” by an old blogging friend and inspiration, “Nickle-boy Graphics.”  I’m still perplexed by why I’m “wasting” my time with this blog but realize that otherwise I’d be “wasting” it in some other fashion; for, to the ego’s mind it is always a “waste” in some fashion as we do not “know” what we are doing and why we are doing it.  Oh, we think we do and contrive fancy explanations of why it is so important, but, if we pause for a moment and look into our hearts find that ultimately it is a mystery.  And this “Mystery” has driven me the whole of my life and I’m increasingly comfortable in applying the term “God” to it and just to proceed with an exploration of what this “experience” has been and is in my life.  The quotation marks are necessary…here at least…as words are always ephemeral and do not mean what they initially bring to mind.  Their value, their “meaning” lies beneath the surface and is resurrected only by exploration into the depths of the heart, into that “foul rag-and-bone shot of the heart,” where most of us never venture.  This verbal superficiality is necessary in a lot of life, most of which is merely “performance art,” but when it comes to spirituality living only on the surface of words and ritual will leave us ensconced in the “letter-of-the-law” and often quite comfortable in dwelling there.

There is a sense in which life is a roll of the dice, a crap shoot, or as T.S. Eliot put it, an offering, “of our deeds to oblivion.”  We never know with complete assurance what we are doing and the quest for “certainty,” always carries the poison that can lead to the spiritual vulgarity of Isis.  It brings to my mind the moderation of uncertainty illustrated by the plea of one believer in Jesus in the Gospel of Mark, “Lord I believe, help thou my unbelief.”

So, “What’s it all about?” as the famous Dionne Warwick song asked to, “Alfie?”  We’re here.  What we do, how we use our time matters.  The significance of our deeds is beyond the grasp of our conscious mind and most of us can rest assured that at best we will end up only as the “significant soil” that Eliot spoke of in one of his poems, that “soil” which contributed to the well-being of someone who did become “significant.”  Even if we don’t become significant, we can rest assured that we will have significance nevertheless as we can live our life with purpose, with respect to mother earth, family and friends, with the utmost conviction that there is “method” to what often looks like “madness” in our life and in the whole of life.  Yes, Shakespeare described life as, “A tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing” but the body of his work suggests that he was not as cynical as that suggests.  Yes, the ugliness, the “idiocy” is abysmal at times, but in those moments we have to humble ourselves and hope and pray that yes, “There is a Divinity that doeth shape our ends, rough hew them how we may.”  We never know what value our “insignificant” little gestures might have in the life of other people and in the human endeavor.  You think the inventor of the zipper or of the bread-tie knew the importance of what they had done?

I am speaking of faith here, but not a simple ideological faith which is antithetical to a heart-level faith which can help bring meaning into our world.  Simple, mindless regurgitation of dogma, regardless of how noble it may be, is only a defense mechanism and a way of avoiding the truth that lies beneath the surface of the “letter-of-the-law.”

A Cartoon Illustration of Judgement and Hypocrisy

I think the following cartoon best illustrates hypocrisy, in the vein of, “Judge not lest thou shalt be judged” for as we describe (or “define”) others were are always saying something about ourselves.  We are but mortal and anytime we make an observation, we are doing so from our perspective which is merely a framework or prism through which we view the world.  Being mortal, we cannot escape this existential predicament but if we get this point it can allow us to be a bit less harsh in our observations, realizing that the distinction between “me and thee” is more nebulous than we might imagine.  To be human it is imperative that we make these “judgements” for any pseudo-pious effort to escape the responsibility, as in the oft-used and abused, “Who am I to judge,” is to fail to bring our Presence to the table in our world.

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Richard Rohr Prophecy, Part 3

Christians are usually sincere and well-intentioned people until you get to any issues of ego, control, power, money, pleasure, and security.  Then they tend to be like everyone else.  We often give only a bogus version of the gospel, a fast-food religion, without any deep transformation of the self; and the result has been the spiritual disaster of Christian countries that tend to be so consumer-oriented, proud, warlike, racist, class conscious, and addictive as everybody else and often even more so, I’m afraid.  (Richard Rohr, posted in “Mindful Christianity” on Facebook.)

Here Rohr alludes to addiction that often besets Christian countries, making people in these countries, “tend to be like everyone else.”  His teachings emphasize the addictive dimension of faith, a malady that leads him to encourage meditation as part of spiritual practice. He sees meditation as a means by which one can quieten that “monkey mind” that is often present in all spiritual practice, leaving one’s quest for spiritual depth to consist largely of a lot of thoughts bouncing around in one’s skull.  The core issue is addiction to thinking and even if “spirituality” characterizes one’s thinking it does not mean that this “rhapsody of words” (Shakespeare)  is anything but rhetoric disguised as spiritual truth

Rhetorical spiritual truth, i.e. “the letter of the law,” is upon closer scrutiny merely a means of avoiding the spiritual truth that is hidden in the literal grasp of the holy writ.  Meditation facilitates the opening of space between the rhetoric and the Essential, allowing that Essential dimension to begin seeping through into our consciousness and therefore into our day to day life.  It “quietens the mind” and allows that “still small voice of God” to filter through a lifetime of accumulated cognitive detritus. However, when one is addicted to his “cognitive detritus” and it happens to have the label “spiritual,” it is very challenging to understand and admit that it is merely detritus, an obsession with the superficial dimension of teachings without allowing experience of the Essential meaning.  This is the circumstance Jesus discovered in his life time with the religious establishment, leading him to say some rather “uncharitable” things to the Pharisees because he realized that they were so often merely, “straining at a gnat, and swallowing a camel.”

Another dimension of this problem is addressed in the Eastern teaching, “the word is not the thing,” succinctly captured with the Buddhist observation, “The finger pointing to the moon is not the moon.”  Just because we use words like, “God” or “Holy Spirit” or “the Bible” etc. does not mean they have any real value other than that of the aforementioned detritus.  These words are mere “pointers” and their value is found when we allow them to lead us into the Essential dimension.  French philosopher Gabriel Marcel, a devoted Christian, recognized this when he noted, “Words have value when they ‘open up’ into a region beyond themselves.” When the word is but a thing, it is only an object and is not allowed to open up.  This closely parallels the dilemma of “letter of the law” believers who are unable to “open up” as they take even themselves literally, not recognizing that they are but an expression of a mysterious and ineffable presence.  Their bondage to the “letter of the law” reveals the bondage of their life, a bondage that spiritual teachings seek to free them from.  But for this truth to begin sinking through to them they would have to admit, “I have eyes to see, but see not; ears to hear, but hear not.”

Christianity as its Own Worst Enemy

Evangelical Christianity is its own worst enemy.  Feeling their faith is being threatened, they have hitched their wagon to a man who can even be thought of as an “anti-christ” of sorts as he is the opposite of anything that Jesus taught.  These Christians feeling of socio-economic powerlessness has pushed them into seeking political power and they found a spokesman in Donald J. Trump.  But faith, certainly including the Christian faith, is not something that can be threatened if its focal point is the personal dimension of spirituality, not the ideological.  This phenomenon of the Christian teachings is termed the “Personhood” of Christ which, if kept from being itself merely another cold, sterile idea, can lead to an internal, “personal” experience not dependent upon ideology and dogma.  Obsession with ideology and dogma keeps any experience of anything from taking place.

But the ego, termed “the flesh” by the Apostle Paul, is always ready to co-opt our spiritual impulses and accomplishes this purpose by turning the teachings of any spiritual teacher into dogma. The ego’s inroad into many people’s spirituality is through the intellect, particularly in the West where the rational is overly emphasized to the neglect of the affective domain.  The ego is delighted with a cognitive-based faith system as it finds the human mind easy prey upon which to work its dark, self-serving magic. When the dogmatic emphasis predominates, everything about the spirituality is kept in the mind and “worship” consists of some version of a repetition compulsion with words and ritual, usually including guilt-ridden do-goodism.  When this spiritual edifice is threatened the ego instructs the individual, and the group, to merely rely more feverishly on this repetition compulsion.  This addictive behavior is desperate as with all addictions the point is to keep one away from recognizing one’s inner emptiness which, according to the teachings of Jesus, is where “fullness” is found.

God does not reside in ideas or “Christian” behavior though both are necessary components of spirituality if they are seen merely as a means to an end and not an end in themselves.  The ego’s domain of ritual and ideas is the Pauline “letter of the law” and the Apostle emphatically declared that the “letter of the law killeth.”  And when this situation predominates in a culture, it is the seed-bed of atheism as many times, quite ironically, it is only the atheists that see through the Christian charade.

Here is a list of my blogs.  I invite you to check out the other two sometime.

https://anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com/

https://literarylew.wordpress.com/

https://theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com/

Biblical Literalism and Human Culture

Biblical literalism is very much related to what I see as a cultural literalism in my country.  Many conservative people, especially in Alabama at present moment, are seeing their world in such literal terms that they are oblivious to the long-term consequences of what they are doing.  Just as they approach Holy Writ only on the surface level, so they approach their daily life and the life of their community and nation only on a surface level.  They do not grasp the nuances of life and therefore the nuanced dimensions of life, unbeknownst to them, are grasping them firmly.  One might say their individual, as well as the collective unconscious exerts inordinate influence on them.

Our need to conceptualize our experience with God parallels are experience of having been conceptualized ourselves.  We first lived as an awareness, an amorphous Presence ready to soak up this substantial world and thus form an ego identity.  This state of “awareness” was what the Buddhists call the “world of 10,000 things” which is a metaphor for “a world of everything,” of undifferentiated wholeness.  The Biblical fall is the experience of being reduced to the conceptual…a thing among other things…which then reduced our Creator Him/Herself to a concept, a thing.

Spiritual teachings of all stripe are intended to facilitate an escape from bondage to this “letter of the law.”  But gaining this freedom…or even tippy-toeing near its periphery…requires an awareness of the predicament which is a profoundly existential phenomenon.  This awareness is not cognitive, though cognition is involved…somewhat…and is greatly influenced by the experience.  This experience takes place deep in the heart, in the unconscious, that, “foul rag-and-bone shop of the heart.”

Understanding this phenomenon can be transformative.  One could even say it can be, “being born again.”  Grasping this dimension of life changes our relationship with our self, with others, and with our world.  We begin to see and understand ourselves as related to all “things”, to be part and parcel of this cosmos, even part of what some describe as, “the Cosmic Christ.”  But this experience is inherently threatening to the rugged individualism of our culture which instills within us the notion, “I am the captain of my ship, the master of my soul

Yes, we are individuals but our individuality has value only in the context of our unity with all things.  This experience of the Great Round often comes to us first as the feeling of an impending threat to our sense of being a separate and distinct individual.  This threat is that of impending doom, of fragmentation or dissolution of the ego, which is actually merely the ego having its tyranny loosened and learning to live in harmony with the body and the rest of the world.