Category Archives: biblical literalism

Eyes to See…that Actually See!!!

Vision is subtle and frequently we “have eyes to see but see not” and, yes, ” ears to hear but hear not.”  And it is very challenging to realize that human nature subjects us to this limitation yet without meaning, necessarily, that we are a bad person.  But if we never let the wisdom of this quip from Jesus sink in it can lead to a lot of “bad” that will emanate from the resulting unexamined life.

Those of us who were raised in a Christian culture, especially the evangelical/fundamentalist wing of that culture, are steeped in this biblical wisdom from early in our life and are taught that when Jesus comes into our life we are then given the gift of perfect vision, led by the Holy Spirit that “will guide you into all truth.”  But this is usually intrinsically self-serving wisdom and fails to consider how our faith is influenced by enculturation and “enculturated wisdom”, regardless of how noble it is, is of the vein described by the Apostle Paul as “the wisdom of the world.”  Therefore, being steeped in the knowledge acquired very clearly, as our peer group has told us that we do, we can stand smugly in the comfort this knowledge provides us. It is disorienting to say the least to realize that our faith has been largely the result of enculturation and that our “vision” is more lacking than we ever imagined.  Understanding this teaching brings us to understand the wisdom of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 13, “We see through a glass darkly.”  Yes, God is with us and leads us but he does so as we stumble through “darkly” vision and imperfect hearing.

Relevant to this subject, John Berger wrote a classic little book in 1972 entitled, “Ways of Seeing.”  When I discovered the book 25 years ago it grabbed me immediately even though it was written to artists by an art critic and I am far removed from either.  But at that time in my life I was very familiar with the ambiguity of life, including “ways of seeing” and readily grasped the wisdom from the eye of this art critic. Berger pointed out that seeing ultimately is not so much a deed as it is an experience as an evocation as we focus on an object and allow that object to evoke from the depths of our heart a meaningful experience.  Each of us have these interior depths though so often circumstances have confined us to the surface of life where we scurry about our three-score and ten without ever daring to venture into the deep places of the heart that hide the mystery of life.  Venturing there will force us to encounter the significance of the teaching the aforementioned teaching of Jesus that we “have eyes to see but see not, ears to hear but hear not.”

Here are the opening words of Berger’s brilliant book:

Seeing comes before words.  The child looks and recognizes before it can speak.  But there is also another sense in which seeing comes before words.  It is seeing which establishes our place in the surrounding world; we explain that world with words, but words can never undo the fact that we are surrounded by it.  The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled.  Each evening we see the sun set.  We know that the earth is turning away from it.  Yet the knowledge, the explanation, never quite fits the sight.

The following is a list of my blogs.  Please check the others out!

Literarylew.wordpress.com

anrrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com

Theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com

 

A Crisis of Meaning in Our Culture

Several nights ago I watched Stephen Colbert again shred the daily edition of Trumpian and Conservative lunacy and I noted that our culture…and even our world…is in a crisis of meaning.  Colbert and other comedians find Trump and his ilk easy fodder for their comic genius and provide immense pleasure for we progressives who also see the lunacy of what is going on in our country.  But watching last night’s edition of Colbert’s show and delighting in an ironic look at biblical literalism I suddenly had a flash of insight of how this would appear to conservatives.  They would be deeply offended and angry as they would take it personal, feeling that their way of looking at the world was being attacked.  I would tell them, however, that Colbert is merely showing them that their way of viewing…and experiencing…the world is only one way of many.  But that is precisely the problem; for, in their view, there is only one way of viewing the world and they just happen to be privy to that way and often God has revealed it to them!  When worldviews are challenged the threat of meaningless always presents a challenge, usually kept on an unconscious level with conscious focus maintained on some superficial concern like “building a wall” or “Making America Great Again.”

I don’t have the answer for this.  But, as an old saying from my youth has it, “It will all come out in the wash.”  In terms of history, this is but another in an endless array of “tempests in a teapot” though to us in the throes of the tempest it does look frightening.  And I do mean frightening.  I am troubled.  I think humility is in order and that requires that all of us realize that our viewpoint is only finite, regardless of how noble, enlightened, and “correct” it appears to be.  There is a certain foolishness to even our certainties, inspiring Saint William to tell us, “Life is a tale told by an idiot…”  I do not think the Bard was a nihilist but he grasped that the things we are most certain of are often proven self-serving in the long run.

Colbert used a parody of Jesus in the aforementioned episode to poke fun at conservatives and it even stirred a dissonant chord in my own heart given my hyper-conservative past in which a sense of humor was not readily welcome in faith.  But I now think that Jesus could watch Colbert’s parody of Him last night and laugh uproariously, not taking himself as seriously as Christians are wont to take him.  Many conservative Christians cannot do this, and are offended at this vein of humor, because they take themselves too seriously and are not able to acknowledge the foolish dimension of the whole of their life, including their faith and politics.  Foolishness is an intrinsically human quality though it does not lessen the ultimate nobility of the human endeavor.  But failure to acknowledge our foolishness, and laugh at ourselves, will leave us with a false sense of self-importance.  I think religion is so easily lampooned as life is intrinsically a spiritual enterprise so the Darkness that besets us knows that the best way to weaken faith is to infect the most ardent of the faithful with a false sense of self-importance and piety so that to on-lookers they look ridiculous and are easily ridiculed.  Thus, “with devotions visage and pious action they sugar o’er the devil himself” and this is apparent to all except those who are dispensing the sugar on a whole-sale basis.

“God Talk” and Meaning

I had a provocative discussion with a good friend of mine yesterday, a “local” who often reads one of my blogs who is troubled by my frequent use of the word “god.”  Furthermore, this man is one of the keenest spiritual beings I’ve ever met and he believes in the same “god” that I do…though now I know even more clearly he balks at the use of that word.  And, he’s got a point! First of all, there is the simple problem of “god talk.”  The term “god” is probably the anchor of the verbiage I like to describe as “god talk” in which the Wholly Other is tossed around so loosely and casually it might as well be a discussion of the local sports team.  “God” is a simple coin in the verbal currency of our tribe and will certainly “purchase” a lot of social cache if we adroitly toss it around in the right circumstance. But when I use this term I am not using the vulgarized common coin described above, a coin that is worn bare and devoid of any meaning, I am using a very personal “coin” which refers to the Wholly Other which can never be put into words.  Ahem.  Alas and alack, suddenly I have “talked” my way here into a conundrum as I am using words even as I suggest words have no meaning!  So, just why in the hell bother?  Why in the hell continue to drone on and on????  The only answer I have is, “Cause I want to” as I’m not smart enough to explore neurophysiology or astrophysics.  In other words, the answer lies in the very mystery of life and I’m reduced to a simple, “Cuz I wanta!”

But “I want to” and so I drone on again using this common coin “god” in part just to annoy my dear friend!  This god I believe in…and I’m going to discard the parentheses here and I’m not even going to worry about the gender of the term or the meaning of “believe.”  God is a label that I apply to an incomprehensible mystery that I’ve been drawn to since birth, or even since way before birth.  And I can’t explain that either and intend to try to do so with less frequency.  It is some primordial yearning in the depths of my being, a yearning that I believe is present in all human hearts and even in the very fabric of the universe.  This yearning seeks expression and in our ancient past one expression was some guttural cry before a camp fire which eventually was refined over the centuries into the shiny, pristine new coin in a corner of the African continent into a word which, when Westernized became, “god.”  And, yes, I think that this guttural cry of one human heart eventually did find one expression in the person of a young man named Jesus Christ….but that is a story for another time.

For some reason I’m stubbornly insistent that I continue to use the word “god” though I’m not opposed to whatever term one uses or does not use.  I think words, all words, have value and in the course of human events words tend to lose this value; these “coins” get “worn out” so that the value is hidden beneath the daily grind of common usage.  And thus, “last year’s words are for last year’s season and next years words await another voice.” This T.S. Eliot quip referred to our responsibility is to “find our voice” and use this word…and all words…to express who we are in the depths of our being and in so doing give the language into which we were born renewed meaning.  If we merely occupy the persona that we happen into and merely use the words as they are given to us by our tribe, they will only have the meaning of “sounding brass and tinkling cymbals”; or, as Jerry Seinfield put it, “yada, yada, yada. yada”

The Death Knell of Spiritual Echo Chambers.

My preoccupation with the subject of truth is mainly focused on spirituality which I see as the life blood of any culture.  If truth does not facilitate the expression of Truth then the very fabric of our individual and collective being is imperiled.  In the blog post from another venue which I will share below I introduce the irony of daring to think that one is speaking, or writing the Truth when in reality we never really know that we are, being confined to this world of form in which we only “see through a glass darkly.”

In this particular blog I often focus on what I call the “echo chamber” of dogmatic, unexamined spiritual tradition which we find so often in our churches. Though most spiritual traditions have value if their emphasis is too narrow they will succumb to the temptation of using their Holy Writ and tradition to obfuscate the Truth even to the point of destroying it.  At this point what often is a valid spiritual tradition becomes a parody of itself, the parody clear to all of those looking on but which is totally missed by those who are ensconced in it.  A tragic example of such a parody is the infamous Westboro Baptist Church.  And never forget the Muslim zealots of Isis.  They know the truth…in their estimation…to the point they feel free to use brutal violence to accomplish their evil purpose.  “There go I, and we, but by the Grace of God.”  The following is the narrative of another blog of mine about the irony of daring to “speak the truth” when our ego fights us tooth and toenail in our very effort:

This truth matter is really heavy on my heart recently primarily from the assault on “Truth” by the Trump administration.  In the past week I have explored truth’s subtlety, a subtlety that is so pronounced that I think it is something we can never grasp objectively but Some “thing” that peeks through our heart occasionally in spite of our deep-seated, unconscious effort to not let it happen.

But please note the irony I am demonstrating.  I will admit that at present moment I believe I am speaking…or writing…what is truthful otherwise I would not even bother to offer this verbal deed to the oblivion of the cyber world.  But what I say here, and in real time, is only a perspective of how I see the world and can never be thought of as “objective.”  Everything we do and say is only our “skewed” way of viewing the world but it is important that we put this “skewed view” on the table in daily exchange with other people, be it here in the cyber world and or in day-to-day life with people we encounter.  The dialogical engagement with other people is imperative so that we can avoid the temptation of speaking, thinking, and living in an echo chamber.

The echo chamber is lethal.  If we isolate ourselves within a safe cocoon of group-think we are signing our death certificate, so to speak, as the soul cannot thrive in the resulting abyss of “empty self-relatedness.”  This isolation, if not broken, will spell our doom individually and collectively without Divine intervention; for, in that self-imposed prison Shakespeare told us that we “feed even on the pith of life.”

Group Thinking Leads to Imprisonment

The following is a copy of another one of my blogs.  I’m sharing it here as it is very relevant to religion as religious beliefs and spiritual teachings can become so ego-rewarding that we employ them to isolate ourselves from the world.  Let me illustrate with the simple bromide from the Christian tradition, “Jesus Saves.”  Though this bromide does not have the same meaning to me as it did in my youth, nevertheless I find it still of great value.  But these two words can easily be used to distort the teachings of Jesus into a belief-system which is nothing but a self-imposed prison.  Value is found in this, and all bromides only when we explore them and make them personally relevant, an exploration which must include also a courage to “explore” our very identity.  If we do not put our “self” at risk by questioning the unquestioned assumptions that are present in our heart, we will address spiritual truth on a superficial level and use this “truth” as a shield against “the Truth.”  We will be guilty of merely believing what we want to believe.

Colorado has a group of people who are apparently serious about the notion of a flat earth.  When I started reading this I suspected it was a spoof but the more I read I realize that these people are serious.  They really do believe the earth is flat and they have “proof” that this notion is valid!  )  I have often in my “career” as a blogger used the flat earth notion to illustrate complete lunacy, a private world view for people who have lost contact with reality and created their own little imaginary world which, at the extreme, is collective psychosis.  Ideas can carry us away and because of their intoxicating effect on our mind-set we can lose all critical capacity, believing our pet “idea” even when all evidence suggests it is self-delusion. (See Denver Post story at following link:  (http://www.denverpost.com/2017/07/07/colorado-earth-flat-gravity-hoax/)

I have my own personal spoof of this lunacy in which I facetiously and sarcastically postulate a world in which “the moon is made out of cheese.” Yes, suppose during the night I am the victim of a neurological convulsion in my brain and awakened the next morning to know, with great passion, that “the moon is made out of cheese.”  If this should happen, I might take this very seriously and suddenly realize that it is the truth, that the darkness I’ve lived in has finally lifted, and I see clearly that, yes, “the moon is made out of cheese.”  Furthermore, some friends might try to intervene and set me straight but they would make no progress because, “when you know the truth, you just kinda know the truth” and no one is going to dissuade you.  Of course, finding truth always requires that others be convinced so I would start evangelizing and before long I would have a congregation of like-minded souls and we would then have the solace of validation, a solace which would be enhanced by the realization that only we saw the truth and that any “truth” is always rejected by those who are enlightened.  This insight would give us the comfort of borrowing a theme from fundamentalists of every stripe and sadly and piously understand that “we are being persecuted for His sake.”

I am here addressing one of my pet themes, best described as a toxic version of group-think, a private referential system in which validation is found only in those who have found our view of the world amenable to theirs.  When this toxicity infects any idea, ideas which might otherwise have value to others is immediately rejected by these “others” as they have no meaning to them whatsoever.  The resulting ideology, a passionate belief system that has become delusional becomes a private prison guaranteed to repel anyone who looks on from the outside.  But the rejection itself is perversely rewarding as it leaves the “true believers” with the smug satisfaction of owning “truth” which only they have apprehended.  What has happened is that very unhappy people have crafted a belief system which isolates them even further than they were to begin with and they slowly die from the suffocation that always comes from what Paul Tillich called “an empty world of self-relatedness.”  Emily Dickinson described it as “a mind too near itself to see distinctly.”

In my clinical career this phenomena was known as “insanity,” succinctly capsulized in a clinical bromide, “Mental illness is a reference problem.”  The individual who is completely mad…and we are all mad to some degree…has cut himself off from all external reference and finds great comfort in his delusional system.  For the intoxication of self-delusion resists any sobering-up that critical thinking would afford. It is easy for an out-sider, i.e. a non-believer, to quickly isolate the premise of a delusional system but just dare try to challenge that premises and you will meet great resistance.  For this “premise” represents an emotional investment the person/persons have made which cannot be relinquished without great pain.  Hypothetically, if one could reach into the heart of these people and surgically extirpate the premise, one would witness a complete melt-down.  For this premise is an existential anchor which holds its victims prisoners in a fortress from which they dare not escape.

I conclude with, still again, my favorite bumper-sticker, “Don’t believe everything you think.”

 

 

Jacques Ellul and the Sin of Bibliolatry

Jacques Ellul is one of the most important figures in my Christian life.  A friend of mine gave me a copy of his book, “The Judgment of Jonah” in 1983 and I was immediately gripped by his passionate faith, filtered through a keenly analytical mind and heart.  He introduced me to the subject of bibliolatry, which is taking the bible as an end in itself rather than a means to an end, worshipping the Bible in some sense rather than the One about whom the Bible is speaking.

Ellul was a French philosopher, sociologist, and lay theologian who was described as a Christian “anarchist.”  This was because he was very much the iconoclast, approaching his faith with an intense analytical mind.  He looked beneath the surface and then put things on the table which were very challenging.  A primary focus of his was the “technological tyranny over humanity” that he witnessed during his life time in the mid to late 20th century.  This “technological tyranny” contributed to what I have described as the “thingification” of mankind in which even God has become a “thing among other things.”I have here a quote from Ellul from The Ethics of Freedom on the subject of bibliolatry which reflects the impact of this thingification of the heart in which even Holy Writ is interpreted in a self-serving fashion, it being only a “thing” which one can employ to suit my purposes:

…Thus obedience to the letter of scripture can be obedience to Satan if the text serves to bring about isolation and independence in relation to the one who has inspired it.  It can be a means of self-affirmation over against God in in repression of his truth and his will.  The biblical text, and obedience to it, do not guarantee anything.  They may be the best means of not hearing God speak.  (Ellul here points out that the Pharisees were) authentic believers, faithful adherents of scripture, and rich in good works and piety.  In reality everything depends on our attitude to the text of the scripture.  If I seize it, use it, and exploit it to my own ends...then I am obeying Satan under the cover of what the Bible says.

Ellul had profound understanding of how culture influences our faith and how that it presents the temptation of letting our faith become merely a product of our culture, regardless of intense passions that we might have about it.  The Christian faith, and faith of any spiritual tradition always face the temptation of taking themselves too seriously and then missing the point of their spiritual teachers.  Faith then becomes a mere bauble in our life, a note on our “resume,” and not a grounding in the Wholly Other which is the only place that offers firm footing in this mystery we call life.

If this seems impossible, it is!  But, there is hope and I will explain next time.

The following are three blogs that I offer.  Please check the other two out sometime!

 

https://anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com/

https://literarylew.wordpress.com/

https://theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com/

Believing in Our Belief, Part Deux!!!

The fallacy of “believing in our belief” as noted by Oswald Chambers is a critical dimension of faith for until this insight sinks in we will inevitably be subscribing to an enculturated belief system.  And the enculturation is the necessary start to our social life as it equips us to take our place in the community and participate in it meaningfully, including in religion. Faith in this culture will mean subscribing to a creed, a doctrinal system which is taken to be revealed truth without any consideration for the possibility that this creed and doctrinal system are only a means to the “revealed truth” that all hearts yearn for.  But when the words are taken as an end in themselves, not as mere “pointers” then we have subscribed to the “letter of the law” though our enculturation will often keep us from this awareness as culture wants to keep us on the surface of things.  Anyone who gets beneath the surface, into the “spirit” of things, is dangerous for the status quo.

I have described this “surface” religion as “canned” faith, like something you can buy down at Wal Mart and open at your convenience when you get home.  You leave the church feeling good about yourself in the sense of having your prejudices, biases, and premises confirmed and resume your complacent “Christian” life.  Of course, in some churches, this “feeling good about yourself” might take the form of having your “hide ripped” by a hell-fire and damnation sermon but if that is what you are accustomed to then it too will confirm your pre-conceptions about yourself and the world.  The status quo will go unchallenged.

I am describing a scene here in which “the salt has lost its savor.”  Spiritual truth of great value will then be like “sounding brass and tinkling cymbal” because it is part of a rote performance, bouncing around in our heads, without never reaching down into the “foul rag and bone shop of our hearts” where “the thoughts and intents of the heart” are to be found.  This is a very challenging notion to consider for often it will mean we have to face painful disillusionment, the recognition that though our faith is valid as far as “fire insurance” is concerned it has been very superficial and not been allowed integration into the depths of our heart which is what the Source of all spiritual truth has in mind.