Category Archives: Christianity

Ego’s Pernicious Role in Spirituality

Trump has put one of his disciples in the limelight again, asking Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas to speak at the opening of the new embassy in Jerusalem.  But Jeffress is catching some flack for having assured everyone that Muslims and Jews are definitely going to hell.  I certainly believe all religious traditions are flawed, especially those who feel they aren’t and assume they can make pronouncements from on high about other religious traditions.  But I think it would behoove Mr. Jeffress and his ilk…and this “ilk” is present in all religious traditions…to pay an equal amount of attention to the “beam” that is in their own eye as opposed to the “mote” in the other person’s.

But this is a gut-level issue with spirituality.  Those of us with that neurological “god-spot” in a constant state of, “over-heated” tend to take ourselves too seriously and become intoxicated with the sweet nectar of certainty.  And, speaking from experience, it is so utterly delightful to be able to stand in the pulpit and make pronouncements from “on high” knowing that God is speaking through you.  How do you know that?  Well.  Well…well, you just know!  But what you do not know is that this certainty that empowers you at that moment is merely a false bravado based on profound insecurity, reflecting a kind of “whistling in the dark,” ersatz spirituality that will have to be addressed by decades of ministration by, “the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.”

Ego is an inherent dimension of all human enterprises, including that deemed so noble as to merit the label, “Divine.”  But when ego has succeeded in accomplishing its goal in the spiritual realm, it will produce someone like Mr. Jeffress who will be brazenly arrogant and obtuse without even the slightest awareness of it.  No wonder he is a disciple of Trump with the role in the administration of helping to “christianize” the president, making him more viable with the base of the Republican Party.

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A Fractured Faith Needs a Fractured Ego

An Irish couple responded to this morning’s post who blog under the title, “Fractured Faith.”  I could not pass that title up, though I’m not for sure yet what they have in mind with their title.  “Fractured faith” will be a theme I will explore as this blog continues to develop as I see faith having value only when it is “fractured,” as the crystalline, letter-of-the-law edifice is shredded by God’s employment of daily experiences that teach us to look at Holy Writ and spiritual tradition differently than the way in which we were taught.  This “fracturing” of our faith will parallel a “fracturing” of our self, of our identity, as we discover just how much our persona was itself just an edifice.  That is what Jesus told the religious establishment of his day, but they did not “take kindly” to his observations…to say the least.  For Jesus, like Shakespeare noted of religious people that often, “With devotions visage and pious action they sugar o’er the devil himself.”

Our certainties must be fractured.  At some point we need to, “live in the collapse what was believed in as most certain and therefore the fittest for renunciation.”  (T.S. Eliot) Translated into spiritual terms, this means that we must realize that our ego has inevitably taken our spiritual tradition and twisted it into a self-serving interpretation, not because we are, “bad” but because we are merely human.  We then realize that we, being human simply “have eyes to see, but see not, ears to hear but hear not.”  We can then begin to realize that at best we will see dimly and hear faintly and begin to lighten up on ourselves and even on others!  We can begin to accept some forgiveness for ourselves and even dare to offer it to others.  Well, maybe not “them”!  They surely deserve it!   Just kidding!!!

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.

“Specious Faith Has Its Good Side!!!

The speciousness of the Christian faith is being exposed in my country, particularly that of the Evangelicals; but, the hypocrisy is relevant to all Christians and all believers of any stripe.  The “luminaries” of the Evangelical Christians are conspicuously displaying this speciousness as they “dig in at the heels” in their support of Trump, not able to simply acknowledge, “Oops, I made a mistake!”  This is because the specious veneer of their faith does not permit erring, their faith’s ego dimension…present in all expressions of faith…not being permitted into their consciousness.

But “speciousness” in faith provides an heart-level “faith opportunity.”  Realizing that hypocrisy has been present in religiosity to some degree, at least, allows us one to simply acknowledge what the Apostle Paul called, “the flesh,” and swallow pride while recognizing, “Oops, I only ‘see through a glass darkly’ and was not aware of the extent of this ‘darkliness.’”  This is what Jesus recognized in the religious establishment of the day and really pissed them off when he called them, “hypocrites,” a word meaning that they were mere actors, merely practicing spiritual, “performance art.”

Humankind are merely mortals.  And being simply mortal, we can’t help but take ourselves too seriously, assuming that we are more noble than we actually are.  But occasionally the Cosmos, i.e. “God,” intervenes and “Trumps” us to show us just how shallow and insincere we are.  The resulting disillusionment is so painful that usually our ego will merely resort to “industrial strength” armament and we will “hunker down” and cling to our charade.

The hypocrisy I’ve addressed here with reference to the Christian tradition applies to all “belief systems,” especially those who are so sure they are not ensconced in any, “belief system.”  Atheism, for example, is but one of the many havens for that some escape to just to avoid the flimsy grasp we have on this precious gift called, life.  The alternative would be the intrinsically human experience of vulnerability.

Paul Tillich and Objectification

Paul Tillich was one of the most powerful prophetic voices of the 20th century in American culture.  In the excerpt which I offer below from his book, “The Courage to Be,” he eloquently describes what I often describe as the “thing-i-fication” of mankind, in which humans have become more of a “human doing” than a, “human be-ing.”  This is particularly apparent in American religion as God is often merely a “thing” among other things, some “thing” that we can own by virtue of appropriating him/”it” by use of our rational faculties.  This parallels the historical process in which humankind itself has become “thingified” with little to no more appreciation of our subjective experience.  It reveals our illusion that life itself is wholly a rational enterprise, some “thing” therefore than can be figured out figured out…or, as I like to put it, “figgered out”:

It was the threat of an Infinite loss, namely the loss of their individual persons, which drove the revolutionary Existentialists of the 19th century to their attack.  They realized that a process was going on in which people were turned into things, into pieces of reality which pure science can calculate, and technical science can control.  The idealistic wing of bourgeois made of the person a vessel in which universals find a more or less adequate place.  The naturalistic wing of bourgeois thinking made of the person an empty field into which sense impressions enter and prevail according to the degree of their intensity.  In both cases the individual self is an empty space and the bearer of something which is not himself, something strange by which the self is estranged from itself.  Idealism and naturalism in their attitude to the existing person; both of them eliminate his infinite significance and make him a space through which something else passes.  Both philosophies are expressions of a society which was devised for the liberation of man but which fell under the bondage of objects it itself had created.  The safety which is guaranteed by well-functioning mechanisms for the technical control of nature, by the refined psychological control of the person, by the rapidly increasing organizational control of society—this safety is bought at a high price:  man, for whom all this was invented as a means, becomes a means himself in service of the means.    (pp 137, 138; Yale University Press, 2000)

I would like to first bring attention to his addressing the “infinite loss” which galvanized the “existentialists” to rise in revolt.  These men and women, not cloaked in the obscurantism of culturally contrived religious views, realized that “infinite loss” was taking place which German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche described as the “death of God.”  Nietzsche was not claiming that god was dead but that mankind in relation to his “Infinite” source was dying.  The human soul was becoming objectified…”thingified”…and the pregnant Emptiness of the heart was being filled with “stuff,” including theological/religious stuff, all of which amounted to ideology.  And to the degree this happens, the “letter of the law” has taken over and, in the words of the Apostle Paul, “the letter killeth, but the Spirit maketh alive.”  And when this takes place it is easy for devout Christians to be passionate devotees of someone like Donald Trump.

God is a term that we use to describe what Rudolph Otto termed, the “Wholly Other.”  And by, “the Wholly Other” he was emphasizing that the Source of our Being lies beyond the grasp of human contrivance, including that of reason.  This “God/god” is the infinite dimension of the human heart in which the Unknown intersects with the known and we humans, all of us being “mere” humans, have to immediately wrap our heads around this Divine intersection buried in the depths of our heart and give it a label.  And, that would not be so bad but that our ego then insists on taking this simple “label” as the thing-in-itself and that is where the mischief begins!

Franklin Graham: “We Have a Sin Problem.”

But Mr. Graham just betrayed the legacy of his more humble father, Rev. Billy Graham, by revealing how he thinks this does not apply to him.  Being interviewed this morning, re our political impasse, he intoned, “Our country has a sin problem” and then elucidated for a moment, pointing his finger at the Democrats.  But then the interviewer posed the question, “Does Donald Trump have a sin problem?”  He then stumbled, and then equivocated with the commonplace from Evangelical Christian, “Well, he is not perfect but he is….” and in so many words…i.e. my words, metaphorically speaking…”make America great again.”   He knows that words like “sinner” would offend his new spiritual leader, Trump. Furthermore, it appears obvious to me that Mr. Graham, and many evangelicals, do not feel the “sin problem” applies to them.  They piously announce, “Jesus has forgiven me of my sins and His Spirit now leads me.”   I would never quarrel with the notion that Jesus has forgiven them, not even that the Spirit of God is with them.  But what they don’t realize is that this “forgiveness” does not take away what the Apostle Paul called, “the flesh,” and this ego component of the heart is really quick to take our spiritual aspirations and twist them to fit our own unacknowledged, self-serving ends and prevent us from ever admitting this.  This phenomenon of the heart is why Trump, and hordes of the GOP…and 80% of the evangelical base that supports Trump…cannot admit any wrong.  The, “Spirit of God,” is with us all and always wants to lead us but our unwillingness to acknowledge a core fault prevents that Holy leadership from having more influence.  Speaking from experience, it is delightful and even intoxicating to, “Know that I’m right,” but now I am understanding and experiencing just how self-deluding this can be.  We are never “right” but there is a “Rightness” that graces the whole of life and seeks to find expression when we can humble accept the label, “sinner,” and realize that it means we are separated from our Source and always reduced to, “seeing through a glass darkly.”  It never, though, means we are a “worthless piece of shit,” nor are the Haitians and Africans.

Why is Stormy Daniels Not More of a Big Story????

The answer is that Trump has introduced a pivotal change in our definition of reality.  He demonstrated even before announcing his campaign last year, that he was the antithesis of our core values, i.e. “Christian values,”…and yet a significant portion of the Christian population lined up behind him and are even now “dug in at the heels” in support of him.  He has made the unacceptable totally acceptable, i.e. use of words like, “cunt,” “pussy,” and now “shit-hole,” and yet those which are the most die-hard “Christians,” (extremist fundamentalists) still fiercely pledge their loyalty to him. Stormy Daniels is much less a breach of Christian virtue than was revealed in Trump’s numerous video recordings of amorous intentions toward his daughter; yet, fundamentalist Christians hardly batted an eye at the allegation, declaring that, “the Lord has raised him up,” and proffered lame excuse like, “Well, the Lord often uses broken vessels,” or, “Who am I to judge?”

It is apparent to most of us that the moral fabric of our country is in jeopardy but many of those of the “spiritual cut” are so ensconced in their self-serving ideology…though it may be “christian,”…that they cannot acknowledge what is going on.  That is because their faith is so specious, a point I make with the recognition that their “salvation” is not dependent on their faith but the object of their faith.  Their only “sin” is failing to recognize that their very grasp of the world is “specious,”…as is mine and yours…and that in the person of Jesus Christ they have been forgiven of that and all of their sins.  But, the hardest part of the deal is that of the Pharisees, recognizing that, “Uh oh.  I got it wrong.”  According to how I read the New Testament, we are not “saved” by virtue of “having it right,” but having acknowledged that we intrinsically, “have it wrong.”  This is merely the result of, “seeing through a glass darkly.”

(See story re Stormy Daniels—http://www.cnn.com/2018/01/19/politics/stormy-daniels-analysis/index.html)