Category Archives: culture

The Need of a Religious “Splinter in the Brain” for our Culture

Emily Dickinson used the phrase “a splinter in the brain” to describe a sudden irruption in the routine functioning of one’s mind.  Our mind’s do work like a machine, prone to constantly regurgitate thoughts and feelings to keep our preconceptions and biases in place.  (Just as I do in this blog!)  This is too often a relentless, even monotonous process that we see from time to time when we realize we are talking to someone who will not allow us to intrude into their monologue.

The same phenomenon is present with any tribe as groups of peoples are just like individuals, striving to function in such a way so as to keep in place preconceptions and biases that maintain group coherence.  A contrary vein of thought or behavior is frowned upon and at times violently oppressed.  When this group coherence becomes more important to the group than functioning amicably with neighboring tribes war can often take place…always under some “justified” pretext of an affront or insult to the groups dignity or integrity. A closed system such as this can be dangerous which healthy tribes will address with allowing some degree of dissent.  This dissenting voice will always come from someone/s who deviate from the norm and offer a different perspective on the “reality” that prevails within the tribe.  These are often the voices of artists and religious leaders who serve the function of “a voice crying in the wilderness.”

Religion having always been an important part of my life, my focus here and elsewhere is often the role of the church in our country, particularly given the horrible catastrophe that is brewing in our country.  The church often appears to have been “culturally encapsulated” so that it often serves only to reinforce the biases and prejudices of the status quo, failing in its task to offer a prophetic word, a voice from beyond the pale of the cultures obstinate insistence of grinding on in its “metaled ways.”

The following is a relevant post from another one of my blogs from yesterday:

Barack Obama has answered the bell and has come out swinging, addressing the Republican morass of recent decades that has created our country’s present debacle, and yes, taking not-so-veiled jabs at the figure-head and spokesman for this roiling cauldron of chthonic energy.  I stumbled across a book just last week by Rebecca S. Chopps entitled, “The Power to Speak: Feminism, Language, and God,” which is relevant to this cauldron as she explores how language, including religious language, can be used to give expression to hidden dimensions of the heart, individually and socio-culturally. But for this “revelation” to occur, there must be a voice/voices from beyond the pale of the status quo who see into the heart of the poisonous mindset which is always oriented primarily to maintain the prevailing power structure.  Chopps writes as a feminist but also as a Christian…apparently…though if she calls herself a Christian she is certainly beyond the pale of the Christian power structure that would “legitimate” her wearing that label.

Here I will share a couple of paragraphs from Chopps’ book:

Proclamation, in feminist discourses of emancipatory transformation, resists and transforms the social symbolic order.  Proclamation is a form of resistance to the practices and principles of modernity that control, dominate, and oppress.  But proclamation resists by way of transformation, seeking to provide new discourses by a variety of strategies, methods, and ways, and to transform the ruling principles and order into ones that allow, encourage, and enable transformative relations of multiplicity, difference, solidarity, anticipation, embodiment, and transformation.  Transformation occurs by creating new images of human flourishing, new values of otherness, and multiplicity, new theoretical practices of solidarity and anticipation. 

This is reminiscent of one of the most powerful of Paul Tillich’s sermons, “The Shaking of the Foundations” in which he argued that the purpose of the church is to, “rattle the cage” (my term) of the status quo.  But the status quo does not want to be “rattled” and will arm itself to the teeth in an effort to deny any affront to its comfy zone of satisfaction, where “they bask, agreed upon what they will not ask, bland, sunny, and adjusted by the light” of the unquestioned assumptions which give them privilege and power.  This is also obviously so with the power structure of religious culture though often those most ensconced in that power structure are basking even more in the comfort of a falsetto humility which does not permit any consideration or discussion of their motivations.

I conclude with another paragraph from Chopps:

Through discourses of emancipatory transformation, proclamation enables those marginalized voices who so often have not been heard, to speak: to speak of the beauty, hope, pain, and sorrow they have known on the margins.  Proclamation also speaks within the ambiguities of the order, the ambiguities, for instance, of the bourgeois who, though promised freedom in his autonomy, discovers few genuine possibilities for the community, relationships, and love he so desires.  Unable to find any “authentic meaning” the bourgeois attempts to fill in the empty spaces of his or her soul through the attainment of material goods that great momentary satisfaction with increasingly diminished returns.

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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/

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Religion Can Facilitate Meaning in a Meaningless World.

Religion has historically offered solace to the duress of life’s fragility, offering hope and comfort when there appears to be none.  The word “religion” means “to bind together,” reflecting humankind’s awareness that the psyche is divided and some unification of this schism is needed for the resulting anxiety to be handled effectively.  But acknowledging this duress is challenging to the human ego, which offers us a steady diet of pabulum and diversion with which to amuse ourselves rather than boldly opening one’s heart to the existential tumult that is always simmering beneath the surface of “civilized’ life.  (“Most men live lives of quiet desperation.”  Henry David Thoreau)

This escapism can be fatal to religion.  This insight is what led Nietzsche to declare in the 19th century that, “God is dead,” as he saw that human culture was creating an alienation that could eventually be catastrophic to life.  The alienation that meaninglessness can produce often creates an existential crisis world that religion could help and alleviate were it not encapsulated by the culture and thus disallowing it to fulfill its function of directing the soul toward the numinous. It in the domain of the numinous that the heart can explore the mystery which is intrinsic to life, though it was very disconcerting to a world that was increasingly rationalistic.  This mystery can facilitate an integration of body and soul that will allow humans to live meaningfully in a world that that would otherwise be bewildering or baffling.

Religion, however, is not the only antidote to this problem of meaninglessness.  The metaphor present in meaningful religion also finds expression in the artistic and literary worlds, artists and writers being capable of using their respective mediums to put humankind in touch with imagery that can facilitate an experience of this numinous.

Arrogance Lies at the Root of Lawlessness

The lawlessness that I wrote about yesterday boils down to arrogance.  It is arrogance that makes one think that he can live by, “the letter of the law” and it is arrogance that leads one to think he can disregard the law.  Trump is the perfect example of this arrogance, championing “the law” while simultaneously stomping on very basic civilities such as telling the truth!  And he can’t even respect simple laws of diplomacy, one of which is to not insult other dangerous psychopaths who are leading other countries.

Arrogance is one of the  root flaws of our species.  We are wired toward self-preservation and to organize into tribes with that same goal.  And “self-preservation” is a noble goal but not when it becomes paramount so that it is sought to the neglect of and even violence toward those who are different.  And this arrogance is now seen in large sections of the Christian faith who have done the bidding of Trump and now interpret their faith as a means of “hunkering down” in their own little safe enclave.  Even the teachings of Jesus can become a fortress when the “discerning spirit” is not employed, leading one to see the role of “the flesh” in his understanding of spiritual truth.

Trump is a black hole and thus a formidable spiritual presence in our world, albeit an abysmally dark “spiritual presence.”  Being the black hole, all those who so much as tippy-toe into his orbit become slaves to his seductive, unconscious enticement. The will-to-power is one of our most basic needs but can be catastrophic to self and others when not mitigated by the teachings of Christ who taught the power of powerlessness.

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.

Playing “Hidey-Seek” With God

As a child, “hidey-seek” was one of our favorite games.  We would designate a “seeker” who would close his eyes while the rest of us scurried about finding a hiding place to see who would be the last one found. I’ve spent my life playing the very same game with God and have been very successful so far as I found the best place to hide–religion!  Clothing one’s self with the spiritual piety, humility, theology, wisdom, and practice is the very best place to hide from God because it gives one’s ego the assurance of, “piety, humility, theology, wisdom, and spiritual practice.”  This is what Jesus was telling the Pharisees when he called them, “whited sepulchres, full of dead men’s bones.”  I can just imagine their fury at him!  Here they were going about their daily routine of life, including being “holy,” and Jesus bumbled into their life and told them, “Hey, guess again!  Your all a bunch of hypocrites!”

Now for those of us steeped in religion, especially those of us bred in conservative American religion, toying with the notion of being hypocrites is disconcerting!  How could we be hypocrites?  “Well, hell, just look at us!  Look how “christian” I am and you dare to call me an hypocrite.”  Jesus would have pissed us off too. But in modern times, if Jesus ever happens to venture into our lives, He’s gonna “piss us off” and embarrass the ‘hell’ out of us.”  Oh, of course our “ideas” of Him will never do this as these “ideas” of Him are what have allowed us to escape Him, paralleling our ability to escape the vulnerability and humility of being human.  But if we ever allow these “ideas” of Him to begin to crumble, we will soon discover ourselves in a, “world of pain,” the pain of finally addressing reality.  Of course, keep in mind that Jesus does not do any, “venturing,” as he does not travel, not being confined to time and space.  He is always here, always was, and always will be and can be found just beyond that, “small bright circle of our consciousness” that our ego has “gifted” us with to avoid Him.

Modern life is giving persons of faith in my country, including Christians…and actually including atheists…a chance to entertain Jesus and have a little tete-a-tete with Him.  Spirituality has allowed the antithesis of Jesus to bubble to the surface of our collective consciousness and throngs of devout Christians have now pledged their troth to this version of an “anti” christ.  This gives all believers, those of all stripes, an opportunity to see just how easy religion is to hide from God and therefore facilitate great evil in their lives and the lives of their fellow man, even as they daily offer pious platitudes and prayers in His name.  This duplicity does not make us “bad” people; it merely shows us that we are “people,” simple humankind with a penchant for getting things wrong and being unwilling to acknowledge it.  I think Jesus would say, and does, “Hey, its okay!  I got you covered!”  But it is so much easier to just plod along in the comfort of our darkness.  As Shakespeare summed it up, “With devotion’s visage and pious action, they do sugar o’er the devil himself.”

 

Richard Rohr Prophecies, Part 2

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.)

I do think that most Christians are “well-intentioned,” even those who I fiercely disagree with.  But speaking from what I have seen and from my own personal experience, the influence of human needs for, “ego (gratification), control, power, money, pleasure, and security” play a greater role in faith than it is comfortable to acknowledge.  Each of these needs can be subsumed under the rubric “ego” which is the Pauline “flesh” in modern terms.  As a result of this we turn out faith into an ego enterprise and even though our announced purpose with our faith is often very noble, the ego is at work getting its “pound of flesh” so that the effectiveness of our noble impulses is diminished…or even obliterated.  I quoted W. Ian Thomas recently who noted that often our spirituality can be merely a stage upon which the ego can strut itself, merely “a platform on which to display our carnal abilities.”

This is not to suggest that anyone’s motives are pure.  Many “noble pursuits” which I am here putting into question accomplish a lot of good.  If one waits until he is “pure” then he will have to wait until he has returned to Eternity!  But a willingness to look at our motives from time to time can help us identify the ego’s machinations and chip away at its tyranny.  However, this insight is painful as often we see just our foolish and self-promoting we have been and often that this has been our primary purpose.  The result can be disillusionment, and disillusionment can be gut-wrenchingly painful and often will lead us to distraction at the first sign of being threatened with it.

Rohr noted also that when we succumb to this ego-tyranny, “we become just like everyone else” as culture, i.e. “the world,” is built upon ego and this is necessary in a sense.  But when we have “become just like everyone else” we are driven by the same whims and fancies of self-gratification those pose the grievous situation we see in the world on this Christmas day.  But a caveat is in order. Being something other than “just like everyone else” is a perilous notion as many in my spiritual tradition, reading Paul’s admonishment to, “Come out from them and be ye separate” do so with foolishness, and sometimes pure insanity, and thus accomplishing “difference.”  But Rohr’s teachings, and those of the Apostle Paul, had to do with where our heart is rooted and the spiritual call in most all religions is to be rooted the Ineffable, not the ephemeral that keeps the world going. Often a specious spirituality will drive one to the extremes which present with us the Alabama spiritual lunacy.

Fr. Richard Rohr Offers a Prophetic Word to Christians.

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.)

I intend to use this astute wisdom of Fr. Richard Rohr for a series of posts as here he eloquently notes concerns I have about the Christian faith, concerns which are relevant to me personally.  Here Rohr elucidates how “the flesh” (the Apostle Paul’s term) is very present in our Christian faith, an awareness which that antithesis of our faith (i.e. Satan!!!) does not want us to be aware.  “Awareness” is a powerful antidote to the ego’s machinations which is why we resist it so intently, even to the point of wrapping the teachings of Jesus around our self-serving orientation to life so that we can never let the light of day shine upon them.  I have a hunch that Paul’s “besetting sin” was his recognition of this quandary, the deep-seated, intuitive understanding that, though the “Spirit is willing, the flesh is weak.”  Human frailty is so pronounced that each of us attempts to hide from it, even to the point of taking spiritual teachings like those of Jesus and turning them into “a platform for the display of our carnal abilities.” (W. Ian Thomas) The very human need for a persona will often seize upon spiritual tradition and incorporate it into its complicated and deep-seated (i.e. unconscious) scheme to hide from our frailty, even though it is only in our frailty that we discover God and therefore our self.  This is what Jesus had in mind when he noted, “He that will find himself must lose himself.” (my paraphrasing of Matthew 10:39) and the “self” here that must be lost often includes the Christian persona that we have clung to the whole of our lives.

This issue is very relevant to the Christian voice of today when so many critics, from within and without of Christianity, are warning that the tradition is in jeopardy.  This is because religious leaders have not heard the same prophetic voice that Rohr listens to and have succumbed to the siren call of what Rohr termed “fast-food religion,” alluded to by Dietrich Bonhoeffer as “cheap grace” and by, Vance Havner, an early 20th century fundamentalist evangelist as a, “cheap and easy believism.”  Now the Christ I believe in is not in jeopardy and cannot be, for He is the “Cosmic Christ” that Rohr elsewhere describes, being beyond the grasp of the time/space continuum.  But Christian tradition, sustained by rote ideology is a “house build upon sand” and thus not a reliable object of faith.

 

Here are two other blogs that I publish.

https://anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com/

https://literarylew.wordpress.com/

https://theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com/