Category Archives: psychology

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.

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Does Sin Have Meaning Any Longer in our Culture?

I have some taint of the Trumpian arrogance in me so that it is hard to say, “I made a mistake.”  Yes, my “memory bank” failed me in yesterday’s post and the “relevant” poetry blurb at the very end was not the one I had in mind, a problem which I have now corrected.  I’m making this “confession” though facetiously just so any of you who are interested can return to yesterday’s post and sample a bit of the wisdom of Stanley Kunitz. However, admitting being mistaken is a very human flaw and I’m in recovery now from having been mired in that morass of self-loathing and infantile arrogance most of my life.  Richard Nixon when he resigned in 1973 did not really admit doing any wrong, declaring famously at one point in the debacle, “I’m not a crook.”  But when the impeachment proceeding reached a certain point of intensity, he did resign and with great humiliation walked to that waiting helicopter with his wife and continued his flight into political ignominy.  He was in great pain, greatly shamed and humiliated by what his words and behavior had led to, but under the pressure of the political structure that he was part of and respected to some degree, he accepted disgrace and meekly resigned, a tacit admission of wrong-doing.  Nixon had some inner sense of self-control that allowed him to not resort to the violent impulse that would explode in many people when they are shamed like he was.

There is something to say for a religious culture in which “confessing sins” is part of life.  Even though this “sin” matter goes deeply beneath the surface…and from time to time circumstances lead us to exploring the matter more intently, discovering that the real sin lies in the “thoughts and intents of the heart—it is helpful to have the surface level of the issue commonplace enough that we can readily admit shortcomings.  But occasionally people appear in our culture who have steeled their heart about even a cursory acknowledgement of sin or fault and they will brazenly refuse to admit wrong on even the most trivial matter.  And if one of these people happen to stumble into a position of power, they can wreak havoc on all who are within their sphere of influence.

 

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/

“Vive Le Difference” is Politically Relevant Today.

The following is a copy from another blog of mine which is very relevant to spirituality.  Religion, like politics, is always beset by the temptation of epistemic closure.  This is the tendency of human nature…always ego-ridden—to create a world and/or to affiliate with a world in which one’s premises are confirmed.

Difference matters to me.  I was raised in a conservative, American South culture with religion being the paramount dimension in my particular subculture.  But this upbringing in a rigid, highly structured atmosphere of “us vs. them” troubled me and in my early adulthood I began to acquire a more inclusive, less linear-thinking oriented approach to life.  Now, in the latter stages of my life, the issue of sameness vs. difference is a paramount concern of mine, especially given the political climate in my country and in the world.

Today I stumbled across a book in my library, “The Order of Things” by Michel Foucault, heavily marked up from my “youthful” enthusiasm of decades past.  In the quote which I will share, Foucault explores the relationship between “sympathy” (i.e. sameness”) vs. “antinomy” (difference) and the dialogic imperative of an interaction between these two complementary dimensions of the human soul.

Sympathy is an instance of the same so strong and so insistent that it will not rest content to be merely one of the forms of likeness; it has the dangerous power of assimilating, of rendering things identical to one another, of mingling them, of causing their individuality to disappear—and thus rendering them foreign to what they were before.  Sympathy transforms.  It alters, but in the direction of identity, so that if its power were not counter-balanced it would reduce the world to a point, to a homogeneous mass, to the featureless form of the same:  all its parts would hold together and communicate with one another without a break, with no distance between them, like those metal chains held suspended by sympathy to the attraction of a single magnet.

But then Foucault presents “antipathy” as the opposite life-force, equally necessary, which seeks to counter the otherwise stultifying power of the demand for sameness.  What he calls “antipathy” is merely a drive for difference, an innate desire to not be swallowed by the whole of sameness, a “whole” which would be merely a “black hole” without consideration of this “antipathy” or difference.  Foucault declares:

Sympathy is compensated by its twin, antipathy.  Antipathy maintains the isolation of things (i.e. the difference, the desire and demand for independence) and prevents their assimilation; it encloses every species within its impenetrable difference and its propensity to continue to being what it is.

This notion of continuing “to being what it is” is an essential dimension of identity, an ability to “hang onto” a core of what/who one is even when beset by the challenges of difference.  With maturity, i.e. “ego integrity,” one can hang onto a core of who one is even as he negotiates with difference, (i.e. “antipathy”) and knowing that he can survive…and even thrive…with the benefit of “difference” (i.e. something new) into its mindset.

And, my hero and soul-mate, W.H. Auden has a relevant note with which I conclude:

I wish you first a sense of theater.

Only those who learn illusion

And love it will go far.

Otherwise we spend our life

In confusion about who and what we really are.

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.

The Trumpian Black Hole Claims Another Soul!

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the current press secretary for the White House, is not a bad person.  Raised in the household of an Arkansas Baptist preacher, her faith remains very central to her life and unfortunately she is subjected to daily internal torture as she has signed onto the job of daily spinning the President in a favorable light, of “turning a sow’s ear into a silk purse.”  However, good…and especially innocent people…can allow themselves to be sucked into the orbit of very bad people and then find themselves increasingly in the spot of defending a man who is the antithesis of Christian values.  But, she continues to stay in the position and, I’m sure, daily reassures herself with some Christian bromide such as God having put her in a difficult spot to help this God-ordained President to “make America Again.”  But the problem is the premise—that God has chosen Trump, not realizing that just because one thinks something does not make it so, regardless of how he/she wants it to be.  She has hitched her wagon to a train-wreck and can only attempt to spin the ongoing tragedy in a favorable light rather than humbly acknowledge, “Oops, I made a mistake.”  She, like many of the Trump supporters are demonstrating the same character flaw of Trump—an inability to admit having made a mistake.  And this weakness of character cannot be covered up with the lame and self-serving excuse, “God is leading.”

The most egregious example of her blatant disregard for basic human and Christian value is her stance toward a staff person who made light of Senator McCain who appears to be on his death bed.    But, instead of firing the individual or offering an apology herself, Sanders’ response was to be furious merely over the fact that this horrible “verbal tic” of the GOP mind-set was leaked to the public.  Anyone who has flirted with the Trumpian black hole…or jumped head first into it…cannot escape demonstrating gross errors of judgement like this as warped judgement is a key element of their job description.  Trump demands total loyalty, almost like a dark god of some sorts, and one must always spin everything he does and says in a way to not offend him.  He is a “vengeful” god and will “destroy” anyone who does not go along with his game plan.

My concern here is the common Christian deceit that just because one is serious with his/her faith, he/she can make a horrible mistake and lamely cover up it up with faith in God.  This does not diminish the validity of their faith, only demonstrating what the Apostle Paul admitted, “I will to do good, but evil is present with me.”  This deep-seated character flaw is related to a tradition in some Christian circles to focus on “the evil that is out there” and not recognize that the real evil that needs attention is always in one’s own heart.  From experience I can attest it is much easier to see the evil “out there” than to own it in the depths of one’s own heart, a realization which does not end the conflict but opens one to an internal struggle that has always been there and always will.  Failure to understand this spiritual malady lies at the root of evangelical Christianity’s current steadfast commitment to Trump.

 

 

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.