Category Archives: psychology

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!

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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.”

 

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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Evangelical Christianity–We Have Met the Enemy and He is Us!!!

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.  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.

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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/

Our Denial System Challenged by Lao Tzu and David Whyte

Thirty spokes are made one by holes in a hub,
By vacancies joining them for a wheel’s use;
The use of clay in moulding pitchers
Comes from the hollow of its absence;
Doors, windows, in a house,
Are used for their emptiness:
Thus we are helped by what is not
To use what is.

I want to write again about this little ditty, written in the 6th century B.C. by Lao Tzu that “moved in like a bitch” (to use a Trumpism) on my soul and has mesmerized me ever since. I was in my thirties and know that I must have been bewildered by this verse as it totally had no place the very literal mind of mine that predominated back in my innocence. Increasingly I have “grokked” this wisdom the past decade realizing the importance of recognizing that there is an “absent” dimension of life which is very present even in its “absence.” Actually, it is the only thing that “is,” but then it “is” not nor “is” it a thing. If you understand this, then “Bless you” and if you don’t, I encourage you to flash the sign of the cross to your computer screen and run away screaming! For understanding this will cost you everything you have and even deny you the ego-satisfaction of thinking you are any better off than those who do not get it.
It is so daunting to realize that one has spent his life denying reality, has lived his life in a trance designed to keep himself out of touch with himself, with the world, and with God. In some way I know this is the “hell” that I used to preach against though I now realize the “hell” I saw threatening others had already gnawed deeply into my own soul. The denial system that we acquire with birth and upbringing is very important, but it is so very important that at some point we find the grace and humility to own our dishonesty with ourselves, with others, and with God. And this is really no big deal as it merely means we have a chance to accept our human-ness, a dimension of which is our mortality, which civilization, composed of comforting “fig-leaves” is designed to hide. Poet David Whyte wrote in “Consolations,” that we are in denial of the grace that lies just beyond the horizon of our view of the world, described by Conrad Aiken as, “the small bright circle of consciousness.” And Whyte avowed that to be in denial is to find oneself with a lot of company, noting then that “denial is the crossroads between perception and readiness, to deny denial is to invite powers into our lives we have not yet readied ourselves to meet.”

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/

Evangelical Christians Under Attack…by Themselves!!!

Evangelical Christians are under attack.  The “War on Christmas” is underway already.  But the irony is that the attack is from within, demonstrating the wisdom of Pogo, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”  Many of their ranks, and I think it actually is most of them, have pledged their troth to Trumpism, the figure head of which is Trump, and the rank-and-file are dug in so deep that they cannot escape…especially the illustrious “Evangelical Advisory Council” of sycophants that Trump has wrapped around himself.  They suspect, in the depths of their heart, that they have really screwed up in pledging their troth to a man who is the antitheses of Jesus but, being full of “christian” ego, they cannot admit that.  They, like Trump, cannot admit that they made a mistake.

Now, I don’t have a dog in this hunt.  Consciously.  Being an evangelical in recovery, I’m certainly grinding an ax to some degree.  But, I firmly believe in the value of religion…the word comes from “re” and “ligio” which combined mean to “tie together” what had become disjointed, which is present in the etymology of the word “ligament.” And there is value in the evangelical faith as it suffices for many, and even most people in this world.  We pointy-headed pseudo-intellectuals can dismiss them but we do so only out of an insidious arrogance.  Truth has many levels and some approach truth on a level that can easily appear “superficial” to we “pseudo-intellectuals.” But I think God’s wisdom was presented in the wisdom of a fundamentalist radio preacher of decades ago, J. Vernon McGee who said he wanted to “put the cookies on the lower shelf so even the kiddies could reach them.”  And I, being one of those “higher shelf” denizens, a “pseudo-intellectual” at best, can readily affirm the value of “the cookies” on any of the shelves.  For the value lies in the cookies!

But what has happened in evangelical circles is that the “luminaries” have become intoxicated with their prominence and are more interested in maintaining their position than exploring the value, the richness, of the “cookies” that Jesus…among others…presented to us.  They are those that a friend of mine, Charles Dewitt, had in mind in a poem decades ago when he described the clergy as, “You heroes of spiritual contraception who have long since despaired of rebirth.”  The clergy, when they become “professional” are always tempted to relish their position and seek to increase their prominence and maintain it at all costs.  This is not because they are bad people, but merely because they are people…or human, and the human ego has a deep-seated tendency to know nothing other than itself.

 

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.