Vice-President Mike Pence yesterday described Christians as being “most persecuted.” Well, persecution of those who live out of an authentic inner core, such as Jesus Christ illustrated, are apt to be persecuted. Yes. But then in the Christian culture there is a tradition of taking delight in the feeling of persecution when these feelings stem primarily if not only from unacknowledged, unconscious issues that meaningful faith in Jesus Christ would allow one to explore. This hypocritical stance of being “persecuted for His sake” fulfills the ego’s need for pseudo humility, permitting one to bask in a smug self-loathing that is taken for some perverted sense of righteousness.
I certainly can see why Pence feels his version the Christian faith is today being persecuted. This is because “reality” is exposing their duplicity as daily their political “champion”, a man they declare the Lord has “raised up” to lead this nation, is demonstrating the antithesis of everything Jesus Christ stood for. But Pence and other Christian luminaries stand behind Trump, will not challenge his egregious dishonesty, and continue to drag the name of Jesus in the mud of their shallow, ego-enslaved faith. By use of the term “reality” I mean that the Christian faith of Pence and his ilk is an insular world which has the primary purpose of providing a “wall” between themselves and the rest of the world, i.e. “reality.” No wonder they find the notion of “build that wall” so appealing and are supporting Trump’s insistence on building walls literally, and metaphorically. This “insularity” is being threatened and they are frightened by “reality.”
But let me introduce another term for this “reality.” I like to think of it as the Spirit of God that is speaking to them, trying to show them how their faith has been immature and having the primary function of maintaining their disconnection from the world. Yes, in a sense, God has “raised Trump up” but not for the purpose they have in mind but to let them stare at what lurks in their collective heart, which now they can’t deny…but do! Christian faith, or faith in any spiritual tradition, is designed to facilitate participation in this world, meaningful participation, and this is not possible when one’s identity is a smug certainty of separateness from this world. And the Christian faith, and any faith, is easily co-opted into a smug zone of certainty from which great harm will be done, regardless of how noble their announced intention or how noble the spiritual teacher they purport to worship might be.
This intervention of “reality,” i.e. “The Spirit of God,” extends to the whole of our culture. Trump, and Trumpism, gives us an opportunity to recognize the avarice and smugness that capitalism has gifted us with. And, staring our ugliness in the face is good for the soul, though not pleasant. I think the Universe, i.e. “God,” is just telling us, “Welcome to the world.” And if we can embrace the ugliness of our heart that is now being presented to us, the profound Beauty that is with us and in us can shine forth more radiantly. As Rilke noted, “The heart has its beastly little treasures.”
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I grind an axe too much in this venue and in my other blogs. I have attempted to moderate that ego impulse and feel that often I make improvement. But, this time, I will offer unadulterated axe-grinding.
I am infuriated with the Evangelical Christian support of Donald Trump which has led to this House of Representatives vote to repeal Obamacare. Oh, I knew it was likely to happen and on some level I kind of hoped they’d just go ahead and get it done so their path to self-destruction could take the next step. But I’m still enraged. But, being cursed with the self-reflection that is missing in most of evangelical Christianity, and in most religions, I can’t help but ask the question, “Now what is this angry response about?”
And I know. I am so infuriated that I’ve spent most of my 65 years…and I’m only allotted “three score and ten”…ensconced in the bullshit that is now being demonstrated by these adherents to the “letter of the law.” And, guess who I have to blame? Oh, I could blame “them” but I’m honest enough to own the blame and recognize and own my own lack of courage which meant that I sheepishly followed the dictates of the “letter of the law” that I was given in my youth. I didn’t have to. The Spirit of God was always there, offering the opportunity to escape into the Spirit of the law, but I found it too frightening as such a venture would have challenged the very fabric of my being. And, having done so, I daily live in this “challenge” and in a weak moment I pine for those days when the demon of “certainty” was mine. It is gut-wrenchingly painful to let one’s persona, especially the Christian dimension thereof, be challenged but it is only when we accept this intrusion of the Spirit of God that we recognize what Jesus had in mind when he told us that unless a grain of corn fall into the ground, and disintegrate into rotten-ness, the inner essence of the grain could not be resurrected into life. To make it even worse, this “resurrected life” is not one of spiritual greatness and valor….that an ego quest of mine in past years…but an acknowledgement and experience of my human-ness, my “being.” And, as Otto Brown told us decades ago, “To be, is to be vulnerable.”
So, what’s the point? Hmm. Not for sure. But here I affirm again what Shakespeare realized, “There is a Divinity that doeth shape our ends, rough hew them how we may.” We are living through madness, but then that is the story of human civilization. And the Christian tradition is wallowing in madness…because we are mere humans after all…and there are persons in this tradition who recognize this and are acting as “the voice crying in the wilderness.” Truth will “out” in the end but “Truth” is so painful to false truth that each of us is born into, including…maybe especially so…those of us that are born into a spiritual tradition that takes itself too seriously.
There is an ugliness that is besetting the whole world. Just look at France, Turkey, and India. The same dark spirit is overwhelming this “Christian” nation and doing so with the help of Christians who are the unwitting agents of the attack. I take comfort in the realization that my role, so meager in the estimation of the ego demands of my childhood, is to remember the wisdom of the Apostle Paul and focus on working “out my own salvation, with fear and trembling.”
A contributor to the Washington Post, Kara Swisher, who writes from the perspective of the business world noted the “unconscious bias” that is often made in such things as hiring practices. She described it as “a bias that kicks in automatically, with our supposedly unthinking brains making often-inaccurate snap judgments…While I am fully aware of the science behind the concept — which basically boils down to the fact that we are all beasts at heart — it’s pure laziness by some of the world’s smartest and most innovative people to pretend they are unconscious of something so glaringly clear. It both abrogates the responsibility of leaders and fobs it off on training and classes that never seem to solve the problem, no matter how much money is spent.”
The ”unconscious bias” is much related to the epistemic closure or confirmation bias that is often a focus in my blogging. There are premises that are involved which influence our decision making and these “premises” are difficult to pay attention to, primarily because we don’t want to pay attention to them. These premises are a template through which we filter our rational thinking and they are heavily laden with emotion to the point that “rationality” often eludes them. This is a human dilemma and most of us have wrestled with the issue from time to time, squirming under the painful realization that our stance on various issues in life were totally irrational and merely reflecting of what had been an “unconscious bias.” The pain of this self-awareness is often so intense that our conscious mind just will not permit the insight, opting to affirm even more passionately our biased view of the world. Furthermore, we can always find like-minded persons who will “confirm” our bias.
Our political system in the United States currently illustrates what happens when two different world views are “dug in at the heels” and refuse to budge, not realizing that the obstinacy is bad for all in the long run. The core issue is identity itself. If we take our identity to be only what and who we “think” we are, then we will not be able to back-off of our viewpoint and realize that often the other view point has more validity than we first thought. This notion takes my mind always to the domain of existence I like to describe as the spiritual, that region in the depths of our heart where we encounter and learn to live with the vulnerability that comes in realizing understanding that the essence of our being lies beneath the surface realm of rationality. Then, at times we have to agree with Swanson, “We are beasts at heart.”
The irony is that this stubborn “beastliness” is usually most conspicuous with religious beliefs. No one deliberately opts for “ignoble” beliefs in their religion. The problem comes when they subscribe to “noble” beliefs but then interpret them in such a way that the result is that other people are marginalized socially at least and sometimes politically. At times the “marginalization” has even led to violence as religious fervor has become so intense that a believer feels that his belief system must be forced on others even at the “point of sword.”
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Donald Trump almost daily displays to the world a deep-seated need to be loved. The media brings this to our attention often, and late-night comedians often make light of his childish efforts to win this love. If he was merely a child on the actual playground, or some bloke in the neighborhood, most of us would recognize this neediness and try to offer validation when we could. Teachers, monitoring the playground would soon refer him to counseling knowing that this deep-seated need for love needed attention “now” rather than in adulthood. But, of course Trump is cavorting about on the adult playground that we all cavort about on and his childish need for love cannot get the respect that it would deserve if we were still on a literal playground. Mature “limits” need to be set by his “family” (the Republican Party) but they appear to have the same deep-seated existential insecurity and cannot say “no” to their errant child.
Love is a subtle thing. In my clinical work, it was often a core issue though always presented as some behavioral problem the unconscious intent of which was to get the validation (i.e. “love”) that was missing in early childhood. In my 20 years of practice, it became apparent that the more a child had to demand love from others, the more it belied the lack of it in the depths of his/her heart. I learned to note to myself, “This student did not learn to perceive himself/herself as lovable in early childhood, learning that performance of some sort was needed instead.” And, the more we have to “perform” for love the more we convey to the world our intrinsic self-perception of being unlovable. For some, this “performance” will mean seeking attention or power often in the form of bullying others. Others will seek it in compliance with the expectations of others. But with either approach, or any approach between those two extremes, the individual will be announcing to the world, “I am not loved. I am unlovable.”
The Christian tradition often poses a problem relevant to this issue. In its over emphasis of the transcendence of God and the attending need to “submit” to this all-powerful external source of approbation, the immanent dimension of God is dismissed completely. The task for this and all spiritual traditions is to address this contradiction and at some point hopefully arrive at the conclusion, “Oh, I’m okay as is! Oh, that what is meant by God’s forgiveness! That is what Grace means!” But this requires interior work and cannot be found in a passive stance toward the spiritual endeavor. The significance of “working out our own salvation with fear and trembling” is usually overlooked and we cognitively assent to a distant, disembodied God forgiving us which means that the interior guilt and shame remains and keeps us enslaved to this alienated deity and our alienated self.
Poet William Wordsworth understood this and summarized it so beautifully in this section his “Preludes”:
Dust as we are, the immortal spirit grows
Like harmony in music; there is a dark
Inscrutable workmanship that reconciles
Discordant elements, makes them cling together
In one society. How strange, that all
The terrors, pains, and early miseries,
Regrets, vexations, lassitudes interfused
Within my mind, should e’er have borne a part,
And that a needful part, in making up
The calm existence that is mine when I
Am worthy of myself! Praise to the end!
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The Los Angeles Times yesterday published a scathing editorial of Donald Trump, pinpointing his gross character flaws which are glaringly influencing his ability to lead this country. But, just where in hell is the church today when “speaking truth to power” needs to apparent from all corners of the political spectrum? I realize that some churches are “speaking truth to power” on this matter but nevertheless the church today does not represent any spiritual presence in our culture that would assume any responsibility on matters like this. I fear they are too busy self-pleasuring themselves with the gospel variety of the “well-worn and ready phrases that build comfortable walls against the wilderness” that is called “reality.” Religion is severely flawed in that it is practiced by humans and therefore becomes a servant to the human need to protect our religious/ecclesiastical status quo rather than brazenly announcing, so to speak, “Our emperor has no clothes on!” This is even more of a challenge to evangelicals who so brazenly backed, and continued to back this immoral and unethical man as if they should fail to do so now they would have to admit making a mistake. And they share that character flaw of their President, the inability to acknowledge the human tendency to make mistakes in every dimension of our life. I do think that the teachings of Jesus assured us that it was alright to be “merely” human, which includes really screwing up often, a malady for which he has offered to forgive us. But the disillusionment of acknowledgement that we have screwed up, even in reference to our spirituality, is really painful. ‘Tis much easier to just shout our “holy” bromides a little louder and condemn those that disagree with us.
Here is a link to the LA Times editorial, the first of three they will offer this week: (http://www.latimes.com/projects/la-ed-our-dishonest-president/)
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In my youth a Sunday afternoon religious radio broadcast I listened to would start with a musical refrain of “Back to the Bible,” and proceed to reason why that our country needed to return to the Bible as a way of following the call of Jeremiah to “turn from our wicked way” and bring “healing to our land.” Even today, though no longer steeped in a fundamentalist faith, I still see the value of a call for returning to spiritual values as a way of “amending our ways” and thus healing our land. And, I greatly value the Bible today though I am no longer slavishly dependent on a culturally instilled way of interpreting it.
In my country, the United States of America, I think we are witnessing a classic example of a divided soul, a divided psyche, in which a healing is needed. When this happens with an individual, descent into mental illness is a serious risk and I think anyone looking at our wonderful country from outside of our blissful myopia would say, “Hey, those guys are going nuts!” And, I could offer a poignant example of why they could make this point but I don’t want to wallow in Trumpism at this moment.
The word religion stems from “re” and “ligio,” the “ligio” having the same root as ligament, that part of our body that ties our muscles together. Religion refers to our deep-seated need to wrestle with the meaninglessness and absurdity of life and find a coherent world view that allows us to remain connected to the human endeavor. But the key to this effort is to finding a “meaningful” world view that facilitates relationship, i.e. “connection,” and does not promote that contrary impulse of the ego to foster separateness and disconnection, creating insularity. And the clarion call of “Back to the Bible” I found so appealing in my youth revealed a noble human and Divine impulse but at that time in my development it meant only a desire to “make the world just like me and use the name/image of Jesus Christ to accomplish this.” For at that point, I wasn’t mature enough to see beyond myself; and to make it worse I lived in a culture in which cultural myopia was a staple of one’s spiritual diet.
Even with these roots in fundamentalist Christianity, which is evangelicalism on steroids, I still have great appreciation in biblical faith though I find this faith much more meaningful with the broader perspective that life has afforded me. But I am deeply grieved currently to see how a “simple” human being like Steve Bannon could seduce evangelicals into voting for a man of similar darkness to his own. And now I know that some of them are beginning to sense they were duped and have deep regrets, sentiments which are very challenging to the notion that “the Lord was leading them” to vote for Trump, even with his egregious moral, ethical, and spiritual flaws. This brings to them the same challenge that Trump himself has, “Can I admit making a big mistake?” or, in Trump’s case, “Can I admit to making any mistake?”
The mistaken premise that evangelicals live under is that if God is leading you then you could never err as God never gives bad advice. But the mistaken part of that premise was the unquestioned assumption that ego was not involved in interpretations of God’s will and that self-serving interpretations could easily be tempting because of what the Apostle Paul called, “the flesh.” But in evangelical culture, the bromide, “God said it, I believe it, and that settles it” makes any interpretation of motive verboten. It is this assumption of objectivity in which faith gets “de-humanized” that Shakespeare recognized when he said, “To err is human, to forgive is Divine.” If we are unwilling to become human and recognize, and experience, the phenomena of “err-ing,” then the Divine Grace of God is denied any chance of being experienced. We can “know” and “understand” it very well; but “knowledge” is such a ready and convenient way of avoiding experience.
This is related to the “de-humanization” effect of all extremist ideologies, faiths, and political viewpoints as disembodied ideas afford one the opportunity to invest in the idea rather than the experience that the idea points to. These viewpoints are not seen as “view” points which is the only thing possible for a mere “human.” But for those who have usurped deity, and taken as absolute facts what is merely a perspective, suddenly realizing they are wrong (or at least not as objective as they had thought) is frightening and even crushing. This “god-complex” fails to appreciate what the meaning of the Christian story of God’s forgiveness in the Person of Jesus Christ was. This beautiful image was an attempt to convey to mankind that we are accepted “as is” with no caveat. And the crucifixion dimension of the story was God’s way of saying, “Hey, it will be painful. Disillusionment is gut-wrenching. I’m going to give you a graphic picture in terms that you can understand of just how painful it is.” But most people opt to interpret the gospel, or the teachings of any spiritual tradition, on a superficial, literal level and not allow its meaning to seep down into the heart where Grace can become something other than a noble idea. For this to happen, those raised the in Christian culture often need to realize they were “guilted” into their religion as is usually the case with religion. But if the religion can escape the self-serving temptation of literalism and cultural enslavement, it can facilitate a dynamic relationship with its teachings, allowing greater meaning upon reaching maturity. The teachings which children were guilted into accepting for the simple solace of belonging to the herd can then open-up into a rich spiritual heritage, empowering them to live a more authentic life and escape the drudgery and despair of being a simple doctrinal marionette. However, it is much simpler to keep things on the surface, clinging desperately to a literal view and experience of life, knowing in some subtle manner the wisdom of Shakespeare, that it is less painful to “cling to these ills that we have than fly to others that we know not of.” For letting go of the bondage of guilt leaves us with the “giddiness of freedom” (i.e., anxiety) and the burden of responsibility.