Category Archives: religion & spirituality

“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.

Advertisements

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.

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.

No automatic alt text available.

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/

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/