Category Archives: religion & spirituality

“Morning Joe” Castigates Conservative Christians

Joe Scarborough, a conservative ex-Republican who used to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives expressed his frustration with conservative Christians this morning.  Scarborough, now the host of “Morning Joe” on MSNBC, lamented that 69 per cent of conservative Christians still support Trump even with his continued egregious anti-Christian speech, attitude, and deeds.  Joe finished his soliloquy with, “Sounds to me like an effort to gain the whole world while losing your own soul.”

I do not think Joe meant to be taken literally; his point was not to say that these people are “going to hell” but that “soul” is missing in their life, including in their spiritual life.  This “69 per center club” lacks the “discerning spirit” spoken of by the Apostle Paul and pledged their loyalty to a man who promised power at the expense of their soul; this “discernment” would not have allowed a choice like this.  And, having made this choice, they demonstrate the Trumpian quality of being unable to admit they made a mistake as doing so would be to lose face, even their “Christian” face.

But criticism to “True Believers” (see Eric Hoffer) like this are immune to criticism; they attitude is, “my mind is made up, don’t confuse me with facts.”  They have a ready-made defense mechanism for anything that contradicts their view point once their mind is made up, “Fake News.”  One can see why they ally so fiercely behind Trump for he articulates the fears, anxieties, and desire for certainty of their own soul.

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The “Father of Lies” is Subtle

The Gospel of John described Satan as, “the Father of Lies” and is incapable of telling the truth and has his origin in existentially primeval times.  Listen to what theologian Paul J. Griffiths wrote about human nature and the mortal tendency of lying:

The avoidance of the lie can only be realized when we are overwhelmed by the gift of God’s grace, because we have to recognize that we are habitual liars and can only cease to be so when we let go of the “ownership” of our speech and surrender to the language of confession, testimony to the beauty of God.

We are all “liars” in a sense as we see the world through a skewed vision which resists any revision.  Consequently, any information or feedback we receive from the world is filtered through our “skewing” apparatus and we interpret things in a way to suit our needs of maintaining existential equilibrium, even if that means holding onto ideas and notions that are inherently self-destructive and destructive of others.  This “skewing” does not mean we are bad people.  It just means we are human and echoes the observation o the Apostle Paul, that we “see through a glass darkly.”  And, to call this “lying” is a bit of an over statement I admit but it is human subterfuge than can lead to lying in most egregious sense.

But there is a tendency in my Christian tradition to accept a juicy morsel from the “Father of Lies” and assume that the Holy Spirit is guiding us so that all of our whims, our interpretations of the scripture….are absolutely true….”because God is leading me.”  This naive mind set overlooks historical events such as the Crusades when “the Lord” was leading Christians to convert others at the point of sword and even the German soldiers in World War 2 carried an inscription on their belt, “God is with us.”  It is naive to believe, “Oh, they were evil and we are not evil.  For God is leading us.”  But God can be “with us”…and I think he always is…and the presence of “the flesh” can still dictate how we utilize our faith and can lead us to believe, espouse, and do horrible things.

It takes a lot of work and spiritual toil over the year to grasp the wisdom of the Apostle Paul,  that, “I will to do good but evil is present with me” and that “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.”  Our faith is always susceptible to being guided by the whims of our ego though we will always be inclined to piously announce, “God is leading me.”  It would never do any harm when we feel “God is leading me” to introduce a dollop of the Shakespearean “pauser reason” and ask ourselves, “Oh.  Is that so?  Could I be merely satisfying some ego craving to be right and pious?”

 

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THE FOLLOWING IS A RELEVANT POST FROM ANOTHER OF MY BLOGS.

Scott M. Peck in 1983 wrote a book entitled, “People of the Lie” a description of evil gleaned from decades of clinical work.  He described how that some people are so captive to their reptilian brain that “lying” in socially acceptable fashion will not suffice for their heart’s machination and they become so consumed with dishonesty that evil consumes them, bringing great harm to others, including those who they purport to love the most.

The socially necessary “dishonesty” required to function in daily life in these instances has metastasized to the point they are no longer capable of being honest with themselves and therefore cannot be honest with those around them.  This phenomenon is illustrated with the witty often used, “How do you know he is lying? Answer, “Anytime he opens his mouth.”  These people are sociopathic and in many instances will commit such grievances to the social body that the only limit available is imprisonment where their characterological malady can be restrained.

But, this metastasized dishonesty can be socially tenable…or at least permissible…in cultic phenomena where a group of people will find a leader who offers an embodiment of their own penchant for dishonesty.  They will then create an organization or group in which their “group lie” cannot be questioned, and anyone who does question them or their leader is immediately dismissed with the cry of, “Fake news!  These people have created for themselves an insular world in which their premises will never be daunted by what others are saying to them or about them.  People in such an insular world are  existentially vulnerable to the point that the “house of cards” which is the core of their identity cannot withstand scrutiny.  When the drive of this insularity gets too intense all of the complexities and ambivalences that are permitted in an “open society” will have been so repressed and denied that a melt down is likely.  (See Rene Girard, “The Sacrificial Crisis.”  This internal “melt down” is often avoided by finding an enemy out there among the “them” and all of the flaws they hide within will be blamed on “them.”  In primitive societies this crescendoing pressure is often abated with a sacrificial victim, usually some wayfaring member of a nearby tribe will be apprehend and executed because of some contrived offense.  (The actual offense in this case is being an “other”, someone different than they are; for “otherness” is terrifying to any insular group.)  This “otherness” must be eliminated, or at least have a wall built to keep it out.

To summarize, the “lie” when it metastasizes to the point of creating a “People of the Lie” or even a “person of the lie” (aka,”pathological liar”) can bring great harm to everyone.  The only hope is that when those who have succumbed to obvious anti-social speech and deeds have firm limits set with them by the world in which they live.

 

“My Soul Followeth Hard After Thee” to A Sad Extreme

My heart goes out to John Allen Chao, the young man who lost his life trying to bring Jesus to the Sentinalese Islanders a few days ago.  He had the passion that I had at his age…and still have today, in some way…captured with the Psalmist who declared, “My soul followeth hard after Thee, O Lord.”  And that is a noble passion which I am glad I have today, though now with the wisdom of four additional decades.

Humankind carries a Divine spark.  And that “spark” is more intense with some men and women exemplified such as Mr. Chao. But that spark needs to be couched in and guided by a spiritual structure which will give it wisdom which would have prevented this tragedy.  Young men and women who are driven by the very noble goal of “winning souls to Jesus” need to be guided by wise men and women who can direct that spiritual passion to realistic, immediate, and personal concerns very much related to the admonishment of the Apostle Paul to, “work out your own salvation, with fear and trembling.”

This young man had the “Spirit of the Lord upon him,” but had not lived long enough to acquire the wisdom to realize that the Grace of God covers us all, even those who are so primitive and “crude” as to not see the world as we do and will respond with violence to those who dare to intrude upon their isolation.  I blame this tragedy upon the structure of some dimensions of the Christian faith who do not have this wisdom, who see their faith…steeped in cognition, i.e. “the letter of the law,…as “factual” rather than spiritual and entitles them to overrule the personal space of those who view the world differently.  People with this kind of missionary zeal are so cognitively oriented that they feel mere reason will be effective in convincing others to see the world as they do, immediately integrating these new teachings into a new perspective of their world.  They see Jesus as a “thing”, that is a mere “idea”, who by means of “ideas” can reach into the heart of others, even those who have never heard of Him.

I’m so sorry for this young man.  But, he can say, as did Martin Luther King, “Free at last.  Free at last.  Praise God, I’m free at last.”  For, he is back where he came from, in the “bosom of Abraham,” in his Source and free of the duress of the Shakespearean, “mortal coil.”

The following is a list of my other blogs.


https://anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com/

https://literarylew.wordpress.com/

https://theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com/

 

Simone Weil on the Christian Persona

The “false self” is what the Crucifixion is about.  It is about the persona that we acquire, even the “christian persona” which is the façade that many of us hide behind to keep us from the Jungian shadow that we all fear.  Behind the perfunctory righteousness and platitudes that we have learned, there is abysmal darkness that we refuse to acknowledge, even though simple acknowledgement would free us up to allow the energy of our life-force, i.e. the “Spirit of God,” to flow unimpeded and allow the “enfleshment” which the story of Jesus was about.  Read here how one great Christian Saint of the 20th century put it:

Simone Weil said that we have been given the very gift of our being by God, so everything that comes to us, everything is God’s gift, including our very being. So what can we give God in return, she says. She says what happens, for whatever reason, is that we construct a false self, a false I, a false ego. False because we become attached to it, we defend it, we attribute too much reality to it. We think it’s an end in itself rather than a means, a medium of communication, or a way of service. So the ego begins to predominate in our minds, our feelings, our relationships – in that whole complex business – and that takes years sometimes to unravel. She says the one thing we can give to God is the demolition of this false self, this false I. She uses the word ‘destruction’ which is rather a violent word but sometimes it does feel like destruction. At times when you struggle with your ego, it feels there is a certain interior violence going on. It isn’t really about doing harm to oneself, but there is a real, serious work to do which is at times difficult in the transcendence, or the deconstruction, or the demolition of our false self. And this is the central importance of meditation in the process of finding ourselves.

Power vs. Powerlessness in Christianity

One of my favorite hymns from my Baptist youth included the refrain about Jesus, “He could have called ten thousand angels/To destroy the world and set him free/He could have called then thousand angels/But He died alone for you and me.”

This moving hymn still has value for me today, conveying the essential message of Jesus as lying in his demonstration of the power in powerlessness.   In modern day terms, given his dilemma as his crucifixion approached and given the abysmal circumstance he saw in the world, he could have decided to just “kick ass” and call down a horde of angels…so to speak…and righted the wrongs that he so astutely observed.  But he offered us the poignant and vivid lesson that the only meaningful way to address the wrongs in the world is not to wield power in response to power but to find that our power lies in powerlessness.  This has been demonstrated so graphically in our lifetime with the passive resistance of Martin Luther King in the United States and Nelson Mandela in South Africa.

The powerless I am speaking of here does not mean wimpishness.  The powerless refers to a hidden power that lies in attitude more than military and/or political might, seeing the wisdom of “beating our swords into ploughshares” and attacking the subtle systemic power grid that has created and maintains the oppression in the status quo. One easily overlooked expression at these two approaches toward power was seen in the recent confirmation hearing of Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court nomination.  Christine Blasey-Ford, who accused Kavanaugh of sexual abuse when they were teenagers, offered in her testimony a carefully worded and measured response to the questions she faced, demonstrating an effort at being as careful and honest as she could be.  Following her, after a “half-time” in which certainly the “head coach” had intervened, Kavanaugh responded with fire and fury which included many instances of out right refusal to answer questions or deflecting from answering them.

Many Christians have adopted the Kavanaugh and Trumpian style of power, feeling that “might makes right” and demonstrating their feeling that their “spirituality” is weak and ineffective, requiring the reinforcement of political and legislative power. They fail to recognize the wisdom in the bromide, “You can legislate morality.”  Ancient Chinese wisdom told us that legislation becomes necessary when the internal moral code has broken down.  The more this internal code has been broken down, the greater the need for legislation and the greater will be the ferocity with which it is sought.  This is beautifully illustrated in the 38th chapter of the Tao te Ching by Lao Tzu, Stephen Mitchell translation:

The Master doesn’t try to be powerful;
thus he is truly powerful.
The ordinary man keeps reaching for power;
thus he never has enough.

The Master does nothing,
yet he leaves nothing undone.
The ordinary man is always doing things,
yet many more are left to be done.

The kind man does something,
yet something remains undone.
The just man does something,
and leaves many things to be done.
The moral man does something,
and when no one responds
he rolls up his sleeves and uses force.

When the Tao is lost, there is goodness.
When goodness is lost, there is morality.
When morality is lost, there is ritual.
Ritual is the husk of true faith,
the beginning of chaos.

Therefore the Master concerns himself
with the depths and not the surface,
with the fruit and not the flower.
He has no will of his own.
He dwells in reality,
and lets all illusions go.

 

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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/

“Purity and Danger” by anthropologist Mary Douglas explores tribal culture’s and their hyper emphasis of purity and its relationship to “perceived” danger.  The “danger” is usually the fear of contamination  by new ideas from beyond the pale of their culture but also from within the culture as deviance from within is always present within any culture that has any dynamic quality.

The hyper emphasis of purity always belies profound insecurity of the tribe, the fear that its values could not withstand any necessary adjustment from the introduction of the “new” or novel.  When this threat is on the horizon it is common practice to emphasize strongly the importance of the status quo and to demonize any deviance. This was evidenced in our country about a decade ago when the Tea Party sought to “purify” the Republican Party and began to label as RINA (Republican in Name Only) to anyone who took a view deemed to be inconsistent with the party line.

But today my focus is on the “purity and danger” phenomena is in fundamentalist Christianity, expressed in its inordinate emphasis of protecting the virginity of their young girls.  This often includes a ceremony in which the girls father places a purity ring on her finger as she takes a vow of chastity until her marriage.  (This makes me think of a quip by H.L. Mencken, “The problem with chastity is its over emphasis of sex.”) However, victims of this abuse are now beginning to report the trauma they experienced and the suffering they experienced as they began to mature beyond the reaches of their conservative faith and explore their sexuality.  (See the following link for one report:  http://www.foxnews. pcom/lifestyle/2018/09/15/woman-recalls-how-broke-free-evangelical-purity-movement.html) I not here advocating sexual promiscuity or debauchery for anyone, certainly not children.  I am bringing to attention the fear of sexuality that is often present in religion and the gross tragedy  that often results from having denied that dimension of human experience.  Furthermore, my concern with the Christian tradition which provided my spiritual roots is the very much related denial of the whole of the body and its impulses, the fear of losing control as W. H. Auden described in the poem with which I will conclude.

There is “danger” when we fear our body’s impulses and become obsessive with a desire for purity.  This cannot help but create impurity which will find expression somewhere whether it be in our own acting out or “rubbing elbows” with the impurity we fear under the ruse of ministering to them.  Decades ago there was a fundamentalist evangelist who preached loud and hard about immorality and even set up his office on Bourbon Street in New Orleans where he could preach to the prostitutes and strippers.  Eventually he was caught in an alley being serviced by a prostitute.

If…like your father before you, come
Where thought accuses and feeling mocks,
Believe your pain: praise the scorching rocks
For their desiccation of your lust,
Thank the bitter treatment of the tide
For its dissolution of your pride,
That the whirlwind may arrange your will
And the deluge release it to find
The spring in the desert, the fruitful
Island in the sea, where flesh and mind
Are delivered from mistrust.
(W. H. Auden “The Sea and the Mirror)

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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/

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.