Unadulterated Axe Grinding!!!

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.”

Evangelical Insularity and Duplicity

A writer for Christianity Today, Katelyn Beaty, has written an op-ed for the New York Times that addresses the insularity in evangelical Christianity that has been a focus of mine.  They have put their energy into the culture wars and in so doing missed the essential thrust of the Gospels, opting for the sweet nectar of vicarious power and legitimation rather than grasping the basic teaching of Jesus that power lay in powerlessness and legitimation is a gift from Him, based not in the least on anything we do or know.  Their fierce support of Trump, and now Bill O’Reilly, in the face of overwhelming evidence of their moral turpitude reveals their willingness to overlook anything to know that they, and their way of viewing the world, is “right.”

Beaty quotes a grandson of Billy Graham, Boz Tchividjian, who recognizes this insularity of his evangelical compatriots, noting they are willing to overlook even sexual abuse at times, that they respond to abuse with their primary concern being “institutional self-protection” which is explained as necessary to protect “the name of Christ.”  Mr. Tchividjian has at least some grasp of something most evangelicals are not willing to consider, that Jesus Christ is often largely a foil for the purpose of accomplishing their very self-serving ends.  This is because they can’t acknowledge the “performance art” dimension of their faith because it would be too painful to suffer the disillusionment, though if they did so they could learn that any good they accomplish in their life, including in the name of Jesus, will be done in spite of them and not because of them.  But when the ego predominates in faith, their ministry or Christian practice will be superficial, another demonstration of the wisdom of Shakespeare, “With devotions visage and pious action they sugar o’er the devil himself.”

With Trump in particular, these evangelicals have prostituted themselves to a man who continues daily to demonstrate in word and deed everything that Jesus opposed.  And they have very lame explanations like, “Well, he is just a baby Christian” or “Who am I to judge” or “Who am I to cast stones?”  In Trump they have unwittingly found a voice for the unconscious dimensions of their heart, that region where the Grace of God, that is definitely present in their life, would like to work if they would only acknowledge the need of it.  But acknowledgement of the need of it would be an affront to their Christian persona and would require admitting they made a mistake.  But like their president, they can’t admit making a gut-level, existential mistake…though admitted he can’t admit making any mistake!  Oh, they can confess to being a sinner all day long.  That is easy.  That is what they’ve been taught to do.  But cognitive understanding of sin, and confessing of “knowledge” of sins, does not address the deep-seated avarice, greed, and egotism that lurks in all hearts, regardless of how pious we might think that we are.  To see, understand, and experience this is to begin to process of becoming human and that is what God wants of us.  That is the “incarnation” that Jesus illustrated for us.

(Link to NYT op-ed cited abo e—https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/02/opinion/bill-oreilly-shielded-by-christians.html?ref=opinion&_r=0)

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There are two other blogs listed below which you might wish to check out.

https://anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com/

https://literarylew.wordpress.com/

https://theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com/

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Materialism and Religion

In a recent post, I referred to something that scientists have taught us, that physical life is not simply as it appears to be at its root is a profound mystery that cannot be reduced to rational, including “scientific” explanation.  Life is not “material” as our culture insists, but “immaterial.” Quantum physics teaches us that physical life is mostly empty space and that only our god-given neurological endowment allows us to construct the time and space continuum which gives us this thing we call reality.  Our brain endows us with the capacity to objectify subjective experience which makes possible the creation of an “object-world” which eventually evolves into a consensually-validated reality.  This does not devalue life as we know it; it merely gives it meaning as it introduces us to the realization that there is another dimension to life that we cannot grasp with our conscious mind.

And religion was given to us to attempt to address this mystery of existence and therefore endow life with meaning.  In our primitive past words like “god” had meaning when they were related to the depths of the heart but in time the word became taken as the “thing-in-itself”, taken as that “Wholly Other” dimension of life that cannot be captured with any word but can only be “pointed to” with words.  Our word “Holy” comes from the term “Wholly Other” which refers to that dimension of life which is so profound that one poet has described it as that before which we can only, “glory, bow, and tremble.”  This is the frightening, and Holy, experience of a liminal moment when the core of our being experiences its vulnerability and the distinction between “inside” and “outside” is unclear for a moment.  Liminality is what German philosopher Eric Voeglin and Jewish theologian Martin Buber termed the “in-between” and modern day spiritual teacher Deepak Chopra simply, but beautifully termed, “the gap.”  Buber said that it is only here that we can make connection with other people, a connection that is not routine given its profundity, merely a gift between two people who have found the courage to climb out of their egoistic prison and proffer a “hand that reaches across the abyss” hoping that it will be received by the other, i.e. the “Other.”   Buber called this an “I-Thou” moment because of its profound reverence and Holiness

Our modern “material” culture which is intrinsically bound by linear thinking cannot conceive of spirituality in this sense.  Spirituality bound by culture cannot escape itself so that this “Holiness” can be encountered occasionally…and it can only be encountered “occasionally,” as noted by the wisdom of T.S. Eliot, “Humankind cannot bear very much of reality.” Instead, reality offers a steady diet of dogma and sterile tradition to which the linear-thinking mind can rigidly adhere to and convince itself of its “godliness.”  This is what Jesus recognized in the religious establishment of his day when he so unceremoniously called them “hypocrites” or actors.  Culture-bound faith is performance art.  And that would not be so bad as life is performance art and therefore faith must be also most of the time perfunctory compliance with ritual and tradition.  But the problem arises when the “performance art” dimension of faith is mistaken for the whole of it and the heart-level dimension which would make it meaningful is not taught, and is even discouraged.   This style of faith, bound by the “letter of the law” or tradition, is culture-bound and will always be amenable to cultural influences and will find it difficult or impossible to question the prevailing values of “the tribe.”

Here are the other blogs that I have on the table.  Check’em out!

We Are Stubbornly “Beasts at Heart”

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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My other blogs listed here:

https://anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com/

https://literarylew.wordpress.com/

https://theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com/

The Finger Pointing to the Moon is not the Moon!!!

I recently posted on one of my other blogs about a favorite subject of mine, a closed-referential system also called epistemic closure or confirmation bias.  I focus on this issue because it is personally relevant given my youth in a very close-minded community and religious culture.  And my knowledge about this matter is so personal that without a doubt I am revealing that my “escape” from the close-mindedness is not complete and probably never will be.  In fact, it is impossible to cease to think outside of a context and that context is always larger than one is aware of.  We do not have an “objective” existence and if we ever accomplish that stance we will have become God and personally, I’ve already told friends that if I ever give evidence that I think I have accomplished that, “Just come and shoot me!”  I often like to use the term “god-complex” for those who are so rigid in their belief system that the uncertainty necessary for faith is not permitted to visit them.

My focus for the moment is the way in which religious thought can become self-contained so that it is self-referential, leading always to group-think and the aforementioned epistemic closure.  In a spiritual context like this “god-talk” is nothing but idle chatter even though the “chatting” might be done with great solemnity and fervor.  The “god-talk” I have in mind can be thought of as social grooming, amounting to nothing more than “car-talk” or banter about the local sports team.  Social grooming is very important and even has value in a religious setting though not when it is an end in itself. “God-talk” might be thought of in the spiritual context I come from as the exchange of common-place notions like, “Jesus Saves” or “Praise the Lord” or “Isn’t God wonderful” or “Hallelujah” and all of these terms have value.  But their value has meaning only when they are used in a group dialogue in which they are explored in terms of personal experience and not as mere grist for a social mill.  When reduced to this grist, they have the value only of “sounding brass and tinkling cymbal.”

The core issue here is epistemological, the word is not the thing or as the Buddhists put it, “The finger pointing to the moon is not the moon.”   But our culture has misled us, teaching us that “the word is the thing,” that it is the “thing in itself” and not the pointer that the Buddhists would have us learn.  This view of the world gives us the impression that the world is one dimensional, that there is no immaterial dimension to life, and that our everyone is empowered to claim objectivity.  But the problem with this “objectivity” is that it encourages everyone to claim the right to this objectivity which puts on our table at this present moment two diametrically opposing views of how the world should be seen.  One view is conservative and at its root is a firm belief that “the way things are” is valid and need to be maintained, that “walls” need to be built around it to keep out the ever-encroaching peril of the other view.  This other view, the liberal view, does not see reality as static but as a dynamic flow that permits us to have only a viewpoint, not an objective grasp of “the way things are.”

The “immaterial” dimension of life, i.e. the “spiritual”, could humble each of these perspectives and permit the finding of common ground.  The conservative and the liberal energy is necessary in any political body but when each side is dug in at the heels conflict cannot be resolved and catastrophe can take place.  But by using the term “spiritual” I have just opened a can of worms as the word means something which is not spiritual in the least but a means of social control and even tyranny.

TO BE CONTINUED

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https://anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com/

https://literarylew.wordpress.com/

https://theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com/

The Myth of Hermes and Language

When fresh out of high school, I attended a very conservative Baptist seminary in Little Rock, Arkansas for one year.  There I learned of the term “hermeneutics” for the first time, having it presented to me as interpreting the Bible with the right frame of reference.  I now see that the problem I had with this seminary, and my brief effort at the ministry, was this notion of a “right frame of reference” as I now see it meant merely to “use the Bible to impose your world-view on others,” because you, and only you, knew what “right” was.

One basic precept of a more mature hermeneutics is the realization that one brings a frame of reference to anything and all things in life and that if this is not understood one will do great injustice to everything, and certainly holy writ.  Understanding that one is putting a “frame of reference” on the table is recognizing that there is a subjective dimension to one’s experience of life and that this subjectivity does not permit one to be objective about anything.

Grasp of this wisdom is more than an intellectual endeavor.  Coming to recognize the subjective dimension of one’s life is to cognitively and emotionally experience being alive in human form, subject to all the delights and limitations of this “fallen” state.  And when one brings his attention to any literature, especially holy writ, one must approach it with more humility than I was capable of in the Little Rock seminary and more than was even permissible there.

Hermeneutics derives from the Greek mythical figure Hermes whose many responsibilities included boundaries and transitions.  One dimension of the story is that property boundaries were determined by the posting of an “herm” on one side of the property, the “herm” being a pole with a man’s head upon it.  This herm was very important and commanded great respect.  Anyone who failed to respect the herm, and cross the boundary represented by the herm, or anyone who defaced or even pushed the herm was guilty of a capital offense.  This myth recognized the establishment of boundaries, or definitions, in the birth of the Greek language and was a beautiful way of emphasizing the integrity of words, their ability to “capture” a subjective phenomena and give it verbal currency in the tribe.

BUT, Hermes was extraordinary in that he established the boundaries but, being also the god of transitions, could cross between them.  He could “break” the boundaries of words, teaching us that with proper hermeneutics words can offer value and meaning when we are willing to enter the fluidity of the verbal field that is our reality. The myth teaches us how the poets do their magic, “breaking” the words and allowing their hidden riches to be apprehended by a willing and open heart.

Another dimension of his boundary fluidity was that he was the only god that could ascend to heaven and descent into hell, conveying messages between the two kingdoms.  And he was the prankster god, creating mischief in his world much like talented poets can do.  Poets “play” with language and allow the resulting breakage to evoke hidden riches.

Hermes demonstrated the need of nuance in language.  Words must have integrity or they lose all meaning.  But if their “integrity” is sacrosanct and no “mischief” can be applied to them, then they will become sterile and moribund.  This myth conveys to us that words have value when they can be taken metaphorically, when “the word” is not “the thing,” which is the mistake that leads to biblical literalism.  For example, in the literal world of linear thinking, the term “God” is mistaken for the subjective experience of God, an experience that lies beyond the grasp of any word.

But without doing the work of hermeneutics with holy writ, the book will become a rule book, mere dogma, and thus amenable to enslaving people to the agenda of a mindset that favors the powerful.  To be more specific, “the way things are” in a tribe (aka “patriarchy”) will assert itself and the holy writ will cease to be deprived of the “Wholly Otherness,” (i.e. “God”} needed by all tribes to provide meaning to their life.

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Here is a list of the three blogs I have.

https://anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com/

https://literarylew.wordpress.com/

https://theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com/

The Spiritual Darkness in Our Politics

The Republican Party is pretty sure it now has a plan to replace Obamacare that will please the contentious part of their party and might get approval of the House of Representatives.  They are determined to fulfill their vow to “repeal and replace” Obamacare regardless of the cost.  I almost wish they could succeed just so they could “get a life” and focus on the mundane concern of addressing the needs of our country!  If their concern was other than some emotional petty vindictiveness toward President Obama…they still can’t get past the color of his skin…they could have taken the approach, “Hey, there are problems with Obamacare.  Let’s address these problems, resolve them, and get on with our life.”  But, that would never suffice for them as they have to “repeal and replace” Obamacare, regardless of the cost of the effort and the impact on the American public.  This is what happens when ideologues dominate in a legislative body, they obsess with “ideas” rather than any actual “intent” that the ideas reflect.  This is, of course, a normal stage in the development of a child, to take the “word” for the “thing,” but most of us mature and begin to see that there are others present in our world.  AND, when adults are thinking and behaving like this, there is a “spiritual” issue on the table, meaning there are conflicts raging beneath the surface that are not being addressed. And, addressing these conflicts by bringing them to the light of the day is painful, so painful that most individuals as well as groups opt to not do so.  It is much easier to just continue to seethe in the depths of their heart and take their rage out on someone or some other group.  And, if you are driven by racism and other primitive demons, the task is made easier as you can take it out on a black former President.  They are overlooking that President Obama has a life, and though he will be disappointed with what they are doing, he is not going to take it personally which is what they want.  They hate that man, not realizing that hatred is devastating to those who harbor it as well as to anyone around them.  But, lacking any self-awareness, they are missing this truth.