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.
A white supremacist recent challenged a Washington D.C. Muslim lawyer, Qusim Rashid, “Why isn’t there a Christian Isis?” He was roundly rebuffed, with Rashid pointing out the violent history of Christianity with the Crusades, the genocide of Native Americans, and the brutal enslavement of African “heathens” to bring them Christ. The challenge to this Muslim demonstrated the lack of self-reflection present with many conservative Americans, not having any insight into how that what they see “out there” is usually right in the depths of their own heart. And I would add to Rashid’s answer the observation that in highly “sophisticated” American culture we have mastered the art of sublimation so that our violence is often camouflaged so it passes for the ordinary. And I think this is particularly so in all religions, including Christianity.
Violence is intrinsic to human nature and I think religion was given to us by the gods to facilitate an integration of the schism in our soul that leads to violence. But when a religious practice is limited to the cognitive/rational realm, the inner recesses of the heart are not even addressed meaning that often our religious practice can be intrinsically ugly and escape our carefully-crafted version of self-awareness. (For more on violence and the sacred, check out Rene Girard.)
For example, in this venue and others I have addressed the sublimated violence of fundamentalist Christianity where manipulation, intimidation, shame and social pressure are often one dimension of the Christian emphasis to “win souls to Jesus.” Just one illustration of this is the post-sermon altar call in which threats of hell-fire and damnation are de rigueur. The Jesus I believe in today was, and is, the Son of a loving God and does not need human artifice to woo anyone into his kingdom, especially little children. Little children who have “the hell scared of them” with fire and brimstone sermons are being subjected to systematic abuse and the cultural predominance of this violence will be effective in most instances. These little children will grow up under the tyranny of a “loving” god, knowing in the depths of their heart that to let any dimension of their belief system go will be to encounter the terror that was evoked in their youth by the manipulation and intimidation by their church. They will be “trapped” in their faith, not able in most instances to evolve spiritually and learn that God is not the beast they were presented with in youth.
And, of course, this ideological entrapment is obviously true also with the interlocutor of Mr. Rashid. The ideology and life-style of white supremacists is deeply etched in their hearts, often by fundamentalist religion, leaving them free to make accusations of others about spiritual darkness that predominates in their own heart. “Don’t believe everything you think,” I would remind them. But they can’t help believing what they think because, being trapped in a cognitive prison devoid of God’s grace, they cannot find the “space” to question their motives.
(For more on the Rashid interaction with the white supremicist, check out the following link–https://www.someecards.com/news/politics/white-supremacist-muslim-history/)
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Truth is not a thing! Truth is not an object that you stumble across one day as you amble along your life’s pathway, a bright and shiny object which you immediately recognize as “The Truth.” Now it is true that walking along this path you might stumble upon a spiritual tradition, a thing or object, which is intriguing and even having a “bright and shiny” quality to it which appears to convey truth. But this “bright and shiny object” can easily be only a spiritual bauble with which the ego can find amusement and self-gratification for a while. The Truth is not on the surface of any spiritual tradition, is not a “thing” in the least.
But if you have been raised in the West where we have been systematized and “thingi-fied” since at least the industrial revolution, it is human nature to see everything as a “thing” even spiritual matters which are intrinsically a “no-thing.” This is because our culture has turned our soul into a “thing” so that our intrinsic grasp of who we are is conceptual and therefore we will see other people, spiritual traditions, and even “god” as a thing. We can’t help it. It is human nature to perceive out of “the abundance of one’s heart” and the heart is always encumbered by the dross of the enculturation process. Any spiritual tradition will encounter “meaning” only when one has the temerity to look beneath the surface of his life which always will jeopardize spiritual traditions that have been passed on to him. Indeed, in some sense one must lose his spiritual tradition, his faith, his god if he is to find meaningful spiritual roots, meaningful faith, and a meaningful “god” who is not a mere idle thought rattling around in his skull. This is relevant to the admonishment of Jesus that we must lose our life in order to find it, our “life” consisting of the persona that by necessity we acquired and has served a useful purpose…and can do so again if we will allow our internal resources (i.e. “Spirit”) to be tapped and give meaning to this persona. And in my spiritual tradition, Christianity, the Christian persona is difficult to grasp as our ego does not want us to get a glimpse of just how much our faith has been an example of performance art. This is what Jesus recognized with the established religion of his day and called them “hypocrites” or “actors.” He, being a keen spiritual observer of his world, immediately recognized that their spiritual tradition had become merely performance art. I think that today he would call most Christians something like “Christian-oids.”
Truth is elusive and to put it into words is difficult, technically impossible. Words are only “pointers” in the spiritual realm and human nature is to take these words superficially and mistake the word for the thing. Truth is a process, not a thing, and in my spiritual tradition this process is described as a “Person” and this is a meaningful way of seeing and intuitively grasping Truth. But when at the core of our heart we perceive ourselves as a “thing” it takes a miracle for us to see any dimension of spiritual life, and life as a whole, as anything but a “thing.” Until we see and understand this, our relationships…even the closest and dearest relationships…will be one “thing” relating to another “thing” without the presence of any dynamic process that is the essential feature of the life process. Life is not static. We live in a flux and we are a flux but our ego resists understanding this as doing so requires a heart that has become “petal open” and therefore aware of its fluidity and the fluidity of the whole of life.
(I almost got carried away here. My ultimate point was the spiritual emptiness of our culture which has facilitated and even encouraged the development of Trumpism, with our President being only a symptom. I pose the question I so often pose here, and in real time, “Where is the church?” I could even say, “Where is God?” Yes, God has disappeared and one could even say “dead” as did Nietzsche presciently note in the 19th century but that is only because those purporting to believe in Him have turned him into a sterile concept, the “letter of the law” and as the Apostle Paul told us, this “letter” always kills anything it touches. Instead of droning on further, you might want to see a further amplification of this concern in another blog I posted yesterday. Here is the link: https://theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com/)
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/)
ADDENDUM—This is one of three blogs that I now have up and running. Please check the other two out sometime. The three are:
When I was very young my family lived in the sticks of Arkansas and had no running water. During the summer we would take a bath in a galvanized-tin “bathtub” on the front porch since we had no neighbors nearby. One day when a long dry spell in the weather was breaking and it was beginning to sprinkle, a sister of mine who had a more active imagination than I did innocently noted,“God is pouring his bath water out.” Neither of us took this literally but the image has always stuck in my mind. And I’ve always regretted not having become pompous at that time for I would have reminded her that God does not get dirty and does not need to take a bath. Furthermore, I would have dismissed the notion that Jesus walked around heaven with a baby sheep under one arm and a lightning bolt under the other.
Human imagination is a very important dimension of our heart and is critical in our religious experience. Without it we are left with sterile cognitive images of our Source and it reveals just how sterile and barren our heart is for the “heart” is more than a bunch of ideas floating around in our head. And I find it very interesting currently how that many Christians who deny the “imaginary” nature of their Friend have now voted with great passion for someone who has, and is expressing the part of their imagination than they have never acknowledged. For, imagination does include unsavory “stuff” and it is our fear of this forbidden material that deters us from utilizing the “mind’s eye.” In Donald Trump all Americans need to consider, “Out of the abundance of our heart our mouth now speaketh,” to paraphrase Jesus.
Poet John Masefield wrote a sonnet that reveals so much about the role imagination has in our ideological formulations of God:
How many ways, how many different times
The tiger mind has clutched at what it sought,
Only to prove supposed virtues crimes,
The imagined godhead but a form of thought.
How many restless brains have wrought and schemed,
Padding their cage, or built, or brought to law,
Made in outlasting brass the something dreamed,
Only to prove itself the things held in awe.
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.