Trump, Fundamentalist Christians, and Exclusion.

Trump’s emphasis of immigration is really resonating with his base.  Of course!  His base really likes the idea of purging the American soul of “impurity”, not realizing that the real “impurity” lies within its own soul.  The is the garden-variety projection that Carl Jung told us about.  What we can’t accept within, we immediately see without and then demonize it and insist that it be eradicated…or at least “deported.”

And it is no accident that fundamentalist Christians have answered the bell to Trump’s clarion call for purity.  They thrive on the “letter of the law” even though they fail to regard their enthrallment with this spiritual malady which the Apostle Paul said ultimately kills.  They live in a world of categories, the base of which is “us” vs. “them” and wake up each day of their life and decide who is going to be banished into the ever broadening category of “them.”  They fail to grasp the teaching of Jesus that “ye shall be judged as ye judge”…my paraphrasing!  To the degree that we need to exclude, that we need to deny inclusion to the fallen and the broken, the outsider, Jesus was telling us that we will be excluded.  To be more precise, he was telling us that in our unwillingness to “include” we are demonstrating our own internal self-imposed torture of “exclusion” from the infinite Grace of God.  This is hell.

Anthropologist Mary Douglas wrote a seminal book entitled, “Purity and Danger.”  In this book Douglas noted how that in primitive tribes the greater the sense of “impurity” the greater the need to purge itself of the “impurity.”  This is a very primitive level of emotional/spiritual development.

 

ADDENDUM—This is one of three blogs that I now have up and running.  Please check the other two out sometime.  The three are: 

https://wordpress.com/stats/day/literarylew.wordpress.com

https://wordpress.com/posts/anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com

https://wordpress.com/posts/theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com

 

Check out this blog which features a similar theme of a “recovering” fundamentalist Christian:  https://nickelboygraphics.wordpress.com/2017/01/27/its-not-all-up-to-god/

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The Value of Fundamentalist Roots

I’m really proud of my fundamentalist Christian roots, even as I am currently appalled at what fundamentalist Christians are doing culturally and politically.  I think that one of the things I gained from that tradition was a passion for words, a belief that in words one could find an essential dimension of life, a belief stemming from the teaching that Jesus was “the Word” made manifest.  And I believe that even more though now I see that “words” like the whole of life are so much more than meet the eye…or ear, or any other sensual faculty.  It is this “liberty” that has now taken me beyond fundamentalism and I find that this journey into “liberty” is so essential if one is to escape the bondage of the “letter of the law.”

I think that in some way we all start life as fundamentalists in some way.  For example, take the Ozzie and Harriet characters in the 1960’s tv series.  This fictional couple took their middle-class life very real, echoing the life of middle-America at that time and at all times.  Everyone takes the reality they are given at birth to be real.  Fundamentalists merely take theirs a little more “real” and feel intensely that the rest of the world need to perceive the world as they do.  Some philosopher once said that it is impossible to have a perspective on one’s perspective without escaping it a bit.  This faculty, much related to meta-cognition, is a struggle for nearly all fundamentalists.  In my lifetime it has benign mostly but since the Republicans were threatened with the rise of modernity and felt threatened, they have exploited fundamentalists and energized them even though the Republican Christian faith is far removed from that of fundamentalists.  Witness Donald Trump, the most obvious faux Christian of all time.

An Atheist’s View of Rationalism & Religion

I often quote Goethe re our irrational investment in reason, “They call it reason, using Light celestial, just to outdo the beasts in being bestial.”  John Gray, a noted atheist in the link below takes modern man, atheist and theists as well to task for their “child like faith in reason.”  Gray’s argument is essentially that we obsessively cling to a world view that we are predisposed to believe in, one that supports our biases and prejudices, and interpret everything to support this self-serving worldview. To justify this mindset, we use reason to “prove” it.

Here are just a few highlights of his arguments.

Believing in the power of human reason requires a greater leap of faith than believing in God….They would alter their beliefs in accordance with facts, but clinging to beliefs in the face of contrary evidence is one of the most powerful and enduring human traits….If history teaches us anything it’s that hatred and cruelty are permanent human flaws, which find expression whatever beliefs people may profess.

What Gray’s essay reveals is that faith cannot lie in reason but, as Goethe recognized, must look beyond the grasp of simple, self-serving human rationality.  This is frightening because our ego is intrinsically a rational structure and is an essential dimension of our faith, regardless of how noble and valid the teachings of this faith tradition might be. This requires a critical, i.e. self-reflective stance toward our faith, if we are going to be able to ferret out some of the instances in which ego is in control.

Of course, I have in mind the tragedy that the Christian faith has facilitated in the political climate of my country by helping elect and continue to support Donald Trump.  The evangelical Christians in particular have insisted that “the Lord has raised him up” to lead our country, justifying his horrible short-comings with such lame excuses as, “He is just a baby Christian” or “Who am I to judge?”  But what they are failing to consider is how he is exploited them, preying on their gullibility, and made a mockery of their faith, leaving Jesus up there in heaven shaking his head!  But now, having pledged their troth to Trump, they cannot back down…just as Trump cannot back down from ridiculous positions…for to do so would be to admit that they made a mistake. They remain ensconced in their rational faith, disregarding the wisdom of Paul Tillich who warned, “A religion bound by the confines of reason is a mutilated religion.”

But being a Christian means recognizing that we have had a lifetime of making mistakes and that we continue to do so!  It means that occasionally we have to recognize, in the immortal words of Texas Governor Rick Perry, “Oops,” I made a mistake.  But anyone tyrannized by the ego cannot admit making a mistake.  And everyon3 around them suffers.

Here is a link to the essay by John Gray:  http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-28341562

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Pope Francis Speaks Truth to Power

Pope Francis is the embodiment of “speaking truth to power” in contemporary religion.  Just days ago he dared to vow that atheist had a better chance of getting into heaven than Christians who openly disavow basic principles of Christian behavior and attitude.  (See link to story at bottom of post.) I know, from my background, how this notion went over with many Christians of all stripe; for with them any “atheist” has no chance of getting into heaven for he does not “believe in God.”  Pope Francis recognizes as I do that “belief in God” is not a simple academic or intellectual assent to a set of beliefs but is a heart-felt, soul-level, commitment to an interior spiritual dynamic that effects a different orientation to the whole of life.  This commitment allows one to have a “discerning spirit” so that he can readily spot, for example, hypocrisy and point it out just as Jesus did to the Pharisees.  And, I dare to say, this is because one has deigned to identify the “performance actor” dimension to one’s own life, including in the arena of faith.  There is nothing wrong with being an “actor”.  The problem lies in merely failing to recognize that one is an “actor,” which is what the word “hypocrite” meant in the time of Jesus.

In this article note also how one of the officials in the Vatican offered a follow-up explanation of the Pope’s observation, stating that it is possible that one can disavow “Christianity” and still be committed to a spiritual voice that will ultimately lead one to God.  This resonated with reports I’ve had from friends who no longer confess to being a “Christian” but firmly and passionately believe in Jesus and in “the teachings of Jesus.  From dialogue with these people I have learned that they have faith in the “person” of Jesus and not so much in the historical tradition of Christianity.  One recently explained how that she realized that her Christian faith had been given to her as a form of indoctrination but that now in mid-life she had found the courage and grace to employ spiritual discernment and realize that the value of words, especially spiritual “words” lie beneath the surface and can be meaningful only when one is willing to delve into the interior dimension of one’s own life.  This is learning to access the “spirit of the law” and no longer rely on the “letter of the law.”

(http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/pope-francis-atheists-better-than-hypocrites_us_58afb6ace4b0a8a9b780e4e1

Jesus Brought Meaning to the World

The subject of meaning teased me in my youth though it never was allowed to flourish until I started college and began to escape biblical literalism.  This escape was into a gradual appreciation of the metaphor which didn’t fully materialize until a prescient friend gave me a copy of Shakespeare’s sonnets and W.H. Auden’s collected poetry in my mid thirties.  My life has not been the same.

Meaning involves intricate and intimate experience with difference.  Until one encounters meaning, he lives in a sterile universe of sameness usually marching lockstep with those of a similar orientation to life.  A quest for meaning inevitably leads one to a face-to-face encounter with meaninglessness for the one cannot exist without the other.  For example, there is no blue without non-blue.  Now I have been blessed as my venture into meaninglessness has been gentle for it can drive one stark raving mad.  I think I am fortunate to have what the poet John Keats described as “negative capability,” the ability to live with pronounced self-doubt, insecurity, and emotional fragility.  It is no accident that since the gift of poetry in my mid-thirties I have been immersed in poetry and literature for there I find metaphor which allows me to find an anchor in what would otherwise be an overwhelming mystery, a mystery that the linear thinking in which I was stuck for 35 years cannot abide.

It just dawned on me that the story of Jesus is a story of meaning being introduced into a sterile and lifeless world and its disruptive impact.  The world grinds relentless onward, mechanically almost. T. S. Eliot described it as moving in a rut, moving,
“In appetency, on its metalled ways
Of time past and time future.”

But the story of Jesus was about bringing authenticity into the mix.  Jesus was an invasion of consciousness and mankind voted with its feet that consciousness was not its first choice.  And I might add that in my lifetime, particularly this present moment, consciousness has not proven a popular option.  For consciousness is not a function of intelligence or technological accomplishment.  Consciousness is a function of reaching into the depths of the heart and wrestling with “the internal difference where the meanings are.”  These words are borrowed from the following Emily Dickinson poem:

There’s a certain Slant of light,

Winter Afternoons –

That oppresses, like the Heft

Of Cathedral Tunes –

 

Heavenly Hurt, it gives us –

We can find no scar,

But internal difference –

Where the Meanings, are –

 

None may teach it – Any –

‘Tis the seal Despair –

An imperial affliction

Sent us of the Air –

 

When it comes, the Landscape listens –

Shadows – hold their breath –

When it goes, ’tis like the Distance

On the look of Death –

 

 

 

 

The Ministry as Performance Art

Bishop Eddie Long, a well-known mega-church pastor died last month after a long battle with “an aggressive form of cancer” and even more aggressive forms of financial and sexual scandals in recent years.  This story in Huffington Post is a very sad report of a life wasted under the ruse of religion, a wastage which devastated many other lives as well. (http://www.cnn.com/2017/02/03/us/bishop-eddie-long-i-knew/index.html) When “men of the cloth” get caught in compromising positions, i.e. “get caught with their pants down,” I don’t always giggle with delight.  I used to but I’ve grown up now and am more accepting of human foibles even in the arena of Hamlet’s “country matters.” But the story of Reverend Long goes far beyond the pale of “indiscretion” and reflects characterological depravity.

Having set out to be a “man of the cloth” in my youth, I can report first hand I was very much a mortal though I very much pretended not to be.  In my fundamentalist Christian culture, the ministry I took a stab at was usually performance art and, I now see, the Christian experience itself was largely “performance art” though that is not to dismiss it completely.  Life is “performance art” after all. (See poem at end.) But Bishop Long demonstrated the human cost of this duplicity, not just to himself but to those he victimized.  This is not to minimize the heinous nature of what he did but merely to recognize his primary flaw was in being guilty of being “human.”  Suffering from that malady always leaves one living a life of pretense to some degree and the more that the “pretense” is required by one’s social context to remain hidden, the greater the risk to the individual and to those around him.  And often the Christian culture fosters pretense over open human-ness which always involves being frail, flawed, and broken at times.  This is true for the laity but equally so for the clergy though the standards are often beyond the pale for the clergy.

Pretense in the area of faith is often a tragedy.  Spiritual teachers have always tried to tell us that spirituality is not about show but about authenticity and to be an authentic human being is to occasionally wallow in dimensions of human experience that we would rather not let others know about.  And most of the time we don’t have to.  Most of the time this ugliness can be addressed either privately or in the intimacy of close relationship, including therapeutic relationships.  But too often organized religions teach us to ignore this ugliness leading to the tragedy of Bishop Long.  This makes religion appear to some as complete escapism.  And often it is, and we certainly need escape for “humankind cannot bear very much reality.” (T.S. Eliot)  But the “escape” of religion can be salvivic if we deign to address the ego’s grip on the whole of our life, including our religion.

 

(From a W. H. Auden poem)

I wish you first a sense of theater.

Only those who learn illusion

And love it will go far.

Otherwise we spend our life

In confusion about who and what we really are.

 

Hatred of the “Other” in Religion

Dave Chappelle offered a comedy skit years ago which is the best illustration of the lack of “self” awareness.  He portrays a black man who is a white supremacist who has been kept from awareness of this “problem” by a KKK hood for decades.  But when the hood comes off, and he has to admit that he is a “n…..r”, he still cannot lay aside his racism.  (See hilarious clip at end.)

Disregard, hatred, and contempt of “the other” is deep-seated.  It reveals itself in so many dimensions of life, usually without notice unless one has a very astutely discriminating eye.  For example, I have become very aware how that in my spiritual tradition the insistence of drawing the distinction between “Christian” and “unchristian” is often just an effort to maintain the unconscious “us vs them” paradigm.

Sometimes I like to parody this phenomena with the following spiel:  “I just hate people who are intolerant.  I want to line ‘em up and shoot ‘em!  I wanta humiliate them and then kill em!”  This is relevant to present day with people who have an inordinate emphasis of setting boundaries with immigrants, wanting to deport them when at times it goes beyond the pale of basic human decency.  Certainly immigration laws, boundaries, need to be present and need to be enforced.  But it appears to be that the immigration issue has taken on a larger-than-life emphasis, has become a “cause celebre,” allowing people to vent their existential “us vs them” venom to be focused on this one issue.  And, “us vs them” is an essential dimension of identity.  But when one’s core identity is tenuous to begin with, he/she cannot tolerate the ambiguity of reality to recognize that the distinction between “us/them,” or “me/thee” is often not as clear as we would like to think.

This is a spiritual issue.  But Protestant Christianity has emphasized “us vs them”, i.e. “saved vs unsaved” and failed to realize the inclusiveness/forgiveness that Christ brought into the world.  This is best illustrated when Jesus chose not to stone the Samaritan prostitute at Jacob’s well, which the “Republicans” of the day were encouraging, instead telling her to “go and sin no more.”

Dave Chappelle clip:  — http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x3a3f0f