Evangelical Christianity is its own worst enemy. Feeling their faith is being threatened, they have hitched their wagon to a man who can even be thought of as an “anti-christ” of sorts as he is the opposite of anything that Jesus taught. These Christians feeling of socio-economic powerlessness has pushed them into seeking political power and they found a spokesman in Donald J. Trump. But faith, certainly including the Christian faith, is not something that can be threatened if its focal point is the personal dimension of spirituality, not the ideological. This phenomenon of the Christian teachings is termed the “Personhood” of Christ which, if kept from being itself merely another cold, sterile idea, can lead to an internal, “personal” experience not dependent upon ideology and dogma. Obsession with ideology and dogma keeps any experience of anything from taking place.
But the ego, termed “the flesh” by the Apostle Paul, is always ready to co-opt our spiritual impulses and accomplishes this purpose by turning the teachings of any spiritual teacher into dogma. The ego’s inroad into many people’s spirituality is through the intellect, particularly in the West where the rational is overly emphasized to the neglect of the affective domain. The ego is delighted with a cognitive-based faith system as it finds the human mind easy prey upon which to work its dark, self-serving magic. When the dogmatic emphasis predominates, everything about the spirituality is kept in the mind and “worship” consists of some version of a repetition compulsion with words and ritual, usually including guilt-ridden do-goodism. When this spiritual edifice is threatened the ego instructs the individual, and the group, to merely rely more feverishly on this repetition compulsion. This addictive behavior is desperate as with all addictions the point is to keep one away from recognizing one’s inner emptiness which, according to the teachings of Jesus, is where “fullness” is found.
God does not reside in ideas or “Christian” behavior though both are necessary components of spirituality if they are seen merely as a means to an end and not an end in themselves. The ego’s domain of ritual and ideas is the Pauline “letter of the law” and the Apostle emphatically declared that the “letter of the law killeth.” And when this situation predominates in a culture, it is the seed-bed of atheism as many times, quite ironically, it is only the atheists that see through the Christian charade.
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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.”