Tag Archives: ideology

Group Thinking Leads to Imprisonment

The following is a copy of another one of my blogs.  I’m sharing it here as it is very relevant to religion as religious beliefs and spiritual teachings can become so ego-rewarding that we employ them to isolate ourselves from the world.  Let me illustrate with the simple bromide from the Christian tradition, “Jesus Saves.”  Though this bromide does not have the same meaning to me as it did in my youth, nevertheless I find it still of great value.  But these two words can easily be used to distort the teachings of Jesus into a belief-system which is nothing but a self-imposed prison.  Value is found in this, and all bromides only when we explore them and make them personally relevant, an exploration which must include also a courage to “explore” our very identity.  If we do not put our “self” at risk by questioning the unquestioned assumptions that are present in our heart, we will address spiritual truth on a superficial level and use this “truth” as a shield against “the Truth.”  We will be guilty of merely believing what we want to believe.

Colorado has a group of people who are apparently serious about the notion of a flat earth.  When I started reading this I suspected it was a spoof but the more I read I realize that these people are serious.  They really do believe the earth is flat and they have “proof” that this notion is valid!  )  I have often in my “career” as a blogger used the flat earth notion to illustrate complete lunacy, a private world view for people who have lost contact with reality and created their own little imaginary world which, at the extreme, is collective psychosis.  Ideas can carry us away and because of their intoxicating effect on our mind-set we can lose all critical capacity, believing our pet “idea” even when all evidence suggests it is self-delusion. (See Denver Post story at following link:  (http://www.denverpost.com/2017/07/07/colorado-earth-flat-gravity-hoax/)

I have my own personal spoof of this lunacy in which I facetiously and sarcastically postulate a world in which “the moon is made out of cheese.” Yes, suppose during the night I am the victim of a neurological convulsion in my brain and awakened the next morning to know, with great passion, that “the moon is made out of cheese.”  If this should happen, I might take this very seriously and suddenly realize that it is the truth, that the darkness I’ve lived in has finally lifted, and I see clearly that, yes, “the moon is made out of cheese.”  Furthermore, some friends might try to intervene and set me straight but they would make no progress because, “when you know the truth, you just kinda know the truth” and no one is going to dissuade you.  Of course, finding truth always requires that others be convinced so I would start evangelizing and before long I would have a congregation of like-minded souls and we would then have the solace of validation, a solace which would be enhanced by the realization that only we saw the truth and that any “truth” is always rejected by those who are enlightened.  This insight would give us the comfort of borrowing a theme from fundamentalists of every stripe and sadly and piously understand that “we are being persecuted for His sake.”

I am here addressing one of my pet themes, best described as a toxic version of group-think, a private referential system in which validation is found only in those who have found our view of the world amenable to theirs.  When this toxicity infects any idea, ideas which might otherwise have value to others is immediately rejected by these “others” as they have no meaning to them whatsoever.  The resulting ideology, a passionate belief system that has become delusional becomes a private prison guaranteed to repel anyone who looks on from the outside.  But the rejection itself is perversely rewarding as it leaves the “true believers” with the smug satisfaction of owning “truth” which only they have apprehended.  What has happened is that very unhappy people have crafted a belief system which isolates them even further than they were to begin with and they slowly die from the suffocation that always comes from what Paul Tillich called “an empty world of self-relatedness.”  Emily Dickinson described it as “a mind too near itself to see distinctly.”

In my clinical career this phenomena was known as “insanity,” succinctly capsulized in a clinical bromide, “Mental illness is a reference problem.”  The individual who is completely mad…and we are all mad to some degree…has cut himself off from all external reference and finds great comfort in his delusional system.  For the intoxication of self-delusion resists any sobering-up that critical thinking would afford. It is easy for an out-sider, i.e. a non-believer, to quickly isolate the premise of a delusional system but just dare try to challenge that premises and you will meet great resistance.  For this “premise” represents an emotional investment the person/persons have made which cannot be relinquished without great pain.  Hypothetically, if one could reach into the heart of these people and surgically extirpate the premise, one would witness a complete melt-down.  For this premise is an existential anchor which holds its victims prisoners in a fortress from which they dare not escape.

I conclude with, still again, my favorite bumper-sticker, “Don’t believe everything you think.”

 

 

“Why is There not a Christian Isis?”

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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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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