Tag Archives: W.H. Auden

“Purity and Danger” by anthropologist Mary Douglas explores tribal culture’s and their hyper emphasis of purity and its relationship to “perceived” danger.  The “danger” is usually the fear of contamination  by new ideas from beyond the pale of their culture but also from within the culture as deviance from within is always present within any culture that has any dynamic quality.

The hyper emphasis of purity always belies profound insecurity of the tribe, the fear that its values could not withstand any necessary adjustment from the introduction of the “new” or novel.  When this threat is on the horizon it is common practice to emphasize strongly the importance of the status quo and to demonize any deviance. This was evidenced in our country about a decade ago when the Tea Party sought to “purify” the Republican Party and began to label as RINA (Republican in Name Only) to anyone who took a view deemed to be inconsistent with the party line.

But today my focus is on the “purity and danger” phenomena is in fundamentalist Christianity, expressed in its inordinate emphasis of protecting the virginity of their young girls.  This often includes a ceremony in which the girls father places a purity ring on her finger as she takes a vow of chastity until her marriage.  (This makes me think of a quip by H.L. Mencken, “The problem with chastity is its over emphasis of sex.”) However, victims of this abuse are now beginning to report the trauma they experienced and the suffering they experienced as they began to mature beyond the reaches of their conservative faith and explore their sexuality.  (See the following link for one report:  http://www.foxnews. pcom/lifestyle/2018/09/15/woman-recalls-how-broke-free-evangelical-purity-movement.html) I not here advocating sexual promiscuity or debauchery for anyone, certainly not children.  I am bringing to attention the fear of sexuality that is often present in religion and the gross tragedy  that often results from having denied that dimension of human experience.  Furthermore, my concern with the Christian tradition which provided my spiritual roots is the very much related denial of the whole of the body and its impulses, the fear of losing control as W. H. Auden described in the poem with which I will conclude.

There is “danger” when we fear our body’s impulses and become obsessive with a desire for purity.  This cannot help but create impurity which will find expression somewhere whether it be in our own acting out or “rubbing elbows” with the impurity we fear under the ruse of ministering to them.  Decades ago there was a fundamentalist evangelist who preached loud and hard about immorality and even set up his office on Bourbon Street in New Orleans where he could preach to the prostitutes and strippers.  Eventually he was caught in an alley being serviced by a prostitute.

If…like your father before you, come
Where thought accuses and feeling mocks,
Believe your pain: praise the scorching rocks
For their desiccation of your lust,
Thank the bitter treatment of the tide
For its dissolution of your pride,
That the whirlwind may arrange your will
And the deluge release it to find
The spring in the desert, the fruitful
Island in the sea, where flesh and mind
Are delivered from mistrust.
(W. H. Auden “The Sea and the Mirror)

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Here is a list of my blogs.  I invite you to check out the other two sometime.

https://anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com/

https://literarylew.wordpress.com/

https://theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com/

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“Vive Le Difference” is Politically Relevant Today.

The following is a copy from another blog of mine which is very relevant to spirituality.  Religion, like politics, is always beset by the temptation of epistemic closure.  This is the tendency of human nature…always ego-ridden—to create a world and/or to affiliate with a world in which one’s premises are confirmed.

Difference matters to me.  I was raised in a conservative, American South culture with religion being the paramount dimension in my particular subculture.  But this upbringing in a rigid, highly structured atmosphere of “us vs. them” troubled me and in my early adulthood I began to acquire a more inclusive, less linear-thinking oriented approach to life.  Now, in the latter stages of my life, the issue of sameness vs. difference is a paramount concern of mine, especially given the political climate in my country and in the world.

Today I stumbled across a book in my library, “The Order of Things” by Michel Foucault, heavily marked up from my “youthful” enthusiasm of decades past.  In the quote which I will share, Foucault explores the relationship between “sympathy” (i.e. sameness”) vs. “antinomy” (difference) and the dialogic imperative of an interaction between these two complementary dimensions of the human soul.

Sympathy is an instance of the same so strong and so insistent that it will not rest content to be merely one of the forms of likeness; it has the dangerous power of assimilating, of rendering things identical to one another, of mingling them, of causing their individuality to disappear—and thus rendering them foreign to what they were before.  Sympathy transforms.  It alters, but in the direction of identity, so that if its power were not counter-balanced it would reduce the world to a point, to a homogeneous mass, to the featureless form of the same:  all its parts would hold together and communicate with one another without a break, with no distance between them, like those metal chains held suspended by sympathy to the attraction of a single magnet.

But then Foucault presents “antipathy” as the opposite life-force, equally necessary, which seeks to counter the otherwise stultifying power of the demand for sameness.  What he calls “antipathy” is merely a drive for difference, an innate desire to not be swallowed by the whole of sameness, a “whole” which would be merely a “black hole” without consideration of this “antipathy” or difference.  Foucault declares:

Sympathy is compensated by its twin, antipathy.  Antipathy maintains the isolation of things (i.e. the difference, the desire and demand for independence) and prevents their assimilation; it encloses every species within its impenetrable difference and its propensity to continue to being what it is.

This notion of continuing “to being what it is” is an essential dimension of identity, an ability to “hang onto” a core of what/who one is even when beset by the challenges of difference.  With maturity, i.e. “ego integrity,” one can hang onto a core of who one is even as he negotiates with difference, (i.e. “antipathy”) and knowing that he can survive…and even thrive…with the benefit of “difference” (i.e. something new) into its mindset.

And, my hero and soul-mate, W.H. Auden has a relevant note with which I conclude:

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.

The Dark “Divinity” of Donald Trump

Axios reported this morning that the Trump administration is now arguing that the President cannot be guilty of obstruction of justice because the constitution declares he is the chief law enforcement officer of the land.  Early in the Trumpian onslaught against our country last year, I began to liken him unto a god of sorts, a “dark” god who had a chthonic grip on a significant portion of the American population.  This was best illustrated in his brazen declaration that he could shoot someone in the streets of Manhattan and not lose support. Trump and his handlers are very astute in grasping when he pushes the limits and immediately huddle together and discuss, “Now, how do we justify this?”  Simple denial has worked faithfully for him as the base of his party believes everything he says and the rest of the party marches lamely in tow as they too have succumbed to the intoxicating siren song of power.  The Republican Party has created a monster which many of them realize they cannot control but they cannot admit this because, like Trump, they cannot admit having made a mistake.

But this phenomenon is an expression of not just the Republican Party but of the American psyche.  If we find the humility we will have to acknowledge that our nation has been, as the prophet Daniel put it, “weighed in the balances and found wanting.”  Our inherent arrogance and smugness is now egregiously apparent for all to see and many can respond only with a lame, “Oh, that is not true.  That is fake news.”  One historical example is in the Manifest Destiny theme in American history when we were consumed with the belief that God had brought us to this new world, had created us as a nation, and then given us the “manifest” task of carrying our “truth, justice, and the American way” westward to the Pacific Ocean.  This “divine” mandate meant that the Native Americans were merely an obstacle and could be slaughtered in the interest of our goal being accomplished.  “God is leading us,” we said, and how can one argue with God?

The attitude that was present then, and did bring these United States to the world stage, is now having the dark, daemonic dimension of that Manifest Destiny impulse exposed.  Our task now is having the humility to let “self-awareness” dawn upon us, “self-awareness” being merely the light of day which any tribe always resists experiencing.  This cultural blindness is not exclusive to our tribe by any means.  It is present with all individuals and all cultures but now we are in the position where we could humbly acknowledge this human frailty and grow from the experience.  But, as Auden told us, “When truth met him, and held out her hand, we clung in panic to our tall belief and shrank away like an ill-treated child.” And it is very interesting to note that significant numbers of Christians in our country…especially evangelicals…adamantly remain ensconced in their arrogance as they too, just like Trump, cannot admit that they made a mistake.

(The following is a link to the Axios article— https://www.axios.com/exclusive-trump-lawyer-claims-the-president-cannot-obstruct-justice-2514742663.html)

A Personal Note To Readers

I often receive “hits” and subscriptions from readers who are much more conservative than I appear to be and, yes, even more than I am.  I hope that it is recognized that my faith is no longer “ex” clusive and that it includes those of a conservative stripe, a culture that provided me my spiritual, intellectual, and emotional roots.  I am very proud of this background. I sometimes think that some of the people who drop by here do not know what they have gotten into.  But, I’m glad that each of you are here even if you have just dropped by for a “cup of coffee” and I will not see you again.

Faith is the bedrock of my life and I’m only now tippy-toeing into its riches and find it a mysterious and elusive, though ever-present domain.  I’ve spent my life trying desperately to “wrap my head around ‘it’” and realize that this ego pursuit has been a “work of the flesh” and clearly a demonstration of “riding an oxen, trying to find an oxen.”  I even had a dream months ago which suggested I was no longer riding the oxen but was on the ground, plodding along behind him arm-in-arm with a brother.  W. H. Auden offered relevant wisdom, “The Center that I cannot find is known to the unconscious mind.  There is no need to despair.  I am already there.”

The mistake I have made spiritually and emotionally is that fulfillment is “out there.”  I gathered that validation is to be found externally but the teachings of Jesus, contrasting with much of the Christian tradition, is that “the kingdom is within” and failure to orient oneself in that direction is to submit to “the letter of the law” which, according to the Apostle Paul, “kills.”  And as one of my many literary kindred spirits, Shakespeare, put it, “Within be rich, without be fed no more.”