Every mind must face being wrong; very wrong, wholly and completely and 100% wrong, about something it was sure about, certain about, giddy with faith about, if that mind is going to mature into the adult mind capable of separating fact from fiction. Our civilization works because most people avoid the delusional extremes of various fanaticisms and become functioning, skillful adults. On the fringes we have saints and mystics, artists and mind-doctors but most folks are able to live without becoming bomb-throwing, child-molesting, suicide-preaching cult fanatics.
The development process of this universal initiation from childhood into adulthood is designed to move a person’s center of psychological integrity within. Unlike a child who is dependent on others for everything they need, an adult is able to provide for their own needs. This includes those emotional and psychological needs that mark us out as being the unique individuals that we are.
To continue to seek salvation outside your own heart, be it in a book, group, or other person, is bound to fail. Created with free will we are not allowed to escape our responsibilities. Even under vows of obedience we are not allowed to carry out crimes. Only you can discover the unique expressions of how to live your own life that will satisfy your true emotional, intellectual and spiritual needs. Though social pressure will always be pushing you to adopt their prefixed solutions for living the good life, none of them will work for you. They will all leave you hollow, like a shell of the person you were potentially capable of becoming. To keep the faith is to hold to the truth as you best understand it, to trust that in the end truth is stronger than any deception and ignorance because it is real. A good part of the truth only you can know will be the truth about the pain you suffered as a child and how your body uses the tracks laid down so long ago as your means of orienting yourself to reality via your actual experiences.
Good parents do all they can to nurture this reality function within their children. Good parents are ‘right in their hearts’ and so are capable of passing on this basic health of mind to their offspring. When development goes right the irrational childhood belief that one’s parents are an all powerful god and goddess gets transferred to the mythological realm. Here poetry and story can capture the ideals and dangers of the hero’s quest each of us must pursue as we work to expand our consciousness by bringing what was previously in darkness to light.
Toxic parents, on the other hand, are not right in their hearts. For whatever reason, though they are of the age of adults, they are still using the mind of a child. For such adults, if they see themselves as holier-than-thou religious, their faith is full of magical thinking: the miraculous is everywhere and life is full of huge satanic forces capable of sweeping good souls to hell in a moment of moral weakness. They are likely to pursue Sainthood, Enlightenment, Salvation (all with capitals!) at any cost to others. If they do not see themselves as holier-than-thou religious they are likely to be found among the more-entitled-than-thou secularly selfish perusing either Wealth or Debauchery, again at any cost to others, depending on how their rebellion against the childhood disillusioning revelation takes place. Secular or religious toxic parents are swept away by the numinous, suckers for salesman trying to bring about the immanentization of the Eschaton.
How else could truth be found but at the death of an illusion?
This is the root of unshakable kindness, compassion and empathy: a recognition that one’s own mind is the same as anyone else’s. It recognizes the difficult task involved in maturing the psyche and refuses to place additional burdens on the child just to satisfy the status desires of the adult ego. The sick are not able to do that. For the toxic parents the children are little more than possessions to be used in the on-going status war with the Joneses or the on-going war with their own sexuality and perversions. When such parents confront the failures of their children to live up to their unrealistic expectations they lash out, psychologically or physically, to destroy that which threatens to unravel their whole image of themselves. Toxic parents lack a centering in their own unique individuality that would have allowed them to admit that it is not possible for a human being to be certain about that which we cannot be certain about: things like why am I here, why the universe exists at all and what happens during and after death. Because they lack the integrity of mind that can live comfortably with uncertainty, they spend their lives seeking answers and approval from other people. The innocence of childhood only reminds them of their own repressed pain.
The fool – it is supposed to teach us to have a good laugh at ourselves, the most direct way to a healthy balanced humanity between the dark earth below and the vast sky above. It is true there is an element of pain in human laughter, just as their is an element of cruelty in our most loving intimacy. Consciousness, as far as the evidence seems to indicate, is a product of opposites held in tension. The trick evolution is using is that awareness increases by staying aware of both sides of the oppositions that make so much of our day to day experience feel so ambiguous. We need to be happily energized, if we are to enjoy our own and others company, but not too much; we need to be sad if the depths of melancholy are to provide us with three dimensional souls instead of the two dimensional cutouts of our social personas, but not too much; we need to be sure of our capacity to deal with things, but not so much we cannot admit when what we do is wrong; we need to be confident in our ability to understand what is important to understand about life, the universe and everything, but not so much that we cannot admit when what we have thought was true, is not.
If even your loving parents are willing to fool you, and do so right where the inherited religion makes its most dramatic theological claims about the salvation or damnation of their very souls, surely the child will become a bit more ready to accept that the world might be full of people willing to take advantage of them if given the chance. If a human being cannot even trust their parents to give them the straight dope, the lesson is supposed to go, surely no stranger will either.
This is how the normal, seemingly rather bland Western traditions of Christianity are actually incorporating the great work of passing wisdom and love on to the next generation. Two thousand years of experience in dealing with the human mind and its mythological symbolizing functions have taught society a thing or two.
Let’s look at the various aspects of this bit of cultural wisdom by which the previous generation attempts to help children separate what is real from what is not.
* fooled by other people lying to us
* fooled by misdirection as when we are taken in by a magician’s trick
* fooled by the illusion of authority written language has
* fooled by metaphors taken concretely
* put it all together – fooled by liars in books claiming miracles are real
This last one might be surprising, after all do not our Christian preachers insist the miracles in our mythological tales really happened? Well, yes they do but there is also a surprising bit of hedging and double-talk involved when the theology turns to address the status of miracles today. The Protestant traditions have the idea that the age of miracles ended with the apostles. The Catholic church has always been a bit more willing to admit miracles in the modern world but they are never of the spectacular walking-on-water type. They have the miracle of the mass, the miracle of healing, and a statue weeping or a stigmata here and there are allowed for, but there is a whole complicated court process by which claims of miracles touching on the spectacular are investigated. In other words, even here in the most symbolic of all Western forms of Christianity, the proof of God through an unmistakable supernatural sign is considered, if not impossible, very, very, very improbable. In this oldest of the Christian traditions private revelation never needs to be held in faith, it is only that some are investigated and declared not to be against faith.
Today the freaky miraculous is all relegated to the devil and the demonic. If you are seeing people walk on water and rise from the dead you are not advancing spiritually, you are going mad. If you expect to find spinning heads and pea soup vomit projectiles ala The Exorcist, even here you will be disappointed. There are truly uncanny things that happen in the outer reaches of human psychology but, as far as I know and from all that I have experienced, there are no easy miracles dripping off the fingers of anyone with our shared human nature. Not the walk-on-water, fly-in-the-air kind claimed by so many on the fringes of the spirituality marketplace anyway; they are not possible by worshiping a good god or an evil devil. There are crazy coincidences, elemental signs if you will, strange things that happen in strange states of consciousness, juxtapositions of awareness of intelligence within and without and a whole host of wonders far beyond what we modern folks are at all prepared to accept. One of the imbalances of the Christian inheritance that fed our ecological ignorance is a lack of understanding what the shaman, the saint and the mystic knows. Still, if it is the miracle believed in with a childhood naivety that you are looking for all you are going to run into In Search of the Miraculous is a collection of con men, magicians, and fools.
“When the true King’s murderers are allowed to roam free
A thousand magicians arise in the land.”
Jim Morrison, An American Prayer
This is what the whole package of our cultural mythologies are trying to teach us. That the real miracle, the greatest miracle, is real life.