The Church of Child Abuse, part one

“People don’t you understand
the child needs a helping hand
or he’ll grow to be an angry young man someday.
Take a look at you and me
are we to blind to see?
Or do we simply turn our heads
and look the other way?”
Mac Davis, In The Ghetto

“Psychological maltreatment, also known as emotional abuse and neglect, refers to ‘a repeated pattern of caregiver behavior or extreme incident(s) that convey to children that they are worthless, flawed, unloved, unwanted, endangered, or only of value in meeting another’s needs.'”
A Coordinated Response to Child Abuse and Neglect: The Foundation for Practice
quoting Hart & Brassard Psychosocial evaluation of suspected psychological
maltreatment in children and adolescents: APSAC practice guidelines

“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”
Jesus

 

This essay deals with childhood spiritual abuse, it may not be appropriate for all readers.

First I would like to say a word about where I see this work around religious subjects fitting into the context of the concerns those mindful of ecology have. I see no way to gain religion’s support for healing the rupture between earth and humankind, than to call out its dark side for what it is. It could well be that as the collapse of Homo Colossus proceeds people will eventually turn on the institutions and traditions that failed to help the human race in its hour of need. The political, religious, and educational institutions have all, so far at least, utterly failed to take the seriousness of our overshoot predicament seriously. Of these institutions only religious traditions speak directly to the question of whether we find ourselves in a universe worth living in or not. Since we are collectively acting suicidally, it is an important question. If the die-off due to ecological collapse proceeds as expected between now and the year 2100, as the costs mount and the wars rage, the question of whether or not self-conscious awareness is worth the price will live in people’s hearts, not as an academic question but as one deciding between life and death. Mainstream society today is incapable of realistically imagining the next few decades as the ecologists have sketched out their most probable trajectories. Instead, the mainstream society swings from total denial (“Power Through Impossible” the oil industry teaches us) by the Wall Street crowd on the one hand, to denial that it matters (on “The Late Great Planet Earth”) by the Christian Rapture crowd on the other. I believe both positions are mistaken and that this will become obvious to everyone eventually. As one ugly year continues to follow another, and another, and another… eventually we can expect a type of psychological tipping point when denial and repression, fantasy and wishful thinking no longer work to paper over the very real disasters eating away at our stable climate and food supplies. I am interested in how mythology, and the religions of today that have institutionalized bits of it, will fare at that time. There is great strength to be found in faith for dealing well with difficult times. Faith believes this is a good life in a basically good universe. It is a message all but lost by those who “do the work of satan while they dress like saints” as Bowie had it. Perhaps religion can be purged from the lies and liars currently spreading little more than confusion in its name. That, anyway, is my hope. There is a role for contemplatives in Dark Ages, perhaps we should use this time to prepare what we can. We need to learn how to stand up and say NO to god as bully.

The title of this essay could be misunderstood. I do not think we can say this religion is right and this religion is wrong. I do believe we can say, if we are humble and careful, that this way of being religious is right and that this other way of being religious is wrong. This is an important step forward. We need to call a spade a spade to understand the dark side of religion.

This is not to say all religions are equal, far from it. I do think some religious ideas are inherently dangerous, meaning that believing in them will lead you astray, away from a meaningful human life. One such, with relevant dangers for a nuclear armed world under accelerating ecological collapse, is the ancient belief that humans can gain favor with god, immortality, and magical powers by shedding the blood of others, typically children – be it on altars or battlefields. I consider Frazer’s Golden Bough, particularly the newer abridgement, required reading for anyone interested in religion, as indispensable in its own way as William James’ Varieties of Religious Experience.

Religious indoctrination that amounts to little more than sewing double binds to trap minds into fear-based loyalty to god’s self-proclaimed and self-selected salesmen is wrong. In fact, from the point of view of the precious uniqueness of each sentient being, that mysterious something we call a personality and recognize to likely be unique across all of deep time, it might be the most wrong of the wrongs human beings can commit. When this happens religion has then enslaved a human bodymind, through the creation of trauma, with the purpose of demanding their allegiance to institutionalized abstractions, in place of an allegiance to their actual life as it is given to them to experience it. Possessed, souls enchanted, they may come to the end of their days only to discover that who they personally were never really fully showed up in their own life, that the potentials of the little boy or little girl they once were had been buried alive under ceaseless role playing.

“Let the children to come unto me.”

Life is hard. Religious stories are meant to aid us, strengthening us to meet the inevitable tragedies of our lives and carry on with a modicum of peace and joy in-spite of them. They embody the wisdom of how self-consciously mortal creatures can walk with dignity through well lived lives. Many of the lessons in our religious stories deal with very adult issues related to suffering, death, evil, and loss. Here is the rub. The stories are necessarily first introduced into the minds of children who are incapable of fully and properly understanding them. Knowing this causes us to seek means of correcting this error without compounding it (Eggs and Santa). We say the faith of childhood must be replaced with that of adulthood. There is a lot of psychology packed into that phrase. It involves enthroning reason above imagination and the day consciousness of the ego and its survival goals above the night consciousness and its labrythian meanderings. It is as if we were born upside down. With great care biology and society prepares the bodymind of the child as if it were an egg shell that will break to allow the adult to emerge. Religious symbolism plays a part in that preparation because it is intimately linked to our physiology.

The bodymind of the child, and of the older people around them, know that soon the all the powerful force of evolutionary deep time’s engine is going to awaken in their crotch. When that happens it will turn their upside down world right side up, and do so by turning their childhood ego upside down, humbling it in the process. It involves the ego learning what it must serve, which is so much more than only reproduction as evolutionary theory would have it, but never is it separate from the obligations of reproduction either. Ego is confronted with its unexpected responsibility: that it has a soul to care for as it works its way along its path to a grave, that it is involved in a mind and body that is one in thought and feeling.

It is a real struggle to set aside the magical thinking of our childhood and accept the evidence of our senses that those we love, and we ourselves, must die. Though our stories are filled with tales of immortality and spirits soaring among the stars sustained by magical powers, our lives are inevitably lived, in fact, with our feet on the ground. An adult fundamentalist simply cannot believe with the same naivety that a child can. This I think is what many well meaning adults do not understand and it causes considerable unnecessary tragedy. We should also understand this as a society better than we do. It could put it this way: when it comes to “faith,” the child will walk off a metaphorical cliff, whereas a non-psychotic adult will suddenly find the power of rationalization and be overcome with a sudden bout of common sense under the same circumstances. The adult’s reaction may not be a stellar example of making sense, but it will make sense in a way the mind of the child simply cannot before it has been restructured into the adult brain. We see there is a spectrum of the literalism error, with children taught deceptively occupying the farthest outpost.

“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe to sin, it would be better for him if a great milestone were put around his neck and they were thrown into the sea.”

Children of the human race are voracious story sponges. Brains building life long scaffoldings are calling the shots from deep time in all the little people around us. This process is vulnerable to traumatic events that can thwart the intended outcomes. It is obvious that children are vulnerable physically. What we have learned by studying the psyche is that they are emotionally and cognitively vulnerable as well. Children who have had their vulnerability exploited, far beyond the necessary lessons around our innate gullibility, have brains altered by the trauma they have known. Life long brain changes become linked to their destiny, their fate. Instead of the egg of adult personality being broken by the emerging psyche from the inside in its own good time, some clumsy oaf has broken into it with all the gracefulness of a jackhammer.

Deep time has hosted traumatized human brains since the beginning and has ways of dealing with the disproportionate fear and terror their unhinged imaginations can cause. Those shamanistic ways are symbol rich because they must deal with the underlying physiological “tensions” traumatic events have anchored in the body. Symbols, as we have discussed, turn one side towards conscious understanding but the other side remains oriented towards the dark depths of biological intelligence. Ego can communicate with what is beyond ego in this way and, in that sense, religious symbols play an indispensable role in the formation of the human psyche.

What, then, is religious child abuse? How do we talk about crossing the line between the religious education of children and religious child maltreatment? Does religious child abuse always involve sexual or physical abuse as well? No. Does it always involve strange satanic rituals? No. Does religious child abuse always involve emotional abuse? Yes. An internet search on the term ‘spiritual abuse’ will turn up numerous definitions, many quite good, others just fodder in the atheism wars. Here are a few of my thoughts to add to the mix.

Religious Abuse is creating serious mental health issues in the name of God. Or, to state the same thing in the language we used before psychology: creating serious wounds in the soul, damning it on earth to a life of confusion, self-destructive behaviors, and inescapable terror filled nightmares, all of which steal any chance at unscarred happiness that person may have had in the one and only life that personality will ever know.

The Trauma God:
Let me introduce you to the god of the evil cosmos we touched on last week. It appears when we worship god as trauma: life twisting, joy destroying trauma. This is not a god of Love but a god of Hate, forever angry at you every minute of your life and “justly” looking forward to watching you suffer in hell for all eternity. He (and it is a ‘He’ and only a ‘He’)  hosts an eye in the sky watching your every move, recording and never forgetting or forgiving your every slipup of an obscure rule set, one less clear than the accusations against Josef K in Kafka’s The Trial. Oh, and he knew you were predestined to your fate of eternal torture before he created you, which he did because he loves you. What a crock of shit. This is nothing more than a thin veneer on the ultimate “I am doing this for your own good” abuser fantasy.

A meaningless universe created purely by chance is preferable to this malignant nightmare. At least in a meaningless universe although love might be delusional it is not sickly twisted and, importantly, I get to roll my own dice. A meaningless universe created purely by chance is just the universe science posits, as it turns out, perhaps in no small part as a reaction to this Gnostic heresy gaining such ground among the fundamentalist fringes both within and without the mainstream monotheisms. Faith in the non-trauma god is, of course, a belief in a good universe where what love teaches us about its innermost workings is seen as worthy of our trust. Those who have suffered religious abuse biologically believe in this trauma god and its universe, their bodymind learned from the evidence of the abusive experiences that their life in the world will only lead to days of more suffering and pain without hope of healing or redemption. Such hurt people are, in my experience, best off spending some years away from all religions. They need to learn to go play as if god had said only one commandment: “go, and be happy.” The scientific point of view of a neutral universe can bring considerable healing and freedom from the superstitious fears that have been planted in the unconscious mind of those who were enslaved to the trauma god’s evil universe like this. The jump from evil universe to good universe is too much to take in one leap if you bring your integrity with you. Where was this so-called good god when your soul was crushed and skewered? Only time has the real balm for those hurts because in time you will be able to trace how the wound becomes a gift of character (assuming it does not destroy you during the transformation process).

Religious Abuse is using religious imagery to unhinge the reasoning mind, remove emotional balance, and create physiological anchors that trigger panic anytime the victim begins to question the truth of the cultic dogma, the authenticity of the cultic authority, or in any other way attempts to leave the cult. The core of spiritual child abuse is seeding the child’s mind with fear of their own thoughts, feelings, emotions, and sensations. Ultimately, the evil in this abuse aims to interfere with an individual’s unique sense of conscience about what is right and wrong, “the still small voice.” The natural understanding our mammalian bodies are born with, knowing how to feed the personality on the nourishment of love and compassion, is changed into a fear of the same. Hate is offered as love. To believe what you are told as a victim of such confusion, that what you are experiencing is love, is to create a civil war between what your mind thinks and what your body knows.

Religious Abuse is using religion as a scapegoat mechanism. Dysfunctional families tend to choose one member to be the scapegoat, the black sheep. This dynamic already is a difficult one to deal with. Add the self righteousness of a fundamentalist family and the shadow projection onto the one chosen as scapegoat becomes extreme, an extremity poets might capture by calling it a demonic injection. Adults with real problems can displace their unhealed burdens into their children culminating in the creation of the black sheep. The black sheep has been chosen not to succeed in life, to fail spectacularly. That will confirm the white sheep in their faith. The family role of the scapegoat is to display what the rest of the family fears, namely, that a life lived outside the cult is one ruled by demons.

Confessions

“In spite of the appeal which this impersonality of the scientific attitude makes to a certain magnanimity of temper, I believe it to be shallow, and I can now state my reason in comparatively few words. That reason is that, so long as we deal with the cosmic and the general, we deal only with the symbols of reality, but as soon as we deal with private and personal phenomena as such, we deal with realities in the completest sense of the term. I think I can easily make clear what I mean by these words.
The world of our experience consists at all times of two parts, an objective and a subjective part, of which the former may be incalculably more extensive than the latter, and yet the latter can never be omitted or suppressed. The objective part is the sum total of whatsoever at any given time we may be thinking of, the subjective part is the inner ‘state’ in which the thinking comes to pass. What we think of may be enormous – the cosmic times and places, for example – whereas the inner state may be the most fugitive and paltry activity of mind. Yet the cosmic objects, so far as the experience yields them, are but ideal pictures of something whose existence we do not inwardly possess but only point at outwardly, while the inner state is our very experience itself; its reality and that of our experience are one. A conscious field plus its object felt or thought of plus an attitude towards the object plus a sense of a self to whom the attitude belongs – such a concrete bit of personal experience may be a small bit, but it is a solid bit as long as it lasts; not hollow, not a mere abstract element of experience, such as the ‘object’ when it is taken all alone. It is a full fact, even though it be an insignificant fact; it is of the kind to which all realities whatsoever must belong; the motor currents of the world run through the like of it; it is on the line connecting real events with real events. That unshareable feeling which each one of us has of the pinch of his individual destiny as he privately feels it rolling out on fortune’s wheel may be disparaged for its egotism, may be sneered at as unscientific, but it is the one thing that fills up the measure of our concrete actuality, and any would-be existent that should lack such a feeling, or its analogue, would be a piece of reality only half made up.
… I think, therefore, that however particular questions connected with our individual destinies may be answered, it is only by acknowledging them as genuine questions, and living in the sphere of thought which they open up, that we become profound. But to live thus is to be religious… It does not follow, because our ancestors made so many errors of fact and mixed them with their religion, that we should therefore leave off being religious at all. By being religious we establish ourselves in possession of ultimate reality at the only points at which reality is given us to guard. Our responsible concern is with our private destiny, after all.”
William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience, Italics in original

 

Christianity, it turns out, is a very dangerous religion to misunderstand.

Its symbolic currency includes Death, the Devil, and Hell. Get the meaning of these wrong, what these symbolic teachings are really about, and the mind can be lead to madness, the heart can have compassion torn from it, and the body can be lead to commit suicide or “sacred” murder.

I believe that Buddhism, particularly Vajra Buddhism with its understanding of magical ways, is going to play an ever increasing role in the West as its social, economic, and spiritual collapse proceeds. The Buddhism of Tibet only had a major impact on the culture after it had integrated itself with the people’s shamanistic Bon religion. I think we are involved in something similar now, that there is a task of integration with Christianity that is needed if Buddhism as it is practiced here is going to be anything more than skin deep. That entails a conscious reconciliation with Christianity. It is not unusual in the American Buddhist circles to hear of well known American Buddhist teachers suddenly becoming Christians. These are not necessarily mistakes on their individual journeys, just less wise than it might be. As we learn to become still, sitting quietly, the traumas of our lives surface. That is the universal formulae grounded in human biology. For people raised in the Christian West this often, though not always, will include a confrontation with the religion of one’s ancestors.

I am not interested in some abstract theological argument in which people are concerned which of these traditions, Christianity or Buddhism, is “right.” I am concerned with how healing trauma takes place. Creeds can soothe the mind of a convert for awhile but their possessive glow always wears off eventually. We are concerned with a change of heart that lasts a lifetime. We are looking for something that slams the door once and for all on the power of the suicidal impulses instilled within people wounded by abuse.

For many people engaged with issues of world religion and comparative mythology the Christianity of today is a tradition that seems to lack depth. People who study the philosophy of the East are left wondering why the sacred books of the West seem to speak on the level of nursery tales, lacking psychological sophistication. For many people in the West those who talk most about jesus are seen to be little more than smug and shallow people who are moved by any number of psychological needs to push their religion – except compassion. For every Mother Teresa or Desmond Tutu we seem to get 10,000 bible thumping fundamentalists coming out of the Western traditions, obsessively elitist and emotionally cruel. Reason sticks with evidence and as it was once said, by their fruit you will know them. We as a society have seen a lot of bad fruit.

Christianity in the West has all but forgotten its own contemplative traditions. As it is often understood and taught, it lacks real respect for the mystical states of consciousness inherent in the religious search (which provide the bridge between psychological science and religious faith), it has a poor grasp of the role its tales of magic and miracles plays in our dreaming and waking minds, and, perhaps most alarming, has been transformed into a farce by TV preachers and those of the “jesus meek and mild” camp or, even worse, converted into farce by the Rambo-jesus of the Holy Warriors preparing Armageddon in his name. It’s hard to imagine that jesus ever saying “Blessed are the Peacemakers.”

In these posts we have talked about Buddhist concepts more often than Christian. This is going to shift. I was born within a Christian culture, it is what I know biologically. It gave me my mind’s most basic terms for clothing the mystery of being. This was not only due to the Santa Clause and Easter Egg traditions we have already talked about as operative in many American families. I further attended a private Episcopal school and spent considerable time meditating in chapel by my own choice. The corpus on the Cross made a profound impression on me as my young life fell apart. A love-hate relationship with the religion of my society has accompanied me ever since. I want to talk about what I’ve learned over the years watching myself and others deal with religious issues, Christian and otherwise. For those like myself who took Christianity in with their mother’s milk, and took it seriously, it is my hope that something I say will resonate and maybe aid your own relationship with the mythological clothing over the mysteries with which you were born. I think it has a treasure trove of profundities most people have never been taught to see. For those from cultures that are not Christian, I hope that this exploration might provide pointers for what to look for in their own traditions. We share the same biology. We share the same task of needing to make peace with what we were given.

No location on the planet is going to be left unaffected by the changing climate, sixth extinction, and the rest of the baleful bag of bad heading our way. Everywhere this wrestling with who and what we are as a species is going to be taking place, and taking place under triage conditions. It may go better if people of goodwill, religious or otherwise, can find one voice. Earth needs each person of every faith in this, her hour of trial, teaching clearly that real spirituality starts by first showing respect for the reality of what we have been given. We are not going to skillfully address the ecological crisis without addressing the need to better understand the human psyche which created the crisis. That seems to be the task. From the cave paintings on to the Louvre, we have been inescapably involved in the evolution of that realm that is as real as rocks in its own way, yet populated with the angels and demons, the as-if beings who populate the metaphorical world where we find, or fail to find, meaningful human lives.

Dogmatically insisting our metaphors are something other than what they are displays a dangerous lack of faith in that which is real. It lead to the dangerous willingness to sacrifice the real for fictions which we see all around us today. What ails us is the accelerating collapse of stable ecological systems at our own hands. We are being told that the solution for what ails us is accelerated economic growth, isolationism, war, patriotic racism, and a return to “old fashion religion.” Those who have become mindful of ecology disagree. We see other factors at play and believe other solutions are needed.

I was taught to meditate in the Vedanta fashion when I was five or six years old; the interplay of Eastern and Western thought has always been a part of the world I have known. It was decades ago that I learned what the inner parts of the Christian Mysteries mean to me and made my peace with that. I would not want to mislead any of my readers on this point by not mentioning that I am also a card carrying Catholic. I am “legally” able to attend Mass, the West’s signature symbolic ritual. It has been in the interplay between mysticism and church, atheism and faith, religion and philosophy – both Eastern and Western – that most of what has helped me deal with my own abuse has taken place. There is an element of ambiguity in all this which I have been taught over the years to see as a source of creativity, not something that needs to be escaped. I keep my mandala open in the eastern direction. Life is large, I am large, the people I know and the people I love are large – too large to be put into neat little dogma boxes.

The complete mandala is three dimensional so can only be seen with stereoscopic vision. “A conscious field plus its object felt or thought of plus an attitude towards the object plus a sense of a self to whom the attitude belongs,” William James writes, catching the fullness of the whole. We need to learn to see all sentient beings this way. In that spark of destiny dynamically being made real, we see the sacred.

The determining feature for me is not an intellectual choice to uphold this or that creed so much as it is a surrender to biological facts within my experience of conscience. This is what leads me to say I am both a Buddhist and a Christian (and a religious psychologist of sorts). Actually, I don’t say that. These are only useful as labels to convey to my readers something important about my position. The labels are bridges fraught with misunderstanding between something I sense to be important within my way of thinking, and you who are graciously reading my words. When I think about myself I tend not to consider myself either, though each have earned my loyalty. I am just a human being who has been blessed with a chance to learn from some good people how to listen to my own broken heart. Here, in the coincidence of opposites, is where I found the truth, the way, and the life, and whatever healing I have known or been able to share, old fool that I am.

One of the things I have learned, sometimes the hard way, is not to be too carried away by enthusiasms. Young men and woman full of charisma can be found shouting assuredly of their various faiths left, right, and center in America. I have learned to be a bit more patient. I am interested in how these recommended “religious” tenants and practices bear fruit in the way people actually live their lives. The temporary fruits of the moment do not interest me much. After all, the first act of a tragedy is characterized by everything seemingly going well. Show me the men and women of your faith in their 70s or 80s and let me see if their hands touch me with the unmistakable warmth of compassion and their eyes glow with a delight for life and peaceful gratitude – or if they are just frightened, terrified to face the end and struggling to keep the ego-persona in place that denies how deeply the fear has effected them.

The point of mythology is that these stories are larger than we are as individuals. Just as life is. The religious mythologies, in particular, display all the necessary contours of that which is of the psyche, yet larger than the individual personality. Countless people before us found these stories important and saw to it that they were handed on. Long after we are gone the same stories will still be around, continuing to influence and form the human experience for better and for worse. That which is larger than ego does not conform itself to its beck and call. The strong streak of independence in the West have left Americans thinking they are free to choose any mythology that fits their fancy, or none at all. Some even dare to twist them into any shape that seems to serve their immediate needs. Let me repeat: the point of mythology is that these stories are larger than we are as individuals. This is the mistake fundamentalists of all stripes make: they put god in their pocket and become all together too chummy with the great emptiness from which the ground of being flows. It is not wise to make god your personal servant, mafia don, publicity hound, the core attraction of your business plan, or the personal guarantee of your government’s foreign policy.

Christianity, it turns out, is a very dangerous religion to misunderstand.

We will begin talking about this next week.

Dead Poet Societies

“Deep is the well of the past, shall we not call it bottomless?
Indeed we should, if – in fact, perhaps only if – the past subjected to our remarks and inquires is solely that of humanity, of this enigmatic life-form that comprises our own naturally lusty and preternaturally wretched existence and whose mystery is quite understandably the alpha and omega of all our remarks and inquires, lending urgency and fire to all our speech, insistence to all our questions. And yet what happens is this: the deeper we delve and the farther we press and grope into the underworld of the past, the more totally unfathomable become those first foundations of humankind, of its history and civilization, for again and again they retreat farther into the bottomless depths, no matter to what extravagant lengths we may unreel our temporal plumb line…”
Thomas Mann, Joseph and His Brothers

 

This post continues our discussion of religious child abuse. It also touches on the horrors of sexual abuse by priests as it is experienced by their victims. It may not be suitable for all readers.

There are two videos linked to this essay. The first shows the power of mytho-poetic imagery to serve life, the second shows how it can be used to destroy its joy. The second one contains explicit adult material and deals with what I consider the truly demonic, namely abuses around our sexual identity carried out in the name of god. It also hints at where healing might come from in these situations. Such material can trigger people who have spiritual abuse in their past but it can also aid their healing by giving voice to that which had been gagged. Please use wisdom in deciding if viewing this material is right for you. I do not share it lightly. We are discussing these things because, I believe, they are highly relevant to the social and spiritual aspects of our ecological crisis and the ongoing collapse of our integrity and infrastructure it entails.

Stories of hero quests are meant to inspire us. Tales of dragons slain and mountains climbed let us know that those who went before us were able to overcome the evils of their day and that they were able to obtain the vision of the mountaintop. Stories told to the young inspire them to find their own voice. The poets have cast a net of words around those elements of life that move us immediately and directly, bringing tears to our eyes, groans to our chests, and, at times, laughter midst amazement at it all. They act as guides for the in-between places where soul or psyche is found. It exists midway between the physicality of the body and its emotions, and the mercurial thoughts and intuitive insights our nervous systems host. Poetry uses words to evoke images and images to evoke words not of the mind but of the chest, words that echo as if resonating from the well of deep time.

The dreams of the heart, those that inspire us emotionally, are able to encompass their audacious desires only in tales of magic and miracles. Reason knows miracles are so highly improbable as to be, for all intents and purposes, impossible. Yet, when the heart talks it evidently needs these images drawn from the imagination since we find them in all times and in all places humans have been. This is how the heart guides reasoning, aiding it in where and how it should be applied. We have seen with the work of neuroscientist Damasio that emotion is necessary to reasoning well, providing the reason for reasoning. Or, as Pascal had it, “The heart has reasons reason does not know.” Faith is the idea that reason can justifiably trust in these things greater than itself.

Robin Williams’ masterpiece, The Fisher King, turns a compassionate artist’s eye to the issue of healing the mind traumatized by the violence of the modern world. Respecting the gravity of soul, it necessarily also respects the role of images in the mind of the victim, alienated from consensual reality, lost in their pain. The movie explores the dangers of mixing poetry and prose, that which is a metaphor and that which is literal and does so without losing sight of the ultimate healing such dangerous moves by the psyche are seeking by insisting on leading the personality towards wholeness. This earns Robin a special place in my book. I’d like to let him speak for the poets rightly understood. Here is a fine video that captures the work of the poets as a guide for the young, indeed, for all those who remain young at heart to the day they die. It is based on his work in Dead Poets Society.

“Carpe Diem, seize the day, gather your rose buds, while you may.”

This balance between the head and the heart, which poetry accentuates, is the essential challenge of a human life. In that balance we find our middle way, a way that gives the proper due to both our thoughts and our feelings. The head or the reasoning ability provides us with powerful truth seeking tools. We have the ability to recognize what data is relevant, how a theory can explain what we find, and how to clearly communicate those findings with others. Mathematics serves that clarity and allows us to make bridges and skyscrapers that do not fall down and all the other boons engineering provides. It also allows us to communicate the degree of our unknowing and confidence. This proves to be critical in both sciences and engineering as well as in decision making and the rational creation of public policy. The heart, on the other hand, gives us our arts. The theater, and today movies, can share stories with us that speak so intimately to our own unique needs and dreams that they become touchstones for the rest of our lives. This is what happens to people of faith with their core religious story. This is one of the powers of stories and has been understood in the West since at least the ancient Greeks. With the help of math we are able to build a bridge that will not fall down under the weight of cars and trucks. With the help of stories we build an inner bridge between the person we are today and the person we want to become tomorrow, one that will not fall down under the weight of daily disappointments and setbacks.

For many people in the past, and many alive today, the most important story of all in their lives are the ones that tell of their religious faith. Faith, broadly understood, is what the poets are concerned with. Poetry involves intellectual elements placed in service of a soul-task. Words are used to point beyond words to the actual experience of living unmediated by cognitive filters. Training in faith we slowly learn to become comfortable in the unknown and unknowable. We learn we need not fear that which will forever exceed the intellect alone. It is assuredly true that the unexamined life is not worth living, the philosophers correctly  insist that their love of wisdom is an essential ingredient of a life lived well. The poets, however, remind the philosophers that a life not lived fully has little material worth examining!

Here is the point. Carl Jung insisted that he found religious imagery in the dreams of his patients. He found that imagery was indispensible to the healing of the psyche. This means minds subjected to spiritual abuse suffer a confusion at a very profound level. Images of god, Self, light, angels, beauty and truth are normally bringers of peace, strengthening the mind of the dreamer for the tasks of maturity and responsibility the day brings. Kids with a healthy faith find that the religious imagery bubbling up in their dreams is supporting their efforts at learning and growing into their own unique selves. Kids who have suffered under the wickedness of spiritual abuse do not have this foundation on which to build a life. Nightmares dominate such kids night lives and the repression of them steals the energy they could of used to deal more skillfully with their day lives. For them all the imagery associated with religious thought has been marred, perverted from its life serving causes and turned into a death dealing one. The ideas of god, devil, heaven, hell, love, compassion, and on and on – all are no longer sources of strength but triggers for re-traumatizing. Spiritual abuse is a uniquely twisted form of abuse in the sense that to heal from trauma typically requires the strength found in a new, adult chosen faith. This is very hard for those who have been cut to the quick by the churches.

REASON – emotion
reason – EMOTION

In the Calculus and other such endeavors we shift our attention towards the reasoning end of the reason-emotion spectrum. Big reason, little emotion is as far into objectivity as we embodied beings reach. In myth and poetry our attention shifts towards the emotional end of the reason-emotion spectrum. Big emotion, little reason is as far into subjectivity as we embodied beings reach. Beauty and harmony lead the mathematician towards truth, these are the emotional elements playing their role. A logical consistency within the altered physics of a mythology remains as the rational element, giving coherence to the overall picture images.

The real environment in which a human being will live out every day of their lives consists of the rather mundane. Graveyards and gardens, toilets and supper, dirty dishes and mended fences are everywhere. There are moments, however, when it is all transformed and we are struck by awe unutterable. Tales of magic and miracles exist side by side with this human experience, capturing something of the wholeness evolved from this mix of the mundane and the numinous. The tales help us by clothing what it is like at times to experience our experiences, to be authentically human. Myth and poetry agree it feels like magic when we fall in love, that it feels like god heals us when we are comforted in the midst of our afflictions, it feels like we could fly over mountains, feed the hungry, and comfort all the afflicted when we are filled with the flowing powers of life. Myth and poetry are not interested in expressing absolutes, they point beyond themselves for their referents. We in the modern world have been taught to dismiss these referents because we are taught that how a person might feel about things is basically worthless. We are smart in so many ways, and yet we are astonishingly symbolically illiterate. There is something very, very real being expressed in these stories, something we could grasp no other way.

The abused are moving through this mundane world with a burden. They carry the effects of trauma in their bodies, an anchor of the truth about their own life stories and yet, before it is healed through compassionate acceptance, it also acts as the milestone by which they can drown. In sorrow. In confusion. In fear. Hurting people seek relief. There are not many life enhancing reliefs to be found in a culture dominated by the idea of keeping people in need of endless purchasing for acquiring status and self worth. The hurt who survive are able to find some immediate relief, be it in drugs, sex or strange religion, that at least lets them get through the long night. In these ways “they too can be ‘Heroes’, if just for one day.” That the immediate reliefs bring their own problems is just more of the complicated nature of abuse psychology. Without the immediate relief most of these victims would be worse off, they would be dead.

Healing involves addressing the burden. This involves facing terror, the Guardian on the Threshold that holds the “thought that dare not be thought, the feeling that dare not be felt.” Because the victim has been taught by their abuse some form of the “it’s for your own good” lie, they also believe, at some level, that they deserved whatever abuse they suffered. To face the terror involves seeing clearly they did not. One gives up fantasies of pure evil spawned by the supernaturally powerful devil of our stories, for the tragic truth that there are only people – and the things they do to one another. It is terrifying to look on the face of evil. But it is something the human being can survive.

Abuse is basically one single lesson, though it is taught in the different forms we see abuse taking: sexual, physical, emotional, and spiritual. That one lesson is that “I, great being that I am, is why the universe exists. You, little being that you are, exist only to serve my whims. Fail to please me and I will wipe you out.” Playing ventriloquist with jesus as your meat puppet doesn’t change things one bit.

What kind of home do you live in? The Logical Spectrum of Existence
evil creation by an evil god — neutral creation — good creation by a good god
H.P. Lovecraft’s Gnostic “piping idiot god” – ? – Bible’s “and god saw that it was good”

The abused need to learn that the universe that sick human beings taught them they live in is not the universe as it actually is. They have come to believe that existence is at its root one of unpredictable violence, where good and innocence is always victimized, man’s reasoning is powerless to make any real sense of an existence defined by paradox, and human emotions can only confuse the mind further by blinding it to the double binds it is forced to believe. They live in a world of madness, one created by an evil god: the view of the unhinged psyche. Healing cuts through this image of existence, delivers the victim from the hypnotic prison in which the abusers had placed their soul.

Most all forms of abuse are carried on by people who twist their own hearts and minds into convoluted rationalizations for their pain causing behavior. It is a rare human being that wants to be evil for its own sake, a very small percentage of the race is so fully psychopathic. Most evil is committed by people who are quite convinced that what they are doing is, in some perverted way, serving the greater good. Something gets twisted along the way, turned upside down, turned the wrong way around. Now I happen to think that as part of the healing process the wounds from these very acts of evil are turned into strengths of character, though never fully losing their poisonous sting. When healing happens, IF healing happens, this transformation is something the divine, the Self, god or one’s angel brings about. This is what Carl Jung was at pains to point out, that something greater than ego is involved, that there is a reality to the psychological realm where demons and angels dwell. Healing is not something human beings have any right to count on. It does not give the abusive room to dismiss the full cruelty of their actions. Such healing, this placing of crowns where there had been scars, is not something that always happens. Many lives just stay messed up, viciously hurting themselves and others until the day some tragic death, at their own hand or another’s, finally brings them peace.

How did all this come about? How is it that the human mind can be so deformed that existence itself becomes too painful to bear? What is the root of this sickness of the soul? I think the root cause is reading myth and poetry literally. Those who do so betray the love and concern of our ancestors. We are not powerless in the face of this confusion, not by a long shot. A single rational thought can dynamite a whole edifice of confusion and lies. It doe not matter how colorful its facade might be painted or how tempting the seducers of false certainties might be. Once you know you know, you know. And there is no turning back.

Something like this one-way event happened when the sexual abuse scandal hit the Catholic church. It is not just that these things happened but it is in how they were covered up and allowed while the princes of the church were busy hobnobbing with the rich and powerful. Humpty Dumpty cannot be put back together again. It seems to me that history is leading the West in the direction of St. Francis’ vision of a poor church mixed in with liberation theology’s witness to the truth that Amnesty International knows about empire and torture, all spiced with a repentant attitude of sackcloth and ashes. The Abomination of Desolation has been placed in the Holy of Holies. The central symbolic institution of the West for the last 2,000 years has been corrupted, or at least attacked, at its core. It is now The Next Day. If church spokesman in the future put up justifications for holy nuclear war, it will only be more fuel for the fire that has already been kindled.

We are left wondering what might be happening to the reality of these psychological symbols within all of us who inherited this mytho-poetic tradition. The reality of the psyche and the symbolism by which it feeds is involved in an earthquake within Christianity. That reality is not separate from the ecclesiastical institutions but not wholly subsumed in them either. They leak, as it were, into the public square. The United States is not alone in suffering strange politics due, at least in part, to reversals in religious symbolism. The scandals in Catholicism and the hardening of fundamentalism among the Evangelicals seen in the United States correspond to the earthquakes we see in the other monotheisms: the rigid political Zionization of Judaism and the appeal to violent Jihad among Muslims. Nor does the East escape the quake. We all live in societies inspired by dead poets.

A Pound of Flesh

“Throughout his life, Trump has been obsessed with nukes. In 1984, he claimed that he could single-handedly force Russia to accept a nuclear truce, telling a reporter: “It would take an hour and a half to learn everything there is to learn about missiles … I think I know most of it anyway.” In 1990, he told Playboy: “I’ve always thought about the issue of nuclear war; it’s a very important element in my thought process,” adding that the assumptions behind the US’s long tradition of non-use were ‘bullshit’.”
Paul Mason, For Trump and the US right, breaking the nuclear taboo has always been thinkable

“…the deepest human fear is to face the anarchies of personal madness or civil breakdown. That is why the urge for lawful order stands at the bifurcation leading either to imposed tyrannous rules, or to harmonies of inquiry, self-knowledge, and compassionate identification.
In tyranny, a fundamental despair over the possibility of lawful order in the universe leads to an attempt to master it, to become the law, to dispense fate, to externalize pain rather than be subject to it. But when lawful order matures, the laws of the living organism of the universe are understood and counted on to extend through every boundary, to reach everywhere; or to originate everywhere. The same unfolding rules regulate my heart and the stars. There is only one place. There is no person-like being who sees everything with a giant eye; but each event billows upward out of nonbeing with a sovereignty that marks out the paths of electrons as well as the orbits of galaxies. The simple comfort of a law-giving father can be relinquished, when lawful order brings awareness and comprehensibility to an otherwise improbable and pell-mell world. Dispassionate, accurate observation of reality reveals an infinitely layered and exponentially complex order everywhere. The sense of lawful order is the sense that there is something behind it all, that there is something to it all. “An invisible and subtle essence is the Spirit of the whole universe. That is reality. That is the truth. THOU ART THAT.”
Paul R. Fleischman, The Healing Zone: Religious Issues in Psychotherapy

“He is not the God of the dead but of the living. You are greatly mislead.”
Mark 12.27 NAB, italics added

 

This post continues our discussion of religious child abuse. It also touches on the horrors of nuclear war. It may not be suitable for all readers.

Dr. Fleischman’s point about tyranny as a lack of faith in law and order is crucial, as is the point about there being a bifurcation exactly here, a choice to be made. This ability to believe in a universe of law and order is what is destroyed in victims of religious child abuse. Those who have been religiously terrorized as children form an evidence based belief that the cosmos does not contain a core of dependable law and order. They have experienced deceit in those society holds reverently as its main truth tellers, they have experienced the death of morality at the hands of those society holds as the pinnacle of ethics. Justice in the courts and fairness in social relations never come to these kids. The powerful remain powerful, almost untouchable as the 2015 Best Picture Spotlight made clear. As a result the hurt now live in a world where human facades fail to fool their broken hearts. The preacher going on and on about how god is love might just as well be from another universe entirely. The preacher going on about the god of love on Sunday and raping them on Monday is a monster that calls into question the existence of meaning in existence itself. Just imagine, if you will, seeing the universe from their eyes. The Western idea of an all knowing, all loving god who is all powerful but chose not to intervene does not answer their needs. So many of these victims die on our streets unacknowledged: overdosed with needles in their arms, hunted down by the diseases of prostitution, driven to suicide, murder or madness by the “saints.” It is in their name I offer these speculations.

These discussions are going to turn their focus towards Western religious traditions. The Biblical influence on the development of arts and letters in the cultures of the West is pervasive and remains so. It is not possible to understand the ecological crisis we are in without also understanding the psychology of people that allowed it to develop this far and are allowing it to proceed at its ever accelerating pace. Each culture will need to examine its roots as the maturation of the psyche under the tutelage of crisis continues. I absorbed Christianity with my mother’s milk, I am sure others are making similar investigations into their religious traditions in the same way. The silent abused child is silent no more the world over.

These comments around religious abuse and the misuse of Christian symbolism are offered in the spirit of compassionate speculation. Many of my acquaintances are people who, like myself, were hurt very badly in their childhood by the misuse of Christianity or more broadly, the mytho-poetic symbolism of Western religiosity. For those who were tortured and terrified by the followers of a perverted form of Jesus Christ, clarification from the psychologists’ position are going to be offered to aid healing by, hopefully, increasing understanding. This is valuable in itself. There is, however, a larger relevance to these speculations for the culture at large as well.

The issues brought to a head in this type of child abuse are the same issues that are driving formerly Christian countries crazy. These countries are becoming less and less able to bring wisdom to bear on the real problems and challenges they confront. They turn towards fantasy, seduced by magical thinking. Everywhere we see these formerly Christian cultures giving up on the ideals of Christian charity when it comes to public discussion and policy making. Even hypocritical lip service to these ideals is becoming rare among their leaders as they flirt with the older ideals of the strong man where might makes right and woman and children and members of other races are no more than slaves, trophies and property. Religion, in these countries, has become a nice-to-have but hardly necessary component of societies that seek to increase their economic might above all else. The old fashion Christian ideals of helping the poorest of the poor, orphans, and widows has been placed on life support.

Against this tide of secularism defined as neo-liberal values and consumer capitalism, a backlash of Christian fundamentalism has risen and taken positions of power. Christianity is being redefined as unquestioning obedience to male authority by those who “know” it is the “only true religion.” Satan, by this narrative, is everywhere and everywhere winning. The only thing to do is bring back the days of Puritan Law and Order, Christian Reconstructionism along Old Testament lines. This is highly unlikely under current circumstances so racial and class differences are being used to divide and conquer the population, shattering the social contracts. This social and psychological fragmentation serves the interests of fascism – government run by corporations instead of citizens. Populations confused about the wisdom in their own inherited religious traditions are cut off from their cultural roots. They are easily persuaded they have found a new purpose when they are united by their leaders against a common enemy. They can drown painful anomie in patriotism. When the hot wars start, all the painful social inequalities are set aside in the rally around the flag.

Let’s make these speculations a bit more concrete. A few days ago the official spokesman for the United States military used a very carefully crafted phrase to state that the US “is not looking to the total annihilation” of North Korea, but “we have many options to do so.” This is fear mongering. As hypnotists know, the unconscious mind does not deal in negative propositions. (‘Don’t think of an elephant’ doesn’t work in dream land.) When that phrase was planted in our minds the little word “not” was stripped off. At some semi-conscious level images of a whole population consumed in flames took place in every educated mind that heard that phrase. It might even be that the night after hearing these words most Americans dreamed a shaman dream, one full of BBQ’d flesh and beastly Eucharistic meals. Dreams most people would not be likely to remember on waking. Why would we do this? Because warriors become great again by eating the flesh of their enemies, one of the oldest ideas in the history of ideas, one still very much alive in the unconscious mind. Because we are a democracy we share in the responsibility for the actions of our leaders. As citizens we understand this on a very fundamental level and can be expected to process it in our dreams. Because this is how the human mind works, trying out various scenarios in our imagination to aid our ability to make good choices in our waking life. This nuclear scenario as a possible future was rather forcefully implanted in our minds by the use of that phrase “total annihilation.” This proposed act has such large potential ramifications on the probability of the United States future survival, that it became impossible to ignore by the mind’s scenario spinner that lives within each of its citizens.

However that may be, it is important to recognize how disproportionate the threatened response was to the provocation. This is a classic sign of psychopathology. Granted we said we don’t want to do it, just like any bully convinced of their own self-righteousness might say “don’t make me hit you.” This is all very dangerous. We need to be damn sure we are not goaded into flippantly using nuclear weapons in response to hurt pride and little else. The rest of the world could then make a strong argument that we are too dangerous to not be placed in some sort of quarantine. We would stand accused as the only country to have used these terrible weapons.

Parts of the unconscious mind are rather primitive in their ideas of justice. Purely illustrative, lets indulge for a moment in the bizarre world of fully distributive justice. But first a word or two for why, to set the context. I think there is an element of real evil in the escalation of threats around using nuclear weapons that is taking place on the world’s stage just now. I think that cause and effect, karma if you like, might somehow really matter in the ongoing effort to avoid World War III, which all people of goodwill have been involved in, at least in their hearts, since 1945. It is something I hope every reader will spend some time seriously contemplating. What if, just for example, nuclear weapons are going to be used again on earth six months from now. If you knew this was going to happen, would it change anything about how you live today? Might it change your contemplations and prayers? Would it change what you have the courage to talk about with your friends? Might it make the easy, flippant answers we normally give about the satanic majesty of our arsenals ring a bit hollow?

Here, presented more in the spirit of poetry, dark and dismal, than in the spirit of prose, is a back of the envelope version of distributive justice. The scenario is that the president of the United States presses the red button in a few months and brings “total annihilation” to North Korea. We avoid all the real world complications in an effort to get to exactly what was implied in the fear mongering phrase used. Because citizens of the United States live in a democracy it must be said that our fingers would also be on that button, at least in some ethical sense. But how much guilt should each of us rightly be assigned? This is the kind of question the human mind goes to work on, and it can become obsessive. Just ask any concentration camp survivor. Distributive justice is a first attempt at finding some rational answer that will satisfy the mind. That it is wholly inadequate to satisfy the heart will become obvious.

The existing population of North Korea is 25.37 million people. The average body weight in Asia is 127.2 lbs. Multiply these together and you find the pounds of Asian flesh being targeted. There are 323.1 million citizens of the United States. Divide the total US population into the total pounds of Asian flesh to find the distributed justice allocation for each of us. It works out to be just about 10 lbs of BBQ’d human flesh for each.

I present these ideas about the death of charity and this admittedly bizarre calculation as evidence that the meaning of the Western Christian tradition has been sorely misused and misunderstood. I believe, like all legitimate traditions of all peoples, that there is an element of inescapable truth about the human condition within Christianity  – and a trap for those who would misuse it. It is what we are going to be exploring by contrasting that life affirming aspect of Christian religious thought with this other tradition, this one of Rambo Jesus born from those who would flip the crucified one upside down and turn the cross of Christ into the sword of Damocles, the sword of nuclear wrath.