Street Theology

Spectrum of Possibility for the nature of existence:
evil creation by an evil god — neutral creation — good creation by a good god

We have seen how the traumatized have a brainbody that has been taught to believe in a universe ruled by monsters. Reasoning is evidence-based and the evidence for those who have been abused has been clear as hell, literally. A move towards atheism, for these haunted people, is actually a move towards healing. It can provide a light-heartedness to their days, a space for some breath and freedom in which they can try to make their own lives into something they can enjoy despite the terrors of the past. This is denied them while they live condemned to carry the burden their torturers injected in them. As long as this destructive burden remains they sense, quite physically, that who they are as individual personalities are flawed mistakes, unworthy of existence, the universe’s trash properly punished by a cruel and vicious god. Atheism is a serious improvement to such a point of view. They are better off writing a Dear God letter. The godless meaninglessness is more acceptable to the human heart than the trauma god of spite and cruelty.

Perhaps the rise of science over the last half millennium is a collective compensation of sorts. It is through the scientific lens that we are able to comprehend the molecular nature of our earth and our own biology. It is through this lens that we encounter deep time and deep space. It is through this lens that all people of goodwill are being asked if their “spirituality” extends far enough to disrupt the road to ecological collapse and nuclear war we are currently on. All this high talk of god and gods, virtues and faith, churches and mosques, temples and relics, is not going to matter one bit to our progeny if it proves itself incapable of protecting our children from the greedy and short sighted among us. Is there a future for the human species far beyond 2100? I believe there is but it worries me. If you are able to answer that too easily, if you are sure things are going to work out ok, you are either ignorant of the science or caught up in magical thinking.

To shift in the direction of a neutral creation it helps if the intellect can begin to imagine a good creation by a good god. This takes training in faith. The evidence of the earth’s splendors and wonders is the teasing thread by which such hopes are kept alive. The way they are most intimately manifest to our consciousness is through the chemistry of our bodies. If a person is struggling under the evil god view, their body might very well seek out chemical enhancements so that they too might have a few moments of feeling good, feeling like most people who were not tortured as children feel much of the time. For example, the use of psychedelics, as dangerous as they are for the personality and potentially for a person’s sanity, do show the bodymind undeniable evidence that there is more going on in this life than initially meets the eye. The unabused typically understand this immediately in their bodyminds due to the love they have known. Love for them has provided nutritious meaning to their human experience, but this avenue was cut off for the tortured. Opioid drugs, on the other hand, are offering hurting people a more direct escape from pain; instead of visions it offers luminous sleep free of nightmares. These few moments of escape from the gnawing guilt that is destroying their lives is purchased at a high price, the price of slavery to a desire for the drug. It takes the place of the desire for a sleep free of nightmares we call the paradise waiting us on the other side of death.

The bliss these chemical means offer might be the lesser light but it is bliss. It can keep the bodymind alive because it provides alternative evidence to that of the abusive events. They show undeniably, and at the level of physiology at which the abusive scars exist, that some aspects of the universe can also bring delight and pleasure. The lesser pleasures the non-abused are able to find in eating, conversation, and sex are not capable of penetrating the inner defenses those who were hurt had to erect to protect the preciousness inside. They can pierce this character armor temporarily by using these chemical props. “And the shame was on the other side, Oh we can beat them, forever and ever. Then we can be heroes, just for one day” David Bowie sang in Heroes. Those involved with hard drugs are contemplating suicide. Death, after all, is where the use of hard drugs are leading a person. “We could be lying, so you better not stay” Bowie went on to observe in the same song. This applies to the world too. Here we all are, at the peak of our fossil fueled industrialized heroics as we roar through our landscapes sitting in our magic chairs (thanks Kunstler for the image) and fly through the air in our steel birds. As life devoted to GDP grows ever more thin and meaningless we too are toying with suicide collectively. Our drugs of choice are no longer keeping the shame away.

What is it that religion might offer such broken people that can stand equally real in this fight for their souls? The chemistry reveals wonders but not happiness. The “I told you so” will not help the broken and the Pollyanna approach will not impress. A cheap “all things work out for the best,” offered by someone never tortured in their childhood, is just heaping more coals on the heads of the abused. That evil can be turned to good is another thing entirely. The abused want to know, if there is a god like you say their is, where was my Holy Guardian Angel when the torturers had their way with me? The fundamentalist has disguised the god of love and vulnerability as an all powerful wizard. Such a god can give no answer to the abused child’s question.

Let me illustrate exactly what I mean. There is a teaching among some of the fundamentalists about chastity that I recently heard. Women teach girls that their virginity is like a stick of gum. Once it has been chewed, well, who else would want to eat it? If we look at this type of teaching from the innocent point of view it seems to just be making a dramatic point about how important chastity can be to maintain one’s self respect (setting aside for now the overtones of patriarchy owning women and selling their virginity for social status). How do you think the girl in that Sunday school class whose father has already taken her sexual innocence through incest hears such a teaching? This is what the Lord God, creator of all things and all powerful wizard, thinks of her inner worth?

I think this all too typical goody-goody preaching is little more than Gnosticism. It is another sex-is-evil message that seems to permeate all the Christian influenced traditions in our time. We really do not seem to think that the marriage bed is holy, that the deep time engine of evolution we experience in our crotch is god’s doing. We think it is the devil. We are now experiencing the biosphere, ruled as it is by the ways of sexual and natural selection, as a place unworthy of us. We seem to no longer sense our place in the real world, out beyond our man-made artifacts, as beautiful and worth protecting at all costs. In a nutshell: the ecological crisis is a manifestation of a bad theology. Though science taught natural selection as a neutral universe view, our anti-sex baggage did not let us hear it that way. We have come to believe the devil rules the world, that the devil was the creator of our bodies, our flesh and blood. The unashamed display of flowers and farm animals is banished from our minds in our false sense of human virtue and nobility. It returns from its repression in our culture’s pervasive gonzo pornography. It is not wrong to appreciate the sexual beauty all around us, it is in fact honoring how we are made. Whatever happened to “Mathew, Mark, Luke and John, Bless the bed I lie upon” ?

Faith, in my view, is not a cognitive trick. It is not a unnatural belief in something that contradicts reason and emotion and needs to be upheld by a blind act of will (more accurately fear) or obedience (allowing ourselves the luxury of the excuse ‘just following orders’). Faith, as we are going to use the term, is the whole orientation of the bodymind to the universe as it is actually experienced. Ego cannot fool the dreaming mind for what we do we carry in our bones. What makes the faith journey such a challenge is that the intellect needs to accompany the heart every step of the way. This is not to say that we can think our way out of our ordeals but that we cannot get out of them without thinking. This is where the modern world’s lack of faith is most evident, right here in the war between our hearts and our heads. Our emotions as compassionate mammals are at war with our thoughts as ruthless capitalists because we have allowed “its just business” to rule all of our practical affairs.

So how might we use intellect to image our way towards faith in a good god? In Dr. Carl Jung’s Memories, Dreams, Reflections he writes that when his father, a Lutheran preacher, tried to explain the meaning of the Christian conception of god as a trinity of persons, that he gave up and said he could not make heads or tales of it. That is sad really. I do not see the trinity teaching as gobbledygook. Out on the street where the lost are in need of healing and the nuclear bombs are being built, it is symbolic dynamite. Nor do I think what it has to teach is exclusively “Christian.” I think it is “Catholic” in the sense of the non-exclusive, universal catholicism each of us participates in through our shared experience of human flesh and blood.

“God” is the word we use to indicate the ground of being, what some Buddhists call emptiness. It is the source from which all that is real flows forth and is sustained. Each of us has immediate communion with this ground of being, it is the source of what we are as well. Human beings approach the ground of being as persons. It becomes very important to us, as individuals, whether or not this ground of being is personal or impersonal. Let’s put this another way. When we are really still and open to the rest of existence outside our own skins, we cannot help but notice that much of it is impersonal. Most of what exists consists of so-called inanimate matter. The vast emptiness of space and the massive stars and galaxies showing up here and there within it is something every mind will need to struggle with, if only in our dreams. What can it all mean? Here on earth we see rivers, clouds, and mountains, all inanimate and larger than the bodies living on and among them. They all outlast the little creatures. Is it, as science suggests, a purely random accident that life arose? Is the personal point of view, by which life always and everywhere and only manifests itself, an epiphenomenon? Is my existence no more than a happy accident occurring as a side effect of self-reproducing molecules full of sound and fury yet indicating nothing? More to the point, we want to know ‘does my life matter?’ Or really most to the point, ‘do the lives of those I love matter?’ Is love real? When we are in times of psycho-spiritual crisis we are watching love die within and around us. Ego is unable to pull itself up by its own bootstraps. It’s own self-deception and the deceptions of others does not fool it anymore. In crisis, the lie and liars stand exposed.

A life lived constantly haunted by a bodily fear of death and spiritual fear of damnation is not a well lived life. Such a bodymind has been poisoned in what we today generally refer to as PTSD. Healing comes, if it comes, by a shift in something deeper than the ego can reach. No such suffering human can simply will themselves to health. Ego has been given evidence that it should not trust – not life, not other human beings, not god. It must be given evidence to the contrary, what we call an encounter with the divine.

The Christian trinity is the teaching that the ground of being has a personal realm within it. It is saying that the universe of the inside that we experience as consciousness is just as real and inherent in existence as the particles and waves we experience on the outside. It is not saying god is a person but that the mystery of being includes personality and personhood in some fashion. The ground of being chooses to perceive itself through the medium of individuals, be they dust mites or kings. This is observable evidence. The question remains whether or not the whole thing is just an illusion. Is there any element of something really real in the manifestation of the uniqueness that is at the heart of each animate arrangement of molecules? Christian Trinitarian teaching says yes. It asserts that the ground is real, or at the least that that which makes the real seem real to us comes from the very ground of being itself. It teaches the emptiness is truth eternal, far beyond words and the grasp of thought. The ground of being includes in its “nature” the will to love, that is, to know not just one’s own being but the being of another as well. For there to be real love the other “person” cannot be just a puppet, they cannot be just an emanation or reflection, they cannot be simply a molecular machine with unusual quirks pretending to individuality. They need to be a real other person, hence the second person of the trinity. This too is what we find in the evidence of life as it is lived. We, as a person, confront everywhere other living things acting all the world as persons themselves. Though the bully’s blind eye cannot see that others are as real as they themselves are, that is the case none-the-less. The Holy Spirit, the third person of the trinity, is this love. It is the assertion that the relationship between the unique mystery of personhood and the mystery at the ground of being is a real relationship. It is not a trick with mirrors at the level of the quantum or galaxies. Nor is it a trick of solipsism consciousness condemned to eternal isolation and only pretending others exist through the illusion of the created universe. (This is a complex thought in eastern teachings. My take is that each individual recapitulates the Atman, the full human experience of being alive, in their own way. The Atman is not simply the sum of all individuals dissolved by death into a mass. This undifferentiated mass is the Atman the Buddha denied with the teachings of no-self.) Belief in the Trinitarian “god” is a recognition that in all the known universe there is nothing as special to us as the people we encounter. It draws a proper inference from the fact that the human brain is the most complex structure of matter known to exist. It has been crafted and shaped with quite some care however such crafting and shaping came to pass. It is the recognition that in the spark of light in the eyes of the living, there is a bit of divinity. “Spiritual” people are taught by life itself to always respect that light, that it contains real magic.

Explained in this way the Christian trinity is inseparable from the idea of god’s incarnation in human flesh and blood and the “sending of the spirit” among humankind. It affirms that the vastness of interstellar space is there as a necessary ingredient of our being here. It affirms the vastness of deep time as being the necessary then for there to be now. It affirms that both are needed for our ability to experience anything. Interdependence insists on it. It affirms that not just the cosmos but also that the vast multiplicity of creatures on earth are interdependently required if we are to be who and what we are. It does not affirm a cheap and easy creation for those populating the biosphere but one that requires real work, effort, and struggle. This deep time creation we are a part of cannot happen without pain; the pain of childbirth, the pain of mind birth, the pain of individuality given mortal birth. It affirms that the creation of that which is most special among all the mysteries of being is the creation of the living individuals within it. Humanity is not special because there are 7+ billion of us, we are special because each and every one of us is fascinatingly unique. When a person’s heart really understands this, they are personally at home in the cosmos. The ground of being is addressed intimately, lovingly, as father. Respect is shown to ourselves and our family, both human and animal, when we recognize the whole of existence that proceeds from emptiness as our mother. This is the womb like container in which our lives are manifest. One we worship, the other we honor. This was never meant to be a one-upmanship for men over woman but a basic metaphor of our sexual nature where one bears the star seed and the other the cosmic egg. We begin to see why Trinitarian teaching without a role for Mary, and the feminine generally with its associations with the earth, flesh and blood, is as lopsided as Carl Jung warned us about.

Death and hell are said to have lost their sting in Christianity. The faithful have trained in trusting in that which created persons as persons and mountains as mountains. When such a person returns to the ground of being in death they are reassured that, even though they are saying goodbye to all they have loved on earth, the process that brought them forth still has their best interests at heart. Now, when the ‘father’ reveals his impersonal side, as it were, in the grave dirt that welcomes our bodies back to their elemental home, there is nothing to ultimately fear. There awaits us the eternity of the beatific vision, not an eternity of torture in hell. Emptiness and nothingness are not the same thing. We faithful contemplatives have already trained in the stillness – the peace that surpasses understanding – and found it was not an interstellar abyss teeming with monsters foreign to the human heart. We found, instead, our nobility as children of god, children of universe. We find, eventually, our equivalence with any and all other created things.

Christianity teaches that god is love, a love overflowing as a free gift for all. Gnosticism, its rival heresy, in one form teaches that the god we deal with is a fool and that his creation of the universe was a mistake. The creator is an ignorant demiurge by this way of thinking and suicide is our best response to his traps of fleshy torture. In its more popular Pelagian form Gnosticism teaches that the true creator can be a loving god, but that this love must be earned or forced and if we fail to acquire such perfection we are back to dealing with a hateful god out to trip us up, kill us, and then damn us for all time. This Gnosticism holds out the deceptive hope of the child hurt by parents incapable of unconditional love. They believe that this conditional love can be earned if they can blackmail god with their virtue, good works, fasting, magical incantations, evangelism, holy wars, child sacrifices, and the whole religious bag o’ tricks. The Gnostic of either form stumbles on one simple truth. God does not love the priest and preacher one wit more than the prostitute. God does not love the abused child one wit less than the unabused child. The Gnostic wants to be able to use religion for some earthly end: to use god as a beat-stick or a checkbook, a Pez Dispenser full of blessings, or a guarantee that all will turn out right in the end, like a sic-com. (I think it is this last one that is most at fault for keeping us from responding rationally to the ecological facts.) The most dangerous thing these Gnostics disguising themselves as Christians do is turn the god image upside down, justifying their inhumanity to man by either killing for Christ or insisting that when they kill and torture others “the devil made me do it.”

“They know god exists for the devil told them so. . .” Bowie, The Next Day [after Heroes]

What religious myth can offer is the path of healing found through stillness and contemplation. In the process of the bodymind learning to be still we encounter the scars and character amour of our own personal wounds. When the bodymind does grow still the fears of death are brought to consciousness. On this path intelligence and reason can comfort the heart, for we have not been left orphans in a universe of nonsense. Such a person can celebrate the mystic wedding of their personality: the union of their spirit and their flesh. They can honestly say “yes” and “thank you” for the life they have been given to actually know. They no longer look to dreams of inhuman exaltation. With a heart broken and humble, yet lifted up, our eyes gaze on the eternity unfolding in time and find we are living, right here and right now in a sacred, or as it’s said in the West, a sacramental world.

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