“the other face of the same vice is the Pelagianism of the pious. They do not want forgiveness and in general they do not want any real gift from God either. They just want to be in order. They don’t want hope they just want security. Their aim is to gain the right to salvation through a strict practice of religious exercises, through prayers and action. What they lack is humility which is essential in order to love; the humility to receive gifts not just because we deserve it or because of how we act…”
Pope Benedict XVI, Looking at Christ: Examples of faith, hope and charity
This post continues a discussion of religious child abuse. It may not be appropriate for all readers.
So where do fundamentalists think they are getting all this magical power that they assume they have? Where do they get their assurance that they are right to wield it as they do? It might be little more than an error in the very complex development task related to learning how to speak and think in a language.
“for the letter kills, but the spirit gives life”
Have you had the experience of reading a great book, one that resonated with you and provided you with many insights that “felt” true and real? Do you recall how that effect lasted for days, maybe months or even years as it continued to influence how you think and feel about things? Books are powerful that way. I mentioned how when I first learned about fractals my way of seeing the natural world was wholly transformed for awhile. The funny thing is that for lifelong readers, as the years go by, other books will come along and have the same effect – even when they do not agree with one another or have anything to do with one another. By such means our minds are transformed. If we are lucky, we will find our own voice as we attempt to sort out for ourselves what we believe to be the true, the good, and the beautiful.
Children who are learning their numbers and the alphabet, then first learning to read and write, are in a world of wonder in which one awe seems to follow another as easily and naturally as day follows night. The power of naming things, both sensations within and objects without, provides the growing awareness with the tools it needs to filter the doors of perception and their ongoing, highly energetic flow of sensory information. Fundamentalism, it seems to me, is a flaw in this process. Words are left with a magical aura and the adult life is characterized by a belief in magical books and superstitious spells combined with a weakness for charismatic teachers that claims to have all the answers.
Fundamentalism is magic. It uses religious symbolism magically. Fundamentalists are neo-Pelagian to the extent that they are sure they can please god if they can just get the law right, the rubric right, the ritual right. Among their idols are shamans, grimoires, and incantations disguised as preachers, scriptures and prayers (did you say the born again prayer just right? It doesn’t count otherwise you know…).
Writing was said to be the gift of Thoth, the Egyptian god of magic. There is still a recognition of this in our language where the magician’s grimoire derives from grammar. Hypnotists, advertisers, and snake-oil salesmen of every stripe know all about these odd quirks of our brains and the power that words can take in our mental lives. The thing we are up against is both very simple and very profound. When we read or hear the written word, there is always an assumed authority of the authorial voice in play. It sounds, to our inner ear busily listening and interpreting the words, all-knowing.
To interpret the words we hear necessarily involves parsing them correctly and accessing their definitions correctly. One of the most tragic results of fundamentalist indoctrination of the young is that it removes the normally shared definitions of words, replacing the meaning behind them with the unique cultic interpretations. This isolates the person’s mind, literally making it impossible to accurately communicate with the person unless one adopts the cultic definitions. A mind severed from other minds, unable to communicate meaningfully because lacking in shared definitions and references, is well on its way towards madness. It is an evil thing, this unhinging of reason in the name of god.
I write all the time and struggle with the assumed authorial authority aspect of it. Yes, I think I know a few things and want to talk about them. I hope by doing so readers might recognize a bit of themselves in what I write and by sharing our innermost, find some comfort. That is as far as it goes. I am so far from all-knowing that its laughable. Yet, I cannot write a paragraph without sounding like I know what I am talking about, not just in that paragraph, but all the time. Readers who have not learned to claim equality with writers, or listeners who have not learned to claim their equal worth with the speakers of written words, are left with the impression that the author’s or speaker’s life experience must be so much better than their own. Hey, if my thoughts ran as clearly as my writing, it would be a different world inside me than what you find inside you. It does not work that way. Writing is crafted, thinking is raw.
James Joyce worked to expose the assumed authorial authority implied in using inherited words in an attempt to reveal the authority in the inspiration. The inspiration is of the living, a moment of communion, but held in clay hands.
Writing is a gift our cultural evolution uses to bind time within the human experience. I read the worries and hopes of a fifth century African bishop by spending quality time with St. Augustine’s Confessions, or speculate about truth with an ancient Greek I know as Socrates, and my innermost person communicates with the dead. I share not only thoughts but some sense of the personality who was one with those thoughts. Even though their bodily elements were long ago reabsorbed into the earth, their “spiritual” elements remain unaffected. That does really happen. It is not the ancient Pharaoh dream of magical afterlife immortality (complete with sex and servants) but, it is not nothing. This time binding, to use the perfectly descriptive term Alfred Korzybski introduced in Science and Sanity, is the only reality of the communion of saints (and sinners) the living will ever know (outside, perhaps, of visionary experience). To claim more than that is to lie.
In the written word, when it is guided by integrity and not guile, one person’s innermost touches another person’s innermost. In fact, only through the written word is it possible to achieve the most intimate cognitive sharing possible between two human beings. Spoken conversation simply cannot carry the detail and nuances that make a written work weighty. This power of words to both reveal souls to one another, and to seemingly overcome the silencing of a person upon death, can become the source of superstitious over-belief – particularly among the illiterate or those exposed to very little of the rich human heritage our libraries offer. The People of the Book have a very peculiar lesson to teach. I suggest it might most fundamentally be a lesson about books in general, rather than their contents in particular. The lesson books teach is also a lesson about authority. I suggest that those who learned to read poetry and myth aright in the past, worked hard to warn us about how the book’s inherent assumed authorial authority remains a temptation for the human mind, one that can enslave us to superstitious idolatry unless it is actively resisted. The irony is that the fright-filled mind enslaved by religious superstitions was hurt by the very means it might have used to find the freedom to, as the older way of saying it would have it, worship the living God in truth and grace.
“why seek Him among the dead? He is not here”
Let your life be the book, filled with acts of kindness and compassion, in which your neighbors may read the lost Word. In this way Your Name is written into the Book of Life. On the other hand, if you use poetry and myth to throw the book at others, judging them and condemning them in your hubris of self-satisfied certainty, you will fall. If you choose to use your Holy Books as Evil Books, you will fall just as assuredly as you will if you use Evil Books as Holy Books.
The universal experience of serious authors is that at special times there really is something of the divine, at least of the daemon, in the authorial inspiration. Sometimes a breath of inspiration comes and lifts the work above the normal channeling of an idea. It feels all the world like something bigger than our individuality were breathing the world-soul through us. In these times it feels as if a voice is almost dictating and as a writer you are but serving as a scribe for the muse. It may not be wrong to call such special work ‘inspired’ or even a work of ‘revelation.’ It would be wrong to blame it for why we choose to continue to spoil the land, air and waters of the earth, or blame it for the tragic day, if it comes, on which we poison the genetic code of earth’s deep time with our unleashed nuclear weapons.
Be that as it may, there is one thing that is true right now, today: it is wrong to cloak the Religious Abuse of Children in the threadbare deceptions and double binds that inevitably accompany those who would use the divine mystery to cloak themselves in a numinous mystique. We need to dethrone the magicians. There is a force for good that is real and powerful in the molecular world, the Word within our words as it were, which it would be wise to exalt in our own hearts above the cleverness of human wit and deception. It made the mountains, it can teach us to think like a mountain. As soon as we can do so, we find that the Church of Child Abuse was built on sand, and there is a hurricane coming.