This is what we need to address from the XTC’s Dear God song mentioned last week. “Dear God, don’t know if you noticed but, your name in on a lot of quotes in this book. Us crazy humans wrote it, you should take a look.” As mentioned last week, there is an error in the use of Holy Books we human beings are prone to due to the assumed authority of the authorial voice. When the Holy Book in question is filled with “God says” and “The Lord commands” and “Thus saith the Lord,” well, the temptation to speak for god comes with the territory. I think this is a major part of the real lesson Western religion is seeking to teach each generation that receives it, but for the most part we no longer hear it. We no longer understand that some of the examples being held up as what people did, while thinking they were righteous, have been passed down so that we will see that they were anything but. We are too easily satisfied with the surface meanings we find, which not surprisingly supports genocide, capitalism, democracy, the republican party, and wealth as the true sign of being loved by god. A preferential option for the poor, an ethic of non-violence, and finding the face of the Christ in a suffering human being instead of the Emperor does not sell as well.
American Christianity has often come across as puffed up triumphalism. Instead of seeing the face of Christ in the suffering poor, it rubs shoulders with wealth and power. It is always asking for money. The TV preachers with super-star sized egos are best known for dictating death and hell for gays, communists, democrats, Catholics, and the whole “secular” world. They have left a very bad taste in the mouth of most thinking people who value compassion. These preaching people seem to have a problem separating the tongue of the Lord from the tongue of their own desires. This is the old, very old, narcissistic magic that makes the mortal put on the airs of a god. There is always some human being in the loop on those “Thus saith the Lord” assertions. There is something about religion, the Western tradition in particular, that breeds the temptation to lord it over others in the name of God. “God must like me, I am rich and powerful,” runs the ancient ethic, one from at least the time of the Pharaohs which the Good Book was supposed to help us escape. We do not talk so blatantly but we act as if it were so when we give subservient deference to those who are destroying the earth for quarterly profits just as if they were divine beings.
He-whose-shit-does-not-stink sits on a golden toilet seat while the outcast and discarded die of malnutrition and cluster bombs. If we are in fact, as biology and ecology teach us, one interdependent family of humankind, then treating some of our brothers and sisters with such contempt, and others with such deference, is bound to not turn out well.
The modern world has been left with the husks of our mythologies and cannot seem to find their true nourishment. The problem of evil will not be lightly cast aside. As ecological collapse continues, particularly if it is made worse by nuclear war, we can expect this “theological” problem to become ever more acute. Will people be able to find the comfort of meaningful existence in their traditions? Or will the loss of soul be devastatingly alienating from what we have learned as a species over our hundreds of thousands of years?
Here is a quick thought experiment, one of thousands available. An amateur German study found there has been a decrease in winged insects over the last 30 years in Europe; they are down 75%. Since fossil fueled industrialized civilization is not changing its ways, in fact it is accelerating all the forces that likely caused this, we can rationally assume the next 30 years to be more of the same, or worse. Another 75% loss from the 25% left? And in another 30 years? Hello, is anyone awake? Some headlines are more important than others. This type of thing, for example. Though chosen as a small drop in the bucket of headlines about the ongoing ecological collapse it is, in my way of thinking, more important than the talk dominating our headlines around the tweeting of twinkle texts.
Theology is the talk of god(s). It is the realm of philosophical and existential questions as well. As mentioned when we looked at Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, the human being needs to know their own life is valuable and finds it is when it is devoted to a cause larger than itself alone. We are born to serve our communities and our land. It is our sacred stories which help us to place our lives in this larger context where our individual joys and sorrows can become profoundly meaningful. They even become, if we dare say it, cosmically meaningful – for us.
The first night, the first day: these are the foundations of mythic consciousness. A consciousness, we should remember, whose roots are found inside every one of us. They tell the tales inherent in our flesh and blood. The universe seems to have had an origin, as do we. We most certainly have an end, the universe might. The moment we were born was our creation into the light of consciousness as we became a unique way in which the universe would come to experience itself. The universe was created for us at that moment. The moment we die that universe will come crashing down. When we die we will return to that from which the spark of consciousness came. Death is not what it seems to be when seen in the light of deep time evolution and modern biological understanding of DNA’s deathlessness which is of necessity coupled to algorithmic cell death. That life only and everywhere manifests itself in individuals is a fact, the interdependent truth of what it actually is. We are all of one family, literally.
The Christian teaching myth drew the proper, rational implications from this long ago: we are to call God father and are called to serve the needs of the poor and suffering among our brothers and sisters. It holds out the hope of a kingdom where peace on earth reigns. Peace gains the upper hand in history when, to put it bluntly, men have worked out their father issues and have learned to walk with integrity and nobility. That kingdom comes when the cycle of physical, sexual, and spiritual abuse of children which is handed down through the generations is cut. That happens, when it happens, one couple at a time. By this way of reading the human experience the most important aspects of history are taking place in our homes, not in the palaces of the Emperors. This is where the real levers of history reside, the ones that shape the psyches that shape events. The real lever of history, by this way of looking at things, is found in what our forefathers and foremothers called faith.
In the older view, as we reconstruct it, the whole world could be seen as in the hands of caring providence. The good people would be rewarded and the bad people would be punished. In this way the moral order we find in our conscience would have some applicability in the larger universe. We love to watch the bad guy get their comeuppance, that way we feel there is justice and fairness in the end. As the darkness of the death camps and nuclear bombs made clear, this is not the way good and evil play out in the real world. Whatever “providence” might be involved in the human journey through history it is not, evidently, of this magical type. It does not seem to have the power to stop evil, at least not as we would will it. I wish more people were willing to set aside that magical thinking. What is the global ecological crisis and the accompanying saber rattling among the various true believers but this, our latest manifestation of the institutional dark heart? Does it not seem that we are powerless to stop our descent into the darkening future most every thinking person has been warning us about for decades now?
Traumatizing the earth, traumatizing ourselves, the dark child has become our teacher.
That which we recognize as alive is aware of the environment – living things form an inseparable unit of contained and container. For the traumatized the container is threatening, even when the cause of their trauma, the very real threat that once was experienced, is now long gone. The body remembers. The depth of our fight, flight and freeze responses are such that experiences in this area carve our characters for life, for better and for worse.
It is not the abused person’s fault human evil was turned on them. But it was. It does no good to pretend they were not sent to hell. They were. It is that simple. They are right to ask, ‘if this is a good universe where was my Holy Guardian Angel when the torture occurred?’ The universe that is ruled by the terror-bringers is a lie but it can so easily befuddle the human mind. To deal with it first we call a spade a spade, nothing less is going to do. We need to have some ammunition for casting out the demons. Alien components have been introduced into the human psyche of the traumatized. Call them dark archetypes if you will but whatever label we use, we need to recognize that they are death bringers for the ego, for the personality and person trying to make it through their days. In the works of the shadow the personality is trying to cast the foreigners out but the shadow is only able to do so much. It cannot take the final step, for the final step is to lay itself and the ego down. This only happens in an untwisted way when something greater than the person sweeps them up into the arms of divine unconditional love.
It is the universal testimony of the wise ones that this can happen. It is not an exclusively “Christian” event, though often clothed in Christian symbolism for those raised in the West. This experience of being caught up “in the hands of the living god,” if it indeed can happen, would move the person from the evil universe or atheist position towards faith. The ultimate move in this direction is the attainment which all true initiations are trying to bring about. To place it in Christian terms we could say that the hatchet is buried at the foot of the cross – and left there. Why? Because Jesus on the cross is representing fallen human flesh. We cannot love the one who was abused without also hating the one that did the abuse. It is one thing. Pure evil, however, cannot be located in persons. Our hate must mature and face the tragic truth. The tragic truth is that those abusing others were once abused themselves. There is no legitimate target for this righteous anger among mortals. Deny the divine one on the cross and you are left with an emotional need to project pure evil onto people. The result is inevitably torn and bleeding mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters – and the cycles of violence proceed unhindered.
We are going to take this one step at a time over the next few essays. Theology on the street level is one that talks to the prostitutes, junkies, runaways, and all the rest of the refuse we create in our dark ways of projecting evil into one another. If it doesn’t speak to them it fails the sniff test: “I came to find the lost.” If our theology can help them to sing, in whatever lives they are capable of having, then it is real. If it is just going to make them feel worse, just darken the universe made by monsters they are already living in, we would be better off teaching nothing at all. I am not at all kidding about this. We are hazing demons here, there is no room for pulling punches. There is more sanity in a refreshingly thorough atheistic view of the universe than there is in the monster haunted one the traumatized mind has been taught is real.
We cannot go back in time and undo the crimes against souls that occur. This might be the most bitter truth of all. There is a special love among the dark and broken children when they find each other. They were cast out of houses that were never homes and hunger for love. Those who fall in love with people who were abused have dragons in their imaginations, dragons they feed as their love-inspired empathy tries to understand just how their beloved was hurt. Those who suffered the abuse have the dragons in their bodies; they ride their nervous systems. What then, is love powerless? Yes, as a matter of fact it is. This is related to the impotency of “I’m sorry” (even when sorry is the hardest word). It cannot undo what has been done. It is the same lesson we as a species are learning about carbon emissions. Lovers can offer each other companionship and compassion but that is not enough. Traumatized people are drinking themselves to death, and worse, every day in-spite of love being in their lives. These dragons are not trifles. That crucifixion thing, what is the lesson? Love dies. It is not the final word, it is not all there is to say, but that is a real part of life. There has never been a human alive who did not have to say goodbye to those they love. The dark child just had to say it earlier than most and while the shells of who they once loved were still walking around threateningly. For everyone else the day of doubt comes with funerals and graveyards. The human heart cries out, ‘does the universe care at all about me and the ones I love?’ It does no good to pretend cartoons greet us on the other side of the grave ala Egyptian mummies and pyramids. Your own body is not so easily fooled.
In our time of ecological collapse and threatened nuclear war, on the other hand, it might do some good if we can come to understand that grave dirt is not evil in itself. Christianity, when not corrupted from within, is the teaching that natural life is good. Sex is not evil. Sex is part divine. This whole universe is a manifestation of a loving god which humans experience through their personalities. As if the whole universe were made just for us and those we love, which, in a very quantum mechanical way, perhaps it was. The Christian teaching around death is that there is a beatific vision waiting the ego of each of us when we die, that death is a rest in peace untouched by the sorrows and torments living entails. Our awareness remains in eternity, how could it not since it has participated in time? It is our spark in timelessness, like a star that never goes out. Death crowns a life well lived with the attainment of our heart’s innermost dream. The ground of being, emptiness, the impersonal, first greets us with a personalized face. Our homecoming in the bosom of the impersonal, we experience as the human child held in the protective arms of a human father. We return to the source the way we came forth from the source. This is why the child plays such an important role in these things, it is not the foo-foo inner-child of New Age thought being talked about here. It is the core of that which became the personality, the raw biological jelly as it were, created pure, unblemished by any foreign thing.
The problem is that our hyper-violent, hyper-industrialized societies have, shall we say, father issues. Our homes are fatherless or filled with monsters masquerading as men. Our societies have no place for protectors, kind loving and compassionate fathers of courage, to actually protect what they care most deeply about. They cannot keep their sons from the war machines nor their daughters from the sexual exploitations the internet teaches and celebrates. They cannot keep their schools from being cut for funds or attacked by shooters. They cannot remove the guns or drugs from the capitalist on the street corner. They cannot keep the predatory priest away from them at church. Fathers, in short, have been emasculated. To try and be providers and fail in the ways that matter most is a hard road to walk. Because they fail, the disappointed wife and children spew meanness on the male who was unable to deliver the protective home he promised in the midst of his courting and romance. There are just not that many happy marriages in America. These dynamics are, best I can make out, a large part of why.
As mentioned before the mother archetype says yes and the father says no. The father’s “no” was not supposed to remain the private, thundering law giver of patriarchy written into the stars: no speaking back or speaking out, no questioning my authority! It was meant to be turned on other men, not the women and children. Men were supposed to have the courage to tell other men, when what they are doing is evil, to stop it. That is the power of “No.” Our cultural fall has been so far from the vision of the Good Book that we can only imagine such power in its most crude form; out of the barrel of a gun or its equivalent. That is not where this power of “No” really lives. Violence only sews more violence. The power of kindness backed by rational persuasion – that is the power that stands against the waves of centuries throwing pharaohs, kings, and emperors against it. There have been some seriously dark hours but they haven’t killed hope yet.
The No we have need to somehow find the right way to say to the existing powers that be is not a mystery. It is as clear as the dawn for every human heart. It is wrong to bomb the poorest people on earth with ordinance that cost more than the food they needed. It is wrong to rate the wants of a few hundred hyper-wealthy families above the needs of the majority of humankind alive today and those yet to come. Somehow we need to say NO to this. How, then, might we bind the strong man?