Magical Christianity, an Oxymoron

“In the wider Middle East, it undermines and weakens America’s partners, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, and others who have worked with the U.S. on issues relating to Iran, but also were hopeful that there would be a peace plan they could be part of. It weakens and undermines them.
The ones perhaps who are happiest, other than the Israeli government itself, which certainly is very happy, are Iran and its allies and Russia’s President Putin. We saw President Putin immediately take a victory lap, visiting Syria, Egypt, and Turkey all in one day, denouncing the Jerusalem decision, while also declaring victory in Syria and other places.”
The Long Term Global Consequences of Trump’s Jerusalem Move, PBS News

 

The failure of Homo Colossus as laid out in Limits to Growth is evident on every hand.

So what gives? Why is this blog, ostensibly interested in ecology and meditation, spending so much time on Christian teachings, to the point of quoting chapter and verse last week? It is because my studied opinion is that the fault line for the collapse of the Western Consensus runs through the Church. The 1970s saw more than just the publication of Limits to Growth, it also saw the publication of The Late Great Planet Earth and with that, the whole view of magical Christianity began to increase its influence on the culture of the United States.

Mindful Ecology leads each of us where it will. I believe ecology is, if I may put it this way, the current message of the Holy Spirit. That is, it is the communication to the human psyche, both individually and collectively, about what is the most urgent “revelation” for our day. The ecological crisis is a communication coming directly from the earth itself, what theology named the creation. It is a revelation of its creator-ways, or what we today call its molecular laws. There is a place for god-talk if it reminds us that what we are talking about, the earth ecological systems, are so much larger than we puny humans. There is a place for god-talk if it engenders respect.

The relocation of the United States embassy in Israel is an important move for the true believers. I worry that because the Christian message was abused by so many for so long, today many people who call themselves Christian wouldn’t know the actual, historic, mystical Christianity if it jumped up and bit them on the nose. The publishing industry phenomenon The Left Behind series is a good example of the popularity of the doomsday message, the Christian message gone haywire. “They can’t get enough of that doomsday stuff, they can’t get enough of it all,” sang Bowie in the The Next Day. Magical Christianity seeks a real world Armageddon in the Middle East, unable to differentiate wisdom teachings in symbols from rational discourse. The current earthquake changes around the geopolitical balance in the Middle East, the source of the neo-liberal system’s key oil supplies, are not happening in a vacuum. Geology is having a say as the largest oil field in on the planet, Ghawar in Saudi Arabia, quietly peaks behind the headlines. This is the truth that must not be spoken. Peak Oil was banished from our public discourse at just the time when the use of reason requires addressing it. We have been whistling past the graveyard since the 1970s made clear our position, and now the chickens are coming home to roost. It is not as if we never heard from Presidents Carter, Reagan, Bush I, Bush II, Clinton, and Obama or the report from our own armed forces insisting the United States has a serious oil dependency problem. But culturally we made different choices, and now there are consequences.

We are being offered religious packaging over the fundamental ecological problem. On this score, if I am reading the tea leaves right, the manipulation of public relations have only just begun. I think the Tillerson – Pence – Trump team have plans for the Middle East. When those plans are in full swing I expect they will be delivered to the public in a package of fundamentalist Christian faith. The ‘Crusades’ are already justified and meaningful for many folks within such traditional spiritual interpretations of the daily headlines.

In every religion throughout the long ages of the human story there has always been a tension between those who seek the mystical truth of spiritual things, and those who seek the magical power of spooky things. The mystic and the fundamentalist have never seen eye to eye, and from the looks of things, never will. As one of the mystical camp, a person who strongly believes in the value of contemplation and silent meditation, I offer a warning to those singing Onward Christian Soldiers. Things may not work out the way you expect them to, wrapped up in your flag and cross of self-righteousness.

If you were born with Christianity in your mother’s milk, you need to understand what that mythological constellation of symbols is really all about because it does concern you, whether you want it to or not. As it is said, Jesus would have come to earth to save you, and you alone. Christian mythology is the teaching of how the human conscience has an element of the shared collective or social world in it. In our most intimate inner sanctum we find the touch of other hands. Here we find the interests of other sentient beings equal to ours and thereby laying upon us an obligation. The obligation is to respect the life given even to “the least of these.”

What this means is that unscrupulous people can use this feature of the Christian mythology to manipulate others. The encounter with conscience holds a surprise for all people that were raised around the Christian stories. They are talking about, as pointed out last week, your body, your mind etc. Our culture has a practical understanding about this aspect of its symbol-rich inheritance and deals with it fairly well in Christian camps for adolescents and such. The problem comes when the wondrous vulnerability of love, so clearly on display in the Gospel story, is rejected. Then people have no alternatives but to go fishing around for things creature-reason cannot deliver. In the murky waters of a hunt for god-like power, the temptation is ever present to use the most powerful concept of all, namely god. But it is not right to use people, and god, so the Christian story teaches, includes personhood from all eternity. This means god is the ultimate person not to be used. It provokes righteous anger, as it must if any sort of justice and fairness is to exist.

What is revealed in this mythology is the very heart of the “one true god,” the inescapable ground of our being which is “closer to us than we are to ourselves.” The loving kindness human beings share with one another is real, because we really are free to choose otherwise. It is in that freedom that our love is made real. How could it be otherwise? Puppets cannot love one another. Love shows how that which created us, respects us as persons. It is astonishingly good news that love comes directly from the “maker of heaven and earth.” This is what is witnessed by the true man taken up into the true god. The man who is real and honest with himself, particularly his own experiences of emotion that so deeply move us in both our flesh and psyche equally, is the true man, the authentic human being. These wellsprings of consciousness that move us so powerfully and so deeply, they are the witness to us of the mystery of reality. The reality is that the grandeur of the cosmos with its endless galaxies, the starry nurseries, and the explosive creation of black-holes, all of it is also our nursery and the grandeur resides in our chests.

Everyone on this path of ecological awakening arrives at the silence in which conscience speaks. Here the stars, those ancient watchers who record everything that really happens, are not mute. Mystics, like scientists, have long understood that, after a fashion, the stars are on the inside.

Suffer the little child to come to the Christ. This is the innocent one within you that still lives inside the memory of your nervous system. It is the spark of personhood before and after the terrifying abuse children suffer at the hands of those few evil adults that seek them out. The inner child, flesh of your flesh and bone of your bone, is silent when at peace. They are at peace when the adult they have become understands and respects who they are and the truth of what they have experienced. An adult that accepts their creature status finds in Jesus their protector, the one who will plead your case before those who would falsely accuse you. It is he that would, as we say, go to the carpet for you, or in this case, the cross. The old Christmas hymn O Holy Night states that with Jesus “the soul felt its worth.” Finding yourself as the latest generation in a history of countless ancestors, finding yourself as one individual in a world full of people, and finding yourself a victim of evil abuse, this is all a bit overwhelming. Allowing the little child to come to the Christ is, symbolically, how you come to know that your life matters. Jesus would have come to earth to share the teaching of the kingdom and the loving father with you if you were the only human being ever to exist throughout all the ages, to compassionately suffer your pain with you so you would not be alone if yours was the only human pain this universe would ever know, and would come to carry your bruised and broken heart when love dies in the dark night even if your heart were the only one to ever be broken. There is an encounter here with a very real psychological, biological, and social truth about the human condition. Call it what you will, this encounter with the higher should result in a healthy adult pride, one capable of sustaining a person through the trials and challenges of seeing their dreams come true through hard work and a good dose of faith, hope, and love.

Basically real faith is able to quite the mind when it becomes too anxious, and it is able to quite the body when it becomes too fearful. The witness of martyrs self-control is the classical example of faith and it is exactly this. A deep enough belief in a good god becomes a pervasive enough conviction, that persons can withstand assaults far beyond what the ego as a lone individual could endure. We see the same thing in the self-emulation of the Tibetan Buddhist monks in a non-theist framework. Those who mess around with this Christian symbolism in their unscrupulous fundamentalism are messing around with this biological control system in people. Hence so many abused by religion end up with substance abuse issues. They need additional help to maintain the faith.

The mystical teaching is that the human race is one body after a fashion, that we share in the experiences of being one flesh. Any injury or insult to human dignity is a direct assault on us all. The teachings ask only how we treat the poor, in the end there is nothing else. The poor and outcasts we discarded in our selfishness hold the hidden gold we desperately need to find as a species. In our hearts of hearts we judge ourselves by how we treat “the least of these,” not how well we treat the most wealthy and powerful. Now, with the crashing of Homo Colossus, the rich are being made poor. It is both an opportunity and a danger. Whether the lack of loving kindness that touches you with the cold finger of poverty is economic, emotional, intellectual, sexual, or spiritual, they all leave torture’s scars on the body. Our tears do not sleep and then, in our hurt and anger, we become twisted and confused and in need of healing. That this healing does in fact come to individuals, untangling lies and providing the courage to speak the truth, sustains a rational hope that it can also come to our communities. We can swing the tenor of the collective conversation towards real-world issues if enough of us insist on it.

Contemplation is the birthright of everyone, the sweetest gift life has to offer, a love-making with the cosmos and a resting in the arms of creation’s gifts. It pierces the darkness of our lives and finds meaning in their events, often painful and sorrowful but real and lasting and true. Learning to be still in body and mind allows us to sit openly listening to our hearts. Our hearts know what we are. They know our worth.

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