The Myth of Pure Evil

There is not a single aspect of the Christian message that is not in part an answer to the question of evil.”
Catechism of the Catholic Church, 309, italics in the original

“The difference boils down to whether one views the perpetrators as evil or merely stupid. Are they evil enough to knowingly commit horrible crimes and then lie about it with feeble rationalizations? Or are they gullible enough to believe those justifications?”
Roy F. Baumeister, Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty

 

In the icon of the crucifixion captures evil at its worst. It causes those who see it to ask their heart what they truly believe is more powerful: the evil that men do, or the power that created all things and raises them up?

It amazes me that those who wrote the Gospels about the teacher who always taught in parables are not understood to be presenting a parable themselves. I do not see how the Church Fathers could have been any clearer about what they were doing. It amazes me that so few understand that the temptations of Christ by the devil (Mt. 4.1-11) are the temptations humans need to be wary of, less they use the Christ as the devil. In the temptations the devil offers the Christ all the kingdoms of the world, the ability to turn stones to bread, and the power of magic and miracles that would save his body from harm if he were to jump off the heights of the temple. In this late stage of the collapse of Western civility Christianity needs to ask itself questions about its faith, as should each believer. Is the Christ really believed in the one that is going to deliver into your hands worldly power, wealth, and miraculous protection? Which one of these is the reason you are seeking out the Christ? It is not easy to follow the thread of loving the mystery, god if you will, for its own sake.

Last week’s essay discussed those who are tortured. Some were said to have been guilty of terrible crimes and the crucifixion for them was seen as a step in seeking justice through revenge. Others who have been tortured were innocent but cast into the role of the scapegoat by their community. Now we can get to the very heart of the matter: What if the guilty were also scapegoats?

What if the idea of a human being, any human being, actually being pure evil is a lie? Did not the person who abused others also suffer once at the hands of one who had themselves been abused? Might it be that only fools seek to nail the devil, this pure evil, to a tree? We know from the recent history of lynch mobs that when they torture human beings thinking they are solving issues they are in fact acting foolish in the extreme. How can we not understand what this man hanging on the cross, suffering torture, is teaching us? God, in reality, humbles himself to dwell among us. That is one way the Church Fathers found to say it some two thousand years ago. You cannot stop violence with greater violence; you cannot nail the devil to the tree. What you nail there when you try – always resurrects.

As I said when we started this investigation, Christianity is a very dangerous religion to misunderstand. It is a direct confrontation with evil. The teaching is a trap for those who would misuse god talk. The destroyer is not going to show up all cloven-hoofed and smelling of sulfur. We would recognize the beast right away and easily steer clear. The Rolling Stones, whose album Their Satanic Majesties Request received its anniversary remake this year, sang a telling line when the star of the album title speaks, “Allow me to introduce myself, I am a man of wealth and taste.” The devil, it seems, comes looking like a type of Christ. It comes looking like a type of Jesus. It comes as an anti-Christ.

Who killed that man hanging there still? A few short decades ago Germany blamed the Jews for all the evil in the world. In doing so they were bringing to a head thousands of years of European misunderstanding of the cross and its trap and message. In WWII they tried to nail pure evil to the tree. They tried to bring about the kingdom, the Third Reich, through the elimination of evil in historical time. Notice how whenever this happens the evil is always located, conveniently enough, in people other than those in one’s own “chosen” tribe. The Bible as the tale of a “chosen” people has much to teach us on this score.

Those who want a magically powered god are drawn to the image of the Christ as it is portrayed in the apocalyptic genre. Here he rides a horse through rivers of his enemies blood and overcomes the beast and his Empire once for all time. This, too, has been very dangerous when misunderstood. The Catholic traditions East and West universally reject any millennialism reading of the Book of Revelations. I don’t think this is quite as well known as it should be just now, as the war machines are being warmed up and the blessings over the bombs begin. This is what the Catechism states about it:

“The anti-Christ’s deception already begins to take shape in the world every time the claim is made to realize within history that messianic hope which can only be realized beyond history through the eschatological judgment. The church has rejected even modified forms of this falsification of the kingdom to come under the name of millenarianism, especially the “intrinsically perverse” political form of a secular messianism.”
Catechism of the Catholic Church, 676

So is the Christ the god of war or of peace?

One of the rhetorical tricks bully-Christians use is to ask people who they think Jesus was. Who was this man who claimed to be god? In my experience such people do not seem to be sincerely trying to enlighten their listeners, only to bully them into their own narrow interpretation of Christianity. They lay a trap in a play on words where they assert Jesus is uniquely the one and only man-god, or a crazy person since he claimed to be so. It makes the whole edifice of faith rest on a kind of word play more worthy of Kabalistic ruminations than solid, rational foundations. I see faith resting on what is real and must always be honoring my intellect and common sense.

Fundamentalists are ignoring how we know the written documents came to be and what role they are meant to serve. They were not written to record history as we understand that term today. These readings of the Christ story are too small. They ignore the anthropological fact that the man-god myth is found everywhere throughout the world and throughout time. The ancient world was filled with stories of the dying and rising man-god. It is not the magic and miracles that have been drawing hearts to the story of Jesus for millennia. It is the personality of he who is said to have taken up the cross. This is what has made it the culmination of all such stories. The Gospels reache out across time, or from beyond time, presenting a recognizable core sketch of a real flesh and blood human being. We could say it is in the linking of the man who spoke the Beatitudes with the mysteries of the solstice and John Barely Corn that was the new thing, the Good News.

It is worth noting, as Joseph Campbell remarked in Mythos, that the only point in the Apostolic Creed that has any historical reference is the mention of suffering under Pontius Pilate. By having that as the only historical kernel in the whole of the creed, it is as if the teaching were saying that the suffering under Empires is where the real kernel of what is historically real about the story takes place. Empires and religions are still torturing human flesh as Amnesty International documents. Here is the hook where the events of human history, and the timelessness of the creator of humans and history, are united. On the cross our creaturely flesh and blood is married to god.

No, the question about who is this man Jesus is important but leads to the personality revealed, not a super powered magician-god. But that is not the first question Christianity poses. The first thing we need to know, when we see the man nailed there and bleeding, is who would kill a man in this barbaric way? Who would have done this, could have done this? Why? That is what scares us when we see an act of torture so explicitly displayed. Our bodies see that image and instinctively react to the symbol par excellence of what none of us want to have to have happen to us. The Good News is that we personally do not need to hang there. The voices saying we are so guilty we should kill ourselves to please god, are themselves killed here on Golgotha, the place of the skull. Here we learn that killing in the name of god is a lie. It is the revelation of abba, a loving god. Here we learn that many of the acts we have committed and hold ourselves guilty of are not actually our fault but were instead reactions to the abuses we had suffered. Such is the power of sin. The core of choices that remain, those are our true will. Those are the one’s we answer for before the one who made us and knows all things.

This killing of another human being is perhaps the most ancient of religious acts. It is done to either please the gods or cut out evil. The shaman’s pointy bones and the witch’s evil eye have always been, in the end, means of murder through psychological operations (the first psych-ops). Out of fear of an uncontrollable fate, a person offers the invisible world what they claim is most precious to them: their king, priest, husband, wife or, most commonly, their children. Note that the offerings these “faithful” people are making cost them, in fact, very little. It is not their skin and sanity that is on the line. But it all seems so dramatic, such a perfect sacrifice. It’s just trying to trick god.

To understand what this man is doing on that cross we need to understand what the whole Biblical tradition was teaching beyond the use of religion for justifying the status quo and conferring social status. It is a message rather hard to miss once one allows common sense to rule the interpretations. The Bible is the story of mixing politics and religion. It covers many kinds of politics and many kinds of religion. It is often brutal in its honesty, showing the “chosen” in a particularly bad light. This makes the books collected in it somewhat unique since the general tendency of ancient writings is to kowtow to the semi-divine leaders of various civilizations. The history it captures teaches us that politics and religion are the two most dangerous aspects of the human experience. Both can bring about untold suffering if not harnessed to the visionary goal of peace on earth. What if they are, basically, a form of madness we as a species are prone to? What if our complex brains can become so caught up in chasing abstractions, like say the GDP or holiness, that they fail to deal with the real and present danger threatening us in our day to day world, the world of our day consciousness? What if our role as individuals, caught up in the larger powers of history as we are, is to take responsibility for our own will and intentions; wouldn’t this necessarily entail turning away from the Priest and Emperor who would be god?

Abraham is said to be the father of faith. All three monotheisms respect Abraham the patriarch, whose story comes from one of the most ancient layers of Hebrew writings. His faith is proven in the story about sacrificing his son Isaac. At the last minute the real god, aka the one behind all of creation’s existence, stays his hand. The act of faith, as I read this, was not in his willingness to sacrifice his son. That was just following the dictates of what all the “religious” people around him in these ancient times were saying. Tossing the kid into the fires of Moloch was pretty much the most faithful act a man could make. Faith was not found in being driven by fears of invisible forces to the point of being willing to murder even close kin. Faith was listening to the still small voice, the one of conscience and common sense. It reasons something along these lines: that if god made me and made my son, and made me to love my son and hate the idea of killing him, and to have made him to love me and hate the idea of dying at my hand, then it would be a sin to ignore all these witnesses to god’s inscrutable plans he has carved into our flesh. Evidently this is how “god” wants things. I will trust in what I experience as real, as real. I will trust my direct revelation, the one written in my flesh, instead of the voices all around me telling me what I should believe and not believe, do and not do.

This was the beginning of faith. It was the beginning of faith for Abraham and is the beginning of faith for people the world over still today. This faith dares to turn against the inner pressures of nightmare that would confuse the mind with fear. Those inner pressures are what the New Testament will call demons. These inner critics cannot believe in a god who wants acts of kindness and not sacrifice. The demonic voices are the ones that teach our minds that this earth is hell, its creator god is the devil, and so we must destroy the village to save it. It is the same Gnostic teaching we have seen before, that old enemy of the Church Fathers. It is also the faith that the modern world has signed up for when it fails to stop the ecological madness that is destroying our one and only home. Our angels may arrive on spaceships and our kingdom to come might be found on Mars, but we are just as dismissive of the real world under our feet as the most superstitious people that ever lived. We have lost our faith.

If we had faith we would have the courage to admit what the real problems are. We would then have a chance to deal with them best we might. This would be to use our day consciousness correctly. Instead what we find is that the day consciousness of most people, most days, is fed by electronic entertainments. Some of these entertainments are packaged as news. For the most part they stick with strictly human concerns about love and shopping, while feeding viewers an endless stream of revenge fantasies as evil people get paid back in violence by our action heroes who turn death and torture to supposed good ends. These “entertainments” are actually mind training and they take a great deal of the psychic energy we each have to face the challenges of our lives. The imagery keeps us stunned, in shock. The minds of most people are kept too harassed and busy, overloaded and under-educated; to even begin to recognize the outlines of the reality we are enmeshed in through our total, addictive dependence on fossil fuels, corporate institutional structures, and limitless economic growth supporting fiat currencies. There is much that could be done in the daytime world to soften the blows that science assures us are heading our way. It is a question of will; do we have what it takes to wake, fully, into the day?

Kids not to be born or not to have progeny, and species going extinct forever at our hands, can you see how these living things are getting nailed to crosses every single day, their futures taken away from them by our shortsightedness, selfishness and cowardice? These things might be invisible in so far as you cannot see them or touch them. But they are real, as real as CO2. They have an existence in our molecular world, one that is inherent to its nature. Those other invisibles like the GDP, the ones that have us so entranced that we cannot even honestly speak of what ails us, maybe its time to betray them. I think it is what love is asking us to do. There is already a crisis of legitimacy in existing institutions. Neither churches nor governments are immune. In order to thrive we need these institutions and we need them to be strong in serving human beings. Faith holds out a hope of reform, no matter how radical it might need to be. A too cavalier approach to our real problems by the leaders of our churches and governments, one that sees in these problems only opportunities for using nuclear weapons and establishing dominion theology’s theocracy, might well perform acts that undermine whatever legitimacy in the eyes of the normal citizen of earth these institutions still have. I fear the existing generation of leaders may not appreciate just how devastating it is to lose honor in the eyes of the people who are, as Jimmy Stewart said in It’s a Wonderful Life, “doing the living and dying around here.” It is like the abused child who no longer denies that they were not at fault and they see their abuser in a new, cold and harsh light. A few nuclear bombs used in a Middle East war could be the stick that breaks the camel’s back and reveals those who dared to ride their hubris this far in a very harsh light indeed. The people in those times without faith in the day will surely be swept up in the madness of the night. We have an opportunity, today, to prepare for triage conditions. Now is the time to learn to talk sense and think straight.

We need to be really clear about this. If nuclear weapons begin to be tossed around, Jesus is not going to appear out of the sky and catch them, nor will the righteous disappear from cars and airplanes like a Hollywood special effect. No divine magic trick is going to save us from the consequences of cause and effect. If nuclear weapons begin to be tossed around people will burn. Most likely, given the nature of the modern arsenal, people will burn on a massive scale. Nuclear poisons will spread into the land, water and air, mutating the genetic code wherever it reaches. The level of fear and terror everyone in the world wakes up to each day will have gone up a notch, will have gone up considerably. Sadly, frightened minds do not make good decisions. That is what will happen if nuclear weapons are used. That is what will happen if “god” is the vulnerable lover shown on the cross and not the super power magician of the Christian apocalyptic cults.

There are two very different Jesuses here. One is a lying spirit.

Who Tortures Man?

Who killed Christ? When you see the image of the man nailed painfully to the cross, the worldwide image of Christianity, it provokes that question in the viewer. In this icon human violence and cruelty are not hidden but placed where they cannot be ignored. Christian teaching is a teaching about evil. It is about the power of evil and how that power is broken.

Love and rationality are vulnerable. Those we love can be tortured and the truth of what is real can be hid behind lies. Though often we are able to exercise our will to love and to truth in their defense, there are limits to what we can achieve. These are  hard sayings. We want to be able to say god is love and god is superman, that love conquers all. We want to be able to say that in the end the truth always wins out, that truth will always have its day in court. We want these things but this is not the way it is in the experience of life as it is actually found.

Teachings are our ancestors gifts to us, giving us what they could about what they learned about the life a human being is fated to experience. Christianity is one of those teachings. It was an opening of the mysteries to the masses at a time when the global crossroads of the ancient Roman Empire had brought the formerly isolated pagan communities together. Priests and scribes from literally hundreds and hundreds of traditions were finding themselves talking past one another. Eventually thoughtful people began recognizing similarities in the midst of their better teachings. The marketplace of ideas was offering a welter of confusion for the very real needs of the Jewish people going through the collapse of their way of life with the fall of the temple. Eventually the whole Roman Empire would collapse and sweep away the gentiles as well. It is in this context of social collapse and upheaval that the Gospels at the heart of Christianity were written. That “writing” process took place over a century or more.

The Gospel of Mark is the earliest of the Gospels with an authorship date of maybe 70 CE. Mark provides much of the source material for Matthew and Luke. The Gospel of Mark is actually a very carefully crafted literary document. It uses numerous stylistic techniques to channel readers attention towards what is most important, even as clues to how the reader should be interpreting what they are reading. It uses numerous terms and images that would have been immediately understood by its initial audiences but leave us with little more than a fairy tale for children if we do not understand them today. For example, in Mark when Jesus casts demons into swine, the word used for the demonic horde is ‘legion,’ an extremely odd use of a Roman word. That word has no precedent in the Judaic texts nor is it an idea in use among temple or synagogue. Still, the readers of Mark would not have been at a loss to understand what he was talking about. No literate person would have missed the allusion to the soldiers of the Empire, the Roman Legions. Another very pertinent example is the use of the white robe at key places within the narrative. Readers in the ancient world would have recognized the allusion to the initiate of the mystery religions who was said to wear a white robe in their initiation. Both of these images, the robe and the Empire and its martial powers would be taken up in the book of Revelations. That apocalyptic book gives a view into the drama of Mark’s story as if it were seen from the inside, as it were. We will be looking at Mark and Revelation a bit later as this investigation into the mythology of the West proceeds.

This might be a good time to remind my readers what we are doing and why. It is my position that there is a rampant abuse of Christianity in the modern world. It runs a spectrum from sexual abuse in churches to magical thinking in the halls of governmental power. The time is late and the guilt of our generation is weighing heavily on us, more so than we consciously seem capable of admitting. Look at our actions – we are not resisting that which is seeking to kill us. There is a disconnect, something has gone wrong in the evolutionary imperative to survive and protect our children. There are undoubtedly many reasons for this but one stands out. In our pride we invented the corporation as a way to privatize profits and dilute financial risk by spreading it among the public. Thinking we were so clever inventing these personal wealth maximizing machinations, we find today that these corporate entities are powers no individuals are able to control. They do things that no human being can stop. Or so it seems. So far. We are in a fight against the “principalities and powers,” not a few evil men here and there. This is the lesson of the scapegoat, the mystery the Christ revealed openly to the world.

Christianity’s teachings include how to effectively go about fighting exactly these kinds of Empire powers. It finds they are fed through the desire human beings have for god-like magical skills. Christianity is said to have separated religion from magic. It is about how seeking a magic god, one all-powerful to grant you your wishes, leads to an anti-god. That superman god cannot be found because that god does not exist. Love and truth are vulnerable, at least for a time, at least for the “three hours of darkness” in which the crucifixion is said to take place, or the “hour of our death” for which Catholics ask Mary to pray “for us.” Us, all of us together. What we, the human species, the whole human family, have to work with is what we see in our day consciousness. The rise and fall of civilizations and our species ongoing cultural evolution has all taken place in this part of our psychology. We do not control dreams. We are not responsible to try and evolve or improve the unconscious, the night consciousness that is also a part of the psyche. In the great mythic theme of night and day we are meant to be creatures of the day. In Christian terms we live in the resurrected life after “coming to Jesus.”

What does this mean? I am going to suggest that it means accepting that the world is already “saved” or, to say the same thing from another point of view, that you personally are not responsible for all the evil in the world – and dealing with it. What is it this Christ is said to accomplish with his dying on the cross? He tears the veil of the sanctuary, revealing to all, and in public everyday in the ritual of the Eucharist, the contents of the Holy of Holies, the innermost altar in the innermost room of the temple. Not the temples made by human hands in our various religions but the temple of the human body. What is accomplished on the cross, what is this revelation? It was said to be the defeat of the devil and the harrowing of hell. The Christ kills the devil and frees those under his power to become children of god. To believe in this is to be able to pray the Our Father. This is the central teaching of the Christ, this prayer (along with the Beatitudes). One of the most telling characteristics of this prayer gives the whole show away. Have we heard it too many times to really hear what it is saying? It is addressed to god, not the devil, and asks god “not to lead us into temptation.” Wait, isn’t that the role of the devil? What is going on here?

There is an understanding BC, before Christ, that is not the same as the understanding AD, after death. The Western world enshrined this comprehension of its own mythology in the calendar with its use of BC and AD dividing all of human time into the before and after of this encounter. It was a collective symbol of what individuals also have a chance to encounter in the Christ. Jesus was a Jewish teacher, the Christ is an anointing, not a last name. The Christ is a light of truth larger than what could be captured exclusively by any story, including the Jesus story. It’s the star that guides the wise men from the East, the grace of truth in all the poetic myth and prosaic prose of all people of goodwill throughout all times. It still guides us today. It is the living logos: the ability of our words to carry truth and meaning. It is exactly this power of the Word that is now suffering at the hands of PR, spin, sales, fake news, and magical preaching. It is also the cause of the suffering of most dysfunctional families who use language to tell lies about that-which-shall-not-be-spoken. Just as healing comes to the abused once they are able to speak, so healing comes to the broken soul when it is able to accept that it really is vulnerable and depends on the kindness and goodwill of others. Coming to the cross involves struggling with how love and truth have died in your own life.

As the Roman Empire gave up its hundreds of cults, and the whole menagerie of con-men that accompanied them, for Christianity it seemed, for a time, that the age of living under the destructive power of superstitious thinking had ended and mankind had entered a new era, a new eon, in which day consciousness would have its proper place. We were to live no longer driven and haunted by nightmares of our own imaginations and all the visions of gods, devils, angels, demons, heavens and hells that formerly lead us to dismiss the value of earth life just as it is. It was a blow to the whole Gnostic idea that this earth is hell and spirituality is all about escape. The revelation of god as love, not as a satanic destroyer, was to put an end to all that. That what the teaching of the calendar was meant to convey.

One objection to the whole Christian mythology is, of course, that the world does not at all look like one in which the powers of nightmare are defeated. If Jesus was actually the Christ, how could that be? That, however, might very much depend on one’s own point of view, be it BC or AD. There are two truths here, just as we find in Buddhism. The Christ was said to have removed the fear of death, the devil and hell for those who found in him the truth. Buddha was said to have removed the burden of the caste system and reincarnation for those who found in him the truth. The Buddha was said to have taught us how to be a genuine human being. The Christ is said to have taught us how to be genuine creatures, children of god. Both had a message that the other paths being offered, the ones that claim to lead to men becoming gods, are lies. The divine pharaoh and his attendant priests does not like that message. They did not like it then and they do not like it now.

Jesus is a personality. That is what the Gospels are sharing, the story of a person in enough detail that an image of an individual comes through. That individual is one that countless people over centuries have come to love and in that love established a “personal relationship with Jesus.” American religion is so overwhelmingly evangelical that phrase tends to invoke the idea of a true believer talking with Jesus in their heads all the time. Quite a special person to be getting constant advice from the creator of existence for their every doubt and decision… That is not the type of relationship I think the Gospel stories offer. The stories were here before you were born and will be here long after you have gone. You as an individual confronting these collective stories have a choice about what they are going to mean to you. That is the relationship. If you were born in a country that has a Christian past, of necessity you will establish some sort of a relationship with the myth of your people. This becomes your “personal relationship with Jesus.”

This is not to say you must become a believer in any sense a preacher might use. It is pointing out that there is no real choice in the matter. Once you see the crucifix and hear the story, you are confronted with the question: who killed this man? Why has he hung there over the centuries, as Bowie sang in Next Day, “not quite dying”?

One answer to this question of who killed the Christ is that the devil did it. This is the scapegoat role for the torture victim. Frazier’s Golden Bough is a study in the slaying of kings or priests, or very often their substitutes, for the good of the crops and the community. Rene Girard’s anthropological study Violence and the Sacred adds important insights into what these actions meant to the communities that took part in them. He explains how the external enemy unites a fractioned society. Leaders have long known how an external threat quiets domestic squabbles (something I expect we will be seeing here again soon in this fractured America). The concept of the devil is the ultimate outsider and the ultimate threat.

Beside the scapegoat answer there is another possibility. The scapegoat is innocent but bears the weight of the community’s trespasses. The cross was used for killing criminals of the worst sort. Perhaps that man is hanging there because he deserves it. This is closer, I think, to the truth of it. Here is the one that “takes on the sins of the world.” To believe that, doesn’t that mean to see there fallen human flesh and blood? The evil that has caused people so much suffering is finally getting its due. That corpus on the cross is representing the serial rapist killer, the sadistic death camp officer, and all the other human beings whose lives have inflicted the most viciously cruel violence on other people. God’s justice is being served. We would all gladly pay our thirty pieces of silver to get our revenge. This interpretive door opens the way into the war that lives in the human heart. For the believer, faith brings peace to that war. Something happens when the divine love comes and sweeps a human heart away into the embrace of the mystical marriage. The archetypal rearrangement, if you will, lasts for the rest of the believer’s life. It involves an act of the will accomplished through intention and accomplished once and for all. These believers know they will have the ordeal of their “hour of death” still to deal with, but an hour is a light burden to shoulder compared to a lifetime of living ruled by shadows and fears.

The day and night mythology has guided humans since before the time of Stonehenge. The solstice return of the increasing sun at the very nadir of the dark season has been celebrated universally since time out of mind. Merry Christmas indeed. What the mono-myth of Christianity, as the culmination of the mysteries, is offering is this same ancient teaching distilled into the most inspired form our ancestors were able to create. The path to psychological maturity and the accumulated wisdom of the elderly are here. The maturity, however, is complex and is only found by embracing our painful vulnerability on the one hand, and forgiving those who blew out our flickering light of faith on the other. Those who brought us to the dark night, those in our own hearts who hurt us when we loved them the most, how are we to truly forgive them and end the war inside? To forgive is not the same as to forget. It is not to believe that there is some magical ‘I’m sorry’ spell that makes everything all better. Forgiveness is not simple, it never has been.

The Dark Child

This is what we need to address from the 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 as seems to be likely now, 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). When it is not being used to justifying the status quo and hand out social status it is also the realm of philosophical and existential questions. 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 are the dark side of the Tibetan Wind Horses that ride our 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?

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 am afraid that 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 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 offers 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 non-abused are able to find in eating, conversation, and sex are not capable of penetrating the inner defenses they had to erect to protect the preciousness inside. They can pierce the 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, 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 that exists. 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. It is the same recognition beautifully expressed when we greet one another with Anjali.

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 necessary for there to be now and 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 seed and the other the 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 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. Nor are emptiness and nothingness 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 form Gnosticism teaches that the true creator can be a loving god, but that this love must be earned or forced, otherwise 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 “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, their spirit, and their flesh. They can honestly say “yes” and “thank you” for the life they have actually known. 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 is most often said in the West, a sacramental world.

The Church of Child Abuse, part three

“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.

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 literal readings of myth and poetry. 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.