Nailing Miracles, part one

My pain is legitimate, as legitimate as yours or any other sentient being who has ever lived. This is the message of the crucifixion. It is the message bullies do not want to hear, yet victims need to say and in saying, be heard. This, our existential equality, is what the fear of our own vulnerability drives us to deny. Our vulnerability terrifies us and we lash out against it when we see it in the eyes of the suffering poor, the abused child, the victims of war brutalities, and the homeless refugees and migrants wandering the earth without a protector. In the eyes of sentient beings there is a judgment as well as a reflection of the events they witness. Our profoundly complex biochemistry kindles this dual light in our eyes as the light of self awareness. The inescapable teaching about human authenticity and integrity is wrapped up in this mystery related to pain and suffering and reflected in the eyes, the windows of the soul. In the dead eyes of the severely traumatized we, and the universe reflecting on itself through those eyes, stand condemned. It needs to be torn down in fire and made anew as a new heaven and a new earth.

That which we call ‘god’ is the ‘eye’ at the center of it all – an awareness that sees and records everything that really happens. Call it the morphic field of physical memory, if you will. Reality is the true molecular configurations of elements and biochemistries shaped by the accumulation of all past events. The fantasies, the rationalizations, the spin, the deceptions, and the lies we tell, they alter the balance of these scales not one whit. It is not fooled; it records only what reality has hosted. There is another way to put this: no one gets away with anything.

The cross is the conscience of the one body catholic. There hangs the human being betrayed by human machinations, suffering the results of human evil, not of god. As creatures our love will die; we will watch it die when loved ones pass away and one day we will die ourselves. This is the suffering inherent in our nature, suffering we could say is directly from the hand of our creator. Death is not evil in itself anymore than reproduction is. That inherent suffering comes from the same hand that created the clouds, the mountains, the bubbling mountain stream, and the lamb. . . Seen aright we understand a precious goodness has come to us from that hand. It has given us our very existence and the beauty and truth that surrounds it. This hand we can trust, and learn to trust all the more as our faith in the goodness of creation increases. However, human evil adds another level of suffering that reaches above and beyond that which nature has created for us.

Our form of consciousness can be turned away from its natural propensity for thanks and praise when it is spiritually injured. The more serious the injury, the more serious this reorientation of the understanding can become. When this happens human consciousness turns all its skills against itself, hating its mortal vulnerability. If we do not voluntarily take up our limitations, we will be haunted by reminders of them everywhere. Then the eyes of the poor in spirit, all those who are victimized, show reminders of the vulnerability inherent in the flesh. Such people have come to hate reminders of that vulnerability. That hatred drives them to target the least among us; they want to destroy the innocent and the vulnerable. This is what the old way of talking about the human condition called the demonic. It is a hate that can posses people, pushing out the personality that was once there. That is, it can replace who they were as children and the normal path of character development they would have followed which could hold a basic trust in the goodness of the world and the people in it, with a secondary personality centered around hatred and revenge. Here is the tricky part: more often than not this secondary personality will claim it is on a mission to save others, crushing the light in the eyes of their victims “for their own good.”

The symbol of the Church Catholic is of one body. All the members of the human race share in this body, this mystical body, for it is a reflection in symbol of the flesh and blood (DNA and biochemical makeup) we all share – regardless of race, politics, socioeconomic class, religion, or gender. For this Church we pray. Only those who have committed crimes against the Holy Spirit, the mortal sins, the vicious violent cruelty of the 10% of evil done for evil’s sake to slake this hatred of our creature-hood, remain outside the communion as long as they remain unrepentant. This is the definition of the communion. If the abuses we have been discussing are in fact attacks on the Holy Temple among us, the body of flesh and blood by which we bare the image of god aka human consciousness, then as long as they remain unrepentant those who have committed such atrocities are, by definition, at war with the body. These are, as we say today, crimes against humanity.

Such people are in a sorry state. They are a house divided against itself.

What is real and true about being a creature is rooted in the evolutionary development (evo-devo) of the embryo as it is manifest through the child and on throughout the life stages. There is a continuity of identity gifted from the mystery from which all things are brought forth. Identity, and its map of the world by which it navigates, both arise from the biochemical matrix of our awareness interacting with our experiences, each experience etching themselves on our skin (the emotional body of our musculature and nervous systems) and the brain’s memory processing capacity. In this way the moment by moment miracle of human experience forms our characters as we are shaped and molded by the incarnation of our stories.

This is THE miracle. There is no other. This is THE magic. There is no other.

Humans can fool themselves into believing otherwise, tripping up their own minds. They risk coming to the end of their lives only to find out that they have been living out caricatures of the life they could have potentially had. It is a high price to pay for the self-deception that you have somehow magically escaped death and the attendant vulnerability of the shared human condition. Tragedy is the fate of those who insist the world must conform to their fantasy and proceed to act on such delusions. Such folly does not change the reality of the situations their incantations are addressing. On those shores, the stubborn firm foundations of what is and what is not in our molecular world, many a shipwreck of strange religious, political, and economic cults have crashed.

Why then, in the written material the Western cultural tradition insists is a valid guide through wisdom and folly, namely the Gospels, are we confronted with a miracle worker? If these materials are to be our gateway into the truth, why set up these guardians at the threshold? If a person came up to you today and claimed that their guru walks on water, was born of a virgin, multiplies loaves of bread, and raises the dead to life, well that person would be a liar. That is the way the world is right now, today. We have every reason to believe that is how the world was 2,000 years ago, or 5,000 years ago, or as long back as we might care to speculate. What is this all about? Why include the lies and liars?

The Gospel stories did not introduce miracle stories to the world, the world was already full of them. What the Gospels did was link those types of stories with Jesus as a teacher of compassion. This is new. Most miracle stories are power stories, magicians battling it out as we discussed when we looked at Moses in Pharaoh’s court. The question was not about whether or not to include miracles alongside the teachings, the question was whether or not miracle tales would have teachings attached to them!

Miracle stories are only lies if read literally. That is the epistemological truth, I believe, these tales are meant to teach. They are a lure, or a trap, for those with mistaken ideas of god. The great fisherman uses them to bring us to healing. He is the “truth, the light, and the way” for the wounded who are willing to endure their own death of god on their own cross. We need to be willing to give up our mistaken ideas. We need to courageously and honestly face the meaninglessness of the universe for a mind dominated by human cruelty. Nothing less recognizes humankind’s true freedom of will and the power it manifests. In the dark night, the desert, the abyss – here one finds He who is greater than human weaknesses within the human experience. The Lord of the Dance prevails just when things seem darkest. Miracle stories are only lies if read literally. The emotional truth they convey is on the order of metaphor, poetry. They serve the real miracle of the Christ, the recreation of the universe in a new heaven and a new earth by which we are healed. Nothing less dramatic than the miraculous can capture the awe and power involved in our most defining subjective experiences as embodied rational souls.

In the hunt for a meaningful life we are bound to come across people and institutions making claims to supernatural power and wisdom. Human beings are born gullible and it is no small feat to properly enthrone rationality. What to do? It is interesting that the Church Fathers who put together this material insisted that there were multiple ways of reading scripture. The idea that the Gospels are providing documentary evidence of modern historical fact is foreign to the spirit of what was very clearly being explained by those who were initially involved in the formation of the written materials and the accompanying traditions.

What miracles do convey is a picture of a universe ruled by personalized forces. In such a universe our own subjectivity is at home. It paints a picture of a world that responds to the needs of humans and animals, that cares about each individual alive within it, and that watches over them to protect and guide them. This is a world in which angelic messengers can accomplish missions unaware, perhaps as strangers visiting for an evening meal or asking for a handout by the side of the road. It is a world where certain images, and certain places and times, can be made sacred and special by their dedication to the intellectual and emotional, yet invisible, “powers” we encounter in our psyches. It is to convey some sense of the most powerful of these “inner powers” that the Gospels were written.

Written materials without the traditions in which they were designed to be used can be very dangerous. The tradition involved with the Gospels taught then, and continues to teach, a very mystical Christianity centered on Eucharistic devotion. This is quite different than Bible thumping in any number of ways. Catholic sensibilities elevate the sacraments and the sacramental in a calendar punctuated by sacred memorial. Worship is an act of the body as well as the mind, with smells and bells and ritual movements. Religion is presented as a celebration of sacred creation and the possibility of redemption in its midst. Religion is not an intellectual battle ground, it is a place of peace. The light of the candle of faith is easily blown out by the cold winds of the evil that men do, but this is why there is a Church where the light of faith can be passed from one candle to another, rekindled when needed by another person’s strength when we are weak. The altar, the heart of religion, is a place where those moved by the needs of the heart seek the heart of god, the Christ light. It is a light characterized by the soft warm glow of the tabernacle candle, a warm light the body is comfortable with.

The alternative altar is that of magic and miracles where ultimately there will be a sacrifice not of the divine lamb, but of the poor and vulnerable among us human beings.

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.

The Church of Child Abuse, part two

“Listen to the whores he tells him.”
David Bowie, The Next Day

“If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever.”
George Orwell, 1984

“‘Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the Kingdom of God as a child, will not enter it.’ Then he embraced them and blessed them, putting his hands upon them.”
Jesus, Mark 10.15-16

 

This post continues a discussion of religious child abuse. It may not be appropriate for all readers.

The inner essence of the act of Religious Abuse is always the same. It consists of introducing the face of a unique child of god, innocent and trusting, to the terror of the authoritarian boot that hates that face. Totalitarian thinking is threatened by those who question authority, something every child does naturally and playfully as they see through the Emperor’s New Clothes to the foolish naked human underneath putting on airs. This is intolerable for the uptight, those whose sense that life is good, and fun, and beautiful was long ago torn out of their breasts by the abuses they suffered.

Religious Abuse consists of taking the spirit of the child of the deep time stars and crushing it, breaking their will. You know the boot. It is the one that likes to take the soft vulnerability of our flesh and assault it with rape, racks, burning stakes, and cattle prongs for the entertainment of the “troops” and the “faithful.” The one that likes to take a small child, weak and confused, and beat them within an inch of their lives to “teach them a lesson” or tear their flesh with sexual perversions. It’s destructive spirit leaks out of our homes and into our streets. You know the boot when it goose-steps through our headlines, the one that claims the golden toilet-seat crowd deserves everything they take from the poor. Afraid of the boot, we all rather easily dispose of the pain of thirst in millions of non-white fellow citizens on the island of Puerto Rico, or when madness wipes the sidewalks with blood on the eve of the International Day of Non-Violence, or when congress plans to take healthcare away from the helpless among us and, since that that didn’t work out, assure us that the most important legislation in all the world they could be working on right now is lowering the corporate tax rate. If you ever get tiered of chewing on Pharaoh’s old boot leather watch out! Those in charge threaten to unleash a nuclear holocaust and teach us all a lesson in how much respect they deserve, by searing the flesh of our children and other loved ones.

This is the boot that marches throughout human history, across fields of blood, to lay the stranger’s bones in mass graves. It almost always marches under the flag of religious justifications, a diseased self-righteousness cloaked in lies of divine authority. This boot is trying to destroy humanity. It seems the interdependent intertwining of life and death is inherent in self-aware adult consciousness. Just as apoptosis, programmed cell death, is needed biologically for us to function, it seems that psychologically death is also a necessary ingredient in what makes our awareness possible at all. Perverted by our fear, our awareness of mortality threatens us with self destruction.

We have been struggling with this a very long time. The Emperor-Kings and their sycophant Holy Men who would abusively lord it over us, both at home and in the streets, are taking advantage of our species inherent Achilles heel. Christianity exposes them as the age old Christ killers: that which targets faith, hope and love in a good god that cares about us individually. The Christ killers are not a race, it is not an ethnic inheritance, it is not a skin-color, it is not a ideological membership, nor is it a particular religious affiliation that murders the innocent teacher of non-violence. It is the darkness in our own hearts. The line runs not between us and them, but within.

What is the Christ story really addressing? Our minds fear our bodies. It is that simple. It is our bodies that teach us we too will experience sickness, old age, and death. It is our bodies that turn our minds upside down in puberty. It is our bodies that panic. Out of our fear come wild dreams and nightmares of immortality gained through magical means, the sacrifice of other’s blood. Out of that fear is born something that seeks to thwart our use of reason. It happens to individuals and happens to societies.

What is it reasonable people seek? To build a more peaceful kingdom on earth, to minimize war, and do so by living harmoniously with the bounty the earth provides. This is what the hearts of every person of goodwill hopes for in their innermost longings. We have been holding this hope for a very long time and we are not a stupid species. We have used our hope to create a trap for the evil shadow-projectors and they never fail to spring it. This is the good news, the Gospel, the message that the creation of our bodies is blessed, that god became flesh, that the way of mortals is as it should be. The universe we get to be part of is not a mistake, flawed, or cruel but from a creator we can call abba. The good news is not that someday in the far future some super big Armageddon war turns bad people into good people or sends all the bad people to hell. The good news is that, right here and now and always for the human soul, nothing that matters most to us depends at all on what happens through the “powers” of the abusive Emperor-Kings and their sycophant Holy Men. They claim to own us but they did not create us. Liberation, therefore, is not something they can stop.

If we are to understand anything about spiritual abuse we need to try and understand what it means when a priest, a self-proclaimed representative of god, performs acts designed to crush the heart in their victims. They are changing the conception of the universe the human being was born with. One way it is done is when they traumatically frighten the mind out of the body, causing what their victim will remember as an out of body experience. It seems to be a built in soul comfort for those whose abused bodies are too filled with pain to remain aware of, the mind pretends it is wholly independent as if it IS dead. I say pretend because though the mind can experience dying, being dead by definition it cannot. Nothing as dramatic as this is needed though. There need not be acts of sexual or ritual violation to do the dirty deed. All you have to do, to crush the personality and leave only the cult compliant shell of a person, is to discourage every expression of uniqueness that person ever dares to reveal. This is the mark of a cult and the cultish family. Humiliate them or beat them anytime they express their own individual will, anytime they show a hope for a better tomorrow. Reject every offer of love they might make in their own quirky individual way and only accept the rote expressions of “love” approved in the cult. The dirty deed of Religious Abuse is completed when a young person setting out to try and find their way in the world truly believes they must either stay living in the cult or must live without faith, hope, and love. No one, by the way, can live without a modicum of actual faith, hope, and love. The victim is damned if they do, damned if they don’t: Catch-22. The institutional powers that have so hooked a soul into their collection-plate mechanisms – this is what we are up against.

As the ecological crisis proceeds to add weight to our delusional thrashing about, there is an increasing opportunity for individuals to wake up to the reality of what is happening. Reality is stubborn that way, always waiting for us to return to our senses. Doing so is not at all easy. What our reality sense shows is scary. What sense shows is also how little theses tin-hat dictators really control, as we see when FEMA struggles. Their powers of carnage and destruction are wholly inadequate measures of how well they can build things up. We can wake up to the truth of our situations but it requires courage. The exact same courage displayed by these victims of child abuse we are considering. Those that manage to survive do so by overthrowing the weight of lies injected into them. They bind the strong man / woman that terrified their body and are then freed to voluntarily submit to its wisdom. Why is this so hard, particularly for the traumatized and abused? Because the child loves those on whom they depend. This is the universe we are born within as mammals. The one unthinkable thought is that the victim’s parents, preachers, and teachers could all be wrong, each participant and compliant in evil. Yet, this is the one thought the victim must have if they are to find the long, difficult path to liberation from their bondage to the Religious Abuse burden that has been injected into them by the processes of psychological projection. It takes a village to raise a child. It also takes a village to abuse one, a village filled with those who look the other way.

Sooner or later, if the young person victimized by Religious Abuse lives into adulthood and finds healing, they will confront the fact that the world of thought, the history of human ideas, is much larger than the cult they were raised in. Not only are the subjects of religion, philosophy, psychology, biology, cosmology, and all the rest, much larger than fundamentalism, but good people doing good in the world seem to come from all kinds of different traditions and from all over the globe and throughout all historic eras. All of this works against the mind programming they received as children. These people have had their brains washed in toxic apocalyptic ideas which were enforced through toxic human relationships. It make acute the need to choose what to believe just when it is hard to believe in anything. It make acute the need to find out what is real.

Most people who have been victim to these sophisticated mind forming techniques suffer incredible doubt and fear that anything good or true could exist in the world, once they dare to think the thought that should not be thought. People can choose to undo the stinking-thinking around the double binds they have learned, even while they know it will take years and be punctuated, at times, by all the terrors an overactive imagination can conjure around Satan and Hell. That is a hard row to hoe. Those that make it, in my experience, almost always have a significant other willing to join them on the journey. The other option, when confronted with the fact that the fundamentalist indoctrination of one’s youth is untrue and your mind is now haunted with double binds, is to double down on the cultic worldview. The newly minted fanatic is blind to the sunk cost fallacy. It is an easier route, this sacrifice of intellectual integrity involved in becoming a true believer, and one that assures the continuance of the cult. Such a person shuts up their doubts by shoving them in a box of repression, one maintained by a persona that brooks no doubts, admits no fears, and allows no tears. In this way they carry out the projection of evil, tragically creating the scapegoat in the next generation as they are powerless not to find another black sheep among their own children. That is the linage of the Church of Child Abuse.

The Church of Child Abuse, part one

“People don’t you understand
the child needs a helping hand
or he’ll grow to be an angry young man someday.
Take a look at you and me
are we to blind to see?
Or do we simply turn our heads
and look the other way?”
Mac Davis, In The Ghetto

“Psychological maltreatment, also known as emotional abuse and neglect, refers to ‘a repeated pattern of caregiver behavior or extreme incident(s) that convey to children that they are worthless, flawed, unloved, unwanted, endangered, or only of value in meeting another’s needs.'”
A Coordinated Response to Child Abuse and Neglect: The Foundation for Practice
quoting Hart & Brassard Psychosocial evaluation of suspected psychological
maltreatment in children and adolescents: APSAC practice guidelines

“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”
Jesus

 

This essay deals with childhood spiritual abuse, it may not be appropriate for all readers.

First I would like to say a word about where I see this work around religious subjects fitting into the context of the concerns those mindful of ecology have. I see no way to gain religion’s support for healing the rupture between earth and humankind, than to call out its dark side for what it is. It could well be that as the collapse of Homo Colossus proceeds people will eventually turn on the institutions and traditions that failed to help the human race in its hour of need. The political, religious, and educational institutions have all, so far at least, utterly failed to take the seriousness of our overshoot predicament seriously. Of these institutions only religious traditions speak directly to the question of whether we find ourselves in a universe worth living in or not. Since we are collectively acting suicidally, it is an important question. If the die-off due to ecological collapse proceeds as expected between now and the year 2100, as the costs mount and the wars rage, the question of whether or not self-conscious awareness is worth the price will live in people’s hearts, not as an academic question but as one deciding between life and death. Mainstream society today is incapable of realistically imagining the next few decades as the ecologists have sketched out their most probable trajectories. Instead, the mainstream society swings from total denial (“Power Through Impossible” the oil industry teaches us) by the Wall Street crowd on the one hand, to denial that it matters (on “The Late Great Planet Earth”) by the Christian Rapture crowd on the other. I believe both positions are mistaken and that this will become obvious to everyone eventually. As one ugly year continues to follow another, and another, and another… eventually we can expect a type of psychological tipping point when denial and repression, fantasy and wishful thinking no longer work to paper over the very real disasters eating away at our stable climate and food supplies. I am interested in how mythology, and the religions of today that have institutionalized bits of it, will fare at that time. There is great strength to be found in faith for dealing well with difficult times. Faith believes this is a good life in a basically good universe. It is a message all but lost by those who “do the work of satan while they dress like saints” as Bowie had it. Perhaps religion can be purged from the lies and liars currently spreading little more than confusion in its name. That, anyway, is my hope. There is a role for contemplatives in Dark Ages, perhaps we should use this time to prepare what we can. We need to learn how to stand up and say NO to god as bully.

The title of this essay could be misunderstood. I do not think we can say this religion is right and this religion is wrong. I do believe we can say, if we are humble and careful, that this way of being religious is right and that this other way of being religious is wrong. This is an important step forward. We need to call a spade a spade to understand the dark side of religion.

This is not to say all religions are equal, far from it. I do think some religious ideas are inherently dangerous, meaning that believing in them will lead you astray, away from a meaningful human life. One such, with relevant dangers for a nuclear armed world under accelerating ecological collapse, is the ancient belief that humans can gain favor with god, immortality, and magical powers by shedding the blood of others, typically children – be it on altars or battlefields. I consider Frazer’s Golden Bough, particularly the newer abridgement, required reading for anyone interested in religion, as indispensable in its own way as William James’ Varieties of Religious Experience.

Religious indoctrination that amounts to little more than sewing double binds to trap minds into fear-based loyalty to god’s self-proclaimed and self-selected salesmen is wrong. In fact, from the point of view of the precious uniqueness of each sentient being, that mysterious something we call a personality and recognize to likely be unique across all of deep time, it might be the most wrong of the wrongs human beings can commit. When this happens religion has then enslaved a human bodymind, through the creation of trauma, with the purpose of demanding their allegiance to institutionalized abstractions, in place of an allegiance to their actual life as it is given to them to experience it. Possessed, souls enchanted, they may come to the end of their days only to discover that who they personally were never really fully showed up in their own life, that the potentials of the little boy or little girl they once were had been buried alive under ceaseless role playing.

“Let the children to come unto me.”

Life is hard. Religious stories are meant to aid us, strengthening us to meet the inevitable tragedies of our lives and carry on with a modicum of peace and joy in-spite of them. They embody the wisdom of how self-consciously mortal creatures can walk with dignity through well lived lives. Many of the lessons in our religious stories deal with very adult issues related to suffering, death, evil, and loss. Here is the rub. The stories are necessarily first introduced into the minds of children who are incapable of fully and properly understanding them. Knowing this causes us to seek means of correcting this error without compounding it (Eggs and Santa). We say the faith of childhood must be replaced with that of adulthood. There is a lot of psychology packed into that phrase. It involves enthroning reason above imagination and the day consciousness of the ego and its survival goals above the night consciousness and its labrythian meanderings. It is as if we were born upside down. With great care biology and society prepares the bodymind of the child as if it were an egg shell that will break to allow the adult to emerge. Religious symbolism plays a part in that preparation because it is intimately linked to our physiology.

The bodymind of the child, and of the older people around them, know that soon the all the powerful force of evolutionary deep time’s engine is going to awaken in their crotch. When that happens it will turn their upside down world right side up, and do so by turning their childhood ego upside down, humbling it in the process. It involves the ego learning what it must serve, which is so much more than only reproduction as evolutionary theory would have it, but never is it separate from the obligations of reproduction either. Ego is confronted with its unexpected responsibility: that it has a soul to care for as it works its way along its path to a grave, that it is involved in a mind and body that is one in thought and feeling.

It is a real struggle to set aside the magical thinking of our childhood and accept the evidence of our senses that those we love, and we ourselves, must die. Though our stories are filled with tales of immortality and spirits soaring among the stars sustained by magical powers, our lives are inevitably lived, in fact, with our feet on the ground. An adult fundamentalist simply cannot believe with the same naivety that a child can. This I think is what many well meaning adults do not understand and it causes considerable unnecessary tragedy. We should also understand this as a society better than we do. It could put it this way: when it comes to “faith,” the child will walk off a metaphorical cliff, whereas a non-psychotic adult will suddenly find the power of rationalization and be overcome with a sudden bout of common sense under the same circumstances. The adult’s reaction may not be a stellar example of making sense, but it will make sense in a way the mind of the child simply cannot before it has been restructured into the adult brain. We see there is a spectrum of the literalism error, with children taught deceptively occupying the farthest outpost.

“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe to sin, it would be better for him if a great milestone were put around his neck and they were thrown into the sea.”

Children of the human race are voracious story sponges. Brains building life long scaffoldings are calling the shots from deep time in all the little people around us. This process is vulnerable to traumatic events that can thwart the intended outcomes. It is obvious that children are vulnerable physically. What we have learned by studying the psyche is that they are emotionally and cognitively vulnerable as well. Children who have had their vulnerability exploited, far beyond the necessary lessons around our innate gullibility, have brains altered by the trauma they have known. Life long brain changes become linked to their destiny, their fate. Instead of the egg of adult personality being broken by the emerging psyche from the inside in its own good time, some clumsy oaf has broken into it with all the gracefulness of a jackhammer.

Deep time has hosted traumatized human brains since the beginning and has ways of dealing with the disproportionate fear and terror their unhinged imaginations can cause. Those shamanistic ways are symbol rich because they must deal with the underlying physiological “tensions” traumatic events have anchored in the body. Symbols, as we have discussed, turn one side towards conscious understanding but the other side remains oriented towards the dark depths of biological intelligence. Ego can communicate with what is beyond ego in this way and, in that sense, religious symbols play an indispensable role in the formation of the human psyche.

What, then, is religious child abuse? How do we talk about crossing the line between the religious education of children and religious child maltreatment? Does religious child abuse always involve sexual or physical abuse as well? No. Does it always involve strange satanic rituals? No. Does religious child abuse always involve emotional abuse? Yes. An internet search on the term ‘spiritual abuse’ will turn up numerous definitions, many quite good, others just fodder in the atheism wars. Here are a few of my thoughts to add to the mix.

Religious Abuse is creating serious mental health issues in the name of God. Or, to state the same thing in the language we used before psychology: creating serious wounds in the soul, damning it on earth to a life of confusion, self-destructive behaviors, and inescapable terror filled nightmares, all of which steal any chance at unscarred happiness that person may have had in the one and only life that personality will ever know.

The Trauma God:
Let me introduce you to the god of the evil cosmos we touched on last week. It appears when we worship god as trauma: life twisting, joy destroying trauma. This is not a god of Love but a god of Hate, forever angry at you every minute of your life and “justly” looking forward to watching you suffer in hell for all eternity. He (and it is a ‘He’ and only a ‘He’)  hosts an eye in the sky watching your every move, recording and never forgetting or forgiving your every slipup of an obscure rule set, one less clear than the accusations against Josef K in Kafka’s The Trial. Oh, and he knew you were predestined to your fate of eternal torture before he created you, which he did because he loves you. What a crock of shit. This is nothing more than a thin veneer on the ultimate “I am doing this for your own good” abuser fantasy.

A meaningless universe created purely by chance is preferable to this malignant nightmare. At least in a meaningless universe although love might be delusional it is not sickly twisted and, importantly, I get to roll my own dice. A meaningless universe created purely by chance is just the universe science posits, as it turns out, perhaps in no small part as a reaction to this Gnostic heresy gaining such ground among the fundamentalist fringes both within and without the mainstream monotheisms. Faith in the non-trauma god is, of course, a belief in a good universe where what love teaches us about its innermost workings is seen as worthy of our trust. Those who have suffered religious abuse biologically believe in this trauma god and its universe, their bodymind learned from the evidence of the abusive experiences that their life in the world will only lead to days of more suffering and pain without hope of healing or redemption. Such hurt people are, in my experience, best off spending some years away from all religions. They need to learn to go play as if god had said only one commandment: “go, and be happy.” The scientific point of view of a neutral universe can bring considerable healing and freedom from the superstitious fears that have been planted in the unconscious mind of those who were enslaved to the trauma god’s evil universe like this. The jump from evil universe to good universe is too much to take in one leap if you bring your integrity with you. Where was this so-called good god when your soul was crushed and skewered? Only time has the real balm for those hurts because in time you will be able to trace how the wound becomes a gift of character (assuming it does not destroy you during the transformation process).

Religious Abuse is using religious imagery to unhinge the reasoning mind, remove emotional balance, and create physiological anchors that trigger panic anytime the victim begins to question the truth of the cultic dogma, the authenticity of the cultic authority, or in any other way attempts to leave the cult. The core of spiritual child abuse is seeding the child’s mind with fear of their own thoughts, feelings, emotions, and sensations. Ultimately, the evil in this abuse aims to interfere with an individual’s unique sense of conscience about what is right and wrong, “the still small voice.” The natural understanding our mammalian bodies are born with, knowing how to feed the personality on the nourishment of love and compassion, is changed into a fear of the same. Hate is offered as love. To believe what you are told as a victim of such confusion, that what you are experiencing is love, is to create a civil war between what your mind thinks and what your body knows.

Religious Abuse is using religion as a scapegoat mechanism. Dysfunctional families tend to choose one member to be the scapegoat, the black sheep. This dynamic already is a difficult one to deal with. Add the self righteousness of a fundamentalist family and the shadow projection onto the one chosen as scapegoat becomes extreme, an extremity poets might capture by calling it a demonic injection. Adults with real problems can displace their unhealed burdens into their children culminating in the creation of the black sheep. The black sheep has been chosen not to succeed in life, to fail spectacularly. That will confirm the white sheep in their faith. The family role of the scapegoat is to display what the rest of the family fears, namely, that a life lived outside the cult is one ruled by demons.

Respecting Minds

It is so easy to overlook the astonishing capabilities of the human mind. Like fish who do not notice the water they swim in, our immediate experience of mind is so familiar we simply take it for granted. To successfully navigate the practical concerns of day to day life is a major accomplishment, one for which we as a species have yet to learn to give ourselves enough credit for. What the mind is able to accomplish is downright humbling when examined fully and should lead us to respect its abilities and, perhaps even more importantly, its vulnerabilities.

Consciousness seems to consist of a collection of factors which must be kept in dynamic balance. Mind seems to do this by a series of cybernetic-like adjustments which allows it to stay on track. Psychological development is never a straight line from point A to point B but more like the way a sailboat proceeds, tacking first to the right and then to the left. A moment of excess marks the trespass into extremes and the need to change course if sanity is to maintain its even keel.

Take a moment to consider the contents of your mind. We balance an awareness of our mundane and earthly position with a simultaneous awareness of our cosmic position in our galactic neighborhood and the unspeakable immensities of space. Alongside a thought about the ancient vastness of the night’s starry sky and pondering the meaning of human existence in the grand scheme of things, will come another thought trying to decide if the sandwich you are currently making would benefit more from Djon or yellow mustard. We maintain an awareness of grand themes playing themselves out in the theaters of international relations and the history of ideas spanning centuries and millennia, side by side with an intimate knowledge that our own allotted span on the stage of human affairs will run but a small handful of decades, if we are fortunate. Whatever might be the purpose of the stars and the grand scheme of things, each morning when we awake we are able to dedicate our energies (some people and some days with more enthusiasm than others) towards the indispensable needs of the individual life we are living – consuming our sandwich we are off to work or school or to find a mate, change a diaper, hoe a garden, pay our taxes or blow our noses.

There are also the balancing acts of the heart no less necessary if conscious awareness, just good old everyday conscious awareness, is going to function properly. Heart’s emotions intermingle with rational cognitions just exactly as language based thinking intermingles with images born from memory or imagination. We recognize our own bodies have needs of nourishment which must be balanced each day with the equally legitimate claims of others. We are aware of the suffering and needs of those sentient beings all around us and our hearts go out to them in their distress. One part of us remains aware, always, that right now an innocent is suffering reprehensible cruelties, be it from war, miscarriages of justice, or abuse. One part of us remains aware, always, that at this time there are lover’s vows being exchanged, babies being born and made, artists completing great works of beauty, and moments of sacred grace descending into the mystic’s breast. In the heart we balance our fierce love for our mates, if we are coupled, with a determined hatred to oppose anyone or anything that refuses to grant them the respect they deserve. This is another difficult balancing act our minds are accomplishing ceaselessly on behalf of maintaining our sense and sanity. These opposites are representative. The tension they create constitute the basis by which consciousness is conscious.

This stressful weight of knowledge is ever present to our minds, pressuring them in every moment to avoid what we fear and obtain what we desire. And what opposes all that? We find ways to balance this survival imperative with a more carefree attitude. If our lives are not to be wall to wall nightmares, we need to have times and places in which we allow ourselves to bask in the warm, peace-filled glow of contentment. The emotions and intuitions around gratitude, safety and well-being cannot be strangers to our everyday awareness as well. Yet the will ever beckons, there is the next valley to be crossed and the next mountain to climb on our endless hunt for our rainbows by which we might reconcile our individual existence with the whole of existence. In the interplay of opposites, which is the play of consciousness, even the proper gratitude can be taken too far and leave us kneeling and groveling (or simply drunk) when we should remain standing upright, shoulders back, capable and self-reliant.

Moment by moment our mind must balance the energetic alertness our nervous systems maintain as they are primed to be on the lookout for unexpected dangers, at all times ready to zero in on threats, with the relaxed, kaleidoscopic perception of the general reality of our environment which we understand does not contain these active threats most of the time. Every moment we combine a dismal fear of the future, quite rational for mortals subject to pain, with hope that this same future will bring us satisfaction. We all know some dreams come true and some tragedies strike wholly unexpectedly. We balance knowing these things are simultaneously true as we carry on performing the tasks of the present moment.

In what is perhaps the most profound balance of all, consciousness arises ceaselessly from the exact point at which the past disappears into emptiness and the future springs forth from the same. We balance the fact that the past is gone – that it was once real and now can be found nowhere while implied everywhere – with the fact that the future, as such, does not exist. There is a continuity in this kiss between the contained and the container that forms the essence of our time-riding consciousness. It is so mundane and yet so profound. One way we experience this psychologically is as our hope and fears for the future balanced against our pride and regrets from the past. It is from this crucible that wisdom is said to be born.

We altogether too easily take for granted this complex balancing of mind that allows us to navigate consciously in the cosmos. Taking all this and more for granted, we are often discontent, searching for more; we need a fix, an answer, a final understanding. I think we would be better served if we understood consciousness to be a very hard thing to create well in this universe as it really is, and that the mind as we experience it and the universe as we experience it participate equally in an ongoing act of creation’s manifestation in each unique, fleeting moment. We needn’t fear that each moment includes an irreducible element of novelty and the unknowable; it is ok that every detail doesn’t exist pre-planned in some cosmic mind. It seems instead that mind works in time, hard, calling on all the powers and forces of animate and inanimate existence to aid in its ongoing emergence. It seems that the uncertainty principal we find down among the sub-atomic particles extends right through the exercise of the free will we experience most intimately. Free or determined, particle or wave, mass or momentum, timelessness or time: these are the grand opposites mind plays with as if the paradox of their extremes were of no concern.

Our minds are born curious. To guide them through the difficult process of learning they have developed the ability to contrast that which is experienced as real with that which is experienced as a dream. From this most basic contrast among phenomenon the ego is able to establish what psychology has termed the reality principal. Hemmingway colorfully referred to this as the mind’s “bull shit detector.” It is a direct manifestation of the archetypal Self in so far as incorporates not just the ego but the personal and collective unconscious aspects of consciousness as well. The ego alone is not allowed to decide what is real and what is not, though it often wishes it could. The ego must learn to bow before that which makes the real seem real to it. It must embrace the Kantian categories of time, space and causality trustingly. Which leads us back to the subject of magic and miracles we looked at in last week’s post.

Is there evidence for a miracle-causing supernatural realm wholly outside the perception of humanity, as the priests claim? Is there evidence that magic works and that holy men have powers far beyond that of us normal mortals? Can the ego find in these tales of magic and miracles some real foundation for its hope to become immortal and forever blessed? This is how the BS detector takes on the subject of religion. Eastern or Western makes no difference since both abound in tales of magic and miracles.

I am going to suggest that this search for evidence for magical power has two results. In the realm of physical manifestations the evidence supports the null hypothesis. No miracles in the walking-on-water and severed-heads-being-restored variety are ever found to exist. It is always trickery, altered states of consciousness, or hearsay one is left with at the end of careful investigations of claims that these types of magical things have come to pass. On the other hand, there are the types of magical power involved with human psychology. There are love potions and death spells, holy incantations and powerful rites and ceremonies galore. The evidence for this kind of magic having a real world affect is rather abundant. Psychology is just beginning to grapple with some of what is involved when one human mind exerts “undue influence” over another. The proliferation of destructive cults in our midst has made this subject of “brainwashing” a very practical one for psychologists to deal with. Though today we call the visible, physical results of curses psychosomatic illnesses, that new label doesn’t cure people suffering from them nor is it able to keep people from occasionally being terrified to death by these same means. The evil eye and pointy sticks of the black magicians of today present themselves in more modern garb but they play on the same mind-body linkages around fear and panic, desire and pain, that they always have.

The arts of persuading the human mind have become common place in the emotional manipulations we see displayed in advertising. Ads are messages designed to change the behavior of those watching, namely to get them to purchase the product being hawked. To do this effectively across a wide percentage of the population the advertisers found that using emotional appeals instead of intellectual arguments delivered the goods. The familiar voiceover extolling the facts about some car, drug or whatnot is often included as no more than a veneer atop the visual short story the ad conveys. Not everyone will respond to these efforts on the part of advertisers to directly influence behavior. The cheerful mind, confident in its position, is less susceptible to the allure of their appeals. This is because those appeals almost always begin from an injection of a negative self-image into the mind of the viewer who is then given relief through the purchase of the product. The target of these mini soap operas are unhappy, lonely, confused, stressed, unpopular, stinky, failures but luckily for them, the old snake-oil pitch runs, we have just the thing to turn your life around!

We say that the successful tunes and jingles the mass media saturates our minds with are “catchy.” Our minds catch them, like a cold or a virus. For example, in 1982 the song Jack & Diane by John Mellencamp was receiving repeated radio play. I still, 35 years later, occasionally get the catchy chorus popping up in my head, “Oh ya, life goes on, long after the thrill of living is gone.” Those of my readers close to my age may have just heard the same notes accompanying the jingle I do when this virus takes hold. There is big money to be made in programming the human mind with pessimistic mantras like this.

I think we need to discuss this like a viral epidemic. These act as mind parasites as they so easily loop endlessly in our minds in some vague, semi-conscious fashion. These internal tunes provide a bounce to our step throughout the day but they also are programming the mind with a point of view. The music, the Dionysian element Nietzsche recovered for European philosophy in The Birth of Tragedy, helps us move our bodies with more rhythm, more like dancers. This is why devices allowing us to have earphones on throughout the day have become so popular; they answered a deeply felt need in this time of ours which has so consistently insisted our bodies are little more than DNA built machines. Machines don’t dance. It is the music of these jingles that gets to the heart. The words on the other hand, the words are carrying what are more or less intelligible messages from the daylight realm of Apollo. The mind feeds on thought, finding some nourish and some do not. Those which do not nourish are like the empty calories of a fast food meal; they crowd out the place nourishing thoughts might have been. The jingle mentioned earlier is a good example of a type that I find all too pervasive. It’s Apollonian message is basically adolescent romantic angst, playing on the fear that after 30 years old life is nothing but one unremitting downhill slide. This is a useful message if you want to sell things to younger people. It paints a picture that their youth is the only time of their lives that really counts – so rack up that credit card!

“Oh ya, life goes on, long after the thrill of living is gone.” Think a moment what it is you are telling your mind about life and what types of experiences one can expect as one gets older every time that little ditty loops around inside one’s skull. So many lives of quite desperation haunt the cities and towns of our modern world. One is left to wonder how much of it is the result of mind programming tricks like this. What is the jingle but a claim of corporate property rights in your inner landscape? This is what the thinkers of the past used to call the battle over the human soul. There is a reality to the psyche, as Jung was at such pains to point out, call it what you will.

It is only when we think that what our minds are capable of is trivial, so easy as to become unworthy of our continuous respect, that we can fail to properly protect them. It is then that we can become haunted by wanting more out of self-conscious mammalian life than it is prepared to deliver. In doing so we become susceptible to the wiles of the uncouth manipulators of mind. When we want more like this, we open ourselves up to the tragedy pattern which always starts when a person or a group pursues a fantasy that is not aligned with reality. Such projects do not end well, how could they? Better to work hard ourselves to acquaint consciousness with the art of paying attention to that which actually concerns us as self-conscious, caring individuals alive on a threatened earth.