He Who Was Without Sin

We are all blind until we see
That in the human plan,
Nothing is worth the making,
If it does not make the man.

Why build these cities glorious,
If man unbuilded goes?
In vain we build the world, unless,
The builder also grows.
-Edwin Markham
Quoted in Bruce Watson’s
The Man who Changed How Boys and Toys were Made

The collective actions of the global consumer culture have grown suicidal. This is a simple scientific observation. We need to be clear about this. If existing trends continue, specifically if we continue burning fossil fuels, a massive die-off of human beings and animals is the most probable outcome. We know this as certainly as we know any scientific fact in this class of probabilistic knowledge – and we do not care enough to stop. This is because we are hurt, we are not right in our hearts. If we loved life sufficiently we would insist the madness stop, evidently we do not. The only other logic possibility is that human beings are up against something so much more powerful than themselves, that they are helpless to improve these ecological and sociological errors.What humans create they can choose not to create, and since fossil fuel use is certainly something humans created that second possible explanation seems weak.

That leaves us with we don’t care, or at least, care enough. I think this is our modern Gnosticism, a pervasive life-sucks philosophy disguised as something else. The commercial culture looks to be one of happy faces. On the outside the American dream is an endless party in a cornucopia of the best goods the earth has to offer. Inside the culture, things are not so happy. The life advertising celebrates, with all the tricks of light and makeup, is a sham. It is not the life filled with babies and grandparents, graveyards and weddings, bills, pimples, and hugs which is our actual fate. This is our Gnostic denial of what actually is, in favor of a fantasy. To the degree that this commercial culture celebrates youth above all other stages of life, to exactly that degree it denies human life is meaningful and has value. Hence, to escape the pain of a meaningless existence, we are on this downward trajectory towards simplified lifestyles without the hope that such a future is anything but too dismal to talk about. If we can’t shop at Walmart every Black Friday this century, well, then screw the whole planet, right?

If we are to understand the meaning of the Western Christian story for us today, in our time of ecological and social collapse, we need to grant our ancestors the benefit of the doubt and by using reason and our own experience of what is real and true about being human and being a part of a larger society, try to understand what it is they are communicating poetically to us. I am arguing the Western spiritual tradition has been perverted, yet remains a source of strength for people of goodwill if we are able to be clear that this is the situation. There is a whole lot going down in the name of Jesus that is actually anti-Jesus. It is meant to be this way. That is the exact trap built into the myth. Did you really think the whole of the ancient world was persuaded by a mystery religion that had no mystery, that the initiations grew quite because Christianity itself did not have an initiation able to replace them? The preachers of the non-compassionate, hardhearted, kill-joy Christ are nothing new, nor is their Gnostic heresy.

Those who would make you feel bad about being a human being, typically using religious mumbo-jumbo in the process, are not speaking with the spirit of the creator’s wisdom but the lying spirit we have been discussing. True god and true man, that is what this means. The true god with which we have to deal is the one that created us, and created us the way we are. Whatever mysteries we may be involved in concerning gods, angels, and demons, the primary reality always and everywhere, for us, remains the human one. Those “supernatural” things should serve human needs, humanity should not be torn apart trying to serve their needs. From tip to toe we as created imperfect creatures are blessed, loved, unique, created in the image of god, children of god, the apple of his eye; how many more ways could the Church Fathers find to say it? From the lust in our crotch to the reasoning in our minds, there is nothing to fear here. It is as it should be. A vast cosmos is interdependently generating the human species, sustaining us moment by moment, creating the complex weave of each brain’s enchanted loom as the most intricate structure of molecules in the whole of known existence. We when are awake to this, which is reality, we are aware of our nobility. This is what we are currently putting at risk with our short-sighted cowardice before the fossil fuel conundrum. If we are older we are the kings and queens, or if younger the princes and princesses, of the whole. By properly using our reason and emotions we are able to build (small ‘k’) kingdoms of peace where love flourishes. We are the artists of our own lives, free to will as we will. The Gospel is a teaching about the wisdom of an authentic human life well lived, one that is lived with passion and respect for oneself, others, and the earth. The Gospel is also a teaching about the dangers to human beings of hubris and pride, particularly the pride involved in thinking you are religiously righteous. The fevered dreams of those who would be gods create demonic evil in their ignorant striving to be too good, too blissful, too rich, and too powerful.

By having Jesus be the one human being who was also god, we are given an image that clarifies our own creature-hood by asserting a contrast. True god manifest while remaining true man is also the most powerful expression possible of the non-Gnostic point of view. It guides our speculations towards examining the exact relationship between the rational human psyche, the visionary spirit, and the flesh. The speculations have remained fruitful for millennia now and show no signs of stopping.

“He was like us in all things but sin.” Whenever I had heard that my immediate thought was, well, than he was not very much like us at all. I have since come to understand this differently. Throughout the essays dealing with abuse I have been sharing the Jungian teaching that the shadow archetype is considered, in practice, to be 90% gold. What therapists have found is that the seemingly bad habits, character traits and emotional problems people have are often protecting important inner aspects of their personalities. There is an assertion of identity by the life force itself, sweeping the ego along. If this shadowy protection had not been there, the client would have lost their personal integrity along the way. The example I used was how an adolescent starting to smoke might be defending their identity separated from their parents and others who are forcing their will on the young person due to their own psychological problems.

These shadowy aspects of our characters are born, in part, from reactions we have had to the evil others have done to us. Attacks upon the integrity of the person bring forth these shadow powered protectors. Becoming reacquainted with our own souls involves dealing with these aspects of our life experience, which up until now we have had to repress full awareness of due to their painful implications. In my experience, what is hard for the psyche is to admit certain truths about other people if those truth are attended by extremely painful implications for the relationship in the here and now. Too many abusive families never talk about the abuse each member of the family is aware of, because to do so would be to upset the whole emotional dynamic on which existing relationships are based. Relationships involve issues of love, hate, power and powerlessness. These parts of our “insides” are among the most powerful human experiences there are. It takes something larger than ego to break out of the cages abuses create. This is where the shadow comes in. Living the lie can only go on so long, something has to give. (This is a lesson each of us alive today are learning concerning ecological problems right now). If the light of reason is denied the ability to express what it knows, the unconscious elements from the dreaming life will, at times, overwhelm the waking life. Desires without the will to resist them will arise.

Not just any old desires but exactly those that the shadowy reasoning has worked out might bring the personalities the nourishment of truth, love, or light they need but are not getting. A simple example is ubiquitous high-powered business man who drinks themselves to sleep each night. The drunk, to put it simply, may be a better person overall because they take their indulgence as a way to relax. Perhaps without the drink they would be beating their wife and children but because they have their little buzz, they make their peace with life. Over the years their drinking will bother them and become more and more of a problem until they are lead into the therapists’ office, or circumstances within their own lives perform the same waking up service. That is a sketch of a the way these things very often go. It is why those who deal directly with the fallout of evil on human personalities, our psychologists, talk about the shadow being 90% gold. The older was of talking among those who deal directly with the fallout of evil on human personalities was to say that these things are the power of sin. They are reverberations. They can be healed.

Our ancestors, in their wisdom, talked about the differences between personal sin and the more serious mortal or deadly sins.

There is a distinction being made here between the sinful reverberations of being tortured by abuse, and the evil of the abuse itself. The violence and cruelty that attends the act of evil itself is the shadow’s remaining 10%. Most people on earth now, and throughout the many generations extending back into our misty past, have not participated in the kind of actions that make up the 10%. Most people do not commit acts of incest, murder, rape, or torture. These are not the sins of the shadowy 90% but the ones that put your soul at “risk of eternal damnation,” that is, the mortal sins. Those are words designed to provoke panic. There is a reason for this. Can you see it now that it is placed in the context of the 10% of events where evil has its hour? This is the scream from the silence in Abraham’s ear – do not kill your son! Do so, and nothing you do in the rest of your life will blot out from your own understanding what it is you have done. Since we are mortal creatures with only one life to live, this is the equivalent of entering hell for the rest of your days. But this, too, is not the whole story.

The Christ came to save the lost. The 10% can find deliverance, it is what their victims pray for: that they and the evil they sew be stopped in their tracks.

“He was like us in all things but sin.” Maybe a modern way to understand this is that Jesus had the 90% shadow in common with all of us, what he did not do was one of the acts driven by the 10% of the dark side that has passed from ignorance and mistakes into that which is truly evil. With the power of creation in his hand, the Christ said “No” to some of it, the old lesson from Eden. He committed no mortal sin, that is he did not partake of some parts of the human experience – those which are dominated by the demonic. He did not ignore these events, just the opposite. As god he chose to know these experiences as the victim, not the perpetrator. What Jesus Christ teaches is that as the victim he sees the truth of the human heart, exposing the liar that would darken it. On the cross he exposes it once and for all time. There is nothing to fear in natural death, that is not the gateway to hell, evil is. There is nothing to fear in the natural way of the dance and the drunk, the marriage and the tears. Our creator created us mortals, creatures meant to be passionate and moved by love. There is something to fear in the use of our rational powers of consciousness when we choose to use them to increase violence and cruelty. Then humankind brings something forth that does not exist in nature: it creates pain for its own sake, not in service of a higher good. In this bloody mess there is something for us to fear. Humans can feel it in the air when torture is occurring and long ago labeled it demonic. To fear trespassing against a personality the way those who abuse others do, this fear is said to be the fear of the Lord, the fear said to be the beginning of wisdom.

Those whose lives are drawn to enact the evil of the 10% are in turn reacting to powers not normally a part of general human experience. Serial killers, Hitlers, et. al., the whole bunch are dealing with much more than just personal shadows. They have a contract of sorts to work out with the Christ light. They have acted against another being’s personality, the spark of divinity they did not create, cannot extinguish, and have no right to abuse. Since they too are a personality, there is a complicated situation here. It is one that we cannot fully understand, the mystery of iniquity. “Judge not that ye be not judged” for though some will carry the cross and some will carry the sin, both are invited to the marriage taking place on that old wooden cross. Jesus is the trap for the demons, liberator of the children, and the one who binds the devil, the strong man. He unites true god and true man, catching out the conscience of us all – the one family of humankind.

We have been at this for tens of thousands of years. There is, in the end, only human beings and what they do to one another. This is both the kingdom come, and the condemnation. Evolution designed us to learn by making mistakes. Only when we are free to make mistakes do we stand any chance of ever arriving at wisdom. There needs to be a limit on where the mistakes are allowed to lead, if we are not going to find ourselves involved in more than we can handle. The 10% evil in the shadow is that which should remain out of bounds. When those bounds are trespassed, the mistakes enter taboo territory and they ring hell’s bells.

The contract worked out with Jesus is one built on “I am sorry.” It is signed in blood, that is, the next day the person must act differently. The power of the Christ is the power to choose to do good, from this day forward. What is past is gone, it is done and cannot be changed. Whatever causes and effects that are rippling along from those things a person has done but now regrets are not going to be altered by gnashing teeth and wailing. They might be, might be, by the actions a person takes for the rest of their remaining lives, however long or short that might be. This is repentance, the first coming of the Lord in terror. Here is the big secret – Jesus is the most powerful monster of them all. The key point of baptism is saying out loud “I renounce the devil,” unafraid of the 10% and willing to evoke their wrath. When people get into religious arguments, basically my invisible friend can beat up your invisible friend, this is the teaching they are misunderstanding.

Once the blood contract is signed in the flesh of a person they become people of the day. Those changed by their searing encounter with their conscience now reach for the new dawn, looking forward to the tomorrows of their lives. It happens once someone knows in their bones that the so-called second coming of Jesus, when we pass through the door of death and return to the ground of our being, is the Word coming in love to claim his creature, child of the cosmos, precious and unique throughout all time. The simple innocence of life which we once knew in our childhood was born of ignorance. That carefree innocence can be ours again as we age and increase in our understanding, if we learn to embrace, even rejoice in, our very creature-hood. Yes, scars remain in the resurrected life, that is in the story too. We are not going to pretend that evil does not exist, but we do insist it is limited. Faith is the conviction lived that life can be fun, we can be happy, and our lives given away to those we love in the labor of building our little ‘k’ kingdoms can be made both beautiful and meaningful. This is the good news.

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?

Dead Poet Societies

“Deep is the well of the past, shall we not call it bottomless?
Indeed we should, if – in fact, perhaps only if – the past subjected to our remarks and inquires is solely that of humanity, of this enigmatic life-form that comprises our own naturally lusty and preternaturally wretched existence and whose mystery is quite understandably the alpha and omega of all our remarks and inquires, lending urgency and fire to all our speech, insistence to all our questions. And yet what happens is this: the deeper we delve and the farther we press and grope into the underworld of the past, the more totally unfathomable become those first foundations of humankind, of its history and civilization, for again and again they retreat farther into the bottomless depths, no matter to what extravagant lengths we may unreel our temporal plumb line…”
Thomas Mann, Joseph and His Brothers

 

This post continues our discussion of religious child abuse. It also touches on the horrors of sexual abuse by priests as it is experienced by their victims. It may not be suitable for all readers.

There are two videos linked to this essay. The first shows the power of mytho-poetic imagery to serve life, the second shows how it can be used to destroy its joy. The second one contains explicit adult material and deals with what I consider the truly demonic, namely abuses around our sexual identity carried out in the name of god. It also hints at where healing might come from in these situations. Such material can trigger people who have spiritual abuse in their past but it can also aid their healing by giving voice to that which had been gagged. Please use wisdom in deciding if viewing this material is right for you. I do not share it lightly. We are discussing these things because, I believe, they are highly relevant to the social and spiritual aspects of our ecological crisis and the ongoing collapse of our integrity and infrastructure it entails.

Stories of hero quests are meant to inspire us. Tales of dragons slain and mountains climbed let us know that those who went before us were able to overcome the evils of their day and that they were able to obtain the vision of the mountaintop. Stories told to the young inspire them to find their own voice. The poets have cast a net of words around those elements of life that move us immediately and directly, bringing tears to our eyes, groans to our chests, and, at times, laughter midst amazement at it all. They act as guides for the in-between places where soul or psyche is found. It exists midway between the physicality of the body and its emotions, and the mercurial thoughts and intuitive insights our nervous systems host. Poetry uses words to evoke images and images to evoke words not of the mind but of the chest, words that echo as if resonating from the well of deep time.

The dreams of the heart, those that inspire us emotionally, are able to encompass their audacious desires only in tales of magic and miracles. Reason knows miracles are so highly improbable as to be, for all intents and purposes, impossible. Yet, when the heart talks it evidently needs these images drawn from the imagination since we find them in all times and in all places humans have been. This is how the heart guides reasoning, aiding it in where and how it should be applied. We have seen with the work of neuroscientist Damasio that emotion is necessary to reasoning well, providing the reason for reasoning. Or, as Pascal had it, “The heart has reasons reason does not know.” Faith is the idea that reason can justifiably trust in these things greater than itself.

Robin Williams’ masterpiece, The Fisher King, turns a compassionate artist’s eye to the issue of healing the mind traumatized by the violence of the modern world. Respecting the gravity of soul, it necessarily also respects the role of images in the mind of the victim, alienated from consensual reality, lost in their pain. The movie explores the dangers of mixing poetry and prose, that which is a metaphor and that which is literal and does so without losing sight of the ultimate healing such dangerous moves by the psyche are seeking by insisting on leading the personality towards wholeness. This earns Robin a special place in my book. I’d like to let him speak for the poets rightly understood. Here is a fine video that captures the work of the poets as a guide for the young, indeed, for all those who remain young at heart to the day they die. It is based on his work in Dead Poets Society.

“Carpe Diem, seize the day, gather your rose buds, while you may.”

This balance between the head and the heart, which poetry accentuates, is the essential challenge of a human life. In that balance we find our middle way, a way that gives the proper due to both our thoughts and our feelings. The head or the reasoning ability provides us with powerful truth seeking tools. We have the ability to recognize what data is relevant, how a theory can explain what we find, and how to clearly communicate those findings with others. Mathematics serves that clarity and allows us to make bridges and skyscrapers that do not fall down and all the other boons engineering provides. It also allows us to communicate the degree of our unknowing and confidence. This proves to be critical in both sciences and engineering as well as in decision making and the rational creation of public policy. The heart, on the other hand, gives us our arts. The theater, and today movies, can share stories with us that speak so intimately to our own unique needs and dreams that they become touchstones for the rest of our lives. This is what happens to people of faith with their core religious story. This is one of the powers of stories and has been understood in the West since at least the ancient Greeks. With the help of math we are able to build a bridge that will not fall down under the weight of cars and trucks. With the help of stories we build an inner bridge between the person we are today and the person we want to become tomorrow, one that will not fall down under the weight of daily disappointments and setbacks.

For many people in the past, and many alive today, the most important story of all in their lives are the ones that tell of their religious faith. Faith, broadly understood, is what the poets are concerned with. Poetry involves intellectual elements placed in service of a soul-task. Words are used to point beyond words to the actual experience of living unmediated by cognitive filters. Training in faith we slowly learn to become comfortable in the unknown and unknowable. We learn we need not fear that which will forever exceed the intellect alone. It is assuredly true that the unexamined life is not worth living, the philosophers correctly  insist that their love of wisdom is an essential ingredient of a life lived well. The poets, however, remind the philosophers that a life not lived fully has little material worth examining!

Here is the point. Carl Jung insisted that he found religious imagery in the dreams of his patients. He found that imagery was indispensible to the healing of the psyche. This means minds subjected to spiritual abuse suffer a confusion at a very profound level. Images of god, Self, light, angels, beauty and truth are normally bringers of peace, strengthening the mind of the dreamer for the tasks of maturity and responsibility the day brings. Kids with a healthy faith find that the religious imagery bubbling up in their dreams is supporting their efforts at learning and growing into their own unique selves. Kids who have suffered under the wickedness of spiritual abuse do not have this foundation on which to build a life. Nightmares dominate such kids night lives and the repression of them steals the energy they could of used to deal more skillfully with their day lives. For them all the imagery associated with religious thought has been marred, perverted from its life serving causes and turned into a death dealing one. The ideas of god, devil, heaven, hell, love, compassion, and on and on – all are no longer sources of strength but triggers for re-traumatizing. Spiritual abuse is a uniquely twisted form of abuse in the sense that to heal from trauma typically requires the strength found in a new, adult chosen faith. This is very hard for those who have been cut to the quick by the churches.

REASON – emotion
reason – EMOTION

In the Calculus and other such endeavors we shift our attention towards the reasoning end of the reason-emotion spectrum. Big reason, little emotion is as far into objectivity as we embodied beings reach. In myth and poetry our attention shifts towards the emotional end of the reason-emotion spectrum. Big emotion, little reason is as far into subjectivity as we embodied beings reach. Beauty and harmony lead the mathematician towards truth, these are the emotional elements playing their role. A logical consistency within the altered physics of a mythology remains as the rational element, giving coherence to the overall picture images.

The real environment in which a human being will live out every day of their lives consists of the rather mundane. Graveyards and gardens, toilets and supper, dirty dishes and mended fences are everywhere. There are moments, however, when it is all transformed and we are struck by awe unutterable. Tales of magic and miracles exist side by side with this human experience, capturing something of the wholeness evolved from this mix of the mundane and the numinous. The tales help us by clothing what it is like at times to experience our experiences, to be authentically human. Myth and poetry agree it feels like magic when we fall in love, that it feels like god heals us when we are comforted in the midst of our afflictions, it feels like we could fly over mountains, feed the hungry, and comfort all the afflicted when we are filled with the flowing powers of life. Myth and poetry are not interested in expressing absolutes, they point beyond themselves for their referents. We in the modern world have been taught to dismiss these referents because we are taught that how a person might feel about things is basically worthless. We are smart in so many ways, and yet we are astonishingly symbolically illiterate. There is something very, very real being expressed in these stories, something we could grasp no other way.

The abused are moving through this mundane world with a burden. They carry the effects of trauma in their bodies, an anchor of the truth about their own life stories and yet, before it is healed through compassionate acceptance, it also acts as the milestone by which they can drown. In sorrow. In confusion. In fear. Hurting people seek relief. There are not many life enhancing reliefs to be found in a culture dominated by the idea of keeping people in need of endless purchasing for acquiring status and self worth. The hurt who survive are able to find some immediate relief, be it in drugs, sex or strange religion, that at least lets them get through the long night. In these ways “they too can be ‘Heroes’, if just for one day.” That the immediate reliefs bring their own problems is just more of the complicated nature of abuse psychology. Without the immediate relief most of these victims would be worse off, they would be dead.

Healing involves addressing the burden. This involves facing terror, the Guardian on the Threshold that holds the “thought that dare not be thought, the feeling that dare not be felt.” Because the victim has been taught by their abuse some form of the “it’s for your own good” lie, they also believe, at some level, that they deserved whatever abuse they suffered. To face the terror involves seeing clearly they did not. One gives up fantasies of pure evil spawned by the supernaturally powerful devil of our stories, for the tragic truth that there are only people – and the things they do to one another. It is terrifying to look on the face of evil. But it is something the human being can survive.

Abuse is basically one single lesson, though it is taught in the different forms we see abuse taking: sexual, physical, emotional, and spiritual. That one lesson is that “I, great being that I am, is why the universe exists. You, little being that you are, exist only to serve my whims. Fail to please me and I will wipe you out.” Playing ventriloquist with jesus as your meat puppet doesn’t change things one bit.

What kind of home do you live in? The Logical Spectrum of Existence
evil creation by an evil god — neutral creation — good creation by a good god
H.P. Lovecraft’s Gnostic “piping idiot god” – ? – Bible’s “and god saw that it was good”

The abused need to learn that the universe that sick human beings taught them they live in is not the universe as it actually is. They have come to believe that existence is at its root one of unpredictable violence, where good and innocence is always victimized, man’s reasoning is powerless to make any real sense of an existence defined by paradox, and human emotions can only confuse the mind further by blinding it to the double binds it is forced to believe. They live in a world of madness, one created by an evil god: the view of the unhinged psyche. Healing cuts through this image of existence, delivers the victim from the hypnotic prison in which the abusers had placed their soul.

Most all forms of abuse are carried on by people who twist their own hearts and minds into convoluted rationalizations for their pain causing behavior. It is a rare human being that wants to be evil for its own sake, a very small percentage of the race is so fully psychopathic. Most evil is committed by people who are quite convinced that what they are doing is, in some perverted way, serving the greater good. Something gets twisted along the way, turned upside down, turned the wrong way around. Now I happen to think that as part of the healing process the wounds from these very acts of evil are turned into strengths of character, though never fully losing their poisonous sting. When healing happens, IF healing happens, this transformation is something the divine, the Self, god or one’s angel brings about. This is what Carl Jung was at pains to point out, that something greater than ego is involved, that there is a reality to the psychological realm where demons and angels dwell. Healing is not something human beings have any right to count on. It does not give the abusive room to dismiss the full cruelty of their actions. Such healing, this placing of crowns where there had been scars, is not something that always happens. Many lives just stay messed up, viciously hurting themselves and others until the day some tragic death, at their own hand or another’s, finally brings them peace.

How did all this come about? How is it that the human mind can be so deformed that existence itself becomes too painful to bear? What is the root of this sickness of the soul? I think the root cause is reading myth and poetry literally. Those who do so betray the love and concern of our ancestors. We are not powerless in the face of this confusion, not by a long shot. A single rational thought can dynamite a whole edifice of confusion and lies. It doe not matter how colorful its facade might be painted or how tempting the seducers of false certainties might be. Once you know you know, you know. And there is no turning back.

Something like this one-way event happened when the sexual abuse scandal hit the Catholic church. It is not just that these things happened but it is in how they were covered up and allowed while the princes of the church were busy hobnobbing with the rich and powerful. Humpty Dumpty cannot be put back together again. It seems to me that history is leading the West in the direction of St. Francis’ vision of a poor church mixed in with liberation theology’s witness to the truth that Amnesty International knows about empire and torture, all spiced with a repentant attitude of sackcloth and ashes. The Abomination of Desolation has been placed in the Holy of Holies. The central symbolic institution of the West for the last 2,000 years has been corrupted, or at least attacked, at its core. It is now The Next Day. If church spokesman in the future put up justifications for holy nuclear war, it will only be more fuel for the fire that has already been kindled.

We are left wondering what might be happening to the reality of these psychological symbols within all of us who inherited this mytho-poetic tradition. The reality of the psyche and the symbolism by which it feeds is involved in an earthquake within Christianity. That reality is not separate from the ecclesiastical institutions but not wholly subsumed in them either. They leak, as it were, into the public square. The United States is not alone in suffering strange politics due, at least in part, to reversals in religious symbolism. The scandals in Catholicism and the hardening of fundamentalism among the Evangelicals seen in the United States correspond to the earthquakes we see in the other monotheisms: the rigid political Zionization of Judaism and the appeal to violent Jihad among Muslims. Nor does the East escape the quake. We all live in societies inspired by dead poets.

Overcoming Confusion

“The aide said that guys like me were “in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” … “That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors … and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”
Attributed to Karl Rove, Faith, Certainty and the Presidency of George W. Bush

 

Last week we talked about taking a scientific attitude towards our experiences. What if what is true matters? That is what we are asking. There is a frightening degree of disconnect today between the events unfolding in the physical environment and how we are currently thinking and talking about them. It has been the position of Mindful Ecology that the human psyche is a highly complex phenomenon doing the best it can under the evolutionary conditions from which it arose, but this complexity leaves it prone to harmful distortions. It can be profoundly gullible and at times simply mistaken in just those things it believes with the most certainty. Through training the mind can come to recognize its characteristic weaknesses and account for them. This attitude embraces the old fashion idea that there is a real world outside our senses and that our minds are, of necessity, made to conform themselves to that reality. These essays often refer to the ‘molecular world’ in order to stress that the organization and construction of our environment is not malleable to human opinion.

We are all members of what Karl Rove dismissively referred to as the “reality based community” whether we like it or not. Mr. Rove’s point was that this community had become no more than a special interest, one among many (and not one those needing to get elected would have to pay much attention to). The work of mind training using cognitive therapy techniques in the context of ecological concern has this single goal: to remove one’s confusion on this point – the molecular world is not malleable to human opinion. In An Inconvenient Sequel Al Gore states towards the end of the film, “I am not confused.” He explains he has carefully thought long and hard about the issues of climate change. As a result of this process he is no longer in doubt as to what is real, or what is right and what is not right about how we approach these issues and the challenges they bring. This is what Mindful Ecology is about. It is offered as a way of talking about the physical, emotional, and spiritual changes a growing awareness of ecological realities brings about in people who are willing to suffer to know the truth. The suffering is not the end in itself, arriving at the place where confusion has been conquered for oneself, that is the point.

There are no short cuts to that place of peaceful assurance. No magical prayers or incantations, no mass media campaign or TED talk, no pill, and no single super-special book is going to get you there. You are. It doesn’t work any other way.

I am not big on sharing reams and reams of data. There are many others making the important evidence available. This Mindful Ecology work is not aiming to convert the deniers of climate change, the sixth extinction, ocean acidification, desertification, and the other clear environmental signals. If it could it would ask such people to learn to sit quietly and listen to what their bodies are telling them but no, working with deniers is not where my interests lay. I leave that job to others much more competent and trust to the overarching direction of history in which fakes and fantasies, be they of utopias or distopias, crash and burn. I see the idea of Mindful Ecology being most useful for those who have already been called by the earth’s pain and understand something is very wrong in the relationship between humankind and the one planet we call our home.

In the 1970s when the Limits to Growth stated in no uncertain terms that Homo Colossus had to change or die, it was reasonable to believe we were being called to make radical changes. Business as usual was clearly suicidal and so we expected our societies would alter their trajectories. From the perspective of today, here on the cusp of those Limits to Growth curves, it has become obvious that this is not going to happen. Perhaps this is not what we were being called to do by the powerful signal of earth’s pain. Perhaps this was not a signal to take up yet another political cause, forming yet another special interest and lobbying for environmentalists to get our particular slice of the pie. Maybe this was something much, much larger in the grand scheme of things.

Einstein nailed it when he observed that with the development of the nuclear bomb humankind’s technical capacity had outrun its moral capacity. He pondered darkly about how this was a formula for collective suicide if the balance was not restored. The signal of earth’s pain could be just that initiatory threshold being offered to our kind. Just under the headlines we are seething to use those nuclear weapons, get the nightmare out of the closet and see just how bad WWIII is really going to be. At the same time the collapse of ecological stability is accelerating. The outcome of this in history is anyone’s guess. The outcome in the psychological realm is also anybody’s guess. I’m suggesting that these psychological changes may prove to be the deciding factor in the long run, assuming there is a long run. It is not inconceivable that we are heading into a new barbarism or even our own extinction. I do not think this is the case but it is not inconceivable given the evidence at hand today. Wouldn’t we all like to see a few centuries hence?

By sitting with the love of earth in my breast, the topsy-turvy world where bullies pretend to be holy men was overcome. The emperor of that reality making empire Karl Rove went on about – that emperor is naked as a jaybird, that emperor has no clothes. This is a very important political lesson just now. I do not think anyone who touches this ground of being found by following a love for the earth is going to miss the same experience. It is waiting for us out there in the reality of the molecular world and it is not going anywhere for a long, long time. It involves a correct recognition of the place the creature is within the creation, where the contained is within the container. This is an ecological insight. Ecology is the study of living things in their environment. Creating a relationship between one’s own soul and the world-soul brings liberty to the inner Atlas, that part of us that learns of the ecological crisis and tries to carry the world on our shoulders. Children of the empire, we have inherited its hubris. Turning away from empire on the outside involves turning away from its hubris on the inside.

The way our Western tradition ancestors would of said it is that ‘it is not me; it is He in me which is greater’ that does great things and in which we can trustingly put our hope. That greater is what we are called to have a relationship with. When the mind is not lost in fantasy but has properly aligned reason and imagination, it can relax. It can enjoy life’s journey, loving and laughing even under the darkening skies. This is how I understand faith. It is a term describing a psychic condition in which a person believes, from deep down in the basement of their mind where the heart of character is found, that this earthly experience is basically good. Faith is born from years of saturation in the evidence, not a willful disregard for what is really real or a quick fix magic spell disguised as a prayer for a broken soul.

There are elements in play out here in the molecular world – and in its reflection in the world of the psyche – much larger than the philosophies of the age are yet accounting for. Everywhere people are groping for this larger picture of how we human beings might fit into the deep time and deep space our knowledge has revealed. We have learned all about the trauma god, how our abuses of one another ripple across the human family generation after generation. We have come to know how hate and anger is cheap and easy, just as the bully is the lowest form of character. Now that we understand something of these causes and effects of suffering and compassion, it is interesting to ask how far our new self-knowledge might take our future cultural evolution. It is unknown how far into virtue societies organized around respect for the earth and other sentient beings might go. Imagine how differently we might be dealing with the ecological crisis if the fundamental virtue of our society was extending validation to other individuals, instead of trying to out-compete them at every turn. While that might seem an impossible daydream to the average American raised on the gospel of Adam Smith, it has in fact been the norm for cultures other than ours many times in the past. This means there is no unbridgeable gulf between where we are today and where this type of a tomorrow could lead us. Our leaders will not lead us there but we might get there one person at a time.

Those convinced they are entitled to their empire dreams born of hubris will be washed away by the river of time as the Limits to Growth curves start to really bite; if, that is, truth matters. Those who would risk the future of our species for quarterly profits, though they are all loud and screaming now, will not have the last word; if, that is, truth matters. It is not just that our oil based community infrastructure will crash on the rock of renewable energy’s lesser capacity, though it will. There is also an undeniable moral dimension to these things as well, a karmic aspect. As Pope Francis has recently reiterated very publicly, the brunt of the pain of these ecological disasters is born by the poor. In contemplation consider it this way: the cars we in the developed world drive hurt the poorest of the poor. That too is real. We have been trained not to care but we can undo that training if we choose.

The conscience of the species is being pricked. It is the Abraham moment of our times. Will we kill our children, sacrificing them on the altar of strange gods like the GDP, or will we listen to our conscience and refuse to go along with such bloody, murderous plans? Mindful Ecology is not an exercise of spiritual one-upmanship allowing us virtuous tree huggers to pole vault over the unwashed masses. It is a means of understanding just the opposite: how interdependence is the reality of the human family’s emotional and cognitive experience just as much as it is our physical truth. We are all in this together. This is neither a feel-good bumper sticker slogan nor a kind of New Thought mysticism. It is just the way it is, relationships are at the core of our being. As Joanna Macy once said, ‘if you really understand this, that we are all in this together – it should scare the hell out of you.’

Life is much better once the hell is out of you.

Somehow we have to retain perspective so that while we speak truth to power and fight the good fight, we do not ourselves become only more cruel and bitter. We also need to “ramble out yonder and explore forests, climb mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for awhile and contemplate the precious stillness, the lovely, mysterious, and awesome space,” as Edward Abby taught us. Shed tears for the earth, spit out curses on the blindness torturing her, but do not forget the silly human race is not as powerful and almighty as it likes to think it is. Do not forget that all existence is a gift. It is most honorable to pay tribute to that gift with our own happiness. ‘Follow your bliss,” Joe Campbell never tiered of insisting on, that this is the Way. Each person is asked to unfold their own character, to fully show up in their own lives. We can encourage each other in this. In acts of loving kindness and in the laughing smile the whole great work of the universe seems to come to fruition. We are here to enjoy the garden. Sometimes it seems that the Western world is so enmeshed in the ideas and images of the biblical Book of Revelation that it has forgotten Genesis 1: that it is a good creation and we humans are a natural part of it; that earth is in fact a garden paradise for eyes that see the wilderness aright.

I have come to believe that even in the worst case scenario of another human population bottleneck the human family will almost certainly pull through. Cold comfort for many perhaps, but it means I am not unseated by the daily bad news as I once had been. Storms or bombs, political, economic or social insanity, whatever might be the disaster du jour, they remain a long way from the extreme, yet not wholly improbable, event of our species experiencing another population bottleneck. For me this belief that we would pull through a population bottleneck is not just cold comfort. It was how I looked evil right in the eye and came away from the encounter stronger. We as a species might avoid this horror, or it might be just the lesson we need to establish a habit of encouraging our better natures instead of feeding our lower ones. Who knows? Who really knows? In that open question the defeatist attitude that worked as an inner destroyer of honest hope for the future lost its power over me.

I have come to believe that what makes life so precious is not that there are billions and billions of creatures but that everyone I come to know is uniquely individual. This is true of the animals in my life and so much more so for the people. As long as somewhere in the future of Gaia, a boy and girl are still able to meet, fall in love, and carry on the work of nurturing the long childhood of our kind, as long as I know that is the future we are heading towards, I do not fear despair as I once did. It has a floor.

These firm convictions came by examining the sciences involved to the best of my ability and sitting with my own informed experience of being human long enough to listen a little to what the body’s deep wisdom is singing in its DNA song. Somewhere in that alchemy of earth and psyche there arose the diamond body, as it were, the thunderbolt chariot on which my waking awareness takes its seat. “I am not confused.” We prepare for this transformation of consciousness; we do not make it nor make it happen. What we are looking for in the silence is already in the nature of things. Our role is to train, train hard until we recognize where our efforts end, and then our open hand can freely choose to accept the gift that is offered. In gracious acceptance of existence, with a “yes” and “thank you,” we find our human nobility.

I’m not trying to set myself up as a model. Lord knows my master’s degree is in folly, not wisdom. But I do think it is important to talk about what can be talked about. People all over the earth are involved in these ideas of contemplation and mind training. People all over the earth are deeply hurt and confused by the ecological abuse of our earth. By doing the work, each and every one of us is directly handling the same raw material. If we use our voices to speak truth among each other, bit by bit we will work an integration of wisdom and folly more in line with our best intentions – both as individuals and as a species.