Repressions Or . . .

There is no script for what our societies are going through. There is no map for this territory. Though groups of human beings have caused massive ecological damage to their surroundings throughout our history, the size and extent of industrialization’s infrastructure is unprecedented on the earth. We are becoming, to use a phrase from Marvel, the destroyers of worlds. Or, to take another popular reference, we are engaged in Star Wars where some are building the death star, the ultimate weapon capable of destroying whole planets at a time. To state it as clearly as possible we could say that the human race is becoming a monster.

Last week we touched on the capability of the human brain to record carefully the details around whatever traumatic experiences it has been through. Those events which threaten its continued existence are prioritized by the algorithm of evolutionary fitness which developed it. The same survival priority has also created the brains ability to hide the knowledge of those detailed traumatic memories from the ego, the self-conscious part of the human experience, if the ego would be incapacitated by them. Again, the priority is to get on with the necessary tasks of day-in and day-out living: finding food, shelter, mates, and maintaining the body in working order. To accomplish this animals have developed the ability to learn and the most powerful lessons are those that concern surviving.

The question of future survival is exactly what our ecological sciences are warning us is no longer assured. Though we are acting as though we do not know this, the facts are so well dispersed among the mass media that very few people are completely unaware. This leaves our social lives in a condition somewhat parallel to someone who is in denial about their childhood abuse. Such people are left doing what they can in the day-in and day-out tasks of their lives but are handicapped by unacknowledged fears, angers, and pain. Psychologists say the body of such people remembers the abuse, the brain of such people has seared the lessons into memory but the memory remains inaccessible to the ego. These repressions mold the ego which needs to navigate around the hot spots, placing it in the state of cognitive dissonance where they both know and do not know what is real for them. In order to avoid thinking the thoughts that would uncover the truth of their past, at some level of consciousness they remain obsessed with that past pain. This allows them to remain vigilant in their task of never allowing the thought that cannot be thought.

When the pain of such dual awareness gets to be too much, such people need to find relief in drugs, fanaticisms, violence, and other less than optimal behaviors. Are our societies that different?

The ongoing and accelerating sixth extinction is weighing heavily on our shoulders. As the evidence of climate change’s loss of climate stability accumulates and our minds take note of it, this too weighs heavily on our shoulders. As the coral reefs die our bodies respond viscerally since the threat of a dying ocean brings atavistic fears that the source of life itself might become poisoned by our hands. We have seen Venus and we have seen Mars, both providing mirrors of what earth could be. Though we may pretend as we go about our daily business that these things are not bothering us deeply, we cannot deny the evidence of our senses. Pondering and understanding the evidence of our senses is exactly what the human brain was evolved to do.

As hard as all of this is on the minds of every human being alive today, it is not the worst part of it. The worst knowledge of all is how simple the solution is to turn our trend lines into life supporting ones instead of the current life killing ones. We all know what we need to do. We need to stop burning fossil fuels.

Here is the thought that cannot be thought in modern civilized discourse. To think it involves so many unquestioned assumptions by which our existing social arrangements are maintained that we cower from it in fear. We need to recognize that Exxon is the enemy. We need to recognize that Exxon is not a few humans but an artificial construct created by our hands but now alive with a life of its own. Imagine for a moment that all the stockholders of Exxon awoke tomorrow morning from a shared nightmare in which they saw the state of the earth one hundred years from now and it shook them all to the bone. Imagine every stockholder suddenly insisting that the board of directors immediately develop a plan to ween the world off its oil addiction. This imaginative scenario is one in which human beings take the maximum responsibility for their choices and use their maximum courage to stand for what is right. What would be the outcome? Nothing. It is not legally possible for Exxon to do any such thing. It must only do that which will bring maximum profit to its stockholders. This is what I mean by we have created an artifact that now has a life of its own.

I do not want to be misunderstood as just another left-leaning guy railing against corporations. Corporations are simply collections of human beings, some of whom have committed evil acts and made evil decisions and will again, most of whom have not and will not. Most human beings are well intentioned. Human beings have a deep need to give back to the societies in which they have received all they have needed to survive. We are moved by the generosity of the hand that gives us our existence and this whole beautiful earth on which to experience it. It provokes a desire to give something back, to make something of the many gifts we have been given. Corporations simply harness that natural desire, though in the environment of truth-repressions they do tend to deliver shoddy, if not down right destructive, results.

Exxon is, of course, just the whipping pole I chose as an example because it is the largest corporation on earth and the one currently in the driver’s seat of United States foreign policy making. Any number of other organizations could just as easily be analyzed along the same lines. This is what we are up against and so far it is proving to be an enemy to future well-being we are wholly incapable of defeating. How can we defeat the Nazi threat of our generation when it is not concentrated in a country or a particular political ideology but pervades our entire consciousness? We are so enamored by the loud bells and whistles of our modern technology that it has become impossible for most individuals to imagine living together any other way. We are enslaved.

No one in their right mind would choose to create the conditions of a massive die off of both people and animals for the sake of a smartphone. Ok, that is a bit flippant but it captures something I think is very real about our situation. First get clear about the die off our sciences are warning us is heading our way – fast. The existing population of close to eight billion human beings may very well become a population of maybe one billion by end of this century. The diversity of animal species could very well be diminished by fifty to eighty percent. Plant life does not escape these dire predictions either. The massive forest die off already happening across many parts of the world (due to Bark Beetles and such) is expected to only increase in a warming world. The desperate slash and burn techniques for acquiring arable land able to grow crops has, as of today, no counter force by which its accelerating rates might be curbed. Lacking predictable climate stability removes the ability to reliably grow food anyway. Those educated in the ecological sciences realize I could go on and on like this but these quick sketches are enough to indicate the die off we are involved in accelerating with our every choice to try and solve our ecological problems in any fashion other than stopping our burning of fossil fuels. Second, the smartphone was not an arbitrary choice of modern high technology. Social scientists and psychologists have made it very clear that allowing Apple and the other giants to sell these technologies to our children has had a profoundly negative effect on their self-esteem and attention spans. This might be an Apple future generations will wish we did not bite. We are looking at the second generation raised on screens and finding the number of people who read serious books about serious matters such as ecology (not to mention war and peace) has plummeted frighteningly. As a society we seem to have lost the ability to retain memories. Stories of great import hit the news wire and then are never heard about again. Where is the in-depth follow-up and postmortem on our crises by which we might learn something from them? (as a citizen do you personally even know how much national treasure the United States spent in 2017 dealing with climate change influenced extreme weather events? How much did Houston cost, that hub of tough talking Texans and oil?) This is the evidence I present for consideration and debate. These are the real world, on the ground facts that need to be answered and not evaded.

I am just a computer engineer, a systems scientist of sorts with a love of reading and a colorful past. I have no letters behind my name, no organizations backing up my words. What do I have? Just some tears and fears that do not let me deny what I have learned in my studies. No one in their right mind would choose to create the conditions of a massive die off of both people and animals for the sake of a smartphone. That is so obvious to me. What it shows me is that most people right now are not in their right minds because most people refuse to be put out by such considerations, refuse the cost of personal suffering such insight entails. Most people, it seems, have chosen to live instead in the lands of childish make-believe, hoping some big parent (be it our father president on earth or our father religious in heaven) will come and fix everything. No, not childish make-believe. We are into something much darker than that where every perversion and deviance is celebrated as a way forward, as if it were a blow for liberty and human rights. Shutting our eyes, closing our ears, muting our voices, we resemble nothing so much as the three monkeys that see no evil, hear no evil, and speak of no evils. This might be a viable strategy for dealing with problems that are seemingly so much larger than anything individuals can address, but I worry it is not. I think denial ultimately fails because of the nature of trauma processing within the brains we have, brains Demitry Orlov humbly refers to as Monkey Brains 2.0. This is what has lead me to propose Mindful Ecology as an alternative approach.

Human beings are not powerless before the suicidal impulses that can be planted within them. However, dealing with them requires that we recognize the power that human beings have to make choices. That power lies only within individuals, not within magical father projections or group-think run organizations. Recognizing the power of choice clears the air. As sad as it might seem, you simply do not have the power to make good choices for other people, try as you might by whatever authoritarian enchantments you try. You do have the power to make your own choices. Once you become real clear that it is the burning of fossil fuels that is at the heart of what is ailing us, then you become naturally empowered to act on that knowledge in your own individual way. In the last analysis there is nothing else. In the last analysis, nothing else is needed.

Loving Kindness Or . . .

“He abused me, he beat me, he defeated me, he robbed me,”— in those who harbour such thoughts hatred will never cease.”
Buddha

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and unjust.”
Jesus

“A blow from the whip raises a welt, but a blow from the tongue will break bones. Many have fallen by the edge of the sword, but not as many as by the tounge.”
Ben Sira 28.17

“Love is kind”
1 Corinthians 13

 

Why are the wise in one accord in recommending that we yoke ourselves as individuals to the discipline of loving kindness? Why do the teachings of non-violence and compassion exist at the heart of every modern world religion?

If we choose not to follow loving kindness we yoke ourselves to its opposite: hateful meanness. Today, as we start year one of this new United States, I would like to take a moment to look at this issue. Accusing whole peoples of evil never ends well. It is hard, the way I see things, not to expect the most probable outcome of our existing political trends to lead to world war. I cannot help but wonder what the odds are of another twelve months of world peace, such as it is. Things are scary now, there are many active theaters of war but it can quickly get so much worse. I wonder where we will be in the first week of January 2019 and ask all my readers to join me in praying for peace everyday this year. However that may play out, it is worthwhile now, before the bombing starts, to talk as clearly as we can about what is true and what are lies concerning the human condition. We all know the names of history’s most recent mass murderers: Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot. They each managed to destroy tens of millions, maybe hundreds of millions of human beings – one at a time. There is an interesting truth in the kill numbers of modern weaponry. It is worth saying in the daylight that if nuclear weapons are used in our next international orgy of violence, history might very well add Trump to that short list. It is something I wish a few more people were considering and taking seriously. That, however, is something not a single person of goodwill can make happen. The best we can hope to do is make circumstances such that it is easier to choose love over hate. People are free to choose loving kindness or not. Some will choose to be the meanest, most hate-filled SOB they can. I believe that what the wise are suggesting by urging us to loving kindness is that this is not a good choice for the person involved, the people their lives will touch, or, ultimately, the world itself.

As a species we now understand, in some fairly impressive detail, just how the inter-generational abuse we are prone to plays out. The human brain is made to take very special note of those things that most threaten its existence. When the brain is traumatized those memories become a load-stone in the psyche for the rest of a person’s life. The emotional, sexual, and physical abuse of the young, for example, do you think the brain ever really forgets any detail of these events? The psychological professions have pretty good models for how the brain is traumatized, how memories of trauma are repressed, and what effects this whole system has on personalities. The psychiatric professions have pretty good models for how the chemical makeup of the memory mechanism malfunctions so that the victims of trauma re-experiencing the memories of the traumatic events as if they were happening again, here and now in real time. The repression happens because the pain is too overwhelming to live with, the repression fails to deal with the pain because the brain never really forgets.

There is a lot to say concerning war trauma which veterans suffer. There is a lot to say about how to turn a human being into a killer by studying the techniques of boot camp. These are important and there is great hope for such people in our newer understanding of trauma. Yet these are effects. War comes out of the heart but what put it there? To get to the causes we need to take a look at childhood trauma.

Children want to be good and please their parents. Self worth and dignity are learned from the respect others show us, particularly those closest to us. Children are trying to earn that respect, first from their family members and later from their society. Sometimes it goes horribly wrong. I would expect most of my readers have had the chance to see a mother who blows up at her child, thrashing them with her adult anger and adult tongue, if not fists, belts, and all the rest. Emotional child abuse is the act of forcing adult emotions into a child’s body where they act as foreign material since children are incapable of assimilating them. Doing so lets a person scar that child for life, just as they were. If instead of love you offer hate, if instead of kindness you offer cruelty, you create the conditions for that child’s future suicide or, if they are the type of person that turns anger outward, their future acts of violence and mayhem. So tricky! You can kill people with your tongue and never go to jail! This is what the world-soul is all about; this long, sad tale of our slavery to hatred and meanness. The most insidious part is that if a child is subject to such treatment long enough, they will come to believe they deserve it. In their heart of hearts they will believe they are evil. Children are not capable of the psychological objectivity required to recognize they are in the hands of a sick parent or guardian. In fortunate cases they avoid adolescent suicide and the adult they become will find the inner resources to confront the abuse and internalized abuser. This is the destroyer we have been discussing in these essays.

Why are the wise in one accord in recommending that we yoke ourselves as individuals to the discipline of loving kindness? The opposite option is to allow the hateful meanness that lives inside of you to rule your life. Then you will enjoy exploding in rage at young children, torturing them for the innocence and happiness they enjoy. There was a whole You Tube channel devoted to films of children suffering things like strapping them down and washing their mouths out with toxic chemicals. Become an explosive bitch and you will get to bask in the knowledge that everyone around you is terrified of you. The problem is your world will become smaller and smaller until the fear you are projecting bites back – and it will. Soon you are living only to control other people through your emotional blackmail, imposing your will whenever it really counts. Choose to feed the hate inside you instead of gentleness and kindness and you create a monstrous appetite that cannot be satisfied. The teachings say it is like trying to slack your thirst by drinking sea water. It gets worse and worse until you can never let a chance go by to target someone’s dignity and send your poison into the soft spot inside where each of us can doubt our self worth.

But why limit yourself to children? You can, if you are careful, find adults with unhealed wounds of their own to push around too. We see such people in our nursing homes after a life long devoted to hate. We see them in marriages when one person is terrified of the other. You can get a real kick out of frightening people, insulting them, making them feel like failures. It gives the abuser a false sense that they are in control of the whole world. We see them attacking low wage waiters and waitresses, clerks and managers at department stores, anyone who can’t hit back.

Here is the thing about this: these assholes and bullies are spiritual cowards. Don’t be fooled just because some of them like to hang out in religions. Don’t be fooled when they wash their violence in the lie that they only do what they do to others “for their own good.” The bully does not have the courage to face the pain within. They refuse to take on the human responsibility to try and control the beast that lurks in the human heart. Each of us must make that choice, day in and day out. The sum total of our choices is what makes up the world-soul.

Nailing Miracles, part two

The altar is where human beings present things to god. The altar is related to the mystery of food, where life feeds off of life, where life must kill to live. The Eucharistic meal is a civilizing force, a feast not of meat but of bread. It is a chance to “lift our hearts to the Lord,” and walk above the fear of death and our daily participation in it. It is the meal of the lamb, that of peace found when our hearts truly understand the gentleness of our creation far exceeds its terror.

Knives, and metal implements generally, are needed and used with hardly a thought to carve the tender flesh of the animals we eat. Yet, at some level of our own awareness, I propose, this terrifies us. The history of torture devices make clear the way metal applied to flesh can cause pain. Metal on naked flesh is the fear the crucifixion captures in the nails forcibly introduced into the body of the Christ. It is also the fear that is captured in the moment of panic in the Christ story when the initiate, wearing only a flimsy white robe, is suddenly surrounded by soldiers in full armor and armed with weapons. As Mk. 14.51,2 states, this initiatory panic causes the disciple to flee in terror. (As said earlier, once the spirit is driven by fear out of the body, that’s it, it is not possible to push a tortured being further.) It is the divine grace that allows the Christ alone to stay with the terror of those nails, to allow them to keep him held in place, fixed in pain, and not panic. Hence, by his blood, it is said, we are saved once we have aligned ourselves with the Christ. After the rooster crow of the bloody dawn, after our three betrayals in seeking the all-powerful Christ of the religious temptations, we too are called to take up our cross, the sliver of the divinity-task that is ours to bear within the mystery of human love, suffering, and redemption. The next time we see the white robe it is in the empty tomb, Mk. 16.5. Seeking god as an answer to death one finds “he is not here.” This which we are dealing with is the god of life. Through the panic, through the encounter with the teacher’s healing exorcism, the initiate has learned we shall not die the death in life that is a life burdened by superstitious fear and meaninglessness, but live even as the Christ did. Though we may bear the marks of our wounds, the flesh as grave was unable to hold us, we have found liberation from the evil that was done to us and that we have done.

Mark’s Gospel is particularly telling in how this resurrection promise is worked out using its shorter ending. The resurrection promise is that by which human hope in goodness is kept alive (some may recall our conversations about Santa and Easter Bunnies). There are no resurrection scenes in Mark, only the word to the ladies. “On entering the tomb they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a white robe, and they were utterly amazed. He said to them, ‘Do not be amazed!’” I emphasize where I think the rich symbolic vein is to be found, one related, in part, to the difference between being child-like and childish. The first words spoken in the empty tomb, ‘Do not be amazed!,’ these are serious. This part of the mystery story is related to the John Barelycorn sacrifices and is not the central point. It’s miraculous reality should not amaze us, that is, it should not enchant us and bewitch us. We should not let the unknowns around death become a wedge by which liars manipulate us through our fears. The seed must die for the crop to arise, but it is not the farmer that makes it grow. The Christ story is not one about the mystery of creation, but of the mystery of redemption within that creation. Those who make a big deal of the ancient phallic-cross and womb-tomb associations are missing it.

The short ending goes on, “But go and tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you.’ Then they went out and fled from the tomb, seized with trembling and bewilderment. They said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” They were just told not to be amazed and here they are, bewildered. What to do, where can we find Jesus on the road to Galilee and learn to properly be a disciple? Back at the start of the Gospel, just after the prologue. “It happened in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John. . .” The terrifying and bloody death of the Crucifixion, when the Shepard was slain and the sheep scattered, this story asks us if this is really the end, are we ultimately left alone to suffer in painful, deluded confusion? Only you as a reader can answer that for yourself. What does your heart tell you? Does it quicken when you hear His words? It is not the end of the story if you take up re-reading it again, and in doing so again and again throughout a long life, encounter there the living one. He is not found among the dead. He has established a feast to which the poor and vulnerable are invited. For those called to this supper, their lives, however long or short they may be, will have seemed in the end to have been good and meaningful lives. What is offered are lives so full of wonder that it is as if they had lasted a thousand years, bringing us the fullness of time. The healed enjoy lives filled with peace and crowned with rest. This is “as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end.”

What has the initiate learned with his encounter with their guardian angel, where the corrupting metal nails have pierced their own flesh? The Book of Revelation gives the inside view, the spiritual view, of the battle on the cross and the resurrected life. Rev. 19.14 “The armies of heaven followed him, mounted on white horses and wearing white linen.” From chapter 20: “Then I saw an angel come down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the abyss and a heavy chain. He seized the dragon, the ancient serpent, which is the Devil or Satan, and tied it up for a thousand years and threw it into the abyss, which he locked over it and sealed, so that it could no longer lead the nations astray until the thousand years are completed. After this, it is to be released for a short time.” How short? “Holy Mary, Mother of God, Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.” Christian initiates live their lives abundantly, refusing to bow down in fear and serve the one who rules us no more. We do not fear an hour of judgment from abba, for we have learned to pray to god “lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” Christians have seen through the lies of the accuser, the destroyer that would set itself up as god.

We human beings are all trauma survivors. Wounded people wounding others is a part of our fate. Through long efforts at therapeutic work, our soulful contemplation and prayer, we can cast out the burdens injected into our bodies and psyches by the evil done to us and the terror it evokes. These burdens are often imagined as metallic invaders planted in, or living in, our flesh during, for example, Parts Work with PTSD persons. Other times the burdens are voices or images more personalized, as if alien intelligence were involved. This is particularly the case when the traumatized are bordering on psychosis or schizophrenia. Satanic nails and devilish demons, these things populate the human-world soul and seek to destroy personalities, whole nations at a time if they can. It is not superstition to admit these factors exist. They are inherent to our “psychological” experience when that experience tends towards the extreme. For example, intravenous drug users refer to their syringe as a nail, murders nail people, and when we succeed against a tough challenge we say we nailed it, as if we had banished something once and for all by, as we say, nailing the bastard to the wall. The war zones we create outside ourselves are, mercifully, small reflections of the ones within us, the ones which are created when we abuse one another. Peace on earth, in fact, starts within us as individuals. It can start nowhere else.

It is a real shame to let religious ideas steal the possibility of an abundant life from a human being. They do so by feeding the fear of death inherent in our mammalian physiology and inferential reasoning. The Christ story is designed to be a corrective to that misunderstanding of what religion and religious imagery is for. The poets had to write, the message of redemption is too important not to pass on. They had to pass it on even as they had received it from those who had passed it on to them. In their wisdom they knew the dangers involved in misunderstanding what they were teaching, and they prepared for that. In their compassion they were inspired to teach us of the new heaven and the new earth that awaits those who are healed by the Christ. This is the story of what the true creator of the universe would look like if he / she / it / X were to look as a man. The point is not the miracles, all wiz-bang and powerful. The point is the care and concern for the people Jesus meets and how he meets them as an individual. What has moved countless millions of faithful believers for centuries is the love this sacred heart displays.

But so much of the dogma seems to contradict rational thought. Faith’s cords of dogma are the poets means of speaking. It is a language at once of reason and emotion when both are touched by the visionary spirit. Dogma is meant to protect the inner coherence of the symbol system it attends. It is a faith that in the inspiration of our poets and prophets, there is a true element of the divine. The assumed authorial authority spoke of earlier, will at times seem to take on an authority beyond what the poet would claim for themselves. It is the most profound mystery of the creative inspiration, the power of the muse, the guardian angel. Over the years it has lead to the building of our so-called Holy Books. The fire of god speaks, darkly but insistently, as tongues of flame touching the heads of those in the upper room.

The Gospel story teaches that the creator is a loving father-architect. It asserts a faith that things are what they seem: that the universe in all its vast mystery, was formed to allow life and consciousness to arise. Not as a pantheistic ocean of awareness, but always and everywhere only through individuals. This is the Christ light. It is the loving creator concept taken beyond concept, to where it matters to you personally. Here is the mystery of the true god = true man. It is your death, your life, your conscience that is being talked about. This Christ light is not owned by any church, though the Catholic rites, both East and West, have protected the coherence of the symbolism through the poetics of dogma. The teaching of abba is a gift to show the Way to the lost, the Light to the blind, and the Truth to the confused.

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 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.