Magical Christianity, an Oxymoron

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Nailing Miracles, part one

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 Word is Silence

“Matthew, Mark, Luke and John,
Bless the bed that I lie on.
Four corners to my bed,
Four angels round my head;
One to watch and one to pray
And two to bear my soul away.”
(1656)

The Word is Silence. This is what the contemplatives of every tradition know. It is spoken in a manger among animals, though it is spoken to humankind. It speaks about a star, and no power in the heights or depths can silence it. In our deafness, the silence shouts; in our wakefulness, it bubbles with laughter.

We need not fear living in dark times.

International Arms Deals will not solve our problems.

One year ago, almost to the day, we were discussing the strength of cognitive simplicity. The boulders of simplicity weather well, when little else does.