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 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.

A Pound of Flesh

“Throughout his life, Trump has been obsessed with nukes. In 1984, he claimed that he could single-handedly force Russia to accept a nuclear truce, telling a reporter: “It would take an hour and a half to learn everything there is to learn about missiles … I think I know most of it anyway.” In 1990, he told Playboy: “I’ve always thought about the issue of nuclear war; it’s a very important element in my thought process,” adding that the assumptions behind the US’s long tradition of non-use were ‘bullshit’.”
Paul Mason, For Trump and the US right, breaking the nuclear taboo has always been thinkable

“…the deepest human fear is to face the anarchies of personal madness or civil breakdown. That is why the urge for lawful order stands at the bifurcation leading either to imposed tyrannous rules, or to harmonies of inquiry, self-knowledge, and compassionate identification.
In tyranny, a fundamental despair over the possibility of lawful order in the universe leads to an attempt to master it, to become the law, to dispense fate, to externalize pain rather than be subject to it. But when lawful order matures, the laws of the living organism of the universe are understood and counted on to extend through every boundary, to reach everywhere; or to originate everywhere. The same unfolding rules regulate my heart and the stars. There is only one place. There is no person-like being who sees everything with a giant eye; but each event billows upward out of nonbeing with a sovereignty that marks out the paths of electrons as well as the orbits of galaxies. The simple comfort of a law-giving father can be relinquished, when lawful order brings awareness and comprehensibility to an otherwise improbable and pell-mell world. Dispassionate, accurate observation of reality reveals an infinitely layered and exponentially complex order everywhere. The sense of lawful order is the sense that there is something behind it all, that there is something to it all. “An invisible and subtle essence is the Spirit of the whole universe. That is reality. That is the truth. THOU ART THAT.”
Paul R. Fleischman, The Healing Zone: Religious Issues in Psychotherapy

“He is not the God of the dead but of the living. You are greatly mislead.”
Mark 12.27 NAB, italics added

 

This post continues our discussion of religious child abuse. It also touches on the horrors of nuclear war. It may not be suitable for all readers.

Dr. Fleischman’s point about tyranny as a lack of faith in law and order is crucial, as is the point about there being a bifurcation exactly here, a choice to be made. This ability to believe in a universe of law and order is what is destroyed in victims of religious child abuse. Those who have been religiously terrorized as children form an evidence based belief that the cosmos does not contain a core of dependable law and order. They have experienced deceit in those society holds reverently as its main truth tellers, they have experienced the death of morality at the hands of those society holds as the pinnacle of ethics. Justice in the courts and fairness in social relations never come to these kids. The powerful remain powerful, almost untouchable as the 2015 Best Picture Spotlight made clear. As a result the hurt now live in a world where human facades fail to fool their broken hearts. The preacher going on and on about how god is love might just as well be from another universe entirely. The preacher going on about the god of love on Sunday and raping them on Monday is a monster that calls into question the existence of meaning in existence itself. Just imagine, if you will, seeing the universe from their eyes. The Western idea of an all knowing, all loving god who is all powerful but chose not to intervene does not answer their needs. So many of these victims die on our streets unacknowledged: overdosed with needles in their arms, hunted down by the diseases of prostitution, driven to suicide, murder or madness by the “saints.” It is in their name I offer these speculations.

These discussions are going to turn their focus towards Western religious traditions. The Biblical influence on the development of arts and letters in the cultures of the West is pervasive and remains so. It is not possible to understand the ecological crisis we are in without also understanding the psychology of people that allowed it to develop this far and are allowing it to proceed at its ever accelerating pace. Each culture will need to examine its roots as the maturation of the psyche under the tutelage of crisis continues. I absorbed Christianity with my mother’s milk, I am sure others are making similar investigations into their religious traditions in the same way. The silent abused child is silent no more the world over.

These comments around religious abuse and the misuse of Christian symbolism are offered in the spirit of compassionate speculation. Many of my acquaintances are people who, like myself, were hurt very badly in their childhood by the misuse of Christianity or more broadly, the mytho-poetic symbolism of Western religiosity. For those who were tortured and terrified by the followers of a perverted form of Jesus Christ, clarification from the psychologists’ position are going to be offered to aid healing by, hopefully, increasing understanding. This is valuable in itself. There is, however, a larger relevance to these speculations for the culture at large as well.

The issues brought to a head in this type of child abuse are the same issues that are driving formerly Christian countries crazy. These countries are becoming less and less able to bring wisdom to bear on the real problems and challenges they confront. They turn towards fantasy, seduced by magical thinking. Everywhere we see these formerly Christian cultures giving up on the ideals of Christian charity when it comes to public discussion and policy making. Even hypocritical lip service to these ideals is becoming rare among their leaders as they flirt with the older ideals of the strong man where might makes right and woman and children and members of other races are no more than slaves, trophies and property. Religion, in these countries, has become a nice-to-have but hardly necessary component of societies that seek to increase their economic might above all else. The old fashion Christian ideals of helping the poorest of the poor, orphans, and widows has been placed on life support.

Against this tide of secularism defined as neo-liberal values and consumer capitalism, a backlash of Christian fundamentalism has risen and taken positions of power. Christianity is being redefined as unquestioning obedience to male authority by those who “know” it is the “only true religion.” Satan, by this narrative, is everywhere and everywhere winning. The only thing to do is bring back the days of Puritan Law and Order, Christian Reconstructionism along Old Testament lines. This is highly unlikely under current circumstances so racial and class differences are being used to divide and conquer the population, shattering the social contracts. This social and psychological fragmentation serves the interests of fascism – government run by corporations instead of citizens. Populations confused about the wisdom in their own inherited religious traditions are cut off from their cultural roots. They are easily persuaded they have found a new purpose when they are united by their leaders against a common enemy. They can drown painful anomie in patriotism. When the hot wars start, all the painful social inequalities are set aside in the rally around the flag.

Let’s make these speculations a bit more concrete. A few days ago the official spokesman for the United States military used a very carefully crafted phrase to state that the US “is not looking to the total annihilation” of North Korea, but “we have many options to do so.” This is fear mongering. As hypnotists know, the unconscious mind does not deal in negative propositions. (‘Don’t think of an elephant’ doesn’t work in dream land.) When that phrase was planted in our minds the little word “not” was stripped off. At some semi-conscious level images of a whole population consumed in flames took place in every educated mind that heard that phrase. It might even be that the night after hearing these words most Americans dreamed a shaman dream, one full of BBQ’d flesh and beastly Eucharistic meals. Dreams most people would not be likely to remember on waking. Why would we do this? Because warriors become great again by eating the flesh of their enemies, one of the oldest ideas in the history of ideas, one still very much alive in the unconscious mind. Because we are a democracy we share in the responsibility for the actions of our leaders. As citizens we understand this on a very fundamental level and can be expected to process it in our dreams. Because this is how the human mind works, trying out various scenarios in our imagination to aid our ability to make good choices in our waking life. This nuclear scenario as a possible future was rather forcefully implanted in our minds by the use of that phrase “total annihilation.” This proposed act has such large potential ramifications on the probability of the United States future survival, that it became impossible to ignore by the mind’s scenario spinner that lives within each of its citizens.

However that may be, it is important to recognize how disproportionate the threatened response was to the provocation. This is a classic sign of psychopathology. Granted we said we don’t want to do it, just like any bully convinced of their own self-righteousness might say “don’t make me hit you.” This is all very dangerous. We need to be damn sure we are not goaded into flippantly using nuclear weapons in response to hurt pride and little else. The rest of the world could then make a strong argument that we are too dangerous to not be placed in some sort of quarantine. We would stand accused as the only country to have used these terrible weapons.

Parts of the unconscious mind are rather primitive in their ideas of justice. Purely illustrative, lets indulge for a moment in the bizarre world of fully distributive justice. But first a word or two for why, to set the context. I think there is an element of real evil in the escalation of threats around using nuclear weapons that is taking place on the world’s stage just now. I think that cause and effect, karma if you like, might somehow really matter in the ongoing effort to avoid World War III, which all people of goodwill have been involved in, at least in their hearts, since 1945. It is something I hope every reader will spend some time seriously contemplating. What if, just for example, nuclear weapons are going to be used again on earth six months from now. If you knew this was going to happen, would it change anything about how you live today? Might it change your contemplations and prayers? Would it change what you have the courage to talk about with your friends? Might it make the easy, flippant answers we normally give about the satanic majesty of our arsenals ring a bit hollow?

Here, presented more in the spirit of poetry, dark and dismal, than in the spirit of prose, is a back of the envelope version of distributive justice. The scenario is that the president of the United States presses the red button in a few months and brings “total annihilation” to North Korea. We avoid all the real world complications in an effort to get to exactly what was implied in the fear mongering phrase used. Because citizens of the United States live in a democracy it must be said that our fingers would also be on that button, at least in some ethical sense. But how much guilt should each of us rightly be assigned? This is the kind of question the human mind goes to work on, and it can become obsessive. Just ask any concentration camp survivor. Distributive justice is a first attempt at finding some rational answer that will satisfy the mind. That it is wholly inadequate to satisfy the heart will become obvious.

The existing population of North Korea is 25.37 million people. The average body weight in Asia is 127.2 lbs. Multiply these together and you find the pounds of Asian flesh being targeted. There are 323.1 million citizens of the United States. Divide the total US population into the total pounds of Asian flesh to find the distributed justice allocation for each of us. It works out to be just about 10 lbs of BBQ’d human flesh for each.

I present these ideas about the death of charity and this admittedly bizarre calculation as evidence that the meaning of the Western Christian tradition has been sorely misused and misunderstood. I believe, like all legitimate traditions of all peoples, that there is an element of inescapable truth about the human condition within Christianity  – and a trap for those who would misuse it. It is what we are going to be exploring by contrasting that life affirming aspect of Christian religious thought with this other tradition, this one of Rambo Jesus born from those who would flip the crucified one upside down and turn the cross of Christ into the sword of Damocles, the sword of nuclear wrath.