CONFESSIONS OF A BELIEVING CYNIC
The election last month, and the conservative support of Donald Trump, really rattled my cage spiritually and helped me to understand more fully the origins of my faith. These origins were very childish, but then how can “origins” be anything but childish. We started out as children and most of us were introduced to faith in our very early childhood.
But, “ When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” The Apostle Paul realized that maturity in every dimension of life brings a changing perspective. Without the ability to change, one will inevitably spend his/her life trapped in what Ronald Laing described as a “post-hypnotic trance of early childhood.” In this trance, we will bask in unexamined assumptions with a naivety that is dangerous to the whole of our life.
But here I want to address naivety in faith, an exploration which required delving very deeply into spiritual/religious cynicism, an exploration warranted by the recent Presidential election. Cynicism will jeopardize one’s faith but I have found that by venturing into this jeopardy one’s faith can be deepened and broadened, though it has cost me the certainty which I had when as a child; for in my youth I had so readily imbibed dogma, the “letter of the law.” This loss of certainty, which I see as a perquisite of meaningful faith, did cost me my religion/faith in a certain sense as I had to learn to approach the Bible, faith itself and even my own identity with a critical perspective. I could not do this until the middle ages of my life because my identity was too tenuous to subject itself to criticism, a “criticism” which from the perspective of the the Apostle Paul can be seen as an ability to let “the Spirit of God” penetrate into one’s depths and there be “a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” This process taught me the wisdom of, I think, Richard Rohr, “God is the best way of avoiding God, Jesus is the best way of avoiding Jesus, the Bible is the best way of avoiding the Bible.” For when we bask in early childhood certainties, God, Jesus, and the Bible will only be seen conceptually and therefore devoid of any “spiritual” dimension. The “letter of the law will predominate.”
Cynicism taught me to recognize the dilemma of “believing in one’s own belief” which is basically trusting in reason which, upon closer scrutiny, is merely trusting in one’s own ego-ridden self. And the ego does not want to relinquish its grasp in any part of our life, certainly in the area of faith. No less a conservative Christian luminary than Oswald Chambers in his Collected Works warned against the fallacy of “believing in one’s belief or having faith in one’s faith.”
“Believing in one’s belief” is the subtle procedure of keeping faith confined to reason and, in the safety of the resulting imprisonment, one can have his head/heart filled with gospel jargon which will then be abutted by even more jargon. For, one’s cognitive life will be the rattle of sterile jargon careening around inside one’s head. Cynicism has given me the ability to follow the admonishment of a bumper sticker I often quote, “Don’t believe everything you think.” I now realize that when I was believing everything I was thinking I was merely an echo chamber, living in a context of other echo chambers which protected me from any critical view of my faith, of my “self.” And the “self”, when imprisoned by the ego, does not tolerate any criticism as our President-elect illustrates on an almost daily basis. When the ego-ridden collective echo-chamber grows large enough it can even gain political and social power, necessitating that someone or some groups will inevitably be left out. The ego only knows exclusion, “us vs. them.”