Category Archives: American religion

Authenticity, God, and Identity Crisis

People of spiritual commitment often, if not most of the time, come to the point in their life when their faith needs to be cast aside.  This is the time when emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually the maturity has been reached to realize that even spirituality can be used to cover up the essence of life, even the “God” that we purport to worship.  This does not mean that this “God” will necessarily be forsaken but that one’s projections about “God” will be seen for what they are and cast aside, leaving one with the possibility of discovering “God” in a meaningful fashion.

This identity crisis, usually in mid life, is when the fantasy world that we have created and wrapped around ourselves is crumbling, providing for us an opportunity to enter into a more authentic dimension of life.  Even the “God” we have been worshipping might be seen as a self-serving fantasy and will have to be given up for a more honest, humbling relationship with a God who is the very Ground of our Being, our Source, and not a mere prop to adorn the hollow life that we have been living.

Anthropologist Clifford Geerst once said, “Man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun.”  It is challenging to contemplate that the whole of our life, including our faith, is suspended in these “webs” and that to achieve any authenticity we will have to wrestle with them and discover as did poet Adrienne Rich that, “We can’t begin to discover who we are until we recognize the assumptions in which we are drenched.”  It is only when some, or most of these “assumptions” begin to crumble that we can begin to understand the wisdom of the crooner Leonard Cohen, “There’s a crack in everything; that is how the light gets in.”

 

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Catholicism, Politics, and the Peril of Ideology

Ideologues, those entrapped in their self-serving ideology, can never recover from this malady.  They are like alcoholics who, in recovery-culture have the axiomatic bromide, “Once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic.”  The culture of recovery uses this bromide to address the truth that even those in recovery are still an alcoholic and always will be.  And I personally must confess that I am an “ideologue” in recovery and will always be, a fact that is certainly related to by persistent focus on the peril of ideology and threat of “ideologues.”  This ideological malady is intrinsically related to this gift of thinking that makes us driven by instinct alone.

Religious culture of our day illustrates this problem just as does our political culture.  Religious people are susceptible to being so intoxicated with theology and religious tradition that the essence of their spirituality is obliterated by their enslavement to their ideas, the, “letter of the law.”  An identity plague with this malady is often so entrapped in his ideas of himself, in “ideas” about his spirituality that he is unable to recognize and acknowledge that his spirituality is largely, if not completely, “performance art.”

There is a related story in the news which broke yesterday about the Pope having fired a prominent member of the House of Cardinals, Theodore McCarrick, for his history of sexual abuse.  The evidence against this 88 year old man is extensive and could no longer be ignored by the Catholic hierarchy.  But this aged man persists in his innocence even in the face of overwhelming evidence that he is guilty.

I would conjecture that this man is a “good” man with the life-long spiritual emphasis of his career; for, “good men” can do very bad things.  But “good men,” steeped in the rigid structure of faith can gradually reach the place where their piety is so self-serving that they can and do overlook their gross “badness.”  It is possible that this ex-Cardinal truly does believe in his innocence as “ideas” are so intoxicating that they often keep us trapped in self-deception, even though this dishonesty is so apparent to those looking on.

This is now glaringly obvious in our political system with prominent politicians so obviously guilty of blatant lying yet be so unaware of their dishonesty that they can readily accuse their foes of, “lying.”  Yes, this is hypocrisy, but it is quite possible that some of these “hypocrites” really do believe what they are saying for being trapped in their ideas about themselves it is quite possible they do not believe they are lying.  But this is a human malady, not merely one exclusive to religious leaders and politicians.  It is very human to cling to our ideas of ourselves, our self-percept of our identity, rather than consider that beneath the surface there are unsavory dimensions to our psyche that need to be given the light of day occasionally.  But this “unconscious” dimension of our life is too readily kept buried as our “conscious” beliefs, “i.e. ‘ideas,’” about ourselves will not allow the darkness to be acknowledged.  This “darkness” would disrupt and even devastate our “ideological” identity even though spiritual teachings often present the notion that “in the darkness” there is, “light.”  As Auden summarized this wisdom poetically, “And Truth met him, and held out here hand.  But he clung in panic to his tall beliefs and shrank away like an ill-treated child.

Misplaced Concreteness Imperils Our Soul

Psychologist Irvin Yalom noted that the fear of death keeps people from living.  By that he meant that the infantile fear of death…a necessary fear at earliest stages of development…can keep people from actually living if it is never addressed.  The ego uses this death fear to tyrannize people into living an unexamined life, to prefer the security of a self-serving, sterile environment where we can plod through our lives, “like kittens given their own tails to tease.” (Goethe)

And here is how Shakespeare addressed the same concern in Sonnet 146:

Poor soul, the centre of my sinful earth,
Thrall to these rebel powers that thee array,
Why dost thou pine within and suffer dearth,
Painting thy outward walls so costly gay?
Why so large cost, having so short a lease,
Dost thou upon thy fading mansion spend?
Shall worms, inheritors of this excess,
Eat up thy charge? Is this thy body’s end?
Then soul, live

 thou upon thy servant’s loss,
And let that pine to aggravate thy store;
Buy terms divine in selling hours of dross;
Within be fed, without be rich no more:
So shall thou feed on Death, that feeds on men,
And Death once dead, there’s no more dying then.

Shakespeare knew the dilemma of misplaced concreteness, taking for real that which is only ephemeral.  Plato explained this with his allegory of the cave.  Jesus understood this also when he declared, “What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?”  Jesus knew that being a slave to the “cave images,” taking them to be real, would lead one to live a life which was merely a caricature of what it is to be human.  He knew that succumbing to the temptation of merely reading our script…even those that include intense versions of spirituality…would be merely to live a life of bondage, bondage to the ephemeral while excluding the soul.

Interiority is a missing dimension of modern life.  This is because we take thoughts to be the “thing-in-itself,” which parallels our tendency to take social, political, and material things on a surface level and fail to look beneath the surface into the machinations of the heart…i.e. the “soul.”  Shakespeare knew that making this mistake was to let our soul, “pine within” from neglect, even as we paint the exterior dimensions of our life a gaudy, “costly gay.”  This is most manifest in my country’s current political situation where political leaders are mired in a horrible morass of ego and greed while we lamely avow, “Well, it will all workout” or “God is in control” rather than recognizing that the “morass of ego and greed” that our government is acting out for us right now is a projection of the hollowness of our entire way of life…including our religion.

 

See following link for commentary on this sonnet—https://www.nosweatshakespeare.com/sonnets/146/

Have We Been Bamboozled?

Before I deactivated my Facebook account last month, I ventured into a discussion of truth.  One astute individual noted, “One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us.”  Another observation discovered decades ago put it this way, “Our thinking is the belated rationalization of conclusions to which we’ve already been led by our desires.”

It is sobering to toy with the notion that we believe only what we want to and avoid anything that challenges this belief system.  This is graphically being illustrated currently with the power of the Trumpian delusional system to capture the reins of power in our government. This phenomenon is not intrinsically “bad” as it is merely an intrinsic “human” quality which each of us begin our life with and often grow beyond as we reach maturity.  But it becomes “bad” and even evil when our maturity does not include spiritual maturity so that we can have the humility to recognize this narcissistic tendency and be open to acknowledging self-deceit.

Self-deceit is the primary dimension of the Bible quip I offered yesterday about sin, noting that the essence of sin lies in the “thoughts and intents of the heart.”  It is easy to live in a religious culture and glibly acknowledge being a sinner but it is frightening to toy with the notion that sin goes deeply into our inner-most being (i.e. “heart”) and influences our view of the world, even including our view of ourselves.  Our usual response, when threatened with this truth is to utilize our ego’s defense system and simply cling more tightly to our customary view of the world and of ourselves, not daring to venture near the anguish of disillusionment.  This is most significantly an issue with respect to our certainties, including our religious certainties.  As W. H. Auden noted, “And Truth met him, and held out her hand.  But he clung in panic to his tall belief and shrank away like an ill-treated child.”  The “Gospel” of Pogo put it this way, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Politics, Belief, and “a bit of wobbly”

Margaret Thatcher in 1990 brought the expression, “Don’t go wobbly” to the political table. At the time Saddam Hussein had invaded Iraq, Thatcher and George W. Bush were together in Aspen, Colorado discussing the ins and outs of a military response. As “W” appeared be equivocating, Thatcher told him, “This is not the time to go wobbly, George.” The opposite of, “wobbly,— going full speed ahead on a matter, throwing caution to the wind with utmost certainty–will always be appealing to many but the rigid certitude of such a stance often needs at least a tad of hesitation, a small dollop of what Shakespeare called, “the pauser reason.”

The relevance of this issue to our current political/cultural climate is obvious. And one dimension of this climate is the area of religion where “belief” is often held to so rigidly that many believers have found themselves “believing” themselves into a corner from which they can’t escape. This mind set avoids the wisdom of faith traditions that belief must be moderated with a bit of doubt here and there as when St Thomas prayed, “Lord, I believe. Help thou my unbelief,” or even Jesus when he prayed to his Father as the Crucifixion approached prayed, “Lord, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.” Following here is a lovely poem which speaks of the need of a touch of “wobbly” in a person’s faith:

Belief by Lia Purpura

Light being
wavy and particulate
at once
is instructive—
why wouldn’t
other things or states
present as
both/and?
For instance
I both
believe and can’t.
Holding these
together produces
a wobble, I think
it’s time
to take seriously
as a stance.

Clinging to Guns & Religion, “Part Deux”!!

Religion, like guns…as explored in my last post… is a contrivance but one that is a Divine intervention if we find the courage and humility to reach maturity and slough off the “letter of the law” dimension and wrestle with “the flesh,” the term the Apostle Paul used to describe the abysmal baggage of human-ness that we seek to avoid.   The word religion stems from, “re-ligio” which means “to bind together,” reflecting the human wisdom that we are a divided soul and need to be reunited with our self.  But this reuniting is painful as “the Fall” into human cognition, necessary for the creation of human culture, created us delightful…to a fault… personas that we are fearful of laying aside and allowing reunification with our inner Essence so that S/he can have expression.  We don’t realize that if we find the courage to go through the “crucifixion” necessary for this resurrection our persona will not be destroyed but merely integrated with our inner essence, giving the buried “Christ child” a chance to find expression in the form of a fully functioning authentic human being. But the “clinging to religion” that Obama recognized (see last post) gets in the way of the life process, individually and collectively.  And it is no accident that God—we find the perfect symbol for power and authority.  The ego has found a perfect expression to assert itself and with the slogan, MAGA, our country has found a mantra to energize a desire to return to past imperialistic glory.

“Clinging” in itself is central to the problem.  There is a popular bromide, “Love holds with an open hand.”  But in some circles, especially the conservative culture in which I was raised, “clinging” is an essential dimension of faith, illustrated in the classic hymn, “The Old Rugged Cross” with the line, “So we’ll cling to the old Rugged Cross….”  This is a stage of faith, very much related to a developmental stage in which we “cling” to our momma until maturity allows us to diminish the “clinging” and relax into a more open trusting with relationship with our Source.  This usually corresponds increasing trust in and with our very self, with others, and even life itself as we relax into the “loving embrace” of the One who “shaped us from our mothers womb.  Reminds me of the Old Testament wisdom, “Even the darkness is not dark to You, And the night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are alike to You. For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb. I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, And my soul knows it very well.…”

Imprisoned With Ideas!!!

Jungian cage cartoon

“Woo-hoo, we’re Jungians!!!”

This cartoon beautifully illustrates the fate of ideologies which captivate lost souls who thus become “ideologues.”  Posted in a Carl Jung facebook discussion group, it demonstrates the necessary role of irony in dealing with ideas and avoiding their imprisonment, including the caption, “Woo-hoo, we’re Jungians.”  This cartoon reflected knowledge of a lesser known but profound quote from Carl Jung himself, “Thank God I’m not a Jungian!”  Jung knew that his teachings were captivating to some who did not exercise what the New Testament calls as, “discerning Spirit” and used his teachings to create a shallow ideological identity in which they could hide and avoid the gut-level wisdom that his teachings offered.

I facetiously toy with writing my copy of the Gospels someday, clearly identified as, “fictional,” and in them I would toss in at some point Jesus saying as he fled the hordes of “mindless” escape-oriented seekers, “Thank God I’m not a Christian.”  For Jesus’ teachings clearly recognized the entrapment of taking spiritual tradition and teachings only on the superficial level and he used the world, “hypocrites” to describe them, people who were simply actors offering to their community merely the “performance art” of spirituality.

This phenomenon which is so egregiously conspicuous now in my country takes the teachings of Jesus only as “ideas” without ever bothering to explore them in depth to the point of discovering that, “the idea is not the thing” and that ideas have value only when they open-up into a region beyond themselves.  The ability to understand this includes getting to the point where one realizes that buried in his heart is a hidden region that can be found only by opening oneself to it, an opening-up which is not a simple rational undertaking resulting from a moment of revivalistic fervor.  This “opening up” is the discovery of the mystery of life, buried far beneath the conscious edifice of one’s persona, related to what T.S. Eliot described as, “a condition of complete simplicity, costing not less than everything.”  Jesus put it this way, “You can find your life only by losing it.”  This is really difficult if you are a “cradle Christian,” one who has been enculturated into the Christian faith as it will often feel as if one is losing his faith.  In a sense, one will be losing his “faith” but possibly only its ideological dimension, allowing the freedom to venture into the, “substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”