Category Archives: American religion

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.”

 

 

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Marilynne Robinson’s Keen Spiritual Grasp of Life

Marilynne Robinson is one of the most astute social critics and feminist writers in our contemporary world.  In the current edition of The New Republic she has an article about Martin Luther and the dissent that he introduced, leading to the Protestant Revolution.  She points out that Luther was a very conflicted soul, certainly “haunted” and driven by forces he was not aware of, but he appeared at a ripe moment in history and has proven to be a pivotal figure in Western Civilization.  I also can see how one could even argue that the direction he led us was not even in the best interest of mankind, given our present day capacity to allow “dissent” to become such a way of life that even a “rational” body like the U.S. Congress is anything but rational.

Even in her youth Marilynne was a thoughtful sensitive soul, very “aware” of her own subjective experience and the world in which she lived, even that of flora and fauna. The following is from an article in “Christianity Today” magazine about Robinson’s keen spiritual sensitivity.  The writer pointed out that she developed a keen sense of observation, including the Ineffable, recalling that she could sense God’s presence there long before she had a name for him. “I was aware to the point of alarm of a vast energy of intention, all around me,” she writes, “barely restrained, and I thought everyone else must be aware of it.” Perhaps they were, but in a culture in which “it was characteristic to be silent about things that in any way moved them,” the young Robinson was, in her deepest experiences, alone.”

There were mentors, though. She remembers her grandfather holding an iris blossom before her, quietly commending its miracle of form, and the “patient old woman who taught me Presbyterianism,” offering Moses’ burning bush and Pharaoh’s dream of famine as wonders to contemplate. In their reticent attention, both mentors gave Robinson a way to stand before mystery and gradually behold it. “It was as if some old relative had walked me down to the lake knowing an imperious whim of heaven had made it a sea of gold and glass, and had said, This is a fine evening, and walked me home again.

Her subjective “aliveness” is best illustrated in her first novel, “Housekeeping” in which an Aunt cares for two young nieces and leads them into her eccentric, “hippy” world of myth and magic.  One of the nieces eventually rejects this life for the “normal” while the other takes off with her aunt for a vagabond life of adventure in an ethereal world of which most of us are oblivious, where distinctions are nebulous.  The most memorable line in this novel for me is, “Emptiness can blossom into all the compensations it requires.”  Robinson knew, and still knows, that the realm of the imagination holds riches untold for humankind if we are but willing to find the courage to venture there, allowing our intellect to be refreshed by the energy that lies there.

For need can blossom into all the compensation it requires. To crave and to have are as like as a thing and its shadow. For when does a berry break upon the tongue as sweetly as when one longs to taste it, and when is the taste refracted into so many hues and savors of ripeness and earth, and when do our senses know any thing so utterly as when we lack it? And here again is a foreshadowing-the world will be made whole. For to wish for a hand on one’s hair is all but to feel it. So whatever we may lose, very craving gives it back to us again. Though we dream and hardly know it, longing, like an angel, fosters us, smooths our hair, and brings us wild strawberries. (“Housekeeping”)

Lao Tzu, Emptiness, and Protestantism

Lao Tzu (6th century BCE) first introduced me to the paradoxical dimension of reality.  One stanza of his Tao Te Ching, #11, grabbed my attention before I really knew where it would lead me.  Here is my favorite translation of that wisdom by Witter Bynner:

Thirty spokes are made one by holes in a hub,

By vacancies joining them for a wheel’s use;

The use of clay in moulding pitchers

 Comes from the hollow of its absence;

 Doors, windows, in a house,

Are used for their emptiness:

Thus we are helped by what is not

To use what is.

This ancient Chinese sage realized that there is a hidden dimension of life which is the essential dimension of life but is recognized only to those are attuned to the subterranean regions of the heart.  This hidden dimension is described in the Christian tradition as the spiritual realm.  But the Christian tradition, especially here in the West, has erred by not appreciating the true essence of spirituality as emptiness, and fashioned a spirituality which is merely a thing among other things, an object among other objects.  Western thought has objectified the world and its spirituality has, therefore, been reduced to a rational enterprise that has no room…in most circles…for the wisdom of Lao Tzu. What has happened, therefore, is that spirituality has become a “graven image” which the Old Testament rather sternly prohibited. This subtle “idolatry” is particularly so with Protestantism which does not emphasize mysticism and meditation which places value on the quietness of the mind.

 

I ran across a beautiful poem today on Facebook which brought these thoughts to mind, a poem which was shared on the page of Parker J. Palmer, a noted member of the Religious Society of Friends (Quaker):

WHAT ELSE by Carolyn Locke

The way the trees empty themselves of leaves,
let drop their ponderous fruit,
the way the turtle abandons the sun-warmed log,
the way even the late-blooming aster
succumbs to the power of frost—

this is not a new story.
Still, on this morning, the hollowness
of the season startles, filling
the rooms of your house, filling the world
with impossible light, improbable hope.

And so, what else can you do 
but let yourself be broken 
and emptied? What else is there
but waiting in the autumn sun?

 

Thomas Mann Offered Prophetic Word to the U.S. in 1947

Literature can be a portal into the human soul.  As the current political and cultural drama continues to unfold in my country, it has been so interesting to stumble across observations from ancient…and not so ancient…cultures whose insights were so relevant to what is unfolding now in the American psyche.  The human soul is constant.  It never changes.  Oh yes, the historical moment changes but the human response to circumstances of any moment always reveal common themes.  Here I wish to share a lengthy excerpt from Thomas Mann’s 1947 novel, “Dr. Faustus,” which is very relevant to present day America:

We are lost…the war is lost; but that means more than a lost campaign, it means that in very truth WE are lost: our character, our cause, our hope, our history.  It is all up with Germany, it will be all up with her.  She is marked down for collapse, economic, moral, political, spiritual, in short all-embracing, unparalleled, final collapse.  I suppose I have not wished for it, this that threatens, for it is madness and despair.  I suppose I have not wished for it because my pity is too deep, my grief and sympathy are with this unhappy nation, when I think of the exaltation and blind ardour of its uprising, the breaking out, the breaking up, the breaking down, the purifying and fresh start, the national new birth of ten years ago, that seemingly religious intoxication—which then betrayed itself to any intelligent person for what it was by its crudity, vulgarity, gangsterism, sadism, degradation, filthiness, ah how unmistakably it bore within itself the seeds of this whole war!  My heart contracts painfully at the thought of that enormous investment of faith, zeal, lofty historic emotion; all this we made, all this is now puffed away in a bankruptcy without compare.  No, I surely did not want it, and yet—I have been driven to want it, I wish for it today and will welcome it, out of hatred for the outrageous contempt of reason, the vicious violation of truth, the cheap, filthy backstairs mythology, the criminal degradation and confusion of standards, the abuse, corruption, and blackmail of all that was good, genuine, trusting, and trustworthy in our old Germany.  For liars and lickspittles mixed us a poisonous draft and took away our senses.  We drank—for we Germans perennially yearn for intoxication—and under its spell, through years of deluded high living, we committed a superfluity of shameful deeds, which now must be paid for…with with despair.  (Thomas Mann, “Dr. Faustus”)

Submission is a Risky Business!!!

Being submissive is part of being a human being.  Something as simple as subscribing to the social contract requires a submission to restraint, the failure to do so resulting in the problems our President demonstrates for us daily.  And submission is a fundamental tenet of most religions.  A friend reminded me this morning that Islam means “submission” and Muslim extremists have certainly taken that seriously!  And in the Christian faith we also see obvious examples of “submission” to God that has nothing to do with any “God” that I know of.

The problem with submission in these two religious traditions is that the word is not looked at closely, paralleling an equally grievous problem that the one looking at the word is not looked at closely.  By this I mean, when we approach religious tradition, we approach it with baggage and have the predisposition to interpret this tradition only in accordance with this baggage.  That means we will interpret it in terms of unconscious needs, many of which can be ambivalent at best and many just abysmally ugly.  Therefore, submission is often a “surrender” to an idea of God that is simple and self-serving and therefore subject to the abysmal darkness.

This notion itself puts on the table the essential dimension of spirituality that I’ve spent most of my life oblivious to.  It is complicated.  It is so complicated because it is a matter of the heart, a matter that addresses the inner most depths of our being which are totally beyond the grasp of simple reason, making it even beyond the grasp of this futile effort!!!  Approaching spirituality from this perspective is humbling because it requires realizing at some point…and this is tough to put into words…we aren’t even doing the approaching but it (i.e., It, or He, or She) is approaching us.  We are in the grip of a mystery, the mystery of life, and “submission” to this mystery will involve some daily surrender in which we understand that we don’t have any complete knowledge of what is going on but a firm conviction that there is “some method to the madness” of the life we are living and are witnessing others live, even in the cosmos itself.

Nikos Kazantzakis in his book, “Report to El Greco,” wrote, “We must surrender to a rhythm not our own.”  This mistake that many religious people is that they “surrender” or submit to ideas that are very much just the rhythm they already are and, calling it “God” allows their ego to take this delusion and practice their arrogance. This does not necessarily make them “bad” people.  It just makes them human.

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Two other blogs of mine are listed here which I invited you to check out:

https://anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com/

https://literarylew.wordpress.com/

https://theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com/

Language is Nuanced and Contextual

Ben Carson is now on stage with Trump, playing his part in the daily clown show.  He almost immediately made a splash when in his first speech after taking office as Housing and Urban Development Secretary described slaves on slave ships as “immigrants.”   When he was immediately criticized over this statement, he responded with, “Look up the definition of immigrants.”

Carson is another demonstration of the Trump administration’s lack of appreciation of nuance in language, reminding me of the former Supreme Court jurist, Antonin Scalia who argued, “The constitution means just what it says.”  Conservative politicians, and theologians, are literalists and do not consider the contextual dimension of words.  Though these very same persons will readily argue that one who cries “Fire” in a theater does not have the right to do so, that venue being one one “context” which is relevant to the use of words.

Carson replied in response to critics of his observation, “Look it up in the dictionary!.”  He is right, “immigrant” means someone moving to another country.  However, the notion that a black person in the bowels of an 18th century slave ship was an “immigrant” is just absolutely ridiculous.  And, though this is only obliquely related, let me show you a photo of Ben Carson and Jesus in his household, the nuances of which are highly comical.

If only I was skilled with photo-shop, you would soon see a picture of myself with Jesus and Buddha on either side of me, arms around me and myself with a beatific smile.  This photo is such a stunning example of how Ben Carson, and so many of the Republican Party, have no idea of how they are coming across to the onlooker.

ADDENDUM—This is one of three blogs that I now have up and running.  Please check the other two out sometime.  The three are: 

https://wordpress.com/stats/day/literarylew.wordpress.com

https://wordpress.com/posts/anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com

https://wordpress.com/posts/theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com

The “Battle for Truth” in the U.S.

The Battle for Truth in the United States continues to amaze me, given that I grew up with the Superman TV series where the Man of Steel was the champion of, “Truth, Justice, and the American Way.”  Currently we see a daily display of the overt dishonesty of the Trump administration and the Republican Party and watch our nation flounder almost haplessly before this demonic presence. And, I’m not surprised that the “truth-telling” does not come from within the establishment.

I just stumbled across timely wisdom from Vaclav Havel, the former Czechoslovakian writer, playwright, turned political leader who in 1989 led the Velvet Revolution which toppled the Communist regime.  Listen to what he said about how the toppled authoritarian state had manipulated with overt dishonesty:

He states that ideology, “builds a world of appearances trying to pass for reality.”  The oppressive regime “touches people at every step but does so with its ideological gloves on. This is why life in the system is so thoroughly permeated with hypocrisy and lies…the lack of free expression becomes the highest form of freedom…the banning of independent thought becomes the most scientific of world views.  Because the regime is captive to its own lies, it must falsify everything.  It falsifies the past, it falsifies the present, and it falsifies the future.  It pretends to respect human rights.  It pretends to persecute no one.  It pretends to fear nothing.  It pretends to pretend nothing.”

It is no accident that this “truth-telling” in Czechoslovakia came from a voice from the artistic community.  Those within the political establishment are not capable of recognizing the truth, must less proclaiming it.  And those in religious circles are usually ensconced in the echo chamber of religious dogma and have no use for a voice from the outside, such a voice being intrinsically threatening to its established hierarchy.

In my country today it is not the church and certainly not the political establishment who is “speaking truth to power” like those in the arts and entertainment community.  Late night comedians like Stephen Colbert, Trevor Noah, Seth Myers, Samantha Bee and James Cordon are left with the task of vividly painting a picture of how our present “emperor” has no clothes on.  Evangelical and fundamentalist Christian leaders have completely fallen under the spell of Trump and will never dare to admit they have made a mistake.  For, they like Trump, cannot acknowledge making a mistake of the magnitude of the one they are making.  Oh, sure they can trot out a canned spiel of being “a sinner saved by God’s grace” but it is another thing to have to stare face to face with how your ego has led you to pledge your troth to the embodiment of everything that is anti-thetical to the cause of Christ.

ADDENDUM—This is one of three blogs that I now have up and running.  Please check the other two out sometime.  The three are: 

https://wordpress.com/stats/day/literarylew.wordpress.com

https://wordpress.com/posts/anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com

https://wordpress.com/posts/theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com