Category Archives: Christian faith

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.

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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.

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.”

 

 

New Years Thoughts About the Perils of Thinking.

“Dear Creator, Help me let go of everything I think I am, to make room for everything I really am.” This is a Facebook post this morning from a local poet (Taos, NM), Lyla June Johnson, who is a very gifted soul and is a passionate spokeswoman for Native American issues, spirituality, and social activism.  This woman “gets it” and does so much more quickly than I started the process of “getting it.”  Here she puts on the table a core issue that I’m wrestling with in my life, “we are not what we think.”  This is part of what leads me to use the bumper sticker wisdom so often, “Don’t believe everything you think,” realizing that beliefs are merely thoughts and are readily seductive with self-serving whims of the ego.  Sure, welcome the thoughts that flow into and through our mind but occasionally take pause, mull them over, and we might learn that these “beliefs” could be a bit less certain than our ego wanted them to be.

Without realizing the limitations of believing in our rational formulations, Truth which is an elusive process and not an accumulation of factual knowledge can lead us into folly.  Novelist Hermann Hesse noted this when he wrote, “My story isn’t pleasant, it’s not sweet and harmonious like the invented stories; it tastes of folly and bewilderment, of madness and dream, like the life of all people who no longer want to lie to themselves.” We will inevitably be guilty of this “dishonesty” if we can’t practice the self-reflection, i.e “meta-cognition” noted here for the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, “Reflection requires that the plain opposition of positive and negative be left behind. Thinking is not content with the abstraction of mutual exclusivities, but struggles to conceive of a structured wholeness nuanced enough to contain what appeared to be contradictories.”  We must learn to occasionally find the capacity to, “think about our thinking.”

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”)

Where Your Treasure Is, There Your Heart Will Be Also

Jesus once noted, “Where your treasures are, there shall your heart be.”  In the fundamentalism that I grew up in, I certainly understood that this teaching meant that the true “stuff” of life was not to be found in “this world.”  But now, I’ve aged a bit and I value this and His other teachings even more as I approach them from less an intellectual manner and more with a combination of intelligence and intuition (i.e. affect).  Aging, and the “thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to” have done their work on me and I approach the whole of life, including spiritually, with more personal involvement.

One main difference in my understanding of this wisdom now lies in what back then was my culture’s distinction  between “this world” and “the other world” which I guess was heaven.  I think that the treasure that Jesus had in mind was something which we can find during our tenure on earth, a treasure which certainly is “eternal” but I don’t think “eternity” is a quantity of life anymore.  I think that Jesus was offering us an early version of the Shakespearean wisdom, “Within be rich, without be fed no more.”  Jesus was teaching us the lesson of other great spiritual teachers that there is a quality of life that is missed if we make that  what Alfred Lord Whitehead called, “The fallacy of misplaced concreteness.”  Misplaced concreteness is taking that which is ephemeral and perceiving and thinking it to be “real.”  This is very much a version of the Platonic cave allegory about what is “real” and what is “unreal.”  Jesus was telling us that if our “treasure” was in the material realm, we were missing the primary purpose of life which was, and still is, to “shuffle off this mortal coil” while still living and discover that we have something inside which satisfies where that which is “outside” only leaves us empty.  Furthermore, this is what he had reference to when he posed the question, “What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul.”

The emptiness of our modern day is so apparent in that we have allowed the mandate of capitalism to drive us into trying to fill that internal emptiness with “stuff.” And very much related to this, the “thing-ification” that we have acquired from our culture’s emphasis on “stuff” has turned even “god” into an item of “stuff,” meaning he is only a sterile concept. Technically our “highest value,” ( i.e. “god”) is “stuff” which is illustrated in the rampant consumerism.

Hiking the Appalachian Trail.

In 2009 this phrase entered the English metaphorical lexicon as a synonym for having an extra-marital affair.  The Republican Governor of South Carolina, Mark Stanford disappeared from office for a suspicious amount of time and no one could fully account for his absence.  His staff at one point, under mounting pressure, finally explained that the governor was “hiking the Appalachian Trail” and could not be reached.  Shortly thereafter it was revealed that he was in Argentina cavorting with his sexy paramour.  Thus an apt metaphor for “cheating” came into our language. Stanford had to resign from the office and submit to the humiliation of the press, especially the late-night comedians who pilloried him for his hypocrisy.  Being an outspoken supporter of “family values” and moral propriety, his hypocrisy was apparent to all.  He was a broken man.

But now he is back in Congress as an outspoken Republican critic of Donald Trump while most of his party continues to cower before the “sound and fury” of Mr. Trump, all of which “signifies nothing.”  Sanford describes himself as a “dead man walking,” noting how that he lost everything and knows how it feels and so now has nothing to lose.  Circumstances of life, I like to call it that “bitch reality, slapped him in the face and he managed to find the courage to accept the loss of face and emerge with a newly found humility.

Disillusionment is painful.  It is particularly painful for those who are outspoken proponents of moral virtue and political correctness.  Such hypocrisy now abounds in the Republican Party and they have unwittingly elected as President the very epitome of dishonesty, insincerity, and moral depravity.  They now have the opportunity to use the words of the cartoon character Pogo and humbly lament, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Sanford declares he now has nothing to lose.  And he doesn’t.  The Republican Party needs to find that same humility and simply admit, “We made a mistake,” uttering the words that Trump is incapable of uttering.  And, furthermore, the entirety of our country needs to find this humility as Trump’s election is a reflection of the American soul and not merely the soul of those who voted for him.  We now have a learning opportunity before us.  Let’s see what happens.  Usually in these circumstances the wisdom of W. H. Auden is relevant, “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.”

(If you want to see more details about Govenor Sanford’s fall from power and rebirth, see the following link:  http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/02/mark-sanford-profile-214791)