I love Bill Maher and especially his emphasis of the “imaginary friend” of Christians. I completely get and understand his point. But I think there is a way in which Jesus must be our “imaginary friend” if He is to have any value to us, value other than mere rhetorical, dogmatic escapism. Here is a link to an op-ed in the New York Times yesterday in which Nicholas Kristof used his imagination to apply the teachings of Jesus to the darkness that currently abounds in Washington D.C. I don’t know anything about Kristof’s religious affiliation, and don’t care, but he took the teachings of Jesus and applied them to what is underway in our government and, in doing so, offered a prophetic word to a country that needs one.
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:
Several times during the Obama administration I listened to Republicans passionately declare, “President Obama is out to destroy the Republican Party.” It was apparent that their collective unconscious was speaking as the seeds of self-destruction were obviously ravaging their party. During the Tea Party hey-day, many GOP stalwarts from earlier Republican Presidential administrations would say such things as, “We’ve been hijacked” in recognition of the incipient catastrophe that was unfolding. And as the Trump madness gained strength during the 2016 campaign, most of his party’s leadership actively opposed him until it became apparent he was going to win then they sheepishly came on board.
Donald Trump is the embodiment of the poison that has been seeking expression in the GOP for decades as the party’s leadership pointedly followed a pathway of dishonesty and fraud, featuring a conspicuous disdain for truth. Their “war on reality” is now on the surface and finds expression almost daily with Trump’s overt and flagrant dishonesty. Stephen Colbert introduced the term “truthiness” several years ago in reference to how media often was very manipulative and dishonest with the news. But now the Trump administration has followed this practice that was so conspicuous in his campaign with an even more overt disavowal of basic standards of truth. Trump and his staff now openly declared that he has the right to say whatever is on his mind regardless of whether or not it is valid according to prevailing standards of truth and non-truth.
The failure to respect truth in this self-destructive tendency of the GOP puts on the table the over whelming support of evangelical Christians. These purported champions of Jesus Christ, who claimed to be, “The Way, the Truth, and Life” are openly supporting this man who is the blatant antithesis to the fundamental tenets of the teachings of Jesus. I suspect that many of them now see they’ve been duped but, suffering from the same spiritual malady of Trump, they cannot utter the simple words, “I made a mistake” even though their very valid faith permits them to do so if they have the humility to admit human flaw.
The irony is that challenges to Trump’s moral and spiritual integrity have come, not from these evangelicals, but from those who do not wear their faith on their sleeve or who are not even Christian. For example, Kazir Khan was the first to openly question the moral character of Trump. And more recently, Congressman Mark Sanford (see yesterday’s blog) and Senator John McCain have boldly stated the obvious that Trump has trouble separating “truth from lies.” (https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/feb/18/john-mccain-savages-donald-trump-administration-inability-separate-truth-from-lies
Though no longer an evangelical, I still have a passionate conviction that life is a spiritual enterprise. As someone said, and I paraphrase, “Mankind is a spirit having an earthly moment.” In the words of Teilhard de Chardin, the “Cosmic Christ’ is seeking expression in the whole of this cosmic enterprise that we are inextricably caught up in. It is important that men and women of spiritual sensitivity be present to speak “truth to power” on occasion and that can’t be done when one’s “spirituality” consists primarily of sterile dogma and rhetoric. I am very impressed with people such as Mark Sanford and John McCain who have faith of an “uncanned” variety and who aren’t wearing their “faith” on their sleeve. Those who do carry only this simplistic faith Shakespeare described with the following keen wisdom:
When love (i.e. “faith”) begins to sicken and decay,/It useth an enforced ceremony./There are no tricks in plain and simple faith./But hollowmen, like horses hot at hand,/Make gallant show and promise of their mettle.
When “Truth” is not given reverence and allowed to permeate the whole of our being, individually and collectively, self-destruction is encouraged as illustrated by the Republicans. Again, as Shakespeare put it, we then begin to “feed even on the pith of life.”
Ta-nehesi Coates’s book on racism was one of the most provocative books I read last year. Mr. Coates grew up an impoverished black child in Baltimore, Maryland, managed to escape with an education, and wrote this very revealing book about what it is like to grow up under the tyranny of racism in ’70’s and 80’s America. One line that really grabbed me a class of people who learned to “think they are white” and the power that comes with that understanding. For, being white in America did carry, and still does to a large degree, implicit assumptions of power, i.e. prerogative. Growing up a poor white boy in Arkansas I clearly remember discovering early the “black-white” distinction in my culture, the blacks being known, of course, as “N…….s” and viewed with great scorn and contempt. Looking back I now recall distinctly how important this was as a poor white, having a class of people who were lower on the totem pole than we were though we were very low socio-economically. Learning to “think I was white” was one of the most important early discoveries of my life, very much a formative part of my identity the early stages of which involves drawing distinctions between self and others, including between my group and other groups.
But Mr. Coates’ observation, “thinking they are white” really cut to the quick with me, conveying to me what he had seen about the smug observations we make early in our childhood which become solid bedrock in our cognitive grasp of the world. And with my grasp of my “whiteness” I knew that though I lacked many things, no one could take away from me my “whiteness” and with that status came the power of eating on the right side of the diner, using the nicer bathrooms, drinking at the white water fountains, and going to the better white schools. It was nothing I thought about…consciously. It was a given, a basic assumption, an implicit part of the template through which I viewed the world. I had a power that many others did not have, regardless of how powerlessness I might feel otherwise in my life.
Though I have long since gone beyond this racist view of the world, I know the template is still there in the depths of my heart thought quite faint. In the past decade as I’ve aged I have recognized faint racist imagery and thoughts creep into my consciousness, an experience which has not alarmed me because I see them for what they are. The earliest imprints from our culture, even those “burned in” on our pre-conscious soul, never leave us. People may vehemently deny being racist but very often their behavior and passing thoughts betray them. For example, note the Republican Party which is quick to deny racism but has systematically and persistently sought to deny blacks the right to vote in recent years.
Racism is only the surface of a deeper problem, an intrinsic dimension of identity formulation already alluded to. For an identity to begin to organize and to escape the matrix in which it first existed, that “blooming, buzzing, confusing world of sense experience” spoken of by William James…it must draw distinctions between it and the “other”. Blacks in my early life, and in most of my generation, was one of the earliest “others” that we found and when we “othered” them it was done with great emotional intensity.
So racism is merely an essential part of American identity and all cultures and tribes have some similar process at the bedrock of their collective psyche. But I’ve discoursed here only as an introduction to my next blog post, the Christian faith utilized as a contrivance for identity formulation and, devoid of maturation, serving only to “other” masses of people.
Yesterday, something happened in my country I never thought would happen. Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th President. This has put the “right wing” (conservative) of the political spectrum in complete power of our government leaving those of us who support the “left wing” (liberal) scratching our heads in bewilderment. This election has brought to a head a culture war that has building steam for decades and now the venom is so intense that I don’t see any immediate solution other than to hope that the fractious Republican Party and their mentally unstable leader will continue the internal meltdown that has been going on for decades. And that would be a Pyrrhic victory as our country desperately needs a viable conservative voice.
I am one of those who has always been cursed with seeing at least two sides to every conflict, and sometimes more. In this intense battle of collective wills, I’m passionately behind the liberal cause but I have been in the conservative camp for about half of my life and can see things their way. I see that they have every right to see things through what I would call their very narrow view point but we liberals have the right to see things through our less narrow view point. And here is where religion has gotten involved as conservatives have an enthusiastic support from evangelical Christians and their interpretation of their faith grants them the firm conviction that their view of the world, including politics, is “right” because God is leading them. I owe a lot to this background of religious fervor and understand the ardor. It provides the basis of my very deep current faith though that ardor of my youth has taken a different direction which allows me to see that God is “big” enough to include different perspectives on this and all matters. (God is so “big” that words like “big” are foolish!”)
Being right is such a pyrrhic victory. For “right” is always determined by an external reference point and eventually one group’s definition of the term conflict gets in the way with another’s. (Sounds a bit like marriage huh?) Any group, any cause that gets too carried away with being “right” brings to my mind Isis; for there we have an example of what happens when “right” is carried to an extreme. Isis has absolutely no doubt that “god” is leading them.
Here I have not provided an answer. That is because I don’t have one. And that brings to my mind the profound wisdom of T. S. Eliot:
I said to my soul, be still and wait without hope, for hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love, for love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith, but the faith and the love are all in the waiting. Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought: So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing. (Four Quartets)
The evangelical support for Donald Trump reflects how greatly imperiled the Christian tradition is in. True, evangelicals are only a portion of Christianity but most of the Christian tradition is based on rationality to the exclusion of experience which makes it more amenable to being a cultural artifact. When religion becomes a cultural artifact, it risks becoming what the Apostle Paul called “the wisdom of this world” to which he assigned the value of “sounding brass and tinkling symbols” or as comedian Jerry Seinfeld put it, “yada, yada, yada.”
One’s Christian faith can easily become a “thing” which facilitates the phenomenon known as the “Christian identity movement” in which one’s faith has become “thing-ified.” It reflects that the individual has succumbed to the influence of modern industrial civilization and learned to see and experience himself only as a “thing” and therefore his god…and god’s son…can only be a “thing.” Furthermore, one’s loved ones, one’s friends, even mother earth is only a “thing” and we all know that “things” are to be used, to be exploited without any concern for their separateness, for their own uniqueness and value, even for their own soul.
A good friend of mine recently shared with me his experience of realizing his own “thing-ification” in the whole of his life, especially with his faith. He was indoctrinated into the Christian tradition at an early age, pressured at an early age to become a minister, and his faith…as a “thing”…became his identity. He began to realize in his late teens that something was amiss, and began a decades long exploration of an emptiness in his soul that an addiction to this “thing-ification” had covered up. As he gradually began to find the courage to let this “thing” dissipate, the emptiness began to be more intense, and as the intensity increased he began to find a grounding which he realized was faith in a more genuine sense that he had ever imagined possible. He summed it up as, “I had to lose myself to find myself”. He further explained that he realized he had to, in an important sense, lose his faith to find his faith and this experience was very much related to finding faith in himself. “To believe in God is to believe in myself,” he summarized.
Christian tradition has become such a “tradition” that it is often nothing but sterile tradition, a medley of ideas devoid of any connection to human experience, i.e. “the body.” I call these Christians “Christian-oids” or “Christian-ettes” who each day more or less say, “Wind me up and watch me be Christian. This way of life is a habit, and a comfortable habit, so comfortable that it is hard to break. It is very painful to realize that giving up this “habit” is giving up the “letter of the law” in exchange for the “Spirit of the Law,” giving up “death” for “Life.” And a noble tradition that has become perfunctory is amenable to gross influence by unconscious forces allowing innocent and good intelligent people to find themselves enthralled by ideologies which are actually very dark. Shakespeare recognized that when any spiritual tradition becomes perfunctory like this, when it becomes an “enforced ceremony” it becomes deadly:
When faith that was once heart-based, has “sickened and decayed” into empty rhetoric and ritual, there will be lots of loud and boisterous postering which will provide much fodder for late night comedians but will do nothing to assuage the ills of the social body or of the individual souls.
I dare to say that we have today a perfunctory Christian tradition very often and thus we see so many of them lining up behind a craven figure like Donald Trump and even declaring that God has “raised him up” to be President of the United States. This trivialization of the Christian tradition has led to a banalization of faith so that “easy believism” has replaced the “costly Grace” spoken of by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Consequently one can readily subscribe to a rationale creed, don the “Christian” attire, and bask in the social comfort that it affords without ever allowing it to delve into the heart and there, according to the Apostle Paul, “be a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”
The inauguration of Trump this week, and the multitude of problems that are already attending his presence on the stage has me really alarmed. And the greatest concern I have is his supporters who have chosen to be oblivious to his mental instability and lament re people like myself, “Why don’t you just stop being “sour grapes” and get behind our new President”. Some of them even have the audacity to then describe him as “elected fair and square,” completely disregarding the overt chicanery that went into getting him elected. Ordinarily, “sour grapes” would be a legitimate complaint and I always do feel it myself when my “pony in the race” loses. But his supporters have overlooked their own recent contempt of Trump and recognition of his mental instabiliand expect the rest of the country…and world…to do the same. Now all of us are “conflicted” as in having a few “bats in the belfry” and that is certainly true for myself. But Donald Trump has given us so much insight into his flawed psyche that it is apparent to anyone willing to be honest with himself that he is seriously mentally ill.
Last weekend Saturday Night Live skewered Trump on life television again. It sunk in on me that they are humiliating him as are most of the other comedians and that is so easy to do as he is such an humiliation to my country and to the world. We are being laughed at and should be. But what I realized as I watched the comedy sketch is that the ridicule only exacerbates the problem as his supporters who even catch a glimpse of the ridicule will then feel ridiculed and humiliated themselves making it even more unlikely that they will lessen their support for him. For, when facing ridicule and humiliation, it is human nature to defend himself rigorously, staunchly defending what to others is his lunacy as the pain of humiliation, of being “wrong” is more than the ego can bear. Yes, have been there, done that! Trump’s absurd refusal to acknowledge that he has made a mistake, to utter the words “I was wrong” reflects why he is the choice of so many people in the country who, I allege, cannot acknowledge themselves being wrong in critical dimensions of their life. And, it is no accident that early in the campaign Trump, even as he vied for evangelical Christian creds, admitted that he had never felt the need to ask God for forgiveness. His shame base is so intense that on that note he flunked the “Christian test” as he has consistently done…though evangelical leaders have continued to fawn over him and evangelical Christians have lined up behind him religiously.
I’m not for sure what ridicule accomplishes other than exacerbating the cultural divide that is now so apparent. It makes people like me appear contemptuous and arrogant. And anyone with my latent insecurity certainly is not free of those qualities. But what can one do? Write a meaningless blog post like this and “piss into the wind.”? Well, that is better than reasoning with Trump or his supporters as “reason” has nothing to do with this matter and at least tossing this blather into the cyber void gets it somewhat off my chest. Why in the hell can’t people just set down and be reasonable like myself? Chuckle, chuckle! Once again, this is not about reason. Perhaps that is something we could realize from this mess, that there is a dimension of human experience that is beyond the grasp of mere reason. However, those who most need to learn this are the least likely to know and experience it. It would be too scary to experience and it is easier for them to scream their platitudes and certainties a little louder and blame Obama or “them” a little more.
(Here is the link to an hilarious spoof of Trump’s inauguration. https://qz.com/885900/saturday-night-live-the-last-snl-before-trumps-inauguration-of-course-featured-alec-baldwin-in-the-cold-open/)