Category Archives: culture wars

“Tale Told by an Idiot” Still Being Told

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

This famous Shakespearean wisdom from Macbeth has stuck with me from the first time I heard it in high school when, stuck in a literal mindset at the time, I found Shakespeare and literature…other than the Bible…horrifying.  This wisdom is frightening as it takes the reader right into one of humankind’s worst fears, “Is anything real, and if so, am I participating in it?”

But now after three decades cavorting about in the delightful realm of Shakespeare’s imagination, I’m not as frightened or even daunted when I come across one of his glimpses into the scary parts of our psyche.  Here he was certainly telling us that we are all mad but the body of his work conveyed the conviction that there is “method to this madness” that we call life, that, “There is a Divinity that doeth shape our ends, rough hew them how we may.”  Shakespeare recognized what we now call “consensually validated reality” as a stage play in which we play various roles throughout all of our life, all of them amounting in some sense only to “performance art.”  And he knew that this social facade was necessary but he liked to point out to us in his plays and sonnets just how given it is to duplicity, hypocrisy, dishonesty and the rest of the ugliness of the human heart that reigns in us all, though we are hard-wired to keep it covered up beneath the surface of this “dog-and-pony show” that we call reality.  But occasionally the gods will send along a vivid illustration to let us see just how much non-sense we are mired in and then it is our task to have the courage to learn from this object-lesson that is being provided us and amend our ways.  But we must always remember the wisdom of W. H. Auden on this note, “And Truth met him, and held out her hand, and he clung in panic to his tall belief and shrank away like an ill-treated child.”

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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/

Rebecca Solnit on Trump’s Maddening Solitude

This is the best “sermon” I’ve read yet about Trump and his minions.  Rebecca Solnit spares no punches and delivers a prophetic word, not just about Trump, but about our whole culture.  As they say, “Read it and weep.”  And weeping is in order as this is a very sad moment in our history and could get even sadder at any moment.

My use of words like “sermon” and “prophetic” bely my rage at the church culture of my origins.  Yes, “me doeth protest too much.”  I still think that “truth” can be found in spiritual traditions but very often spiritual traditions ossify and become merely “well-worn words and ready phrases that build walls against the wilderness.”  That leaves it to artists, writers, and even comedians to “speak truth to power” and Ms. Solnit here “knocks it out of the park.”

http://lithub.com/rebecca-solnit-the-loneliness-of-donald-trump/

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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/

Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche and the Trans-gender Issue

Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, the Nigerian born novelist and feminist, has created a stir with her views on the trans-gender issue that is so much in discussion currently. (See link to The Guardian article at bottom.) The problem occurred when she noted that a trans woman who had been raised a male certainly was not uninfluenced by the power that accompanies “male-ness” even if “he” has become a “she.”  Adiche was roundly criticized by feminists and the Left but refused to apologize, merely noting that her critics had not listened carefully.  She furthermore chided them for clinging to “language orthodoxy” without employing a discriminating ear, i.e. “critical thinking.”  Adiche declared, “…I don’t think it’s helpful to insist that unless you want to use the exact language I want you to use, I will not listen to what you’re saying.”  She pointed out that critical approach to speech and language is necessary and just because something we hear or read does not fit into our “orthodox” view of the world does not mean that it should be immediately dismissed.  This point is often made of the Left about conservatives but Adiche called attention to its presence in liberal thought.  For, this “uncritical ear” is a temptation to any vein of thinking.

Adiche, being a talented writer, understands the nuances of language and the whole of culture as she demonstrated in her excellent novel, “Americanah.”  In this current controversy, Adiche is reflecting the belief in the bumper sticker, “Don’t believe everything you think.”  She encourages us to listen better, open our hearts more than is our first nature, realizing that as we do so we might find something being said has more value than we first thought.

She declared, “If we can’t have conversations, we can’t have progress.”  She understands that a closed mind, one religiously devoted to “orthodoxy,” is a conversation stopper or, better stated, a dialogue stopper.  Conversation in the sense of mindless palaver…chatter…can go on endlessly without accomplishing anything.  But the dialogue that Adiche has in mind is meaningful exchange of ideas the effect of which will lead to an opportunity to broaden one’s world view, or mind-set.  Orthodoxy always brings dialogue to a screeching halt, best illustrated by the congressional impasse of my country.

Here are a couple of paragraphs from the newspaper article:

She suggested in an interview last week that the experiences of transgender women, who she said are born with the privileges the world accords to men, are distinct from those of women born female. She was criticized for implying that trans women are not “real women”.

“I didn’t apologize because I don’t think I have anything to apologize for,” she said on Monday. “What’s interesting to me is this is in many ways about language and I think it also illustrates the less pleasant aspects of the American left, that there sometimes is a kind of language orthodoxy that you’re supposed to participate in, and when you don’t there’s a kind of backlash that gets very personal and very hostile and very closed to debate.

“Had I said, ‘a cis woman is a cis woman, and a trans woman is a trans woman’, I don’t think I would get all the crap that I’m getting, but that’s actually really what I was saying.

(https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/mar/21/chimaman da-ngozi-adichie-nothing-to-apologise-for-transgender-women)

 

Trump and the ‘Thing-ification’ of Faith

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 love begins to sicken and decay,
It useth an enforcèd ceremony.
There are no tricks in plain and simple faith.
But hollow men, like horses hot at hand,
Make gallant show and promise of their mettle.

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.”

 

 

 

 

When love begins to sicken and decay,
It useth an enforcèd ceremony.
There are no tricks in plain and simple faith.
But hollow men, like horses hot at hand,
Make gallant show and promise of their mettle.

Trump Inauguration is Upon Us!

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/)

Thoughts about the Election 2016

This election yesterday which will bring Donald Trump to the Presidency of my country in January has taught me so much, not just about my country but about myself.  This is because I now pay attention much better, not only to what happens “out there” in my world but what happens “in here” in my subjective experience.  No longer do I have the luxury of merely coasting by on my convenient set of preconceptions.

The American people have clearly voted for a more conservative direction in our country, politically and culturally.  Their insistence on a return to conservative values was so emphatic that they were even willing to vote for a candidate that most of them did not like, many of whom even found it embarrassing to vote for him.  And I feel passionately that a conservative presence in any culture is needed; but it is sad that the Republican Party could not come up with a candidate who represented their values and didn’t bring Trump’s unsavory qualities to the table.

Furthermore, this election was an affirmation about a certain way of looking at the world, a worldview with very certain and rigid boundaries best illustrated with Trump’s brazen declaration to “build a wall” to keep out the Mexicans and even to make Mexico pay for it.  This “building of walls” is a metaphor for the whole emphasis of the Trumpian message to “Make American Great Again,” meaning to turn back the clock to the time when boundaries were very definite and “everybody” knew their place.  Yes, “Negroes”, women, homosexuals, foreigners of all stripes, and all expressions of diversity were frowned upon or persecuted.

When the basic assumptions that formulate the template through which we view the world are threatened, it is a very human response to want to revert to what has worked in the past to diminish or eliminate this threat.  This is true on an individual and a collective level.  But sometimes this need for the security of the “tried and true” of yesteryear can become too great and we will succumb to the temptation of making,  “for ourselves a life safer than we can bear.”  (W. H. Auden)  Life is inherently dynamic and with the dynamic flow of this spiritual process there is always some risk involved.  Without willingness to take risks, to change, we have retreated to a sterile and moribund world which leaves us bereft of spirit, existing only as the walking dead.

Bruce Jenner, Trans-Gender Identity, & Culture-Wars

Bruce Jenner, the former Olympic gold medalist and former husband of Kris Kardashian formally announced last week that he is a woman, explaining, “It is who I am.”  Our culture provides great liberty with declaring and acting on the choice to “be who I am,” a choice that is not available in most places and never has been.  And this is certainly the case when it comes to gender identity. (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/26/arts/television/bruce-jenner-transgender-diane-sawyer.html?emc=edit_th_20150426&nl=todaysheadlines&nlid=71726985&_r=0)

Culture has one primary intent—to perpetuate itself and the “certainties” that constitute its bedrock.  These certainties provide a culture’s children a template through which to view the world and this template tends to always legitimate the values of the particular culture into which one is born.  And one of the simple little “certainties” that one quickly learns is gender identity and this originates when the child learns that his/her “plumbing” distinguishes himself/herself from roughly half of the population.  Once that distinction is ascertained, the child then begins to learn what it means to be a “boy” or a “girl” in that culture and then has the task of following the mandate to “get with the program.”  Yes, early on there are some children who have “contrary” impulses with respect to gender identification but the cultural mandate historically is overwhelming so that they dutifully obey the “law of the father” and subscribe to “proper” gender identity, repressing any impulses that might be “contrary.”

But Mr./Ms Jenner illustrates a huge cultural shift in my country and in the West.  Certainties of the past are now often less certain, even those of gender identity.  We are learning that the distinction between “male” and “female” is more nebulous than we were taught as children.  And this is a frightening experience to those who cannot handle ambiguity and nuance and are accustomed to seeing things in black-and-white terms.  And for many of those in my culture they have an immediate contrivance to rely upon—“It’s of the Devil!”  It reminds me of the label ancient cartographers applied to regions of the map which had not been explored—“There be the dragons.”

 The unknown is frightening.  When faced with the unknown it is human tendency to retreat to what is already “known” and to “hunker down” with that little view of the world which one of my readers recently described as a “querencia.”  With this “hunkering down” mentality, one clings even more desperately to what one has always believed and often will merely affirm it with more vehemence.  This vehement affirmation often even leads to action, even violent action.  Change cannot be tolerated to a hyper conservative mind.

 Ultimately we must deal with human finitude and this gender aspect of our current “culture wars” provides us another opportunity.  We are finite, fragile little critters running around on this little ball of granite, our frantic activities amounting to nothing more than the Shakespearean “tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing.”  But if we have the courage, and a healthy dollop of meta-cognition as Shakespeare was blessed with, we will be able to counter the nihilistic despair with the affirmation that, “There is a Divinity that doeth shape our ends, rough hew them how we may.”  In other words, there is always Hope.  But hope is not mindless clinging to the dogma we were brainwashed with as children but to truth that has withstood our heart-felt, Spirit-led, mindfulness-inspired self-scrutiny.