Tag Archives: hypocrisy

Canned Religion and Conspicuous Piety

“When love begins to sicken and decay
It useth an enforced 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.”

This Shakespearean wisdom from Julius Caesar has gotten a lot of play in my blogs the past year as I witnessed evangelical Christians utilize their canned faith to help elect Donald Trump to the Presidency. But I am such a keen observer of this hypocrisy because I’ve spent most of my life there.  And “canned faith,” steeped in the letter of the law, always thrives on the ego’s demand for “strutting and fretting” like the aforementioned “horses hot at hand.”

Plain and simple faith, huh?  Conspicuous piety always takes a lot of effort genuine human goodness requires simple presence in life, paying attention to this beautiful world and gazing attentively on the flow of life taking place around you.  It is amazing how much life one can miss when he is immersed in the self-imposed illusion of piety.

ADDENDUM–I have diversified this literary effort of mine.  In this blog I plan to focus more on poetry and prose.  Below you will see two other blogs of mine relevant to spirituality and politics which have lain dormant for most of the past five years.  I hope some of you will check them out.  However, the boundaries will not be clear as my focus is very broad and my view of life is very eclectic/inclusive/broad-based.  Yes, at times too much so!

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

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

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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)

It’s a “Come to Jesus” Moment

A “come to Jesus moment” in popular culture has come to mean to face a day of reckoning about circumstances that have been ignored to the point where they can no longer be disregarded.  The image draws from fundamentalist Christianity where “Come to Jesus” meant, and still does mean a moment of reckoning with God and an acknowledgement of one’s short comings.

Though no longer a fundamentalist Christian, I still think that the bromide, “Come to Jesus” still has value if one can approach the matter with a critical view, not only of the bromide itself but of the one who is using the bromide.  In other words, if one can overcome an innate, ego-driven aversion to “self” awareness, especially when it comes to matters of faith.  For most of my life the concept of “come to Jesus” has meant “come to viewing the world as I do” and now I see clearly the narcissism and tyranny of this mind set.  And, it has nothing to do with Jesus.  It has to do with an ego which exercises so much control over an individual, or group of individuals, that the narcissism inherent in the desire is not apparent.  At some point this dishonesty, this “bad faith” is likely to give rise to a powerful voice who will articulate the repressed anguish and rage of millions who are in the grip of this daimonic energy and promise to “Make America Great Again.”  Oh, my….Hmm.  What could I have reference to there?

The issues before us as a species are, and always have been spiritual and that is where “Jesus” comes in.  But by “spiritual” I do not mean the superficial sense with which I was indoctrinated.  By “spiritual” I refer to a dimension of the human heart that lies beneath the surface, down in the guts where words like “spiritual” fall short of actually apprehending the matter.  It is too convenient to keep “spiritual” on a superficial level of conscious, rational intent where we can have a false certainty of what we are doing and then, often, lamely announce, “God is leading” or “God has raised this man up.”

By “spiritual” I mean coming to a place where we recognize, and feel, that ultimately, we are implicated in a cosmic mystery which we can never totally understand with our rational mind and those “certainties” which consume us just might not be any more valid than those who have other contradictory “certainties.”  To put this in terms of my country’s interminable Congressional grid-lock, it would mean that Republicans and Democr ats would each recognize they see only “through a glass darkly” and resolve to put aside their petty differences and focus on monumental challenges that our country faces.  But when certainty grips any one party and/or their constituency, there is no solution because that would require the humility of recognizing, “Uh oh, I was not as much right as I thought I was.”  That would mean acknowledging from time to time, “I was wrong” which is something that Donald Trump, and many of his followers, are characterologically incapable of doing.  This would require spirituality that was something other than self-serving dogma.  This would require something other than the “prayer meeting” hosted by Congressman Louie Gohmert in his office last week where the evil forces they were trying to cast out of Congress were the one’s who were inspiring their self-indulgent display of hypocritical piety.  “With devotions visage and pious action we sugar o’er the devil himself.”  (Shakespeare)  Oh my, how wonderful it was to know that I was pious and to give others an opportunity to see it on display!

Confessions of an Hypocrite

When “god talk” is bouncing around in your head–words like “Jesus”, or “Holy Spirit” or “humility” or “the Bible”– it is really intoxicating!  I know, been there, done that.  It provides one the exquisite delight of feeling pious and righteous, knowing that one is “saved” and, very importantly, knowing that so many others are not. This cognitive experience allows one to live in a narrowly defined, safe world of “like minded souls” who are subject to the same cultural bondage, all of which have signed an unconscious bond to never question the premises of their mindset that would bring the “light of day” to their darkness and expose them to their hypocrisy.

Hypocrisy is subtle.  Once again, been there and done that and technically still am!  Hypocrisy is being trapped in performance art, a performance which is carefully scripted by the “song and dance” of one’s spiritual tradition which is very comforting as long as one does not allow that cursed “light of the day”, aka “the Holy Spirit” to intervene and show them that their faith was only a perfunctory performance in compliance with those lofty notions cavorting about in their head.  What is missing is the wisdom of the Apostle Paul who noted that the Spirit of God, if allowed to, will cut into the depths of the heart and there serve as, “a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”  But if that dangerous and damning insight is permitted, one would have to recognize the sham of his faith which would then allow the “performance art” of faith to dissolve into meaningful expression. But this is very painful as it requires the disillusionment, the anguishing experience of realizing that one has not been as pious as he imagined himself to be and then recognize and experience the grace of God which covers even that duplicity!  But if you “know” you are humble, the thought itself will deter you from allowing the experience of humility to wash over you. T. S. Eliot realized this when he noted, “The only wisdom we can hope to acquire is the wisdom of humility.  And humility is endless.”  Eliot recognized what I like to call the experience of “humility-ization” being operable in one’s life, as “humility” is nothing that can be acquired.  If you think you have “acquired” it…as I once thought I had…you are up to your halo in hypocrisy!

We are all “actors on the stage of life, who with his fear have been put beside his part” and finding the courage to recognize this can provide an opportunity for spiritual growth.   It requires, however, the relinquishment of the comfort zone provided by the cerebral “letter of the law” and a willingness to engage a heart which until this point has been dormant, “bronzed o’er so that it is proof and bulwark against sense.”  Shakespeare knew that a heart which has been customized, or enculturated, into mere rote performance is one that is a rigid defense network against “sense” or feeling.  In the same scene, he implored his mother to listen to him with a heart “made of penetrable stuff”.

Often persons of faith do not have hearts made of “penetrable stuff.”  In my case I was “christianized”, or indoctrinated with Christian teachings so that there was no room left for an open heart to make the dogma of the Christian teachings meaningful in my life, to allow them to filter down from my head into my heart.  In a sense, there was no heart as there can be no real heart until the circumstances of life have intervened and made in vulnerable, i.e. “full of penetrable stuff.”  Now, certainly I have always had a heart but a “heart” is an infinite dimension of our human experience…if we allow it to be.  It is so easy and convenient to allow it to ossify with the dogma that our tribe has provided us which leaves us as nothing more than the walking dead.  In fact, in terms of developmental psychology, our “heart” must ossify for us to join the structure of the human race.  But then in time to come there are opportunities to allow this ossification to break down under the influence of what my spiritual tradition calls the “Spirit of God.”  But this is painful and disillusioning and so we usually decline to listen to that “still small voice” that is always whispering to us and therefore remain in the comfortable darkness of dogma.  As W. H. Auden put it, “And Truth met him, and held out her hand.  But he clung in panic to his tall beliefs and shrank away like an ill-treated child.”

In conclusion, you have just read something from the heart of an admitted hypocrite.  For, as long as we are human, we will be an “actor” to some degree and what makes hypocrisy such a problem is merely the inability/unwillingness to acknowledge it.  Self-reflection, that God-given capacity in our fore-brain is painful when our ego-driven identity is predicated upon disallowing it.   If you want to see an example, pay attention to American politics right now.

 

“People of the Lie”

In the mid 1980’s a psychiatrist, Scott M. Peck published a couple of books that made a big splash in self-help and personal growth circles.  The first was, “The Road Less Traveled” and the second was “People of the Lie.”  The latter was about the subject of evil and I personally think that he probably got carried away to label some of the people in his book as “evil.” I think he was guilty of the error of many clinicians, the tendency to wield the diagnostic label too readily.  Yes, I do think there are evil people in the world but then there are the rest of us who are constitutionally wired to be “people of the lie” in that we present a face to the community that is not reflective of what lies beneath the surface.  As Goethe noted, “The heart has its beastly little treasures” but most of us are so scared of the “beastly” that we hide behind a sanitized persona.  C’est moi!

But Donald Trump is an unabashed liar.  I hesitate to call him “evil” but I do think he has that capacity if my nation, apparently a “nation of sheep” will empower him.  He cannot tell the truth even on the simplest level; for, if the “truth” impugns his tenuous sense of self-worth, he merely resorts to brazen lies. There are so many examples such as declaring that the National Football League had conspired with Hillary Clinton re the schedule of the debates.  The next day the NFL denied any communication with him on this manner and Trump merely refused to address the issue.  In the last debate, Clinton reminded him of an egregious offense when he mimicked and mocked a disabled reporter, to which Trump leaned in an intoned, “Wrong!”   He simply cannot admit fault.  I see him as a terribly wounded two-year old whose “malignant narcissism” makes him constitutionally incapable of admitting any wrong.  In fact, in so many instances when he could have easily offered an euphemistic response like, “I misspoke” or “I regret putting it that way” he will merely double down because of a  characterological in ability to simply say, “I was wrong.”  Now, it is no coincidence that early in his campaign he stated that he had never asked God for forgiveness, an observation which evangelical Christian leaders like Jerry Falwell Jr. and Robert Jeffress conveniently overlook.  I have a hunch they have this same “characterological” problem.

I must admit that the evangelical faith of my youth would not have allowed me to admit, “I too am a ‘people of the lie.’”  Yes, I, too, have a shame-base and have spent most of my life adamantly refusing to acknowledge what Carl Jung called the shadow.  I was a mere “actor” which is the word in the New Testament, for “hypocrite.”  No, that does not mean I was a horrible person or a Donald Trump, it merely means that I had not found the courage, the “Grace”, to acknowledge that I was a flawed individual who was not as noble as I had presented myself to be or as I had thought myself to be.  I had been presented with a “packaged” religion and I had not reached the point of maturity and courage to “open the package” and allow what in my spiritual tradition is called, “The Spirit of God” to begin to flow.  Once I had begun to right myself after the horrible pain of disillusionment, a “still small voice” whispered to me, “Welcome to the human race!”  For, it is human nature to be some version of Peck’s “People of the Lie” but, I admit, that is putting it a bit harshly.  Perhaps I should just put it in the words of T.S. Eliot, “Human kind cannot bear very much reality.”

 

 

Hypocrisy as Performance Art

A few years ago I was a member of St. Paul’s Episcopalian church in Fayetteville, Arkansas and there had the most meaningful church experience in my life.  This church was very open minded and I found myself involved in a Sunday Morning class in which meditation was emphasized as well as reading books on the subject from a Christian and Eastern perspective.  And one morning each week there was a “Men’s Group” available for coffee, meditation, and discussion.  This was a very formal get-together without any of the perfunctory religiosity which I had always found to be an essential part of other churches I had been involved with.  On one of these Men’s Group meetings, a man that I became pretty close to casually observed that most of his Christian life had been that of “acting Christian” and then pointed out that the word “hypocrite” meant “actor.”  I knew this already, but I was ready to “know” this to a deeper level and realize just how my Christian faith had been an effort at performance art.  Even more so, my whole life had been a “performance” trying to win the approbation of others and ignoring my internal subjective experience.  My friend’s observation prompted a discussion on the subject, but none of the traditional Christian “weeping and gnashing of teeth” over something which might have been seen as a confession.  This was just a casual observation from the depths of this man’s heart in a setting which facilitated such disclosures.  The point I’m trying to make is that here a simple honesty was possible, a simple honesty that allowed human weakness and even duplicity, in some sense, to be put on the table.

Since that morning about five years ago, I have continued to explore my “hypocrisy” and done so with complete comfort, without any feelings of guilt or humiliation on that note.  For as a result of my experience in that church, I had learned to own my “human-ness” and realize that this is what God is actually after.  God does not want us to invest ourselves in “performance art” but in simply being human which means that from time to time we have recognize dimensions of our faith, and of the whole of our life, which we had not grasped before.  We have to open ourselves to disillusionment, to the owning of what the Apostle Paul called “the flesh.”.

But many expressions of the Christian faith, many of them in the evangelical fold, have no room for this gut-wrenching disillusionment and relentlessly stick to the “performance art” they learned by rote as a child.  They are mere “actors” which is what we all are but until they can accept that human limitation, they are missing a dimension of grace that their faith affords them.  They will continue with their rote performance which is not what Jesus had in mind.

But please note, I am not questioning the validity of their faith, for in the Christian tradition, Grace is bestowed upon us on the basis of what God has done in Christ and not in what we believe or do.  All of us are actors to some degree, i.e. “hypocrites,” for none of us are perfect.   But those who think they are perfect scare the hell out of me.  I know.  I used to be one and I was scary.  Shakespeare put it so eloquently, noting that we are “imperfect actors on the stage of life who with his/her fear is put besides his part” but then he insisted, “There is a divinity that doeth shape our ends, rough hew them how we may.”  Shakespeare recognized that our fear keeps us away from our authenticity but, “divinity” nevertheless is shaping our ends.

Listen to W. H. Auden on the subject:

Human beings are, necessarily, actors who cannot become something before they have first pretended to be it, and they can be divided not into the hypocritical and the sincere, but into the sane who know they are acting and the mad who do not.

My Life in a Mega-Church

I spent two years as a member of a mega-church in the early eighties, a Baptist Church in Springdale, Arkansas. I was so proud of myself, so pleased to be a member of a church that was so “up-and-coming” and growing larger and larger and larger. And the pastor was very good. And I mean very, very good; even today I appreciate memories of his skill as an expositor of scripture.

And I was single at the time and didn’t “smoke, drink, or chew…or screw”…though I will admit I faltered on that latter point from time to time. And, yes, God forgave me. I knew he would. He had to. But I hated relying on that “duty” of His and so didn’t “imbibe” as much as I wanted to. But, nevertheless, I did not “smoke, drink, or chew!!!” But, I continued to flirt with darkness in the fall of 1981 when, after hearing the pastor lament the passing of Arkansas’s “Blue Laws” I stopped by after service and reveled in a luxurious Wal-mart for a while and bought a lot of “stuff.”   (The “Blue Laws” disallowed most stores to open on Sunday) I do remember to this day the guilt of that offense, hoping that no other church members saw me!)

But it was so nice to be part of a church that was really special and powerful and becoming more so. The Word of God was being preached and souls were being won to Jesus and even though the world was lost in sin, we were doing our part to win the world to Jesus. And I was a small part of this enterprise. It felt nice to belong.  Now looking back on it, the “pride” is kind of awkward, for it is the pride that Emily Dickinson had in mind when she described, “a mind too near itself to see itself distinctly.”  Or, to put it in the words of a recent Face Book discussion group re Paul Tillich, a mind “embedded in itself.”

Looking back on it, I was merely an “actor” in my life and my faith and so I’m tacitly accusing this church of the same. But, I have some guilt over accusing them. For, they were very, very good people and are so today. And, so was I! And they will not be reading this account and if so they must take it as it is, a revelation more about myself much more than an account of them. Yes, those people were “limited” but who is not and there was none of them more limited than was I. Dealing with my “limitations” has taken me a different direction than most of them but I’m sure most of them are not in the same place as they were back then. We are all “actors” in some sense and God takes our “strutting and fretting” during our “hour upon the stage” and weaves them into this beautiful tapestry that we call the human experience.