Tag Archives: racism

Faith and Truth, per Carl Sandburg

 

WHO AM I?
By: Carl Sandburg

MY head knocks against the stars.
My feet are on the hilltops.
My finger-tips are in the valleys and shores of 
universal life.
Down in the sounding foam of primal things I
reach my hands and play with pebbles of 
destiny.
I have been to hell and back many times.
I know all about heaven, for I have talked with God.
I dabble in the blood and guts of the terrible.
I know the passionate seizure of beauty

And the marvelous rebellion of man at all signs
reading “Keep Off.”
My name is Truth and I am the most elusive captive 
in the universe.

All of us have a body of thought rattling around our skull which constitute “truth” and is taken for granted.  This is a necessary, though in a sense specious, certainty that allows us to function in our consensually-validated reality.  But within the noisy “rattling around” in our skull, there are certainties and premises that need to be examined occasionally and Sandburg was telling us this is especially so with those posted with the sign, “Keep Off.”  Sandburg did not mean there are no “Keep Off” dimensions to our heart and mind but that we need to pay attention to this signage and occasionally entertain the notion, “Well, maybe I should look at that idea a little further?”  This is related to my often-cited favorite bumper sticker, “Don’t believe everything you think.”  One simple little example from my youth in central Arkansas was the certainty that blacks were inferior to whites.  There was no need to question it for it was a definite, and, “The Bible said it.”

I have watched so many truths fall by the wayside in my life time and have long since given up any faint belief that I own the truth, that at best there is some primordial Truth that lies beyond the grasp of our finite mind and that yes, in a sense that “Truth” even has us!  And if I ever start trying to explain that to you, flash the sign of the cross in my face and run away quickly as this is a matter that eludes the grasp of human cognition.  This “Truth” involves faith, but not of the escapist faith that is so common, but faith that there is a, “Divinity that doeth shape our ends, rough hew them how we may,” as Shakespeare told us.  And I personally think that those who are the most obnoxious about objectively knowing about that end…and usually the end for others…are doing the roughest hewing!

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Where There is No Vision, the People Perish.

“Where there is no vision, the people perish.”  Heard this often in my youth and realize now that referred to those who don’t see and understand the world as I did at that time.  There is vision and then there is “vision” and learning this lesson requires as step one, realizing that at very best we “see” through a glass darkly.  To put that in more human terms, we “see” only in accordance to a deep-seated need to “see” the world that we are accustomed to.  For example, in my youth in the state of Arkansas, I clearly saw that “Negroes” were not as intelligent and virtuous as were white people.  “It is obvious,” I’m sure I told myself.  What I failed to understand then is the dictate from my culture which mandated that I saw “Negroes” in this way and that seeing them in such a manner fulfilled my personal and tribal need to have someone that was beneath me on the social ladder; they were “the other” in my early life.  The irony of that was that my family was close to the bottom of the ladder itself the first decade or so of my life when those values were being imprinted.

Obtaining vision requires a capacity for paradox, realizing that we see only when we realize that we don’t see, that we see “only through a glass darkly.”  This paradoxical capacity introduces us to the experience of “the other” and awareness of our existential loneliness.  We are all very much alone in this world and it is only through the illusions of cultural contrivance, the object world, that we can superficially connect with others and pretend that we have connection.  And this “pretense” serves a very useful function in this very necessary world of appearance; but it is only when we venture beneath the surface, beyond the pretenses of our persona, and flirt with what W. H. Auden described as the, “unabiding void,” that we can enter the meaningful realm of spirit in which a more genuine connection is possible.  You might even say that our tippy-toeing near or into the void, “scares the hell of us”….or it least it can…as hell is living one’s whole life on the surface, failing to answer the famous question of Jesus, “What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul; or, what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?”

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AN AFTERTHOUGHT — What prompted this post is a story in The Economist about the state of Oklahoma and its egregious lack of vision.  Their “lack of vision” so closely parallels the obscurantism of the Republican Party in my country. Here is a link to that story:

https://www.economist.com/news/united-states/21736102-low-teacher-pay-and-severe-budget-cuts-are-driving-schools-brink-whats-matter

Ta-Nehesi Coates: “Thinking They are White”

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.

The “Donald Trump Show” Wreaking Havoc!!!

My immersion in the work of Carl Jung has led to an increased sensitivity to the murmurs from my unconscious depths.  I catch myself often seeing…and feeling…responses to stimuli in my world that I once would have not noticed.  For example, last week I was watching the daily “Donald Trump Show” that has exploded on my country’s political and cultural scene and caught myself wanting to say “atta boy” as he trotted out his usual falderal that is always delightful “red meat” for the rabid base of his Republican Party. For example, he offers a steady diet of juicy themes like “I’m the only one who has the courage to stand up to ‘them’” or “I’ll build a wall to keep out them there Mexicans…and make’em pay for themselves” or “I’ll make American great again” or denigrating Washington politicians as “stupid.”

His message speaks to the unconscious of voters who feel they are losing control, that their country is losing control and losing the prominence that it deserves, and that “we need a leader who will tell the truth and will ‘get something done.’”  And all of these desires are noble human desires but only when taken in context and fulfillment is sought while respecting others who might suffer as a result of their accomplishment.  But I noted my heart’s response to say “amen” in response to the primary thing his message offers—certainty!  My country…like the rest of the world…is still trying to come to terms with the flow of history and accept that the “certainties” of yesteryear need to be modified.  But some part of my heart, still listening to the reptilian brain’s insistence that my ego can be in control….can be “God”…and wants that certainty.

And this Trump message strikes right at the heart of fundamentalist Christianity which drives the base of the Republican party without which they would not be able to win anything.  But, speaking for myself…and in spite of those unconscious murmurs…there is a rudimental dimension of my fundamentalist faith of yesteryear that is not only surviving the lack of certainty but is discovering that it is thriving.  For, now in place of certainty, I find faith and hope welling up.  But I will admit it would be simpler and easier if I could just go back to the past and have confidence that my mindless…and heartless…regurgitation of dogma was sufficient.

Trump has the Republican establishment shaking in its booties.  For Trump is behaving like an enfant terrible and putting on the table what the GOP establishment wants to be kept beneath the surface because it is ‘unsavoury” to most of the American electorate.  For example, the racism and misogyny that is glaring in the Republican agenda is openly voiced by Trump while the GOP establishment stands helplessly by and cringes.  It is almost like Trump is embodying Tourette’s Syndrome for the Grand Old Party and saying the things that everyone is thinking but civility and decorum does not permit to be said.

Rumi, Shakespeare, and Moral Codes

The Persion poet Rumi noted, “Out beyond ideas of wrong doing and right doing, there is a field. I will meet you there.” This is similar to Shakespeare’s famous observation, “Nothing good or bad but thinking makes it so.”

These two quotations appear to convey moral relativism which permits basically anything under the sun, appearing to convey the absence of any moral absolute. But I do not feel this is the case at all for the teachings of these men suggest they have much more in mind than mere self-indulgent behavior. Each recognized that it was the God-given capacity to think which creates categories for the whole of human experience, including those categories of what is right and wrong. But it is only “thinking” and the capacity to think that allows this categorization to take place. They are merely noting that “thinking” and the resulting categorization of human experience can appear to be quite arbitrary. For example, not too many years ago in our country African Americans were thought of as second class citizens, and in the Deep South in particular, were second class citizens in the estimation of most white people. And having been raised in the South, due to this pervasive mind-set that my sub-culture was imbued with, I saw African Americans as second class citizens. For, as we learn to perceive, so things are. The categories formulated on the basis of our perceptual field are real, as far as we know it. And unquestioningly accepting these categories is validated day in and day out in the community. However, due to the strong arm of…may I say it…an “intrusive” Federal government our thinking regarding race has changed significantly in the past fifty years. African Americans are not viewed with the same racist mind-set by many Southerners and those who continue to subscribe to those Neanderthal beliefs are forced to treat them with more respect, albeit begrudgingly in most cases. One other example is prominent in our world history. At one point the prevailing world view was that the world was flat. That viewpoint was reality and anyone who deigned to suggest otherwise did so at the risk of ridicule or worse. The world was flat for that is how prevailing thought described it.

So, back to “wrong doing” and “right doing” or Shakespeare’s “good” or “bad.” Yes, it is only thinking that makes anything right, wrong, good, or bad. However, what these gentlemen were teaching is that we must get beyond mere categories, mere words, mere labels and learn that subscribing to a mere moral code will merely leave us trapped in the letter of the law. Sure, these moral codes will constrain our behavior and thus serve a useful social purpose. We cannot function as a society without them. But at some point we have to grow spiritually to the point that we are no longer merely constrained by the mere letter of the law but by the spirit of the law. Therefore, if I want to do something which I feel is “wrong”, I am given pause and proceed to ask myself, “Now what does this reflect about the depths of my heart? If I want to do a brother harm, what does that say about me, aside from whatever this brother might have done?

Now Rumi’s note that “I will meet you in a field that lies beyond that domain of right doing and wrong doing” is rich. A field conveys an open space, an area out beyond the narrow confines of a moral code, and this is the realm of the spirit. When we are rigidly governed merely by the letter of the law, when our heart is jam-packed with rules to which we are slavishly devoted, we can never get beyond, we can never get out side of our self, and we can never get into that Sacred Space where honesty, openness, and intimacy is found. This is the domain of the “I-Thou” relationship so eloquently described by Martin Buber.

Let me reiterate. A person who is slavishly devoted to the letter of the law, whose life consists of punctilious observation of moral, religious, and spiritual rules is trapped inside himself/herself. And if he/she finds the comfort of like-minded people, great comfort can appear to be found, but at a great price. And usually this mind-set produces a judgmentalism which has to be wielded on other people as the beasts within which this “letter of the law” carefully constrains will be projected onto the outside world. One expression of this poison is the view that the world is “going to hell in a hand basket, is inherently evil, and must be actively combatted.” Well, the world has evil present but I argue that groups with that emphasis need to pay an equal amount of attention to the evil within their own hearts. The evil outside with which they are obsessed is actually within their own hearts. This is the classic projection spoken of my Karl Jung.