Sunday, February 21, 2010

Fundie Dumpty Sat on a Wall

I've watched fundamentalism turn otherwise normal functioning humans into hate filled mechanisms of destruction all my life. There are also a ton of equally crazed crackpots out there who believe with all their hearts that churches, particularly the Catholic Church, are about nothing but mind control and money. That the gods were an invention to kowtow the people, and religions--just a scheme to collect money from them in the process.

But then we have the atheists who seem to grasp both groups and their problems really well... at first. But a well oiled human will quickly see that the atheists have also committed brain felo-de-se on the way to the rally.

The thing none of our cerebrally unhinged groups can seem to comprehend is where the truth lies or how to get there. In all three cases it's literally like trying to communicate with a brick. Or a... well, a really dumb cat. If they were taking drugs I could take their drugs away. If they were the victims of brain frequency altering sound waves or optical sensory manipulation to achieve a hypnotic effect, I could close their eyes and stop up their ears or shut the machines down. But how do you wake people from a hypnotic trance which has been self induced and habitually maintained? After Pavlov's dog has already been drooling for a couple of decades, or since birth, can you ever stop him from doing so with each and every bell that rings?

This is why I can't agree with the Universalists. There are just a small handful of people walking the Earth who haven't flown into intellectual flypaper. Can a man be taught truth when his mind has been locked away, and only he holds the key?

I am reminded of CS Lewis' story about a bus ride through purgatory where those who were the farthest from Heaven were also the ones whose minds had been closed around both selfishness and self deception. Where Hitler for instance, and those like him, could be found far away on a distant star because their selfish nature kept pushing them further and further away from other humans and from the Creator of life. Fundamentalists, conspiracy theorists, and atheists are also wrapped up in a closed cocoon of thought where nothing can penetrate their trance. They all see a completely different version of the great dance of life, all with different figures stepping to different tunes, each of them out of key because they've fired the conductor.

I suspect all of mankind has wrestled with these same parasites of mind manipulation. What is it that keeps some from falling prey to them? It has nothing whatsoever to do with intelligence; some of the finest minds, the most erudite thinkers, come under the spell of the perverted dance, and yet, some of the feeblest of intellects seem able to avoid the pitfalls as the fly evades the horse's tail. One thing is for sure; if the mind is to be able, it must first be free.

A good Christian must always be as skeptical of his bible as he is fond of it.

A good conspiracy theorist must be willing to test both sides of his theory with equal and complete impartiality.

A good atheist must be skeptical even of his own skepticism. (In other words, the only good atheist is an agnostic).

All honest men are capable of pleasing a God who is truth itself. But where is the honest man?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Religion and the Govinda Principle

I read Hermann Hesse's Siddhartha not long ago. Don't get me wrong concerning what I'm about to say. I mentioned to someone just this past week that Hesse along with most of the ballyhooed novel writers of the 20th century such as Ernest Hemingway, Samuel Beckett, James Joyce, Norman Mailer etc. were really a bunch of lightweights both in style and substance. Siddhartha isn't terrible or anything, although it is very sappy in some places, but when it comes right down to it, Hesse brings nothing new to the table that every writer of Hinduism and Buddhism hadn't already said. (By the way, have you ever noticed that Hindu writers almost never write without showing some Buddhist influence, but Buddhist writers seldom show any Hindu leanings?) There is, however, at least one passage in Siddhartha worth mentioning:

"I am indeed old," said Govinda, "but I have never ceased seeking. I will never cease seeking. That seems to be my destiny. It seems to me that you also have sought. Will you talk to me a little about it, my friend?"

Siddhartha said:[sic] "What could I say to you that would be of value, except that perhaps you seek too much, that as a result of your seeking you cannot find anything, ... Seeking means to have a goal; but finding means to be free, to be receptive, to have no goal."

I won't go into all the places the book went wrong. Suffice to say that Chesterton has already outlined what's wrong with the philosophies of the east better than I could in his popular book, The Everlasting Man. My only concern is with the above quotation because, from it, we can easily deduce the ways in which so many spiritually minded people get hung-up.

The Govinda Principle says that people who seek too much will never find. This is of course true. Yes, "knock and the door will be opened", but once you're in the reception area you can, and should, quit knocking. You simply wait to be seated. And then you learn, but the lessons come a little at a time, and the more impatient you are, the slower the lessons come. So lesson number one means learning patience, and learning patience is what John of the Cross meant by "the dark night of the soul", although I don't think even he recognized it for what it truly was. The teacher leaves the classroom now and then for extended periods of time. Each time he does, the students get antsy. Antsy is best described as a nervous inability to relax. Now the students are free to come and go as they wish. The most antsy among them may even decide the teacher isn't coming back and will get up, go back through the front door, and look for another teacher. I'd like to say this represents the golden calf incident in Genesis, but if it does, it does so very poorly.

Other students will leave the classroom and head for the library thinking that the teacher expects them to learn on their own when he isn't around. They study all the world's great mystical texts and religious doctrines. Some, a little at a time, will find themselves enticed by the words in these books and may eventually go off to find other kinds of schools where the teachers are always around and always willing to fill their heads with nonsense... usually for a price.

Still other students will use the free time for play and nothing more. They go fishing, but not for men.

A few students will remain seated. They are extremely curious and yet very quiet, blanking their minds and senses, expecting to find their teacher in an astral world waiting for them with open arms to say, "Well done thou good and faithful students."

But there are still a couple of students left. They aren't seekers. They aren't antsy. They aren't even curious. For themselves they are content. Their only concern is for the people who haven't yet made it to the classroom at all. While the teacher is away they go out into the world, to its highways and byways, to care for the sick; clothe the naked; feed the hungry; build homes for the poor; and talk of their teacher. These are the students the teacher is most pleased with. In doing these things they learn the greatest lessons of all about God, their fellow man, and the meaning of life for the teacher whispers into the students' ears while they're working. It is in fact only during work that the great vistas of learning are opened to them. They never return to the great teacher's door because the world has become their classroom now, and the teacher goes where they go because he resides within each of them.

I'm not looking for fellow seekers. I'm not seeking anything except for like-minded people of the same Spirit to fellowship with and nothing more. This is what church is to me. Christ left no commands about organizing our thoughts into a religious system. If that's what he wanted then I believe he would have done it himself, and we'd still be in the classroom on the other side of that door closed away from the world. It appears that he belonged to no sects of Judaism. At least nothing is mentioned of him being a Pharisee, Sadducee, Samaritan etc. When he spoke to the crowds about ancient Jews he always addressed them as "your" forefathers, never "our" forefathers. It seems to me that he did this deliberately, perhaps to show us that he had no part in religion. In fact, he spent most of his time arguing against various teachings in all sects of Judaism. Maybe there's something to be learned from that. It could be that religion, like faith, is meant to be personal, and that each of us must truly work out his own salvation.

People are usually too impatient for that though. They want a systematic learning regiment with detailed class courses. They want a predictable teacher and a class motto/creed. Most important to them though is having a structured philosophical outline of the world and the God who governs it... even if they have to make it up themselves. And damned to hell be anyone who steps out of line with their manmade religion, for thus speaketh the church, and their authority is next only to God himself. Why? Because they say so. And only their system is the orthodox system. Why? Because they say so.

I pay no heed to church authority. I have no regard for biblical cannons. I take what I can and disregard the rest, especially anything that puts an evil face on a God of love whether in the bible or out. The bible is a great book collection, but in the end, it's still just a book collection. God never sanctioned it, never commanded its existence as a whole, and never even predicted it should ever come into being. Both the bible and organized religion are just an aid for the most part, good for fellowship and seeing what great men in ancient days who claimed to have known our savior had to say about him. But there's a point where these things can hurt instead of help. When the bible starts being a rule book sent by God (no matter what despicable things it may have to say about him in places here and there) to represent his very words and thoughts, then we do both the bible and God a disservice. And when we try to make religions and doctrines a means of salvation when churches are only supposed to be about fellowship, we do our fellows a disservice.

Seek, find, work, and fellowship--that's the path to God and no other.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Sally Forth Oh Man Of Honorificabilitudinitatibus

I just wonder if it's as hard for other people as it has been for me when it comes to church-going. I grew-up in an Evangelical setting. By the time I was in my early 20s I knew I needed to get out, but for some reason I didn't completely break free until I was nearly 40. I think that I had never met anyone who attended a big mainstream church before, and my conception of them was that the congregations tended to just show up and go home--that there was no real sense of family or excitement about being in church. Actually I did know a couple of Catholic girls, and this is exactly what church was like for them.

Evangelical church services are like a big party. Everything is very festive and lively most of the time. And when they're somber, they're really somber. Evangelicals wear their emotions on their sleeves. They're very passionate in everything they do. They look forward to going to church. For most it's the highlight of their week. Many in fact go several times throughout the week. Besides Sunday morning services there are usually Sunday night services and one midweek. I would say that around 65% of all Evangelicals attend all those services and more besides. There's usually a youth night on Friday or Saturday. And then there are bible studies and home get-togethers. Some churches are also involved in a sports program such as a church softball league. And then there are often times the Evangelical version of the Boy Scouts called the Royal Rangers.

I think it's fair to say that, for Evangelicals, their whole world revolves around their church and church friends. I've always maintained that if you were to ask the first 10 Evangelicals you saw on the street who their best friend was, at least 8 of them would name someone from their church. Many in fact have no friends outside of their church whatsoever.

Evangelicals are extremely bible oriented. In fact many of them refer to their churches as "bible churches". I'm reminded of a passage in CS Lewis' novel, That Hideous Strength, where MacPhee is talking about how his uncle used to slap his big bible down on the table and say, "Show it to me in the world of God", whenever people came to him "blathering about religious experiences." Most Evangelicals are extremely well-versed in the bible and many have large portions of it memorized. And I've never seen an Evangelical (besides myself) that didn't believe in some form of biblical inerrancy. They just shrug off biblical difficulties and think that God will answer all their questions in Heaven. There's a certain absurdity that goes with that kind of reasoning (or lack thereof), and this is one of many reasons I felt a need to leave.

Leaving is easy; finding a direction in which to travel is hard. I feel torn between so many paths, and all of them wrong. There's the rub in all this. Not one of them feels right. Finding a church that doesn't have biblical infallibility in their doctrine begins and ends with the Episcopalians. That's fine, but many of them have gotten so liberal about their bible and religion that Christianity for them has become more an ideology of ethics than a religious belief system. When you start ordaining homosexual ministers to lead your flocks I think it's safe to say you're playing very fast with the rules. It makes me very uncomfortable being in such churches. This is definitely not something I desire in a place of worship, and it's one of the main reasons I've never officially joined them.

But where else to go? This is something true Christians (few and far between though they may be) ought to be in constant prayer about. There simply is no denomination that has its act together. Either they're bible worshipping, creed loving heretics, or they're sin infested dens of... well, you know. More often than not it seems that what we find behind Christian pulpits are people who want you subservient to their personal desires while pocketing your cash; or they're blathering some mystagogical idiocy like a Whirling Dervish with all the pretenses of losing the self on the outside, but with a narcissistic desire within for power and adoration.

I'm tired of being torn in-between. God needs someone to build him a true church. Not a house--a church. He won't do it for us. We'll have to work for it. But we need a leader to sally forth and take on the task. For once, wouldn't it be nice if it was someone who actually deserved to be in leadership? I haven't seen him yet, but I know he's out there. Say your prayers kids.