Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Logical Fallacy of the Modern Christian Idea of Belief

First off, Modern Christians have become rather overzealous about using the word "belief" in a very modern, scientific way. The word "belief" originates from a word that formerly meant "to love, to hold dear to." Believing in Jesus in that sense was something far more transformative, and humble. When Puritans talked about the imperative of loving Jesus with your heart, rather than your mind, they shockingly adhered to the sense of the word that has become lost to the minds of modern Christians who uphold the newer sense of the word; a far more arrogant form that forces one to stoically depend upon the cognitive limitations of their mind alone.  Of course, the Puritans were the progenitors of the Calvinistic obsession with the punitive God that still continues to make Christians neurotically obsessed with the nature of their own "salvation." As evidenced by many of Natheniel Hawthorne's stories, the "Calvinistic" infection made people quarrelsome and stupidly secretarian. More than ever, some modern Christians preach hearsay about a mind that has limits; they routinely ignore historical and scientific reality in order to  make the construct of Christianity become far more hubristic. Nearly all the worst manifestations of Christianity have seemed to redouble against the malevolent bogey of secularism.

In the new-fangled form of belief-centric Christianity, neither murder or anything heinous is the gravest sin in Christianity. Rather, the very possible sin of lacking belief in a litany of human-conceived propositions about "God" is supposedly viewed as the "unpardonable sin" Modern psychology has shown that our brain is largely a very complex organ with heterogeneous thoughts. God should be acknowledging the heterogeneous ideas that are constantly swirling through our minds. Almost all our thoughts have various elements entangled in them much like a piece of Beethoven's music which has a rich array of counter-melodies and other musical factors. 

Contemporary Christianity seems to think "salvation" requires insured doubtless belief in our own ideas about God. There are approximately 39,000 different denominations; each of these claim to have the veritable "eternal" life insurance that will guarantee our spot in heaven. The Christian faith thus is condensed to nothing more than the action of singular, paradoxically doubtless belief in this denomination's regulated theology. 

In the end of it all, Is God really going to judge certain denominations as being unfit for heaven? This obsession with "belief" within the Christian faith makes Christianity one of the more convoluted religions. Except, some of their followers fail to acknowledge this and instead arrogantly reprove our honest questions about a "religion" that has so many logical fallacies.

Why would God be so obtuse to care so much about the level of our "belief?" Is the most important part of our Christian faith really dependent on our ability to believe within Republican ideas, literal interpretations of mythic scripture, and a ton of other abstruse doctrines. The fact remains that Christianity seems to live in a false, immaculate fantasy where we have complete dominion over our minds. There are countless books that help believers "take control of their minds," and purge themselves of any doubtful thoughts that might affect our cognitive ability to believe doubtlessly/thoughtlessly in a number of silly theological ideas.

Things within this world are more complicated than "belief," and "unbelief." When Hamlet first enters the play, he reproves his parents for failing to see the true enigma of his grief that lies underneath his "inky cloak," or "surface-level grief." God is definitely someone who is not shallow and therefore does not just see "belief" and "unbelief." If Shakespeare has managed to write some of the most cerebral plays in the English language, How could the concept of God be reduced to something far more primitive and even insipid.  Does God then not understand the underlying sophistication of Shakespeare? Can he not then descend into the subconscious plane of our psyche, where Shakespeare's plays focus much of their attention on?  (
Later, Hawthorne and Poe would both descend to those same levels)  Is this belief-obsessed God really just an anthropomorphic mold, created by people who are agitated by the limits of the mind. Sensing the limits of their mental powers, they seek power by forcing a certain projection of "God" that seemingly reflects their own fears and desires.  Do we really want "God" to share the worst properties of the narcissistic ruler, who is zealously obsessed over their full acceptance by the people? Is God really just a Machiavellian figure, seeing human beings reduced to mere artless, uncomplicated pawns?

Interestingly,the word insipid means "lacking vigor, or interest." A God that mandates faith upon thoughtless ascension to a set of abstruse propositions about his intriniscally unknowable "existence" is not vigorous whatsoever; it is a religion without the complexity of a Bach composition, or the rich nuance of a Shakespeare play. Even more tragic, its a religion that even ignores the undercurrent of irony and contradictions  that lie below the deceptively simplistic surface of the Bible, which has wrongfully been misconstrued as a text of "fact," rather than something far more vigorous like "literature." 

Even in religious text, there are far more paradoxical complications then the modern church has permitted. Essentially, the principle of Sunday School has made Christianity become more of a "separatist" religion to the extent where the word "secular," means inhabiting the world. Thanks to mistranslated interpretations of several noteworthy verses from St. Paul, Christians now feel that they are righteously obligated to be wholly separated from the world as a whole. Conversely, many Muslims historically were called to fully engage with their world, along with their religion. Unlike the perverse form of fundamentalist Islam, practiced by the extremists, more progressive Muslims are much more like moderate Christians in the sense that they feel Jesus calls them to "engage" with the world. Secular is unneeded because the progressive forms of these religions feel endued with a large instruction to humbly and empathetically engage with the world around them, rather than somberly apprehend the idea of God till one selfishly attains the unreachable goal of having "doubtless belief," in crude notions of a force that lies beyond our cognitive grasp. Progressive forms of religion are far more interested in compassion, rather than the fundamentalist forms. Beginning with Calvinism and progressing with rigid fundamentalist, Christianity and many other religions have been hijacked by a neurosis of fear that as science and history created innovative revelations about our world; the religious revelations of old have become obsolete. As a result, these forms of religion then become very obsessed with legalistically preserving a thoughtless, defensive belief in these older revelations. Are the progressive forms of religion seeking to find a way to help religion survive in our rapidly evolving world?

In the next article, I plan to interpret different pieces of literature from the Christian Mystic Tradition to further support my thesis, surrounding the logical fallacy of the Modern Idea of "Belief." 

Monday, June 4, 2012

Religious without Religion

How to be religious without religion?

      Who are you? What are you? On the cable news networks, we are inundated with questions like this. I sometimes become a victim to the limited rhetoric of these news channels that yield nothing in the way of true wisdom. I hate questions like "Are you a Christian," which always goes on more unwieldy grounds to become a question of authenticity "Are you a "true" Christian?" That question always confounds me because it is derived from our political questions:"Is this person a "true liberal" or a "true Christian?" During the holocaust, there were always questions of one's legitimacy in Germany, based on whether or not a person was a true "Nazi" who had unwavering belief in Hitler's creed. The same phenomenon of group psychology frantically dominates the psyche of some branches of Christianity. When Christianity should be dwelling on God, it becomes a bit more pedantic or concerned only with forcing everyone to ideologically align themselves with certain beliefs in certain ideas. Christianity has become far less about "one's proposed relationship with Jesus" and is an excessively convoluted mess of certain diagnostic questions that define someone as a Christian: You disapprove of homosexuality, abortion, and a number of other politically acceptable ideas for the certain political brand of Christianity that one is. While there are a staggering number of denominations, nearly 39,000, each church is still ardently convinced that they hold the authenticated version of the truth. Even though, the Bible has undergone a number of translations and potential revisions, people still believe that the Bible should be read as an inerrant text. It therefore must be blithely unaware of the complexity of history and the large gap of the unknowable aspects of our lives.

        I can't hate Christianity entirely because it is not a monolithic religion, yet I always find myself becoming caught up in the latest session of "hating Christians," much the same way some Christians hate Muslims or atheists; vice-versa. Parallel to this, Liberals and Republicans within our country are reducing one another to a despised caricature of the other. Different forms of these same types of polar political parties are undergoing the same type of clash. Conflict is integral to our existence. Strangely enough, these warring factions sometimes bring undesired technological or ethical advances.  Eventually, the strict knowledge of sexual orientation remaining singularly "heterosexual" will be banished from our doubtful minds. While we may be living in the heat of this particular struggle over our own complexity, we will eventually see that sexuality is fluid, and not static. We are very uncomfortable with new ideas that shed light on the complexity of a universe that is intrinsically mysterious and wondrous. In the best religious theorems, the universe is created "ex-nihilo" or  inexplicably "out of nothingness" Genesis in the Bible begins the same manner as all Shakespeare plays, which are creations from nothingness. Except, those ideas that Shakespeare had were existing in some intangible form before in fragmented ideas that frenetically raced through his mind. These ideas move as rapidly as accelerated electrons in an atom, or as ineffably fast as quantum particles. Before the genesis of our universe, we can't quite define it. The area is left in complete darkness, and sometimes I find some very dissatisfying ideas about the implications of this darkness from some atheists.

           Why are we so obsessed with comfortably nestling in our ideas of certitude? What is so wrong with some small shreds of doubt? I'm always stunned and disenchanted by the way that some atheists will declare that our anomalous universe was truly accidental and nothing exists before the genesis of it or the eventual destruction of it. Reverently, this signifies the large span of the unknowable aspects of our minds. If we just stop seeking more knowledge about ourselves, our modern ideas will remain crude and slowly become pretty primitive. The whole act of distinguishing people based on their sexual orientation is yet another rendition of limited categorizations of human beings. Throughout high school, I was disgusted by the persistent fear that teenage guys had of being derogatorily defined as being "gay." Then again, I never quite understood the insistence by some of my gay friends made that they wanted people to know that they were gay, almost to the extent where it dominated their entire definition of them.    Personally, I don't really understand the whole sexuality category. Who cares if someone is heterosexual or homosexual? Then again, I've always been kind of gender blind as well. I always hear people made silly comments about the inherent differences between men and women, as if they are requisite differences for every man or women. Sometimes, I find myself reading things about human development, and I stunningly discovered that all human zygotes begin mysteriously without a gender, and eventually the baby later develops a gender. Except, the initial form of life is not strictly one gender or the other. Even in the womb, the "boy" or "girl" still has not been conditioned by the world's weird ideas of what defines a "man" or a "women" Every color that they see is not masculine and feminine just yet.

            Its interesting to note that the Genesis account begins with a "man," who is not profoundly obsessed yet with these distinctions. The metaphorical creator within the story has still not instilled him with the need to rashly define things. Definitions are not bad; they help us differentiate people. When Adam names the animals, he is not creating a hierarchy for them just yet. Instead, he is only trying to distinguish them one from the other. The categories are mere evidence of the diversity of the world. As the world evolves, our language cultivates more "labels," to further distinguish people. The whole spectrum of human civilization is a insatiable thirst for knowledge, yet these clashes are caused by our refusal to accept doubt into our lives. We sometimes allow the categorizes to become ways of denigrating others. The apple in the "Garden of Eden" or our own egos dismiss the complexity of the universe and eventually our categories become religious objects in of themselves to find the means to disapprove of others, revile others on the basis of how we judge them according to our strict objectifying categories. Webster's own definition of "religion" seems very restrictive:: "relating to or manifesting faithful devotion to an acknowledged ultimate reality or deity." It is so cerebral that it is contingent upon one popularly acknowledge anthropomorphic form of God. Also, does "faitful devotion" leave room for doubts and persistent questions

        Strangely enough, the word "spiritual" is the antithesis of religion as it is defined in these emotive terms:" of, relating to, consisting of, or affecting the spirit." Essentially, the word "religious" is more neurotic and static, it relates more to certain prognoses of what defines a "religious believer." Spiritual only means that someone has an emotional proclivity towards exploring the deeper questions of our existence, and God is seen as the mystic tradition views him as, which is "unknowable." Perhaps, I'm spiritual, but not necessarily religious. I have no beliefs, but a great burning desire to ponder the deeper questions of our existence. Maybe, an artist, a philosopher, and a mystic all have the same function, which is to reflect on the world beyond the boundaries of conventionality. Our ethical duty lies not with keeping people dangerously fixed to literal notions of the universe, but to help people discern more similarities beneath  thin layer of our "labels." One of my current favorite writers, Dorris Lessing, in her novel The Summer Before the Dark,  boldly illuminates people about the mortality of our superficial beliefs and the immorality of our doubts and thoughts concerning the terribly complex elements of our world. Maybe, being "religious" is not the right term for those who feel like outsiders in our polarized world, the better term or the more appropriate term for inquisitive thinkers is "spiritual" because it based in the uncertainty of our emotions.


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Polar Selves

Polar Selves

Sister... is that you...
Staring from the glass membrane of the mirror
With bated breath
Stirring, Wishing to reclaim life

On the other side of the glass,
I scream plaintively
For a breakthrough
Except, there's a puddle of blood...

Resting under your feet
From an unknown source
It plummets down
Dipping despondently into the river underneath

Am I imagining this?
Beginning to bleed profusely,
The stigmata on my arm
Mirrors your own gaping wounds

My female twin,
A mirrored self
 Why are you weeping so bitterly?
Stop your bloody crying!

Unresponsively, she twiddles with
A curl of blonde hair
Playfully, Perilously
Unaware of her impending demise

Separated from her,
I'm left barren
With a inescapable
Fate of death by blood-letting

Without me, how can neither of us endure?
Male and female twins
Formerly coexistent
Now forcibly split

In the reasonable reality,
I'm left to wither
Unfulfilled by my female twin
Ceasing to exist in my reflection

Death is the only curative
To rejoin ourselves
Together we must bleed
In hopes of this split being patched

Within and Without the mirror
I cannot exist without her,
Neither can she without her brother
In death, What is left of me?

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Review of Karen Armstrong's "A Case for God"

A Case Against The "Belief Centrism" of Fundamentalist Christianity

 (If you are not interested in reading anything about religious history, I advise you to skip this...)

        Whenever I write reviews of religious history books, I can feel this sharp pang of apprehension wracking my mind. It does not stem from my own personal fears of the subject, rather it is conditioned by our polite society's pooh-poohing of true intellectual discourse. Perhaps, my bad experience with Christianity was being subtly pressured into caving into this dogmatic refusal to ask any questions about an area of study where questions are requisite in order to comprehend the difficult abstract concepts explored by religion. Religion should never be something tangible, static, or obtuse: this same mode of religious thinking has led to some pathetic religious thinking as of late. As Karen Armstrong cleverly demonstrates in this novel, our current way of thinking of God is infantile: the woeful obsession of contemporary Christianity with standard, doubtless belief in certain unimaginative propositions of faith has sapped religion of its artistry. More importantly, it has demeaned the innovative questioners and ushered people away who do not just accept the  idolized God of crude, unimaginative thinking. Essentially, we have sculpted God into the perfect punitive idol, who is such a spiteful idea of God that I cringe to think that as a former Christian, I was pressured into believing in "him"  without any inkling of humanity.

       As history has proven, science has greatly radicalized our thinking in a good way. At the same time, the religious fear of science has also turned our way of looking at religion, according to Karen Armstrong, into a faith constructed out of unwavering belief in abstruse doctrines like the trinity, the literal interpretation of the Garden of Eden myth, and even a number of political issues. If you have been in a church lately, there is always one sermon that is used to eschew compassionate concerns among congregants. Rather, the preacher will often discuss hell with harrowing details, which will effectively scare the complacent followers in not being religious by being compassionate, but being egocentric by obsessively reworking their thinking to make it line up with church thinking. Essentially, religion has become less of an art in the modern age, and has turned into a way to shut off our uncontrollable minds at all costs.

     While modern-day psychology has worked wonders in helping portray the complexities of our minds, I do believe that it has truly made current religion much more neurotic than ever before. In the early twentieth century, the materialist view of our minds has caused many regimes to focus on coercing people to have "pure belief" in certain principals of the regime. This happened in China, around the time of the cultural revolution, and it happened previously in Nazi Germany. In Christianity, the fundamentalist movement helped rapidly promote this ideal of purity of belief that has tainted other denominations to varying degrees. While Christianity or any religion for that matter is not monolithic, some denominations have reduced God to some anthropomorphic fact that needs to believed thoughtlessly and unimaginatively to insure us with "Eternal Life Insurance."

      Throughout this dense book, Karen Armstrong extrapolates that modernity has made Christianity and other religions become much more literal, rather than mystical. When reading some of her other books, I stunningly realized that her insight about the way our religious thinking has become trapped in the mire of certainty is startlingly correct. Karen Armstrong tends to anger both fundamentalist Christians and some atheists because she critiques the ignorance that some atheists and fundamentalist Christians have towards the inherent complicated history of all religions. For nearly twenty years, I knew nothing about the complex history of Christianity. To my surprise, many of the New Testament scriptures were not written till approximately sixty years after Jesus reportedly died. For nearly 250 years or so, early Christians argued about the idea of the trinity, and the supposed divinity of Jesus. Conversely, Sunday School taught me a reductionist history that forcefully taught me that Christianity never had conflict of any sort. The dogma that the church indoctrinated in me was always thought to be  true and inerrant. It is no wonder that I and other inquisitive or artistic Christians have sooner or later lost our traditional faith.

      While the book itself will be ignored by fundamentalists, more inquisitive Christians should not have any problem reading it. The book requires you to think in a nonlinear fashion about religious issues. While I am an agnostic, it has greatly pressured me into not stigmatizing features of Christianity. It is not a monolithic religion, like either Islam or Judaism, it has a rich history filled with disputes and factions just like any country or even a family. These wars and complex moral issues are a natural aspect of our humanity. As "The Case for God" shows, we should learn to look for "God" through our limited caricatures of him. Interestingly, Karen Armstrong shows the history of the mystics and their apophatic method of looking for God. God should be explicated in terms that push beyond our limited understanding or language. That is why much of the Bible or any religious text for that matter is literature, rather than history; they are filled with allegorical stories and myths. As fundamentalism enshrine Biblical Literalism in the place of any true sense of a transcendent God, they have forgotten about the apparent mystery and complexity of the world around them. For nearly 300 years, no actor or director has ever quite ascertained the true Hamlet; there are dozens of interpretations of such an enigmatic figure. If we can't quite figure out "who Hamlet is?,"  "What is the true nature of Quantum physics," or "What is the "God" particle?", How can we be so certain about our ideas of God and pretend to know him better than our next door neighbor or even people in our own family. I highly recommend this book for adventurous thinkers, who are willing to crawl into wonderland to explore deep spiritual questions that are forbidden in churches, public schools, and other sterilized places.

   Why should we just "believe" in God, and  never ponder anything beyond what is orthodox or acceptable?  Madeleine L'Engle was frustrated with the same thing: "Those who believe they believe in God but without passion in the heart, without anguish of mind, without uncertainty, without doubt, and even at times without despair, believe only in the idea of God, and not in God himself."   The obsession with "belief," as Karen Armstrong demonstrates, will never cease to madden and confuse me. While some readers will undoubtedly be irked that I dare review this book on my blog space, I personally think that hiding deep questions just to satisfy people who cannot stand "gadflies" only contributes to our historic human fear of mentally venturing outside of conventional thought patterns. In the end, there are a slew of churches, denominations, and other Christians that throughout history has fought for a less restrictive, more humble form of Christianity. To those that maturely live in peace with a religious identity and doubt, I greatly respect you, and though this post might seem be a scathing criticism of certain elements of religion.Again, I think Karen Armstrong's books only help promote a more honest, intellectual religious identity. For me, I personally feel it should go beyond limited nominal categories. This book, like any of Karen Armstrong's books, come highly recommended from me!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

A Life-Changing Year as an Agnostic

For nearly a year, I've wandered my life as an agnostic, or something unidentifiable.Labeling my deep disillusionment with a  religion founded on a deeply immoral theology detailing the existence of hell for the "unbelieving" seems arbitrary. Some Christian would accost me, and label me an inveterate sinner for honestly admitting that I have deep doubts in Christian dogma . Rooted in Christianity is an overzealous belief that anyone that mentally diverges from the belief of the masses have committed the paradoxical sin that cannot be forgiven. I have tirelessly tried again and again , to no avail, to perhaps carve out belief within this establishment, but it has become nearly impossible. Instead, I have started to see the church as a whole as being something that greatly held me back both ethically, philosophically, and psychologically. Above all, the belief within eternal damnation for those whose beliefs have no foundation in Christianity is unconscionable. This notion of their being a hell, for me, completely trivializes Jesus, and I would go to the extent of declaring it as something "heretical." It certainly became an injurious belief in the lives of many. In other religions, hell has always been the reflection of our hatred which is ruled principally by our fear of the unknown. When my Christian faith was based off this fear of the forensic God, scrupulously analyzing my mind for undesirable traits that made me worthy of being in hell, I thought of Yoda's words in Stars Wars that go something like this:"Fear leads to anger, anger leads to something else that ushers us into the "dark side." We don't all have to literally don a black suit and mask of villainy to sense our "dark side" When I was the Christian who feared eternal wrath for having any shred of doubt, which led me to becoming masochistic, I lived deeply within my "dark side," and was entombed in a state of  crippling depression.

I feel like it would be impossible to step within a church, knowing that the mainstay theology that once coerced me to stay was "grave fear," that God was obdurate when it came to his wrath, but flexible with his love. His "love" seemed to be trivialized by the very notion that his believers must fearfully remain steadfast in their doubtless belief within a litany of unproven doctrines that are largely metaphorical. I've tried reading theology only to become emotionally frustrated by the lack of emotional truth found within these doctrines.

Madeleine L'Engle has remained my anchor, even as an agnostic, sometimes as an atheist, or generally just a seeker. She's one of those few writers whom I find to deepen their stories with a sense of "emotional truth." The gravity of love for "God," in any of her stories is not based on dogma, but is indistinctly viewed through our embittered hearts, and our innumerable frustrations with a world that is so astonishingly mysterious, that is saddens me that our religious rhetoric untruthfully shapes God, and the universe as being simplistically known without any questions, or grievances. Her characters are loved for their deep mystery, the type of complex mystery that intuitive Shakespeare characters like Hamlet begged Rosencratz and Guildenstern, the newly employed cronies of King Claudius, not to maliciously deprive him of.

I'm always poring over books about parallel universes, quantum physics, history to grant my mind the type of nourishing knowledge that grants me a profound sense of our world. I can still vaguely recall that moment when I was first visiting the Smithsonian museum, and shouting invective words of outrage over the heretical Evolution display. Looking back, I find the situation to be ludicrous, and even shameful when compared to where I am now. It was then where I was beginning to hate my inquisitiveness. All my ideas were on loan from Sunday School who strictly lectured to us about the dangers of Evolutionary science. While I knew Evolution only to the extent to pass a Biology test, I was never mystified by the grandeur of what I now see as a beautiful theory. It took me till I was 20 (I'm 22 now) to be able to comprehend it, and appreciate it. Part of the tragedy of my Christian life lied with purging all bad ideas, and failing to examine them for myself. I've always passively accepted everything, without any real thoughts or considerations of my own.

Fascinatingly, Karen Armstrong had a similar experience  during her religious fallout. In Spiral Staircase,  a wonderful memoir of hers, she elaborates upon her embarrassing experience when trying to reclaim her mind. It took me a long time to reclaim my own mind. Some Christians might see this as my slow process of idolizing myself, rather than God. That idea is rubbish, since we all have minds, and I've soon witnessed that many religious followers excel in the art of unconsciously projecting their fears and desires upon this God. None of us, including myself, are ever going to completely escape the clutches of our minds unless we literally kill ourselves. Also, if we have no ounce of self-respect for ourselves, How can we ever learn to have compassion for them? To me, I really believe this has become an unneeded stumbling block for some Christians: this insistence to escape "our minds." Its simply neurotic.

For this reason, I still suffer from the paranoia that any stray unholy thought will cause destruction to my family. I fear everyday that there will be a F-5 Tornado that will devastate our homes. Sometimes, I am overtaken with blood-curdling fear that I might die unpredictably, and paradoxically cease to "be." After leaving Christianity, I have not departed from my fear of death, but I do feel like I am able to not behoove that fear as being inspired by Satan. Instead, I see it as the major motivation behind our need for transcendence. Everyday, I find transcendence by reflecting upon the immensity of the universe, the mind-numbing mathematical concept of there being multiple "infinities", stretched confusedly beyond the initial "infinity," that we can't logically count to during the course of our timed lives. This fear of death, above all, makes me feel more humble, and strangely more motivated to seek to love, but not hate others. How did the ideal of compassion in Christianity, and many other religions become ruined by dogma, or an obsessive hatred of homosexuality and feminism?

When the thought of "death" pervades me, I think of the story of Orpheus. Towards the beginning of his life, he felt pure, unadulterated euphoria because he was able to live enjoy music without the terrorizing knowledge of mortality. He meets an awe-inspiring woman named "Eurydice" who is freed from a tree that is profoundly moved by Orpheus' music. Sadly, Eurydice dies one day, and Orpheus bravely ventures to Hades to retrieve his soul. Hades remains emotionally unmoved by Orpheus' heartfelt pleas to salvage Eurydice's soul. Finally, after Hade's queen convinces him to show some mercy, Hades finally permits Orpheus to be able to gain Eurydice's soul back, as long as he can walk walk out of Hades without looking behind him to see if her soul is following. Eventually, as he makes his arduous journey out of Hades, he succumbs to deep desire to see her again and finds that she's not there. Suddenly, he becomes despondent, and the people of his village are greatly saddened that Orpheus' misery has kept him playing festive music anymore that gave people a transcendent experience. When he regains some parcel of his happiness, he begins playing for the villagers and finds himself sensing Eurydice's spirit within him.

      What does this myth grant me, and others? This wonderful myth, like many Greek myths, validates the transient nature of our lives. More importantly, it shows the virtue of "living our lives to the fullest," without becoming consumed with the misery from nihilism. None of us will ever know where the dead venture to. Perhaps, we just die, and decompose along with a crumbling Earth, and a universe that is set to be destroyed by the destructive force of entropy. We don't need a specified view of religion to cull these truths from myths, or stories. Harry Potter, Star Wars, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and many superhero comics have the ubiquitous concept of the "chosen one." Why are we so edified by these stories? These heroes often reflect ourselves, and even our journey as human beings. More importantly, they don't have restrictive religious connotations behind them because our lives are always similarly framed by the question of "Who we Are, and what is the purpose behind our lives?" How do we endure in a life that seems so unendurable, and worthless by the menace of "death?"

     I'm always asking these questions, and will continue to even when outside the boundaries of a church. It doesn't matter whether I don't have a certain prescribed religion. My life is enriched by my questions, and my yearning for knowledge. I'll never forget the year that I took an Astronomy course, and we watched a video with Stephen Hawkings. While, I'm not an atheist by any means (the potential for a God hasn't left me), the video contained mesmerizing images of our universe. Its staggering for me to consider "Creationism Science," to be preferable to the naturalistic beauty of our universe. We don't need God to "conjure" things into existence. Our very existence being sourced from one subatomic, or perhaps of myriad number of them is  truly awe-inspiring. Within Madeleine L'Engle's books, she describes the peace, and stimulating vision of watching the stars and wondering about their origins or whether they exist or not anymore (according to Einstein's theory of relativity) There are many scientific theories that are constantly widening our vantage of the world, and ironically, this body of knowledge is also increasing the mystery of the universe. As an agnostic, this is a deep appreciation that I could never have incorporated in my world view as the type of doubtless Christian I formerly was.

Next post

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Jacob VS. "Ego" God

 All myths alike carry deep, underlying messages that relate to the complexities and challenges of  human life. Our predominant form of conservative Christian wishes to use Biblical stories as dry historical accounts that deny the intrinsic human element that is at the core of many of these stories. It saddens me that there is often a deluge of interpretations of Biblical text that merely skims the surface.  Stories like “the Garden of Eden” tale have been repackaged as an undeniable scientific account of “Creation.” Within these poor, untrustworthy revisions of Jewish myths, God merely conjures things into existence like Prosper in “The Tempest.” Except, Shakespeare used “The Tempest” to demonstrate the way stories or well-crafted language can imbue with us with an imaginative parallel existence. Of course, this stuff is not “literal or concrete.” It is the emotive experience that is vital to appreciating art of any kind including myths from antiquity that seem outdated or irrelevant.

    One of my favorite iconic images of the Bible is Jacob wrestling with God: There is simply no other Biblical image that continues to haunt my “uncertain” mind.  In the Old Testament and even in the New Testament, the Biblical figures are often overwhelmed with doubt. Our very human existence is filled with confusion as we strive to ascertain the elusive meaning of our lives. It is devastating to me that  some Christians have vilified doubt and have used Christianity as some sort of recourse from this very normal state of mind that should always be intimately a part of our psyche. Whenever Biblical figures have been too “certain,” they normally become too foolhardy.

    What is the exact meaning of the puzzling story of Abraham nearly killing his son Issac because he is fully convinced that the “voice in his head” is God? Personally, I think this particular scene within the Bible  is illustrative of the danger of doubtlessly following God’s commandments. Perhaps, it was not really God talking but Abraham’s “darker self.” Within many of Edgar Allen Poe’s short stories, the pathological main character insanely reassures the audience that he is sane yet the character shows every symptom of “psychosis” or a dangerous disassociate disorder in the book. He acquiesces to every single vile desire that floods through his mind and he always seems to weakly justified this cruel action. Why does Abraham nearly sacrifice his son “Issac?” Did he ignore his conscience and instead obeyed the evil side of him that is disguised as God?

       Some Christians believe within this punitive, tyrannical God  more-so than any loving form of God. When pastors repeat the doleful message that “ a high percentage of the world is hopeless and is bound to hell:” Are they not showing a lack of trust that God is actually merciful or even transcendent? All of a sudden, this sadistic God that is far too gleeful to see a high percentage of humans suffer eternally seems curiously to be “Satan in disguise.” In Madeleine L’Engle’s “Jacob’s Ladder, she describes this phenomenon as “ a form of Christianity that seems to believe Satan is exceedingly more powerful than God.” Why are these Christians obstinately enamored with this God as though he was the “only” God that can save us? The degree of fervor and ignorance that these followers of this devilish God shows is the crucial reason as to why there are so many loving people who feel out of place in church. Inquisitive, conscientious people are leaving the church because there is no honesty or even hope. In defense of some more progressive churches, they are earnestly trying to create a church that is both more intellectually humble and optimistic. They don’t believe within this obtuse, forensic God that seems to be plotting to do us in.

     Prior to Jacob’s encounter with God/Angel, Jacob feels restless because he knows that he’ll have to face Esau, the brother whom Jacob stole the blessing from. Jacob clearly senses that he feels a tumult of guilt about this thievery. Obviously, stealing Esau’s rightful blessing did not exactly pervade Jacob’s mind with any serenity. Instead, this imposition upon “the will of God” seems to have left Jacob feeling despondent. As a part of being properly blessed, Jacob decides to send some of his stock of cattle and other animals ahead to Esau as a sort of gift. With this initial step towards forgiveness, Jacob is lessening the power that his hubris had over him: This is quite contrary to Noah who stubbornly refuses to be forgiven and ends up destroying every ounce of his humanity.

    Conversely, Jacob decides to reacquire his sense of being and peace,. He acutely knows that he cannot contrive to know God by forcefully stealing another person’s blessing. In modern terms, this is not different from the way some Christians proselytize others by not sharing God’s words with the intention of helping that person know God. Often, that person steals that person’s opportunity to be blessed and force that person to become more like them.  This degraded person has to be inferior because they’re not us who seems to be favorable in our “Ego God’s” mind.

    Remarkably, Jacob’s encounter with the angel/God seems to be absent of any gloating. During the proceedings of the encounter, Jacob doesn’t have an audience that serves the purpose of inflating Jacob’s bloated ego. Instead, some “enigmatic” form of either God or an Angel wrestles Jacob throughout the entire night till the sun creeps upon the horizon. While this match occurs, the mysterious stranger hits Jacob’s hip socket and puts it out of joint. Symbolically, Jews within Israel at the time would refuse to eat meat from the thigh of an animal in contemplation of this iconic, mythic image. Jacob refuses to stop wrestling till he receives a blessing or is thoroughly enlightened. He needs to pin down his “egocentric” view of God into submission that that he can be properly blessed under the eyes of the ineffable God that loves both Esau and Jacob equally.

     Except, our struggle doesn’t ultimately end. We are always embattled with this “Ego” God of ours who works to eradicate any genuine sense of God within our minds. With contemporary Christianity’s focus on “belief,” some Christians are exempting themselves from the tough struggle that is involved with living the life of truly trying to understand the “unfathomable” God. Now, we just passively recite fancy sentences of belief in order to escape ourselves from this life-altering experience of wrestling over “God” with our limited cognitive abilities. It is no wonder that the clause to many of these types of Christian’s “belief” statements is a fatalistic statement that expresses a refusal to believe within any God except the one outlined by insipid Biblical "literalists." It miffs me that some Christians feel threatened by evolution, historical reality, or the true fact that the Bible stories are merely stories. So what?? How can our faith have any depth if it isn’t filled with troubling questions and trials of any sort. In church, we were coached about the trials God will place in our lives. Often,this was only used to falsely illuminate the fact that our challenge involves just dodging the valuable lessons contained in doubt. This form of “doubtless,” Christianity makes us into Noah who refuse to show any expression of remorse or guilt because we are so convinced that we’re divinely perfect. Perhaps, we should learn from Jacob and learn to wrestle with the darker part of ourselves in order to make new insights about this deeply complex world. If we claim that “God” is complex then why do we do such a poor job at having reverence for this “mystery?”  Why are we as “blind as Saul,” when approaching with the marvelous mystery that is “God?”

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Taking Control of the Mind: The Mindless Christian War on Doubt  Within each of my articles, there has been a recurrent reference to the pestilent Christian fear of “doubt.” When I was a Christian, pastors often reiterated certain somber words about doubt being something that creates a gulf between us and God as if one mere thought could negate nearly everything that we have worked hard, as pious Christians, to “believe” within doubtlessly.

   The Christian religion is comprised of memorable catechisms, liturgies, and prayers to ward away that “nefarious” doubt that tries to eternally separate us from God.  What happens if we paradoxically have an “irrevocable” doubt about God’s existence? Of course, like all morally superior religions, it becomes the only sin to defy Jesus repeated messages about "unconditional" forgiveness. All of a sudden, our uplifting religion suddenly has a dearth of humanity and forgiveness once we venture into the dark regions of Christianity’s twisted condemnations of something as natural as “doubt”

  The biggest conundrum in fundamentalist Christian logic lies with “doubt” being the unpardonable sin. These types of Christians often will separate themselves from this fatal sin and condescendingly speak of the sinner who relied on their own reasoning rather than God’s. Of course, rational minded people will offer a sturdy refutation to drivel like this:”Don’t all of us have ownership over our minds therefore isn’t every one of our thoughts a product of our own thinking? What makes a thought of ours so sacrosanct that we attribute it to God?”

  Oftentimes, this person will be flabbergasted that you dare challenge them with this formidable logic. Therefore, they’ll just rely on their “canned”  theological  ideas that they reflexively use whenever anyone tries to force logic into their blindly-believed beliefs.       Bizarrely, Christianity has a rich history of philosophers who struggled valiantly with the limits of their mind. Doubt was often someone that pressed us into creating more insights about someone. It is an intrinsic part of our synthesis of knowledge.  Why then has the contemporary church, obviously besmirched by the fundamentalist Christian movement, become so deluded into thinking doubt is hazardous to one’s faith? It just doesn’t quite compute.
On countless Christian bookstore shelves, there are a number of books which help Christian regain their minds as if their mind is their adversary in all things. It makes “ourselves” into the maleficent villain that ultimately separates us from eternal salvation.  It causes Christianity to become something quite inane and immoral. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if you heinously killed or abused others because you just need to have unflinching belief in a number of unproven doctrines.

Karen Armstrong says it best when she essentially describes our current way of thinking of religion as “more focused on belief than practice.” In church, they alluded to charitable acts a few times but the importance is placed on having “unwavering, impossible” belief into something as intangible and unknown as God. How do we know if we’re believing in the “acceptable” God? Which church has the most proper, orthodox beliefs that will insure my passage into heaven?

For this type of Christianity, all morals are trivialized by this stressed lesson that we must believe in the “right things” overall. It doesn’t matter if we empathized with the kindly old lady next door who is close to dying. If she was an atheist, all of her greatest attributes are overlooked by the obtuse God that cares only for blind, orthodox adulation. To these Christians, if compassion becomes a distraction from our own selfish maintenance of belief, we shouldn’t bother helping the needy if it is distracting us from forcing our minds to believe in something that is far too wondrous to crudely believe in.

Christianity becomes coupled with even more convoluted psychological measures. We don’t just have to believe in certain abstruse doctrines. You also must believe in the proper political beliefs and any parts of history that have been fabricated all for the promotion of “Christianity” as some religion that is exempt from the faults of humanity. This doesn’t seem to make much sense either since some of the greatest Old Testament characters are paradoxical, problematic human characters. They “profanely doubt,” and oftentimes forcibly extricate God from their worldview. One of the greatest assets of this God relates with his stubbornness to leave our mental faculties. Even when we clearly deny his existence, he still superimposes himself on nearly all of thoughts. Why would someone who exceeds our comprehension care about our “proper acceptance,” of him?

  One of the forbidden, undisclosed messages of “Christianity,” lies with the fact that God truly transcends us in every sense of the word. When some Christians think of transcendent, they think of “regression.” In their minds, God devolves into something less mighty and easily comprehensible to our doubt-addled minds. The reason that these types of Christians reinforce the fact that doubt is the worst of sins lies with the fact that they feel guilty for manipulating God so he can be harnessed by their ego’s for treachery rather then love. By doubting this “God” of theirs, we are questioning their conduct. They want to  be “God” so badly in order to be viewed as “insurmountable” and “superior” to others around them.

    By escaping the artless prison of contemporary Christianity, I rediscovered God in the wider expanse of my doubt-filled wilderness. Within Thoreau’s
Walden, Thoreau urges people to return to nature “metaphorically” to find truth within our innermost selves. Oftentimes, we trap God into this neglected self. In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story Young Goodman Brown, Goodman Brown represents the highly naive, sanctimonious Puritan that is shuttered away from the wild mystery of the woods beyond the cozy, known territory of the small New England hamlet.  Young Goodman Brown embarks on a nightly journey through this woods where he is faced with all his harrowing visions of the universal sins of mankind that are not exclusive to heathens that aren’t Puritans.  

Tragically, Goodman Brown has been indoctrinated into the Puritan belief system so much that the unrevealed chaos and mystery of the universe is far too much for his psyche to handle so he ends up forswearing “God” or “Faith” in the end. The whole story is ambiguous and in the end, we are left with a grim reminder of the danger of an illiterate, thoughtless form of Christianity that refuses to come to grips with the reality of doubt in a chaotic world that surpasses our relative opinions.

How can we reverse this psychological dissolution involved with this form of “Christianity?” Why aren’t we allowed to find beauty in the limits of our feeble ideas of God? It disturbs me greatly that our present forms of Christianity are bereft of the mystery and true struggle of trying to understand this vast, enigmatic universe of ours. We need doubt because it makes us more humble. Moses didn’t approach God with a smug expression when receiving the Ten Commandments as if to boast that he knew God better than God knew himself. Instead, Moses faced God within a diaphanous cloud of “unknowing” where all his many theories as to God’s shape were defied and Moses was left in awed silence.

Our Christianity doesn’t have this silence anymore. It is boisterous and egotistical.  When church leaders reprove us for not doubting, they are effectively diminishing God to their understanding. By chastening ourselves and banishing our doubt, we are expelling God and the wonderful mystery from our worldview.  The colorful music of our imaginative ideas of God are prematurely stopped all for the sake of believing without any realistic doubt in the mind.