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 It is the emotive experience that is vital to appreciating art of any kind including myths from antiquity that seem outdated or irrelevant.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.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Artless Christianity Part 3:The Dark Side of Noah's Hubris

      When I was a Christian, wearing the "facade" of being doubtless and patently pious was generally advised among some churches. Before you enter the church, you are filled with the questions and doubts that are so integral to being human. In public school, I learned to scrutinized those questions and doubts and utilize them to advance my learning and help me mature to a someone with more complicated questions. Within the structure framework of Sunday School, Kids are instructed to passively accede to belief in the veracity of the superficial analysis of mythological stories. It is akin to having a whole high school class read "Macbeth" as a virtuous character and the witches as literal satanic beings that were truly existent in this world. We often see this with the Noah story where we are led to believe that he is no doubt an unadulterated moral character where in reality, his "subconscious" reveals someone who is quite negligent of others and thoroughly "egocentric" when it comes to his worldview.

  At the beginning of the "Sunday School" version of "Noah's Ark" which involved a supposed flawless Noah, we are led to believe that some hybrids called "nephilim" (progeny of angel/human affair) are inherently immoral due to their mixed blood. In church, I was led to believe that these Nephilim  were beyond the realm of God's forgiveness. They were a sinful waste of space just because of their parentage. To the Jewish writers at the time, this was a subtle warning against Jews to only wed those who are purely Jewish. These "fallen angels," were nothing more than fictional manifestations of the dreaded Canaanites who included the "Jewish God" within a pantheon of other Gods.If Jews mixed their blood with the dreaded Canaanites, they are effectively creating sin-plagued babies. People who use to disapprove of mixed racial marriages view those marriages in the same way we're supposed to treat marriages with the "Fallen Angel" (someone of a different race and religion). Their offspring are supposedly sullied by this abominable marriage. The accursed babies or Nephilim will be born with sin graver than the "sin of Adam."

Historically, the "God" that we pride ourselves in knowing with so much certitude was once  a member of a large polytheistic religion that was worshiped by the Canaanites. My Sunday School teachers who had no real knowledge of Biblical history relied on the "fabricated" fundamentalist Biblical  history that is so erroneous, it is hard for me to come to grips with the fact I once blindly believed in it. Anyways, they believed that all the events within "Genesis," were unquestionably real historical figures as well. Nevertheless, no right-minded historian extends any belief in the historical accuracy of "Genesis" Even Jewish scholars and some very erudite Christian theologians are thoroughly disillusioned with this  misrepresentation of Biblical history within some contemporary churches. One of the cardinal sins of Christianity is "spreading falsehood." Therefore, these churches are essentially perpetually lying to children all for the sake of sealing them permanently to blind belief within the  unintelligent, artless form of Christianity.

Reading the Noah Story with a fresh perspective is very illuminating. All the Old Testament characters are inherently filled with flaws and many of them suffer from the one Shakespearean flaw of "hubris." Noah's pride is a blight upon his whole word view. His projection of a "fatalistic, sadistic" God reflects his own disgust with all others besides his family. To the modern Christian, the "Noah" character is reflective of the types of Christians who refuse to fully occupy the sinful secular world around them. Their homes or churches become an "ark" of sorts where they can effectively escape their responsibilities to help others in the world or empathize with anyone else. While they are outside their "ark," they are always repairing things and refining it just like some Christians or anyone who polishes their facade to make themselves look immaculate as opposed to the grimy, debased next door neighbor who happens to be an atheist. Noah's "ark" served as an example to others to escape the clutches of sin and become like Noah.

To Noah, the naysayers would all be justly destroyed once the judgement of "God" came upon them. In the end, he cared little for these people or their paradoxical inner selves. Noah was as blind o his own shortcomings and the worth of others.  Noah worked in solidarity to construct the perfected means to "salvation" and an certified escape to paradise. In the modern Christian world, the belief within the "Rapture" reflects a deep disdain for people of all other faith persuasions and beliefs. One of the most appalling features of "Rapture theology" includes the loving Jesus contradictorily being the destroyer of billions of human lives. They are all laid to waste because they did not "believe" to the same extent that these flagrantly devout Christians believed. Like Noah, they don't care about the lives of the others who are decimated as long as they themselves will revel in the glory of God and live eternally. Wishing immortality for ourselves is a protective thought for us to safeguard us from the nihilistic world of "no meaning." When we begin to only want this immortality in the hereafter for ourselves and  wish destruction on all others, we have reached the pinnacle of pride and hatred.

In the story, Noah eventually is driven mad by pride and vainglory much like Macbeth. They are completely oblivious to their own inner faults. In Macbeth's defense, he did have some inkling as to the wrongs he committed. Noah seems to have divested himself of any human warmth or empathy in pursuit of being saved from the righteous flood-waters which will eradicate all the lives of everyone he unjustly hates. In the remade Earth, he wants to be the "new, glorified" patriarch or the father of the new strain of humanity. The Old testament writers juxtapose an interesting scene after Noah feels "aggrandized" and has become a "God" of sorts in this perverse fantasy of his.   

Anyways, on the evening after he riotously celebrates his new found glory,  his son,Ham, disturbingly finds him naked and drunk in a tent he had erected. For children who find their parents in such a sorrowful state, it is  truly demoralizing. When Adam and Eve find themselves to be naked, they are aghast and ashamed of their transparent guilt. Noah seems to pay no thought to his transgressive spirit. Only his intuitive son sees the sorry state of his father's corroded spirit. His other brother and him throw a blanket over their shoulders. Ham must have some inkling as to his father's corruption so that is why he curiously looks at his the pitiable state of his father. The other brother could have been Noah's true progeny in the sense that he does not have the moral sense to realize his father's sin. Noah's greatest sin is "hubris" and it is this overweening pride that Noah is dangerously ignorant of.   He is so blind to it that he becomes perturbed with "Ham" for trying to make him realize it therefore he cruelly curses Ham and his descendents for trying to find a reason to disgrace his father. Within this culture, defamation to the "ruling class" or the "patriarch" were seen as something treasonous. Interestingly, Noah views himself as a demigod who shall be unchallenged. His rulings are absolute and inerrant. Christians inflicted with this same "Noah" God complex often make their interpretations of the Bible "inerrant" which in effect  elevates that person to a inhuman, immoral position where they replace God.

Some Christians will be disgruntled that I dare besmirch their wish-washy, trite Sunday School ideas of Noah. With this in mind, are some Christians just as ignorant as Noah to their own problems with egotism? We all have problems with "egotism" to an extent. Our whole life is one huge struggle against "egotism" but the real trouble comes when we exalt ourselves as "God" and keep the real ineffable God shuttered away or left in the flood waters of the wrath of narcissistic people.   Wierdly, Noah's story does not include details of the skeletal remains or putrefied bodies that probably occupied the world leftover from the flood. If we view the Bible story as something that was imaginatively written from Noah's perspective, he might have not noticed this stuff as he was only focused upon "his own safety and victory," after the tempest washes away all his enemies. His God is a complicit force  rather than a defiant or distant entity like the respective images of Abraham or Jacob's Gods. Noah's God is effectively weakened and imprisoned in Noah's devolving ego.
Noah's fantasy is no different from Macbeth's fantasy where they are the unrivaled center of their own universes.

When reading the Bible, we need to be more critical and scrupulous. Some Christians unrealistically believe that criticizing a Biblical character is a deplorable practice that will land one in hell. We need to have a Christianity that is more honest about our questions and doubts. Otherwise, we are allowing churches to be destroyed by the malignant growth of undetected pride. We cannot just have antipathy for every person that disagrees with our human ideas of God that we have crafted into incontestable idols. Next time, I am beginning a lengthy post about "Artless Christianity and Abhorrence for the Honest Heretic." Aren't we all heretics when trying to apprehend a greater reality that none of us can lay claim to knowing perfectly?