Monthly Archives: March 2017

The Fruit of the Spirit

I have been reading articles on the Orthosphere and Zippy Catholic‘s blog for a few months now. Both of these websites represent a brand of Christian conservatism (or perhaps more accurately Christian anti-liberalism) that would be considered a bit extreme by most people. Their contributors and commentators in large measure seem to think that freedom and equal rights are actually misguided pursuits for governments to concern themselves with and that these pursuits are in fact responsible for all the evil manifested in modernity from political correctness all the way to Nazi death camps.I must say that in certain small  instances they make compelling or at least logically consistent arguments to support their eccentric points of view. I cannot say that I am totally convinced by most of their arguments but they do make some points worth considering.

However, more than their position there is something about these blogs that disturbs me which for some time I have been having trouble putting my finger on. More and more, however, I can see that it is the underlying spirit of negativity, judgment and arrogance behind the content that is the cause of this feeling.

Recently, a contributor named JMSmith wrote a piece on the Orthosphere entitled “The Israel Fetish” which I think illustrates the point I am trying to make. Mr. Smith works in higher education and from what I have read is not all together satisfied with his professional experience. This seems to be a common thread among the contributors to these blogs by the way. Many work in academia and are unhappy with the present state of the world for which they blame liberalism. In his article JMSmith fixated upon a promotional message he recently received for a student trip to Israel. He quoted some of the language:

A trip to Israel is in essence a rite of passage for every Christian—a pilgrimage in the truest sense. The origins of both ancient Biblical faith and of a modern-day miracle intersect here. The land and the people of Israel have a story to tell. By coming to Israel this summer, you make Israel’s story part of your own story.”

Mr. Smith took issue with this advertisement on several levels. Primarily he rejected its incorrect use of the terms “pilgrimage” and “rite of passage.” He explains,

The traditional Christian understanding of pilgrimage is that it is (a) an act of penance, and (b) a symbolic expression of the belief that we are pilgrims (literally foreigners) on earth…

Certainly a strong argument can be made that the author of the advertisement did not use the term pilgrimage correctly. But one gets the sense that this improper use of the term is representative of some deeper and more general corruption of society as well as his fellow Christians. He continues:

I well understand that Christian “pilgrims” have often been very silly people, and that Christian “pilgrimages” have often been larks, junkets and sight-seeing excursions…  But this does not make a sight-seeing excursion into “a pilgrimage in the truest sense,” even when the destination is, indeed, holy.  Rather, I submit that such an excursion is a pilgrimage in the stupidest sense.

Mr. Smith then articulates his problem with the improper use of “rite of passage” in the article:

Nor, I think, should one call [the advertised trip to Israel] a “rite of passage.”  … A rite of passage is a scripted ceremony in which select members of a society pass from one social status to another… A rite of passage ceremony publicizes the change of status to the relevant community, and this change in status entails real changes in a person’s rights and responsibilities… When the phrase “rite of passage” is used to denote nothing more than a “life-altering experience” at the personal and psychological level, it is being used in the stupidest sense.

Clearly this advertisement touched a nerve with Mr. Smith. This advertisement which incorrectly employed the terms pilgrimage and rite of passage both “in the stupidest sense” touched upon his disappointment with Christians in general which he described in the following language:

My real complaint is that we Christians are such everlasting saps and suckers and simpletons.  My real complaint is that we are the Rubes of the Universe, the easiest marks ever to shamble down the street, ready to buy the Brooklyn Bridge.

Okay. Clearly Mr. Smith has a problem with the present state of Christianity which I assume he believes to be corrupted by liberalism. This corruption has turned his fellow Christians into the “Rubes of the Universe” who are taken in by the incorrect usage of the terms “pilgrimage” and “rite of passage.”Now it must be said that I do not have a problem with the general premise of Mr. Smith’s argument. The spirit of pilgrimage and rite of passage have been largely lost in our modern culture and this loss hurts us all.However, I do have a problem with the snarky, arrogant, snobbish and judgmental attitude in which the argument is made. It seems to me that this is not in line with the fruits of the Holy Spirit. Saint Paul writes in his letter to the Galations:

[T]he desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh…  Now the works of the flesh are evident: … enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, … and things like these. Gal 5:19-21

It seems to me that this sort of judgmental commentary is conveyed in a way that is contrary to the Holy Spirit. In other words the energy behind this commentary is working according to the desires of the flesh.By contrast Saint Paul describes the fruit of the spirit:

[T]he fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control… Gal 5:22-23

I must say that I do not see these qualities in any of the posts or comments on the Orthosphere or Zippy Catholic. And that really is my problem with the Orthosphere and its daughter blog sites. Although they may raise legitimate points about how the current state of modern society is contrary to Christian principles they do so in a manner that is contrary to the Holy Spirit. For this reason I hold their contempt and judgment of their fellow Christians suspect. Accordingly, if they intend to hold themselves out to be the last bastions of true Christianity perhaps they should reconsider the spirit behind their message. And if the spirit behind their message cannot be reconciled with their message perhaps they should reconsider their message.

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The Prodigal Son’s Older Brother and the Conservative Mind

In a previous post I wrote about how Christ’s parable of the prodigal son gives insight into the dynamic of ego and shame. I recently re-heard this reading and was struck by how the older brother in this story provides valuable insight into the mind of the anti-liberals who write and contribute to the Orthosphere and other related blogs. I use the term “anti-liberal” rather than conservative because this group of people are far to the right of what would pass for an average Republican in the United States. For example, some of them advocate a return to Monarchy. Some reject the notion that freedom is a good that a society should strive for. What seems to bind them is their rejection of liberalism, leaving aside the fact that it is always unclear just what any one person on these blogs actually considers a liberal to be.

In the parable of the prodigal son, the younger son of a rich man asks his father for his inheritance. His father gives it to him and the younger son then goes away and squanders his money on riotous living. He subsequently falls upon hard times, sees the error of his ways and returns to his father begging for forgiveness. Surprisingly, the father welcomes him home with loving arms. He clothes his son and orders the slaughtering of the fatted calf in celebration. Meanwhile the older brother who had remained loyal all this time arrives home from working in the field to see this new state of affairs and becomes angry. When his father tries to convince him to join the feast he retorts:

‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’

LK 15:29-30

We can all sympathize with the older brother. Surely there should be some reward for remaining loyal. At the very least there should not be a reward for disloyalty and sinful behavior. On the other hand, the older brother is using his loyalty to justify his lack of compassion and his judgment of his younger brother. In a very similar way the folks at the Orthosphere seem very justified in judging and blaming liberals for all the evils in the world.

Now the father in the parable represents God the Father. His attitude is love and compassion and does not seem to be concerned with matters of fairness, property or finances. To him, the important thing is that the prodigal son has returned. To the older son the father says:

‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’

LK 15:31-32

Jesus ends the parable here leaving it unclear as to whether the older son was convinced by the father’s argument. I suspect that he is not, primarily because the father’s argument does not provide any new knowledge that the older son does not already possess. The older son already knows that he shares in the father’s property. In fact, this is probably part of what is upsetting him because the return of the younger son presents a challenge to the remaining portion of the father’s estate that he will eventually come to own. The fact that the younger brother was ‘lost’ and is now found probably does not change the older brother’s attitude either because while the younger son was lost he was doing all the things the older brother had the discipline not to do.

The part of the parable that does not fit the analogy where the Orthospherians are the older brother, God is the father and liberals are the younger brother is that the prodigal son actually returns to the father. In the view of the Orthospherians the liberals left with their inheritance a long time ago and never came back. They are the ones who remained loyal and are out working in the fields. Perhaps the fact that the liberals have not yet returned justifies the Orthospherian lack of compassion and judgment of them. Perhaps they would in fact join God in a feast if the liberals ever returned. But I am not so sure about that.

I suspect most liberals would interpret this parable differently as it relates to them. I suspect at least some of them would argue that they never left with their inheritance in the first place and continue to work the fields with their older more conservative brother. Perhaps they would argue they work on opposite ends of the field but are still working in the field none the less.

 

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Message Boards and Comment Sections Part II

In my last post “Message Boards and Comment Sections” I talked about how debates in these particular forums almost always turn into a battle of egos rather than an honest and authentic discussion of ideas. True to form a debate followed in the comment section where this very dynamic played itself out. Ostensibly the debate concerned whether there are any free societies and whether the freedom of citizens is a good and proper goal to which a government to aspire. But as the process played out I found myself in the anxious situation where I felt the need to respond to every comment (or risk tacitly conceding a point) and then dreading seeing the the little red circle pop up indicating that a new comment had been made.

Although to a certain (not insignificant) extent there was an interesting and legitimate exchange of ideas there was also an underlying current of egoism which over time increased in importance. Eventually, the ideas of the discussion became the weapons used to fight a battle of egos. I certainly am not accusing my worthy opponents of being entirely responsible for this. I, by no means am innocent of this process. (In fact, I wrote a book about my prior experiences and lessons learned in this world.) Perhaps because of these experiences I am simply more aware of of the dynamic. I suppose I also have to accept the possibility that I am the only one who is really experiencing this dynamic and that I am projecting my experience on to the other people. But, I say that more as a disclaimer because I truly believe this is what is playing out despite any potential denials or protestations I might receive in the near future.

More and more I find this decent into egoism to be a drain on my energy. There is certainly a part of me (my ego) that has a strong desire to jump back into the game and in the short run this game can be very exhilarating. But like all addictions, the short term benefit gradually becomes overwhelmed by the long term detriments.

At this point I am weary of writing another post on a political topic because I (sort of) dread the debate that ensues in the comment section. I dread the feeling of having to respond or risk a humiliation however small. This is not to say that I will never reengage with the game. Like all addicts I suppose that I will relapse and come back to the well eventually. And honestly, I do feel lately I have been gaining an education and questioning some liberal beliefs I have held that frankly could use some questioning.

I even have a topic in mind that I have been mulling over. These topics tend to sit in the back of my mind for a while gaining mass and organization. At a certain point they achieve a critical mass and then push themselves forward out onto the page. This is the way it always happens. The cycle will repeat.

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Message Boards and Comment Sections

I have been involved in many conversations on message boards and in blog comment sections over the years. Very few of these conversations have been respectful and compassionate although this sometimes occurs. More often these conversations start as a difference of opinion about a specific issue but then morph into a battle of egos. Neither side will admit this of course. They always couch their position as if it is motivated chiefly by a search for the truth. This proclaimed motivation, however, is almost always betrayed by the snarky, sarcastic quality the comments take on and by ad hominem attacks made against the person espousing the opposing position.

I should know better than to get sucked into these debates. They always end up the same way, sour my mood and muddle my thought process. But this is the nature of an ego based exchange. As I said, ad hominem attacks (as opposed to an honest discussion of the issues) is a good indicator that the conversation has turned in this direction. Another indicator is when the debate replays itself in my mind when I am not actually engaged in the debate. This is the ego preparing itself for the next round. And the goal is not really to show the opposing side the errors of his ways. The goal is always to humiliate the other side. This is why it always gets personal.

I have my theories as to why a person chooses to make a debate personal. Choose is actually the wrong word because this decision is made on a very primitive and neuro-chemical level. That is, reward chemicals are released when a person senses that he has humiliated his opponent through text. Over time his brain rewires itself in response to this reward. Through this rewiring he becomes addicted to the reward and then acts on it through compulsion.(1) This is why a troll does what he does. But the question remains why these chemicals are released in response to this scenario in the first place. It seems highly likely that this neural pattern is based on prior experiences of being humiliated (probably by primary care takers at an early and formative age). This creates the mechanism that rewards humiliating other people.(2) But often within the throws of an exchange it feels like a struggle for the truth is at stake. It is forgotten (or never known in the first place) that the real motivation is to humiliate the other even though this motive remains alive and well on a subliminal level.

Another aspect to this dynamic is a failure (or refusal) to appreciate the other person’s position. Once things get personal this obstinance only calcifies. For example, Zippy talks about the positivists wearing blinders in the following passage:

For sane people, a real counterexample calls for revision of the theory or metaphysics which its existence contradicts. For positivists, a real counterexample is something to be dismissed unless it can be incorporated into positive theory.

However, he fails to see the beam in his own eye in this respect when it comes to his obsessive anti-liberal stance. He is so wedded to his own belief that liberalism is the cause of all evil in the world that he dismisses out of hand all counterexamples (usually with an  ad hominem attack thrown in for good measure). Moreover, within the echo chambers of the comment sections of the Orthosphere and his own blog his absurd points of view are largely confirmed. The best example I can give as to this is his argument that the USA and North Korea are equally free societies. (See the comment section to this post). I can only attribute his ability to believe this to the fact that he has a loyal band of people who readily agree with him and reinforce this belief. Unfortunately, such is the post truth / alternative fact world in which we now find ourselves living.

In closing, I write this post mainly to put a bookend to this series of posts I started writing a while back. It started when a self proclaimed white supremacist and Orthosphere commenter by the name Thordaddy start spamming my blog with literally hundreds of comments. Something I said clearly irked him and he made it his mission to read all my posts and comment copiously on them. I sort of enjoyed this for a while because it gave me a wealth of material on which to write. But as I mentioned before this type of exchange eventually becomes emotionally and spiritually draining. Later I started engaging the more sane contributors on the Orthosphere in an honest attempt to understand their point of view. This worked for a while. My original position was merely to document my thought process as I followed their arguments and evaluated the natural counter arguments that arose in response. But eventually that position devolved into the present position where I find myself engaging in silly debates about whether a person can coherently say he would rather live in a free society such as the USA over an un-free society like North Korea. The answer is obvious to me and it is equally obvious that any further debate would only serve to feed each other’s ego. It is Lent after all and I would rather follow the advice of St. Paul and set my mind on things above rather than earthly things. (Col 3:2)


(1) See The Cure for Alcoholism, Roy Eskapa, PhD, (2008)

(2) See Healing the Shame that Binds You, John Bradshaw (2005)

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Readings for Ash Wednesday

Even now, says the LORD,
return to me with your whole heart,
with fasting, and weeping, and mourning;
Rend your hearts, not your garments,
and return to the LORD, your God.
For gracious and merciful is he,
slow to anger, rich in kindness,
and relenting in punishment. (JL 2:12)

There is an interesting nexus of psychology and spirituality in the readings for Ash Wednesday as observed by the Roman Catholic Church. The first reading from The Book of Joel talks about authentically returning to God. This is to be done with your “whole heart.” That is, without mental reservation or purpose of evasion to use the language of the Presidential Oath of Office. Nor is this to be done through compulsion but of one’s own volition. We are told to “rend [our] hearts, not [our] garments.” Again, the actions (specifically fasting, weeping and mourning) must be accomplished on the deepest level of the self as opposed to making a show of action or pretending to act. But what exactly is the action we are to take? What does it mean to return to God whole heartedly? It seems the action of fasting is an act of self sacrifice. It is intentionally taking on discomfort as an act of devotion to a greater good above the self. The weeping and mourning suggest that there is sadness and loss in a return to God. Are we mourning the loss of our earthly lives and desires? Are we mourning the loss of the self? Is this not something we should readily give up without a sense of loss? Perhaps if one is honest there will always be a sense of nostalgic loss anytime one is either separated from God or returning home from this separation.

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Take care not to perform righteous deeds
in order that people may see them;
otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father.
When you give alms,
do not blow a trumpet before you,
as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets
to win the praise of others.
Amen, I say to you,
they have received their reward.
But when you give alms,
do not let your left hand know what your right is doing,
so that your almsgiving may be secret.
And your Father who sees in secret will repay you. (MT 6:1-6)

In the Gospel reading Jesus speaks of not letting the left hand know what the right hand is doing when giving alms. In other words Jesus instructs us not to let the ego take credit for the act of charity as a means of self aggrandizement. This is not merely giving alms in secret so that other people do not see you and give you credit for the act. This is giving alms (in a sense) in secret so that your self (i.e., ego) does not take credit for the act. Again, we are talking about authentic action but perhaps even a level deeper than what Joel described. In this way, your Father who sees in secret will repay you. In a sense this might seem to be an act of trickery – that is, the ultimate goal is to receive payment from the Father who sees in secret. But if we are to follow the theme of authentic action to receive authentic results then this payment by the Father who sees in secret cannot be a kind of payment that the ego would find pleasing. It must be an authentically Good and True form of payment. It is as if Jesus is trying to explain something selfless and non-egocentric in the language of the ego as if that is the only language his disciples could possibly understand.

 

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