Tag Archives: God

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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Attempting To Understand the Alt-Right Part I

galaxyI admit it. Prior to the election of Donald Trump I had been largely ignorant as to the beliefs and practices of the Alt-Right movement. I have had my run-ins with the self identified “genuine white supremacist” but I am not sure to what degree either his bizarre beliefs or his equally bizarre way of communicating them reflect this movement. Another place where I have been exposed to the Alt-Right mindset is on the blog called The Orthosphere. Through reading the various blog posts and comments over time I have come to a better appreciation as to the beliefs associated with the Alt-Right.

Recently on The Orthosphere a contributor named Alan Roebuck wrote a piece entitled, “A Basic Guide to Liberalism and Conservatism, Part I.” In this piece he purported to be a “catechism of liberalism and conservatism (i.e., anti-liberalism)” he made a number of observations that I would like to unpack in an effort to deepen my understanding of the Alt-Right mindset. It is in this spirit (that is, to better understand) that I write this post although I will express any counterpoints I think are appropriate. My point is that I do not write this post from a hostile perspective. Nor is it my chief purpose to refute the beliefs of the Alt-Right as I understand them.

As with the white supremacist gentleman I referred to earlier I do not know to what extent Mr. Roebuck’s views are in line with Alt-Right orthodoxy (if there is such a thing) but it is another tile in the mosaic. He begins with this provocative statement:

Liberalism is the deliberate violation of the laws of God, the laws of nature, and human tradition. If this blasphemy excites you, you’re a liberal. If it disgusts you, you’re a normal person.

The standard definitions of Liberalism taken from dictionary.com read in pertinent part:


a political or social philosophy advocating the freedom of the individual, parliamentary systems of government, nonviolent modification of political, social, or economic institutions to assure unrestricted development in all spheres of human endeavor, and governmental guarantees of individual rights and civil liberties.

 a movement in modern Protestantism that emphasizes freedom from tradition and authority, the adjustment of religious beliefs to scientific conceptions, and the development of spiritual capacities.


I am not entirely sure these fit the definition of liberalism that Mr. Roebuck believes to be a deliberate violation of God’s laws. Unfortunately (from the perspective of wanting to better understand him) as his post continues he refuses to define liberalism saying,


There is no need here to give a full definition of liberalism. Like the famous quip about pornography, we know it when we see it. We know liberalism because its message is everywhere.


This seems to imply that Mr. Roebuck believes there is a definition of liberalism that is (perhaps) different than the standard dictionary definition. However, if liberalism in the mind of Mr. Roebuck is not essentially “a political or social philosophy advocating the freedom of the individual”  but some other (as he says) “dominant” and “perverted” philosophy that “we all need defend ourselves against”, it remains to be seen just what exactly he is getting at. In other words I am not sure that what Mr. Roebuck considers to be the liberalism that he knows when he sees it is the same liberalism that I know when I see it. The fact that the two of us are using different definitions for the same terms goes a long way to explain why it seems liberals and members of the Alt-Right movement have difficulty communicating with one another.


Mr. Roebuck then describes political conservatism as “any opposition to liberalism” and provides the following exemplars: “Libertarians, Bible-believing Christians, Nazis, monarchists, and the atheistic followers of Ayn Rand, among others…” He stipulates “not all [these exemplars of] conservatism (anti-liberalism) [are] good [so therefore we] must become the right kind of conservatives.” Up until this point Mr. Roebuck has refused to define liberalism and as such his definition of conservatism as anti-liberalism also remains undefined.


He takes a step closer to a definition by saying:

The … first conservatives … noticed that the traditional way of life of their people was under attack by liberals and their natural—and honorable—response was to defend what was under attack. They wanted to conserve what was good in the traditions of their people.


But that was the past. Liberalism is now victorious. According to our leaders, we’re all supposed to be liberals … [and] celebrate diversity, tolerance, compassion, multiculturalism, and so on.

 This last passage is informative. Here we see that a liberal (in the mind of Mr. Roebuck) is a person who believes diversity, tolerance, compassion and multiculturalism are good and a conservative is one who disagrees with these values because presumably these values are antithetical to or incompatible with traditional values.


He goes on to say, “The conservatives have failed to conserve the good. Therefore many honorable anti-liberals [i.e., the Alt-Right] have contempt for conservatism.” He characterizes the failure to conserve the good by failing to reject the values of diversity, tolerance, compassion and multiculturalism as an “undeniable fact.”


Here, I must pause to say that I reject Mr. Roebuck’s assertion that diversity, tolerance, compassion and multiculturalism are undeniably bad or even necessarily incompatible with traditional values. I would agree, however, that certain agendas designed to advance these “liberal” values have negatively impacted our society. The best example of this in my mind is political correctness. However, I would argue that political correctness is not a true liberal policy (according to the dictionary definition) in that it serves to inhibit the freedom of thought and expression. Again, we run into a problem of definitions because I would guess Mr. Roebuck would define a liberal as a person who believes political correctness to be a good thing.


Mr. Roebuck then discusses what he believes to be wrong with liberalism. His first critique of liberalism centers on the issue of race.

[Liberalism] promises good things but it mostly delivers bad things. And the good it delivers is mostly pleasant distractions that occur before the evil that is liberalism’s real consequence develops fully.

 For example, the diversity that liberals love results in, among other things, mass immigration by non-white peoples whose ways of life are radically incompatible with our traditional American way of life. The immediate results include lots of ethnic food and music, which are pleasant diversions for many people. But the long-term result is hostility and conflict, as incompatible people fight over resources and how society should be organized and governed.


My reaction to this argument is to say that America has always been a diverse culture relative to other places in the world. At one time Irish, Italians and Eastern Europeans were considered radically incompatible and ethnic but over time were assimilated and became part of American culture. I do think there is a reasonable argument to be made that immigrant cultures that refuse to assimilate are a threat to peace and national identity. But I am suspicious of the proposition that what is considered to be ethnic now is absolutely a threat.


Liberalism says that nobody should be a racist. Racists are to be harassed out of existence… But the harassment of racists is only carried out against white racists. Nonwhite racists are excused because (so they say) they are only responding to centuries of oppression by white people and therefore it’s not really their fault. And whites are punished not just when they’re mean to nonwhite people, but even when they just act like normal people everywhere have always behaved until approximately the middle of the Twentieth Century: Preferring to associate mostly with their own kind and wishing that their nation would not be transformed into a radically multicultural pseudo-empire.

 I think this is partially a fair point. If we reject racism as a culture then all forms of discrimination by race should be rejected. This is only fair and logical. Again, it is the warped politically correct strain of “liberalism” that seems to be at fault in my mind. But I do absolutely reject the notion that United States of America should reject its non white citizens or demote them to a second class. I do believe that all legal citizens should be treated as full citizens by law regardless of race, sex or religion. If that makes me a perverse, blasphemer who rejects the laws of God and nature in the eyes of Mr. Roebuck or those of his ilk then so be it.


Mr. Roebuck’s second critique of liberalism centers on the issue of religion. On this subject he starts out by saying:

[L]iberalism rejects the God of the Bible … which always leads to a false understanding of how reality operates. Since God is the Supreme Being and the ultimate Author of all that exists, rejecting God causes man fundamentally to misunderstand all of reality.


From the outset I find his assertion to be overly broad and therefore a misunderstanding of reality. Specifically, some liberals reject the God of the Bible and some do not. In the same respect, some conservatives reject the God of the Bible and some do not. Moreover, some liberals and conservative were brought up in other faith traditions such as Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism. With the possible exception of Islam these faith traditions also reject the God of the Bible. Does this rejection make them all liberals in the eyes of Mr. Roebuck? In other words are all non Christians by definition also non conservative? Or is he saying that rejecting the God of the Bible is a quality shared by all liberals but can also be a quality that a conservative might also have? 

… They deny that God exists, or they act as if He is unknowable. Or perhaps they believe that God is the Great Liberal in the Sky, weeping over racist police and global warming, and pleading with us to be more tolerant and inclusive. By redefining God, the liberal denies God.

 So here again we run into the problem of common definitions. I do not know whether Mr. Roebuck is defining a liberal as someone who fits this definition or whether he is saying that these qualities naturally flow from the liberal world view. If he believes the former to be true then I would think many people who fit the classical definition of liberal would not fall under this definition. If he believes the latter I simply do not believe this to be true and I cite myself to be an example.


He proceeds from these faulty assumptions to say:

… Atheistic man can still …  have a basically accurate understanding of the physical world. But without acknowledging God, atheistic man cannot know the true purposes of things, nor can he know their ultimate causes. … True purposes and ultimate causes cannot be known by scientific investigation because they are non-physical… Under atheism … science for the liberal is the only source of certain knowledge. Therefore liberalism regards proper purposes and ultimate causes as opinions rather than facts.

 Here Mr. Roebuck seems to be using the words “liberal” and “atheist” interchangeably. I assume he arrives at this equivalence based on his assertion that defining God as something other than the God of the Bible is the same thing as denying God entirely. He then concludes that such a person necessarily regards purposes and ultimate causes as opinions rather than facts. This strikes me as a circular and self-fulfilling prophesy. The belief that the God of the Bible defines proper purposes and ultimate causes is a fact is a belief. It is a fact that not everyone holds this belief to be true. A fact must be proven to be a fact. It is not made a fact simply because Mr. Roebuck declares it to be a fact. However, by rejecting Mr. Roebuck’s “logic” on this subject automatically makes the person who rejects that “logic” a liberal and an atheist regardless of whether they actually believe in God or conservative political principals.


He continues: 

And if they are opinions then they constantly change. That’s why liberals are always fighting to change the way we live: No-fault divorce. Same-sex marriage. Transgender rights. Open borders. Reducing our carbon footprint.  What was the right way to do things yesterday is not necessarily the right way today, and who knows what it will be tomorrow?

 It is true that opinions can change. Beliefs can also change. They change based upon newly discovered evidence. Something believed to be fact today can be disproven because of newly discovered evidence tomorrow. This is logic not liberalism. Mr. Roebuck views his moral beliefs (e.g., same sex marriage is wrong) to be a fact the same way he views scientific knowledge (e.g., global warming is a hoax) to be unchangeable facts presumably even in the light of newly discovered evidence that would tend to disprove it. Mr. Roebuck started out by saying that liberalism “rejects the God of the Bible … which always leads to a false understanding of how reality operates.” Based on this statement I assume Mr. Roebuck values understanding how reality actually operates as important. It would seem to me that rejecting the way reality operates despite evidence to the contrary also constitutes rejecting the way reality operates. Therefore to reject change simply because it is different than what was once believed to be true would also be a rejection of God who is the true cause, author of reality, and source of purpose.


He concludes by saying:


Under liberalism, there is no such thing as a stable, unchanging order of the world. But a human society can only work if the people are in basic agreement about the true purposes and the ultimate causes of things. That way they can trust one another and believe that life makes sense. Stripped of this trust and belief, liberal society eventually and inevitably descends into conflict and chaos. And in contemporary America we have the added pressure of mass immigration which is Balkanizing us into mutually hostile tribes.

 My reaction to this is to say that there has never been a “stable, unchanging order of the world.” To believe so would also be a failure to understand reality. This rather basic observation of reality does not in and of itself make me a liberal. I would venture to guess most reasonable conservatives would agree with me on this. Moreover I see no reason why two people who believe different things cannot peacefully coexist. Nor do I see America necessarily descending into conflict and chaos. We do find ourselves in a period of history where demographics are changing. Although unsettling to some to reject this would seem to me to be a false understanding as to how reality operates.


Finally, Mr. Roebuck declares, “Let us therefore oppose liberalism and understand the world as it really is. That is the purpose of this series of posts.” I understand this to be the spirit of the Alt-Right. That is, inherent to its philosophy is a rejection of tolerance (as previously stated) and an unwillingness to compromise or even coexist with those who might disagree with them. It seems to me that this does represent a new development in American society. This mindset is reflected by the policy Mr. Roebuck articulated regarding the comment section to his post:


About comments:  Time is precious so incoherent comments will not be posted or, if they get through moderation, will summarily be deleted. I also subscribe to Bonald’s maxim that friend/enemy is a basic social distinction. Therefore comments which seem indicate you’re an enemy will suffer the same fate. If you want to be heard, be clear and don’t come across as an enemy.

 Much like Mr. Roebuck’s definition of liberalism, his definition of hostile (at least directed towards himself) seems to be whatever he decides it to be. Hostility, it would seem is another intrinsic quality of the Alt-Right. This hostility is reflected in their distrust of “the other side” and to a certain extent by their refusal to abide by standard definitions. I assume this is because they feel the standard definitions have been corrupted by liberalism, a category I have no doubt Mr. Roebuck would label me with despite (or because of) its murky definition as seemingly viewed by the Alt-Right.



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The Requirement of Beliefs Part II

pxA few posts ago I explored the topic that some religions require belief in order to receive or achieve salvation. The word “salvation” can take on different forms depending on the religion. For this reason, I am using the term loosely in the present context. Having personally been brought up in the Roman Catholic form of Christianity I approach this topic from that perspective but really my question as to why this belief is required is not strictly limited to Christian dogma. In the blog post I specifically referenced chapter 3 verse 26 in The Book of John which reads, “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.” To properly explore this topic it is first necessary to examine what a belief is.
Beliefs are essentially ideas or thoughts in the mind. Accordingly, the question behind the exploration has to do with why would the gatekeeper of salvation care whether its adherents experienced these thoughts called beliefs? If the gatekeeper of salvation is divine and not dependent upon any external factors for its existence why would it be so interested in this one particular external factor? I suppose one answer to the question is that the belief is for the benefit of the person trying to achieve salvation and not for the benefit of the divine dispenser of salvation. But John 3:36 expressly states that not believing brings about the “wrath of God” which implies that God has some stake in this thought called a belief existing in the mind of that person seeking salvation. This could be metaphorical language but that is not at all certain. As such the question remains unanswered.
It must be understood that I am not questioning whether these beliefs are valid. I am simply questioning why these beliefs are required. If the comment section of Part I is any indication, this distinction seems to be difficult to understand for some people. Interestingly, the personality type represented in the comment section seems to be very threatened by any exploration of this topic. A perusal of the comment section of Part I of this blog will provide examples of this. For questioning this requirement of belief I was accused of hating God. My question was rephrased as an argument on my part that hating God should carry no consequences and that the actual consequence for making this argument (that I did not make) was my own annihilation. These counterarguments (made against an argument I never made) were written in sporadic ALL CAPS which gave the impression that this commenter’s emotions were raised and that his emotion guided his rhetoric. Also notice that the emphasis on the counterargument was not the merits of the requirement of belief itself but rather on how I was wrong as a person for even asking the question. Another interesting point is that this accuser denied John 3:36 even expresses a requirement for belief in the first place. I think any reasonable person would read this passage to require belief in the Son in order to have eternal life. Moreover, the passage also clearly expresses that if this requirement is not met then a punishment will be meted out. But the commenter seemed to argue that interpreting this passage as expressing a requirement was somehow in error although he did not clearly articulate a logical foundation for this point.
Mind you, I do not want to engage in another pointless debate with this person because I have been down this road so many times on this blog and it is indeed pointless. Accordingly any comment he posts will be deleted. The only reason I brought him up was to provide an example of the egoic push back this question receives. This quality of being threatened when beliefs are questioned seems to be emblematic of the ego. The fact that the ego seems so invested in belief makes the requirement of belief for salvation questionable in my mind. Let me be clear. I am NOT questioning the validity of beliefs or really whether the reason for the requirement is sound. I simply do not understand the reason why this requirement exists and am exploring this lack of understanding by articulating the thoughts that come to mind as I explore it. (I have no illusion this distinction will be meaningful to everyone who reads it).
I think it can be argued that questioning beliefs or faith can lead to a deepening of beliefs. An unquestioned belief has a shaky foundation because it has not tested itself against the facts that may disprove it. As such, the unquestioned belief has no defenses to these facts. However, a belief that has been tested against facts that might disprove it has been inoculated against those facts. But really, this argument is just intellectual play. It is the reinforcing of beliefs (which are thoughts) with other beliefs and thoughts. It becomes circular after a while and brings a person who engages in this sort of thing only so close  to the truth. So again I arrive at the question, why is there the requirement of belief and why are there those who are so egoically invested in keeping this requirement unquestioned?
There are examples of Saints who have questioned their beliefs. Saint Mother Teresa wrote on numerous occasions about how she questioned her beliefs. Saint Thomas the apostle of Jesus also questioned belief without direct proof. Jesus castigated him for this when he said “…Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” (John 20:29). Again we see this emphasis on belief and from the same gospel to boot. Interestingly, in the Gnostic tradition, Thomas is revered for his questioning attitude. Equally interesting is the fact that Gnosticism was declared a heresy by orthodox Christianity.
So the question exists. Why is there a requirement of belief for salvation? Moreover, there also exists a force which is interested in blocking this question. Why this dynamic exists I do not know. But I think there can be no sin in asking a question. I think this is true because logically, no amount of questioning can undermine the truth for the reason that the answers to these questions (if truthful) should only serve to reinforce the truth. I suppose one could counter argue that by asking questions and receiving false answers one could be misled to a dangerous place. But if that is the case, then these unquestioned beliefs are robotic and lack authentism. If God requires belief then I have to think that He would want a whole hearted belief that has been tested and found to be true as opposed to a belief that was adopted for no reason or because the believer was socially pressured into believing.


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The Requirement of Beliefs

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them. John 3:36

IMG_0523I always thought the Christian requirement of belief in Jesus in order to achieve eternal life is a bit strange. There is something about it that just does not seem right. People hold beliefs because they have direct experience that forms or affirms a belief or because that belief was culturally taught or imprinted upon them. A belief is simply something that someone holds to be true or false. A belief is not the same as the thing that is believed in. As such why would God or Jesus require a belief in them in order to satisfy them? It seems suspicious to me.

Put another way, truth is truth regardless of what I or anyone else believes. If God exists why would He demand my belief in Him? It is not as if He would cease to exist if everyone stopped believing in Him.

Moreover, requiring belief without providing evidence is unfair and suspect. Why should anyone be held in contempt because they chose not to believe in something for which they felt they had no evidence to support? To do so seems awfully unfair, arbitrary and spiteful. This seems to be the standard that an alcoholic parent might hold their children to. “Believe that I am an honorable person even though my example shows you otherwise and if you do not believe me to be honorable you deserve to be punished,” sayeth the alcoholic parent. I find it hard to believe that a true and loving God could endorse such an interpretation of John 3:36.

If we are to examine the quotation from John 3:36 with specificity, he tells us that “[w]hoever believes in the Son has eternal life.” He then says, “…whoever rejects the Son will not see life…” The word reject seems strong here. A rejection sounds to be more than a question (although some might interpret it that way). So in this sense there may be room for a person who questions their belief to also have eternal life.

This one passage has been interpreted differently by different Bible versions. Almost all versions speak of a person “believing” in the Son of God. One version substitutes “trusting” which essentially means the same thing. The versions differ, however, in their interpretation of “reject.” The terms vary between reject, doesn’t obey, believeth not, refuses to believe, disobeys, and is not subject to. There is a difference in meaning between the words believe and obey. The former is a mental activity. The latter means to act in accordance with or follow the commands. I suppose one could argue that to obey the Son of God requires a belief in Him but again there seems to be room for interpretation.

But we cannot fully escape the problem that the statement seems to require belief (or obedience) without evidence. These acts could be said to describe faith. But it is a faith under the threat of punishment. The way I normally think about faith is that it is a voluntary activity. It is a gesture of trust and not something that can be threatened out of someone. That would be more like an ego act of self-preservation which I suppose is more in line with the “obedience” interpretation.

I imagine this exploration will be uncomfortable for some Christians. John 3:36 clearly requires a person to hold a specific belief in order to obtain eternal life. It is unclear whether the questioning of the belief is grounds for damnation but that does seem to be a very viable interpretation. It would be difficult to force a person who does not hold a belief to simply change their belief. The mechanics of belief do not seem to work this way in real life. I do not think John would make an exception for someone who simply professes to believe something without actually believing it. Although he might make an exception for someone who convinces himself through psychological repression that he believes something he does not.

Finally, I would not be honest if I did not express a certain distrust in the plain meaning of the passage. I question the motive behind it. Why is John so interested that I believe something that he must threaten me with punishment in order to get me to believe? Why does he want me to hold this belief in my mind (the most personal of spaces). Could there be some ulterior motive? I can think of several historical instances where governments have punished belief in order to keep its citizens in line.

I fear I will not come to any satisfying conclusion on the subject. Obviously the plain meaning of John 3:26 seems at odds with what I actually believe. I am not saying that I do not believe in the Son of God. But I am saying that I question the requirement of believing him for the reasons I mentioned earlier. I am no religious or biblical scholar so of course take what I say for what it is worth. I am simply trying to articulate a question that has stuck in my mind for some time.



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Motivations of the Ego and the Spirit

galaxyContinuing on my Lenten theme of spiritual exploration, I would like to discuss some ideas I had on the ego and the spirit. This is just me thinking on paper and not any conscious attempt on my part to instruct or to judge anyone else. I certainly do not profess to have all the answers, I just like to think and write about what is on my mind. Anything I write should be taken in that spirit.

To being, it seems to me that the ego never sees above its own level. For example Jim might hate his neighbor Bill because Bill offended him in some way years ago. Bill, who was not aware he offended Jim all those years ago, has grown to hate Bill in return because he senses Bill’s hostility. In this example, both Jim and Bill are operating on the level of ego. They sense the hostility or threat from the other and have taken steps to protect themselves from this threat.

But there is a bigger picture that the ego always fails to see. This is the bigger picture (I believe) that the Second Great Commandment “Love thy neighbor as thyself” (MK 12:31) addresses. But in order to see this bigger picture one must step out of their ordinary existence and look beyond material things such as race, political affiliation or petty grievances (for example). It also should not make a difference that the other side does not adhere to the same rules. These are the rules of the spirit after all which are per se above the rules of the ego. Of course, on the level of ego it very much makes a difference that the other side does not play by the same rules.

The ego centered counter argument to the spiritual approach is to say that by following this logic Jim will leave himself venerable to Bill who does not follow this logic. To a certain extent this is true. When a person is physically attacked the ego takes over completely. The fight or flight response is very primitive, rooted in in materiality and self preservation. It is also very necessary, normal and appropriate for survival in emergency situations on the material plane of existence. However, most of life is not an emergency situation. In the modern American world, Bill and Jim have a choice during the majority of their days and weeks to listen to the paranoid call of the ego or to rise above it and listen to the call of the spirit. When people are constantly operating on the ego level of self defense their neighbors will sense this and react accordingly. As long as a person remains unaware of the ego and its motivations he will be governed by his ego. However, with awareness comes the ability to see the ego in action and the ability to chose to go along with the ego or to set aside the ego’s instructions.

To dismiss the ego in this manner implies that the self is in control and making a fully conscious decision. It is somewhat paradoxical that coming more into the self in this manner also means to act more in accordance with the will of God (at least in the context of the Christian world view). I say this because to act in accordance with the Second Great Commandment one must dismiss his ego and make a conscious decision even if the neighbor has not dismissed his ego. Logically there is no other way. It seems to me that to argue otherwise is to attempt to make the self autonomous from God which is ultimately an act of self-annihilation. This is another paradox of the ego in that the ego acts motivated by self preservation but the end result of ego based action is always an act of degradation and ultimately to the detriment of the self.

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Giving of My Self

binary starIn keeping with the theme of Lenten spirituality I would like to expand upon last week’s topic where I discussed the idea of surrendering myself to God’s plan rather than trying to come up with my own scheme. Essentially this amounts to a shift of attitude. I still make plans and guide my life but I am doing so with a sense of acceptance. I do not need to worry so much about the outcome because that is out of my hands.

This is a subtle dance, however. It seems to me that to give myself over authentically is not as simple as it might seem at first glance. This is true because to truly give myself, I must actually have a completely formed or emerged self to give. This seems to happen in three distinct stages.

The first stage in terms of being able to give of myself is what I call “shame based egotism.” In this state my true self is buried deep under layers of ego. Here, my prime motivation is to avoid shame and humiliation at all costs. In a sense this motivation is “self-centered” or egotistical because at its core this motivation is an instinctual, self-preservation strategy. At the same time, however, there is a strong denial of my true self and a sense of obligation to give away myself by giving in to the will of other people. This obligation comes from a feeling of a lack of entitlement to pleasurable or self enhancing experiences. In this stage there can be no giving of my self in a genuine way. My self is actually given away all the time but only grudgingly, with resentment and the feeling of being coerced into doing something I do not want to do..

I will graduate from the first stage of shame based egotism to the second stage of self based egotism when I learn (or muster the courage) to say “no” to other people. The power of shame will fight against this at first telling me that I am being selfish and disloyal. But with enough practice saying no to other people who ask me to do something I do not want to do my true self will begin to emerge. As I said, this stage is still egotism but it is a step in the right direction towards authentic action. By saying no to other people I am essentially declaring that I refuse to give of myself. This act of self preservation then creates the space for a genuine “yes” to be given down the road.

Although this is the only way out of shame based egotism, this second stage carries with it some degree of danger. Many people never make it out of this stage because they feel a sense of liberation and autonomy they have never felt before. In this stage there is the tendency to fall into an “us versus them” type of mindset. There is the sense of having escaped from an oppressive world and the desire to remain free of this oppression. Along with this sense comes the compulsion to make ego based comparisons with “other” people seen as threatening. I believe this is the source of racism and other similar autonomous mindsets.

But once I can say no to other people I am then in a position to say yes authentically. This is the third stage where I am finally able to give of myself and truly live a life according to God’s plan willingly. God’s plan will always be in accord with the will of my true self which had been formerly obscured by the ego. In this way it becomes clear that I must have an ego before I can discard my ego.

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My Life is Not About Me

galaxyI have heard several times lately from several different sources the message that my life is not about me. When I hear a message repeated over and over I tend to think I am hearing it for a reason. Maybe the universe is sending me a message because I am ready to hear it. Or perhaps the message is constantly out there but because I am ready to hear it, I am more open to it and so I do hear it. Both are possible but the common theme between the two is that I am ready to hear it.

This message that my life is not about me is usually conveyed in a religious context and I take it to mean that rather than my life not being about me, that my life is about God. But what does it mean to live a life not about the self but about God? I think it is clear that a person who lives a self centered life does so because he is motivated by his ego. The ego desires comfort, safety, wealth, power for its own aggrandizement and protection. It is distrustful of others, jealous, racist and acts from a place of fear ultimately. By contrast, a person who lives his life according to God’s plan will discard these egocentric qualities and motivations. This is where faith comes in because to do this requires a faith that ultimately all will be well and taken care of despite not keeping a constant fixation upon things being well.

It seems clear to me that God is not ego. What is a little difficult to pin down is a more positive definition of God. But this makes sense in that God is infinite, eternal and beyond comprehension. Naturally an entity fitting this description is beyond definitions and labels. Faith comes in here too in that it takes faith to relate to something that is so intellectually un-relatable. At the same time God is love (1 John 4:8) and thus God is completely relatable because love is relation itself. Clearly Paul’s description of love in 1 Corinthians is the opposite of ego:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (1 Cor.13:4-7).

It also seems to me that God is both an “other” and at the same time intimately connected to me. God is an “other” in the sense that He is beyond all comprehension and I am not. Therefore the two of us are different and separate. However, there is also the sense that I came from God and have a connection with Him. In this sense living a life according to God’s plan might be the same thing as living a life in accordance to the will of my true self, which is the part of me that is not ego.

This Lent the message that my life is not about me has been made abundantly clear. I was all set to begin Lent when the sudden death of a family member disrupted everything. This event told me my life is not about myself because I cannot control or predict it. Because I cannot control or predict my life there is someone or something else in control that is not me. To the extent that I try to control or believe I can control my life I am acting in a manner that is contrary to reality which is always destined to end in failure.

God is eternal and as such, God’s plan is eternal. By contrast, my mortal existence is definitely not eternal (as was powerfully demonstrated by the death I just experienced). Accordingly, any plan that I come up with for myself is finite and not like God’s plan. Anything material (e.g. wealth, possessions, health, racial identity) is likewise not eternal. It seems to me that any sort of desperate clutching to these things would be contrary to God’s plan.

It also seems to me that if one adopts an attitude of surrender to God’s plan that a tremendous burden will be lifted. Jesus himself said that his “yoke is easy and his burden is light.” (Matt 11:30). But the question naturally arises, how can one know what is God’s plan? I think the approach to this question is to avoid those things that are definitely not God, like ego. Moreover, it seems logical that if one is acting in accordance with his true self that he will experience a lightness of spirit and an ease of action. In Paul’s letter to the Galatians he describes the fruits of the spirit as “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Gal 5:22-23). Clearly these are not the fruits of the ego. And I suppose faith must again come in to play in determining what is and is not in accordance with God’s plan.

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