Tag Archives: Jesus

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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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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The Logic of a White Supremacist

ssAt some point I have to ask myself if there is any value in continuing this conversation with the self proclaimed “white Supremacist.” I say this because it is now evident that his world view is not indicative of some larger movement. His mindset and belief system is really just his own (and perhaps an Australian blogger he referenced to have been influenced by). In spite of his solipsism he has hijacked the labels “white Supremacist” and “Christian” but truly he is neither in the traditional senses of these labels. I say this only because he specifically denies being a part of a community of fellow white Supremacists or fellow Christians who share his beliefs. As such, what I am really investigating when I debate him is the content of his mind and nothing else. No larger truths are revealed in this process; at least no larger truths concerning white Supremacy or Christianity.

Another aspect of our relationship I must acknowledge is that he has given me a wealth of material to write about which has significantly increased the viewership of my blog. I suppose I should be grateful for his assistance in helping me to get my message out. Ironically, he started commenting on my blog for the specific purpose of expressing his displeasure with my message.

But interacting with him is a negative business. I have been over this before. It does not uplift my spirit in anyway. On the contrary, it drags me down to his egocentric level. It is criticism, comparison, degradation and shame. It has a painful and depressing quality to it. Of course I am bringing this up to also acknowledge that this dialog must at some point come to an end because ultimately it serves no positive purpose. It is akin to internet trolling or addiction in that it provides a moment of entertainment value but is actually void of higher purpose value. It is almost as if Thordaddy (the white Supremacist’s handle) is a reincarnation of Admiralbill from Sistertrek.

It must end at some point. I am thinking Lent might be a good time to cut the chord. The great thing about this sparing match taking place on my blog is that I can end it at any time simply by deleting his comments. I did not have this luxury on Sistertrek with Admiralbill. As such I was always in the position of hoping he would not respond so that I could maintain my possession of the last word.

Before I cut the chord there is a little more to discuss. Notably, he recently wrote a comment wherein he laid out a five point logical proof of his belief system:.

  1. The Perfect Man [is an] empirical fact.
  2. No such “thing” as “universal equality” [exists].
  3. Ergo, [the] white man strives towards Supremacy.
  4. We call such white man a “white Supremacist”.
  5. Blacks HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH 1-4 beyond simply … showing an enemy face.

His first assertion is “The Perfect Man [is] empirical fact.” By this he means that there is documented evidence of eyewitness accounts testifying that Jesus Christ existed. This documentation is the New Testament. He refers to Jesus as the “Perfect Man” but it is not at all clear in what sense he sees Jesus as perfect. I suspect he does not believe Jesus was racially perfect in that he was ethnically a Semite. Perhaps he means that Jesus had a perfect mindset. If true, I would argue that Thordaddy does not seek to emulate this mindset. I suspect he would argue that my interpretation of scripture is corrupted by modern, liberal influences and that Jesus in fact advocated white Supremacy which I suppose would make him prejudice against himself.

His second assertion is that there is “[n]o such ‘thing’ as ‘universal equality’. By this he means that humans are not inherently equal. The implication is that I or liberals in general believe that everyone is equal. I am not sure why he holds on to this assertion so tightly but it seems very important to his belief system. People are clearly not equal. Some are short and some are tall. Some are strong and some are weak. Some are rich and some are poor. I do believe in equality before the law. I am not sure if this is what he is referring to in terms of “universal equality” but I suspect not. He once said something to the effect that equality before the law works well on paper but not when managed by “radical autonomists.” I think the stronger argument is that equality before the law would not work well when managed by racists.

His third and fourth assertions are the “white man strives towards Supremacy” and that “[w]e call such white man a ‘white Supremacist’.” He has repeatedly argued that when he uses the word “supremacy” he actually means “perfection” and not “superiority over other races.” In other words, the fact that he seems to hate other races should not in anyway be considered as it relates to his racial superiority. This seems like he is not willing to fully own his racism which in turn suggests there is an undercurrent of shame at work. This has been my point all along. It is a point that seems to get under his skin which in turn suggests there is some truth to it.

His final assertion is that “Blacks HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH 1-4 beyond simply agreeing or showing an enemy face.” But I think “Blacks” have everything to do with his first four points. He seems to want to hate “Blacks” but justify this hatred with a pseudo-spiritual / philosophical system. His denial runs strong and deep. I know that I will never convince him that he is wrong and he will never convince me that he is right even though this is the mode in which we converse with each other. So really there is no purpose in continuing this dialog which is the point that started this piece off in the first place. There is an entertaining quality to it, true. But there is also a negative, ego saturated quality to it as well. It is this negative quality that will ultimately motivate me to put an end to it.

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Dialog with a [W]hite Supremacist Part VI

[W]hat you deem ‘shame’ is simply a rejection for any tolerance of self-annihilation. If I feel truly shamed I KNOW I have degraded myself and there can ultimately be no tolerance for self-degradation in those that honestly desire free will.”

Essentially the white Supremacist is claiming here that he never feels shame. I find this hard to believe given his desire for superiority over other people. I believe his true motivation for superiority is shame masked heavily with denial. He clearly feels himself to be in a position to judge other people who do not share his vision of reality. He labels them “radical autonomist” and “self-annihilator”. When you label something you confine it to a box that may or may not match up to reality. It is a convenient way to reference a concept but it often produces lazy thinking.

But there is already the impetus to label everything which may or may not have anything to do with putting that now labeled something into a ‘box.’ What is a ‘box’ anyway? This ‘something’ you’ve labeled ‘box’ that then holds other ‘somethings’ requiring designated labeling seems a special kind of ‘something?’ How does this ‘box’ actually ‘confine’ somethings and seemingly not “confine” other somethings? So if I label wS a self-annihilator, how is he really ‘confined’ to a ‘box’ when he already rejects white Supremacy? What exactly is the nature of your confinement when labeled a ‘white’ self-annihilator in a state of radical autonomy ‘boxed-in’ by the self-delusion of being a true Christian?

I can see here that he missed my point. His labels do not confine me in reality. His labels confine me in his head. He then mistakenly believes these labels in his head to be reality.

PS. A white Christian is a white Supremacist and rejects all acts of self-annihilation.”

So here we get into his notions of Christianity and what a “true” Christian actually is. He takes the position that white Supremacy is true Christianity. In a previous exchange I asked him how he squared this assertion with the Second Commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself” and Jesus’ commandment to “Love one another as I have loved you.” His response was that he did not love himself and so therefore he was under no obligation to love his neighbor and Jesus’ remarks were solely directed to his disciples specifically with respect to the other disciples and thus carried no authority with respect to him as a mere reader of the gospel. I found these arguments, labored, technical and weasely frankly. It seems to me he was following the letter but not the spirit of the law which is an attitude Jesus rejected.

I further wonder how he squares white Supremacy with the beatitudes specifically, “Blessed are the meek: for they will inherit the earth…, Blessed are the merciful: for they will be shown mercy… Blessed are the peacemakers: for they will be called children of God,” (MT 5:5-9) and “The first shall be last and the last shall be first.” (MT 20:16)

I have no doubt he has an equally labored, technical, weasely response. Be sure to read the comments to find out.

To be continued…

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Shame is Self-Annihilation

Shame is the hatred of the self or at least the belief that the self deserves punishment. Not all shame is bad or inappropriate. In fact, shame can be healthy when one commits a bad act and seeks to atone for that act. In this circumstance shame informs the self that the self has committed a bad act. Shame becomes a problem when it expands beyond this role and dominates a person’s life and infiltrates every moment of existence. When shame expands beyond its useful role it becomes difficult to live a moral life according to Christian morality as defined by Jesus. Specifically, when asked in the Gospel of Matthew which is the greatest commandment Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (MT 22:36-40).

A person I recently interacted with who is a self-avowed white supremacist and Christian whom I believe to be shame driven expressed that because he does not love himself he is not required to love his (presumably non-white) neighbor. I found this to be a clever loop-hole but it ultimately fails for two major reasons.

First, to love God (the first and most important commandment which even my white supremacist acquaintance would acknowledge) he must also love God’s creation which is an extension and reflection of God. God’s creation includes one’s self and his neighbors. Certainly this love is not unconditional. In order to love something whole heartedly (as the greatest commandment requires) the love cannot come from a place of obligation. The heart must have the free will to choose to love or to not love. To love out of obligation is merely going through the motions, is not whole-hearted and lacks real value.

Second, in the absence of self-love, shame will expand beyond its useful role because in this environment shame does not serve to bring the self back from error but rather to annihilate and perpetually punish the self. With this type of shame naturally comes comparison to others, resentment of others and jealousy of others. In this environment it is impossible to love one’s neighbor or one’s self. I believe if one cannot love himself he cannot truly love God. Life becomes joyless and hateful to the self and the others with whom he interacts. Under these circumstances there is no room for the Holy Spirit to enter the heart. This is self-annihilation. According to Saint Paul the fruit of the Holy Spirit are Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self-Control. (Gal 5:22-23). None of these fruits can ripen in an environment of shame and hatred for the self and one’s neighbor.

Before Adam and Eve disobeyed God, the Book of Genesis specifically states “they were both naked … and were not ashamed.” (Gen 2:25). But when they ate from the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, they became aware of their nakedness, became ashamed, covered themselves and hid from God. (Gen 3:7-10). It was shame that separated man from God since the very beginning. It is also shame that separates man from himself and his neighbor (extensions of God). This is why shame (the absence of self-love) is ultimately self-annihilating.

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