Tag Archives: Religion
I 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.
Although he has never addressed the subject directly I suspect my self labeled “Genuine white Supremacist” neighbor is a sample size of one. He calls himself a white Supremacist but denies any connection with or allegiance to any of the typical white supremacist movements including Nazism, the Ku Klux Klan or Christian Identity. I have asked him if he belongs to a group or church and where he learned his philosophy from but he never seems to want to answer that question. At this point if I had to guess as to where his philosophy came from I would say he simply made it all up on his own. In this respect I cannot say with any certainty that his white Supremacy is indicative of white Supremacy at large.
He claims to be a Christian. Normally I would not question the veracity of a person’s claim to be Christian. However, he also claims that true Christianity requires a person be a racist and anyone who is not a racist cannot authentically call themselves a Christian. Certainly, I support the right of anyone to make outrageous claims on their own blogs or platforms. But he insists (for some reason) on posting his radical philosophy in the comment section of my blog posts. As such I believe it is entirely in my right to respond to him in this way.
He claims his racism is a “traditional” racism which is not to be confused with the “liberal” definition of racism. According to him, “traditional racism” actually means “love of Father” and not (as he says the liberal conception of racism espouses) hatred of the black man. This love of Father in his mind is connected with the “white race” and his line of white fathers which he claims stretches back in an unbroken white line all the way to God the Father Himself. He specifically rejects the scientific consensus that all presently alive humans (black and white alike) can trace their ancestry back to a common line of fathers. Presumably he sees this research as a liberal conspiracy or some such. Despite his claims that his racism is a love of father and not hatred of “other” he has specifically stated he is against racial mixing and integration. In this respect, I am not sure how his love of father differs from hatred of the other. It seems as if he does not want to fully own his racism.
His logic in claiming Christianity endorses racism seems to be rooted in the primacy of racism in his own mind. In other words, he believes racism is true and correct and that Christianity is also true and correct. As such Christianity ipso facto must endorse racism and anyone who does not endorse racism is ipso facto not a real Christian.
The rather glaring problem with this logic is not only that there is no scriptural basis to support this argument, there is substantial scriptural basis to reject this argument.
Love Thy Neighbor / Good Samaritan
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus teaches that love of God and love of neighbor are of primary importance under the law. By saying that love of neighbor is second only to loving God with all one’s heart Jesus is ranking love of neighbor above the commandment to honor one’s biological parents. When asked “who is my neighbor?” Jesus responded with the parable of the Good Samaritan.
… A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him… Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves? And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise. (Lk 10:30-37).
Here we see Jesus explain that one’s neighbor is defined by his behavior (specifically acts of kindness and compassion) and not by race or political affiliation. This point is made even clearer when one considers the fact that Jews and Samaritans were of separate lineages and enemies in the context of this story. Certainly, if Christianity preached a gospel that racism is of primary importance that fact would have been referenced in this parable.
Hate Thy Father
Indeed, in the Gospel of Luke Jesus specifically states that one must reject his biological ties in order to follow him.
If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. (Lk 14:26)
It is the consensus of biblical scholars that this rather strongly worded passage is properly interpreted to mean that a follower of Jesus needs to prioritize Him above one’s kin. At the very least this passage calls into question the notion that love of one’s line of fathers is of primary importance for a true Christian.
Teach All Nations
In the Gospel of Matthew, the risen Jesus instructs his disciples to “… teach all nations…” (Mt 28:19). There is no instruction to restrict Christianity to white people or to any specific people as there would have to be if Christianity espoused a doctrine of racism.
In Paul’s letter to the Colossians he says to “[s]et your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.” (Col 3:2). Clearly one’s race is tied to materiality and of lesser importance that one’s life with Christ. In light of these and many other passages I could reference there is simply no scriptural basis to support the idea that Christ taught a gospel of racism. When I consider this in light of the fact that I have never heard anyone argue that Christ taught racism and the fact that my self labeled “Genuine white Supremacist” neighbor does not claim to belong to any particular community of fellow believers, I must conclude that he is very much alone in the world. Although his beliefs are interesting in their bizarre complexity and consistency I do not think they reflect anything greater than the contents of his own mind.
Pondering Hitler’s Legacy is republished with permission of Stratfor.
Happenstance has brought me today to a house on the Austria-Germany border, just south of Salzburg. That puts me about 3 miles from the German town of Berchtesgaden, on the German side of the border. Adolf Hitler’s home, the Berghof, was just outside the town, on a mountain in the Bavarian Alps. To the extent that Hitler had a home, this was it, and it was the place where Hitler met with many notables, particularly before the war began.
As it happens, today is the 76th anniversary of the start of World War II in Europe. It is always a strange feeling to be here. There is a sense of history present here, but it is mostly a sense of the mind, since Berchtesgaden is an attractive but ordinary place. It always feels as if towns like this should have a patina of extraordinariness sticking to everything. But that isn’t how history works. There is a patina of mind, but not of place. On Sept. 1 of any year since 1939, and at a place like this, there is a sense of urgency to extract the real meaning of the man who lived in a house on the mountain I am looking at.
After 76 years, it seems appropriate to try to figure out what Hitler and the war he initiated genuinely changed in the world. This is not an easy question, because to arrive at an answer I had to dismiss from my mind the many acts of gratuitous evil that he committed. It is hard to dismiss those, but in a sense they left little legacy to the world except for the realization that civilization is a thin layer over humanity’s beastly savagery. But truly, we didn’t have to have Hitler to learn that. We humans have always sensed what is beneath our surface.
The question is how the world changed as a result of Hitler’s decision to invade Poland.
The Price for Europe
The first outcome, obviously, was that he destroyed Europe’s hegemony over much of the world and its influence over the rest. Within 15 years of the end of the war, Britain, France, Belgium and the Netherlands lost their empires. A handful of European nations had dominated the world. By the end of the war they had lost the will, the energy and the wealth to maintain their power. After half-hearted and doomed attempts to resist, these countries willingly participated in the dismantling of what they had once thought of as their birthright.
This changed the shape of the world, of course, but the change was less the result of the world’s resistance to Europe than a result of Europe’s exhaustion. After the war, Europe faced the task of rebuilding buildings. The ambition to rule had been exhausted. However flawed or wicked that ambition might have been, there is still something sad in the loss of all ambition, beyond the desire for comfort. The will to dominate, seen in its most extreme form in Hitler’s appetites, chills the blood. The loss of any transcendent ambition merely cools it. Europe has lost its recklessness, which is on the whole good. Yet it has gained an excessive caution that makes it difficult for Europe to make up its mind over matters small and large.
The world is certainly a better place without Hitler’s reckless imprudence. It is probably a better place without British or French imperialism, although when we look at what they left behind, we wonder if the wreckage of empire is worth the wreckage of the post-imperial world, whoever we blame for that wreckage.
Hitler clearly didn’t want this outcome. I think he was sincere when he said that he would leave the British Empire intact, along with its navy, if the United Kingdom accepted German domination of the European mainland. He wanted peace with the British so he could crush the Soviets. But the British as a nation could accept that deal only if they trusted Hitler’s promise. However sincere he was in 1940, Britain couldn’t bet on the endurance of his word. As a result, Hitler in due course committed suicide in Berlin, and Britain presided over the dissolution of its own empire — the only thing that would have disgusted both Churchill and Hitler. Churchill’s imperialism and Hitler’s racism met on that point.
There was another thing Hitler cost Europe: the metaphysical sensibility. It is startling, the extent to which Christian Europe has abandoned Christianity for secularism. Consider this map:
The decline of church attendance is the outer husk of a European sensibility that, at the highest levels of thought, contemplated the deeper meanings of things. It was not Hitler who destroyed the European metaphysical sensibility. In many ways it destroyed itself from the inside, with a radical skepticism derived from the Enlightenment that turned on itself. But Hitler provided a coup de grace to that sensibility by appropriating figures like Friedrich Nietzsche and Richard Wagner to his own political ends, thereby delegitimizing not only them but also the tradition from which they emerged. Hitler, in his own strange wanderings in the depths, made such wanderings no longer respectable, and indeed, suspect. There is a saying I once heard: “German philosophers go down deeper, stay down longer and come up dirtier than any others.” I don’t know about philosophers, but Hitler, the would-be philosopher, certainly did, and it cost Europe the jewel of its intellectual heritage.
It is said that Napoleon called the English a nation of shopkeepers. He obviously meant that as an insult, seeing shopkeepers as people of limited imagination, ambition and wit. There is some truth to the saying about the English, although George Orwell was enraged at the trivialization of their achievements. To the extent to which the English were suspicious of the wholesomeness and usefulness of French and particularly German philosophy, Napoleon was right. But if he was, then Hitler achieved something extraordinary: He made all of Europe into nations of shopkeepers.
After the war, the obsession of Europeans was to live. Then it was to make a living. Napoleon’s insult was that there was more to life than simply making a living. What Hitler achieved was what he would have been appalled by: shopkeepers ruling Europe. But Europe is obsessed with making a living and suspicious of profound thinking. It has seen where that got it and it doesn’t intend to go there again. The best minds get MBAs. The broad public sleeps late on Sunday. The train wreck that Hitler made of Europe created a secularism not only in relation to Christianity, but in all attempts to recreate the depth of European culture.
The Power of the United States
Of course in all of this, perhaps the most important thing that Hitler did was unleash the United States, a country where earning a living is the definition of life. Hitler believed that his defeat meant the triumph of Bolshevism. It really meant the triumph of the United States and its culture, which it distributed in Western Europe through occupation and in the Soviet bloc through imitation.
The United States redefined European culture. As I have written in Flashpoints: The Emerging Crisis in Europe, it was not Coca-Cola but the computer that was the carrier of American culture. The computer had nothing to do with metaphysics or with the true or beautiful. It had to do with the narrowest form of instrumental reason: It simply got things done, and in doing so, it justified its existence. The computer dominated the world — and Europe — and with it came a mode of thinking, contained in programming, that was so radically different from what European culture consisted of as to almost be from another planet. Of course, Europeans helped found the culture, but they bequeathed it to their heir, the United States. Paradoxically, the United States remains the most religious of countries, with church attendance at its height. Religiosity and instrumental reason are compatible in the United States — a point to ponder.
Hitler respected Josef Stalin. He understood the radical ideologue who was ready to kill. He had little respect for the United States. He understood Stalin, but he couldn’t fathom Roosevelt. But as I sit here looking toward Berchtesgaden, I must recall that it was the 7th Infantry Regiment of the Third Division, U.S. Army, that captured the town and Hitler’s home. The Americans occupied the area until 1995, using it for military purposes.
This was the most important thing Hitler achieved, and the last thing he expected. Hitler drew the Americans into the heart of Europe and left the Europeans completely vulnerable to the emerging, and quite strange, modes of thought that a nation that holds shopkeepers in great regard can produce. Hitler destroyed the dams that Europe had built around itself. He crippled all of Europe, including the Soviet Union. He could not imagine the need to cripple the Americans, nor could he have had realized the need. And therefore, in the end, they rebuilt Berchtesgaden and I am sitting here looking at it.
Hitler will be remembered not only for great evil but also — and more important, in many ways — for the manner in which almost all of the consequences of his war were unexpected.
When people argue about religion and politics I get suspicious. This is especially true if they are overly defensive or overly critical of people who do not share their point of view. When they do this I suspect that their true reason for wanting to argue has nothing to do with the logic or persuasiveness of their point. I think it has more to do with their desire to feel better about themselves by making other people feel bad about themselves. This is the shame dynamic I have blogged about in many other posts. The notion that shaming their opponents is their true motive tends to impeach the validity of their point of view in my mind.
It does not seem likely that anyone can prove that their political point of view or their religion is any better than any other political point of view or religion. However, there does seem to exist a drive and desire to convince other people that we are right. It seems we want to our ideas to be correct. It seems we want to validate ourselves. This drive has nothing to do with the correctness of our views except to the extent that we hold the correct view in relation to the person we argue with.
The holders of correct views are better and then the holders of incorrect. This is the ego’s line of thinking. But the thoughts are disguised as a logical or philosophical debate. And there can be enjoyment in this space. There is fun to be had. But let’s be honest about what is going on. It’s not about trying to convince someone else that we are right. It is about trying to convince someone that we are better and they are worse by comparison. And why do we want to convince these other people that we are better? So that we can convince ourselves that we are better. And why do we want to be better? I think it is partly because the better people get to push around the less better people. It is probably partly because the better people fear exchanging places with the less better.
In this respect the better people are afraid of the less better people. This applies to me right now as I write this blog. Part of me wants you the reader to think that I’m witty I want to think that I am intelligent. Part of me is afraid that I’m a nobody and that I have nothing important to say and nothing to offer.
I find that when I am in a political or religious debate if I can remain aware of this dynamic I can stop myself from taking it personally. If I am not taking it personally I am less apt to demonize my opponent and become angry with them. If I am not feeding into this negative energy then I suspect my opponent will be less apt to do this as well. Some people cannot help themselves however. There is the temptation to judge them for that. Probably best not to give into that either.
Labeling is a function of the ego’s desire to categorize, define and otherwise put everything in its proper place relative to everything else. At its essence this desire arises out of the ego’s fear of its inability to appreciate reality as a whole. When a thing has been labeled the ego feels like it has a certain power over the thing. The thing is now confined by its label. However, labels are not the thing that they label even though the ego tends to proceed as if the thing and the label are one.
Despite their inaccuracy, labels can and do serve useful functions. For example, labels can diminish fear. When a fear is labeled it seems to become something less than what it was. The labeler now seems to become (in a sense) more powerful than the fear. The fear thus becomes less scary. Another example is that labels allow for the communication of information from one person to another. The transmission of information is less than one hundred percent accurate but effectively more information is communicated with labels than without them. Labels serve these useful functions by digesting reality into usable chunks. As such, even though they are not perfect they make reality more understandable than it would otherwise be if left unlabeled.
Understanding reality is the chief function of the ego which has taken on the task of making a livable space within reality. Two paths an ego can take to understand reality are science and religion / spirituality. Science seems to rely heavily upon labels. It defines things and in doing so it makes them less than what they actually are. But by doing this it allows scientists to work with the information and arrive at answers. Theories and equations (for example) are labels. This is the language that science speaks. Religion and spirituality, by contrast, while using labels symbolically also attempts to appreciate at the whole of reality itself. This is its language. As such science and spirituality don’t speak the same language. Because of this they tend to become dismissive of each other.
The ego is an ally in that it seeks to navigate the vast ocean of reality. But unchecked the ego can run amuck. An unchecked ego does not lead to happiness. There is a balancing act between the ego and the truth of reality. The ego desires to make truth understandable. But by doing so through labels the ego makes truth something less than what it actually is. At the same time this function is necessary because without it there would be much less understanding or perhaps no understanding at all.
The self comes to understand that labels are not the truth through observation. Under normal circumstances the self thinks of the label as the thing itself. This is perhaps the best the self can do under the circumstances. Meditation seems to be a way to take in the whole thing or perhaps to take in something more than just the label. But for most people life cannot be lived in a state of meditation. As such labels are useful and necessary but perhaps should be appreciated for what they actually are from time to time.
No blasphemy or hubris intended, but if I could put myself in God’s shoes I wonder how I would then look at religion. My first observation would probably be that there are many different types of religions with differing views as to what I am, my nature, what I like, dislike, how I have structured the universe, what I do with souls after people die, etc. It seems that many religions take the point of view that they have it right and everyone else has it wrong. Further, because the others have it wrong they will face eternal damnation after death. But, if I’m God I would be thinking how could those people down there possibly know which set of beliefs is correct? There’s the Bible, the Torah, the Koran, the Upanishads, the Book of Mormon etc. all claiming divine inspiration (some to the exclusion of others). There are faith traditions claiming authority to interpret these books and thus my will. But how could I possibly hold someone responsible for being born into the wrong faith or being confused or not entirely sure about their faith? Let alone, would I really care about the difference between Presbyterianism and Methodism? If I don’t show myself to man and haven’t shown myself to man in many generations can I really fault him for questioning whether I exist, let alone the specifics of my true nature? Can I really find fault with man for wondering if a text written thousands of years ago is relevant today? Life seems hard enough without all these extra pressures.
Would I really want man to believe anything because he feels guilty not to? Why is it so important that he believes in me anyway? And if it is so important, why not just show myself to him? People only follow a particular religion because other people told them to (initially). Perhaps at some point they come to their own particular appreciation or connection to that religion, perhaps not. If I am going to play this game where I hide myself and then become displeased that they don’t believe in me, is it really moral of me to hinge their eternal salvation upon whether they do or do not believe in me? This really seems like a situation where I am fucking with man and if I am a loving God why would I want to do that?
This life I created is some kind of test or amusement park. Maybe those who live down there were bored with living up here with me in the celestial realm and wanted something a little more challenging. Is it enough for me that they long for some relationship with me. Maybe we have been separated and they are trying to find their way back to me. Perhaps I am not in a position to help them. Perhaps I agreed not to. Perhaps we entered into some sort of binding contract before they entered into life.
Can I make a rock so heavy that I cannot lift it? Does this question deny my omnipotence or does this describe a limitation of the language used to describe me? I know, my thoughts are not your thoughts but perhaps there is some point of intersection.