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.
What is the point of prayer? How do I know it is accomplishing anything? There have been many times in my life where I have prayed in the form of asking for something that did not come to be. This might suggest that there is nothing to prayer. That it is at best ineffectual and at worst an ubsurd and foolish waste of effort. I know the advocates of prayer will say something like “God always answers prayer it just might not be the way you expect.” I find this clichéd and unconvincing.
If there is something more to the universe than materialism and mortality (which I suspect there is but having no way of proving) then I want to communicate with it. I want to approach it in some way. Prayer seems to be the way to do this. This is an external prayer. That is, a prayer that originates inside of me and travels to some external recipient. But prayer can also be a way to communicate with my innermost self, the part of me that is still in communion with that something more, the divine. This is an internal prayer, a prayer that originates inside of me and travels deeper down to an internal recipient. This is meditation (perhaps).
So essentially, prayer is a form of communication, like a phone call or an email. In everyday life these types of communications are sent, received and responded to. Some are sent and received but not responded to. Some are sent but never actually received. This seems like a more reasonable way to look at prayer than the “God always responds to prayer” mentality. It accepts the possibility that the communication could not have been received or received and ignored (for whatever reason). But there is something unsatisfying about looking at prayer in that way. It’s too mechanical. It reduces prayer to the level of logic and materialism.
I want prayer to be more than this. I want it to breach the chasm between the everyday world and the divine. It seems to me the divine is so wholly other that it cannot be reduced to merely another recipient (like me but more powerful) who may either choose to respond or ignore my prayer. The divine is beyond my comprehension.
Why do I want to communicate with the divine? My motivation is more than simply asking the divine to intervene in my material existence. It has to do with communing, being in relation with, being near. Because as beautiful and interesting as it is, ultimately there is something unsatisfying about the material world. There is an inner longing for that something else, that long-lost realm I used to call home.
This inner longing does not prove the existence of the divine but perhaps it can be seen as evidence thereof. It is enough for me to base my faith upon this. It gives me enough reason to pray, to reach out to that hidden, mysterious, long lost home.
Shame derails critical thinking because truth is not the shame ego’s main objective. The shame ego’s main objective is looking good in the eyes of others. Put another way, the main objective of the shame ego is to avoid humiliation. Put another way still, the shame ego’s worst fear is being humiliated.
If the shame ego were primarily interested in the truth and thought critically it could hear both sides of a debate and determine the winner objectively based on the merits of each argument alone. But with political debates in particular I find that most people do not evaluate the arguments primarily on their merits but rather based upon pre-existing loyalties to political camps and not wanting to appear foolish in the eyes of the opposing camp. I do this myself. When I do this I must realize that I am allowing my shame ego to take control of my thought process and am therefore not thinking critically.
In this context, loyalty can be a tricky subject. Most people think loyalty is an admirable quality. I would say, generally speaking this is correct. However, shame egos are more apt to invest their loyalty for the wrong reasons in the wrong causes. For example, a shame ego might be loyal to a cause because it does not want to appear to be following the wrong or loosing side. It is not so much that the shame ego ignores its critical thinking, but rather the shame ego prioritizes not appearing foolish or wrong above what cause actually deserves or has earned its loyalty. This is why (I believe) arguments involving religion and politics devolve into shouting matches and ad hominem attacks. These type of arguments are about personal beliefs and therefore in some ways define the people making them. If their beliefs are wrong then they as people are wrong. Shame egos cannot abide by this.
Critical thinking requires dismissing shame in order to be objective but a shame ego will not allow this. As such, a person with a shame ego never properly learns to think critically and therefore experiences a warped sense of reality and truth. At its heart, the shame ego is afraid of truth because the shame ego ultimately believes itself to be wrong. As such the truth (it believes) is humiliating and must be avoided, hidden or dismissed. In fact, a shame ego will sometimes deny truth even to itself and will react with anger or aggression against the people who insist on the truth.
Rather than feel the discomfort a shame ego experiences when confronted with the truth it will avoid the truth and therefore is incapable of thinking critically. In order for a person to think critically he must free himself from his shame ego. He must embrace the truth and allow himself to experience humiliation in a supportive, non-judgmental environment. If he is judged then the humiliation becomes too harsh and he will retreat back to the protection of the shame ego. But if he is not judged and can take in the compassion in the face of the feeling of humiliation, then he can start to have compassion for himself. This is the first step in the arduous road to liberation.
English: American Way of life (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Recently I was on hold with the Water Department. I needed to change my billing address because I had moved. At the time I was renting the house I owned in Philadelphia. For some reason the water department would not change the bill to my renter’s name so I had to get the bill and add it to the rent every month. I remember the hold music was cool jazz and was designed to have no beginning or end. It just seamlessly repeated itself over and over. I recall listening to an episode of “This American Life” where someone was on hold with similar music. They posited that the music was designed so that the listener did not experience the passage of time and therefore did not realize how long they had been on hold.
Sometimes I find myself waiting at a red light and it seems like the light has been red too long. I start to wonder if the timing mechanism on the light is broken. After a period of time I have to make a decision whether I should run the red light or to continue waiting. Running the red light means breaking the rules. Waiting carries with it the possibility that I am being foolish in some way. And so I am left in an unsatisfying limbo.
I just published an e-book. Some friends of mine said they would read it. I have not heard back from them and am left to wonder, did they read it? If so, are they not getting back to me because they did not like it and either do not care or do not want to hurt my feelings. Similarly, I hate sending out an email to someone and they simply do not respond. It makes me feel like I am unimportant. It makes me feel like they think their time is intrinsically more important than my time. Thinking about this makes me angry. It touches my shame and brings up past hurts.
Of course most of this is just my shame ego messing with me. The Water Department is a bureaucracy staffed by government employees punching the clock. I am no more or less important to them than any other caller. The red light is a mindless, mechanical contraption (at least for now) and has no agenda or motivation to shame me. My friends have their own lives and of course their time is more valuable to them than my time is valuable to them. It would be ridiculous to think otherwise. Just as my time is more important to me than their time is important to me. But when there is a lack of information my shame ego fills the vacuum. As will all things connected with my shame ego, awareness of this dynamic is helpful. But awareness does not really erase my impatience. I suppose I must chalk this one up to samsara (life is suffering) and of course I have some nostalgic longing for life not to be like this. As the Buddha said, life is suffering and the cause of suffering is desire. Not that I am a Buddhist but I do think there is some truth to it. Perhaps I am continuously being reincarnated like that hold music the water department plays on the telephone.
On Saturday I watched Notre Dame get beaten by Florida State University. I was on the edge of my seat the whole game. Both teams were undefeated going into the game. Notre Dame was the underdog playing the strongest opponent this season. If Notre Dame won they would be in a position to win a national championship (something they have not achieved since 1988). Notre Dame was ahead for most of the game. In the last quarter Florida State pulled ahead. In the last-minute of the game Notre Dame scored a touch down but a flag was thrown. Some supposed foul was committed by a Notre Dame player nullifying the touchdown and denying Notre Dame a win. I was very disappointed.
I did not go to Notre Dame. I really have not actively followed football until recently. I can claim some connection to Notre Dame because my cousin and other extended family members went there for undergraduate school. I am also Roman Catholic. I like the story of Notre Dame and all its traditions and historically prestigious football program. There is a little bit of a sense (in my mind) that I am not as entitled to root for Notre Dame as someone who actually went there to school but I realize this is mostly about me and not about anyone else.
But also, it is fun to care about something even if it ultimately does not matter. This is a life concept. We will all be dead in 100 years. The universe is infinitely (for all intents and purposes) large. There is nothing I or anyone can do in their lifetimes that really matters objectively when I think about it. So why should mattering matter when it comes to caring about anything? Ultimately, I care about the things I choose to care about. I can certainly be tricked into caring about things that ultimately do not serve my interests but caring is still a choice.
So I choose to care about whether Notre Dame wins. It is fun. I also choose to care about my family because I love them. I choose to care about my country because it is where I am from and connects me to something larger than myself. I choose to care about my religion because it connects me to the infinite, unknowable universe. I also care about all these things because I have been conditioned to do so by the society I live in and was indoctrinated by. In a sense it is easier to care about them than to not care about them but I could choose to not care about them if I was willing to endure the feelings of guilt, disconnection and disloyalty.
I guess the point I am making is that the things I care about are the things I choose to care about. It is these choices that define my sense of self and for that reason alone do they matter. They matter to myself subjectively. They do not matter, however, because they matter in some objective sense of the word.
People motivated by shame are not capable of truly forgiving other people even though they may outwardly appear to forgive wrongs committed against them.
I was taught to forgive because it is the Christian and moral thing to do. But forgiveness motivated by a sense obligation, that forgiveness is the right thing to do and withholding forgiveness would induce guilty feelings is not true forgiveness. It is shame.
In order to truly forgive I must first feel my anger for being wronged. When this happens I must also feel entitled to my anger. I must appreciate and acknowledge the wrong committed against me. If I do not do this any pretense at forgiveness is a farce.
If I am motivated by shame I will not allow myself to acknowledge the wrongs committed against me because I do not feel entitled to my anger. I will act like I forgive readily out of a false sense of morality. I will say I forgive because I want people to like me and think that I am moral and kind.
But when I do not allow myself to feel anger it stays inside and comes out in passive aggressive forms. When I do not allow myself to feel anger there is nothing to forgive really. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that if I do not feel my anger and feel entitled to it, I am not in a position to forgive. I have no standing.
Only when I properly feel my anger for being wronged am I in position to choose to forgive. It has to be a real choice and not one I feel obligated to make. If I forgive out a sense of obligation then I am not the one offering forgiveness. In that situation, whoever imposed the obligation upon me is the one responsible for forgiveness. But forgiveness is personal and cannot be given through proxy. So really, no forgiveness is given at all.
In Roman Catholicism, the sacrament of Reconciliation is performed by a priest acting in the name of God. This is forgiveness by proxy. I am tempted to say that because this is forgiveness by proxy it is therefore not authentic. But I believe something else is at work in this sacrament. Sometimes a feeling of shame is so intense that forgiveness for the sin requiring reconciliation is required. When a person seeks forgiveness of sins through Reconciliation I think he is really thinking of a way to forgive himself for whatever transgression he committed. The shame he has felt for the sins he committed is punishment enough. The anger he has vented on himself has been fully felt only there has been no release because it is directed towards himself. In this instance an outside entity may be required to release him.
Of course self-forgiveness is possible without the sacrament. Like all religious practices they are merely tools we use to relate with the grand, infinite, unknowable universe that exists both inside and outside ourselves.
Filed under Religion, Shame
I have observed atheists state that they reject religion because there is no scientific evidence to support the claims that religions make. Taking this point of view assumes that the scientific view-point is the only valid method to observe, define or otherwise deal with reality. I prefer to look at science and religion as two distinct tools that can be used for this purpose.
Following the scientific method has without question led advances in technology and in understanding the physical properties of the universe. But science only deals with that which can be measured. It seems that many scientists make the assumption that because religious concepts cannot be measured they cannot, therefore, be true.
I think this misses the point of religion. The universe contains that which is known and that which is unknown. For better or worse humanity (or at least a significant segment of humanity) is interested in that which is unknown. Science addresses this interest on the material level. But there is another segment of humanity that is not satisfied with addressing the unknown on the material level alone.
There are many things that cannot be measured that clearly exist; beauty and love for example. True, they can be measured in certain ways such as taking surveys on how many people think something is beautiful or not. But such a measurement is so far removed from the actual experience of beauty and love that it can never truly be informative of the experience.
Religion, it seems to me, is a way of addressing these unmeasurable unknowns and coming into relation with them through the experience of ritual, symbolism and sacred texts.
According to this way of thinking, one must conclude that one religion is as good as any other as long as the practitioner feels a valid emotional, connection to it. Connections of this sort usually occur when a person is brought up practicing a specific religion and their energy has bonded to the symbology and ritual practices. People attached to a particular religion might not want to agree with this point of view. Believing the religion one practices is the one true faith embodies it with a certain power that it would not otherwise have. This belief (I think) is ultimately based on ego and shame. It says my religion is better than your religion.
In the same respect, this point of view often comes forth when atheists argue with religious people. Such discussions often devolve into a battle of shame egos. This is not unique to arguments about religion. Arguments about politics follows this path as well. The argument itself has nothing to do with which appreciation of reality is correct but rather is about who is better at making the other feel foolish. This is clearly revealed when those who argue become, sarcastic, shaming, angry or flustered. Such a reaction displays that a person’s shame has been touched and they either feel shame themselves or are trying to make their opponent feel ashamed.