Saturday, June 1, 2013

The church's inferential 'gift' of sacralizing the past

From NPR's On Point with Tom Ashbrook website, May 30, 2013
Two interpretations of “move the meeting forward” and what it says about your relationship to time:
It divides people absolutely half and half. And so if you say to people Wednesday’s meeting is being moved forward two days — what day is it now? People will often say, “Oh, I always get this wrong.” And they don’t actually get it wrong; what they mean is they’ve had situations where other people say the other answer. What this does represent, your answer to this question — and people can answer it very instinctively and very fast — and your answer does show how you see time. So if you answer Monday to that, it’s that you stay still and you see time coming towards you. The summer’s coming, the vacation’s coming, Christmas is coming. If you answer Friday, then you see it the other way around; you see yourself as going off forward into time. I’m going towards the summer, I’m going towards Christmas. And this does seem to split people in a really interesting way. And there are times when it changes. So if there’s something that people are dreading, like the dentist or exams, then they’re more likely to seem them as coming towards them. But on the whole, people have this very set view of the way that they see it.

This piece of information, what some may consider mere trivia, is fascinating!
Time "coming at one" or "one's going forward into time"...
there are so many implications of both the roots of these two perceptions and their differing impacts.
First Roots:
Time coming at one....has to be a state in which time is perceived as some kind of moving entity, bearing down on the perceiver and generally exacerbating that person's anxiety....deadlines, meeting those deadlines, bring the question to a head, bringing the issue to a resolution....under the pressure of that moving "object" time....
This perception co-ordinates with, and possibly even corroborates the notion that many people live a life of tension, of various kinds. And such a notion is embedded into the earliest teachings of the Christian church, anxiety of disobeying some part of the 'rules' that God has laid down, fear of going to Hell, as punishment for such disobedience, fear of 'getting caught' in the act of doing something declared evil, by one's family, community or religious organization.
The celebration of history, as compared with the 'lip service' paid to both the present and the future, is embedded in western culture, also a 'gift' from the Christian church, whose theology sacralizes the past, especially the life of Jesus as 'recorded in the New Testament. Since it was considered "imperative to do, or not to do," something in the tradition of the christian church, then it must be imperative that contemporary followers subscribe to the same "ethic" or rule. Because something has been around for an extended period of time, is a quality that too many people believe grants "legitimacy" to those institutions, simply because they have survived for a longer period that other organizations in the same social, political, economic, academic and religious arena.
It is not merely the specific "rule" that one might have broken, it is the more general and more abstract notion of favouring the past over both the present and especially the future that warps the perceptions of too many people, especially in such 'revered' organizations as the church, toward what comes dangerously close to worship of the past, for its own sake. In North America, certainly, and possibly in Europe, in both of which locations the christian church has planted its feet firmly in the culture of the various countries, how often do we hear, "Oh, if only we could return to the good old days!" as if the past is overwhelmed with better experiences that the present, and certainly than any perception of the future could possibly be. The morality of young people, especially, is one target of such cliche perceptions. The simpler life, without the plethora of technological interventions, is also something many people, particularly the elderly, long to return to, as if to say, that past time is a more reverential, God-centred and ethically pure than contemporary time or 'future time'.
Paradoxically, 'moving the meeting forward' is also a play on the word 'forward' or the word 'up' which is also used in the experimental question, moving the meeting forward (up). "Up," the preposition that generally points to things "heavenly," another of the many 'gifts' of the christian church, designing the universe in a belief that God would naturally "be up there" in heaven, while Satan would, also naturally, be 'down there' in some form of Hell. Evil is consistently associated with the concept of 'down' and 'backward' whereas 'good' is associated with 'up' and with 'forward'. This notion of prepositions that lead the very young language learner to unconscious complicity in these their literal and their symbolic meanings, is another 'gift' of the christian church, leaving little room for either objection or for doubt.
It is not surprising that many, at least one half, of people respond, "Monday" to the question of the Wednesday meeting being moved 'forward' or 'up'. For those of us who, without hesitation, answer, "Friday," there is a qualitatively different approach to the question of time. It is not bearing 'down' on us and causing us to have increased anxiety, something that the christian church considers as legitimate given our "falling short of the glory of God" and yet.....
Too often, the approach that we find most "natural" conflicts with the keeping of tradition, honouring the past, honouring the parents and the grandparents, and the caution that hauling all of the mistakes of the past into our consideration of today's questions is more responsible than to move forward confident that the future is not necessarily any more or less fraught with danger, evil and menacing probabilities than was the past.
Further, it is through an approach that answers "Friday" that we are able, willing and likely to move toward some kind of imaginative pictures, both positive and negative, that comprise the heart-beat of all literature. As Northrop Frye reminds us in "The Educated Imagination" (the Massey Lecture Series on CBC) literature consists of two dreams, a wish-fulfilment dream and an avoidance dream....the former generates  utopia, comedy, and lyric and romance, while the later generates tragedy, irony and distopia. Certainly, this is not to declare that writers will only and always answer, "Friday" to the experimental question...but that the basis on which the story emerges will to a considerable degree comply with the Frye parameters.
The christian church also suffers from a deficit of the prophetic voice, that voice that can see 'forward' into the fog of uncertainty, and the fog of unwritten time, and the fog of beaches yet untrodden and speculates, prognosticates, theorizes, imagines what might be....without worrying about rigidly adhering to the rules, the habits and the attitudes of the past.
In many ways, the church is its own best self-saboteur, in this regard. Memorializing things past, as the most revered and treasured inklings of the thoughts, desires, wishes and aspirations of God, the church has pushed to the side, (some would say denied) the present and the future, as the model of natural human discipleship, and healthy spiritual living.
Instantly, and irrevocably, that reduces those prophetic voices to the sidelines, as outcasts, the penal colony, as rogues, as heretics, as apostates and the voices never to be trusted. Kierkegaard, Matthew Fox, and how many others who wrote, and thought and prayed and argued with the leadership of the church suffered one or more of the church's favoured punishments, including beheading, being thrown into a dungeon prison, hanging, ex-communication, ostracism, social and political rejection by the hierarchy of the christian church, in any of its many forms. Wrapping themselves in the "tradition" (the teachings of the past) of the church fathers, the church hierarchy affects a pose of infallibility.
The church has spent much more "time" engaged in a virulent process of punishing the wayward than it has in pursuing new thoughts, new perceptions, new technologies, new musical forms and themes, new dramatic forms and languages. It has also embedded a social acceptance, even reverence for the past, in all of its liturgies, hymns, calendar celebrations, hierarchical structures and the obedience to these "hard forms of power" as tests of the sincerity and the authenticity of any new recruit, either to the laity or to the clergy.
And, even if only inferentially, the church has cast a kind of universal 'halo' around the past, while putting walls of resistance, even exclusion, of thoughts, insights, forecasts, foreshadowing on its own future, that its eyes are too readily fixated on the rear view mirror to be able to openly, willingly and equally reverentially examine its current circumstances, and adapt to the legitimate findings of those examinations.
These thoughts are not a derision of those individuals who perceive the answer to the original question to be Monday; they are, rather, some reflections on how the past gets, for too many hierarchical church leaders, a kind of sacred status, especially when compared with both present and future.
And the psychologist, Claudia Hammond also reminds her audience, through the On Point program with Tom Ashbrook, that those people are happiest, it seems, if and when they have a balanced perception of past, present and future,
Perhaps if our psychiatrists were educated in her findings there would be less need for pharmacology's tsunami into our culture, generating another tsunami of profits for the corporations that generate these chemical compounds, some 85,000 of which are registered in the U.S. with only five being restricted.
But that's a story for another time.

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