Monday, July 13, 2020

Are Christians capable of loving their neighbour?

As the contemporary conversations focus on the day’s headlines, yesterday’s stock prices, and tomorrow’s weather, one of the notions missing from the conversation is how western culture considers time. Naturally, time, in the abstract is not merely measured in decades, probable life expectancy, or even by birth and death dates. One of the ways different cultures have conceived, perceived and taught about time is to consider it cyclical, rather than linear.

The Christian notion of linearity, beginning in the garden and poetically ending in the eternal city (see Northrup Frye’s The Great Code) as a typology for the pilgrimage of humans, while bearing some fruit, also contains significant detractions.

The fruitful portion of this ‘tree’ is that it offers a relatively easily apprehended notion of some beginning long ago, a specific calendar in which each of us breathes, and ultimately some form of eternity, about which we can and do know little. However, there are also some potentially burdensome aspects to this version of time, especially given how the Christian church has freighted the beginning and the end both with the spectre of judgement. Lifting the veil of judgement, whether from the concept of time or from the founding principles of the institutional church, seems an imponderable if impossible prospect.

A cyclical notion of time, highly attuned to the yin and yang, the former the passive negative force and the latter the positive force. Detectable in seasons, and linking all things to all other things, these two opposites complement each other, with neither being superior to the other. The yin/yang concept is of a duality forming a whole. Rather than starting with that pervasive “judgement” Taoism starts by teaching a truth. “The Tao” is indefinable and this makes learning about Taoism difficult to grasp. According to the website,

“Taoism should be understood as being; a system of belief, attitudes, and practices set towards the service and living to a person’s nature. The path of understanding Taoism is simply accepting oneself. This leads to inner peace. Live life and discover who you are. Your nature is ever changing and is always the same…Taoism teaches a person to flow with life. Taoism is following your breath to find peace. Taoism is opening up a smile to enable possibility… (Some guidelines (without being prescriptive on how to live) are included)
·        With care, I aid those who are extended expressions of my nature
·        Be true to me
·        Connect to the world as I want to be treated
·        Connect to those outside my nature with decisive action
·        To those unwilling to accept me for my true nature, no action is required: just silently let them be themselves as I remain myself
·        I own nothing; I am merely a passing custodian of items outside of my nature
Some other notes: Taoism has no plans. Taoism is based on following your gut feelings and trusting your instincts…It is the pause in a breath…that each step of living becomes visible for your larger life to improve and follow upon. Smile, when needing to pick a possible next step. To smile is to open possibilities. Breathe when needing a break. Since to breath is to be at one with yourself. Alternate between the two, and your path will become free and clear for an entire lifetime of wonder to explore.”

From the website, we read these words:

Time (in Taoism) consists simply of events of Nature that originate from the eternal Tao, a nothingness that is fullness because it is unlimited, unbounded, unnamed. Time is the movement of Tao in nature, following the law of acting by not acting, and the law of reversion, where opposites complement and complete each other in one whole and where the end is also the beginning…
(From the Tao ‘is the ultimate creative principle of the universe,’ however, the Tao is not God and is not worshipped.

From the Alan Watts work, The Myths of Polarity, The Two Hands of God, we read:
(But) the Indian view of time is cyclical. If birth implies death, death implies rebirth, and likewise the destruction of the world implies its recreation. The Western images are thus essentially tragic. Nature is a fall and its goal is death. There is no necessity for anything to happen beyond the end; only divine grace, operating outside the sphere of necessity, can redeem and restore the world. But the Indian imagery makes the world-drama a comedy—a sport of lila—in which all endings are the implicit promise of beginnings. Yet comedy must always depend on surprise. The burst of laughter is our expression of relief upon discovering that some threatened doom was an illusion—that ‘death was but the good King’s jest.’ ( Watts, op. cit. p. 78-9

Events, comedy, two opposing yet balancing forces, cyclical time….these notions are foreign to the ‘christian’ mind-set. For many Christians, life is a battle, both internal and personal, as well as for the heart and mind of the rest of the people of the world, between God’s will and man’s will. And only through the abandonment of one’s will (and in that notion include one’s hubris, arrogance, pride, and self-righteousness) and the submission to the will of God does one become elegible for eternal salvation, and that by and through the grace of God, not by the “purity” of the individual.

Comparing the ‘eastern’ (Chinese and Indian) notions of time, events, decisions and choices to the Christian ‘universe’ seems to disclose not only significant differences, but also portends to an potentially irreconcilable conflict, depending on the capacity of both education and political systems to navigate, among and between the east and the west.

The question of what is becoming increasingly evident, the spectre of absolutism with regards to language, perception and attitudes, at the one-on-one face-to-face level, as well as on the stage of public debate, looms over each issue, as what can only be seen and interpreted as a defensive (exaggerated and even neurotic) posture of far too many. Moderation, self-acceptance, tolerance of the “grey” and of course, the potential for compromise seem to have “left the building” (echoing the old Elvis aphorism!).
Pitting good versus evil, in the micro-interpretation of each and every tweet, headline, rebuttal, op-ed, depending on the authenticity of the ‘source’ is a sure path to what is essentially a dialogue of the deaf. Shouting “foul” along with epithets like ‘nazi,’ ‘fascist,’ ‘antifah,’ essentially piles onto the dungheap of dumbness.

Zombies we are not! And we must not allow ourselves to slide into the Zombie effigy!
A recent piece extolling the shift from consideration as God’s “chosen” on the website, caught my eye, and provoked a significant pause to reflect. Witnessing Jews’ reconsidering their historic appropriation of the “chosen of God’ as the world’s best and only religion, and their move to a much more appropriate one among many kind of equality, one can only wonder and ask, Are Christians also capable of a similar shift in both thought and belief?

In six decades inside the Christian community, I witnessed and experienced some of the most profound and inexcusable treatment of individuals by people deeply entrenched in a belief that they had been chosen by God, through their own conversion, and were not merely extolling the virtues and blessings of their relationship to God, but were energetically engaged in the prosletyzing of that form of faith among those they considered heathens. Too many times I found myself in their cross-hairs! Too many times, when I merely asked questions, I was found to be heretical by those so nervous in their faith that they resorted to the same kind of “cancelling” that is parading itself across the north American continent.

From a kindergartener’s perspective on Taoism and Hinduism, it appears that Christians have much to learn about other ways of seeing the world, and the place of humans in it. So much so, in fact, that the hands and the feet and the head and the pen and ink of the Christian church are covered in the blood of institutions like slavery, homophobia, racism, and the most heinous, and yet the most difficult to prosecute, the perspective of ultimate “superiority”…

I heard Attorney General Barr use the word “righteous” in describing the prosecution of Roger Stone, (in opposition to the view of his boss) and was repulsed at his use of the word “righteous”. Having lied in his Senate confirmation, having distorted the Mueller report, having served as the personal attorney of the occupant of the Oval Office, and recording his faith perspective as a Roman Catholic, there is a degree of both hypocrisy and infamy that accompanies every utterance from the throne in the Department of Justice. How “righteous,” for example, is the path chosen by the Attorney General, as his boss continues to dismantle the institutional state?

We all feel constrained by the ever-present virus and the implications that we are all susceptible to its terror. We also feel empathic for those who have already fallen victim to its invasion. And we feel angry and powerless knowing that human consciousness is capable of both apprehending and applying more than a single lens when approaching the public interest. If that is no longer true, what has happened to the applicable definition of democracy, the notion that all people, from all perspectives, faiths, notions of time and purpose, as well as place in the universe have a relevant and needed voice in the determination of our shared path.

Exclusion, cancelling, and shouting down all opposition, is a sure sign that no authentic faith has taken hold among those obsessively engaged in the exclusion, cancelling, shouting and defaming the other.

Even the basic notion of treating the other as one would wish to be treated, so simple and so universally relevant to all forms of faith community, has been lost or forgotten in the fog of a war of personalities, ego’s, and the clashing cymbals of impetuous pre-teen school-yard fights. We are, many of us not by choice, are being served a menu of political dialogue that would not pass even as “fast-food” from a political nutrition point of view.

Staying home, in order to avoid contamination, however, will only give more space, and more microphones to those whose righteousness has already proven itself to be tragic, verging on disaster.

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