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Monday, August 29, 2022

Indigenous people...the canaries in our shared coal mine

 One of the more prominent features of living in North America is the degree to which our culture(s) (American and Canadian) have adopted the scientific view of the universe. As one who has struggled with the many intricate and complex implications of this “perspective,” I always wondered, when studying statistics, for example, whether and how and to what extent the finger-and-hand-print of the researchers, their attitudes, beliefs and perspectives, were indelibly imprinted on the shape of the questions that were being pursued in and through the research. For some time, however, we have known and publicly acknowledged, that there is no such thing as total objectivity, whether in science, or in historical research, or even in theology.

In beginning what I hope will be a protracted journey into the lands of both indigenous philosophy and spirituality and also into the even more expansive and mysterious lands of archetypal psychology, the scientific euro-world view is beginning to thaw.

In their 2002 work entitled, Aboriginal Education in Canada, A Plea for Integration., John W. Friesen and Virginia Lyons Friesen write these words:

The nonNative scientific view further allows an encourages the development of separate ‘hard-core’ academic disciplines which seek to identify and explain the various components of cosmic and material phenomena, such as biophysics, astrochemistry, biotechnology, nuclear mathemat5ics, social physiology, and so on. Although the proponents of each of these specialities will make sophisticated claims about interdisciplinary parallels and concerns, there is always an element of professional ethnocentricism involved in their scientific deliberations.

The delineation of disciplinary specialities is quite foreign to the First Nations way of thinking. Aboriginal People view the world as an interconnected series of only sometimes distinguishable or comprehensible elements. They experience no uneasiness at the thought of multiple realities simultaneously operant in the universe, and they do not differentiate among the varieties or qualities of entities, that is between material or spiritual elements. Their world-view allows for the possibility that a variety of ‘structurally-different’ elements may simultaneously be active in the process of holistic healing. This also explains why dreams, visions, and personal experiences comprise an important source of knowledge as scientifically-derived truths. I short, you never know where you might gain knowledge or where you might learn something. (Op.Cit. p 45-6)

As a further explication of this holistic perspective, Friesen and Friesen also quote David Suzuki’s, A Personal Foreword: The Value of Native Ecologies, Wisdom of the Elders, by Peter Knudtson and David Suzuki, Toronto ON: Stoddart, xxixxvi) on page 46 of Friesen and Friesen:

The land is not merely soil; it is a foundation of energy flowing through a circuit of souls, plants, and animals…As ethic to supplement and guide the economic relations to land presupposes the existence of some mental image of land as a biotic mechanism. We can be ethical only in relation to something we can see, feel, understand, love or otherwise have faith in. (quoted in Suzuki, 1997, 104)

Even the modest and essentially polite Euro-inference, in the last sentence, exceeds the native perspective, in that, unlike most of us who have been educated in euro-perspectives, First Nations people are not restricted to having to see, hear, feel and empirically experience something or an event to have faith in it.

To push the envelope ever further, Friesen and Friesen write:

Belief in the eternal mystique of the universe prohibits the idea of exploitation or domination. An unknowable and hallowed entity should not be approached  in any other manner but with respect, awe, and obeisance. One should not tamper with the elements or workings of the universe, but respect is modus operandi. As the mysterious but Divinely-controlled source of life and sustenance the earth’s power is enigmatic but reliable. To question or seek to tamper with its rhythms functions would be tantamount to playing God. (p. 48)

For some time, there have been numerous earnest attempts to graft native spirituality to Christian spirituality, most of which have been imagined and

                    designed from a euro-perspective. And while some grafting of cultures has always been a component of the ecclesial history in North America, it seems high time, if not past time, to take serious note of the dramatic and significant differences in perception, attitude, spirit and ethics.

Playing God, for example, with the universe, is proving to be a demonstrably dangerous concept, given the existential crisis humanity faces in the threat of global warming and climate change. The Genesis quote: Then God Said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’

A metaphoric, rather than a literal interpretation and application of this description, seems to have both evolved and evaded the minimal differentiation of human from animal creature. As an “piece of origin” writing, however, it is neither surprising nor discomfiting that a ‘conceived’ deity would seek to note a difference between humans and non-humans. One interpretation, likely an attempt to frame the quote into a notion compatible with another notion, holds that the Christian concept of God, is that the ‘expectation that humans would act as God’s representatives, by taking care’ as the ideal.


As the street vernacular would have it, “How is that ‘taking care’ working out for you?
Native peoples have consistently regarded the earth and all of the living things as sacred, not something over which/whom to have dominion. And herein lies a fundamental humility of the indigenous perspective; not treating/using/deploying as if in charge, but co-habiting with in unity. There is simply no “as if” in the indigenous perspective; it is not an abstraction, or a theoretical or a scientific or a mathematical or philosophic or a cognitive concept; they live, incarnate and embrace their unity with the earth and all of its bounty.


I feel awkward, as a descendent of a combined British, Scottish, Irish, and Dutch heritage, to be stepping into the waters of the indigenous world-view, not in an attempt to appropriate those waters but rather to try to embrace the dramatic and life-giving and life-affirming quality of those waters. There is so much of nuance, of imagination, of community, and of life-giving support in a world view that embraces the unity of all living things. Overlaid on this world view is a perspective of time as cyclical rather than sequential, flexible and shifting according to the needs of the people and what is taking place on the earth.

 

Bound by neither the need to take charge, rather than live in harmony with nature, and the linear concept of time, indigenous folks were/are more enlightened, mature and worthy of emulation and appreciation than original European settlers, with their world view, considered them to be.

Here is a little more from Friesen and Friesen:

The First Nations of North America see themselves as part of a great chain of existence that includes all aspects of creation; all elements in this natural chain are interrelated and interdependent. If any single element is subjected to undue attention or pressure or is tampered with, there will be repercussions in the grand scheme of things…..Traditionally, all tribal societies lived in tune with the cycles of nature. Living off the land and depending on its rhythms meant that nature dictated when things would happen…..The Aboriginal twist to the definition of sharing leans quite heavily toward the obligatory  component of the process, very much to the point that they who have, had better share.  (p. 51-2-3-4)

In the complex process of addressing the issue of the reconciliation process, indigenous peoples choose to “engage in an aggressive, yet reasonable campaign to acquaint their nonNative counterparts with the essence of Aboriginal philosophy (believing) First Nations will undoubtedly gain a great deal more public acceptance than they have in the last few decades.” (Friesen and Friesen op.cit. p 21-22) Other indigenous writers, however, blame Eurocentric thinking for all Aboriginal ills.

Quoting from James Henderson, Youngblood (2000) Postcolonial Ledger Drawing: Legal Reform. Protecting Indigenous Knowledge and Heritage, in Friesen and Friesen we read:

As a theory it (Eurocentric thought) postulates the superiority of European over non-Europeans. It is built on a set of assumptions and beliefs that educated and unusually unprejudiced Europeans and North Americans habitually accept as true as supported by ‘the facts,’ or as ‘reality.’

Friesen and Friesen reference Henderson and Battiste in this sentence: “According to these authors, North Americans have apparently never been able to release themselves from the grasp of European thought, despite the formulation of the American Declaration of Independence in 1776 or the founding of Canada as an independent nation in 1867.” (p. 22)

 Let’s take a closer look at the notion of colonialism:

“A theory that ‘we are superior to everyone else so that means that we have the right to take over their land and run it for our own benefit.”

Colonization is the sending of ‘our superior people’ out to physically take the land away from ‘their inferior people’ and run it for the benefit of our superior people while relegating their inferior people to subservient and secondary roles (if our superior people don’t’ simply kill off all of their inferior people.” ( George Thomas writing in quora.com)

While Thomas’s definition is replete with sarcasm and even anger, the import of the definitions on both  those indigenous people who have been subjected to colonialism and on those who imposed their ‘superior’ wills on[ja1]  native peoples is still haunting North American culture and life, including the political and corporate cultures.

Superiority/inferiority lies at the heart of all hierarchies, based on any cluster of a number of asssumptions: expert knowledge, tradition, efficiency, the creation of order, the law, and an innate need for control among others. Superiority/inferiority, too, is implicit in all sorts of relationships dependent on the perceptions of individuals in those relationships. If anyone has experienced the abuse of power, regardless of when and where such abuse took place, one is especially sensitive to the dynamics of that scenario. Also, although much less discussed publicly if at all, for those who have abused power, they know intimately, if secretly, that they have abused their power. And one question that too often goes unspoken and thereby unresolved is whether or not those who have abused power come to the conscious realization and acknowledgement that they have responsibility for those abuses.

Too often in North American history, those who considered themselves and their views, dogma, theology, and positions as “protectors/rescuers/custodians/parents” of the individuals in their charge have used that position/view as justification of whatever practices and policies they deemed necessary. And that nefarious and heinous pattern was often implemented and imposed in the name of God. So, not only were there secular roles in schools and in group homes with inordinate power over both the children, directly, and indirectly over the parents from whom those children had been snatched, there was the over-bearing ‘veil’ of the sacred interceding as ethical endorsement and justification for the actions, policies and theories of the abusers

.

While not an indigenous person, I am familiar with the concept of the abuse of power from an early age. And it is not only the bruises and the physical pain that accompanies the abuse; it is even more importantly the shame, the guilt and the anger, married to the colonizing and militarizing of the secrecy about the abuse that is so lasting and so galling and so demeaning.

Keeping secrets inside a publicly-parading religious and self-righteous home, so that no public reputations of the parents are damaged, is a pattern from which one recovers slowly over time. The experiences, however, inform a world view that intuits bullshit, manipulation, deception, and especially cover-up attitudes and behaviours when and wherever they appear. Abused kids are implanted in a culture, with or without the will or the acknowledgment of the power structures of that society, as canaries in the wider coal mine of each institution and agency and corporation to which we become associated.

And while the abuse has ended, for many, the residue of that precipitate (the highly intuitive and extra-sensitive canary) in the bottom of the beaker of our consciousness and our unconsciousness remains and will not remain silent forever.

And, similarly, the indigenous peoples in North America are also, if we are prepared to acknowledge our reality, the sensitive, empathic, intuitive and conciliatory canaries in our shared coal mine.

Are we prepared to hear their song?


 [ja1]

Friday, August 19, 2022

Reflections on time....



Yin is the symbol of earth, femaleness, darkness, passivity and absorption, present in even nYumbers, in valleys and streams where yang is conceived of as heaven, maleness, light, activity, and penetration. Both help to elucidate the Chinese belief in a cyclical theory of becoming and dissolution and an interdependence between the world of nature and human events.
The notion of the cyclical as opposed to the linear theory of time connotes a very different concept of time and our relationship to time….”The aboriginal concept of time differs from the Judeo-Christian perception of time in that aboriginal people do not perceive time as an exclusively linear category (i.e. past-present-future) and often place events in a ‘circular pattern of time in which an individual is in the centre of ‘time circles’ and event placed in time according to their relative importance for the individual and his or her community.” (from onlinelibrary.ciley.com).
“The reason why we see time as ‘linear’ is because of Christianity. The idea of Genesis (at the start) and Judgement Day (at the end) gives us a narrative- a linear view of time….Plato thought time was created by a Creator….Even his student, Aristotle, thought time wasn’t an independent thing but only a relational concept between objects. But Christians loved Plato…The early Christian Fathers quickly realized that their account of creation and the Biblical account of the Last Judgement could map really well onto this linear view of time….Not only was Judgement Day a balm to all (the) suffering, it also acted to structure the entire universe. Time was not some illusion, nor was it in infinite cycle. Rather, it was a deliberate narrative, written and overseen by God-our God. He had a plan, and ‘today’ is only one step along the way He laid out for us. The Church Fathers and various council that were charged with putting together the official orthodox Bible knew very well they were laying out a story like every other: It begins, the characters grow and change int eh middle, and it ends. The implications of this view—that God has created the universe with a narrative in mind—is that everything happens for a reason. It sets us up to believe there’s order in the madness and purpose in the chaos. This idea, called ‘Sacred Time,’ gave meaning to Christians and is something that still infuses how we see the world….(And yet) If you try to strip away all the ideological baggage with which we’re born, there’s not much that points toward linear time. The sun will rise and fall. Winter will pass and come back around with snowy regularity. History repeats itself. It’s why, across so much of human history, time is not viewed as a finite, closed line, but an infinite, repeating circle…..Of course, time is a hugely complex issue, an done which even today we’re having to unravel. But philosophically and phenomenologically*, Aristotle hit the nail on the head. As Carlo Rovelli explains in his book, ‘The Order of Time,’ ‘Time, as Aristotle suggested, is the measure of change; different variables can be chosen to measure that change, and none of these has all the characteristics of time as we experience it. But this does not alter the fact that the world I sin a ceaseless process of change.….(a brief history of time by Jonny Thomson, philosophy instructor at Oxford…from bigthink.com. Thomson’s Instagram account is called Mini Philosophy @philosophyminis. His first book is Mini Philosophy: A Small Book of Big Ideas)

 

Our deeply embedded culture, in the concept of linear time, however noble and honourable, and even potentially theologically arguable, poses many serious issues, none of them likely about to be exposed in open, serious and warranted public debate.

Our shared capacity to manage, control and depend upon the micro-dissection, exposure and implementation of linear time came abruptly into our mailbox a few weeks back. Inside was an envelope with a provincial government address; it put a slight frown of interest and questioning on my face, until I opened it. Inside were two pieces of paper: one with photos of our vehicle in the middle of an intersection with a red light also in the photo. As the driver of the car, I had taken .5 seconds into that red light, after the light changed from orange to red. The camera was apparently posted high on a metal post with a capacity to shoot such aberrant driving behaviour. Naturally, we paid the considerable fine, and then were left with the lingering impression that, while no one ‘wants’ to ‘run a red light’ and while this is not something I have ever been charged with previously, the manner of the investigation, documentation and conviction, (with the opportunity to appeal), based on technology I did not “know” was there, opens a host of questions.

There are times, of course, when a split second can mean the difference between moving through an intersection safely and colliding with another vehicle. Some drivers turn right into traffic thereby cutting that traffic off, without a camera to document the risk. Others pass on double solid lines on inclines when oncoming traffic cannot be visible; others drive so ponderously that, on two-lane highways, they generate a back-log of several vehicles each of which have an increasingly frustrated driver, without a camera’s witness.

Another implicit and seemingly now tolerated, and even embraced implication of the linear concept of time is chanted by American politicians in their normal political rhetoric…we are working toward a ‘more-perfect union’. As if….and the implication, from Christianity, that, after all the pain and suffering of a life on earth, the world is promised an afterlife of painless security, at least for those who ‘believe’. And that promise, while it ostensibly offers that ‘prize in the cracker-jack box of life’ of a place in heaven for eternity, nevertheless entraps many of those propagating that theology and those drinking that hope, into a state of mind and heart that, apparently would not evoke, generate and produce “good behaviour” without that carrot.

Pavlov’s dogs, salivating at the sound of that ‘bell’, however, we are not. And the Christian notion of a form of classical conditioning, complete with the sanctions of an afterlife of purgatory and/or Hell, seem to embed a deeply troubling concept of the nature of human beings as depraved, and dependent on the saving of the grace of God. And, while the Bible begins in a garden and ends in heaven, and thereby provides a template or a typology that suggests, metaphorically, that the human story is generally envisioned as the journey from the garden to the city on the hill, the very metaphor that helped elect presidents, (think especially Ronald Regan, famous for repeating the image).

Idealism, of course, is the stuff of the American psyche, and much of it has been constructed on the footings of the Christian faith. The linear concept of time, however, is clearly not only not the only or the bet or the most ethical notion of time in the universe.

Einstein’s theory of relativity in which rates of time run differently depending on relative motion, and space and time are merged into spacetime, where we live on a world line rather than a timeline. In this view, time is a coordinate. Time is neither linear or circular. It does not flow or move but allows others to do so. So, the cycles we observe have nothing to do with time, except that time will enable them to exist. (Wikipedia)

In quantum mechanics, time is understood as an external (’Classical’) concept.  So it is assumed, as in classical physics, to exist as a controller of all motion--either as absolute time or in the form of proper times defined by a classical spacetime metric (link.springer.com)

quantamagazine.org, in a piece by Dan Falk, July 19, 2016, reads this way:

According to our best theories of physics, the universe is a fixed block where time only appear to pass. Yet a number of physicisit hope to replace this ‘block universe’ with a physical theory of time….Einstein’s masterpiece, the general theory of relativity, and the ‘Standard Model of particle physics. The laws that underlie these theories are time-symmetric—that is, the physics they describe is the same, regardless of whether the variable called ‘time’ increases or decreases. Moreover, they say nothing at all about the point we call ‘now’- a special moment (or so it appear) for us, but seemingly undefined when we talk about the universe at large. The resulting timeless cosmos is sometimes called a ‘block universe’- a static block of space-time in which any flow of time, or passage through it must presumably be a mental construct or other illusion….(Other physicists think)  the universe is not static. The passage time is physical. ‘I’m sick and tired of this block universe,’ said Avshalom Elitzur, a physicist and philosopher formerly of Bar Ilan University. “I don’t think that next Thursday has the same footing as this Thursday. The future does not exist. It does not! Ontologically#, it’s not there.’

Whether or not the question of ‘time’ is amenable to some equation, or even metaphor, that encompasses reason, intuition, imagination and theology, as well as unique cultural/historical/indigenous notions, seems to be a question far beyond the ‘pay-grade’ of this scribe.

Nevertheless, how we perceive the time we ‘live’ and the time before and the time after, have had, continue to have, and will undoubtedly continue to have a significant impact on our lives, whether we are conscious of that impact or not. And, for simple minds like this scribe’s, the issue of satiety/scarcity/abundance is one that we can each grasp intellectually as well as emotionally. And how we ‘spend’ (even if the concept is not empirically measurable and verifiable) our moments, our hours, days, weeks and decades is a matter of considerable significance.

Linearity, however, seems to be a concept that warrants considered scepticism, whether from a scientific or a psychological or a spiritual or a religious perspective. And, even beginning the release of the apparent constrictions that linearity implies/implicates, is a start to a more free, and free-association with our ancestors, and those who come after us. We really are all part of the river that flows from the earliest known living things until whenever….

And that, for this scribe, is a rather considerable and momentous notion to be integrated into one’s life.


Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Reflections on the implications of enantiadromia....beyond the church

 This week we read, in Al Jazeera, that the neutrality of Austria ‘is not up for public debate’ according to leaders of mainline political parties. Having been divided by various ‘world powers’ after European conflicts, there is a strong public the commitment to neutrality. And, in the middle of Russian invasion of Ukraine, although previously the Austrians purchased 80% of their natural gas from Russia, they have now reduced that to 50%. So, there has to be some kind of at least minor in the official ‘thinking’ in Vienna. Attempting to serve as potential broker in and when there might be a peace negotiation to end the conflict, seems now to be kind of ‘wishful hope’ rather than a legitimate expectation.

Back in the1950’s James M. Minifie wrote a book entitled, “Canada: Peacemaker or Powder Monkey,” in which he concluded that Canada was a “powder-monkey in that the U.S. could launch acts of aggression against other world states and Canada would follow. And that has largely been the pattern.” (hamiltoncoalitiontostopthewar.ca)

Jean Chretien, as Prime Minister, must have been fully conscious of this theme in Canadian history when, in 2003, he declared that Canada would not join the United States in its declared war against Iraq. Canada did however join the U.S. conflict in Afghanistan in one of the longest wars in U.S. history.

The question of neutrality/engagement/choosing sides, however, is one that faces each individual, as well as each family, community, church, and government on various levels at different times. And at the centre of that tension is the question of the relationship between duty and public expectation and identity, belief, conviction and ego reality. The first, duty etc. can be referenced as the ‘mask’ or the public face that one puts on in order to ‘facilitate’ the daily and hourly encounters, in a kind of seemingly ‘scripted’ performance. The second is more closely integrated with the authentic feelings, perceptions, attitudes, beliefs and core benchmarks of one’s identity.

Public performance versus a private reality is a theme that runs through literature, all of the biographies of all of the major world figures whose lives have touched their writers and their readers, and certainly throughout the oceans of fiction that have been published.

Yesterday, this space mentioned the concept of enantiadromia, the place, condition in which the person/organization/government/corporation/church/nation flips into a state in which it (we, they) become so extreme that they turn into their opposite. Jung adds that ‘this characteristic phenomenon practically always occurs when an extreme, one-sided tendency dominates conscious life; in time an equally powerful counter-position is built up which first inhibits the conscious performance and subsequently breaks through the conscious control.” (Wikipedia.org) At the personal level, when the ”mask” (Persona) of the performance in a role subsumes the identity of the individual, the individual loses ‘sight’ of or consciousness of his/her inner identity, then the individual flips intro that state described by Margaret Laurence in The Stone Angel, “Pride was my wilderness and the demon that led me there was fear.”

A similar principle is articulated in the Chinese Yin-Yang, in that yang lines become yin when they have reached their extreme, and vice versa. Yin (dark on the right) is the receptive and yang (light on the left) the active principle. This duality, in Taoism is not an either-or but an indivisible whole. In Confucianism, however, a moral dimension is added to both yin and yang.

I first met this concept in a piece of research on a life ended tragically when I discovered the extreme of the ‘persona’ (the mask) having fused with the ego (the identity) and the individual had succumbed, at least in my interpretation to the extreme demands of his professional role which drowned his sense of his ego and left him no perceived hope. So the fusion of the mask and the ego, as the initial meeting with this concept has impacted much of my subsequent thought, feeling and perceptions.

There is, undoubtedly, a kind of either-or aspect to this kind of thinking. And yet, given that there are forces, energies, winds, and seasons, including masculine and feminine genders at work, the thinking behind these various iterations of the concept do not reduce to Manicheanism, whereby everything is either good or bad. It would seem reasonable to observer that perhaps there has been a fusion of the two ideas, in North America, whereby “Good and Bad” have gone to war, as if the forces on one side of the political ‘aisle’ see themselves as ‘good’ and that those forces on the other side of the aisle can be and are only bad. And that frozenness, (call it stubbornness, fossilized, frozen, intransigent or ….) seems to have burned the concept of nuance out of the potential for public debate. We seem to have turned to a form of extreme Confucianism and neglected the Tao. Whether that has been a collective unconscious cultural shift, or whether it has taken place at a conscious collective level, seems worthy of more study and thought.

The church (taken generally as the Christian church) has positioned itself as force dedicated to the relationship between humans and God, whereas the secular society, the economy, the political institutions and the business world sees itself as the agency (collectively) that manages the public need. And while there has been an implicit divide, (“Caesar v God”), and some theologians have written that there is no real separation between the things of the world and the things of the spirit, the religious institutions have traditionally taken a different lens, theory, modus operandi and purpose: to help humans orient to a different attitude, perception, value system, belief and praxis than that of the “street”.

As these ideas percolate, one cannot help but acknowledge that the whole notion of  “divide” whether of self, or between those aspects of human existence that we consider sacred from those aspects we consider secular, is itself a deeply “European” notion. Some are becoming familiar with the distinctions between, for example, the indigenous and the European world view. From the website, ictinc.ca (Indigenous Corporate Training Inc.) we find these words:

Eight differences between indigenous and western worldviews:

1.   I (Indigenous) Spiritually oriented society, system based on belief and spiritual world.

W (Worldview) Scientific skeptical, requiring proof as basis of belief

2.   I –There can be many truths; truths area dependent upon individual experiences

W-There is only one truth, based on science or Western style law.

 

3.   I- Society operates in a state of relatedness. Everything and everyone is related. There is real belief  that people, objects and the environment are all connected. Law kindship and spirituality reinforce this connectedness. Identity comes from connections.

W- Compartmentalized society, becoming more so.

 

4.   I- The land is sacred and usually given by a creator or supreme being.

W- The land and its resources should be available for development and extraction for the benefit of humans.

 

5.   I- Time is non-linear, cyclical in nature. Time is measured in cyclical events. The seasons are central to this concept.

W- Time is usually linearly structured and future orientated. The framework of months, years, days etc. reinforces the linear structure.

 

6.   I- Feeling comfortable is measured by the quality of your relationships with people.

W- Feeling comfortable is related to how successful you feel you have been in achieving your goals.

 

7.   I- Human beings are not the most important in the world.

W-Human beings are most important in the world.

 

8.   I-Amassing wealth is important for the good of the community.

W-Amassing wealth is for personal gain.

Given that in North America, we are influenced by forces from Europe and forces inherent to the indigenous peoples who inhabited these lands prior to the European “conquest” and “colonization”, we can see how the worldviews, perspectives, vocabulary and language of both, as well as the eastern concepts of Yin and Yang are ‘swimming’ around in the cultural ethos. And while attempting to apply the notion of enantiadromia not only to the human individual, but by extension to the ‘institutional’ psyche is necessarily a euro-based kind of argument, the lens of biology, as well as the lens of botany and zoology have frequently been deployed as metaphors for observing phenomena in other spheres (from a euro-perspective).

Recognizing in oneself, when one’s life has tipped over into the extreme in which the ‘role’ and the ‘performance’ has supplanted the ego, is, as one might expect, neither obvious, nor comfortable. The western world view of success/accomplishment/achievement/status/wealth/power have been so indoctrinated as “commonly agreed values”, and the notion of human intervention as “critical parent” has been embedded into so much of our epistemology, cosmology, and social dogma, means that from the perspective of both the law and medicine, “things we do not understand, tolerate or accept” (what we call abnormal) have been compartmentalized into ‘sickness’ or ‘criminality’. That euro-compartmentalization, has, as a consequence, imposed a kind of ‘narrow path’ on fitting in that impacts literally and metaphorically, every single person and role.

As part of our being “formed” we have what the French call  “formation professionelle”…the impact of our formal education and training on our world view. And, naturally, much of that formation has roots in euro-think.

And, as we have been reminded by Lionel Tiger in The Manufacture of Evil, that as our processes of manufacturing which have become so precise and operate in increasingly narrow margins of error, so too we have imposed a similar kind of “manufacturing tolerance” on our assessment of evil and wrong-doing. It is not difficult to speculate that, once ignited in a person, or family or institution, those guidelines for ‘acceptable’ (call it professional, ethical, normal, moral or political, conventional) become a kind of straight-jacket, (depending on one’s perspective) that either ‘liberates’ or constricts individuals (and organizations) from the prospect of become self-aware, as well as the prospect of adapting to new insights or threats or opportunities.

It says here that the conjunction of a divide between the secular and the sacred, with a highly steroidal-injected ambition to “succeed” and to “fit in” and with the methods of both manufacture and communicate that have accompanied the industrial and the technological revolutions, and the determination to ‘fit in’ to the conventional culture (both the collective conscious and the collective unconscious) that accompanies the requirements and the job descriptions of all organizational leadership and their executives, has imposed an inscrutable, inevitable, and tragic set of forces that have so crippled the heart, the mind and the spirit of both the institutions themselves and their responsible leaders, that their form has succumbed to their function.

In art, “form follows function” is the principle that the form art takes    should be based upon its intent and purpose. Some posit that form follows function, while others like Frank Lloyd Wright argue that “form and function are one”.

It is this “unity” of form and function that, in all things, physical, relational, spiritual we are, it seems, hardwired, to search for a kind of oneness…with nature, with ourselves, and with God. And this impulsion can been extrapolated, at a very basic level, from our origins….separated from the mother at birth, and then oriented to a world of highly defined, moralized, inculcated, nurtured, motivated through both extrinsic and intrinsic conditioning, and then launched into various worlds of their own “forms of conditioning”. And whether there is a deity included in the various forms of “formation”  both personal and professional, the relationships are documented in terms that can be transmitted, and both rewarded or sanctioned, depending on compliance.

And, while this process of development, psychologically, socially, intellectually, spiritually differs from region and culture, it ostensibly is designed by frameworks of language and thought that, by definition, and by observation and analysis, require significant, critical and frequently very uncomfortable and distressing and conceivably radical transformation.

If enantiadromia is one of the canaries in our collective coal mine, singing of the tip from form into exclusive function, and we can observe that negative flip, then it might be feasible to envision some warning lighthouse blinking lights that warn of the shoals of excessive and extreme commitment to something none of us can or will sustain.

The constrictions of a perfect public face, whether for an individual, a family, a church or a corporation, has the risk inherent in its perfection, of capsizing that identity. It already has in the lives of many individuals; it threatens to capsize the American ‘ship of state’ and also the so-called world order of the last several decades.

As the world tips into an excessive dependence on numbers, size, science, technology and the multiple indoctrination streams (called euphemistically the education of our youth), we risk a catastrophic collapse of the collective human consciousness and unconsciousness, as we all succumb to becoming what we are not, things, to be manipulated by some power structure outside of ourselves and outside of our control.

Monday, August 15, 2022

Can the church waken to its own enantiadromia?

 Several times, in this space, the question of faith in God, and the relationship between the institutional church and human faith, have had many words and thoughts and reflections dedicated to the river of their equations.

The decline of the Christian church, in both numbers of seats in pews and dollars in coffers, has been predicted, forecast and in some cases declared for several years. There are numerous pieces written about the ‘impossibility of the role of clergy’ in a culture in which human emotional, spiritual and social needs have, like their associated climate threat numbers, gone through the roof. Cor-relation, rather than causation is a minimal connection, and there are multiple factors in the ‘burn-out’ of both the clergy and the ecclesial institution.

While focussing on the social demands of parishioners, such as feeling abandoned if the clergy does not check in, or feeling anxious if and loved one falls ill or dies, or feeling especially depressed while facing a divorce, a job loss, an unexpected health crisis, the death of a child, or any one or more of a plethora of crises, those individual crises are much more than social ‘needs’. They are personal, existential often, and can and often do become triggers for serious long-term fragility, including psychic breakdown. And, in many cases, the clergy is expected to provide presence as a bottom-line type of service and then to assess the degree of trauma being experienced with a view to possible referral to another professional.

Rescuing alcoholics, those dependent on drugs both illicit and prescribed, and individuals whose early lives have been flooded with trauma, is a spectre of potential human issues that stretch beyond the basic needs of ‘stopping the pain’ and ‘reforming’ the daily life and habits of the individual. And, given the convergence of social and cultural attitudes, values and vocabulary, with the ideals, hopes, aspirations and beliefs of the church, those practicing at the intersection of those forces is tasked with discerning an appropriate ‘intervention time’ and both strategy and tactic. Such interventions too often require immediate crisis response, even after the paramedic and medical professions have been contacted and have begun their work.

And the difference between the prospect of an intervention by a clergy, known commonly as a ‘pastoral intervention’ is quite different from what is known as a psychiatric or psychological intervention. A clergy might begin with a silent or shared prayer, invoking words like trust, and love and a prospect of God’s love in a form and face and image that might be accessible to the person in crisis. Often, a person in such a state will utter words like, “Why is God doing this to me? I have tried to live a good life and have worked very hard, and tried not to hurt others and I do not understand the meaning of this pain.”

No deeper or fuller truth has likely every crossed a human’s lips that that deep and searing question. And, being expected to ‘answer for God’ is, of course, both impossible and also ‘expected’ at some level by the person in pain. The conjunction of a life crisis and the issue of both mortality and life meaning and purpose seem, in a large number of instances to present simultaneously. And, naturally, a single conversation, prayer, even a comforting story taken from personal experience, scripture, or a relevant piece of literature, is not going to have the impact of transforming the moment and/or the life of that person into something bearable, meaningful and founded in hope.

And while there is a human inclination to ‘care’ for those in crisis, and neighbours do it every day, in the case of a devastating fire, or a criminal act, or an untimely death, there are no formulaic words or expressions that can or need to be designed and imposed on such situations. People in public crisis are so vulnerable, fragile and recognizable that almost any person encountering them would offer comfort, a blanket, a phone call, a tourniquet if needed, and even a prayer. Professional medical personnel, like doctors and nurses, on occasion have refused to help fearing the possibility of a law suit should their intervention run ‘amok’ somehow. In some jurisdictions, Good Samaritan laws have been passed by legislatures in an attempt to ward off that resistance to help.

However, being a “Good Samaritan” as a clergy, is not only taken for granted by the general public; it is a cornerstone of the job description in most churches. And, if, for example, more than a single crisis occurs in a given morning, for a clergy in a small parish will be expected to ‘attend’ to each crisis with a deep and meaningful “intervention” appropriate and instrumental and effective in the eyes of the family in stress. And, by the way, the situation first encountered must never have any visible, audible or even mood impact on the second encounter. Such a ‘porous’ psychic, emotional and cognitive failure of boundary would be held as a serious failure in professional conduct, if not by the respective families, then certainly by any supervising superior.

Crisis intervention, and management, while important, is not necessarily the prime item on a clergy’s job assignment. “Showing up”, however, or not, will be considered a sine qua non of any satisfactory job performance review. Whether or not the intervention was ‘appropriate,’ fulfilling or even commensurate with the situation is such a subjective assessment and open to multiple and conflicting views and interpretations that the clergy can, and often is, left hanging out on a limb of professional dissatisfaction, if not actual termination. And, pour the various now public-gossip iterations of the intervention into a crock-pot of fundraising attempts, building repairs, volunteer training and assignment, liturgy preparation on a weekly and even a ‘special holy day’ nature, conflict among parish lay men and women, and a church hierarchy calling for the quarterly financial report that is overdue by three week, hypothetically,….and it is not hard to envision a clergy, whether a man or a woman, who is risking frayed nerves. And those frayed nerves are jangling inside the muscles and the blood stream, into the digestive system and also into the coffee shop where it is conceivable that the clergy encounters two of the more dissatisfied parishioners having coffee.

Of course, the clergy, steeped in and schooled in some of the supporting theology of pain and suffering, from the stories of Jesus, and the time in the wilderness of angst, one of the more supportive and inspiring narratives in the New Testament, will be silently returning to those stories as an essential spiritual nourishment in the midst of the whirlwind blowing around and through the parish. And, if you think that this hypothetical ‘picture’ of a clergy’s life is exaggerated, please rest assured it is not. Of course, not every day or every week is flooded with crisis, and yet there is a tendency among church regulars to ‘take the affairs of the church’ (all of the people, the dollars the numbers and the stories that are sliding over the internet and across the coffee shop tables, and over the bank counters, and into the doctor’s offices) extremely seriously. It is as if, for many, their church affiliation is an extension of or a surrogate for one’s personal family. And guarding and protecting the reputation of that ‘church’ is one of the top priorities in their spiritual pilgrimage, as worshippers of God. Indeed, for many, they are ‘doing God’s work’ in whenever and however, and with whomever they ‘act’ as part of that church community.

In fact, those ‘obligations’ including assuming official church roles in leadership, in choir membership, in altar guild discipline and membership, in church education leadership, in social activities co-ordinating are, for many, far more important than any private reflections about how their attitudes, actions, words and relationship might reflect on the kind of theology they might be living. Collecting the collection on Sunday morning, or serving at the altar on Sunday morning and then offering a character assassination of a parishioner or a clergy on Monday in the lunch-room at work seems to be missed as a personal example of how one might connect the dots in one’s own life.

And, it is precisely this notion of “judgement” as epitomized by the Christian church’s basic theology, in which the conventional interpretation of the Garden of Eden story, finds all human beings and defines us all as ‘sinful’ and needing the grace of God to be free from that sin, that is not only a theological abstract, but a practising ritual, baked into the cake of each and every parish in which I have worked and worshipped. Judgement, perhaps euphemistically considered a preparation for the Eschaton, when a final judgement is to be levied, lies at the heart of the church’s social, psychic, cultural, historical and existential identity.

And, merged into that ‘less-than-adequate’ picture, of course, is the natural self-assessment, whether conscious or unconscious, that one is never enough. And lying at the heart of the clergy’s pain is the notion that s/he can and will never be enough, depending on the perspective of the ‘assessor’….and certainly of the ultimate assessor, God.

Only if and through a serious transformation of the church’s co-dependence on a theology that demeans and reduces both God and each of us, through our inherent evil will the church and the clergy see a radically different approach to the ordinary and inevitable pain of ageing, social discrimination, gender politics and even parish administration. And the “more abundant” life that the gospel speaks about will not be integral to the church’s basic message, as well as its modus operandi will require a shift from the formal Christian doctrine of sin and evil, to a more God-centered and human-supportive personal and organizational commitment to ‘help’ and to care for each person and family, as depicted in the Great Law of Peace of the Haudenosaunee people.

Recognizing that each of us is capable of erring, and straying from our best decisions and choices, and in most, if not all, of those instances, there are forces that are at least implicated in such choices, First Nations peoples have discerned that the ‘good mind’ is the natural state of their people and each person is capable of returning to that good mind, if only after authentic and unconditional help and care are available.

Also, from myjewishlearning.com, we read:

Judaism teaches that human beings are not basically sinful. We come into the world neither carrying the burden of sun committed by our ancestors nor tainted by it. Rather, sin, chet, is the result of our human inclinations, the yetzer, which must be properly channeled. Chet literally means something that goes astray. It is a term used in archery to indicate that an arrow has missed the target. This concept of sin suggests a straying from the correct ways, from what is good and straight. Can humans be absolved of their failure and rid themselves of their guilt? The ideology of Tom Kippur answers: Yes.

And while rabbi’s are also ‘burning out’ while attempting to address the needs and the demand of their communities, their faith has a very different attitude to that of the Christian church.

There is no deity worthy of the appellation who would condemn or would expect any disciple to conduct their relationship with that deity in the manner in which the politically and socially and reputationally perfect church is attempting to operate. And, at the heart of this perspective is the inevitable and invariable notion that such “perfectionism” generates a protective mask of hidden truth, sometimes known, in psychological terms as the Shadow, which has grown like a colony of barnacles over the church’s institutional ‘ego’ leading to an inevitable enantiodromia*. When things get to their extreme, they turn into their opposite.

And the Christian church, in order to begin the process out of this fusion of the ‘public face and the Shadow’ will start by publicly and painfully acknowledging its institutional, historical and theological Shadow.

And, in that painful and dark process, there is a light, not only for the institution, but for the people who find even more enlightenment and spiritual energy in their affiliation.

*enantiodromia—the tendency of things to change into their opposites, especially as a supposed governing principle of natural cycles and of psychological development.

Friday, August 12, 2022

Moving from bromides to responsibility?

 Yesterday I listened as an apparently well-known television actor uttered the words that he said captured the essence of his many addresses to graduates from high schools and colleges: carpe diem. (“Seize the day!”)

Very noble, very Roman, and also, somewhat sadly, very North American.

“Youth is a wonderful thing. It is a shame it has to be wasted on the children” is a quote generally attributed to George Bernard Shaw and it has some useful and cogent guardrails for those giving commencement addresses to the youth.

There is a kind of flaccid and obvious ring to the carpe diem moniker. It has become so cliché, and while bearing a kernel of truth, nevertheless, ultimately falls far short of inspiring and challenging young minds. Indeed, it could be said that those defaulting to that theme invariably and inevitably fall victim to the co-dependent trap. Of course, the young graduates (now even as young as three or four in kindergarten) are over-flowing with relief, anticipation, expectation and an impatience to get the formal ceremonies over with and get on with the parties. Over the last couple of decades, the call to empowerment for women has been  another of the preferred themes selected by commencement speakers. Another in more military institutions has been the call to duty to serve the national interests of the respective country. Of course, ‘making a living’ and ‘chasing the brass ring’ has also resounded in the business schools, and over a more than half-century, that venue has also heard a chorus of enlightened management and leadership.

One of the more enlightened, courageous and creative leader on the modern world stage currently (since 2017) is Prime Minister of New Zealand. Jacinda Ardern called on graduates in Harvard’s Class of 2022 to pursue “genuine debate and dialogue” in order to protect democracy. (She) told graduates to ‘treat difference with empathy and kindness-those values that exist in the space between difference and division. We are richer for our difference, and poorer for our division. Through genuine debate and dialogue, through rebuilding trust in information and one another, through empathy- let us reclaim the space in between….(Warning against the role of disinformation, she went on “The time has come for social media companies and other online providers to recognize their power and to act on it. The issues we navigate as a society will only intensify. The disinformation will only increase. The pull into the comfort of our tribes will be magnified. But we have it within us to ensure that this doesn’t mean that we will fracture. (Pointing to the deadly terrorist attacks at two mosques in Christ Church New Zealand in 2019 she said)..We have the forums for online providers and social media companies to work on these issues alongside civil society and governments. Let’s start with transparency in how algorithmic processes work and the outcomes they deliver. But let’s finish with a shared approach to responsible algorithms-because the time has come. (from thecrimson.com May 26, 2022)

And while there are flecks of the carpe diem theme in her address, there are challenging and hopefully motivating connections between the kind of education and culture to which the grads have been exposed and with which they have been imbued and the wider world. She mined some of the more cogent warning signs that threaten to derail civilized debate around the world.

And, “in the Senior English Address titled ‘The Caged Bird Sings’, the first popularly elected Black male student body president in the history of the college-spoke about how the resilience of his enslaved ancestors encouraged him to speak out for those less advantaged. ‘We must see ourselves in those who are caged, (Noah A. Harris, 22) said. We must use our talents to help them, but most of all, we must be proximate enough to hear the tune of their song.

Before the spurning and the guffawing from the peanut-gallery on the right, incensed that Harvard would be the model chosen for this piece, let’s give credit where it is due. These addresses, both, in their specificity, and in their motivation from the speaker and then transmitted to their audience, are pieces not merely of sound rhetoric and scholarship; they are also ‘spot-on’ in their diagnosis of two of the most challenging mountains this graduating class, and all of us, currently face. And while the news media is focussed on the floods, the draughts, the fires, the mass shootings and killings, the war in Ukraine, and the Chinese war-games in the Taiwan Strait, and the threatened assassination of John Bolton and others by Iranian Revolutionary Guard, and the growing dangers of pandemic viruses…the graduation ceremony is and once again has been demonstrated to be, another opportunity to lay down markers of truth, reality and hurdles on which graduates, their parents and families, and the wider world might consider.

And it is the shared consideration, not only of the import of these remarks on the political and economic and academic leaders in our society, but on the bus drivers, the nurses, the civil servants and the teachers among us, that, by itself, has the potential to shape the construction of the social highway out of the hell demise (on so many levels) and into the potential of a shared consumption, recycling, re-using and re-creating, not only of the consumables we devour but more importantly the values, attitudes, perceptions and interactions we share both with biological humans and with our avatars from the algorithms.

There has been a stampede, for well over four decades, into the “wealth-pools” of the financial services sector, headed by many of the graduates of schools like Harvard, Yale and other Ivy League schools. And that stampede’s reverberations are still being heard and felt along the veins and the capillaries and the arteries in the towns and cities of the heartland. Holding an extrinsic brass ring, proverbially and theatrically imaged as a ‘pot of gold’ as the highest rung on the social, political and societal ladder of success, a la a Horatio Alger, author of young adult novels about impoverished boys and their rise from humble backgrounds to lives of middle-class security and comfort through good works, as seen in the ‘rags-to-riches’ stories and aided in the development of the Gilded Age, is no longer either appropriate nor tolerable.

The pursuit and the acquisition of personal wealth, as the core value of capitalism, has so morphed into a surrogate theology, that it can be said to have been fed an overdose of a cultural drug that emulated thalidomide. “Prescribed to many pregnant women in order to relieve pregnancy nausea, the drug caused irreversible damages to the fetus and thousand of children were born with severe congenital malformations. Many of them did not survive more than a few days after they were born.” (from thalidomide.ca, the website of the Thalidomide Victims of Canada)

Easing personal and societal pain, through some extrinsic, prescribed formula, whether of the chemical or the economic variety, is, nevertheless, is the life-blood of those opportunists who seek ‘instant gratification’ regardless of whom that gratification might impact or how. The energy that is required to over-see, to monitor, to inspect, and to devise and impose and then enforce regulations and controls on the production of all experimental ideas, including those from the chemists lab and also those from the investors vaults and boardrooms, all of them designed to inject steroids into the profit-motive, in both the shortest and the least expensive manner, is far less sexy and exciting than the inventor’s legends of small town garages. And, in the current political climate, those regulations, controls and guardrails that exist to protect us from the unfettered capitalism are too often considered to be restriction of personal freedom, and then inflated into historic cadences of a kind of autocracy and tyranny with which the world is all too familiar.

When we step back to examine the equation that pits

‘instant gratification’ plus release of physical/emotional pain plus available cash…we too often get a kind of seduction that we have seen from the tobacco industry, the pharmaceutical industry, and certainly the political establishment that relies on the cheques from those sectors. Inject into such an economy, the epic arsenal of the RNA, also funded by the right, and then produce theatre that is so addicted both to the audience’s appetite for sex, violence and instant heroism (really metaphors for the orgiastic), and then, without actually performing the excision and removal of the spine of those recipients of the political donations, to be replaced by the slick, cash-paved, propaganda-flooded highway to retaining power, and we have what we now face, a self-immolating democracy.

And, while forest fires of historic proportions are motivating leaders like the Governor of California, where the existential threat is in his and his constituents faces every moment of every day, such attitude and actions based on exigency have not filtered through the veil of denial, avoidance, prevarication, and irresponsibility in Washington, at least among Republican in the trump cult.

And those attitudes, conspiratorial addictions and dependencies, like the early pain of pregnant mothers, is fed the thalidomide of trump lies, trump delusions, and trump sycophants. It may feel like an easy, accessible and effective topical pain pill; however, it is far more toxic and dangerous than that pain-relieving pill in the 1960’s.

It is the need for relief from that pain, similar to the need for the elimination of the menstrual cycle (another marketing opportunity for pharma) and also similar to the perverted, distorted arguments for ‘stand your ground’ killings, and banned books that attempt to paint a real and honest picture of the nation’s slavery, racism and its implications (Critical Race Theory*).

Those exhortations to debate and dialogue from the Prime Minister of New Zealand, and delivered to the 2022 graduating class at Harvard are notes for the social, political, economic, environmental and ethical debate in which we are all currently engaged. Authentic debate and dialogue depends, by definition on the concurrence of individuals about the current reality, the facts we all face, and then also embraces a plethora of workable and necessary steps to bring us back from the brink of our own demise.

And from Noah A. Harris, ‘we must see ourselves as those caged’….if we are ever to come to a place, in our own minds, first, and then in our circles, and then into the wider global theatre in which we all breath, and from which we drink our water and from the ground and sea of which we forage our food…ultimately to take responsibility for our own lives and for the lives of our grandchildren.

Are we really listening?

 * Critical Race Theory is a cross disciplinary intellectual and social movement of civil-rights scholars and activists who seek to examine the intersection of race, society and law in the United States and to challenge mainstream American liberal approaches to racial justice. (Wikipedia)

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Another sad disagreement with Christian fundamentalism

 There is a rolling drum-beat coming from many Christian churches declaring the world’s ‘need for God’….And the ‘sales pitch’, while familiar and somewhat historic, nevertheless, reeks of more desperation on the part of the church than it does of the desperation of the world. Phrases like, ‘the time is now for the church to be that Holy, Chosen, and Called Ones of God to clearly step up to the plate’ sound like a clarion call for God and for those chosen to ‘step up to the plate’ and warriors of the kingdom.

 While uttered, scribbled, prayed or even included in a homily, these words are anathema to the faith, devolving from the premise that believers are holy and separate and ‘Chosen’ and ‘Called’. Not only is the rhetoric hollow as a sales pitch, it is even more hollow as a theology.

The notion that God, the Christian God, the Hebrew or the Muslim God, the Hindu needs to have a “special forces brigade’ of saved individuals, as his army to save the world, is both pretentious, specious and tendentious. The notion comes from one who, as a proverbial story about such ambassadors of this theology goes, turns to the few adolescents in his car while driving them to a church event, takes his hands off the steering wheel and proclaims that God is now driving the car. It is also redolent of the Sunday School teacher who, while orienting new volunteers to the program, indicates, following the direction of the teacher’s manual from David Cook’s curriculum, “these are the words to say to the five-year-old’s who are saved, and these, different words, are those reserved for the five-year-old’s who are not saved.”

Rubbish, and the examples are not summoned up from an over-exuberant imagination. They are documented from a small stint as a clergy in small parishes where I followed this kind of theology. And where, to the surprise of none of those parishioners at that time, I was formally confronted by one of their ‘leading members’ and told to pack my bags, and leave the church and the town. I had been delivering a small number of homilies, based on a more liberal and less literal interpretation of both scripture and tradition, and was already deemed a ‘heretic’. When an announcement was handed to me during the offertory hymn in mid-service, without previous warning or viewing, and told to announce the screening of a video on Tuesday evening that week, (again to demonstrate how heretical were the homilies I had been writing and delivering) of course, I put the announcement in a pocket, without uttering a word of its content. Subsequently, I wrote to the ‘leading member’ a letter outlining his resignation as ‘warden’ from that congregation, and delivered it to his business address.

Sales pitches, in the church known as evangelism, that not merely suggest a divide between those who are Christians from those who are not saved, is a scourge not only on the faith itself, but on the whole community. It designates a single passage, under the direction of those already saved, to a consummated relationship with God through Jesus Christ. It also postulates a reading and interpretation of scripture that fails to acknowledge the poetic, the mythic, the historic and the legal as very different forms of thought and writing, irrespective of the extensive historic nature of scripture, and the multiple human minds, hearts, bodies and spirits that have had their part in its delivery.

The ‘road to Damascus’ bright light conversion written about by Paul, and then held up as the eye of a needle through which God intends and expects those who are seeking a relationship seems about as kindergarten-like and reductionistic a proposition that does not and cannot withstand scrutiny as a proposition of a faith worthy of the name. And yet, steeped in such interpretation, are many in both the pulpits and also in the theological schools as instructors who have a considerable following.

This kind of theology, however, while leaning toward the kind of dichotomous, binary, Manichean view of salvation that has not and will not penetrate the consciousness of some of us. And any sustained search for God, (itself a phrase fraught with meaning, complexity, nuance, dynamism, poetry, music, art, and even a prospect of spiritual health) has to be considered one of the more ephemeral, mysterious, mystical and both delicate and substantive journeys of the whole person imaginable. As the Pope uttered on a plane when asked about the “faith” of the gay and lesbian community, “Who am I to judge?”….a statement repeated and echoed around the globe for its surprise and its humility and its historic breakthrough the seemingly steel curtain of exclusion that has precluded such a papal utterance for centuries.

A child-like dependence, again based on a phrase from scripture, “Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3), that has been reduced to a single-minded innocence and submission to something like the will of God, through the saving grace of Jesus Christ, who died for ‘your sins on Calvary. There are, as we are all aware, multiple paths to changing and becoming like children. For some of us, that notion starts with a kind of awe and mystery and the appeal of both a story and a potential relationship that knows no boundaries and limits to its expectations. It cannot and must not be reduced to a simplistic, reductionistic total and absolute submission and surrender of one’s mind, body and spirit to this deity, as defined by some humans. And the Manichean nature of such a black and white faith posture, leaves those embracing it, and the faith itself vulnerable to the exclusive and superior component of abuse of its self-appointed, anointed and deployed power, in the name of God.

Manicheanism, is a faith that breaks everything down into good or evil. For Augustine, one of the primary pillars of Christian theology, according to  Roland J. Teske S.J. writing in the Catholic Historical Review, January 2011, pp 112-113, reviewing David BeDuhn’s ‘Augustine’s Manichean Dilemma,’ writes: (BeDuhn’s) “study, has for the first time, made Augustine’s conversion to the Manichean religion and his remaining in it so long intelligible for me. He argues that Manicheanism offered a religion to the young Augustine that promised to satisfy his deepest spiritual and intellectual aspirations--aspirations that remained much the same for Augustine the apostate from Manicheanism and new convert to Catholic Christianity.”

It (Manicheanism) is such an easily grasped perspective and the binary, dual, either-or concept has had considerable prominence throughout western history. Comparisons of related concepts, through research that postulates a null hypothesis to be disproven, for example, is one application. News and public affairs frames are historically and traditionally deemed to be a ‘position’ by one source countered by an opposing view from another source. In the court rooms, the plaintiff offers a version of the facts, while the defendant offers a different version of those same facts. Literature is seeded with multiple examples of so-called “Good” characters in conflict with so-called “bad characters” with more minor characters often serving as the porridge that brings them to the same table (metaphorically).

And yet, at the root of most of these “systems” of thought, is a primary concept: the focus on the literal, the nominal, and the tension that exists, (or we assume, or postulate, or profess, or believe or actual attempt to demonstrate) between one aspect of each nominal* notion and another.

In such a culture, ostensibly deemed by its political, economic and many of its theological and spiritual leaders to be “Christian” in some form and to some varying degree, much public discourse, and too much so-called theological and spiritual discourse, including the above quotes, are little more than heated (yet still dark and unimaginative, and uninspiring) debates about the ‘correctness’ of one position or view and the error of another.

“Is Hitler in heaven?” was hotly debated in first year in seminary at Huron College in 1988.

Is the apocalypse near? Is another such question that has fueled debates for centuries and even driven religions apart.

Does God have a class of ‘chosen’ people? Is another of those questions to which an either-or approach too often is applied, by people sincere in their faith.

What is the difference between faith and perception? And what role does perception and world view have in the development of a faith?

Who/what/where is God? Is another of those proverbial questions that tends to divide believers from non-believers.

Does DNA, or the Big Bang, or the mystery of the universe confirm or deny, or complicate the question of the existence of God?

Is war an instrument of God, or does God prefer peace?,,,,similar to the age-old, does God support capital punishment for criminal behaviour?

Is solitary confinement God’s chosen path to rehabilitation for criminals?...

The questions are endless,….and yet the answers are too often reduced to one side or another….as in the recent ‘abortion debate’.

The definition of a fetus, (at conception, or later) has consumed both tank-fulls of ink, and eons of air time among those contending on both sides….and yet, if we are open to a more tolerant, compassionate, complex and less simplistic notion of how we might regard this issue, along with many other issues, we might be able to take a view as a culture that, while preferring a general overview and stance, could still see the ethical value of individual situations in a manner that might try to emulate a less constricted and less rigid and less dogmatic application of “our personal” view of God’s will.

While I disagree with attempting to sell Christianity, and believe fully that such prosletyzing has resulted in both theological thought and praxis that has been detrimental both to the church and to the relationship between humans and God. And, lying at the heart of the western culture’s religion is the notion of evil, and the acts that comprise that empire, and especially the people who are accused, convicted and punished for their crimes.

Only recently have we begun to hear tentative rumblings about the correlation between young lives that have been seriously abused and the projected actions of many of those abused into their adult lives…and that kind of research and social policy has to be taken into account, as does the most recent discoveries about the multiple universes out there, by those who would take up the mantle of thinking about and reflecting upon and praying about the Christian faith. And such a project will need both the best efforts of clergy and laity, given the narrowness of mind and heart and spirit of too many standing in the pulpit.

 

*nominalism, of or pertaining to names, is the ontological theory that reality is only made up of particular items, denying the existence of general entities like properties, species, universals sets, or other categories.