Tag Archives: christianity

“All they lack is experience of something other than themselves…”

Day Four of The Challenge: we get a wee bit protesty.

Secret Life

Black death creeps across the streets
Teen girls cover their mouths as the boybands sing
Eulogies to their prepackaged hells
All they lack is experience of something other than themselves

Every surface stained with perfection’s lie
Women starve themselves to fit the ever narrowing eye
And seeking to avoid their karmic pain
The insured pop pills to feel good and act all the same
(forget your prayers and rewire your brain)

Poor man’s cardboard reads: “SPARE SOME CHANGE”
Rich man’s lawn littered with politician’s names
And that eruption on Capitol Hill
Ain’t terrorism but expansion of the shareholder’s will
(All hail the Almighty Dollar Bill)

And those who’d spend their lives in protest
Often end up seeing only what the most detest
And if belief becomes a man’s definition
I’ll put my faith not in defiance, but rather invention

So hush my dear that none of this will touch you
Allow the bitter skin to open up upon the sweet fruit
And if you search beyond the evident Joys & Ills
I promise you, you will find
The secret life that fulfills.

The Great Lego Analogy

Having access to the Lego bucket of raw data, humans are compelled to make operating structures to interface the millions of bits into manageable chunks. Some choose to build houses to dwell in, others are lit with the wish to craft spaceships that will ferry them through the asteroid field of experience, where they might glean valuable minerals and alien organisms for further research. Others build to see how gravity works (philosophers), or purely under an experimental Geist (such as artists).

By this analogy, belief-systems are like meta-structures, or templates that people adopt and subsequently model their buildings upon. Each religion (or school), and each denomination (or discipline), possesses certain characteristics that appeal to distinct types of thinking, feeling, and action. And within each system there are those who wish to follow the template more or less exactly, and who distrust any deviation from those instructions (or interpretations thereof).

As well, those who exist outside such constructs sometimes see them as prisons, even as insulting to their intelligence, which finds fulfillment in the act of exploration and experiment. These persons see truth as always in flux, and frame the game as a contest of invention.

While this playmate is sitting crisscross applesauce in the rainbow pile, the others have taken their accepted models and started playing house or battlebots, until an accident or vigorous playmate breaks their construct, and back to the template they must go.

Returning to the pile for a missing piece, there they find the inventor/ investigator, who has already discovered a few novel combinations in the chaos of potentiality. Sadly, each of these are lying forgotten in a pile behind him, discarded by the hands already onto something else.

Deconstructing the Greatest Commandment

From Matthew 22:36-40

36“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Considering this over breakfast, my thoughts kept gravitating to the first part of the commandment: “Love the Lord your God with your heart and soul and mind.”

Well, what does that mean, to Love God? Paul famously writes (in I Corinthians, ch. 13):

4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

But every single action on this list can only be applied to terrestrial matters. How do you be kind to God? How do you protect God? Christians tend to personify God in Jesus, in order, perhaps, to get a better handle on the concept, but practically, if there is a God, then there is no possible way a mere organism on a rock spinning listless at the edge of a galaxy can comprehend the frightful magnitude of such a—I can’t even call him a “being” without somehow reducing him.

We say God is Love, yet feel our skin crawl when we see one insect devour another. And others will rage at God for the great injustices of history—yet each night they find peace and obliteration—even if only for an hour of sleep.

As humans I believe we are incredibly limited. Furthermore, we seek to limit everything we come into contact with in order to comprehend it. The walls, tables and chairs around me right now are composed of organized energy—but were I to comprehend everything as knots and loops of atoms, I would be of very little use to other people.

God needs context—not for his sake, but for ours. God the word is thought to come from “Khoda”, meaning the one invoked. Allah and YHVH are both conjectured to be echoics of the act of breathing.

To get down to it: To love God a man has to love everything around him, everything he comes into contact with, he must show no prejudice at all, but be all-accepting, perfectly beneficent, entirely sympathetic, and free of any judgment. And the heart works against this, and the mind works against this too, by design they limit man’s perception of reality into a “me” and a “you”, into a “this” and a “that”, into “want” and “diswant”—

So I guess J.C. was using hyperbole again, shattering the constructs of the religious by saying: “Perhaps you have learned to love yourself by following the rules you inherited—but have you learned to love you wife—have you learned to love your neighbor—have you learned to love your country—have you learned to love the world? Tell me, you who banter about laws, and speak of the Creator as if you can know his will—how big is your heart—is it large enough to step from your containing commandments and meet reality uninhibited? How open can you be?

The Problem with The Problem of Evil

I have informally studied human nature through my exposure to 2–5 year olds over the last decade. There is this odd phenomenon that occurs right when a child is about to become potty trained: they invariably become little shits, or pricks, or assholes (I use these terms deliberately, because it became obvious to me that they are explicitly related to the lower functions). The defiant child will give you this knowing look as they intentionally violate some line or rule—screaming at nap, pulling someone’s hair with impunity—throwing a fit exactly when it’s most inconvenient for you. Even the sweet child contracts a spark of rebelliousness during this period, and I think it is directly related to self control: they are filled with joy that they have power—something they had ignorantly assumed, but now can exercise by choice.

Now, I was raised in the James Dobson “dare to discipline” days. So I got a sound spanking when it was reported, by mom to dad, that I has been overly defiant. My parents were by no means abusive or all that hard line, but my dad had a BIG issue with what he called “the rebellious nature of man.” This attitude toward Sin, while correct in a literally Biblical sense, had the effect of planting in me a fear of authority (I recall, in highschool, seeing a “Question Authority” sticker and growing physically nauseous). I also grew to distrust of my own self direction, and this lead to an overreaction on my part once I reached adulthood. I had to break every rule with vicious aptitude, to test what was in me, through my own experience. In a word, it made me very, very angry, for a spell, and I wound up derailing my progress as a human for a few years, as what I wound up breaking wasn’t The Law, but my own person, which I subsequently had to rebuild.

Now, I am a theist—and a monotheist at that. I believe there is an up and a down, and there is significant pressure on us to fall, and we need inner guidance to travel upward. (Furthermore, I can’t imagine that hell and heaven are binary states—life is plotted on a spectrum, from lowest slug to highest heavenly sphere, so how could the spiritual realm be either “Godly” or “Hellish”?) That being said—the biblical language regarding sin, evil and rebellion was written at an early stage of society’s development. And just as a child sees things—or, rather, gravitates towards the Allegorical and the Cartoonish, biblical language paints the world in thick lines and with primary colors. But once we mature, there is a need to view shades of grey, and subtler distinctions between courses of action, and the question arises: what is the intent behind an action?

For a rebellious child, a large part of their difficult or deplorable behavior has to do with exerting their sense of power—and in that instant, it is wise of the adult to be unemotional when countering and redirecting them. When I have responded in anger to such displays, that anger has stuck with me, and makes me feel bad. But there have been instances when using my own dominance—physical or audible—quickly, severely, and without spite—have seemed appropriate, especially when violence is occurring.

There are many more issues to suss out here, about human and subhuman nature, but I wanted to highlight this point: such charged words as damnation and hell need to be translated into more grownup language. Subtlety and an appreciation of hyperbole and irony, context and culture must be employed in this day and age, if this issue is to be made useful for us who live complex and multifaceted lives.

“Faith, not religion, is the enemy.”

—opined the atheist. To which I replied:

Faith is unavoidable, for everyone is forced at points to posit unsubstantiated claims, even if only as stopgaps to gloss the transit from A to B. Now, being unable to modify these assumptions (or beliefs), that is a sign of mental or emotional calcification, which is caused by laziness, stubbornness, or in response to a perceived threat (for obstinacy is a form of armor).

I don’t necessarily disagree with you, but to discount the human capacity to have faith in what is not immediately graspable overlooks the role this capacity has in how we develop our lives, both personally and in the historic context.

Only experience can verify faith or knowledge. This hurdle seems to mock theists and atheists without particular prejudice.

Self Examination is the Yoga of the Opinionated Heart

…keeping one flexible and [redacted unnecessary reference to yoga pants].


(The following is taken from a dialogue I had in /r/christianity at reddit.com)

Me: After spending some time outside the church in my early twenties, I went to visit my parents (my father is a pastor) and I was overwhelmed with an uncomfortable feeling during the worship portion of the service. It felt too ’emotional’ to me. People sounded like they were using their hearts to comprehend and interact with the divinity, rather than creating a calm, quiet space inside where the Divine activity could manifest.

Adversely, a couple years later I was in Europe and I saw an old, old, old wooden door. I thought “Hey: a landmark!” and I pushed myself inside.

Little did I know it was a place of worship. And it was the beginning of Mass.

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Religious Spirituality: a sliding scale

This is from a mini-essay I wrote to an atheist community, in the hopes of eliciting some discussion on the shallowness and depth of believers. It borrows heavily from the talks of Pak Subuh.

The Islamic tradition details four levels of religious experience: the lowermost is “shari’at”, where one accepts the revealed truth of a religion and its rules and regulations. This is the faith that most people hold: it is based wholly on acceptance of inherited truths. In this faith, it is enough to say the words and do the motions and then go on with your day. When people of this level speak about faith or reality, their language sounds like a ‘code’ to the outsider, they tend to bend all arguments to their narrowing viewpoint, and they come off as either pompous, batty or ambiguous— this is because they have not yet made the accepted truths their own, and so are unable to translate their faith into the present moment, be it in a dialogue or argument or some lackadaisical pedestrian philosophizing. Again: these are the most common type of believers. Disparaging religion for their sake is like denouncing bluegrass because country radio sucks.

The second level is called “tarekat”—this is where a believer begins to think: “Okay, I say what I should say, and do what I should do—but why? What is the meaning behind these words and morals?” This type of believer is not necessarily more ‘open minded’ than the preceding, but they are more deep minded about their beliefs. Most pastors and ministers fit into this tier. When speaking of matters of faith they will often have anecdotes to share, and will be able to communicate the subtleties of their creedo more or less smartly and with varying degrees of panache. However, communication will break down once the topic of direct experience is broached. They are still restrained to the traditional belief system, and won’t be able to comfortably walk into atheistic territory with you because they must stay close to their central tenants to make sense of things. Disparaging religion for their sake is like denouncing Apple based solely on their closed iOS platform—that is, most of their beliefs are based on a “design philosophy” that allows this and disallows that—and if they don’t jive with you, it’s more or less a matter of personal taste, not essential reality.

Now here is where things get interesting. The third level of religious devotion is called, in Islam, the “hakekat”. This means reality. You will find these persons rarely, but you will find them even among atheists. These are the ones for whom beliefs and statements are tertiary, where actual reality is central. They shine with an ‘inner light’—because they live by example: they know that teaching is the biggest lie, that everyone needs to come to terms with the terms of life on their own.

There is a fourth level, but that doesn’t really apply to normal people. We could say this fourth level is there—“ma’rifat” by name—as the sort of Ideal to be attained. It means an at-one-ment (to pilfer a shimmering jewel from Dan Brown) with the spiritual process. These are the prophets: they are a statistical improbability.