A CULTURE OF LIES

 

Liberal Protestant theology has its roots

in Friedrich Schleiermacher who spoke of

the basic goodness of humans/the inevitable progress of culture/

the ethical imperative of love, and played down

sin/the judgment of God/the miracles of Jesus/the Resurrection –

Schleiermacher bought into secular beliefs in his landmark book

On Religion: Speeches to its Cultural Despisers.

 

But Schleiermacher was naïve:

so much of contemporary politics/advertising/sex

violates the Fourth Buddhist Precept of Mindful Speech –

people lie to start wars/get votes/sell products/have sex –

it’s a culture of lies that bows to the Father of Lies –

Schleiermacher should have titled his book

On Religion: Speeches to Cultural Liars.

 

According to Buddhism:

a Bodhisattva is not contained in the world –

rather she contains the world

and holds it in her jewelled hands.

 

According to Islam:

Mohammed supernaturally received fragments of the Koran

in a trance between 610CE and his death in 622CE –

he was illiterate so he simply recited what Allah taught.

 

According to Christianity:

doctrine saves no one

salvation comes from an existential confession

that for you, personally, “Jesus Christ is Lord!”

Christianity based on doctrine alone is dead –

Christians must be involved

in the suffering of the world.

 

To this end Jesus criticized the cultured men of religion –

the Pharisees – for their hypocrisy

and then attacked the cultured men of affairs –

the Sadducees – for their oppression of the poor –

Jesus wanted the leaders to model a spiritual kingdom

whereas the Pharisees and Sadducees

modelled the kingdom of Rome

a culture of lies just like our own.

LIFE IS A GOOD TEACHER

Life is a good teacher and a good friend

because it is always in transition

and therefore open-ended and non-aggressive.

The astronomer’s telescope, through Copernicus

pushed over God’s throne –

the stable center of planet Earth.

Religion was not ready for this shift

from Earth as Center of All

to the Universe as Center.

If each star in the Milky Way Galaxy was a grain of sand

you would need a colossal dump truck

to contain the two hundred billion stars.

Western religion has been challenged

by science and other world religions

particularly the power of Islam.

Certain themes run through the Qur’an

and create strong motives of desire and fear:

the power and glory of God/the terrors of the Fire/

the joys of Paradise.

In Buddhism and Christianity, the sutras and gospels

are not the living teachings of Buddha and Christ –

the living teaching can only be had

by living/practicing/acting upon what was taught –

then you do not just believe the teachings

you know them to be true.

Then living unlimited love/

meaningful human work/interreligious dialogue

help all things evolve to the fullness

of the Universal Christ

as the Lamb or the G.O.A.T. –

the Greatest Of All Time –

the Center of the Universe.

THE LIMITS OF REASON

In religion, only non-dual seers are the experts

the only ones who can hold contrary/opposites together.

One non-dual seer was Augustine

who perceived that God is

merciful yet just

ancient yet new

hidden yet present.

There is an ambiance of

light/peace/wisdom

around great sages –

even when they are not present

their life and words show us the way.

Similar to Augustine

the author of the Cloud of Unknowing

was not anti-intellectual

but believed reason is limited:

God cannot be known by thought –

only by love.

Reason by itself alone would give us

God as a loveless clock-maker

who winds up the universe like a toy

and lets it run on its own till it runs out

in which case all revelation/ scripture/prophecy

are irrelevant.

The ‘dialectic of progress’ is ongoing

gains and losses – one era sees and solves

the problems of the previous era

but then has its own problems

but there is a net gain

and therefore a direction to evolution.

God is the direction.

If rational people equate holiness

with perfection – for this is what reason dictates –

these ‘perfect people’ would not see

their shadow, and project it onto others.

The more shadow is repressed

the more it grows, becomes autonomous

and dangerous.

If you haven’t worked through

your personal complexes then repressed conflict

between say, sex and religion, prevents you

from getting to the transcendental level.

We need to feel the fear

and make it our companion, not our enemy.

Beyond the shadow

Vedanta Hinduism warns:

If you think your Higher Self is God

and you are not your body

you won’t get out of the way

of a charging elephant –

you will be crushed.

It is important to know your place.

In Islam, beneath Allah

are three created intelligences:

angels made of light

jinn (spirits) made of fire

humans made of dust.

Many jinn have accepted the True Faith

and are good. The bad jinn

work with the fallen angels

particularly Iblis, chief of the fallen angels.

In countering the chief of the fallen angels, Satan

Jesus tried to move everyone to the good

to wake us up

out of our hypnotic cultural trance/collective sleepwalking

by countercultural actions/teachings/parables –

tools for turning the status quo upside down.

Jesus was often abrasive with hypocrites –

his crucifixion was not without cause

nor was it just personal –

it holds global/cosmic implications

which we usually overlook

just as we overlook our present global/cosmic disaster.

The crucifixion of Christ and of the planet

always need serious theological reflection:

the mission of Christianity and all religions now must be

to save the world

from climate change.

CONTEMPLATION/CONVERSION/LIBERATION

Hindus and Muslims revering Jesus

should wake-up theologians –

people outside the institutional church

speaking contemplatively about the gospels

should quell the fear

of those who are different from us

that has fuelled racism into

universal homicidal paranoia.

“The contemplative work of love

by itself will eventually heal you

of all the roots of sin.” – Cloud of Unknowing

As we grow in divine intimacy through contemplation

our heart is liberated from sin and temptation.

“Moral conversion is purification

of your real motives so you seek the

true/objective/common good

with no ego-attachment.

Religious conversion means being possessed

by an otherworldly love for all things –

attending church/believing creeds/reading scripture

are all good, but not the essence

of genuine religious conversion.” – Bernard Lonergan

Men convert less easily than women

because of their toxic view of masculinity –

spirituality is for wimps.

The truth is you do not create

or work your way up to your True Self –

you don’t climb up to it

you fall into it

by the grace of Infinite Mercy.

Spiritual men thus have nothing to brag about

since we humans have only finite freedom –

we are free to make decisions

but limited by existential circumstances

within which we must work out our destiny.

Individualists who believe your Higher Self

makes you totally responsible for everything

that happens to you through your choices –

these “rugged ones” have no awareness

of systemic sin and evil

in state and religion.

State and religion are the two arms of God

and should not be confused –

religion is not meant to be the master or servant

of the state, but its conscience.

Thank God we live in a secular state

where freedom of thought is permitted

even though the state is giving way

to the whole planet through ecological oneness

and ecology is leading the way to heaven

which is paradise on Earth:

earthly goods used only for the attainment

of heavenly goods

for that is their purpose and our destiny.

Spirit underlies the rational denial of mythic gods

because reason has more depth than myth –

reason affirms Spirit’s greater potential shown in

gay/feminist/black/indigenous/ecological movements

that dare to speak truth to

straight/masculine/white/political power.

Many churches do not condemn atheism

but call for respectful dialogue

and only ask atheists to have an open mind

and honor the rights of believers –

and believers to have an open mind

and respect atheists.

Contemplation helps us see our oneness –

our complicity with atheists in evil

and our complicity with atheists in good.

Contemplation converts and liberates us from

our collective/systemic sin

and advances

our collective/systemic good.

INTERFAITH PANDEMIC LESSONS

INTERFAITH LESSONS FROM A PANDEMIC

    In Falling Upward Richard Rohr talks about the “spirituality of subtraction,” the value of letting go. The first half of life is about gaining: an education, job, home, marriage, and children. The second half is about subtraction: the kids move out, we downsize our housing, retire, start to lose our health, friends or spouses die, etc. 

    In a spirituality of subtraction, we learn four main spiritual values: humility, gratitude, simplicity/poverty and solidarity/community. A number of spiritual leaders from various traditions have noted that a crisis can speed up this process. 

    Humility. The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, stated in a talk in our city a year ago, that we all tend to be “cultural snobs,” that is, we think our culture is superior to all others. There may have been famines, wars and plagues throughout history, but this couldn’t possibly happen to us because we are so scientifically superior. 

    The point was to not get too self-assured. My priest in Winnipeg, Fr. Firmin Michiels, similarly told the congregation “Don’t pray for success, pray for strength when everything falls apart.” This is a frequent theme in every religion. “When people say ‘peace and security,’ then sudden destruction will come upon them” (I Thessalonians 5:3). COVID-19 has subtracted the illusion of our cultural-scientific omnipotence.

    Gratitude. Omar Ricci, an imam at the Islamic Center of Southern California, gave a talk titled “Thank God for the coronavirus.” Not that God caused the virus, but we should thank God for this reminder we are not in control and always depend on God. Thank God for this reminder to be grateful for all things, particularly things we take for granted like groceries and good health. Thank God for reminding us life is fragile and “we had best appreciate the miracle of life God has given us.”

    A rabbi at Chabad Lubavitch, a Hasidic community in Bozeman, Montana, noted that “Jews have always said that for every breath we take, we should thank God.” In light of the respiratory problems caused by COVID-19, “it’s become very real.”

    The Buddhist attitude of gratitude towards any crisis has been summed up in four words by the well-known monk Thich Nhat Hanh “No mud, no lotus.”

    Simplicity/Poverty. In Hinduism, the goal at the end of life is to become a “sannyasin,” a holy man or woman who renounces all the trappings of society and chooses to be reduced to nothing but his or her relationship with God. 

    All this stripping away is mirrored in Christianity in people who take religious vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Jesus himself emptied and “humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8).

    The spirituality of subtraction is about emptying the ego of self-centered pride so that God can fill you. In general, a good day for the ego (a day of gain) is a bad day for the soul, and a bad day for the ego (loss) is a good day for the soul. Subtraction is meant by God to edge the ego out, reversing Wayne Dyer’s definition of “ego:” “edging God out.”

    Solidarity/Community. Churches are experiencing what they have always given intellectual assent to – that the church is not buildings but the “ecclesia” – the community. They are reaching out online far beyond their normal congregations. Adam Ericksen, a United Church of Christ minister in Milwaukie, Oregon has noted that “the role of the church in this moment is to make sure no one falls through the cracks.”

    Beyond churches, mosques and synagogues, God’s work is going on everywhere, in every single person who makes the decision to love their neighbor as themselves: health care and grocery workers and everyone sacrificing themselves in inconvenient self-isolation in order to keep others healthy.

    This time of subtraction will hopefully continue to be a time of great spiritual growth.

Bruce Tallman is a London spiritual director, marriage preparation specialist and religious educator of adults. brucetallman.com