Tag Archives: religion

Christians on High Horses

HHsA recent comment by the U.S. president led me to wonder:  What’s the difference between a modern ISIS terrorist and a Christian Crusader from 1000 years ago or an Inquisition interrogator from 500 years ago, from the point of view of their victims?

The answer: not much.

Now what’s the difference between those two above and a modern Christian, whose faith has spent the last 500 years ridding itself of crusades and inquisitions, whose faith has undergone massive social and cultural reformations when the Age of Enlightenment contributed to the secularization of European democracies and the founding of the secular democracy of the United States, events which liberated Christianity from being a tool of the State, a liberation that allowed Christianity to completely restructure itself from a political force at the command of kings to a growing and still-emerging body of Christ who take their inspiration from the actual teachings of Jesus – how would modern Christianity compare to the Dark Ages church that was more a political force than a spiritual one?

The difference would be something like the mother of Coptic Christian brothers who were beheaded by ISIS expressing her forgiveness for her son’s murderers and hoping for their killers’ salvation; it would be calls for prayer rather than calls for revenge in response to the persecution of Christians in many parts of the world, it would be the universal condemnation by the Christian community of hate and provocation that occasionally arises among them by those claiming to act in the name of Christ.

Christianity remains at or near the top of the worlds fastest growing religions, and it has successfully transformed itself into one of the world’s more pacifistic and also among the most generous of religions for global foreign aid.  Much has changed since the days the president was referring to. That Christianity existed in another time, another place, for an entirely different purpose and with a polar opposite reason for existence than the Christianity we know today.

So I don’t know if protesting the violent slaughter of those who will not convert to the perpetrators’ religion means that Christians are on a high horse of some kind.  I believe that everyone is protesting these acts of violence regardless of their spiritual tradition, and I believe that most reasonable people also accept the perpetrators’ own stated rationale for committing those acts.

Clearly the president is as horrified by this violence as everyone else is.  But the comment about being on a high horse about it made no sense at all to me, and I find that I cannot resist a brief response.

Spirituality vs Religion: Seekers and Dwellers At the End of the Road

SeekersDwellers

Back in 2003 a paper was published that examined the effects of two different kinds of spirituality on psychosocial functioning in old age. The study, Religiousness, spirituality, and psychosocial functioning in late adulthood: Findings from a longitudinal study (link accesses the pdf), used life course data from a longitudinal research project done by the Institute of Human Development at the University of California, Berkely.  The results reflected a few things that seem intuitively obvious, but found other things that some might find surprising.

The types of spiritual experience they measured were what they termed “dwellers” and “seekers”.  From the paper:

Religious dwellers tend to accept traditional forms of religious authority; they inhabit a space created for them by established religious institutions and relate to the sacred through prayer and communal worship.

By contrast, for spritual seekers individual autonomy takes precedence over external authority and the hold of tradition-centered religious doctrines.  Spiritual seekers are explorers who create their own space by typically borrowing elements from various religious and mythical traditions, and they frequently blend participation in institutionalized Western religion with Eastern practices.

…What differentiates dwellers and seekers is not the seriousness of effort to incorporate the sacred in their lives but their relation to religious authority and tradition.

Much is known about Dwellers.  They have better intergenerational family interactions, large supportive social networks, and are much more likely than others to engage in voluntary  community caregiving activies.

By contrast little is known about the late life psychological functioning of Seekers.  Some sociologists, and not just dweller sociologists, have hypothesized that the self-referential emphasis of spiritual seekers is evidence of “excessively narcissistic self-absorption” that may in fact undermine the community obligations promoted by institutionalized religions.

Fortunately for those of us who live in both worlds, that turned out not to be the case.  What emerged instead was something positive for both groups, something that hints at fertile ground for future research now that exploration of alternative spiritual lifestyles has become more common in Western culture.

Continue reading

Follow-up: A bit more on Carl Jung’s perspective

carl-jung2In the previous post I quoted Carl Jung as follows:

The churches stand for traditional and collective convictions which in the case of many of their adherents are no longer based on their inner experience but on unreflecting belief, which is notoriously apt to disappear as soon as one begins thinking about it.  The content of belief then comes into collision with knowledge, and it often turns out that the irrationality of the former is no match for the ratiocinations of the latter.  Belief is no adequate subsitute for inner experience, and where this is absent even a strong faith which came miraculously as a gift of grace may depart equally miraculously.

At the end I concluded, hopefully after building a halfway decent case, that:

…once the relationship between you and Spirit begins to solidify and expand the initial belief, that belief is transformed into inner experience where it transcends belief to become knowledge.

One of Jung’s major themes was the power of symbolism in the human psyche.  A symbolic system provides a structure for belief.  The mind automatically tries to interprete events to see whether or how they might affect the self, and this automatic evaluation is done even when the event happens to others.  For this reason stories about events that happen to others (or even stories that are fictional) are evaluated by the mind almost as carefully as are incidents that you experience directly.

The part of the mind that does all this is the “schema”, first described in depth by Piaget and which was discussed briefly in Spirit of Consciousness part 2.

Within the schema are bedrock beliefs about oneself.   It is from these “core beliefs” that our self image is generated.  From within this structure, using Piaget’s terminology, events (or reports of events) are automatically examined to see whether we assimilate the news into our existing schema, or accomodate our schema to include events we weren’t prepared for or else had little information about.  Or we could dismiss them entirely as either untrue or else as being meaningless to us.

Something feels meaningingful if it resonates with our personal schema; events that we do not regard as having anything to do with us will be acknolwedged as being part of the reality we live in, but not things that reflect in any way upon our selves.

Stories resonate with us when the events fit into our cognitive-emotional framework, i.e. we understand them both on a cognitive level and on an emotional level, and that is true regardless of whether the stories are news accounts or works of literature and fiction.

Continue reading

All-in or Die: A Few Words About Abraham and Sacrifice

abraham-and-isaac-sacrifice-craftWe all know the story of Abraham and his son Isaac, and God’s test of Abraham by calling on him to sacrifice his son.  As the story goes, God appeared to Abraham and told him to go to a specific place and sacrifice Isaac, the son that had been conceived and born in miraculous fashion when Sarah was in her 90s.  Abraham obeyed, but at the last instant God stopped his hand, and a ram showed up to be used as a sacrifice instead.

It is one of the most (pick one) shocking, moving, horrifying, glorifying, thought-provoking and emotionally wrenching tales in a Bible that is full of stories that are totally alien to post-Enlightenment sensibilities.  Biblical supporters, Biblical critics, and everyone caught in between have ideas about it, because the story affects us at multiple levels.

The story in the Bible itself can be read here:

Abraham Tested

Also I should add that this post was prompted by an article I read while sipping my coffee this morning, here:

The Five Most Terrifying Words in the Bible

In the article, the five most terrifying words are, “But where is the lamb?”, Isaac’s heartbreaking question to his father when everything was made ready for the sacrifice.  Scholars generally believe that Isaac was a young adult at the time of the story.

The tale is an archetype of the story of Jesus, a father sacrificing his beloved son for the sake of humanity.  But I want to look at another aspect of it, one that I rarely see mentioned.  That is, who was testing whom?  Could this have been a rational decision on Abraham’s part?  One that we might understand, regardless of the fact that we could never approve?  Nobody could approve of such a thing, but we might nevertheless glimpse a rationale that might have been going through Abraham’s mind at that point in his life.

God may have been testing Abraham, but for me to understand the story at all, I have to also believe that Abraham was testing God.

Continue reading