Archive for the 'theology' Category

Layers of divinity

September 26, 2014

My sense of the spiritual world is that there are what we could call layers and that the highest layer is what some people would call God or Dis or Source.  The essence of the highest layer I think permeates through all the succeeding layers, including into our own, into our material world and into ourselves.  I think it’s very difficult for a human to comprehend the highest level.  I think when we try to, we often resort to coloring it with imagery that brings it down to a lower level.

I may have written this before, but I want to say that what Jesus was trying to say could be taken to be about mistaking the “son” for the “father,” about mistaking one layer for another, about mistaking a “personal God” with anthropomorphic characteristics for the highest layer.  The father-son concept would then be a metaphor for how there is connection between the layers.  Encouraging people to fall in love with a being they could identify with even more than with a more abstract concept could be a way of trying to help people who have trouble achieving spiritual union find the emotional posture to do so.

But the “father layer,” in my view, is not the ultimate layer.  I think Christianity conceptualizes that it is the ultimate layer.  I think a “father layer” is also, and too much, dependent on the person’s need to relate to a being who can be related to in human terms.

I wonder if the teachings got misunderstood.  I would take the father-son idea and the idea of accessing the father through relationship with the son as ways to help achieve spiritual union, but which need to be replicated up the chain through the layers of the spiritual realm to the more abstract layers.

As always, take what you like and leave the rest.

I wrote this after reading Father Rohr’s Daily Meditation for today.

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Harmony and distinction

July 27, 2014

In law school students are trained “to think like a lawyer.”  It involves the ability to make distinctions and it also involves a skill in finding a way to “harmonize” prior precedents seemingly at odds with each other.

It’s, to my way of thinking, a language.  And its relationship to spiritual insight is that it gives a person a way of putting into rational linear thought an insight perceived as a concept without words.  It is not itself, I don’t think, a path to non-dual thinking, but nor does it inhibit non-dual thinking — I think it supports it.  And it doesn’t just deal with splitting things from each other, it provides patterns for seeing compatibility among things that might superficially seem not to fit together.

Now, as for getting to the point of seeing things non-linearly, I am not sure intellectual training is relevant (except insofar, as I said, for providing a language for communicating to others about it), any kind of intellectual training — philosophical, theological, mathematical, etc.  Training in any of them may well provide a fluidity of thought that helps in translating, but how to break out of Kansas and into the Land of Oz, well, that, I think, takes something else and involves a different part of our mental processes.

Pain avoidance, darkness, and evil

June 4, 2014

I think today’s Daily Meditation gives me an opportunity to approach a point I usually end up trying to make in other ways.

I want to debunk the notion that really severe pain and suffering imply some abstract, Platonic form-like thing which we call “Evil.”

I am not trying to say the pain or suffering is any less than it is, just that there is not an overarching concept beyond them.

Maybe we infer such a concept because it somehow makes bearing the pain and suffering easier in the moment.  But it gives us a dualistic world in which we suffer even more, I think.

Anyway, Father Rohr talks about people with certain personality profiles trying to avoid pain and not sufficiently accepting darkness as a part of life.  He doesn’t use the word “evil” and I agree with that.

Now I would just broaden the concept he’s promoting and apply it to “theology” and “philosophy” and ask people to accept the “darkness” there too as just a mundane, although difficult, part of life, and not try to cast it out as something foreign to (God’s) world.

Human relationship dysfunction or spiritually significant insights?

November 12, 2012

I’m not sure why I’ve fallen into this habit, but here’s today’s reaction from me to Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation:

It is pretty clear to me that somewhere along the line, many religious theologies get infused with the mundane emotional issues of the human beings perceiving the ideas and writing them down.  Disentangling ideas about social relationship dysfunction from insights of spiritual significance is important — at least, I think so.

My apologies for being so blunt.  I don’t mean to offend, but I do get frustrated with trying to translate what I mean into something more tactful but that doesn’t lose its point.

I don’t mind using a religious text to make a point about social relationships, but continuing the confusion between that category of human life and the category of what goes on on the spiritual plane, I don’t think is helpful.  The problem resolves itself once we get past the stage of engaging in human relationships as attachments, but in the meantime, I think the conflation of the two categories impedes those who haven’t gotten past that stage yet from ever getting beyond it.

Gratitude for nuns

May 9, 2012

I was disappointed that the commenting mechanism is not being used for a blog post by Ross Douthat on the recent Vatican response to American nuns, so I figured I could speak my piece here.

After reading the blog post, I was left thinking that the Vatican could be grateful to the American nuns for helping the Church develop its understanding of what Jesus was getting at.

From my point of view, the nuns are in the van on these issues, but I can see that those who put orthodoxy ahead of other concerns probably wouldn’t see it that way.

Divine intervention

April 29, 2012

I read something the other day that gave me pause, in part over the substance and in part because it showed me how different my thinking seems to be from others’.

It had to do with Paul Krugman’s “Confidence Fairy,” and he said something to the effect that people who believe in her think she’ll come as a reward for “fiscal virtue.”

I had no idea that this was the dynamic people imagined.  I assumed that people thought eventually the Confidence Fairy would come when she felt things warranted her intervention and would instill confidence in business owners out of the kindness of her heart, perhaps by re-framing things as I think the Wizard of Oz did.   Because confidence I don’t think comes to us from a sense of having been good and deserving — plenty of such people don’t have it, while plenty of people who are pretty clear on their having behaved badly have plenty of confidence — I don’t think a sense of virtue produces confidence, I think it is a frame of mind we access or not depending on other factors.

This contrast between fairy intervention on the basis of earning it through behavior and receiving it for the fairy’s own reasons led me to think about different models for divine help or intervention.  I don’t think we receive it because we racked up enough points to compel it, or that if we don’t receive it we’re not virtuous, I think a big factor is whether the desired help serves our good and the greater good.

If we need help locating our confidence, I think we can get that, but I think it probably means facing our fears rather than demonstrating our virtue.

What to tweak

November 28, 2011

I read the recent article in The New York Times about how some people with diagnosed mental illness deal with both it and living in the world.  It left me wondering whether there are other points of intervention at which to tweak our understanding of what people experience in that region that is not consensual reality.

Like those spoiler alerts or graphic images alerts, here’s my “I may be about to say something others will find offensive” alert.  So saying I know doesn’t make what I will say less offensive, but it’s a flag for me to be as careful as I can and a flag for others to learn some context for my remarks.  Because what I’m trying to do is to figure out places in our societal understandings where we might think about revision in order to achieve more helpful outcomes down the road of consequences — I have no need to evaluate other people’s belief systems in order to pass judgment on them, I just wonder whether some of our current beliefs lead to trouble further down the road, for example, to people stuck in distress.  And I don’t think what I’m about to write explains everything, all delusion or mental illness or spiritual regression — I mean it as a possible piece of the puzzle.

So, apparently a common delusion is that one is Jesus or God, or has met Jesus or God.  Suppose we redefine Jesus and God.  Suppose both can be thought of as stages the self goes through, that they are more general, in a sense, than one being or a defined divinity.  If we possess them within us as aspects of our selves, then encountering them is less of a thing that must be explained away (with psychology, for example).  Even thinking that someone else we meet is “Jesus” or “God” can merely indicate that we are ready to recognize in ourselves and in others a level of spiritual maturity and identification with a more expansive state of being than we usually spend time with.  It’s not, then, that we have met a particular other being who is unlikely to be met in this way, but rather that some boundary within us has become permeable enough that we have access to aspects of our own souls that are usually walled off from us in this world.  But in western culture, I think we may have lost our vocabulary for this phenomenon — both the nomenclature and the concept, too.  We renamed and re-characterized these issues as discrete entities who cannot be part of us easily within our accepted system, so when we try to pass through this spiritual stage, we get stuck.  We say something like, “This can’t be right.  I can’t be Jesus.  That person I met can’t be Jesus.”  And so the whole experience gets pathologized as mental illness for want of a known better alternative.  Once we let go of thinking of “Jesus” as a particular being and God as a character, however extensive, and once we let go of the uniqueness part of our experience (suppose we assume that everyone may go through such a stage), then we can ride out the belief and move on to a new understanding, into a new phase.  I suspect that people end up in this somewhat tricky stage when they lose their boundaries without being able to quiet their ego and its fears and desires, or even being aware that their ego is their ego and their soul is their soul, before their boundaries become so permeable.

I should probably add that it is my impression that these stages of integrating the “Jesus” or “God” in oneself into one’s sense of self are recognized parts of spiritual development in other religions.

Beyond reciprocity, concluded

November 7, 2011

I got the ending to this particular story sooner than I thought, last night, in fact.

When last we left off, one partner was on a slightly higher step, reaching back down to help the other partner up.  Since this was a spiritual rescue, it could involve things like ghosts passing through walls.  Here it involved the higher partner’s allowing the lower partner to go through the higher partner, to use that partner’s abilities themselves to gain that higher reach.

What happens next is this.  The higher partner becomes aware that this is the script, and that leads to that partner’s having the thought, “Well, then, this is what I will be doing.  I wonder how it will work.”  But then it occurs to her, that in her real spiritual work, she never knows in advance what it will have been, her best event is unwitting willingness.  And she never wonders “how it will work” in advance.  So there is something wrong with this picture.

She also knows there’s apt to be mirroring involved, including between the spiritual and material worlds, and then she gets it, what she’s perceiving is just the mirror image of a rescue drama scripted by her partner as a harmless creative fantasy of fiction.  Only it ended up being pressed over one of those energy vortices in the universe that then projects the image as “real” onto our collective unconscious.  And there you have it, a spiritual rescue theology, with its origins in a daydream.

So, the ending to this story is that they all wake up and realize it was a dream and eat a lovely breakfast of pancakes with maple syrup, or something like that, listening to Mary Chapin Carpenter’s song “We’re All Right” in the background.

The End

Where humility grows

November 6, 2011

Ross Douthat ended his column today with the sentence, “We still need the best and brightest, but we need them to have somehow learned humility along the way.”  This led me to think about why we don’t have leaders who have.  My first thoughts were about how we in the general electorate don’t value humility, or it would show up more as a character trait of successful candidates.  I started thinking why we don’t value it and why we seem even to equate it with weakness.

I think we have collectively and individually assumed a peculiar emotional posture in our culture in response to what we’re taught about God.  And I think this posture includes an armature of bravado that cannot abide anything that can possibly be exploited as weakness.  I think it comes from conceptualizing God as a cranky old judgmental parent, and I don’t think this characterization makes any more sense than the belief that the sun revolved around the earth or that the earth was flat.  But just as children of cranky old judgmental parents assume certain self-protective maladaptive attitudes and behaviors as conditioned responses to their parents’ attitudes and behaviors, I think (many) adherents to the organized monotheistic religions tend to adopt emotional postures to meet the requirements of dealing with a God who is similarly characterized.

God may indeed be “one,” but I think that’s more along the lines of how elemental and pervasive a presence God is — the wholeness aspect of God — not that God is one character in contrast to a pantheon of many characters.

But regardless of whether other people have a similar sense of God to mine, I am thinking maybe other people will wonder whether the values we promote, especially through our behavior (as opposed to our words) are related to our fears and responses to the kind of God we are taught to imagine.

I think our best chance to elevate leaders who are humble is to correct some more fundamental flaws in our culture that precede our preferences on character traits.

All roads lead to ecumenism?

October 25, 2011

I was listening to a segment on the PBS NewsHour this evening about a school of theology that educates Jews, Christians, and Muslims together.  Apparently it used to be a Methodist institution, but took this turn in part due to the need to fill seats that had become harder to fill because of the difficult economic times.  The provost pointed out that the school had always been interested in being on the leading edge of things.

I didn’t see the economic nudge toward increased ecumenism as undercutting the positive aspect of the new orientation or the school’s ideal of creating a sense of “we” out in the pastoral world — it looked to me as if a number of forces are pointing them in the same direction, and I thought it looked like an endorsement of what they’re doing rather than something to feel apologetic about.