Polarities

If God is One, then He’d best be very big. The ‘God is One’ path can lead us right into the heart of tribalism, and it’s so tempting in its certainty and security. This is a bit scary for me. There are things I want to say that are hard to take back. I’m a bit scared to unleash my intellect on something that may dissolve under the onslaught, and to my long regret. I notice how I want to say ‘eternal regret’ and don’t. Damnation haunts the tents of the fundamentalist camps, and eternal punishment is a potent archetype.

 

I’m wondering if holding these strong, strongly bounded theologies is not, at bottom, a kind of spiritual tantra. Maybe not about God, what God wants, the nature of God, but a way to maintain a high degree of spiritual tension. Trouble is, when you get there, you need to confront the fact that it’s not about truth. It’s so obvious that a godly and compassionate Muslim is as close to God as a godly and devout Christian. Anything else is dangerous nonsense. It’s not sufficient to have compassion and respect for our benighted neighbours. We have to take it a step further and understand that each person stands alone in his conversation with God, and that there are as many conversations as there are people.

 

Voltaire: God is a circle with no circumference whose centre is everywhere. If the centre of God is everywhere, then each human being has God in their centre, is in some way God, has in some way, the power and the grace of God.

 

I read some time ago, in some spiritual text, that generating polarities generates spiritual power. The writer called the power hub in a polarity a ‘vortex’. I wonder if religious people perhaps use the strong polarity of God end Satan to generate spiritual qi energy, to feel the fire. Power run into a constricted place creates voltage. Something about resistance? Not sure how that works exactly, but I think it applies here. By running spiritual energy into a tightly defined and polarized system do we increase the voltage? If this is true, do we then, by extension, have to believe that the polarity is true? For there to be true polarity, the poles have to be equal and opposite. The devil (I won’t capitalize it, because I don’t think it’s equal in any way) and God have in some way to be equal for this to work.

 

Maybe. Maybe.

 

The price is high enough, though. Once we start perforce believing that the devil is equal in power to God, thinking that he is any kind of real threat, we hand power over to him, make him more and more real, because he feeds off our thoughts, fears, and preoccupations.

 

I don’t think that demons are an opposite to God, or that they are even necessarily deserving of the name ‘evil’. They are, in my understanding and experience, horrifyingly dangerous parasitic entities. The damage they do is shocking. They are hungry and they feed on human agony, horror, despair. I don’t feel inclined to elevate them to the status of fallen angels. More like tapeworms. In a whole other school of thought I have heard them called ‘larvae’, which maybe comes closer to what they are. They need to access human food through human hosts. This doesn’t make them great or powerful. Just nasty and dangerous. Not at all worthy of being set up as a polarity to God.

 

Jesus came to bring His children home. When a child is running to leap into her father’s arms she’s not spending much time thinking about anything else, or stopping to label her brothers as demonic, or damned, or as anything at all, because she’s running with all her strength into her father’s arms, which is the only place she ever wanted to be.

Damnation through faith.

I have pitched my tent in an evangelical campground. It’s where I’m called to be, for the passion, the intense personal engagement, and for the communal acknowledgement that there is indeed an enemy, and that we are called into battle and vigilance on this account.

 

But oh my, the hot buttons I am finding in myself. I’m comfortable with a fairly wide range of beliefs about Creation, evolution, science, the uses of intercessory prayer, modalities of healing, and heaven. I don’t have any large certainty beyond my own personal experience and the conclusions I’ve drawn from it, and it seems fine to me that people will differ. Some of the things I believe may present hot buttons for other people, and I don’t mind this.

 

My own big ones are damnation and hell. If the narrative we hold, simply what we believe about God, is the factor that determines salvation then my goodness, vast multitudes of people are certainly damned, if one is using consonance of belief is the criterion, finally only one person is going to be saved: the person engaged in that thought process. And finally, probably not them, either. It’s like the old children’s rhyme about the Kilkenny cats.

 

“There once were two cats of Kilkenny.

Each thought there was one cat too many.

So they fought and they fit

And they scratched and they bit,

Till except for their nails

And the tips of their tails,

Instead of two cats there weren’t any.”

 

The endless and terrible divisiveness that has made Christianity a scandal and a bloodbath have their foothold in this place, that God cares, or that we should care, about the spiritual narratives of people who simply love Him and try to do what’s right. It’s the root of tribalism and an entry-point for the demonic that we can look at another human being and say “They will go to Hell and I won’t.”

 

Surely a whole lot of terror has to go with that, for if it’s possible for anyone to go to Hell, then the speaker is as good a candidate as any. To believe in Hell is to believe that someone, at least, has to go there, and, if it’s too be anyone, it may well be me.

 

Is this what makes it a hot button for me? Damnation is a strong and pervasive mime. My father died certain that he was going to hell. When his fierce Bible (and child) thumping mother was dying he said to her “Well, mother, do you hear the angels coming for you.” “No, Silas,” she answered. “I hear nothing.” The narrative was strong, is strong, and generational, and no doubt has a place in my own inner world.

 

I remember some years ago when I was living in Toronto I heard of a man who was hypnotized by a large industrial fan. Watching it, surrendering in some way to its inevitability, he put his hand into the whirling blade, where it was shredded to the wrist. Having said that, I then think of some little animal hypnotized by the sway of a cobra dancing until it strikes.

 

The feeling is one of real danger, a sense of stepping with one’s own volition into a falling elevator. I don’t know, though, that it’s fear of damnation. Maybe more the fear of the demon who would seduce us with damnation on his tongue not into some future hell, but into something unspeakable and immediate. When I am in the presence of people who preach hell I want to warn them “Don’t look at that one. He’ll hypnotize you and get his claw into you and you’ll feed him now, not later, and you won’t even know you’re doing it.” And it’s catching, the way that evil always is.

 

And there’s the hot button. I’ve come all the way round the merry-go-round and find myself saying to someone else, “Be careful of what you think, because the demon might catch you.”   The only difference may be that it’s not about hell, it’s about here. If the Kingdom of Heaven is among us, so it the other one.

 

 

The Tribunal of Mice

God gave us this garden to live in, and He gave us dominion over all of the creatures who live in it. I expect that one day He will ask us “And how well did you care for the creatures that lived in your garden?” When that day comes, we could do well to hide our faces. The millions, probably billions, of mice who have suffered trauma, amputation, induced infection, shock, freezing and burning, so that we could find out how living beings respond to these things, died for very little, as far as the needs of the kingdom of mice is concerned. We have found that if we repeatedly remove a mother mouse from her children, shock and traumatize her at unpredictable times, so that she is unable to prepare her young for her departure, the babies will undergo genetic change that will show itself at least through the fourth succeeding generation. Talk about the sins of the fathers reaching into successive generations – except for the fact that it’s not the mouse fathers for whose sins the young mice pay – it’s ours.

 

A mouse is a harmless thing, except when it cohabits with a species that stores grain. They love their children, perhaps in a different idiom, but probably as much as we do. Again, enterprising scientists have established that a mother mouse will suffer extreme trauma and subsequent depression if she hears young mice being hurt.

 

Mice only like to have sex when they’re not in pain. How astonishing that we would need scientists to tell us this. They do it by inducing inflammation in female mice and then giving them the choice to avoid their mouse suitors. I have to wonder how different we are as we walk on this earth. We do not need scientists to tell us that we prefer pleasure to pain, that we don’t much want to have sex when our bodies or full of inflammation, that we love our children, and that they feel and somaticize the impact of our own trauma.

 

Thinking teleologically, we might suppose that God created mice to be a vast and unassuming food supply for any earthly predator smaller than a wolf. They live quickly and prolifically and they ask for nothing. We might do well to hope that when the end time comes, God will not call a tribunal of mice and consult with them about our fate, and that if He does, the mice will be kinder to us than we have been to them.

On Not Moving the Furniture

On Not Moving the Furniture

 

In the past I’ve used blogs to find out what I thought, letting language take me wherever it felt inclined. I’ve made some interesting discoveries because I’ve gone in with no a priori agenda. Being here now, and writing under a rubric of Christianity, seems to need different ground rules.

 

I have a ‘Creationist’ friend who won’t think about it. It’s a conscious and intentional decision, because he knows that the weight of current scientific and anthropological thought would likely sweep the belief away. He puts more value on the faith he holds in that particular tenet than in any weight of current thinking. I don’t have a problem with that particular piece of the puzzle. God may have used a variety of tools, tools maybe built right into the Creation, to get us here. Time as a lathe, evolution as the chisel, us as the wood?

 

But still, for me too, when it comes right down to it, I’m making a set of narratives more important than what I think about them. Right now I’m reading the Gospel of Matthew in a couple of different translations. Matthew’s Jesus is pretty fiery and uncompromising, and His words present a set of premises I would not necessarily come to through my own thinking.

 

There’s no way around the divorce issue at all, unless one minimizes it because of social context, or, as I read somewhere recently, because Jesus always spoke in hyperbole. It seems to me that either He said it, or He didn’t. There is lots of gospel text that never made it into the Big Four, lots of editing that may have been done over time. It’s legitimate to suggest, as I have until recently, that the four Gospels aren’t Jesus’ preaching word for word, that they are, at best, His footprints in the sands of time. The difficulty with that one is that it leads, inevitably, to a castration of the text. If I can pick and choose what parts I attribute directly to Him, then it can have no power in my life. It just becomes another mirror to employ and enjoy in my narcissistic quest for myself.

 

I’ve had to make my own separate peace with this. I live in a non-Christian culture. People I love are bonded and committed to each other in a variety of modalities. When I hear Jesus speak I hear Him as speaking to me. How other people hear Him is between them and Him. In the case of divorce that may be a little disingenuous, because I am at an age where it’s not going to be an issue any more. I was never married. I never divorced. I lived in common law with a woman. She was faithful to me. I was not faithful to her. And it’s decades gone now.

 

But I am finding that Jesus’ words about divorce are shaping how I understand Christian marriage. I can and do believe that if we are married in the presence of Jesus we can’t get un-married. I don’t think we have to live together. At no point do I hear him saying that a woman needs to stay under the roof of a man who beats her. My mother did this, not for religious scruples, but from economic exigency. Beyond that, I don’t know, and I don’t need to.

 

That’s the puzzle here. Learning to think in a different way, building structures of thought around non-negotiable tenets. It gets very interesting and is, I think, gradually alienating me from contemporary culture in an interesting way.