Still pondering something today—and I am beginning to wonder if I am just getting in over my head.
Caught myself reading some blogs on philosophy with discussions on collectivism, radical individuality, freedom from spiritual tyranny. You know, the normal fare of bloggers. Really deep stuff tied to things that were more academic than I am ready to engage with (been reduced to this reality where I simply need to pay the bills and support my kids). It isn’t that I’m not interested in the discussion. It is just that I don’t think I really have the time to invest myself in these debates. In turn that makes me think, “What the hell is the point, anyway, in these discussions?” Doesn’t it just boil down to how we need to go about living our lives with truth, with integrity with transparency and honesty. I don’t know. I keep wondering what the point of all of this is and if that really, deeply, fundamentally is the point: that we really can’t know what the “point” of this existence is, that we are not really meant to create some derivative which succinctly and sufficiently explains our existential quest.
Haha. Found myself going down the same path there for a second.
The reason that I ponder this is simply because of where I am at in my life. I know I have recounted that elsewhere ad nauseum but that seems to me to be my raison d’é-tre. Honestly, this just feels more like it is part of my processing of life. There seems to be no end to it. Everyday seems to be, “how can I stay healthy today ?” And everyday, I guess, the answer seems to become more and more elusive. I find myself returning to this idea of purpose and destiny and, again, I am not sure that I really buy the construct anymore. Then I secretly go to, “is that even a true statement?” Then I know that the way that I process life is really confusing. So, God, can you help me? I have really convoluted my whole existence and I don’t know what the next step is. And I guess it feels like I am the prisoner of my own choices without any hope of ever being put on parole….
I awaken a lot with anxiety. I have not had a serious job for over a year now. It was a year ago that I quit the job that I had which was a choice I regret a little now. It propelled me along this path that I am currently on. It led to a bunch of choices that have placed me squarely where I am…but that wasn’t what I wanted to talk about. No, I was actually thinking about authority and freedom again and the religious system that I was raised in and how I thought it was the best representation of the truth. It might be appropriate to recount some of our practices and then to write about some of the most positive elements of that experience as well. Maybe that will help me as well, perhaps give me some direction. Still don’t even know if I am looking for direction anymore. More like scratching my head wondering what God is even up to. But back to authority and freedom and the things I saw and did as a young Christian. (It’s funny how we think of being a young and old christian just like the phases of being a human being and human development and maturity. I guess Paul did that too in his letters.)
As I have spent a lot of time reexamining my own life experience over the past year—no, really years—I have begun to uncover what a lot of my deep motivations were and how I was naturally attracted to those things; it is the classic case of an abused child marrying an abuser. I have discovered that we are naturally going to drift toward those things in our lives that were unmet needs in us growing up. A lot of it stems from the relationships we had with our parents—in many, many ways it is where we our first innate “God-concepts” were developed, albeit very imperfectly.
The point of this is that uncovering those deep motivators can help you change your current trajectory if you are increasingly unhappy with the life you now live. For instance, my need to feel and understand my purpose naturally led me to find meaning and purpose within a religious organization which seemed to have an answer for reality—the meaning for our existence—because this is what my family of origin taught me was the truth.
I can remember dreams that I had wherein Jesus had returned and I had been left behind because I had really lived an unworthy life. God wasn’t proud of me. I realized later that I struggled deeply with knowing my own father was proud of me. In fact one of the last things he told me before he died of cancer was just how proud he was of me. The problem was I didn’t believe it in my heart. And the reason I didn’t believe it had to do with way in which my mother raised me. She was a rescuer and refused to let her children suffer any real pain. If we did suffer any pain we were taught to avoid it or behave as if it didn’t exist or try to pray it away, or any other number of methods we were taught how to cope with the uncertainty of life. In my own experience, because I was introverted, I learned to use gaming, pornography, and eating junk food as coping mechanisms. Ultimately I learned that spirituality could really help me with life, however I found that most systems lacked the ability to address the deep needs I seemed to possess. Bottom line, my brain learned, “that’s how you do it.”
My own history testifies to my struggle to find meaning. What ultimately led to my acceptance of Christianity was the belief that by joining myself to God I would find my ultimate purpose for my existence. And while that may be deeply true, I found that what that equated to was adopting the belief systems of the group that I joined myself to. There was a quiet expectation upon me to conform. I don’t think it was a bad thing, but I don’t necessarily think it was healthy either. For awhile it was deeply satisfying. However the experience became negative when conflict occurred. My family doesn’t have a great track record with dealing with conflict. Well, I should say, we never really dealt with conflict in a healthy way. I guess everybody deals with conflict. And I suppose what I really wanted to happen was that we would be able to be adults about the whole matter and just get along and be happy. Thus my experience has led me to believe that people are damn complicated and that there isn’t one way that is the right way. So the small church I was part of split, went through several pastors, and we developed the reputation of being a difficult church. Poof! Idealism gets thrown on its head.
It wasn’t until recently that I began to conclude that the system itself was dysfunctional, that ultimately at its core was the belief that individuals were not as important as the collective, that conformity was the only sure way to protect and reinforce existing power structures, that the organism’s survival depended on rooting out “dissent.” All of this was subliminal but it was the natural order of the organism itself. If those structures weren’t present the structure would atrophy.
What is sadly comical is that when we begin to see the system not working there are several things that begin to occur—perhaps some of my sociology friends can confirm this.
- The Truth Hurts People who question the status quo get into trouble. I think in a healthy environment the supposed dissent can be welcomed, discussed, examined, and appropriate changes can be made. I think a healthy person probably recognizes that they don’t have all the answers—even collectively but we sure as hell are going to try to find them because you are valuable to us. In an unhealthy environment any sort of questioning can result in a feeling of being threatened which calls for radical removal of the threatening entity. And the response probably goes like this: “We have the truth. This person is wrong. The individual must conform. If not we eliminate the threat for the sake of our own solidarity and health of the collective.” Sort of Borg-like, if you ask me. The root of this belief is pretty complex, however one can clearly find its roots in Platonic thought and his Idea of Forms. Essentially this gets played out with the sacrifice of individuality for the collective good. Who determines what the collective good is is determined by those in power (the philosopher-kings, those who “know,” hence gnosis/Gnosticism ).
- Let Me Carry My Own Cross The narrative is that self-sacrifice is the paragon of virtue. For the Christian this has been translated as, if you aren’t joined to a church you can’t possibly be a Christian. Christianity is only fully experienced within church/community/as part of our group, along with the various proof-texts to reinforce the alleged “truth.” And to question this is, well..heretical!
- We Have The Truth, Therefore We Can’t Be Wrong Another response is the direct conflict that occurs when both parties believe that the system/doctrine/polemic is true and one of us must be wrong. As a result, there is deep pain when true reconciliation cannot occur because it never enters the discussion that one or both parties may in fact be dead wrong about their interpretation of reality. Unless one is willing to honestly entertain the possibility that they may be wrong no real healthy change can occur.
I have heard it said that even principle-based living is the only answer. I am not so sure. It causes me to ask, “How do you know if the principles you have ‘discovered’ are the right ones?” Because really don’t we derive principles based upon our own experience in what didn’t work for us? Or perpetuate the system/doctrine we have invested in? Don’t we tend to interpret words based upon our own worldview or bias? How can we really get away from bias in our higher criticism or, as Christians, our exegesis? What kind of hermeneutic is the right one? Ah, you see. There is the rub isn’t it?
Here are some things that I have observed about the Bible: It is brutally honest about the human experience. I mean, really, there is murder, rape, fratricide, genocide, incest, sodomy, cannibalism, human sacrifice and torture. But there are also beautiful things too. There is love, romantic relationships, fraternity, adventure (of epic proportions), gallantry, triumph of faith in ridiculously trying circumstances….I don’t know of another book of ancient writings which so clearly portray the human experience so clearly and so honestly. That is why I admire it. And often because of those true events it makes it quite easy for me to trust the message that is contained in it.
Phew! I’m tired now. For my next post I want to really start to tackle this whole idea of destiny and purpose. I’m not so sure that I agree with the pundits. But we’ll see.
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