love and heretics

It's better to light a candle than curse the darkness

When love is considered an illusion….a chasing of the wind

I have run into those of the christian faith who have said that the only thing worth anything is of course Jesus.  Life is not worth living without him, love is not really love without him.  Good deeds are all worthless, (Isaiah 64:6 all our righteous acts are like filthy rags).  Love without Jesus, meaningless…acts of kindness, sacrifice, even the laying down of a life for a friend (greatest love of all?) worthless without Jesus.

This concept though following a line of doctrine (a rather common one today) faces the problem of real life conflict.

Many find meaning in their life, without Jesus.  Many find life worth living.

When able to see good as bad, love as worthless, “righteous acts as filthy rags” one has to ask, is this truly what Jesus meant?

Is it possible that something somewhere was…disconnected? lost in translation?

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3 Comments

  1. Dave

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  2. Dave

    Yes, many people have lost something in translation. I’ll give it a quick go based on what I’ve read and heard over the years, so forgive my typos and tangents as well as ignorance or failure to understand what I’ve read. Greatly abbreviating and generalizing from various sacred traditions and skipping caveats for (some degree of) brevity and clarity, it goes something like this:

    A missing or misapprehended implication for such sentiments is the experience of a deeper value and meaning to life than making money, worrying about reputation, competing for power, and so on. This suggests a fundamental difference in the orientation of our existence between such short-term concerns driven by clinging to our personal stories of pain and pride (i.e. still thinking at 35 deep down that “I am the kid no one wanted to play with because I was fat and clumsy”) and over-identification with our social identity on the one hand, and an experience of liberation from such narrow concerns and a sense of deep gratitude on the other.

    Such a shift in orientation involves a shift to seeing existence as inherently meaningful and valuable and (human) life as a challenging gift. Life in the biochemical sense is seen as an expression or unfolding of a deeper rhythm and pulse underlying existence itself, with (higher) consciousness as the medium which connects us to this fundamental aspect of reality which can only be seen in its manifestations (particles, waves, objects, thoughts, feelings, etc.) rather than in some original, pure state.

    Different traditions use cultural symbols and narratives to try to capture the sense of this Source or the experience of an orientation towards a meaningful universe. These are always incomplete, with art (including music) and rituals based on these symbols and narratives used help participants to fully realize and transcend their limited sense of themselves, to give participants an experience of this expanded reality. They also have the power to increase social bonds and to affirm that personal freedom and actualization must be connected to and demonstrated through community.

    However, these symbols and stories can become and end unto themselves for those who lack wisdom and proper teachers. The finger pointing to the moon is mistaken for the moon itself. Idolatry of the symbols sets in. The idea of an expanded reality full of possibilities and realizations far beyond conventional notions of materialism, spirituality, and the like becomes instead a closed system in which everything is understood and controlled by books and words and limited to the boundaries of a self-important and self-satisfied imagination, the limited imagination of a heart which fears or mocks what might lie beyond its preconceived boundaries (and yes, religious and non-religious folks can all fall prey to this).

    When that happens, the sacred stories become flat. The stories were fetched by poets and mystics trying to share a “right-brain consciousness” experience in “left-brain consciousness” expressions of concepts, objects, and language, but when held captive in such limiting regimes they are reduced to a form of deadened and deadly solidity. Rather than being open to the emotional reaction of the literal interpretation, the intellectual “Aha!” of the symbolic interpretation, the metaphysical “Whoa!” of both views simultaneously, and mystical silence of transcending all interpretations, such people become trapped in the above mentioned limited world they have created.

    For some, Christ can be the symbol of the orientation to existence in which human life is an extension of the Life that gives rise to everything. Such a symbol, when used properly, can be used to discover meaning, express gratitude, and realize liberation into a greater and fuller experience of reality. Everything — the body, the mind, and beyond, experiences of perception and thought — seems richer and fuller in such greater states of awareness, making the former limited and limiting state seem dull and even disgusting by comparison. The air seems fresher, the sky seems bluer, and so on. Even if it goes unnamed, the deep intuition of such meaning and freedom can be exhilarating.

    In the Hebrew Scriptures (i.e. Old Testament), this Source is “the Lord”. In Islam, Allah. In some forms of Hinduism, Atman. In Buddhism, it may be known as the Eternal Dharma, the Original Buddha, or Original Mind. In Taoism, well, I bet you can guess. In Native American religions and other indigenous traditions, the Great Spirit or Great Father/Mother. These are not direct equivalents because they express the cultural concerns and values of particular places and times, but we can still see them as pointing to common human encounters with a more profound human experience.

    Now, to get more directly to your concern, imagine the spiritually blind and deaf or those who simply want to use the institution of religion for political purposes. Even better, imagine the folks stuck in an anti-spiritual form of limiting literalism. They may have some sparks of insight and liberation, fueling their narrow convictions, but they are still bound by deep-seated fear, insecurity, anger, and greed. They are conflicted, but convinced by their sparks that their level of religious realization and interpretation is perfect and complete, so they throw themselves more heavily into their legalism, their judgmentalism, and their faith in idolized imagery.

    But idols reflect their makers’ insecurity and cannot tolerate rivals, as they are based on conditional rather than transcendent views. Their power waxes and wanes with the immediate passions and needs of their followers. To say there is “one God” no longer means there is one God inclusively, it comes to mean there is only “our” God. Such subtle distinctions abound. Dualism sets in, so that there is a division between the material and non-material world, with the former being filthy and evil and the latter being clean and pure (based on a perversion of the above described sense of greater awareness). These and other teachings, narratives, insights, rituals and symbols of sacred insights are reinterpreted to fit the limited and limiting view of reality held by such people, thus trapping and damning them rather than freeing and saving them.

    Your examples in your posts are good demonstrations. If you only do good because you want to impress people, or because you want to feel good about yourself/feel bad if you don’t, or because you feel obligated, that is not the same as someone who truly cares for others from the depths of the heart with no hesitation, requirements, etc., and therefore spontaneously finds joy in doing good for others. In such a moment of spiritual awakening, i.e. “in the presence or spirit of the Lord”, or Christ, etc., doing good works for more shallow and selfish reasons seems like garbage because they were limited and therefore less powerful. Their impact by comparison was negligible and even some causes even harmful (especially if there was obvious hypocrisy). But this instead is turned into a bizarre notion that only actions officially sanctioned by Jesus/God (rendered as omnipotent anthropomorphic super-deities) are acceptable.

    If one reads the whole of Isaiah 64, keeping in mind the communal aspect of liberation and service, the different levels of interpreting sacred writing already described, the orientation to existence in which meaning is inherent and biological life is a reflection and extension of a greater Source, and the recognition of the poetic rendering of this Source for the purposes of prophetic voice (a call to recognize our collective failures and change course), it becomes much clearer what some people are “missing”, the nature of this disconnection, and what is so often lost in translation. Images such as God hiding his face and the sense of God’s wrath explode into many different subtle insights that go beyond some Bronze age sky deity who is a temperamental control freak as many religious and irreligious prefer to believe.

    Now for some fun combining images from different traditions to speak to the title of your post:

    There is no need to chase the wind. Spirit blows where it blows, and no one can predict or control where such love will alight. After all, we are that wind, and we already know this in our depths from whence it springs to take the forms in which we live, move, and have our being. Life, motion, and being are neither internal nor external, existing only in this*, but can be felt in many ways that we try to capture and keep, as if one facet makes an entire gem. Study your philosophy–science, theology and its other daughters, practice your arts, grow your awareness through sacred observance and spiritual practice, but do not feel as if you are chasing the wind as you do so. Realize that you are riding the wind, and that while your present way of riding it, which you may consider to be a finite mind or body, is ever changing and does not last, you in fact are the wind.

    *In Eastern traditions, “mind” in the sense of an individual mind referred as just much if not more so to what we in the West currently refer to as the heart. This in fact corresponds to older and more poetic meanings in the West for the term “soul”, which has come to be a kind of disembodied personality in the popular imagination. This “mind” or “soul” is sometimes referred to as our true or truest self, directly aware of the Source described above and unbound by any particular configuration of our bodies or mental/emotional states yet still a unique source of self-discovery and revelation. With this explanation in place, one can replace “this” with one of these other terms or simply leave it as is to appreciate its direct and ambiguous description of our potential. Hmm, could turn this little spiritual paraphrase combining various faiths into a poem with some strategic repetition.

  3. thank you dave. (am i right in thinking i know you?) i saw tt in the email? I absolutely love…not considering it a chasing of the wind but a riding the wind….!!!!
    I have swung from evangelical christian right winged republican…to liberal atheist, NEARLY antitheist hard core democrat, back to some…..weird flux place in the middle….lol….
    what a journey this life is…..and that imho is the largest problem…dismissing the journey…the life…the very riding of the wind so to speak, for what is to come….no matter what one believes, how can one discard the fact that we were allowed to exist, and therefore have a choice as to how we exist?

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