Wednesday, August 29, 2007


"To criticize is not to reject. This point must be emphasized, for it is the dividing line between the free mind and fanaticism. It is the doorway to a universal religion that rigorously seeks the truth, and yet is also inclusive and welcoming to all." Kenneth L. Patton

The other day I was reading a Wikipedia article and noticed this citation:

The neutrality of this section is disputed.
Please see the discussion on the talk page.

I have also been reading about the burgeoning field of peace studies and mediation efforts around the world, and the necessity of neutrality in negotiations. We hear over and over today about ‘gender neutrality’ and ‘religious neutrality.’ Sometimes the word ‘tolerance' is used, or ‘politically correct.’ It is a maxim in public schools, “Public schools, as government institutions, must be religiously neutral. They must be neutral among religions, and they must be neutral between religion and nonreligion.”

This doctrine of religious/cultural neutrality or tolerance is posing a problem in parts of Europe where growing numbers of outspoken Muslims are telling the schools and social agencies to keep their noses out of Islamic religion, even when they practice female circumcision, enforced marriages, marital rape and the execution of homosexuals, adulterers, disobedient children and religious apostates. For an excellent treatment of this, see While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam is Destroying the West from Within by Bruce Bawer.

Modern democracy was not founded on this kind of neutrality. The Declaration of Independence clearly identifies tyrannical religion and politics, and declares the right not only to judge, but to break free from such oppressions, by force if necessary. These founders were not advocating thoughtless violence, but they were far from neutral. They used their heads and hearts to discriminate between freedom and tyranny. When you see someone being abused or tortured, you do not remain neutral. When you hear an idea or doctrine which promotes abuse or torture, you do not ‘honor’ it. If by tolerance you mean the allowance of difference opinions, I am with you – but if you mean that you should not debate, critique or use logic and compassion to judge and openly evaluate the merits of the idea, I completely disagree. Some modicum of tact is fine, but personally, I prefer a direct broadside to a bad idea rather than a simpering smile and neutral response.

The simple fact is that some political systems and religious doctrines are superior to others, some are more humane and ethical. Any ideology that uses forceful violence on men, women or children ought not be viewed neutrally. I grant that the moment you open the door for critical positions on religion and politics, you will have arguments and disagreements and fine lines of distinction. So what? We have become so concerned over conflict that we would have ‘peace’ at any cost.

You cannot find any ancient archetypal God or Goddess of Neutrality. If one exists, I’d love to know. The ancients were much smarter than we moderns in this regard. They recognized that life is conflict – that ideas and positions are frequently antithetical. It is through such struggles that we advance. Mars (violence) and Aphrodite (beauty) were lovers; Penia (poverty) and Porus (Plenty) co-habited and bore the child Eros (love); Zeus (sexual freedom) and Hera (sexual faithfulness) were married. Even Jesus said, “I came not to bring peace, but a sword.” In other words, he had an opinion about what was good, better and best.

This burgeoning philosophy of peace and neutrality is creating a generation of dolts, depressives and road-ragers. We ought not be shocked when incidents like the Columbine massacre, gang violence and a host of other atrocities explode all around us. When you cram all of your judgments, opinions, anger and emotions into the psychic closet, the door is going to burst off of the hinges somewhere. America’s favorite TV programs are based on critical non-neutrality – from Law and Order to American Idol, these shows are all about right and wrong, opposing positions, judgment and verdicts. Why? Because our cultural ideological Persona is advocating neutrality, and our collective repressed politically correct Shadow is craving some sort of non-neutral release.

James Hillman and Michael Ventura speak of much modern therapy as a way of channeling creative energy away from strong judgments which ought promote corrective action. In their book, “We've Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy--And the World's Getting Worse,” they note that the client who feels outraged at the political system or crowded freeways should not go dissipate his anger in therapy, but use it to initiate changes in the soul of the culture.

I am not in favor of a return to past forms of ignorant prejudice or abusive discrimination, but neither am I in favor of the opposite extreme of absolute neutrality on all sensitive issues. J. Budziszewski speaks of the two errant extremes:

“In the first group are the ordinary bigots, who are always among us. The second are a kind of modern backlash - call it the reaction - found principally among the "cultural elite." For instance, whereas the bigots respond to Nietzsche’s quote (‘If men took God seriously, they would still be burning heretics at the stake.’), by saying, "Yes, that's why we should burn heretics," the reactionaries respond to it by saying, "No, that's why we should suppress the public expression of belief in God."

More recently, Sam Harris has addressed the error of neutrality in his controversial book, The End of Faith. While I think Harris goes a bit overboard in his evaluation of religion, I find his general principle to be sound, namely that we simply postpone inevitable disaster by avoiding smart critiques and public evaluations of sensitive topics. So please, feel free to neuter your pets, but not your heart or mind.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

My Experience of Christianity


The biggest disappointment of some of my family and friends is that I abandoned Christ and His Gospel. Some have called me a wolf in sheep's clothing. Some of you have friends, parents and relatives that feel the same way about you. Here is my response, and it honors The Gospel.

I was an apathetic nineteen year old second year community college student living at home. I had a grade point average of 1.8. The future wasn't bright, but I didn't give it much thought. Within a period of six months, both of my parents became Christians according to the evangelical tradition. Their lives suddenly changed drastically for the better. They began to share what they called The Gospel - a teaching which says that we are sinners separated from a loving and just God who sent His son Jesus Christ to be punished for our sins. If we trust the death and resurrection of Jesus, we are saved from eternal damnation by grace through faith.

I had no idea what they were talking about, but I locked the door to my bedroom one night and began to read through the Gospel of Matthew. I finished the story on the third evening, closed the Bible and folded my hands to pray. To this day I do not know why I prayed. I had not been interested in formal religion and my life was not in shambles. But something compelled me to pray. I didn’t even kno w who I was praying to. I just felt an urge to press my palms together, look through the star filled window at the foot of my bed and whisper, “I believe.” I wasn’t even sure what I was believing. I rolled over and went to sleep.

The next morning, the whole world had changed. I had undergone a psycho-spiritual awakening that changed my life. I felt like Chicken Little after he got hit on the head. My grade point average rose from 1.8 to 3.8. I felt forgiven and clean inside. I had clarity of mind, purposeful direction and an abiding sense of joy, peace and love. I had a conscious connection with a Source I called God.

I began attending a local Fundamentalist church with my parents. The Pastor of the church told me what had really happened in that bedroom that night I read through Matthew. He gave me a book of evangelical theology and I devoured it. I was spiritually famished, soaking up information like a sponge. I wanted answers.

Within a few months I went off to a Christian college and dedicated myself to full time biblical and theological studies. I was ‘on fire for Jesus’, as they say. I went into town on weekends and handed out tracts to the local citizens. I went to nursing homes and rescue missions preaching the evangelical gospel to the aged and down trodden.

I spent one summer smuggling Bibles and medical supplies into Communist Europe. After college, I married a good fundamentalist Christian woman and went on to complete two graduate degrees in biblical studies and Christian apologetics. I then became a minister of an evangelical church and taught part time in a Presbyterian seminary. I was a minister. I was preaching the gospel. My father and many people were very proud of me.


While I was in school, doubts gradually began to form in my mind. I found contradictions in the Bible and was being taught theological doctrines which seemed absurd. But I had been told that this teaching was from God, and part of The Gospel. As the years went by, I became a brilliant theologian and defender of this evangelical gospel, but I was increasingly miserable. Most of the doctrines seemed dehumanizing, out of synch with common sense, exceptionally irrational and emotionally dissatisfying. I contemplated leaving, but stayed for three reasons:

1. First, so much good came to me on that night when I believed, I was afraid that if I doubted or rejected the theological teachings, I was rejecting my spiritual awakening and Almighty God Himself.

2. Second, I was convinced that my doubts and negative feelings were unimportant when compared to remaining faithful to the Truth of The Gospel that had saved me from eternal punishment in Hell. I was told by my teachers that my doubts and depression were from Satan.

3. Third, and probably the most influential, all of my friends, family, success and career opportunties were wrapped up in this new evangelical world where I had made my home.

But as time went on, the original spiritual experience receded and I found that the subsequent religious and ethical training meant less and less to me. I could teach it and defend it skillfully. I received accolades from congregations when I spoke and taught. But secretly I was questioning many of the teachings, and desiring to experiment with a more liberal morality. I was a miserable human being, caught between wanting to be faithful to what I felt was The Gospel of God, and wanting to experience freedom of thought and human desire.


After seminary, and five years of church ministry, I left the pastorate. I had lost my ‘faith’. Like Herman Hesse's Siddharta, I had to leave the religion profession and go find my own way.

But when one has spent so much time mixing his spiritual awakening with the subsequent theological interpretations, the work of dividing them is a little like surgically removing a systemic tumor that has spread its myriad tendrils throughout the brain.

I found my self asking what had happened on that night I read through the Gospel of Matthew. A secularist might say that I had experienced some sort of mental breakdown. A traditional evangelical would say that I met the One true God through Jesus and have been duped by the Devil. I disagree with both, and have chosen a third option. If you are curious about what that is, click here: What is The Born Again Experience?

Friday, August 24, 2007


The Danish writer Soren Kierkegaard said that he was born into a 'Christian' nation, and yet could not find a single follower of Christ! His comment was scandalous, and he knew it. By 'Christ', he didn't mean the theological systems about Jesus which had been devised by Catholics, Lutherans, Baptists or any other so called true Christian system. By Christ, he meant a person who sought the Truth, experienced it deeply and represented that experience without compromise. He could find no one with a tenacious commitment to know his own Truth no matter where it led. He said that a true follower of Christ will risk alienation from peers, family and church. He would go to his or her death for his Truth.

Kierkegaard would likely say the same today. Instead, as he did, we find the following types of pseudo-Christians. I speak as an expert, for I have been some of these and have seen them all.


1. Herd Christians –These are Christians who always run with the theological herd, like sheep or cattle. They never stop to think or question anything. They may have been raised in their religion, or converted at some point, but they follow their ministers and leaders like blind men. When they do claim to ‘study’, it is always with a mind already made up about what can and cannot be believed. They will often tell you they are seeking the Truth, but they are really seeking support for what they have been told is ‘The Truth.’ They are more like robots than human beings, resembling the white-clad military drones seen in Star Wars.

2. Addicted Christians – These Christians have been genuinely forgiven and changed by exposure to Jesus Christ. They are often ex addicts, or those whose lives were in shambles. They were truly delivered from death and demoralization and then exposed to a doctrinal system which they then adopted and made synonymous with the eternal God. These people would never leave their religious beliefs for fear that they might go back into their old condition, or out of fear that they might offend God. I call them noble cowards. Jesus was their quick fix; like a trained circus elephant, they never stray beyond their leash of indoctrination, and stand on the tiny stool they were told to stand on.

3. Power Christians – These are Christians who are simply interested in power. They find themselves able to wield influence and power by using the name of Jesus and Christian doctrine. They never take the time to ask, “Is it true?” These folks are largely unconscious, and mostly interested in being on religious boards, committees, and in other high profile positions. They are often pastors, priests, missionaries, seminary professors, chronic Sunday school teachers, repeat board members and the like.

4. Professional Clergy – Closely related to Power Christians are those who make their livings off of the Christian religion. These men and women have sunk their educational and vocational roots into the soil of a doctrinaire system. They have degrees and resumes based on a particular Christian ideology. As a former evangelical minister, I met many of these men. They have no other skills and have become accustomed to an office and a paycheck. When I left the church, I heard this question over and over from voices filled with genuine consternation, “What will you do?”

5. Cosmology Christians – These are Christians who need a structure or world view to make sense of life. They are frantic to give existence a solid structure and to make life meaningful. This mentality is what makes any ‘ism’ appealing. Their belief in the ‘inspired Bible’ is not based on solid evidence, but on a desperate need to have a way to explain life; where humans came from, why there is suffering, how to live a moral life, how to be forgiven and what will happen at death and at the end of the world.

6. Combatant Christians – These people are fundamentally angry at their core. They love strife and conflict, even if they say they want peace. The energy that motivates them is rage, hatred and anger. They adhere to the Christian religion because it often uses warfare symbolism. They require an opponent, they need someone or something to fight. An ex-board member for Jerry Falwell told of meetings in Lynchburg where the committee determined who would be the ‘enemy of the month’ to raise money from the faithful. These Christians legitimate their rage by channeling it into religious forms, ‘warriors for Jesus’ they call it.

7. Sex Obsessed Christians – Sexual energy may be the strongest energy in the human psyche. Spontaneous sexual fantasies, thoughts and urges can creep into the minds of the most ordinary men and women. Most, out of shame and embarrassment, would never admit it; so their solution is to declare war on it and fight it mightily. Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggert and Ted Haggert are just symptoms of a huge group of Christians who are obsessed with their own sexual fantasies. They try to deal with them, not by being honest, but by blaming TV, music, movies and culture in general.


My point is not to say these motives are wrong or useless; in fact, people find great comfort and assistance by these pseudo versions of Christianity. My point is to say that these people are not representing Jesus, nor are they correctly espousing an absolute and eternal system devised by God. They are, as most of us are, seeking to get by on this planet. Most of them will never care much about seeking some ultimate cosmic 'Truth,' or the plight of anyone other than themselves and their closest family and friends. Few will ever seriously seek the Truth. Few if any will ever actually research Islam, Buddhism or any 'competing' belief system to seriously understand it. Most of them will go to the grave believing that their self-centered, unexamined, inherited declaration of universal certainty is the only way. I'm sure it is in vain that I ask of them that they stop implicating Jesus in their narrow, self-centered claims, and please stop shoving their fear and insecurity on others.

Kierkegaard said that he had a single mission in life, 'to wake people up.' His sole purpose in writing was to assist people in realizing that they were living by their pastor's, priest's, university professor's, local politician's or parent's truth. What about me? What about you?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


I recently received a letter from a struggling Christian acquaintance who is in excruciating agony around his/her sexuality. The specific situation, or gender is not important since this is a human struggle. If you are not a Christian, or former Christian, this blog will probably make little sense to you; but if you have been immersed in a conservative Christian (or Jewish or Muslim) tradition, this response may be helpful. The person wrote to me asking, "Where in the Bible can I find answers to my current sexual dilemma?"


Dear _________

I read your letter with interest. You see, I too had a very powerful born again Christ centered experience while in college. I then went to a Christian college, and two different seminaries. I became a minister of a conservative Evangelical Free Church, and taught part time in a conservative seminary. I was taught, and believed that the Bible was the basis for solving all of my problems, including sexuality.

Many of your questions and observations sound similar to my own back when I began to question things 15 years ago. I could respond to your letter of inquiry in one of two ways:

1. I could remain within the boundaries of traditional Christian doctrine and examine various interpretations of the Bible about sex. I did that for years.

2. I could simply show you the end of the process for me, and why I am where I am. I shall go with number two, because there is literally no end to the debate when you assume that the Bible is the answer book for all of life's problems. There are infinite interpretations.


First, a parable: Once upon a time, a man and his wife moved into the little log cabin that his great grandfather had built 8o years earlier. It was a very small dwelling, with only a bedroom and a living room/kitchen. There was no indoor plumbing or electricity and the toilet was in an outhouse 30 yards from the cabin. The man loved his family cabin. As time went on, the couple had some children, one, two and finally a third. The cabin was cramped to say the least and very hard to live in. His wife begged him to buy a larger house, or at least knock out a wall and add on some rooms. He refused, declaring that his great grandfather had raised 7 kids in that cabin, his grandfather had raised 6 kids, and his father had raised 5. He said over and over, "If it was good enough for my forefathers, it was good enough for me!" One day he got home from work and found his wife and 3 kids gone with the following note: "My dear husband - Just because your family suffered through the misery of these cramped quarters does not mean we have to. I have taken the kids and left for a bigger house that meets our current needs. If you want to join us, feel free; if not, enjoy your old cabin."

Life changes, and if we don't change with life, we will continue living in conditions which were once necessary and worked for others, but are no longer necessary. The way people communicate in 2007 has changed drastically since the time of Jesus, and the way we travel, acquire food, do medical treatment, make clothing, deliver mail, warm our homes, and a 10,000 other areas have changed dramatically over 2,000 years. Why would religion be any different? If all of these other areas of life expand with greater learning and human experience, why wouldn't spiritual understanding? The Christian God has always been characterized by giving newer, clearer and more relevant information to every age. For example, when Moses heard God at the burning bush, the message was:

"God also said to Moses, "I am the LORD. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name the LORD I did not make myself known to them." [Exodus 6:2-3]

Here, we see a new name for a new era, a new way that God made himself known and new ways to think about life and act. Sadly, humans tend to freeze the old information and disallow the new, even when people claim the new is from God. Many old timers prefer to stay in their old religious cabins, built by Abraham, David and Paul. But even the Bible teaches that God brings new revelation; there is a new testament. Why not a newer testament? Is the eternal God limited to two names, or two testaments?

As long as you stay in the old cabin of the Bible, you will never experience the depth of God's infinite teaching. Sexuality in the time of Abraham was different than that of Moses, and Moses than that of David, and David than that of Jesus. Sexuality does not have a single biblical basis. People in every age struggle with how to balance the powerful personal sexual urges with social decorum. The Bible bounces from monogamy, to polygamy and finally to voluntary celibacy with Jesus and Paul. There were times when incest was normal and times when it was a mortal sin. There were times when men could have sex slaves called concubines, and times when they were to be the husband of one wife. Using the Bible to establish an absolute code of sexual conduct is like using the wheel to construct the one and only automobile.

Humans in every era have been meant to struggle with these issues. You are as important to the biblical God as Abraham, Moses, David or Paul - and they each struggled with God to know the Truth. The word Israel means 'to wrestle with God.' Stop wrestling with a book, and meet God face to face like Jacob - then you will move out of your current depression, anxiety and frustration. We are surrounded by other information about sexuality. Have you heard of the person who was searching the night sky for comets with an old set of binoculars, ignorant of the fact that he was standing right next to the Mauna Kea observatory with the world's largest telescope? Truth is real, alive, present and in your very mind and soul. But as long as you set the Bible up as a theological idol, Truth will not take you as deep as you want to go.

Stop being a Pharisee trapped in the cabin of the Christian Torah. Neither Paul nor Jesus expected people 2,000 years later to take their limited first century words as the basis for sexual exploration, any more than they expected people to take their words, or the Bible, as the eternal basis for communications, transportation, clothing or any other area of modern life. Only a few people, like the Amish, are consistent in following their old traditions in EVERY area. Why do you not dress like Moses or build your house like David? After all, they are 'biblical.' If you are free to drive a car instead of a chariot, prepare food on the Sabbath rather than be executed for doing so, dress in a suit rather than a robe, use a light bulb instead of an oil lamp - then you are free to examine sexuality in the light of modern advances.

Bottom line _________: You are using the Bible as the Pharisees did, a book of laws. You have been convinced by your dear old minister and a host of Pharisaic Christians that God is trapped in a book, incapable of speaking to us directly. They have also brainwashed you into believing there is some single, objective, absolute view of sexuality in the Bible. Be courageous and go directly to the Spirit of Truth, wrestle, ask, experiment, fail, explore and learn; or play it safe and debate a few contradictory texts. I can almost guarantee you, that if you take the later route, you will be consistently inconsistent with your sexual struggles. Look at Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggert, Ted Haggert and a host of modern conservatives who constantly harp on sexual purity and constantly fail living up to their own 'godly' values again and again. Why? Because they are following laws rather than Spirit. Go to Spirit directly.

Now do you see why Jesus was put on trial and executed?! He dared to come to God directly, without a book, without the Law, without the letter or text as final authority - Jesus followed the Holy Spirit and refused to put new wine into old wine skins. The old wine skin is the Bible; the new wine is your heart expanding with sexual struggles and other spiritual questions. If you keep pouring the new wine of your questions into the old wine skins, you will find no satisfaction or answers.

Follow the Spirit of Christ; then you will really KNOW what it means to take up your cross and follow Jesus, because your peers will crucify you for leaving the idol of the Bible behind.

Monday, August 20, 2007


EUTHENIA was the Greek Goddess or spirit (daimon) of Prosperity, Abundance and Plenty.

"Goddess Euthenia, I behold you as dynamic and intentional, living and expressive. I open my ego-self for you to express your traits of abundance and prosperity. I make myself a site for your good to come to me and through me in whatever manner best fits my destiny and vocation. Grant me all of the money, connections and circumstances that I need to fulfill my call to service, joy and well being. Allow me to bring wealth and abundance into as many lives as possible with the years I have on and off of this planet. I honor and recognize Your Presence and open my soul to your blessed awareness. Dwell in me and make me a rich blessing."

NOTE: In Judaism, the following prayer might be directed to Yahweh Jireh, the LORD our Provider; in Islam it would be directed to Al-Ghanaie (الغنى), the All-Rich God; Christians would address it to Jesus who came to "give life more abundantly" (John 10:10); South Americans would pray to Ekkeko; Hindus would say this prayer to Ganesh; ancient Romans would have directed it to the Goddess Ops or Abundantia; the Celts would have addressed Coventina, their goddess of abundance; Buddhists would rub the round belly of the Opulent Buddha; modern Americans would just pat themselves on the back for working hard. Every culture and civilization has recognized a dynamic Presence and intentional Power for Prosperity. Yes, we must find our vocation and do the work; and we must equally acknowledge that we do not do it alone.

Saturday, August 18, 2007


"There are mysteries which men can only guess at, which age by age they may solve only in part."
Bram Stoker, Dracula

Imagination is at the root of our ideas, behaviors and attitudes. Ultimately the feelings and moods we drift in and out of are connected to these innate images which have taken up residence in us over the years. In another blog I wrote about the power of artful images.

I am not speaking of the typically modern understanding of images or imagination, our simple visuals or daydreams. While parts of what I am referring to, they are a very small parts of a fascinating whole. Carl Jung said, 'the psyche is image.' In other words, the very core of our being is founded on images, on imagination. The psyche is not fundamentally neurons, cognitive processes or learned behaviors, but images.

An image is a 'way of seeing,' or a 'way of seeing into and through.' An image might be likened to a pair of tinted glasses which affects everything one beholds. Images form the context, grid, filter or paradigm of our particular psychic lens; they comprise the means by which we interpret the world around us. These internalized imagistic structures are not just imprinted cognitive patterns, but they are alive in us. Now that is a wild claim in our modern world which tells us that our skulls contain nothing but a couple pounds of meat rife with neurons which communicate via dendritic pathways firing electro-chemical signals stimulated soley by the physical senses, a.k.a. the brain.

Jung, and other depth psychologists, believe we are animated by the images or fantasies which dwell in us, that the brain is an organ which mediates psyche rather than originating it. The brain, like a TV/VCR monitor, receives, records, plays, rewinds, erases, etc., but there is some field which originates and broadcasts these original (archetypal) 'signals.' Yes, this sounds like something out of a science fiction novel, but as Isaac Asimov said, "Science fiction writers foresee the inevitable." Humans live by images as much as they live by oxygen and food. Some well known Jewish teacher once said, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by words (images)..."

That is why other cultures were so obsessed by what we call 'art.' The earliest known imagistic representation dates back to nearly 500,000 years ago. It is about 2 inches long and resembles a human figurine. We know of the famous European cave paintings, Egyptian funerary images, Greek statuary, Roman mosaics, Mayan temples, Native American totems, Chinese water colors and the ubiquitous cultural rituals saturated with images. Art? Pardon me, but what a silly term. Did these people have the time or interest, amidst their life and death struggles for survival, to make art? They spent hours chipping away to make flint arrowheads and hollowing out log canoes, and in their spare time they made 'art.' Hardly. These imagistic representations were as crucial for survival as any weapon or tool.

Unfortunately, modern psychology has lost this fact. We have divided life into the 'arts and sciences', implying that the real important stuff for living resides in the practical technologies, and the arts are for Saturday strolls in the museums, or free evenings in the theatre. Evidently, man shall live by bread alone.

Our moods, behaviors, attitudes and lives rise up from the misty and sometimes mystical moors of a living psyche. Like ghosts, old images swirl around the haunted houses we call our souls. The ancients called it 'demon possession', 'being filled with spirits' or other terms connoting the internal animated dynamic of the psyche. They are not there primarily to make us happy or sad, depressed or elated, fulfilled or bored - but to make souls. Whether negative or positive images, they reside in us to make soul. This is done by paying attention; not by medicating or meditating them away. Some of these images need to be reinforced, honored, remembered and given the modern equivalent of the ancient's idea of sacrifices. Others need to be seen, heard, attended to and finally deleted. Even these negative images of fear, anxiety and rage which have been wreaking havoc on us for decades must be recognized, faced up to and then let go; Jesus 'exorcised' them.

For some, this whole notion seems like the ramblings of a madman, eccentric mystic, or brain damaged kook. God knows I have tried other approaches to life: religion (conservative, liberal and metaphysical), skeptical philosophies (existentialism, God delusionism), materialistic psychologies (behaviorism, cognitive and family systems), eastern philosophies (meditation, reality is illusion) and humanistic psychology (achieving my potential). Each is a wonderful fantasy, containing lovely and not so lovely images by which I have lived and thought, but each is just an image, a fantasy. James Hillman says we have science fiction and the fictions of science; both are images, and each is real, insofar as each can take you in making a soul. But the Psyche is a process of limitless images, infinite combinations of archetypal, imagistic energies which animate and comprise the soil of the entire Cosmos, the soil from which galaxies, solar systems, planets, societies, religions, political systems and individuals spring.

At every level, but primarily for each of us at the individual level, the work begins with our images. I will have more to say about that later. But I highly recommend Robert Sardello's book, Freeing the Soul from Fear. This is not one of the myriad New Age 'love is the answer' books which never tell you what the question is. Sardello makes it as clear as one can clarify the elusive Psyche, if love is the answer, the question is, 'how do we make souls?'

Tuesday, August 14, 2007



Art historian E.H. Gombrich says those mummy wrapping Egyptians who painted the elaborate funerary scenes found on the tombs of royalty were not ‘artists’ in the contemporary sense of the word. They were the equivalent of modern assembly line factory workers. Their sketching, scripting, sculpting and painting were a means to insure a transition into a literal afterlife for those who could afford such elaborate burials. These artisans were trained like construction workers who produced Images which would bridge the seen world to the unseen. We might call them Image-engineers. They were not producing works of art to be critiqued in the New York Times, or to be sold and hung in living rooms or museums. They were not famous maestros like Michelangelo or Raphael, but ordinary employees, or even slaves.


Similarly, the images found on the villa walls at the ash-covered archaeological site of Pompeii were not just decorative, but considered to function as conduits between worlds. The Romans, like the Egyptians, believed there was an unseen realm that interfaced with the seen world of humans. To portray and display these divine images was to invoke and honor these influential realms populated by other-than-human beings. The same held true for the ubiquitous statuary, totems and temples from Greece to India, and from China to the Americas. The Apostle Paul was referring to this same notion when he said, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against Principalities and Powers (Archons) in high places (unseen realms).” [Epistle to the Ephesians 6]

Today we simply call it art. We prefer to look at the different styles: Classical, Renaissance, Expressionism, Impressionism, Modern, et al. Many people today are too educated and grounded in empirical scientism to fall for the simplistic views of the pre-scientific ancients. Rarely do we moderns think that art is actually connected to anything other than our own five senses and neural processes.

We might take an art course to learn how to appreciate the poem or painting, to learn the styles, forms and motifs, but rarely do we see through the art into the existence of another Realm which is just as real, or more real than the so called physical. Mircea Eliade called this invisible realm the 'Sacred Center', and Henry *Corbin called it the Mundus Imaginalis, or World of Living Images. We call it make believe.

Granted, we may get chills from beholding a particularly touching sunset or breathtaking statue, but we explain that as mere biochemical responses conveyed by appreciative synaptic connections originating in the brain and traveling along the spinal column. Seldom do we experience what the Hindus call ‘darshana’, or seeing and being seen by the gods. The ancient Greeks called it ‘theatre,’ a place where people might encounter the Religious Realm. Like ‘darshana, the Greek word theatron signified a "place for viewing the gods.” Gombrich says that the ancients would not have understood our modern term or concept of art, for they were looking to touch the invisible world of the Eidon or Idea/Image.


T.S. Eliot said, "Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood." There is something happening in certain numinous encounters with art at the sub-rational or trans-rational level, so that the five senses and brain are the mediators rather than the source of the experience. Modern biological psychology tells me that my brain is assigning meaning and significance to the work of art. Really? Perhaps. But then perhaps the work of art becomes a conduit which actually allows the mind to cross over into another realm for a few moments. Perhaps that framed painting which captivates your gaze is actually a window which allows you to see into a very 'real' other world, as in C.S. Lewis's 'Voyage of the Dawn Treader' where Edmund and Lucy are drawn back into Narnia through a painting, together with their horrid cousin Eustace Scrubb. We see this motif showing up again and again: Alice through the looking glass into Wonderland and Dorothy through the tornado into Oz.

Literature acts similarly for many of us, transporting our mundane existence into another sort of reality. Again, we moderns usually explain the experience by saying the brain creates the place to which we retreat. But for the ancients, the place was more than just an intelligent blob of flesh between your ears. For them, words were alive - with births, parents and genealogies. Words, spoken and written, were bridges or magical cyphers. The Hebrew term for 'word' is also the word for a 'material thing' or object. Similarly, that's why the Egyptians used hiero (sacred) glyphs (symbols). To have a word symbol of a boat on your tomb was to assure the presence of an actual boat in the afterlife.

We must remember that humans do not invent words or numbers - we discover them. Nouns and verbs are archetypal, existing before the human brain was formed, just as numbers existed before there was a brain to think them. Some Russian researchers believe they have found evidence that the universal laws of grammar and syntax are in our DNA. It is possible that words may arise from the realm of Living Nouns and Verbs. When I remember that adjectives and adverbs are essential aspects of eternal verities like Plato's Beauty, Truth and The Good, then reading, writing and speaking actually connect us other realms. The Muses become more than nice little Greek myths; there is actually something, or someone whispering in my ear, opening my eyes to see the curious enchantment in a bird slicing the curved horizon, or the leaves weeping as they fall from their once secure limbs. I see the glories and horrors of Nature, and know that the same Anima which moves the galaxies, moves me.
*Corbin makes a distinction between imaginary (something made up), imaginative (an artistic creation) and imaginal (parallel Reality perceived by the Psyche).

Friday, August 10, 2007



The usual question around the ‘problem of pain’ comes from an assumption; the assumption is of a certain view of God. The question is usually stated like this, “How can an all powerful, all good God allow a variety of indiscriminate atrocities to strike innocent children and good people?"

What if we are beginning with the wrong question? What if we shift the question to, “Why is it that humans have always turned toward a transcendent concept or personality when pain arrives?"

Perhaps we are approaching the issue ass-backwards by beginning with an assumed definition of God to be defended. Perhaps, instead, we need to begin with the observable fact of the human minds natural propensity to move in an Other-worldly direction when faced with trauma. In other words, it seems that pain moves us from a small version of existence toward the agonizing contemplation of a larger version, which often involves some sort of Higher Power or God. Without the crisis, we would not be forced to expand our awareness, which makes soul at an invisible level, and character at a more visible level.

Let me illustrate:

Most of us, in this age of computers, have had the experience of losing a lengthy email, file or other document over which we toiled mightily. A former girlfriend once accidentally deleted my personal document file containing two years of writing and class notes. Foolishly, I had not backed up anything; or was it so foolish? I ended up beginning each deleted project anew, and watched the resurrection of each idea done in a way which clearly exceeded what had been done before. Without the trauma of deletion, I would have never expanded those ideas as I did.

Traumatic loss has a way of forcing us outside of our saved and ‘completed’ files, outside of our stored-up views of ‘reality.’ Like Job of the Hebrew Bible, our lives, when cracked open, send us scrambling for answers and new places to reside, physically and psychically. When our comfortable homes, taken for granted health, financial security and beloved family members are threatened or lost, we automatically ‘cry out.’ The word ‘out’ is critical. Out means we are forced to leave what we were ‘in’, out of our old secure abodes, out of those tiny but precious psycho-spiritual domiciles where the God-image was neatly defined, categorized and understood. Out...expanding...adventing. When the old security devices disappear, we are literally forced to shift.

The human propensity to create little worlds, and to hang onto our old secure gods helps us understand the story in Genesis where Jacob covertly moves his family from Iraq back to Israel. We read that just before they departed, his wife Rachel “stole her father's household gods.” (Genesis 31:19) Rachel’s father, Laban, discovered the lost family and deleted gods and went a little nuts. He frantically went after the old gods. For Laban the gods symbolized his two sweet daughters and many grandchildren he would probably never see again. Laban does not recover his precious gods, and we can only conjecture what he did to replace them once he got back to his painfully empty tents. But replace them he did, in some fashion. Loss always sends us searching for our old gods, often not finding them, forcing us to refashion, re-invent and re-imagine them.

And why did Rachel steal them? I am guessing it was a last minute decision as she was contemplating her move away from home, the loss of her childhood memories - the scents, scenes and years of routine and stability. Many of us fondly look back upon our childhoods and long for the good ole days when it was simpler. Rachel too was in pain, and her agony sent her to the gods.

Similarly, in the painful death of Jesus, we see the agonizing search for God. From the cross Jesus shouted, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Some see this as an explicit or tacit declaration of the death of the old Hebrew God-image which was going to come and rescue Israel from her political oppressors. It was time to 'know God by another name.' opening the way for a reinvention or re-imagination of the Transcendent Realm. From that moment, there arose various new interpretations of what God was like. Humans were ready to give God a new name, a different identity to match their experiences of the transcendent realm.

We find another such a moment mentioned in the Old Testament with Moses, a felonious fugitive tending sheep near Mount Sinai. Some paint him as a content shepherd in an idyllic pasture filled with prancing sheep and soft blue skies. I see him recalling his days as a prince in Egypt with servants, fine food and wines and luxury on every level of life. Now he is ankle deep in sheep shit, working under a scalding sun, remembering the murder he committed and the rejection by his own Hebrew people who identified him publically as the killer. Moses was in pain, doubting the God of Abraham, forced to search his heart and the heavens. In this situation he sees and appraoches the famous burning bush and hears a new name for God:

“I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name the LORD I did not make myself known to them.” Exodus 6:3

If Moses had been a good Jew, Catholic, Baptist or Muslim, he would have surely walked away from the fiery shrub at Sinai mumbling, “Ha! The old name given to Abraham is the only name. God doesn’t change. Blasphemy! Clearly, some demon has possessed that bush.” Moses came to know that a vibrant, living spirituality involved experiencing the Divine by another name, by new metaphors and dynamically fresh images. His pain sent him into a deeper acquaintance with the Infinite.

This idea scares religious people to death, particularly those we call conservatives or fundamentalists. I used to be one, and I sympathize with their fears. It sounds blasphemous to question, re-imagine or re-name the Almighty. Conservatives see such attempts as ‘mere humans trying to play God.’ They wonder how we would dare to re-define or re-imagine God in our arrogant subjectivity. What they fail to see is that the Infinite Being can never be contained by a stock set of images and cultural metaphors, even when they are in a supposed Holy Book.

Sadly, many of these conservatives began their spiritual lives with a joyful encounter of the Living Presence, bringing them unspeakable joy and infectious enthusiasm; but most of them gradually become lifeless, miserable or apathetic in their defense of an old name for God, in their stale creedal images of the Infinite Source which once shook them to life. It is sad to see people who were once so alive and vibrant become so dull and powerless. Most will continue to pay lip service to the old God, now set on a church altar like Laban’s family idols, often finding a hobby or addiction to absorb their time, energy and money – but there will be those who, like Moses, seek out new experiences, defy conventional theological systems, discovering fresh images and new names for the Infinite, ever expanding Realm where souls thrive once again.

So then, perhaps the role of suffering has nothing to do with any particular theology or religiously concocted God that needs to be reconciled to it. Perhaps suffering does not need to be reconciled with anything. Perhaps suffering is to the Transcendent Realm what hunger and thirst are to the physical realm, impetuses moving us beyond the current boundaries, over the hill, across the water, further out. Perhaps suffering is to the tiny self what an algebra problem is to the tiny brain, an impetus to expand. Math, like God, is unfathomable, bottomless and always calling us into the depths. If the God-image does not fit the phenomena called suffering, then it is time for the image to change, and change, and change...

Wednesday, August 8, 2007


I have a friend who is a very conservative Republican, Christian. He has a mailing list of Christian friends, all conservative Republicans. Weekly I get emails which praise Jesus, the Bible and Republican politics. He recently sent the following email to the group in order to prove that it is smarter to be a Republican than a Democrat. The story itself makes a pretty good point from a conservative, fiscally responsible point of view. However, I find great irony in the story because of the Christian factor. Is this a story or parable Jesus would have told or agreed with? Please read it and see what you think. You will see that I have revised the story in Part II, making it more consistent with the Jesus of the New Testament as opposed to the Jesus of American Republicans. I am not asking you to side with anyone, or arguing for one version over the other necessarily. I am simply pointing out the odd use of Jesus with the conservative agenda.


Father-Daughter Talk

A young woman was just finishing her first year of college. Like so many others her age, she considered herself to be a very liberal Democrat and was very much in favor or redistribution of wealth. She was ashamed that her father was a staunch Republican, a feeling she openly expressed. She felt that her father had for years harbored an evil, selfish desire to keep what he thought was his.

One day she was challenging her father on his opposition to higher taxes on the rich and the addition of more government welfare programs.

He responded by asking her how she was doing in school.

Taken aback, she answered rather haughtily that she had a 4. 0 GPA, and let him know that it was tough to maintain, difficult course load, no partying, no boyfriends, and not many friends because of the heavy studying.

Her father asked, "How's your friend Audrey doing?"

She replied, "Barely getting by, she takes easy courses, never studies, goes to all the parties, and missed classes being hung-over, she barely has a 2.0 GPA."

The father says," Why don't you go to the Dean's office and ask him to deduct 1.0 off your 4.0 GPA and give it to Audrey, who only has a 2.0, then you both will have a 3.0 GPA, certainly that would be a fair and equal distribution of the GPA.

The daughter, visibly shocked by the suggestion angrily fired back, "That wouldn't be fair! I have worked my tail off to get my good grades and Audrey has done next to nothing to get hers!"

The father slowly smiled, winked and gently said," Welcome to the Republican Party"



More Jesus-Friendly Version of the Father-Daughter Talk

A young woman was just finishing her first year of college. Proud to be different, she considered herself to be a very staunch young Christian Republican and was very much in favor of earning and keeping her wealth. She was ashamed that her father was a staunch Democrat, a feeling she openly expressed. She felt that her father had for years given way too much to people who did not deserve it, helping drug addicts, unwed mothers, people living in squalor and criminals who had wasted their lives away.

One day she was challenging her father who was asking people to give their money to the poor and those who hadn't done anything to deserve it. He responded by asking her how she was doing in school.

She answered rather haughtily that she had a 4. 0 GPA, and let him know that it was tough to maintain, difficult course load, no partying, no boyfriends, and not many friends because of the heavy studying.

Her father asked, "How's your friend Audrey doing?"

She replied, "Barely getting by, she takes easy courses, never studies, goes to all the parties, and missed classes being hung-over, and is failing most of her classes."

The father says," Why don't you go to the Dean's office and ask him to give Audrey your 4.0 GPA and you take her failures?"

The daughter, visibly shocked by the suggestion angrily fired back, "That wouldn't be fair! I have worked my tail off to get my good grades and Audrey has done next to nothing; she deserves to fail!"

The father slowly smiled, winked and gently said, "Now you know how God felt when he gave up everything for a world filled with people like Audrey who failed miserably, wasted their lives and ended up with nothing but their sins and failures. Now you know why Jesus said, "If a man asks you for his shirt, give him your coat too; and now you know why Jesus told the Rich Young Republican to sell all that he had and give it to the poor. Now you know that Audrey is the Prodigal daughter, and how a father shows love to his lost child. Welcome to the Jesus' Party."


It never ceases to amaze me how those who call themselves Conservative Christians are so often the farthest from the message of the original Gospel of Jesus.