Monday, May 31, 2010

The Book of Job: Divine Banishment from the Commonplace

THE STORY OF JOB: Divine Banishment from the Commonplace

The story of Job is an approach to madness or falling apart that is very different than our modern American approach. We see madness as the result of sin, disease or something being "wrong" with someone. Madness needs to be cured, fixed or healed. Most of us see no real benefit to going a little or a lot mad. It has not always been so as seen in this 4th century BC quote from Plato:

"It is not an invariable truth that madness is evil--in reality the greatest blessings come by way of madness, of madness that's heaven sent--this madness comes not from mortal weakness or diseases--but by way of a Divine Banishment from the Commonplace." From Plato’s Phaedra

Plato recognizes that there are times madness is a curse, a disease and sent from a destructive place. However, he also suggests that there is a "method in madness," a purposive insanity, a heavenly falling apart. I have spent the past five months immersed in the Book of Job. This is a story about devastation, disintegration, dissolution, falling apart or madness. The dictionary defines madness as the state of insanity, frenzy, rage or intense excitement. We find all of those qualities in Job.

The story of Job explores the Hell of eviscerating emotions and the insane thinking that comes with the experiences of unimaginable loss. The Greeks called it madness. Moderns call it insanity. The word ‘sanus’ means whole, and insanity means falling apart. We all experience it at one time or another.

I have found in Job an "approach" to suffering. Most historians think the book was written immediately after Judah's Babylonian captivity in 600 B.C. The Jews lost their homes, cities, temple, religion, land, wealth, children, wives, husbands and physical well being. Job may have been a real person, but it doesn't matter. When I call Job an "approach to suffering" I mean that the content is not the main point of the story. Job’s deeply emotional, brutally honest and bitter complaining are the keys to the story. The aftermath of devastating losses is always messy. That’s the point—disorder anticipating a new order. This is symbolized by Job sitting in a shit-filled garbage heap scraping the festering physical and emotional wounds oozing infection and stench. Job’s long-winded three friends can be taken internally as the many confusing voices in our heads after a tragedy. Or the friends can be viewed literally as acquaintances and a society that give some good advice, some stupid advice, some well intended but misguided compassion as well as many standard views regarding suffering--and much more.

But Job would not acquiesce. He expressed himself honestly until HIS soul found resolution. He didn't care about spiritual convention or "right answers." He would not join the herd or resort to old age or new age adages. Ironically, the clichés were often right, but they didn't LIVE in his soul. He had to KNOW for himself, not hear from others—SEE for himself, not believe in stale spirituality or psychology. That kind of “knowing-for-oneself” always comes by moving through the emotions, plodding through the nightmare of the event and by being honest to God. Self help books, seminar formulas and borrowed solutions may provide food for consideration, but they do not give answers. The Jack-o-lantern of one’s individual soul has to be carved from the raw pumpkin one gut-wrenching scoop at a time.

Finally, after endless cycles of emotional venting, Job sees and meets his "new God-image." The point of such disintegrations is to cause our old experience of God to dissolve in order that we might expand the boundary that contains our spacious souls. It is significant that God speaks to Job from the same windstorm that blew down the house that killed his kids. You can count on the fact that the event that destroys you is the event that re-creates you--but there is no guaranteed outcome of that re-creation. Some people become bitter, helpless, hopeless invalids. Some go numb by using drugs, work or entertainment; others sink back into a comfortable church pew, nodding unconsciously to the same old religious clichés. Others, like Job, make themselves available to fall completely apart, and eventually come back together. They put their hands over their mouths in stunned silence and allow as much time as needed for their new God to emerge from the devastation.

I think the happy ending of Job is a little too neat, but I also like the Hebrew philosophy that teaches there is purpose in all suffering. The Book of Job has provided me with a tiny thread sticking out of a ball of often tangled and meaningless cosmic yarn. Job has no "answers," but has provided me with a perspective, with the ability to follow the thread of madness, and follow it to wherever it leads my individual soul on its unique journey of Soul-making.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010



What do the Pillsbury Doughboy and the Virgin Birth have in common? Answer: both tell the truth through symbols or metaphors. I recently saw products sold on television by talking lizards and turtles. When I was growing up, there was a gasoline commercial with a Tiger exclaiming, "You have a Tiger in your tank!" There is hardly an advertisement that does not exaggerate or use outrageous symbols to sell their products. Why? Because ordinary images do not convey the depth of feeling desired by the speakers.

That is the same reason all religious systems and stories use such images or symbols. Ordinary language is not big enough. Love is another example. Which captures the feelings of a lover speaking to his beloved? "You fill my heart with a universe of stars," or, "Being in your vicinity sends energy signals down thousands of dendritic nerve endings, causing massive amounts of oxytocin and serotonin to leap across synapses, flooding my bio-neurological system with chemicals that create pleasurable sensations in my brain and body."


One can believe in advertising without taking the images literally. One can believe in his religion without taking the images literally. Belief is not compromised by some event not being literal or rational. Humans live and communicate on different levels. On the literal level, we might say, "The house is on fire," and you would call the fire department. On the poetic level, Bruce Springsteen might sing, "I'm on fire," and we would know he was filled with sexual desire. On the spiritual level, when we read in the Book of Acts, "The Spirit fell upon them with tongues of fire," we understand that they had a passionate and powerful message to share. The fact that their tongues were not actually on fire does not make you an idiot for believing the story means what it says. Similarly, with something like the virgin birth, one does not have to believe that a young Jewish girl was inseminated by God in order to become and remain a Christian. The symbol is bigger than the literal meaning. Let me give an example:

Many years ago, as a young irreligious college student, I was reading the Bible out of curiosity. I wanted to see what had happened to my parents who had become Christians. On the third night, lying in my bed, reading through the Gospel of Matthew and the Passion story, I closed the Bible and turned out the light to sleep. I do not exaggerate when I say that a compulsion filled my mind and body with an urge that said, "Believe!" To this day I do not know what it was, but I folded my hands and prayed, "I believe." My world changed as I was "born again." That phrase, "born again," was used by Jesus in the Gospel of John to describe a profound spiritual awakening. He used the phrase while speaking to a religious teacher named Nicodemus. Nicodemus, a literalist, was puzzled by Jesus' statement. Nicodemus asked, "Do you mean that a man can enter into his mother's womb and be born again?" He could not get that Jesus was using a symbol or metaphor to describe a profound psycho-spiritual shift that affects one's whole life. The experience was literal, but the language was limited to an analogy that could at best approximate a dynamic spiritual conversion. Like most religious literalists, Nicodemus obsessed about the meaning of the words rather than the divine encounter and subsequent new life.


I suspect that if Jesus had said to Nicodemus, "I was born of a virgin," Nicodemus would have asked. "You mean your mother was impregnated by God Almighty?" I suspect, based on the way Jesus answered in John 3, he would have said to Nicodemus, "How can you, being such a smart theologian and lover of God, not understand what I am saying? I am trying to convey that the Source of a human's spiritual origin is God Almighty, not one's earthly parents."


Two kinds of people will be troubled by what I am writing: First, atheistic rationalists who call religion false because religious people speak of impossible events like walking on water, turning water to wine and virgin births. Second, theistic rationalists who cannot believe in their religion unless everything occurred literally. The common denominator for both is rationalism which is defined as "the principle of accepting human reason as the supreme authority in matters of opinion, belief, or conduct." Many modern religious believers are rationalists. This is ironic because the very people they often criticize as being without faith are secular rationalists. True spirituality is beyond the literal. When one encounters the realm of Spirit, it actually cheapens it to drag the experience down into ordinary human events.

I will conclude by saying that just as it is possible to believe in advertising while knowing that neither lizards nor turtles talk, it is possible to believe in the religious or spiritual world without taking the new birth, virgin birth or a thousand year millennium literally. Another irony is that those literalists who pride themselves in their literal theology are often spiritual empty and devoid of joy. Why? Because they have made their own mind the center of truth, limiting God to a very, very tiny little world of facts and evidence.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Religion, Politics and Modern Day Demon Possession

“Possession by an archetype turns a man into a flat collective figure, a mask behind which he can no longer develop as a human being, but becomes increasingly stunted. One must therefore beware of the danger of falling victim to the dominant of the mana-personality (powerful completed all wise being).” Jung CW &, pars. 387-90

I'd like to briefly examine this comment from Carl Jung and share my reflections.

This statement reminds me of myself when frozen in an idea or point of view. The Wizard of OZ behind his screen comes to mind--a man who has forgotten his dynamic nature, a man who has 'unbecome' an evolving human, a person who has frozen into a single ideological image. I believe this phenomenon was called "demon possession" or "spirit possession" in the ancient world. It begins with a single issue or idea which becomes the central issue. Obsession on the idea or issue leads to possession, and such possession always leads to higher and higher emotional actions and reactions.

Rightly or wrongly, I think of people like Sean Hannity, John Stewart, Glen Beck, Keith Olberman, Al Sharpton, Rush Limbaugh, Rosie O'Donnell and Ann Coulter. From this list you can see it is neither a Conservative nor Progressive issue, but an ideological issue, a frozen archetype implanted in a human psyche. This seems to be the case with most long term politicians, social activists and religious leaders. This is especially true when their public identity and financial security become dependent on their frozen ideologies. Rare exceptions have been people like Saul of Tarsus who became Paul the Apostle, CS Lewis and Anthony Flew who moved from atheism to theistic perspectives, Ronald Reagan who shifted from the democratic party to the republican point of view, or Malcolm X who converted from militant politics to a position of love and tolerance.

When we are not aware that our various ego-selves throughout life are meant to be transitory and provisional, human existence becomes flat, painful and all consuming. This happens especially to people after they turn fifty, but can be easily found in younger people too. This occurs when we are not aware that there are many eternal archetypal patterns with many ideas and points of view that seek to merge with our growing personality. There is nothing odd or wrong with becoming fixed or frozen for a time, but dynamic life always nudges us beyond every ego mask we create and wear.

Those who become solidified in a "permanent personality" are often at the forefront of violent or aggressive movements that gain momentum from a build-up of myopic archetypal energy. They are like raging waters gathering behind a wall that finally bursts forth. A psyche that has both eyes glued to the binoculars of a single powerful archetypal image is an explosion waiting to happen. One thinks of the Republican or Democrat who spends his/her life "gathering evidence" to prove that the opponents are wrong. One thinks of the theist or atheist who obsesses about the enemy, examining all of life, from news headlines to daily experiences in order to confirm their "theory of reality." They are blindly led everywhere with their pet archetypal seeing eye dog on a psychic leash. They are no longer conscious of being a "human becoming," but are a "human has become." Wars, minor or major, are always caused by such people. Without self reflection and integration of "the other," there is always aggression. The aggression typically leads to some form of empathic integration, eventually, if total annihilation is not the result.

How would a person know if s/he were such a person? Here is a quiz:

1. Can you think of a religious point of view you really hate? Be careful to guard against self deception on this question. Most of us do not want to think we are such people. Be honest. Is there a religious point of view you really hate?

2. Is there a political point of view you really hate? Is there a politician that causes a visceral reaction in you when you hear their name or see their face?

3. Do you keep attracting the same kind of friends, lovers or people into your life? Do these relationships keep ending in a similar, unsatisfying way?

Intense emotional resistance is the best indicator. To see this requires an act of honest, self reflective, usually painful awareness. Our resentments are sure signs of this painful archetypal myopia. "Resent" means to re-feel, and carries the idea that it is literally re-sent (sent back again and again) because it contains the nucleus of your soul's next evolutionary stage. Resentments are spot lights shining down into the dark cavern of your unconsciousness which holds the next phase in your growth as a human being. The pain and discomfort of resentments always carry the seeds of your flourishing soul. If you want to make life interesting again, and experience freedom, joy and peace, identify the people, ideas or situations you hate and find them in yourself. It takes a rare person to do this. Most are too lazy or too frozen in what Jung called "their dominant mana-personality." But if we do not follow the spot light into the cavern, we will grow more and more bitter, flat and bored. The end is always some sort of addiction, insanity or a life of lonely self righteousness.

This pathology of frozen consciousness or static identity became more widespread with the invention of writing. Prior to that, stories were dynamic, fluid and evolving with the oral story teller's words and the listeners mind. There was no opportunity to look back over the text, examine the details, comb through the syntax, examine each word and idea in order to form a more or less fixed image of what was meant. There could have been no "world religion" until writing was invented.

Perhaps the internet will thaw this tendency. Of course for those really stuck in the ideological concrete, the internet will allow them wide access to confirm their singular point of view.

When Jesus told his followers to "love their enemies," he was reminding them that our psychological hatred of someone or something holds the key to entering into God's next phase for the making of our infinite souls.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Politics and the Role of The Ego

Psychologically speaking, one's current "Ego" seed-pod typically forms a very hard outer shell of identity, as seed pods must. Certainty and security are absolute necessities for a functioning Ego. Politics and religion make great harbors for forming and maintaining a secure Ego-pod. They are neat and tidy with helpful beliefs, agendas and solutions to painful problems.

But the irony is that, just as with natural seeds, the hard impenetrable shell of Ego identity that simultaneously protects the precious contents, also hinders it from growing into a new entity. To make Eternal souls we must form these thick protective provisional Ego identities throughout life in order to become attached to particular ideas, feelings and intentions. This Ego-pod is not bad as much as it is necessary, until it is ready to crack open, shed the old identity and form a new one. But most of us hang on for dear life when that old identity is threatened; and there is nothing like politics, religion and marriage (close relationships) to assail that old Ego.

The frightening part of getting older is that we often grow so accustomed to our current Ego "order" of things that we solidify and become intractable. Typically, only death and disease can break through. We live in an ingenious Universe because age brings both in spades!

I call this Ego attachment I.M.D., or Ideological Myopia Disorder, which as I said is actually quite a good and necessary "order" until it causes more pain than security. That is why tribes and cult-ures make rites or rituals; to keep things in "divine right/rite order". A culture might be defined as "ones current ego-confirming cult of identity." "Rite" is etymologically related to "Right" (order), and people individually and collectively must carve out order and "rightness" in an otherwise chaotic universe. There is Progressive "Rightness" with their "orderly rites", and Conservative "Rightness" with their "orderly rites". Our political priests and media prophets affirm and confirm our meaningful realities, keeping us comfortably ensconced in our little socio-political "cults" or cultures. The glowing blue television has become the new altar of sacrifice where we slaughter and offer up our offerings in the sacred space of our homes. TV has become the primary medium of scapegoating in the modern world--virtual evisceration of our enemies and bloodless bloody murders.

Ones current "Ego" shell typically does not crack open to put down new roots without some sort of devastation that disintegrates our current ego. You can be assured, the more emotional we are toward our current "enemy," the more active the Universe is in splitting the old Ego-pod open to reveal the next provisional, soul-making Ego. The "Other" becomes our Satan, which literally means adversary; and in the Bible always works in tandem with Spirit to evolve our souls. That is why Jesus said to "Love your enemies" and "bless those who persecute you." He understood that the trip of soul-making requires obstacles and encounters with emotionally charged material. Our enemies work like erosive soil and fertilizer works on seeds when they are buried underground in the dark. If a seed had personality, it would think it ludicrous that immersion under a mound of suffocating dirt and darkness was the way to life and light. But that pod does not crack without pressure and disintegration.

Our current society does not seem to get this, especially, in my opinion, most politicians, who want to create a painless and dirt free world. Marx and Lenin had great intentions, as do our politicians. The problem is that they are fighting the larger intention of the Cosmos. Our brilliant Constitution guarantees us the "right/rite order" to pursue happiness, but not attain happiness. Yes, we ought to try and create a pain free world, but we must realize that pain and loss are necessary parts of the game. As Jesus said, "In this world you SHALL have tribulation," and "The poor you shall have with you always." This is not an endorsement for neglect or calloused disregard. Our personal compassion toward the less fortunate makes soul; however, it is not the job of the government to end suffering for all people everywhere.