Keryg道?

JMJ

You’re still here! Either you want to find a way to embody the Tao, the collected and shared teachings that are the birthright of all humans who claim them, or you’re reading along to see how this trainwreck ends. That’s ok. You’re here and I’m going to keep talking.

The Tao seems attractive: it’s been called all sorts of things by different philosophers and traditions. The Wiki offers, “The Perennial philosophy (Latin: philosophia perennis), also referred to as perennialism and perennial wisdom, is a perspective in spirituality that views all of the world’s religious traditions as sharing a single, metaphysical truth or origin from which all esoteric and exoteric knowledge and doctrine has grown.” And, I’m sure that some readers may have assumed I was going there. I’ve avoided that phrase on purpose.

I prefer the Tao (道) because, as I mentioned, C.S. Lewis uses that term. Of course he is also stealing it from another tradition but, personally, I find Taoism a very attractive way to walk. By coincidence, “Tao” also means “way” so it all fits together somehow. It also avoids all the metaphysical and occult shenanigans of philosophia perennis by already being attached to a specific meaning. If you think I’m offering a form of that, you will assume I mean “the perennial tradition,” alone, is enough. I do not mean that at all.

Perennialism is close… but not close enough. So, to convey the idea of “Perennialism plus the rest of whatever it is” I’m going to stick with Lewis’ Tao.

Robert Heinlein has his characters say in Stranger in a Strange Land, “Humility is endless. I am only an egg.” It is said that that book was written to invent a religion: it succeeded. The  Church of All Worlds is still around. He stopped short, missing the mark by assuming humans would follow literally anyone: including a fictional messiah from Mars. Since his messiah is fictional it’s actually Heinlein. Heinlein grasped Perennialism, but he missed the Tao. He’s right though, as far as he goes: humility is endless. Oddly, he missed the mark exactly here, at humility. If you want to follow the Tao, you have to humble yourself and follow someone else. Why? Because this path has been walked before therefore you will be behind someone. It’s best to be aware of that. There’s no way to lead on this path: you can follow. Following is not a bad thing – and humility is what is needed to learn. We do not have the chance, chronologically, to lead unless you want to assume (as many do) that literally everyone who has come before was wrong. That’s not Tao: that’s chronological arrogance; the assumption that the new, the now, the modern, the current is right because we “know more”. Tao says no to that. It’s the democracy of the past: there are literally millions and millions of folks, living and dead, who disagree with you. That should make you humble, not arrogant.

So who do you follow? Yes, different living and dead folks will have different answers here. Still, Bob Dylan says, “You gotta serve somebody.” Who does the Grail serve? What does that mean to you? I can’t answer this for you and I can’t show you the way beyond this point. All I can do is tell you how I got here.

Lao Tzu, the founder of Taoism, has often appealed to me. Before he wrote one of the foundational texts of Chinese teaching, he was court official. One day he was done. He abandoned court life and fame and was riding off into the wilderness to be alone. A gatekeeper realized the wisdom of this and asked the old man to write down what he had learned. That’s where the Tao te Ching came from. When I got to college and read the book “officially” for a class, the professor rattled off a list of passages that he was sure we had all underlined. Gosh, was I embarrassed because he was right. My “profound sense of wisdom” in these texts was that of any other 19-year-old fanboy. Still, there was something here. I held on to this text until about 5 years ago, really. It sat on a shelf with a lot of texts I considered “scripture”.

The same class also walked us through the basics of Hinduism and Buddhism. I have a profound respect for all three traditions. They are the aboriginal wisdom of half of the humans of the world and long before the West learned that Jupiter, Ammon, and Zeus were all the same (along with Alexander), this unified culture was growing and fecund. Yet I found no appeal in the Buddha and the Hindus, Sikhs, and Jains are all ethic groups long before they are religions (as the West understands things). You cannot convert to Jainism: you have to be born into it. Taoism pulled me along though. The idea that water flows down because of its nature, that it’s intended to do so, and in doing so it destroys rocks and carves canyons: this appealed to me. What’s my nature?

Long before this though, of course, I was raised in a Christian house among other such houses. I heard an evangelist preach hellfire on the radio when I was six and it scared me. Sometime in 1970 I prayed what is called “The Sinner’s Prayer” and “accepted Jesus into my heart”. This was the first of many such events when I was moved by my emotions to do something religious. Thing is, these things never stuck. If you were to check in with me a week, maybe two later – in 197o or 1992 – you’d have found that the emotional event made no change in my life. It felt good, though, to be terribly scared, and then “saved” or to cry brutally over my lost soul. My full-immersion water baptism in the Southern Baptist Church was very moving, very brief, very meaningless. I had to redo it when I became Methodist later because it wasn’t in the name of the Holy Trinity.

And that sentence should clue you into something important: all of this was rootless. My family moved around a lot when I was a kid. At 55, I’ve have not yet managed to stay at one mailing address for four successive Christmases. We would move to a new house and the three of us kids would go to the closest church. Whatever church was closest was good enough: Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian. I think Mom took us to a Catholic Church once. In the post-council Chaos of 1969/70/71, all I can remember is when I talked to the minister after the children’s service, Mom was horrified that I had done so. I remember being dismissed from the adult service and then there was a room where guitars and people wearing masks sang songs about the Gospel. Anyway… this rootlessness rubbed off on me. It’s dictated my spiritual path.

What religions have I not tried? my friend Steve asked. That list is very short. I’ve walked through several forms of Christianity, looked at Judaism, thought about Sufism, dipped deeply into the New Age, Pagan reconstructionism, Feminist Wicca, ritual magic, Gnosticism, Theosophy, Zoroastrianism, Mithraism, it goes on. I’m not sure if I should be embarrassed or traumatized.

When I discovered sex this story gets interesting for what I experienced as my rootlessness suddenly became a quest for connection and a continual string of emotional events, sexual contacts, that left me unchanged – and yet changed me greatly. The further into this world I went the more selfish I became – mostly, I was convinced, for my own protection. Truth be told, after a while selfish just was fun. Sex is not supposed to be selfish: there’s a whole book on this, but let’s take it as part of the process here. Eventually, I learned that sex that is not about self-gift is not a good thing. The self-gift has to be total, entire, and unreserved. Our bodies are built for this self-sacrifice: even the circuits of our brain are set up to trigger and auto-program from the intense hormonal release.

Our souls and bodies aside though, we are fallen. We need only look around for deep understanding that simply wanting to do something is not a reason for doing it. The newspapers and social mediae are littered with horrifying stories that begin, essentially, with “Because I wanted to do this…” Anyone who has paid attention to the world for the last few centuries (if not millennia) knows that “because I wanted to” is one sure sign that something is wrong.

So although “I wanted to” was driving quite the party in my life, it was not making me happy. I don’t mean I wasn’t having fun: I was. I mean I was not happy. I was not able to wake up every day and say I’m happy being me, I’m honored fully by the choices I’ve made, and I’m going to keep going. Most days I woke up and wondered, “What should I change to get happy?” And I’d make a change: move 3,000 miles, switch lovers or jobs, spend hundreds of dollars on a credit card, try a new religion. Sometimes all at once as moving across the country is very liberating and expensive. I’ve done that 7 times since 1984. Change was not fixing things. And somehow, all the changes still left me with me: like one of those essays about how everyone is “unique” but we’re all the same. Every time I changed, I was just more like me. And being like me was getting to be more and more something I didn’t like.

At the same time this was happening (from 1983-2016) another thing was happening. As my focus was getting more and more narrow, as my selfishness was becoming more of my raison d’etre. The Tao was claiming more and more of my heart. Even though I ran away in 2016 to a monastery I was there for selfish reasons: I was there out of fear and self-preservation.

Coming out of the monastery was the first real crack in my habit. How’s that for a pun? This post has gone on long enough. Next one coming later.

Kerygmy way or the highway

Colorado, Hwy 50 (Photo by Author)

JMJ

At the beginning of this series of posts, I mention that many of the religions in the world overlap in a way that CS Lewis calls the Tao. In recent posts I tried to show what we all have a sense of this Tao, even if we don’t believe in God. I’ve also tried to show, by an extreme example, that no one actually means “there is no truth” even when they say it. My example was that (almost) everyone believes fascism is wrong. This means there is a universal truth, at least in the negative. And, by way of the positive, everyone claims to believe, “just be nice” even if there is no one to agree what “nice” is. This appeal to some sense of universal truth means something.

If there is no universal order, no sense of right and wrong then fascism is no better or worse than democracy. There is no reason to insist on saving lives, no reason at all to imagine that President Trump and President Obama are anything other than equally valid options on a spectrum between nothing and nowhere. There is no reason to imagine anything other than personal taste decides things from moment to moment. And so what if “a majority voted on this”? I say it’s codswallop and I will shoot the first person who dares ay me nay. That’s the meaning of “there is no right or wrong” and “there is no universal truth”. If the Tao does not exist then even the words on this page are meaningless.

But no one believes that: for most folks, in many situations, actually like to believe they are making “right” choices. While there’s a whole culture of people who imagine that even being told they are using the wrong grammar is oppressive, they still believe fascism is wrong, too. In fact, they wear pink hats and riot in churches to prove their point.

The next step is a bit harder. Dare you explore the Tao to see what all is there? This is truly the tough part. All these overlapping religions agree – each in their own terms, mind you – with what Christians call the Ten Commandments, the Seven Virtues, and the Seven Deadly Sins. In fact, for most of human history, nearly everyone agreed on these points regardless of the religion or culture.

While each religious and philosophical system has its own theology or polytheology, all teach we are to honor the divine: even the so-called “nontheistic” paths. All religions have special days. All have taboo names, words, and foods. All teach honor for parents, fidelity to spouses, and a surprisingly-uniform sexual morality around the world. Almost all forbid murder but allow some prosecution of the necessary evil of war. All of them recognize the evil of consumption (covetousness) and greed.

Some points were not commonly held: abortion, for example, was ok in some religions: roman paganism let a father order the destruction of his child even after birth and the child would be left on a hillside to die in the chill. The same pater familias could order elderly out of his house and leave them on the same hillside. Marriage was nearly always a financial and religious issue. The idea of “romantic love” is a relatively recent invention. Romance has never played into any conception of social responsibility until the modern era. Same-sex activity was most often confined to either a recreational aside (assuming you had done your cultural duty of making babies) or else used as a military tool – a way to show your enemies who was boss. Human sacrifice and cannibalism were accepted in some cultures but forbidden in others. Magic formed the body of sexual ethics in some cultures, sometimes only among a certain class. Judaism and Christianity and later Islam would disagree with this strongly.

All religions agree on the moral goodness of charity – although they differ on how to work this out. Hospitality (to even the stranger and outsider) was a sacred obligation in almost every culture.

Modern and Post-modern humanity stands athwart nearly all of our ancestors in tossing this tradition aside: not piecemeal but in toto. We reject all conception of a religious tradition. Most, even those who claim to be religious including this author, tackle all of this on a point by point basis, opting to go a la carte along the moral spectrum. Where our ancestors would have seen total chaos we see freedom.

This is our culture, our mindset. We may not be entirely nihilistic but we are nearly always a la cart. Even the staunchly non-religious find they have not rejected religion whole-cloth, for they too like charity and “peace on earth” even when there’s no scientific reason for it.

The argument of this series may fail if the reader does not allow herself to see how point (A) that fascism is universally wrong implies a total pattern leading to point (B). Therefore, other things may be universally wrong as well. And, furthermore, (C) that somethings may be universally right. For us, the possibility of acknowledging a universal is new, unheard of. We happily accept illogic, weak arguments, and emotional appeals to fallacy. We generally like to consider each point: A is true, yet I do not like B, but C could be useful in the future.

So there are a couple of choices to make before proceeding.

I will acknowledge two things upfront: first, my own religion of Christianity says that following that “Tao” is not enough for happiness. There are some religions and philosophies that say the Tao is enough. I will also acknowledge that for some readers, no offer of “something else” will be enough to give up their current choices.

The first choice to make is over the right understanding of freedom. Is freedom properly understood as “I can do anything I want at any time I want”?

The American founders taught us that we had the right to “pursue happiness”. In fact, they say we have this right from God and it’s the duty of the state to protect that right. They are in agreement with ancient traditions here. All of the ancient cultures teach the purpose of such universal goods was “happiness” by which they did not mean a feeling but rather a mode of life. We tend to think of happiness as a feeling that comes and goes: we may even uproot our lives to move across a continent to “find ourselves”. We drop out of relationships when they become confining. We quit jobs when they are difficult. This process of continual change has not made us happy, it’s just made of wary of stability, fearful of boredom, and amazingly shallow as a people and wilfully childish as persons. We think to have the freedom of choosing from 18 different colors of Converse in the morning (or the latest iPhone) should make us happy. Most of our ancestors were amazingly happy without shoes (or iPhones). For the ancients, this a la cart culture would be chaos: not leading to happiness or human flourishing.

The Greek word that usually gets translated as “happiness” is eudaimonia, and like most translations from ancient languages, this can be misleading. The main trouble is that happiness (especially in modern America) is often conceived of as a subjective state of mind, as when one says one is happy when one is enjoying a cool beer on a hot day, or is out “having fun” with one’s friends. For Aristotle, however, happiness is a final end or goal that encompasses the totality of one’s life. It is not something that can be gained or lost in a few hours, like pleasurable sensations. It is more like the ultimate value of your life as lived up to this moment, measuring how well you have lived up to your full potential as a human being. For this reason, one cannot really make any pronouncements about whether one has lived a happy life until it is over, just as we would not say of a football game that it was a “great game” at halftime (indeed we know of many such games that turn out to be blowouts or duds). For the same reason we cannot say that children are happy, any more than we can say that an acorn is a tree, for the potential for a flourishing human life has not yet been realized. As Aristotle says, “for as it is not one swallow or one fine day that makes a spring, so it is not one day or a short time that makes a man blessed and happy.” (Nicomachean Ethics, 1098a18)

Source Retrieved on 11/29/2019

We tend to imagine it’s only “what I want now” rather than “what is my ultimate goal”. The closest things we formulate to serve as an “ultimate goal” are all versions of the old bumper sticker: He who dies with the most toys wins. And we have made toys of people, technology, sex lives, religious commitments, political actions, and of our selves. By freeing ourselves from religions we have discovered there are many other things that hinder our disordered understanding of freedom far more than religious structures: laws, political systems, institutional racism, sexism, the impinging of my neighbor. How do I choose between my freedom and yours? What if I desire to have sex with you and you do not share the same desire? At that point, consent begins to hinder my freedom and defend yours. How do we move to a place where I can be happy if I can’t do everything I want when I want?

For us, freedom means “no boundaries”. For the ancients, freedom means “pick your boundaries wisely without hindrance or opposition.” Every positive choice means that you are making a negative choice as well: I want this piece of cake, not that one. I want this job, not that one. I want to dedicate my self to this path, not that one. Traditional wisdom would say that by that act of self-limitation you are creating far more energy and the drive for success: ever try to boil water in a large pot with no lid? Water boils best in a closed pot because the energy is stored up. A river flows fastest when the banks are constrained. A wide river silts up, and can even be made to flow backward by other energies.

So, rather than failing over and over because we are trying to feel good rather than to be happy, our first step would be to realize that every action towards happiness is a limitation. We can reject that idea, but it means we never move: we stay in the large pot ad the water never boils; we stay in a slow river silting over and pushed about by the tides.

The next post will get us to the second choice we need to make before proceeding. But by reading forward, I will assume you’ve elected to be happy rather than to feel happy.

Kerygmishpocha

You probably have a sepia-toned memory of one moment when someone pointed out an adult and said that was a family member. What were you? Two? One and a half? Four? What about the time before that? Can you know?

JMJ

Way back at the beginning of this series I asked you to accept as a given that there was a God who loves us. If you’ve stuck with me this far it’s time to come clean on that: if you’re asking for proof of God the way we can prove a mathematical theorem or weigh a blob of lead to determine its weight, this is not going to happen. You would like me to pull a deity out of my hat and I can’t. There are logical arguments for God – and I think they are decisive – but if you’re hard set to insist there is no deity without proof, you’re probably going to walk away from this post (if not this sentence) with a hearty, “I told you so.”

However, you already accept a lot of things without such proof – by what we call inference.

A classic example of this is “Prove Great Britain is an Island.” Until quite recently there was little to no way to prove that. Now we can fly so high up that it is possible to see that England is an island and take photos of it. When I say that was no way to prove it: I mean that there was only evidence – strong evidence, yes – but no one could see the whole thing. And, even if you could walk all the way around the island and prove concretely that it was not connected to anything, to ask folks to do this repeatedly, testing all conditions of tide and weather… that was not feasible. Now, in fact, it’s possible to do so with your own camera and a weather balloon. Anyone can. And it’s consistently repeatable. So this example is undone while still being instructive. We were sure Great Britain was an island long before we could prove it.

But here’s something at once concrete, abstract, and humorous: prove you have parents who are your biological parents. I know, I know. You’re sure: they are sure. You’ve seen photos or, perhaps even a video. You’ve got the paperwork. Perhaps you’re enough of a rascal that you’re certain no one would claim to be your parents without due cause. Yet, let’s face it: you have no memory of the event. You did not check ID in the room at the time. Who was there? Did you see? You probably have a sepia-toned memory of one moment when someone pointed out an adult and said that was a family member. What were you? Two? One and a half? Four? What about the time before that? Can you know? There is evidence: genetic (which can prove you’re related but not exactly how) and then anecdotal evidence, although right-thinking folks will insist that the plural of anecdote is not data. Everyone knows including a lot of people you trust. Some pretty important people – doctors, nurses, state officials, perhaps clergy – all are pretty certain. But, really, none of them can prove it either – they are trusting souls. And if your mother has passed away, there’s literally no one who can say she knows fully. Unless you were born at home, even she can’t be sure: all newborns look like Winston Churchill. Were you swapped – by accident or on purpose? You just have to trust her. Genetic tests can now bring you much closer to certainty – especially if there are unique markers on both sides of your family, but that will only tell you where the gene pools came from in your cocktail. They will not ensure that you know the bartenders.

To prove the area of a circle you work the formula πr2. The three angles of a triangle will always add up to 180° and, in a right triangle, one of them will always be square. These are provable facts, they cannot be undone. The entire periodic table of elements is laid out in such a way as to let you imagine that you can manipulate the thing. But you don’t know with that same sort of knowledge that that couple over there is your parents. You can’t: they are human beings (as are you, unless you’re a cabbage) and they can be crafty. You know humans can be crafty.

A friend tells a story of growing up in a family of 3 kids. In elementary school, she and her siblings found out the youngest girl had been conceived out of wedlock and had a different father. Decades later she found out her middle sister was also born of another father and her mother, out of shame, had kept this hidden from everyone – including her own parents – until my friend was old enough to have grandchildren herself. What was she to do with this knowledge that changed literally everything she had ever “known” to be true about her family and about her own childhood? She didn’t have the courage to ask about her own father. Do you know who your parents are? I’m sure you do: but how? Not by mathematics.

You accept a lot of things on faith, quite literally. You make life choices based on trust of other people: have you ever realized when speeding down a highway that you’re in a metal boxed filled with explosives, trusting literally hundreds of strangers not to do you bodily harm? You trust them implicitly because of something called a “social contract”. They also have metal boxes filled with explosives. The only thing that stands between you and an explosion is… trust. Mutual trust.

I realize that asking you to have faith in a God you cannot see is asking you to… take much less of a risk than driving. Much less of a risk than even thinking too hard about your parentage. A lot of serious and well-educated people do – doctors, nurses, state officials, perhaps clergy – and they will tell you it’s ok to believe in God. At this point, I’m ok if you don’t yet believe. I wanted to come clean and let you know that this series of posts was not going to bring you to a “πr2” sort of moment.

Kerygamabob

My intent is to point out that none of us really means “my truth is only relative”. We fail in the logic of “relative truth” because we don’t actually believe it. At best we usually mean, your truth is relative but mine is right.

JMJ

The traditional Kerygma walks through salvation history from the Creation story in Genesis up through the Gospel. This sense of history is not common at this time inside or outside the Church. We can no longer assume a culture familiar with this and, in fact, many Catholics are unfamiliar with it. In previous posts in this series, I’ve suggested that there was a Golden Road in all world religions, parallel to this Kerygma. All humans think of this road as universally true. In case you don’t believe in some sense of absolute truth, I made a reductio ad Hitlerum in the last post to trigger your realization that, at least in some cases, you do believe in an objective standard (beyond our personal likes and dislikes) to which you must appeal. There were no trigger warnings. The post was intended exactly to trigger.

Unless you are completely disconnected from everything and everyone around you, any appeal to “fairness” or “social justice” is, in fact, such a claim. If social justice is only a matter of personal choice, then every form of activism is a species of cultural imperialism. That’s a claim I don’t think anyone will accept. We all work for what we think of as “Justice” – be that a right of choice for women or a right to life for the unborn, be that freedom from slavery or the right to own human beings – we all assume that our version of “justice” is, in fact, right by some objective standard. The only other option is “I’m right because I have the gun-power to enforce my choices on you.” This is not a restatement of the old saw that “Saying there is no absolute truth is an absolute truth.” My intent is to point out that none of us really means “my truth is only relative”. We fail in the logical process of that. If anyone really believed their truth was only relative they wouldn’t care to debate you about yours or even care to assert theirs at all. We fail in the logic of “relative truth” because we don’t actually believe it. At best we usually mean, your truth is relative. What keeps others from realizing the pure logic of our clearly right choices?

What on the Golden Road prevents us from agreeing and realizing this justice that we imagine is universal? What prevents us from just all sitting down and agreeing on what is just and fair in society and what keeps us from implementing it?

In the East, the Hindus have the least (by my lights) enjoyable answer to this line of questions: essentially what is down in this life may be up in the next. Another world can come into being that will repair things the next time Brahman blinks. The way things are, here and now is just the way things are here and now. That’s not changing. Dalits and Brahmins all get what they deserve. It’s a failure to accept what you get that makes things difficult and may make your next life even worse. Working to change this world is kicking against the goads, it’s best to let it all stand and hope to pull yourself out of the torturous cycle.

Taoism has what seems to me to be the most beautiful answer – although it may sound like more of the same it is subtly different: water flows down. It pours over rocks (and wears through them) if they are in the way. It fills the pools at the bottom of the valley – but eventually, the water fills the valley itself. Water, rocks, pools, the valley, gravity, daylight and night, the animals and air all remain true to their nature in this. Working together all things balance and achieve their proper ends. It is possible to step away from our natures, though, from the intended flow of things. This is a philosophical path, but it overlays the most ancient animism of China. (In this respect it is like very like Shinto in Japan, which, in fact, uses the same “tao” character 道 to indicate the second syllable of the name, although the Japanese manifestation begins to be codified about 1400 years after the sage Lao Tzu lived and wrote.)

Buddhism says the real issue is desire itself: want. So the on-going goal is to get rid of desire and to release self into the oneness of nirvana. In the end, even the desire of nirvana must be released and then the desire to release all desires. A failure to do so results in a continuing cycle of rebirth (which arises from the desire of parents).

Confucianism takes Taoism and says, yes, water flows down, etc. It also acknowledges the social structure. Then it adds a series of complex rules, a hierarchical ballet that governs all social interaction in an attempt to control everything. Solid and stable to the core, this prevents change but offers no final end or goal. The ancestors play a living part in this dance.

Shintoism is actually a partial codification of animism into what we might see as a historical religion. Since animism is prehistoric in all ways, Shinto adds writing and ritual codification to create a world that would be recognizable to any pagan – but very high class. The spiritual powers of this world are very important as are the ancestors.

Laying aside, for a moment, the other two Abrahamic faiths which are also eastern at the core (as is Christianity) the Church would agree with all these eastern faiths on several points and would disagree on several others. Yes, we will always have the poor with us, but we are to help them. Society is hierarchical, but all are equal before God (and in worship). Yes, we have our individual natures, part of the wider nature, but humans have an assigned duty to rule. Yet, we are out of step both with nature and with our duty. Christianity does acknowledge the spiritual powers of this world as well as our ancestors but it has a specific place for both. Christianity would not deny desire is a problem for humans but would point out disordered desire as the real issue: when we desire what God wants for us we are on the right path.

There is another level of confusion here: for our modern culture corrupts all of these (including Christianity) with some form of the Prosperity Gospel. Much of American Buddhism is filled with acquisition and positive thinking: gone are the renunciations required of traditional teachings. “Mindfulness” is not a way to achieve detachment from all the stuff of illusion, but rather a way to get ahead in business without really trying. The West is incapable of entering into an understanding of the polytheistic paganism of Hinduism and so has turned the ancient spiritual practices of yoga into weight-loss programs. Taoism does not even hit the radar of most folks and when it does (such as in the I Ching) it turns to fortunetelling instead of enlightenment. All of these paths combine – together with much of Prosperity Christianity and Western Animism – into what is called the New Age. We hear it expressed in A Course in Miracles, in Madonna’s version of Kabbala, in much of neopaganism including the Celtic flavored Wicca that I followed for ten years. We find it expressed in Ceremonial Magic, in many fraternal rituals, in the writings of Crowley (which are over 100 years old and so, the whole thing is not so new anymore). It comes to a head in The Celestine Prophecies, The Secret, and a current presidential candidate.

What else should we expect, though? Our culture has made a religion out of technology, data, and science. We solve everything by application of more of this Holy Trinity – digging ourselves into worse situations instead of digging out of the crap we’re in already. Of course, we’ve found a way to turn mankind’s most esoteric, spiritual pursuites into profit-making schemes. When was the last time “more technology” did not cause more trouble? (Or even when was the first time?) Thus it is our chosen deity in these latter days. Got a problem? We have an app for that – and if we don’t have an app, give me 20 mins and a million or so in venture capital and I will have an app for that. We even have apps for prayer and meditation, for mindfulness exercises and confession preparation. When we need more stuff, the application of technology works best: how many single-used appliances are there available at WalMart just now? Do you really need a blender and also a juicer, a smoothie maker, and an ice cracker in your fridge? Do you need a stove-top range, an electric skillet, an extra induction cooker, and all the pots for each?

Desire (in the Buddhist sense) says, “I want something.” Disordered desire says, “I want something more than God.” This is our root issue: even when we recognize the Golden Road, even if we acknowledge God (I remember I have that still as an undefended given) we take all that and say, I desire this more. Generally, we don’t desire religion – we desire to appear religious.

To a Christian, this is called Original Sin. It’s the one doctrine that is empirically verifiable. You can see this ontological selfishness in play every day. We are selfish even when it might be to our own detriment as in the case of addiction. We are selfish from the first moment a baby learns O that feels good! The wordless scream and hissy is the ontologically selfish assertion. We hear it from babies, adults, and that hybrid known as world leaders. It is sometimes our first breath and our last gasp. More on this, though, in a later post.

Today it’s just enough to see the problem clearly: we all think that – at least on some topics – there’s actual Truth. Yet we can all see that we fail – even in the first person – to live up to that idea.

Kerygmarsch auf die Feldherrnhalle

How something is bad is not always as important as why it is bad.

JMJ

Since the time of Nero, the Church has taught that government has one primary duty assigned to it by God: to keep the peace. To what end? The Common Good. And so that the Church could be about her business of saving souls. To this end, the Church prays for all secular authority, regardless of the policy or structure. The Church has prayed with the same prayers for caliphs, dictators, monarchs, prime ministers, and presidents. Under those govts the Church works for her own ends, expanding the Kingdom of God even if local laws are athwart those ends. For this reason, the Church is, in the best cases, only a neutral observer of political struggles. As long as she is free to be about her business of saving souls, she is unconcerned. When a govt wanders away from the Common Good, the structures are not what is damned, but rather souls. The Church can’t step in, as such, but she can urge or even authorize her children to take action. This is the just war theory in brief. A govt is, at best, not an obstacle to the common good. When it becomes not only an obstacle, not only an active opponent but an open danger, then the lesser evil of violence against the state – if it can be victorious – can be justified.

You are not my supervisor! was mentioned in a previous post as the primary credo of our culture. This has been true for quite a long while, however. In some ways, America’s founders were saying exactly this to the British Crown. This is the raison d’etre of Protestantism. It’s a weed woven into nearly all aspects of our American culture. Another way it gets expressed is, “That’s not my truth…” There’s a reflection of this credo in our inability or unwillingness to express “my truth” as, well, you know, true. We are, generally, incapable of seeing a moral choice as anything but part of a spectrum. The vast majority of folks may say “X” while a few folks say “Y”. I’m sticking with the folks who say “Z” instead because, hey, that’s my choice. We pretend we are right. But we won’t back it up if pressed.

Why We Fight was commissioned by the United States Army Signal Corps in 1942 to help explain, first to draftees but later to the general public, why the U.S. had entered the war against the Axis Powers. Filmed by Frank Capra, the seven movies are at once education and indoctrination. The films want you to think a certain way about politics and then lead you to desired conclusions. They want to collapse the available moral spectrum, assumed in most of American life, to one of two choices – with the right choice being evidently right. At times of crisis, in the past, we have been able to overcome our congenital error of individualism and come together as a people. Why We Fight was a tool used by the US to help Americans understand that WW2 was such a time. It made an appeal on several levels: emotional, political, patriotic, and philosophical arguments were offered. The US was putting forth the claim that to fight in WW2 against fascism was a moral duty.

Although the first movie, Prelude to War, includes some very disturbing images to pull on our emotions, the movie actually gets into some very deep (by comparison) reasons for fighting against fascism both abroad and in the US. By extension – and in honor of the lives lost in the last century – those reasons apply today as well. Very (very) few people will disagree with the following: Fascism is bad. In fact, most folks would go even further and say, Fascism is evil. Today, though, asking why may not move us down the same conversation that Capra envisioned in 1942.

Why is fascism bad?
– Look at what they did!
Yes, but why is that bad?
– They killed the Jews and Gypsies and Gays!
Yes, but why is that bad?
– Oppressing their own people…
Yes, but why is that bad?
– They invaded Poland and Russia!
Yes, but why is that bad?
– They tried to take over the world!
Yes, but why is that bad?

This can continue for a long time unless the other party gives up. Some folks can engage a little in the proffered philosophical dialectic and we might be able to expand the questions:

It denies basic human freedom.
– Yes, but why is that bad?
Democratic principles are destroyed.
– Yes, but why are those a good thing?
The right to self-expression and liberty…
– Why is that morally better than what the Nazis offered?
Well, everybody knows…
– Yes, but what makes it objectively better?
– OK, but why were the allies ok with doing some of the same things?
– What makes socialism a better (or worse) system than fascism?

Mind you, I’m not debating facts here: fascism is bad. It kills people. It oppresses people.

Seriously, though, we can answer how but tell me why is that bad? Answers to that are either examples of the badness (still undefined – only more how), things that make folks angry and therefore must obviously make me angry too – and ergo bad. We shall ask again, with a Spock-like tone of voice, Why is it bad? Neither examples of badness nor emotional stirrings answer a why (although they can hint at an answer). Rather than data though, why is this evil? The answer can’t be a version of, “Don’t you know?!?!!”

If something is considered bad only because it is illegal, then a simple change in the laws can make it good. If something is considered bad only because it does bad things to people, then you have to tell me why those things are considered bad as well. If something is bad only because you don’t like it, or you disagree, then there are folks who do like it. It must be valid for them, right?

To answer the question fully you have to provide not a series of anecdotes or emotions, but an actual, objective, answer. If fascism is bad and we must fight it, it must be objectively bad, not subjectively so. If it is only subjectively bad – only bad because you say so, just now, here, then there may be a time and place where you say it’s good. Or there may be a time and place where other people would say it’s good (even if you don’t) and what makes them more or less right than you? Nothing at all if it is subjective. Fascism is their truth, not yours. But I refuse to yield that point: fascism is evil. Therefore, there must be an objective reason that fascism is evil. I have my own answer below, but I want to point out why this is important for our discussion of Kerygma.

You may never have thought about it before, but there is a reason fascism is bad. When I give you my reason, you may disagree with my reason (or you may agree with nuances, etc) but any appeal you will make – after thinking about it, if you get there – is to objective truth. If there is no external standard by why we can judge fascism to be bad – a standard that is not emotional feelings or patriotic stirrings about “freedom”, not a legal standard in some countries, not an appeal to history, authority or any of the other logical fallacies to which one may usually adhere; if there is no such standard then fascism might be good sometime, might be bad at other times. The proponent of and the opponent of fascism must both make such an appeal to some objective truth (which may be true or not) that supports them and can be debated with disinterest. Or else it’s only left at the level of “my truth” – even if “my truth” is shared by a few billion others. If there is no objective standard, even one over which we can disagree, we have no way of saying anything is bad: only that some folks don’t like it.

Your argument for an objective truth means that you imagine that somewhere there is something that must override mere human opinions about what is right and what is wrong. Fascism must always be wrong because of this objective truth to which all humans must agree and something is horribly wrong – broken, disordered – with those who disagree. It also means that you don’t really believe in “my truth” and “your truth” – or at least not in all cases. You actually believe that – at least for some things – there is something all humans must accept from external authority. To insist there is something that would decree fascism bad – external to any human being, measurement, or mismeasurement – is the proof that you’re ready (even if not willing) to try and look for the Golden Road.

As to my reasoning, even (perhaps especially) if you don’t believe in God, this sentence should make sense to you: At root, fascism is wrong because it posits the state in the role of God and the Glorious Leader in the role of Avatar or Messiah of that State-as-God. Everything else that is wrong with and about fascism flows from that root departure from the Golden Road. This State-as-God gets to define what it means to be human, what it means to be just, what it means to be a good citizen, what it means to be free. All relativism is eliminated by reifying the state as the delineator of objective reality. All fascism – even those that sought to curry religious favor – have this one genetic, if you will, defect.

The state becomes god. Nero had no mandate to kill anyone from the pantheon, but Romans had decided the Emperor was divine so his mandate let them kill Christians for being “atheists” and a danger to the state. Germany killed the Jews, degraded churches of all stripes, and then dressed up in a pseudohistory of neopaganism but in the end, even all the pagan gods were just ideological tools of the state. Stalin walked the soviets through the same process: destroying churches, degrading the hierarchy, killing Jews, and creating “Mother Russia” which met no one’s needs but was the object of everyone’s worship. America’s foundational documents assume rights come from “the creator” and are to be protected by the state, yet even the Modern Democracies drift toward fascism today, unmoored as they are from their religious roots: with the state coveting the place of god and pretending, herself, to be the source of “rights”, making new rights, and declaring older patterns to be those of “hate”.

For the Christian, this cannot be just a “feeling”, not just one possible truth selected from among many. The state-as-god is a violation of the 1st and the 2nd Commandments and so it is an objective evil. All the other evils (scapegoating, murders, genocide, political bullying, resource consumption, militarism, racism, slave labor, war) arise from this root evil. The state-as-god will even go so far as to declare these new evils as “goods”. The new deity makes new morals too. These new morals are a logical outcome: they will arise without regard to the documented intentions of the state or the glorious leader. If all truth is relative, there is no way to say “These new morals are evil”. The only thing you can say is “I don’t like it” or “We don’t want that here.” To insist that it is evil – objectively evil – is to appeal to the Tao I’ve been discussing in my other posts. It’s a tacit claim that there is order in the world, that some things are right and others are wrong.

PS: I do not mean here that anything anyone labels as fascist is, de facto, fascist. In some circles, I could be labeled fascist for using the phrase “objective truth”. That would prove a second point I am trying to make, we will leave that for a later post on religion and fascism which will help us connect this new Kerygma with the classic, Roman one.

PPS: At the Nuremberg trials, the folks saying “Well, you know, that was what we believed…” were the Nazis. They believed in relativism and subjective truths. If all we have to offer in reply is more relativism then we’ll all fail together. My truth, your truth, it just doesn’t matter.

This might seem like a not-so-subtle riff on the idea that “atheists can’t be moral”. It’s not that at all: a lot of Christians fall into this trap as well. We can do it blatantly when we say things like, “I’m Catholic and so I have to… but you can do anything you want.” or “I can’t vote according to Catholic teaching because I don’t want to force my religion on anyone else.” But we can do it subtly when we say things like, “I do this because God said so…” and don’t follow through with a reason that God said so. We do not do murder “because God said so.” God could not have said, “Murder is good.” God said, “do no murder” because murder is objectively evil. God said we are to love and forgive because to love and forgive are good things – in and of themselves. God is good.

Kerygmatic Checkin

An outline of the previous 6 “Kerygma” posts, typos and all.

JMJ

Just want to drop a post and make sure we’re all on the same page. There have been 6 posts so far in this discussion, typos and all, so it seemed a good idea to go over the main points and make sure we’re were all still together. We’re walking people, we’re walking…

  1. In the first post, I said that “Why are you (me) doing this church stuff?” could only be answered by first understanding what “this church stuff” was; then
    1. I asked you to accept as a given that there was a God and he loves us. I acknowledged, also, that the entire process falls apart if that could be proved as untrue; then
    2. I suggested that if those two points were true that God would want us to find him; and
    3. I pointed out that there is a huge overlap in all world religions, even though there were some serious departures.
    4. I named this overlap the “Golden Road” or what CS Lewis called the Tao.
  2. In the second post we discussed why there were huge departures from the Tao.
    1. After exploring the idea that no one actually believes in science, I used this as the main example of my real point:
    2. No one accepts any authority over them. “You are not my supervisor” is the main credo of our culture. As a result
    3. The Tao gets broken up, divided, and obscured by everyone wanting to “do their own thing. I continued this, then
  3. In the third post pointing out how easy it is for us to see others falling off the Tao
    1. Inviting you to be honest about the ways you fall off it yourself.
  4. In the fourth post, which might be called #3-Part II, I noted that we can’t get to following the Golden Road by “following our bliss”.
    1. I said any sense that someone might “lie” was a recognition of this fact
  5. In the fifth post we thought about all the ways we imagine or project or find “Order” in the world.
    1. The Cry “that’s not fair”, the quest for Astrology, Psychological types, etc, all indicate a quest for (or a projection of) order in the world
    2. This would coincide with what biblical and later writers say, “The Law of God is written in everyone’s heart.
    3. This quest means one of three things.
      1. There is no order and the quest is futile
      2. There is only the order that we project on the world (we make it up)
      3. There is order and that implies a designer
    4. I mentioned that I had lived out options (i) and (ii) and that should the world prove to be either of those things the reader would be unable to prove to me why, objectively, Stalin’s Russia was any better than Obama’s America.
      1. I did not invoke Godwin’s law
        1. I did say that any attempt to prove the dictators of the 20th Century were wrong was an appeal to a non-projected order, option (iii)
  6. Finally, in the sixth post, I discussed the idea of the left- and right-hand paths, suggesting
    1. Neither is any better than the other because
      1. Both implied that you picked; and
      2. Both were just as good. (These are just other forms of 5.C.i and 5.C.ii above.)
      3. They begin with “I wanna”
    2. I suggested the Path, the Golden Road, the Tao – itself – calls us forward.
    3. The only way to follow the Golden Road and to say on it is to follow someone in front of us, to stay in their footsteps.
    4. We can tell when we’ve veered off to the left or the right of the Tao
    5. We have to make the choice to follow, but we must follow (we can’t forge ahead alone).
    6. The Tao means “the way”; and
    7. The Way is also a title Jesus used for himself

I have still left as undiscussed the idea that God exists and that he loves us. I still acknowledge that without that the rest of this falls apart. At this point, I need you to continue to take that as a given.

Future posts will discuss if Jesus is a good exemplar of the Tao, in light of what he said about himself. Finally, we will ask what now.

Kerygmasonic

The choice we make – to build our own roadways out of the bricks we have forged – is an illusion. Those “roads” are really walls that cut us off from life, that cut us off from God, that cut us off from each other. We are the bricklayers of our own prisons.

JMJ

Occultism posits the “right-hand path” and the “left-hand path” which are supposed to lead – by different turnings – to the same place, the former through good and proper use of all things, kindness, etc, the latter through chaos and self-direction. It might be imagined that the one is “good” or “white” magic while the other is “bad” or “black” magic. That would be improper. Both allow for the same actions, the same means to ends, only one requires more reason than “because I wanna try this”. Both of them tend to start with “I wanna”, however. The “right-hand” has to do more justification than the left. That’s all. I realized I had spent much of my life walking both of these paths and – when you think about it – you can be on a “right-hand” or “left-hand” path in pretty much any religious tradition. If it is you, the walker, who is in charge of the walking, you’re on one of these paths. Make it up as you go along, with or without internal moral qualms, and you’re doing this. I’ve been writing my own prayerbooks and liturgies for years. I’ve been making up rituals and theologies, pantheons and hermeneutics to justify everything I could do or want to do. It all begins with, “I wanna”.

Having failed to cobble together my own idea of what works for me, I came to the idea that maybe there was order – and possibly even rules – and I needed to follow the Golden Road since it was the only option that was left that was also attractive. But doing this requires two assumptions: I don’t know how to do this, and someone else must. For a while, even this was about “I wanna”.

Then it dawned on me, that possibly the answer was, “You want me.”

To walk the Golden Road, the Tao, you need to follow. You can’t lead. You can’t make it up as you go along. There are well-worn footsteps in front of you and, like the Royal Page in “Good King Wenceslas”, you have to follow in the footsteps exactly to keep from getting lost in the blizzard. One step in front of the other, each step exactly like the footsteps in front of you. Every once in a while you wander off on your own and you find you’ve gotten far away. You have to come back and rejoin the same pattern that has been walked – danced, actually, by everyone in front of you.

You find, slowly but surely, is that every once in a while a set of footsteps cuts off to the left or to the right, some go backward. You have to sit down and make a choice. Do you follow the steps that keep going or do you go left or right or back? And what you’ll find, over and over, is if you make the choice to go forward on the Tao, to go forward on the Way… eventually you’ve only got Jesus to follow. For all the other prophets, teachers, and gurus peel off one way or the other.

What happens is, over and over, the Golden Road, the Tao, the Way, is Jesus. He said he was the Way, the Truth, and the Life. The path to heaven is Jesus.

The choice we make – to build our own roadways out of the bricks we have forged – is an illusion. Those “roads” are really walls that cut us off from life, that cut us off from God, that cut us off from each other. We are the bricklayers of our own prisons.

In submission, in humility, in slowly placing one foot in front of the other, we will find, walking out of prison, that we are following Jesus. He is on neither the right-hand nor the left-hand path. He is the path. I don’t know how he does it, but that’s what he does: reaching in, talking us by the heart, and leading – if only we will follow. Our quest to escape “this isn’t fair”, our quest to “find me”, our quest to “Understand it all” will – if we are not careful and if we are honest – lead us directly to Jesus and through Jesus directly to our selves.

This is the Kingdom proclaimed. The kingdoms of this world are on either the left- or the right-hand path. They all wanna do something because they wanna. Jesus, however, wants you. When we respond, giving up all our petty wants and rights, all our choices except the choice to respond to Jesus’ call… when we respond: we become who we really are. We never are that until then for we are made exactly for this.

Kerygamour

Do you believe in love? Do you believe in romance? And now, out of left field, do you – like so many of my friends – believe in Soul Mates? Do you feel, deep in your heart, that there is someone out there for you that is your best match? So many of my friends believe this that I think it’s nearly a part of our common assumptions of life. Some of us get this worked out of our brains by our life, by abuse, by whatever comes along; but most of us seem to start, at least, someplace in early puberty, with the idea that “somewhere out there” there is someone “thinking of me and loving me tonight”. This is actually a thing in Judaism: they will speak of “Bashert” or Destiny. “You are my destiny” is Paul Anka riffing on this bit of Yiddishkeit.

I think we all have this inside of us: I certainly had the idea that there was someone I should be loving. Movies, music, books (even those that are not “romance” related) are filled with this idea. Lord of the Rings which is not at all a romance (in book form – the movies be damned) is replete with the idea of fated romance and even fated friendships and political alliances. Not only lovers but nations have bashert.

Is this romance? Is this a silly dream? Or is this something else?

Do you believe in astrology? I’m surprised at how many folks find a bit of validation in the claim that “many customer service agents are Virgos”. What about Meyers-Briggs typology? Does the Enneagram speak to you better? Are you more inclined to binary terms? Are you an introvert or an extrovert? How many times does the sentence “there are two types of people in the world…” resonate with you? Have you tried to find out which Muppet movie you are?

While some of these are humorous and others are more involved, what they and the idea of “bashert” all betray is a quest for order. Humanity has tried to find order in the universe for pretty much all of our history. That’s what the constellations are: a projection of order. Astrology is only more of the same – the idea that these patterns must mean something and we should be able to discern the meanings. The quests of science to locate and understand the “laws” of things is exactly the same drive. Order does not have to indicate design. Saying we think there has to be a logical outlay here does not mean we’re looking for “intelligent design” or a designer. It does indicate a sense that the dance is not pure chaos: something is going on here that we can suss out if only we work hard enough at it.

So there are three options here:

  1. There is no order at all – you’re making all this up in your mind.
  2. There is order, and when you find more about it, you’ll discover it has no meaning or drive at all. It is self-organizing at best.
  3. There is order, it has meaning and a driver, a volitional cause behind it.

Honestly, I tried 1 and 2 for most of my life. Both of them made room for parts of life that I enjoyed: namely sex, drugs, rock and roll, and suchlike.

After so long as vaguely religious I joined a spiritual community that insisted there were no rules. A member once asked, “That’s ok for people who believe in Jesus, but what about the rest of us?” We were led by one man who passionately did not believe in any deity and one who, just as passionately, seemed to me to believe in every deity. It was here I learned the meaning of “‘the Godly man annoys us, for his ways are strange to us”. No rules are good: because you can do whatever. It’s the ecclesial version of Burning Man. The art was better and there were fewer drugs, but the idea was the same. And I tried for a long while. The idea, taught here, that all of religion was a looking-back at things and adding meaning was attractive. I could look back and find meaning as well. No, no, no: we don’t find meaning we add it. Get it right. Religion is like an undergraduate seminar in post-modern textual criticism. We add whatever we want. We don’t need to worry about the author’s intentions (which we may not be able to recover anyway).

This was also common in the Newage movements: the whole universe exists to satisfy your manifestations of desire. There is order when you add it! This sounds like some scientists now who can’t tell if what they see is really there or if in the act of seeing it they are creating the order. As attractive as this was, from Richard Bach to the Celestine Prophecies it still seemed like sophomoric solipsism disguised as wisdom. It made perfect sense at a certain stage of puberty, but it was totally silly once you wanted to fall in love. When I danced around a Maypole, there was emergent order: the ribbons wove together into a pattern that was unbelievably beautiful. But that didn’t just happen: it was a logical result of our dancing, which was a logical result of our music, which was a logical result of thousands of years of tradition which intended to weave ribbons in exactly this way.

Or it was meaningless shenanigans.

The implication of both option 1 and option 2 is that it just doesn’t matter. There is no reason to value your life or mine, there is no reason to value anyone’s life at all. It doesn’t matter if Trump or Obama is president, if Bill Clinton or Trump have spent their lives molesting women or just lying to voters. It doesn’t matter if Fidel Castro imprisoned his political enemies or if Abraham Lincoln did. There is no reason to imagine its “good” to protect the ocean, or bad to vote fascist. There is no reason to imagine that any human action is better (or worse) than any other human action. If option 1 or 2 is the way the universe works, tell me why anything matters. I did not want to live in that world. The sense of “this is not fair” was too real. If I wanted to ask for “just wages” or “equality” or “better environmental choices” then I was appealing to something external, something that should – in theory – be the same for anyone who thought about it for a while. Else the only thing that the 20th Century dictators did wrong is run afoul of American Cultural Imperialism. Yes, the Golden Road is against the dictator, but unless the Golden Road is of intrinsic value, it’s only one other human idea. Why is my human reason any better or more valid than Stalin’s? Any logical appeal against the dictators of the 20th Century was an appeal to option three.

I mentioned in the last essay this is where I was in 2000. If you have that desire to find the order in all the background noise, the Christian tradition says you should follow that quest. Anyone who follows that quest with an open mind, with an open heart, and no preconceived notions will arrive at the Truth. It cannot be otherwise. The Church affirms that sense, yes, there is order, but you have to discern. So you have a decision at this point: do you go with your gut that there is order, or do you back out and say there is no order at all?

Trying and discarding one and two left me with only option three: there’s order and a volition behind that order. There might even be rules. There – alone and afraid of the implications – I stumbled, sat down, and wept thinking; for a good long while. This had become my Bashert.

Kerygnu?

JMJ

How do you find ways in your life to manifest the things from the Golden Road, assuming you want to? I mean, the things that all cultures say are good and wholesome, would it not make sense to follow them? Most of us claim to believe this: we say “all religions agree, just be kind…” and we offer that as a panacea for most religious discussions. I disagree with the claim, but if you actually do the study, what will you find? Lewis called this “Tao”. He means what St Paul means when the latter says we have the Law of God written on our hearts.

I know a few people who make up content for their resume. Is that a “lie” or something else? I don’t merely believe it’s a lie: it actually is a lie. If you know what I mean by that you have an internal sense of the Natural Law. I might add “you have an internal sense of the natural law that you have not yet learned to silence or that you have learned to hear again.” Do you expect the sentence, “That’s not fair!” to have a universal meaning? When asked, “Have you ever been the Ruling Monarch of England?” is there a difference in value between, “no” and “yes” given the possibilities in your life? If that is so, what else do you think you’ll find in the Tao or the “Natural” as Lewis also called it? (By Natural Law he did not mean exactly the same thing that Catholics do when they use the phrase, but close enough.)

Many people, for example, believe that respecting your parents is a good thing by which they mean one valid choice among many. The natural law would say it’s really the only right choice out there – although sometimes the command to “honor your father and mother” may lead you to send one to prison. Love is a hard road. We hear often that pain is bad, feeling uncomfortable is bad. The Tao would indicate that lots of life is uncomfortable, painful even. We need to live that too. What Gibran says of love is, in fact, true of all life:

“But if in your fear you would seek only love’s peace and love’s pleasure, then it is better for you that you cover your nakedness and pass out of love’s threshing-floor, into the seasonless world where you shall laugh, but not all of your laughter, and weep, but not all of your tears.”

Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

(I think The Prophet is one of the best and most beautiful non-religious expressions of the Tao out there. I don’t agree with everything in it, but all of it is worthy of meditation.)

So what do you do to manifest this in your life? How do you find a way to live as much of the Tao as you can? Some folks believe that to “follow their bliss” will bring them in line with the Tao, but that seems contrary to Gibran’s claim. That seems much more in line with what I mentioned earlier about sin, actually. It seems that to posit the idea of the Tao at all is to also posit the idea that there is a “boss”. Someone is my supervisor. So who is that?

If you’re still with me, we’re at where I was in 2000. Let’s walk the rest of the way.

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Kerygmama – Departing Tao

We are schooled by our legal system to think of “sin” as a series of discrete actions that are each a negative point against us. Instead, sin is this departure itself.

JMJ

Earlier posts suggested that God loves us and has filled the world with proof of that and then I suggested that the reason we don’t see that is because every last one of us wants to not have a boss.

Still, on what I called the “golden road” or what CS Lewis called the “Tao” we all see the positive qualities of what we think of as “virtues”: compassion, care, mutual concern, love, care for the poor, honoring our parents, etc. We can see the positive qualities even if we don’t want to always agree with them. This is where we are today, actually. We acknowledge these qualities – shared by nearly all religious and philosophical traditions – as good. But we only see them as one choice among many. Especially when it comes to issues of “private concern” such as in the bedroom we tend to think we can each make up our own rules.

Curiously, we then insist that our rules match the Golden Road. I am loving others by having with as many folks as I want. I am caring for the poor by changing the laws so that they can’t live on my street. I am honoring my parents by changing the financial structure so that their savings are without value. I am helping the environment by shifting responsibility for my petroleum consumption onto the third world so that it only hurts poor folks I never have to meet. I know that plastic is hurting basically every part of the world, but I like my disposable contact lenses: bifocals make me look so old.

We do this all the time and here’s where I will mention something that most folks agree with but never in the first person: this deviation from the Golden Road is called sin. I don’t mean in the sense of this specific act or that little peccadillo is a sin. I mean the deviation itself. We are schooled by our legal system to think of “sin” as a series of discrete actions that are each a negative point against us. Instead, sin is this departure itself. If the golden road laid all over the world results in steps toward God, departure from the golden road, from the Tao, is to move in the other direction. Some of us make those choices – in fact, most of us make those choices – to move in the other direction all the time. One choice leads to another choice, and the further we move from the Tao the harder it is to get back.

I said this is never in the first person. We find it very easy in the Third Person to discuss sin. They are breaking the law. They here are usually our political opponents. We are also good at what I call the Second Person Abstract. Although we would (nearly) never say “You, sir, are a sinner…” but we find it easy to say to a TV or on a radio, “You suck!” We can also say this at a distance as at a political rally, etc.

Can you see this sin in the first person? You really need to. We’ll not be able to get any further in this proclamation if you can’t see it. 

  • Do you find yourself acting in a selfish way when you didn’t want to?
  • Do you find yourself unable to be as loving as you really feel you should be?
  • If you are aware of the ways in which you are unjustly treated can you see, also, the ways in which you unjustly treat others?
  • If you are aware of the ways in which you are gracefully moving through the world, can you honestly see the ways in which you fail to do so?
  • Can you see the ways in which you confuse “love” with “self-interest”?

If you can find resonance in these questions, you’re self-aware enough to move forward. If not, perhaps you can continue reading, but learning this may not make sense at this time. It is not my goal to teach the fullness of Catholicism here, but only to proclaim the need for it, the open joy of it.

There are enough commonalities in all religions to find what I have called the “Golden Road” or the “Tao” as C S Lewis named it. There are also enough departures from this Tao that it is important to ask Why? I’ve offered the idea that we all are individualists; and also that it is far easier to see this in others, but some of us see this departure in ourselves as well. The next question is what to do with this knowledge?

We shall return to this. But this essay – our ability to see the departure – is the most important so far. It’s the “mother” from which all else descends, really. For as adults we know failure in the first person long before we are aware of it in others. What we do with this knowledge can decide if we ever grow up at all. This is not a moral question: a person may be aware of his departures from the Tao without any moral judgments. I can be proud of my choices to depart from the general consensus even when I am aware of them. All that we need at this point is the awareness of that departure, but I will ask one thing: if someone else’s departure can be enough to spark a protest or an “F-bomb” to be lobbed towards various mediae, then why are not your departures the same?

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