Becoming Human

Mic’ed up and with cameras recording, the interviewer asked me point blank, “Do you believe in God?” Immediately, numerous responses flooded my mind, but quickly a question formed. As if I were having an out-of-body experience, I heard myself ask, “Which God?” 

There was a short pause and then the conversation continued. It meandered about in numerous directions, while my internal dialogue continued in the background. Eventually the mics and cameras were turned off, small talk ensued and finally warm goodbyes were exchanged. Then, as if nothing significant had occurred, life quickly returned to normal. However, in the background, my internal dialogue continued to ebb and flow. Why had I asked, “Which God?”

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Loaded to the Hilt

When replying with a question, I wasn’t trying to be cheeky or snarky. I was sincerely searching for a context. Which one? Allah? Yahweh? Vishnu? Ganesh? Jesus? Apollo? Ra? The Universe? Ether? And we wouldn’t want to exclude women: Athena? Aphrodite? Sophia? The Holy Spirit?

In that moment, it would have been helpful if the question had been phrased, “Do you believe in my God?” After all, if this conversation had occurred centuries ago with the Jewish Patriarch Abraham, he undoubtedly would have asked, “Do you believe in…MY GOD…the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob?”

Obviously, the topic of “believing in God” is always personalized and often loaded to the hilt with emotion. As it concerns Allah, one has to establish which version is being inquired about. Sunni? Shia? Khumra? And we shouldn’t exclude the marginalized Sufis. Personally, I’m a big fan of their witty and humorous poet, Hafiz.

When it comes to Greek or Norse gods, our modern day society has largely decided to retire them to a mythological status. However, they are experiencing somewhat of a big-screen revival thanks to CGI and millions of contribution$ from Marvel, DC and Warner Brothers. The scads of obscure island gods have yet to claim the same mass fame, largely remaining on small, local stages entertaining gawking tourists. However, I’m hoping Aquaman can open a door for a few of them.

Continental gods, such as those throughout South America, have largely died from starvation, due to a scarcity of young virgins and bleeding hearts. On a small scale, eastern gods have extended their lives by appealing to hippies and hipsters. In India, it seems no amount of deities have proven sufficient enough to provide an upper hand or leg up. And recently, the Judeo-Christian Jehovah has been stumbling a bit, first with the Holocaust and now with ceaseless conflict in the Middle East. However, he did manage to get a win in the 2016 Presidential Election. #MAGA

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Cherry Picking

When it comes to Christianity, many assume the discussion would be obvious and understood. But with a disputed 30+ thousand sects active around the world, it’s proven to be quite the opposite. For those of us who’ve gone on short-term mission trips, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

Located within blocks of one another, you’ll often find a dozen, maybe even twenty or more denominations competing for converts. They all read from the same book and practice faith in similar ways. Though rarely, they are on speaking terms. Why? Financial support aside, their ideologies keep them far apart as the east is from the west.

Orthodox? Catholic? Protestant? Baptist? Pentecostal? Charismatic? Methodist? Lutheran? Fundamentalist? Conservative? Liberal? Progressive? Prophetic? Apostolic? Non-denominational? Inter-denominational, Unitarian? Universal? Whew! I’m out of breath and I haven’t even gotten started! Obviously, the divide is massive. Maybe now’s a good time to admit: we’ve been cherry picking sacred texts for a long time, crafting preferred versions of the Divine we either could defend, or stomach for a season.

With such an admission, I know I’m asking a lot. After all, confession is rarely easy. For me, it took a few years of self-searching and decluttering. In the beginning, it seemed heroic to dismiss and ignore all the divine decrees regarding diet, menstruation, fashion dos & don’ts, polygamy, celibacy, justified violence and slavery. As a matter of fact, I was often praised for doing so, and encouraged to continue.

Later, when I was willing to relinquish the pro-misogamy references, I experienced my first serious pushback. But the heat really got turned up when I did the same with anti-LGBTQ references. All I can say about that is, “WOW!” Nonetheless, each experience caused me to dig deeper. Eventually, I could no longer ignore the countless contradictions, both within the Bible and within myself.

beinghuman_us Being Human – One of my all-time favorite series depicting the struggles of a vampire, ghost and werewolf reclaiming their humanity. It portrays the ugliness and beauty of finding love, forgiveness and redemption.

Becoming Human

In the end, I was left holding onto a very thin sliver of what some still considered sufficient for faith. It was largely a collection of metaphors, a bit of sacred poetry and a few words of wisdom. I lovingly held it close for a season, until one day I had an epiphany: My relationship with supernaturalism was over, and I would survive. Heck, I might even thrive! So, with the same veracity of commitment and moral devotion of my religious past, I decided to pursue simply being human and all it entails.

It wasn’t long until I discovered, my humanistic endeavor was considered by many as heretical and foolhardy. In some faith circles, simply being human is actually tantamount to committing a crime. Nonetheless, I’m undeterred. After all, everybody is a heretic to somebody. In my defense, I like to point to the fact that most religions share a similar narrative: at one time or another, many of the gods (including “God”) pursued the same thing—becoming human.


Postscript

I’m not so naive to think that this article will answer all my critics, or for that matter please every one of my supporters. What about NDE’s? The afterlife? Eternal punishment & reward? OI VEH! For now, I suggest we stay on point with what it means to be human. Personally, I feel this topic is far from being exhausted. Here’s a few links to get things started:

Ze Frank: Are You Human?

Daniel Wendler: What Being Autistic Taught Me About Being Human

Erwin Raphael McManus: What Makes Us Uniquely Human?

Sonia Sanchez: What Does It Mean To Be Human?

Bob McDonald: What If Everything You Know Is Wrong?

 

Don’t Call Me An Ass

Some might say I’m an apostate, agnostic, atheist or anything else starting with the letter “A” deemed derogatory. I’m resolved to not take issue, so long as no one calls me an ass.

I once was a religious insider myself, well versed in the labeling and categorizing of heretical outsiders. So, it doesn’t take much of an imagination to divine what many may be postulating about me personally: 51-ZTwr3slL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_“Is he possessed? Has satan deceived him? Is he delusional? Hurt? Confused? Rebelling? Why in God’s name would he turn his back on his upbringing and walk away from his calling?!” Thus it is for all those who’ve dared to question their inherited, deep-seated beliefs, and even more so for those who once served in a professional capacity such as I did for 25+ years.

The stories of former clergy like me are heart-wrenching and too numerous to recount. Sadly, the tragedy of being ostracized, humiliated, shunned and often terribly impoverished is a common thread running throughout. For a society [the Church] claiming to be built on foundations of grace and unconditional love, the question which begs to be answered is: “Why is it necessary to demonize and shun those who doubt, question and/or choose to simply be a good human being apart from all the religious trappings?” Some have suggested the answer lies in the past, starting with the early European settlers of America.

Puritanical Heritage

It’s been my observation that most churchgoers throughout the Bible-belt and America’s Heartland possess very little knowledge of their particular sect’s history. Furthermore, in my opinion, they are woefully lacking in objectivity as it concerns the cognitive behavioral motivators both past and present. From sea to shining sea, the American Christian culture remains deeply influenced by the puritanical heritage originating with the first Thirteen Colonies. Researching this history of Puritan influence, the historian John Coffey has noted:

New England exercised a disproportionate influence on American ideals…thanks to a powerful intellectual tradition disseminated through its universities, its dynamic print culture and the writings of its famous [Puritan] clergy.

Today, the Puritan’s ideology is largely championed by the rise of Evangelicalism and the Religious Right. Emphasizing this, is an article published in 2015 by The Gospel Coalition entitled 8 Reasons Why We Need The Puritans. The article concludes with the following quote by the contemporary theologian John Piper:

My own experience is that no one comes close to the skill they [the Puritans] have in taking the razor-like scalpel of Scripture, and lancing the boils of my corruption, cutting out the cancers of my God-belittling habits of mind, and amputating the limbs of my disobedience. They are simply in a class by themselves.

It’s been my experience that very few evangelicals would privately disagree with Piper’s summation, though publicly opting for a softer, more digestible, “seeker-sensitive” version.

Scarlet Letter

Piper’s “lancing, cutting and amputating” are obviously figures of speech. However, it is reminiscent of a familiar aggressiveness known to his Puritan ancestors whom he puts in “a class by themselves.” Certainly, when it came to dealing with so-called sabbath breakers, smokers, merry-makers and dissenters, “no one comes close.” Employing the same torture devices they had once fled, they religiously shackled, branded, cropped ears and stitched scarlet letters on the clothing of so-called sinners.poster8x-whi-z1-t-the-scarlet-letter

For persons of differing faith traditions, namely Quakers and Catholics, tolerance was in short supply. Often, their ears were cut off, and hot pokers pushed through their tongues. Others were publicly flogged, imprisoned and either hung or burned at the stake.

Fortunately, in our modern society, such physically brutal reprisals are forbidden. Sadly though, the wording Piper uses implies old, puritanical attitudes which remain to support harsh, cruel behavior. For instance, with those who dare to question inerrant, sacred text, they are told to “cut it out” or risk being “cut off” from fellowship. Almost instantly, news of their offense travels quickly in the form of “benign” prayer requests dripping with juicy, exaggerated gossip (i.e. lies).

Usually, the resulting drama is enough to bring the backslider “back into the fold” quite quickly. However, for those who persist, reprisals akin to shunning end up producing tremendous, physical pain. For former clergy, the price that is paid is horrific (i.e. divorce, loss of income, no network to find another job, broken relationships with friends, family, children, grandchildren, stress related illnesses, depression, PTSD, etc.). Adding injury to loss, the “razor-like scalpel of Scripture” in the hands of the religious zealots produces horrific scars for life.

Abduction Please!

Interestingly, in Puritan times, life was so hard for children, some often preferred to be abducted by the neighboring Native Americans who were freer in thought and practice, valuing equality between the sexes. I guess it comes as no surprise so many, led by today’s evangelical youth, wholeheartedly refuse Piper’s amputations and dream of abduction by progressive, critical-thinking tribes. While doing so, many brave the constant threat of being branded and forced to wear the scarlet letter (i.e. apostate, agnostic or atheist). I would implore all rational, compassionate minds to not consider them an ass for doing so.


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Splash! Splash! Splash!

For those who have been reading my Patheos postings, you’ve no doubt noticed I keep referencing Icarus, the mythological risk-taker who flew too close to the sun and perished from his tragic fall back to earth. The inspiration which sparked my recent article came from an Oscar Wilde poem:

Never regret thy fall, O Icarus of the fearless flight. For the greatest tragedy of them all, is never to feel the burning light.

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Bruegel’s “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus” (ca. 1558) is famous for relegating the fall to a scarcely noticed event in the background — red arrow [added by me] marks the spot.

Lately, I’ve been questioning why I’m obsessed with making inferences to Icarus. After all, it’s a tragic story traditionally accompanied with warnings for the over-ambitious and reckless. There’s even an attributed psychological term called The Icarus Complex: a person who is fond of heights, narcissistic and obsessed with fantastical, far-fetched, imaginary cognition.

Psychosynthesis ties this complex to those whose religious/spiritual ambitions exceed the reasonable limits of their own personalities. They are characterized by self-gratifying, attention-seeking behavior and obsessions with apocalyptic “crash & burn” predictions. Interestingly, they also have an emotional fascination with fire (e.g. burning sexual desires, moral works tried by fire, scorching eternal punishment, etc.).

To say the least, there’s enough with all of this to keep me busy for months, writing and making inferences!

The Red Arrow

As it concerns my recent articles, my chief motivation can be found in the painting above. Icarus’ fall (red arrow marks the spot) is depicted as an unnoticed non-event. Farmers, travelers, fishermen, sailing merchants, they all continue their day-to-day tasks, unconcerned with the tragic splash below.

So, what is it that best represents the uninteresting splash? Without knowing the painter’s intentions, I’ll attempt to offer my own insights.

Splash! Splash! Splash!

Maybe the uneventful splash is symbolized by all the rising/falling religious-spiritual fads, trends, obsessions, predictions and ever changing, contradictory dogmas? You know, the elusive transcendental stuff. If this painting were a contemporary work, we could theorize the splash to be the numerous rapture theories or Zionist Temple Mount predictions featured by Charisma Magazine each month.

Or, we could point to the televangelists’s hyper theatrics serving up hot, steamy love songs to God followed by oratory hell-laced admonitions to the Divine’s captive bride.

Or, our thoughts could turn to Oprah’s recommended reading list and all the eager Super Soul Sunday guru guests.

The splash of week-old TV ratings certainly constitutes as a non-event.

Cable specials about angels and demons, books left out of the sacred canon, dinosaur-sized giants, ancient aliens, Nessie and Bigfoot exposes and alchemy secrets revealed… splash! splash! splash!

The latest, greatest study bibles promising word-for-word translations, religious programming’s annual pledge drives, right and left wing talking points, political call to arms and Church/State promises to use your tithes and taxes to honor God and country… SPLASH! SPLASH! SPLASH!

Who Gives A Crap?!?

For many, if it doesn’t impact grocery and gas prices, vacation resort deals, or 401K gains… who gives a crap?!?

Week after week, month after month, and year after year, many have learned to ignore the splashes. It’s just entertainment after all, right? Umm…

I’m a romantic, so I like to think the splash is not Icarus sinking into Davey Jone’s Locker. I like to envision him getting close enough to the burning light of reason, he realizes his world is upside-down. He no longer fears falling and sheds his father’s wings. He’s actually flying; for real, he… is… flying!

Think Neo being unplugged from the Matrix.

My romantic self likes to think of the splashes as being all the social, religious, political, inhumane mechanical bodies–the dim promises of transcendent flight–plunging into the waters of stupidity far below. Like Icarus, I envision myself shedding my inherited biases to soar high, far above the superstitious storytellers, religious dogma and prejudiced contemporary philosophers.

Together, we live without regret in the brilliant light of free thought and discovery.

Have I peaked your interest?

More romantic, sentimental musings to come soon… #Icarusflew #noregrets

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Daedulus and Icarus drawing by Lyle Saunders – click pic for link