Wednesday, November 25, 2015

I thank my readers

My readers keep me going, as I often say in reply to their gracious compliments. John Chuchman kindly forwarded an email to me.
Clancy's book reminds me of a simpler version of Ilia Delio. She writes of the relationship of science and spirituality in a way I can more easily understand.
Just what you said... "Every poem is vulnerable to myriad explanations out of the poet's control."
Which, to me, is a good thing.
Love, Sue
The quotation sounded familiar. I guessed a sentence of mine in God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky had been adapted to the discussion they were having about John's poetry. As he included Sue's address, I emailed her.
I can't find the quote in my book but I think I said it of Jesus' parables.
She replied,
Yes indeed, that quote is from your book, page 120, Image and Symbol. I have it underlined and dog-eared as are many pages. I sent that particular quote to John, our resident poet laureate!
I found the quotation, word for word, not adapted. She went on,
So engrossed in your book. I love how you have portrayed Jesus as a man full of life as we know it and live it....laughing, partying, hanging out with the wrong crowd, ridiculed and suffering the ultimate. 
Your writing brought home to me how far we have removed ourselves from his true story. How he would smile at your words and nod his head in agreement.
Asking permission to quote her, I replied,
Yours are some of the nicest things said to me about the book.
The exchange sent me back to God Is Not three Guys in the Sky. Sue’s quotation comes from a section entitled, “Image and Symbol.” It discusses a repeated theme of mine—that religious language cannot possibly be factual.
Mystics like Jesus have always used poetic imagery to symbolize the indefinable spiritual realm. Metaphor and symbol reign in expressing the Reign of God behind physical reality. 
I cannot imagine life without exchanges with readers. They form and inform me. In my replies to  questions and comments, I find my own convictions, which I may not have known before or had not found words for.
Don, another helpful communicator, wrote,
Such respectful exchange is good for the soul. . . . I like the saying, "How do I know what I am thinking if I do not read what I am writing?"
Thank you, readers, all. And may souls less fortunate find some blessings on this feast of Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Carl Jung’s Theology

I am still having mental conversations with instructors and writings at the School of Theology I attended 30 years ago. One instructor and I debated about spiritual health throughout my two years there. She thinks religion is necessary for spiritual health; I do not. In my opinion, some atheists have greater spiritual health than many religious people.

Carl Jung influenced my thoughts about this. I discovered his writings before I entered the School of Theology. Almost immediately after meeting his thought, I started calling it theology and when I entered the SOT I wished it would be included.
If faculty and students in seminaries and schools of theology studied Jung, they could gain better understanding of religion and of themselves. They might stop treating church doctrines as facts and instead find the metaphors and symbols they contain to inform and guide us.

When I started reading Jung I was still committed to the logic of atheism and happy to see he did not believe the same things I did not believe. He strengthened my disbelief by informing me that other religious trinities preceded Father, Son, and Holy Spirit by several thousand years.  He called Jesus a “demigod . . . like the Greek heroes." 

He pointed out that the Christian Lord follows the pattern of the Greek Lord Zeus. Both encourage their favorites to kill their enemies. The Lord in the Bible seems more bloodthirsty though; he has his people exterminating entire tribes and cities, leaving none alive (Joshua 11 and chapters in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy).

In Memories, Dreams, Reflections, the book I consider the easiest way to enter his thought, Jung observes that his father, a Protestant minister, suffered from religious doubts. He was blocked by,
lifeless theological answers . . . [not] capable of understanding the direct experience of God (92-93).
[M]y poor father did not dare to think. . . . hopelessly he was entrapped by the Church and its theological thinking. They had blocked all avenues by which he might have reached God directly.
His father didn’t have a clue about
the vast despair, the overpowering elation and outpouring of grace [that] constituted the essence of God (55).
Church ceremony, Jung complained, “contained no trace of God.”

Students in schools of theology who read Jung might remember that a father cannot have a son without a mother. They might engage in less talk of Father and Son as facts instead of metaphors. They might make fewer comments like the one a student made in my “Christology” class:
I wonder how the son felt when he was sent down to earth.
The instructor looked embarrassed as he tried to respond. Jung helped me to see that irrational details in myths are not meant to be read as rational facts.  This is the lesson missing in religious education. If theology students learned the symbolism in Christian God-talk, they might learn to use other symbols of Divinity—midwife or bee or breath, for instance.

In response to a previous post on Jung, Chris commented that Jung approved of patients turning to their religion. He’s right. Jung counseled patients who dropped out of religion to go back to it. It took me a while to know what to make of this and something else that confused me. Why did Jung arrange to have himself buried in a Christian ceremony when he died? This seemed incompatible with his exposition of Christian myth.

More study informed me that religious images have mysterious power that connects people with the Invisible Realm, which Jung explained, presides in the vast unconscious of every person.

Jung wanted us to be connected to religion because religious myths connect us with the mysterious Beyond lying in our unconscious. He was regarded as a mystic but he considered himself a scientist, one who researches observable facts. These facts, these outward signs, point to the Inner Realm that religion tries to mediate. Jung explained to me why I was preoccupied with religious topics when I tried to be an atheist.

November 20
Donald responded to my previous post:
I read Jung as one writing psychology, not theology. What differentiates theology is revelation, and Jung, as I read him, is operating entirely from human reason even when discussing religion. 
Donald is right. I had not thought of it before, but now I realize that I credit psychology for that reason. I actually trust it more. Why? I don't trust religious authority that accepts only official revelation or what is deemed to fit into official revelation. It rejects other types of revelation.

I do not think Jung operated entirely from reason. In Memories, Dreams, Reflections he recounts childhood experiences that fit the category of revelation. Go to my post "Jung on religion" for examples.

Jung, unlike Christian churches, credited the revelation of ordinary people. He took seriously dreams that foretell events. He saw meaning in incidents happening precisely when we need them, in animals sensing storms and earthquakes beforehand, in clocks stopping precisely at the moment of death, in glasses shattering at a critical moment (Memories, Dreams, Reflections 100). He showed that these supposed coincidences evince the spiritual realm.

This is exciting. I believe that in our everyday lives we are all receiving evidence of what I call The Other Side, only most of us are not alert to them. I hear many instances of people getting prompts from things around them precisely when they need them. Scientists and writers have spectacular instances of this. Religion does not accept these as revelation, and our secular culture would consider me flaky for saying it. 

I suggest readers who share my fascination with this subject go to posts in my index under "Paranormal."

Reading Jung, it became clear to me why I was preoccupied with religious topics when I tried to be an atheist. Spiritual reality was beguiling me at the same time that I rejected religion. 

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Mother & Yitzhak Rabin

My mother died 20 years ago on November 1. I remember being at the funeral home when I heard the news that Yitzhak Rabin had been assassinated by Israeli right-wingers who wanted to stop his peace efforts with Palestinians.
My sister wondered why I groaned a little at the news. It seemed odd to me too that Rabin’s death hit me worse than Mother’s. But my concern was justified. Mother died at the age of 94 and had sunk into dementia. The sad part about her death I’m writing in my memoir.

I expected Rabin’s death would have fearful consequences for the Middle East and thus for the U.S. I was right. I will not guess what the official relationship of the 2 sides would be today—whether Palestinians would be free of Israeli occupiers—but I am sure relations would be better if peace had not been delivered that decisive blow. It fueled opposition to the Oslo accords, the closest Palestinians ever came to getting justice, although not their own state.

After that, Israel and the U.S. hardened their attitude toward Palestinians. It is exasperating that land grabs by Israelis, daily humiliations suffered by Palestinians, and brutalities committed by Israeli soldiers get little press in our country, but every time Palestinians retaliate with ineffectual rockets or whatever, it gets media attention. Israeli deaths and injuries—almost minimal in comparison with Palestinian casualties—draw media attention but not those suffered by Palestinians.

Netanyahu’s pretended interest in peace is treated as if it were authentic. His cooperation with Israeli settlers in their relentless land grabs does not seem to interest the American press. And don't get me started on politicians of both parties in the U.S. getting slapped down if they dared to tell the truth. They quickly back off.
I have to stop writing about this now because the injustice disturbs me too much. Please visit this site for the facts.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Mind makes matter?

Ever since I returned to religion after trying out atheism, I have been working at reconciling the two. Both atheism and religion ask the big questions of life but they arrive at opposing answers to the questions: Where do we and all the stuff we see come from? Where does thinking come from?

Atheists who are also scientific materialists say our brains create our thoughts. After mulling this over for years, I take the opposite view—I think, therefore my brain forms the way it does. My thoughts form my brain. Scientific experiments bear this out.

And I feel, therefore my surroundings seem as they seem. They suit my feelings and attitudes.Our language reflects this truth. We speak of sunny or cloudy days and dispositions. The metaphor shows the connection between outer and inner. The late Wayne Dyer expanded on this truth:
Loving people live in a loving world. Hostile people live in a hostile world. Same world. 
As I understand scientific materialism, it denies the existence of any inner reality. It does not deny that we have thoughts, which are non-physical, but explains them as products of our brains or physical stuff. They believe outer reality creates inner reality. I invite my atheist friends to let me know if I misrepresent their position. And let me know how you disagree with the following, as I expect you will.

My feelings, thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes make up my consciousness or mind. It creates my life. I’ll say it another way: consciousness creates reality. This is the revolutionary idea I now accept and use in my daily life. I wrote about it HERE where you can see the materialist or physicalist position plus readers debating it and mine.  

When in conversations I bring up my belief in the power of our thoughts, it is surprisingly not dismissed as flaky. Many people accept it or at least don’t scoff at it. If it is true, if we have the power to mold reality with our thoughts, we collectively could heal the ills in our world.

In 1988 Willis Harman wrote a book that made a huge impression on me at the time and has stayed with me since. Cleaning out old files, I found an article I’d clipped about him giving a talk at Carleton College for a symposium on integrating human sciences. Harman was president of the Institute of Noetic Sciences, which focuses on reconciling objective knowledge, the kind studied by natural sciences, with subjective knowledge or inner wisdom and understanding.

The article mentions his book, Global Mind Change: The Promise of the Last Years of the Twentieth Century. Happily I found the book on my shelf with a bookmark on the page that resolved the question for me.
Harman lists 3 metaphysical perspectives:
M-1 Materialistic Monism
(Matter giving rise to mind)
M-2 Dualism
            (Matter plus mind)
M-3 Transcendental Monism
            (Mind giving rise to matter)
He said we are shifting from M-1 to M-3 in a global mind change. I see evidence of the shift every day—in myself as well as in events and beliefs expressed in the media. The implications are tremendous. 
Harman warns,
that our world is not sustainable using our present systems. . . . [fundamental changes] can come through vast numbers of people changing their minds. By deliberately changing their belief systems people can change the world.
Whether or not the change is deliberate, it is happening.
While editorials were howling for decisive engagement in the Syrian crisis, the Obama administration refused to send American troops into the war against ISIS and against Assad because Americans are averse to sending more troops into Mideast battles. Public opinion was shaping policy. Thoughts, attitudes, feelings, etc. were creating reality. We’ll have to see how the deepening crisis changes public opinion and how the administration responds.

The same process drives the policy of governments dealing with refugees flooding Europe. Angela Merkel could be very generous because Germans were still making up for Nazi atrocities, but as their compassion wears thin because of economic hardship, Merkel’s popularity suffers. Policy follows public perception. Consciousness changes outer reality, changing the global mind.

I hope more Americans press for greater American involvement in aiding refugees. But for that to happen, enough of us would have to press our government to change our policy. If we accept that our minds give rise to physical realities, we can help to reform the collective consciousness and thus bring about a reformed world.

I believe with Harman that we can collectively produce sustainable systems for our planet by deliberately reforming our consciousness. 

Hours after posting this, I read an excellent opinion piece by Pia Lopez in the St. Cloud Times, "U.S. Must Take in More Syrian Refugees." She gives figures that should make us ashamed. These are the numbers of refugees taken in by the countries listed:
U.S.               2,000
Jordan        619,000
Turkey       2 million
Lebanon     1.2 million
These are tiny countries compared with ours.  Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar says we should take in 65,000. Let's support her.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Divorce, says Jesus, . . .

In the gospel reading last Sunday, Mark 10: 2-16, Jesus says about marriage, “Let no one separate what God has joined.” I got divorced shortly before I entered the School of Theology. The reading reminded me of my experiences there.

At the SOT I studied scripture under Fr. Ivan Havener, perhaps the most helpful course I had there. Ivan was fully aware that the official Church often teaches nonsense. One day in class he referred disparagingly to bishops in denial of facts.

Ivan’s analysis of Jesus' sayings put into stark relief the distinction between the man Jesus and the myth of Christ. His book, Q: The Sayings of Jesus, informed my God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky. Scripture scholars use a panoply of tools to distinguish authentic sayings of Jesus from inauthentic sayings, those put into his mouth by gospel writers but not said by the man himself. Inauthentic sayings formed after Jesus’ death as a natural process of myth-making ensued, something like the process that created the myth of JFK, but of infinitely greater depth and consequence.

I decided that my final paper for Ivan’s class would be on divorce. Researching Jesus’ authentic sayings, I would show that Jesus did not really condemn divorce; I would show that Church law conflicts with the man Jesus’ statements. But after researching the subject, I had to concede that the historical Jesus must have condemned divorce because it is multiply-attested—in Matthew (5:32 and 19:9), Mark (10:11-12), Luke (16:18), and First Corinthians (7:10-11). It is highly unlikely that all accounts of Jesus speaking out against divorce got it wrong. I was wrong in my expectation.

However, from information supplied by scripture scholars I figured out that the reason for his attitude was divorce practice in his society. Only men could initiate divorce—women were their property—and men could divorce for the flimsiest reasons such as burning food. Divorced women must have lived in exceedingly grim circumstances. I concluded, therefore, that Jesus of Nazareth opposed divorce out of compassion for women. Pope Francis’ embrace of divorced people is right in line with Jesus’ attitude.

While I was studying at the SOT, Ivan died, stunning us all. No one on the faculty was more respected, not even Godfrey Diekmann, one of the periti or experts at Vatican II. I had planned on taking another course from Ivan but was glad of one thing. We grad students had to demonstrate understanding of a language other than English. I had used a German source in my paper for Ivan and fortunately got a signed statement before he died, declaring that I fulfilled the language requirement.

After graduating from the School of Theology I got the paper published in Daughters of Sarah, a Christian feminist magazine.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

E.O. Wilson and Ants

Few subjects rivet and rile me as much as the intersection of science and religion. I devoted a good portion of last year’s blogposts to scientific materialism, which you can read by finding the topic in my Index (right) and clicking on posts. They contain scientific arguments against it.
Two recent programs, one on public radio, the other on public TV, captured me recently.

Krista Tippett, host of NPR’s ON BEING interviewed two Vatican astronomers, Father George Coyne and Brother Guy Consolmagno. Coyne said,
My understanding of the universe does not need God.
His point was that we should not drag in God to explain science we don’t understand—God as a god of explanation, a god of the gaps.
If we're religious believers we're constantly tempted to do that. And every time we do it, we're diminishing God and we're diminishing science.
Consolmagno agreed but deplored the tendency to feel that science will answer all questions—conversely a science of the gaps.

Coyne and Consolmagno address the claim that science is open to having every idea disproved and religion is not. They discuss human freedom, dark matter, and quantum mechanics with its finding of indeterminism or the uncertainty principle. In God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky I discuss this principle to help me understand Jesus’ miracles and those of other wonder workers.
At this site you can listen to their conversation or read the transcript.

The PBS documentary E.O.Wilson—Of Ants and Men just aired Wednesday on TPT. E.O. Wilson's 27 books effected revolutionary changes in the fields of entomology, biology, ecology, and studies of human nature. His thought has been so influential that we ordinary people changed our thinking without our being aware of it. We are much more likely to see similarities between our behavior and that of animals than when I was growing up.

Wilson traces a fascinating correspondence between ants and humans. Ants dominate over their environment as do humans, and our social organization resembles theirs, although our increased domains of intelligence give us the ability to achieve global domination. He shows "the payoffs of sustained cooperation" in ants and humans, calling it "Eusociality."

Our sociality expresses as tribalism—the tendency to join groups, to form teams, to prefer ours in rivalry to theirs. Tribalism induces us to compete with nature, destroying what we depend on for survival, states Wilson. So our "hypersocial" spirit is both blessing and curse.

I used to view sports mania with disdain and was a little shocked to see Wilson enjoying fans at an Alabama football game. Exemplifying tribalism, fans surrender their dignity during games, treat the players "like gladiators," and generally look silly as they cheer. It's not my cup of tea but Wilson's more-than-tolerant attitude will make me less judgmental.
Of religion, Wilson said it is the highest expression of tribalism as it seeks connection with a greater whole. It lifts us out of self into service of a greater whole and cause.

Wilson's theory of sociality ignited a dispute with Richard Dawkins, who wrote The Selfish Gene. Not selfishness, but cooperation, generosity, kindness, and altruism are included in Wilson's idea of tribalism. Oversimplifying, we can say that Wilson's opinion supports Christian sensibility and Dawkins offends it.

E.O. Wilson—Of Ants and Men will air again this coming Sunday, October 4 at 8:00 on Channel 17. It will entertain you whether or not you share my interest in science with spiritual implications. A related program on restoration of Gorongosa Park in Mozambique airs Tuesday at 7:00 on Channel 2.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Francis and Biden

I notice I’ve been gone from this space for a month. I figured out how to circumvent the computer problem a while ago but have been putting writing energy into my next book and letters to editors.  

Pope Francis inspires me. Anyone who is not positively affected by him has something wrong with him or her. If this statement is judgmental, so be it.

I have not changed my opinion, however, that Francis doesn’t get it when it comes to justice for women. The gravest injustice against women is training people to pray to a lord, the ultimate cause of all gender injustice. As my latest letter in National Catholic Reporter states, “The Lord/Father image is cherished and difficult to dislodge. But how could never praying to her and always praying to him not affect gender relations?”

A few weeks ago I listened to Joe Biden being interviewed by Stephen Colbert. What sent me to find the interview online is Mark Shields on the PBS Newshour saying that this interview should be viewed by everyone in the country, especially every candidate for president. Listening to Biden was like listening to Pope Francis. And it gave me the same uplift I get from reading the words of Abraham Lincoln.

What is their common feature, the one that penetrates and disarms cynicism? Depth. A connection with the Inner Realm that comes from spending time in communication with it.

Biden teaches us by example to be utterly without guile. He must have had a superb upbringing, shown by quotations from his parents sprinkling his conversations. Negative feelings, the ones people don’t want to admit, like shame,low self-esteem, or wanting misfortune for others, are not part of his make-up.

Francis went through a classic period of purification to become the shining example he is now. In his first leadership role for Jesuits in Argentina he was an authoritarian stickler for orthodoxy, as shown in a fascinating PBS documentary I recommend.  He was transformed from being a hostile opponent of Liberation Theology to advocating for it. Liberation Theology interprets Christian faith with a focus on poor people. It began in Latin America and calls for social change to mend structural injustice.

I wish, but do not have realistic hope, that Francis would undergo another transformation by experiencing the feeling of abuse victims always forced to pray to a lord.

Still, I find myself smiling as I listen to all the rhapsodizing comments about Francis in the media, particularly those coming from non-Catholic pundits. A satisfying departure from Trump-mania.