Friday, June 19, 2015

Eleanor, secular saint

When I was growing up, I heard the name Eleanor Roosevelt spoken with loathing. I didn’t know the reason for my dad’s animus toward her, but his prejudice disposed me against her through my early adulthood. Then I read about Eleanor Roosevelt’s tireless advocacy for social causes, her efforts to help poor and marginalized people, her visits to GI’s around the world during World War II, her exceptional achievement at the U.N. Paeans to her competed with my earlier conditioned attitude.

Now I call Eleanor a saint because, as much as any, she models the process of transformation through a dark night of the soul to resurrection. She overcame excruciating suffering. As a child she heard her mother worrying about her homeliness. The only unconditional love she got came from her father, a drunk. Her husband betrayed her in an affair, and at the end of his life another betrayal came from her daughter, who conspired to have his paramour there when he was dying.

Eleanor was not able to give Franklin what he needed—the kind of unconditional affirmation he got from his mother Sarah and from other women. Eleanor was Franklin’s conscience, always prodding him to do more for Blacks and everybody else in American society with needs.

Not until I viewed the Ken Burns documentary, The Roosevelts, did I learn to characterize my earlier views of Eleanor as prejudice. The magnificent series finished its second airing this week, and the final segment devoted to Eleanor leaves me with unadulterated admiration for the woman.
When Harry Truman appointed her as delegate to the U.N. she was at the height of her powers, free to shine her own light, no longer muted by Franklin’s political need to move with caution.

John Foster Dulles and Republican Senator Arthur H. Vandenberg, also appointed to the delegation, thought her an unrealistic idealogue, an impractical do-gooder. I suspect Vandenburg, Dulles, and my dad were influenced by sexism.
Eleanor was assigned to Committee 3,  which dealt with humanitarian, educational, and cultural issues. She imagined gentlemen in the delegation putting her there where her spitfire opinions couldn’t do much harm.  They would change their minds about the committee and Eleanor Roosevelt.

World War II had left many displaced war refugees. The U.S. and other Western nations opposed the Soviet position that they should return to their country of origin or they were traitors. Eleanor and the Americans argued they should have the right to choose where they wanted to live, not be forced to take whatever conditions awaited them in their former home—a view the U.S. should honor today.

Eleanor Roosevelt turned out to be realistic and cunning at the U.N. She was elected chair of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights and skillfully steered the drafting of the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Russian delegate pressed for inclusion in the draft of race relations, which would have embarrassed the U.S. She craftily proposed that the Russians could send a team to observe racial problems in the U.S. if the U.S. could do the same in the Soviet Union. The New York Times observed,
The Russians seem to have met their match in Mrs. Roosevelt.

[The Universal Declaration of Human Rights] stands to this day as the most widely recognized statement of the rights to which every person on our planet is entitled.

Determined to press the Declaration to completion, Mrs. Roosevelt drove her colleagues mercilessly.
There were fourteen sixteen hour days and some delegates may have secretly whispered the prayer ascribed to President Roosevelt: ''O Lord, make Eleanor tired!''
A delegate from Panama begged Mrs. Roosevelt to remember that United Nations delegates have human rights, too.
Eleanor’s triumph as UN negotiator—unflagging, crafty, able to spar with global opponents—was recognized. After delegates unanimously adopted it at the General Assembly in Paris, they did something that has never before or since happened at the U.N. They rose to give a standing ovation to a single delegate—Eleanor Roosevelt.

Franklin and Eleanor had mutual respect; each recognized the greatness in the other, but Eleanor, being his conscience, was a thorn in the side of Franklin.

I call her a secular saint because her sanctity had nothing to do with religion. She modeled the sanctity Andrew Harvey describes in Unity Magazine (May/June 2015). He repudiates “the fake vision of Jesus” and states,
Jesus did not do it for us. He showed us the path by revealing what it is and what it costs to become divinized. He says, “Take up the cross, and do your own resurrection.”
Early photos of Eleanor with Franklin remind me of early photos of Diana with Prince Charles.  Each women has head bowed, with shy eyes looking out; each seems overpowered by her husband whom she has just married. From a shy, diffident person when Eleanor married Franklin, she evolved into a tireless, world-renowned champion of persons in need.

Eleanor Roosevelt exemplifies the nobility wrought in the human person by suffering. Her dying and resurrection led to a life of compassionate assistance to others. I will try to remember her counsel:
No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.

June 25, Eleanor, Secular Saint  2 

In last week’s post I hope I spurred others to love and admiration for Eleanor Roosevelt. Readers so inclined will revel in the accounts at this website where we find E.R.’s own account of her work for the U.N. plus observations of her work by others. Fascinating reading. Here some highlights:

Drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights took arduous work as members of Committee 3 debated “every single word” of it, wrote Eleanor, before sending it to the General Assembly.
Toward the end of her intense work, around 1:00 as she wearily walked the stairs to her room, Dulles and Vandenberg were waiting to tell her that they did all they could to keep her off the delegation. They confessed they begged Truman not to nominate her. Now they wanted her to know that they were glad to have worked with her and would do so gladly again.

The Communist member on the Human Rights Commission, Dr. Pavlov, “delivered long propaganda harangues,” wrote Eleanor, more aimed at promoting Communism than contributing to the work of the Committee.
He was an orator of great power; the words rolled out of his black beard like a river, and stopping him was difficult.
His "rash" accusations against the United States and Great Britain were deterring the Committee’s work, and members were tired of listening to him. On one occasion they were ready to recess when he began speaking again. Eleanor watched him closely, and when he paused for breath, she banged the gavel so hard that delegates jumped in surprise.
. . .  before he could continue, I got in a few words of my own.
“We are here," I said, “to devise ways of safeguarding human rights. We are here not to attack each other’s governments and I hope when we return on Monday the delegate of the Soviet Union will remember that!”
I banged the gavel again.  “Meeting adjourned.”
She wrote she could still see Dr. Pavlov staring at her in surprise. His orations were brief for about a week after that.

“Moslem” nations were planning to abstain because they believed the article on religious freedom was contrary to “the Koran.” But the foreign minister of Pakistan courageously rose to say that was a misinterpretation and he defended the Declaration. The final vote contained no nays but a few abstentions.

Elizabeth Janeway writes that Eleanor Roosevelt is a symbol of hope for progress throughout the world. She gives this physical description of Eleanor!
She looks like your favorite aunt. Her clothes and her coiffure both express the truth that it is a great nuisance to be fashionable, and also a nuisance to be at odds with fashion.
Her mannerisms are those of a younger and much less important woman. They are endearing because they betray that she is shy and that she is determined to pay as little attention as possible to the distraction of her shyness.
In addition to her heavy load at the U.N., Eleanor gave daily radio broadcasts, determined to educate the American public about the U.N. , and she went to every speaking engagement she could squeeze in.

Perhaps there were people asking, ''O Lord, does Eleanor ever get tired?''

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Jung on religion

In Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Carl Jung expresses disappointment upon taking his first Communion, a ritual in his church signaling transition to adulthood, for which he got a new black felt hat and a new suit with a pocket in the jacket that allowed “a grownup, manly gesture.” His father was the minister at the church and worked hard to prepare his son for the occasion. During the ceremony, writes Jung,
The atmosphere was the same as that of all other performances in church—baptisms, funerals, and so on. I had the impression that something was being performed here in the traditionally correct manner. My father, too, seemed to be chiefly concerned with going through it all according to rule, and it was part of this rule that the appropriate words were read or spoken with emphasis.

I knew that God could do stupendous things to me, things of fire and unearthly light; but this ceremony contained no trace of God—not for me, at any rate.
I had hoped for an experience of grace and illumination, and nothing had happened. God had been absent.
Jung concluded that his father did not know
the immediate living God who stands omnipotent and free above [church and Bible].
God refuses to abide by traditions, no matter how sacred.
This realization followed a blasphemous thought he fended off in agony for sleepless days, a sin he resisted with all his strength because he feared eternal damnation. Finally, when he accepted it as God’s will, he allowed the image to come:
I saw before me the cathedral, the blue sky. God sits on His golden throne, high above the world—and from under the throne an enormous turd falls upon the sparkling new roof, shatters it, and breaks the walls of the cathedral asunder.
Jung was only a schoolboy when he summoned the courage to see God shit on the church.
I am reminded of the boy Huckleberry Finn floating down the Mississippi with the loving and loyal Jim, a runaway slave. Huck has been taught that assisting runaway slaves is a sin. To avoid a certain fate in hell, he writes a letter to the slave’s owner to tell her where Jim is.
But somehow I couldn’t seem to strike no places to harden me against him, but only the other kind. I’d see him standing my watch on top of his’n, stead of calling me, so I could go on sleeping . . . and do everything he could think of for me, and how good he always was . . . and said I was the best friend old Jim ever had in the world.
Trembling as he decides to commit the sin of “stealing Jim out of slavery,” he says
All right, then, I’ll go to hell
and he tears up his letter. As an English teacher of this novel, I always felt inadequate to convey the stupendous nobility of Huck in this moment. I struggled to convey the irony in conventional morality’s falseness. The boy Huck’s moral courage is meant by Mark Twain to prick the conscience of society.
The boy Jung knows he has more courage and knowledge than his father—he has a higher level of consciousness than Huck Finn has. But both boys suffer the torture of being called to disobey religion’s moral code.

Carl Jung's Theology     November 12, 2015

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.
“Facts are the enemy of truth!” cries Don Quixote de la Mancha. Would that we heard homilies to that effect!

I agree with Jung that Christianity is, indeed, a myth. But, as J.R.R. Tolkien explained to C.S. Lewis many years ago, it’s a myth that actually came true—at least from a genuine Christian pov.


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. 

Church not necessaryMay 7, 2015

I write to broaden understanding of spirituality and religions, which are brands of spirituality. This purpose directed my opinion piece in the St. Cloud Times on Sunday—Faith does not require church.

Religious beliefs implanted in childhood cannot adequately guide our adult lives. There is no excuse for letting religion close our minds against new knowledge. Truth staring us in the face—discoveries coming from science and other cultures—can disrupt the landscape of our minds, and that can be uncomfortable. To some it brings fear and anger.

Inexorably, however, change continues to happen.  Faith used to be bound to religion. No longer. Faith in spiritual reality—what we call "God" does not need church. 

 But I continue going to church for the relationships, the heart of spirituality.

Lessons from Hubble, May 14, 2015

A relationship with a Beloved in the Beyond does not have to be with Jesus but can take many possible forms.
                  God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky

The Hubble telescope was launched on April 24, 1980. As I was listening to NPR 35 years later, I heard an astronaut explain the wonderful importance of Hubble’s launching. It shows stars in the sky that we can’t see because the air we breathe blocks our sight.

Earth is one object traveling around our sun. Our solar system is part of the Milky Way galaxy containing, at last estimate, 400 billion stars in tens of billions of solar systems. Our galaxy is dwarfed by giant elliptical galaxies with 100 trillion stars.
This is just one universe, our universe, and science is finding evidence of multiple universes with dimensions probably different from our space/time, height, width, and depth. Infinity really is infinite. Intoxicating.

Scientific details dizzy me and they’re not my point. My point is not even to say how small we are. It is perspective. Hubble teaches us the advantage of enlarging our perspective. Like the Hubble, we need to clear our vision of blocks immediately surrounding us—go beyond the air we breathe—and obtain the larger perspective.

In 7th grade I heard Sister say the Catholic Church is the one true church. I can still remember where I was sitting and where she was standing because the statement did not seem quite right. I thought about people in the world who had never heard of Jesus or the religious stories we were being taught. They would think their own ways were right just as we thought ours were right. The moment sticks with me sixty years later, as I’m still absorbed by this need to enlarge our perspective. It motivates my writing about the spectrum of ideas regarding religions and spirituality.

Was it yesterday or the day before? …… I heard yet another report giving yet higher figures for the portion of Americans who are leaving Christian churches. Evidently, globalization and new information from science are enlarging perspectives naturally.  

I am of an earlier generation who still value religious relationships, but I respect the "nones,” those who meet their relationship needs, that is, their spiritual needs, without religion. They are moving beyond the dogmas taught in childhood and opening their eyes to the infinity of possibilities in the Inner Realm.