This photo has been haunting me for days.
I’m dwelling on a few of the more illuminating passages from the Hebrew and the Greek Scriptures. There are a few (yes, there are) that are encouraging and inspiring.
These are shimmer points that can always bring goodness. They are sometimes surrounded by passages that provide only the very dimmest of lights from the tain of the mirror. Perhaps that is somehow necessary, just as the best grapes for wine only grow and flourish in well-aged manure. It doesn’t prevent the sweet plants from welcoming water and light.
Justice and Mercy, Not Fasting
8 And the word of the LORD came again to Zechariah: 9 “This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. 10 Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. In your hearts do not think evil of each other.’
The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector
9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Jesus Heals the Official’s Son
46 Once more he visited Cana in Galilee, where he had turned the water into wine. And there was a certain royal official whose son lay sick at Capernaum. 47 When this man heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea, he went to him and begged him to come and heal his son, who was close to death.
48 “Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders,” Jesus told him, “you will never believe.”
Living as Children of Light
25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26 “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. 28 He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.
29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
16 “This is the covenant that I will make with them
after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws on their hearts,
and write them on their minds,”
17 then he adds,
“I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”
18 Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.
Wisdom from Above
13 Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. 15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
1 Corinthians 13
1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. 12 Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
13And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
BAT logo by Tengrain of Mock, Paper, Scissors, who also points out:
The theme [of the blogswarm], like always, is the Separation of Church and State — we are for it. But the variations on the theme are many…This is not a bashing of religion – peeps can believe what they choose, however they choose — but it is a reminder that the Government should keep out of religion, and Religion should keep out of the government.
So, what to say? Here is what I say:
The drive to “christian” theocracy is a profoundly destructive force. Participation in it leads to the corruption of one’s individual spiritual path by power-mad group-think.
I believe that such group-think strangles the intellect, encourages hysteria, and promotes cruelty. It creates dynamics that become the very opposite of kindness, humility, ethics, collaboration, and cooperation – the opposite of every virtue, and especially of the virtues we so desperately need in order to confront the actual problems facing the people of this country.
A will to power and domination can never lead to the fruits of the spirit, but can only undermine and finally destroy one of the most beautiful aspects of our country – the freedom of religion (with its corollary guarantees of freedom of expression and freedom from persecution).
There is also the matter of idolatry. Human individuals or groups that insist upon conformity to their own flavor of religious belief attempt to put themselves in the place of God and to claim God’s authority for their own agendas.
Beware of any claim that any group or person represents deity or is the voice of God on this earth. Beware of false prophets. Give unto Caesar only what it Caesar’s. Trust not in the traditions of men. And so on.
The rest of my post is simply to highlight some pertinent quotations:
“Good intentions will always be pleaded for any assumption of power. The Constitution was made to guard the people against the dangers of good intentions. There are men in all ages who mean to govern well, but they mean to govern. They promise to be good masters, but they mean to be masters.” – Daniel Webster
“Freedom is an indivisible word. If we want to enjoy it, and fight for it, we must be prepared to extend it to everyone, whether they are rich or poor, whether they agree with us or not, no matter what their race or the color of their skin.” – Wendell Wilkie
“To put it in a few words, the true malice of man appears only in the state and in the church, as institutions of gathering together, of recapitulation, of totalization.” – Paul Ricoeur
“The Bible tells us to be like God, and then on page after page it describes God as a mass murderer. This may be the single most important key to the political behavior of Western Civilization.” – Robert Anton Wilson
“Therefore, I am convinced that I am acting as the agent of our Creator. By fighting off the Jews, I am doing the Lord’s work.” – Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf
“The people who have come into [our] institutions [today] are primarily termites. They are into destroying institutions that have been built by Christians, whether it is universities, governments, our own traditions, that we have…. The termites are in charge now, and that is not the way it ought to be, and the time has arrived for a godly fumigation.” – Pat Robertson
“Whoever wants to be a Christian should tear the eyes out of his reason.” – Martin Luther
“Patriotism? Your patriotism waves a flag with one hand and picks pockets with the other” – Ingrid Bergman to Cary Grant in Notorious
“Religion is against women’s rights and women’s freedom. In all societies women are oppressed by all religions.” – Taslima Nasrin
“The secular democratic state is the surest protector of religious and intellectual liberty ever crafted by human ingenuity. Nothing is more fallacious, or inimical to genuine religious liberty, than the seductive notion that the state should “favor” or “foster” religion. All history testifies that such practices inevitably result in favoring one religion over less powerful minorities and secular opinion. In the long run governmental favoritism vitiates the religious spirit itself. Where in the Western world is organized religion stronger than in the United States where the church is a take-your-choice affair? Where is it weaker than in Europe where sophisticated secularists joke that they have been “inoculated” for life against religion by compulsory religious indoctrination in state schools? Preserving the secular character of government and the public school is the surest guarantee that religion in America will remain free, vital, uncorrupted by political power, and independent of state manipulation.” – Edward L Ericson
“It would be good for religion if many books that seem useful were destroyed. When there were not so many books and not so many arguments and disputes, religion grew more quickly than it has since.” – Girolamo Savonarola (of Bonfire of the Vanities fame)
“Faith” is a fine invention, when gentlemen can see / But microscopes are prudent, in an emergency.” – Emily Dickinson
“Minds fettered by this doctrine no longer inquire concerning a proposition whether it is attested by sufficient evidence, but whether it accords with Scripture; they do not search for facts as such, but for facts that will bear out their doctrine. It is easy to see that this mental habit blunts not only the perception of truth, but the sense of truthfulness, and that the man whose faith drives him into fallacies treads close upon the precipice of falsehood…. So long as a belief in propositions is regarded as indispensable to salvation, the pursuit of truth as such is not possible.” – George Eliot
“Truth, in matters of religion, is simply the opinion that has survived.” – Oscar Wilde
“I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.” – Galileo Galilei
“I do occasionally envy the person who is religious naturally, without being brainwashed into it or suckered into it by all the organized hustles.” – Woody Allen
“The person with B.S. (note: “Belief Systems”) knows the “right answer” at all times and knows it immediately. This makes them very happy – and very annoying – because most of their “right answers” don’t make sense to the rest of us. Common sense and/or science require investigation and revision, etc. B.S. only requires a Rule Book (sacred scripture, Das Kapital, or whatever) and a good memory. People with “faith” represent mental health problem #1, because memorizing rule books cuts you off from sensory involvement with the existential world. It also produces the kind of intolerance that produces witch-hunts, Inquisitions, purges, Bushware 1.0, Bushware 2.0, etc. Belief Systems, “faith,” certitudes of all sorts, result from deliberately forgetting the fallibility of human brains, especially the brains of those who wrote your favorite rule book, and this leaders to a paradoxical rejection of the best functions of the brain – namely, its ability to rethink, revise, and correct itself.” – Robert Anton Wilson
“The man who has never wrestled with his early faith, the faith that he was brought up with and that yet is not truly his own — for no faith is our own that we have not arduously won — has missed not only a moral but an intellectual discipline. The absence of that discipline may mark a man for life and render all his work ineffective. He has missed a training in criticism, in analysis, in open-mindedness, in the resolutely impersonal treatment of personal problems, which no other training can compensate. He is, for the most part, condemned to live in a mental jungle where his arm will soon be too feeble to clear away the growths that enclose him, and his eyes too weak to find the light.” – Havelock Ellis
“Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.” – Siddartha Gautama, the Buddha
“We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love.” – Jonathan Swift
Dear C –
As always, take what is helpful to you and reject what doesn’t ring true to your inner self…
If there is a spirit of the cosmos, and if that spirit is what we mean when we talk about “God”, then I have to believe that the spirit is a spirit of Love that holds everything together and makes everything related and connected in a million, mysterious ways. All our words about God are simply ways to place God within a human frame of reference. It’s all metaphor, all of it. We don’t really have the words to describe or understand.
Don’t get hung up on names. Only humans care about names. Come back to that question later, when you don’t have so much scar tissue about it (smile). Yes, pray. Pray if you can. Pray for wisdom and understanding and forgiveness and compassion and clarity and joy and laughter and caring.
Listen to yourself breathe. Maybe you remember the old childhood mantra, “In with the good air, out with the bad.” Let strength and caring in, breathe out despair and depression.
Find and follow your own path, your own light, your own connection. You are unique and all the cosmos wants of you is to be yourself in the best way you can. Support others, care for others. You have an internal sense of ethics and care and attentiveness already – build on that from within. Even biblically (and please remember that the collection of texts that we call the bible is just that, a collection of texts – from several cultural moments and places, and it’s been censored and edited to please very specific audiences), it is said that the kingdom is within you. Spirituality is a lifelong
journal journey, not just a moment when you have all the right answers and then you are done.
As for family, what can I say? Yours is being spectacularly intrusive. I would intervene if I were you, but that’s entirely your own decision. At the very least, some basic ground rules for contact with your kids should be established. If it gets any uglier, you could consult a lawyer for the best way to proceed. Meanwhile, tell your daughter something like that some people believe in the end of the world, but that you don’t believe that God wants to torture and kill people. Something like that would go a long way toward undoing the damage. Tell her something, something calmly, lovingly, to ease her fears. Something at a level she can understand.
My son (6) asked me if I thought my father had gone to heaven. I told him that some people believe in a heaven, but that I didn’t know, and that nobody else really knew either.
He asked, “Do I have to decide for myself what I believe?” Yes.
“Do I have to decide _right now_?”
No – (smiling inside) and you might change your mind from time to time.
“Well, then maybe do you think his skeleton will come out and dance with us on Halloween?”
I sort of don’t think so, but if you like, we can do a dance, and pretend that he’s laughing, which is what he might do if he were still here.
We did a dance, and Ben laughed the whole time. It was fun.
With kids, you’ve got to be creative, and not let it get so heavy. Your words mean more to your kids than anybody else’s – but if you’re upset, they’ll know that too. Keep it light and reassuring.
Even without these issues, you are not the only one who cannot rely on biological family! It’s sad, but it’s reality. Even Jesus said – these are my family, these are my brothers and sisters.
And he really didn’t have anything to complain about with his own family if you believe the stories….
I have “adopted” parents and brothers and sisters and cousins. Friends can be family too. Somewhere there is a father and an older brother to give you advice. Somewhere you already have a friend to call, and you’ll have more, because as you refocus you will have more and more to offer to others – understanding, caring, welcoming, laughter, joy.
I read a study not long ago that said that the words that people most wanted to hear from someone else weren’t “I love you”, but instead, “It’s going to be all right.” So let me say to you – Everything is going to be all right. It is. It might be hard, but you’ve gotten this far, and you’re strong enough to refuse abuse and to step out of situations of abuse – physical, emotional, spiritual. Your own self-respect and sense of self-worth is what you have to continue to build on here.
Not all Jehovah’s Witnesses believe they are “better than everyone else.” There are solid good people who are rank and file JWs. The odds are against them, because JWs are so set up – in all sorts of ways – to believe that they are better, that God likes them more, that they are superior. They are told that they are the only ones who matter, and that the only good work that matters is to make more of them. They also block internal questioning or criticism or debate – and train the JWS to believe that independent thinking and reflection and research and meditation are somehow displeasing to God.
JWs are also so controlled by the dictates from the Watchtower publishing corporations that it is easy to understand the longing for personal power, even in these hidden forms. When the lack of power is at issue all the time, when the people willingly take on the identities of sheep and slaves with “overseers”, then the whole issue of free will and religious self-determination gets cross-wired with other things. Statistically, there is also more mental illness, sexual abuse, domestic abuse, pedophilia, and so on as well. It’s a pathological situation.
Still, there are good people in every religious group. Some of it depends on simple timing – when they were brought in, with who, what they are used to, how things connected for them, and so on. Many people are just simply doing the best they can, believing that what they do is right. But yes, of course I have noticed what you’re talking about. To be fair, I think most religions at the edges have people who miss the whole point in just that way –
When kindness and caring are lacking, so is love. Cold, hard, rule-based, totalitarian forms of religion are anti-spiritual (at least, that’s my opinion). They are actually anti-religious, since they don’t “retie or rebind together” but rather “split apart.” There is some form of that, some legalistic fanatical wing, in every organized religion – as we see on the news every night. Is it a war god, a god of death, that they worship? I don’t know – but you have to decide for yourself which is better, what kind of god would be the god of love, and worthy of praise.
It is easy to let someone else take over your spiritual responsibilities. Self-righteousness is very comforting. Humility is more difficult.
The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society hardly ever talks or writes about grace – actually they reject the word “grace” altogether, and their alternate word “loving-kindness” is employed only under very specific conditions. They want that free salesforce out there under their control…
But what kind of God would count the hours selling books and yet turn attention away from the fundamental cruelties to others that JWs endorse? You can’t “earn” some kind of salvation, redemption, or love – least of all by counting hours knocking or by mindlessly following the (often-changing) dictates of a set of corporations based in New York. Actually, I think it’s very funny that they started calling it the “Truth” – with a capital T! That signals enormous insecurity.
Ask yourself every kind of question you can and watch the questions get better. Grow into habits of caring and tolerance and kindness, and watch what happens to you. Small moments matter. Love grows. Kindness blooms. You’ll feel it.
Think of how you are with your children in the most special kind of moment, and imagine:
THIS is how God would view you – as precious, as unbelievably beautiful and real, with kindness, with love.
Many have made a trade of delusions and false miracles, deceiving the stupid multitude.
There are three classes of people: those who see. Those who see when they are shown. Those who do not see.
Blinding ignorance does mislead us. O! Wretched mortals, open your eyes!
Nothing can be love or hated unless it is first known.
Anyone who conducts an argument by appealing to authority is not using his intelligence he is just using his memory.
The depth and strength of a human character are defined by its moral reserves. People reveal themselves completely only when they are thrown out of the customary conditions of their life, for only then do they have to fall back on their reserves.
Patience serves as a protection against wrongs as clothes do against cold. For if you put on more clothes as the cold increases, it will have no power to hurt you. So in like manner you must grow in patience when you meet with great wrongs.
Wisdom is the daughter of experience.
All our knowledge has its origins in our perceptions.
The noblest pleasure is the joy of understanding.
Learning never exhausts the mind.
The poet ranks far below the painter in the representation of visible things, and far below the musician in that of invisible things.
The smallest feline is a masterpiece.
Where the spirit does not work with the hand there is no art.
Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.
Art is never finished, only abandoned.
Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen.
You can have no dominion greater or less than that over yourself.
I have offended God and mankind because my work didn’t reach the quality it should have.