How We Create Hell

"I thought, well, I'll be. That's weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. That's where the pain comes from. We do that to each other, and we do it to ourselves. Then I saw emergency rooms. I saw divorce court. I saw jails and prisons. I saw how we create Hell on this planet for each other. And for the first time in my life, I did not see God as the inventor of Hell."

~ Carlton Pearson

Natural Community

Excerpt from "Sick Love" by Stephen Schettini (Jan. 14, 2013):

I loved the Buddha’s teachings. I found them invaluable and still do. However, I mistook Buddhists for the Buddha and lost my way. Still, I was lucky and my eyes opened one day to the contrived righteousness of communal life. I understood that it was time to move on. Technically, I was free, under no physical and only gentle psychological pressure to stay. However, it took me a full year to extricate myself, to let go of my need for love and validation from this group, to give up the image of myself on a holy and righteous path and return to the plain truth that purity is an illusion, that there is no security and that I had to pursue my mundane way alone.

That in fact, I’d been alone all along.

There is life after a spiritual community. There is such a thing as natural community, not contrived to support your fondest wishes but to commiserate with on life’s hard byways. There is no preexisting group out there waiting for you. Real community forms organically, spontaneously. Prepare yourself for it by traveling light. People of like mind are not found in any particular monastery, school or social group. It’s rare to meet others with whom we truly commune. We know that. You know that. Locking yourself into a gated community, pretending you’re safe and sound, is a sure way to not bump into anyone intimately.

Get out there, vulnerable and honest. Admit you’re alone on your path through life and you’ll sooner or later meet fellow-travelers. You’ll share your insights as equals. Some of them may for a while become mentors or guides. Bear in mind though, that relationship will deteriorate the minute you abandon your discernment, the instant you stop taking your own risks.

Otherwise, how will you know when they’re speaking nonsense, as from time to time we all do? How will you realize that they’re manipulating you, as they might if they see you can’t hold your own? They might even be doing it because they love you.

How would you know what sort of love that is?

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Unwitting Partners

“The real battlefront is not between the West and the Muslim world. It’s between the moderates of all faith traditions and the extremists or radicals—and I include in that the agnostic and atheist community. The radicals are unwitting partners. They fuel each other.”

~ Feisal Abdul Rauf, in conversation with Lisa Miller for Newsweek (Dec. 27, 2010 / Jan. 3, 2001)

How are We Going to Be Able to Live Together?

Excerpts from “Restoring Political Civility,” a conversation between Krista Tippet and Richard Mouw (president of Fuller Theological Seminary and a professor of Christian Philosophy and Ethics and author or Uncommon Decency), Being, October 14, 2010:

Richard Mouw: …to be civil comes from civitas and it means learning how to live in the city. The origin with a guy like Aristotle, the ancient philosopher, who said early on, as little children, we have a natural sense of kinship. We have strong positive feelings toward those who are blood relatives, my mother, my father, sisters and brothers, cousins and the like. And then as we grow up, we have some of those same positive feelings that develop toward friends. So we go from kinship and we build on that to a broader sense of friendship where you have that same sense of bonding or something like it that isn't just based on blood relative stuff.

But he said to really grow up, to be a mature human being, is to learn in the public square to have that same sense of bonding to people from other cities, people who are very different than yourself. And that's not just toleration, but is a sense that what I owe to my mother because she brought me into this world, what I owe to my friends because of shared experiences and memories and delights, I also owe to the stranger. Why? Because they're human like me and I got to begin to think of humanness as such as a kind of bonding relationship

Krista Tippett: So here's another statement from you about just an essential Christian truth, which is, "In affirming the stranger, we are honoring the image of God."

Richard Mouw: Oh, yeah. That's right. Going back to that Aristotle idea that, you know, we all understand kinship and then we understand friendship, but then there's this person who is neither kin nor friend, but we have encountered them. And what is it that links me to them if it isn't just a lot of good feelings that I have about people like that? What the Bible teaches is that every human being is created in a divine image. And this means that every human being is — you know, this is where I've been thinking more about this lately — is a work of art.

Seeing other people is a kind of exercise in art appreciation. I find that very powerful. I come across a person who isn't just a stranger, but maybe represents a strangeness to me that initially I might feel very alienated from that person, and then to think this is a work of art by the God whom I worship, that God created that person. And it doesn't come easy. I'm kind of aesthetically deprived, so I have to work at it, but it's a very important exercise to engage in.

Krista Tippett: You have been very clear and open across the years, for example, about your theological opposition to gay marriage. I could imagine that someone who is homosexual might hear what you just said and feel that in fact that doesn't find expression when you look at them.

Richard Mouw: Well, and — and it should. I have really tried to emphasize the fact that even in expressing our disagreements — and this is a very complicated thing — but that we're dealing with people who are precious works of divine art. You know, I have argued on a number of occasions and actually gotten some very positive response from folks in the gay-lesbian community that maybe — I even wrote a Newsweek piece on this.

You know, maybe it's time to stop yelling at each other and accusing each other in public and maybe we ought to just sit down and turn the agenda into something like this where I would ask my gay and lesbian activist friends, "what is it about people like me that scare you so much? And that you in turn would listen to me when I say, what is it about what you are advocating that worries me so much about the future of our culture and the world in which my grandchildren are being raised? And that we talk about hopes and fears rather than angrily denouncing each other as homophobes or as people who are engaged in, you know, despicable behavior, but could that shape a very different kind of discussion." As we move toward — the really important question is how are we going to be able to live together in this pluralistic society with at least some better understanding of what motivates us beneath the angry denunciations and things?

Taming Extremism by Promoting Education

Excerpt from “What Oman Can Teach Us,” by Nicholas D. Kristof, New York Times, October 13, 2010:

oman In short, one of the lessons of Oman is that one of the best and most cost-effective ways to tame extremism is to promote education for all.

Many researchers have found links between rising education and reduced conflict. One study published in 2006, for example, suggested that a doubling of primary school enrollment in a poor country was associated with halving the risk of civil war. Another found that raising the average educational attainment in a country by a single grade could significantly reduce the risk of conflict.

Sorry if this emphasis on education sounds like a cliché. It’s widely acknowledged in theory, and President Obama pledged as a candidate that he would start a $2 billion global education fund. But nothing has come of it. Instead, he’s spending 50 times as much this year alone on American troops in Afghanistan — even though military solutions don’t have as good a record in trouble spots as education does.

The pattern seems widespread: Everybody gives lip service to education, but nobody funds it.

A Textbook Example

Excerpt from ''How Christian Were the Founders?” by Russell Shorto, New York Times (February 11, 2009):

brown-bear“Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?” It’s not an especially subversive-sounding title, but the author of this 1967 children’s picture book, Bill Martin Jr., lost his place in the Texas social-studies guidelines at last month’s board meeting due to what was thought to be un-American activity — to be precise, “very strong critiques of capitalism and the American system.” Martin, the creator of 300 children’s books, was removed from the list of cultural figures approved for study by third graders in the blizzard of amendments offered by board members…

…The [Texas school] board has the power to accept, reject or rewrite the [Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills], and over the past few years, in language arts, science and now social studies, the members have done all of the above. Yet few of these elected overseers are trained in the fields they are reviewing. “In general, the board members don’t know anything at all about content,” Tom Barber, the textbook executive, says. Kathy Miller, the watchdog, who has been monitoring the board for 15 years, says, referring to Don McLeroy and another board member: “It is the most crazy-making thing to sit there and watch a dentist and an insurance salesman rewrite curriculum standards in science and history. Last year, Don McLeroy believed he was smarter than the National Academy of Sciences, and he now believes he’s smarter than professors of American history.”

In this case, one board member sent an e-mail message with a reference to “Ethical Marxism,” by Bill Martin, to another board member, who suggested that anyone who wrote a book with such a title did not belong in the TEKS. As it turned out, Bill Martin and Bill Martin Jr. are two different people. But by that time, the author of “Brown Bear, Brown Bear” was out. “That’s a perfect example of these people’s lack of knowledge,” Miller says. “They’re coming forward with hundreds of amendments at the last minute. Don McLeroy had a four-inch stack of amendments, and they all just voted on them, whether or not they actually knew the content. What we witnessed in January was a textbook example of how not to develop textbook standards.”

A Theology Should Be Like Poetry

“A theology should be like poetry, which takes us to the end of what words and thoughts can do…

…when we hear about religion, when it hits the headlines it's either something like that anti-Christ poll or else we hear the voices of hatred or extremism or we hear our church leaders condemning things, like condemning homosexuality or enforcing rigid beliefs. And this is not what religion is about. Religion - all the world faiths have developed their own version of what's been called the Golden Rule, don't do to others what you would not like them to do to you. And they've said, all of them, that that is the essence of faith.

That it is that, not our beliefs and, but that bring us into relationship with what we call God or Brahman or Tao, and it's that that gives meaning to our lives. And so I want to restore compassion to that and so that we have instead of religious antagonism, religious aggression, we have a voice that speaks continually of compassion; that endlessly tries to put us, make us put ourselves in the position of the other. Because I'm worried that if we don't manage to implement the Golden Rule, globally, so that we treat all peoples, wherever they are as though they were as important as ourselves, that we, I don't think we'll have, if we don't do that, a viable world to hand on to the next generation.”

~ Karen Armstrong, in conversation with Terry Gross

I Don’t Ever Want to Have to Say “I Don’t Know” Ever Again

“There's this being called the thing that made the things for which there is no known maker and that causes and directs the events we can't otherwise explain and that doesn't need to have been made and is the one thing from which to ask for things that no human can give and without whom we can't be fully happy and is unlimited by all the laws of physics and never began and will never finish and is invisible but actually everywhere at once and who is so perfect that even if he killed millions of people, including babies, he'd still would be perfect and who is so powerful and magical that he can even make a virgin pregnant if he wanted to."



The Seeking Blind

The Winter Sun “People who are destabilized by historical forces are more intelligent than the secure ones who have got the formulas in place. The safety of received tastes and opinions, confirmed in furniture and inherited artworks, stops the true brain, the brain of the seeking blind. When people are uprooted and insecure, their tables are alive with conversation of prophets—philosophy, music, literature, god. But when the people are safe, the repetition of a formula goes around and around.”

~ Fanny Howe, from The Winter Sun: Notes on a Vocation

How Wrong We Can Be

Follow Me “The wonderful thing about the novel form is that it can accommodate lots of different kinds of stories. Just between the covers of a book you can gather them. I worry about the ease of fundamentalism in all its forms. The ease with which it enters our lives and we become certain about these stories. A novel does seem to be a place where we can let those fundamental stories unravel a little bit, because they're put into some sort of tapestry where they're participating with other stories or competing with other stories or different versions...and maybe not offer absolute answers. For me as a writer, I'm passionate about fiction's ability to render uncertainty...The novel is a great place to consider how wrong we can be about we can make mistakes. Those are good stories to tell, aren't they? When the stories are mistakes.”

~ Joanna Scott, in conversation with Michael Silverblatt of KCRW’s Bookworm (4/23/09) about her new novel, Follow Me.

The Problem

Excerpts from an interview with Truthdig columnist and author Chris Hedges in The Sun Magazine (Dec. 2008), “Moral Combat: Chris Hedges on War, Faith, and Fundamentalism."

I Don't Believe in Athiests Fundamentalism can be found within either a secular or a religious framework. It’s a binary worldview that divides the world into us and them, good and evil, right and wrong. It’s a belief that you and those who subscribe to your ideology have found the absolute truth, which must be accepted by everyone, and those who won’t accept it must be silenced or eradicated. Fundamentalism is an abdication of our moral responsibility to make difficult decisions, because within a fundamentalist movement people are told what to do. They don’t believe in a plurality of truths or ways of being. Fundamentalism is anti-intellectual, because it discourages investigation of other cultures, histories, and belief systems.

...Fundamentalism is a form of tribalism. There’s a great comfort in it, because it discourages self-criticism and self-reflection. Retreating into tribal groups is a way to revert to a childlike state of security, rather than live as an adult and struggle with ambiguity.

...I think that those who remain open to other realities must always cope with anxiety. That is the pain of being fully human. The only other choice is to live in an authoritarian system — either religious or secular — where moral choice is made for you, because you are told what is moral and what is immoral.

...Communism, fascism, religious fanaticism, neocon utopianism in Iraq — there are all sorts of ideologies that can motivate people to kill. Religion is just one. Like political ideologies, theological systems are a human creation. God is a human concept, a flawed attempt by human beings to acknowledge, cope with, and explain the infinite, which is the only reality.

...Like art, [religion] is an attempt at wisdom, which doesn’t come from knowledge. You can memorize as many sutras, verses, and prayers as you want, but it will never make you wise. Religion and art are both ways of grappling with those non-rational forces of love, beauty, truth, grief, and meaning that make one a whole individual. The problem is not religion. The problem is the human heart. And the new atheists don’t get that. People will always find reasons to act inhumanely, whether it’s religion, or nationalism, or “Liberté, égalité, fraternité,” or the workers’ paradise.

A Mind That Becomes Rigid

From Practicing Peace in Times of War by Pema Chödrön:

I remember reading once about a peace march. When one group was coming back from the march, some pro-war people started cutting them off and blocking them; everyone started screaming and hitting each other. I thought, "Wait a minute, is there something wrong with this picture? Clobbering people with your peace sign?"

The next time you get angry, check out your righteous indignation, check out your fundamentalism that supports your hatred of this person, because this one really is bad--this politician, that leader, those heads of big companies. Or maybe it's rage at an individual who has harmed you personally or harmed your loved ones. A fundamentalist mind is a mind that becomes rigid. First the heart closes, then the mind becomes hardened into a view, then you can justify your hatred of another human being because of what they represent and what they say and do.