Global Resilience Solutions > Category:Western Christianity

When You Can’t Trust God…



In order to pursue self-transformation, we need to have a relationship of love and faith and trust with the Absolute. We need love, because the nature of the Absolute is love, and the basis of transformation is love. We need faith or belief, because without belief, we cannot make room within ourselves to manifest anything that the Absolute might give us. We need trust, because self-transformation, as a journey of healing, requires us to surrender our defensive ego to a more competent physician. Unfortunately, many of us have a pernicious bit of programming in our subconscious that undermines that relationship, and leaves us feeling alone, unheard, unable to overcome even the smallest obstacles. That is the Angry God Syndrome.

 

The Angry Judge

But if God gives up what he was about to take from unwilling man, because man is unable to restore what he ought to restore freely, He abates the punishment and makes man happy on account of his sin, because he has what he ought not to have. For he ought not to have this inability, and therefore as long as he has it without atonement it is his sin. And truly such compassion on the part of God is wholly contrary to the Divine justice, which allows nothing but punishment as the recompense of sin.
– Anselm of Canterbury

As a handful of sand thrown into the ocean, so are the sins of all flesh (i.e. people) as compared with the mind of God.

Just as a strongly flowing fountain is not blocked by a handful of earth, so the compassion of the Creator is not overcome by the wickedness of his creatures.

Far be it from us that we should ever think so wicked a thing as that God could become unmerciful. For God’s attributes do not change as those of mortals do.
– Isaac the Syrian
 
Christianity inherited a certain way of talking about God from the Jewish scriptures which often ended up running entirely contrary to the core ethos and goals of Christianity as a tradition of self-transformation. The God of judgment and vengeance ran quietly alongside the God of love of the inner tradition without any coherent attempt to reconcile the paradox. Until, that is, a Norman writer, Anselm of Canterbury, created a doctrine that would dominate Western Christian theology, and which took the language of judgment to its ultimate conclusion.

In Anselm’s account, God was so angry with Adam’s sin that he punished Adam’s entire race with death and damnation. So great was God’s infinite anger that it could only be satisfied with the death of an infinite being in human form- Jesus Christ. Christ was punished in our place, and the merits of his suffering are distributed to the faithful. Nevertheless, all human beings inherited Adam’s guilt, and God may or may not forgive their sins- and only if they’re baptised Christians and follow all the rules and suffer in penance for their sins.

In Anselm’s universe:

  • God is cast in the role of the creator of evil, having manufactured suffering, death and hell
  • God created a world full of good things we’re not supposed to enjoy, just to make sure we were well and truly up the creek.
  • Only by following the rules and suffering a lot can we hope to spend eternity in heaven.

While the language of mercy and compassion are often used about this God, both attributes ring quite hollow.

 

Suffering

It follows that the happiness of mankind is very low on this deity’s list of priorities. Suffering, in this account, is the sole path to salvation, since salvation itself means paying part of our debt of suffering for transgressing the rules of the deity, a debt that is infinite given that it may lead to eternal damnation, so that the rest of the debt can be covered by the sufferings of Christ.

How, we may ask, can such a deity be expected to care at all about our earthly happiness, or desire fulfillment and prosperity for us, when our lot in life is supposed to be suffering and not fulfillment? Unsurprisingly, it was this very line of argument that in medieval moral teaching was used by the nobility to keep the serfs and townsfolk in their place.

Even if we consciously reject these ideas, the programming may still be running subconsciously. If God wants us to suffer, why are we looking for fulfillment in the exercise of our divinely-given talents? If God wants us to be poor, why are we seeking to improve our financial situations?

 

The Divine Checklist

Of course, if we have sinned, then there must somewhere be a list of what actions constitute sin and just how grave they are and how much we need to do to make up for it- at least, in this juridical construction of morality. And since we never get to see the complete list, who knows what sins we may have unknowingly committed? Who knows if our actions have really balanced out the divine ledger?

And of course, there are the lists of rules, the things we have to do to be “good with God,” the heavenly admittance criteria for the divine club. Not only must we worry about making sure we get all the right check marks, but we must view those who don’t, the majority of the people we encounter every day, as already damned. If we believe it for ourselves, we must believe it for them.

The essence of the distinction between superstition and self-transformation is that superstition creates a deity sharing human emotions who controls our destiny and can be induced one way or another to do what we want, whether by following a set of rules or offering material bribes in the form of sacrifices. Transformative traditions, on the other hand, absolutely insist that the Absolute is always ready to help us, but that it is we who must change in order to make use of that help. In other words, rather than using religion as an extension of the futile quest of humanity to control our external environment, these traditions recognise that we need to transform our own mode of existence.

The rules and checklists, therefore, are in themselves a form of idolatry, because they reduce God to a vindictive judge who is the ultimate source of all threats against our present and future happiness, demanding all love and affection and giving less than any human parent has for their child. The rules are a camouflage placed by hierarchical institutions over the centuries to prevent their people from examining the ontological reality of the situation.

 

God’s Will

“I had a heart attack- it must be God’s will for me to suffer.” Whenever something bad happens to anyone, we may hear people attribute it to God’s will. If it’s God’s will, then clearly they were meant to suffer. That is the imputation we make. The truth is, of course, we as individuals and humanity collectively attract the bad things that happen to us and to each other. The Absolute simply allows us to experience the consequences of our self-chosen mode of existence- until and unless we make room for him to act in and through us to change that. The Absolute respects our free will to live, and to suffer, as we choose. If we really look at any sustained suffering we experience that doesn’t come to us from the bad choices of others, nine times out of ten, we are living in a way that is causing us harm. Didn’t that heart attack come about as the result of poor diet, lack of exercise and bad temper? We may know that intellectually, but sometimes the program lingers on in the subconscious.

 

Caprice

The worst of this business about God’s will is that the deity is inscrutable, and therefore capricious. Who knows whom he will save and whom he will damn? Who knows what sufferings he might choose to bring upon whom? What’s more, the rules, which of course were written and detailed by human beings, are inconsistent and often illogical, leaving us with no clear way to please the deity. The theology of divine caprice can be no better exemplified than by the Calvinist doctrine of predestination, which holds that God has already chosen who will be saved (naturally, all are Christian and most are Calvinists), and who will burn in hell (all the rest, including all the Calvinists who weren’t so lucky). Nothing you do in this life can change his mind- but of course, that doesn’t let you off following the rules.

 

Guilt

Because of this language of sin, atonement and guilt, it’s common for people raised in certain traditions who were bombarded with this way of thinking to experience constant guilt. Even if they don’t know why, they’ll think of something they may have done wrong. They may constantly review their actions, looking for reasons to feel guilty.

And of course, they have plenty of grounds for projecting guilt. That’s the wonderful thing about this God, he’s not only easily offended, but he put us in a world full of pleasures and then made it a sin to enjoy them. Augustine of Hippo went so far as to imply that enjoying sex, even in marriage, is sinful. According to him, Adam and Eve would have copulated in Paradise to reproduce, but not enjoyed it. Not only sexuality, but food, money, any expression of anger, receiving praise from others and many, many other everyday things bring a baggage train of guilt behind them.

 

A Matter of Trust

Naturally, such a God is inherently both unhelpful and untrustworthy. Even if, consciously, you have rejected this whole theology as a destructive force in your life, even if you’re approaching self-transformation seriously, this image of the Absolute still lurks in your unconscious. You want to believe in the God of love, but how can you trust in absolute and unchanging love when you subconsciously believe that that love is conditional? How can you trust the Absolute to help and guide you, how can you believe in that love, if part of you still regards the divine will as a source of misery? This is a great obstacle that may take years to overcome.

 

Conclusion

In order to overcome the Angry God Syndrome, we need to do three things:

  • First and most important is to become conscious of our own programming, our own gut beliefs about God, in as much detail as possible. Only when we do this do we understand why we are not making progress, and what we truly have to address.
  • Second, we need to be very carefully consistent in reformulating our beliefs, to avoid the cognitive dissonance which so many Christians labour under today of using the language of a loving God while believing in a judgmental God. To do this, we need to carefully examine every aspect of our relationship with God and everything that we do about it. We also need to re-examine the basis of our own moral codes, taking them out of the world of arbitrarily-established rules and re-establishing them on the basis of spiritual health.
  • Third, we must recognise the emotional impact and damage that juridical theology has done to us, and address it on the level of emotion.

It can be a long process, but the rewards of living in a universe where you have unobstructed access to divine love are nothing less than freedom itself.

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger


What Every Westerner Should Ask About Spiritual Life

As the Western world’s never-ending reaction to its history of distorted spiritual life continues, there are some common myths and bits of wilful ignorance that have become embedded in our culture. Today, we tackle two of them.

 

1. It’s all the same

Religious syncretism is one of those feel-good viewpoints that people adopt when they want to feel enlightened or progressive or open-minded without thinking too much. It’s all very well if you view spiritual life as an exercise in feeling good, connecting with the community, a “cultural heritage” and so on. Different people connect with the Absolute in different ways and it’s all good. We’ve mentioned the difference between religions and Authentic Ancient Traditions before. This view of things struggles even to qualify as religion.

The moment you get serious about spiritual life as an exercise in self-transformation, you have to face the fact that the results you will get will be heavily conditioned by the worldview and schema of spiritual life that you adopt. And yes, you have to adopt one if you expect to get anywhere. Taoism, for example, has more than two millennia of experimentation behind it, and has always regarded self-transformation as a science with a definite process behind it. You can’t make it up as you go and expect to come up with comparable results.

The presuppositions of Taoism place great emphasis on the body and its energy system, and so their results will always be qualitatively different from those of Buddhism, which regards the body with more reserve. There’s no particular conflict between these two traditions, but neither can they pretend that their worldviews and methods are the same. What they both can do is point to their results, to the transformed people they have produced. And this is the key. The moment you embark on spiritual life as self-transformation, you have to look for evidence.

From there, you realise that there are faiths and philosophies with inner traditions of self-transformation and union with the Absolute that can produce results- and everyone else. To place these traditions alongside mainstream Protestantism, or attempts to revive dead paganism, or any other religion which does not have results behind it, is disingenuous in the extreme.

2. Christianity Was Always the Way it is Now

There is a general ignorance of Christian history in the West, and so the popular mind tends to project the centralised, hierarchical Catholicism of the present back in history right to the beginning. What we often fail to realise is that the Catholicism of the second millennium was the result of a long process of degeneration. The forces at work in this process can be summarised as:

  • Political: Following the conquest of the western Roman Empire, the Roman papacy attempted to gain as much authority as possible to gain leverage against the Germanic nobility. The Germanic nobility eventually took control of the church, and were able to recast church doctrine as a means of social control against their subjugated serfs.
  • Theological: The groundwork for the juridical theology they would use had been laid by Augustine of Hippo, and continued by the Norman theologian Anselm of Canterbury, who declared that God, being infinite, was infinitely angered by Adam’s fall and therefore took out his infinite anger on an infinite target, his Son.

There’s more to it, of course, but the bottom line is that the flaws of Western Christianity today were not just always there. It was a particular path chosen at identifiable points in time, and there is very little beyond the wishful thinking of some Catholics to connect this later, centralised, juridical church with the diverse, decentralised and theologically very different church of the early centuries.

Until the West understands this history, it will never come to terms with its religious heritage, and will continue to be divided by it.

Conclusion

The modern-day spiritual confusion is allowed to reign because of the questions people don’t ask. In the case of Christian history, the reason huge aspects of the topic are glossed over is dominantly emotional. Those in Western churches are eager to defend their particular takes on Christianity, while many outside are violently and categorically dismissive, creating a false polarity which stops people from asking the real questions. In the case of syncretism, people often just don’t know what to ask. The real question is, on what principles do you want to base your spiritual life? If you know your principles and you have decided to seek self-transformation through union with the Absolute, you have a good starting point for asking some penetrating questions.




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