Robert (gurdonark) wrote,

redemption and recidivism

When Satan prays,
he doesn't ask for the Messiah to return,
because to everything there is a season, and
it is not yet that season in Hell.

Satan could be a cantor, if he weren't Satan,
although he tends to dwell on the minor keys.
Eternal darkness makes an effective backdrop
for contrition, if only Satan were contrite.

But in a world of outer darkness,
instead of weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth,
I wish there could be the warm fire of Grace, and a
Redeemed Satan, with coyote trickster, a family pet, by his side,
reading the newspaper while the scientists
work the mysteries out overhead.

Today I worked a bit on administrative matters, which felt good. I took a volume of Edna St. Vincent Millay's lyric poems into the pizza place during lunch. I find myself with a fondness for Millay I never really appreciated until this year. I pondered again that puzzle of someone whose personal life so eclipsed her gift in so many folks' eyes, but she had a gift indeed. Imagine being the messenger, bringing news from the gods. But when the messages have been delivered, read from divine scrolls, the crowd merely wants to know whom the messenger slept with on the way.

I found a fifty cent copy of all the Hitchhiker's Guide books at a yard sale on the way home. I'll re-read them, it's been years since I've read them. I stopped by the mall, and even with a 50% off coupon had to pay a king's ransom to get my "no line" bifocals (casualties of my Easter canoe trip) replaced. The 50% off somehow translated into only a 16 dollars savings. I must seek out one of those "you don't get them in an hour but they're cheap" places next time I need glasses. While I waited for my glasses, I took a walk on the nearby Chisholm Trail in Plano, the sidewalks by a creekbed trail. So much bird song! It was a gorgeous sound. I peered into the creek. There were sunfish, in very shallow water and a larger fish I could not quite make out. At first I thought they were striped bass, but their reddish fins made me wonder later if they're rosy red minnows grown out of all proportion. It was muggy, but I had a nice walk.

We went to X-2: X-Men United, which was good, jam-packed with action, but perhaps less satisfying than the first one. I do like the actors and actresses in that film, though, and it's quite a spectacle. After dinner, we ate Thai food. The Thai chicken noodle soup was what the doctor ordered, and the rice paper cold rolls were simply wonderful.

A reply to my last post reminded me of Raj, the channeled being (a space alien of some sort as I recall, who was also Jesus and a few other important folks, by his own account) who used to hang out at Compuserve's Religion Forum, in the Course in Miracles section. I never quite got the hang of A Course in Miracles, as its mix of New Testament apocrypha, gnosticism and new thought interested me far less than its influences did (no offense, of course, to any LJ friends for whom this works exactly according to their needs and desires). But the people at that message board were charming and very affirming, and I appreciate affirming folks even if I find their religion theologically unsatisfying.

The funny thing about Raj was that I did not know for the longest time that Raj was a channeled being. I knew the other folks in the little Course in Miracles section revered him, but even in those early days of popular message boards, people becoming "message board rulers" was not unusual. Then they kinda shut down and reformatted the Course in Miracles section, to the chagrin of the Raj folks. A Course in Miracles' foundation had apparently done something about the whole thing, but I don't know the details. Only then, though, did I realize that Raj was, well, "Raj".

I wonder sometimes about people's different spiritual searches. Religion is such a difficult topic, in some ways, because some people follow the Mencken tag to the effect that "we are here, and this is now, and further that that, all knowledge is moonshine", while others have beliefs which require a certain path to salvation. I find myself in agreement and disagreement simultaneously with so many different views. I'm just contradictory, I'm afraid.

I have some sympathy with the Ethical Culture people, who had the notion that if one could just bottle up all the good things about the religious impulse, divorce it from the mythology and the needless prejudice, then one would have something ethical and cool.

But for me, this particular form of the "pathless path" doesn't fit my beliefs. For me, higher powers, grace and error all fit in. But to convince somebody that my vision is right, and theirs wrong? A curious thing, and perhaps a game not worth the candle that burns out while one plays it.

I like the Bible story about the good Samaritan. Samaritans were heterodox heretics, but when it came to helping the guy injured by the road, it was the Samaritan who pitched in. I like to think that many impulses of religion and irreligion boil out the same way. I don't care if one is an atheist or a priest--tell me what you're doing in the here and in the now. I call it Spirit, you call it ethical conduct in a meaningless world, but let's talk how to get things done, not which side of the egg to open. So that fellow Raj's folks may have used theological concepts with which I was well familiar but not particularly in touch, but they did say nice things.

I don't mean to imply that all notions have an intellectual and moral parity. I do think that religion and anti-religion become such flash points, when the world has too many problems, both material and spiritual, to haggle about which formulations are the "perfect ones". Yet Graham Greene's novel "The Power and the Glory" also comes to mind. That book deals with an alcoholic "whiskey priest" being persecuted in anti-clerical post-revolution Mexico. The lieutenant who is hunting him down lacks the priest's vices. But Greene's priest has a grace of his own, which transcends his individual flaws. Greene's effort is to make Grace real, enlivened through the character.

Yet for the person for whom God talk does not work, what point is there to try to define the particular form of Christian Grace? I find so often that religious and non-religious people start with so many assumptions about the views they don't hold, and that such assumptions often are such barriers. Some religious folks imagine that no ethical system can exist without religion--history does not support this view. Some non-religious folks tend to straw man religions, by picking the most fundamentalist elements to cariciature and attack. For those of us who believe in liberal religion (which, by the way, is not the same as liberal politics),
this can miss the point entirely. Those who cannot find common ground with the Christian Coalition's notion of God might well feel entirely at home with Paul Tillich's. One atheist can find entire common cause with a non-theistic Buddhist, while another might find the Buddhist mysticism anathema. Nothing is easy, and facile assumption are well-nigh useless, and usually merely divisive.

I wonder, sometimes, if it is as important that I pray to God as it is that I live as if my beliefs in God mattered. I also come to believe that I should be less concerned as to whether someone just can't (or can) see the existence of God, but instead wonder what kind of life that person lives. I have no real use for straw-man notions on either side of the great "what about God" debate.

I think that respect for religion, and respect for disbelief, is so important. I believe that protection of one's individual path matters so much. It's not that I believe all paths are correct, although I must admit that I think that Grace is more about a gift of the Spirit rather than a formulation of a prayer. I respect those for whom Grace is a meaningless concept, yet another thing which, as my favorite rock guy Bill Nelson puts it "hangs with the angels from the gallows of science".

I get disappointed in our country over things like the Pledge of Allegiance debate. Eisenhower signed it into law in relatively recent decades with a statement that he intended it to endorse religion. Why do people feel up in arms when a court finds that it does endorse religion? It does not take much looking at history to see what happens in theocracies, or in totalitarian modern states which suppress religion. These can be nightmares. I believe that the freedom OF religion and the freedom FROM religion are core values in our country. Although the "under God" in the Pledge is truly a tiny thing, and I don't mind that much where the Supreme Court comes out, I do mind very much the suggestion that Judaeo-Christian religion was "established" by our founding fathers. Anyone familiar with Jefferson's writings and those of the many deists and other free thinkers among the founders will know that freedom from religion was a core issue at our nation's inception.Yet those who argue for the "framers' intent" conveniently overlook this aspect of their beliefs.

But I also sympathize with my friends of faith, who find this culture hostile to their spiritual life. I do not believe that secular schools are a bad thing--to the contrary, I strongly believe in them. But every generation has felt that the world is coming to an end, and that evil is more active in its time. In fact, each generation must fight its own challenges. I see no problem with folks conducting this fight when they teach values such as love and respect for the dignity of others, however they bind their books of prayer. I love that I live in a country where people can raise their kids to love one vision of God, and reject the banal mistakes of this culture.

A few decades ago, smug academics contended that religion was on its last legs. This proved entirely wrong. For some people, the word "spiritual" matters; for others, the word "ethical" does. For some, neither approach works. I think that for me, and I believe for many, neither the formulae of the mainstream churches nor the naysaying of the skeptics solves the puzzle of faith. It's like a complicated jigsaw puzzle, and yet the picture that the jigsaw presents is so elusively seemingly simple to see.

I love to talk about faith and reason, and to read works of theology and Skeptic Magazine. But my sense is that what I believe is not what matters, it is how I live my beliefs that matters. In this time, one major world religious institution's American church is involved in a scandal of amazing proportion and profanity. Another great world religion has had its nobility subverted by political extremists, while in another country a "post-religion" totalitarian government suppresses people who dare to meditate in public. I'm no longer as interested in the formulae as in the answer to the questions--"do you love? do you honor? do you act with integrity?". By these fruits, indeed, shall we know everything. Until one lives out one's belief, one is just falling into the same old wordy errors, over and over.

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  • 2.5 and looking forward

    Saturday I scored 2.5/5 in an open on-line blitz chess tournament, though my play probably deserved a 1.0 out of 5. My on-line blitz rating prior to…

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    I played too many bullet chess games last night. I walked in Schell Park in Plano after work. Rain fell last night. I overslept today, which rarely…

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