Monday, December 29, 2014

My Correspondence With A Christian Fundamentalist: "The Best... Becomes Evil"

"There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love." 
1 John 4:18
Dear K,

Thanks for your email.

I think you misunderstand Merton's intent and encourage you to read more about him -

In the passage I quoted -- -- Merton identifies the urge to be perfect -- and to impose perfection even in God's name -- as laying the groundwork for evil. He urges us to look on our "limitations, imperfections (and) errors (as) not only unavoidable but also salutary. The best is not the ideal... The best, imposed as a norm, becomes evil." 

In other words, "getting it wrong" - when properly construed as intrinsic to any learning process -  is salutary, whereas any imposed demand that we/they "get it right" tends to become evil.

I agree with ancient Chinese sage Lao Tzu's observation that "the profoundest truths are paradoxical" and believe that "the wrongness of imposed rightness" ranks high among them. 

Much of the confusion that befalls any puritanical "coloration" of Christianity is, I think, largely attributable to confusion concerning the command "Be ye perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect." 

The word perfect does not mean what most Americans tend to think. Rather it means "complete, whole, entire." Etymologically, "perfection" derives from per fait meaning "completely done." And to be completely done, I believe that we -- as creatures compounded of light and darkness -- need to integrate our "shadow" not project it on "the other guy, over there, far away." As I see it, our fundamental psycho-spiritual task is to re-appropriate our personal "shadows" -- the "dark urges" that are in us all -- and then, instead of saddling them on "the other guy" we become "complete, whole, entire" and thereby truly capable of doing good that minimizes the kind of blowback we see - for example - all across the Middle East. 

Pogo put it well: "We have met the enemy, and he is us." 

I would also clarify that George Orwell -- for whom I have high regard -- was a dedicated socialist. Not doctrinaire, but dedicated. Primarily he was dedicated to anti-Totalitarianism which, again in my view, is very frequently rationalized by people of theocratic inclination.

When Christ tells us to "give to Caesar what is Caesar's" I think he is issuing the single most ignored command. None of us who see ourselves as "good," "blessed" and "saved" want anything to do with giving to Caesar what is Caesar's, starting with taxes - which, by the way, are at their lowest level in 60 years. 

Orwell's life story, like that of most intellectual-and-geographical travelers merits study -  ///  Here is a compilation of Orwell quotations:

At bottom, you and I have radically divergent views of many things. 

But here, I think, is the nub. 

I sense that you are convinced God will save you and others like you and that he will condemn all the rest. 

I do not believe that. 

I believe that our souls are on "journeys of learning" and that it is indispensable to make mistakes - some of them serious mistakes - in order to learn. 

It is a long road. 

Again Merton: "Liberty is bound up with imperfection, and that limitations, imperfections, errors are not only unavoidable but also salutary. The best is not the ideal.  Where what is theoretically best is imposed on everyone as the norm, then there is no longer any room even to be good. The best, imposed as a norm, becomes evil.” 

Biblical commandments, as helpful as they may be, represent what is "theoretically best" and when "what is theoretically best is imposed on everyone as the norm, then there is no longer any room even to be good. The best, imposed as a norm, becomes evil.”

I think we must learn to embrace "the good commandments" and do so out of love, not out of theoretical imposition.

"Virtue is its own reward" and I am increasingly leary of any reward systems more complicated than that.

My sense of God, and my sense of "salvation" are focused -- at the theological level -- on the thought of George MacDonald, whom C.S. Lewis recognizes as his teacher.  

As a practical matter, I see little good fruit arising from interpretations of Christianity focused on fire, brimstone and end-time terrestrial conflagration. 

Rather, it seems to me that these views lure people into 1.) "self-terrorization" (and a correlative impulse to behave violently, certainly on the political level), 2.) disproportionate fixation on The Old Testament and the extraordinarily problematic Book of Revelation, and that 3.) these two "factors" taken together distill to an essential denial of Christ's command to "Love our enemies" and a similar denial of 1 John 4:18 where we are informed that "There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love."

Concerning the great good fruit that arises from "ignoring strict morality) I point to an autobiographical reflection by C.S. Lewis: "There were books in the study, books in the drawing room, books in the cloakroom, books (two deep) in the great bookcase on the landing, books in a bedroom, books piled as high as my shoulder in the cistern attic, books of all kinds books readable and unreadable, books suitable for a child and books most emphatically not. Nothing was forbidden me."  C. S. Lewis - "Surprised by Joy" - an autobiography

Nothing was forbidden. 

Indeed, as a child, Lewis was free to read books that were emphatically inappropriate for children.

Throughout my elementary, secondary and collegiate Catholic educational process, I was taught this: that although Hell is a "state," there is no need for any Catholic to believe -- in light of God's infinite mercy -- that a single human soul has ever been confined there.

Having said all this, we are all, of course, creatures of conditioning.

Personally, I am happier with the Catholic view of infinite divine mercy -- and the infinite hopefulness which it inspires -- than I am with any alternative teaching from the religious right. 

Inter-relatedly, I have long noted how easily we humans are enthralled by biblio-idolatry. But I also harbor a corresponding conviction that God is immeasurably bigger than we think - or than we can think. In fact, the conclusion of John's gospel reads: "There is much else that Jesus did. If it were all to be recorded in detail, I suppose the world could not hold th books that would be written."

And what did Christ mean when, in John 16:12, he says " I have many other things to say to you but you cannot bear them now." What was it that his fellows could not bear - not even his own apostles who had lived with him for three years. I suspect Y'eshua addressed this curious inability to "bear the truth" because he realized his fellow Jews were so conditioned by the primitivity of their world view that, if he had "told all," they themselves would have murdered him for revealing many things that would have contradicted there sense of legalistic propriety. 

Since the Bible contains a number of palpably bizarre statements, including Deuteronomy 21's command that all men in a given community stone to death rebellious children. It's not even a choice: "You must purge this evil from among you so that all Israel will hear and be afraid."

I'm not at all interested in "all Israel being afraid."

I am interested in getting to that place where I embody the fearlessness of 1 John 4:18, and until I get there, I will assume that my fears are obstacles and not "causes" to champion.



On Aug 14, 2010, K wrote:
Thanks for your insights. 
Considering what you've shared here you must be very deeply diasppointed with the present administration and "politically correct" leaders who are taking our nation down such a slippery slope. 
As Thomas Jefferson had so rightly observed..
"Government is a wonderful servant, a terrible master" 
we can see at this present time how corrupted people who claim to care for the poor
have become when it is beneficial to them to use power to promote themselves rather than the "good of the common man"
Our nation for the first time possibly in our history faces what Eastern Europeans
had under communist dictators who'd come in preaching "liberation theology" you might say..
With the masses struggling to maintain what little they might hold onto in way of the fruit of their hard earned labor a modern day "Marie Antoinette" finds no problem whatsoever in spending millions (much of it taxpayer money) to enjoy living like a queen.
And millions are spent so that a little princess might marry as other royalty spared nothing in way of the grand ball only Cinderella in fairy tale stories are actually able to afford.
I believe our nation, America, has fallen short of the values meant to have kept us rising up to reach our ideals for sure. This present generation has fallen so far from what we have confessed and professed to be the spirit behind our words that it's doubtful many in the next will even begin to understand or believe it is possible ...real liberty and justice for ALL.. not only minorities but also a "majority" who disagree, refuse to embrace the immorality being imposed on us and taxes that the rich claim to be "for the sake of the poor" who only remain enslaved on that very liberal plantation many have warned us would be the end of all "good intentions" that, as Thomas Merton so rightly understood, have been imposed on us..
I totally believe from my heart what happened in the Book of Acts as the first disciples of Jesus so freely obeyed in genuine faith a call to "sell all, give to the poor, and follow Me."
The difference being, of course, Jesus didn't demand a tithe of anyone..nor did he say,
"give to ME so I might live like a king while you work your ass off to make me look like
a prince of Egypt."
He wasn't imposing any politically correct system on anyone but rather inviting whoever might freely come in faith to know a Kingdom that only the angels enjoy of a world that is the exact opposite of our own..
I love Orwell's novels ...I doubt anything yet more prophetic has been written concerning this present administration who is now destroying anything left of our sacred rights to replace them with a lawlessness that is the exact opposite and as diametrically opposed to the Kingdom of our Lord and Christ as any that has yet risen up to exalt itself while punishing the faithful.
Pigs in the parlor. 
I think it's about as perfect a description of what it is we are now witnessing in our nation
as yet a generation has seen.
The most hypocritical of all.
Our friends in Haiti are still waiting for a promise of resources to come from a world that
openly stood to make them when "the whole world was watching"
The only real help that has been there for them in this time have been the same who've
been all along... the TRUE CHURCH who is operating out of pure charity not because a king or a pope or anyone else foots the bill or leads the way.
Out of genuine charity, the kind that flowed through our Lord while He walked this earth
that cost him His very life... a Life He gave so willingly for even the ones who mock and scoff so all who believe might live with Him forever... just think of that.
A man who was so totally innocent nailed to a cross by both the religious and political
powers of his time.
Isn't that usually how it works?
When our friend Harlan Popov visited us 25 years ago he'd been only free for a short
time from the Bulgarian prison he'd been sent to by a communist regime who held him
there and tortured him body, mind and soul for 13 years.
His crime?
He refused to renounce his faith in a God bigger than the government that believed it their duty to re-educate anyone who refused to "go along" who dared "disagree."
He told me at the time that the communists made Hitler look like "Mickey Mouse"
once the allied forces had pulled out of their countries and turned a blind eye to the millions of Christians, Jews and whoever refused the "new regime"
I'm sure you have read Animal Farm... you must, as I do, smell the familiar odor of such forces of evil once they become accustomed to the comforts of a house who is no longer occupied by the rightful owner of the barnyard.
In His Grip and by His GRACE we who stay focused on eagles and doves rise to soar with angels... covered under the Wings of the Almighty
The Love of our Father Creator knows no boundary of time or space... we are forever one through ONE Jesus prayed we'd all come to know in Spirit and in Truth so we might
be made free in deed, not only with our words..
"Two men look out from behind the same bars
One sees mud the other sees stars"
That is a lesson I've learned over years of finding friends who'd been in prison for their faith. 
And the lesson learned by watching the very God who created us nailed to a cross by the criminals He'd come to pardon..

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