Monday, November 29, 2010

On Suffering I: If Not I, Then Who?

“No one deserves to live that way.” [comment to “A View from the Abyss”]

I am humbled and grateful for the quality of compassion that motivated the above commenter’s declaration and, in its literal statement, I agree with it.  No one deserves to live in the state of terror, darkness, anger, futility and resignation that I experience while staring into the Abyss, no longer even clawing desparately to hang on to the edge of sanity.  However, what is usually meant when people say “no one deserves to live” in any given manner, is that no one ought to live in that manner.  Yet, most of those conditions so decried are necessary within the range of human existence: there will always be abject poverty, war, evil, greed, and psycho-spiritual instability.  Without them, our humanity would be a meaningless single dimension.  (I am not saying that striving to improve the human condition is a bad thing; in fact, I think it is our very striving to eradicate many of these conditions that we find a state of grace.)

Staring into the Abyss, acknowledging death, experiencing eternity in the endless space between heartbeats, is a necessity that gives depth of meaning to the rest of human life.  The question ceases to be “why me?” and becomes instead “why not me?”  If someone must travel the darkness, better that it be I and not someone else.  I would not curse anyone else with my experiences, yet I am grateful for the blessedness of having experienced them.

Is that an absurd contradiction? Of course, all the mysteries are absurd.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Knowledge of Good and Evil

I dreamed of holocaust and genocide last night.  Recently, I’ve been staring again into my own personal Abyss.  I guess now I’ve moved to staring into the communal Abyss of all humanity.  Whence comes man’s inhumanity to man? That very phrase implies that the evil perpetrated person to person is something intrinsically not human. It seems, however, that the perpetration of evil is specifically a human quality.  

Animals, to my knowledge, to do not engineer genocide, although they may murder, bully, and rape in maintaining social order or in a battle for territory. Animals, according to current research, commit personal atrocities as a means to an end but only people commit large-scale, tribal atrocities as ends to themselves.  At the opposite end of the spectrum, while animals may act with individual altruism in order to benefit the group, only people show any willingness to martyr themselves for ideology (a fact exploited by those engineering atrocity). 

Both poles of the human dichotomy, atrocity and martyrdom, can result only from the same aspect of humanity that I think is the defining separation of man and animal: self-consciousness. Self-consciousness is a sense of separateness from the rest of the world. 

There is no conclusive research on whether animals are self-conscious; certainly, they are aware of themselves—that my dog can be embarrassed when I talk about him is proof enough for me—but even animals that have been taught to sign do not refer to themselves in the first person.  They use the third person or call themselves by name. Human children commonly develop this sense around the third birthday, maybe a few months later.  They will start to use the word I to reference the self. 

Similarly, there seems to be no indication that animals have any sense of existentialism, that is, awareness that one day they will die (this is different than an end-of-life awareness of impending death).  Human children come to this awareness around age nine.  My elder daughter was 8½.  We were listening to the soundtrack to Ella Enchanted, and she was singing along.  She sang the first line of a song “every day, you die a little”, when abruptly she stopped singing, and ever so seriously informed me, “That’s true, you know.  Every day you live is one day sooner that you will die.”

I suspect that it is this existential self-consciousness that allows for both atrocity and ideological altruism.  To know that we are dying is terrifying, deeply and viscerally frightening to the human psyche. Life is a fragile and uncertain proposition.  Whether studied from the perspective of biology, chemistry, poetry, psychology, agriculture, philosophy, economics or religion, the deeper the subject is mined, the more clear the fragility and uncertainties.  It's all a crapshoot and then you die. That very knowledge demands that life become meaningful.  Why do we live, if only to die? We have a will to meaning—a drive innate within us to derive meaning from our lives (c.f. Viktor Frankl and the Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy). If we cannot extract meaning and purpose from our lives, we will go insane.  

When the only certainty in life is death, uncertainty becomes the defining characteristic of Life.  Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle is Pascal’s “God-shaped Vacuum” into which is sucked every possible kind of meaning: tribalism, hedonism, greed, hierarchy, lust, imperialism, socialism, altruism, theism—and all are present and active in every religion in the world.

So few of us have the courage to acknowledge death, to create meaning, to accept uncertainty. We would prefer instead to expend our enormous psychic energies on denying the one certainty we have by inventing elaborate theories and formulae to simulate certainty.  Even simpler is to accept the theories and formulae of people we deem more willing than we to have looked into the Abyss (though we rarely check this sort of credential in deciding the credibility of our experts). And even more common than anything else is the tendency to abuse substances, behaviors, religions or other people to deny even the fear we feel at the uncertainty of Life.

Anyone who has looked into the Abyss and come away (too often people venture willingly or unwillingly into the Abyss and, in their terror, they get stuck there—our modern religious, medical, and psychiatric professions are more likely to ensure the stuckness rather than facilitating a return) has one other certainty in Life.  That Love exists.  That Love matters. Whether called Love, God, Allah, Light, OM, Brahman, or All/Nothing, whether found through science, religion, mysticism, or poetry, this succoring, sublime, transcendent Ineffability suffuses the Universe, both physical and psychic.  And that Love trumps existentialism in aeternum.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Perfectionism III: Thanksgiving Dinner

Oyster Stew
Rocket Salad with Pear, Pine Nuts and Beetroot
Cider-brined Roast Turkey with Sausage-Fennel-Crouton Stuffing
Wild Rice Risotto with Cranberry and Mushroom
Mashed Red Potatoes with Giblet Gravy
Sweet Potatoes Roasted with Figs, Shallots, and Pecans
Grilled Brussels Sprouts in Balsamic Vinaigrette
Sautéed Green Beans with Hazelnuts
Hot Red Cabbage and Apples
Maple-Glazed Carrots
Ambrosia Salad with Marshmallows and Mandarins
Cornbread and Butter
Cranberry Orange Chutney
Olive Tray
Assorted Pickled Vegetables
Pumpkin Pie
Apple Cobbler
Chef Kee’s Cheesecake with Sour Cream Sauce or Pomegranate Sauce
Cranberry Bread
Fresh, Candied or Salt and Pepper Nuts
Apples, Oranges, Pomegranates
Assorted Cheeses
Hard Cider
Sparkling Cider
Chateau St. Michelle Wines
Mineral Water

As a confirmed foodie, the annual food orgy in late November is my holiday. During my teen and college years, I lived close enough to my grandmother to celebrate Thanksgiving at her house.  Early in that decade-and-a-half, we feasted with grandparents, a great-grandmother, a great-aunt and uncle, and at least a half-dozen assorted cousins of my grandfather, along with the five of us in our family. My mother’s family history abounds in childless or single-child families so the gathering was heavy in WWII generation and I and my siblings the only children. 

My grandmother provided a meal whose tables truly groaned from the weight of the many dishes.  My father jokes that my grandma didn’t think a holiday was rightly celebrated “unless there were 93 sides dishes”. With so many celebrants, groaning tables were quickly demolished. As the older generation of relatives died off, Grandma continued to cook in the same variety and quantity for fewer of us.  We stepped up to the challenge and continued to consume prodigious amounts of food.  The holiday became for me a festival of bounty, manifest in gratuitous variation of edibles.

Because I love to eat, I learned to cook and Thanksgiving is a made-to-order opportunity to indulge.  My family of creation, however, is not nearly as passionate about food as I am.  Unless I insist, we eat boring, busy-suburban-family meals-on-the-run. When I did insist, I would pull out all the stops.  I made far too many dishes of kinds not much appreciated by my family but that I wanted to eat.  And, of course, in my perfectionism, I tried much too hard, took on far more than I could reasonably handle alone, so that always at least one dish was ruined and the meal never met my expectations.  I was grumpy and irritable long before sitting down to eat.

When I got sick, making even daily meals became too much for me and we spent over a year without celebrating any holidays at our own house.  Since summer of 2007, I’ve only made one holiday feast.  Last year, I finally agreed with my husband’s declaration that what it costs me to attempt a full-hoopla holiday is just not worth the effort.  We decided that I would pick one holiday a year to go all out with food and trimmings.  Naturally, I chose Thanksgiving since it is the only holiday strictly about the Eats. 

I found it a relief, oddly, to know that there would be once a year when our house was the destination feast.  We would invite guests (something else my family dislikes), make loads of food, and no one would complain because it was only once a year.  So, last year, that’s what we did and I loved it.  This year, however, I’ve been sicker than I was last fall and then I complicated the issue by going to a conference in Vancouver last weekend.  The conference was the first official, organized educational attempt I’ve made since the conference in 2007 when I first realized how sick I really was becoming. It took way more out of me than it seemed to deserve—just the travel left me huddled in bed, shaking and incapacitated, by six that night and required the whole next day to rest and recuperate while the family saw the sights.

Needless to say (although I was the last to admit it), any kind of effort at all was more than I could manage this Thanksgiving.  I left the entire day to the rest of the family to plan and execute.  The girls only wanted sandwiches made with deli-processed turkey on their icky sandwich bread and “stuffing from a box”. 

The other evening as I lay resting with my feet up (amazing how much difference that posture makes in handling chronic fatigue), I began writing a fantasy menu.  Of course, everyone in the family ridiculed it—when a foodie lives with non-foodies, it is given that no understands the power of simply thinking about good food.  One daughter asked if this list was all the food I wanted to eat that I hoped someone would make for me; she thought it was a joke but she hit the nail on the head. 

So I share it here in hopes that another misunderstood foodie enjoys the Thanksgiving wishes in every dish.  I am thankful today for my readers.  And for my husband who understands me enough not to serve me a kid’s sandwich and was willing to plan, shop, and prepare a real turkey breast, a spiral ham, chips, shrimp starters, some decent bread, and all the sandwich accessories.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

A View From the Abyss

"I tried so hard to do and think all the Right Stuff and now I’ve spent the last three years unable to function to anyone’s expectations, much less everyone’s.  When I attempt too much, my body starts to give out.  And should I not pay sufficient attention, my mind goes—the black holes in there take over more and more of my cognitive function. I extended myself no grace for failure all those years and now I lack grace of gait and thought, a lurching facility of deed and word." (here)
After I posted these words six weeks ago, I hoped this admission and the victorious declaration that followed would become truth for having been stated.  When that expectation did not become my experience, oh, how I crawled like Jonah into my little hovel to hold close my misery and chant my “woe-is-me’s”.
“Just kill me now, LORD! I'd rather be dead than alive if what I predicted will not happen."  (Jonah 4:3, New Living Translation) 
The weather here has finally turned to fall.  From unseasonable daytime highs of 90F/42C when November began, we are belatedly getting to temperatures around 70F/22C.  The lower temps have been great for my physical well-being.  Part of the mess I’ve been in this year stems from the fact that my autonomic nervous system is wildly dysfunctional.  Among other effects of this dysfunction is an inability to tolerate heat (or cold, but that is not so often a problem here in the desert).  Having accomplished so much healing spiritually and physically last fall and winter, I was entirely unprepared for how much this summer’s heat would debilitate me. 

The real kicker of the year, though, was what I did to myself.  Late last spring our Medical Benefits Account managers decided that the supplement protocol I was buying for my condition was no longer an approved expense.  Neither is it covered by my insurance so my remedies had to start coming out of our regular monthly budget.  And that is very hard for me to do.

Allowing myself and my healing process to rank high enough on the list of priority spending is all but impossible when it means admitting that I am actually sick and not just lazy or malingering, and that I deserve to spend money on my health even if it means the sacrifices will be some of my girls’ educational or extracurricular activities, or the family’s groceries.  The martyred mother archetype has been ingrained in me by our culture, my childhood religion, and the immediate example of my mother’s own early death. Like the Good Mother, the self-sacrificing, self-martyring, Holy Mutha’ that I am, I rarely place refilling my supplement protocol above near-bottom of our budget.

I let my remedies run down, didn’t refill them promptly or at all.  By October, I was completely off all my supplements and my triumph-over-perfectionism post marked the last-ditch effort to pull myself out of the abyss by willpower alone.  Unsurprisingly, it didn’t work against the physical dysfunctions of my body and brain.  A week later, I found myself sobbing uncontrollably in the bathtub while my husband begged me to get help.  I scared my family but I scared myself even more because I was already thinking favorably about a Final Solution.  My usual injunctions against suicide, with appeals to familial obligation, leaving my children motherless, left me untouched.  And that terrified me.

I told my husband that I still don’t trust anyone not to make me worse (as has been the case with the overwhelming majority of professionals whose help I have sought over the years).  I already know the remedies I need, I just can’t make myself order them regularly.  It was an enormous effort on my part, much greater than it would seem from reading these words, to ask my husband for his help.  I simply need someone to make sure that I treat myself with the same care that I would give a client—monthly follow-ups and adjustments to protocols—and to check that I’ve actually ordered the remedies.

So I’ve been back on my protocol for a month.  Although the first doses pulled me back from the very precipice, it had taken most of these weeks to feel as though I’m not within stepping distance of the Abyss.  It has been hard to admit that I really cannot control my life, my body, my health or well-being by sheer will-power.  That there are conditions that a “suck it up and get on with things” attitude simply cannot overcome.  That I am not lazy or malingering, nor shirking my responsibilities, nor letting my family down, when I take the time, money, or rest necessary to my health.  That martyrdom is not holy.   Holiness is life, lived abundantly, joyously, and with humble gratitude for the precarious precious nature of life’s realities.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Perfectionism II: "You're Doing It Wrong!"

My life has been one long mad dash for perfection.  Even something as simple as prayer became infinitely complicated when I started “trying to do it right”: praying to the right deity (“Dear Jesus”, “Heavenly Father”, “Oh Lord”), closing prayers correctly (“in Jesus’ name, Amen”), praying in the right order (praise and adoration, gratitude and thanksgiving, supplication—never ever put yourself first!) Are the hands folded with fingers interlaced or palm-to-palm? Kneel? Hold hands with prayer partners? What language to use: late Renaissance English (complete with “thee, thou, and thine” in the right syntax), everyday vernacular (“f**k it, God, what the he** is going on here?”), or maybe some glossolalia while channeling the Spirit directly? Eyes open or closed? Aloud or silently?

Are you feeling the pressure yet? Even as I write this paragraph, I’m feeling the burning in my belly and the tightness in my back and chest that accompanies my dread of being judged.  Now expand that striving to include the “right” ways to dress, walk, speak, find humor, evangelize, or vote for president.  There is also a “best” diet, educational pedagogy, career path for women, and even a “right” or “wrong” way to be looked at by the opposite sex.

"You're doing it wrong!"

Every day, to every action, probably to every thought (if I could track put a meta-tracker on my mind, and don’t think I haven’t tried), this statement is the unspoken corollary.  No matter what I do, think, say, plan, someone will disapprove. I can never live up to the standards set out by all people.  Realists among us will read this last statement and respond “of course, no one can possibly meet the demands of all the contradictory voices out there; it is ridiculous even to try.” 

But I’m an overachieving first child of a preacher, a third generation Christian fundamentalist—I was bred for performance, raised to guard against “even the appearance of sin”, taught always to be concerned for my “witness”.  God wanted to save all people but they would only be drawn to Him through wanting to emulate my life. I learned to judge myself against the cumulative standards of whatever group I was with so that my witness might always be pure.  Yet, while I was “to be all things to all people” for the glory of God, I was also not supposed to be a hypocrite who only showed people what they wanted to see.  My integrity was supposed to be such that God showed through my every action and thought, even every facial expression.  And I took all of these conflicting messages from the myriad teachers, preachers, family members, very, very seriously—this was God’s plan for saving the world, after all, I didn’t want to be the one responsible for messing that up.  (Oh, how small is the fundy god, if a scared, shy, skinny teenaged girl can derail his work!)

I learned the lessons of performance-based self-worth so well that when I ditched Christianity, I never realized that I was bringing all the fundy black-and-white worldviews, magical thinking, and “salvation by works” paradigms along with me.  I took the surety of “one right way to happiness, health, and acceptance” right into the neo-hippie, crunchy-granola world.  I birthed my babies at home, doctored them myself with herbs and remedies, homeschooled them from very early ages, ate organic or local food, and made as much of my own food as was possible without actually growing it myself. Every book I read on natural healing, nutrition, or holistic education gave me new information to be assimilated and applied, new truth to demonstrate to the world with my very life.  Every educational cooperative, nutrition and community gardening group, and alternative medicine class had its experts to follow religiously, and its own set of holistic living rules by which to be judged. Sometimes I experienced actual judgment from people in each of these groups; more often, I assumed their judgment because I had so internalized the impossible standards worldview.

For forty-two years I pounded my square peg of a self into the round holes of performance-based value systems until my body and my mind quit working.  I tried so hard to do and think all the Right Stuff and now I’ve spent the last three years unable to function to anyone’s expectations, much less everyone’s.  When I attempt too much, my body gives out.  And should I not pay sufficient attention, my mind goes—the black holes in there take over more and more of my cognitive function. I extended myself no grace for failure all those years and now I lack grace of gait and thought, a lurching facility of deed and word.

In the black-and-white, action-reaction, fundamentalist way of looking at things, I could think that the judgmental god of my childhood is wreaking vengeance on me for failing to meet his standards.  Or for daring to call myself a Christian, while wresting my own interpretations of spiritual reality from Christian scriptures and traditions.  Or for… whatever.  Surely I have sinned greatly to deserve such punishment.

Instead, I choose (am choosing, it is a continual choice to deviate from my knee-jerk assumption that others are judging me) to consider this state not poetic justice from a cosmic judge but divine irony that is so much more characteristic of God’s grace. I am only a human Being since I can no longer be a human Doing much of anything.

Be still and know that I AM (Ps 46:10)

Monday, September 27, 2010

Perfectionism I: Pursuing Ever Greater Righteousness

Last weekend, we hosted a dinner party in honor of my daughter’s twelfth birthday.  A diva-in-training, she requested a formal, black-tie celebration.  She, of course, already owned a sparkly, be-sequined cocktail dress (yes, really, at less than twelve) but I had to outfit the rest of us. We are now all members of the little black dress brigade.  She planned a simple menu of steak, mashed potato, “mushy carrots”, and salad, which I thought was fortunate so that I wouldn’t tire myself unduly with the cooking and be unable to enjoy the party (something that happens regularly since I developed my chronic hysterical illness). I really wanted to make this party perfect for her.

I started the cooking for last night's dinner about 5 hours ahead.  My plan was that I'd cook ahead, have it all ready to reheat (aside from the steak, which my husband would be grilling), then shower and change into my little black dress and pearls.  But as I worked, making up the carrot recipe as I went along, I kept thinking of another little special touch that would "make it all just right", so that I ended up touching up the reheated foods in my undies (because even in an apron, stuff jumps right at my nice clothes) just minutes before the company arrived--despite, or maybe because of, having three helpers and a serious intention of not going too crazy.

I had to ask myself "what constitutes perfect?"  If I think of another little touch, an extra ingredient, a little twist, and don't do it, then is the result less than perfect?  I know that stems from the whole Pauline idea that if we do not do what we know is good, we have sinned. A total paraphrase and gross misapplication but is it really so far removed from the fundy Modesty codes or the Pharisees’ Purity codes and other absurdities in the name of sanctified living?

And then, when we actually served the meal, the steaks were charred on the outside, overdone on the inside from appliance faults rather than operator error; the mashed potatoes too thin and the gravy too thick (almost the same consistency) from reheating problems that were operator error (mine); we ran out of wine; and the toppings for the cheesecake only glopped instead of drizzled.  And everyone who ate thought it was absolutely the best food (well, except for my husband and me who both have these perfection issues). The guests ate it all up and asked for seconds.  

So, by what standard do we measure perfection? The eaters' enjoyment? (Excellent.) How relaxed and peaceful the cook was while she produced the food (poor, but not at all the worst, at least I didn't fall to pieces or start crying this time).   The comparison to how it would have turned out in a professionally equipped kitchen by, say, Bobby Flay? (As if...! But you know I made that judgment!)  And is the ante really, fairly, upped every time I think of some extra finesse? (Absurd, when you think about it, but isn't that what we do all the time?)

It seems ridiculous to over-analyze a dinner party this way but the prep and presentation seems an apt metaphor for the striving for perfection that we Christians do, and are taught to do.  Why is it so universal to teach the do-more-work-harder-feel-guilty model of Christian living but so rare to teach the rest-in-the-Lord-be-still-enjoy-the-simple-things model? Why do we let ourselves be consumed by the judgmental, perfection-seeking, always-something-holier-to-do, Pharisaical, conspicuous religiosity?

Friday, September 10, 2010

Post Christian Traumatic Stress II: No True Christian and Read Your Bible More

[author]  Someday that demonic Christian voice will be gone and I can live freely in the divine love for all.  Why can't that be today?
[commenter]  Possibly because you insist on calling it a Christian voice? True Christians don't buy the ancient heresy that matter is evil. ...I'd encourage you to really dig into what the Bible actually says about being Christian, as opposed to what you heard growing up. You may be surprised at what you find.

The matter=bad/spirit=good dichotomy has a long history in the ancient Greek-influenced cultures and you see it creeping into Jewish literature as the traditional Jewish communities got drawn into the Greek-dominated Roman empire.  One man's heresy is another man's orthodoxy, though, even among such True Christians as the early church bishops who were responsible for setting doctrine: Augustine, Origen, Valentinus, Iraeneus.  Most of the self-proclaimed True Christian teachers of today, as I read them on the internet or read their followers' blogs, do buy most of the ancient heresies (whether they realize it or not).

Because it is such a prevalent understanding in Christianity, I call it "the Christian voice". It is probably the most common voice heard in Christianity--in my childhood and today (if the blogs I read are any indication of what is common teaching).  It is so prevalent that most people don't even realize that they accept it until the idea is challenged--another reason to use the term "Christian voice".

I think the bible says almost none of what the Christian voices of today are saying.  I am actually quite sure that what passes for evangelical and fundamentalist Christianity--either as I remember it from before the mid 1980's or what I read in today's internet and hear around town--is completely different from the radical love and spiritual awareness with which Jesus inspired his followers and frightened the controlling institutions of his day.  I'm not so much surprised at the bible as I am at the lengths people go to just to support the controlling, demeaning, power-mongering interpretations.

My use of the term Christian as a self-identifier is only possible for me because I acknowledge that the prevalent "heresies" are not what I understand Jesus to have been preaching.  If I still believed that God and Jesus really were about the shaming judgmentalism that I find in Christian circles, I would never have started calling myself Christian again.  But I don't associate God with those voices anymore--it's just that those voices got so embedded in my psyche that I still get a kick in the solar plexus just about daily. It’s about the PTSD experienced from Christianity, not what the bible actually says.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Post Christian Traumatic Stress I: The Evil Flesh

Wow, still that knee-jerk-to-the-gut!

A facebook friend is recuperating from surgery and posted that she is feeling human again.  I responded "human is good".

Before I even finished typing, I got that cramp in my belly and that old voice in my head telling me to take it back, that human isn't good, that only the heathens glorify humanity and this is not the way of god.

Sigh. Someday that demonic Christian voice will be gone and I can live freely in the divine love for all.  Why can't that be today?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Laughter Therapy for the Recovering Fundamentalist

My daughters are 12 and 13.  They take a lot of classes at the homeschool enrichment center through our public school system.  We joke that our homeschooling is mostly on-the-way-to-school-schooling because almost every day on the way to school something comes up in conversation on which I give some exposition.

Some months ago, early in my explorations as a recovering fundamentalist, during one of these extemporaneous lectures, one daughter summed up my explanation of growing up fundy as “living in the fear bubble”.  The phrase has become a family word for the fundamentalist paradigm that results from being afraid of everything Out There and wanting to control the fear by following some magic formula.

Today on the way to school we got to talking about how living in bubbles isn’t just a religious thing. After I left Christianity, I didn’t start breathing fresh air, I simply stepped into a new bubble whose rules weren’t theological but were educational (Waldorf, Montessori) and nutritional (Nourishing Traditions, Michael Pollan).  We reminisced about my days of being violently anti-Barbie dolls, plastic toys, and most television; how I maintained rather rigid rules about organic food, no sugar, making our own flour.  I had, upon being pressed, to admit to continuing to hold all these ideals as virtues but we all agreed that I no longer see them in such black-and-white, all-or-nothing polarities.

The turning point, I said, came when I got sick three years ago and it became so obvious that following the nutritional advice from the expert that was guaranteed to bring me health instead made me much sicker and way crazier than I’d been before I sought help. After that, I was just too ill to maintain my bubble—everyone had to feed themselves, educate themselves, take care of themselves—and I realized that, for the most part, everyone thrived on a mixture of healthy and crap food, that how they related to their toys was much more important than what materials they were made of, and that television had an awful lot to offer.

But now that I have recognized how much of my life as a daughter and as a parent I have spent living in a bubble and I’ve consciously stepped away from the bubble, I am struggling to breathe that fresh air outside.  (The fresh air metaphor is not mine; it is my younger daughter’s.) I agreed that when one has been brought up having to accommodate some deformity of environment, there is great difficulty in learning to accept and physically use the healthy environment.

At this point, general discussion wound down as I got revved up on a lecture.  I brought up an experiment on cats wherein the kittens were raised in specialized environments in which there were only vertical lines or only horizontal lines.  When the cats were allowed into normal environments that had both vertical and horizontal lines, the cats were functionally blind to the lines they had not been accommodated to seeing.  They literally could not see what was right there in front of them. (From the back seat, there was a glazed-eye gaze and a white-noise hum, but I paid no attention and forged on.)

I extrapolated to my daughters’ upcoming teen years.  My only reference points to teen-age girl development are my own teen years in fundy evangelicalism, the waldorf education paradigm that can be just as isolating and legalistic as religion that I had gravitated to for their earlier years, and the extreme negative pole of the promiscuous partier that was what the bubbles are designed to avoid.  Obviously, between my reference points is the huge arena of Normal Teen Stuff that my girls will inhabit but, since I’m so entrained to the extremes, I really can’t see what that might be.  I concluded my lecture with the acknowledgement that we will all three of us be exploring normal-teenager together.

The silence was complete. 

“So, uh, when did you guys quit listening?” My overachiever first child assured me that she had still sorta listened because sometimes I give pop quizzes on my lectures.  Both girls quickly started volunteering keywords that they remembered—cat? bubbles? blindness?—so I asked, “did you at least get the take-home point?”

“You’re not normal?”

“We’re horizontal lines?”

“She’s horizontal and I’m vertical but you’re so used to seeing crosses that you can only see half of us?”

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Original Sin vs. Imago Dei III: Selfish Babies

[comment] … any parent can tell you just how selfish and completely lacking in empathy babies are…

I completely disagree with this thought.  I found my babies to be very empathetic to each other and to my moods and they continue to be.  A lot behavior of babies and young children that is commonly regarded as rebellious or selfish, I found to be the product of inappropriate nutrition or exercise or poor parenting on my part.  My first daughter used to be a very aggressive, crabby, biting, hyperactive infant/toddler.  It would have been easy to see her as selfish or "willful", in fact, most people did think that, even I thought so, although less often than most people.  Then she was treated for her excessive allergy load, we moved out of a house with lead-based paint dust and ancient leaky plumbing (heavy metal toxicities), and 80% of those behaviors disappeared.  Later, when I began to understand how foods triggered my own tendency to temper tantrums and I began to avoid those foods for myself (evening out my own moods), even more of her “willfulness” and “disobedience” disappeared.  Then I learned about the correlation between exercise and hyperactivity and began to look for ways that she could get a huge workout. Since then, when she has sufficient nutrition and exercise, she become the sweetest, most agreeable, humorous, generous child I've ever met.  

When I hear people talk about selfishness, sin, the rebellion of children, I hear an implication that this is somehow the child's fault (a sin nature to be overcome, "whip the devil out of him", “break her will”, etc) that puts the fault on the child rather than on the whole system of influences that contribute to a collection of behaviors that we call a child's character.  From my own experience, the shame of being sinful did not lead me to feel grateful for anything to do with God—after all, God made me, right?  But God made me defective? And the only means of becoming better was prayer and trying harder?  How exactly was God supposed to fix me in any way that turned me into someone more acceptable to the Powers That Were in my world?

I think there IS a huge aspect of personal responsibility that children need to learn: how to manage the influences to which they are susceptible.  I consider the biggest ongoing lesson of my daughter’s childhood to be helping her to recognize how to manage and prevent moods and behaviors that are not community-building.  The largest part of this lesson is teaching her to regulate her protein:carb ratio, getting a hard enough physical workout for her needs.  Without management of these things, she is so volatile that she "can't stop herself" from violence or temper tantrums.  With appropriate management, the anger, tantrums, and tendency to violence disappear. 

I see this learning to manage as hugely different than owning sinfulness and repenting.  Regulation of the chemical processes of the body (the vehicle of modification of selfishness that works for her) is not at all what I think is meant by church teachings on eradicating our sinful nature, even though the resulting obedient, joyful, peacemaking child is the same.  Thus for me it begged the question what is "sin" and the "sin nature" if it could be managed by diet and exercise much better than shame, punishment, prayers asking God to make me behave better.

[comment] …that does not make babies "bad" that's simply their natural state. We need to make the choice to be unnatural/supernatural, to accept the grace God offers to overcome our natural tendency toward sin.

Although I hope this writer is not meaning this "need to make the choice to be unnatural/supernatural, to accept the grace God offers" the way I heard it...ugh, I absolutely recoiled just reading it.  We, out of all God's creations, need to become unlike our created nature in order to become acceptable to God? We are born "sinful" in our nature (although no other natural creation of God is "sinful") and have to act entirely against nature, which is God's masterpiece, in order to be what God wants us to be?

No other created thing, no matter how corrupted by human intervention, is considered "sinful":  for example, wildlife that has been genetically damaged by pollution--is this a fair analogy to the Adam in the Garden version of Original Sin?  The bird that can't fly didn't choose to be genetically flawed anymore than we choose to be born as "Adam's seed" but we don't call the bird "in sin" or expect that somehow it is not acceptable to God.  Why are people considered as less worthy right from birth than birds?

Original Sin vs. Imago Dei II: Universal Dissonance

Original Sin is the idea that because Adam and Eve sinned, mankind is forever doomed to being inherently evil and redeemed only through an Act of God (or through believing in the Act of God, depending on where you are on the Free Will/predestination spectrum).  While this paradigm may make you delight in the greatness of God, it presupposes that you were in your original state unacceptable to God.  I find that presupposition to be deeply damaging.

During my heathen years I developed a personal cosmology that starts with God as the sentient, eternal, creative, sustaining, resonance/harmonic/vibration, the OM of the yogis, the Word, I AM. My cosmology is in my own mind a nexus of the realms of subatomic and astronomic science with philosophy and spirituality through the ages.  But my Big Idea is, to oversimplify, that this sound (the “Word”) that is God.  All created matter is a harmonic of that sound.  For various reasons, such as entropy, cumulative effects of short-sighted actions during former eras, evolutionary accommodations that are no longer necessary, any individual subset of matter (in this discussion, a person) can become mistuned.

The worse the mistunement (the more we are "separated from God"), the greater propensity for consequences of dissonance: selfish thought, destructive behavior, susceptibility to physical illness.  Physically, we can carry the mistunements of our ancestors in our DNA (perhaps as a kind of retrovirus that develops from suppressing the consequences of their dissonance?) and that acts as a predisposition to various manifestations of dissonance in our own lives—familial disease, inherited “personality quirks”.  

I think the Fall of Adam, Original Sin and the Sins of the Father doctrines are metaphors for this Universal Dissonance.  Grace is the possibility by which this dissonance is brought back into the right harmonic that is God.  This is "the moment of salvation". But because the predisposition for dissonance is hardwired into our matter (the theory of entropy), our souls have a tendency not to stay in harmony.  Wanting to stay in the harmonic, actively doing stuff that keeps us there (do justice, love mercy, walk humbly) increases the pattern that keeps us in harmony.  That is the "working out of our salvation".

A visual metaphor is a guitar: it is created at the factory to resonate at certain frequencies.  When it is strung the first time, it needs to be fine-tuned to the proper frequency.  But over time, through no fault of its own, the instrument will become dissonant and need retuning.  No one imagines it is a “bad” guitar, or that the guitar is “desperately wicked” or “depraved” for needing tuning.  There is no call for the guitar to “repent” from its dissonance and be “saved”. 

There are actions a guitarist can take to help the guitar stay in tune better—not throw it around, expose it to musical vibrations (store it near speakers)—but there is no moral judgment of either the instrument or the owner when the guitar needs constant tuning. 

Original Sin vs. Imago Dei I: Born to Sin

[commenter] What if ...  

• We were CREATED in God's image in Genesis 1-2
  • All God's creation (including man) was declared GOOD (i.e. perfect)
  • Sin entered the world in Genesis 3 and BROKE the goodness/perfection of creation
  • Because of sin, we are incapable of any truly good works/motives on our own (totally depraved, not as in always at the worst, but as in there is no part of us that escapes depravity)
  • Because of Christ, by faith in Him (even for pre-ressurection believers who were looking forward to the coming Messiah), we are RE-created to be perfect again in God's eyes, and to be slowly renewed in the whole man (body, soul, mind, spirit, social, etc.) as a work-in-progress that will be fully completed in the resurrection
  • We still REFLECT God's glory in this life, but imperfectly, as in a cracked and stained mirror

...  just some thoughts....

Interestingly, of all the religions in the world, only Western Christianity, Roman Catholicism and most Protestant denominations, subscribes to the idea that we inherit guilt from sin (or actions that foster less than good) not our own.  Islam, Judaism, Orthodox Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Mormonism, all hold that we are judged strictly on our own choices in this lifetime after reaching an age of reasoning skills. Only Augustine, Luther and Calvin, the biggest names in the Original Sin/Total Depravity game, insist that we are born evil with no capacity whatsoever to do good until and unless we “accept the grace of God”, which phrase will have to be its own whole other post.

The thing about Original Sin/Total Depravity is that it emphasizes the human end of the duality.  I think, from the explanations of those for whom these doctrines work to bring communion with God, that the point of the doctrines is to bring the outrageous grace of God into sharp relief.  To highlight the vastness of his love and the marvel of his works.  All to the good, but my question then is this?  Is God not gracious, vast, and marvelous enough all on his own or does he really need us to be belittled, shamed and beaten down in order for him to look good?

I prefer to worship a God whose people acknowledge that we humans are in our free will sometimes awful, sometimes really great, and usually both at once, and that our God is infinitely more.

I'm reading a book by a fairly traditional (though not at all fundy) preacher--and surprisingly I really am enjoying it--but I'm at a point where he's bemoaning that we don't talk about sin much anymore.  It makes us feel bad.  Well... yeah!  Who wants that? 

Perhaps the Sin/Depravity motif worked in Christianity for so long because it resonated with how people actually already felt about themselves.  I mean, most people in Christendom really had harsh and brutal lives until the modern era so maybe it wasn't so much a beating down of humanity as much as recognition of their place in the world--lowly, abused, exploited, short-lived.

Modernity changed a whole lot about our view of the world and our place in it.  As religion lost favor among intellectuals, psychoanalysis grew in its place.  Sin/redemption themes became alienation and recovering the unconscious.  People still feel separated from the Divine but no longer feel as though they personally are lowly and shameful.  Without Christianity telling me how morally bankrupt I am, any wretchedness I feel has no shame attached.  Most people that I know feel pretty good about their work and their place in the world and see no reason to think of themselves as Sinful--except as it is pounded into their heads from preachers, parents, and religious authorities.

I grew up on the "hearts desperately wicked", "from the moment of my conceiving" (or whatever those verses are that supposedly prove Original Sin). The idea that I started out behind the cosmic eight ball, through absolutely no fault of my own, so that from the very moment that I came into being, God couldn't stand the sight of me and considered me used tampons ... yup, hard to believe in a God as Love after that. 

And I still carry that baggage embedded in my soul--that I am utterly disgusting and that only when God looks at me through the Jesus-colored sunglasses will I ever be anything else. 

Even though, I no longer rationally subscribe to anything resembling an Original Sin doctrine, or any kind of moral overlay to the fact that there is suffering in the world, I can't seem to transform this hideous indictment of myself.

During my time as a heathen, I developed some interesting theories to describe how I think this whole thing works, based on physics and sound theory and other stuff, that took the whole judgment aspect out of it and also gets rid of the whole either/or polemic that Christianity is so fond of---either I am totally depraved or I am perfect in Christ (when obviously neither one is literally true). And rationally I accept these and reject the total depravity BS. Now if I could just convince my psyche to let go of that ghoul...

I suppose there are those who would use my ongoing struggle as proof of the Holy Spirit convicting me of the truth of Original Sin--except that I've supposedly been saved and made perfect from that so why exactly am I still feeling like steaming dog poop on the bottom of God's foot? No amount of reason and intellect is working on this one, nor is praying or meditating. My husband has suggested exorcism once or twice....

(for a fuller explanation of Original Sin and its history:

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Wounds and Scars

[commenter]  The poem is good, but it seems a bit hard to get a handle on in my book.  I’m not very esoteric, more practical and hard nosed … and hard headed.  So I get the idea that God won’t give us what we cannot use, and maybe we’ll know more later than now; but how does one “live the questions”?  That I don’t get.

Maybe I should just tell you the questions that I am living so that you can see the Rilke quotation in the context that it became appropriate to me:  Last month I hit another boulder in the path of my psycho-spiritual journey.  Instead of climbing atop the rock and surveying the landscape around me, instead of taking the long broad view, I curled up into a little weepy heap underneath it, letting its looming shadow overwhelm me. 

I know and have known for months that I am not 100% recovered from hypoadrenia, not even really back to where I was before I realized that something was terribly wrong three years ago, but I've been pretty functional for most of the last year.  Until this summer, when I’ve felt increasingly less able to see the healing process moving forward.  Stagnation would be the most positive spin but backsliding seems the most accurate description.  Or perhaps just setting aside the blinders of denial I’ve been wearing, trying to convince myself and those around me that I’m not really as ill as I am.

A friend of my daughter’s has been very ill this summer with what has finally been diagnosed as dysautonomia with POTS as its most outstanding symptom.  As she and her family have struggled with finding help and healing, I became increasingly conscious of how much her symptom picture, and even more, the corporate symptom picture of dysautonomia in general, resemble my own situation.  With that awareness, I also became less able to trick myself into thinking I was almost healthy.

Desperate for encouragement about my physical health, I pulled out the Adrenal Fatigue book I used to guide my healing journey.  I haven't done the function tests since mid 2008 when I got the book.  So I thought I could cheer myself up by retaking the tests and seeing how much better I am—NOT!  I still flunked the tests really badly, although not quite as spectacularly as the first time I took them in 2008.  I got really depressed after that and wrote my Middle Aged Rant.

So the question has become how do I live from here on out?  Do I accept the diagnosis and prognosis of a chronic disease that I will probably never fully recover from, accept my limitations, accommodate them, and turn my focus on living the rest of my life well?  Or do I keep focussing on trying to find healing, to be not physically limited, even if that means another year or more of my life spent in little more than pursuit of physical health?  Do I start looking again for outside help (doctors, therapists) again in a vain chasing after diagnosis and prescriptions? Or continue with my own self-care but with the attitude of maintenance rather than recovery?

I am convinced that fundamentalism in its various guises, with its insistence on pursuit of perfection and shaming attitudes for failing that perfection, is largely responsible for my having become ill in the first place.  Fundamentalist legalism, fear and shame, the cognitive dissonance that most fundamentalisms perpetrate were the driving forces that used up my adrenal function and left me prey for this half-life I feel as though I now have. The question I live is whether the fundamentalist disease has left me wounded (with the immediacy of healing) or scarred (all possible physical healing has occurred, accepting limitations and moving on is the focus)?

Of course, the correct response to any of Life’s apparent either/or questions is not to accept limiting polarity but to look for the resolution that accommodates both/and.  Therefore it is true that I have both wounds still in need of healing and scars that need accommodation.  It is true that I have both physical disabilities and that I have psychological conditions that exacerbate those disabilities.  A hysterical disease is neither “all in her head” nor not-at-all-in-her-head.

It is also a long-established pattern in psychoanalysis that when a client comes very close to uncovering deeply-held unconscious issues, the protective strategies that enabled those unconscious issues in the first place work very hard to maintain the status quo, often manifesting as a worsening of the client’s presenting condition.  Looking back this summer, I notice that my illness took its steepest turn for the worse immediately after a week in which I got very excited about a new direction in theological reading I had begun and I had an interview for a volunteer position where the director was strongly hinting that I consider a new career direction (the hinting was not significant psychologically, the fact that I encouraged the hint was significant).  By the time I got home from the interview, I was overset by symptoms that have not let up since.

Quite obviously, when I can look with eyes that see, …

… although I can say in my head what I see so clearly, I am not able yet to admit it in print.  As I got to this sentence, I was interrupted by several things that included a fight with both daughter and husband and a subsequent crying jag.  Some time later, now I just can’t get back to writing that concluding paragraph; I’ve been on several procrastinating tasks and I’m admitting defeat.  I’ll write what I’m beginning to acknowledge to myself as I can.  It will surely be less startling to others than I have found it myself.

Friday, August 6, 2010

And Then Came Peace

Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart
and try to love the questions themselves ...
Don't search for the answers,
which could not be given to you now,
because you would not be able to live them.
And the point is, to live everything.
Live the questions now.
Perhaps then, someday far in the future,
you will gradually, without even noticing it,
live your way into the answer.

rainer maria rilke

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Basic Christian Doctrine

The Christianity I grew up with subscribed quite explicitly to all the Fundamentals and more or less to Calvin’s TULIP.  When I began to understand these doctrines, rather than to just recite them, and to see their logical conclusions for the world, I concluded that the God that must derive from them was a petty, tyrannical, malicious egomaniac.  Rather like a very overgrown playground bully. Such a judgmental, capricious deity is often at odds with the absolute attributes of God that I also learned in Sunday School: omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, immutable, ineffable, impassionate, and infinite. And completely antithetical to the God Is Love refrain. As soon as my neurology accommodated analytical thinking, I began questioning how all these disparate things could be simultaneously Truth.  The answer was, according to those wiser elders whom I asked, “Ahh, that is the mystery of God.”  Or the confusion wrought by man, more likely.

In the back of my mind, like a holy descant, was a visceral knowing of the Divine.  Despite my constant vigilance against the clairvoyance, prophecy, and knowledge of things I shouldn’t, no matter how I prayed for protection against these manifestations of the Evil One, God never “delivered” me from my unwanted mysticism, my forbidden psychic nature.  Against all attempts at unknowing, like I knew water was wet, I knew the Divine.

It wasn’t until I renounced Christianity and shoved the shouting, shaming god of the doctrines into a locked up corner of my mind that I could take notice of that holy descant. When I lay in savasana at the end of a yoga class and heard the empty fullness of my mind, when I sat in silent communion with my baby in the dark of the night, after sex when I was only half in my body, the tears would flow.  A healing rain for my soul.  There was Love.  A constantly moving but never changing river of Love flowing through, over, in, around, under everything in the universe.  That was a Love I could trust. 

Yet, just as my mystical, psychic knowing leaked uncomfortably into my rigid Christian worldview, so too did that shaming god of Christian creedal doctrine continue to control my very way of being in the world.  He may no longer have used Christian vocabulary or take issue with the same lifestyle points, but always he/I preached whatever cause I espoused with the same religious fervor as any Evangelical in a pulpit: organic agriculture, buy local, natural materials for children’s toys, holistic medicine, nutrition, homebirth, homeschool, environmental awareness.  Each and every cause had its own dogma and legalisms that I worked tirelessly to uphold, all in order to be recognized as the best, most-natural, most organic, most homegrown… let’s face it… the most holy mother in the community.  I guilt-tripped newcomers and “heathens” frequently, publicly, and with much self-righteous gratification.  I didn’t use the bible to thump anyone but I sure knew how to quote appropriate texts for whatever sermon I was preaching.

Fortunately, my children refused to live in the same kind of box I was aggressively marketing to other families.  No matter what rules I picked to uphold, my family insisted on blasting through them.  When, finally, my health broke down and my sanity was more than suspect, I couldn’t follow any more rules and I certainly couldn’t try to bully or bribe my family into adherence either.  For the better part of two years, I lived just trying to get through the day.  Everyone fed themselves, managed their own schooling, and hid out in their rooms.  Everything I thought was so important, that made us better than the rest, went right out the window.  Apparently I hadn’t trusted that Love much at all. 

The true breaking point was early in that Dark Night of the Soul when I couldn’t hear the descant anymore.  All my knowing disappeared.  I couldn’t read people, couldn’t feel their emotions or sense their internal dramas; I had no more dreams or visions. I no longer knew the Wet of the River of Love.  It was like suddenly losing my sense of taste and smell—something you don’t think you rely on to make sense (pun intended) of the world until it is gone.  Obviously, despite my avid denials, I had become accustomed to that psychic sense of the world.  After that, my brain function really dried up and I began to beg whatever God there might still be just to let me die.

By spring 2009, just over a year ago, the protocol for recovery was working well enough that I could look at the bigger picture—beyond just my physical functioning, what were the more fundamental problems that disposed me to ruin my health?  And more importantly, how to transform them into factors of healing rather than of disease?  I was genuinely bewildered; there seemed nowhere to look.  I had been doing everything right, followed all the rules: ate well, exercised, lived for others, tried to save the world. I should have been the healthiest person in town.

Then the book that I started this blog with jumped off a table at me and I started this quest into fundamentalism and Christianity (and, of course, where the two converge in my life). Through the summer and fall last year, I began acknowledging how deeply and completely Fear had ruled my life and how my vain were my attempts to control the fears by perfecting the rules.  By the time I was ready to claim being a Christian again, I was only willing to do so on the condition that I not be ruled by the legalisms that Fear begets as well as is begotten of. 

The Rules of any fundamentalism, however well-intentioned originally, always miss the point of the cause.  Just as navel-gazing became the hilarious euphemism for trying to fake enlightenment in the hippy oriental-flavored 60’s spirituality, so too is biblical literalism and other idolatrous adherence to doctrine over Divine communion.  Many people do find enlightenment through meditating on the breath in the belly, of course, that’s how the stereotype came to be.  Similarly, many Christians have found the images of the Trinity, the deity of Christ, Crucifixion as Propitiation, and other doctrines to be devices that facilitated communion with both the Divine and humanity.  But for those for whom the device doesn’t succeed, dogmatic practice of the device becomes ritualized. Rules become the standard rather than relationship. When a device becomes divisive, idolatry occurs.

Being so ill for so long, trying so hard to follow the doctor’s advice, only to have it make me sicker and crazier, made me realize, as nothing else could, that rules never work.  Only principles work.  The rules hadn’t kept me from sickness, rather they’d caused it.  Rules didn’t keep my family functioning during my disability, but having understood principles of taking care of oneself and others was what allowed everyone to pull together to do what needed doing.

Therefore, when I came back to Christianity, I accepted no rules only essential principles.  Creeds and doctrines are more rules than principle.  Creeds state what must be believed—a rule.  Christian principles are those essential mantras that Jesus taught—love God and neighbor, forgive the brother, do good to those who hurt you, do unto others.  I didn't agree that the creedal doctrines are inherent in what Jesus said—rather as what later, sometimes much later, theologians said he meant. It doesn't make the creeds wrong—if they lead to the kind of radically loving life that Jesus did teach. I think ANY doctrine that fosters its believers in a deeply loving life is great—for them. 

For me, I am not convinced that the bible necessarily teaches a Trinity, Original Sin, or Final Judgement. I wanted to start at the absolute foundation and rebuild my new Christian theology from there. My fundamental, doesn’t-get-any-more-elemental foundation I defined as “some kind of God exists and there's this collection of Middle Eastern Antiquities writings about this guy who appears to have been a radical itinerant preacher who taught about this God.”

Starting from that incredibly skeletal beginning, I began reading the scholars of Bible, historians of religion, and mystics (again, still, always).  The one thing they all agreed on—even when they didn’t even agree on a single other point—was that this iterant preacher taught a radical kind of love for God and for fellow man.  So that single point, radical “wasteful loving” as Jack Spong calls it, became my Basic Christian Doctrine.

Freedom, Responsibility, and Omnipotence

Would God (or your god) be worth worshiping, in your view, if he was not all powerful?

Is it more important to you that God be just and good (by any definition you care to name) than that he be powerful, or do you feel that the two are uncontradicted in your god? If so, why?

Another great question posed by Otter at the Riparian Church , to which I replied thusly:

I think it is quite clearly obvious to anyone with eyes to look at the human condition that God does not interfere with us individually to save us from our individual or collective stupidity or maliciousness. Whether that is because he cannot or will not is a bit irrelevant to me since either way the responsibility then lies with me and with mankind collectively to repair, mediate, and prevent the effects of my individual and our collective maliciousness and idiocy.
If I have to choose, I guess I believe that God is not omnipotent but it is kinda like asking a tree that grows underneath a sidewalk to sprout up on the other side why it did not grow up through the sidewalk that I poured. Is that because it could not break through the concrete (there are reasonable albeit superficial arguments both ways) or because it was never its purpose to break down artificial barriers; its purpose is to grow and it grew in the most efficient and superlative manner possible in the situation I created.
Humans pride ourselves on our ability to choose our destiny or at least to have it chosen for us by parents or social constraints (and I recognize that we are rapidly trying to abdicate this free will in the increasingly narrow, proscribed lives possible in any kind of religious fundamentalism). We like to know that we can choose our job, our home, our spouse. Especially Americans, i think, like to think we are independent of a destiny thrust upon us. No one is going to tell ME what to do! Least of all some old-fashioned deity.
Yet we get all whiny and cast blame anywhere and everywhere including that old-fashioned deity when the consequences of those free-will actions (individual or collective) affect us personally. Or if we are a bit more altruistic, when they affect the innocent bystander who had no part in the causative action. We want the free-will to choose our own actions but we want not to accept the responsibility we then bear in foreseeing or at least mediating the consequences of our individual actions. Even less do we want to think and act with collective responsibility--only if it is in our "national self-interest".
Perhaps that is the impetus behind the increasingly rabid fundamentalism developing in every religion, denomination, and global region. At some, perhaps unconscious, level we recognize that we've kinda f****d it all up in our post-Reformation, post-Enlightenment, increasingly post-industrial world and now we run crying back to some all-powerful parental figure to clean up our mess, even if it means accepting restriction on our ability to continue independent creative development.

Please feel free to comment either here or over at Otter's.