Monday, January 23, 2012

Philosophy and Praxis III: Belief and Reality

In response to my earlier post, Brother Christopher wrote:

I don't think that it is the cheap grace is the grace of new agers. I think the cheap grace is the grace of dominionists and fundamentalists. When all you need is some "magic words" like "I welcome Christ into my heart" and suddently you're filled with his love, and all your sins, past, present and future are forgiven? And so this justifies acts of violence, of murder, because you are forgiven? that is a cheap grace if I have ever heard one.
I am not at all sure that Dominionists and Christian Fundamentalists are looking for "cheap grace." Those spiritual paths are actually pretty onerous. You're expected to tithe, to attend church regularly, to witness to the unsaved and (at least in the case of the Dominionists) to work toward creating a Christian kingdom in the here-and-now. In fact, I might argue that part of the reason these traditions have expanded so rapidly is not despite their rigor but because of it. Those who follow these paths can't help but feel engaged with Divinity in their daily lives. It's difficult to be a "Sunday Christian" when you're an active part of a congregation that is engaged in direct outreach to ensure that true believers get control of local government offices and reshape things in a more God-fearing fashion .

Nor are they claiming that their salvation allows them to commit random acts of violence and murder. What we call "harassment" and "violence" they see as protecting their community and their families against evil. When you sincerely believe that your interpretation of Christianity is the only hope of avoiding eternal damnation, you are likely to take whatever steps you see necessary to make sure your children don't end up in Hell.  When you are fighting a spiritual war, you sometimes have to engage the enemy in unpleasant ways.  I'm not trying to justify blowing up abortion clinics, beating homosexuals or trying to run Pagans out of town. But I am saying that there's more going on here than "I'm saved so I can bash all the fags I want with no worries." They don't think they are breaking God's laws and need forgiveness: rather, they believe they are following them and deserve praise.

As far as the frequent public humiliations of fundie leaders who have fallen into temptation, that doesn't prove that they are all hypocrites. Instead of concentrating on their greatest failures, you might want to look at their many quiet success stories.  (I'd also be interested in hearing the internal monologues of those public sinners: I strongly suspect Jimmy Swaggart, Ted Haggard, etc. engaged in self-flagellation that would do a medieval penitent proud). 

No, a new ager doesn't have to profess a believe in Christ, God, Mohammed, Allah, Moses or anything else. He is a new ager, not a Christian, Muslim or Jew. They have to believe in a different set of values, powers and ideals, which are not necessarily in accord with these other sects. They also don't believe in grace either, so it's not really a question of free or cheap to them. While Mr. Klienwachter's words are very easy to misinterpret, that is more inline with the ascension or lightworkers "grace." A viewpoint where you stop struggling with life because you are no longer fighting life but moving with it. It doesn't mean that you won't encounter difficulties or challenges, but they stop being so difficult in your mind. It may not materialize 7 figure checks, but you may just suddenly realize your unhealthy pattern of impulse spending and poor money management and but a stop to it.
The problem is that many of the New Agers I have encountered seem to be proud of believing in everything. They will happily mix and match junk science with junk theology, throw in a healthy dollop of "shamanic wisdom" from whatever Little Brown People are in fashion this season, sprinkle it with a few affirmations about universal unconditional love and clinch the deal with some strip-mined crystals. Yet none of these beliefs seem to result in any kind of changes that benefit the realities which the rest of us poor benighted souls have chosen to inhabit. They find truth in everything, yet commit to nothing at all.

I'll happily admit that positive thinking can help us make the best of a bad situation: it's less helpful in making that situation disappear.  An upbeat attitude is an important asset in fighting cancer or recovering from a sexual assault, but it doesn't guarantee that those things will never happen to you. At its worst the "Law of Attraction" and similar rot become an excuse to blame the victim. If you got sick, it is because you chose sickness; if you are poor, it is because you have chosen poverty; if you are victimized it is because you chose to be a victim. This is not a philosophy by which the weak can become empowered, but a philosophy which helps the powerful feel good about themselves and absolves them of responsibility for their fellows.

I live a few hundred meters from a busy four-lane highway.  Traffic goes down that road whether or not I believe in it. I can dress in black, then stand on the double yellow line and repeat affirmations that I am invulnerable, that I am only energy, that there is nothing which can hurt me unless I let it hurt me. But that oncoming 18-wheeler is still going to turn me into pavement pizza if I don't get out of the way.   And if I get hit by a drunk driver when I'm crossing the street to go to the supermarket, it doesn't mean I chose to be a quadriplegic: it means that alcohol and SUVs are a lousy combination. Claiming our power is important but so is recognizing the limitations which come with incarnation.