Discussion 2 to Ask the Patriarch 239
The shame-blame/PTSD syndrome
by: Dr. Halle
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I must say that it’s been gratifying to be able to reexamine these issues, and to contribute to the dialog. At the outset, please accept my solid and enthuse-iastic agreement that the doctrine of Original Sin is--at its root—fatally malicious and unwholesome. Its source? The reality is that most of it can be linked to Paul/Saul of Tarsus (“St. Paul”)...with further elaboration by Aquinas and Augustine...who I consider not only "very sick little puppies," but dudes unacquainted with the rules of logic. This, considered with the additional consideration that your “hard-nosed” (read this as “fundamentalist”) disseminators and proselytizers of this “faith” generally possess a characteristically wild, and intense “religious fervor” (not unlike the extremists of other traditions), something which leads me to categorize Christianity as a (fanatic) cult.
Before we proceed, you might want to remember that Paul never met the historical “Jesus” (assuming this personage actually existed, and a good case can be made for his having represented a tradition, rather than one, actual individual...for which there is very little physical or historical evidence). Not only that, but Paul's position was in direct contradiction, in some important ways, from the church which Jesus left in Palestine (the “Jerusalem Church”). It seems that there was considerable rivalry between the two churches (e.g., regarding the question of continuing with Jewish practices like circumcision, and even whether non-Jews might join the Church). The name Jesus Christ, itself, has some problems. “Christ” actually means simply “anointed,” and was applied to many figures among the Jews, including King David. “Jesus” amounts to a Romanization of the Greek “Iesous” (and is the same name as several Jewish equivalents, such as Joshua, Jehoshua and Yeshua).
As it happens, Paul had an absolute obsession with sin, which has left many of us, perhaps as we’ve aged and matured, dramatically alienated. Now, there are different “flavors” of Christianity, and some—like RC and the Calvinist-Zwingli Protestant traditions-- particularly feature an abundance of “shame and blame” and this keen emphasis and focus on the concept of sin. Certainly of note is that the materials from the “Fundamentalists” (such as Bible tracts and sermons) reflect almost exclusively citations from the Epistles...and this simply awful Paulist junk.
Paul’s viewpoint or mindset, incidentally, was decidedly a Greek one, notwithstanding his frequently being touted as a Roman citizen. I wish I could fully cite a source…an article by Jacqueline Strain in a textbook of ours in a theology class in a S. Calif. University in the mid-seventies, taught by an very amiable former Catholic priest. Terry Dosh. Ms. Strain explained that there are distinct differences in how sin is considered by those in the Jewish v. Greek Chris-tians. In the former, sin is considered a falling away from one’s primary relationship from God the Father (and something which may be remedied). In the latter, sin is considered as multifold in character—specific acts—the commission of which never ends (a stance which views corporate humankind’s state as a hopeless one, from which one may never ultimately extricate oneself). I found this explanation to be incredibly illuminating at the time.
Now, in a deeper sense, whence comes this concept—and essential article of faith--of profound, essential sin, a quality supposedly inherent (and unavoid-able) in every member of humankind? Perhaps the best way of approaching this is to understand that one who has totally embraced the OT idea of the "Fall," (perhaps with a pre-existent tendency toward depression and feelings of shame) is considering it as: Literal, and Normative.
But is there an alternative viewpoint? Yep. I’d suggest (as a psychotherapist, and someone very enamored of critical thinking), that one explore the work of Dr. Carl Jung, who was unusual among the Depth Psychologists (and, early-on, a key member of Psychoanalysis, though please consider that Freud himself espoused a distinctly problematic stance—one which was fundamentally pessimistic about the possibility of change (deterministic in character), and insisted that the sex drive was at the bottom of ALL human behavior (reductionist and nutty!!)), in that he included spirituality in his formulation of human experience (psychopathology, as well as human development and potential). The concept of the "archetype" was central to this view.
The "alternative view" to the profoundly dark scenario of Essential Human Sinfulness might be the consideration of the OT story (Adam and Eve’s disobedience and “Fall”), as--first—Metaphorical, rather than literal)....and--second--as Descriptive (reflecting, in some ways, human history and experience), rather than Normative. Many human beings have experienced—in the midst of our lives--a sense of profound loss/abandonment; abuse or even major trauma (sometimes resulting in PTSD); or overwhelming sense of blame or shame/embarrassment. These characteristics share a commonality, and seem to be aspects of a “constellation” of dark and, almost universal, human experience (what "flesh is heir to"). Christianity seems to have grasped this, concluded (incorrectly) that this common experience is 100% universally experienced, accepted that it is entirely dark/sinful and overpowering, and that mankind--in the particular and universal--has been the author of this sad state of affairs. This is the stuff of myth, and there are some HUGE assumptions/ presumptions at work here. Consider for the moment the Greek myth of Icarus, who risked his life by constructing wings and taking flight. Supposedly—in arrogance (or full of “hubris”), he “pushed the limits” too far, flying too close to the sun, and ultimately plunged to his death. There might, in fact, be something of value in this tale, but is there any need to embrace this it with one’s whole being and construct an entire religion around it?
Christianity accepts that the character Jesus represents (then, and now) a potent saving-redeeming power (and even that requires a "big jump," from an important religious figure, say a prophet, to a "god-man," and (as the "Logos"), the actual creative power of the universe (with at least a half-dozen different names and roles, in the NT), then postulates that an acceptance of Jesus is the SOLE way out of this archetypal Human Dilemma. Put another way, everyone in Humankind is "f*cked," and the SOLE remedy is the dogma and path of Paulist Christianity (an amalgam of many elements over the first couple hundred years of the C.E.), with Paul's terrible "chock-full of sin and shame" vision, with a ((very Freud-like) component of determinism, even predestination). This is a fatalistic, dark, pessimistic brew (and, as already noted, smacking of Roman Imperialism), ripe for control of others or for a juicy case of clinical depression (or suicide or wholesale acts of unbridled aggression)...and I have no stomach for it. It is also a supremely arrogant and intolerant stance. When I see—and hear—these nut-cases yelling their head off on local street corners, I’m tempted to run home to grab my own bull-horn, then return to the site to broadcast my own message, such as “Hey, equal time for the Hindus and Buddhists!!!”
Finally, let us assume for the moment that Jesus was a kind of celestial being--an avatar, perhaps. Is there any basis for the claim that his sacrifice on the cross would miraculously-and VICARIOUSLY—save all of humanity (or, at least, those who accept the Christian faith)? If you have had a salutary experience with a psychotherapist or minister, during counseling…processing old material or confessing the things that have plagued you for many years…say, are you—or he--likely to have the same experience if you had dealt with the psych. material of your neighbor down the street? Would not the each of you had to have worked with your own personal “stuff,” and not that of another?!!
In the service of complete accuracy, I will admit that vicarious experience has a role to play. If you’ll remember your college literature or drama class (and the “Poetics” of Aristotle), you’ll recall that elements of a dramatic performance might (in a kind of resonance process) bring something forth from the audience, and be very therapeutic. Yet, this must needs happen in each audience member individually (an “inside job”). You don’t view this process occurring in someone, and immediately partake of the “emotional proceeds” (such as healing or intellectual insight)!! ; )
A minor digression...Are you aware that the word "cross" does not appear anywhere in the NT? The Greek word normally translated in our Bible as cross, is more accurately rendered as "stake." Possibly a minor point, but a pretty good example of how much silliness and absurdity is to be "mined" during a legitimate—and honest--study of Christianity. I will add that when the Emperor Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire around 300 C.E., he never, personally, accepted the faith but remained in the camp of the “solar cult.,” and it seems readily apparent that his move was a pragmatic and political one, rather than spiritual. Now, the simple reality of Christianity—fairly early on—having been granted the official sanction of the Roman Empire might give one serious pause!! Recently, I had a nifty conversation with a former RC priest (and antiwar activist) Blase Bonpane, and he concurred with my understanding that much of the early Church hierarchy was based on the (already existing) Roman Imperial Cult. Whoa!! And, I will go on to explain that the Christian Church has OFTEN sided with suppressive governments, e.g., in Nazi Germany, and in the country of Argentina.
But. let’s return to the main issue. If a human being finds himself stuck and consumed by some variation of the overwhelming shame-blame/PTSD phenomena we are discussing, he might well be a good candidate--a "pigeon"--for someone waltzing up to him, acknowledging this common negative experience, then popping up with the con-job of selling him the "Is Jesus your personal savior?" pitch. Yikes, he has been "had!!" Yes, this smacks of brain-washing and mind-control. Also, “propaganda in action.” What does RC call their particular brand of proselytizing? “Propagation of the faith.” I hope you’re still with me.
Now, how does someone “witnessing the ‘Good News’” finish off his sales-pitch, his con-job? He or she will deliver the “zinger,” the “coup de grâce” by bringing in the eschatological element. He’ll rant about the immediate specter of the end of the world, and the horror of how every soul who does not harken to the Christian call is looking at a fate of perpetual suffering in hell. Whoeee!!! We’re talking employment of fear and intimidation to make a convert, not honest, heart-felt sharing. Another of the problems with Christianity is an odd use of some terminology. What—the dickens—is religious “conversion?” Originally, it was about the Greek term “kenosis,” which denotes a kind of “emptying,” so that wisdom or inspiration might enter (possibly in a similar way to Zen Buddhism in “Za-zen” meditation). Yet, this has been turned around, and conversion now seems to be more about turning the “newbie” into a brain-washed stooge.
What’s more, there are other narratives and other perspectives, and if one finds oneself seriously psychologically distressed, there are various options that might provide relief. I have worked with some folks who are in pretty bad physical and psychological shape, and things like psychotherapy and bodywork (e.g., massage and chiropractic) have often done wonders to free them from this "scourge" (sometimes—metaphorically--known as “one’s personal demons”).
Still, as critical I may be of organized religion (and how much I might enjoy religious debunking books by people like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, I can’t quite buy atheism. Surely there is more to life than sheer materialism. For me, there is a "Spiritual Dimension," which happens to be consistent with the "Holistic Paradigm" (the focus and basis of my practice), but why—on earth—would one want to adopt, and noisily evangelize for, an exclusivist, pessimistic, deterministic and arrogant Christian perspective and dogma? Fundamentalist Christianity is very much about shame and control… and is downright corny. I often feel like telling these people to "Friggin’ get a life!!!"
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