Friday, May 04, 2012

A Response to Billy Graham - Why All Religious Individuals Should Also Vote Against North Carolina's Amendment One on May 8th!

This amendment is misguided on so many levels. First, dictating social norms through the arm of the state is the least effective and most harmful form of education. (Isn't this what the whole Reformation thing was about?) Churches should know this by now.

But beyond this, the church ought to realize the shift in its role within the present times.

The churches who support Amendment One are shooting themselves in the foot. The reality is that we are in the midst of a great cultural shift. Historically, the guidelines for compassionate behavior have been defined by religious leaders--today, science defines our social norms and public expectations regarding compassion. Historically, religious life has predominantly meant belief in orthodox doctrine and ritual--today, religious life is the quest for fantasy and symbolic meaning, which the modern age is currently missing.

How should compassion be taught? There is no absolute answer to this question, as the the concrete circumstances of every individual's life varies greatly. However, a general social norm is needed in order to meet the practical preconditions for public interaction. Without an accepted greeting, such as a smile or hand-shake, than many of us would probably never interact socially with a stranger!  Historically, the guidelines for compassion has been set by religious leaders. Today, however, the authority of the scientist has replaced the authority of the priest regarding compassion.

Ask yourself this: Does science now define compassion as a cultural norm in our society? When we look at the role of science in medicine, in education, in political decision-making, the answer can only be "yes". Which is more influential within these ethics-focused spheres? The opinions of scientists or of religious leaders?

This is not to dismiss religion as irrelevant, however, as it will continue to serve two important functions.

First, religion will continue to play its traditional role, as its presentation of issues such as compassion will continue to appeal to many individuals, even while they are no longer being accepted as general social norms. Science may be replacing religion's authority in defining the general cultural norm for expectations of compassionate behavior for public life in a society, but such social norms become meaningless within the personal life of the individual. Cultural norms say nothing about what best suits a specific individual, and so religion will continue to be an important teacher of compassion for many individuals.

Secondly, religion itself is going through a shift in its social function. Religion's influence on public, collective life is increasingly devitalized, so that its role within the personal life can be enhanced.

In his treatment of hundreds of patients, the Swiss psychologist Carl Jung discovered that the orthodox interprations of Scripture no longer communicated religious truth to the adapted modern psyche. He proposed that the gnostic-influenced interpretation's time has finally come. The following chart summarizes this position.
Layers of meaning in Jesus’s crucifixion story
First-layer interpretation (Orthodox-influenced)
Second-layer interpretation
the Unknown
God-image / fate
God’s compassion for us / God’s grace
God’s struggle to overcome his dark side
God’s shadow / dark side
Salvation / Redemption
Acceptance of God’s grace
discovery of one’s God-image /
discovery of one’s fate
A one-time deal, in which Jesus paid the “blood debt” that we owe to God for our sins
a religious experience open to everyone, in which we let ego ‘die’ as the sovereign center of life so that both our unique development and our collective God-image are taken into account/
discovery of one’s fate
rebirth into a church-body where Good has overcome Evil
rebirth into a life guided by Spirit -- a life centered around the relationship between ego and God /
discovery of one’s fate

Carl Jung wrote about the reigious shift that is occurring:
Today Christianity is devitalized by its remoteness from the spirit of the times. It stands in need of a new union with, or relation to, the atomic age, which is a unique novelty in history. The myth needs to be retold in a new spiritual language, for the new wine can no more be poured into the old bottles than it could in the Hellenistic age... It is my practical experience that psychological understanding revivifies the essentail Christian ideas and fills them with the breath of life. This is because our worldly light, i.e., scientific knowledge and understanding, coincides with the symbolic statement of the myth, whereas previously we were unable to bridge the gulf between knowing and believing. [Jung, Man and his Symbols]

In describing the difference between the collective, public sphere and the individual, personal sphere, Carl Jung wrote,
There can be no self-knowledge on theoretical assumptions... [the individual] is not to be understood as a recurrent unit but as something unique and singular. [Jung, Man and his Symbols]

Cultural norms say nothing about what best suits a specific individual, and religion will continue to be an important teacher of compassion for many individuals.

At the same time, cultural norms are absolutely necessary within our collective, public lives. Jung continues,
At the same time man, as a member of a species, can and must be described as a statistical unit; otherwise nothing general could be said about him.  [Jung, Man and his Symbols]
To have a meaningful culture, we must have social norms that dictate the expectations of public interactions.

The mind adapted to the the rationalistic spirit of the modern age lacks fantasy and symbolic life. The church, the caretakers of a particulary impactful set of symbols, instead tries to dictate more codes of behavior. The church's role should be that of a trusted counselor in the individual's effort to find his or her own way. But instead of the counsel and support that the modern adapted mind wants, in supporting oppressive proposals like North Carolina's Amendment One, the evangelical religious leaders offer us only more rigidity. Shame on Billy Graham and all religious leaders who support Amendment One--they are misusing their position as religious authorities and in doing so are shooting Christianity in the foot.