Sunday, June 2, 2013
"You cannot save people, you can only love them." ~Anais Nin
I recently endured an agonizing visit with an elder in my life who is in his middle 70s. I make an effort to see him twice per month for coffee, but it gets harder each time.
What is the most taxing for me is his downward spiral into the toxic grip of fundamentalism. With his advancing age, the last thing I want to do is cause him "spiritual distress," which is the obvious outcome for fundamentalists when people close to them reject their very narrow interpretation of scripture.
As is common with black/white thinkers, if there can be a rule made about something, he will make it or follow it. I understand this line of thinking, and remember feeling safer about life when I did not have to do any real thinking for myself. It is easier just to follow rules.
It is said that when others irritate us, it's because they are reflecting back our own imperfections. I'm sure you've heard that there is no nonsmoker more staunch than an ex-smoker. I likely fall into that category when it comes to organized religion of the fundamentalist, literalistic variety. As the circle of what is "morally acceptable" to this man shrinks, his circle of judgment grows. Every piece of jewelry, every book on my bookshelf, every CD in my car is now suspect.
Incapable of making any decisions for himself, Jesus must now be consulted for everything. In the past year alone, Jesus has apparently deemed jazz music, hockey games, and the nightly news to be off-limits. If Jesus decries fast food, my elder will really be in trouble.
Spend any time trying to actually engage with fundamentalists and you get the feeling you are speaking to a robot with a short circuit. Now that his social circle is comprised almost completely of like-minded individuals, he is unable to discuss anything without circling back to his own religious agenda.
I want to extend compassion to fundamentalists who are driven by fear. My elder is truly afraid that his loved ones will not spend eternity with him, and feels a heavy burden to "pray us all into the Kingdom." What I have tried to show him is this: No one can save you but you.
If you ask a fundamentalist why outsiders avoid them, they will likely say it is because the outsider feels "convicted." Fundies see the rest of us as unholy, requiring recognition that only their particular God/set of rules will set us free ... to spend the rest of our lives obeying those same rules.
Seek the truth or bury your head in the sand. Both require digging.
Maturity is obtained through experience. One of the indications of maturity is our desire to seek out truth, releasing perceptions that are untrue - or only partly true. When we refuse to entertain deeper truths, our "perceptual systems cloud over," according to author Caroline Myss. I reached a point in my own life when pat answers and circular reasoning no longer cut it for me. I am not saying that all people of faith fall into the same disturbing, unthinking category; but I am saying that it seems to typify fundamentalists.
Another phenomenon which keeps fundies trapped in their Tribal mindset is the inability to view events symbolically. One example of this is Believers who cling tenaciously to mythology as being literal. This is an immaturity which parents see in children. Until a certain age, kids only understand concrete ideas and are unable to entertain abstract notions. At a certain point, however, children develop the ability to understand folly; to conceptualize or generalize, understanding that each concept can have multiple meanings. This ability is missing in fundamentalists when it comes to their faith. It is a blind spot for them.
Truths contained in different religious teachings are intended to unite us, not to separate us. Literal interpretation breeds separation. Interpretation on a symbolic level - recognizing that all of these teachings address the identical design of our spiritual natures - brings us together.
Just as we cannot force a bud to bloom any faster, we cannot force people to mature on any timetable other than their own. It is part of their lesson - and if you have a fundy in your life, it is part of yours, too.
I willingly and lovingly release all beings to learn their lessons on their own timetable, rather than mine. I embody compassion and grace in every situation, extending them equally to all. I am ruled by loving kindness and charity.