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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Failing to Control that Which Will Not Be Controlled, and other shades of Fatal Attraction

It seems I have a passion for dating myself with media and entertainment references lately, but I cannot help myself and so it continues.

Having recently reread Marcus Borg's definition of religion and spirituality, that "religion is [hu]man[ity]'s attempt to control God and spirituality is [hu]man[ity]'s attempt to make sense of its
world, I would like to propose a third category, or perhaps a different term and category altogether, that describes popular and (I suppose unavoidably small minded) spirituality. I'd like to call it "Denialality," and define it as the belief or attempt to control life and its outcomes. I wanted to call it "SmallMindedality," but I decided that wasn't kind - which is a whole different thing from saying it isn't accurate, of course.

You see, there is a large part of us, whether liberal, conservative, or somewhere in between, that is simply too fearful and too lazy to engage life to its fullest. For this massive group of people, which includes a large number of permanent residents and all of us as temporary residents from time to time, it's just too much work to engage life in all its fullness, beauty, and horror. The result is that we design systems of belief, either overtly or covertly declare them infallible, and so excuse ourselves from participation in the fullness of life. If I am a conservative Christian, I simply declare that the Bible said it, I believe it, that settles it, and all evidence to the contrary be damned, I simply pull my toupee down over my ears and proceed full speed ahead, damn the torpedoes of evolution, ignoring the missiles of science that strike my vessel, because I know how it works, Goddammit!

Of course if I am highly educated, or imagine myself so, I would never believe in that kind of nonsense. My version of this is that my thoughts create my reality, and all evidence to the contrary be damned, I simply pull my toupee down over my ears and proceed full speed ahead, damn the torpedoes of things like poverty, starvation, and disease that are contrary to my best thoughts, ignoring the missiles of the seven billion other people on the planet who also have thoughts that may not line up with mine and so work against my attempts to create reality that strike my vessel, because I know how it works, Goddammit!

Then there are the conspiracy theorists, who postulate that nothing bad ever happens but that anything that appears to be bad is really an intricately designed illusion put in place by the government to gain control of our minds. Apparently it hasn't occurred to these people that if the government really wanted to control us (more than they already do), all they would have to do is convince a significant number of people that there were plots to control us. This would cause them to spend much of their time seeking out these plots and so they would be far too busy to notice the actual control plan. To these folks, everything from vaccines to airplane exhaust is being used to try to control us, and they refuse to be controlled, and so all evidence to the contrary be damned, I simply pull my toupee down over my ears and proceed full speed ahead, damn the torpedoes of the truth that in refusing to be controlled I now spend virtually every free moment seeking out those who might be trying to control me and so get virtually nothing done, ignoring the missiles of evidence and science that strike my vessel, because I know how it works, Goddammit!

This isn't an exhaustive list, but it is representative. Might there be a trend, here? I'd like to suggest there are several, not the least of which is a large amount of fear mixed with a large amount of denial. Life can be a frightening place, and so we are tempted to design systems of belief that create for us the illusion that we can control life or are exempt from its natural outcomes. This requires implementation of the second trend, the confusion of opinion with fact. I must believe that my opinion - informed or not, with any base in measurable reality or not - is more than opinion. My opinion must be fact. Whether we are talking about the Bible as literal truth, our thoughts controlling reality, or calling airplane contrails "chemtrails" that poison us, opinion becomes fact and evidence becomes unnecessary
because opinion now supersedes what most of us would call evidence. Of course, much of this is based on what I want to call "truth minus five degrees." by which I mean it starts with verifiable, objective truth and then just moves five degrees off point. The result is something that may seem very reasonable and even very familiar on the surface. but when it's played out to its logical conclusion becomes highly distorted, indeed. However, if I avoid with all my being playing it out, I can maintain a pretty solid defensive front of denial and never have to engage the truth of reality, until...

Until, for many of us, "the event" occurs. We or someone close to us gets the big diagnosis. Our lover leaves. We are fired. We or someone close to us is involved in a horrific accident and will never be the same. Humpty Dumpty has a great fall, and all of our carefully considered systems of denial don't put Humpty back together again. Now what? Now we kick into the grief process full time, I suspect mourning not only Humpty Dumpty but also the loss of our belief system that gave us certainty and denial in one neat package.

As an alternative, might I suggest a religion that engages reality on a full time basis? That is, after all, what every great founding spiritual teacher has taught. Krishna, Moses, Buddha, Jesus, Mohammad, and all the others were trying to get us to see past delusion to the reality that lives underneath it - and we somehow fell in love with the delusion rather than the reality! Does life suck? At times, yes! Can we avoid it? Not really! So let's engage it full on! Granted, we might have to start with little bits and pieces as we build our tolerance, but let's just go for it. Gradually, we will be able to tolerate more and more of it - joyfully, even - until we are fully engaged with life. That's what the vision has always been, but it's tough at times and easier to retreat behind the delusion than work through the reality. The problem is that's not really living, and we end up dying without having lived, and I don't believe that's a fair trade for any of us.

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