Transformation, Religion, and Denial
I am not traumatized at this moment. This past year has been repeatedly traumatic. I have a hard time growing, learning, and maturing when I am constantly challenged to simply cope. Being frozen in trauma postpones the learning curve indefinitely.
I don’t know how well I’ve been doing lately. I am always trying to learn something from just about every situation because I do not want to keep repeating the same stupid mistakes as I age. There is nothing sadder than an elderly person who never really matured. Age without wisdom is disheartening. So I try to learn. And so do my friends. And I am unsure of how much they’ve been learning, either. Are we just ageing without growing? Our behavior doesn’t seem to reflect much transformation at times.
I have always been obsessed with transformation. How does it occur? I read personal stories all the time. I just read a book by a black lesbian Buddhist. I have started a different book by a woman who is black, Baptist, and Buddhist. I have read conversion stories from people that have gone from non-Christian to Christian, Protestant to Orthodox, Christian to atheist, etc. I want to understand the process, the logic, the emotional components, etc. How one goes from being A to being totally different B intrigues me.
I want my life to be transformed, but I also see the value in denial. Dealing with Barry’s end-of-life issues raises the question of how much information do you really want if there is nothing you plan on doing with it anyway? A Christian friend was extolling the value of religion’s ability to comfort people, even if none of it is true. Her attitude was, “What’s the problem if it helps you and comforts you?” Part of me wholeheartedly agreed. And the rest of me realized that we were basically confirming that Karl Marx had hit the nail on the head when he said religion was the opium of the people—designed for comfort and not for growth. I never thought I would be proving Karl Marx right.
I have always pursued growth. My religion has changed over the years because of that. I am perennially looking for answers. I get along fabulously with religious leaders, until, that is, I start of grow beyond their level. Independent thinking in the Christian world is referred to as “heresy.” Then, suddenly, leaders start warning others not to associate with me. I am dangerous, apparently. That has been my frustration with Christianity is general: the promise of transformation and then the absolute refusal to allow the very factors (such as independent thought) that would enable genuine metamorphosis to occur. The complete defense of a dysfunctional status quo is the opposite of spiritual growth, as far as I’m concerned. It is not progression but rather regression to an infantile-like state. The verbal promise of growth is belied by the forbiddance of any and all information that might lead a person to make an intelligent decision. “Let us take care of you. We’ll meet your needs.” Then you join and find out the truth: now you are the church and it is your job to meet everyone else’s needs (even though no one had any real intention of ever meeting yours). It is pure deception. But maybe it’s a necessary one. Who do you know that would join a religion that promised them nothing?
Lately, I’ve been doing some Buddhist chanting. Why? Because it feels good. Does it change anything? Probably not. But I am not caring now. Perhaps it is non-transformational, but it feels refreshing. As an Orthodox Christian, I understood the purpose of a mantra: using the bandwidth of your brain to undo habitual, obsessive thoughts and clear out the mental cobwebs. Of course, Christians deny using mantras, but even a casual observer can verify their use: the rosary for Catholics (Hail Mary…) and the Jesus Prayer for the Orthodox (Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God…). To say Christians do not use mantras is to not understand what mantras actually are.
How many people in our culture are frozen in trauma and unable to break out on their own? Christianity could really grow if it ever learned how to help traumatized people. The gratitude factor alone would cause an explosion in attendance. Helping people get unstuck would confirm the transformative potential of religion, as opposed to revealing the church as the enemy of growth and maturity. My attraction to Buddhism has always been its profound understanding of suffering and its practicality in dealing with real life issues. (Read anything by Pema Chodron.) But its Asian, patriarchal version doesn’t always look much different than some of the more screwed-up American and European varieties of Christianity.
I think it is perfectly okay for someone, like Barry, who has cancer and a very limited life expectancy, to live in denial. But I feel like I am still way too young for this (“this” being lying to myself freely and shamelessly to make myself feel better). I soooooo wish Marx was wrong, but I see the validity of his position more every day.