The Law of Distraction

When I finished the exegesis of John’s Revelation, I went around to several local congregations to advertise the work. I went first to the pastor of the church for the Bible study I was attending – a meeting that went so well that I was soon disinvited from the Bible study.

I then went to the Center for Spiritual Living just two buildings down the street. Having read Ernest Holmes’ work, I thought that the ministers there might be receptive to other work that clarified the intentions of Christ. The conversation with the two female leaders was uncomfortable, the energy shifting decidedly when I handed over my business card, turning even more sour when I suggested that “there were certain constraints on the focus of our intention.” On the way home that evening, I was nearly run off the road by a man that I clearly perceived was under their influence.

Oh, boys and girls.

The marketing of the power of intention for our society – whether as “The Secret” or “Spiritual Living” or “Neuro-Linguistic Programming” – tends to treat it as magic. You set your intention, and the “Law of Attraction” brings together the elements that will manifest your desires.

Unfortunately for the neophyte, the management of intention has a lineage that predates even humanity. Among the pre-historic intentional fields we might include “predation” and “lust.” These fields accumulate power by giving those under their control a brief moment of satiation that requires persistent struggle to attain. In every other moment, their subscribers focus intention toward that satiation, making others in their community susceptible to the same urges.

At one time, human society recognized these intentional fields as corrupting personalities – known variously as devils or demons. But the devil’s greatest trick has been convincing us that he doesn’t exist. The sexualization of romantic love follows from the idea that we’re just acting naturally – like all the animals around us. The “dog-eat-dog” culture of high finance is seen as a defense against the testosterone-fueled aggression of our peers. The problem is with other people and the cultures they create, rather than with the sinful intentional fields we inherited from our Darwinian past.

Purging sin was the challenge of monotheism as undertaken by the ancients. Socrates preached that there must be one God, and this was also the conclusion reached by Abram, the father of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Both observed that the gods fought among themselves for our attention, forcing upon humanity patterns of behavior that corrupted our societies. So they chose to celebrate one god – a god of higher human intention.

A god that was eventually refined into pure love.

So try not to be distracted by attraction. Yes, it will draw people to you that share your intentions, but when you reach a certain critical mass, you will come to the attention of those ancient animalistic tendencies, and the weight of their power will humble you if you do not take refuge in love.

It’s not magic. There are mechanisms, and the choice of mechanisms is still a choice that binds your soul – even if the devil no longer appears personally before you with a feathered pen and parchment in his hands.

So choose love, and trust that love will choose you. After all, that’s its only purpose.

Recidivism

When contemplating the selection from among the disciples of the Apostles, Luke records [6:12]:

Now during those days Jesus went out to the mountain to pray; and he spent the night in prayer to God.

Now this is an interesting proposition for prayer: the junior partner in the triune turning to himself for wisdom. Illogical, even bizarre? I can understand it only by assuming that Jesus was a pseudopod emitted from the Holy presence, not in possession of all his spiritual faculties.

Of course, as a demonstration it is instructive to read  of the devotion and trust that Jesus invested in the Father. If he was moved to pray, how should not we as well? And conceiving of him as a man, I would not rue Jesus that comfort.

A common elaboration of the Crucifixion is that it was not just physically agonizing, but also spiritually devastating. We have the great heart-rending cry:

Eloi! Eloi! Lama sabachthani?

[Mark 15:34]

There was no answer, because there could be none. God took on flesh because it was only through flesh that evil could be healed. Once Jesus assumed that burden, it was his and his alone.

The angels cannot change their nature – it is the grace and curse of humanity to possess that capacity. Thus God testified to Cain:

Sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.

[Gen. 4:7]

Jesus was the culmination of this seeking after strength. He arose out of a culture devoted to the seeking after purity, and chose to allow sin into his heart so that its consequences could be healed.

The bulk of the BIble demonstrates the difficulty of this accomplishment. The men raised to greatness always struggle with their frailty. Jacob’s lust makes him little more than a seed dispenser to two competing sisters and their handmaids, and his favorite Joseph leads monotheism into subjection to a polytheistic culture. David succumbs to desire, clearing the way for marriage by sending his friend into battle to die, and Solomon again opens the door to polytheistic practices.

This recidivism illuminates the challenge of loving unconditionally: to be merciful is to grant power to those lacking the ability to discipline their behavior. Every parent confronts this in the two-year-old and adolescent, but somehow we believe that grace given by God is proof against this corruption. To the wise, though, the recidivism of the Bible is the greatest possible proof of God’s compassion for us. He pursues the loving embrace even against the evidence of our unfaithfulness.

Of course, in demonstrating the infinite depths of divine compassion, the heroes of the Old Testament are problematical role models. This came to a head in Islam, which largely sanitizes the evidence of personal frailty. A Muslim scholar disputed with me over David’s betrayal of friendship, explaining that the sanitized history was enforced by Muhammed’s (pbuh) son-in-law, Ali, and justified in that opportunists used David’s behavior to justify their own lecherous license.

The consequence of this idealization of Biblical heroes is that the program of monotheistic escalation (the only God worth worshipping is perfect and infinite) extends to the heroes of the Bible. They are no longer human but gods themselves, immune to temptation and error.

So what of Jesus, absorbing the burden of human sin on the cross? We know that he showed reluctance and despair in the event. This supports my sense that divine love comes at the first possible moment. In the New Testament as in the Old, the manifestation of grace is subjected to pressures almost certain to destroy it. Among those are the unfaithfulness of those to whom salvation is offered. Returning to Nazareth early in his ministry, Jesus is astonished by their cynicism, which makes him unable to offer power in any great measure.

So I conclude: as monotheism is the pursuit of a truly human god, in that pursuit Jesus is truly our god, struggling against our sinfulness while healing us so that we may sin again. Paradoxically, as we approach more nearly to his grace, that struggle intensifies. The assault on his virtues are more focused, the wounds more intimate. As God cried out again and again in the Old Testament, would we not expect Christ to be tried by anger and fear?

Even perhaps, at times, to be overcome by human impatience and frustration?

Why Monotheism?

When I was in high school in the ‘70s, global politics was dominated by a penis-envy contest called Mutually Assured Destruction. The Soviet Union and the United States amassed huge stock-piles of nuclear weapons that Carl Sagan concluded could wipe out the enemy without even falling on their territory. Simply setting them all off at ground level would raise enough dust in the stratosphere to cause a global winter. The collapse in food supplies would push humanity to the brink of extinction. That the instigator of the war would share the fate of their enemy justified the acronym ‘MAD’. But there were a lot of institutions that spent a lot of money building weapons delivery systems that were faster, more lethal and more accurate – money that might have been better spent improving the educational and living standards.

While Khrushchev threatened that the Warsaw Pact would bury the West under the weight of Soviet armor (pounding his shoe on the table for rhetorical effect), ultimately it was America that buried Russia under a mountain of dollars. Remember – this wasn’t a strategic conflict with concrete goals. It was a penis-envy contest, and letting the other guy get away with more was unacceptable. So Russia bankrupted itself attempting to match the West weapons-system for weapons-system. The United States cynically engaged this policy of “escalation” in many theaters of conflict. Simply introduce more and more sophisticated weapons systems, until the enemy was financially exhausted, then bring them to the table to figure out how to make money together.

We’ve seen this same logic invade our religious arguments over the last hundred years. You know, “My God is greater than yours.” At one point, the Buddhists prided themselves on remaining above the fray, but when I went down to Deer Park Monastery five years back, the speaker was proud to observe that Buddhism had never instigated a war, unlike those Christians and Muslims. I wondered to myself whether Buddhists were running any countries, and now recent events in Myanmar seem to bear out the corrupting influence of political authority.

Religious breast-beating can be traced to theological escalation. Polytheism was accepted practice in the ancient world, and those that cultivated relationships with multiple gods would have been likely to consider themselves shorted in a relationship with a single god. What if the one god doesn’t approve of your goals? Why wouldn’t you want to bargain with another deity? The response from monotheism was often to assert that “Our one God is more powerful than all those other gods put together. In fact, our God is the god of all things seen and unseen, the creator of everything, the ultimate purpose, and look at how our warriors beat you up on the battlefield when we carry his banner!”

I am going to denounce this logic right here and now: monotheism is not the celebration of a god for the purpose of claiming his or her power. Monotheism is, in fact, the original humanism. It was to recognize: “Geez, there’s a lot of spiritual power brought forward from the past, power built up in trees and animals and fish. It’s really hard to be human in this world! Let’s band together and worship a human god, and create a place for ourselves.”

Why was this important? Because our minds are so incredibly powerful. This is recognized in Eden, where after eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, Adam and Eve are cast out before they can eat of the Tree of Life. Humanity has a dangerous capacity: the capacity to create ideas, which is to reorganize spirit. The serpent tempted Eve because it knew that it could assault heaven itself with that power, and that is evident in the actions of God himself in the aftermath: an angel with flashing swords is set up to prevent our return to the Garden.

It is also evident in the punishments meted out for creating the golden calf, the judgment against the kings of Israel for allowing polytheism to flourish, the scourges suffered by Ezekiel and the passion of Christ. When humanity is polluted by primitive tendencies, God insists that they be purged. This is also the purpose of the Law: animals are opportunistic and instinctual. They don’t apply abstract systems of rules to moderate their actions. Reasoning about the consequences of our actions is a uniquely human capability.

The full glory of human potential is celebrated by Christ when he announces to Peter [Matt. 16:9]:

I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

In other words, the Apostles were trained as a corps of spiritual surgeons.

In confronting the power of this capacity, the ancient predators had only one response: keep us from banding together. This is described in Revelation, where John recounts how the dragon (the spiritual avatar of the serpent that appeared in Eden) causes humanity to pursue animal worship, and when we get over that, corrupts our religions from within [Rev. 13:15]:

The second beast was given power to give breath to the image of the first beast, so that the image could speak and cause all who refused to worship the image to be killed.

Sound like MAD, anyone? Claim that your god is the best, threaten the enemy, and bankrupt yourself spiritually.

The goal that I offer today, thus, is to put away monotheistic escalation. The ultimate nature of God is beyond our understanding. What is important is to use the divine relationship to most fully refine our human capacities. Our unique skills – the skills of understanding, imagination and creativity – must be strengthened. Ultimately, it is intended that those skills should replace the brutal urge for survival and reproductive opportunity that characterize the animal kingdom.

In guiding us to maturity, all of our great religious traditions hold that there will come an avatar who will help us bring peace and justice to the world. Their name or ethnicity is unimportant, for in that era the divine authority will be manifested in all of us.

The Soul Comes First

Particularly during life’s difficult moments, religion is a source of comfort for us. When a child dies, when we lose a job: we are sustained by the relationships and wisdom that we develop in worship, study and charitable work.

Because this aspect of religion is so important to us, we seek in scripture for meaning that applies to us in our lives as human beings. We tend to emphasize that part of the story, and when we don’t find what we’re looking for, maybe even expand our searching into parts of the story that don’t really apply to us.

But if spirit is a part of the natural world, a form of consciousness woven into the very fabric of space, why should intelligence have manifested only here on Earth, in humanity? If spirit began evolution when the universe formed, or even earlier, it stands to reason that it’s got a long history of its own. What would coming to a planet be like? How would spirit go about learning about a new world? How would it go about improving itself through that investment?

When I re-read the Bible after developing a physical model of spirit (not really a theory, because the mathematics needs to be elaborated), I saw it in this light. The Bible made a whole lot more sense to me than it did when I turned away from it as a teenager.

That understanding is captured in The Soul Comes First, which you’ll see as a link on my sidebar.

Now the Bible is a complex book, with a lot of ideas in it. Summarizing it in seventy pages, even when looking at it from 30,000 feet, means compressing a lot of ideas into very few pages. So it’s heavy going. Here’s the short skinny:

  1. This reality was designed as a place of healing for souls infected by selfishness.
  2. The creation myth in Genesis records the investment of a collection of such souls as they explored the Earth through the evolving senses of living creatures.
  3. The founding of monotheism through Abraham is about creating masculine strength in a culture dominated by powerful women.
  4. The Old Testament, from Exodus on, records the expansion of monotheism as a national culture. The investment made by God at this point was in creating a capacity to reason through adherence to the law. The experiment failed for various reasons – the most significant being the desire of the people to centralize human authority. This eventually led to demotion of spiritual leadership in favor of political leadership, and destruction of the nation.
  5. Jesus came to demonstrate that love will overcome any system of tyrannical laws. Not only did he demonstrate the power of love through miracles, he trained a collection of men (the Apostles) to emulate his mastery.
  6. The Book of Revelation is exactly what John said it was: he was taken up to heaven, where the angels shared with him their relationship to and experience of Christ.. The visions of the seals are interpreted as the forms of selfishness that the infected angels brought to the Earth with them; the trumpeted disasters are the extinction episodes revealed to us by paleontology; the bowls describe the exhaustion of the natural resources humanity is exploiting.

Items 2 and 6 establish that paleontology and evolution science have revealed things that were known to the ancients long before we had the science to study them.