Me, Myself and Christ: Naivety

When I met Trey (a fabricated name) at contemplative prayer, I shared that I had written two books on apologetics. He skipped past my contributions, asking whether I had read his favorite writer on the topic. I simply shrugged and countered:

My perspective is grounded in unusual experiences.

Most popular Christian writing focuses on the theology of redemption or the experience of healing. I cannot claim to have been threatened seriously with destruction by sin – either in my own weakness or as prey to others. I was raised in a white, upper-middle-class community by a brilliant father and a mother committed to saintly service. The household had its issues, but they were issues that reflected the opportunity to negotiate choices, not the pressures of fear and want.

When my mother and I were discussing the psychological challenges facing her grandchildren, I observed:

We were a household of children raised by strong and caring parents. We spent our formative years struggling for influence over one another. It was only very recently that I realized how powerful my will had become, and so to appreciate how hard others had to work to maintain their autonomy.

The characteristic attitude of my childhood was an awed gratitude for the past. The most representative memory is standing with one foot on the sidewalk below the school, staring at the seam between the asphalt and concrete, and realizing that many people had invested their energies in manifesting this magical conduit that guided cars, people and water, each in their proper places. But my gratitude also kept me in reading my history books long after my siblings had gone out to play.

We were a Catholic family until I graduated from elementary school. I attended St. John Fisher in first grade, the strongest memory of which is kneeling for communion near the angry cross, and wondering why people worshipped that kind of God. I was consoled by the Catholic Children’s Bible, which I read in second grade. I found the Old Testament to be suspiciously like the Celtic and Norse myths that my elder sister brought home from the library, but the New Testament was an attractive promise of healing for the world. My father, unfortunately, could not reconcile the science of the day with Christian theology, and his critical analysis of faith eventually tore the entire family away from the Church – with the notable exception of my younger sister.

Faith was replaced by secular ethics. The foundation was gained in Church: our parish was a liberal Vatican Two congregation with an active lay membership. My parents were active in Democratic politics and the Civil Rights movement. Cub Scouts also provided a grounding in service to others, with weekly paper and bottle drives organized in collaboration with the Boy Scouts.

Unfortunately, it was clear that my peers were intimidated by me. I was aware that my intelligence separated me from others, and it was a tool that I applied forcefully to understanding of the world. Paradoxically, it was also the engine, powered by my father’s skepticism, that kept me from recognizing the silent voices calling out to me in my childhood. The closest encounter was on my first Jamboree. The other boys went off to make friends, but I found myself wandering on the paths above the campground, drenched in the peacefulness of the trees and brush, until a scout in my patrol ran up to warn that I needed to follow the buddy system, and dragged me back to camp.

With mature perceptions, today I recognize how my elders used my calming dispassion. For myself, I was far too busy trying to figure out how the world worked to think much about the impact I had on my peers. I studied physics in college because it was the most fundamental of the sciences, but in the rich social and political environment of UC Berkeley, I could not avoid the understanding that morality and politics determined the ends to which power was turned. I absorbed the popular ethics of the day, reading F. Scott Peck and Rollo May, supplemented by Foreign Affairs and the Christian Science Monitor.

There were a few signs of the impact my devotion had on those that managed to get close to me. After discussion section one afternoon, I followed the professor and my friend Peter up the hill toward the Campanile, thinking about how wonderful it was to have people like them in my life. They had moved ahead twenty feet, talking seriously. I was moved by a great joy. They stopped, looked at each other, and turned bemused smiles to me.

Lost Girls

My friend over at Insanity Bytes has taken on caring for the Lost Boys – the angry and abusive cohorts that populate the gaming sites. Recent studies suggest that these are vulnerable men. They identify with the leaders of their communities and so take pride in their success, but are those most likely to be displaced by new competitors. They combat that vulnerability with abuse that drives away those that don’t match their social profile.

This generation of boys has much stacked against it. Automation is chewing up many of the entry-level jobs. And as resources have been drained from our educational system, tolerance for “out-of-the-box” thinking has decreased. Girls mature socially faster than boys, and (at least until puberty) tend to sustain harmony. Girls also mature faster linguistically, and so benefit from renewed emphasis on written communication. Boys in my sons’ generation are seen by the educational system as defective girls.

But that doesn’t mean that girls aren’t challenged by technology. One aspect of the problem manifested for me through an introduction to the “surnamepending” forum here on WordPress.

Women generate and thrive in social structure, and that structure is being obliterated by the proliferation of new choices. Predatory men wander the globe, whether the Slavik slavers that hunt the Russian hinterland or the foreign sex tourists that invade Thailand. Young girls raised with the expectation that survival depends upon bonding to a man don’t realize that pattern was sustained by regulation of a stable community. The predators exploit this disconnect, offering promises of devotion while flaunting their wealth. Vulnerable girls are swept up by passion, and drawn away into evil that consumes them.

I didn’t understand the psychological drive that motivates women until I read “Raising Ophelia.” The author, a therapist and counsellor, observed that little girls are perfectly rational creatures, as are crones (women after menopause). In between, women are driven by the need to become a “we.” Biologically, this originated as a tolerance for the nine-month parasitic invasion known as pregnancy. When allowed to enjoy it, the spiritual bond established in the womb is indeed beautiful and uplifting. The procreative impulse is buttressed by the benefits of social networks that help weak women weather a crisis – whether the loss of a breadwinner or illness in the home.

Back in the ‘80s, the Wilson Quarterly published a report that indicated that the American epidemic of anxiety coincided with the rise of suburbia, and the isolation of women behind fences. If the devil makes work for idle male hands, he preys more insidiously upon the isolated female mind.

It is often through religion that women reconstruct their social network. I have observed previously that many of the spiritual communities I navigate are in fact dominated by women – even when a man stands in the pulpit on Sunday. But those communities famously lack the intimacy of the 19th-century village or borough, often drawing people together only on weekends. The mega-church attracts young women because it offers a smorgasbord of suitors, but actually getting to know someone well requires observing them in relationship with others in an informal setting. Modern “worship-as-entertainment”, with everyone rooted to their seats, is much too structured for natural interaction.

So where are the answers? I have asserted that most modern religion – Christianity not excepted, although one can point to recidivism – originates in practices that help us liberate our spirituality from emotion into reason. Understanding is essential to our psychological survival. As I finally encapsulated it:

The heart guides the head, and the head protects the heart.

The wisdom that I have to offer young women begins with that received from F. Scott Peck in The Road Less Travelled: recognize that “love” is different from “cathecting,” the latter being the uncontrolled merging of personalities that we know as “falling in love.” The confusion arises because we feel really wonderful while cathecting, particularly in the intimacy of sex. Trying to achieve that state is naturally part of loving ourselves. However, it’s not necessarily loving the other person.

So when a man finishes masturbating in you, there’s a reason that you feel empty afterwards. And when he leaves you with a “broken heart”, it’s because you’ve let him make off with a big chunk of your soul. Then when you recover through a relationship with somebody that actually loves you, the bastard shows up again to suck more energy out of you. Yes it feels good in the short term, because there’s always a rush when two spirits choose to make way for each other, and certainly it’s nice to be reunited with all those missing pieces of yourself, but the purpose on his side is to rip your soul apart (literally) so that he can feed his ego.

Given that warning, my sense of what finding yourself in love should be like was encapsulated (along with a lot of other wisdom about science and Christianity and raising my sons) in a poem called “Yearnings.” It began:

The Earth, at night, dances with the moon
Cadence and rhythm, their persons speaking
Of love, with power, purpose and strength,
Fluttering towards kindred recognitions.

The interpretation as a father to a daughter was:

When you find yourself moving in the same circles,
Creating success for yourself and others,
Then you will know that you have found your man.

Until then, as Sarah McClachlan put it “Hold on to Your Self.” And if it’s too late, open your suffering heart and proclaim, “That’s my energy, meant for my future, and I’m taking it back.”