The Power to Say “No”

Disclaimer: Entire books have been written on this topic, so my handling of it may seem shallow to some. Sorry, but I don’t feel I’m supposed to write such a project, but I do think it’s worth discussing here.

The most important aspect of human life is consciousness and, especially, the mind. The human mind is the command and control mechanism for all of the systems, processes, and behaviors that make us human. Science doesn’t go here, because it requires grappling with human nature and things that cannot be measured in the scientific way. All we have is anecdotal evidence, and no scientist worth her credentials would be so foolish as to give their stamp of approval to such. Even the science of the mind — also known as psychology or psychiatry — admits as much, and this is across the widest possible slice of the à la carte menu of mental health treatments.

I recall when Sandra Seich and I put together our company ANSIR (A New Style In Relating), we spoke to a great many psychologists, both clinical and counseling practitioners about our instrument. This spectrum is fascinating, for one relies entirely on science and scientific theories, whereas the other offers a more holistic approach. What we discovered was the counseling psychologists are patient-focused and, therefore, open to all kinds of ideas and options. Clinical psychologists, however, are driven almost entirely by scientific methodology. As several people told us in analyzing our personality test, the more scientific the test, the less useful it becomes in counseling actual people. This is because science demands broad, provable categories to study, while counseling psychologists tend to see each individual patient as unique within the symptoms presented. You can judge for yourselves which is for you.

The point is we don’t “know” much about the human mind, even though countless investigators have tried. For this, we must turn to other practices including religion, pseudoscience, countless non-religious yet spiritual institutions, such as New Age thinkers, and even the anecdotal experiences of professionals within the field. This of course fits nicely within the realm of quackery and deviance, which is another reason science wants nothing to do with it.

Even what can be considered breakthrough schools of thinking receive skeptical responses from those colleagues who stick to their scientific guns in defending against the relentless growth of mental health issues within our culture. While mental health is tricky to navigate — and for whatever the cause — those poor suffering souls I’ve known in my life (self included) all seem to have lost the ability to say “no”. The real mystery is why and, perhaps more importantly, what to do about it.

Knowing that it’s not good for us, why do we sneak that piece of cake just before bedtime? Why do we “just have to” gaze at the beauty of comeliness and covet possession of the same? After awhile on the river of alcohol consumption, why is it that the first thing we think of upon awakening from a spree with a hangover is doing it again? Why do we allow friends to convince us to do things we know we ought not to do? And, why do we get so defensive when observers of our behavior try to help us, and why do we agree with those who say that regardless of the cause (if there is one), modifying behavior is the only process that can help.

We do so, because the alternatives are considered beneath our dignity. Perhaps our problems are not the problem but rather our inability to reject a course of behavior that will eventually lead us to ruin. The Apostle Paul wrote that he was perplexed by his own behavior, in that he would do the things he knew he should not do, and that he would not do the things he knew he should do. “O wretched man that I am,” he wrote. “Who can deliver me from this bond of death?”

Trauma only makes matters worse, for our reactions to trauma seem to set us up for future mental health difficulties, such as anxiety and depression. Why does this effect some and not others, or does trauma have a way of forcing an escape from reality? Is it not all wound around an inability to say no, whether it’s forced or assumed? And, is the cause at all related to the cure? Do we simply just need to say no?

Bob Newhart’s wonderful skit about a psychologist who’s only treatment is the use of the words “stop it” is a marvelous illustration of the foolishness of such thinking. That’s because we think of these problems in terms of ownership, and it defies logic to give up what we have. “My” illness. “My” condition. “My aches and pains. “My” anxiety. “My” relatives. “My” ex. “My” helplessness. “My” upbringing. “My” uniqueness. “My” cancer. “My” fibromyalgia. My” suffering. “My” affliction. “My” thorn in the flesh. “My” depression. And so forth.

No, no, no, no, a thousand times no!

Look, afflictions are real. Diseases are real. We’re not talking about the things of the flesh. However, when we take ownership of such, we’ve entered dangerous territory, for such things do not actually define us. If that were the case, we should all hide our heads in hopelessness. The truth is that these things stand in the way of self-discovery, and that is a spectacular piece of self-deception, one that’s based in our senses under the sun. Healing, therefore, is found — is often found — in the here and in the now, for that is the time and place of life, and life rejects all forms of artificial death, e.g. “poor me”. Like many other things in life, it isn’t the affliction that causes our suffering, per se, but rather our reaction to it.

It’s time to talk about the Biblical devil, for evil is always the outcome of self-deception, whether big or small. If the devil is the “father of all lies,” then his realm must be the human ego, for that is the person within us that often makes the decisions for us — for our protection, of course — especially in times of stress. For purposes of this discussion, let’s define evil as that which draws us from the here and now with its incumbent rejection of any life that exists beyond the sun. This results in all forms of inhuman behavior, including those events that seem to lead our news reports hour-by-hour. Man’s inhumanity towards man ought not to dominate our minds as it relates to life, for this is a profound limitation to our lives under the sun. There’s absolutely nothing “new” about it, for the matter of evil is part and parcel of our nature.

Are babies born innocent and later “learn” selfishness? That’s illogical and provably so, because crying when hungry is most certainly a form of self expression. To argue that a baby learns this through trial and error is to deny the first screams and tears. Yes, she learns that it works, but where does that initial behavior originate? The senses demand to be heard, but at the same time, they send false signals of satisfaction that are never enough. Satisfaction may last for a season, but eventually, it requires more and more and more. As Olivia Newton John asked a musical question, “It’s never enough, never never enough. Why is all that we have simply never enough?”

Absent our ability to actually study the matter, for a very large group of people, the devil is an answer that’s sufficient. Creative attempts to offer a different perspective have come from enormously talented and curious people, especially those who’ve taken the time for individual study of what is commonly known as the human ego. If you are human, you have an ego. He exists to provide answers where none seem possible, and it’s to him that we often turn in times of distress. Thoughtful, intriguing, and soaring books have been written about such things as “ego states,” trauma bonding, and other manifestations of ego study. They deserve our attention, because they come from minds with a lifetime of deep diving when it comes to understanding the human mind. Adam and Eve had egos. It was Eve’s ego that led her to the Tree of Life (“You don’t really think that God would kill you for eating it, do you? I mean, it’s not poison.”). Jesus faced and defeated his own ego in the wilderness. His stomach was growling during the 40-day fast, so the voice of his ego rose to tempt him to turn rocks into bread. It wasn’t a guy in a red suit with horns and a pitchfork. That is the stuff of myths. Hell, we don’t need a devil when we have such an intimate enemy as our own ego.

One of the things that was so different about Jesus is that he recognized the voice of his ego and said a resounding “no”! So, it seems to me that we can do the same. Otherwise, we are most to be pitied, especially for Christians who say they “follow the ways of the Lord.” The first deception of the ego is that he doesn’t exist, and that gives a great multitude an excuse to give up without even trying. After all, their discomfort is greater than any earthly solution, and therefore, we should all just suffer while bearing our own personal thorns in the flesh. Nonsense. Either that, or Jesus was not “the firstborn among many,” and the gate he claimed to represent leads to nowhere.

I fully appreciate the potential for mischief that’s presented with this missive, for we still see through a glass darkly. However, in order to talk back to our egos, we must first learn to recognize its voice, even during times of panic. “You’re going to be abandoned” was a constant, almost unspoken message that I heard throughout my life. Think about that for a minute. It was a marvelous deception foisted on me as the result of an episode of what seemed to me an abandonment in my youth. A mind incapable of separating such a voice from the situation that brought it about is impossible for a 5‑year old, and so it became an essential part of my thinking about myself. I fought it, and I fought it, always to lose and try again.

I learned through AA that what I thought made me unique was all bullshit and that I needed a miracle to overcome it. I got my miracle, and the most obvious evidence is in my sleep. When we give up fighting the deceptions that dominate us, it is an enormous weight lifted from the shoulders of our souls, and the problem of sleeplessness disappears. The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous contains the stories of many people who had found recovery from the addiction that drove their lives for sometimes a very long period of time. These stories are filled with addicts trying to explain their drinking to themselves and others. Example episodes of their perplexity often begin with “I had this thought” or “it came to me that I should.” These triggers were, in fact, the voices of their own egos attempting to rationalize or make an argument for drinking.

So, we know it’s important, but how exactly do we learn to recognize the voice of our ego? It’s actually very simple. Deliberately place a temptation in front of yourself. Don’t do anything but listen. Trust me; it’ll be there, perhaps even in thoughts that are profoundly familiar. Listen anyway. We KNOW what the outcome will likely be, so it’s very important that we hear those thoughts as they pass across the horizon of our minds like so many wild horses.

Redemption is what gives us the power to say no to that which is pretending to be us. You might be amazed at how effective a simple “shut up” can be in a conversation with what you think is yourself. As we say in AA, “My mind is a dangerous place, because I’m not alone in there.”

How true, my friends. How very, very true.

A New World Order is at Hand

“Some men see things as they are, and ask why. I dream of things that never were, and ask why not.” Robert Kennedy

DISCLAIMER:
Normally, I have difficulty with those writers who feel it necessary to sell readers on their qualifications before presenting their argument. The strength of that argument ought to be able to stand on its own, but this pandemic is changing all the rules and will continue to do so. Therefore, I feel it’s necessary to provide a little personal background before proceeding. Hence, this disclaimer.

On Wednesday, February 20, 2020, the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed at 29,348.03. Earlier that morning, I posted this on Twitter:

I’m no prophet, but I have a pretty good track record of listening and then reporting. I could literally feel the breaking and crumbling, along with all the pain associated with it. I’m like many other sensitive souls who value their connection to the cosmos above the rewards of this life. We are scattered throughout the arts community, where the concept of muses is taken pretty seriously.

Bill Monroe, the father of bluegrass music and a prolific song writer, once told me, “I never wrote anything. I just heard them first.” This statement of humility says much about the creative process and Mr. Monroe’s steadfast commitment to it. By his own admission, Bill Monroe was a better listener than a writer.

I was a good assignment editor in my TV news career, because I could manage to get myself ahead of my competitors simply by paying attention. In my career as a consultant, I helped — along with many others — in understanding and defining disruptions and innovations associated with the internet and the news community.

My work on defining the pieces of a cultural swing that I call “postmodernism” is used to teach others around the world. My essays can be found in university syllabi in many places, which is a pretty high honor for a guy who never went to college. I taught media ethics for the postmodern era for several semesters as an adjunct professor at the University of North Texas.

Despite all that, I still tremble when I put my ear to the wind, because most people judge this as foolishness, and I know that repeating it is an invitation to rejection, which is something I really don’t handle very well. Nevertheless, in uncertain times, I’m comforted, because I believe that there’s a bigger picture regarding life than most people can see. Caveat emptor, however, as you read on.

WHAT’S AHEAD
So, with that lengthy disclaimer, let’s put our long-term glasses on and try to reasonably discuss life after the quarantine, when the threat is over and leaders get back to work. Nobody really knows what’s ahead, but that should never stop us from thinking about it anyway. As with every crisis of human life, there will be opportunity and there will be loss. As a result, it’ll doubtless be a season of innovation as we search for a new normal. This is a good thing, because the West prior to the virus wasn’t exactly headed down a sustainable path.

The normal will be new, because this event can’t help but reveal inefficiencies, sloppy thinking, and errors within the old culture, and we will move to correct each one of them. For example, Macy’s announced that it was closing all of its stores for the duration of our crisis. Does anybody really think all of those stores will reopen after this? Not a chance. Macy’s wasn’t in the greatest shape before, so we shouldn’t expect them to suddenly find piles of extra cash to throw at an archaic business model. Reinvention will be the biggest challenge ahead for the business community.

We are all together in this vast lifeboat, and this is what may produce the biggest changes, a more utopian and less dystopian global culture. We know for a fact now that the 1% care only about themselves. We’ve also learned to recognize the voice of propaganda and that there’s no such thing as a stupid question anymore. We know for a fact that we are the only ones who truly care about ourselves, and we must not underestimate the power of this enormous shared survival experience and our frightful journey in our lonely lifeboats.

There will be an immediate rush to restore the status quo, but this will run into a wall of those who survived in spite of the rug being pulled out from under them earlier. Do we really think people will welcome back the same set of fundamentals that put us in this situation in the first place? They, the thinking will go, drove us into this, and we’ll not be so foolish again. Mark these words, for there’s no way we’ll ever again be satisfied with that particular status quo. We’re going to demand something different. Already, thinkers such as Henry Kissinger, who helped create our world order, is urging nations to protect that order above all (The Coronavirus Pandemic Will Forever Alter the World Order). It’s a fool’s errand.

Stores like Macy’s, for example, are going to lose their best people during or after this layoff. You think those folks will happily return? That $1,200 is going to seem like a very small “bonus” for having their lives completely turned upside down. We’ve never had so many people out of work, and at a time when American businesses have been artificially propped up by corporate welfare from this White House.

Moreover, the cultural shifts we’ll face have already been underway for a great many years, and we’re ripe for something different. Will it be opportunity for you or loss?

Which religions will fade and which will be exalted? Many think the 21st Century will be the epoch of Islam, because other governing concepts have all failed. Democracy doesn’t work absent internal governors, because otherwise corruption is inevitable. Our culture is based on oaths and promises, which mean very little anymore, and this needs to change. Religion offers such guidance, but which religion? Everything is on the chopping block.

Then there’s the great divide, an awful season of extreme fringes and their takeover of our political system. The truth is that most of us aren’t fringe, and we’re really sick of being forced into either extreme political box. I’ve bent over backwards to inform everybody that tolerance assumes the power to not tolerate. Otherwise, it’s not tolerance; it’s a bayonet at our backs. No American truly pissed about what’s happened to us — since Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell assumed control of the Republican Party — will ever wish to go back. The Democrats have been delivering their “progressive” agenda for many years. Neither speaks for the huge middle that represents the vast majority of us, and until this is articulated and shared, uncertainty will remain.

Our attitudes about ourselves and each other will be the most underreported aspect of what lies ahead, for this isn’t the stuff of mainstream thinking. We will have survived a shared disaster! Think about that for a minute. While no one can say for sure what this means today, it certainly suggests a culture more interested in unity than before.

It may sound foolish, but the great middle needs to unite as a lobbying organization with the power to swing elections. Our choices would force people back to our turf, where we have the muscle to force political unity. Elected officials will have no choice but to respond. Our platform would begin with our willingness to vote for whomever we think we need at the time, regardless of ideological affiliation. We’ve no use for the political system that has a bayonet at our backs forcing us into choosing extremes. Black and white are forced upon us without the opportunity to investigate shades of grey.

Despite the cynicism that I realize is present here, my glass is always half-full in looking downstream. We see through a glass darkly anyway — especially when that glass is pointed downstream — but fear is a rotting and corrupting influence that extremists find easy to manipulate for their extreme purposes. Those who use fear for political gain will be seen as transparently self-centered. I mean, what are “they” going to do to us? Take away our jobs? Put us in quarantine?

Christianity will win the battle with self-centeredness in its midst, and the heresy of prosperity will be formally dismissed as such. The money changers will, once again, be thrown out of the temple. Those who prosper have their reward, and the expectation that their narrative is the ultimate winner will be unceremoniously tossed into the dust pile of history.

It’s even possible that eyes closed shut for years will be opened. Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment, for example, was based on his favorable views of business and not because he’s pro-life. The right response to this is going to have to come from the church, even those caught up in the evil we’ve experienced these last four years. Good people — yes, good — have given themselves over to reprobates whose life goals involve profit, not the unborn. The church must fix this, for we/they are being deceived.

There will remain for many years a strong skepticism about what got us into this, which will lead to a strong call for reinventing a great many things. We may see the most significant shift in our trust, and the technology exists today to create a new political narrative that includes everyday people not driven by ideology. Gone is any idea that any individual group will act in the best interests of others. We now know for certain after four years of Trump that business cares first and foremost about profit, even greed. There can be no argument here, not anymore.

The emphasis continues to shift from the seller to the buyer, because the ability to fool people with illegitimate claims has been seriously weakened. Pay attention to the work of Doc Searls. He’s leading the thinking about buyer-generated commerce, which is quite the opposite of the relentless bombardment of marketing that the status quo has perfected in the modern era.

We will increasingly move in the direction of a more hip population, as the Evolving User Paradigm (the longer users use the Web, the greater the acceleration of the disruptions they create) continues its advance. The gap between intelligence and foolishness will be increasingly noticeable, and ventures targeting early bullshit detection will create a new community of those who want distance between themselves and status quo marketing. If I had any money, this is where I’d put it.

Emphasis on money will be impacted as other forms of currency begin to take shape. Barter is a currency. Love is a currency. Ego is a currency. Respect is a currency. Choices are a currency. Influence is a currency. We use these often, but they will eventually become creatively commodified. It will be very difficult to horde these forms of currency.

Leaders are wanted and needed. Managers, not so much.

Thumbs up for Reddit and other discussion formats.

Every home will be connected — and armed.

Pay attention to the arts and artists who flourish, because their efforts will resonate the new.

It’s going to be harder and harder to make war based primarily on business interests.

When J.D. Lasica coined the phrase “Personal Media Revolution” over 20 years ago, none of us could’ve even imagined how profound this “revolution” would be. We are now our own media companies. We make movies. We make TV. We make radio. Links are still the currency of the Web, and smart people like Dave Winer keep exposing us to new methods of linking that aren’t controlled by a single platform. We may have bumps and bruises along the way, but the internal drive to connect that’s within each of us — even introverts — has unlimited capability to drive us together despite — and maybe because of — the inevitable greed that arises from the likes of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and other platforms.

If information is power, the Evolving User Paradigm will keep empowering the masses, and that won’t work well with the modernist idea of top-down command and control. And the modernist managers will be way too busy expressing fear of chaos as the status quo crumbles to actually notice what’s taking place around them.

Media companies will continue to collapse due to debt and ever-shrinking audiences. One can hope that these people will discover how they gave up way too early on the web, because its entire marketing position (top-down) couldn’t stand up to the precision offered by the geeks online. The only logical reason that, for example, the New York Times couldn’t have become Google in the online advertising game is their insistence that they were in the content business. They aren’t and never were. Their business is making money by placing ads adjacent to content. Targeting individual browsers? That came from minds that didn’t give a crap about content. Whose fault is that? Consider the overwhelming popularity of ad blockers, and you can more easily understand where their bread is buttered. There’s nothing quite like following a link only to be told you must disable your ad blocker or whitelist the site before being shown what’s at the end of the link. This is a form of unintended suicide.

New growth centers for people will be built around residents caring for each other. The new currency of choices will be based on human development, not jobs, because people can work online and live wherever. Migration patterns will be interesting to study in the years ahead.

Sociologists will examine the issue of white flight through the lens of business profit, just as was the advancement of women a century ago. White flight is a problem that’s far bigger than anyone chooses to state. White Evangelical Christians have fled along with those who wanted to distance themselves from potential conflicts, mostly racial. This is selfishness gone-to-seed in the name of personal protection. It’s one thing to wish to protect my family, but when that’s turned into any form of group think, it ceases to be a personal choice, because it is such an easy way of life to manipulate from the outside.

Political correctness will be seen rightly as a luxury that we cannot afford. No longer will we tolerate special interests who use modernist tools to convince us of their rights at the expense of our own. Blanket acceptance or toleration of others isn’t an absolute moral perspective that is above all investigation. Again, toleration is based on the assumption that we can just as easily choose not to tolerate. Not all lifestyles, whether chosen or natural, can be considered equal. It just doesn’t work that way, because we need the freedom to draw lines for ourselves. And tolerance doesn’t have to include completely embracing every lifestyle.

Mental health is going to be a thriving medical concern, due in large part to the guilt and shame that we’ll all feel at some point during our isolation. It’s not good for man to be alone, and this Biblical reference doesn’t refer to gender.

Corporate greed has been internally voted down for most of us. It’s so transparent these days that it’s going to be increasingly difficult to pull it off without repercussions. Corporations will closely examine remote work to administer cost savings. We may even see an end to hourly pay, for it’s a holdover from the Industrial Age and doesn’t make sense anymore. It’s likely that everybody will be put on a predictable salary with perks assigned to make it life easier for employees, such as daycare, healthcare, food and supplies, tax deductions, and even shelter.

New special interests will develop and grow, based on our different views of what’s important. These will likely begin as social movements before becoming institutionalized.

Finally, I want to make it very clear that whatever happens, Life will be on our side. In order to function as such, however, we’re going to have to cut away any supposition that this is evil work foisted upon us by the devil. The coronavirus is God’s virus, because theology teaches us that the fallen angel has no power other than what God allows. Is this an act of God in trying to defend our planet? It’s a pressing matter that we must ALL examine with our own hearts, because outside sources are caught in a zero-sum game about planetary resources.

Repentance is the act we all must be willing to make. Sticking with it will be our universal challenge.

1920 — When the Rules All Changed

Image result for woodrow wilson

When I first discovered historian Christopher Lasch many years ago, I was stunned by his brilliant reading of the role of Woodrow Wilson in all the nonsense we deal with today in the worlds of politics and the press. Wilson ran for re-election in 1916 on a platform of “He’ll keep us out of the war.”

World War One was America’s chance to become a world (business) power, however, and Wilson knew this, so the trick became how to run opposing the war while at the same time preparing to enter the conflict. Wilson formed a group of advisors and thinkers — including influential newspaper publishers. This organization — The Committee for Public Information, also known as The Creel Committee was named after its leader, George Creel. The characters making up this committee was a who’s who of a new type of thinking, one that would change the rules for everybody 100 years later.

I’ve written much about these remarkable people whose good intentions have had a lot to do with today’s untenable government-press relations. Edward Bernays, the father of public relations, was a member of the committee as was Walter Lippman, the father of professional journalism. Volumes could be written about these two characters alone, but everybody on that committee shares the responsibility for what we have today. Bernays, a cousin of Sigmund Freud, used lessons from his Uncle to shape new ideas for marketing. Here’s just one of his famous quotes:

“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. …We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must coöperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society. …In almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons…who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind.”

From “Propaganda” by Edward Bernays

If that sounds familiar, it should, but we must understand that this thinking is only 100 years old. Here are four Google N’Gram graphs about the use of certain thoughts in the books of our world. Note that these all show rising use in the wake of 1920:

Here’s the use of the word Propaganda in publications.

Here’s the phrase “Public Relations”.

Here’s one that works in concert with the above. Objectivity. It’s necessary for public relations to insert itself into journalism.

And finally, here’s what “Professional Journalism” looks like:

The other side of this whole “Right Wing News” fallacy is going to require something completely different, because in 100 years, we’ve gone from a government of the people to one of propaganda and self-interest of the few.

Somehow, we’ve got to find a way to put all this into the dust pile of the past. Maybe we should begin with technology that labels news as propaganda (regardless of the source) when such passes through our filters.

One thing is super clear, however, and that’s that this doesn’t work, not at all, for the country that our founders created.

The New Split in Christianity

Image result for northern ireland conflict
Northern Ireland 1970

Christianity has had its share of historical ugliness when it comes to defining and defending the faith. From Catholic priests offering indulgences for those who could afford them to the violence and death between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland and elsewhere, including the U.S., Protestantism arose as the Bible became more broadly available through the printing press, so that those outside the grasp of Rome could discover for themselves God’s instructions to humanity.

The ruling class slowly evolved to support protestantism, in part, because good works and deeds within its evangelical mandate took a back seat to one’s faith, which is an open door for mischief through claims of righteousness. Those brave souls who moved across the sea to tame the wilderness known today as America carried the evangelical message with them, a license to destroy the beliefs and lifestyles of the native population in the name of saving them. It was no accident that they also brought with them the business acumen of those from their fatherlands.

And so, the gap between the two forms of Christianity widened, one emphasizing the holiness of this life on earth, the other offering a prize in the afterlife. The Apostle James wrote that faith without works is dead, but Luther called the book of James “the epistle of straw”, thus enabling societal growth as the real higher power in the works of man.

Today, there’s a new and growing split between forms of the protestant faith, one that is seen and discussed in only a very few places. The political power and wealth of the white evangelicals has replaced the hand-to-hand combat that is the war on poverty as the primary mission of the church.

To be sure, the evangelicals have their answer to poverty, which is to emulate its leaders, because “God is no respecter of persons” and what they’ve been given is available to everyone. It’s warmly presented as “Give a man a fish, and you’ve fed him for a day; teach a man to fish, and you’ve fed him for a lifetime.” This, of course, presupposes an equal playing field for all and the natural resources for everybody to be rich. This is quite impossible, even though “God owns the cattle on a thousand hills.”

A supporter gestures at the press as Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump addresses supporters during a campaign rally in Cincinnati

The Language of Zion forms an important narrative for these faithful people, for there is nothing so absolute as to end all discussion than a good Bible verse or summarizing metaphor in secret-handshake language that only its practitioners understand. These believers point to what they view as the sexual sins of the culture as the great enemy of theirs and especially their children. This is another assumed license they’ve been given to practice their brand of Christianity despite what the Bible actually says.

The best illustration of this is found in the 16th chapter of book of Ezekiel where God tells the prophet to tell Jerusalem how displeased He was with them. In the 15th verse, God tells Jerusalem, “But you trusted in your beauty and used your fame to become a prostitute.” To God, the comparison is valid, and if you’re looking for Bible verses about sexual misconduct, look no further than this chapter. For 48 verses the prophet rages on about the wickedness of their sin, and then he makes this remarkable observation:

Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen.

So, while Christians today rail on about homosexuality, bisexuality, transgenders, and other forms of what are called “queer,” God is concerned only with the love in their hearts for the poor and needy.

Another example of this is found in the book of the prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah was called to prophesy God’s unhappiness with King Shallum, the son of righteous King Josiah. Under Josiah, the land had prospered and all was well, but Shallum hadn’t walked in his father’s ways and had fully slipped into sin by reinserting pagan beliefs into the culture. In referring to Josiah, Jeremiah offers this word of God to Shallum that justifies removing him from the throne:

“Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place…

…“Woe to him (Shallum) who builds his palace by unrighteousness, his upper rooms by injustice, making his own people work for nothing, not paying them for their labor. He says, ‘I will build myself a great palace with spacious upper rooms.’ So he makes large windows in it, panels it with cedar and decorates it in red. ‘Does it make you a king to have more and more cedar? Did not your father have food and drink? He did what was right and just, so all went well with him. He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?’ declares the Lord. ‘But your eyes and your heart are set only on dishonest gain, on shedding innocent blood and on oppression and extortion.’”

Image result for poor and needy

God’s message to humanity is to care for the poor and needy, and not through the laziness assumed in teaching a man to fish, and this brings us back to the current split in Protestantism. It’s not going to end well for those who remove themselves from this core mandate of the faith, and that’s not me saying so; it’s directly from God’s word to humankind.

Gospel preachers who fly around in private jets to spread their form of prosperity are the modern-day Shallums and Sodoms, and it’s their followers who will suffer most in the final analysis. The splitting within Christianity today is along the grain and will not be joined back together with only glue, and God’s forgiveness is not absolute, despite the redemptive power of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

During his ministry, Jesus warned everywhere of the deceptions that plagued humanity. He asked the Pharisees to consider the words of the prophet Hosea to the unrighteous:

“…I have hewn them by the prophets; I have slain them by the words of My mouth, and My judgments go forth like lightning. For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.”

Let me close with a few rhetorical questions. How does your religion feel about the destruction of our planet in the name of profit for the rich? How does your faith reconcile borrowing two trillion dollars to give to the rich in the name of a tax cut, while demanding that everybody else pay for it? How does your faith explain its beliefs about protecting the unborn without pleading the cause of those already born? How does your religion rationalize spreading its legs for the wicked while denying the needs and desires of those immigrants seeking the very freedoms we enjoy?

These and other questions are what is tearing Christianity apart in this century. Behavior today is the only issue that matters, despite the promise of Heaven to those who beg forgiveness at the end of a life of greed and avarice. That is the great deception of today, and I fear for those brothers and sisters who will not be held blameless for their support of such ungodliness.

NOTE: All Bible verses from the New International Version (NIV)

The human ego = satan’s realm

There’s a disease epidemic sweeping America, one that the Centers for Disease Control doesn’t track, largely because no medicine exists to fight it. That’s because it’s a sickness of the soul, and the mere suggestion that we each have a soul is debated in the halls of science. Those of us who’ve received the blessings of recovery know this disease as “Terminal Uniqueness,” because it involves efforts of human beings to separate themselves from others, to stand out from the crowd, to be known, to wage whatever war seems necessary to secure our unique place within the culture.

It’s everywhere. Instagram, for example, is an excellent example of how far people will go to become influential, because that translates to advertiser dollars. Instagram influencing is a real way for certain people to craft out a living for themselves. Young people used to become suitors on The Bachelor to find love, but that has now become a vehicle for personal branding and adding millions of followers on Instagram. Social media is the place where personal brands are now birthed and grown.

You see Terminal Uniqueness in the trend towards hyphenated names, like those on the backs of football jerseys that force announcers to say both. I know a very successful businessman named Dave Smith, who gave his children unique first names, because “When I was in high school, the teachers didn’t even know I was there for the first six months”. The number of Dave Smiths in the U.S. is staggering, and my Dave — a marketing genius, by the way — found a way to help his children. One’s name, after all, is the foundation of one’s personal brand, and “the brand” is everything in marketing.

One brand that I used to follow was Edge Shaving Gel. Long ago, there was only one form of Edge. It came in a can with a green top. When the company began adding different formulas, the green can was called “Normal” Skin. Today, there’s no normal, because, after all, who wants to be considered normal? Edge Shaving Gel now offers six formulas (it used to be more): Sensitive Skin, Extra Moisturizing. Sensitive Pro Relief, Extra Protection, Soothing Aloe, and Ultra Sensitive.

There’s no such thing as normal skin anymore.

The problem with Terminal Uniqueness is that the concept of being unique is a very lonely calling, for the word itself means, essentially, one of a kind or alone in her field. It badly interferes with our ability to connect with other people, because it’s a false reality, one orchestrated by the often-self-protective shell offered by the human ego. Nobody understands this like Eckhart Tolle, author of A New Earth:

One way to think about ego is as a protective heavy shell, such as the kind some animals have, like a big beetle. This protective shell works like armor to cut you off from other people and the outside world. What I mean by shell is a sense of separation: Here’s me and there’s the rest of the universe and other people. The ego likes to emphasize the “otherness” of others.

…You don’t have thoughts; the thoughts have you—and if you want to be free, you have to understand that the voice in your head has created them and (the) irritation and upset you feel is the emotional response to that voice…The trick, of course, is to work to free ourselves from this armor and from this voice that is dictating reality.

I’ll take it one step further and say that the source of selfishness is our buddy, the ego, for only the authentic self is capable of righteous behavior. Stop here for a moment and read that again. So this business of ego is of vital importance to everybody, but it’s so misunderstood, superstitious, unmeasurable, and downright confusing that most simply gloss over the whole thing for sanity’s sake. Long after I’m gone, I hope that one day people will agree that what we’ve been doing is the real insanity in life.

At least some of my views come from 21 years of sobriety and the many lessons I’ve learned along the way. When writing the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous in the late 1930s, Bill W. identifies the ego as the source of our difficulties. From page 61:

Our actor is self-centered — ego-centric, as people like to call it nowadays. He is like the retired business man who lolls in the Florida sunshine in the winter complaining of the sad state of the nation; the minister who sighs over the sins of the twentieth century; politicians and reformers who are sure all would be Utopia if the rest of the world would only behave; the outlaw safe cracker who thinks society has wronged him; and the alcoholic who has lost all and is locked up. Whatever our protestations, are not most of us concerned with ourselves, our resentments, or our self-pity?

Selfishness-self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles. Driven by a hundred forms of fear, self-delusion, self-seeking, and self-pity, we step on the toes of our fellows and they retaliate. Sometimes they hurt us, seemingly without provocation, but we invariably find that at some time in the past we have made decisions based on self which later placed us in a position to be hurt.

So our troubles, we think, are basically of our own making. They arise out of ourselves, and the alcoholic is an extreme example of self-will run riot, though he usually doesn’t think so.

Let me repeat that selfishness would not exist absent the ego.

To be certain, I’m not referring to Freud’s differentiation of the three “sides” of the human psyche, the ego, the id, and the superego. I prefer, as do many, the more simple division of the personality into the ego and the self. Freud may have combined the ego and the id to represent what’s known today as the “self,” but I have doubts about the id and the ego working together for good. In fact, there are more definitions of the word “ego” than you can imagine, which is probably why I choose the most simple.

The ego and the self are in a constant struggle for supremacy in the being that is you. The ego rises in times of stress to provide a buffer against potential pain. In the process, however, the ego affirms one’s Terminal Uniqueness by keeping us occupied with the thoughts and circumstances that led to the ego formation in the first place. Let’s say that you were once a victim of a great trauma. The ego would’ve jumped up to handle the situation and provide your response, which is not always so healthy. Your ego can keep you in a state of dis-ease by the constant referral to the event as the source of distress. You grow up a victim, unable to detach yourself from the pain, because your ego keeps reminding you of your wounds. This then validates the belief that you have no choice but to play the victim forever. Most people consider the uniqueness assigned by the ego to involve pride and envy, but shame is a much more powerful motivator. Once one accepts the thinking of the ego, it is VERY hard to break away.

If you believe in the concept of original sin, the psychological underpinnings must come from what we now know to be the ego. Old Testament laws were all built around containment of the ego, and it alone is why humanity needed the redemption of the Christ. Ego is the plaything of evil, and from it spring all sorts of great mischief, including addiction. The stories of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness are attributed to “the devil,” but Jesus was alone at the time, so it’s much more likely that ideas such as turning a rock into a loaf of bread to feed his starving body came from his own hungry ego.

The original sin depicted in the Bible was also likely the doings of Adam’s and Eve’s egos rather than that of a magical serpent who “made” her do it. Questioning God — or life — is a primary function of the ego, so the idea that they could eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge very likely came from within. It’s like, “Why would God stop me? I’m His creation, after all. He can’t be serious, so let’s find out”.

This, of course, sheds a contradictory light on our vast religious beliefs, because we’d rather believe our troubles stem from others (including the devil) than to accept that they all come from within ourselves. But what if the devil IS actually the realm of the ego? An innocent child victimized by sexual abuse, for example, has no blame whatsoever in what happened, but they are fully responsible for any reactions that continue on after the event has long passed. Ego rises to protect the soul, but that must be surrendered downstream, ‘lest the patient become the being they’ve created, whether for cause or otherwise.

Ego, you see, is a two-sided coin that when flipped more often ends up tails — a set of beliefs, assumptions, and behaviors that shout “I’m a worthless piece of crap.” When we hear the word “ego,” it’s usually presented as the opposite, one who believes the sun rises and sets on themselves alone. Both sides of the coin practice the core belief that we are each unique, which is to deny the reality that we’re all really just the same. As Doctor Gagrat taught me in 1979, “People are like snowflakes, Terry, all different but all still snowflakes. If I turn up the heat, all will melt, not just some. If I stick you with an ice pick, you will bleed. If I stick your psyche with a poking device, it, too, will bleed.” We are all human beings, although we’d rather be special, whether it’s better or worse than everybody else.

Humanity will never rise fully to its capabilities until we find a way to tame that beast, which is actually a vital part of what it means to be human. And, if Jesus was indeed “fully human,” then his mission was to show us not only that it could be tamed but to leave us instructions on how it could be done. “Love God, love your neighbor” is the antidote to the self-centeredness that is located with the ego.

I’m neither a psychologist, a psychiatrist, nor a theologian, so the views presented here will largely be discounted. I accept that. The box only supports those that are boxed, and outsiders need not apply, unless they agree to join their astute critics from within. This, in my view, is the great weakness of scientific inquiry, and it’s why I will forever be judged as deviant.

On Being Human

Courtesy, the brilliant Nick Galifanakis.

Long ago, I made peace with the idea that ALL humans really want and need the same thing: to do the best we can with what we know. It’s the same in the physical, in the psychological, and in the spiritual. There’s nothing whatsoever “wrong” with this; it’s a healthy part of human nature.

And, in terms of judging the behavior of others, this is a wise position to take, because it strikes at the heart of what motivates people. We want to help ourselves, our families, our communities, and beyond. That only some are able to do this well is the thing that’s really wrong with our world under the sun. Sadly, these few are the ones with the dragons capable of raining down terror on the rest of us. Dracarys!

Those who associate with a God of their understanding — as a part of their teaching, training, and faith — fully grasp the significance of helping the poor and the afflicted among us. Chaos ensues, however, when even a few of these get the idea that helping others means personal loss to themselves, or even more deceptively, that the poor are somehow “out to take what’s ours.” This stance puts us at odds with God, no matter which religion we pick. It ought to concern those who do so, but it doesn’t.

For, no matter how we play it, those who are stuck in the rut of competing for what they believe to be “theirs” are at odds with others who are more giving. As a friend recently said, “It’s not a piece of pie.” Helping others is a natural behavior for humans, one that runs into conflict only when we put our spiritual selves on hold while we pursue getting what we can to better our physical lives. This produces the takers in a world of givers, and they are an abomination before God.

Luke 6:24 “But woe to you, rich ones, for you have your comfort!”

It’s a lot easier on all of us to view the realities of life through the veil of wanting to do the best we can for ourselves and our families. This knowledge (or is it a belief?) has a way of injecting compassion into those who are aware. Everybody seems to agree with the principle but not with how to bring it about throughout the planet. Resources to accomplish the task appear to the uninitiated as a zero-sum game and one that requires that I take from somebody else in order to satisfy my own wants and needs. Once I’ve accumulated “mine,” I might be able to turn my attention to somebody else. Wash, rinse, repeat.

The fear that somebody else “might” take away my piece of pie is a powerful motivator to maintain the status quo, no matter who gets stomped on in the process. This, again, is human nature gone to seed, revealing the hidden motives of selfishness and self-centeredness. And, if this is to be our stance, we are sad and to be pitied.

Those who know God, however, understand that His approach is for us to give of ourselves first in order to be filled fully via the spirit with what’s best for us afterwards (See: The parable of the garden hose). This is foolishness to the world under the sun, but those of us who also fully inhabit the spiritual see the wisdom of such an approach. God is fully committed to the poor, and that includes Jesus. You can’t go very far in reading the Bible until you encounter this truth.

And, this is why the Republican approach to religion is so off-putting to me. To them, social justice is a major weakness in governance, and why Trump puppet master Steve Bannon said in 2017:

“The longer they talk about identity politics, I got ’em. I want them to talk about racism every day. If the left is focused on race and identity and we go with economic nationalism, we can crush the democrats.”

This is a crude albeit correct description of Republican Party Politics, because it seeks to benefit the status quo and by extension, the wealthy and the haves. The sole strategic thrust of the Democrats ought to be how their opponents only speak for the wealthy and the filthy rich, and the bones they toss to white evangelicals — like abortion and religious freedom — are only offered to ensure a larger support base. Republicans, quite honestly, could give a crap about fetuses being aborted. The litmus test for conservative judges is not abortion; it’s how business-friendly they are. The price conservatives demand is support for the wealthy, and since a lot of these preachers consider themselves in that category, the match is perfect. Moreover, the wealthy give money to big churches and ministries (it’s called a tax write-off).

And, no preacher worth his salt wants to turn that down, right?

This business of being human can give us all fits, not just the poor and the afflicted, so how are we supposed to judge others? the Bible says we should “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.”

They’ve taken the human idea of doing the best for ourselves, our families, and our communities and turned it into selfishness.

And, it’s not pretty.