Vestigial Arguments and Grace

I like the idea of vestigial arguments – arguments we make over and over that serve no functional purpose but yet remain, like that little bump at the base of our spine where a long time ago in a very different sort of world we had a tail.

Those arguments are non-functional but they do remind us of . . . what?

Something that was functional a long time ago, which we don’t need any longer, and really ought to just let go of.

A lot of what we argue about in the ACIM community is silly. It truly doesn’t actually matter. It’s a distraction from far more interesting dialogues and encounters. And yet on and on we go. Is Gary Renard a fraud? Which edition of the course should I read? On a scale of one to ten, how arrogant is Ken Wapnick? Did the historical Jesus really dictate the course?

Obviously I’ve contributed to this over the years. Perhaps there’s no way around that, I don’t know. My wordiness has begotten a lot of unruly bastards. I reached a juncture in 2015 or so where I stopped writing publicly about the course, deleted a lot of crappy argumentative posts (though clearly not all crappy argumentative posts), and generally reorganized my thinking when it came to course-related discussions.

What the net effect of all that has been, I can’t say. I sort of miss the attention you get when you dive into the middle of a big debate and act like it’s a divinely-mandated zero-sum competition to be the new Pirate King slash Favored Son of the One True God.

But also, being the Pirate King is stressful, not in the least because there’s always somebody else laying claim to your throne. There’s always another hill on which some contrarian is erecting yet another crucifix, so . . .

I’m happy, as happy goes in my experience.

The thing is, the inclination to be right or wrong inheres in the structure of the human being. Whatever ontological claims we make, we make from within the framework of a human being, and in the cognitive aspects of that framework, there is a decided preference for “right” and a matching decided aversion to “wrong.”

If we want to experience peace and joy, then we have to see how this preference/aversion feature functions in our structural being, and we have to figure out what it does that is helpful and what it does that is not.

For example, it’s helpful for knowing that cardiovascular exercise helps a body function better and thus can assert that “it’s right to exercise.” It’s helpful for knowing that sometimes it’s better to listen to your child than to lecture them and thus can assert that “it’s right to hold dialogic space for your son/daughter.”

It’s not helpful at all for knowing whether so-and-so should be studying A Course in Miracles or going back to a traditional Christian church and then telling them to do that thing.

That is, if you assert to me that I should have some kind of cardiovascular exercise routine in place to which I am generally faithful, then okay. The consensus on that is pretty clear. I can do it or not, but I’m not going to argue it’s ineffective or fallacious.

Similarly, if you assert that sometimes I need to listen to my kids when they talk about their experience of social pressure, rather than just lecture them about do this and don’t do that, then sure. I think the consensus is pretty clear there as well.

But if you say, “Sean, you need to go back to the Catholic church and repent on your knees before the crucified Jesus of history and beg him to let you back into the fold of the saved . . . ”

Well, that’s different.

That’s like saying I have to listen to Bach instead of Bob Dylan, but on pain of death. I mean sure. Have an opinion and feel free to share it, but . . . if your internal expectation is that I have to follow your opinion, then you should readjust your expectations. It’s not on me to conform to your preferences or make you feel better about living them publicly.

But still. What is the actual difference between advocating for cardiovascular exercise and worshiping Jesus Christ in this or that formal way?

My answer is: they show up differently in your living. They actually show up in your living with different burdens of proof, different kinds of supporting evidence, different rhetorical strategies and different emotional/psychological tenors.

Cardiovascular exercise enjoys cross-cultural application. It’s good if you’re Japanese and good if you’re Balinese. It’s good if you’re male or female, have a high IQ or a low IQ. It was good a thousand years ago and it’ll be good a thousand hence.

That’s not true of Christianity. Lots of people do just fine without it. Always have and always will.

Cardiovascular exercise enjoys the broad support of experts. There aren’t a lot of health experts out there saying “stay on the couch – don’t go for a vigorous walk – take the elevator rather than the stairs.”

That’s not true of Christianity. Lots of religious experts advocate other spiritual traditions and practices, and sometimes no tradition or practice at all.

And so on. You get the drift.

I am not suggesting that you are under some moral or other obligation to go for a long walk every day. I’m merely observing that doing so in the interest of your long-term physical health is largely incontrovertible.

And I am suggesting that adopting a practice of Christianity, while it may be helpful, is not sure to be helpful. Maybe you should be a Buddhist. Or drink some Ayuhasca.

I am orders of magnitude more confident about cardiovascular exercise than about Christian spiritual practices and yet . . . I want to be equally right about both. I know they’re different but . . . I want to be equally right about both. What gives?

If we go into this, it can become disconcerting. What’s going on when we really really really want to be right about Jesus? When we really want others to get and share the Christian way that seems to work for us?

Because the thing is, Jesus doesn’t actually work like that – a one-size-fits-all or my-way-or-the-highway kind of way. If we don’t see this, and adjust our expectations and living accordingly, then we are apt to miss a lot of whatever value is available in following Jesus down some Christian path.

Jesus is not like cardiovascular exercise. Jesus is more like the option of walking if you’re going to bother with cardiovascular exercise at all. He’s the method, not the reason the method is necessary. With cardiovascular exercise you can walk or run or whatever. There are all these options and they all work more or less the same; it’s a question of fit. Consult your doctor, your preferences, your goals and . . . get on with it.

Same with religion and/or spirituality.

But.

Cardiovascular exercise solves the problem of fitness. Generally, our bodies age slower and function better when they get a degree of cardiovascular exercise. This is why there’s broad consensus; this is why it’s becoming common sense, like libraries are good things and drinking paint thinner is bad.

What problem does monotheism solve? Or Christianity? Or, even more to the point, what problem does A Course in Miracles solve?

If the course weren’t available, what would you do instead? And if that alternative were not an option, then what would you do?

Keep going with this exercise. If alternative X isn’t available, what’s next? Keep going. What happens?

Thoughtful atheists sometimes point out that even if you somehow logically persuade every monotheist on the planet to give up on God, you still have to deal with whatever problem humans were trying to solve when they invented God in the first place.

But I suggest that we not go into it that way – like it’s an academic problem to which we can fit this or that theory. I suggest going into it in a personal way. In the same way that you would explore why you chose this or that life partner, why are choosing – or at least choosing to stay with – monotheism? ACIM? Fill-in-the-blank.

(It works for anything – why are you practicing Buddhism? Undergoing CBT? Taking LSD? – but it’s more germane for me to write about monotheism because that’s where I cut -and am still cutting, in some ways – my teeth).

There are easy answers, of course. “It’s what I’m familiar with, given my family background and cultural orientation.” Or “it makes me feel good/gives my life meaning/contains a strong social component.”

Sure. And sure/sure/sure.

But keep going. Can you find that within you which – if God were not real – would cause you to invent God and believe in God and work like all get-out to sell God to others?

That is an interesting and helpful spiritual practice that I absolutely think you should undertake right now.

2 thoughts on “Vestigial Arguments and Grace”

  1. This brings up for me an interesting cross breed illustration of your pointing: getting sober (definitely better for …), but using spirituality to make it soo better that the need-to-be-right is also being addressed. I’d say the latter is what is overriding even simple “rights” like cardiovascular fitness and healthy (non)use of inebriating substances. Of course it doesn’t seem that way to the one who can’t stay on an exercise plan, or oscillates hellishly with “never going to touch the stuff again”, and then does. Isn’t being sober “right”, of all things (when you’re decimated by “using”), so much surely so than being the right weight? And yet 12 step spirituality went from an intoxication remedy to many areas of life that have their examples of the see-saw between the rightness of “doing what you want in the moment”, and that controlling one’s self is right (although that hides in the assumed evidence of your overall feeling better, including that being so because you also get to judge your behavior as being right, and THAT feels better – in a temporary drug-like way). Again, rightness isn’t how its experienced/understood, for when you’re pitifully demoralized you don’t see THAT as being right. But that’s where the driving “spirituality” at the bottom of the barrel gets exposed, and turning to 12 stepping seems like a change (especially if it “works”, the “rightness” can latch on to that). So oddly it can provide the BASIS for your post, that the “level confusion” was going on way before ACIM. The attempts to understand (be right) these shifting areas where rightness is an unconcious motivation by/for separate-personhood, are from/for the making of separate-personhood unconciousness in the first place (it’s not wrong, but whew look out when it tries to entertain and so try to “own” – be right – about “understanding” that!). Anyway, to return to where you can simply be right (lol, see how even “would you rather be right or be happy” can be pontificated about for the sake of rightness) is a blessing. Progressing “back” to that spirituality-in-form is more just psychological/mental healing, has been helpful to me. And in retropsect the mental need for rightness though couldn’t cure itself (couldn’t even be recognized), and so the remains of spirituality for me are that how-and-where-from that healing is introduced, including the desire for it, is “not of” the mental state. The mental state can almost come to “know” – live from – that (that just “not of it” – directly – is enough, and perhaps helpful concepts make it easier to “handle” that). The effects of it being released back to areas where it can find and try things – without the spiritual shadow hijacking them for its purposes, is a remarkably peaceful and humorous expeience. I’m even surprised by how little I do (as ever an “accusation” in me by rightness), surprised that’s “right for me” now, no longer the driving drama of depression. Who knew grace would come to be loved as a great word, for the complete randomness of who-for/when/how it can be appreciated as, for/by the me experience (that doens’t have to worry about “my’s” future rightness, now!)? Certainly not mental-me!

    If God/not-God weren’t the distraction/curtain, would I notice/question that all it produces is there to “see” because there is not the me to see on-this-side-of that curtain. And certainly no one else can do that for “me”. So of course one of the rides (rights!) is to sell God (or no God, or be the right weight)! “You” must have a personal relationship … – what a brilliant way to keep “me” from meeting its own not-me “personal” awakening. That can be such an interesting and humorous seeing – that I don’t have to work for like all get-out. And yet I can feel the possiblity of turning to something that says it’s at the periphery of that seeing – rightness! Your posts are so helpful (not-of right, but right on! as in “groove”y).

    1. Hi Mike,

      Yes. I agree with you that the underlying “need to be right” – especially with respect to others (what Tara Singh called “the lovelessness of ‘I get it and you don’t'”) – is the big issue. Although the form it assumes in our experience obviously shifts. Alcoholism and heart attacks predominate in my family story . . . it’s hard sometimes to choose just one demon to tame/convert to angelism/etc.

      To me – in “my” experience – “right” as opposite to wrong, as an affirmation of some experiencing self – dissolves a lot upon realizing that “right/wrong” are always relative (or contingent upon one another). There was a difficult phase of learning for me when I realized that any “right” I asserted had a “wrong” that some brother or sister (for it was critical to see them that way, as family, as one-with-me) could see as “right.” The ground – moral high ground, stable philosophical ground, ecstatic spiritual ground et cetera – just evaporated.

      Yet if one doesn’t resist falling then one is suddenly floating and there are a lot of folks floating alongside . . . .

      Recently someone whose judgment isn’t suspect gently suggested that my writing style reflects an implicit bias towards being “right,” as in “better than the one who reads.” A mild crisis ensued. I mean, on the one hand, yes, clearly, I am a know-it-all, hubristic, a favored son of the favored son of the one true God but . . .

      On the other hand, my ongoing attempts to be kinder, gentler, softer, nicer must count for something . . . no?

      Maybe yes and no. Or maybe “yo.” Or something else altogether. In the end, there is only the fabulating I call writing, the falling/floating/fulfilling/failing – the funning – as a sort of clumsy hallelujah, one uttered not in the church nor the church choir loft but in the basement with shitty coffee in battered urns, before or after a long healthy walk with one who “gets it” and isn’t afraid to share with me.

      Love,
      Sean

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