A: People are often confused about the meaning of your statements on wealth and poverty. There’s a long history of Christians deciding to “imitate you” by giving up all their possessions and taking vows of poverty (among other vows). How do you respond to this interpretation of your teachings?
J: It’s an incorrect interpretation.
A: In what way?
J: Psychologically and spiritually, it’s an incorrect interpretation. There’s no truth to the widespread belief that asceticism is the correct path to knowing God. Asceticism, including the modified form of asceticism preached by the monastic founder Benedict, is an ancient spiritual practice, to be sure, but it’s a dangerous one. It’s dangerous to the human body and the human brain. Therefore it gets in the way of connection with God. I don’t recommend ascetism today. I didn’t recommend asceticism 2,000 years ago.
A: The Beatitudes and Woes in Luke [Luke 6:20-26] seem to suggest otherwise. The footnotes in the New Oxford Annotated NRSV state that “the focus [in the beatitudes] is on economic and social conditions, not spiritual states” (p. 107 NT).
J: Commentators interpret the Lukan beatitudes this way because the commentators themselves have a dualistic understanding of humanity. There’s a common belief that economic and social conditions can be separated from spiritual states. But they can’t. They’ve always been intertwined. There’s no such thing as a spiritual state that’s separate and distinct from economic and social realities. It’s one of the great myths of religion — the idea that people can dissociate themselves from their own thoughts, needs, feelings, and relationships in order to get closer to God. It’s pure crap. Abusive, damaging crap.
J: The only path to connecting with God while living as a human being is to become a Whole Brain Thinker. A Whole Brain Thinker is a person who makes balanced choices, holistic choices each day. A Whole Brain Thinker engages all parts of the brain God gave him. He uses his emotions in a balanced, compassionate way. He uses his logic and memory to balance his heart. He honours and respects the needs of his physical body, neither denying himself food nor overindulging at the expense of his physical health. He incorporates his spiritual life into his regular daily life, rather than setting aside just one or two hours per week to attend religious services. He struggles each day to find the balance among all these competing aspects of his true self, but he tries his best because that’s the only path open to a self-realized person. To a person who has found the Kingdom.
A: Are there any measurable benefits to such a path? Any positive outcomes? Any sources of spiritual hope?
J: There are many measurable benefits. Too many to count, in fact. I can’t give a precise list, because each person is different, each soul is different, so there’s variation from person to person. But there are some overall patterns that can be described. There are overall improvements to physical health, mental health, family relationships, and community relationships that develop automatically when individuals start to take control of their own choices, their own thoughts and feelings. Thousands of researchers in hundreds of different fields would back me up on this one.
A: I love it when scientific research backs up the Divine Truth!
J: One area that gets very little research attention is the role of brain health in facilitating the experience of trust. One of the first emotions to get “blocked” in the angry brain, in the addicted brain, is trust. Trust is a complex soul emotion. It’s interwoven with relationships in the soul and in the childhood brain. It’s also interwoven with the physical body through ongoing touch — respectful touch, appropriate touch, sentimental touch. There’s a reason that folk wisdom recommends daily hugs. Hugs are important. Respectful hugs — by that I mean non-sexualized hugs — are hugely important to people’s health. On the other hand, abusive contact, abusive touch has the opposite effect on people’s biology. It damages brain cells. Stress hormones released in the body damage the brain cells of both the abuser and the abusee. A survivor of childhood abuse is likely to grow up unable to trust. Without the emotion of trust, there’s no basis for mature relationship. There’s no basis for mature relationship with yourself or with anybody else. It means you have no foundation for a relationship with God.
A: Because you need to feel trust in order to feel faith. Genuine faith.
J (nodding): Genuine faith is founded on a person’s ability to trust that God actually knows what they’re doing! If you aren’t able to trust God, then you’re always going to be second-guessing God, getting angry with God. You’re always going to be judging God. People don’t like to admit that they’re judging God, but many Christians do it. Every single day they draw up lists of God’s “crimes” of omission and commission. You wouldn’t believe the number of angry prayers God gets every day.
A: So how does all this relate to the message of the Lukan beatitudes?
J: The issue here is the interconnection between trust and faith on the one hand, and anger and addiction on the other hand. The brain isn’t wired — nor should it be — to allow human beings to live a life of trust and faith AND anger and addiction. People have to make a choice. They have to make a choice between living a life of trust and faith — a life where they feel alive every day instead of dead inside, empty inside — OR living a life of anger and addiction. It’s an unfortunate fact that once people become addicted to status, physiologically addicted to the dopamine release of “status hits,” they tend to want to stick with their “drug of choice.” They won’t give it up until they decide their addiction is causing harm. They have to stop denying the harm created by the addiction. So let me ask you . . . how many people do you know who’ve voluntarily given up their status for the sake of inner life, inner freedom, inner joy?
A: I know several people who’ve lost their status involuntarily — not through choice, but through circumstance. Stock market losses. Divorce. Illness. Long-term disability. That sort of thing.
J: You know a number of people with money, status, privilege, possessions. How would you say they’re doing on the “inner joy” scale?
A: Many aren’t doing well. They’re getting clinically depressed. They’re developing chronic health problems — a lot of autoimmune stuff. Sleep disorders. Chronic pain. Unrelenting stress.
J: Right. These responses to stress and status addiction aren’t new. They’ve been around for as long as homo sapiens sapiens has been biologically suspectible to status addiction.
A: The Lukan Woes — Luke 6:24-26 — look different when read in the context you’ve just described. The “consolation” and the “hunger” and the “mourning and weeping” sound a lot like clinical depression.
J: Clinical depression has a genetic component, but it’s also intertwined with internal stresses and external stresses. Sometimes you can’t do anything about the external stresses — things like the Dow Jones average. But the internal stresses have an effect on clinical depression, too. People can really stress themselves out by making choices that harm themselves and harm others. There’s a reason that people with clinical depression respond best to a treatment course that involves both appropriate antidepressant medication AND certain kinds of effective psychotherapy. The medication helps your brain build new “wiring,” which is necessary to the healing process, while the psychotherapy can help you recognize your harmful choices and learn to make more loving choices.
A: Nothing new there as far as an empathetic psychiatrist is concerned.
J: Exactly. And Christianity should jump onto the same page with the empathetic psychiatrists. It’s not money that’s the root of all evil. Money builds schools, hospitals, roads, etc., etc., etc.
A: Whereas status addiction builds huge monuments, huge reputations, huge armies, and professional sports teams.
J: Jared Diamond thinks that civilizations collapse when they harm their own environment and starve themselves to death. But people who are using their brains in holistic, balanced ways have too much common sense to destroy their own environment. Only serious status addicts are stupid enough to destroy their own sustenance for the sake of building a bigger, better Temple.
A: The history of collapse in a nutshell.
J: God won’t back up status-addicted choices. God would rather bring people Home to heal them and release them from the pain of status addiction than leave them in a morass of profound abuse. And make no mistake — religion based on status addiction is profoundly abusive.
A: Including Pauline Christianity. Its doctrines, its teachings.
J: If the shoe fits . . .