A: In the last week of August I returned for a brief time to a Christian forum I used to post on after I was contacted by the moderator. It didn’t take me long to remember why I left two years ago. Most of the contributors were people I’d known there before, with a couple of newer members who seemed to fit right in.
Some of these people are now assistant moderators with hundreds of posts to their credit. They need a lot of moderators on this forum because they have strict codes of etiquette — which I don’t mind in principle. What I mind is that this diverse group of Christian Atheists and Christian Deists and Christian Buddhists and Process Christians are all required to be polite to each other, but nobody is required to be polite to God. Which you’d pretty much expect from a group of people who say they’re Progressive Christians, but really don’t seem interested in discussing theism and faith in the same breath. Many of these contributors are cruel — cruel to God in ways they’d never contemplate being cruel to their fellow human beings. Not in a public forum, anyway. I just couldn’t take it.
J: The more things change, the more they stay the same. In my day, we would have expected to see this group sitting on the edge of the marketplace and nodding sagely at the words of their Hellenistic wisdom teacher. They wouldn’t actually do anything to confront their own issues. They’d just talk and talk and talk. They would frequently impress themselves and each other with a particularly fine piece of philosophical poetry. But philosophical poetry is no substitute for faith.
A: The talk seems to go round and round in circles. As far as I could tell, the long-standing forum members — the ones I wrote with years ago — are still asking the same questions and answering them in the same vague ways. There’s been no movement, no forward-moving change or transformation or insight. It’s like they’re stuck in a hamster wheel.
J: Like the character in the beginning scenes of Groundhog Day.
A: Yeah. Just like that. They’re still angry, and they’re still in a state of denial about their anger.
J: Denial is the key word here. They deny to themselves that they’re angry — angry with others, and angry with God — and at a psychological level they’re repressing that anger behind “wisdom words.” Lots and lots of wisdom words like “peace” and “oneness” and “love.” A person in denial can make a highly effective smokescreen or “veil of mist” around the anger by throwing up constant jets of wisdom. But these are only words. Words without honest inner intent to back them up.
Words without matching intent don’t make the world a better place. You can tell other people how kind and inclusive you are — and they may even believe you — but if you spend a big part of your day throwing slings and arrows at God (as if God can’t hear you and has no feelings) then you’re probably not as kind and inclusive as you say you are.
A: The apostle Paul was very good at employing this strategy.
J: Yes. Except that Paul wasn’t really in a state of denial about his own motives. He knew what he was doing. He co-opted the language of the Hellenistic sages, but not their message. He had a different agenda, an agenda to devise a new theistic religion from whole cloth. Well, okay, not exactly whole cloth — more like a patchwork quilt. A “crazy quilt” stitched from a bit of this, a bit of that. This is what Pauline Christianity resembles.
A: One powerful insight popped in for me during my brief sojourn on the forum site. You guys helped me understand that the uniting theme for the long-time members of this site is apophasis — the path of trying to know God by unspeaking or unsaying all that is known about God, the path of dissolving the self to become one with the transcendent cloud of unknowing/knowing.
J: Yes. It’s a path that leads to tragedy. The world starts to shrink for these individuals. It gets smaller and smaller as they struggle to maintain the position that there is no position. They stop using big chunks of their own brains, a choice that creates serious consequences for their biological health and well-being. They become dependent on the power of words — words without intent or praxis. They become “people of the Word,” people who live behind a veil of self-deceit and denial. They start to “float” in a place where nothing is real and everything is relative. They stop believing that “right and wrong” exist. Needless to say, this can have tragic consequences.
A: You can’t fix something if you insist it ain’t broke.
J: My sentiments exactly.