Monday, February 07, 2011


A couple of words on "worthiness".

First--I saw this blog posting today. It's from the woman who defended her young son's right to dress up as Daphne from Scooby-Doo for Halloween, when other parents told her it was "inappropriate" (read as: promoting "gay" behavior). Apparently her Church pastor has joined in the bullying, and told her she was "in violation of Matthew 18 and the 8th commandment", claiming she lied about the other mothers who judged her son. He also threatened her with ex-communication if she didn't issue a public apology.

Second--I had a conversation with my hairdresser on Friday that is similar to the conversation I've had with others over the years. He has had his own spiritual experiences, which he defines as "pure grace"--and then wonders why he had them. Why wonder? Because he was not religious, he was not practicing any discipline, had no special spiritual qualifications or knowledge--he was not "worthy".

So, who defines worthiness? Who is "deserving" of what we have often termed as "grace", for lack of any better term?

Dr. Elaine Pagels, one of my favorite early Church scholars, gave a talk on the book of Revelation in the Bible. She points out that there are at least 6 known books of Revelation from the early Church period--only this one was chosen for the Canon. Her talk speculates on why this is the case, but most interesting is her discussion of those other books (at least one was deemed "heretical" by the Church). There is one significant difference between the other books and the one in the Bible. In all the other books, Jesus appears and says, in effect, "All will be well." There is a sense that everyone is eligible for salvation, everyone can receive the "Holy Spirit". However, in the Biblical Revelation, there is a distinction between spiritual haves and have-nots, the worthy and the unworthy, the "pure" and the "sinful". Those categories are very strictly maintained.

This latter view is epidemic in our cultural mythology. We believe ourselves to be flawed and unworthy. We want to believe in the idea of "Divine Justice"--if we've been wronged, then ultimately the "bad guys" get punished. At the same time we fear punishment ourselves, because we are perpetually unsure that we are not one of the bad guys. While one cannot make a blanket statement about all priests, ministers, and churches, it is unfortunately true that church leaders tend to perpetuate this mythology. Cultivating humility is one thing. Passing judgment on others as a religious leader is quite another. I believe it was Jesus who said, "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone." I believe Jesus also said "Judge not, lest you be judged". Or, as my neighbor, who is completely unversed in doctrinal theology once said best: "I thought that if someone sinned, you were supposed to pray for them and let God judge."

Of course, some of these folks do pray. Their prayers, in effect, say, "I would like to pray for person A, who is sinful because they are not like me." And they fail to see the irony in that.

When I was a child and went to Church, I noticed that my mother never went to communion. I would ask her why, and she would just tell me to hush. Later, I found out it was because she was "not allowed" to receive communion because she was not "in a state of Grace". Why? Because she married my father, who was divorced from his previous wife. They considered her to be an "adulterer", which is pretty funny. She finally got an annulment, and after laying out several hundred dollars in cash, was apparently considered to be in a "state of Grace" again. This is one of many reasons that I find it hard to take the Church's position on such things seriously. If "grace" comes from how much money you have or how much work you do to promote a particular priest's agenda, then it has nothing to do with anything remotely "Divine".

I've said it 100 times, I'll say it again--the word "religion" comes from the Latin word meaning "to tie back." We are broken, religion is to put us back together. Religion is about connecting, unifying. Among humans, this can only be accomplished through compassion. There isn't a person alive who hasn't gone through difficulties, and hoped that others would be understanding even if they didn't agree with their decisions. If we were in dire need, we would hope that others would help us. Compassion doesn't judge people's viewpoints or decisions. When you start judging worthiness, you're not "linking back", you're tearing (further) apart.

We judge ourselves the hardest. When we have moments that can only be defined as "Grace" (as my hairdresser did), we immediately feel we are not worthy of them. We feel we have to be saintly, purified, or special. It has to be the "reward" for years of hard discipline. When you think about it, this implies that "grace" is something we can control--that if we just follow those certain steps, we will always have those "a-ha" moments. And we think this because we are raised to believe that we are imperfect, and nothing like the Divine. We put people into categories; in monotheism, it's often the line between the "saved" or "elect" and the "unsaved" or "evildoers".

I was re-reading some Erik Erikson lectures, and was reminded of his notion of "pseudospeciation". Humans have a tendency to create hierarchies, to put people into artificial categories. In short, some humans become "better" than other humans. Such a way of thinking at its extreme can lead to dehumanization of entire groups. Any kind of genocide, eugenics, or "ethnic cleansing" comes from this extreme of pseudospeciation. And it has its roots in a mythology that suggests some are more worthy than others.

Real "religion" is about compassion--about bringing people together, about equal respect. Anything else is not real religion--it's using religious doctrine to promote self-serving agendas. No one has any business discussing anyone else's "worthiness" in the face of the Ultimate--whether you believe the Ultimate is a Being or a State of Consciousness. And if we feel we are unworthy, it's because we've been convinced that we're not connected--that only the very "pure" are connected. Everyone is connected, without exception--your level of awareness of that will vary. How you live your life is irrelevant when it comes to those realizations. Your happiness depends on your ability to accept whatever comes, not on how well you follow a set of arbitrary cultural rules.

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