Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Holy Ghost as Mother Goddess

Statue of Virgin Mary in Catholic Church

When we look at Christianity, we notice an apparent lack of feminine elements. The Holy Trinity, consisting of the Father, the Holy Ghost and the Son are all masculine terms. Most will probably agree that when we speak of spiritual forces, God and the Spirit, we do not necessarily designate a specific gender to them but are speaking of forces that may be masculine in nature, attitude and appearance.

It could be compared to certain languages where each object is given a gender, masculine and feminine in Romance languages, and masculine, feminine and neutral in the German language. For example, the word “sun” is designated to be masculine, while “moon” is feminine (although the German language would be an exception to the rule since it reverses the order). We do not actually believe that the sun is a man or the moon a woman, but they symbolically represent the masculine and feminine forces respectively.

But there is a problem, especially when it comes to the use of language. By constantly highlighting gender, we may, over time, actually transform them on a subconscious and even conscious level into what we designate them to be. While the sun may have characteristics of the male, it will over time become a definite “he” in our minds. The symbol then becomes one with the object itself.

Why would that matter? The problem is that by underscoring the importance of one gender over another, we are excluding feminine aspects and hence diminishing the importance of the role of women. For example, many households have structured themselves according to this concept that the male is both spiritually and intellectually superior to the female. It does not help that women have been tainted with the Fall of Man (!) in the legend of Adam and Eve.

But women are actually represented in the holy sphere, some would claim. What about Mary, the mother of Jesus; she gave birth to the Messiah; she had him in her womb for nine months and suckled him. Yes, she is considered a saint, but look at it more clearly. She is a virgin mother. Now how can any woman possibly live up to that? Being and remaining a virgin would be burden enough, but how would any other woman be able to give birth and still remain untouched? It is a standard so (deliberately) high that no woman can possibly live up to it.

What other options remain for women? The other side of the coin would be the other Mary, the one of Magdalene, a prostitute by profession. Then we have two extremes of the female, one that is portrayed as pure and gentle, while the other is common and vulgar, and only transformed after meeting Jesus. In other words, females are only playing second violin in this belief system and are given a hard lot because essentially they need to choose between a virgin and a harlot.

Yet it has not always been so. In the beginnings of Christianity, there were cases of female priests. Today, women can at best become a nun but they are still limited in their power compared to men. It seems that Christianity at least implicitly denies a definite role for women in their theology.

And yet, there were voices in the past (and perhaps even today) claiming that the Holy Spirit could possibly come to represent the missing female element in Christianity. The original term for spirit ruah has a feminine gender and come to think of it, does it not make more sense to speak of the Father (God), the Mother (the Holy Spirit) and the Son? Could that not give a more balanced account of the Holy Trinity, in fact, a holy family?

In that sense, we can have holiness in balance like the yin and yang of the Tao. Both masculine and feminine forces are in perfect harmony and represent all elements. Humans are said to be created in the image of God, so how did woman come about unless she is also represented in God? Sure, Eve is said to have been created out of Adam's rib, but she is still equally based on an image of God. And to take the whole thought a little further, what about combining the masculine-oriented Old Testament, with the gentle, loving and forgiving, “feminine” New Testament?

There is still a problem and that may be why the church had been reluctant to consider this explanation. What about the virgin birth? How could a female, the Holy Ghost, conceive through another female, Mary? Obviously, the priests did not like the idea of the insipid Joseph being the biological father of the son of Man, or even God himself!

Today, and even back then for that matter, the virgin birth was a difficult matter to sell when faced with scientific evidence. There was a desire to elevate the birth of the one to come by giving him already a holy status from the beginning, hence the need for all the other events such as shiny stars and a general awe and marvel around the time of the Messiah's birth.

What if it was not the virgin birth that was important, but the fact that Jesus was possessed of the breath of the Holy Spirit inside. No need for conception, but rather a spiritual (re)birth, the same way many claim that the effect of baptism is to be born again. What if indeed the precise moment Jesus reached his full divinity was the baptism by John the Baptist, which immersed him in the Holy Spirit, the enlightening feminine concept of the universe?

Put differently, why do we not have a mother goddess in the Christian tradition? Why are they all deemed masculine in nature when we could have a more balanced perspective? It would not seem so far-fetched as various traditions honor the mother or firmly believe that the Earth is caring and nurturing like a mother. In that sense, we would give women the place and role they deserve, right next to us at our side, both spiritually and intellectually.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The America that could have been: The Political Climate of the 60s

Bobby Kennedy with megaphone addressing hopeful and cheering crowd

Some might consider it futile and a waste of time to imagine hypothetical scenarios or alternate histories, the what if ... question that the imaginative mind relishes in by imagining a different outcome of events. Others might object that it is wishful thinking or an escape from reality. Nonetheless, I often think back to the era of the explosive 60s where innumerable changes were taking place and how it largely ended up imploding and collapsing on itself.

It must have been both a fascinating and gut-wrenching episode in history. Especially in the United States, there were so many drastic movements sparking not only creativity but also bringing out probably the best in humanity. There was wonderful creative output, whether in poetry, lyrics, music or writing that came to define a new hungry and rebellious generation.

Drugs may have played a certain role, but they may have merely fueled an already inherent, latent attitude that finally found its full expression. People decided to take a passionate stand. Many stood up against various types of injustice taking place around them. They were tired of the pointless and devastating Vietnam war and the draft that forced peace-loving individuals to enter a cruel war they did not believe in. They were unjustly brandished as unpatriotic cowards and deserters.

Not to mention, the movement for gender equality where women fought for their right to be taken seriously and not to be merely considered man's playmate or the skirt-wearing helper confined to the kitchen. And most importantly, they had the desire to create a more just society that did not discriminate nor use indiscriminate violence against its colored citizens.

It was not limited to the younger population or the so-called high school dropouts or hippies; there were fertile grounds on all levels of society. Music and art reflected liberal political attitudes; Martin Luther King came to the foreground as the deeply human voice of reason; John F. Kennedy became the president that many loved and respected and people were filled with hope and excitement.

And this hope, the American dream for freedom and equality was crushed to bits. Both JFK and Martin Luther King were assassinated and left a gaping wound in the psyche and consciousness of those who had wished for a better society. Bobby tried to continue where his brother had left off and probably would have won the presidency but he also had to face the barrel of another blind madman who once again dashed the dreams of so many hopeful Americans.

And out of all the carnage, there arose Nixon who managed to crumble the little trust that citizens had in their presidents. The Watergate scandal reached such proportions that he felt forced to resign. The belief that the American president can take illegal actions just because he is in power was the antithesis of what the leaders of the 60s had stood for. The movement that had started with so much promise ended up being only a faded page in the history books.

I have to ask myself what could have been if only ... But no, there is no use in imagining things other than they are. Despite all the strides society has made over the past decades, there is something that never materialized. We lost something valuable but our amnesiac minds cannot recall what it was. Instead we are left with half-baked promises of freedom and lip-services of change that seem to never really take place. 

Friday, June 17, 2011

To Each Their Own Star: The Interconnected Relationship between Destiny and Free Will

A stumbling Vancouver Canuck player

Until recently, I was under the impression that we have little free will and that our lives have been mainly mapped out for us. In this view, we were little more than pawns while others, the CEO and the board of directors of the "other world" were calling the shots. We have little say in this matter similar to how most governments and companies are run; the little freedom and choice we think we have is merely a consolation price or in worse cases, an utter illusion or wishful thinking.

I know that this view is rather fatalistic and many might deem it as pessimistic. But this was the only way I could accommodate the belief in psychic phenomena. How can some people foresee the future unless it were to happen a determined way? If somebody can predict that in such and such point of time this and that will occur, then what happened to my free will?

Most people will reject psychic phenomena and call it bogus and continue to have unshaken faith in their own abilities. But I think it is rather presumptuous for us to claim that we are in full control of our lives when the evidence points toward the contrary. Most of the time, we are struggling with making decisions and when we do, we are not exactly sure why we chose A over B and try to explain it away by pointing to reason, intuition or the otherwordly push or shove commonly referred to as Providence.

As I said, my view has rather changed. The reason for it is the latest outcome of the Stanley Cup finals where my home team lost. This may seem trivial at first look, so let me explain. My wife has certain premonitions communicated through dreams, a practice that dates to biblical and ancient Roman times. These dreams usually give a clear indication of what is along the way, what will happen. Most of it in our experience has been negative, but some of it has been hopeful. Nonetheless, the majority of times, she has been right in her predictions.

As you may guess, she predicted a win for the Vancouver Canucks. In her dreams she saw multitudes of people celebrating on the streets with loads of cake and a general frenzy of happiness. The reality has been the exact opposite. The aftermath of the playoffs has been mayhem, violence and senseless destruction, while most of us suffered a sense of despair, disappointment, even depression in addition to international shame and humiliation. So was she wrong then?

That might be the conclusion to be drawn here. She just erred or it was based on misinformation. True, it is an option. But I cannot personally shake off the impression that my team was indeed meant to win the Cup -- sorry Boston Bruins, I do not mean to take away from your efforts. So what happened then?

I felt tempted to reevaluate the whole thing. I still believe that certain major events of life are planned out. I believe in destiny. Certain things are just meant to happen and to be. We may not realize how and why and won't see the links until much later. Yet there is also a certain clause involved within this whole process. It is not a no-matter-what type of case. You, and here is where a truncated form of free will comes in, might have a choice after all.

Let us look at it this way. We are born with certain tendencies. It involves characteristics and natural abilities. Based on this, we can predict a lot about the individual. I happen to believe that astrology plays a role as well. I think astrology is an under-appreciated and little understood tool that has been, just like psychic phenomena, exploited for monetary reasons, manipulated or simply misunderstood and misinterpreted. Yet because of its misuse, it does not mean that it is wrong or misleading itself, though it is a long shot from being accepted as science. But that is not necessarily a bad thing.

So at the birth of an individual, we can have a blueprint of his future. We need also access to other secret or hidden information such as karmic energies but we will then have a good indication of what will happen to them, a sort of personal blueprint. Obviously, we would equally have to take into consideration external social and political events around the individual which will shape her destiny as well since nobody lives in isolation.

We have then determined with psychological and mathematical precision what will happen to this person. Despite all our efforts, the blueprint will still not be infallible. The person may suddenly make an unexpected U-Turn. They may make a boggling and mind-bending decision that will change the course of their history. In that sense, they may alter and change their own destiny, or rather they might not reach their own destiny and personal fulfillment because of certain harmful decisions and actions.

In that sense, we do have a conflict. The psychic or astrologer will say that such and such will happen. But there is always the X-factor that changes it all. It can be, as I said, internally, based on the person's participation or it can be an unforeseen external circumstance. Either way, it messes up any way of knowing what will happen and sometimes the exact opposite may occur.

And that is what happened to the Vancouver Canucks. The stars were indeed shining in their favor. They had everything going for them. Statistics were pointing unequivocally in their direction. My wife saw them win. But along the way, either through their own efforts or lack thereof or by some unexplained and mysterious interference, they failed to reach the stars; as a result, they lost and I was forced to redefine my outlook.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

On Lies, Hypocrites and the Protestants Calvin called Nicodemites

Jesus and Nicodemus in Conversation over open Holy Scripture
Jesus and Nicodemus by Crijn Hendricksz  

Although lying is among the Ten Commandments, there is no separate mention of or parenthesis for being a hypocrite. In fact, there is a subtle but very vital difference between the two. Lying usually has a purpose. It may be used to confuse, to negate, sometimes even to protect or avoid hurting other people's feelings. There are indeed different categories of lies (according to St. Augustine there are eight in total) and they have been called different names, such as white lies, noble lies, perjury, vicious lies, deceiving lies, lies of omission, etc.

As in any question of morality, there are no absolutes, and it comes down to personal judgment. Pretty much, all of us lie one way or another and if you say you are the exception, you are probably lying. On some occasions and at certain times, lying is not that bad, sometimes even necessary. If I was able to save somebody's or my own life with a lie, I would do so without blinking. If I had to forsake religion and creed in order to save myself and my family, I would not play the stubborn hero and would prefer to live a liar than die a martyr. Sorry, Calvin.

But hypocrisy is a different matter. While for lying you present pieces of untruth and misleading or false information, hypocrites use lies for more global reasons, such as creating a false appearance. Pretense is done with the specific objective of appearing other than who and what one is. Lies are instances of falsehood, whereas hypocrisy often relates to lifestyle. A hypocrite outwardly appears to be a decent citizen, while in fact, he is full of vice and evil intentions. She may smile, but it is a fake mask. In such cases, hypocrisy is a double lie. It uses pretense to mask and hide evil.

There are obviously different levels of hypocrisy as well. Some may prefer to show themselves as rich, by wearing expensive-looking clothes and going to fancy restaurants, while in reality they hardly have a penny to their name. They would prefer that others not see them as they are, but as a false and contorted image of being well off. They usually subscribe to the idea that the grass is greener on the rich person's lawn.

However, the worst type of hypocrisy is of the moral kind. By this, I mean those who preach morality while being and/or acting in exactly the opposite manner. We have so many cases where people claim to be good and respectable but it is merely a facade, a mirage. They do not practice what they preach and this should undermine their authority, but unfortunately, many followers are so blinded that they often forgive the preachers their sins. What bothers me is not necessarily their act, because everybody lies and cheats and commits evil acts, but that they claim to be pure and good and holier than the rest despite evidence to the contrary.

When it comes to questions of religion, John Calvin, one of the principal reformers of the Protestant faith, was upset that many a protestant in times of turmoil pretended to be Catholic while secretly holding on to their Protestant beliefs. Calvin claimed that they were Nicodemites, based on the Jewish priest Nicodemus who had sympathies for Jesus but did not openly profess his beliefs. This process of dissimulation, of concealing one's true beliefs is the other type of hypocrisy.

Regarding the circumstances where Protestants had to face prison terms, torture, and even death for professing, I believe it was too much to ask them to lay down their lives, especially considering that Calvin himself remained safe and sound in exile while he was judging and condemning others. In such cases, as I mentioned earlier, I find it more than acceptable to lie in order to save one's hind.

So to summarize, I believe that hypocrisy is much worse than lies. Lies may have various functions and reasons, whereas hypocrisy is mere deception and benefits no one in the end. Hypocrites are often the ones that lead a whole life of lies and deception and one day, sooner or later, they will get entangled in the mesh of falsehood and will have to face the truth.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Existence and Religion as Evolutionary Processes

A colorful peacock facing a lit path in Morelia zoo

Regardless of whether one believes it or not, the theory of evolution is a fascinating concept. To me, the most significant aspect of evolution theory is the concept of survival of the fittest. Certain members of the species have had the edge over others and have managed to survive and thus continue their genetic line.

In the ancient past, fitness was best embodied in physical strength. It was the era of the bully who could beat you up and steal your lunch money, while you shiver and starve in a corner. Nowadays, we would have to revise this idea since physical strength is not the outstanding feature anymore. It will be of help to survive on the streets or in pub brawls or even to make it through high school, but in the modern world intelligence has become more important. If you are streetwise, you may have a higher survival rate.

Notwithstanding, the modern structure of the world is predominantly based on power. Although they say that knowledge is power, hence elevating intellect over other qualities, the main recipe for success today would be money. So we can rephrase and re-coin the concept and say that it has turned into survival of the richest.

But let us look at the genetic link across generations first. At some point in time, say more than a hundred years ago a great-great-great-grandfather met a great-great-great-grandmother of mine. From them followed a line of offspring that led directly to me. In other words, if any of these links had not occurred, I would not be here now. If my great-great-grandfather had not met my great-great-grandmother one fateful afternoon in a park, I would not have come into being.

The line is woven so intricately and with so many detailed variables that a single change in the chain of events would have led to a completely different outcome. This idea has been played around with in two notable movies, Back to the Future, where a slight change in the past affected the whole outcome of the future, and the interconnectedness of seemingly random and trivial events that led to a major and life-changing accident in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. All this woven fabric across time convinces me even more that life is indeed a miracle and a precious gift.

This metaphor can be extended to include the existence of our planet in the universe. Whether it is completely gratuitous and a fortunate series of random chance events that led to the existence of our planet or whether it has happened by the delicate and conscious design of a powerful creator do not take away nor diminish the sense of awe and wonder.

Human existence itself has been formed and defined by various ideas and actions in the course of history. What we are now is to a large part what we were in the past, whether you look at the microcosm of a person, the macrocosm of a country or the global proportions of significant world events. Nations have been created and religions have come about in such an interconnected chain of events. Should you take out one variable, the rest will tilt by degrees.

As a result, some religions have died out over time, while others have been more resilient. The Christian religion would have been unthinkable without St. Paul. Had he not been converted on the road to Damascus, we would have been left with a historically forgettable and insignificant Saul. Had Luther not brought about the split from the Catholic church, the Protestant religion, as we know it, would not exist. Even throughout the Reformation, there were many particular decisions that led to even more factions, and it is why, for better or for worse, we have a whole gamut of Christian religions and evangelical movements.

Again it is not only limited to the Judeo-Christian religion. Buddhism, for example, might not have come about had the noble Indian prince Siddhartha Gautama not had a glimpse of suffering outside the royal confinements. Like a building block, traditions and cultures in the form of memes are passed on and have managed to become mostly resilient to the erosion of time.

It is a magnificent feat that these thoughts have survived, whether in writing or in tradition. These ideas have evolved because time plus reflection has changed our own way of thinking while scientific and technological progress is constantly making us reevaluate our beliefs and standpoints.

I often prefer to think of a line of progress in a Hegelian manner that we are not retracting but advancing toward an end goal, what he termed the World Spirit, or complete consciousness or awakening of the self. In the sense of human rights we have made significant leaps, at least ideologically if not in practice. Equality is on the minds and lips of most world citizens.

Nonetheless, when I look at some of our actions in the world, be it war, disregard for others, lack of sensitivity for important issues such as the environment we live in, greed and lust for power at the detriment of destruction and loss of human lives, I sometimes cannot help but wonder whether we would have been better off as apes.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Facing Mortality in Life: Reflections on the TV Series Six Feet Under

Poster of "Six Feet Under" showing Claire Fisher's car on the highway
The critically acclaimed series Six Feet Under is not for the feeble, squeamish, or fainthearted. It looks death square in the eye and is not afraid of unearthing a plethora of human sentiments. It is both about life and death, how each is connected and how one influences and cannot live without the other.

Without giving away too many details, Six Feet Under is unique in that practically every episode starts with a death. This is not merely out of morbid pleasure or curiosity, but it almost always serves a purpose and links the episode in creative ways. The series is, however, not always dead serious, as just in real life, there are moments of grotesque humor even when it comes to death.

The Fisher family operating the funeral home is rather dysfunctional. They have been traumatized by the constant presence and smell of death in the funeral home, which has also served as their own home and living space. They are not in touch with their own feelings, the same way most of us either repress them or are ashamed of accepting or stating them. In other words, they are the representatives of most families out there.

The series has its focus on one family, but as in the real world, lives are not lived in isolation. Relationships may give joy and personal fulfillment, yet they are also fraught with pain, suffering, and misunderstandings. Death haunts them as well. The same way our bodies mature and decay, relationships fall apart and fade into oblivion.

The characters are driven by sexuality, no more no less than the rest of us are, and they express their sexuality in different forms, notwithstanding age and orientation. Yet again, even sexuality is not immune against the eternal cycle of life, death, and rebirth.

I highly recommend this series because it brings us in touch with human aspects that are often regarded as taboo. Sex and death are so ingrained in the patterns of life that without them, life would not be even possible. Mental illness is a sad fact of existence.

We tend not to talk about those issues and pretend they do not exist. But sooner or later, we will have to face each in terms of conflicts and neuroses. In the meantime, Six Feet Under makes therapy a fun activity for the whole dysfunctional family and offers one of the most stunning endings in all of TV history!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Personal Letter to the Almighty or Asking for the Ideal Job

17th century young man writing letter next to an open window
Man Writing a Letter by Gabriel Metsu

Dear God or Powers that Be or Whoever Else is in Charge,

First off, I would like to thank you for existence, my own in particular. That may sound selfish at first glance but I mean it in its most humbling sense. Without my own perspective, that is, without being clothed in the particularity of my personal flesh and skin and, more importantly, consciousness, I would not have had the opportunity to experience this wonderful world of yours.

My gratitude extends hierarchically and dimensionally to include all of existence. Thank you for the existence of my wife and my son and be it extended to everyone from friends to coworkers to any type of acquaintance, including bus drivers, postal workers and pizza delivery men and -women. Yet I would not stop there but would also like to include all types of animals and even insects. Although I am not particularly fond of insects, I am sure they serve a purpose in your kingly domain, and I respect them for that very reason.

Now what does he want from me? You may ask. Indeed I am just like the spoiled child who gives praise because he wants something in return. Yes, I am ashamed to admit that this is so. I could, of course, ask for world peace, but you and I know that it is not possible. It's like asking for the rain to stop or for the Earth to stop rotating. This does not mean that we should stop working for peace, but it is just like the myth of Sisyphus, where we need to content ourselves by constantly trying our best and that's that. That's all we can do really.

But since this is a personal letter and I am being blatantly honest, I am more interested in what affects myself and those close to me. World peace would be too abstract. I will personalize it in the following sense: May there be no major war or any war whatsoever that involves my country (Canada, but it would extend to our neighbors the United States and Green Denmark). 

The reason for this is not just ideological, but because in times of war, I would be completely useless. Who would need a teacher then? And what for? Who would have time for or even interest in visiting Arash's World? Writers may be hired after the war, that is, if they somehow manage to survive it.

What I am interested here is of economic nature. I would like you to help me find stable and somewhat generous income. You know that I have never been a fan of fancy things. However, I do have the palate of a gourmet, something I must have been born with because my son has shown the same tendencies. I would be more than happy with good food, good wine and good coffee. I would like to be able to get by or fill my existence not by scraps, but through delicious quality meals.

Again I am not asking for major luxurious appliances. A solid and reliable laptop with speedy unlimited Internet, a flat-screen TV, a Blu-ray player and a selection of hand-selected movies and a moderately-sized library of books are the extent of material possessions I am asking for. (Maybe also an iPad for my son?)

But I am not interested in cars or clothes, for example. The occasional trip once in a while would be satisfactory as a distraction for the soul and a source of entertainment for my family. If I could ever call a small apartment or duplex my own, I would highly appreciate it, but it is not on my priority list.

Well, I would also prefer a job that I love. I have nothing against working, in fact, I fully appreciate the value of work, but I need to see a personal purpose or mission to it. If it leaves me unfulfilled or guilt-ridden, then it will be a constant source of displeasure. For example, I could not be a businessman because I do not like the idea of exploitation, of taking more than what something is worth and giving back so little. At least, as a teacher I am providing a valuable service, and it is only fair to ask for a little bit of money to compensate for the time and effort.

But again, if I could choose one job, I would like to choose my life-long childhood dream of becoming a writer. Can you arrange some kind of regular stint for me? You know, where I could be paid enough and do what I love most? God knows I have tried... I mean, you know I have tried before. 

If you think my poetry sucks, I will do fiction. If not, then non-fiction. Browse through my blog and choose what you like best. Well, probably the articles that speak in your favor, but I have always been under the impression that you take criticism with a grain of salt and humor.

Strange to think that I could have been a preacher in an alternate life and universe. My faith was strongest in my teenage years. Somehow I managed to drift away from you, but I have never fully severed ties. I have never turned into a full-blown atheist. Whereas now I am feeling you closer than previous times with the Holy Spirit either whispering in my ear or else tickling me under the heels.

So there we go. This is my letter. I hope you will give me the opportunity to continue my quest for truth. Maybe you could give me a little shove in the right direction so I don't get caught up in circles or get lost in a maze?

In the meantime, thank you for this life. I love the way things are going currently. I would just like the financial security to stabilize my path and then I could fully relax and enjoy life to its very core. And I promise, I will try my best to do good onto others. If not, at least, I am not doing evil onto them.

Your mostly faithful servant,