Sunday, May 3, 2020

No, We're Not All in This Together

As Daddy Governor starts the process of ungrounding all of Idaho, public Masses were allowed to resume in Idaho over the weekend. I can just imagine what a hoot of paranoias that must have looked like. All I know is that things are pretty much as they were at the time our coward of a bishop ended public Masses: no holy water fonts, no shared communion chalice, communion bread in the hand only, no sign of peace, no congregating before or after Mass. Now there's the added bonus of no missalettes in the pews, and, of course, the magical 72-inch barrier. I'd love to see how the ushers handle that. "Excuse me, sir. My tape measure shows that you need to move three and a half inches to your left. Jesus won't protect you from the covid unless you maintain the proper distance."

And you can wear masks to Mass! Masks that do absolutely nothing! I'm half-tempted to go to church just to walk in wearing a complete medieval plague outfit and see what happens. People would probably thank me for my diligence and not even register the mockery.

I miss having a regular spiritual practice, but it's obvious to me now that my churchgoing was more about holding on to something familiar and comforting from my past. I have no intention of falling back into the steaming pile that is the institutional church that runs in fear at the first sign of every small, imaginary danger.

I mean, don't get me wrong. Jesus was a pretty cool guy, and Mary as a symbol of the sacred feminine is something that still holds great appeal to me. But I don't need church to recognize either thing. The Sermon on the Mount is still a great ethical treatise, even though 99% of humanity will forever be utterly incapable of living out its edicts. And Mary is Mary in all her forms. Veneration for her developed in the first place as she filled the need for goddess worship in places that had it before the Christian missionaries showed up.

And anyway, Christianity lost its purpose as speaking truth to power once Constantine appropriated the whole thing for the empire. It had a good 300-year run, but once Christianity got in bed with the state, it became a tool of oppression and control for those in power, and it remains so even to this day. Sure, it still serves a purpose for superstitious fanatics who need something to blame their bad behavior on and think that saying a one-time prayer gives them a get-out-of-hell-free card even while they willingly continue in their bad behavior.

Plus, it's good for making sure uppity women know their place. Need to subjugate a woman? Haul out one of the many misogynistic passages from Paul, who was responsible for putting together the whole "risen savior" song and dance in the first place by mixing Hellenistic myths with Jewish messianic prophecy. Why Paul did it, we may never know. Maybe he was just an attention whore. Or maybe he was as certifiably nuts as his "vision" on the road to Damascus would make him seem. Either way, the manner in which he took a great ethical teacher and transformed him into God in human flesh has to be one of the most fantastic con jobs in history -- one that has prevailed for 2,000 years and served, for better or worse, as the foundation of Western civilization.

One thing that's definitely changed for me, as the institutional church has revealed its true colors, is my naive attachment to "good." Western civilization, after all, is rooted in the dualistic idea of good versus evil, and who would want to "side" with evil? Yet what is "evil," other than a scare word employed to keep people in line and obedient? As institutional religion declines in the West, the virtue-signaling social-justice warriors are taking over the crusade for "the good," the only problem being that their idea of "the good" sucks. It means "staying home and saving lives" and embracing the "new normal" of 24/7 health surveillance, masks and gloves, tyrannical leaders and cops, and Soviet-style snitching neighbors. Disagree with the lockdown freakout, and you're a Nazi who wants old people to die.

This is their stock in trade. If you hold a different opinion, you're not just an opponent. You're an "evil" degenerate who needs to be controlled or eliminated. This is the religious-crusader mindset that gives us Antifa. It's the mindset that demands people lose their livelihoods and social standing if you dare to point out that there are only two sexes, and that no amount of surgeries, clothing choices, pronoun abuses, or wishful thinking can ever change that.

In short, the religious impulse lives on, just with new holy words and symbols, dogmas, sins, and heresies. Same crap, different players.

I figure my wife was right all along in her embrace of the Taoist way. In Taoism, the notion of yin and yang is not an expression of opposing forces; it's a recognition that light and dark forces exist -- but rather than opposing each other as we think of in the West, they define and complete each other, such that there can be no light without darkness, no health without sickness, no life without death, no "good" without "evil." They are complementary parts of a whole. And if you live your life constantly pursuing one half of the whole while trying to evade the other, you're never going to be happy.

That doesn't necessarily mean that you embrace "evil," but rather simply acknowledge that it exists, and that the darkness has its own powers that allow the powers of light and "good" to also exist. They say it's better to light a candle than curse the darkness. But why not simply acknowledge that light and dark exist and are what they are?

I've been reading books and treatises by people who embrace so-called left-hand paths, praising the sinister powers that lurk in the shadows. Yet in their battle against the "light" and the "good," they just become the shortsighted mirror image of what they claim to oppose. Satanists especially seem rather childish about their whole approach to spirituality. It seems a lot of them just want to be edgy by taking existing religious forms and turning them on their head, as if their only purpose is to shock "light side" religionists.

At a distance, you'd think they were just atheists being edgy, trying to get a rise out of people. But then you learn that one of the goals of Satanism is to turn yourself into a god, and you realize that they're just feeding the universal human religious impulse in a different way, by worshiping the ego instead of an invisible being in the sky.

You can easily see this, again, in the runaway narcissism of a movement that thinks humans can re-create themselves in their own image, any way they please. They are now God. They are the ones who decide whether they are created male, female, both, neither, or something else. Never mind those pesky genitals and chromosomes you were born with. Fantasy is truth. Scientific reality is Hitler. Hell, I could identify as a 30-year old in perfect health, but it wouldn't change the fact that I'm actually a middle-aged dude with too many chronic health problems to count. Fantasy is nice, but it doesn't change reality. I could be a fragile snowflake and threaten to end anyone who tells me I'm not a "transhealthy" person. But that would say more about my delusions than it would about anyone's criticism of the same.

And therein lies the whole problem with this society. In a world where everything is a postmodern joke and no one has any core identity or beliefs to cling onto, since nothing (supposedly) has any inherent meaning or value, people become easily led around by the nose. We're manipulated into being terrified of everything -- just look at all the safe spaces and trigger warnings that dominate our world. We've become a society of overgrown children who in their confusion and fear look to authority figures to either tell them what to do or to punish the bad people who hold a different point of view. Hence the worldwide panic over a bug no worse than the flu, and the subculture of snitches to rat out people who aren't doing what they're told and thus "making everyone die."

We live in a world that's afraid of the dark, where the most important thing in life has become not dying, even if that means locking yourself in your house forever. Forget quality of life. Forget freedom of movement. We have to be safe. That's how you get a world of germophobes that willingly commits economic suicide, creates magical 72-inch barriers around people, wears useless masks as security blankets, and demands that everyone stay home because you have to be as terrified as they are.

This kind of reaction could only happen in a cushy society completely cut off from the naked reality that we are all going to die. We have forgotten, amidst our first-world comforts and distractions, that we are nothing more than civilized animals who will never overcome our basest needs and instincts. We're herd animals who don't want to get kicked out of the tribe, and when our fight-or-flight reptilian brains override our logical thought processes, we cower and we conform. But not only do we conform; we demand that everyone else conform as well. Because our wise lords and chiefs and rulers -- a.k.a. the media and our elected leaders -- wouldn't lie to us. They know best. That's why they're wise lords and chiefs and rulers.

So it's not even so much that people are stupid -- though most people undeniably are. It's more that our primitive brains are wired this way, to react to fear by conforming to the illusion of safety that the herd provides, and to lash out at those who think differently. And so now that the media, in its thirst for ratings, has whipped everyone into a panic, and now that our elected leaders felt compelled to respond to the public cry to "do something," no one wants to back down out of fear -- and it's always fear -- of either being shown that the overreaction was never necessary, or that cases of Cooties-19 will flare up again and "kill us all." Couple that with the far-left wannabe Stalins who are loving the control they have and won't be willing to give it up, and right now it looks like we're pretty good and fucked.

No one wants to back down. The fear-ridden masses don't. The power-drunk Gretchen Whitmers of the world don't. And those who hate Trump sure don't -- because believe me, they're getting a lot of mileage out of turning a virus into a political football. So I have no idea how we get out of this mess -- other than wait for the media to find something else to obsess over, or until Trump gets bounced out of office, or we have 24/7 health surveillance, or something.

Meanwhile, we barrel head-on toward a global economic depression and a potential famine as food growers, unable to distribute their food because massive corporate conglomerates control where it goes -- meaning it can't be redirected to where it's needed, like to makers of grocery brands instead of foodservice companies that supply restaurants -- end up destroying tons and tons of food.

All I know is that we are most certainly not "all in this together." Don't you dare speak for me.

From a spiritual point of view, it's unfortunate that, despite its faults, Christianity is no longer the binding force that gave society a set of core values it could cling on to in times of trouble. With that core quickly eroding away, we're all left to find out own core values. And no society can hold together when it has nothing in common to embrace. That's why the innate human religious impulse is turning wokeness into a new religion, to fill that God-shaped hole that will apparently always be there.

I think that's also why Wicca seems to hold an appeal for so many people. A made-up, context-free modern religion, based on a vague, pagan-flavored sense of complementary light/dark, female/male energies, that has little if any basis in the reality of the way pagans actually would have worshiped in their everyday lives. Little wonder it appeals to young kids on a goth kick. You have a ready-made religion that lets you feel cooler than your parents and their "backward" religions. In so many ways, it fits perfectly in a rootless society where people are desperate for something to hang on to so they can "belong" to something.

As for me, I still admire the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount, but I'm not naive enough to believe that the world will ever reflect its values. People are too selfish, too stupid, too violent, too tribal-minded. Our current global hysteria has proved that beyond the shadow of a doubt. It's easy as pie to control entire populations, especially ones afraid of the dark, and get them to abandon everything they ever claimed to stand for. That seemingly goes for their religious institutions as well. The institutions run and hide faster than the people in the pews do. They're an absolute joke. "Fear not," the Bible repeatedly says? Yeah, right.

I don't know where that leaves me. I do know that Bronze Age myths that worked on more superstitious minds are clearly just that -- myths, intended to give us purpose and make us feel good about our place in the universe. But now that we know our planet is a tiny speck of sand in an incomprehensibly vast universe, it's folly to think that we ever held any place of importance within it. Our ego tells us we do. Our ego tells us God put on skin and came down to save this one inconsequential little planet. When you think your planet sits at the center of the universe, it's easy to think that. When you know better, you see it as the comforting lie that it is.

Do gods exist? Well, I think something exists beyond our ability to comprehend. I've had brushes with the supernatural that tell me there's more beyond this life. And I most definitely think that the universe is full of male and female energies, and that it's up to us to harness and balance those energies. Being good little boys and girls won't achieve that balance -- that only skews us in the "light" direction of yin and yang. Being an evil narcissist or an edgy "Satanist" won't get you there, either -- that only skews us in the "dark" direction of yin and yang.

If we're honest, we have to admit that eventually the darkness will win -- that the sun will swallow up the earth and eventually burn out, that black holes will devour stars and galaxies, that the universe will eventually die, and that all will be plunged into eternal blackness. The left-hand, "dark side" religionists have that one right. Even the Buddha understood that nothing is eternal.

And I think that's why the symbol of the eclipse has resonated with me lately. The symbol was popular among medieval alchemists to represent the needed change in our lives before we could purify ourselves -- in short, you have to walk through darkness before you can see the light. But in another sense, the eclipse is a union of male (sun) and female (moon) energies, yet the feminine holds prominence by plunging light into darkness and reminding us that while the universe came out of the great void, and we all came to be in the darkness of the womb, so one day we will return the the blackness of death, the grave, and the end of all things.

The alchemists' symbol for ether, the quintessence or spiritual energy that pervades the universe, likewise combines the triangular symbols for fire and water, which also correlate to male and female -- and here again, the "female" of cooling water overlaps the "male" of hot fire. The feminine always predominates in its eternal dance with the male.

Still, none of this means we shouldn't strive for a balance of light and dark, yin and yang, while the reality that we live in still exists. Our times would try to tell us that you can find balance through the union of two like energies -- two male or two female -- but nature tells us otherwise, and the celebration of that which opposes nature is really just another symptom of how messed up our society is. It's not morally wrong, in an upright Christian church-lady sense, just in the obvious sense that male and female bodies have evolved to fit together, for the purpose of procreating the species. But again, stating the obvious in today's world makes you a raging bigot. Heck, my kiddo loves a cartoon whose entire purpose seems to be the normalization of transgenderism and lesbianism for kids, so no one is safe from the cultural propaganda anymore, not even those we used to protect from such things. (Just ask any library sponsoring a Drag Queen Story Hour.) I mean, if you're an adult, do what you want, but leave kids out of it, don't expect me to pat you on the back or to use your made-up pronouns, and also realize when your life is out of balance. We're all out of balance in one way or another, and it's good to be aware of our imbalances.

In any event, since I'm attracted to female goddess "energy," I'm gravitating toward finding my own personal yin and yang by embracing two deities who have appealed to me at times over the years -- Brigid, the nurturing and healing Celtic goddess, and Hekate, the goddess who leads us through the dark times of our lives. I can't say that they're "real" goddesses as much as specific aspects of feminine energy, as seen through the eyes of ancient cultures -- but even if I'm wrong, I still think they give our minds something to focus on as we try to align ourselves with the energies they represent. And that in itself can help us get to a better place in our lives. After all, the point is not to follow certain prescribed rules and behaviors to appease the gods, but to contemplate what they and the greater universe teach us as we strive to achieve balance in our lives.

The key to finding balance, I think, is to follow the example of the flow of nature. Again, my wife was right -- Taoism teaches us this very fact. Nature is neither good nor bad. When an earthquake or tornado strikes and kills people, nature isn't being mean or evil. The gods aren't punishing us. Nature simply is what it is. Bears eat baby fawns struggling to break away and survive -- not because the bear is evil, but because it's hungry. It takes humans and their supposedly advanced and intelligent brains to commit truly sadistic and evil acts. Nature doesn't do that. Only we do.

But one thing we can learn from nature is that ignorance will kill us. If anything should separate us from "lower" life forms, it should be the ability to use our rational minds to discern fact from fiction and stop running around in constant fear of everything. Neither ignorance nor fear will extend your life for a single second. Nor will they inoculate you from any virus. Knowledge, on the other hand, might just give you a fighting chance. Some fluffy-bunny tree-hugging pagan might say she loves nature, but she'll end up as some wild animal's meal, dying as she clutches her incense and crystals, if she's convinced that nature is all pretty sunrises and rainbows and chirping baby birds. But if she goes out camping with a bow or a shotgun, she just might have a fighting chance.

Bottom line: You just have to use your head. And far too few people do.