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Preoccupation With Negativity


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I think my biggest obstacle when it comes to spiritual matters is my inability to see the positive aspects. More bluntly, my mind can only process the darkest, bleakest aspects of humanity. Danger, existential crises, and God's judgment. Spirituality, to me, is synonymous with fear and darkness.

 

Whenever I get the idea to let go of this worldview and construct a more integrated one, something or someone stops me. This someone is morally opposed to my attempts to view life in a positive light, reminding me that reality is a spiritual battlefield. From his/her/its perspective, the positive aspects of religion are distractions. Humanism is a pointless pursuit. That life has any meaning outside that blood-soaked spiritual battle is wishful thinking.

 

It's a kind of perversion of Pascal's Wager, which was perverse enough to begin with. When this earth has passed away, and the spiritual battlefield turns out to be an illusion, his ascetic misery won't have mattered. But if reality is anywhere close to as bleak as he sees it, then deserting the battle, in pursuit of some New Age, saccharine dream of a loving and merciful God, would be a travesty of cosmic proportion.

 

My personal story is long and complicated. I can elaborate if it's necessary, but I'm mostly posting this to see if this is a common result of leaving fundamentalist sects.

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Hi Leonardo,

 

Thanks for sharing your thoughts here. I would say it is more or less a common response. The best thing you can do in my opinion is realize that the situation you experience now is not intrinsic to who you are - things can and do change. I think I understand a lot of what you're going through. I was a fundamentalist myself, and in my period of disillusionment I struggled desperately to hold onto my beliefs rather than fall into what I perceived to be a hopeless abyss. I count myself lucky that I was able to encounter other points of view in books that struck a chord with me. I began exploring other religious ideas, digging into, for instance, Rabbi Abraham Heschel. I first encountered Eastern religion in the writings of Alan Watts and D.T. Suzuki, and then Thomas Merton. My point is that it is important to know that there are alternate routes one can take in life - otherwise leaving one’s religion can be even more cataclysmic, psychologically. One must realize that nobody can ever say what reality is “all about,” as if reality were an object with a set of properties by which to circumscribe and define it. Speculative philosophy just doesn’t have that kind of power. Everything must answer to life as it is lived and experienced on a day to day basis. Spirituality in my view really is a type of darkness. The intellect will not have a whole lot to grasp onto. “Mystery” is a dark word really - but it’s also a lightness, in that it can have a freeing aspect on a person’s existential awareness. Letting go of trying to figure everything out can be quite a revelation of what everything's about.

 

I’ve struggled a lot with cynicism. I still do. There really is a lot in the world to be pessimistic about - I’m not going to deny that. But in my view, reality is both positive and negative - and there is no substance to either idea. Life is life; it is fundamentally neither good nor bad. We impose upon it our categories. Often those categories are useful, but at their extremes they can be suffocating. Seeing through all this - seeing through the unreality of the world that we have constructed - can be liberating. Perhaps we can glimpse a good that is free of the dichotomy of good versus evil... a good beyond moral goodness.

 

The cynic in me indeed has not found much reason for a philosophy of hope in this world. But I think there comes a time - or times - when for sanity’s sake we just have to see things differently. Nobody can tell me what life is all about - only reality as it truly is: mysterious, ambiguous, has the final say on life. But it's not a concept or an idea. It is the smell of a cup of hot tea, or the clap of a book hitting a desk. Nothing we ever encounter in life is absolute, nothing speaks for itself or has the last say on its meaning. "God" - or whatever name you want to give him/her/it - truly redeems the world in this sense.

 

I think the most difficult thing about leaving fundamentalism is the realization that follows that things are not so simple anymore. There are no easy, pat answers. It's not just a matter of getting saved and everything working out. For me, every problem I have is a serious hurdle that requires a measure of devotion to overcome or accept. Letting that problem in and accepting it is the same as letting it go. Life is struggle. Struggle and peace are one.

 

We must each accept where we are at in life and move from there, I feel. This requires a daily practice in my opinion, a conscious and willful act to fill the mind and heart with helpful and profound ideas, to sit quietly with ourselves and with our problems, leave them just as they are, allow them to rise and fall just on their own without any judgment.

 

Just my thoughts, however they may (or may not) be applicable.

 

Peace to you on your journey,

Mike

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Thanks for your response.

 

Everything must answer to life as it is lived and experienced on a day to day basis.

 

That's both very simple and very profound. Logically speaking, it's something I should be taking for granted. But there's an aspect to fundamentalism that demands blindness to immediate, present reality, which is a big obstacle to fundamentalist thinking. But in that mindset, there's no obstacle that can't be overcome by invoking ambiguous and unfalsifiable arguments.

 

The darkness I mentioned is more insidious than mundane pessimism. It's really more of an apathy towards human problems. It doesn't see the evil in the world as a problem, because the unseen evils are so much more pressing.

 

I really should spend more time reading authors like those. It brings all these subconscious beliefs to the surface, which is a necessary process, but a very exhausting one. I've trained myself to compartmentalize spirituality just to keep the memories from resurfacing, but there's literally another one of me now, who still sees things exactly like I did back then. I guess the only way to reintegrate him is to construct a new spirituality that is more stable than his one-dimensional apocalypticism.

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Hi Leonardo,

 

I wish you best on this path. It is difficult, but in the very act of thinking about these things and recognizing them, you are creating room in yourself for them. It shows one that there is more to the self than only what we identify as problems. I think the best way to overcome this is to just learn to trust yourself. And realize that you really have no choice but to trust. Life itself is trust - there is no avoiding it. I remember something that Watts wrote - if you don't trust life, how can you even trust your own distrusting it? It’s a loop that goes nowhere, because the reality of our self is not something that can be escaped - neither conceptually, nor ontologically.

 

We're really all in the same boat as frail, fallible human beings, uncertain of the future. Our very being and living is an act of trust, from birth, to eating and sleeping, to death and whatever may or may not come after. Robert Aitken is a teacher who I have just begun to take notice of and deeply appreciate. In his book "Original Dwelling Place", which I highly recommend, he quotes a Zen master in saying:

 

"When one learns well, being born and dying are both giving. All productive labor is fundamentally giving. Entrusting flowers to the wind, birds to the heaven, also must be meritorious acts of giving."

 

Then, he quotes an 19th century poet, Bokkei:

 

Oh, cuckoo,

I too spit blood--

my thoughts.

 

Aitken comments:

“The cuckoo shows its red mouth when it sings. My thoughts are like red blood, Bokkei is saying. My dying is like the welling up of thoughts, the song of birds--an extraordinary expression of inter-being."

 

I would say that every culture manifests a fear of its inner demons, taking the form of evil beings, demigods, phantoms. I think hell and Satan are our culture’s archetypes, projections of our worst nightmares. I confess that there are some times now and then when I think - when I die…what if they’re right? What if the traditional notion of hell is real?

 

Then I remember, logically speaking, anything can be true - as you say, it is unfalsifiable. Then I look at the world in conjunction with the fundamentalist's claims that are falsifiable. Ultimately the claims are neither here nor there, because they don’t add up to real life in my experience. Either way, I have to deal with life as it actually is; no matter what theory anybody else comes up with, at the end of the day I still have to be true to life. As DT Suzuki once wrote, the flow of life must not be interrupted - life itself is a form of affirmation. To disrupt it is a negation of what is already there in its fullness.

 

You may be surprised at how well one can center oneself by beginning a daily practice. I won't specify any particular practice, but just one that allows for meditation, contemplation, and just being, for just 10 or 20 minutes in the morning or whatever. If we can be programed one way, we can also be deprogrammed or programmed another way. But it does take some rather deliberate effort. Finding others on a similar path is also a good help.

 

Wishing you the best,

Mike

Edited by Mike
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Guest billmc

Hi Leonardo. My personal story is also long and complicated, but I, too, have experienced what some call “the dark night of the soul.” I can’t say as I am totally out of the darkness yet, but there is some light on the horizon for me. Obviously, I can’t “fix” you or your situation. We are all unique. That’s what makes us rare and precious. But perhaps I can share a couple of things that I have learned along the way? Perhaps these will encourage you on your journey. But because you and I don’t really know each other’s details, forgive me if I can only speak in generalities.

 

There is a lot of wisdom in the posts which Mike has made. I concur with what he has said, mainly with the advice to be patience with yourself and your journey, and to take the time to smell the roses along the way.

 

When I lost my fundamentalist’s view of Christianity, I was initially elated. I had read enough of Jesus’ teachings and books related to them that I felt that life was not about how to escape hell and get to heaven. So I no longer had the threat of everlasting torment hanging over me or the trivial promise of sitting on a cloud, playing my accordion, or propping up God’s ego for all eternity.

 

But the fundamentalist’s views strength had definitely provided meaning and purpose to my life. So when I lost it, I found myself struggling with “What now? Why am I here? Is there a meaning to life?” I felt like I could write my own book of Ecclesiastes. I became an agnostic about the afterlife, which relieved my anxiety about it, but it also made me wonder, “Why bother with anything, since nothing lasts, nothing is permanent?”

 

You wrote: “Humanism is a pointless pursuit.” Perhaps it is in some interpretations. We are born, we live, we die. The next generation does the same. That’s the facts of life. And as Mike and other philosophers have said, life can be messy, depressing, full of suffering and misery.

 

But, at the same time, life can also be beautiful, can’t it? Mike has mentioned what people consider to be the “little things”, things that we take for granted. Here are a few more: A baby’s face; a sunrise or sunset; the smell of coffee brewing; a cold beer on a hot day; a hug from a friend; a card saying “I’m thinking about you”; a baseball game in the spring; singing carols in December; the unexpected touch of a loved one’s hand. All of these things, IMO, are “sacred” and make me aware of the joy of life, the experience of wonder, and the unfathomable depth of meaning that present love can bring to us.

 

Sure, in a few billion years our sun will turn into a red giant, engulfing the earth and any life on it. Maybe mankind will still be here, maybe not. But the beauty of life, my friend, is that we have today. And the fact that it is transitory and so fleeting makes it that much more precious. To me, that is where my humanism tells me to make a difference in the lives of others, today. And the oddest thing about it (although Jesus taught this) is that I find the most meaning, purpose, and fulfillment in MY life when I live it for OTHERS. Popular culture, and even secular humanism, tells us that we can only be fulfilled when we get what we want. Christian humanism tells us that we can only be fulfilled when we help others to be fulfilled; the rising tide lifts the whole boat.

 

Because I am a humanist, I don’t believe in literal spiritual forces like demons or angels, etc. I don’t believe there is some kind of cosmic war being fought in an unseen realm by supernatural beings. But I do believe in good and evil, not as entities separate from humanity, but as influences within us that call us to either live for others or for ourselves.

 

So I have the difficult but joyful work of constructing my own meaning to my life. I’m no longer enthralled with grandiose statements about “God’s plan” or a “big picture” so-to-speak. Something that kind of sums it up for me is Captain Kirk’s death in Star Trek. Here was a fictional character who, though flawed, lived his life for the sake of others, explored strange new worlds, and tried to make friends with those he could not understand. But as he lay dying, his last words were, “That was fun.” What an epitaph.

 

Maybe life is its own purpose? Perhaps the purpose of life is to simply experience it? Again, I don’t know about an afterlife. But I have today. I want to live as fully as I can today and to encourage others to do the same.

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I read a webpage that hit me like a ton of bricks.

 

Recovery from cults

 

I've read all sorts of anti-fundamentalist writings, but they always oversimplify the practical problems that come from leaving a controlling religious group. I don't even know what made me look at this website, but that was the first time I've heard my experiences put into words.

 

Maybe I should be looking into "exit-counseling," whatever that even is, instead of an ordinary therapist? It didn't even realize what was going on in my head until I read some of those articles, but now it's painfully clear why I haven't been able to get over this, even though I've been out of all that crap for almost five years.

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Hi Leonardo,

 

I've read all sorts of anti-fundamentalist writings, but they always oversimplify the practical problems that come from leaving a controlling religious group. I don't even know what made me look at this website, but that was the first time I've heard my experiences put into words.

 

Maybe I should be looking into "exit-counseling," whatever that even is, instead of an ordinary therapist? It didn't even realize what was going on in my head until I read some of those articles, but now it's painfully clear why I haven't been able to get over this, even though I've been out of all that crap for almost five years.

 

Although I don't pretend to understand everything you are dealing with, this sounds like a good direction to take. I was raised a fundamentalist, but I never felt that I was part of a cult. I know there is a fine line between accepted religious life and 'cult' - but I don't think my family ever crossed that line. The only residual fixation I am aware of in my life from my fundamentalist past is an anxiety about the future, in the eschatological sense. Fundamentalists seem very prone to find evil, satanic conspiracies and plots for world domination and prophecies in the evening newspapers. I tend to still feel some of that paranoia.

 

I know a few people from my ex-denomination who have suffered from psychological abuse stemming from the church's dogma - it depends on the family - the parents - and how they enforce their sense of what is 'biblical' on their children. And it also depends on the amount of hypocrisy that's present. The most common response I have seen from them is total rebellion - they make bad, irresponsible life choices just to spite their parents and the life they grew up knowing. For them I would recommend some sort of counseling. I realize that you are dealing with a reaction of a different nature, but still, perhaps it would be of help. If you're asking yourself whether to go for some type of counseling then you probably should.

 

While I encourage you to continue to dialogue about general religious and spiritual matters here, and I'm sure there are some members here who can identify more strongly with your background, you may also want to look at ex-cult forums. Just in case by chance you didn't notice, the site you linked has an affiliated forum:

 

http://forum.rickross.com/

 

Peace to you,

Mike

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Actually, exit-counseling is for people who are still in those organizations. So that wasn't really the right terminology. My religion wasn't even organized enough to be considered a cult, so I'm shocked by how much that website struck a chord with me. It will take some time to sort all the information out.

 

I do have a counselor, but I think the best thing to do is expose myself to other viewpoints, like you suggested. I think I read that website after I had already made this thread, so I'm not really sure what I'm getting at anymore.

 

Thanks for the replies, and sorry that my first thread here was kind of a downer.

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I thought Bill made a good point about Star Trek as an ideal of secular humanism. It’s worth mentioning though, that after Kirk says “It was…fun,” he mutters “Oh my” as his gaze drifts away from Picard to something we can’t see--perhaps a bright light at the end of a tunnel?!

 

About pulling away from a fundamentalist mindset -- my only suggestion is that you don’t have to go from one extreme to another, from rejecting a blindly literalist position to rejecting everything the bible and /or church have to offer. If you try looking at some PC authors – besides Mike’s suggestions -- Marcus Borg, John Spong, Jim Burklo, Matthew Fox, Walter Wink, Robin Meyers, Brian McLaren, Scotty McLennan, Dave Andrews, etc –there’s probably a voice that speaks to you.

 

The severe form of fundamentalism described does sound very scary. One thing that baffles me is how they stay connected in tightly knit groups, if the world outside the self doesn’t matter and the only reality is one’s private spiritual battle. It seems like solipsism – can that be a shared assumption?

 

I suppose if fundamentalists from all parts of the planet felt more hope of having respect and participation in society, there wouldn’t be the need for that closed fearful mentality – though it’s hard to say which comes first.

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Actually, exit-counseling is for people who are still in those organizations. So that wasn't really the right terminology. My religion wasn't even organized enough to be considered a cult, so I'm shocked by how much that website struck a chord with me. It will take some time to sort all the information out.

 

I do have a counselor, but I think the best thing to do is expose myself to other viewpoints, like you suggested. I think I read that website after I had already made this thread, so I'm not really sure what I'm getting at anymore.

 

Thanks for the replies, and sorry that my first thread here was kind of a downer.

 

Everybody is different I suppose. Perhaps 'cult' would be an appropriate term because of the way it has affected you. And if it has affected you in this way, you can sure that there are lots of others as well. Just because it's not officially a 'cult' doesn't mean it can't do harm.

 

I think you're right about looking into other viewpoints. It can be comforting and challenging to know that there is a whole world beyond fundamentalist Christianity, and indeed beyond Christianity itself. Isn't it kind of strange to consider that there are people all around the world who don't know the first thing about Moses or Paul or Jesus? That our stories are just foreign names with no roots at all in their lives or culture?

 

Don't worry about the thread being a 'downer'. Anyway I don't think it was. And there have been several people to come here, that I've seen, and share some pretty big concerns on the forum. That's what the community is ideally here for.

Edited by Mike
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Leonardo, You want the peace of God and you have come to this forum to join with other minds that want the peace and love of God. That is exactly how peace and love is obtained by uniting with peace and love. The world needs peace and love just like we all do so many members remind us to be human, Christian and yes, secular humanist.

 

You came into this world to bring the peace and love of God to others probably more than you want to receive it so you will receive it because that is the way. We have all come from different paths, but we are helping each other on our inward journey. You are a blessing for others who come from a similar route and a blessing for others to know you have the philosophical depth, mental insight, and spiritual guidance to treasure what is right, loving and joyful. Thank you for sharing thought provoking story.

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Hi Leonardo,

I'll chime in here only because I've had firsthand experience from fundies, too, and I know that, while some aspects of fundamentalism are simply hateful and judgemental, and therefore to address outright when we see it (as we are called to Light and not darkness), there are too some elements of fundamentalism (perhaps not exclusive to it, however...) which may be plausible. After all, if it is possible to have a relationship with God, it obviously must be a vibrant one, and a living one. Some of those in fundie groups have, I believe, experienced this. What is amazing, however, is that the devil can be there right alongside them, trying to get them off track at every turn, into pride, arrogance, love of money, etc. And indeed many of them have fallen, I would say.

And since they (fundies) are a very vocal type (which is not a bad thing to be vocal, IMO), we too need to be vocal and point out the deception that is occurring. There is a verse in the OT where God commands to "show the house to the house." I believe this is part of everybody's responsibility, to point out error, since we all make mistakes. And some mistakes have become full-fledged doctrines which the world has come to understand as true Christianity, when in fact it has nothing to do with the Christlife at all!

 

Don't know if this is of any help, if not, just discard it!

 

Blessings,

Brian

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The funny thing is, while I'm not usually comfortable around conservative Christians (unless they're in the minority of culturally sensitive ones), it's not really "church" I have a problem with. I have almost nothing but good memories of being raised Baptist. I can't go back to that now, but if I had to choose between a semi-fundamentalist organization with accountability, and a reclusive family that can do basically whatever they want because no one is there to object, I'd pick the church in a heartbeat.

 

I picked up some books from the authors mentioned here. It's interesting to see how much of an aversion I have to that kind of writing. I still don't really understand why.

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