April 2, 2016

Just Be Real.


When I was a child, I had a large mirror attached to my closet door in my bedroom. Since I spent a lot of time in my bedroom (obvious introvert), I apparently spent a lot of time looking at myself. Well, that is what I was told anyway. My parents decided to take the mirror out of my room, stating that they didn’t want me to be vain about my appearance. I have considered this my whole life…was I vain? Was my reflection an object of curiosity? Was I trying to develop a self-image? Since I was very small, the questions remain. Self-image is an interesting thing. For myself, the image I see in my mind’s eye seems to stay at right about age 20 – energetic, rather fearless, and ready to take on the world. I most certainly am not that person, but somehow that is who I expect to see in selfies.

In my view, how we see ourselves is directly related to the reflection we see through others. How people react to me, or how they might describe me, becomes my reality and identity. Besides the mirror, how else would we know ourselves? And perhaps that is why we crave social interaction – we truly seek to know who we truly are. How do others see us? What kind of impressions do we make? And further, do those impressions match my desires for myself and who I want to be perceived? If we lived as hermits with no interaction at all, how would we perceive ourselves? If the only voice we heard was our own, what type of identity would we develop?

As I continue to study and deeply consider the influence of religion, I have come to the conclusion that Christianity, most especially evangelicalism and Calvinist-inspired doctrine, has convinced followers to develop behaviors and thought patterns that match the image of a Christian. On the surface, that sounds alright – a moral, grateful, generous person. I think the longer the person works at ‘putting on the garment of praise’ and ‘putting on the armor of God’ the more the person, the real person, gets pushed to the shadows. Christians are told how to think, how to act, how to speak, and how to socialize. Women are told they are subordinate, while men are pushed into leadership and protective roles. Week after week they are exhorted to be that ‘new man,’ not like those others who don’t follow Jesus. They are told what to avoid, lest it cause less-than-holy influence, or worse – attention from the devil. They are told what to read, what movies to watch, and what places to avoid. They are told what kind of ‘identity’ to develop; it is this behavior and appearance that determines whether they are saved from fiery hell or not. Moreover, this identity, as a child of God, is much preferable to the human nature, that one that is full of original sin.

My point is not to bash Christianity, or any religion, but to highlight this pushing of the real self to the background. The real person is hidden, obscured by the effort to be the Christian they perceive is what God and Jesus is desiring. Understandably so – you must be a good believer in order to garner the reward of afterlife bliss. But, didn’t God make humans in the first place? And didn’t he say his creation was ‘good’?  I guess I am questioning a much larger theological issue here (the human condition), and I am fully aware that there are no satisfactory answers. However, how can one have a relationship – a true, honest relationship – with one whose identity is Jesus? I don’t mean to be crass, but I would prefer a relationship with a real person, not someone who has adopted the Christian behaviors and speech patterns of a preacher. And no, I don’t think you are a good person just because of your religious beliefs, and I don’t choose friends because of their assumed identities or church affiliation, but because they are real and honest with themselves and others.

From my vantage point, Christianity has been getting a lot of bad press lately – hateful speech, discrimination, judgement, exclusion, elitism – none of this is in keeping with the message of Jesus, much less God.(at least the God I have been familiar with my whole life). I had a friend once tell me that they never wanted to judge anyone because the bible said that if one judges, they, too, will be judged. However, I say that religion teaches and reinforces a comparison of the ‘saved’ and the ‘lost,’ the churched and unchurched…no escaping judgement there. It is impossible. The saved will always want to change the status of the so-called lost, as it is seen as a lesser state – just not as good, righteous, or acceptable. In all actuality, that friend was very wise in their statement; however, I believe for a Christian, especially an evangelical, to be non-judgmental may be a challenge (at best) and impossible task (at worst).

In my household we read a lot of religious texts, from all the world’s religious and philosophical thought. I find this one particularly useful, especially in light of this discussion. Try not to focus on the source as much as the message, as I think this could have been said by any wise thinker from any tradition.

“So tantra (technique) is not concerned with your so-called morality. Really, to emphasize morality is mean, degrading; it is inhuman. If someone comes to me and I say, “Leave anger first, leave sex first, leave this and that,” then I am inhuman. What I am saying is impossible. And that impossibility will make that man feel inwardly mean. He will begin to feel inferior; he will be degraded inside in his own eyes. If he tries the impossible, he is going to be a failure. And when he is a failure he will be convinced he is a sinner. 
The preachers have convinced the whole world that “you are sinners.” This is good for them, because unless you are convinced, their profession cannot continue. You must be sinners; only then can churches, temples, and mosques continue to prosper. Your being in sin is their success. Your guilt is the base of all the highest churches. The more guilty you are, the more churches will go on rising higher and higher. They are built on your guilt, on your sin, on your inferiority complex. Thus they have created an inferior humanity.”
(Osho. The Book of the Secrets: Discourses on "Vigyana Bhairava Tantra" New York: Harper & Row, 1974. Print., 13)

I am not saying one shouldn’t be Christian, or any other religion, for that matter. What I am saying is that in order to have real relationships one must be willing to be their real self, not an assumed identity. Be real, be vulnerable, be available…but most of all, be ready to admit that relationship is not all about you and what you want or need. Relationship is about giving and receiving honestly. And I believe that when you give honestly of yourself, the very things you want and need will be given unto you.

Y’know, I told my kids when they were young that if they were always concerned with themselves and what they wanted, no one else needed to. I think this is a valuable lesson for a lot of adults, as well.

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