How the overarching assumption that you and I are broken makes a great many folks very rich, and keeps us from having a full and happy life.
Note to Dear Reader: if you have strong religious beliefs, this is probably not the article for you. I respect your choice to believe what you choose. I walk other paths. It is not my intention to offend. However if you choose to read this anyway and it pisses you off, you can’t say I didn’t warn you. That’s a statement of respect.
This is a bit of a rant, but it’s heartfelt. I am taking on religion (yeah, holy crap). I’m going somewhere with this, bear with me. Given that I have spent my life convinced I was broken, spent unbelievable funds trying to get “fixed,” I wanna draw a line in the concrete with all those self-appointed self-help gurus who might want to spend some serious time looking in the mirror. I have. These days I like what I see. That’s not luck. That’s letting go of believing I was broken. This is part of how I got there. There’s a lot of humor mixed in here but you might miss it. Or not. You really wanna do this? It’s a long piece. Not for the faint of heart.
There are many reasons I love listening to old George Carlin riffs. Carlin was, like me, a reformed or “jack” Catholic, and as such, in the unique position to skewer the Church and much of its teachings. While I fully acknowledge anyone’s right to believe any damned thing they please, this is one place where I take license, because of the cost of those beliefs.
In one riff Carlin talks about the four places you and I could end up in traditional Catholic teachings. There’s heaven, peopled by way too many tall blond people; hell, of course, where all your fun friends went; purgatory, which is like hell but not quite, you’re on short time; and then limbo.
I grew up with this shit too. Limbo was where unbaptized babies went because they died before they could get baptized. It wasn’t their fault, except, yeah it was. Because, original sin.
St. Augustine, a guy I can otherwise relate to as he liked animals, was the author of that piece of nonsense, which effectively gave a whole lot of powerful folks the weapon to convince us lowly, dirty humans that we slide out of the womb cursed.
That “cursed” was for all of us, but most especially if we had a little extra melanin in the skin, or we were destined to be heavy or obese. Nowadays if you don’t look like Gal Godot or Thor, or rich as Jeff Bezos, you’re basically shit. But hey, hand over your credit card, have I got the cure for you.
But being born cursed? What a handy setup for religious mind control.
Hey, great. Fine. I’m a fetus. I don’t have a say in this whatsoever. I’m already guilty as sin (pardon the pun), and I don’t even know it yet. So if I am the result of a miscarriage, it’s off to Limbo I go. I guess we’re going to float around in amniotic fluid for a few aeons until the Pope decides differently. Because after all the Pope is God. Right?
Because the Church can arbitrarily decide to do away with pretty fundamental teachings on a whim. In 1992, the Church dropped Limbo, like they occasionally un-saint a saint, finding that teaching didn’t exactly track well. I gotta wonder if the saints who get demoted fall down the same way those humanoid avatars did in Avatar or Matrix when they got unplugged. But I digress.
However I do gotta wonder, I mean, if the Church can un-saint a saint, and said saint isn’t even alive (if they ever were, that is) to defend themselves to the court of detractors, what hope is there for today’s influencers?
(None, thank you, but that’s another story)
Is removing a saint’s halo a kind of holy castration? Are de-sainted saints considered gelded? Inquiring minds want to know.
Even Saint Christopher got booted, for crying out loud.
Just think. All those necklaces.
Which only underscores the point that religion is at best capricious, and at worst, deadly. As Carlin liked to say, all the best wars were and continue to be over the “god” question.
Which, given the shapes of missiles and bullets, as he also pointed out, is nothing more than trying to prove that my god has a bigger dick than your god, which REALLY goes to show that God is a male construct.
Insecure male construct, which of course leads us to this:
You wanna see broken? THAT is broken. Funny how it’s tied to religion. But I digress.
If you want folks in the fold, you gotta change with the times. As it relates to the Church, and I mean ALL of them, that means shifting beliefs as people educate themselves.
Another way of saying, take personal responsibility for our spiritual development, which is kinda the whole point.
And a side note to the men of the cloth: forgive me if I point out that for a Church which long taught us that we were born with the mark of sin on our souls, you guys sure did an excellent job of demonstrating what evil looks like in practice, behind the robes of power, especially at the very top, from Catholic priests to Buddhist monks.
Back to my point. We aren’t born broken. However the idea sells, because we are so malleable. Being human, and lazy, we wanna be perfect, because perfect implies we are worth loving (but not as we are) and if God loves us, well, we’d be rich, beautiful, young forever and of course, have big dicks. See below, I’m getting there. We want off the hook for the hard work of being human.
The Calvinists were excellent at propagating this idea. While I can understand that those who are frustrated with human nature might want to find a way to explain it all away with simplistic ideas around humans’ being inherently evil, you will forgive me if I counter by arguing what I heard growing up in parochial school: we were made in God’s image.
Well kindly, if we were made in God’s image, then why does God have the unfortunate habit of expressing all our worst tendencies, which would indicate to me that God Himself is inherently evil? Oh, blasphemy. The old “it’s a mystery,” or, the best excuse of all time, “God works in mysterious ways” doesn’t cut it for me.
Those answers might work for a mind that doesn’t demand further understanding or one that sees fundamental dichotomies and dishonesty in how religious theory is manipulated to manipulate people throughout the ages for sex, power, money, land.
Kindly, as someone who has read her fair share of religious history, I see God as a human construct, not the other way around. I have entire bookshelves of religious books, and I read sacred texts every single day. I have faith, just not the kind that undermines my faith in myself, my intrinsic value.
To that, for the curious reader who has not already decided that I am the Spawn of Satan (of course I am), please see just about anything by Reza Aslan, but most particularly,
From his book:
“As a believer and a pantheist, I worship God not through fear and trembling but through awe and wonder at the workings of the universe — for the universe is God. I pray to God not to ask for things but to become one with God. I recognize that the knowledge of good and evil that the God of Genesis so feared humans might attain begins with the knowledge that good and evil are not metaphysical things but moral choices. I root my moral choices neither in fear of eternal punishment nor in hope of eternal reward. I recognize the divinity of the world and every being in it and respond to everyone and everything as though they were God — because they are. And I understand that the only way I can truly know God is by relying on the only thing I can truly know: myself.”
― Reza Aslan, God: A Human History (author bolded)
The message that you and I are inherently evil, bad, wrong and/or broken (as in being born Black, for example) at birth has stuck with us, and it’s the basis of every single effective sales pitch that ever sold a weight loss program or convinced you and me to buy something stupid, or worse, enslave folks or kill them for 2mm of skin color, which evolved to protect people from intense sunlight. Part of what we inherited from the Calvinist traditions included that endless hard work was purifying, and reward (of riches, beauty, etc) were God’s way of saying that you were blessed. Those tenets of course, are riddled with pure bullshit, and specifically left out folks of color. Of course they did.
Those ideas inform a goodly bit of White Supremacy, abundance cults and anyone who thinks Joel Osteen is a good person. Hey, I have a personal development program for you, and your card number is…?
I’m Tony Robbins and I’m here to help!
The Great Big Lie…
Isn’t the 2020 Election.
It’s that you and I are inherently broken. Therefore, there is always, always ALWAYS some Savior to fix us. These days those Saviors are people like Trump, or Gwyneth Paltrow, or Rachel Hollis, or any slimy preacher or bad actor with the wherewithal to convince the masses that only S/HE offers the Way. Whether to salvation or to a slim waist or to making millions on Medium. Somehow we’re bad, that’s why we’re fat, or Black, or poor. Our fault. But here is a Savior to fix us and wash away our sins forever.
I want to dogleg for a sec here and point out a word that gets us in a lot of trouble when it comes to religious beliefs: sin. Oy, popular word. However, please see this:
It came from the Greek word hamartano. It literally means to
- miss the mark
- to err
- to be mistaken
There are further and more religious interpretations but these get us on the right conversational path. Which, if I sin, means I fell off. Hit my toe on a rock. Made an honest mistake (well, most of the time I hope). I’m mistaken, a phrase that billions today wouldn’t utter even if being drawn and quartered, so morally reprehensible is the idea of accepting responsibility for being wrong about something.
Like installing the toilet paper upside down or some heinous crime.
I screw up a lot. Always have. Always will. Unless I head out with the intent to do someone harm, my mistakes are largely innocent. I own my shit. Apologize as need be. Do what I can to address the failing. Stumble forward. Welcome to Life. This is how we grow. That, to my mind, is why we are here.
Why am I on such a tear this morning?
It’s spring, a time of rejuvenation. A time of renewal. After a shit year, a time to rethink a lot of things, including priorities. And with so many of us unhappy about our bodies and a lot of other things, maybe time to challenge our thinking.
Partly because those of us on Medium and elsewhere are bombarded by articles which imply, of course, that there is something inherently wrong with us (you’re fat, or old, or too young, or Black, or poor, misguided, or don’t believe in the “right God” blah blah) and the writer is offering a fix. A back workout, a writing program, Secrets to Getting the Perfect Man to Adore You Forever.
Lemme say it again:
If you and I are fine as we are, and we are, thankyouverymuch, then we aren’t broken. We make mistakes, which is inherently human, but we are not inherently broken. You and I do NOT need fixing.
You and I do not need a personality makeover. We don’t need EST or The Forum or whatever to “fix” us. We do not need to go to some detox program to clean our guts out like a white tornado. We are fine just as we are. There is no have-to-have jacket, pair of pants, designer drink or post-biotic that will FIX us. Those realizations would break the economy, of course, because it would set us free. There’s no money in a happy, satisfied person who focuses on a spiritual quest rather than a lifetime of Weight Watchers weigh-ins.
We are not Broken. The point of being human, at least to this Goddess-in-Training (as are we all, thank you), is to learn to love. Self first, then others, as we get better at Step One. If we care about ourselves, we will take care of our physical selves. And we will have mercy, compassion, and care for others. Not just those who know the words to the same Methodist hymns we do.
If you and I can accept that to be human is to make mistakes, and to learn from those mistakes is part of how we grow, then those mistakes are part of the path. The mistakes include believing that you and I are broken or flawed, or not enough. And because we are human, we wallow in self-hate or self-pity and then project those feelings onto others, which perpetuates the misery by causing suffering in others.
If there is a sin in that sense, that is the one that bears correcting.
The sin, to my mind, is the mistake in believing that we are not worthy of love, self-love, kindly. Self-love, the kind I am addressing, is born of great humility and respect for others, creates space for differences and diversity and variety, makes room for all, assumes the best and forgives the rest.
I ain’t there yet. Most of us aren’t. That’s the whole damned point.
Where I go off the rails is when anyone- whether it’s a Medium author, a snake oil salesman or Trump thumper has the balls to tell me that my life would be oh-so-much better if only I bought what they were selling, when what they are selling is based primarily on the notion that I am inherently flawed.
Of course I am inherently flawed, you assholes. If I weren’t inherently flawed, where would be the point in showing up? The temporary journey of the physical, this body that people are SO identified with, SO focused on, is which keeps us constantly distracted from the journey of the soul, which is eternal.
And that is where I think most religious thinking, such as it is, can agree. Even though the evangelical community is focused on their peckers as a way to demonstrate that they are favored by God (which to my estimation makes God a dickhead but again, I digress), the ultimate truth is that which animates us ain’t our bodies.
That which animates us is what needs the most work: our consciousness, or lack thereof. Conscious folks don’t hate, don’t abuse, don’t murder or maim or enslave. Conscious folks take care of themselves, accept that the form they showed up in is worth caring for as best they can, and how it changes is our Mother’s way of reminding us that the shell is fleeting. The point is not physical perfection, which is inherently impossible. The point is to keep trying, keep growing, keep loving.
Our Consciousness isn’t broken. But it does need work.
The belief that somehow fame or beauty or money or a perfect body or the Perfect Diet or the Right Man or Perfect Woman will save us is what’s twisted.
Believing that something or someone outside us holds the Key to the Kingdom is what’s broken.
And if you Christian types will forgive me (I do read the Bible), there’s this:
The Kingdom of Heaven is within us. Just saying. As for whether there’s general agreement among the world’s great religions, I might refer you to C. David Lundberg’s Unifying Truths of the World’s Religions, Chapter 16, Loving the God Within You. There he quotes the great religions and how each speaks to the same great truth: God lives inside you.
You might want to have a conversation with that once on a while instead of chasing the Holy Grail of a billion dollars or the ageless face.
And kindly, I do not care if you can quote the entire Bible, chapter and verse, like Denzel Washington in The Book of Eli. Unapplied knowledge is worthless. Applied knowledge leads to wisdom.
In other words the Keys to the Kingdom are not in a 24-inch waist, bigger biceps, a clean diet, a perfect back, a million on Medium, the Barbie doll girlfriend, perfect sex (an oxymoron if there ever was one). Those things move the economy. But they also feed our perpetual dissatisfaction. That of course is the whole point. The Holy Grail of Happiness is just out of reach.
The only path to genuine peace and happiness is finding peace and happiness right here, right now, despite all the horrors heaped upon us, the idiocy of what we do to each other most especially in the name of some organized religion or racist beliefs, which are all too often joined at the hip. There really is only now. I either understand that right here, right now, I am perfect, or, I get to come back and try again.
Which I tend to believe, but then reincarnation was removed from Church teachings as heresy. I guess the idea of do-over didn’t appeal to people who wanted to fleece their flocks. Still doesn’t.
But that’s just me.
The older I get, and the more often I find myself contemplating not only leaving this mortal coil but also how I’ve spent my time, the more I embrace the larger interpretations of what it means to be human. The more I’ve traveled, the more I’ve seen the Face of God in every face I see. That doesn’t make me right. But it does make me happy. Gives me peace. The less I worry about the size of my ass vs. the size of my heart, the state of my bank account vs. the state of my soul, the less likely I am to read any offering about How to Improve (fill in the blank).
I want you to know peace. Peace does not come to those of us who think we are broken, and are in search of a fix. If there is a “fix” at all, every single great religion will tell you where to find it. To that, one of my favorite stories:
Once there was a great teacher in Japan. His student decided to travel the world in search of wisdom. Eventually the student returned, and prostrated himself in front of his old master.
The teacher asked the student what he had learned
The student said, “I have traveled far and wide. I have learned that what I needed to know was here inside me the entire time.”
The master then prostrated himself before the student.
“You have found wisdom,” he said.
When you and I can see God in our face, in the faces of every living thing, in the rocks and trees and stars and sky, in the heart-stoppingly beautiful world we were given, we will find heaven. We’re there now. We’ve always been there. For me, at least, that’s the real journey.
I fall off that road all the time because I am designed to, so that I can learn and grow. Not because I’m broken. But because what is sacred is the journey, the willingness to be wrong, and to keep getting up and keep right on trying.