Jesus Christ, Realist

OUR WORLD, A WORLD OF CHILD NEGLECT?

Basically, there are three types of child neglect:

  1. Indifference (rarely if ever paying attention to a child)
  2. Denigration (paying attention in an all too negative way)
  3. Adoration (paying attention in an all too positive way)

A child who grew up in an indifferent environment is prone to seek attention from people just for the sake of getting attention. Needless to say, they can easily fall into the hands of malicious manipulators (from gurus to pedophiles) who meet the child’s need “to feel special” and “to be saved and taken care of”.

forgetting children

A child who is denigrated time and again if he does not live up to the expectations of his educators will develop a sense of unworthiness. He will feel ashamed of himself or will even learn to hate himself. Later on in life, he will do anything in his power not to fail in the eyes of others. He might even develop a perverted sense of pride, hiding his sense of unworthiness behind a supposedly socially acceptable self-image. Fear of failure (atychiphobia) then reveals itself as a built-in desire for perfection.

A child who is constantly adored will develop a false sense of superiority. If he fails, he will sometimes feel ashamed of himself or hate himself, but most of the time he will blame others for his failure. In other words, he will create scapegoats because he is not able to take responsibility for his own mistakes. His educators made him believe that he is perfect, and of course he tries to satisfy this built-in desire for perfection.

Indifference, denigration and/or adoration: in all three cases the difference between the wishes of the child’s environment and the child himself are eradicated. The child is forced to adapt to the unrealistic wishes of his environment and therefore is not able to accept himself as he actually is. In other words, because the child has learned to be guided by his desire for recognition, he is not able to love himself (he subjects himself to an unrealistic but supposedly socially acceptable self-image) and he is not able to love others (he only approaches others to satisfy his need for recognition, and not as ends in themselves). The child will fear saying “sorry” because he has learned that the world does not allow for failure…

Ever met those parents who said to their child “You can be a doctor” or “You can be a sports champion” when in fact their child had other talents? Ever met those parents who convinced themselves, their child and part of their environment that “The teacher” or “The coach” was to blame for whatever went wrong when the child did not live up to the parents’ expectations?

OUR ATHEIST WORLD, A WORLD OF GODS AND FAIRY TALES?

Pinocchio seducedYep, it seems the more atheist we become, the more we lose touch with reality, beginning with the reality of ourselves. We bow to the idols we have made from ourselves, the false “monstrous” or “divine” images about ourselves we have learned to love, instead of accepting ourselves and our limits as human beings. If religion is defined as “opium of the masses” (Karl Marx, 1818-1883), then our atheist world is full of it. We have replaced a perverted version of Christianity, one that made us believe we could enter “paradise” if we were willing to make sacrifices, with “secular” dreams of paradise and perfection.

However, the so-called “Christian” attitude to merely confess our sins to God and pay for them by denigrating ourselves (physically and/or mentally) as a “sacrifice to God” in order to become “perfect” and to get God’s recognition, is really a betrayal of the Gospel and of Christianity. Jesus makes it clear: “No one is good – except God alone.” (Mark 10:18). In other words, we should not want to be someone we are not. Indeed, we are not perfect. Jesus also makes clear that prayers and sacrifices should not be used to escape moral responsibilities. If you go to confession and use God’s forgiveness to recreate a so-called acceptable self-image, without actually doing something about the evil you’ve committed, you’re perverting the nature of confession. Confession should serve love for one’s neighbor, and not one’s need for recognition. That’s why Jesus says (Matthew 5:23-24): “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” In other words, sacrifice not as a “do ut des” or “quid pro quo”, but as a free gift of gratitude for what’s already established. Jesus transforms laws and legislations, bringing them back to their true goal against possible perversions (That’s why he says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” – Matthew 5:17). The law should serve man and enable love for one’s neighbor, it should not be used against man and love (see Matthew 22:34-40 and Matthew 12:1-14).

JESUS CHRIST, BACK TO LIFE, BACK TO REALITY?

????????????????????????The realization that you’re not perfect (and that you don’t have to be) will help you to deal with the imperfections of others as well. That’s why Jesus constantly asks people to realize their own shortcomings. “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her”, he says to the crowd that wants to stone a woman accused of adultery (John 8:7). And in the Lord’s prayer he asks us to think of our own trespasses, in order to be able to forgive others (Matthew 6:12): “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” The sooner you are able to admit some minor mistakes, the better you will avoid scapegoat mechanisms. On the other hand, if you want to protect an unrealistic yet so-called admirable self-image, you will use one lie after the other and blame others for what’s bad and for what goes wrong, instead of taking responsibility yourself.

forgiveness saves from harmPeople hurt each other. We’re not perfect in our love. We even hurt those we love the most. Every week we say stuff we probably mean less offensive because we’re too easily irritated by each other. Jesus thus is more realist than ever when Peter asks him a question about forgiveness (Matthew 18:21-22): “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven.”

Of course, truth hurts. So more often than not, we flee from the truth about ourselves. We rather think about ourselves in a heroic fashion. We identify with “good” characters in Hollywood movies. The apostle Peter also thinks of himself as a hero during the last supper before Jesus is arrested, while Jesus – that hyper-realistic “Christ” man – tries to bring him down to earth (Matthew 26:33-35): Peter said, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.” “Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” But Peter declared, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the other disciples said the same.

The Denial of St Peter by Gerrit Van Honthorst 1622-1624The Gospel eventually shows man as he is, and not as he romantically dreams himself to be. It is easy to be morally indignant about reports of child abuse in the newspaper. It turns out to be much more difficult to handle such delicate matters when we’re directly confronted with them. Maybe then we’re not as heroic as we thought we’d be. The apostle Peter discovers the not so heroic truth about himself after Jesus is arrested (Matthew 26:69-75): Now Peter was sitting out in the courtyard, and a servant girl came to him. “You also were with Jesus of Galilee,” she said. But he denied it before them all. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said. Then he went out to the gateway, where another servant girl saw him and said to the people there, “This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth.”He denied it again, with an oath: “I don’t know the man!”After a little while, those standing there went up to Peter and said, “Surely you are one of them; your accent gives you away.” Then he began to call down curses, and he swore to them, “I don’t know the man!” Immediately a rooster crowed. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: “Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly.

Ah, the things we do for our reputation, for power, for survival… Jesus warns us not to enslave ourselves to so-called socially acceptable self-images (“idols”) in order to gain recognition. When you force yourself to be someone you are not because certain people made you believe that this is your “ticket to paradise”, your life will become a living hell of frustration, jealousy and hypocrisy. Indeed Jesus is right when he says, “whoever wants to save their life will lose it” (Matthew 16:25). And when he says (Matthew 6:1-2): “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.”

If you want success because of success itself, you will never find love and joy for what you’re doing. If a student wants good grades and academic recognition more than an understanding of his courses, he will never find joy in what he’s actually studying (for more on this, click here or click here). The scientist whose goal it is to win the Nobel Prize won’t get it. It’s the scientist who has learned to be passionate [yep, we have to learn to love – because love is relating to what’s other than ourselves, and therefore goes beyond our needs] about his topic who might eventually get the Nobel Prize as a consequence of his actions – and not as an ultimate goal. So we should not force ourselves to be someone we are not in order to get into heaven. We shouldn’t be like the workaholic who becomes a slave of a “high society lifestyle”. We shouldn’t be like the drug addict who believes that he should flee from himself in a frenzy to be in paradise. We shouldn’t believe that “doing what we please” is the highest form of freedom – the drug dealer wants nothing more than to become the false messiah who satisfies the supposedly very own needs he has inflicted upon his clients.

We should try to find ourselves. We should try to respect ourselves and accept our limitations in this atheist world full of unrealistic idols. We should try to discover our calling. Jesus teaches that we find ourselves if we dare associate ourselves with the social outcasts. Indeed, if Peter would have defended Jesus after the latter’s arrest, Peter wouldn’t have lost himself to a so-called socially acceptable image. Jesus rightly says, “whoever loses their life for me [meaning the Victim of people who look for social recognition and who tend to blame others for their own failures] will find it” (Matthew 16:25). If Peter would have imitated Jesus (who constantly took sides with social outcasts and scapegoats), he wouldn’t have participated in the death of Jesus. Then Peter would have discovered that he’s not merely a child of his social environment and a slave to a socially acceptable self-image (or idol), but also a child of God.

for whoever wants to save their life

As intrinsically relational beings, our identities are given to us in relationships to others. Since no human being is able to love us completely for who we are, only a creature that is “also other than human” is able to truly give us to ourselves. If we believe that this man-made world is the only possible world, we will do everything to gain recognition in this world, force ourselves to be who we are not, and be dead before we have lived – unable to truly love the social outcast. To discover God is to discover Love (see 1 John 4: “God is Love”). It is to discover ourselves as well as our neighbors. 1 John 3,14: “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death.” The choice is ours: whether we believe we’re merely children of man-made idols, guided by our desire for recognition, or we believe we’re also children of Love… Max Scheler (1874-1928), once again:

Man believes either in a God or in an idol…

If we learn to love ourselves and be genuinely interested in the things we do, we will be rewarded eventually – the joy of doing those things will be a reward in itself. Success or “heaven” will be the consequence of love for ourselves and others and not an end in itself. In the words of Jesus, we should find God’s kingdom and righteousness first, and everything else will come…

“So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:31-34)

Religious Vows in New York

Saint Francis of AssisiBefore I got to know the Christian faith I always thought the three religious vows were an abomination. Why would anyone deliberately choose the masochistic way of a life in “poverty, chastity and obedience”? Only after I saw a documentary on the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal in New York and only after I delved into the Gospels more carefully I discovered that these vows were not ends in themselves, but should actually be understood as means to seeming antitheses of those very vows. It turns out that the three religious vows are anything but masochistic. They should be based on the paradox of the Gospel:

For whoever wants to save their life will lose it… What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?” (Luke 9:24a-25).

agape loveIn other words: there is a certain way of life we should get rid of to gain or regain ourselves. Again, to lose your old life is not an end in itself, but a means to gain a truer or more authentic new life. To gain social recognition often means that you’re accepted not for who you are, but for the image you’re presenting of yourself. Indeed, you’re losing your life while trying to “gain the whole world”. This process might also imply that you’re sacrificing others to protect that socially acceptable image. The apostle Peter denies knowing Jesus when the latter is arrested. Fearing that his association with Jesus will make him socially unacceptable as well, Peter presents an untruthful image of himself. From this angle Jesus rightfully says: “But whoever loses their life for me will save it…” (Luke 9:24b). If you lose your socially acceptable image to defend the one who is socially deprived, you will gain a truer identity as an unexpected and surprising consequence. To (re)establish relationships with the excluded is to take part in the dynamic of agape (love for one’s neighbor). It is making the “Body of Christ” – which is a body of Love – transparent.

Faces of Christ (Body of Christ)

The three religious vows can be helpful in actually settling the paradox of the Gospel:

  • THE VOW OF POVERTY LEADS TO RICHES
  • THE VOW OF CHASTITY LEADS TO INTIMACY
  • THE VOW OF OBEDIENCE LEADS TO FREEDOM

I’ll try to explain this by means of examples.

1. THE VOW OF POVERTY.

For whoever wants to save their life will lose it… translates to For whoever wants to become rich will become poor… Indeed. Ever met those people who “wanted it all” – perhaps in the mirror? Those who want to enjoy as much parties as possible? If you want all the clothes in the world and go out shopping all the time you won’t ever fully enjoy any of your clothes. If you want to attend ten parties in just one night you will not have enjoyed any of them, because you will constantly worry about the next party you might be missing. If you want to love all the women in the world, you won’t have loved any of them in the end.

The challenge is to choose life where it’s present. As a present. To quote John Lennon: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” The challenge is to live in the here and the now. To choose quality instead of worrying about quantity. Intensity. NON MULTA SED MULTUM. Epicurus (BC 341-270) already warns against discomposing desires: “Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.” If you stop trying to possess what others have (which is the same as no longer surrendering to mimetic desire), you will become aware of the things you do have and discover that there’s a world of plenty in one single moment, at one place. Jesus expresses this quite beautifully (Matthew 6:25-34):

Saint Francis of Assisi (Regina Ammerman)“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Imagine what this attitude of “having enough” could mean for the natural environment! It’s no surprise Saint Francis of Assisi (1181-1226) deeply respected and enjoyed the riches of nature… If only we could follow his example a little better.

But whoever loses their life for me will save it… True, as explained earlier. It’s like imitating the good Samaritan. He is prepared to stop worrying about his plans and to free himself for the uninvited neighbor – right here, right now.

2. THE VOW OF CHASTITY.

Saint Francis and the SultanFor whoever wants to save their life will lose it… translates to For whoever wants to love everyone will not be able to love anyone… If you are a heterosexual bachelor who tries to develop a friendly relationship with a woman, you might soon find out that the woman herself or others fear you’re friendly because you want “something more”. This fear might prevent the possibility of more intimate relationships. On the other hand, when people know you’re married or that you took another vow of chastity, they will not have to fear you’re “after something more than friendship”. This opens up the possibility of more authentic and intimate relationships. It opens up the possibility of meeting the other as “other”, of true personal care – CURA PERSONALIS. Of course, we all know that in human relationships there is no black and white. There’s lots of colors in between the limits of a “grey zone”.

3. THE VOW OF OBEDIENCE.

Prayer attributed to Saint Francis of AssisiFor whoever wants to save their life will lose it… translates to For whoever wants to be free will be imprisoned… Oh yes, we tend to listen to the ones who are promising us a great future, a beautiful career, happiness etc. – in one word: “paradise”. But if a workaholic keeps on listening to his boss, he will remain a puppet of a degrading work ethic. If a drug addict keeps on believing the drug dealer who tells him that he doesn’t really have any problem, he will remain an enslaved human being for the rest of his life… In contrast, the vow of obedience means that you will try to obey to the Voice of a Love that wants what’s best for you. It means listening to a Voice that liberates you and enables you to be who you are… Only if you’re capable of accepting and loving yourself, you will be capable of loving others as well. The drug addict is so in need of drugs that he will approach others out of this need. He will use others to satisfy his needs and he won’t be able to approach them as ends in themselves. But if he frees himself from these needs and takes responsibility for himself he will be able to take responsibility for others as well. FREEDOM AND RESPONSIBILITY are twin brothers, or sisters…

Poverty leads to riches, chastity to intimacy, obedience to freedom. All three outcomes are surprising consequences of the transformative power of the Gospel paradox. The imitation of Christ changes yourself, here and now, and by that you change the world.

I could only write this post after seeing an inspiring documentary on the life of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal. It’s really worthwhile to catch a glimpse of their life and vocation. Here’s how they explain the three religious vows.

CLICK TO WATCH:

Een Nederlandstalige versie hiervan verscheen in de vorm van een artikel in het weekblad Tertio  – klik op de afbeelding om ze te vergroten:

Tertio 3 december 2014

Kierkegaard or C.C. DeVille?

Christ comes to the world as the example, constantly enjoining: Imitate me. We humans prefer to adore him instead. – Quote by Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855).

To adore Christ means, in the sense that Kierkegaard uses the verb, to idolize him. When you idolize someone else, it often means that you secretly want to become this other person, that you want to take his ‘royal’ place, sometimes even by ‘murdering’ him. In other words, to idolize someone means that you’re not satisfied with yourself, that you’re not accepting yourself, that you don’t experience love for who you are. This explains why we tend to look for what others designate as desirable, and why we want to obtain a desirable position ourselves – i.e. why we want to become ‘perfect’ and ‘divine’ idols ourselves. For obtaining a desirable position seems to fulfill our need to feel loved. However, in the process of surrendering to an imitation of the desires of others we simply lose ourselves. Guided by what René Girard calls ‘mimetic’ (i.e. ‘imitative’) desire, we often want things for ourselves which alienate us from our ‘true’ nature and from our own, unique vocation. So, near the end of this process we’re not loved for who we are but because of the ‘status’ we seem to have gained. Jesus magnificently points out this tragic paradox: For whoever wants to save their life will lose it… What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?” (Luke 9:24a-25).

Sometimes the devil wants you to think that until you’re perfect don’t go talking to God. – Quote by C.C. DeVille.

As you can see in the film below, C.C. DeVille – what’s in an artist’s name? –, guitarist of ‘hair metal, glam rock’ band Poison, clearly understands how his early life relied heavily on the principles I just described. He admits giving in to an unhealthy sense of pride, to a desire for ‘status’. He quite literally says he wanted others to be envious of him. Indeed, envy is the negative side of mimetic desire, the flipside of admiration, and for a person who desires to be desirable it is a big achievement to feel envied. Yet C.C. DeVille felt his life was not fulfilled. He was not happy until he experienced, in his own words, ‘God’s grace’. He discovered the ‘unconditional love’ by which he was finally able to accept himself. The paradox is that, by obeying God’s call through Christ, he became free. “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it but whoever loses their life for me will save it,” Christ claims (in the completed Luke 9:24). That’s exactly what C.C. DeVille discovered, for truly imitating Christ means to accept yourself and others, not to be ashamed of oneself, and to be enabled to grow towards one’s ‘real’ and ‘honest’ vocation. It’s only when we’re accepting ourselves that we are able to approach others, not as means to fulfill our need to feel loved, but as the true ‘goals’ of our lives in the realm of Love, in the realm of a giving Grace that wants to be ‘imitated’ – and to imitate giving means to become ‘givers’ ourselves. That’s why St. Francis (1181-1226) prays: O Lord, grant that I may not so much seek to be loved, as to love…”

Being free means ‘being free for the other,’ because the other has bound me to him. Only in relationship with the other am I free. – Quote by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

We are relational beings. We don’t develop relationships ‘out of the blue’, from a primal ‘individual freedom’. On the contrary, it’s the quality of our relationships which decides whether we become free or not – are we led by fear, envy and pride or by trust, grace and truthful honesty?

This post might seem a little weird. I realize that. Few of my friends in the world of music understand why I like ‘hair metal’ so much. This particular brand of rock music has never been a favorite among established pop criticism. I discovered it as a kid, and I was attracted first by the colorful extravaganza of the bands, the big choruses of the songs and the sheer joy displayed in live shows. ‘Hair metal’ felt like summer to me. Later on I discovered that behind this joyful image there often lurked an empty world of drug abuse, superficial relationships without real intimacy and just plain decadence. Yet, at the same time, some of the songs had a melancholic feel which betrayed a longing for more sustainable experiences in life.

Guitarist C.C. DeVille articulates this longing of ‘the soul’ in the following interview. I combined it with quotes by famous thinkers, mostly Christian. One of my pupils, who commences studies in philosophy next year, convinced me to try working with quotes. So, here you have it. I hope I’m able to show in this way that C.C. DeVille really understands what Christianity is all about. Because, let’s face it, especially in the academic world we all too often look down on the so-called ‘superficial’ world of popular culture. Well, at the margins of that world, at what seems to be the pinnacle of superficiality, we have a band like Poison. I dare you, dear reader, to look beyond everything you think to know about bands like these, and to move beyond certain ‘mimetic’ processes which convinced you to dismiss the members of ‘glam metal’ bands. True, Poison might not have written the best songs ever, but I do believe their music is honest – ‘what you hear is what you get’. And if you’re still looking for unexpected complexity and sophistication in this music genre, try a band like Winger – great musicianship combined with the compositional talents of lead singer Kip Winger (as is evidenced by his solo efforts).

Now, watch the interview with C.C. – what you see is what you get –, and click here

– CLICK TO WATCH:

Klik hier voor een Nederlandstalige weergave van de gebruikte

CITATEN VAN (VOORAL CHRISTELIJKE) DENKERS (PDF).