Monthly Archives: September 2015

Free Will – What Is It, How Does It Work?

Free will has challenged human beings since the beginning of time. In fact, mystics say that we used free will to create the illusion of time in the first place. What is free will? How does it work? These are two questions vital to the welfare of humankind in an age when power expressed as force is running amok around the globe destroying much of life. Is such violent disregard for life an exercise of our individual and collective free will?

To keep it simple, let’s consider “free will” to be one of the features of humans that distinguishes us from other life forms. A sign of this distinction is that we function with a consciousness of time. No other life form has perfected the art of “telling time” as we have. Agates, asteroids, asters, apples, anthrax, amoebas, anemones, anacondas, aardvarks, antelopes and apes do not schedule their lives by the clock even though some do order their activities based on the effect of the sun as the earth rotates. They live in relationship to such conditions naturally without concern for predicting them or controlling them. They’ve found no need or ability to invent sun dials and other handier timepieces until they arrive at a precision pegged on the periodic motion of atoms. We have chosen to do so as no mineral, plant or animal has. Our power to make such choices and carry them out can be called “free will.”

Free will is a power. We sometimes call it “willpower.” We can choose intentionally to fix our wills upon a goal with such determination and discipline that it appears we’ve lost our freedom to choose otherwise. Yet, the truth is that we remain free to choose to focus our determination and capacity for discipline differently if we conclude that the first exercise of our focus and capacity is not achieving the goal we seek and decide to take another approach. “Deciding” is an aspect of our free will. All we need to do to “free” it again is to realize what we’ve focused it on one goal and can nevertheless, despite every argument to the contrary, change our focus if we want to.

Yes, if we “want” to. The exercise of our free will is heavily influenced if not totally dictated by what we “want” to happen or “want” to be true. That’s why it’s important to be aware of what we truly are “wanting” in order to be truly free to exercise our will. Most of us do not remain fully or even partially aware of what we “want” and allow our buried desires to take control of our wills and establish our life’s direction and destiny – even our demise. Beneath the destructive forces now at work around the globe is a desire to do or die. We are choosing death over life, more freely than we realize. We may have become unaware of the origin of our choice to “do or die” but we’ve made it. It remains there for us to choose differently if we want to choose differently. Do you “want” to choose to violate the norms of our violence-prone society and create for yourself and others who choose with you a society based on peace and love instead? You can if you truly want to.

Our “wanting” is the same as our “heart’s desires.” What are your heart’s desires? If what’s happening in your life is not in line with your deepest heart’s desires, why not? What other desires or “wants” have taken over your will to make it seem less than free? Why might you have unwittingly joined in the collective decision to “do or die” instead of to “do and live?” Why might you be willing to throw out the baby of life with the bathwater in order to achieve a death that vindicates your belief, opinion or perspective about anything? About what topic would you prefer to die instead of admit you might be mistaken and could, if you wanted to, change your mind?

I’ve asked key questions. Now, I want (yes, want and as an exercise of my free will) to share with you a perspective that has helped me decide to participate in the peace-and-love-prone alternative to a violence-and-hate-prone society. What I learned that helped me to change my mind arises from our understanding of the process of grieving. I learned that many of our decisions are influenced by our emotions and that we think we “want” what we’re in the mood for. I learned by experience that it’s not always wise and healthy to opt for what I’m in the mood for. Moods offer poor guidance for free will.

Grief is a process. The process of grief takes us stage by stage from the pain of being hurt in some manner to the release of that pain and a life beyond that pain. How these stages may progress in your life may differ from the pattern in my life. But, let’s consider how universal it is that grief begins with anger and resolves itself in peace if we allow all of our stages of grieving to function fully. The grieving process starts with the emotion of anger and winds up at the emotion of peace if we let it arrive there and don’t insist on remaining angry or sad (depressed) along the way. Our heart’s desires are influenced by the emotional state we are in. I suggest that being in an early stage of grief allows anger to dominate our “wants” and our wills and sets the stage for revenge-stoked violence to be our choice. That’s why I have learned the wisdom of not making important choices when I am in a HALT mode: Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired. When in these mood-modes, it’s wise to wait and allow the mood to pass before exercising my will. Otherwise my will is not as “free” as I would want it to be. (Yes, I do “want” to learn to exercise “free” will, not some form of imprisoned or compromised will.)

I invite you to observe reports of violence for a while and to notice how many acts of violence occur under the influence of anger and/or fear. How many occur while the person who acts violently is still heavily influenced by the motive of revenge? Anger is an emotion that barely hints at the level of pain that a person is carrying around inside from encounters with pain from the past. Unhealed emotional pain is the same as unresolved grief. The “desire” to have revenge or “settle the score” is a symptom of unhealed, internalized pain, even when it may be called “justice.” As the saying goes, “an eye for an eye makes us all blind.” We are in grave danger of being blinded by the violence awash in the world and unable to see our way clear of it. But there is an alternative to blind rage and anger-clouded vision. We can see our way clear if we’ll take the time to grieve, resolve the painful issues of our past and present lives and then move forward together in peace. We can build lasting peace, not merely intermittent truces, through such patient processing of our collective and individual griefs.

Are you willing to step back from the frenetic pace of your life and grieve sufficiently so that your heart’s burdens of pain are resolved and you rise up with fresh energy to help build peace on earth among all peoples of good will? Good will is free will. All human beings are good people at heart. In the depth of our hearts we can find the common ground upon which to build lasting peace. We can find by faith that this common ground is there because the Creator of us all put it there. But to see and stand together upon such holy common ground we must be willing to be determined to acquire, honor and relentlessly use the habits of grieving needed to keep our visions clear and our minds focused on peace instead of focused on justifying anger.

We can “do” peace and live together in it. We need not allow hidden griefs and motives of revenge to dominate and imprison our hearts and minds – or our wills – as if we have no other choice. We do have another choice, a healthier and more promising one. I hope what I’ve written here helps us to see it and to make it. We can choose unifying humility in preference to divisive pride and shame. We need not proudly fight to our deaths over things that matter little in comparison to love’s simpler, more highly valued features and benefits over which no one needs to fight because they are universally available for free. We need not shame, blame or guilt-trip ourselves or others for our decisions or theirs. We can seek to understand by compassion’s perspective “There but by the grace of God go I.”

Many people who advocate on behalf of violence as a solution to human conflicts and confrontations (including to protect innocent defenseless people or in self-defense) have endured trauma in their past, sometimes trauma too severe to imagine if one has not been exposed to it personally. What I write here in no way denies or minimizes the pain that traumatized people have endured or continue to carry as ongoing suffering. I know that I’ve been fortunate to experience only moderate levels of emotional pain. I do not know by personal experience the fuller intensity of pain and suffering. Yet, I continue to advocate on behalf of grieving as the way to heal even the most severe pain and to relieve suffering that otherwise occurs when ungrieved emotional pain is allowed to take root unaddressed, often unnoticed as an underlying theme so prevalent as to be taken for granted as one of life’s unavoidable and permanent conditions.

Ungrieved pain is generating havoc around the world, nearby in our own homes and neighborhoods and far away in the homes and neighborhoods of other members of the human race. My heart’s desire is to help stop this havoc and chaotic, misplaced reliance on inflicting more pain as a response to pain. It’s time to see through the clouds of pain and dust storms of suffering that anyone who acts out violently, even with the full sanction of his or her social institutions, is acting out of unresolved pain. Our social institutions that rely upon punishment to control other people’s actions or impose guilt and shame as a “consequence” of violating those institutions’ rules, roles and rituals are contributing to the overarching pattern of violence that threatens to end the human race. While it is true that we must not deny or minimize pain, we must also not justify inflicting it is as if it is an essential part of the solution. It is a symptom of the problem of emotional unhealthiness we must all address more effectively together. Inflicting more pain and suffering in response to existing pain and suffering is totally counterproductive.

It is my intention to encourage us all to address this unhealthy condition in societies around the world by promoting the mastery of the grief-relief process in place of the grief-infliction process. Too many of our rules, roles and rituals perpetuate grief and pass it along generation to generation, person to person, group to group and humanity to our ecosystem (animals, plants and minerals). Let’s us experiment together instead with the process of relief and see the miracles that peace beyond anger and depression will bring.

Longer explanations of free will have been written by many superb thinkers. If you want to read examples of such works, check out Rollo May’s books entitled Love and Will and Freedom and Destiny. You’ll find great value in focusing your mind on these books and others like them. To do so would be an exercise of your own free will in a nonviolent way. My shorter discussion of free will is not alone sufficient to bring it all home to your heart. If it gets the ball rolling, please keep this ball of healing energy flowing freely within your life as you cultivate your own motivation for learning more about the process of relief called “grieving.” There is no more promising way to exercise your free will than to learn that it’s simply not true that “Big boys don’t cry” or that tears are a sign of weakness. Emotionally unhealthy boys, girls, men and women don’t cry. Ones with tender hearts, reasoning minds and good wills do. Please don’t be ashamed to be one of us.

© Art Nicol 2015

 

Which Arms Race Do You Choose to Enter?

Once again it is evident that those who profit from manufacturing and marketing military weapons continue to engage in propaganda urging US taxpayers to foot the bill for their luxury lifestyles. (Those who pay directly or indirectly for governments around the world are also roped in by this global propaganda machine underwritten by multinational corporations who are more loyal to fattening their own bank accounts and indulging in conspicuous consumption as global playboys and playgirls than they are to any nation or peoples beyond their immediate families.) The main theme of such propaganda is the “arms race.” According this propaganda, we are always at the mercy of hostile nations and unruly hostile non-nations acting on their own. Threats from all sides seem to justify arming ourselves to the teeth. Add to that the seeming threats from within our own borders attributed to criminals, terrorists and general crazies and we have the makings an endless arms race from which no one escapes but a few definitely profit. It’s a bonus to the profit-makers that many US citizens have decided that the only adequate response to this growing perception of apparent hostility from others outside and inside our borders is to arm themselves with weapons supplied by the same arms industry. Ah, the profitability of fear!

Are you and I powerless in the face of this arms race that sucks resources from our pockets as relentlessly as lampreys suck life from lake trout and leeches suck blood from any animal to which they can attach themselves? Are we at the mercy of these profit-making vampires who own and operate major media sources so as to keep their propaganda ever before us? Do we have no choice but to be taken in by the propaganda and participate as unsuspecting or suspicious but compliant dupes and funders of the excesses of those who profit from this arms race?

Not necessarily. First we can decide to disregard the propaganda that tells us that the world is entirely hostile towards the US and that we have no choice but to arm ourselves with a succession of soon-to-be-obsolete weapons in an endless race towards the wars we cannot avoid. The inevitability of war is assumed by the propaganda and the only issue presented is how well prepared will we be to win that war. Few of us want to go down in defeat. So, if one assumes that war is inevitable, most of us will join the cry for increased preparedness at any cost. Yet, we don’t have to believe that assumption or buy into the propaganda. We can choose to participate in an alternative arms race instead.

What might that alternative arms race look like? It would look like neighbors opening their arms to each other and reaching around the globe to welcome strangers as neighbors in our global village. We can ignore the doomsayers and act as if we have a better future based on peace and good will shared by good-natured, reasoning people who populate the globe with values and priorities akin to our own. We can assume not hostility but instead common ground in our shared hearts’ desires to raise children in healthy conditions and share life with loved ones in stability and harmony without fear of losses inflicted by hostile forces prepared only to spread violence like an epidemic throughout the human race.

We could engage in a race into each other’s arms if only we trusted each other more than feared each other. Are we willing to take that risk? Might we set aside our xenophobia and reach out to each other as if we might find friends instead of enemies? What do we have to lose? The military version of the arms race dooms all of us. All we have to lose by taking the risk of embracing each other as neighbors instead of as hostile strangers is doom. Might it make sense to you and I to forsake doom in exchange for embracing peace and the freedom to share the globe with good will?

How will we ever find the courage to take such a risk in the face of pressures to believe the propaganda and stand apart in fear? I suggest our courage will come from our faith that there’s a power greater than the arms merchants and their minions, a Power that will aid our alternative arms race. If we race into the arms of the Creator who loves us, we will discover divinely inspired courage within our hearts and God’s corresponding wisdom to make our dreams of peace on earth among people of good will a reality even in the face of contrary arguments proposed by distributors of death. All we need to do is to decide to be customers of the Distributor of Life who charges us nothing for receiving all we can open ourselves to receive of life. It costs us nothing but our egos to open our hearts and minds to the Source of Life and receive in abundance all that the Source generously offers to share with us. Is humility too great a price for peace on earth?

I hope that anyone who prefers life over death and love over fear will consider joining me in the alternative arms race into the loving arms of God and the people who say “Amen” to God in whatever language they choose to say it. God is great in any language spoken around the world by people of all faiths in a God who wills that the human race enjoy being surrounded and filled with love and allowed to live into the fullness of time as Eternity’s children.

© Art Nicol 2015

 

Open Letter to Those Reaching Out to Outcast LGBTQ Youth and Young Adults

If you are reaching out to LGBTQ youth and young adults who feel unwelcome in their families, communities of faith, schools and other traditional social institutions, first let me say “Thank you” for your earnest effort to awaken dignity and self-respect in those harmed by the lies by which mainstream society surrounds them and inevitably fills them as these lies seep in to poison their hearts and minds. The harm is oftentimes mental and emotional before its toxicity builds up to the point of causing physical harm.   Self-destructive actions come along after self-destructive ideas about how life works take root and toxic emotions that naturally result from believing lies about being unworthy of dignity, respect and love color self-perceptions. Since self-rejection, self-hatred and self-punishment follows on the heels of social rejection, it is helpful to have society cease to reject and begin instead to wholeheartedly accept LGBTQ youth and young adults as welcome members of society. If given enough opportunity, self-acceptance, self-love and self-actualization will also follow from the healing power of social acceptance. But it is not enough to convert the shame of social rejection into the pride of social acceptance. Why? Because shame and pride are flipsides of the same coin by which an ego-based society enslaves us all. We need to do more than help LGBTQ youth and young adults to adopt the ego’s ways of being enslaved to social approval by pride and taken for the ego’s ride to a destiny unworthy of all human beings.  The ego’s way is not the solution. There is another resolution to the dilemma of being nonconforming or “different.”

Because a spiritually rooted and enriched life is the only true alternative to the ego’s seductive illusions, I especially want to thank those who are doing all they can to alert men and women who claim to speak for God to the harm caused by religious teachings that utterly denigrate the personhood and dignity of people with nonmainstream sexual and gender orientations.  As a follower of Jesus, I encourage you to challenge those who claim to honor Jesus to do much, much more than to stop spreading the lies that purport to condemn people of all ages who live with nonmainstream sexual and gender orientations to lives of guilt and shame and doom them forever to hell as unqualified to ever enter heaven.  To end systemic and individual bigotry is a worthy goal because once it’s achieved, we’ll stop harming our youth and young adults who dare to feel “different” and as part of their feeling different struggle secretly or openly with “different” sexual and gender orientations than the mainstream may admit to sharing.  But ceasing to do harm is not enough.  We must invest ourselves without reservation in undoing harm already done and in healing broken hearts much in the need of mending.  Only then will we face within ourselves the adverse effects of ego on and within all of us and evolve beyond ego’s limitations to embrace lives flowing freely with love’s most desired and treasured experiences.

Until their hearts are healed, those who have been wounded by lies and social rejection carry emotional pain and will continue to act out their pain in ways that socially conformist folks will condemn as “proof” of the wounded’s inherent unholiness.  Inner pain is often acted out in socially nonconformist (even rebellious) ways in the face of the conformity that has caused the pain.  (Such acting out is a way of saying, “No, you cannot do that to me anymore.”)  We must educate conformists (adherents to traditions) to be aware of how their unreasonable, fear-based demands for conformity are themselves a root cause of psychic pain and of the resulting harm that flows from believing oneself to be utterly unworthy of and unavailable to God’s love.  Lies confuse our minds.  Confusion = a form of psychic pain that couples with feelings of guilt, shame, inadequacy, powerlessness and resentment to imprison a person’s mind in a dilemma from which there appears to be no escape but death.  Death looks like the only relief after forms of temporary relief like drugs, alcohol, sex and other thrills and pleasure-triggering pursuits prove futile.

We must learn to say to inflexible traditionalists “If, in order to please God and experience Divine Love in abundance, I have to be 100% like you and not deviate in any way from the model of human life that you have adopted, then you are saying that God did not create diversity within the human race even though God created diversity among all other realms of Nature.”  Minerals, animals and vegetables embrace diversity without judging any aspect of diversity unworthy of belonging.  We must be willing to ask “What other expression of Nature polices its members to demand conformity and penalizes by rejection the minority who may not conform? Are not other species wise enough to accept nonconformity as a source of new-and-improved versions of the species that may prove to be more adaptive to changing conditions and capable of causing the species to survive those changes? Might demanding conformity and rejecting nonconformity doom the human race to extinction? Might a holy race include nonconformist expressions of holiness in all innocence as a way of ensuring that the race thrives beyond its currently limited vision for itself? Might God’s vision for the future of the human race encompass more than past traditions have embraced? Might future traditions embrace more of life, love, liberty and laughter because ancestral traditions learned to be more open to God’s creativity as a (re)new(ed) tradition?”

I’m not qualified to address how people of other religious flavors may view the socially marginalized (social “outcasts” or “rejects”), but I am qualified to speak to my brothers and sisters who claim Jesus as their Lord and Savior, as their primary Teacher and Friend.  We who follow Jesus are called to go far beyond stopping the transmission of harmful lies.  Yes, we do need to stop spreading messages of condemnation in the name of the one who said to the adulteress “And neither do I condemn you.”  Her sanctimonious, self-righteous neighbors accused her of “sin” and then dropped their stones when Jesus reminded them to look into their own hearts at their hidden, unconfessed and unrepented shortcomings.  All “sin” means at its origin is “separation.”  Jesus came not to separate from but to reconcile us to the Creator of Us All who loves and favors each of us as the individual and collective apple of His/Her eye.

The shortcomings of followers of Jesus include not only 1) accusing others of different sexual and gender orientations of being lifelong, irredeemable sinners (forever “separatists” from God doomed to suffer throughout all Eternity) but also 2) failing to heal and comfort those who are condemned.  It is not enough to stop condemning.  Jesus is a healer.  His followers must take up healing as their primary avocation until the harm done by the Church (and others) is undone.  We must heed the call to be allied not against but alongside those whom less understanding members of society have rejected as unacceptable family members, friends, classmates, fellow worshippers , co-workers, etc.

As an example of the misguided conclusions researchers are coming to about how to respond to the harm such condemnation causes, I cite this article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/02/26/lgbt-homeless-youth-survival-sex_n_6754248.html?utm_hp_ref=gay-voices.

As this article evidences, researchers tend to intellectualize their way through data to spot the harm (as if it needs to be proven, which it does only to those who otherwise restrict their lives to associating with other members of the privileged class and remain blind to the plight of the less privileged). But they know nothing of the response followers of Jesus are called to provide in response to such harm.  We are not called to study “the problem” in order to gain “insight into a little-understood world and demonstrate the need for more government-funded shelter beds and other resources focused on LGBTQ youth.”  Government is not the answer here anymore than government-run orphanages and foster care meet the needs of unwanted children and youth to be welcomed in homes where they are wanted.  Plenty of followers of Jesus have homes that have room to welcome unwanted youth to be included there as members of the family, as spiritually adopted children and siblings simply because they are already divine children of the Divinely Loving God Jesus called Abba.  We need not out-source the care of the unwanted youth and young adults to governments or any other resource beyond the Christian community itself.  We who claim to occupy the privileged status of having Jesus’ care and guidance must take into our hearts and homes those Jesus says he identifies with, whom the Bible says he called “the least of these.”

I urge you who advocate on behalf of LGBTQ youth and young adults not to settle for speaking to believers in Jesus as if the government is the resource Jesus calls upon to serve God in his name and nature.  Jesus calls upon his followers to serve according to his way, truth and life.  He says we will do what he did and greater things will we do.  He does not teach that his followers should badger politicians into spending taxpayers’ money to provide for the socially marginalized.  He calls for his followers to serve directly in accordance with the blessings that they have received, to dig into their own pockets as the Good Samaritan did to provide for the stranger found beaten and abandoned along the road.  Emotionally beaten and abandoned LGBTQ street kids (as well as LGBTQ youth elsewhere in society) need more followers of Jesus to heed their Lord’s commandment to love God and one another and to leave no one out of their circle of love.

Others may be free to insulate themselves from direct involvement in the lives of those whom the distorters of Jesus’ teachings have harmed.  We who live by the truth of Jesus’ teachings must step forward to demonstrate by the congruency of our words and deeds that the age of  hypocrisy is over and a new age of integrity has begun.

To those who advocate on behalf of LGBTQ youth and young adults and seek to serve their best interests, I say, “What you are doing is a much needed beginning to the age of integrity.  I encourage you to take it all the way and call upon followers of Jesus to confess their own shortcomings as followers, turn from their adherence to habits of falling short, take up their responsibilities and follow the One who sends the Holy Spirit to leads us into all truth.” And I repeat, the gratitude of all whom you serve and of the God of Love who watches over them goes with you always. May you be open to reaping as you sow from the One who sows generously within the hearts and lives of all who serve in the nature of truth and love!

© Art Nicol 2015

A is for the Artificiality that Makes Men Mean

In the ABCs of Love, A stands for Authenticity. In the ABCs of Hate and Fear, A stands for Artificiality. Each alternative emotional ecosystem – love or hate/fear – offers its basic ABCs. When boys are raised to be authentic and true to themselves with the freedom to be gentle, creative and caring, they become nurturing, appreciative and affectionate men because their loving qualities are rooted in their nature as children of Divine Love and spring up naturally to be explored, expressed and experienced without inhibitions.

But, when a boy grows up in an artificially superficial, image-conscious, media-hyped modern society – a world in which being authentic, trusting and honest is too emotionally risky to endure – the boy becomes a man who has learned to defend against being hurt and to protect his heart from being shared “too” openly. Open, tender-heartedness is not allowed in modern society without great penalties of guilt, shame and pain, especially among male members of society. Tender-heartedness is ridiculed as unmanly, an offense to a masculinity that is supposed to conform to social norms to earn social approval. To introduce the A of Artificiality into men, is to turn “men” into “mean.”

One way to look at this transformation of gentle, tenderhearted boys into mean men is to realize that the modern world forces them to choose to be either outright bullies to some degree or another or scared men who won’t stand up for what they believe in because they are intimidated by bullies. It takes courage to be a genuinely caring and nurturing man who is both not a bully and not scared into silence and inaction by bullies. Men who live like bullies or who allow bullies to run society are mean towards themselves and others. In their divine core, all men have what it takes to join together to create a society far different from what modern society has become. We can set aside our personally customized version of meanness and rise up together as mean-free men of honorable valor and highest value.

Me + n (for “nurturing”) stands for men who live true to their divine nature as children of an infinitely loving Divine Parent. It’s true that at some point in our development, we become aware that we are an individual “me.” “Oh, look at me, can you see me?” Experts in human development identify the emergence of our individuality in games like “peek-a-boo” or watching and reacting to ourselves and others in a mirror. In both games and other life lessons (such as being weaned from breast and/or bottle to feed ourselves), we learn to tell the difference between ourselves and others. We no longer see ourselves as being entirely incorporated within an undivided whole. We begin to learn that we are separate from the others around us and are then expected to learn how to live in awareness of this separation. For most of us in modern society, we learn to some degree to be scared by separateness because it seems as if we no longer can trust the “others” from whom we feel separate to treat us gently, affirm our value and meet our needs. Separation anxieties seep into our hearts and take up permanent residence as agents of the fear of being alone combined with the fear of not being left alone instead of bullied.

Have you ever struggled with the fear of being alone while also realizing that you don’t want to be hurt anymore by someone you allow to be close to you? Can we trust anyone to be close to us to prevent our being alone without having to allow that person to somehow be mean to us and make us pay a price for not being alone? That’s a key issue in modern society and has been a key issue in human society for a long, long time. How long? For as long as men have been taught to be aggressive with their greater physical strength in order to protect more vulnerable members of society (typically women and children) from harm inflicted by other aggressors – both human and non-human. So long as we expect stronger men to take up the role of protectors from aggressors, we distort their perspective on life and teach them that we expect them to learn to be mean, not merely nurturing.

The A that stands for “aggression” is an artificial quality for humans of any gender. When we expect males to adopt aggression as a lifelong quality we expect them to internalize that “a” and add it into the formula to become “me + a + n = mean.” The quality of aggression interferes in the development of nurturing qualities when boys and young men instead engage in male roles by adopting stereotypical aggressive solutions to social problems. (Expressions of aggression can be mental instead of physical in boys and young men who have exceptionally quick minds and discover that they can outthink others to have their way even when they don’t have stronger bodies. Sometimes such boys and young men turn their aggression inward upon themselves and act out in self-harming ways rather than harm others. In that case, they are punishing themselves for not living according to society’s masculine norms. Believing oneself to be an utter failure in the eyes of those who matter most can lead to self-abuse – including abusive use of drugs, alcohol, sex, food and other pain-numbing distractions – and ultimately suicide.)

We are unreasonable to complain when men we’ve expected to develop aggressive qualities to protect us from other aggressive people continue to be aggressive when they leave the social roles we trained them to fulfill as aggressive men and try to move into other social roles. For example, we train some of our young men to be aggressive members of our military at the time of young adulthood when it would be natural for them to learn instead to be nurturing partners within intimate relationships. We cannot next expect these young men to become gentle, nurturing spouses and parents without supporting their letting go of the habits of aggressive problem-solving required in military action and their learning replacement habits of nurturing problem-solving required of competent caregivers. When we welcome these young military-oriented men to become police officers and structure and equip our law enforcement system like a branch of the military we are hardly fair to these men.

In fact, we are entirely unreasoning and unreasonable. We surround them with all of the signs, symbols and symptoms of still being in the military and expected to be at war with an enemy and then burden them with a contrasting set of expectations brewed largely of force-based responses to threats while laced with inadequate training in alternative responses. This is especially unreasonable when we expect our our militarily trained young adults (both men and women) to use violence to defeat enemies who hide among civilian populations and then ask them to return to our civilian population and not continue to sort automatically between friend and foe on whatever terms they learned in the military. We are now the civilian population among which hide those (also here out of uniform) from whom we hope the police will protect us.

(A similar line of reasoning applies to young men whom we encourage to be trained in aggressive sports for our entertainment, as if they are modern gladiators fighting to the “win/death” in our technologically enhanced and broadcast coliseums. Pay-for-violence media abound as avenues for boys and young men to achieve fame and fortune, the ultimate in social approval! Yet, somehow magically we expect them to be model intimate partners off their fields of battle. We pay them handsomely for their on-target violence and then fault them for targeting others with it.)

Men who faithfully learn to be mean in order to survive in life-threatening (and pride-gaining) circumstances will not suddenly stop being oriented to meanness when they are no longer immersed in those circumstances. A change in outer circumstances is not alone adequate to cause a change in inner orientation. Habits of aggressive emotional, mental and social reactions take time and practice to learn. They also take time and practice to unlearn. It matters little whether those habits were learned in a highly competitive family, school, sports, street life, military or other intensely performance-oriented setting in which a male’s identity is equated with success as an aggressor. Once such habits are taken to heart, men who are trained in this manner need generous and gracious help and abundant opportunities to release their mean habits and acquire new ones that are nurturing.

The A in mean men is not a permanent quality. Beneath it are the natural, lifelong and life-sustaining qualities of affection, appreciation, affirmation, acceptance and assertiveness. In short, other A-list qualities are far more natural to male members of society than aggression ever is. Aggression is artificial, not at all natural to men. Let’s no longer ask men to be unnaturally aggressive and instead encourage and allow them to be comfortable with being assertive and other A-list qualities. Let’s affirm men as expresses of God’s affection and appreciation and stop insisting that they be expressions of God’s anger.

Anger is not even an A-list quality of God. If we are willing to listen to Jesus who said, “He who has seen me has seen the Father,” we’ll realize that God is not angry with us and we need not be angry with or aggressive towards ourselves or each other. We are not sinners in the hands of an angry God or in the hands of anyone else who feels angry. We are innocent children of God whom an artificially oriented modern society born of centuries of mistaken ideas has wronged by insisting that we feel guilty and ashamed of ourselves for our best qualities. In God’s eyes, we have nothing to be guilty or ashamed of. We have made the mistake of believing those who do not speak for God’s heart and do not know God’s true mind towards us.

Jesus spoke and speaks for God. Other kind, gentle, nurturing and courageous males and females who are wholeheartedly committed to the welfare of all humanity have pointed us towards the authentic nature of God too. Those who have known God intimately have gently tried to redirect our attention to the qualities of God too often overlooked when we feel afraid and want God to protect us from harm. We expect God to use force and be aggressive on our behalf as we expect larger-bodied humans to do. In that manner, we have tried to reduce God to the limitations of physically expressed humans. God is bigger and more powerful than that even while remaining totally nurturing, accepting, affirming and actively in favor of each of us.

© Art Nicol 2015

Has Christianity Functioned as an Invasive Species?

The habitat of the lionfish used to be limited to warm parts of the Pacific Ocean but now lionfish have begun to occupy reef marine communities in warm Atlantic waters too. It is likely that humans introduced the lionfish to these waters by releasing them as no longer-wanted pets. In the absence of natural predators for lionfish in Atlantic waters, the lionfish population in Caribbean waters has grown unchecked. Since lionfish prey upon the young fish of other species, populations of native species in these reef communities have inevitably declined as lionfish consume their young and wipe out future breeders. In this manner, lionfish have functioned as a typical invasive species to reduce populations of native species by their predatory actions. Lionfish have no interest in preserving native populations when those populations feed their appetites.

Christians used to live in certain parts of the European continent where they identified themselves with the empire-building practices of the Roman Empire and used their religious beliefs to justify conquest of other people and their lands when the resources and peoples of conquered populations fed Europeans’ appetites for pleasure and for power. Many Europeans who traveled to the continent of North America to occupy what they claimed to be vacant lands brought their version of Christianity’s attitudes, beliefs and conquest-justify orientation with them to justify taking the lands occupied by indigenous members of the human race away from these native populations.

In the process of insuring that native populations (called tribes) would not resist the empire-building of European Christians, the European Christians removed the young of native tribes to teach them in schools away from their families and native traditions. They taught them a Western language, Westernized modern values and Westernized thinking to replace and wipe out the native language and rich heritage these young would otherwise have acquired from their tribal elders. As a result, the population of native tribes declined as their young became consumed by Western values and identified with Western lifestyles. The reefs that previously covered the continent where native tribes once thrived shrank into tiny remnants of the lowest quality lands least desired by the European conquerors. Today those shrunken reefs are more commonly known as “reservations.” They function as a patchwork of impoverished sanctuaries for the endangered indigenous members of the human race who occupied the North American continent before the arrival of Europeans.

There are parallels at work here. Do these parallels demonstrate the invasive and parasitic nature of the form of Christianity that Europeans exported to the North American continent? In the process of this exploitative exporting of toxic distortions of Jesus’ teachings, what happened to his teachings about how those with greater power should treat those with less power? With their superior weaponry and access to continent-spanning communications and transportation systems, were not the Europeans the more powerful? But which espoused true wisdom – the version of Christianity exported to the North American continent or the spirituality of the native populations? Centuries have passed. The evidence is now in. European values and methods have exploited the lands and waters and air as no native population has had the means, heart or will to exploit. We have become a nation rich on material terms and impoverished on wisdom’s terms.

Perhaps it is time for those who have subscribed to the justifications of modern Christianity to repent and turn away from their traditions as their ancestors once demanded that Native Americans turn away from their native traditions. Perhaps it is time for all who have subscribed voluntarily or involuntarily to the language and mindset of domination, conquest and exploitation to repent and learn the language and the practices of Jesus, the language and practices of divine love shared among the peoples of the Earth about which Jesus spoke and according to which he lived while in an earthly form. Beyond his earthly form, Jesus continues to call us to turn aside from the ways of the world, take off our shoes when we are on holy ground and listen to the voice that spoke to Moses from the burning bush. It is the same voice Jesus heard while in the wilderness and invites us today to hear by the power of the Holy Spirit blazing in our hearts.

Could it be that Jesus is so invested in the welfare of the whole human race (and every member of us) that he calls for each and all of us to stop doing unto others what has been done unto us and turn away to do unto others what we prefer from the depths of our hearts be done to us instead? Might we reverse the tides of toxic relationships that are washing across our lands if we were each to become totally committed to allowing the Holy Spirit to detoxify our own hearts and minds and to supporting each other in doing likewise? Could that be Jesus’ plan for ending the suffering we otherwise inflict upon ourselves and others in self-condemnation on account of our buried guilt and shame? Let us hear and honor by word and deed the message “Neither do I condemn you” as we turn away from our stony hearts and instead listen to the stories our hearts yearn to share about the love we want to dare and the miraculous ways we want to care.

© Art Nicol 2015