Monday, July 13, 2020

The Antidote For Spiritual Poison: A Belated Rumination

     There are many ways to be unhealthy. One can be diseased in the body, disordered in the mind, or afflicted in the soul. Each of those categories knows many internal variations. There are specific treatments for each of them. As I’m neither a medical doctor nor a mental health professional, my focus is on spiritual maladies.

     (I can hear you muttering all the way over here, you know. “Here he goes again, practicing soul-doctoring without a license.” Well, yes. But at least, pace Robert Sheckley, I confine my prescriptions to stuff you can get over-the-counter. The worst of the known side effects is a mild case of boredom.)

     One common spiritual malady is emptiness: the absence of a guiding belief system to which one has sincerely committed oneself. Sincerely is a key component. Many who claim to hold to a faith of one sort of another, when observed “in action,” reveal that faith to be cosmetic only. Such persons are quite as empty as any candid nihilist. Only heartfelt commitment to a wholesome faith will serve their need.

     Another important disease of the soul is adherence to a toxic belief system. A creed which is logically unsound, or whose ethical prescriptions contradict the Law of General Benevolence, will have deleterious effects both on the believer and on those around him. There have been many such creeds, though only one – Islam – remains an important force.

     Those are the two worst spiritual afflictions. Many who suffer from them are unaware of what’s causing their suffering. But help is available for both.

     I recently acquired a remarkable little book: God Knew There Would Be A Today, by multi-virtuoso “Mean Mary” James, her brother Frank, and her mother Jean. It’s a collection of 365 very short devotional pieces, each of which speaks to a particular spiritual theme. Each day in the non-Leap-Year calendar is assigned one piece. The reader is advised to read and reflect upon the day’s piece before he begins his day...and perhaps again when his day is done. Their beauty, directness, and simplicity remind me of the devotional poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins.

     I hope the Jameses will not take it amiss if I reproduce here the entry for July 16:

     This earth’s worldly-wise-do-gooders claim we shouldn’t meddle with the religion of different heathen peoples. They say that a heathen’s belief is his heritage, and we should leave it alone. That sounds reasonable, but what if we know of a wonderful field of food, and we meet hungry people who are trying to gain sustenance from stubble? Shouldn’t we show them where they might fill their bellies with satisfying, life-sustaining fare? If we overhear a dying person pray to a force of nature, a merely human god, or an idol, should we stand by and let that person be lost for all eternity so as not to interfere with someone’s heritage?
No heritage exists outside of Jesus Christ.
Christ’s servants had enough boldness to make this statement in Biblical times.
Do we have enough love to say it today?

     Time was, all the Christian denominations not only said it but lived it. They sent missionaries to the dark places of the world to proclaim the love of God, the mission of His Son Jesus, and the promise of everlasting life. Such missionaries were remarkably effective, as long as they practiced what they preach...and most of them did.

     Those were times of a character that differed greatly from ours. People were less worried about “offending” by stating their convictions. Nor were they in any doubt, when they confronted some evil, that evil was what it was. Consider this famous statement by Sir Charles Napier, on being told that suttee, the practice of burning a widow on her late husband’s funeral pyre, was a traditional practice of India with which he should not interfere:

     “You say it is your custom to burn widows. Very well. We also have a custom; when men burn a woman alive, we tie a rope around their necks and we hang them. Build your funeral pyre; beside it, my carpenters will build a gallows. You may follow your customs. And then we will follow ours.”

     And damned be he that dares to say the British shouldn’t have “interfered” with an important native custom.

     Religious proselytizing has acquired an unpleasant reputation, partly because of those who propagandize against it, but also because of those who do it badly. I’m no fan of door-to-door proselytizers. I’ll allow that their hearts are usually in the right place – they’re trying to share something they consider critically important – but the method has a huge freight of negatives, including the intrusiveness of it and the tendency they exhibit to over-press even the tentatively receptive. Rare is the man who’s entirely comfortable with finding a stranger on his doorstep, there to pitch a religious creed.

     But there are other ways. Living your faith, and standing ready to explain it to those who take an interest in you, and in what it is that has rendered you so serene, is one. Magician and humorist Penn Jillette experienced another:

     I was struck powerfully by this statement Jillette made:

     “How much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible...and not tell them that?

     Reflect on that. Then go back to the previous segment, reread the snippet from God Knew There Would Be A Today, and reflect some more.

     A wholesome faith is the best imaginable antidote to a spiritual poison. Christianity, whose Founder told us that eternal life in bliss is available on simple terms, who demonstrated His sincerity by dying on a cross, and who certified His authority by returning from the dead, is the most wholesome of all creeds. Some have skepticism issues that they must work past on their own. Some must see the creed demonstrated in the lives of its adherents. Others know its value immediately upon encountering it. As my Vietnamese-American sweetie Duyen has said:

     Being a good example is a form of charity that isn't much appreciated. But it's always been the most effective form of preaching, the preparation for everything else. Your deeds can open the door for your words; nothing else will. And when that door is opened to you, you must speak. You must tell your story -- without embarrassment or fear -- and you must learn how to reassure others who haven't "gotten there" yet that their stories still have a few chapters to run.

     May God bless and keep you all – and by the way, Jeffrey Epstein didn’t kill himself, and Ghislaine Maxwell won’t either. Just sayin’.


Linda Fox said...

Oh, YES! I had an aunt who was a preacher. Her most effective testimony was her LIFE - goodness, self-sacrifice for others, decency in the face of temptation.

Kye said...

I never thought of proselytizing in that way. I will from now on. Very powerful. The Truth usually is.

Paul Bonneau said...

I generally agree, even if I'm not a believer myself.

Your statement by Napier, while satisfying, can only work in the context of imperialism. How many are killed maintaining that rule, compared to how many are killed via suttee?