Friday, June 26, 2015

It's been a quiet week ...

... here at the blog. I've been very busy in my real life. Here is some stuff I'm working on:

1. "That nasty today"

It was not only in Nazareth that the "today" of the Gospel was not accepted. Later also, in the course of the church's history, it has again and again been denied or rendered toothless. The reason was the same as in Nazareth: apparently it goes against the human grain for God to become concrete in our lives. Then people's desires and favourite notions are in danger, and so are their ideas about time. It can't be today because that would mean our lives have to change today already. Therefore God's salvation is better delayed into the future. There it can lie, hygienically and snugly packed, at rest, inconsequential.
That's from Gerhard Lohfink's book Jesus of Nazareth, What He Wanted, Who He Was. It's not an unprecedented observation. In a sense, it's all to familiar; we've heard this before. Many times.

2. Apocalypticism?

Related to the above, there is an almost universal belief among bible scholars using the historical-critical method, that Jesus and Paul both believed that the end times were imminent. That not a crazy conclusion. Much of the text can be read that way. But, if so, why was the early church able to so easily adapt to the end not coming. Faiths based on predictions of the end of the world tend to evaporate.

Jesus taught that the kingdom (Lohfink says "reign of God" would be a better translation) has come near. One way to read that is that the end is coming soon, as it is undoubtedly coming eventually. Another is to see the reign of God as already accessible. If Jesus taught the second, it would be easy to mistake that message for the first. Early Christianity, as I say, not only didn't fail when the end times didn't come, it thrived. Perhaps because the main message was always a way of living right now. Perhaps Paul's messages about the end times in, for example, First Thessalonians, weren't the main message but rather reassurances for those whose faith is weak, that is to say, they were reassurances for those who could only understand the message about the reign of God being very near as meaning the end times were imminent. If I'm right, the majority of early Christians would have believed not in an imminent Apocalypse in the modern sense of the end of the world, but of something that could transform their present lives. Paul, as we know, was ready to taylor his message to meet the needs of those whose belief was more superstitious than profound.

3. Book review? 

Having mentioned Gerhard Lohfink's book Jesus of Nazareth, What He Wanted, Who He Was, what do I think of it? I don't know yet. I'm only on the second chapter. So far, it is promising.

4. The demands of "love"

I think most men have had the experience of telling a woman they loved that she was beautiful only to have her dismiss the claim. It's a disorienting experience because we say these things because we mean them. The words come out when we look at her and think how beautiful she is. We're not stupid—we know she isn't a fashion model—but what we see is beauty.

Sometimes, the message is received with pleasure and even gratitude but there are other times when a woman will rush to pour cold water on the suggestion that she is beautiful to you. I think part of the reason is that women seek to control men's emotions just as we do theirs. That's a subject I'll return to below. Most of the issue, though, is that love comes with demands. Being beautiful—along with being brave, honest, caring—requires effort. If you tell someone that she is beautiful  when she feels she has that part of her life that goes with being beautiful in control, then she can accept the compliment with joy. If she's struggling, or just doesn't want to make the effort anymore, then it is a demand. If I praise you for being beautiful I am implicitly saying that you should keep on working at being beautiful.

If God loves us, and Catholics and other Christians, believe he does, then there are demands that come with that love.

5. If you want to be part of this family ...

One of my mother's expressions was, "If you want to be a part of this family you need to stop/start [insert behaviour under discussion]." I had an argument recently with some family members about this. I believe that is an inappropriate thing for a mother to do. They didn't agree.

My mother did it all the time. I'm aware that there are far worse things in life. A friend of mine grew up with a mother who regularly beat her children savagely. But acknowledging that things could have been worse doesn't even come close to getting my mother off the hook. The need to belong is intense in children and it is a cruel and manipulative thing for a parent, or any other family member, to behave this way.

As psychologists say, the point should be to name not blame but nothing is worth naming unless it is potentially worth blaming. Naming is a strategy here; it's a way of training our emotions. I could get angry and I'd be completely justified in doing so. It would not, however, be tremendously useful. My mother's dead. Even if she weren't, what would I achieve by getting angry with her? Quite frankly, she never attained the emotional maturity it would have taken to understand that what she had done was wrong.

I do want to reach that level of emotional maturity.

6. Controlling others' emotions

I've often said that we live in a narcissistic age and that, therefore, we are all narcissists.

The Last Psychiatrist (more on this further down) describes narcissism as the tendency to think we are the stars of a romantic comedy and everyone else is a supporting player. I don't that's quite right because that's everyone. We all start life as egoists and we all tend to revert to being egoists. And we all get regular reminders that other people are not just supporting players in our star vehicle. And it is here where narcissism begins to distinguish itself. I'm no psychologist but I think narcissism is a collection of strategies we use to avoid accepting that others have separate lives.

Probably the most notable of these is the tendency to dismiss others' emotions as illegitimate when they don't harmonize with our own. And if they are illegitimate, then they are open to being dismissed or manipulated. And it gets easier to effectively manipulate others' emotions if you don't recognize them as legitimate in the first place. That's the moment when a parent can turn to a child and exploit their desperate need to belong by saying, if you want to be a part of this family ...".

7. To be loved just as we are ...

We all want that, or think we do which amounts to the same thing. But nobody really believes that love is completely unconditional. Hurt me and I may be able to bring myself to forgive you but I'm not going to love you, or love you again, unless you damn well earn it.

Weird leap now, I've quoted The Last Psychiatrist on narcissistic injury approvingly before:
Fat George Clooney discovers his wife has been cheating on him-- and he never suspected. That's a profound insult, a narcissistic injury, and no, people who complain I talk about it too much but haven't actually learned the lessons, you don't have to be a narcissist to experience a narcissistic injury, it's built into the way we relate to other people. It's jealousy AND an existential beat down: look at the limits of your power, look at the limits of your reach, she is able to have a whole other existence that had so little to do with you you didn't even notice, nor did she feel any need to tell you. At least if she had done it to hurt you you'd still suffer the jealousy but your place as main character in your own movie would be secure. Maybe you're only supporting cast in hers? "Screw that. I'm changing the script."
Having been in a deeply committed relationship and being cheated on, I know all about narcissistic injury. TLP does a very good job of describing the ways we react. But there is a crucial moral point to face here and that is that the woman who cheats on you has done you a serious wrong. I focus on women here because we don't feel the same way about men who cheat. Don't believe me? Tell me that you honestly believe that this movie could be made with the sexes reversed:

When my ex cheated on me, I had friends who came t me and told me that I wasn't treating her well enough and that was why she'd done it. Really! And TLP is doing something like that here. It's the male character's fault that he couldn't see that his wife had a whole existence separate from him! If you made a movie about a group of men who discover that a woman has been having sex with all of them and giving them the impression that each was the only man in her life and they got together and tried to destroy her it would, rightly be describes, as misogyny. Do the same thing with women and you can pass that hatred off as comedy.

Now, we could stamp our feet and scream about double standards but, I think,  as men we just have to accept that this is the way it is and adjust our attitudes accordingly. TLP is quite right that we experience a narcissistic injury when someone we've committed to cheats on us and whole lot of unhealthy responses come with that. But it is equally wrong to act as if there was no injury at all.

To return to what TLP says in the quote above, do anything about the following strike you as odd?
It's jealousy AND an existential beat down: look at the limits of your power, look at the limits of your reach, she is able to have a whole other existence that had so little to do with you you didn't even notice, nor did she feel any need to tell you. At least if she had done it to hurt you you'd still suffer the jealousy but your place as main character in your own movie would be secure. Maybe you're only supporting cast in hers? "Screw that. I'm changing the script."
That's mostly good but it ignores a key moral fact: they're married and married people aren't supposed to have a whole other existence their spouse doesn't know about. That's a real injury and  deserves a response. Just not a narcissistic one.

Don't change the script, but do change the conversation.

Anyway, I'll now make another weird leap back to the topic I started with: To be loved just as you are you have to work hard to make yourself into someone who is beautiful and good. That won't guarantee anything. It's a necessary condition not a sufficient one. But the lesson is that the best revenge is to live well and living well means to make something beautiful and good of yourself.

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