Monday, December 15, 2008

Fundamentalism and Denial

Andrew Sullivan sums up the Bush psyche fairly accurately, I think:

With this president, it is actually hard to know for sure whether he is capable of understanding what he did. I have no doubt that Cheney and Rumsfeld understood very well that they were crossing a legal and moral Rubicon; they knew they were authorizing war crimes and made every effort to give themselves phony legal cover and a theory of dictatorial presidential power that would have made King George III blush.

With Bush, however, his levels of denial are so strong he may simply be unable to accept that he has committed an absolute moral evil.

This Christianist president has a hard time with actual Christianity. He is of the fundamentalist psyche that holds that since he is on the side of the angels, he cannot do evil. And so even when presented with indisputable evidence of his own acts, his own memos, his own staff's decisions, he cannot own the consequences. He asked for memos from apparatchiks saying it wasn't torture, as if this guaranteed it wasn't torture. He reacted to the tangible consequences of his own decisions as if someone else had been president, or someone else's signature was on those memos, or someone else's vice-president had publicly embraced torture as a "no-brainer."

There are many times in my life when I have had infinite patience with fundamentalists--people with rigid, absolutist moral philosophies, who freely discuss angels and demons and the cosmic struggle against evil. On some level I both understand where they're coming from, and perceive a great deal of metaphorical truth in their reasoning.

The problem is, THEY don't see it as a metaphor. And in their literalistic, black-and-white struggle against evil, they are far more likely to project the evil in their own psyches outside themselves, and use their rigidity as an excuse to bully, torture, attack, harass, mock and oppress people who do not see things their way. This is not 'fighting evil', it's a transparent and contemptible attempt to avoid the very self-examination that is the core of all true spiritual growth.

In a way, I can kind of get inside Bush's head. I think he believes that someone else actually was President. I think he thinks that he was following spiritual guidance in doing what he did. I think he saw the machinations of Rove, his privileges of birth, his innate charisma, all as the hand of God directing him to become President and carry out an evangelical crusade against the evils of the world. And I think that on some level, it actually was spiritual guidance.

But the one thing I've discovered about spiritual guidance is that the lessons it teaches you are never the ones you thought you were learning. Bush didn't stamp out evil in Iraq; he didn't stamp it out anywhere. He may or may not have learned a few things about unintended consequences, listening to others, personal responsibility, and perceiving the character (or lack thereof) in one's intimate advisors. I've said before that I think Bush is co-dependent on an international level, and I stand by this assessment.

Spiritually speaking, however, he is a child, and the people around him are bullies. A Sullivan reader sums it up:

...their faiths themselves are defined by the people they exclude: the unbelievers, the unsaved (or let's be blunt: the "damned"), the always-demonized Other: without that division, that exclusion, their entire theology, indeed their entire worldview, collapses: a theology of inclusion is anathema to them, just as a politics, a sociology or even a science of inclusion (evolution) is anathema.

And why? Because despite their fine words, and their closely-guarded self-images, the actual and real ruling principle of their lives and their theology is fear, not love.

Everything flows from that original orientation, that original choice (because it is, finally, a choice). For them, to be inclusive is to expose themselves to what they fear; and what they fear most is summarized in their mythology of hell and eternal damnation: an eternal torture of body, mind, soul and spirit administered by an angry, vengeful, psychopathic god. It is all pure projection.

And irony of ironies, it is precisely the opposite of the message the Christian Savior tried to bring: that salvation is found only through love, through inclusion, through openness of mind and heart and spirit, through, ultimately, trust -- that this world, with all its difficulties and pain and imperfections, built through evolution, and including endless Others, is as it should be, as it was intended to be.

But that leap, from fear to trust, from fear to love, from fear to inclusion, is not an easy one, either for the individual or for a society. No evolutionary leap ever is -- and that is precisely what the leap from fear to love is: an evolutionary leap; evolution in action, evolution at the cognitive, emotional and spiritual levels.
Tangentially, this same Sullivan reader references a This American Life episode which I also listened to, and which I highly recommend, about an evangelical pastor who committed the ultimate heresy--he stopped believing in hell.


Anonymous said...

You didn't say which spirit was offering guidance to that man. I could make a guess, though...

Unknown said...

Jack Daniels?

Chris Rywalt said...

And I did it here, again. That's not Dawn, it's me.