Why is Scripture Sacred?

For Christians the words of the Bible are the “Word of God”. Does this mean that God wrote the Bible? No. Does it mean that everything you find in the Bible is literally true? No. Does it mean that it is inerrant? No.

Nobody knows who wrote the books of the Old Testament or the gospels of the New Testament (except the Psalms were written by King David and the Epistles of Paul were obviously written by Saint Paul (though not all of them)). Nobody knows how many people were involved. All we know is that the Bible as a whole is revered by millions of people as inspired, revealed Truth.

The Bible is sacred writing. It is holy scripture. Why? Why can’t we treat it like any other work of fiction? Or any other work of history? Well, people do. But they rob it of its spiritual power. Sacred scriptures are demarcated as sacred in order to protect them from profane minds, especially the profane minds of Cynical Clowns and Fearful Bores.

In my blog, The Good Trip Guide, I quoted Psalm 11 from the Old Testament and quoted from chapter 2 of Paul’s letter to the Romans and from chapter 20 of the gospel according to Matthew. For Christians, these are sacred pieces of writing that should be read with reverence. They carry a special spiritual authority that our critical, questioning minds must defer to. Ideally, we should read them as the monastics do, through “lectio divina”, a divinely inspired reading to match the divinely inspired writing, like two arrows that meet in mid-air.

Imagine what a Cynical Clown might make of these passages. Imagine the potential for irreverent humour and cynical scoffing. Imagine what a Fearful Bore might make of them: endless tedious over-interpretation and analysis. Neither is able to engage the sacredness of the text. Both are engaged in sacrilege.

Until we can regain a lively and wholesome sense of the sacred, and escape the dominant modern attitude of skepticism and cynicism, we will continue to flounder in the mud pit of profanity, impotently slinging mud at the invisible face of God. And that’s no way for mature adults to behave.

Cynical Clowns and Fearful Bores

Two classic subpersonalities that sabotage or attempt to sabotage spiritual progress in spiritual communities are associated with the Addict and Victim archetypes on The Wheel of Babylon. The first, usually manifesting in an addictive personality, is the Cynical Clown, who uses humour to undercut and undermine. This is the joker in the pack, the court jester, whose purported aim is to puncture any signs of puffed-up ego or inflated narcissism.

William Shakespeare makes great use of this archetype, from Feste the fool in Twelfth Night to Falstaff in Henry IV. It seems that he was particularly sensitive to arrogance and hypocrisy and delighted in using his comic characters to pull pretentious Divas from their self-made pedestals. Which is a fine and wondrous thing. The world will always be in need of good satire.

However, although everyone should have a fool to keep their Diva ego in check (as did the medieval kings of England) he should, like Feste, be “wise enough to play the fool”. He should know when to jest, and when to keep silent; and he should be able to tell the difference between a Sir Andrew Aguecheek and a Count Orsino.

Spiritual circles are rife with more or less thinly disguised spiritual narcissists in serious need of a Cynical Clown to bring them down a peg or two. However, the cynicism can get out of hand, finding more and more targets, eventually undermining the whole enterprise. Sometimes, in the case of true cynics, this is the conscious or unconscious intention from the start, but more often than not it is a gradual development, a kind of deformación profesional. Truly bitter, resentful cynics, like envious Iago and inexplicable Judas (Satan entered into him), are not just naughty Addicts, but treacherous Demons.

Why the Cynical Clown should be associated with the Addict is an interesting question. It probably has something to do with the displacement and projection of hedonic motivations (usually some variation of sex, drugs and rock and roll) onto others as a defense mechanism. “Ah yes, I see what you’re up to! (nudge nudge, wink wink)”. It simultaneously acts in two directions: exposing the hypocrisy of the holier than thou in order to prevent hidden bad behaviour, but also encouraging open bad behaviour (such as lewdness and drunkenness). Sir Toby Belch is a good example.

Another, more common, frequenter of spiritual circles are the Fearful Bores. They also has a destabilising effect, but in a diametrically opposed way – instead of witty, cutting jokes, they engage in rambling, confessional anecdotes. Instead of encouraging everyone to be silly, they encourage everyone to be serious, seizing any opportunity to turn a social situation into an earnest group therapy session.

It’s not hard to see how this subpersonality is associated with the Victim. There is, of course, the comfort of receiving understanding and sympathy, and there is also the added comfort of giving it, once you’ve succeeded in drawing out somebody else’s confession of victimhood. There is a peculiar bonding that takes place, particularly among women (in my experience – sorry!) over shared trouble, misfortune and mistreatment, a kind of solidarity of the oppressed.

Men do it too of course. But they tend to intellectualise more, spinning out their misery in seemingly endless trains of thought and levels of analysis. Of course it is vitally important that people feel able to talk openly and freely and feel comfortable enough to share their emotional and psychological difficulties and insights in a safe and welcoming environment. However, as with the Cynical Clown, it can get out of hand and end up derailing the spiritual progress of the community as a whole.

Why are silent retreats so powerful? Because they forcibly put a muzzle on the Divas, Demons, Victims, Addicts, Muppets and Muggles. And they muzzle the Cynical Clowns and Fearful Bores. Thus they clear a space for something else to emerge, something mysterious, something miraculous.

There will always be Victims and Addicts in spiritual circles. It’s what drives them to seek help. There will always be Divas, especially among the spiritual leaders. There will occasionally be a Demon or two. And there will always be Muggles and Muppets. What ultimately causes the Cynical Clown and Fearful Bore subpersonalities to raise their heads, however, is the underlying nihilistic belief that this is all there is, that we are inescapably stuck on The Wheel of Babylon, and that to pretend otherwise is a lie. Ye of little faith!

Sometimes we need to have a laugh and take the piss. Sometimes we need to unburden ourselves in a heart to heart. But if a spiritual community is to thrive, we need, as much as humanly possible, to keep our Cynical Clowns and Fearful Bores in check and keep the faith.

The Good Trip Guide

In the Lord put I my trust: how say ye to my soul, Flee as a bird to your mountain?

For lo, the wicked bend their bow, they make ready their arrow upon the string, that they may privily shoot at the upright in heart.

If the foundation be destroyed, what can the righteous do?

The Lord is in his holy temple, the Lord’s throne is in heaven: his eyes behold, his eyelids try, the children of men.

The Lord trieth the righteous: but the wicked and him that loveth violence his soul hateth.

Upon the wicked he shall rain snares, fire and brimstone, and an horrible tempest: this shall be the portion of their cup.

For the righteous Lord loveth righteousness; his countenance doth behold the upright.

Psalm 11

Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things.

But we are sure that the judgement of God is according to truth against them which commit such things.

And thinkest thou this, O man, that judgest them which do such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgement of God?

Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?

But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgement of God;

Who will render to every man according to his deeds:

To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life:

But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath,

Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also to the Gentile;

But glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile:

For there is no respect of persons with God.

Romans 2: 1-11

But Jesus answered and said, Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? They say unto him, We are able.

Matthew 20:22

Poetic Licence

A recent article titled Researchers Debate the Role of Mysticism in Psychedelic Science cites a paper titled Moving Past Mysticism in Psychedelic Science by two Dutch researchers who warn that “if science states that psychedelics induce mystical experiences that are key to their therapeutic action, this is too easily misinterpreted as research advocating a role for the supernatural or divine.”

The problem with “Psychedelic Science” is that it is based on scientific rationalism. The problem with scientific rationalism is that it is spiritually autistic because it doesn’t understand the importance of poetic licence. Scientific rationalists often pit science against religion, assuming that religion is nothing more than superstition, or outdated bad science. But the scientific metaphysical worldview (as opposed to the humble practice of natural science) is not so much the enemy of religion as the enemy of poetry.

This is a problem when it comes to the science of psychology or the science of psychedelics because although the human brain may be scientific, the human mind is not. The human mind is essentially poetic.

If you don’t understand the psychological importance of poetic licence, you don’t understand psychology; if you don’t understand psychology, you don’t understand psychedelics; if you don’t understand psychedelics, you don’t understand religion; if you don’t understand religion, you don’t understand God; and if you don’t understand God, you don’t understand love.

Any psychedelic research that doesn’t advocate a role for poetry, imagination, mysticism, magic, the supernatural or divine is completely missing the point. Shamanism and the sacramental use of psychedelics is an art, not a science.

Enjoyment

“Your enjoyment of the world is never right till every morning you awake in heaven, see yourself in your Father’s palace, and look upon the skies and the earth and the air as celestial joys, having such a reverend esteem of all as if you were among the angels. The bride of a monarch in her husband’s chamber hath no such cause of delight as you.

You never enjoy the world aright till the sea itself floweth in your veins, till you are clothed with the heavens and crowned with the stars, and perceive yourself to be the sole heir of the whole world, and more than so because men are in it who are every one sole heirs as well as you. Till you can sing and rejoice and delight in God as misers in gold and kings in sceptres you never enjoy the world.

Till your spirit filleth the whole world and the stars are your jewels; till you are as familiar with the ways of God in all ages as with your walk and table; till you are intimately acquainted with that shady nothing out of which the world was made; till you love men so as to desire their happiness with a thirst equal to the zeal of your own; till you delight in God for being good to all, you never enjoy the world. Till you more feel it than your private estate, and are more present in the hemisphere, considering the glories and the beauties there, than in your own house; till you remember how lately you were made, and how wonderful it was when you came into it, and more rejoice in the palace of your glory than if it had been made but today morning.

Yet further, you never enjoy the world aright till you so love the beauty of enjoying it that you are covetous and earnest to persuade others to enjoy it, and so perfectly hate the abominable corruption of men in despising it that you had rather suffer the flames of hell than willingly be guilty of their error. There is so much blindness and ingratitude and damned folly in it. The world is a mirror of infinite beauty, yet no man sees it. It is a temple of majesty yet no man regards it. It is a region of light and peace, did not men disquiet it. It is the paradise of God. It is more to man since he is fallen than it was before. It is the place of angels and the gate of heaven. When Jacob waked out of his dream he said, ‘God is here and I wist it not. How dreadful is this place! This is none other than the house of God and the gate of heaven.'”

Thomas Traherne, First Century 28-31

Intimacy

The teenage years are when we typically develop a taste for intimacy. This can take many forms. The most obvious is the burning desire to get laid, a common thread running through popular American teen movies, from John Hughes classics like Weird Science to American Pie.

Teens crave physical and sexual intimacy, but they also crave emotional and psychological intimacy. As a teenager, I wanted to get laid, and be intimate with a girl’s body, but I also wanted to be intimate with her heart and her mind. A girlfriend wasn’t just a “fuck buddy” but someone I could potentially get to know more deeply than anyone else, even deeper perhaps than social convention allowed for.

I was a hopeless romantic as a teenager. I read lots of poetry and novels. I wrote love letters. I listened to Billie Holiday. I felt that ordinary life was hollow and superficial and wanted to find something deeper and more meaningful. I was lonely. I craved intimacy. I felt special, set apart from the crowd, but really I was just a typical teenager.

Although I wasn’t explicitly aware of it at the time, most of my emotional and intellectual energy revolved around the idea of intimacy. My best friend and my girlfriend were my male and female “intimacy buddies”. We could explore deep feelings and ideas together. Marijuana was another “intimacy buddy”. It allowed me to be intimate with myself, with my senses and the inner workings of my mind.

Reading great writers and listening to great music afforded me a special intimacy with the great minds and souls of the past. Clubbing and raving on Ecstasy and LSD afforded me intimacy with strangers and a collective “hive mind”. Meditation retreats and long country walks deepened my intimacy with nature and silence.

Very soon it became clear to me that the world is divided between those who are open to intimacy and those who are closed. One of the questions that has haunted me throughout my psychotherapy career is why? Some people suffer because they cannot satisfy their buried desire for intimacy, but others seem to get along just fine without it. Why? There is no simple answer. Perhaps we are just born that way.

People clearly vary when it comes to the degree of emotional and psychological intimacy they can bear, but they also vary when it comes to spiritual intimacy. Some people heed the Delphic inscription Know Thyself and make it their life’s goal and mission. Some people burn with a holy desire to Know God and to be as intimate with Him who is “closer than your jugular vein” as Brother Lawrence and Thomas Traherne were. Some even smoke weed or drink ayahuasca to help them. Most people, however, are either indifferent or disapproving of this quixotic behaviour.

Socrates famously said, “the unexamined life is not worth living”. He was talking about an intellectual intimacy with life, which he, as a member of the class of teens and adults who are open to intimacy, could not imagine a meaningful life without. For those of us who value intimacy on all levels, and not just on the intellectual, philosophical level, I say rather, “the distant life is not worth living”.

The Saint Must Walk Alone

The Alone is the All-one.

If you want to walk with God, you must walk alone.

Only then is “the flight of the alone to the Alone” possible.

Beyond Ba, beyond Babylon, the soul must commune with Gaia and Jah in solitude.

The saint must walk alone.