Unmet Needs and Anger

The unexamined assumption of the American “more is more” consumer American-Express-Gold-Card culture is that economic success is the same thing as success in life, and that making money means that our needs are met.

Beyond basic material needs of food and shelter, our needs are not met by money; our needs are met in relationship with others.

Specifically, it is in relationship that our need for understanding and being understood is met; that our need to belong is met; and that our need to escape the prison of self-interest and narrow egoism is met. Everyone– with the exception of sociopaths– knows this, consciously or unconsciously.

The free-floating anger in American society is due, at least in part, to an epidemic of unmet needs. Like enraged infants who need held, we are screaming for connection– while ironically pursuing ways of life that are antithetical to meaningful connection. Placing supreme value on economic success works to sabotage meaningful relationships, and therefore the meeting of our deepest needs. Hence, the anger (which itself is displaced fear).

I’m not advocating a return to subsistence agriculture. I am suggesting that it is the role of religious people and communities– Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Whatever– to expose the vacuity and destructiveness of the dominant but false notion that making money means that our needs are met.

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Reclaiming Meaning in Public Conversation: What We Hold in Common

I’m very excited that Aziz Abu Sarah and Kobi Skolnick (photos below) will be joining us here in southern New Hampshire for a presentation on Sunday called “Conflicting Peace: From Revenge to Reconciliation in the Holy Land.” (Note: Aziz will be with us via satellite from East Jerusalem, due to issues in Israel with his Jerusalem identification status.)

Kobi is Israeli and Jewish; Aziz is Palestinian and Muslim. Each of them shares their personal story of the transformational power of suffering. Pain can shrink us into bitter and vengeful people, or it can enlarge our capacity for empathy and compassion. Kobi and Aziz have chosen the latter– a risky and costly choice.

What we make of the suffering in our lives is a quintessential religious question. There’s nothing abstract or theoretical about it: how we find meaning (or not) in our suffering informs all our relationships, shapes all our attitudes, and affects all our choices in the things that matter. Kobi’s and Aziz’s presentation goes to this level of our human journey.

This kind of public discourse goes far beyond the shriveled nature of today’s political sloganeering to remind us both of our human vulnerabilities, and of our potential to enlist those vulnerabilities in the cause of affirming life’s goodness.

Sunday evening, 6:30pm, Souhegan High School Auditorium. Free.

Death, the Culture of Narcissism, and Loneliness

Death has the final word over narcissism: you can’t be the center of the universe if you don’t exist.

Narcissism is a defining characteristic of American culture in the early 21st century: everyone’s exceptional; the progress of history culminates here; we’ll go on forever. It’s a good way to counter the anxiety of nothingness, to attribute to oneself or to one’s nation the status of divinity. It’s also delusional. A good sniff of ammonia to snap us out of this delusional fog is an hour of reading Ecclesiastes, where human vanity is exposed.

The self-defeating nature of narcissism is that the center of the universe is a lonely place to be, and it’s precisely our anxiety over being alone that drives us to be narcissists. It’s a vicious cycle: loneliness, anxiety, narcissistic compensation, more loneliness, and so on.

Release comes in surrendering to our neediness: in recognizing that we are not necessary beings but contingent, fragile, mortal beings. In surrender we make ourselves available to others; we open ourselves into the vulnerability that makes intimacy possible. More and more, life ceases to be centered on me, and the grip of  loneliness relaxes. Ultimately, relationships are what we have.

Narcissus – Greek Mythology Link.

Same-sex Marriage: The Strong Version of the Conservative Argument

Two arguments against the recognition of same-sex marriage are: 1. that it goes against the tradition that marriage is between one man and one woman; and 2. that homosexual sex is contrary to natural moral law. Neither argument is trifling. The second argument– that homosexual sex is contrary to natural moral law– is the one that so-called “conservatives” need to trace more finely.

If they did trace it more finely, it would go something like this: Humanity has a special relationship to God. God is our Creator; we are God’s creatures. Our purpose on Earth is to praise and glorify God, which means to show forth– in thought, word, and deed– the divine image in which we are made, and to manifest the life of God in our lives. One of God’s most powerful attributes is that God creates; God brings forth life– in a profound way, God’s very essence is Life itself. Therefore, to create– and especially to create life– is a sacred power in the human being, precisely because of its closeness to God’s own creating, creative nature. Homosexual sex is against natural moral law because such sex does not– cannot– produce life, and is therefore contrary to humanity’s purpose in life– which, again, is to manifest the life of God in our lives. (Please bear in mind that I am not owning this argument. I am merely setting it forth).

Most conservative arguments against same-sex marriage stop at moralizing (heterosexual sex is good; homosexual sex is bad– it says so in the Bible), and don’t reveal the moral and theological reasoning behind the conclusion. Liberals are rightly critical this kind of peremptory moral judgment.

For their part, liberals have largely failed to engage the questions that this strong version of the conservative argument raises, namely, What is humanity’s relationship to God?; and How does sexuality relate to the purpose of human life?

Proposition 8: An Opportunity to Deepen the Conversation?

If you haven’t followed recent court rulings on same-sex marriage in California, a helpful summary of the action surrounding that state’s Proposition 8 ballot initiative is here.

In any potentially helpful public conversation about marriage equality, strong conservative arguments– arguments that would, at the very least, invite reflection on the purpose of human life– exist. It’s too bad that so-called conservatives are not making those arguments. In future posts, I will attempt to.