October 31, 2006

The Great Pumpkin

Posted in culture, fiction, film, novelists, psychology of religion at 2:18 pm by Jerry

I just watched the Charlie Brown Hallowe’en episode on Becky’s blog, called The Great Pumpkin. I loved it! In this episode, the writer Charles M. Schulz chose “sincerity” instead of “faith” to describe one of the tenets of the Great Pumpkin belief. How fitting, don’t you think? Sincerity addresses more than a rational justification. It acknowledges authentic feelings without contradictions.


n 1: an earnest and sincere feeling [syn: earnestness, seriousness] 2: the quality of being open and truthful; not deceitful or hypocritical; “his sincerity inspired belief”; “they demanded some proof of my sincerity” [ant: insincerity] 3: a quality of naturalness and simplicity; “the simple sincerity of folk songs” [syn: unassumingness] 4: the trait of being serious; “a lack of solemnity is not necessarily a lack of seriousness”- Robert Rice [syn: seriousness, earnestness, serious-mindedness] [ant: frivolity]


I have to compliment Linus (the Great Pumpkin believer) on the power of his imagination. It was evidently strong, especially at the end of the episode. Which makes me wonder – with a mind like that, why did he choose to, exclusively, concentrate the focus of his imagination on that particular belief, avoiding contradictory ideologies outside of its circumference of belief?

Mark Twain says…

You can’t trust your eyes if your imagination is out of focus.

…but can you trust them if your imagination is focused only on a small area, making it impossible to see anything beyond its circumference?

Here’s a couple of inserts from the Wikipedia article called “The Great Pumpkin”:

According to Linus, the Great Pumpkin rises out of the pumpkin patch he finds to be most “sincere“. (“Look around you! Nothing but sincerity as far as the eye can see!”) The Great Pumpkin then flies through the air to deliver toys to all the good little children in the world. In one strip, Linus claims that the Great Pumpkin has in fact been seen by people other than himself in pumpkin patches across the country, if not the world, indicating that if the Great Pumpkin is indeed imaginary, his existence is at least believed in by people other than (and even more suggestible than) Linus. The fact that Linus is, aside from his pumpkin faith, one of the most sober-minded characters in the strip seems to be a point in his favor, and adds great irony to his irrational belief in the imaginary vegetable.

[…]Stressing the importance of faith in the Great Pumpkin, Linus states that one must never say “If the Great Pumpkin comes”, but rather, “When the Great Pumpkin comes”; a lack of sufficient faith, he avers, might cause the Great Pumpkin to pass one by at the critical time.

In the words of Charlie Brown, “Good Grief!” But maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on Linus. He has a psychological need for various “security blankets,” a phrase coined by the Charlie Brown strip.

Happy Hallowe’en!!


October 25, 2006

Where Temptations Lie

Posted in culture, mythology, psychology of religion, scripture at 5:54 pm by Jerry

Do you believe in the existence of a Devil?

If you do, then when you read bible passages like when Adam & Eve were in the Garden of Eden or when Jesus’ was tempted in the wilderness, what kind of Devil do you see? Do you see a Devil as an actual spirit that has a life of its own, or do you see a personification of common evils in nature and the human mind? And if you don’t see a literal Devil, then how do you see Jesus? Do you see him as a divine psychotherapist who fought off the same kind of evil in his mind Adam & Eve failed to do for themselves?

The two passages I’ve mentioned above interest me for many reasons. I’d like to highlight a particular commonality between them:

1Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?” Genesis 3 (NASB)

13And He was in the wilderness forty days being tempted by Satan; and He was with the wild beasts, and the angels were ministering to Him. Mark 1 (NASB)

I find it interesting that animals or “beasts” are mentioned in the context of temptation. It reminds me of animism. Animism is supposedly to have first been a morally neutral attribution of “spirits” to all of nature’s forms. Eventually, some spirits were given negative attributes, and others, positive. Have you seen in many of the paintings of spirits, demons, and angels, that they all have animal parts? What am I getting at? Well, all this makes we wonder what ideas, exactly, do these pictorial metaphors involve? Animals are known for their instinctive natures. So much so, they seem to be “wild” or out-of-control.

Turning back to the Garden of Eden – how should we interpret the two evils (bad tree & snake) in this paradise? Are they external or internal? If external, other than being an actual tree that passes on knowledge through the consumption of fruit, what else could it be? Does it represent a book God wrote and just happened to drop into the middle of humanity’s home? Or does the tree represent knowledge already within humanity, lying dormant? But if the tree is a metaphor of the evil within us, then why would God create us with dormant evil in us? And why would God bring attention to it by warning us not to take from it? Is this some kind of divine set-up for disaster?

Turning back to Jesus in the wilderness – I use to understand Jesus’ “temptation” as a testing, you know, to see if there was anything in him that was attracted to evil. My reason was, “It’s to show Jesus for who he really is.” But that’s assuming demons are external enemies of the spirit. The alternative would be that Jesus’ temptation was within him. And if this alternative is true, then both passages I’ve referred to demonstrate an interesting psychological drama: both portray a volitional destructiveness (personified as Satan or other demons) within us, already tainted, directing us to a greater destruction of ourselves.

Are these biblical passages unhealthy to learn from? Is this use of metaphor a bane to the health of one’s mind? Or has it been a boon, providing an external vision of the abstract struggle within? If the demonic is fiction, does it have to be understood as a lie? Could it be a mythological mirror laid out for us to use in our battle against internal evils?

Adam and Eve, mere children, were made aware of the existence of evil by being told not to make themselves self-aware of evil. Still, they became self-aware of evil, and they couldn’t overcome it. And Jesus, a divine adult, struggled to face evil crafted specifically for him, including being murdered on a cross (another form of the tree of knowledge of good and evil). Are these passages a portrayal of humanity’s moral struggle to face the evils we should overcome and accept evils that will eventually overcome us? I’m curious.

October 24, 2006

Spiritual Professions and Myth-Making

Posted in church, culture, mythology, philosophy of religion, politics, psychology of religion, science, scripture, theology at 1:39 pm by Jerry

Is it irreverent (or a sin?) to challenge the existence of spiritual professions? Is it unspeakable to question the validity of hiring a pastor or a theologian?

Don’t get me wrong. I have no problem with the hiring of speakers, entertainers, salespersons, fundraisers, counselors, educators, accountants, politicians or administrators. If spiritual professionals are also one or more of these other professionals, I respect that. I just don’t see why they don’t go by one of those qualified titles instead of “pastor” or “theologian”.

Can anybody tell me, what makes a “pastor” or a “theologian” a “Professional”? Have they gained more spiritual knowledge from the “Holy Spirit” than others? Should they be expected to? When I’ve challenged the limits of many theists’ spiritual knowledge of “God” they eventually say things like, “We cannot know the mysterious ways of God,” or “I don’t want to put God in a box,” or any other reference to the ineffability of “God.”

Every theist is a theologian just by finishing the sentence – “God is not…” and yet, so few are courageous enough to develop their own opinions about who “God” is. If “God” can only be described by what “God” is not, then what knowledge does anyone really have of “God”?

Where some theologians start believing in the ineffability of “God,” I’ve witnessed them stop being theologians and rely on professional theologians to do their work for them. Why is that? If most theists are so afraid of misrepresenting God, how come theologians and pastors are not afraid? And how come pastors and theologians think their representations of God are so much more reliable that they think they should be paid for them?

If all theists let their imaginations about who “God” is fly freely, exploring the possibilities, and finding consistency between their theories, how can a theologian do them one better?

Professional theologians may say, “We tread lightly concerning our representations of God. And we’ve been trained to put arduous hours into the studying of texts written by distinguished theologians of the past.” So? What does that get them? What do paid theists have that unpaid theists don’t have? (I’m curious, if theologians believe in the ineffability of “God,” does their job security become a matter of faith?)

But let’s not forget that theologians and pastors, authoritatively, use their personal experiences with the text of a bible to rationalize: the bible is THEE fixed standard. So what? Does that obligate us to make the bible our fixed standard? Oh, but they may justify this claim by explaining that a small minority of the biblical writers saw Jesus in the flesh. True, but does that make them infallible writers of history? Oh, but they may even explain that any mistakes or contradictions found in the bible can be justified, like Bohr’s justification for contradictions…
The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth. – Niels Bohr
I agree. We must recognize a paradox when we see one. But when I find moral contradictions in the bible’s description of “God,” then I too have the opportunity to exercise my own authoritative freedom, and question whether “God” may be better than what that text portrays.
Some may ask, “So, Jerry, if you’re questioning people’s portrayal of God, does that mean you too, can be said to be studying the (supposedly believable) existence of a Supreme Being you can’t observe?” Good question. Help me out, Galileo…

All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered: the point is to discover them. – Galileo Galilei

Not good enough. Steve? Can you help me?

There’s a fine line between fishing and just standing on the shore like an idiot. – Steven Wright

Thanks, Steve. I admit, I’m curious to know if in fact, there is a Supreme Being. And my philosophical playing includes an exploration of my imagination’s ability to create a believable portrayal of a Supreme Being.

Why bother? It challenges my mind, it entertains me, but most importantly, I think it has potential to teach me something about myself and what I very well may have in common with the rest of humanity. So, it’s artistically a psychological endeavor.

Myth-making is a great way to discover inner truths. And like any artist, I’m looking to express what others haven’t. Therefore, I will be critical of other expressions in order to find my own working myth.

October 21, 2006

Healthy Exorcise

Posted in film, psychology at 9:49 am by Jerry

Have you ever been stressed out so much your muscles start tightening up, and if you want to loosen them just a little (drug-free) you have to intentionally relax them through the worst pain your stress empowered them with? That seems to be my situation as of late.

For the last month, I’ve been experimenting with all sorts of physical and psychological tricks (and treats) to rid myself of my back pain. While lying on my back (my back pain shows up after sleep), I’ve been taking a breath in while sending an arched-back wave, if you will, down my spine, followed by an upside-down arch waving down my spine as I breathe out. This exorcise helps me locate minor and hidden pain that are not-so-minor and hidden when I wake up.

When I’ve found the pain, I play a psychological trick&treat that seems to be working, so far. What I’ve been doing is trying to find an emotional association with a spot of pain in my back. These pictures and feelings hidden within me may in fact be the cause of my stress, who knows? But, surprisingly, they’re not what I would call “unhealthy pictures and feelings”. They’re just pictures of fears and situations anyone can be justifiably angry about.

In my opinion, Yoda’s philosophy – “fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering,” is not doing justice to those feelings.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with carrying healthy anger or fear, over this or that, even though these feelings still hurt us. It just has to be done right. So now, I try to accept the existence of healthy anger and fear in my mind, and see them for what they really are, rather than bury the awful (but healthy) sight of them. Sometimes, this psychological trick&treat is enough to release any stress they may cause. Unfortunately, this release can be just as emotionally painful as the physical pain I experience when I use my physical trick&treat described above.

I’ve been playfully calling my experiments “a healthy exorcise”. Tis the season, don’t you think? Check out this word history on EXORCISE…

Word History: An oath is to be found at the etymological heart of exorcise, a term going back to the Greek word exorkizein, meaning “to swear in,” “to take an oath by,” “to conjure,” and “to exorcise.” Exorkizein in turn is formed from the prefix ex-, “thoroughly,” and the verb horkizein, “to make one swear, administer an oath to,” derived from horkos, “oath.” Our word exorcise is first recorded in English in a work composed possibly before the beginning of the 15th century, and in this use exorcise means “to call up or conjure spirits” rather than “to drive out spirits,” a sense first recorded in 1546.


What should you be exorcising this Hallowe’en?

Literary Personality Test

Posted in fiction, literature, poetry, psychology at 6:39 am by Jerry

Haven’t been around much, probably due to the amount of work I’ve been doing on my novel. Took a literary personality test a few days ago. I know people shouldn’t take these cheezy personality tests seriously, but I have to ask, “Are there any advantages for a novelist to BE “A coloring book” instead of a novel?”

You scored as A coloring book.

Children love you–and so do many adults. They find you approachable, simple and friendly, all of which perfectly describe you. Instead of throwing big words around, you communicate in the international language of pictures. In order to be as open as possible, you present yourself simply, allowing those around you to customize you to their liking. Sometimes this results in you turning into a primitive masterpiece, and other times you resemble a schizophrenic’s daydream. So long as the one talking to you understands you, you’re happy. Zen and the art of crayon-sharpening.

A coloring book
A paperback romance novel
A college textbook
An electronics user’s manual
The back of a froot loops box
A classic novel

October 5, 2006

What Would Forgiveness Do?

Posted in culture, philosophy, psychology, theodicy, theology at 11:57 am by Jerry

Would forgiveness get to the root of the problem or would it merely scratch the surface?

Is forgiving someone an attempt to feel better about ourselves by recognizing the plight of others? Can forgiveness condone wrong behaviour? Does forgiveness excuse evil? Is forgiveness an act of repressing or covering hurt feelings? Is there a “Humpty Dumpty” version of forgiveness?

Personal Conclusions on What-Forgiveness-Would-Do-For-Me:

I want my forgiveness for those who hurt me, and what they did, earned. But I admit, I’m afraid of putting myself in the position of earning another’s forgiveness. Even if my potential forgivers do not act as if they own me, or ask me to do immoral tasks, I’m afraid they will require more from me than I think is necessary, knowing it ultimately isn’t up to me to set the standard for earning their forgiveness.

But I feel there is no better option. To me, forgiveness as a gift leaves the one person who wants forgiveness given or received, stranded. If the one I wronged refuses to forgive, then there’s simply nothing I can do to achieve forgiveness. Or if I am the one to create this gift of forgiveness without the wrongdoers, I’ll have no peace about the lack of peace in those who are aware they’ve wronged me. Whatever “peace” I’d feel in that position is not forgiveness, that’s revenge.

And for those completely unaware of how they hurt me, I want them aware of it. If I want justice, I deserve justice. But like I said in the first installment of this three-part series,

We’re not able to take a good look at the bad qualities of ourselves and others, all at once, in their entirety. (I haven’t met anyone who says they can.) We need small bites we can chew, and eventually, swallow.

Authentic forgiveness may require alot of time and effort to develop mutual empathy (perceived by both parties), but at least the forgiveness would be authentic. Those involved would be doing what any two people in a relationship should be doing — communicating.

October 4, 2006

Forgiveness in a CANon

Posted in religion, scripture, theology at 12:24 pm by Jerry

Some people use forgiveness as a gift. Others use it as a trade (forgiveness has to be earned).

If forgiveness is a gift, it requires nothing of the forgiven. The only strength it requires is to let go. It’s not even necessary for the forgiven to receive this gift. It can be an entirely individualistic endeavor without any participation from the wrongdoer.

If forgiveness is earned, alot can be required from the wrongdoer before forgiveness is given, depending on the forgiver. When forgiveness is earned, there is more than one person involved in the process. Both the wrongdoer and the forgiver must communicate an acknowledgement and understanding of the wrong done.

But enough of what I think. Lets read the words ancient theologians tell us came from the mouth of Jesus:

25“Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions.

26[“But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your transgressions.”](Mark 11 – NASB)

30“He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me scatters.

31“Therefore I say to you, any sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven people, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven.

32“Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come. (Matt.12 – NASB, italics mine)

34“And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him.

35“My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.” (Matt.18 – NASB)

47“For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.” (Luke7 – NASB)

34But Jesus was saying, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing ” And they cast lots, dividing up His garments among themselves. (Luke 23 – NASB)

Am I missing something here or do I see a double standard between human and divine forgiveness? God’s forgiveness is not without stipulations for those needing forgiveness. Penance (forgiveness between humans) is involved. Forgiveness from a Supreme Being is a legal process. But no stipulations are required when forgiveness is between human beings.

However, it seems, in the last verse I’ve quoted, Jesus contradicts himself, asking for God to forgive humans without asking the humans to earn it. Is God changing his mind about earning forgiveness? Forgiveness between humans was commanded by God (according to scripture) to be given freely. Does God now think he should give it freely, too?

Is forgiveness better to be given freely than earned? I’ll tell you my personal thoughts on this in the next post.

October 3, 2006

Forgive, But Not Forget

Posted in culture, psychology at 8:24 am by Jerry

Forgiveness cannot return us to the way things were before the hurt. We can’t undo time and the changes that have made us who we are today. Whether we choose to recall bad memories or not, they will still be there. But will we choose to see them, or ignore them?

We’re not able to take a good look at the bad qualities of ourselves and others, all at once, in their entirety. (I haven’t met anyone who says they can.) We need small bites we can chew, and eventually, swallow. And therefore, we may say “forgive and forget,” acting as if the damage never occurred, claiming more time to work through these not-so-nice human characteristics.

However, when we are ready to face the harsh realities in and around us, will we do what it takes to find true forgiveness? What will forgiveness have to show for itself when something reminds us of a past hurt we “forgave”? Will we still have bitter feelings?

[note: this post is the first part of a three-part series on forgiveness]