We, in the west, have for far too long been subjected to the unbearable consequences of a theology that denies the revelation of direct experience. Inspired by a fundamental sense of broken-ness or incompleteness religion has, for many westerners, reduced to nothing more than an escape route. Not only has religion become an enterprise of redemption, but redemption remains just around the corner in the afterlife. The affirmative side of popular spirituality is the promise of greener pastures and sunnier days, but the implied consequences of such wishful thinking—the negation of our day-to-day life—has led to a belief in our own insufficiency, articulated by the doctrine of original of sin.
Our “earthly hell” is revealed to be the absence of content or meaning, the sense of lifelessness that characterizes the way we are living. There is no vitality. We are just trudging along. Life feels mechanical or numb, as if we are living once removed. We feel disconnected from the life we are living, as if we were a spectator watching as someone else’s life unfolds. This fundamental form of dis-ease constitutes the basis of self-hatred.
Ressentiment is the French word for resentment. In popular language, resentment has been reduced to nothing more than un-resolved or aging anger. In the above passage, psychologist Otto Rank suggests a deeper meaning. Rank defines resentment as the projection of self-hatred onto objects in the environment as a way of relieving ourselves of the turmoil wrapped up in our festering self-hatred.
Embedded in the life we are living is a feeling of disgust. Bill Wilson, founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, writes, “We were having trouble with personal relationships, we couldn't control our emotional natures, we were a prey to misery and depression, we had a feeling of uselessness, we were full of fear, we were unhappy, we couldn't seem to be of real help to other people…” What could be more important than an accessible down-to-earth resolution to these most basic of human problems? What could be more important than our basic sanity and well-being?
Unfortunately, the attitudes and states of mind that breed these basic human bedevilments are ignored, as we frantically project our sense of disgust onto objects in the environment. We become obsessed with decrying the moral shortcomings of those politicians and their supporters who stand opposite of our convictions. Liberals and conservatives alike, log onto facebook to spew their self-hatred onto the news feed in the form of short opinion pieces that point out the stupidity and treasonous opinions of those on the opposite side of the aisle. We are so lost in this depreciating process that seldom do any of us stop to consider the role this behavior plays in the inflammation of self-hatred.
Resentment is not responsible for self-hatred, but it is obvious that projection is one of the more common ways we deal with the pains of self-hatred. We experience ourselves as removed from the scene—a spectator watching life unfold from a distance—because the life we are living is a scam. We are more like an actor playing the part, and the part is assigned by our environment The views we are vehemently defending do not belong to us. They are the intellectual inheritance of our family, social class, and education, which we feel compelled to defend, but lack the felt conviction to author for our Self. We lack authority, confidence, and creativity in our convictions. This leads to insecurity, fear, and aggression.It has nothing to do with whether the points of view we are sharing are reasonable or "right" or "wrong," instead the problems seems to be how we are arrived at these conclusions. We were given the answer by our minister, parents, friends, boss, neighbors, or the news media, rather than given the space needed to arrive at our own conclusions. We were taught what to think, instead of how to think.
Sanity is a point of view substantiated by reality. Reality is revealed in the body. Insanity begins with misplacing the body. We have forgotten how to listen to our hearts. We have replaced the biological or spiritual imperative to live fully and honestly with the tendency to think about life, and the voice in our head is inspired by everyone except our heart—the preacher, the pundit, the teacher, mom, dad, those socially and economically successful role models we strive to imitate—all have taken up space in our head, drowning out the voice of our true Life, and as a result we feel lost and lifeless. We are only pretending to be passionate. In fact, we are angry and disembodied. We are plagued by a spiritual rigamortis.
You can almost hear St. Paul’s surprise…. “Wait! You don’t know?! The temple ain’t some building or institution out there. It is not a document, political or religious bureaucracy, or ecclesiastical hierarchy. It is your beating heart. It is the life of the body.” Our relationship with God or Truth is not limited to periods of worship on Sunday mornings, nor is it dependent upon quiet moments of prayer and meditation in our bedrooms. God lives in the body and the variety of affairs that make-up our daily life— political, economic, social, and intimate—constitutes the womb out of which God is born into the world.
The misplacing of the body in western theology is the source of our misplaced spirituality. The body of experience is the ground of being or basic sanity. To talk about life apart from the body is to speculate or hallucinate. We migrate out of the vitality of the body and into the lifeless world of ideas. Unfortunately, hallucinating and faith have become synonymous. But St. Paul is inviting us back into the original meaning of faith, back into direct experience.
The body is the house of God or the temple. Truth is revealed in and through the body, which means that Truth or God’s will is first and foremost an unformed or un-interpreted feeling, spontaneity. Listening to this still voice is commonly referred to as prayer. We come back to the body and we reclaim the quality of wakefulness and vitality that we crave. Until we reconnect with a God that actively reveals itself to us through the silent revelation of our body, we will continue to be plagued by the fundamental sense of disgust and self-hatred that arises out of the unfortunate fact that we are only thinking about life or pretending to live.
So, how do we reconnect with the body? Simple. We let go of the tendency to think about life, and fall into the immediacy of direct experience. Rather than projecting our experience onto objects in the environment, we silently accept the movement of our body. We own our experience with the willingness to embrace whatever arises in the body with simple awareness. We move into the feeling, without words, and feel through the feeling. It does not matter if we are talking about a pleasant or unpleasant experience, we remain present to the feeling. To deny the body is to deny life, which is the source of dis-contentment or the absence of fullness that we have been projecting onto others. This is the work we are called to before we offer our gifts to the world.
Our offerings to the world are not to be tainted. They are to be the pure, unadulterated expressivity of God as revealed in the body, as the above passage from 1st Corinthians indicates. Glory, in the Hebrew bible has a sense of majesty, splendor, or brightness. So, to glorify is to allow the splendor of God’s creativity to shine through our pores. Before making any offering, even a political opinion on facebook, we are directed in Matthew 5:24 to first go and be reconciled with our brother. We must be free of insecurity, fear, and aggression, less our body become an instrument of self-will and destruction. We are warned that to be crossed with our neighbor may lead to more worldly consequences, but to become resentful is to be damned to an “earthly hell.”
The content of our politics is of little importance. The tone is far more important. The tone tells you the source of this opinion. Any argument that tries to dissuade those with differing points of view from responding, through the use of technical, wordy jargon or aggressive, incendiary rhetoric is no offering at all. It is a projection of our own self-hatred, and a demonstration of our own refusal to participate in the unfolding of our life. Rather than embracing the unfolding of our life as the movement of the body, we turn our feelings of discomfort into behaviors that seek to transfer the sense of disgust to another person. This leaves us feeling empty and broken. A passionate, non-aggressive offering shines through our pores and inspires healthy dialog that promotes understanding and growth. Creativity can transform simple conversation, political, religious, or otherwise, into a transformative experience, because it invites the energy of God into the exchange.